California (pronounced[ˌkæ.lɪ.ˈfɔɹ.njə]) is the most populous state of the United States. Located on the Pacific coast of North America, it is bordered by Oregon, Nevada and Arizona in the United States, and Baja California in Mexico. The state's four largest cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco. California is known for its Mediterranean climate and ethnically diverse population. The state has 58 counties. Inhabited by indigenous people for millennia, Alta California was first colonized by the Spanish Empire in 1769, and after Mexican independence in 1821, continued as part of Mexico. Following one brief week as the independent California Republic in 1846, and the conclusion of the Mexican-American war in 1848, California was annexed by the United States and was admitted to the Union as the thirty-first state on September 9, 1850. California's diverse geography ranges from the sandy beaches of the Pacific coast to the rugged, snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the east. The central portion of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, one of the most vital agricultural areas in the country. The Sierra Nevada contains Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially-carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the largest living organisms on Earth, the giant sequoia trees, and the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. The tallest living things on Earth, the ancient redwood trees, dot the coastline, mainly north of San Francisco. California is also home to the lowest and hottest place in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley. Bristlecone pines located in the White Mountains are the oldest known trees in the world; one has an age of 4,700 years. The California Gold Rush, beginning in 1848, dramatically changed California with an influx of population and an economic boom. The early part of the 20th century was marked by Los Angeles becoming the center of the entertainment industry, in addition to the growth of a large tourism sector in the state. The Central Valley is home to California's important agricultural industry, the largest of any state. Other important industries have included the aerospace and oil industries. In recent decades, California has become a global leader in computers and information technology. If California were a country, its economy would rank among the ten largest in the world.
The first state found California originally referred to the entire region composed of the current U.S. state of California, plus all or parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming, and the Mexican peninsula now known as Baja California. The name California is most commonly believed derived from a storied paradise peopled by blackAmazons and ruled by Queen Califia. The myth of Califia is recorded in a 1510 work The Exploits of Esplandian, written as a sequel to Amadís de Gaula by Spanish adventure writer García Ordoñez Rodriguez de Montalvo. The kingdom of Queen Califia, according to Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by griffins and other strange beasts and rich in gold. Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island named California, very close to that part of the terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women, without a single man among them, and that they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body, with strong and passionate hearts and great virtues. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks. Their weapons were all made of gold. The island everywhere abounds with gold and precious stones, and upon it no other metal was found. It is thought that the myth of Califia later helped fuel Spanish exploration in the New World. According to this theory, the Spanish conquistadorHernán Cortés heard stories of an island populated by women warriors and filled with riches, off the northwest coast of today's Mexico. Beginning in 1535, he sponsored three expeditions to what is now known as the Baja California Peninsula in search of this island. While Cortés is credited with the discovery of Baja California, he found no such island of riches and Amazons. In official reports about Cortés's discoveries written in the early 1540s, these new lands are referred to as "California" - likely alluding to Montalvo's imaginary island.
Main article: Geography of California California borders the Pacific Ocean, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican state of Baja California. With an area of 160,000 square miles (411,000km²) it is the third largest state in the U.S and is a little larger than Germany in size. California's geography is rich, complex, and varied. In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The Central Valley is California's agricultural heartland and grows about 1/3 of the United States's food. The northern half is known as the "Sacramento Valley" (drained by the Sacramento River), while the southern part of the valley is known as the "San Joaquin Valley" (drained by the San Joaquin River). With dredging, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers have remained sufficiently deep that several inland cities are seaports. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta serves as a critical water supply hub for the state. Water is routed through an extensive network of canals and pumps out of the delta, that traverse nearly the length of the state, including the Central Valley Project, and the State Water Project. Water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta provides drinking water for nearly 23 million people, almost 2/3 of the state's population, and provides water to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The Channel Islands are located off the southern coast. The Sierra Nevada (meaning "snowy range" in Spanish) include the highest peak in the contiguous forty-eight states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 ft (4,421 m), world-famous Yosemite National Park, and a deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume. To the east of the Sierra Nevada are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential migratory bird habitat. In the western part of the state is Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake by area entirely in California (Lake Tahoe is split between California and Nevada) The Sierra Nevada reaches arctic temperatures in the winter and has several dozen small glaciers, including the southernmost glacier in the U.S. (Palisade Glacier). About 35% of the state's total surface area is covered by forests, and California's diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. In the south is a large inland salt lake, the Salton Sea. Deserts in California make up about 25% of the total surface area. The south-central desert is called the Mojave; to the northeast of the Mojave lies Death Valley, which contains the lowest, hottest point in North America, Badwater Flat. The lowest point of Death Valley and the peak of Mount Whitney are less than 200 miles apart (322 km). Indeed, almost all of southeastern California is arid, hot desert, with routine extreme high temperatures during the summer. Along the California coast are several major metropolitan areas, including San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Santa Ana-Irvine-Anaheim, and San Diego. California is famous for earthquakes due to a number of faults, in particular the San Andreas Fault. It is vulnerable to tsunamis, wildfires, and landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes.
Main article: Climate of California California climate varies from Mediterranean to subarctic. Most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, with cool, rainy winters and dry summers. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast. Further inland, the climate has colder winters and hotter summers. Northern parts of the state average higher annual rainfall than the south. California's mountain ranges influence the climate as well: some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate and the Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate but with greater temperature extremes than the coast. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have a mountain climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer. The east side of California's mountains has a drier rain shadow. The low deserts east of the southern California mountains have hot summers and nearly frostless mild winters; the higher elevation deserts of eastern California have hot summers and cold winters. In Death Valley, the highest temperature in the Western Hemisphere, 134 °F (56.6 °C), was recorded July 10, 1913.
Main article: Ecology of California Ecologically, California is one of the richest and most diverse parts of the world and includes some of the most endangered ecological communities. California is part of the Nearcticecozone and spans a number of terrestrial ecoregions. California's large number of endemic species includes relic species which have died out elsewhere, such as the Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus). Many other endemics originated through differentiation or adaptive radiation, whereby multiple species develop from a common ancestor to take advantage of diverse ecological conditions (such as the California lilac (Ceanothus). Many California endemics have become endangered, as urbanization, logging, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic species have encroached on their habitat. California boasts several superlatives in its collection of flora; the largest trees, the tallest trees, and the oldest trees. California's native grasses are perennial plants. After European contact, these were generally replaced by invasive species of European annual grasses; and, in modern times, California's hills turn a characteristic golden brown in summer.
Main articles: History of California to 1899 and History of California 1900 to present Settled by successive waves of arrivals during the last 10,000 years, California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America; the area was inhabited by more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans. Large, settled populations lived on the coast and hunted sea mammals, fished for salmon, and gathered shellfish, while groups in the interior hunted terrestrial game and gathered nuts, acorns, and berries. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage, and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups. The first European to explore the coast as far north as the Russian River was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, in 1542, sailing for the Spanish Empire. Some 37 years later, the English explorer Francis Drake also explored and claimed an undefined portion of the California coast in 1579. Spanish traders made unintended visits with the Manila Galleons on their return trips from the Philippines beginning in 1565. Sebastián Vizcaíno explored and mapped the coast of California in 1602 for New Spain. Spanish missionaries set up some twenty California Missions along the coast of what became known as Alta California (Upper California), together with small towns and presidios. The first mission in Alta California was established at San Diego in 1769. In 1821, the Mexican War of Independence gave Mexico (including California), independence from Spain; for the next twenty-five years, Alta California remained a remote northern province of the nation of Mexico. Cattle ranches, or ranchos, emerged as the dominant institutions of Mexican California. After Mexican independence from Spain, the chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government, and were secularized by 1832. The ranchos developed under ownership by Californios (Spanish-speaking Californians) who had received land grants. Beginning in the 1820s, trappers and settlers from the United States and Canada began to arrive, harbingers of the great changes that would later sweep California. These new arrivals used the Siskiyou Trail, California Trail, and Old Spanish Trail to cross the rugged mountains and harsh deserts surrounding California. In this period, Imperial Russia explored the California coast, and established a trading post at Fort Ross. In 1846, at the outset of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the California Republic was founded and the Bear Flag was flown in an attempt to control California, which featured a grizzly bear and a star. The attempt to form this republic came to a sudden end, however, when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into San Francisco Bay and began the military occupation of California by the United States. Following a series of battles in Southern California, including; the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, the Battle of San Pascual, the Battle of Rio San Gabriel and the Battle of La Mesa, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed on January 13, 1847, ending hostilities in California. Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war, the region was divided between Mexico and the United States; the western part of the U.S. portion, Alta California, was to become the U.S. state of California, while the lower region, Baja California, remained in the possession of Mexico. In 1848, the non-native population of California has been estimated to be no more than 15,000. But after gold was discovered, the population burgeoned with U.S. citizens, Europeans, and other immigrants during the great California Gold Rush. In 1850, California was admitted to the United States as a free state (one in which slavery was prohibited). The seat of government for California under Mexican rule was located at Monterey from 1777 until 1849, at which time the Constitutional Convention was first held. Among the duties was the task of determining the location for the capital. The first legislative sessions were held in San Jose (1850-1851). Subsequent locations included Vallejo (1852-1853), and nearby Benicia (1853-1854), although these locations eventually proved to be inadequate as well. The capital has been located in Sacramento since 1854. At first, travel between California and the central and eastern parts of the United States was time-consuming and dangerous. A more direct connection came in 1869 with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. After this rail link was established, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens came west, where new Californians were discovering that land in the state, if irrigated during the dry summer months, was extremely well-suited to fruit cultivation and agriculture in general. Citrus was widely grown (especially oranges), and the foundation was laid for the state's prodigious agricultural production. During the early 20th century, migration to California accelerated with the completion of major transcontinental highways like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. In the period from 1900 to 1965, the population grew from fewer than one million to become the most populous state in the Union. From 1965 to the present, the population changed radically and became one of the most diverse in the world. The state is regarded a world center of engineering businesses, the entertainment and music industries, and of U.S. agricultural production.
California Population Density Map As of 2006, California has an estimated population of 37,172,015, and is the 13th fastest-growing state. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 1,909,368 people (that is 3,375,297 births minus 1,465,929 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 774,198 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 1,724,790 people, and migration within the country produced a net decrease of 950,592. According to the Sacramento News & Review, California's population will increase to 50 million people by 2025.  More than 12 percent of U.S. citizens live in California and its population is larger than all but 33 countries. California has eight of the top 50 US cities in terms of population. Los Angeles is the nation's second-largest city with a population of 3,845,541 people, followed by San Diego (8th), San Jose (10th), San Francisco (14th), Long Beach (34th), Fresno (37th), Sacramento (38th) and Oakland (44th). The center of population of California is located in Kern County, in the town of Buttonwillow
As of 2000, 60.5% of California residents age five and older are monolingual and speak only English at home. In addition to any other language that may be spoken (such as English), 25.8% speak Spanish, 2.6% speak Mandarin Chinese, and 2.0% speak Tagalog. Over 200 languages are known to be spoken and read in California. Including indigenous languages, California is viewed as one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world (the indigenous languages were derived from 64 root languages in 6 language families). About half of the indigenous languages are no longer spoken, and all of California's living indigenous languages are endangered, although there are now some efforts toward language revitalization.
The state has the most Roman Catholics of any state, a large Protestant population, a large American Jewish community, and a large, rapidly-growing American Muslim population. "As the twentieth century came to a close, forty percent of all Buddhists in America resided in Southern California. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Area has become unique in the Buddhist world as the single place where representative organizations of every major school of Buddhism can be found in a single urban center." The Hsi Lai Temple in Southern California is the largest Buddhist temple in the United States, and California has more Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than any state except Utah.
California's most famous bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge Main article: Transportation of California California's vast terrain is connected by an extensive system of freeways, expressways, and highways. California is known for its car culture, giving California's cities a reputation for severe traffic congestion. Construction and maintenance of state roads and statewide transportation planning are primarily the responsibility of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans as it is commonly known). Caltrans builds tall "stack" interchanges with soaring ramps that offer stunning views. One of the state's more visible landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937. With its' orange paint job and panoramic views of the bay, this highway bridge is a popular tourist attraction and also accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists. It is simultaneously designated as US Highway 101 which is part of the El Camino Real (Spanish for Royal Road or King's Highway), and California State Highway 1 which is also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. Another of the seven bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area is the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, completed in 1936. This bridge transports approximately 280,000 vehicles per day on two-decks, with its' two sections meeting at Yerba Buena Island. Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport are major hubs for trans-Pacific and transcontinental traffic. There are about a dozen important commercial airports and many more general aviation airports throughout the state. California also has several important seaports. The giant seaport complex formed by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in Southern California is the largest in the country and responsible for handling about a fourth of all container cargo traffic in the United States. The Port of Oakland, fourth largest in the nation, handles trade from the Pacific Rim and delivers most of the ocean containers passing through Northern California to the entire USA. Intercity rail travel is provided by Amtrak. Los Angeles and San Francisco both have subway networks, in addition to light rail. Metrolinkcommuter rail serves much of Southern California, and BART and Caltrain commuter rail connect Bay Area suburbs to San Francisco. San Jose and Sacramento have light rail, and San Diego has Trolley light rail and Coaster commuter rail services. Nearly all counties operate bus lines, and many cities operate their own bus lines as well. Intercity bus travel is provided by Greyhound and Amtrak bus services. The rapidly growing population of the state is straining all of its transportation networks. A regularly recurring issue in California politics is whether the state should continue to aggressively expand its freeway network or concentrate on improving mass transit networks in urban areas. The California High Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996 by the state to implement an extensive 700 mile (1127 km) rail system. Construction is pending approval of the voters during the November 2008 general election, in which a $9 billion state bond would have to be approved.
Main articles: Politics of California to 1899 and Politics of California California has an idiosyncratic political culture. It was the second state to legalize abortion and one of the first states to legalize domestic partnerships for gay couples, and was also the first where voters decided that only marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized (legalized domestic partnerships were not approved by voters, but were made law by the state legislature). California was the first state in which voters approved a measure to deny social services to illegal immigrants and was also the first state in which voters passed a law ending affirmative action. The state's African American vote remains mostly loyal to the Democrats, and Latinos tend to vote Democratic to a lesser degree. Conservative Caucasians in the suburbs and rural areas are typically reliable Republican voters. Partisan demographics have shifted in past twenty years with the once-Republican inner suburbans moving to the Democrats; Republicans count on the votes in fast-growing Inland Empire and Central Valley to make up the difference. Since 1990, California has generally elected Democratic candidates. However, the state has had little hesitance in electing Republican Governors. Of California's past four Governors, three of them were Republicans. The Democrat, Gray Davis, was removed from office via recall election. See also: List of California Governors, U.S. Congressional Delegations from California, and List of California ballot propositions
The state of California has 478 incorporated cities and towns, of which 456 are cities and 22 are towns. The majority of these cities and towns are within one of four metropolitan areas. Sixty-eight percent of California's population lives in its two largest metropolitan areas, Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Although smaller, the other two large population centers are the San Diego and the Sacramento metro areas. The state recognizes two kinds of cities--charter and general law. General law cities owe their existence to state law and consequentially governed by it; charter cities are governed by their own city charters. Cities incorporated in the 19th century tend to be charter cities. All of the state's ten most populous cities are charter cities.
California offers a unique three-tier system of public postsecondary education: The preeminent research university system in the state is the University of California (UC) which employs more Nobel Prize laureates than any other institution in the world, and is considered one of the world's finest public university systems. There are ten general UC campuses, and a number of specialized campuses in the UC system. The California State University (CSU) system has over 400,000 students, making it the largest university system in the United States. It is intended to accept the top one-third (1/3) of high school students. The CSU schools are primarily intended for undergraduate education. The California Community Colleges system provides lower division courses. It is composed of 109 colleges, serving a student population of over 2.9 million. California is also home to such notable private universities as Stanford University, the University of Southern California (USC), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). California has hundreds of other private colleges and universities, including many religious and special-purpose institutions. Public secondary education consists of high schools that teach elective courses in trades, languages, and liberal arts with tracks for gifted, college-bound and industrial arts students. California's public educational system is supported by a unique constitutional amendment that requires 40% of state revenues to be spent on education.