In mammals, including humans, nearly all physiological processes are subject to daily oscillations that are governed by a circadian timing system with a complex hierarchical structure. The central pacemaker, residing in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the ventral hypothalamus, is synchronized daily by photic cues transmitted from the retina to SCN neurons via the retinohypothalamic tract. In turn, the SCN must establish phase coherence between self-sustained and cell-autonomous oscillators present in most peripheral cell types. The synchronization signals (Zeitgebers) can be controlled more or less directly by the SCN. In mice and rats, feeding-fasting rhythms, which are driven by the SCN through rest-activity cycles, are the most potent Zeitgebers for the circadian oscillators of peripheral organs. Signaling through the glucocorticoid receptor and the serum response factor also participate in the phase entrainment of peripheral clocks, and these two pathways are controlled by the SCN independently of feeding-fasting rhythms. Body temperature rhythms, governed by the SCN directly and indirectly through rest-activity cycles, are perhaps the most surprising cues for peripheral oscillators. Although the molecular makeup of circadian oscillators is nearly identical in all cells, these oscillators are used for different purposes in the SCN and in peripheral organs.