92 Captivating Facts About California

California is America’s most populous and 3rd largest state. Besides beaches, Hollywood, and Disneyland, what else is California famous for? 

Find out with these fun, interesting, and educational facts about the Golden State! For more related tidbits, see these fun facts about Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and San Francisco.

General California Facts

  • California is a world-famous state in Southwestern and West Coast regions America.
  • California’s coastline makes up 65% of the total west coast of the contiguous (lower 48) states.
  • At 163,695 mi2 (423,967 km2), California is the 3rd largest US state, after Alaska and Texas.
  • If California were a country, it would be the 59th largest in the world, larger than Norway, Japan, or Germany.
  • California measures 560 mi (901 km) from west to east and 1040 mi (1674 km) from north to south.
  • California has more people than any other state, at just under 40 million. That’s more than all of Canada!
  • If it were a country, California would be the 37th most populous in the world.
Aerial view of LA in the evening
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the US by population after New York City
  • Most of the state’s population is clustered within one of the following metropolitan areas: Central Valley (from Sacramento to Stockton and Modesto), San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area, and Southern California (from Los Angeles to San Diego).
  • The state capital, Sacramento, is only the 6th largest city in the state in terms of population, with 540,000 people. Los Angeles, in the top spot, has 3.91 million, making it the 2nd largest city in the US.
  • 1 in 8 US citizens live in California. In other words, if you meet a US citizen abroad, there’s a 12.5% chance that he or she is from California.
  • California has an incredibly diverse population, with 39% Latino, 36% White, 15% Pacific Islander or Asian, 6% African American, 3% Multiracial, and less than 1% Native American residents.
Some Mexican men riding horses on a California street
A Mexican-American parade in Ukiah, California
  • About ¼ of the population of California were born outside the US.
  • Californians are young. The average median age is 37, in comparison to the rest of the country, which is 38.5.
  • California has the most students in the country (just under 2 million) and hosts the most international students in the country (134,000).
  • In terms of religious faith, Californians are 63% Christian, 9% non-Christian, and 27% unaffiliated.
  • California’s highest point is Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 ft (4421 m), and the lowest point is Death Valley, at -282 ft (86 m). These points are within 100 miles of each other.
  • Lying on the Ring of Fire, California is thought to have around 10,000 notable earthquakes per year. A recent study (2017-2018) by Science Magazine found that there had been a total of 1.81 million earthquakes between 2008 and 2017, or one every three minutes.
  • Is California a desert? Well, it has several of them, and they take up much of the state, but California as a whole is not a desert.
Solar panels in Death Valley with mountains in the background
Solar panels in Death Valley
  • California is one of the most sustainable states in the US, producing more solar, geothermal, and biomass energy than any other state.
  • California’s state animal is the grizzly bear, which is featured on their state flag. However, the population of grizzly bear has since gone extinct, with the last sighting being in 1924.
  • California’s motto is “Eureka!”, which is a Greek word that translates to “I’ve found it!”. The motto came about after the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1849.
The California state flag
The California state flag
  • The name California is derived from a bestselling Spanish novel called The Deeds of Esplandián (published 1510). The island in the novel is called California, a paradise that abounds in precious stones and gold. The novel became such a hit that when the Spanish explorers under Hernan Cortes arrived on what they believed to be a Pacific coast island, they named it California.
  • People from California are called Californians, and California is often abbreviated as Cal or Cali. The north and south are abbreviated as Norcal and Socal. The official postal abbreviation is CA.

Random Interesting Facts About California

  • California officially became known as the Golden State in 1968 for a number of reasons, including the fact that in 1848, California had a gold rush, and beautiful fields of golden poppies bloom there during spring.
  • Other nicknames for the state have included The Land of Milk and Honey, The Grape State, and The Eldorado State.
  • California is considered the world’s artichoke capital, and in 1947, Norma Jean began her journey there. She became the first Artichoke Queen of Castroville, and later, she became a world-famous and award-winning actress known as Marilyn Monroe.
A field of artichokes in California
Artichokes are associated with California
  • California is also considered the world’s avocado capital. Every year, it holds an avocado festival in Fallbrook.
  • California is responsible for 80% of almond production worldwide. California’s other top produce includes kiwis, apricots, dates, lemons, figs, and grapes.
  • California (sushi) rolls were most likely invented in California (there are several claims, including one by a chef from Vancouver). Their first mention in print goes back to 1979.
  • California produces about 90% of all wine in the US. The state grows over 3.3 million tons of wine grapes on over 540,000 acres of land on an annual basis. The most famous wine region is Napa Valley north of San Francisco.
  • Napa Valley is a wine region or appellation of its own, but there are 16 sub-appellations within it. This post by Armchair Sommelier covers the subtle differences between them.
A Napa Vally sign with grape field and mountains in background
California’s famous Napa Valley wine region
  • California has more national parks than any other state, 9. They are Sequoia, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, King’s Canyon, Redwood, Channel Islands, Death Valley (see here for a Death Valley travel itinerary), Joshua Tree, and Pinnacles National Parks.
  • California also has more state parks than any other state, with 270 of them. Only 11 states has over 100 state parks.
  • The most popular state parks in California are Crystal Cove State Park, Huntington State Beach, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
A bridge and the coastline in Big Sur State Park, California
Big Sur
  • 7.5% of California’s land is protected in state and national parks, the 3rd highest of any state (after Hawaii and Alaska).
  • Redwood and Yosemite National Parks are the only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in California.
Classic view of Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
  • The world’s largest tree is in Sequoia National Park and is named General Sherman. This giant stands 275 ft (83 m) tall, with a circumference of 102.6 ft (31.1 m). It is named after the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman.
  • The Lindsey Creek tree, which was felled in 1905, was twice as large as General Sherman.
  • Another giant sequoia, which is over 300 feet in height, was named California’s national Christmas tree in 1925. The tree is located in Kings Canyon National Park.
  • California is also home to the world’s tallest tree, a redwood that is 379.7 ft (115.7 m) tall and named Hyperion.
  • California’s midpoint has a palm tree and pine tree planted next to each other, which signifies the meeting point of North and South California.
General Sherman tree
General Sherman is the world’s largest tree
  • The most famous beaches in California are Santa Monica in LA and Malibu, just west of LA.
  • The most famous coastal highway is the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), especially around a particularly scenic and rugged stretch called Big Sur, 140 mi (225 km) south of San Francisco.
  • Death Valley is known as the driest and hottest place in the US. It’s common for temperatures there to reach over 115°F (46°C) during summertime.
  • On July 10, 1913, the hottest temperature on Earth was recorded in Death Valley, 134.1 °F (56.7°C). The record remains to this day.
A desert in Death Valley
Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth
  • America’s first moving National Historic Landmark was San Francisco’s cable cars, designated in 1964. The cable cars are also the only ones still operating in a U.S city.
  • The San Ysidro Port of Entry border between San Diego and Tijuana (Mexico) is the busiest border crossing in the US, and 2nd busiest international border crossing in the world
  • In 1969, the Internet was born in California. The very first ARPANET message to be sent was “Lo” – the sender was meant to type “Login”, but the system crashed before he could do so. The message was sent from a UCLA site.
  • California is home to some of the most famous technology companies in the world, several of which as based in Silicon Valley in the southern San Francisco Bay Area. Companies based there include Apple, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Google.
  • Silicon Valley is a large valley that includes the cities of San Jose (3rd largest in California and 10th largest in the US) and several others.
  • Non-tech companies based in Silicon Valley include Chevron, Wells Fargo, and Visa.
Aerial view of Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley
  • Other famous companies that began in California include Disney, Tesla, Intel, HP, Gap, Ebay, Netflix, Adobe, and Yahoo.
  • California is also home to Hollywood, the world’s oldest film industry, which is centered in LA. For much of history it was the world’s most profitable, until it was surpassed by China in 2020. It makes fewer movies per year than Nigeria or India.
  • California has hosted both the Summer (1932 and 1984 in LA) and Winter Olympic Games (1960 in Squaw Valley). The 2028 Summer Olympic Games will be held in California once again.
  • California is the richest state in the US, with a GDP surpassing $3 trillion, nearly double the second spot (Texas).
  • If California were a country, its economy would be the 5th largest in the world, between Germany and India.
  • Items invented in California include fortune cookies, blue jeans, Barbies, skateboards, video arcade games, nicotine patches, popsicles, and iPhones.
Skateboarders at Venice Beach at sunset
Skateboarders at Venice Beach – skateboarding was invented in California
  • Richard Nixon is the only American president who was born in the Western United States (not counting Obama, who was born in Hawaii).
  • Musical styles that started in California include surf rock, pop punk, west coast hip hop, and third wave ska. The state was also known for developing the California Sound, inspired by the beach, in the early 60s.
  • There are too many famous musicians and bands from California to name. Just a few include Paula Abdul, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, the Doors, CCR, Guns N’ Roses, Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tool, Motley Crue, Jason Mraz, Green Day, Rancid, Blink 182, Bad Religion, NOFX, the Offspring, and System of a Down.
Mosaic of famous singers and bands from California
Some famous California musicians
  • While everyone moves to LA to find an acting career, a few California-born actors and actresses include Jodie Foster, Ben Affleck, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Clint Eastwood, Jamie Lee Curtis, Drew Barrymore, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • Famous graves in California include those of John Wayne, Shirley Temple, Walt Disney, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Lassie (yes, the dog), Elizabeth Taylor, Mark Twain, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Anne Frank, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Steve Jobs, and Kobe Bryant, just to name a few.
Mosaic of actors and actresses born in California
Famous California-born actors and actresses
  • California has the lowest high school graduation rate in the US, at 83% (the national average is 89.6%). It also has the lowest literacy rate, 76.9% (national average: 88%).
  • A dog was elected as honorary mayor in Sunol, California. He served as mayor from 1981 to 1994.
  • Each year in October, an arm wrestling championship takes place in Petaluma.

Historical Facts About California

  • California has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for as long as 19,000 years.
  • Prior to European contact, California had 100,00 to 300,000 indigenous people. This was 1/3rd of all native people in the US, by some estimates.
Indigenous people in regalia and performing in California
A Native American gathering at Stanford, California
  • In 1542, a Spanish expedition led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo were the first Europeans to explore the California coast. They didn’t find much, and left the area alone for more than 200 years after that.
  • In the late 1700s, Spain claimed the area and divided it into Baja California (modern-day Mexican state) in the south and Alta California in the north.  
  • In 1821, California became a province of Mexico, after Mexico gained its independence from Spain. This would last until 1848. Besides California, it included all of Utah and Nevada, and parts of Arizona, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
  • California declared itself the independent California Republic in 1846. This only lasted for a month.
  • In September 1850, California was admitted as a state with its present boundaries, becoming the 31st state of the US.
A stamp showing the California Gold Rush
Scene from the California Gold Rush
  • Between 1848 and 1855 California was known for its massive Gold Rush. Over 300,000 people moved to California and tried to strike it rich as treasure hunters. The gold was discovered in Sutter’s Mill in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  • While Europeans never had black slaves in California, there were Native American slaves until the 1860s.
  • By 1870, all the major cities of California were connected to the east coast of the US by railway.
  • Much like its Gold Rush, California experienced a Silver Rush from 1881 to 1896 in the town of Calico. After the price of silver began to drop in the early 1900s, Calico turned into a ghost town.
Some tilted houses in black and white after the California 1906 earthquake
Houses after the great earthquake of 1906
  • In the early 1900s, California gradually grew into an economic powerhouse, fueled by agriculture, industry, oil, tourism, shipping, and later, the film industry and aerospace.
  • It’s population also exploded, and it also played a major role in the development of the concept of the “American Dream.”
  • The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco opened in 1937. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
  • The origin of McDonalds goes back to 1940, when brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald set up their BBQ restaurant in San Bernardino, California.
  • During WWII, tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps.
The famous castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California
  • In 1963, the famous island prison of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay closed down.
  • In 2001, the “Dot-Com Bubble” burst, causing thousands to leave the Silicon Valley for the first time ever.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as Governor of California in 2003. While governor, he opposed LGBT rights, but has since changed his mind.
  • In 2011-2012, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread to California. The state had more major protests (50+) than any other.
A few of the whole island of Alcatraz, shot from sea level, with the old prison visible
Alcatraz Island today
  • From 2011 to 2017, California had its worst drought in recorded history. It was attributed to the RRR (Ridiculously Resilient Ridge), an anti-cyclone event over the Pacific.
  • As of 2023, California had the highest total COVID case count (just under 12 million) and death count (1.2 million), but not the highest rate in the country.
  • In 2028, California (Los Angeles) will once again host the Summer Olympic Games, called LA28.