California Road Signs and Their Meanings

Road signs, or traffic signs, are consistent across most states and countries so that anyone can understand them. For example, the STOP sign looks the same in California or Florida as it does in Alabama. 

California road signs—and all traffic signs, for that matter—use symbols, images, or simple words so anyone can understand them. Their role is to regulate the flow of traffic and keep road users safe. 

Depending on their meaning, they tell you when to stop or yield, how far you are from a given location, what hazards are ahead, and more. Consequently, they fall into several categories and sub-categories, such as regulatory, warning, and guide signs. 

The Importance of California Road Signs

Traffic signs are meant to keep drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists safe on the road. They promote responsible driving and show us how and where to find nearby schools, hospitals, parking areas, and other facilities. 

Centuries ago, people used wooden or stone milestones to help travelers find their way around. These signs evolved with the invention of motor vehicles and are now standardized across different countries. 

Each sign conveys a distinct message—usually through images. For example, a triangular sign illustrating a bicycle tells you that there’s a cycle route ahead. Therefore, you should look out for cyclists and drive with caution. 

The role of road signs

  • Provide consistent rules for drivers and other road users
  • Warn drivers and cyclists of the dangers ahead 
  • Provide information about nearby gas stations, campgrounds, or landmarks
  • Point out obstacles that may not be obvious, such as the presence of wildlife
  • Inform drivers about the road conditions (e.g., warnings for black ice or snow)
  • Indicate the correct lane to drive in

Traffic signs also inform motorists about specific destinations, such as nearby cities, and the distance to those destinations. Others are temporary and can divert traffic if a road is closed, locked, or unusable. 

Compliance with traffic signs is crucial to avoiding accidents and staying safe behind the wheel. Plus, it makes driving easier and less stressful, especially when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings. 

Types of Road Signs in California 

California road signs have different shapes, colors, and images, depending on their meaning. For example, warning signs are usually red or yellow, whereas service and recreation signs are blue. 

Now let’s take a quick look at the main categories of traffic signs in California.

Warning Signs 

These traffic signs warn drivers of closed roads and other obstacles or potential hazards. They’re often placed close to bicycle crossings, roundabouts, or railroads. 

Let’s see a few examples:

  • General caution
  • Obstacles
  • Steep hills
  • Falling rocks
  • Pedestrian crossing 
  • Traffic signal ahead
  • Two-way traffic

For instance, two-way traffic signs indicate that you’re entering a street where vehicles drive in both directions. This can limit your ability to pass other cars. 

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recommends that drivers obey all warning signs, no matter their shape or color. 

Regulatory Signs 

Regulatory signs inform road users of the traffic laws applicable in the area where they are placed. Their role is to regulate the flow of traffic and promote responsible driving. 

Common examples include:

  • Stop sign 
  • No parking
  • Speed limit
  • Yield the right-of-way
  • Wrong way
  • Do not enter
  • No right turn allowed
  • No turns allowed
  • No large trucks
  • No bicycles
  • Keep left/right

Some road signs in this category contain two or more symbols. For instance, the sign below forbids drivers to turn right on red:

sign forbids drivers to turn right on red

Guide Signs 

These traffic signs provide directions or information on distances, route designations, tourist attractions, airports, highways, and more. As the name suggests, their role is to guide drivers and other road users. 

Listed below are some of the most common guide signs:

  • Highway/Expressway
  • Exit numbers
  • Route markers
  • Service signs (e.g., Hospital, Food, Gas, Accommodation)
  • Historical landmarks
  • Welcome signs 
  • Street name signs 

Guide signs usually have a green, brown, or blue background and text or symbols. For example, hospital signs feature the letter H in white on a blue background. 

Temporary Traffic Control Signs 

Temporary signs are placed in construction or work zones. If, say, you’re approaching a road that is being repaired, you may see a temporary detour sign. 

You’ll recognize these signs by their square or diamond shape and orange background. 

Temporary Traffic Control Signs 

School Signs 

As the name suggests, these road signs reinforce safe driving practices around schools. You should pay extra attention to your surroundings and be prepared to slow down or stop the car if necessary. 

school traffic signs

School signs are often accompanied by regulatory traffic signs indicating the speed limit.

Bicycle Signs 

These traffic signs are meant to inform, warn, or guide cyclists. For example, the sign below forbids them from entering a specific street or area. 

Bicycle Signs

Some cities and counties in California don’t allow cyclists to ride along freeways or highways. Therefore, you may use the above sign to inform them about it. See our guide to California’s bicycle laws for further insights. 

Common Road Signs in California

California has approximately 500,000 road signs, including 20,000 overhead guide signs. 

Here are some of the most common ones and their meanings:

STOP Sign 


When you see this sign, make a full stop at the marked line or before entering an intersection. Yield the right-of-way to vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. 

Section 22450 of the California Vehicle Code requires all drivers to follow these rules. Failure to comply can result in a $238 fine and one penalty point on your driving record. You’ll also have to pay court and administrative fees. 

These penalties apply to all violations falling under Section 38300 of the California Vehicle Code


The YIELD sign requires drivers to slow down or come to a complete stop (if necessary) and let other cars, bikes, or pedestrians pass. This rule falls under the California Vehicle Code 21950.

Yield Sign

Failure to yield to a pedestrian or other vehicles can lead to a fine of $238 and one penalty point, plus court and administrative fees. 


Do Not Enter Sign

As its name suggests, this traffic sign indicates that you cannot enter the road, ramp, or crossover where it’s posted. Its role is to prevent head-on collisions, but it may also be used to mark private properties or closed roads. 


Wrong way sign

This road sign is often accompanied by a DO NOT ENTER sign and indicates that you’re going in the wrong direction. So, you should turn around and find a different route. 

No U-Turn Sign 

No U-Turn Sign

This regulatory sign prohibits U-turns at intersections and other areas. Basically, you are not allowed to turn around on the road. 

Speed Limit Signs 

These traffic signs indicate the maximum speed limit on a road. Failure to obey can result in a speeding ticket and penalty points on your driving record. One point may not seem much, but it can increase your car insurance rates. Plus, the points accumulate over time and can lead to license suspension. 

The easiest way to mask that point is to plead guilty and go to traffic school. Under certain circumstances, a judge may allow you to attend traffic school even if you get caught driving more than 25 miles per hour over the speed limit. 

No Parking Sign 

No Parking signs are placed in designated areas where drivers shouldn’t park their cars. They may include specific time restrictions or additional information about that area, such as “Fire Lane” or “Construction Zone.”

No Parking Sign

You may see these road signs on private properties, near intersections, or in front of driveways or loading zones. They’re also placed in areas where parking would obstruct the movement of buses, trucks, or other large vehicles. 

Five-Sided Signs

Five-sided sign

Slow down and look both ways when you see these signs. They indicate there’s a school nearby. Children are unpredictable and may jump in front of moving cars, so you must be extra cautious. 

Pedestrian Crossing Sign 

Pedestrian Sign

This warning sign indicates a pedestrian crossing ahead. When you see it, you must yield to pedestrians.

Railroad Crossing Signs

These warning signs alert drivers to the railroad tracks ahead. Check your surroundings, drive slowly, and be prepared to stop. 

Railroad Crossing Signs

Don’t stop on railroad tracks. Instead, open the windows and listen for any approaching trains. If you must stop the car, do it at a safe distance from the railroad track. 

Specialized Road Signs You Might See in California 

California has over 2,466 miles of interstate highway, plus mountain areas, deserts, beaches, and other natural settings. These areas are often marked with specialized road signs to warn, inform, or guide drivers. 

Let’s see a few examples:

  • Adopt-a-Highway signs 
  • Historical landmark road signs
  • Mile marker signs (e.g., the Sonora Pass sign)
  • Spade-shaped highway signs 
  • Wildlife crossing signs
  • Coastal access signs
  • Scenic route signs
Specialized Road Signs You Might See in California 

For example, California’s highway signs are different from those in other states. 

First of all, they are spade-shaped in the memory of the miners who came here during the gold rush. Second, they feature reflective dots, upper and lowercase letters, and other elements you may not see on highway signs in most other states. 

The above road signs are specific to California’s unique geography, environment, and driving regulations. You’ll most likely understand their meaning even if you’ve never seen them before. 

This brings us to the next point…

Road Sign Colors and Shapes

Most road signs, whether standard or specialized, have specific colors and shapes based on their meaning. For instance, two crossed panels mark railroad crossings, while the color red is always used for warning signs. 

Let’s see what each color means to road users. 

  • Red: Stop or prohibited (e.g., Yield, Wrong Way)
  • Yellow: General warning (e.g., Right lane ends)
  • Blue: Services (e.g., Gas station nearby)
  • Green: Direction guidance (e.g., the number of miles between cities)
  • Orange: Construction zones, maintenance projects, and similar warnings
  • White: Used for regulatory signs (e.g., Pass with care or Two-way left turn only)
  • Brown: Recreation or scenic guidance (e.g., Park or Campground)
  • Black: Regulation (e.g., Chevron roundabout or No right turn across tracks)

Traffic signs also come in different shapes, each with a special purpose. 

  • Octagon: Used exclusively for STOP signs 
  • Inverted triangle: Used exclusively for YIELD signs
  • Triangle pointing to the right: No-pass zone
  • Diamond: Warns drivers about potential hazards or obstacles
  • Circle: Railroad crossing ahead
  • Horizontal rectangle: Used for guidance (e.g., directions or historical landmarks)
  • Vertical rectangle: Shows driving regulations
  • Pentagon: School crossing or school zone
  • X-shaped signs: Railway crossings
Road Sign Shapes

When you’re on the road, check the shape and dominant color of the traffic signs you encounter. For example, a diamond-shaped orange or yellow sign represents a warning, no matter its location. 

Failure to obey traffic signals can result in fines and penalty points. In some cases, it could lead to jail time. If, say, you run a STOP sign and collide with another car, you’ll be the one considered at fault.

Remember that traffic signs are in place to keep you safe. Let them guide you, and your driving will become smoother and more enjoyable.

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