There are a few states in the United States that are well-known around the world. California has made notoriety for so many things that it’s difficult to select just a few as being the most important.
California is one of the most diverse states, and anyone that lives there knows that in some areas, you can go to the mountains and ski and then head to the beach on the same day. California may have been the 31st state to be added to the union, but by the early 1960s, it was also the most populated state.
From gold to entertainment to technology, California has proven itself to be unique among the states. The beauty of the Pacific Coast that lines the state to the west has become part of their famed iconic look.
No one is really sure where the name “California” originated. It was thought that it might be from an early 16th-century Spanish novel that included a description of a kind of paradise island.
The weather in California depends on where you are standing. There is the desert warmth of Southern California, the cold winter of the mountains, the cooler and pleasant temperatures of central California, and the brisk cold and changing seasons of Northern California.
The state is bordered by Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, and the Mexican state of Baja and is a state of contrasts. California has both the lowest and highest points in the 48 conterminous states.
Early Spanish explorers looking for gold and riches established settlements in California. Additional religious orders created missions in the 1700s up to and down the coast, many of which still stand today.
The purpose of the missions was to convert the indigenous people that lived in the area to the Catholic religion. Thanks to the pleasant weather and the fertile lands, expansion continued in California.
By the mid-1800s, it was added as a U.S. territory as part of the treaty with the end of the Mexican-American War, and only three years later, it became the 31st state in the United States.
One might say that it was a smart move, as California has become the leader in agricultural production in the U.S. as well as home to the movie, music, and entertainment industry that has made Hollywood a household name.
The technology that has taken hold can also be given credit to the Silicon Valley of Northern California.
- California became the 31st state in the U.S. on September 9, 1850
- As of the 2019 Census, California has a population of 39.51 million people
- The capital city of California is Sacramento
- California’s size is 163,694 square miles
- The highest point in California is Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet.
- The state bird of California is the California Valley Quail
- The state flower for California is the Poppy
- California land area is 163,694 square miles
- California boasts ten National Parks, which is the largest number of any state in the U.S. The state has over 300 state parks.
- Nicknames for California include: The Golden State, The Land of Milk and Honey, The El Dorado State, and The Grape State
The AIDS National Memorial Grove is in San Francisco, California. It is dedicated to all of the people that have died due to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The City of San Francisco owns and administers the memorial, and it is an area affiliated with the National Park Service.
Alcatraz Island is also known as “The Rock” and is an island off the coast of the San Francisco bay area. It is most well-known as a federal prison, but it was also a lighthouse, a fort, and a military prison. It was the location of a Native American Indian protest in 1969.
Balboa Park is in San Diego, California, and is 1,200 acres of urban cultural park that includes natural vegetation zones, gardens, walking paths, open spaces, and green belts as well as the San Diego Zoo, several theaters, and museums.
California’s Great America in Santa Clara, California, is an amusement park encompassing 100 acres. It was opened in 1976 as one of two parks built and operated by the Marriott Corporation, but is now owned and operated by Cedar Fair.
Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, is the original entertainment park built by Walt Disney for family fun.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a legendary area of San Francisco, a community area on the waterfront filled with retailers, vendors, cafes, and restaurants, as well as some that have become well-known around the world.
Go For Broke Monument in Los Angeles, California, honors the Japanese Americans that served in the U.S. military overseas during World War II. The monument features a wall that includes the list of the names of 16,126 Nisei (Second generation Japanese-American) soldiers.
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is another iconic item. It is a suspension bridge that spans the “Golden Gate” that opens the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay.
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is one of the most famous observatories in the world. Facing Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, it continues to serve the public with a variety of shows in a beautiful setting.
Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, was constructed by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate using architect Julia Morgan. It is now operated by the state of California and contains some of the world’s largest collections of art and period furniture.
The Hollywood Sign in Hollywood, California, was originally created in 1923 as an advertising gimmick for the development of new houses in the Hollywood Hills. It has been maintained over the years as it is now a symbol of California’s entertainment industry.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is made of over 2,600 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars inlaid along sidewalks that extend fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood. Each contains the name of a famous celebrity.
Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, is a 160-acre amusement park and is now owned and operated by Cedar Fair. In 2015 it was listed as the twelfth most visited park in North America.
Lake Tahoe is in the Sierra Nevada and is a large freshwater lake and a community that has grown up around it. The area is known for its natural beauty and is the largest alpine lake in North America. It is 6,225 and spans the border between Nevada and California.
Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey Bay, California, is located on the place of a former Cannery Row sardine cannery and is home to thousands of animals and plants that reflect over 600 species.
Redwood National and State Parks are 112,512 acres of parks that contain the protected coastal redwood tree groves, which are the tallest and biggest trees on earth.
RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, is the retired ocean liner that was the flagship of the Cunard Line. It was replaced and then put in a dock in Long Beach.
San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, is in Balboa Park and is home to over 3,700 animals that include 650 species and subspecies.
Sequoia National Park is in the southern Sierra Nevada area. It was established in 1890 and had 404,064 acres in the park.
There are numerous movie studios in Los Angeles, including Universal and Paramount, that are well worth visiting.
Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California is the mansion built by the Winchester family, heir to the Winchester gun industry. Sarah Winchester was the widow of William and a believer in the occult. She was told by a medium that if she continued building on the house that spirits wouldn’t bother her. She continued building non-stop for 20 years.
Yosemite National Park is 747,856 acres covering areas of Tuolumne, Mariposa, and Madera counties in Northern California. It is managed by the National Park Service.
California History Facts
- Archeologists have found evidence that there were inhabitants in the area that we call California for thousands of years. There were many tribes and cultures, each with their own distinct style, including the Pomo, the Maidu, the Modic, and the Mohave, resulting in over 135 languages/dialects.
- Because California has such expansive coastal areas, there were many early European explorers that landed their expeditions in the 1500s. The Spanish and the Portuguese were the first known explorers, followed by the English. The Spanish made a claim to some areas, but in 1579, Sir Francis Drake landed in the San Francisco area and claimed it for England.
- The 1600s continued with European explorers sending expeditions into the vast areas of California. It wasn’t until the early 1700s that the Spanish began to establish missions up and down the coast, resulting in 21 missions designed to convert the natives to the Catholic religion. The missions spanned 650 miles of what is known today as the El Camino Real. Many were eventually turned into outposts and trading centers.
- The Spanish missions flourished throughout the 1800s, and many of the Spanish elite set up large and luxurious ranches. The financial benefit of fertile land brought a different type of wealth. Both the Spanish and Mexican elite were often given large land grants as part of the payment for loyal service.
- Nearing the end of the 1800s, the transcontinental railroad system was promising settlers and pioneers the ability to travel to the new west to seek their fortunes. However, the settlers found that the Spanish governors didn’t welcome them, and many were treated harshly.
- Everything changed in 1821 when Mexico became independent from Spain. The Spanish missions that lined the coast were also viewed in anger by the Native Americans, and they attacked many of them in an attempt to drive the people away.
- The United States viewed Mexico as an enemy, and in 1846 the U.S. to an eastward course to invade Mexico. This was the beginning of continued bad relations, resulting in the Mexican War.
- The 1849 gold rush was the single pivotal occurrences that changed the course of history for California. Thousands of people raced to California to seek their fortune, setting up gold towns everywhere even the smallest amount of gold was found.
- 1849 was also the year that ended the Mexican War, with the Treaty of Guadalupe. The treaty added 525,000 square miles as U.S. territory, including all or parts of what is today: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Mexico also relinquished its claims on Texas and agreed to recognize the Rio Grande as the southern boundary for the U.S.
- On September 9, 1850, California was added as the 31st state of the United States, listing Sacramento as the capital.
- The balance of the 1800s saw continued and often rapid growth in many areas of California. Specifically, in the San Francisco area where Chinese immigrants had arrived to assist in building the railroads. Fertile land was quickly being turned into farmland in the middle and northern California areas.
- The early 1900s saw more expansion as areas in Southern California began to grow. However, prejudice remained as the state passed the California Alien Land Law that kept “aliens ineligible for citizenship” (which meant all Asian immigrants) from land or property ownership; it did allow three-year leases.
- The Great Depression and World War I took their toll on all states in the U.S. as well as around the world. However, the growth in California may have slowed down, but it didn’t stop. They continued to build universities, museums, educational centers, and infrastructure. The early years of the movies were now bringing in a lot of financial benefits to Southern California. The U.S. government began to coordinate with private companies in California as well as set up federal organizations that supported the government in projects and creativity.
- Post World War II brought the same economic boom to California that it did to the rest of the country. Real estate became big business, and as more people relocated to the state, more homes and businesses were being built.
- The 1960s and 1970s brought about some of the largest changes in the nation. As people were protesting against the Vietnam War, and women were demanding equal rights, the younger people were also creating an entire generation of peace and love. The Haight Ashbury area of San Francisco found itself to be the epicenter of the hippy movement, which expanded out to the entire country.
- Meanwhile, small groups of technically savvy individuals were slowly creating software, hardware, and firmware in the San Francisco area that would become the future of technology in the country.
- The 1980s came to see an explosion of technology as the spread of computerization and companies that were producing the products grew to become what is now known as Silicon Valley in San Francisco. These companies continue today to be some of the most innovative and creative companies that are influencing the world as we know it.
It wasn’t until post-1900 that the state of California saw rapid growth and quickly became the largest agriculture center for the U.S. and acted as an industrial, financial success.
The economy had started with agriculture, shipping, the film industry, and tourism. After 1940, the U.S. government began to work with companies that were being built for electronics and aerospace, as well as establishing military bases in the state.
California continued to be the cultural phenomenon that many flocked to for achieving their dreams. The sheer volume of people with all types of talents that relocated to California showed that people were chance and risk-takers, and this may be why so many companies and start-ups showed success. 35 million new residents relocated in the 20th century.
Those that moved to California found not only technology innovation and new ideas, but once oil was discovered, it opened up entirely new lines of profit. It wasn’t as if they had to look for the oil.
It was bubbling up to the surface. This launched massive oil companies as well as natural gas. Labor unions became very successful in California and, as large companies relocated to various areas of the state, more workers received better wages and increased the standard of living.
The state ended up with three different types of lifestyles and philosophies: Southern California with the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and Northern California became more intellectual, scientific, and technologically-prone and Central California was the home of wineries and vast farms. Each type brought about wealth and prosperity of a different kind.
As of 2019, the California GDP is $2.3 trillion, the largest GDP in the country.