Interesting and fun facts about California state, USA

100 California Fun Facts: Discover the Golden State

Discover the Golden State with these interesting, educational, and fun facts about California.

California is America’s most populous and 3rd largest state. What else is California famous for besides beaches, Hollywood, and Disneyland? Let’s find out.

California At-a-Glance

Location: Bordered by Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean.
Population: Approximately 38.96 million (2023 est.).
Capital City: Sacramento.
Area: 163,695 square miles (423,967 km2).
Official Language: English (de facto). Spanish is commonly used, especially in certain areas.
Predominant Religion: Diverse religious landscape, Christianity being predominant.
Climate: Varies from Mediterranean to desert and mountainous.
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)

See Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and San Francisco for more California fun facts.

General California Facts

1. California is a world-famous state in America’s Southwestern and West Coast regions.

2. California’s coastline makes up 65% of the total west coast of the contiguous (lower 48) states.

3. At 163,695 mi2 (423,967 km2), California is the 3rd largest US state, after Alaska and Texas.

4. If California were a country, it would be the 59th largest in the world, larger than Norway, Japan, or Germany.

5. California measures 560 mi (901 km) from west to east and 1040 mi (1674 km) from north to south.

6. California has 58 counties, including the largest one in the US. San Bernardino County covers 20,105 square mi2 (52,072 km2), which is even bigger than Maryland, Hawaii, or Massachusetts.

7. California has more people than any other state, at just under 40 million. That’s more than all of Canada.

8. California would be the 37th most populous in the world if it were a country.

Aerial view of LA in the evening
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the US by population after New York City

9. 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).

10. 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.

11. One in eight 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.

12. 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

13. About ¼ of the population of California were born outside the US.

14. Californians are young. The average median age is 37, in comparison to the rest of the country, which is 38.5.

15. California has the most students in the country (just under 2 million) and hosts the most international students in the country (134,000).

16. In terms of religious faith, Californians are 63% Christian, 9% non-Christian, and 27% unaffiliated.

17. 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.

18. 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 were 1.81 million earthquakes between 2008 and 2017, or one every three minutes.

19. 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 the Death Valley

20. California is one of the most sustainable states in the US, producing more solar, geothermal, and biomass energy than any other state.

21. California’s state animal is the grizzly bear featured on their state flag. However, the population of grizzly bears has since gone extinct, with the last sighting being in 1924.

22. Another true California fun fact: The state’s motto, “Eureka!”—a Greek word meaning “I’ve found it!”—originates from the 1849 gold discovery in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The California state flag
The California state flag

23. 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.

24. The Deeds of Esplandián 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.

25. People from California are called Californians. The state name California is often abbreviated as Cal or Cali. The north and south are abbreviated as Norcal and Socal. The official postal abbreviation is CA.

Interesting Facts About California

26. 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 bloomed there during spring.

27. Other nicknames for the state have included The Land of Milk and Honey, The Grape State, and The Eldorado State.

A field of artichokes in California
Artichokes are associated with California

28. 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.

29. California is also considered the world’s avocado capital. Every year, it holds an avocado festival in Fallbrook.

30. California is responsible for 80% of almond production worldwide. California’s other top produce products include kiwis, apricots, dates, lemons, figs, and grapes.

31. 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.

32. 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.

33. Napa Valley is a wine region or appellation of its own, but there are 16 sub-appellations within it.

A Napa Vally sign with grape field and mountains in background
California’s famous Napa Valley wine region

34. California has more national parks than any other state, nine. 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.

35. California also has more state parks than any other state, with 270 of them. Only 11 states have over 100 state parks.

36. California’s most popular state parks 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

37. 7.5% of California’s land is protected in state and national parks, the 3rd highest of any state (after Hawaii and Alaska).

38. Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park were the 2nd and 3rd national parks in the US, after Yellowstone. They were established on Sept. 25 and Oct. 1, 1890.

General Sherman tree
General Sherman is the world’s largest tree

39. 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.

40. The Lindsey Creek tree, which was felled in 1905, was twice as large as General Sherman.

41. 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.

42. California is also home to the world’s tallest tree, a 379.7 ft (115.7 m) tall redwood named Hyperion.

43. 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.

Classic view of Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

44. Redwood and Yosemite National Parks are California’s only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

45. The most famous beaches in California are Santa Monica in Los Angeles and Malibu, just west of the city.

46. The Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) is the most famous coastal highway, especially around a particularly scenic and rugged stretch called Big Sur, 140 mi (225 km) south of San Francisco.

47. 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.

48. 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.

Death Valley, the hottest place on earth (California fun facts)
Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth

49. 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.

50. 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.

51. 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.

52. 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.

53. 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.

54. Non-tech companies based in Silicon Valley include Chevron, Wells Fargo, and Visa.

Aerial view of Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley

55. Other famous companies that began in California include Disney, Tesla, Intel, HP, Gap, eBay, Netflix, Adobe, and Yahoo.

56. California is also home to Hollywood, the world’s oldest film industry centered in Los Angeles. For much of history, it was the world’s most profitable until China surpassed it in 2020.

57. A fun fact about California is its unique role in hosting the Olympics; it’s the only U.S. state to have held both Summer (1932 and 1984 in Los Angeles) and Winter (1960 in Squaw Valley) Games, with LA gearing up for the 2028 Summer Olympics again.

58. California is the richest state in the US, with a GDP surpassing $3 trillion, nearly double the second spot (Texas).

59. If California were a country, its economy would be the 5th largest in the world, between Germany and India.

60. Items invented in California include fortune cookies, blue jeans, Barbies, skateboards, video arcade games, nicotine patches, popsicles, and iPhones.

61. California is the most heavily regulated state in the country.

skateboarders in Venice Beach (fun fact: skateboarding was invented in California)
Skateboarders in Venice Beach – skateboarding was invented in California

62. Richard Nixon is the only American president who was born in the Western United States (not counting Obama, who was born in Hawaii).

63. 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.

64. 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

65. 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.

66. 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

67. 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%).

68. A dog was elected as honorary mayor in Sunol, California. He served as mayor from 1981 to 1994.

69. Each year in October, an arm wrestling championship takes place in Petaluma.

Historical Facts About California

70. California has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for as long as 19,000 years.

71. 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

72. In 1542, a Spanish expedition led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first expedition from Europe to explore the California coast. They didn’t find much and left the area alone for more than 200 years after that.

73. 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.  

74. 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.

75. California declared itself the independent California Republic in 1846. This only lasted for a month.

76. 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

77. 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.

78. While Europeans never had black slaves in California, there were Native American slaves until the 1860s.

79. By 1870, all the major cities of California were connected to the east coast of the US by railway.

80. Much like its Gold Rush, California experienced a Silver Rush from 1881 to 1896 in the town of Calico. After the price of silver dropped in the early 1900s, Calico became a ghost town.

81. In 1906, the deadliest earthquake in California history struck San Francisco, killing as many as 3000.

Some tilted houses in black and white after the California 1906 earthquake
Houses after the Great Earthquake of 1906

82. 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.

83. The state population also exploded and played a major role in developing the concept of the “American Dream.”

84. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco opened in 1937. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

85. The origin of McDonalds goes back to 1940, when brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald set up their BBQ restaurant in San Bernardino, California.

86. During WWII, tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps.

The famous castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California
Disneyland Park

87. Disneyland opened its doors in Anaheim in 1955.

88. Disneyland is the only theme park built under Walt Disney’s direct supervision.

89. It took just one year and 2,500 laborers to construct Disneyland, costing $17 million.

90. In 2013, Disneyland was the third most visited park globally, attracting about 16.2 million guests.

91. The park’s most popular souvenir is the Mickey Mouse ears, with over 84 million sold since opening.

92. Spanish explorers named Alcatraz Island “La Isla de los Alcatraces” in 1775, translating to “Island of the Pelicans.”

93. Al “Scarface” Capone, a notorious gangster, was the most infamous inmate at Alcatraz, serving 4.5 years during the 1930s.

A view of the whole island of Alcatraz, shot from sea level, with the old prison visible
Alcatraz Island today

94. In 1963, the famous island prison of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay closed down.

95. In 2001, the “Dot-Com Bubble” burst, causing thousands to leave Silicon Valley for the first time ever.

96. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as Governor of California in 2003.

97. In 2011-2012, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread to California. The state had more major protests (50+) than any other.

98. 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.

99. As of 2023, California had the highest total COVID-19 case count (just under 12 million) and death count (1.2 million), but not the highest rate in the country.

100. In 2028, California (Los Angeles) will once again host the Summer Olympic Games, called LA28.

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