Quick facts for kids
|State of California|
|Anthem: "I Love You, California"
Map of the United States with California highlighted
|Before statehood||Mexican Cession unorganized territory|
|Admitted to the Union||September 9, 1850 (31st)|
|• Total||163,696 sq mi (423,970 km2)|
|• Land||155,959 sq mi (403,932 km2)|
|• Water||7,737 sq mi (20,047 km2) 4.7%|
|• Length||770 mi (1,240 km)|
|• Width||250 mi (400 km)|
|Elevation||2,900 ft (880 m)|
|Highest elevation||14,505 ft (4,421.0 m)|
|Lowest elevation||−279 ft (−85.0 m)|
|• Density||253.6/sq mi (97.9/km2)|
|• Density rank||11th|
|• Median household income||$71,228 (2,018)|
|• Income rank||9th|
|• Official language||English|
|• Spoken language||Language spoken at home:|
|Time zone||UTC−08:00 (PST)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−07:00 (PDT)|
|ISO 3166 code||US-CA|
|Trad. abbreviation||Calif., Cal.|
|Latitude||32°32′ N to 42° N|
|Longitude||114°8′ W to 124°26′ W|
|California state symbols|
The Seal of California
|Amphibian||California red-legged frog|
|Insect||California dogface butterfly|
|Tree||Coast redwood & giant sequoia|
|Colors||Blue & gold|
|Dance||West Coast Swing|
|Folk dance||Square dance|
|Tartan||California state tartan|
|State route marker|
Released in 2005
|Lists of United States state symbols|
California is a state in the western United States. It is the third largest state in size. It is the state with the most people living in it. Important cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. The capital is Sacramento. It became a state on September 9, 1850. It is bordered by Arizona to the southeast, Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south.
If it were a country, California would be the 6th largest economy in the world and the 35th most populous. It is also regarded as a global trendsetter in both popular culture and politics, and is the origin of the film industry, the hippie counterculture, the Internet, and the personal computer, among others.
The word California originally referred to the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico; it was later extended to the entire region composed of the current United States states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.
Shortened forms of the state's name include CA, Cal., Calif..
Settled by successive waves of arrivals during the last 10,000 years, California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America. Various estimates of the native population range from 100,000 to 300,000. The Indigenous peoples of California included more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans, ranging from large, settled populations living on the coast to groups in the interior. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.
In the past, the area that was called "California" was not just today's California. This area covered the Mexican lands south of it, as well as Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona and Wyoming. The Spanish called the part of the land that later became part of the United States Alta California (Upper California) when it was split from what became Baja California (Lower California). In these early times, the borders of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast were not well known, so the old maps wrongly showed California to be an island. The name comes from Las sergas de Espladián (Adventures of Spladian), a 16th century book by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, where there is an island paradise called California.
The first European who visited parts of the coast, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, came from Portugal in 1542. The first European who saw the entire coast was Sir Francis Drake, in 1579, and he decided that the British owned it. But starting in the late 1700s, Spanish religious leaders of the Roman Catholic Church ("missionaries") got large gifts of land in the area north of Baja California, from the Spanish king and queen. These religious people set up small towns and villages, the famous California Missions. When Mexico was no longer controlled by Spain, the Mexican government took over the villages, and they soon became empty.
In 1846, as the Mexican-American War was starting, some Americans in California hoped to create a California Republic. These men flew a "Bear flag" that had a golden bear with a star on it. This Republic ended suddenly, however, when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into San Francisco Bay. He said that California was now part of the United States. After the war with Mexico ended, California was split between the two countries. The Mexican portion became the Mexican states of Baja California Norte (north) and Baja California Sur (south). ("Baja" means "lower" in Spanish.) The western part of the part given to the United States became today's state of California.
In 1848, there were about 4,000 Spanish-speaking people in today's California on the American side. (Today the state has a total of nearly 40,000,000 people.) In 1849, gold was suddenly found and the number of people went up very fast as the Gold Rush took hold. In 1850, California became a state in the Union (the United States).
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), many people in California, especially in the southern part of California, thought the South was right. Some people in Southern California even wanted Southern California to leave the rest of the state and join the Confederate States of America. However, this did not happen. California joined the war to and helped the North (the Union) and sent many troops east to fight the Confederacy.
At first, travel between the far west and the east coast of the United States was dangerous and took a lot of time. Going by land was very difficult, because there were no roads and no trains, and many Native Americans were attacking American people heading West in wagons. The only other way was to travel by boat around the Cape Horn, at the southern end of South America. This took months, since the trip was thousands of miles long and the Panama Canal had not yet been built either. But in 1869, the connection got better quickly, because the first railroad across the continent was finished. Meanwhile, more people in California were learning that the land there was very good to grow fruit and other crops. Oranges were grown in many parts of California. This was the beginning of the huge farming business that California has today.
Migration to California accelerated during the early 20th century with the completion of major transcontinental highways like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. In the period from 1900 to 1965, the population grew from fewer than one million to become the most populous state in the Union. In 1940, the Census Bureau reported California's population as 6.0% Hispanic, 2.4% Asian, and 89.5% non-Hispanic white.
To meet the population's needs, major engineering feats like the California and Los Angeles Aqueducts; the Oroville and Shasta Dams; and the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges were built across the state. The state government also adopted the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 to develop a highly efficient system of public education.
Meanwhile, attracted to the mild Mediterranean climate, cheap land, and the state's wide variety of geography, filmmakers established the studio system in Hollywood in the 1920s. California manufactured 8.7 percent of total United States military armaments produced during World War II, ranking third (behind New York and Michigan) among the 48 states. After World War II, California's economy greatly expanded due to strong aerospace and defense industries, whose size decreased following the end of the Cold War. Stanford University and its Dean of Engineering Frederick Terman began encouraging faculty and graduates to stay in California instead of leaving the state, and develop a high-tech region in the area now known as Silicon Valley. As a result of these efforts, California is regarded as a world center of the entertainment and music industries, of technology, engineering, and the aerospace industry, and as the United States center of agricultural production. Just before the "Dot Com Bust" California had the 5th largest economy in the world among nations. Yet since 1991, and starting in the late 1980s in Southern California, California has seen a net loss of domestic migrants most years. This is often referred to by the media as the California exodus.
However, during the 20th century, two great disasters happened in California. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and 1928 St. Francis Dam flood remain the deadliest in U.S history.
California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas. California is often geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California, comprising the 10 southernmost counties, and Northern California, comprising the 48 northernmost counties.
In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, bounded by the Sierra Nevada in the east, the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Cascade Range to the north and by the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The Central Valley is California's productive agricultural heartland.
Divided in two by the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the northern portion, the Sacramento Valley serves as the watershed of the Sacramento River, while the southern portion, the San Joaquin Valley is the watershed for the San Joaquin River. Both valleys derive their names from the rivers that flow through them. With dredging, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers have remained deep enough for several inland cities to be seaports.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a critical water supply hub for the state. Water is diverted from the delta and through an extensive network of pumps and canals that traverse nearly the length of the state, to the Central Valley and the State Water Projects and other needs. Water from the Delta provides drinking water for nearly 23 million people, almost two-thirds of the state's population as well as water for farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The Sierra Nevada (Spanish for "snowy range") includes the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4,421 m). The range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth, and the deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume.
To the east of the Sierra Nevada are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential migratory bird habitat. In the western part of the state is Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake by area entirely in California. Though Lake Tahoe is larger, it is divided by the California/Nevada border. The Sierra Nevada falls to Arctic temperatures in winter and has several dozen small glaciers, including Palisade Glacier, the southernmost glacier in the United States.
About 45 percent of the state's total surface area is covered by forests, and California's diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Many of the trees in the California White Mountains are the oldest in the world; an individual bristlecone pine is over 5,000 years old.
In the south is a large inland salt lake, the Salton Sea. The south-central desert is called the Mojave; to the northeast of the Mojave lies Death Valley, which contains the lowest and hottest place in North America, the Badwater Basin at −279 feet (−85 m). The horizontal distance from the bottom of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney is less than 90 miles (140 km). Indeed, almost all of southeastern California is arid, hot desert, with routine extreme high temperatures during the summer. The southeastern border of California with Arizona is entirely formed by the Colorado River, from which the southern part of the state gets about half of its water.
A majority of California's cities are located in either the San Francisco Bay Area or the Sacramento metropolitan area in Northern California; or the Los Angeles area, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Inland Empire, or the San Diego metropolitan area in Southern California. The Los Angeles Area, the Bay Area, and the San Diego metropolitan area are among several major metropolitan areas along the California coast.
As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes. It has many earthquakes due to several faults running through the state, in particular the San Andreas Fault. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.
Northern parts of the state have more rain than the south.
- See also: Environment of California
California is one of the richest and most diverse parts of the world, and includes some of the most endangered ecological communities. California is part of the Nearctic ecozone and spans a number of terrestrial ecoregions.
California's large number of endemic species includes relict species, which have died out elsewhere, such as the Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus). Many other endemics originated through differentiation or adaptive radiation, whereby multiple species develop from a common ancestor to take advantage of diverse ecological conditions such as the California lilac (Ceanothus). Many California endemics have become endangered, as urbanization, logging, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic species have encroached on their habitat.
Flora and fauna
- See also: List of California native plants
California boasts several superlatives in its collection of flora: the largest trees, the tallest trees, and the oldest trees. California's native grasses are perennial plants. After European contact, these were generally replaced by invasive species of European annual grasses; and, in modern times, California's hills turn a characteristic golden-brown in summer.
Because California has the greatest diversity of climate and terrain, the state has six life zones which are the lower Sonoran (desert); upper Sonoran (foothill regions and some coastal lands), transition (coastal areas and moist northeastern counties); and the Canadian, Hudsonian, and Arctic Zones, comprising the state's highest elevations.
The transition zone includes most of California's forests with the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the "big tree" or giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), among the oldest living things on earth (some are said to have lived at least 4,000 years). Tanbark oak, California laurel, sugar pine, madrona, broad-leaved maple, and Douglas-fir also grow here.
Forest floors are covered with swordfern, alumnroot, barrenwort, and trillium, and there are thickets of huckleberry, azalea, elder, and wild currant. Characteristic wild flowers include varieties of mariposa, tulip, and tiger and leopard lilies.
The high elevations of the Canadian zone allow the Jeffrey pine, red fir, and lodgepole pine to thrive.
The area's reptilian life include the sidewinder viper, desert tortoise, and horned toad. The upper Sonoran zone boasts mammals such as the antelope, brown-footed woodrat, and ring-tailed cat. Birds unique to this zone are the California thrasher, bushtit, and California condor.
In the transition zone, there are Colombian black-tailed deer, black bears, gray foxes, cougars, bobcats, and Roosevelt elk. Reptiles such as the garter snakes and rattlesnakes inhabit the zone. In addition, amphibians such as the water puppy and redwood salamander are common too. Birds such as the kingfisher, chickadee, towhee, and hummingbird thrive here as well.
The Canadian zone mammals include the mountain weasel, snowshoe hare, and several species of chipmunks. Conspicuous birds include the blue-fronted jay, Sierra chickadee. Sierra hermit thrush, water ouzel, and Townsend's solitaire. Principal mammals found in this region include the Sierra coney, white-tailed jackrabbit, and the bighorn sheep. The fauna found throughout several zones are the mule deer, coyote, mountain lion, northern flicker, and several species of hawk and sparrow.
Aquatic life in California thrives, from the state's mountain lakes and streams to the rocky Pacific coastline. Numerous trout species are found, among them rainbow, golden, and cutthroat. Migratory species of salmon are common as well. Deep-sea life forms include sea bass, yellowfin tuna, barracuda, and several types of whale. Native to the cliffs of northern California are seals, sea lions, and many types of shorebirds, including migratory species.
The vast majority of rivers in California are dammed as part of two massive water projects: the Central Valley Project, providing water to the agricultural central valley, the California State Water Project diverting water from northern to southern California.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of California was 39,512,223 on July 1, 2019, a 6.06% increase since the 2010 United States Census. The population is projected to reach forty million by 2020 and fifty million by 2060.
Largest cities or towns in California
According to the United States Census Bureau in 2015 the population self-identifies as (alone or in combination):
- 72.9% White
- 14.7% Asian
- 6.5% Black or African American
- 3.8% Two or More Races
- 1.7% Native American and Alaska Native
- 0.5% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
By ethnicity, in 2015 the population was 61.2% non-Hispanic (of any race) and 38.8% Hispanic or Latino (of any race).
In 2010, the Modern Language Association of America estimated that 57.02% (19,429,309) of California residents age 5 and older spoke only English at home, while 42.98% spoke another primary language at home.
In total, 16 languages other than English were spoken as primary languages at home by more than 100,000 persons, more than any other state in the nation.
The culture of California is a Western culture and most clearly has its modern roots in the culture of the United States, but also, historically, many Hispanic influences. As a border and coastal state, Californian culture has been greatly influenced by several large immigrant populations, especially those from Latin America and Asia.
California has long been a subject of interest in the public mind and has often been promoted by its boosters as a kind of paradise. In the early 20th century, fueled by the efforts of state and local boosters, many Americans saw the Golden State as an ideal resort destination, sunny and dry all year round with easy access to the ocean and mountains. In the 1960s, popular music groups such as The Beach Boys promoted the image of Californians as laid-back, tanned beach-goers.
The California Gold Rush of the 1850s is still seen as a symbol of California's economic style, which tends to generate technology, social, entertainment, and economic fads and booms and related busts.
California has twenty major professional sports league franchises, far more than any other state.
California has long had many respected collegiate sports programs. California is home to the oldest college bowl game, the annual Rose Bowl, among others.
The economy of California is large enough to be comparable to that of the largest of countries.
The five largest sectors of employment in California are trade, transportation, and utilities; government; professional and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. In output, the five largest sectors are financial services, followed by trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; government; and manufacturing. As of September 2016[update], California has an unemployment rate of 5.5%.
Agriculture is an important sector in California's economy. Farming-related sales more than quadrupled over the past three decades. According to the USDA in 2011, the three largest California agricultural products by value were milk and cream, shelled almonds, and grapes.
In 2010, there were more than 663,000 millionaires in the state, more than any other state in the nation.
The state's capital is Sacramento.
California is organized into three branches of government – the executive branch consisting of the Governor and the other independently elected constitutional officers; the legislative branch consisting of the Assembly and Senate; and the judicial branch consisting of the Supreme Court of California and lower courts.
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