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California is a state located in the western United States, bordering the Pacific Ocean. The most populous and third largest state in the U.S., With a population roughly the size of Canada and one of the biggest economies in the world, California is more like a country than a state. California is both physically and demographically diverse. The state's official nickname is "The Golden State", which may refer either to the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the subsequent gold rush, or to the golden brown color of much of the state during the summer. California's U.S. postal abbreviation is CA, and its Associated Press abbreviation is Calif.

Southern California is highly populated, while the larger northern California is less densely populated. The vast majority of the population lives within 50 miles (80 km) of the Pacific Ocean. California dominates American culture and economy, contributing significant advances in technology and legal reform, in addition to paying significantly more to the federal system than it receives in benefits.

The entire region originally known as California was composed of the Mexican peninsula now known as Baja California and the land in the current states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona and Wyoming, known as Alta California. In these early times, the boundaries of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast were only partially explored and California was shown on early maps as an island. The name comes from Las sergas de Espladián (Adventures of Spladian), a 16th century novel, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, where there is an island paradise called California. (For further discussion, see: Origin of the name California.)



The first Europeans to explore parts of the coast were Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. The first to explore the entire coast and claim possession of it was Francis Drake in 1579. Beginning in the late 1700s, Spanish missionaries set up tiny settlements on enormous grants of land in the vast territory north of Baja California. Upon Mexican independence from Spain, the chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government, and they were quickly dissolved and abandoned.

In 1846, at the outset of the Mexican-American War, a California Republic was founded and the Bear Flag was flown that featured a golden bear and a star. The Republic came to a sudden end when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into San Francisco Bay and claimed California for the United States. Following the Mexican-American War, the region was divided between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican portion, Baja (lower) California was later divided into the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. The western part of the U.S. portion, Alta (upper) California, was to become the state of California.

In 1848, the Spanish-speaking population of distant upper California numbered around 4,000. But after gold was discovered, the population burgeoned with Americans and a few Europeans in the great California gold rush. In 1850, the state was admitted to the Union.

During the American Civil War, popular support was divided 70% for the South and 30% for the North, and although California officially entered on the side of the North, many troops went east to fight with the Confederacy.

The connection of the far Pacific West to the eastern population centers came in 1869 with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Out West, residents were discovering that California was extremely well suited to fruit cultivation and agriculture in general. Citrus, oranges in particular, were widely grown, and the foundation was laid for the state's prodigious agricultural production of today.

In the period from 1900 to 1965 the population grew from fewer than one million to become the most populous state in the Union, sending the most electors to the Electoral College to elect the President. From 1965 to the present, this population completely changed and became one of the most diverse in the world. The state is liberal-leaning, technologically and culturally savvy, and a world center of engineering businesses, the film and television industry and, as mentioned above, American agricultural production.

Law and government

The Governor of California and the other state constitutional officers serve four-year terms and may be reelected only once. The California State Legislature consists of a 40 member Senate and 80 member Assembly. Senators serve four year terms and Assembly members two. The terms of the Senators are staggered so that half the membership is elected every two years. The Senators representing the odd-numbered districts are elected in years evenly divisible by four, i.e., presidential election years. The Senators from the even-numbered districts are elected in the intervening even-numbered years, in the gubernatorial election cycle.

For the 2003-2004 session, there are 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the Assembly. In the Senate, there are 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The current Governor is the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose current term lasts through January 2007. Schwarzenegger was only the second person in the history of the United States to be put into office by a recall of a sitting Governor (the first was the 1921 recall of North Dakota Governor Lynn J. Frazier). Schwarzenegger replaced Governor Gray Davis (1999-2003) who was removed from office by the October 2003 California recall election.

The state's capital is Sacramento. In California's early history, the capital was located in Monterey (1775-1849), San Jose (1849-1851), Vallejo (1852-1853), Benicia (1853-1854), and San Francisco (1862). The capital moved to Sacramento temporarily in 1852 when construction on a State House could not be completed in time in Vallejo. The capital moved to Sacramento for good on February 25, 1854, except for a four-month temporary move in 1862 to San Francisco due to severe flooding in Sacramento.

California's giant judiciary is supervised by the seven Justices of the Supreme Court of California. California judges are always appointed by the Governor but must be regularly reconfirmed by the electorate.

At the national level, California is represented by two senators and 53 representatives. It has 55 electoral votes in the U.S. Electoral College. California has the most Congressmen and Presidential Electors of any state. The two U.S. Senators from California are Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. 33 Democrats and 20 Republicans represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

See also: List of California Governors, US Congressional Delegations from California, List of California counties, List of California ballot propositions


California borders the Pacific Ocean, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican state of Baja California. The state has striking natural features, including an expansive central valley, high mountains, and hot dry deserts. With an area of 410,000 km² it is the third largest state in the U.S. Most major cities cling to the cool, pleasant seacoast along the Pacific, notably San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Santa Ana/Orange County, and San Diego. However, the capital, Sacramento is in the Central Valley.

California has extremely varied geography. Down the center of the state lies the Central Valley, a huge, fertile valley bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the granite Sierra Nevada to the east, the volcanic Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. Mountain-fed rivers, dams, and canals provide water to irrigate the Central Valley. With dredging, several of these rivers have become sufficiently large and deep that several inland cities, notably Stockton, California, are seaports.

In the center and east of the state are the Sierra Nevada, containing the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4421 m). Also located in the Sierra are the world famous Yosemite National Park and a deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe. To the east of the Sierra are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential seabird habitat.

In the south lie the Transverse Ranges and a large 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, hottest point in North America.

California is famous for its earthquakes due partly to the presence of the San Andreas Fault. While more powerful earthquakes in the United States have occurred in Alaska and along the Mississippi River, California earthquakes are notable in their frequency and location in highly populated areas. Popular legend has it that, eventually, a huge earthquake will result in the splitting of coastal California from the continent, either to sink into the ocean or form a new landmass. The fact that this scenario is completely implausible from a geologic standpoint does not lessen its acceptance in public conventional wisdom, or its exploitation by the producers of science fiction and fantasy media. Notable movies in which the possible destruction of much of California by an earthquake includes the titles Earthquake, A View to a Kill, Escape from L.A., and Superman.

California is also home to several volcanoes, some active such as Mammoth Mountain. Other volcanoes include Lassen Peak, which erupted from 1914 and 1921, and Mount Shasta.


Different regions of California have very different climates, depending on their latitude, elevation, and proximity to the coast. Most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, with rainy winters and dry summers. The influence of the ocean generally moderates temperature extremes, creating cooler summers and warmer winters, and the cold oceanic California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast. As one moves away from the coast, the climate becomes more continental, with hotter summers and colder winters. Westerly winds from the ocean also bring moisture, and the northern parts of the state generally receive higher rainfall than the south. California's mountain ranges influence the climate as well; moisture-laden air from the west cools as it ascends the mountains, dropping moisture; some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate with rainfall of 15-40 inches (38-102 cm) per year. The Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate, but with greater temperature extremes than the coastal areas; parts of the valley are often filled with thick fog, similar to that found in the coastal valleys. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have a mountain climate with snow in winter and moderate heat in summer.

On the east side of the mountains is a drier "rain shadow". California's desert climate regions lie east of the high Sierra Nevada and southern California's Transverse Ranges and Peninsular Ranges. The low deserts east of the southern California mountains, including the Imperial and Coachella valleys and the lower Colorado River, are part of the Sonoran Desert, with hot summers and mild winters; the higher elevation deserts of eastern California, including the Mojave Desert, Owens Valley, and the Modoc Plateau , are part of the Great Basin region, with hot summers and cold winters.


Ecologically, California is one of the richest and most diverse parts of the world, and includes some of the most endangered ecological communities. California's diverse geography, geology, soils and climate have generated a tremendous diversity of plant and animal life. The state of California is part of the Nearctic ecozone, and spans a number of terrestrial ecoregions, and is perhaps the most ecologically diverse state in the United States.

California has a high percentage of endemic species. California endemics include relict species that have died out elsewhere, including the redwoods and 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. California's great abundance of species of California lilac (Ceanothus) is an example of adaptive radiation. Many California endemics have become endangered, as urbanization, logging, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic species have encroached on their habitat.


California is responsible for 14% of the United States' gross domestic product, which at almost $2.0 trillion USD, is greater than that of every other inidividual U.S state, and every country in the world (by Purchasing Power Parity) save for the other combined 49 United States, China, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. If California was considered as an independent self-sufficient economy, it would be ranked the 6th, ahead of France.

The predominant industry, more than twice as large as the next largest, is agriculture, (including fruit, vegetables, dairy, and wine). This is followed by aerospace; entertainment, primarily television by dollar volume, although many movies are still made in California; and light manufacturing including computer hardware and software, and the mining of borax.

Per capita income varies widely by geographic region and profession. The Central Valley has the most extreme contrasts of income, with migrant farm workers making less than minimum wage, contrasted with farmers who frequently manage multimillion-dollar farms. Most farm managers are highly educated, most with at least master's degrees. While some coastal cities include some of the wealthiest per-capita areas in the U.S., notably San Francisco and Marin County, the non-agricultural central counties have some of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. The high-technology sectors in Northern California, specifically Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, are currently emerging from economic depression caused by the bust, which caused the loss of over 250,000 jobs in Northern California alone. Recent (Spring 2005) economic data indicates that economic growth has resumed in California, although still slightly below the national annualized forecast of 3.9%.

See also: California unemployment statistics


California counties map
California counties map

With a population of 35,484,453 as of 2003 (according to Census Bureau estimates), California is the most populous state in the U.S., and contains 12% of the total U.S. population.

According to the census, California lacks a majority ethnic group. It is the third minority-majority state, after Hawaii and New Mexico. Non-Hispanic Whites are still the largest group, but are no longer a majority of the population due to high levels of immigration in recent years. Hispanics make up almost one-third of the population; in order, other groups are Asian Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans.

Because of high levels of immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, and higher birth rates among the Hispanic population, Hispanics are predicted to become a majority around 2040.

Racial breakdown of the population of California:

49.8% of the population is male, and 50.2% is female.


The religious affiliations of the people of California are:

  • Protestant – 74%
  • Roman Catholic – 20%
  • Other Religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Islam)– 4%
  • Non-Religious – 2%

The three largest Protestant denominations in California are: Baptist (30% of total state population), Methodist (10%), Lutheran (6%).

Important cities and towns

Los Angeles
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Diego

The state of California has many cities, and the majority of them are within one of the large metropolitan areas below.

Main articles: List of cities in California, List of cities in California (by population), List of urbanized areas in California (by population)

25 wealthiest places in California

Thanks to the state's powerful economy, certain California cities are among the wealthiest on the planet, as evidenced by large numbers of extravagant mansions, sports cars, and beautiful people. The following list is ranked by per capita income:

1 Belvedere, California $113,595
2 Rancho Santa Fe, California $113,132
3 Atherton, California $112,408
4 Rolling Hills, California $111,031
5 Woodside, California $104,667
6 Portola Valley, California $99,621
7 Newport Coast, California $98,770
8 Hillsborough, California $98,643
9 Diablo, California $95,419
10 Fairbanks Ranch, California $94,150
11 Hidden Hills, California $94,096
12 Los Altos Hills, California $92,840
13 Tiburon, California $85,966
14 Sausalito, California $81,040
15 Monte Sereno, California $76,577
16 Indian Wells, California $76,187
17 Malibu, California $74,336
18 Del Monte Forest, California $70,609
19 Piedmont, California $70,539
20 Montecito, California $70,077
21 Palos Verdes Estates, California $69,040
22 Emerald Lake Hills, California $68,966
23 Loyola, California $68,730
24 Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara, California $66,972
25 Los Altos, California $66,776
See complete list of California places


California's educational system is supported by a unique constitutional amendment that requires 40% of state revenues to be spent on education.

The preeminent state university is the 9-campus University of California, which employs more Nobel Prize winners than any other institution in the world. The eight general campuses are in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Irvine, Riverside, and San Diego. A ninth campus, in San Francisco, teaches only health-sciences students. A tenth campus, in Merced, is scheduled to open in 2005.[1] The UC system is intended to accept students from the top 12.5% of college-bound students, and provide most graduate studies and research. The University of California also administers federal laboratories for the Federal Department of Energy: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The California State University system provides education for teachers, the trades, agriculture and industry. With over 400,000 students, the CSU system is the largest university system in the United States. It is intended to accept most college-bound high-school students, while carrying out some research, especially in applied sciences. Lower-division course credits are frequently transferable to the University of California.

The California community college system provides vocational education, remedial education, and continuing education programs. It awards certificates and associate degrees. It also provides lower division general-education courses, whose credit units are transferable to the CSU and UC systems. It is composed of 109 colleges organized into 72 districts. The system serves a student population of over 2.9 million.

Preeminent private institutions include Stanford University, the University of Southern California (USC), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) (which administers the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA).

California has hundreds of private colleges and universities, including many religious and special-purpose institutions. This leads to many unique entertainment and educational opportunities for residents. For example, Southern California, with one of the highest densities of post-secondary institutions in the world, has a very large base of classically trained vocalists that compete in large choir festivals. Near Los Angeles, there are numerous art and film institutes, including the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the CalArts Institute.

Secondary education consists of high schools that teach elective courses in trades, languages and liberal arts with tracks for gifted, college-bound and industrial arts students. They accept students from roughly age 14 to 18, with mandatory education ceasing at age 16. In many districts, junior high schools or middle schools teach electives with a strong skills-based curriculum, for ages from 11 to 13. Elementary schools teach pure skills, history and social studies, with optional half-day kindergartens beginning at age 5. Mandatory full-time instruction begins at age 6.

The primary schools are of varying effectiveness. The quality of the local schools depends strongly on the local tax base, and the size of the local administration. In some regions, administrative costs divert a significant amount of educational monies from instructional purposes. In poor regions, literacy rates may fall below 70%. One thing they all have in common is a state mandate to teach fourth grade students about the history of California, including the role of the early missions; most schools implement this by requiring students complete a multiple medium project.


California's vast terrain is connected by an extensive system of freeways, expressways, and highways, all maintained by Caltrans and patrolled by the California Highway Patrol. Most Californians usually resort to the roads for their commutes, errands, and vacations, which is why California's cities have a reputation equalled in the U.S. only by New York City for severe traffic congestion.

As for air travel, San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport are major hubs for trans-Pacific and transcontinental traffic. There are about a dozen important commercial airports and many more general aviation airports throughout the state's 58 counties.

California also has several excellent seaports. The giant seaport complex formed by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in Southern California is responsible for handling about a fourth of all container cargo traffic in the United States. The Port of Oakland handles most of the ocean containers passing through Northern California.

Intercity rail travel is provided by Amtrak. San Francisco and Los Angeles both have rapid rail/subway networks, in addition to light rail. San Jose and Sacramento have only light rail. Metrolink commuter rail serves much of Southern California, and Caltrain commuter rail connects San Jose to San Francisco. Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) connects Tracy, Livermore and other edge cities with Silicon Valley. San Diego has Trolley light rail and Coaster commuter rail services. Nearly all counties operate bus lines, and many cities operate their own bus and light rail lines as well.

Both Greyhound and Amtrak provide intercity bus service.

The rapidly growing population of the state is straining all of its transportation networks. A regularly recurring issue in California politics is whether the state should continue to aggressively expand its freeway network or concentrate on improving mass transit networks in urban areas.

See also

Miscellaneous information

External links

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