If you are caught in California driving without a license your car will usually be towing and impounded for 30 days. If you have had a prior conviction for driving as an unlicensed motorist in California, the state can take the vehicle away from you as “forfeiture”.
If you are underage and never had a license, it is likely that you will not be able to get a license until you are 18.
If you are licensed, but were driving with a suspended or revoked license, the penalties can include getting the suspension or revocation time lengthened fines and or imprisonment. Some Courts may want to give you 10 days of jail time, too!
California Vehicle Code Sections 14600 - 14611 are the sections that prohibit unlicensed drivers in California.
Under VC 14601, upon the first conviction of driving with a suspended license there could be county jail time of not less than 5 days or more than 6 months and a fine of not less than $300 or more than $1000.
Vehicle Code Section 12500 states that driving without a valid license is a misdemeanor in California, and the punishment for violating VC 12500 is usually handled by probation, time in county jail, and fines of up to $1000 plus penalty assessments.
The scheduled fine for the infraction is $298, and for the misdemeanor it is $380. For a first offense, you should get a license and insurance before you have to show up in court, if you can. Some prosecutors will reduce the charge to an infraction or dismiss the charge if you get a license and insurance before the court hearing.
You can legally drive with a license from another state or country, but if you are in California for longer than 30 days you are required to get a license here.