Safety Roadside Rest Areas

A photo of the Camp Roberts Safety Roadside Rest Area features a facility that houses public restrooms surrounded by tidy water-efficient landscaping, benches, and trash and recycling receptacles.

Photo of Camp Roberts Safety Roadside Rest Area


Caltrans provides Safety Roadside Rest Areas as a part of the State Highway System pursuant to Streets and Highways Code, Sections 218-226.5. Safety Roadside Rest Areas provide opportunities for travelers to safely stop, stretch, take a nap, use the restroom, get water, check maps, place telephone calls, switch drivers, check vehicles and loads, and exercise pets. Rest areas reduce drowsy and distracted driving and provide a safe and convenient alternative to unsafe parking along the roadside.

The Landscape Architecture Program provides guidance for planning and designing new rest areas and rehabilitating existing rest areas. Rest area projects are designed and constructed by the Department's local districts, with architectural and mechanical support from the Division of Engineering Services, Structures Design. Rest areas are maintained and operated by the Department's local districts with guidance from the Division of Maintenance.

The Division of Tourism oversees a system of California Welcome Centers (CWC) for the convenience of travelers and tourists. Equipped with comprehensive informational materials and expert staff, each CWC acts as a window into the world of the surrounding region and area.

Click here to learn more about the California Welcome Centers.

Statewide Rest Area Locations

To see a list of Safety Roadside Rest Areas, you can use QuickMap; once you have clicked on the link to the QuickMap page, click the “Options” tab and then select “Rest Areas” to show these facilities statewide.

Safety Is Our Goal!

The Caltrans Safety Roadside Rest Area System provides a well-planned and maintained system of attractive and safe places where travelers restore their energy and driving alertness while gathering information and learning about California's natural and cultural resources as follows:

Essential to Highway Safety

Rest areas are an important part of Caltrans' efforts to ensure traveler safety. They provide clean, safe and comfortable places for travelers to rest and manage their needs. Attractive and useful, rest areas encourage travelers to use a safe location off the roadway to take a break and return more alert to the highway.

Safe, Clean, Accessible and Attractive

Rest areas are open, convenient and accessible to all travelers, regardless of age, disability or language. Good lighting and security features allow comfortable use 24 hours a day. Landscaping and pedestrian amenities invite the traveler to rest and relax.

Coordinated and Balanced System

The rest area system is planned with consideration of alternative stopping opportunities, such as truck stops, commercial services, welcome centers and vista points. The rest area system provides public stopping opportunities where they are most needed, usually between large towns and at the entrance to major metropolitan areas.

Maintainable and Sustainable

Rest areas are designed for long-term, heavy-duty use. Durable materials and construction methods are used to ensure ease and economy of maintenance. Designs emphasize resource conservation and the use of environmentally sound technologies.

Information Centers

Rest areas provide telephones, maps and public information. Information generally includes roadway conditions, tourist and recreational opportunities, traveler-related commercial services, public service bulletins, missing children information and information about the local history, culture and regional environment.

Context Sensitivity

Caltrans emphasizes context-sensitive design. Rest areas introduce many travelers to unfamiliar regions and their unique cultural and aesthetic qualities. Quality design includes environmentally sensitive site planning, appropriate architectural theme, and thoughtful selection of materials, colors, plantings and artistry. Local culture, history, terrain, geology or vegetation often suggests the appropriate theme.

Stakeholders and Partners

Rest area planning, design and operation involve many stakeholders and partners. Caltrans appreciates the ongoing support, cooperation and collaboration of the California Highway Patrol, local law enforcement agencies, the many non-profit rehabilitation facilities that employ persons with disabilities to maintain rest areas, blind entrepreneurs who provide vending machines, the California Division of Tourism and other State agencies that provide public information, traveler organizations, and associations representing the commercial trucking and truck stop industries.

Joint-Economic Development

New rest areas are needed to meet traffic demands and fill gaps in the rest area system. Funding constraints currently prevent consideration of new rest areas that are not located on the major Interstate highways, including Interstates 5, 10, 15, 40 and 80.

Caltrans is authorized to construct and operate up to six new rest areas as a joint economic development demonstration project, provided there is a need, and that the proposal will result in an economic savings to the State. Contracts must be awarded on a competitive basis; the rest areas may include traveler-related commercial services; and the Department is interested in a significant savings in the capital costs of construction (land and development).

Safety Roadside Rest Area Master Plan

New safety roadside rest area master plan recommendations were completed in 2011 by the research firm, Dornbush Associates, for the Landscape Architecture Program. Building on past research, this effort included the identification of alternative stopping opportunities and locations of chronic unauthorized truck parking, along with collecting traffic and user data at the 87 existing Safety Roadside Rest Areas. These recommendations will be evaluated by the Department to determine both the current and 20 year rest area system needs.

Focusing on the development of Public/Private Partnerships was identified as the most viable solution to developing new facilities, specifically utilizing the Federal Interstate Oasis program as a pilot. The 2011 master plan recommendations do not specify an implementation schedule or a funding mechanism. Based on findings in the report and input from the Districts, the next step is to focus on developing an implementation plan for the future of the statewide Safety Roadside Rest Area System.

The Safety Roadside Rest Area Master Plan deliverables included:

Information Centers

Background Matrices

Research Studies

Rest Area Rehabilitation

The Landscape Architecture Program is finalizing the first-phase rehabilitation of its 87 existing rest area units.

Priorities for this phase of rehabilitation include:

  • Complete all work required for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Ensure all work spaces comply with Cal OSHA requirements.
  • Ensure water, electrical and waste water utilities are safe and reliable
  • Enhance safety with pedestrian lighting improvements, office space for California Highway Patrol, security cameras
  • Repair or replace walks, shelters and pedestrian facilities that require immediate or imminent attention for safety or preservation of the facility
  • Expand capacity of restrooms where warranted by bus traffic, gender balance or other factors

Information on upcoming rest area rehabilitation projects may be found in the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP).

Value Analysis

Value Analysis, (VA), is part of Caltrans' standard procedures for developing projects. It is a method for enhancing product value by improving the relationship of performance to cost through the study of function. VA recommendations should not include cost reduction at the expense of project functions

During 2006, nine VA Studies were conducted on programmed Rest Area projects statewide. The primary purpose of the Rest Area VA studies was to identify ways to reduce construction costs while maintaining or improving project quality.

History of Rest Areas in California

Wayside rest areas -- providing water and shade for travelers and livestock -- have a history as old as highways. However, roadside development in California may have received its official start in 1868 when the Legislature authorized a reimbursement program for private planting of roadside shade and fruit trees to benefit travelers. In 1895, roadside shade trees were also a priority for the newly created Bureau of Highways -- the precursor to Caltrans. Roadside trees and parks proliferated in the early years of the 20th Century. In the 1920's, though, car ownership exploded, and roads began to be designed for speed, safety and serious transportation.

In 1931 the Legislature challenged the highway department to take leadership for roadside beautification and development (ACR 34). In 1932, the department reported plans for adding 131 wayside areas to the 44 it already had. Through the 1930s many roadside fountains, picnic areas and scenic overviews were built by special labor crews. These facilities served well until they were obliterated by post-World War II highway improvement.

In 1951 the Legislature asked the Division of Highways and the Division of Beaches and Parks to examine and report on the practicality of establishing a system of rest areas along California's state highways. As a result, a dozen rest areas were built and operated by the Division of Beaches and Parks in the late 1950s.

In 1962 the Legislature requested the Division of Highways to develop a master plan for a rest area system. The Division's plan for a system of 257 units, became the basis for legislation in 1963 (SB173) that directed the Division of Highways and the California Highway Commission to plan, design, construct and maintain a system of safety roadside rests on the state highway system.

By 1970 all but a handful of the rest areas that exist today had been constructed and were operating with enormous public and political support. However, following the oil crisis and rampant inflation of the early 1970s, funding constraints reigned in the rest area program. An "Initial System" master plan was adopted in 1974 that reduced the system to a total of 162 units.

In 1985 as a result of new funding constraints, a "Revised Initial System" master plan was adopted that included 91 existing units plus 13 proposed units that would be built only if significant economic partnership could be found. More than a dozen major efforts have been attempted since 1982 - all unsuccessful -- to obtain an economically feasible and politically acceptable partnership.

In 1999 -- faced with an aging rest area system used by more than 100 million people a year, and a legal requirement to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act -- the Department began planning the rehabilitation of its 88-unit system. A "Rest Area System Improvement Team" was established to provide direction. Functional units from throughout the Department and from many stakeholder agencies and organizations were represented on the team. In late 1999, the team's recommendations were adopted by Caltrans management and presented to the California Transportation Commission.


  • Raise the Priority of the Safety Rest Area System as Integral to Highway Safety
  • Develop an Updated Safety Roadside Rest Area System Master Plan
  • Rescind the Mandatory Privatization Policy
  • Expand and Formalize Public and Private Partnerships
  • Conduct Ongoing Evaluation of Rest Area System Performance
  • Investigate In-Route Truck Parking Capacity Issues
  • Maintain Ongoing Stakeholder Involvement
  • Update Safety Roadside Rest Area Design Standards and Guidelines