California State Geography

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So you want to know about California? Here are some highlights! Also check out the links to other sites about California.

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Key Facts

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California State Facts

Population (1994): 31,431,000 (1st in size)

State size: 158,706 square miles (3rd in size)

State Capital: Sacramento (From the Spanish word "Sacramento" meaning "The Blessed Sacrament."

Major cities: Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.

Admission to union: The 31st State

Date entered the union: September 9, 1850

Origin of state name: Named after an imaginary island in a 16th century Spanish novel.

Nicknames: The Golden State

Bordering states: Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, with Mexico to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

State animal: California Grizzly Bear

State bird: California Valley Quail

State flower: California Poppy

State tree: California Redwood

Motto: I Have Found It


Geographic Landmarks

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California is famous for its beaches and mountains. Mountains, which cover a considerable part of the state, are often snow capped much of the year while neighboring plains, valleys and beaches remain warm and dry.

In some areas of California you can go snow skiing in the mountains, and swimming or wind surfing in the ocean, all on the same weekend.

Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is 22 miles wide, and 72 miles around, at an altitude of 6,200 feet.

California Mountains
Mount Whitney in the Sequoia National Park is the highest mountain in the continental United States (not including Alaska).

California has many other geographic landmarks such as Yosemite. Yosemite's dramatic landscape, including Half Dome is shown to the right.

Other geographic landmarks include Mount Whitney, Death Valley, Mohave Desert and Mount Shasta.

Yosemite Half Dome
California is known as the golden state. In addition to the gold rush, which brought many settlers to the area, the hills of California are covered with grasses and flora that make the land look gold.

California also has many coastal redwood forests. The redwood tree, California's state tree, is the tallest tree in the world, with many reaching over 300 feet tall.

Rolling Hills


Points of Interest

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San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities and surrounding areas attract millions of tourists each year.

Napa Valley wine country, north of San Francisco attracts tourists to its wineries and vineyards.

Gold country, east of San Francisco, attracts many tourists each year. This area is famous for its 1949 gold rush which brought many prospectors and settlers to California. You can visit old gold mines and pan for gold.

Golden Gate Bridge
Los Angeles and Hollywood is internationally renown for its motion picture and entertainment industry.

Disneyland is a popular attraction for its rides and amusement park. At Universal Studios Hollywood you can see how movies are made and go on many motion picture theme rides. Other entertainment areas include Six Flags Marine World.

California is also well known for its beaches and climate. It has more than a thousand miles of ocean coastline. Most Californians live along the coast, near the Pacific Ocean.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, and the Sea World Adventure Park in San Diego, provide great examples of ocean life.

California Beach


Major Industries

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California has a diverse set of industries including agriculture, entertainment, oil, mining and high technology manufacturing such as computers, telecommunications and biotechnology.

Silicon Valley, bridging the San Jose and San Francisco areas, has become a world leader in high technology products ranging from computers to telecommunications and the Internet. It is best known for its ability to create startup companies in emerging new industries.

The Digital Coast in southern California, around Los Angeles, has become famous for motion pictures and the entertainment industry.

Sports is also a major industry with many professional sports teams ranging from baseball and football to basketball and hockey.



Historical Highlights

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Native Americans lived in California for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived on the scene. Spanish explorer, Hernan Cortes, discovered the peninsula of Baha California in 1533. He actually thought it was an island, and named it after an imaginary island in a 16th century Spanish book.

The first Europeans to colonize California were the Spanish in the mid-1700s. Father Junipero Serra led a group a missionaries and soldiers to establish the California Missions. In all, 21 missions were established from San Diego to San Francisco. These missions helped to open the territory and led to the creation of other towns and cities.

In 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, California became part of Mexico. In 1846, Mexico and the United States went to war to settle territorial disputes. The United States won the Mexican War in 1848, and took control over California.

Gold discovery in 1849 started the California Gold Rush which brought a flood of prospectors looking for wealth.




Population and Culture

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California has a diverse population and culture.  



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California has a Mediterranean climate with lots of warm sunshine and mostly moderate temperatures. California gets rain mostly in the winter months, and mostly in the northern part of the state.

There are a few exceptions to this Mediterranean climate. In Death Valley temperatures can reach a high of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Mountain areas in the Sierras can get very cold. Northern California, around San Francisco, can get considerable fog. Southern California, around Los Angeles, has warm sunny weather for much of the year.



Interesting Tidbits

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California is also well known for its earthquakes. California lies along two great geographic plates, the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. As these plates shift past each other, they cause shock waves through the ground resulting in earthquakes. Earthquakes are measured on a scale of 1 to 10. In 1989, San Francisco felt a 7.1 earthquake. In 1994, Los Angeles had a 6.8 earthquake. Fortunate, most of California's houses and buildings have been design to withstand major earthquakes.

At the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, scientists have discovered over 100 tons of bones from prehistoric animals including the mastodon, mammoths, sloths and saber-toothed tigers.



Links to other sites about California

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California State Flag

California State Flag


California State Government home page

Pictures and Descriptions of State Insignia (i.e., State Animal, State Bird,...)

Picture Gallery of California

Request California tourism information packet


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