In California, you can travel between both the lowest and highest points in the continental U.S.—Death Valley and Mt. Whitney—in less than a day. Visitors can also see the world's largest known tree (General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park), or the tallest, a coastal redwood named Hyperion. In addition, you can check out one of the oldest living things in the world: a Mojave Desert creosote bush, estimated to be 11,700 years of age, along with the eastern Sierras' Bristlecone pines which are 4,600 years old.
As of 2019, the Golden State is the most populous in the U.S., housing almost 40 million residents (more than Canada)—and it's a "minority majority" state, with 58% of its population Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or other groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's findings in 2014–2018, 27% of the people in California were born outside the country. Three out of the 10 largest U.S. cities are here: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. Learn about California's geography, government, state symbols, the state tree, and more.
- What was California named for? The state takes its name from Queen Califia, a character in the book "Las Sergas de Esplandián" written by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo.
- What time is it in California? Located in the Pacific Time Zone, the state observes Daylight Savings Time.
- What year was gold discovered in California? According to the San Francisco Museum, gold was discovered in California in 1848.
- Why is California called the Golden State? The official state nickname came to be in 1968, representing the discovery of gold in 1848 and the fields of golden poppies seen each spring.
- Who founded California? Native people lived in California for thousands of years. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European expedition to what is now California.
- What was invented in California? The state was the birthplace of Apple computers, theme parks (Disneyland), blue jeans, fortune cookies, and the Barbie doll.
Without first being a territory, California became a state on September 9, 1850. The State Capitol is Sacramento. Visitors may find the State of California's website a useful resource to learn more about the government, along with the California Government's YouTube channel.
California's constitution is one of the longest collections of laws in the world. The state allows the people to participate in government directly by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification. Governed by elected senators and assembly members, the Golden State has had among its governors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who achieved star status as actors long before becoming politicians. Reagan's popularity pushed him to the U.S. presidency. Milton Latham served as California's sixth governor—but for only five days.
Only Alaska and Texas have more land than California, and the state is comprised of 58 counties, the most populated being Los Angeles. In terms of area, the largest county in the state is San Bernardino, at 20,062 square miles (51,960 square kilometers).
California has a land area of 155,959 square miles (403,934 square kilometers) and its water area extends 7,734 square miles (200,309 square kilometers). The state's coastline spans 840 miles (1,352 kilometers).
Mt. Whitney, the highest point, is at 14,494 feet, as claimed by NetState, and the lowest point is Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level. Geographically, the center of the state is 38 miles northeast of Madera.
Some of the most common California state symbols include the flag, seal, flower, bird, tree, fish, swing dancing, and others.
- 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 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" by F.B. Silverwood
- Tall Ship: The Californian
- Tartan: Based on the Muir Clan tartan honoring naturalist John Muir, in meadow green, pacific blue, charcoal, gold, redwood stripes, and sky blue
- Theater: Pasadena Playhouse
The 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 the state to be an independent republic. They quickly created a California flag that showed a grizzly bear and a five-pointed star above a red bar; the design said "California Republic."
This independence movement that came to be known as the Bear Flag Revolt took place in June and July of 1846. The first California flag flew for less than a month. In 1911, the state adopted the Bear Flag as the official California flag. Symbolism on the flag includes the grizzly bear (strength); the Lone Star (sovereignty); red (courage); and white (purity).
In 1849, the California state seal was designed by Major Robert S. Garnett of the U.S. Army and proposed by Caleb Lyon, a clerk of the California Constitutional Convention.
Symbols on the state seal include 31 stars (the number of states after California was admitted); the woman Minerva (Roman goddess of wisdom); the grizzly bear, the official state animal; grapes (agricultural richness); a miner (California gold rush); and Eureka (the state motto, which means "I have found it" and probably refers to the discovery of gold).
State Flower: Golden Poppy
German naturalist Adelbert Von Chamisso, who visited San Francisco around 1810, gave the botanical name of Eschsholtzia californica to what became the California state flower in 1903.
Commonly called the California poppy or golden poppy, the pretty yellow/orange state flower's other names include flame flower, la amapola, and copa de oro (cup of gold). The popular poppy even has its own day: April 6.
You'll see the California state flower blooming all over the place—and maybe even in your own garden. One of the best places to view them in nature is at Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve near Los Angeles.
State Bird: California Quail
With its bobbing topknot and black bib, the California quail (Callipepla californica) could easily be the cutest state symbol. A hardy and adaptable creature, it's found in social groups called coveys 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."
State Tree: California Redwoods
California redwood has been the official state tree since 1937. It's not a very specific name because there are two kinds: coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens, meaning evergreen) and giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum). The trees only live on the Pacific coast and mostly in California.
Coastal redwoods grow tall—almost 400 feet (122 meters)—and giant sequoias are massive. General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is more than 274 feet (83 meters) high and over 102 feet (31 meters) around its base.
Not only is the giant sequoia the California state tree, but General Grant Tree in Sequoia National Park is called "our Nation's Christmas tree," along with several others.
State Fish: Golden Trout
There are actually two California state fish. While the golden trout (Salmo agua-bonita) has been called the California State Fish since 1947, the garibaldi was made the State Marine Fish in 1995. The golden trout lives mostly in mountain streams and is unique to the state. Raised in hatcheries and stocked into other streams, the fish once found only in the Kern River's headwaters can now be seen in other locations in the Sierra Nevadas.
These California state fish are protected in the Golden Trout Wilderness. If you'd rather help them survive than catch them, the Golden Trout Project organizes restoration and monitoring activities to preserve their habitat.
California State Quarter
Issued as part of the United States Mint's 50 State Quarters Program, the California state quarter first appeared in 2005, the 31st to be released (in honor of being the 31st state). It was created by Alfred Maletsky. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose the blueprint from among several finalists, and the U.S. Department of Treasury approved the "John Muir/Yosemite Valley" design on April 15, 2004.
- John Muir: The naturalist and conservationist who helped form the Sierra Club in 1892 was instrumental in getting Yosemite declared a national park.
- Half Dome: The granite rock formation Half Dome is an iconic symbol of Yosemite Valley.
- California Condor: With a wingspan of 9 feet (2.7 meters), the big North American land bird is still in danger 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."
State Animal: Grizzly Bear
The official California state animal is actually extinct. A bear appeared on the first state flag, but the California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos californicus) didn't become the state animal until 1953. These huge, powerful carnivores were once common in the state, but early settlers couldn't find a way to coexist with them and by 1922, the last California grizzly was killed in Tulare County. However, the population of grizzly bears in the U.S. has grown since 1975 when the animals were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Highest Spot: Mount Whitney
At 14,494 feet (4,418 meters), Mount Whitney is the highest point not only California but all of the contiguous U.S. 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—a hike definitely meant for those who are fit enough to handle it—is 22 miles (35 kilometers) round trip, gaining over 6,100 feet (1,900 meters).
At the other extreme, Badwater in Death Valley is at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level, making it the lowest point not only in California but all of North America—and it's only 84.5 miles (136 kilometers) away (as the proverbial crow flies).
Lowest Spot: Badwater, Death Valley
According to a local sign, Badwater in Death Valley is 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level and it's the lowest point in all of North America.
Every July, the extreme Badwater Ultra Cup starts from here. In more than 30 hours, runners cover 135 miles (217 kilometers) to reach the Whitney Portal on the side of Mount Whitney, at an elevation of 8,360 feet (2,550 meters). Close to 90 of the world's toughest athletes start their run in temperatures up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius). It's easy to understand why it's often called "the world's toughest foot race."