Stats & Symbols

Get to know the Golden State
Key California facts

California is known for celebrating its rich history along with its vast differences, from its diverse geography to its variances in climate. These stats and symbols are just a sample of the Golden State’s distinct characteristics.


Climate

California has a Mediterranean-type climate characterised 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 climate zones:

  • Coastal: Area contains most of the state’s population. Climate varies greatly up and down the coast.
  • Desert: Characterised by great daily and annual variations in temperature with very little rainfall.
  • Foothill: At 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet in elevation, these areas have climates similar to valley regions but with more rain and less fog.
  • Mountain: The sole region to have heavy snow, accented with fairly cold winters and bright, sunny summers.
  • Valley: Characterised 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 immense variety of geography across all 12 regions.

  • California, the third-largest state in land area, covers 155,779.22 square miles.
  • The average width of the state is 150 to 200 miles.
  • California has a coastline 840 miles long, ranging from dramatic cliffs to sun-drenched beaches.
  • 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: Mt Lassen (elevation 10,457 feet) and Mt Shasta (elevation 14,162) in the Cascade Mountain range, and Mt Mammoth (elevation 11,000 feet) in the Sierra Nevada.
  • The San Francisco Bay is the largest natural harbour and estuary on the west coast.
  • California is home to more than 420 recreational lakes. Clearlake in Lake County is the largest natural lake and is often referred to as 'The Bass Capital of the West', covering 43,000 acres of surface area with a shoreline of 100 miles.
  • California has over 280 state park units covering 1.6 million acres.
  • California boasts the largest trees in the world, a species of redwood known as Sequoia gigantea, found in the Sierra Nevada.
  • California also lays claim to the oldest living thing in the world, the Bristlecone Pine tree, aged at over 5,000 years.


Population

The state population was estimated at 39,250,017 in July 2016 – approximately 8 per cent of the United States’ total population – according to the US Census Bureau.

The populations in California’s six largest cities are as follows:

  • Los Angeles: 3,976,322
  • San Diego: 1,406,630
  • San Jose: 1,025,350
  • San Francisco: 870,887
  • Fresno: 522,053
  • Sacramento: 495,234


State symbols

California’s official state symbols are as follows:

Animal

California’s official animal, the California grizzly bear, strides majestically across the state flag. Unfortunately, the flag is the only place you’ll find this fear-inspiring creature, which is classified as a subspecies of brown bears, Ursus arctos californicus, as it had been hunted to extinction by the early 1920s. Some environmental groups have proposed reintroducing grizzlies to California.

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Bird

The California quail (Lophortyx californica) has been the state bird since 1931. Distinguishable by its jaunty, comma-shaped head plume, this handsome bird scurries along the ground in groups known as coveys, taking flight only long enough to escape trouble. California quails are fairly common and can be found in brushy, thicketed areas and – being a popular game bird – on the occasional restaurant menu.

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Colours

California’s state colours are blue and gold: blue represents the brilliant sky, and gold is an ode to the precious metal that first drew the world’s attention to California. The colour combination was first used by the University of California, Berkeley, in 1875, while blue and gold ribbons had begun to adorn official state documents by 1913. Blue and gold were officially adopted as California’s colours in 1951.

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Dance

West Coast Swing was designated the official state dance in 1988. A descendent of the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug, it developed during the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s and was originally known as Western Swing. This durably popular partner dance has been adapted to suit everything from rockabilly to disco.

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Fish

Since 1947, the state fish has officially been the California golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita). A subspecies of rainbow trout native to California, this colourful fish has extended its range from its original home in the waters around the Kern River to lakes and streams in the High Sierra. Threatened by non-native trout and land-use issues, the golden trout is listed as a State Species of Special Concern.

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Flag

The original version of California’s state flag, with its iconic bear and five-pointed star, was first hoisted in Sonoma's town plaza in June 1846. A band of rebels, attempting to seize control of the territory from Mexico to create the California Republic, brazenly raised the flag across from the Mexican army barracks. The hastily created banner featured a bear drawn so poorly it was mistaken for a pig, but the flag only flew for a short time before it was lowered by invading US troops who replaced it with the Stars and Stripes. The Bear Flag was adopted as the state flag in 1911.

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Fossil

The bones of sabre-toothed cats (Smilodon californicus) – large felines with serious overbites – were declared the state fossil in 1973. Brandishing permanently exposed, eight-inch canines, sabre-toothed cats roamed across California during the late Pleistocene era, about 10,000 years ago. Numerous bones of this big cat have been discovered at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

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Marine Mammal

Reaching a length of up to 50 feet and weighing up to 40 tons, the grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is one of the planet’s most magnificent creatures. Each year the whales undertake one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom, travelling about 10,000 miles from the Arctic to breeding lagoons in Mexico and back again. A good portion of the journey takes place along the California coastline, which led to the grey whale being named state marine mammal in 1975.

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Motto

Eureka — Greek for 'I have found it!' — has adorned the Great Seal of the State of California since 1849 and was made the official state motto in 1963. Legend has it that Greek inventor and mathematician Archimedes, while getting into a bath, figured out a method of determining the purity of gold, sending him running naked through the streets and exclaiming 'eureka!' Early Californians' use of the word was most probably in honour of the state’s gold rush.

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Nickname

With a history so intertwined with the discovery of gold in 1848, it’s no wonder that California’s official nickname is the Golden State, adopted in 1968. It also refers to the California golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica), the state’s official flower, which grows wild in colourful abundance across the state.

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Reptile

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) makes perfect sense as California’s state reptile: It’s pretty laid-back, moving along at a languid pace of about .2 mph; it has a mostly vegetarian diet and is great at water conservation, storing the extra H2O it needs in its bladder. With high-domed shells and elephant-like legs, desert tortoises grow to about 15 inches long and have a lifespan of up to 80 years. Listed as a threatened species, their welfare has been a key factor in the passage of ground-breaking legislation to protect fragile desert habitats.

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Rock

Since 1965, California’s state rock has been serpentine (which is actually more correctly known as serpentinite). It’s a shiny, greenish-coloured rock found all over the state and has been used throughout history as an architectural element, as a gemstone and in sculpting. In California, it has also been associated with the location of gold deposits. Fun fact: There was an attempt to remove serpentine as the state rock because it contains asbestos. The measure failed because the rock is NOT harmful in any way — unless you throw it at someone.

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Song

If you were expecting 'California, Here I Come' as the official state song, you may be disappointed. It’s actually 'I Love You, California', a song virtually unknown to any Californian. It was written by F. B. Silverwood and Abraham Frankenstein and became the theme song for the 1915 expositions held in San Francisco and San Diego. It became the official state song in 1988.

Sample lyric:
Where the snow crowned Golden Sierras
Keep their watch o'er the valleys bloom,
It is there I would be in our land by the sea,
every breeze bearing rich perfume.
It is here nature gives of her rarest.
It is Home Sweet Home to me
and I know when I die I shall breathe my last sigh for my sunny California.

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Tree

Forming living cathedrals of awe-inspiring beauty, rare California redwoods are the easy choice as state tree. There are two species of redwoods, the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), each of which grows to mind-blowing proportions. One of the tallest known coastal redwoods soars to about 380 feet, while the giant sequoia known as General Sherman is taller than a 25-storey building with a base circumference of more than 100 feet, making it the biggest tree by volume on the planet.

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