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Geography and Landscape


California, nicknamed the 'Golden State', with an area of 411,049 km², after Alaska and Texas, is the third largest state in the United States. The largest county in California alone, San Bernardino, with an area of 52,200 km² is much larger than the Netherlands (41,526 km²). California is on average about 1300 km long and 400 km wide, the widest point is 587 km.

California is bordered to the north by Oregon, to the south by the Mexican state of Baja California, to the west by Nevada, to the southwest by Arizona and to the east by the Pacific or Pacific Ocean with a coastline of about 1,350 km.

California Satellite PhotoCalifornia Satellite PhotoPhoto: Public domain


Much of the coast of California is flanked by the rugged mountains of the Coast Ranges, which hold back a lot of rain, especially in winter. The Coast Ranges are, as it were, interrupted halfway through San Francisco. The often fog-shrouded coastal strip north of that city is sparsely populated. Central and Southern California have a much milder climate and most people live there. In the far north of the Coast Ranges, rainfall exceeds 3000 mm in some years, and in some places a further 300 mm is added by prolonged fog in the summer. These conditions, in combination with a fertile soil, meant that the landscape from Big Sur to Oregon could be dominated by forests with the gigantic redwood trees as eye-catchers.

In northeastern California is the Lassen Volcanic National Park, with the active Lassen Peak, the largest stratovolcano, a composite volcano composed of solidified lava, in the world (3,187 m). Lassen Peak belongs to a chain of volcanoes that extends into Washington State, including Mount Shasta (California, 4316 m), Mount Saint Helens (Washington, 2550 m) and Mount Rainier (Washington, 4392 m).

Lassen Peak, stratovolcano in CaliforniaLassen Peak, stratovolcano in CaliforniaPhoto: Brian M. McDaniel CC3.0 Unported no changes made

The eastern flanks of the Coast Ranges gradually flow into a hilly landscape that flows into the Central Valley, once an inland sea that has developed into the most important agricultural region in the United States, home to half of all American fruit, vegetables and nuts. cultivated. The Central Valley, 750 km long and 80 km wide, has a desert precipitation average but receives abundant water from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The Central Valley used to be a swamp area and populated by millions of animals, now it is a fully cultivated agricultural landscape with extensive arable areas and large cattle ranches.

Typical landscape Central valley, CaliforniaTypical landscape Central valley, CaliforniaPhoto: Amadscientist in the public domain

To the east of the Central Valley looms the Sierra Nevada, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world with a length of approximately 640 kilometers, a width of 112 kilometers and 13 peaks with a height above 4200 meters. Part of the Sierra Nevada, the High Sierra, often located above 2700 meters, is a fascinating landscape of glaciers, carved granite peaks and remote ravines.

The rising Sierra Nevada absorbs storms and the associated precipitation, which falls above 3000 meters in the form of snow and is therefore a popular winter sports destination. Melting snow eventually flows on both the east and west sides of the Sierra Nevada into six major river systems that deliver the water back to the agricultural area of the Central Valley and to major cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The northern side of the Sierra Nevada merges seamlessly into the Cascade Mountains, which extends into the states of Oregon and Washington. The southern side of the Sierra Nevada makes a curious western angle and continues through the Transverse Ranges, one of the few east-west running mountain ranges in the United States), into the southern Coast Ranges.

Typical High Sierra landscape, CaliforniaTypical High Sierra landscape, CaliforniaPhoto: Jane S. Richardson CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Because the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada trap almost all rainfall, most of the land east of the mountain range is dry and desert-like with less than an average of 25mm of rainfall per year. Here you will also find the most inhospitable lunar landscapes of the Sierra Nevada. Only a few valleys look a bit greener and agriculture and livestock farming are possible there. In the eastern Sierra Nevada, surrounded by 4000 meters high mountains of the Inyo Mountains and the White Mountains, lies the deepest valley in the United States, Owens Valley (1200 meters). In this area is also the highest mountain in the United States outside Alaska, Mount Whitney (4418 m).

The Modoc Plateau in Northeast California is a 'cold' desert, covered with hardy plants such as juniper bushes and sagebrush. Temperatures are rising rapidly towards the south, especially after the transition from the alkaline Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in the world, to the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada. This southern desert area (part of the Mojave Desert) includes the Death Valley, which measures 140 miles from north to south, one of the hottest places on earth. A little further south, the Mojave Desert merges into the Colorado Desert or Low Desert (part of the larger Mexican Sonora Desert) around the Salton Sea. The total area of the desert areas in California is approximately 65,000 km². Death Valley is home to the highest sand dunes in California, the more than 200 meters high Eureka Sand Dunes. Between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Preserve, are the Mussel Rock Dunes, the highest sea dunes in the world. Most of the Mojave Desert is at an altitude of more than 600 meters.

Mount Whitney, California's highest mountainMount Whitney, California's highest mountainPhoto: Geographer in the public domain

Death Valley, California's lowest pointDeath Valley, California's lowest pointPhoto: Roger469 in the public domain

The southernmost glacier in the United States is the Palisade Glacier in the Sierra Nevada. Currently, the glacier has an area of 0.8 km² and is 1300 meters long and 800 meters wide. The glacier is now at an altitude of between 4100 and 3700 meters and moves about 6 meters per year.

In Yosemite National Park, El Capitan, one of the tallest monoliths (1095 m) in the world, towers over the landscape of the Yosemite Valley. Even higher is the Half Dome, which is more than 1500 meters high and rises almost vertically.

El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, CaliforniaEl Capitan in Yosemite Valley, CaliforniaPhoto: Mike Murphy CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Just south of the coastal town of Santa Barbara are the eight largely uninhabited islands of volcanic Channel Islands, or Archipiélago del Norte in Spanish (total area approx. 900 km²). The archipelago can be divided into a southern and a northern group of islands. In the south are the islands of Santa Barbara Island, San Nicolas island, San Clemente Island and the largest (194 km²) and most populated island, Catalina Island, with approximately 4000 inhabitants. Catalina Island, about 40 km from the California coast, is a true tourist attraction with approximately 1 million visitors annually.

The northern group of islands consists of Anacapa Island (actually consists of two islands, West Anacapa and East Anacapa), San Miguel Island, Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island. The distance between the northernmost island, San Miguel Island, and the southernmost island, San Clemente Island, is 260 km. The Channel Islands are home to 145 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world, earning the archipelago the nickname "California's Galapagos".

44 miles west of Point Bonita in the Bay Area are the Farallon Islands, important for nesting seabirds and a resting place for migratory birds.

The largest lake in California is Salton Sea. This man-made lake has an area of about 970 km², lies 69 meters below sea level and is a maximum of 15 meters deep; Another large artificial lake is Lake Berryessa with an area of 84 km2. Clear Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America, is California's largest freshwater lake, with a coastline of approximately 160 km and an area of approximately 180 km2.

Eagle Lake is California's second largest natural lake with an area of approximately 180 km2. The largest mountain lake and second deepest lake in the United States, on the border of California (two thirds) and Nevada (one third), is Lake Tahoe or 'Big Blue' with a depth of 501 meters. The alkaline Mono Lake, the water of this lake is three times as salty as seawater, in the eastern Sierra Nevada is more than a million years old, the second oldest lake in the United States and in front of the north bank are two volcanic islands, the white Paoha Island and the black Negit Island. Mono Lake is best known for the beautiful limestone deposits or 'tufa', which protrude above the water. West of Mammoth Lake is the Devil's Postpile National Monument where one can find the largest basalt columns in the world.

The highest waterfall (744 meters in total) in the United States and the fifth in the world is Yosemite Falls in the Sierra Nevada. This cascade waterfall is divided into: Upper Yosemite Fall (440 m and is one of the twenty highest waterfalls in the world), Middle Cascades (206 m) and Lower Yosemite Fall (98 m). Other waterfalls in this area are Bridalveil Fall (189 m), Vernal Fall (97 m) and Nevada Fall (181 m).

The Kings Canyon in Kings Canyon National Park is the deepest canyon in the United States with height differences of up to 2500 meters. The Crystal Cave with its beautiful stalactites and stalagmites is one of the most beautiful dripstone caves in the Sierra Nevada.

Yosemite Falls, CaliforniaYosemite Falls, CaliforniaPhoto: BallerinaGirl2248 CC 4.0 International no changes made


There are many faults under California that can cause earthquakes. The most active and best-known fault is the San Andreas Fault, which extends nearly a thousand kilometers across almost the entire length of California, from Cape Mendocino in the north to the Gulf of California in southern California. The San Andreas fault line is a result of the collisions between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate, and is one of the few places in the world where tectonic plates meet on land. Every year, California records some 500,000 earthquakes and tremors and the state is in fact a seismic time bomb.

San Andreas fault, CaliforniaSan Andreas fault, CaliforniaPhoto: John Wiley CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The most severe shocks to date have occurred in the northern part of the fault. Scientists are currently most concerned about the southern part of the fault, particularly around the metropolis of Los Angeles. The last major earthquake in this area, measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale, dates back to 1857. Scientists say that pressure on the southern side of the fault has been building for over a century and will spread through a likely massive earthquake called the 'Big One', pave its way out and cause extensive damage with many fatalities. Also in the San Francisco region little pressure has been released in recent years, so it is not illogical that a major earthquake is also about to happen there in the near future. In 1906, San Francisco was devastated by a major fire after an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale. In 1989, the city was hit again, with 62 lives and 6 billion damage from the 7.1 Loma-Prieta earthquake on the Richter scale. The 1994 Northridge earthquake had a magnitude of 6.7, the August 2014 earthquake had a magnitude of 6.1.

Consequences of the Loma Prieta earthquake, CaliforniaConsequences of the Loma Prieta earthquake, CaliforniaPhoto: FEMA News Photo in the public domain

Climate and Weather

California Winter California Winter Photo: Brocken Inaglory CC4.0 International no changes made

California's climate varies greatly, from desert to sub-arctic, depending on latitude, elevation changes, and proximity to the coast. The coastal regions, the Sierra Nevada promontory and the Central Valley have a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and mild winters, both in temperature and in terms of precipitation.

The influence of the ocean moderates the climate on the coast, making the winters a bit warmer and the summers a lot cooler. Then it could just be that it is 38°C inland and the thermometer on the coast only shows 21°C.

Further inland the climate becomes somewhat more continental and in some areas even a semi-arid or steppe climate with cold winters and hot summers. Here the weather conditions are more like those of the desert regions of Arizona and Northern Mexico.

The mean temperature differences, not far apart, can be quite significant, for example, on the coast it gets on average 4°C warmer than in the low-lying inland, in summer it is on average 14°C warmer in the interior than on the coast. The average daily temperature in San Francisco in July and August is between 17 and 20°C, in Walnut Creek, 20 miles inland, the average is 32°C. Another example is the coastal town of Santa Monica, where the average daytime temperature in August is 24°C, in Burbank, just 10 miles inland, it's 35°C, a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius per mile!

During the winter months, the Coachella Valley regularly has the highest temperatures west of the Rocky Mountains; East Los Angeles, the Gateway Cities and parts of the San Gabriel Valley have the highest winter temperatures in the western United States (22°C), Santa Monica has the lowest winter temperatures (11°C). Palm Springs, a town in the Coachella Valley, has highest / lowest / mean temperatures of 24°C / 10 C / 17°C from November to April.

In the extreme southwest, around San Diego, it has a subtropical semi-arid or steppe climate with very dry winters. The southeastern regions have a hot arid climate similar to the climate of the Sahara. In the north of the Mojave Desert is Death Valley, nestled in the rain shadow of four mountain ranges, where the world's highest temperatures are around 50°C, with the highest temperature being 56.7°C in the shadow on July 10, 1913; the lowest temperature ever recorded, -9°C, was also recorded in that year. Since 2005, temperatures of 54°C or higher have been regularly recorded. The average daily temperature in July is 38.8°C.

Climate types CaliforniaClimate types CaliforniaPhoto: Adam Peterson CC BY-SA 4.0 no changes made

Major westerly winds from the Pacific bring rainfall ashore, more in the north of the state than in the south. The various mountain ranges are also important for the amount of precipitation: moist air from the west cools down and is discharged onto the western flanks of the mountain range.

Northwest California has rainfall levels of 380-1300 mm per year; the Coast Redwood forest receives more than 2500mm per year. The Central Valley has varied precipitation levels: the northern parts receive substantially more rainfall than the southern parts and the Central Valley is regularly covered with a thick layer of fog (local name = tule fog), especially from November to March.

The high mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada, the Cascade Range and the Klamath Mountains, have a mountain climate with snow in the winters and moderate summers. Ski resorts like Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes and Mount Shasta receive at least three meters of snow in the winter season, often more.

Mount Shasta, California covered in snowMount Shasta, California covered in snowPhoto: Ewen Denney, CC BY-SA 3.0 no changes made

The eastern flanks of the mountain ranges are in the much drier rain shadow, with desert areas east of the Sierra Nevada and the Transverse Ranges and Peninsular Ranges in southern California. The low-lying desert areas east of the southern mountain ranges belong to the Sonoran Desert with hardly any winter frosts. The higher desert areas such as the Mojave Desert, Owens Valley and the Modoc Plateau have more of a continental climate with cold winter nights. During the summer months, from July to the beginning of September, this region is hit by the Mexican Monsoon, which causes heavy thunderstorms and rain showers coming from the Pacific, Gulf of California and / or the Gulf of Mexico. California is virtually unaffected by tropical cyclones, although in 2017 the state was hit by severe storms and very high rainfall in a short period of time.

climate table

Death Valley
max / min19°C / 4°C32°C / 17°C48°C / 30°C33°C / 16°C
rainfall10 mm3 mm0 mm3 mm
max / min13°C / 5°C14°C / 7°C17°C / 12°C16°C / 9°C
rainfall150 mm74 mm5 mm61 mm
Lake Tahoe
max / min5°C / -9°C12°C / -3°C26°C / 4°C17°C / -3°C
rainfall175 mm64 mm13 mm56 mm
Los Angeles
max / min20°C / 9°C23°C / 12°C29°C / 18°C26°C / 16°C
rainfall84 mm20 mm0 mm10 mm
San Diego
max / min19°C / 10°C21°C / 13°C24°C / 19°C23°C / 16°C
rainfall58 mm20 mm0 mm10 mm
San Francisco
max / min13°C / 6°C17°C / 9°C22°C / 13°C21°C / 11°C
rainfall114 mm31 mm0 mm25 mm


Much of California is a biological island that is in fact cut off from the rest of North America by the Sierra Nevada. As in other similar instances in the world, evolution in these biologically isolated conditions created a variety of unique plants. California has the most endemic plants of all American states and 30% of all plant species in the United States are found in California.

California's 6,000 or so plant species can be very striking but also unobtrusive and similar, where only an experienced botanist can see differences. The state flower is the California poppy.

California poppyCalifornia poppyPhoto: Shizhao CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

California is the region of super trees. The oldest tree in the world, a long-lived pine in the White Mountains, is nearly 5,000 years old. California also has the tallest trees in the world, the 'redwood', coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest tree being the Hyperion at almost 118 meters. These trees are related to the giant sequoia and the water cypress, can live to be 2000 years old and over 100 meters high.

The Redwood National Park (23,500 acres) includes three state parks: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park; 3720 ha), where three quarters of the tallest trees in the world are located. Another state park is 20,200 acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which contains one of the largest coastal redwood forests in the Rockefeller Forest.

The largest and heaviest trees in the world are the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the only place in the world where these giants occur. The topper among the giant redwoods is the General Sherman Tree, almost 84 meters high, a diameter of about 11 meters, a circumference of more than 31 meters, a trunk volume of almost 1500 m³, a weight of perhaps 1200 tons and an estimated age from 2300-2700 years. The second largest giant redwood is the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon's General Grant Grove; another giant is the Robert E. Lee Tree. These trees are all named after famous American Civil War generals.

Long-lived pine in the White Mountains, CaliforniaLong-lived pine in the White Mountains, CaliforniaPhoto: Rick Goldwaser CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

California giant redwood 'General Sherman Tree'California giant redwood 'General Sherman Tree'Photo: Jim Bahn CC BY 2.0 no changes made

20 largest giant redwoods

1General ShermanGiant Forest Grove1487 m³83,8 meter31,3 meter10,0 meter
2General GrantGeneral Grant Grove1320 m³81,7 meter32,8 meter10,4 meter
3PresidentGiant Forest Grove1278 m³73,4 meter28,3 meter9,0 meter
4LincolnGiant Forest Grove1260 m³78,0 meter30,0 meter9,5 meter
5StaggAlder Creek Grove1205 m³74,1 meter33,2 meter10,6 meter
6BooleConverse Basin Grove1203 m³81,9 meter34,4 meter11,0 meter
7GenesisMountain Home Grove1186 m³77,1 meter26,0 meter8,3 meter
8FranklinGiant Forest Grove1169 m³68,2 meter28,9 meter9,2 meter
9King ArthurGarfield Grove1151 m³82,4 meter31,8 meter10,1 meter
10MonroeGiant Forest Grove1136 m³75,5 meter27,8 meter8,9 meter
11Robert E. LeeGeneral Grant Grove1136 m³77,6 meter26,9 meter8,6 meter
12John AdamsGiant Forest Grove1103 m³76,4 meter25,4 meter8,1 meter
13Ishi GrantKennedy Grove1080 m³75,6 meter32,0 meter10,2 meter
14ColumnGiant Forest Grove1056 m³74,3 meter28,3 meter9,0 meter
15Summit RoadMountain Home Grove1040 m³74,4 meter25,1 meter8,0 meter
16EuclidMountain Home Grove1023 m³83,1 meter25,4 meter8,1 meter
17WashingtonMariposa Grove1017 m³71,9 meter29,2 meter9,3 meter
18General PershingGiant Forest Grove1015 m³75,0 meter27,8 meter8,8 meter
19DiamondAtwell Mill Grove1000 m³87,2 meter29,0 meter9,2 meter
20AdamMountain Home Grove992 m³75,4 meter28,7 meter9,1 meter

California also has twenty different oak species, including the largest of all, the Quercus lobata or valley oak (also called roble). Furthermore, the Quercus durata or leather oak, the Quercus douglasii or blue oak, the Californian black oak (also called black oak or Kellogg oak), the Quercus chrysolepis or canyon live oak (also called canyon oak, golden cup oak or maul oak), the Quercus wislizenii or interior live oak, the Quercus tomentella or island oak (also called Channel Island oak or island live oak), the Quercus engelmanni or Engelmann oak (also called Pasadena oak), the Quercus agrifolia or California live oak ( also called coast live oak) and the poisonous poison oak.

Other common trees include the aromatic California laurel, the Monterey pine, the Great Cone Pine, the Yellow Pine, the Twirled Pine, the Sugar or Giant (largest and most voluminous pine in the world), the American White Pine and the Foxtail Pine.

Torrey Pines State Reserves, on the coast and near San Diego, and Santa Rosa Island, are the only places in the world where the Torrey pine or Pinus torreyana (8-17 meters high) is found.

Pinus Torreyana, unique in CaliforniaPinus Torreyana, unique in CaliforniaPhoto: Richard O. Barry CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Sierra Nevada has three eco zones: the dry western foothills with oak and 'chaparall', a type of Mediterranean maquis, with tough, woody shrubs with thick bark and small leaves; conifer forests from 600 meters; and the alpine zone above 2400 meters. The Sierra Nevada has several dozen conifer species, including the Douglas fir and the Pinus ponderosa or yellow pine. Well-known deciduous trees are the American aspen.

Of the many palm species found in California, the California fan palm is the only species native to California. The date palm was imported from Algeria in 1890.

In the Southern California desert areas, cacti and other plants have adapted to the harsh conditions, no less than about 900 different plant species have been counted. If there is enough rain in the winter period, the ground can be covered with a colorful flower carpet in the spring. Common but dangerously stinging are the 'jumping cholla' (Cylindropuntia fulgida), also known as the 'teddy-bear cactus' due to its woolly appearance, and the 'catclaw acacia' (Senegalia greggii).

Almost equally widespread are various types of fig (s) - or disc cacti with their flesh-like discs and the ocotillo, not a true cactus, which appears dead but only needs a little water to reach full bloom.

A special desert plant is the creosote bush, the oldest living creatures on earth, some specimens of which are about 5000 years old. Another remarkable desert plant is Yucca brevifolia or 'Joshua tree' (max. 15 meters high, making it the tallest yucca species or palm lily in the world), which mainly occurs in the Mojave Desert from a height of at least 600 meters and can be several hundred years old. Yucca breviola is common in CaliforniaYucca breviola is common in CaliforniaPhoto: Stan Shebs CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Much of California is a biological island that is in fact cut off from the rest of North America by the Sierra Nevada. As in other similar cases in the world, evolution created a variety of animals in these biologically isolated conditions. California therefore has the most endemic amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fish and mammals of all American states. Amazing Facts: 50% of all bird species and 50% of all mammals in the United States are found in California.

Bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, California sea lions, gray whales, northern elephant seals and harbor seals are found along the California coast.

Northern elephant seals are found along the coast of CaliforniaNorthern elephant seals are found along the coast of CaliforniaPhoto: Brocken Inaglory CC 4.0 no changes made

California's most symbolic mammal, the animal even featured on the state flag, is still the giant grizzly bear. Eradicated since the 1920s, grizzlies populated the beaches and grasslands of California, devouring everything in their way. However, they were especially common in the Central Valley, but fledged to the slopes of the Sierra Nevada as more hunted them.

The smaller black bear, which is also often much lighter in color, is still common in California, some 25,000-30,000 specimens live in the wooded slopes. this bear species is also omnivorous, and also occurs in the vicinity of human habitation.

Settlers have ensured that many more (large) mammals were oppressed in the 19th century, examples of which are the tulle-wapiti and the fork-goat. They used to be in large herds, now they can only be seen in a few places.

The mountain lion, also known as the mountain lion or silver lion, is found all over California, especially in areas with a lot of deer.

Many animals are also found in the deserts of California, but of course most animals do not show themselves during the day. Roadrunners often occur on the roadside. Other typical desert animals are the bat-eared fox, the tree-climbing gray fox, the black-tailed hare or black-tailed donkey hare, the desert kangaroo sacrifice from the family of the cheek pouch mice, the desert tortoise, the desert bighorn sheep and a wide variety of snakes (including the highly venomous horned rattlesnake), lizards (including the chuckwhalla) and spiders.

California is an essential resting point for about half of all migratory bird species that fly to Mexico from Alaska, especially during the wetter winter season. In October and November, for example, approximately two million ducks and geese congregate in the Klamath Basin in the far north of California. Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada is the breeding ground for about 85% of all prairie gulls in the world and brine shrimp swim in the very salty water.

The extinction of the California condor, a New World vulture species with a wingspan of more than three meters, has been halted for the time being. In 1987 only 27 specimens were still alive worldwide, all living in a protected (zoo) environment. Today there are more than 400 condors, and more and more captive-raised specimens are being released into the wild in hopes of becoming breeding pairs. In the wild, the condors can be seen on the coast at Big Sur and in the Pinnacles National Park.

California condorCalifornia condorPhoto: Stacy CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Endemic to the Mojave Desert is the bathing water snail, a snail species that feels very much at home in the salty habitat of Badwater, the lowest point in North America where temperatures of nearly 50°C are no exception.

The California porpoise or vaquita (also known locally as cochito) is one of the rarest mammals on Earth, with only about 30 specimens remaining in the northern part of the Gulf of California, according to a 2016 census.

California's fish-state symbol is the orange-colored Garibaldi or Garibaldi damselfish (Hypsypops rubicundus), a ray-finned fish from the reef bass or coral damselfish family.Garibaldi, California state fishGaribaldi, California state fishPhoto: Star5112 / John CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Two subspecies of the toothcarp species Cyprinodon nevadensis or Death Valley pupfish are found in two very isolated places in Death Valley National Park, the Cyprinodon salinus salinus is found in the Salt Creek and the Cyprinodon salinus milleri in the Cottonball Marsh. The fish can survive in water that is no less than four times saltier than the water of the ocean and water temperature differences of about 45°C are no problem for these fish species.

Pinnacles National Park (national park since 2012) is known for its enormous bee diversity: approx. 400 species can be found here.

Millions of orange-black monarch butterflies (also called American monarch) from the western United States and Canada gather to hibernate in Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach, Ventura and Montana de Oro State Park.

Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove, CaliforniaMonarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove, CaliforniaPhoto: Agunther CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Catalina Island is home to plants and animals that are not found on mainland California. Some endemic plant species include the extremely poisonous wild tomato and rare mahogany and ironwood trees.

Several subspecies have developed on the island, including the Catalina California ground squirrel and the gray Catalina island fox. Bison has also been found on the island since 1924, for a film recording.

There are also many indigenous unique animal species on the Channel Islands, about 150 species. In addition to the island fox, the spotted island skunk and the island night lizard, the dwarf mammoth lived here in bygone times.

Island foxes are found in every habitat, except in areas that are severely affected by human activity or overgrazing. The island fox is only found in the six largest of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California, namely San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Nicholas, Santa Catalina en San Clemente. The six different populations are sometimes considered separate subspecies.

A rare fringed lizard species, the Uma inornata, is found in the Coachella Valley.

Uma inornata, fringe lizard in CaliforniaUma inornata, fringe lizard in CaliforniaPhoto: Laura Collado y Javier Peraleda CC 2.5 Spain no changes made

44 miles west of Point Bonita in the Bay Area are the Farallon Islands, important for nesting seabirds and a resting place for migratory birds, including California petrel, Brands cormorant, Cassin's auk, guillemot, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros, crested puffin and California gull.

Anacapa Island is home to the largest colony of California sea lions in the world.


California before the arrival of the Europeans

For thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans, many Indian tribes lived in what is now referred to as California. Archaeological finds indicate that at least 13,000 BC. people lived in the western United States. California had an estimated 300,000 inhabitants at the time of the arrival of the Europeans.

The Indians lived in small villages along the coast, in the woods and in the desert. Not much is known about these tribes, there are hardly any important archaeological finds, written sources and large buildings as with the Incas and Aztecs certainly not. What remains are carved shells, arrowheads and some petroglyphs, other others from the Chumash tribe.

Chumash Petroglyphs, Simi Valley, CaliforniaChumash Petroglyphs, Simi Valley, CaliforniaPhoto: Niceley CC 4.0 Internationalno changes made

Europeans discover California

The first Europeans to set foot on California soil were Spanish explorers. They were looking to expand their colony of New Spain which, under the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), included the area west of Brazil and all of North America west of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1535, Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), conqueror of Mexico and destroyer of the Aztec Empire, thought he had discovered a short sea route to Asia, but in fact landed on the southernmost tip of today's Baja California peninsula and called it Santa Cruz.

Hernan Cortez CaliforniaHernan Cortez CaliforniaPhoto: Public domain

The first explorer to use the name California for the first time and actually enter the American state was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo or João Rodrigues Cabrilho (± 1499-1543), a Portuguese in Spanish service. He discovered San Diego Bay in 1542 and sailed on to the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. Only fifty years later, in 1592, the Greek Juan de Fuca (actual name Ioánnis Fokás, 1536-1602), like Cabrillo in Spanish service, ventured the dangerous journey.

Meanwhile, the English were also active in the waters off the West American coast. In 1579, the explorer Sir Francis Drake (± 1540-1596) landed on what is now Drake's Bay just north of San Francisco. He took possession of all the land of the indigenous Miwok Indians and named the area Nova Albion, New England.

The most thorough voyage of discovery along the West American coast was carried out in 1602 by the Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno (± 1548-1624) and was the namesake of many places now known under the same name. One such name and place, a hundred miles south of San Francisco, is Monterey. This place was to be the military and administrative center of the Spanish colony for a period of 75 years. It also housed the headquarters of the Franciscan missions that were founded all over California between 1769 and 1823.

Colonization: Spaniards and Russians

The definitive colonization of California didn't really begin until 1769 with a combination of military necessity to keep other nations out, and religious intent to convert the Native Americans. An army of about three hundred soldiers left together with the Spanish Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra (1713-1784), partly by land and by sea to 'Las Indias', as the Spaniards often called their new colony. There was also an overland expedition by the Spanish military and explorer Gaspar de Portolá Rovira (1716-1786).

Junípero Serra, missionary in CaliforniaJunípero Serra, missionary in CaliforniaPhoto: Public domain

In June 1770, after a small mission post and fort had already been established by Serra in San Diego, a second expedition arrived in Monterey, and a mission post and a small fort were built there too. From 1777, the first villages (pueblos) were also founded, intended to attract settlers. The first 'pueblo' was San Jose, succeeded by Los Angeles in 1781. The pueblos did not yet represent many, until the 19th century such villages did not have much more than a hundred inhabitants.

The military presence, according to the Spaniards, although the two nations were friendly with each other, was to deter the Russians, who owned a small colony in Alaska with mostly trappers. The Russians were not deterred, however, as they knew that the Spaniards had great difficulty in maintaining their food supplies, ammunition and gunpowder. It didn't take long before the Russian outpost Fort Ross (now: Sonoma County coast) was built in 1812, less than a hundred kilometers north of San Francisco. This undermined the Spaniards' authority over this region, although the Russians left as early as 1841.


While Spain, France and England were embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars, the colonies of New Spain rebelled against European powers, leading to Mexico's independence in 1821. The Mexican Republic, or as it was called the United States of Mexico, ruled Upper California at the time. Upper California (Spanish: Alta California) at that time consisted of the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

During Spanish and Mexican rule it was forbidden for 'foreigners' to settle in California. It was not until the 1920s that the first 'Americans', initially only men, came to California and assimilated into existing Mexican culture by marrying into Mexican families and transitioning to the Roman Catholic faith. Slowly but surely there was a constant stream of emigrants, now also many women. In those first decades ships sailed via Cape Horn to the west coast of America in three months. The first people to make the four-month journey over land in covered wagons arrived in 1841. Due to the dangerous journey and the difficult circumstances, the immigration of American settlers started with difficulty, in 1846 there were only about 7,000 people left the region, including all Spaniards and Mexicans, excluding Indians.

Mexico at the beginning of the 19th century, with Alta California to the northwestMexico at the beginning of the 19th century, with Alta California to the northwestPhoto: Golbez CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

From the 1930s onwards, the United States was committed to colonizing the continent from coast to coast. As for California, the Mexicans were unsuccessfully offered to buy the area north of the Rio Grande, the current border between the United States and Mexico. In April 1846, President James Polk made a $ 40 million offer for New Mexico and present-day California, while simultaneously annexing the independent Republic of Texas, which was also claimed by Mexico. Not long after this, the Mexican-American War broke out. The war in this war took place entirely on Texan territory, except for a battle at San Pasqual, a town northeast of San Diego. There, pro-Mexican Californios were defeated and Monterey, the region's capital, was captured by the US Navy without firing a shot. In January 1847 the Californios surrendered completely and at that time the Americans controlled the entire west coast. It is worth mentioning that just before the outbreak of the war California had its own government by proclaiming the so-called 'Bear Flag Republic'. In June 1846 American colonists declared California independent, but this status lasted only a short time, three weeks later American troops took over command again.

California 31st state of the United States of America

The Mexican-American War was formally ended on February 2, 1848, during the Peace of Guedelupe Hidalgo, which sold Alta California to the United States for $ 15 million. The mexicans who suddenly lived in the United States because of the border marker, were allowed to choose between Mexican or American nationality. most Mexicans chose the American nationality.

US territory after the Peace of Guadelupe HidalgoUS territory after the Peace of Guadelupe HidalgoPhoto: Matthew Trump / GFDL CC BY-SA 3.0 no changes made

A few days before the signing of the Peace of Guedelupe, on January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall (1810-1885) found gold in the waters of the American River in the waters of the American River, near Sacramento, near the town of Coloma, near Sacramento. Gold Rush underway. From the middle of the year 1849, thousands of prospectors traveled from east to west through the United States and many finds were made especially in those early years of the Goldrush. However, within fifteen years the hype was over, much gold was no longer found.

California, San Francisco Great Earthquake 1906California, San Francisco Great Earthquake 1906Photo: H.D. Chadwick in the public domain

At the end of 1849, a constitutional convention was organized in Monterey, deciding, among other things, the eastern border of California and banning slavery. The drafting of a constitution was necessary to be able to join the United States of America: on September 9, 1850, the time had come, California became the 31st state of the United States. The first governor of California was Peter Hardeman Burnett (1807-1895), who remained in office from December 20, 1849, before California was officially a state of the United States, until January 9, 1851. Sacramento was declared the capital of the state of California in 1854.

Peter Hardeman Burnett, First California GovernorPeter Hardeman Burnett, First California GovernorPhoto: unknown in the public domain

Although California was not very "troubled" by the American Civil War (1861-1865), many bloody battles were fought between white settlers and Indian tribes on California territory. At first they tried to irrigate the insians reserves, but due to the continuous large-scale colonization of the soil, the Indians were increasingly pushed back to small pieces of land. In the end, the Indians did not accept this, resulting in a lot of violence. As a result of this and a combination of (Western) diseases and famine, the number of Indians declined sharply and by 1870 more than 90% of all Indians had been exterminated. The descendants of the survivors still live in small, poorly equipped servants: Cahuilla near Palm Springs, Paiute / Shoshone in the Owens Valley, and the Hupa on the northwest coast. After the gold rush, the number of California residents exploded, partly due to the completion of a transnational railroad across America that took five days instead of a month to travel from the east to the west of the United States; the population of San Francisco rose from 500 to 50,000 in five years.

In the early morning of April 18, 1906, the Great Earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter Scale, took place in San Francisco, causing more than 3,000 people to die from the earthquake, but most of all from the fires that broke out everywhere, leaving more than 300,000 homeless ; 28,000 buildings were destroyed. Despite this disaster, the city was quickly rebuilt and California continued to grow, partly due to the rise of the film industry in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1911.Hollywood, California, center of the movie industryHollywood, California, center of the movie industryPhoto: Sörn CC 2.0 Genericno changes made

This growth was caused by the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929, when thousands of people from, among others, the Dust Bowl, central states of the United States, came to California in search of work.

This dire situation turned for the better in World War II, when heavy industries settled in California for the production of war material. Between 1942 and 1945, approximately 10,000 Japanese men, women and children, American citizens, were put in a number of internment camps in reprisal for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the Owens Valley, in southeastern California, there were ten camps alone, including Camp Manzanar. After the war, many soldiers who had fought in the South Pacific settled in California. It was easy for the veterans to find work and the large-scale approach to infrastructure in the United States created large commuter cities.

The 1950s brought much prosperity to middle-class Americans and San Francisco in particular became a center for writers and artists, attracting many intellectuals to form the Beat generation. Between 1941 and 1962, California's population exploded from 9 million to 22 million, a growth that continued afterward.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, California continued to be a center of youth and social turmoil in the flower-power era. The drug LSD was introduced and peaked in 1967 during the Summer of Love, when almost all of San Francisco appeared to be populated by barefoot and drugged "flower children."

The flower-power era came to an end with the protests against the Vietnam War, which continued to be rife in California until the 1970s, particularly on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. The 'innocence' of the 1960s came to an end with the assassinations of youth popular human rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, who was murdered in Los Angeles. The radical Black Panther movement from Oakland and the massacres of Charles Manson and the violent Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) also contributed to a hardening of society. Governors in the 1970s were the later president Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) and Jerry Brown (1938-), who introduced the most stringent environmental measures in the world and strongly focused on the use of alternative energy sources. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area, which was hit again a few years later by a massive fire in Oakland Hills that killed 24 people.

In addition to floods, large fires (including Malibu) and mudslides, an earthquake of 6.7 on the Richter Scale in the San Fernando Valley in 1994 killed 57 people. The 1990s also saw two high profile lawsuits: black motorcyclist Rodney King was beaten to death by police officers, all of whom were subsequently acquitted; the famous ex-football player O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife and her boyfriend. The acquittal of the Rodney King agents sparked some of the worst racial conflict in California history, with more than 50 dead, more than 2,500 injured, and thousands of fires.

Economically important was the rise of Silicon Valley, an area on the south side of San Francisco Bay, where many high-tech companies have established their headquarters over the past few decades, including Apple, Intel, eBay, Google and Facebook.

Overview of Silicon Valley, California companiesOverview of Silicon Valley, California companiesPhoto: Samykolon CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

California in the 21st Century

With a gross domestic product of $ 1.74 billion in 2013, about two-thirds of the entire United Kingdom, California has one of the largest economies in the world.

On August 17, 2013, a campfire in Yosemite National Park started California's fourth-largest fire. The fire was only completely under control after four weeks; 100,000 hectares were destroyed.

In February 2017, California, especially the central and southern parts of the state, suffered severe storms and heavy rainfall. According to meteorologists, it was the heaviest storm since 1995. A state of emergency was declared in San Jose and more than a thousand homes were evacuated. Entire neighborhoods were covered with a layer of muddy water.

See also chapter history of the USA.


California population growth in the period 1940-2005 California population growth in the period 1940-2005Photo: Urban in the public domain

California had 39,144,818 inhabitants on July 1, 2015, making it the state with the most inhabitants and also with approximately 95 inhabitants per km², three times the national average, the most densely populated state in the United States. About one in nine Americans lives in California, and the state is also one of the largest growers in terms of population. Of the ten largest cities in the United States, three, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, are in California. Of the 100 largest cities in the United States, 17 are in California, more than any other state:

CityCountyInhabitantsRanking U.S.A.
Los AngelesLos Angelesca. 4.000.0002
San DiegoSan Diegoca. 1.300.0008
San JoséSanta Claraca. 1.030.00010
San FranciscoSan Franciscoca. 865.00013
FresnoFresnoca. 521.00034
SacramentoSacramentoca. 491.00035
Long BeachLos Angelesca. 475.00037
OaklandAlamedaca. 420.00045
BakersfieldKernca. 375.00052
AnaheimOrangeca. 351.00056
Santa AnaOrangeca. 336.00057
RiversideRiversideca. 323.00059
StocktonSan Joaquinca. 306.00062
Chula VistaSan Diegoca. 266.00074
IrvineOrangeca. 257.00081
FremontAlamedaca. 233.00096
San BernardinoSan Bernardinoca. 217.000100

One third of the inhabitants were born abroad or have their roots there; California is therefore the most ethnically diversified US state. Approx. 74% of California's population is white; some 6.6% are black, which is below the national average of almost 13%. Currently, one in four legal immigrants is settling in California. In addition, an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants are currently living in California.

Almost 14% of the population is of Asian descent, more than three times the national average. The first Chinese arrived during the gold rush, which started in 1848. Around 1860 a massive immigration of Chinese started again, this time because of the great economic problems in their homeland. However, the Chinese faced a lot of racial violence, which resulted in the creation of entire Chinese neighborhoods in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1880, the Chinese were even largely banned from the United States, a situation that lasted until 1943. At the moment, the Chinese neighborhoods have become a real tourist attraction.

Chinatown San Francisco street scene in 1898Chinatown San Francisco street scene in 1898Photo: Arnold Genthe (1869-1942) in the public domain

In the early 20th century, many Japanese farmers came to California and did good work there. However, that changed completely after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942; the Japanese were considered a threat to internal security and were interned during the war. WRA (War Relocation Authority) Location Centers were located in, from north to south, Tule Lake, Manzanar, Poston and Gila River; Cow Creek had a WRA Temporary Camp.

In addition to Chinese and Japanese, many Cambodians, Vietnamese, South Koreans and Laotians also live in California. Long Beach has the largest population of Cambodians outside of Cambodia ('Little Phnom Penh'), Fresno has the largest Hmong community in the world outside of Laos. The Vietnamese and South Koreans moved to the United States because of the wars fought there in the second half of the 20th century. Silicon Valley has attracted many technically trained Indians and Pakistanis since the 1970s.

Santa Monica also has a large community of Englishmen, Solvang has its Danes, Kingsburg its Swedes, Bakersfield has the largest Basque community in the United States, North Beach in San Francisco is 'Little Italy', and the second largest Jewish community in the United States also resides in California, especially in Los Angeles. Many of today's cities were founded by Spanish explorers as early as the 17th and 18th centuries. As early as the mid-20th century, California had the largest population of Mexicans in the world outside of Mexico in its territory. Many Hispanics from Central and South America came to California in the 1980s because of serious economic and political problems in their country.

More Native Californians live in California than in any other US state. A small number of them still live in reserves, most of the indigenous peoples are integrated. Tribal tribes with a large territory at the time of the arrival of the Europeans were Achumawi, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Kawaiisu, Mono. Nisenan, Panamint, Serrano and Yokuts.

Native peoples of California at the time of the arrival of the EuropeansNative peoples of California at the time of the arrival of the EuropeansPhoto:Concerto CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

California consists of 58 counties, of which the largest in area is San Bernardino County, the one with the most inhabitants is Los Angeles County, approx. 10 million. The population of each county varies enormously, Alpine County in eastern California has a population of just over 1,100.


English Language MapEnglish Language MapPhoto: Kobolen CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

English is spoken in California, but Spanish is the second language. 60.5% of the population speaks English, 25.8% Spanish and 13.7% other languages.


The vast majority of the American population is native English, but large groups also speak other European and non-European languages, especially Spanish. Especially in the big cities, groups live who have often retained the language of origin for many generations.

For example, a French dialect is still spoken in parts of Louisiana, and some French Canadians in New England have also retained the language of their neighbors in Canada.

The Puerto Ricans and many people of Spanish descent speak Spanish. Furthermore, the Inuit in Alaska have their own language and a Polynesian language is spoken in Hawaii.

There is no American as a language: there is really only American English. The main difference with British English lies in the different pronunciation. A distinction is made between the dialects of the north, east and south, but despite the great distances, the dialects still differ less widely than in a small country like the Netherlands. New life circumstances and a different mentality did create new words, sayings and expressions. Some words have been given a different meaning, and a few things have also changed in spelling and grammar. Still, the language differences between English and English-American are not very great.

Americans like it short and anything that goes fast and saves time is much appreciated.

This aspiration is also reflected in the language. Some examples of this are:

Another way to save time is to contract words, both in the spoken language and in the written language. Some examples of this are:

Almost all Indians speak American. In addition, dozens of widely differing Native American languages have survived the US government's assimilation technique.

Overview Indian languagesOverview Indian languagesPhoto: Public domain

Some ethnic population groups still adhere strongly to the language and traditions of the motherland. In the big cities this is very noticeable in the many "Chinatowns" and "Little Italy's".

In the countryside, religious groups such as the Mennonites of the old order, Hutterites and Amana still speak German from the 19th century.

Two centuries ago, between 80 and 90 different Native American languages and dialects were spoken within the confines of today's California. These California native languages belong to 20 major language families; including at least seven language families that have no relationship to any other language family. From a linguistic point of view, California is the most diverse state in the United States. Below 76 languages and dialects that are extinct and are still spoken in California, sometimes by less than ten people.

AchumawiInterior ChumashMonoSaclan
AtsugewiIsland ChumashMutsunSalinan
AwaswasJuaneñoNew River ShastaSerrano
CahuillaKarukNomlakiSoutheastern Pomo
Central PomoKashayaNortheastern PomoSouthern Pomo
Central Sierra MiwokKatoNorthern PaiuteSouthern Sierra Miwok
ChalonKawaiisuNorthern PomoTamyen
ChemehueviKitanemukNorthern Sierra MiwokTataviam
ChimarikoKonkowNorthern YukianTolowa
Coast MiwokKumeyaay (Diegueño)OkwanuchuVentureño
CupeñoLake MiwokPanamintWappo
Eastern PomoLuiseñoPatwinWasho
Eel River AthabaskanMaiduPlains MiwokWintu
GabrielinoMattoleQuechan (Yuma)Yana
HupaModocRamaytushYokuts languages



In California today, Protestants make up the largest faith community (36%), followed by Catholics (31%), Jews (3%), Buddhists (2%) Mormons (2%), Muslims (1%), Hindus (1%) and various other denominations (24%). California has the most Buddhists in its territory outside of Asia.

The 24% diverse traditionally includes all kinds of alternative religions and utopian societies, from modern pagans to new age healers. California scored worldwide in the 1960s with gurus from India, in the 1970s with Jim Jones' Peoples Temple and Erhard Seminars Training (EST, in the 1990s with the Heaven's Gate Doomsday UFO cult in San Diego, and in 2011. And since 1954, the Scientology Church has been trying to gain a foothold in California.

Religious buildings

Garden Grove: Christ Cathedral (previously Crystal Cathedral). Literally 'splendid' star-shaped church, consisting of white steel lattice girders, covered by more than ten thousand panes of crystal and silver-plated cut glass. The main church of the Reformed Church of America by the television chaplain ('The Hour of Power') Robert Harold Schuller, designed as a Crystal Cathedral in the period 1977-1980 by architect Philip Johnson. Bought in 2012 by the Diocese of Orange County for its 1.2 million Catholics and since June 2013 has continued under the name Christ Cathedral. The Hazel Wright pipe organ is the largest pipe organ in the world and separate from the church stands the 70-meter-high glass Crean Tower, built in 1990.

Crystal Church, Graden Grove, CaliforniaCrystal Church, Graden Grove, CaliforniaPhoto:Wattewyl CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

Los Angeles: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (also called COLA or Los Angeles Cathedral). Post-modern futuristic Roman Catholic cathedral, without spire, designed by Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo and consecrated in 2002. Mother Church with 3000 seats of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and seat of the Archbishop. This cathedral replaced the Cathedral of Vibiana, badly damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Disputed both for design and for the high construction cost of $ 200 million. Angular on the outside, interior is sleek.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CaliforniaCathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CaliforniaPhoto: Basil D Soufi CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Los Angeles (suburb Rancho Palos Verdes): Wayfarers Chapel (also 'Glass Church'). Perched on a cliff top chapel, made of glass and redwood and designed in 1949 by architect Lloyd Wright (actually Frank Lloyd T. Wright, Jr.), son of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The building, built in 1951, belongs to the Swedenborgian Church, which is based on the theories and thoughts of the Swedish scientist, mystic, philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).

Wayfarers Chapel, Los Angeles, CaliforniaWayfarers Chapel, Los Angeles, CaliforniaPhoto: Russ Allison Loar CC 4.0 International no changes made

Oakland: Oakland Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Oakland California Temple. Dedicated in 1964, the 15th Mormon Temple, the only one in Northern California. Designed by architect Harold William Burton (1887-1969), specialist in Mormon buildings. It is the only Mormon temple with five spiers and is further notable for its use of oriental motifs.

San Diego: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. This was the first Franciscan mission in California, founded on July 16, 1769 by the Spanish Father Junípero Serra. This is where the first Christian funeral took place in what was then Alta California and also the first public execution was carried out in 1778, Father Luis Jayme became California's first Catholic martyr. The current church is already the fifth to be built on this location.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in SanDiego, CaliforniaMission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in SanDiego, CaliforniaPhoto: Bernard Gagnon CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

San Francisco: Old St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. San Francisco's first Roman Catholic cathedral built by Chinese, consecrated in 1854 and made of Chinese granite. In service as a cathedral until 1891, but was succeeded in that year by the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. One of the few buildings that stood proudly after the earthquake of 1906, but partly burned down, only the outer walls and the bell tower remained; the renovation was completed in 1909. When opened, was the largest building in San Francisco and even all of California.

San Francisco: Kong Chow Temple. Founded in 1849 by the Cantonese community of San Francisco and dedicated to the deity Guan Yo (aka Guan Di), a famous general of the Late or Eastern Han Dynasty, 25-220 AD. Destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, but rebuilt by the Chinese community. In 1977 the temple moved to the top floor of a post office in Chinatown, also known as the Kong Chow Building.

Chinatown also has a number of Buddhist temples, including Tin How Temple, Jeng Sen Temple and Norras Temple.

San Francisco: Tien Hau Temple. Temple dedicated to sea goddess Tianhou or Mazu, protector of sailors, among others. Oldest in use Taoist temple in the United States, founded in 1852 by Day Ju, one of the first Chinese immigrants to San Francisco. In the 1950s, the temple was closed for about 20 years, but reopened in 1975. Current temple was built in 1910 on the top floor of a four-storey building.

San Francisco: Grace Cathedral. Main church in the French Gothic style of the Episcopalian Diocese of California and third largest episcopal cathedral in the United States, after the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City and the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Washington DC ( also called Washington National Cathedral). Designed by the American architect Lewis Parsons Hobart (1873-1954) and based on the Notre Dame of Paris; construction began in 1928 but was not nearly completed until 1964. The stained-glass windows feature images of not only religious figures, but also American celebrities such as Albert Einstein and the astronaut John Glenn.

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CaliforniaGrace Cathedral, San Francisco, CaliforniaPhoto: Marlith CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

San Francisco (North Beach): Saints Peter and Paul Church. Also called 'Italian Church', 'La Cattedrale d'Italia Ovest' or 'Fishermen's Church' due to the frequent use by the Italian community in San Francisco. This original late 19th century Roman Catholic church is managed by the Salesians of (Giovanni) Don Bosco (1815-1888). The first church of this name was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake; the current building was completed in 1924. The towers of the church are 58 meters high.

San Francisco: Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Architecturally very modern cathedral, designed by the Italian-American architect Pietro Belluschi (1899-1994) and the Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979), in collaboration with local architects. Popularly called St. Mary's Cathedral, the church was completed in 1971 and is very similar to St. Mary's Cathedral in the Japanese capital Tokyo.

Other special churches in San Francisco are the Holy Virgin Cathedral (Russian Orthodox Church of the Russian Church in Exile), the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church (Sunday mass attracts many drag queens) and the Temple Emanu-El, founded after the World War I Jews fled from Russia and Eastern Europe.

San Jose: Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph. Located on the site where the first church was built in ca.1803 in the first Catholic parish in California. The church was ravaged by earthquakes in 1818, 1822 and 1868 and a fire in 1875. In 1997 the Vatican awarded the church the status of basilica.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, San Jose, CaliforniaCathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, San Jose, CaliforniaPhoto: Daderot in yhe public domain

San Miguel: Mission San Miguel Arcángel. The sixteenth of 21 mission posts in California founded by Franciscan monks, this mission was founded by Franciscan Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen in 1797 and named after the Archangel Michael. The current building was completed in 1821; the frescoes were designed by the artist Esteban Munras and painted by Indians of the Salinas tribe. From 1834 the mission post was used as a hotel, warehouse and bar; in 1928 it was given a religious destination again and came back into the possession of Franciscan monks. In 2003 the building was badly damaged by the Salina earthquake; in 2009 the complex reopened to the public.

Santa Barbara: Mission Santa Barbara (10th). The only missionary post in California that has had a religious purpose since its founding in 1786. Built in the Spanish mission style, with Romanesque, Moorish and Spanish elements. The narrow church is built in a neoclassical style with imitation marble doors and columns on the walls and doors. The facade of the church was designed by 'padre' Antonio Ripoli. The accompanying cemetery contains more than 4000 monks and Indians.

All 21 Spanish missions in California:

1San Diego de Alcalá16 july 1769
2San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo3 june 1770
3San Antonio de Padua14 july 1771
4San Gabriel Arcángel8 september 1771
5San Luis Obispo de Tolosa1 september 1772
6San Francisco de Asís9 october 1776
7San Juan Capistrano1 november 1776
8Santa Clara de Asís12 january 1777
9San Buenaventura31 march 1782
10Santa Bárbara4 december 1786
11La Purísima Concepción8 december 1787
12Santa Cruz28 august 1791
13Nuestra Señora de la Soledad9 october 1791
14San José11 june 1797
15San Juan Bautista24 june 1797
16San Miguel Arcángel25 july 1797
17San Fernando Rey de España8 september 1797
18San Luis Rey de Francía13 june 1798
19Santa Inés Virgen y Martír17 september 1804
20San Rafael Arcángel14 december 1817
21San Francisco Solano4 july 1823

Talmage, 3 km east of Ukiah, the capital of Mendocino County: City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Since 1976 a Chinese Buddhist community founded by Hsuan Hua (1918-1995), an important figure in Western Buddhism. In the temple, 10,000 Buddha images are actually depicted on the walls. This temple competes with the Hsi Lai Temple of Hacienda Heights in Southern California for the title of 'Largest Buddhist Temple in the Western Hemisphere'.

City of Thousand Buddha's entrance in Talmage, CaliforniaCity of Thousand Buddha's entrance in Talmage, CaliforniaPhoto: Kungming2 in the public domain


State structure United States

The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic, with power shared between the president as head of state and government, the United States Congress and the judiciary. The federal government, in turn, shares sovereignty with the state governments of all 50 individual states. The president of the executive branch is the president; Congress as a legislative power sits in two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate; the judiciary, which interprets and assesses the constitution, federal laws, is in the hands of the Supreme Court as the supreme body, under which the lower federal courts rule.

The President of the United States is indirectly elected by the American population. The voters in the various states do not rely on the presidential candidate, but on electors who support a particular preisdent candidate. The number of electors of a state is equal to the number of Congressmen of that state. California is the most important state for some electoral votes, as many as 55. The candidate who obtains the most votes in a state can send all electors to the Electoral College. In total there are 538 electors to win, the candidate with at least 270 electors behind him will become president of the United States.

United States political system overviewUnited States political system overviewPhoto: 111Alleskönner CC BY-SA 3.0 de no changes made

Government California

In the United States, the Democratic and Republican Parties have ruled since the American Civil War (1860-1865). That applies to both the federal government and the state governments. Below is an overview of the governors and their party since 1849. Until now, California had 21 governors of republican rule, 17 governors of Democratic background, one governor of the American Party and one governor of the Progressive Party.

NameIn functionParty
Peter Hardeman Burnett20-12-1849 till 9-1-1851Democrat
John McDougall9-1-1851 tlll 8-1-1852Democrat
John Bigler8-1-852 till 9-1-1856Democrat
John Neely Johnson9-1-1856 till 8-1-1858American Party
John B. Weller8-1-1858 till 9-1-1860Democrat
Milton Latham9-1-1860 till 14-1-1860Democrat
John Gately Downey14-1-1860 till 10-1-1862Democrat
Leland Stanford10-1-1862 till 10-12-1863Republican
Frederick Low10-12-1863 till 5-12-1867Republican
Henry Huntly Haight5-12-1867 till 8-12-1871Democrat
Newton Booth8-12-1871 till 27-2-1875Republican
Romualdo Pacheco27-2-1875 till 9-12-1875Republican
William Irwin9-12-1875 till 8-1-1880Democrat
George Clement Perkins8-1-1880 till 10-1-1883Republican
George Stoneman10-1-1883 till 8-1-1887Democrat
Washington Bartlett8-1-1887 till 12-9-1887Democrat
Robert Waterman12-9-1887 till 8-1-1891Republican
Henry Markham8-1-1891 till 11-1-1895Republican
James Budd11-1-1895 till 4-1-1899Democrat
Henry Gage4-1-1899 till 7-1-1903Republican
George Pardee7-1-1903 till 9-1-1907Republican
James Gillett9-1-1907 till 3-1-1911Republican
Hiram Johnson3-1-1911 till 15-3-1917Progressive Party
William Stephens15-3-1917 till 8-1-1923Republican
Friend Richardson9-1-1923 till 4-1-1927Republican
Clement Calhoun Young4-1-1927 till 6-1-1931Republican
James Rolph6-1-1931 till 2-6-1934Republican
Frank Merriam2-6-1934 till 2-1-1939Republican
Culbert Olson2-1-1939 till 4-1-1943Democrat
Earl Warren4-1-1943 till 5-10-1953Republican
Goodwin Knight5-10-1953 till 5-1-1959Republican
Pat Brown5-1-1959 till 2-1-1967Democrat
Ronald Reagan2-1-1967 till 6-1-1975Republican
Jerry Brown6-1-1975 till 3-1-1983Democrat
George Deukmejian3-1-1983 till 7-1-1991Republican
Pete Wilson7-1-1991 till 4-1-1999Republican
Gray Davis4-1-1999 till 17-11-2003Democrat
Arnold Schwarzenegger17-11-2003 till 3-1-2011Republican
Jerry Brown3-1-2011 till 7-1-2019Democrat
Gavin Newsom7-1-2019 till presentDemocrat

The fifty states of the United States are divided into so-called 'counties'. The fifty states are made up of 3,007 counties, averaging 62 per state, California has 58, and Texas has the most, 254. The division of power between states, counties, cities and towns is determined in the constitutions of each state.

Every US state, except for the state of Nebraska, has its own congress with a bicameral parliament, a House of Representatives and a Senate. the number of seats per state varies greatly, senators usually have a term of office of four years, deputies often only two years. The state administration is headed by a directly elected governor. The governor has a lot of power in his or her four-year, sometimes two-year term.

Administrative division

Overview California counties

Counties CaliforniaCounties CaliforniaPhoto: Júlio Reis,CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

countymain townsincesurface
Alameda CountyOakland18531.911 km²
Alpine CountyMarkleeville18641.914 km²
Amador CountyJackson18541.536 km²
Butte CountyOroville18504.248 km²
Calaveras CountySan Andreas18502.642 km²
Colusa CountyColusa18502.981 km²
Contra Costa CountyMartinez18501.865 km²
Del Norte CountyCrescent City18572.611 km²
El Dorado CountyPlacerville18504.434 km²
Fresno CountyFresno185615.444 km²
Glenn CountyWillows18913.406 km²
Humboldt CountyEureka18539.254 km²
Imperial CountyEl Centro190710.813 km²
Inyo CountyIndependence186626.397 km²
Kern CountyBakersfield186621.088 km²
Kings CountyHanford18933.600 km²
Lake CountyLakeport18613.258 km²
Lassen CountySusanville186411.805 km²
Los Angeles CountyLos Angeles185010.515 km²
Madera CountyMadera18935.537 km²
Marin CountySan Rafael18501.347 km²
Mariposa CountyMariposa18503.758 km²
Mendocino CountyUkiah18509.088 km²
Merced CountyMerced18559.088 km2
Modoc CountyAlturas187410.215 km²
Mono CountyBridgeport18617.884 km²
Monterey CountySalinas18508.604 km²
Napa CountyNapa18501.953 km²
Nevada CountyNevada City18512.481 km²
Orange CountySanta Ana18892.046 km²
Placer CountyAuburn18513.893 km²
Plumas CountyQuincy18546.615 km²
Riverside CountyRiverside189318.669 km²
Sacramento CountySacramento18502.502 km²
San Benito CountyHollister18743.597 km²
San Bernardino CountySan Bernardino185351.960 km²
San Diego CountySan Diego185010.888 km²
San Francisco CountySan Francisco1850122 km²
San Joaquin CountyStockton18503.623 km²
San Luis Obispo CountySan Luis Obispo18508.557 km²
San Mateo CountyRedwood City18561.163 km²
Santa Barbara CountySanta Barbara18507.091 km²
Santa Clara CountySan Jose18503.344 km²
Santa Cruz CountySanta Cruz18501.155 km²
Shasta CountyRedding18509.806 km²
Sierra CountyDownieville18522.468 km²
Siskiyou CountyYreka185216.283 km²
Solano CountyFairfield18502.145 km²
Sonoma CountySanta Rosa18504.082 km²
Stanislaus CountyModesto18543.872 km²
Sutter CountyYuba City18501.562 km²
Tehema CountyRed Bluff18567.643 km²
Trinity CountyWeaverville18508.234 km²
Tulare CountyVisalia185212.494 km²
Tuolumne CountySonora18505.791 km²
Ventura CountyVentura18724.781 km²
Yolo CountyWoodland18502.621 km²
Yuba CountyMarysville18501.632 km²

There are also major differences at the county and local level. At city level, three forms can be distinguished, which also occur in combination:

Council and mayor: the council members are sometimes appointed, sometimes elected, and have budget rights. They also draw up general policy guidelines and monitor the city council. The mayor is almost always elected and has a veto, among other things.

-Commission: a committee of 3 to 7 elected members, one of which acts as chairman, is both legislative and executive.

City Manager: This figure is hired indefinitely and executes decisions of an elected council.

Many referendums are held at provincial and local level in all American states, and in California a great many. They are often citizen initiatives.


"Birthplace" of Silicon Valley, California"Birthplace" of Silicon Valley, CaliforniaPhoto: ZTebaykina CC 4.0 International no changes made

If California were an independent country, its economy would be somewhere below the world's top ten in terms of national income. The enormous prosperity and associated well-being of the state have, however, been severely affected in recent years by the strong population growth and a severe economic depression.

The main branch of the economy is industry: aircraft, missiles, ships, food, iron and steel products, electronic and chemical products; also film industry (Hollywood).

The principal agricultural products are cotton, grapes, oranges, and tomatoes, with Central Valley at the heart of California's agricultural industry; the main agricultural county is Fresno County, which is where all the raisins in the United States come from. Lompoc Valley in southern Central California is one of the largest flower seed producers in the world, including asters, marigolds, cornflowers, lathyruses, lobelias, delphinium and watercress. The Oxnard area, just south of Santa Barbara, produces nearly all of the United States' broccoli crop. California is also the main supplier for the entire country when it comes to artichokes.

Lompoc, California producer of flower seedLompoc, California producer of flower seedPhoto: Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

California is by far the most important wine region in the United States with two-thirds of the national wine production, a total area of more than 210,000 hectares and with more than 60,000 registered brands. The California wine region used to be just north of San Francisco; nowadays almost the entire state can be qualified as a wine region. It could be that California is the second largest wine 'country' in the world after France, Italy and Spain.

Grapes used are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Johannesberg Riesling, Syrah and Pinot Noir. A special grape variety is the zinfandel, imported from Europe in around 1850, probably Croatia. The California wine industry, which today increasingly focuses on the sustainable production of wine, originated in the Sonoma Valley around 1824 with approximately 250 wineries; many wineries later chose the Napa Valley, currently the heart of the Northern California wine industry with more than 350 wineries. This area has the ideal conditions for the wine grapes in terms of soil, sunlight and precipitation. The largest winery in the world is E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto. In total, California has more than 3,000 wineries. San Joaquin Valley currently produces the most liters of wines, often of the cheaper kind.

In 1857 the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy (1812-1869) introduced the first European grape varieties in the Sonoma Valley. Since the 1980s, the area known as Santa Barbara Wine Country has also been widely produced by more than 100 wineries. Other emerging wine regions in 'Wine Country' include Russian River Valley, Santa Barbara County, Mendocino Ridge Wine Country, Monterey Wine Country, Paso Robles, Anderson Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Ynez Valley, El Dorado County, Temecula Valley, and Amador County.

Count Agoston Haraszthy introduced European grape varieties to CaliforniaCount Agoston Haraszthy introduced European grape varieties to CaliforniaPhoto: Public domain

Livestock farming is also important, as is fishing. Eureka, the largest coastal town north of San Francisco, catches 90% of the Pacific Ocean shrimp and Dungeness crab in California. In addition, three quarters of all oysters.

California is the third largest mining state in the United States; the main products are petroleum, natural gas, cement, sand, gold, boron salts and uranium. The technology companies in Silicon Valley are booming, including Apple, IBM and Google having their headquarters here.

Of interest to tourism include Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park.

Garberville in northern Humboldt County is the center of California's legal (medical) cannabis industry. The village even has a Humboldt Cannabis College. One-fifth of Humboldt County's population is engaged in marijuana cultivation.

In 1880 the white, crystalline mineral borax was found in Death Valley by the French prospector Isidore Daunet (1850-1884), and mining started in 1882. In 1927, the world's largest stock of borax was discovered near the town of Boron in the Mojave Desert. The largest open pit mine in California, the Rio Tinto Boron Mine, is now located there, 1.6 km wide, 4 km long and almost 2 km deep. Approx. 40% of the global demand for borax is mined in this mine. Borax is used in the production of glass, porcelain, earthenware, fertilizers, insecticides and even in space travel.

Borax mine in Boron, CaliforniaBorax mine in Boron, CaliforniaPhoto: Marcin Wichary CCAttribution 2.0 Genericno changes made

Holidays and Sightseeing

Yosemite Park California Yosemite Park CaliforniaPhoto: GuyFrancis CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Of interest to tourism include Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park. Humboldt Redwoods State Park contains three quarters of the tallest trees in the world. But California also has two very touristy cities.

Los Angeles California Los Angeles CaliforniaPhoto: Marshall Astor CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Los Angeles, often simply shortened to “LA”, is a complex city. Los Angeles is known for its golden beaches, excellent surfing conditions and the numerous movie stars that you can spot. Some of Los Angeles's well-known neighborhoods include Hollywood, with many movie-related tourist attractions, and LA's beach district, with Malibu Beach as the main draw. There are many museums in Los Angeles. The Hollywood Entertainment Museum is a museum of memorabilia and special exhibitions. You can visit the original sets from productions such as Star Trek and Cheers. A cultural attraction not to be missed is the Getty Museum. This museum is home to the collections of Old Masters, manuscripts, and statues, as well as a selection of 20th-century photographs and a selection of Greek and Roman antiquities. This modern complex is worth a visit for its architecture alone. The surrounding gardens have a quiet simplicity, where you can unwind from the hectic city. The largest and most famous amusement park in the world, Disneyland, is located in Los Angeles. Disneyland is a must on your trip to Los Angeles. The world's largest movie studio and theme park, Universal Studios Hollywood, is also located in Los Angeles. It features movie studios, attractions, restaurants and much more. Read more on the Los Angeles page of Landenweb.

San Francisco California San Francisco CaliforniaPhoto: Fred Hsu CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

San Francisco is a spectacular peninsula surrounded by water on three sides. This modern city has become one of America's most favorite cities and is visually spectacular, with world-famous steep hills with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay and the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge. When the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world and nothing short of a technical feat. This monumental bridge is 1280 meters long and is also accessible to pedestrians. There are some beautiful vantage points along the way with spectacular views of the bay. Fisherman's Warf has many shops, arcades, seafood restaurants, cafes, amusement rides, street vendors, rides and excellent ocean views, Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf is the number one tourist attraction and a real draw in the city. Numerous museums offer a look at San Francisco's rich heritage. The Golden Gate Bridge, the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the Octagon House are San Francisco's best-known museums. Read more on the San Francisco page of Landenweb.

Click the menu button at the top left of the screen for more information


BBC - Country Profiles

Benson, Sara / California
Lonely Planet

Benson, Sara / Discover California
Lonely Planet

Uitgeverij Cambium B.V.

CIA - World Factbook

Elmar Landeninformatie

Hansen, Preben / 100% Californië & West-USA

Heetvelt, Angela / Zuidwestelijke staten van Amerika

Mangin, Daniel / Californië : de reisgids voor een actieve & culturele vakantie
Wat & Hoe

Ominalowska, Malgorzata / Californië
Uitgeverij Unieboek/Het Spectrum

The Rough Guide to California
Rough Guides Ltd.

Schmidt-Brümmer, Horst / Lannoo's autoboek Californië en Zuidwest-USA : on the road

Vlahides, John A. / Northern California
Lonely Planet


Uitgeverij Terra Lannoo

Last updated December 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb