Fascinating California Facts

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Climate: California has a Mediterranean-type climate that is characterized by general sun and warmth with rain mainly in the winter. Climate does vary greatly based on distance from the ocean and elevation. There are five main climatic zones which exist in the state.

  • Coastal climate: Contains most of the state’s population. It varies greatly up and down the coast.
  • Desert climate: Characterized by great daily and annual variations in temperature with very little rainfall.
  • Foothill climate: 1,000 to 3,000 ft. in elevation with climate similar to valley regions but with more rain and less fog.
  • Mountain climate: This is the sole region for heavy snow, accented with fairly cold winters and bright, sunny summers.
  • Valley climate: Characterized by high temperature and low humidity in the summer and low temperature and high humidity in the winter. Both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys exhibit this type of climatology. Rainfall varies from 80 inches in Del Norte County (North Coast) to as low as 3 inches in Imperial County (Desert).

Geography: California has an incredible variety of geography across all 12 regions.

  • California, the third largest state in land area, covers 158,693 square miles.
  • The average width of the state is 150 to 200 miles.
  • California has a coastline 1,264 miles long.
  • At 14,495 feet, Mt. Whitney in Sequoia National Park is the highest point in the contiguous United States.
  • Badwater in Death Valley National Park, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest elevation point in the United States.
  • California has three active volcanoes: In the Cascade Mountain range are Mt. Lassen (elevation 10,457 feet)., a plug-dome volcano surrounded by volcanic hot springs; and Mt. Shasta (elevation 14,162 feet), which is characterized by strong granite peaks; and Mt. Mammoth (elevation 11,000 feet), found in the Sierra Nevada, offers fantastic skiing.
  • The nation’s 11th National Marine Sanctuary extends along California’s coast from just north of the Golden Gate south past Big Sur to San Simeon in Monterey County. The Monterey sanctuary encompasses 5,312 square miles (4,024 square nautical miles), making it the largest marine sanctuary in the United States.
  • The San Francisco Bay is the largest natural harbor and estuary on the west coast.
  • California has more than 420 recreational lakes. The largest natural lake, Clearlake, often referred to as “The Bass Capital of the West,” has 43,000 acres of surface area and a shoreline of 100 miles, at an elevation of 1,320 feet.
  • California has 4.1 million acres in National Park acreage and 1.3 million acres in State Park acreage.
  • The largest trees in the world, a species of Redwood known as Sequoia gigantea, can be found in the Sierra Nevada.
  • The oldest living thing in the world, the Bristlecone Pine tree, aged at nearly 5,000 years, can be found at an altitude of 11,000 feet in California.
  • The tallest living thing in the world is the California Redwood found along the North and Central Coast area.

History: California has a long and rich history, filled with exciting discoveries, developments and historical figures.

1542: The Portuguese-born sailor, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, became the first European to explore California, landing at San Diego on September 28. He went on to discover the Catalina Islands, the sites of San Pedro and Santa Monica and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. The site of Cabrillo’s first landing in California was made a national monument in 1913.

1579: Sir Francis Drake landed north of San Francisco Bay and claimed the territory for England.

1769: San Diego De Alcala, the first of 21 missions established by Franciscan padres under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra, was founded. The missions extend along a 650-mile trail, the El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma. Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola (1723-86) led expedition from Mexico to establish settlements in Alta California; he arrived in San Diego on June 29, and on November 2, they reached San Francisco Bay. As commander, Portola served as Alta California’s governor from March 1769 to July 1770.

1821: The Russian trading post, Fort Ross, was completed near Bodega Bay, enabling the Russians to further explore the northern California coast as they continued hunting for fur
seals and sea otters.

1846: The Bear Flag Revolt achieved California’s independence from the rule of Mexico. The flag used in this revolt is now the State flag.

1848: California became a U.S. holding with the Treaty of Guadalupe, which ended the Mexican War. James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s sawmill in Coloma in January 1848, along the south fork of the American River, thus kicking off the famous Gold Rush of 1849 from whence the term “49ers” was coined.

1850: California was admitted into the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

1860: California’s famous mail courier service, the Pony Express, followed a route which began in Missouri and ended in Sacramento, California. The trips, lasting more than ten days depending on weather conditions, were the first of a kind connecting California’s communication system with the Midwest. Riders changed mounts at postal stations which were 15 miles apart. The fastest delivery was a trip in six days, delivering the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Late 1800s: The trans-continental railroad system was established with funding from the “Big Four,” a group of men whose economic influence helped shape California’s industrial industry–Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Leland Stanford. The system included tracks throughout California’s Sierra Nevada region as well as connecting New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Mexico, Utah, and Nevada for mining and travel

Population: As of January 2000, the total state population was estimated at 34,336,000–close to 10 percent of the United States’ total population. The population in the five largest cities as of January 2000 are as follows:

  • Los Angeles: 3,823,000
  • San Diego: 1,277,200
  • San Jose: 923,600
  • San Francisco: 801,400
  • Long Beach 457,600

State symbols

State Animal: Grizzly Bear – The Grizzly Bear appears on the State Flag and the Great seal, but is now extinct in California.

State Bird: California Quail – The California Quail, noted for its strength and adaptability, is found throughout the state.

State Colors: Yale Blue and Golden Yellow – The Blue and Gold ribbons which are used to adorn the Great State Seal, are also the spirit colors of the prestigious University of California education system.

State Dance:
The West Coast Swing – This dance form came into being in the early 1930’s in response to the new era of music that was sweeping the nation.

State Fish: California Golden Trout – This trout species (Salmo agua-bonita) is only found in the icy streams of the High Sierra and is native to no other state.

State Flag: The Bear Flag – The great flag was first raised in 1846 by American settlers during an uprising against Mexican rule. Although the California Republic – which the flag represented – was short lived, the flag still symbolizes love of freedom and perseverance.

State Flower: Golden Poppy – The Golden Poppy can be found thriving in some part of the state throughout the year.

State Fossil: The Saber-toothed Cat – The fossilized remains of this meat-eating cat are abundantly found in southern California at the Rancho La Brea tarpits.

State Gemstone: Benitoite – This spectacular sapphire blue gemstone is found in gem quality crystals at only one site in the entire world, at a small deposit in a remote area of the Diablo range in San Benito, California. It is one of the world’s rarest and most beautiful gems.

State Marine Mammal: California Gray Whale – The majestic California Gray Whale measures 30 to 50 feet in length and weighs up to 40 tons. Whales can be sighted during their annual 14,000 mile migration from the Arctic to the lagoons of Baja California and back, December through April.

State Mineral: Native Gold – California has produced more gold than any other state in the union and it can still be found in stream beds.

State Motto: Eureka! The Greek word meaning “I have found it,” refers to the great discovery of gold in 1848.

State Nickname: The Golden State – This name is highly appropriate because California’s development and remarkable prosperity began with the discovery of gold.

State Reptile: The Desert Tortoise – An endangered species, it lives to be 100-125 years old and is a California native, contemporary to the Wooly Rhinoceros and the Mammoth.

State Rock: Serpentine

State Tree: The California Redwood – The California Redwood, which can be found in both Coastal and Sierra provinces of the Golden State, is among the most ancient of all living things in the world. These giant trees exist in large forested areas predominantly in California.

State Song: I Love You, California ILove You, California, written by F.B. Silverwood, was designated the state song in 1951 and became official in 1988.

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