Fun Facts About the State of California

Facts about California

TripSavvy / Maddy Price

  • California is the USA's most populous state with almost 40,000,000 residents, more than Canada as of 2008. One of eight United States residents live here.1
  • California is a "minority majority" state, with 58% of its population Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other groups. 26% of its people were born outside the U.S.1
  • Only Alaska and Texas have more land than California2
  • Three out of the ten largest U. S. cities are in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose3
  • California was the country's top state in cash farm receipts in 2008, growing nearly half of all fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Almonds are the biggest export (in dollars), followed by dairy products, wine, table grapes, cotton, walnuts, pistachios and rice4
  • California contains the lowest and the highest points in the continental U. S. You can travel from 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley to 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney in less than a day.
  • California is home to the world's largest tree (General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park)6 and the tallest (a coastal redwood whose identity is withheld)7.
  • Some California plants live a long time. The eastern Sierras' Bristlecone pines are 4,600 years old, but a Mojave Desert creosote bush is among the world's oldest living things at 43,000 years.8
  • Invented in California: fortune cookies, Apple computers, theme parks (Disneyland), blue jeans and the Barbie doll

Common Questions

When did California become a state? Sept. 9, 18509

What was California named for? Queen Califia, a character in the book written by Garcia de Montalvo10

What is California's population? 36,961,664 in 20091

What time is it in California? California is in the Pacific Time Zone and observes Daylight Savings Time. Check the current time

What year was gold discovered in California? 184911

Why is California called the Golden State? The State Museum says: "California's modern development can be traced back to the discovery of gold in 1848 and fields of golden poppies can be seen each spring"10

Who found California? Native people lived in California for thousands of years. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European expedition to what is now California12


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California State Capitol Building
Bryan Mullennix/Getty Images

California became a state on September 9, 1850, without being a territory first1

State Capitol: Sacramento
State Website:, the third-largest domain in the US government web2
YouTube Channel: californiagovernment

Facts About the Government

  • California's constitution is one of the longest collections of laws in the world3
  • California allows the people to participate in government directly by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification3
  • California is a republic, governed by elected senators and assembly members3
  • Two actors have become California governors: Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reagan is the only California governor to ever become United States President.
  • Milton Latham served as California's sixth governor, but for only five days4


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Map of California's Tourist Areas
Gustav Dejert/Getty Images

Land area: 155,959 square miles (403,934 square km)1

Water area: 7,734 square miles2
Coastline: 840 miles2
Highest point: Mt. Whitney - 14,494 feet2
Lowest point: Death Valley - 282 feet below sea level2
Geographic center of state: 38 miles northeast of Madera1
Number of counties: 581
Largest county by population: Los Angeles1
Largest county by area San Bernardino, 20,164 square miles1


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State Symbols

The Saber-Toothed Cat is the California State Fossil
Robert Landau/Getty Images

You'll find some of the most common California state symbols on the following pages, including the flag, seal, flower, animal, bird, tree and fish. The rest are listed below.

State Symbols

Colors: Blue and Gold
Dance: West Coast Swing Dancing
Fife and Drum Band: California Consolidated Drum Band
Folk Dance: Square Dancing
Fossil: Saber-toothed cat (Smilodon californicus)
Gemstone: Benitoite
Gold Rush Ghost Town: Bodie
Grass: Purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra)
Insect: Dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice)
Marine Fish: Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)
Marine Mammal: California gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
Mineral: Gold
Nickname: Golden State
Prehistoric Artifact: Chipped stone bear discovered in 1985
Reptile: Desert tortoise (gopherus agassizi)
Rock: Serpentine
Silver Rush Ghost Town: Calico
Soil: San Joaquin Soil
Song: "I Love You, California"
Tall Ship: The Californian
Tartan: Based on the Muir Clan tartan in meadow green, pacific blue, charcoal, gold, redwood stripes and sky blue.
Theater: Pasadena Playhouse

You have to wonder how the legislature gets anything done with all the time it must have taken to approve all these California state symbols.

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State Flag

California State Flag

Izzet Keribar/Getty Images

The California state flag has its origins in early California history. On June 14, 1846, while California was still under Mexican rule, a group of settlers in Sonoma proclaimed California to be an independent republic. They hastily created a California flag that showed a grizzly bear and a five-pointed star above a red bar. It said "California Republic."

The first California flag flew for less than a month. The United States had declared war against Mexico on May 11, 1846, but information traveled slowly back then and it took until July 9 for the news to reach the instigators of what came to be known as the Bear Flag Revolt.

In 1911, the state of California adopted the Bear Flag as the official California flag.

Symbolism on the Flag

Grizzly bear: Strength
Lone star: Imitates the Texas Lone Star
Red: Courage
White: Purity

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State Seal

The State Seal

State Symbols USA

The California state seal was created when the state was first formed in 1849. The idea came from Caleb Lyon, a clerk of the California Constitutional Convention, but the design of the California state seal was done by Major R. S. Garnett of the United States Army.

Symbolism on the State Seal

31 Stars: Number of states after California was admitted
Woman: Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom
Grizzly Bear: California wildlife
Grapes: Agricultural richness
Miner: California gold rush
Eureka: This is the California state motto, which means "I have found it" and probably refers to the discovery of gold

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State Flower: Golden Poppy

California poppy, the state flower for California

Lewis Outing / Getty Images

The botanical name of the California state flower is Eschsholtzia californica, given to the pretty yellow/orange flower by naturalist Adelbert Von Chamisso a Prussian scientist who visited San Francisco in 1816. It became the state flower in 1903.

It's commonly called the California poppy or golden poppy, but other names for the California state flower include flame flower, la amapola, and copa de oro (cup of gold). The California state flower is so popular that it has its own day: April 6.

You'll see the California state flower blooming all over the place - and maybe even in your own flower garden. The best place to view them in nature is at Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve near Los Angeles.

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State Bird

California Quail, the state bird for California

Paul Marto / Getty Images

The California quail (Lophortyx californica) could easily be the cutest California state symbol, with its bobbing top-knot and black bib. It's a hardy and adaptable creature, found in flocks of up to 60 except during spring nesting season, when they break up into pairs. They're most common in chaparral and low grassy areas and they range along the Pacific coast from Mexico into southern British Columbia.

It seems the California state bird may have failed to get the message about its status - some say its call sounds like "Chi-ca-go."

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State Tree: California Redwoods

California Redwoods

Sierralara / Getty Images

"California redwood" has been the official California state tree since 1937. It's not a very specific name because there are two kinds: coastal redwoods or sequoia sempervirens (sempervirens means evergreen) and giant sequoias or sequoiadendron giganteum. They're a good choice for the California state tree(s) because they only grow on the Pacific coast and mostly in California.

Coastal redwoods grow tall - almost 400 feet - and giant sequoias are massive. General Sherman Tree in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is more than 274 feet high and over 102 feet around its base. Find out where to see the California state tree and learn more about California's redwood forests.

Not only is the giant sequoia the California state tree, but General Grant Tree in Sequoia National Park is one of several trees that are called our Nation's Christmas tree.

The specimen of the California state tree shown in the picture is from Sequoia National Park.

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State Fish: Golden Trout

The Golden Trout is California's State Fish

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

The golden trout (Salmo agua-bonita) is found only California, mostly in mountain streams. Once found only in the Kern River's headwaters, the golden trout can now be found in other locations in the Sierra Nevadas, having been raised in hatcheries and stocked into other streams. It has been the California state fish since 1947.

The largest golden trout ever caught weighted 11 pounds according to the International Game Fish Association, but most of the ones we've seen in pictures are much smaller than that.

Before you go fishing for one, the most obvious place isn't the best one to go looking for the California state fish - they're protected in the Golden Trout Wilderness. If you'd rather help them survive then catch them, the Golden Trout Project organizes restoration and monitoring activities to help preserve their habitat.

There are actually two California state fish. While the Golden Trout is called the California State Fish, the Garibaldi is the State Marine Fish. You figure.

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California State Quarter

California Quarter

Lanier / Getty Images

Issued as part of the United States Mint's 50 State Quarters® Program, the California State Quarter first appeared in 2005, the 31st state quarter to be released (in honor of California being the 31st state). It was designed by Alfred Maletsky.

State Quarter

John Muir: Naturalist and conservationist who helped form the Sierra Club in 1892 and was instrumental in getting Yosemite declared a national park

Half Dome: Iconic symbol of Yosemite Valley

California Condor: With a wingspan of nine feet, it is returning from the brink of extinction

E Pluribus Unum: Appearing on many coins, this phrase is similar to a Latin translation of a variation of Heraclitus' 10th fragment, "Out of all things one, one out of all things," according to Wikipedia

The California state quarter was chosen from among several finalists. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose the final California Quarter design and the U.S. Department of Treasury approved the "John Muir/Yosemite Valley" California state quarter design on April 15, 2004.

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State Animal: Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear in Alaska

Doug Lindstrand / Getty Images

The official California state animal is actually extinct. A bear appeared on the first California flag, but the California grizzly bear (Ursus californicus) didn't become the official California state animal until 1953. These large, powerful carnivores were once common in California, but early settlers couldn't find a way to coexist with them and by 1922, the last California grizzly was killed in Tulare County.

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Highest Spot: Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada in central California.

Lidija Kamansky / Getty Images

At 14,494 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest point in not only California but all of the contiguous United States. Geographically, it's in Sequoia National Park, but it can't be reached (or seen) from the main part of the park. However, it's easy to spot as you travel along US Hwy 395 east of the Sierras near the town of Lone Pine.

Climbing Mount Whitney is a 22-mile (35 km) round trip, gaining over 6,100 feet (1,900 m). This hike is definitely for those who are fit enough to handle it.

At the other extreme, in case you got here from a search engine and didn't see it, Badwater over in Death Valley is at 282 feet below sea level, making it the lowest point in not just California but all of North America - and it's only 84.5 miles (136.0 km) away (as the proverbial crow flies).

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Lowest Spot: Badwater, Death Valley

Badwater, Death Valley

TripSavvy / Betsy Malloy

According to the sign, it's 282 feet below sea level and it's the lowest point in not just California but all of North America.

Every July, the extreme Badwater Ultra Marathon starts from here, with runners taking over 30 hours to cover 135 miles (217 km) to reach the Whitney Portal on the side of Mount Whitney, at elevation 8,360 ft (2,550 m). Up to 90 of the world's toughest athletes start their run in temperatures up to 130°F (55°C). It's easy to understand why it's often called "the world's toughest foot race."

And speaking of extremes, Mount Whitney (which is in the previous photo), the highest point in the contiguous United States, is only 84.5 miles (136.0 km) away (as the proverbial crow flies).

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