(kăl'ĭfôr`nyə), most populous state in the United States, located in the Far West; bordered by Oregon (N), Nevada and, across the Colorado River, Arizona (E), Mexico (S), and the Pacific Ocean (W).
Facts and Figures
Area, 158,693 sq mi (411,015 sq km). Pop. (2010) 37,253,956, a 10% increase since the 2000 census. Capital, Sacramento. Largest city, Los Angeles. Statehood, Sept. 9, 1850 (31st state). Highest pt., Mt. Whitney, 14,491 ft (4,417 m); lowest pt., Death Valley, 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. Nickname, Golden State. Motto, Eureka [I Have Found It]. State bird, California valley quail. State flower, golden poppy. State tree, California redwood. Abbr., Calif.; CA
Ranking third among the U.S. states in area, California has a diverse topography and climate. A series of low mountains known as the Coast Ranges
extends along the 1,200-mi (1,930-km) coast. The region from Point Arena, N of San Francisco, to the southern part of the state is subject to tremors and sometimes to severe earthquakes caused by tectonic stress along the San Andreas fault
. The Coast Ranges receive heavy rainfall in the north, where the giant cathedrallike redwood forests prevail, but the climate of these mountains is considerably drier in S California, and S of the Golden Gate
no major rivers reach the ocean. Behind the coastal ranges in central California lies the great Central Valley
, a long alluvial valley drained by the Sacramento
and San Joaquin
rivers. In the southeast lie vast wastelands, notably the Mojave Desert
, site of Joshua Tree National Park.
Rising as an almost impenetrable granite barrier E of the Central Valley is the Sierra Nevada
range, which includes Mt. Whitney
, Kings Canyon National Park
, Sequoia National Park
, and Yosemite National Park
. The Cascade Range
, the northern continuation of the Sierra Nevada, includes Lassen Volcanic National Park
. Lying E of the S Sierra Nevada is Death Valley
National Park. The drier portions of the state especially are subject periodically to large, wind-driven fires; in certain hilly areas sometimes devastating mudslides occur, particularly in the rainy season after large fires.
is the state capital. The largest cities are Los Angeles
, San Diego
, San Jose
, San Francisco
, Long Beach
, and Sacramento.
California has an enormously productive economy, which for a nation would be one of the ten largest in the world. Although agriculture is gradually yielding to industry as the core of the state's economy, California leads the nation in the production of fruits and vegetables, including carrots, lettuce, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and almonds. The state's most valuable crops are grapes, cotton, flowers, and oranges; dairy products, however, contribute the single largest share of farm income, and California is again the national leader in this sector. The state also produces the major share of U.S. domestic wine. California's farms are highly productive as a result of good soil, a long growing season, and the use of modern agricultural methods. Irrigation is critical, especially in the San Joaquin Valley and Imperial Valley. The gathering and packing of crops is done largely by seasonal migrant labor, primarily Mexicans. Fishing is another important industry.
Much of the state's industrial production depends on the processing of farm produce and upon such local resources as petroleum, natural gas, lumber, cement, and sand and gravel. Since World War II, however, manufacturing, notably of electronic equipment, computers, machinery, transportation equipment, and metal products, has increased enormously. Defense industries, a base of the economy especially in S California, have declined following the end of the cold war, a serious blow to the state. But many high-tech companies and small low-tech, often low-wage, companies remain in S California, in what is said to be the largest manufacturing belt in the United States. Farther north, "Silicon Valley," between Palo Alto and San Jose, so called because it is the nation's leading producer of semiconductors, is also a focus of software development.
California continues to be a major U.S. center for motion-picture, television film, and related entertainment industries, especially in Hollywood
. Tourism also is an important source of income. Disneyland, Sea World, and other theme parks draw millions of visitors each year, as do San Francisco with its numerous attractions and several entertainment-dominated Los Angeles–area communities. California also abounds in natural beauty, seen especially in its many national parks and forests—home to such attractions as Yosemite Falls and giant sequoia
trees—and along miles of Pacific beaches.
One of the state's most acute problems is its appetite for water. The once fertile Owens
valley is now arid, its waters tapped by Los Angeles 175 mi (282 km) away. In the lush Imperial Valley
, irrigation is controlled by the All-American Canal
, which draws from the Colorado River. In the Central Valley the water problem is one of poor distribution, an imbalance lessened by the vast Central Valley project
. Cutbacks in federally funded water projects in the 1970s and 80s led many California cities to begin buying water from areas with a surplus, but political problems associated with water sharing continue. California's failure to develop a long-term plan to end surplus withdrawals from the Colorado led the federal government to stop the release of surplus water to the state in 2003.
Government, Politics, and Higher Education
The state's first constitution was adopted in 1849. The present constitution, dating from 1879, is noted for its provisions for public initiative and referendum—which have led at times to difficulties in governance—and for recall of public officials. The state's executive branch is headed by a governor elected for a four-year term. California's bicameral legislature has a senate with 40 members and an assembly with 80 members. The state elects 2 senators and 53 representatives to the U.S. Congress and has 55 electoral votes. In the 1980s and 1990s, California elected Republican governors—George Deukemejian (1982, 1986) and Pete Wilson
(1990, 1994)— before the Democrat Gray Davis
was elected in 1998 (and reelected in 2002). In 2003, Davis was recalled and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger
was elected to succeed him; Schwarzenegger was reelected in 2006. Jerry Brown
, a Democrat who had been been governor in the 1970s and 80s, was elected to the post again in 2010 and 2014. In 1992, California became the first state to simultaneously elect two women to the U.S. Senate—Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.