California is a big place. It's the third-largest and most populous state in the USA, nearly 800 miles from the northern border with Oregon to the southern border with the Mexican state of Baja California. To the west is the Pacific Ocean, and to the east is the state of Nevada on the northern half and Arizona on the southern half. In between these borders lies some of the most gorgeous geography on the face of the Earth, but also nightmarish urban hellscapes and lung-clogging atmosphere. Summing up California in one article would be extremely difficult. It is home to the highest peak of the lower 48 states (Mt. Whitney) and, 76 miles away, the lowest point in North America (Death Valley). California is home to 15 of the 17 types of biomes: vast elevated deserts, beautiful forests of mighty redwoods, valleys of sun-soaked vineyards nestled in golden hills, and majestic snow-capped mountains.
A state this awesome attracts people, and close to 37 million people call the Golden State home (by comparison, Canada has a population of 34 million). Demographically speaking, southern California is home to the second-largest city in the USA, Los Angeles. Northern California is home to its most visited city, San Francisco, as well as numerous left-leaning small towns, rich veins of gold, and the traditional State Capital No One's Ever Heard Of (Sacramento). Northern California also has the distinction of hosting an abundance of environmentally-conscious yuppies living cheek-by-jowl with an abundance of prickly survivalists.
On that note, despite its reputation, California is a very politically mixed place. The California coast, particularly Los Angeles and San Francisco, is indeed characterized by social liberalism, although they are more moderate/conservative on fiscal issues. Its inland counties, meanwhile, are made up of provincial backwaters and farming communities that retain very traditionalist views of politics and culture and vote strongly Republican. *
Politics of inner California are gradually turning less conservative as of recent years, particularly in the Central Valley and south of the eastern border with Nevada. This is primarily due to the increasing Mexican American populations in those areas.
This leads to a certain amount of internal political conflict split down rural vs. urban and coastal vs. inland lines, while producing a political culture that is generally quite averse to high taxes. Beyond that, the northern and southern parts of the state are always arguing over who gets the water. One thing almost all Californians agree on, however, is a desire for greater autonomy within the Union. This may have something to do with California's economy, which in GDP terms is the ninth largest in the world (behind only the United States itself sans California's contribution, China, Japan, Germany, France, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Italy), and its population, which is the 35th-largest.
To outsiders, California is characterized by:
An incomprehensible, traffic-cloggedfreeway system◊. Southern Californians make things less complicated by referring to numbered freeways with the definite article (e.g. "the 5", "the 101") and never differentiating between interstates and non-interstate freeways, since their numbers never overlap. They're also on a first-name basis with their local interchanges, such as the MacArthur Maze, the Orange Crush, the Four-Level, Stonehenge, etc. When one of them gets closed, it can cause enough havoc to get its own moniker, such as Carmageddon.
California is also the most populous and ethnically diverse state in the USA. It's not unusual to walk down the street in a major city and overhear conversations in Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Tagalog, Hmong, Korean, Greek, and German all in 2 minutes. This results in numerous fusion restaurants that serve some of the nation's tastiest, and most expensive, cuisine. It also sometimes leads to civil unrest, one of the most famous examples being the Rodney King riots in the early 1990s. If something exists somewhere on Earth, you can find an example of it in California.
open/close all folders
Northern and Central California (NorCal)
Fresno: A giant freestanding suburb of one million people located in the San Joaquin Valley, near Yosemite National Park. Unremarkable except for its large immigrant population (Armenian, Hmong, and Mexican) and dingy yellow sky note This protective layer of smog prevents some sunburn, so it does prove useful. Generally considered a hellhole, but the rent's cheap. Bulletproof vests are recommended to the intrepid researcher. Is also the fifth largest city in the state, and the largest city in America not served by an interstate highway, not that it matters anyway since itisFresno. Due to wind currents, a large amount of Chinese pollution ends up in Fresno. Not that you would notice. Outside of California, expect to encounter its name around tax season,if you're filing in the western US. Also well known for its hot and dry summers, in which temperature reach as high as 112 degrees.
Sacramento: The state capital and county seat of the Sacramento County. Known colloquially as Sactown, which pretty much sums up all you need to know. The city's official nickname is "The City of Trees". It's home to the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, Sutter's Fort, the Tower Bridge, the California State Fair, and the band Cake. The area is also one of the least seismically prone regions of California, though it floods occasionally. Sacramento has an NBA team (the Kings) and a ziggurat. Does your state or provincial capital have a ziggurat? We thought not.
Oakland: The largest city in the eastern Bay Area, perhaps best known for its famous baseball and football teams. One of America's most ethnically integrated towns. Traditionally an industrial and port city that was critical to the American war effort in WWII, it is today rather poor and violent by California standards, but currently undergoing gentrification. Historically the home of the Black Panthers, the 21st century has seen it continue to develop a reputation for significant urban unrest. Renowned for being the filthy, gang-ridden, and generally much poorer counterpart to San Francisco, where theft and drive-by shootings happen every day. In reality, only parts of it are truly that terrible. Nicknamed "The Town" to match San Francisco's "The City."
San Francisco: The financial and legal center of the West Coast and the fourth largest city in the state. The cultural heart of Northern California, well known for its progressive politics, highly educated population, and the size of its LGBT population. Its hills, iconic bridges, Victorian architecture, cable cars, and the surrounding natural beauty of San Francisco Bay all around it lead to it regularly being regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in America, if not the most beautiful. Also, it's a county as well as a city. By order of His Imperial Highness Emperor Joshua Norton I: Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word "Frisco", which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars. San Francisco is the second most densely populated major city in the country after New York City, with nearly 800,000 people living in only 49 square miles, and is also one of the most expensive to live in. Its perpetual cold fogginess often surprises visitors.
San Jose: 50 miles south of San Francisco; Just like L.A., it's the heart and largest city of what is actually a single, sprawling, contiguous population center contained by a valley. Silicon Valley is effectively the center of the United States' electronics and software industry and hosts many of the juggernauts of the tech industry (Apple, Google, Netflix, Ebay, HP, Oracle, Facebook) Very much an industry town: its freeway system is lined with the geekiest billboards ever seen. The largest city in Northern California and third-largest in the state, having eclipsed San Francisco a few decades back. Do not expect anyone to realize this, however. It is unwise to request directions; residents have heardthat joke, thanks. Warmer than the rest of the Bay Area.
Southern California (SoCal)
Los Angeles:So much to say that it has its own article, but is best described here. It's the largest city in California and the largest city on the West Coast, and its major metropolitan area spreads much farther. The city is central to the American film and television industries, making its culture perhaps the most influential of any city in the world. It's also a tremendous cultural crossroads and melting pot in its own right completely aside from the entertainment industry, being home to so many national and ethnic groups that it often has the largest population of many nationalities living abroad anywhere in the world. With four major league teams of various sports, plus two universities with insanely successful sports programs, the city has proven unwilling to shell out any more cash for an NFL team.
San Diego: The state's oldest major city. A lovely city situated on a unique natural harbor and current home of the San Diego Comic Con. Situated between Tijuana and Los Angeles and shows signs (both good and bad) of this, such as terrible freeway traffic. It's California's second largest city, a fact that seems to escape most other Americans, and even other Californians, who often stereotype it as still being a sleepy beach town with a zoo. Birthplace of the San Diego Chicken (aka The Famous Chicken), Jack-In-The-Box, and Over-The-Line. Thanks to several big Navy and Marine bases nearby, home to the largest concentration of military personnel in the Western United States, most famously depicted in Top Gun. Also home to a huge number of undocumented Mexican immigrants in addition to the best Mexican food in the U.S. There may be a relation between the two. The weather in San Diego is also known for being particularly nice year-round. The large military and Latino populations and high concentration of family-friendly attractions tend to give it a reputation for being culturally conservative compared to the rest of the state's big cities, sort of like San Francisco's opposite pole (and politically conservative as well, at least for a coastal California city; if San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego don't all vote the same way on an issue, dollars to doughnuts San Diego is the odd one out).
Other Cities and CDPs (Census Designated Places)
Greater Sacramento Area (in NorCal)
Auburn: The county seat of Placer County, it is known for its California Gold Rush history.
Citrus Heights: A city in between Roseville and Sacramento that only became incorporated as a city in 1997. Home to Sunrise Mall, the Sunrise Market Place, and a street called Madison Avenue (no, not the famous one).
Davis: A city a short ways south of Sacramento that is known for its liberal politics, having many bicycles and bike paths, and the UC Davis campus. And cows.
Dixon: A city between the Sacramento Area and the Bay Area that was home to the Milk Farm Restaurant. The restaurant was gone Since the building was dismantled in 2000, but the sign is still there. Also the home of the Gymboree Corporation's only distribution center, which serves all stores and customers around the world.
Elk Grove: A city just south of Sacramento that was incorporated as a city on July 1, 2000. It was founded as a stage stop in 1850.
Folsom: A city just east of the unincorporated city of Granite Bay where the Folsom Lake, a resevoir on the American River, is located. Best known for its (in)famous Folsom Prison, the second-oldest in the state.
Granite Bay: A residential CDP that is located just east of Roseville and west of Folsom Lake. The place name comes from a bay in Folsom Lake and granodiorite (an igneous rock similar to granite) of the Penryn Pluton that the entire town is underlain by. This area is known for its high home values partly because of the quality of its schools.
Marysville: A city bordered by the Yuba River on the south and east and the Feather River on the west that is the county seat of Yuba County. The levees the city has built have constrained the city's growth, but the city has not flooded since 1875.
Placerville: A city in the Sierra Nevada foothills that began as a gold town. Despite it's name, the city is in El Dorado County, for which is the county seat of.
Roseville: A city that is 16 miles northeast of Sacramento. It started off as a railroad town called Junction and was incorporated as a city in 1909. Ranked skinniest city in the U.S. in CNN Money's "Best Places to Live" 2006 study and was home to the world's largest artificial ice-making plant. The city has been revitalizing its downtown core since 1988. Also has one of the largest Auto Malls in the U.S.
South Lake Tahoe: A city in the Sierra Nevada Mtns that is south of Lake Tahoe. The east end of the city, on the California/Nevada stateline is geared toward tourism.
Truckee: A town north of Lake Tahoe along I-80 that was once called Coburn Station to commemorate a saloon keeper.
West Sacramento: a city in Yolo County just west of the Sacramento River that features the Raley Field, home of the Sacramento Rivercats, and where the Ziggurat building actually is.
Woodland: Originally known as Yolo City, this city was a gold rush town established in 1861.
Yuba City: A city that was founded in 1849 as a gold rush development that is now a marketing center for the surrounding agricultural area.
San Francisco Bay Area (In NorCal)
Alameda: A small charter city situated on Alameda Island in the middle of the Bay, full of Victorian houses and empty of crime (remarkably so, as it is next to Oakland). Noted for having a decommissioned naval base which has been used in various chase scenes such as The Matrix trilogy, and where many Mythbusters experiments have taken place.
Berkeley: AKA: San Francisco goes to college. Located in the eastern Bay Area. Not very large, but culturally important out of proportion to its actual size. Home to UC Berkeley. Also known for liberal politics, Sixties-era civil unrest, and protesting students. Lovingly referred to in-state as "The People's Republic of Berkeley" and "Berzerkeley", naming the liberal half of Strawman U. See also: Granola Girl, New Age Retro Hippie. The flatlands along the Bay however culturally and economically resemble an extension of Oakland.
Bodega Bay: A CDP on the eastern side of Bodega Harbor that was the location of the Alfred Hitchcock-directed film, The Birds. The town markets itself with the film in many ways, including a Birds-themed Visitor Center.
Cupertino: A Silicon Valley (q.v.) city; home to Apple Inc.
El Cerrito: A city that was founded by refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The hills provide spectacular views of its famous neighbor and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Emeryville: A city in the eastern Bay Area where the Pixar Studios is located.
Fairfield: A city that was founded in 1859 by Robert H. Waterman, and named after Fairfield, CT, his former hometown. It is home to the Jelly Belly jelly bean factory and Travis Air Force Base.
Napa: A city in the North Bay, and the county seat of the Napa Valley. Often called "Wine Country". Famous for its wineries and its spas, it is a very popular tourist destination. The city of Napa has a population of about 70,000, though there are several small towns to the north of it (Yountville, Rutherford, St Helena, Calistoga, collectively referred to as "Up-valley") that add another ten or fifteen thousand people or so to the total population. Robert Louis Stevenson stopped by back in the day, and was very impressed, seeing it as the next big thing in wine. But The combination of a devastating disease and prohibition delayed this from coming true....until 1976, the year of the "Judgment of Paris", where a bunch of Napa-Valley Wines trumped the best French wines in a blind tasting.
Palo Alto: A California charter city in Santa Clara County, it is named for a redwood tree named El Palo Alto. The city's name means "the high tree" in Spanish. Home to Stanford University, the "Harvard of the West."
Santa Clara: A city in the center of Silicon Valley that is home to the headquarters of Intel and an amusement park called California's Great America. It's likely the San Francisco Forty-Niners will be moving here in 2014.
Vacaville: Located in the westernmost side of the Central Valley and the very northeastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, it is home to the mixed-use development, The Nut Tree. Before the onion processing plant closed down in 2000, there was an annually held Onion Festival.
Vallejo: Home to the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom theme park. Named for General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. In 2008, it became the largest California city ever to file for bankruptcy.
Rest of Northern California (NorCal)
Alturas: Located on the Pit River, this Modoc County's only incorporated city and also its county seat.
Chico: A city and cultural, economic, and educational center in the northern Sacramento Valley that is home to Chico State University and Bidwell Park. Its official city nickname is "City of Roses." Not to be confused with Chino, which is in SoCal.
Crescent City: The county seat of and only incorporated city in Del Norte County, on the Oregon border, it is named for the crescent-shaped stretch of sandy beach south of the city. Home to Pelican Bay State Prison, California's nightmarish modern-day version of Alcatraz.
Lodi: A city near Stockton that is best known for its wine production. The city is also the birthplace of A&W Root Beer and A&W Restaurants, which was established in 1919 and is considered the original fast food restaurant.
Redding: A city at the very northern edge of the Sacramento Valley (the northern part of the Central Valley) and just south of Mt. Shasta. The Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which is located there, features the Sundial Bridge, which crosses the Sacramento River.
Stockton: Gateway to Modesto. As with Fresno, bring a Bullet Proof Vest — this city's recently ranked as one of the top five most dangerous cities in America, mainly due to it being along prime drug distribution routes. As with much of the rest of California's Central Valley, currently witnessing some of the worst economic trouble in the country, well as of June 2012, the city has declared bankruptcy, making it one of the largest cities to do so. The biggest event of the year is the annual asparagus festival... Nuff said.
Ukiah: The county seat and largest city of Mendocino County. In 1996, it was ranked #1 best small town to live in California and the sixth-best place to live in the United States. It is the hometown of the band AFI
Weed: A city in Siskiyou County west of Mt. Shasta that is known for its historic lumber based industry that attracted ethnic minority migration. Because of the migrations, Weed is much more ethnically diverse than the rest of Siskiyou County.
Yreka: The county seat of Siskiyou County, it is located at the northern edge of the Shasta Cascade area of NorCal. In November 1941, it was designated as the capital of the proposed State of Jefferson. Pronunciation hint: it used to be spelled "Wyreka".
Central California Coast (Usually considered part of NorCal)
Carmel: A town near Monterey that had Clint Eastwood as a one-term mayor. Notable for its local arts scene and the nearby Pebble Beach golf course.
Castroville: A town near Monterey that is called the Artichoke Capital of the world, and crowned a pre-stardom Marilyn Monroe as their first Artichoke Queen.
Hollister: A primarily agricultural town that is well known among geologists as it shows the best example of aseismic creep in the world. The town was founded and named after William Wells Hollister in 1868 by the San Justo Homestead Association. It was originally going to be named San Justo, but Henry Hagen, a member of the association, argued that California place names are dominated by Spanish saint names and suggested that the city should have a less holy name. Historically notable for the 1947 "Hollister Riot" during a motorcycle rally, which largely served as the inaugural postwar cultural moment for the biker and one-percenter subculture. The "Hollister Co." clothing line is NOT named after this town; it's named after Hollister Ranch (which was also owned by William Wells Hollister) in coastal Santa Barbara County.
Monterey: About 70 miles (and a mountain range) southwest of San Jose (q.v.). The city was Alta California's former capital during the time when it was a part of Mexico; in 1818 it was briefly seized by the Argentinean privateer Hippolyte de Bouchard. The fall of Monterey to American forces signaled the official American annexation of California, which had recently declared its independence from Mexico. American writer John Steinbeck set many of his stories in Monterey and in neighboring (and much poorer) Salinas. Known in particular for its Cannery Row seaside walk and the peerless Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Parkfield: A town located on The San Andreas Fault that is known as "The Earthquake Capital of The World."
Pismo Beach: Also a famous vacation spot. Mostly because Bugs Bunny kept looking for it. Also known as the "Clam Capital of The World."
Salinas:The county seat and largest city of Monterey County. Birthplace and hometown of John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.
Sand City: A city near Monterey that is made mostly of beaches.
Santa Cruz: Extremely quirky town on the NorCal coast. Was involved in decades of legal warfare with Long Beach over the title of "Surf City, USA" until Huntington Beach won rights to said title in 2006. A frequent target of the Strawman Political. If you see a clip on The Daily Show of an obvious loon yelling at a visibly bored city council representative, it's probably from here. The mascot of the local campus of the University of California is the banana slug. Also famous for its, shall we say, "vibrant" marijuana culture. Despite its charming goofiness, Santa Cruz also has a dark past: it was home, at one point in the 1970s, to three serial killers or mass murderers at the same time.
Rest of Central California (Usually considered part of NorCal)
Bakersfield: An industrial and agricultural city located in the southern San Joaquin Valley, historical home to a major part of California's oil industry. Most notable for producing nu-metal band Korn, the "Bakersfield sound" movement in Country Music, country music legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and NASCAR personality Kevin Harvick. A conservative stronghold. Has good Basque food and a lot of air pollution. Often considered a cultural dividing point between SoCal and NorCal.
Bodie: A ghost town in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevadas that was once a bustling mining town with an estimated population of 8,000. This town has been a state historic park since 1962 and 200,000 visitors come every year.
Coalinga: A city in Fresno county that started as a coal mining town. Until 1972, it was one of the few towns in the US to have three taps, one for hot, for cold, and for drinking water. The first female police chief in the US, Kate Halloway, was hired here in 1973. The city name's resemblance to the Nahuatl word for snake, "coatl," is incidental; it's actually a Portmanteau of "Coaling Station A"..
Los Banos: A city that was named the Spanish word for "the baths" after a natural water spring that feeds natural wetlands in the western San Joaquín Valley. A member of Charles Manson's family, Susan Atkins attended Los Banos High School before joining the family.
Manzanar: A town that served as a shipping point for surrounding productive apple orchards that gave the town its name prior to the diversion of water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Aqueduct. "Manzanar" is the Spanish word for "apple orchard." During WWII, this area was the location of the Manzanar Japanese American internment Camp, which is now a Historic Site.
Merced: The county seat of Merced County, this city is named after the Merced River, which flows nearby. Nicknamed "Gateway to Yosemite," it's a less than two hour drive to Yosemite Natl. Park to the east and Monterey Bay to the west.
Modesto: A city in the San Joaquin Valley (the southern part of the Central Valley) south of Stockton and north of Fresno. The town got its name from a Spanish-speaking railroad worker at a naming ceremony saying that William C. Ralston was "muy modesto" for declining the suggestion that the city be named after him. The hometown of Ginormica.
Porterville: A city that is located on the Tule River at the base of the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and eastern most section of California's San Joaquin Valley. The city has consistently ranked as one of the nation's most highly polluted areas.
Santa Nella: A CDP in the San Joaquin Valley located on Interstate 5. The town's doesn't refer to a saint. The name appears to have come from "sentinela," the Spanish word for "sentinel" instead.
Visalia: Settled in 1852, this city is the oldest permanent inland settlement between Stockton and Los Angeles. Its nickname is "Gateway to The Sequoias."
Greater Los Angeles Area (in SoCal)
Anaheim: The location of Disney Land Resort, which basically put it on the map. Disney rules the western half of this fairly large city. The eastern half, called Anaheim Hills, is filled with some of the wealthier neighborhoods in the state.
Burbank: A city in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles where the Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros Studios is located. Has a large regional airport that serves as a local alternative to LAX.
Chino: Home to the infamous state prison that's a stop for most of the LA area's convicts, though the town itself is a mix between cowtown and bedroom community. Not to be confused with Chico, which is in NorCal.
Glendale: A city in Los Angeles County between Burbank and Pasadena. Has a large Armenian population. Birthplace of Neopets.
Huntington Beach: A seaside city that is, in terms of population, the largest beach city in Orange County. It's known for 8.5 mile long beach, mild climate, and excellent conditions for surfing.
Irvine: A city owned and run by a corporation, the Irvine Company, which has swallowed up large swathes of land in surrounding communities as well. It is home to UCI (UC Irvine, colloquially University of Chinese Immigrants). Often in the running for safest city in America, it's extremely clean, quiet, boring and upper-middle class. Located in the heart of Orange County.
Long Beach: 20 miles south of Los Angeles. Voted as the most ethnically diverse large city in the U.S. (500,000 people, which includes the largest Cambodian community outside of Cambodia). Second largest, or at least busiest, seaport in the U.S. (after the very closely located Port of Los Angeles), Long Beach is also considered the birthplace of California Surfing although the breakwater installed by the Navy in World War 2 and a buildup of pollution (likely caused by the breakwater) means that surfing has disappeared from the city. There is also a Long Beach in the state of Washington. Reputed to have a larger gay population than San Francisco.
Palm Springs: once a popular resort town for jet-setting Hollywood types, the city is still a popular winter vacation spot. In the summer, blazing temperatures drive all but the most foolish golfers out of town.
Riverside: One of the main cities in The Inland Empire and named for its location beside the Santa Ana River. Home to the University of California, Riverside and the Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree, one of the two original navel orange trees in California.
San Bernardino: One of the main cities in The Inland Empire. Home to the Santa Fe Rail Road Museum and the Route 66-[=McDonald's=] Museum, the latter of which was the site of the original McDonald's restaurant. Often derisively called "San Bernaghetto" by Los Angeles-area residents.
Santa Ana: The county seat of Orange County. It shares its name with the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5), the Santa Ana Mountains, and the infamous Santa Ana winds. America's largest predominantly Spanish-speaking city.
Santa Monica: A mix of Santa Cruz and Berkeley IN SO CAL!, but minus the California University (unless you count the community college). This is where The OC was actually filmed. Surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles (the fourth side being the ocean), it tries to avoid being regarded as just another part of Los Angeles' Westside. Home to a large number of British and Irish ex-pats and their descendants, which gives it a vibrant local pub and football culture.
West Hollywood: A city east of Beverly Hills that is surrounded entirely by Los Angeles. The city, like San Francisco, is known for its gay population.
Victorville: A city located on the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert that was incorporated as a city on September 21, 1962.
Rest of Southern California (SoCal)
Baker: A CDP located in the Mojave Desert between Barstow and Las Vegas, that is home to the worlds tallest thermometer and the Mad Greek's Diner.
Barstow: A city in the Mojave Desert that is home to Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow and is the closest city to Fort Irwin Military Reservation. Also where Interstates 40 and 15 converge.
Blythe: A city in the center of the Palo Verde Valley near the Colorado River that will be the epicenter of several large solar power-plants.
Carlsbad: A coastal resort city near San Diego that has a high standard of living. This city is where LegoLand California is located.
El Centro: The county seat of Imperial County and the largest city in the Imperial Valley. Also the largest American city to lie entirely below sea level (To be exact, -50 feet below sea level).
Needles: A city located in the Mojave Desert on the western banks of the Colorado River. Named after "The Needles," a group of pointed rocks on the Arizona side of the river. Also one of the least seismically prone cities in California and basically the least seismically prone city in SoCal. Snoopy's cousin Spike is from here..
Oceanside: Best known to Marines and retired Marines for being the city immediately south of Camp Pendleton. Sometimes used as a filming location (most notably for some scenes of Top Gun).
Santa Barbara: This city is sometimes referred to as the "American Riviera." U.S. Highway 101 connects this city to Los Angeles to the south and San Francisco to the north. Home to a California University that is legendary for its party culture, as well as its own wine industry that competes with the more famous one in NorCal.
Central Valley: The main valley in California that is composed of the San Joaquin Valley (the semiarid southern part) and the Sacramento Valley (the wetter northern part). The whole valley is the size of Tennessee. Much of the valley (except Vacaville) is one of the least seismically prone regions of California. Traditionally one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, it's currently caught between an ecological or economic dilemma over the use of government-provided water rights.
Sacramento Valley: The part of the valley that lies north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and south of the Siskiyou Mountains. The Sutter Buttes is a distinct geographic feature here. Rice, which is a non-viable crop in the semi desert San Joaquin Valley, is grown here.
Sacramento River: The largest river in California. It rises from Castle Lake in the eastern slopes of the Klamath Mountains, flows through the Sacramento Valley, and empties into the Suisun Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay. The Feather River is its largest tributary.
Sutter Buttes: A cluster of dark rocks that rises some 2000 feet and covers about 75 square miles of land.
San Joaquin Valley: The part of the valley that lies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and north of the Tehachapi Mountains. If you live in California, this is where your food comes from. Accounts for almost 13% of the country's agriculture. Home to a truly remarkable array of smells on hot summer nights. If there's a crop, there's a festival for it — Artichoke Festival, Strawberry Festival, Garlic Festival... thankfully there is no Onion Festival.
San Joaquin River: The largest river in Central California. It starts in the High Sierra, flows through the San Joaquin Valley, and like the Sacramento River, empties into the Suisun Bay. It is among the most heavily dammed and diverted of rivers in California. This river system does not extend far along the valley of the same name.
Tulare Lake Basin: The part of the San Joaquin Valley just south of Fresno. It features Tulare Lake, which, until the late 19th century, was the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, but longer exists continuously due to diversion of its sources for irrigation.
California Coast Ranges: The Pacific Coast Ranges in California that overlap the southern end of the Klamath Mountains for approximately 80 miles on the west at its northern end and are north of the Transverse Ranges. The North Coast Ranges are north of the San Francisco Bay and south of the Klamath Mountains. The South Coast Ranges are south of the San Francisco Bay and end at an area around Point Conception.
The Central Coast: an area of California roughly spanning the area between the Monterey Bay and Point Conception. Despite its coasts, its geographical isolation by the Coast Range makes it one of the least-populated regions of the state.
Monterey Bay: a bay of the Pacific Ocean along the central coast between Santa Cruz and Monterey.
The Big Sur: A sparsely populated region of the central coast of California south of Monterey where the Santa Lucia Mountains (part of the South Coast Ranges) rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean.
Humboldt County, Mendocino County, and the rest of Northwestern California: rural Northern California at its most beautiful, and home to most of the world's old-growth redwoods. But that's not all they grow. Marijuana prohibition is all but unenforced in these counties. The police have tacitly admitted that if they arrested people and shut down marijuana grow operations, the local economies would be completely wiped out.
Redwood National and State Parks: Located entirely within Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, it comprises of four parks, Redwood National Park, California's Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. The four parks protect 45 percent of all remaining Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) old-growth forests.
The Emerald Triangle: refers to the three Northern Californian counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity because they are the largest producers of cannabis in the United States.
The Klamath Mountains: A rugged, lightly populated mountain range in northwest California and southwest Oregon that includes the Siskiyou, Marble, Scott, Trinity, Trinity Alps, Salmon, and northern Yolla-Bolly Mountains.
San Francisco Bay Area: Commonly known as the Bay Area, it consists of nine counties and 101 cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. The state's second largest urban area, with over 7 million people.
Marin County: Just north of San Francisco; home to redwoods and LucasArts. One of the richest areas of the state.
Napa Valley: A world-class winemaking region, clustered around the northwest end of the San Francisco Bay in Napa and Sonoma counties. Lovely scenery, loads of expensive food.
San Francisco Bay: A shallow, productive estuary that the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers flow into. The waterway entrance into the bay from the Pacific Ocean is called the Golden Gate, which the Golden Gate Bridge spans.
Silicon Valley: This region is home to many of the world's largest technology corporations. Geographically, it encompasses all of the Santa Clara Valley, the southern San Francisco Peninsula, and the southern East Bay.
Greater Los Angeles Area
The Greater Los Angeles Area: Also referred to as the Southland (which could also refer to all of SoCal), with about 17 million people, the second-largest urban area in the US after the Tri-State Area centered on New York City.
Channel Islands: A chain of eight islands located off the coast of SoCal in the Pacific Ocean along the Santa Barbara Channel. Five of the islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz islands) are part of the Channel Islands National Park.
Orange County: California's leading source of rich white Republicans. Campfire legend has it that at some point in history it was full of verdant valleys and orange blossoms, but no signs of this halcyon age have been unearthed by archeologists studying the foundations of paleolithic tract homes. It's also home to Disney Land and the origin of many 1990's ska and punk bands. Calling the area "the OC" was once very unpopular, but it eventually fell into common usage among residents anyway.
The Inland Empire: Yes, we even have an empire here. Really, it's basically the nickname for the easternmost suburbs of Los Angeles, plus the two main cities of Riverside and San Bernardino. Full of abandoned tract houses. Also home to city of Chino. Home to a good mix of whites, Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics, with the two former stereotypically being middle-class and the latter being more working-class. Also an area prone to earthquakes. Overlaps with the Coachella Valley and Mojave Desert.
The West Side: It's the valley at the beach! Think of it as the western suburbs of Los Angeles proper. This is home to the aforementioned Santa Monica, Venice Beach, LAX, and both LMU and UCLA.
Transverse Ranges: A group of mountain ranges that is named for their predominantly East-West orientation that makes them transverse to the general North-South orientation of most of California's coastal mountains (including the Peninsular Ranges and the Coast Ranges). The Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains, and The Tehachapi Mountains (which connect to two other Transverse ranges, the San Emigdio Mountains and Sierra Pelona Mountains in the west and southwest respectively, and to the Southern Sierra Nevada range in the northeast) are some of the hill and mountain ranges in the Tansverse Ranges.
Greater San Diego Area and Low Desert
The Low Desert: a common name for southeastern California south of The High (or Mojave) Desert that includes the Colorado and Yuha deserts in the Southern California portion of the Sonoran Desert.
The Algodones Dunes: A large desert dune field located east of El Centro. Used as a year-round offroad recreation area and sometimes a filming place for films, such as in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, among others.
Coachella Valley: A desert valley and subregion of the Inland Empire that is east of San Bernardino and Riverside and north of the Salton Sea that includes the city of Palm Springs. Overlaps with the Inland Empire.
Colorado Desert: A desert that is south of the Mojave Desert and is part of the Sonoran Desert, which also extends into Arizona and into the three northwestern Mexicican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.
The Imperial Valley: The agricultural area of Imperial County. Known for hosting many festivals and activities including the aerial displays of the Blue Angels to the Tomato Festival. Locals tend to use the terms "Imperial Valley" and "Imperial County" synonymously.
The Palo Verde Valley: Outside of its residents, did everyone care about this agricultural valley? This valley is located in the Lower Colorado River Valley on the eastern border of California, as a note.
Salton Sea: A lake as of today formed in 1905 when the dike for the Colorado River (the Imperial Valley Dike) broke from a flood. The area used to be a resort destination, but the lake is slowly evaporating, causing the salinity of the remaining water to rise to inhospitable levels. The once-famous bird population is now all but extinct. As the lake is degrading, the community is crumbling. Proposals for how to manage the area have been stuck in Development Hell for years. Possible the most depressing place in California. Its surface is 226 ft (69 m) below sea level.
Peninsular Ranges: A group of predominately north-south running mountain ranges south of the Transverse Ranges which stretch from southern California in the United States to the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. The ranges in California include the Santa Ana Mountains, San Jacinto Mountains and Laguna Mountains.
Mojave Desert and Inyo County
Inyo County: A county located on the east side of the Sierra Nevada and southeast of Yosemite Natl Park.
Owens Valley: an arid valley of the Owens River in eastern California in the United States, to the east of the Sierra Nevada and west of the White Mountains and Inyo Mountains. The Alabama Hills, which are in this valley, are a popular filming location for TV and movie productions, especially Westerns set in an archetypical "rugged" environment.
Owens Lake: A mostly dry lake that the Owens River flows into. Its bed, now a predominantly dry endorheic alkali flat because the Los Angeles Aqueduct system was built and diverted much of the Owens River into it, sits on the southern end of the valley.
Mojave (or High) Desert: That place you have to fly over/drive through/tunnel under to get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. More rocky than sandy, there are a few decent sized towns (including Lancaster and Palmdale close to LA, and Mojave, Barstow and Baker further out), some military bases (including Edwards Air Force Base, where more than one Cool Plane was tested), and of course the occasional Crazy Survivalist. Further south, near the California/Nevada/Arizona border, there are a bunch of man-made lakes which are popular spring break vacation spots for the rest of Southern California.
Antelope Valley: A valley that is located between the Tehachapi and the San Gabriel Mountains and comprises the western tip of the Mojave Desert. It's named for the pronghorns that are said to have roamed there until being eliminated in the 1880s by hunters and bad weather. Overlaps with the Greater Los Angeles Area.
Death Valley National Park: Located in the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert near the California/Nevada border, but mostly in California, it contains salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains.
Death Valley: One of the hottest, driest, lowest, and deadest places on Earth. A popular vacation spot! It constitutes much of Death Valley National Park and is located near the California/Nevada border. Features sand dunes and the Badwater Basin.
Joshua Tree National Park: A national park in southeastern California that is named after the Joshua tree, a funny-looking tree immortalized by U2. The eastern part lies in the Colorado Desert and the southeastern part lies in the Coachella Valley.
Sierra Nevada Ranges
Sierra Nevada Mountains: A mountain range in California and a small part of Nevada that is east of the Central Valley.
Gold Country: Lies on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, reaching down to the Sacramento Valley, and stretches from Mariposa County in the south to Sierra County in the north.
Kings Canyon National Park: A U.S. National Park that is east of Fresno and north of and contiguous with Sequoia National Park. It preserves several groves of giant sequoia including the including the General Grant Grove, featuring the famous General Grant Tree, and the Redwood Mountain Grove, the largest remaining natural Giant Sequoia grove in the world.
Lake Tahoe: Located along the California/Nevada border, with one third of the lake in Nevada and two thirds of it in California, it's home to deep forests, tall mountains, and many ski resorts. Famous for the clarity of its waters. A popular vacation spot in winter and summer alike. Donner Pass, made infamous by the ill-fated Donner party, is nearby. Largest alpine lake in North America and second deepest lake in the U.S (Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in America).
Mono Lake: A large, shallow, alkaline, saline lake that is just east of Yosemite Natl Park. This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on Mono Lake brine shrimp and provides critical habitat for migratory birds that feed on the shrimp. It's also notable for the striking tufa "towers" found there.
Mount Whitney: Highest mountain in California and highest point in the contiguous U.S. (Denali in Alaska is the highest point of all in the U.S.). Near Death Valley.
Seqouia National Park: A national park east of Visalia and south of and contiguous with Kings Canyon Natl. Park. It is famous for its giant seqouia trees, including the General Sherman tree, the largest tree on earth.
Yosemite National Park: One of America's finest national parks, with sights like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. By it self it is slightly larger then the entire state of Rhode Island.
Shasta Cascade Region and Northeastern California
Cascade Range: A major mountain range in the U.S. and Canada extending from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon and into Northern California. The part of the Cascade Ranges that's in California is called the Shasta Cascade Range.
Lake Shasta: An artificial lake created by the construction of Shasta Dam across the Sacramento River, it is the state's largest reservoir, and its third largest body of water after Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea.
Lassen Peak: Southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. Only volcano beside Mount St. Helens (which is in southwestern Washington) that erupted in the 20th century. The main feature of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Mount Shasta: Second highest mountain in the Cascade Range and fifth highest mountain in California. Has a satellite peak called Shastina, which if it were a separate peak, would be the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Range. Most voluminous stratavolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc.
Northeastern California, including Modoc County: Cut off from the rest of the state by the Sierra Nevada and geographically part of the Great Basin, it's basically Nevada Plus.
Goose Lake: A large alkaline glacial lake located along the California/Oregon border. More of it is located in California, but a fair amount of is located in Oregon. It sometimes flows into the Pit River, part of the Sacramento River Watershed.
Modoc National Forest: A national forest that is mostly in Modoc County, but small parts extend into Siskiyou and Lassen counties. Part of it lies on the Modoc Plateau.
Modoc Plateau: A plateau that lies in the northeast corner of California and parts of Oregon and Nevada.
Affectionate Parody: Omnipresent in media due to most production companies being based in California. Some other common parodies of California culture exist in the various nicknames given by outsiders (and sometimes insiders)
Alien Sky: Due to the pollution, on select days, the sky in Los Angeles is a wan shade of yellow. On the flip side, the sunsets sometimes beggar the descriptions of even the purple-est of Purple Prose.
All Bikers Are Hells Angels: The trope was in part started by the 1947 Hollister, CA riot and the murder at the 1969 Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, CA. The Trope Namers were founded in California as well (though the specifics are disputed).
American Prisons: Many of the elements of this trope in its modern form, including such (in)famous prisons as San Quentin, Folsom, Chino, and Alcatraz, as well as practically ALL the major prison gangs in the United States (Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia, Black Guerilla Family, etc.), got started here. Even Californian convicts are the most inventive in the country.
The Alcatraz: The Trope Namer, arguably the world's most famous prison, sits in the San Francisco Bay. Surprisingly small, and only used as a federal prison for a little under thirty years, but very dramatic and now a national park.
Big Fancy House: California is home to some of the wealthiest people and cities on the planet. Los Angeles' Mulholland Drive and Orange County are famously full of these beasts, but they're far from their only habitats. Parts of Marin and San Mateo counties tend to attract even richer, but usually more private residents associated with Nor-Cal's economy and attracted to its environment.
California Doubling: The Trope Namer. Largely because California is so geographically diverse, it can pass for nearly anywhere in the country if you don't look too hard.
California University: The University of California (UC) system, one of the best (if not the best) state college systems—nine campuses (UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley [often called "Cal" or "Cal Berkeley"], UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, and UC Merced) plus two special bonus campuses, UC San Francisco, which is a medical school and not an undergraduate institution, and UC Hastings (also in San Francisco), which is a law school. The education quality at most of these is pretty damn good. Then there's the CSU system, which is even more of this trope.. And don't get us started on the Private Universities (Stanford, Caltech, USC, etc), which along with the UC System, can rival the Ivy League.
Cool Plane: SoCal's clear weather and predictable winds meant that lots and lots of them were designed, built and tested there from before World War II through the Cold War by Hughes, Lockheed, Northrop, and Douglas. Aviation may have been born at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but it came of age in California.
Courtroom Antic: The OJ Simpson trial definitely gave the public the impression that California's justice system was chaotic, but subsequent circus trials of Robert Blake, Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, and others cemented it.
Divided States of America: There has been argument for years as to whether Northern California and Southern California should be split into two completely separate states. Northern Californians are in favor because they would be able to tax So Cal for taking all their drinking water. They oppose it because they might lose the incredibly powerful 55 seats in the Electoral College that a united California regularly provides to the Democratic candidate in the Presidential election. Southern Californians don't think about it much.
The far northern counties up by the Oregon border actually did try to form their own state along with Oregon's southern counties, called Jefferson, back in the early 1940s. However, the main issue was frustration with quality of the local roads and alienation with Sacramento (and Salem, Oregon). World War II put a stop to the main drive, but a small (mainly tongue-in-cheek) movement still exists. The movement got steam under it again shortly before 9/11 took the wind out again. If Jefferson were to become a state, it would be the nation's least-populated but very wealthy off natural resources.
Don't forget all the people who want to bring back the Bear Flag Republic. A common argument, mentioned above, is that it would be the eighth largest economy on Earth. In works featuring this trope, California is usually a country unto itself.
Interestingly, at one time, there was serious talk of splitting California into two states. The thing that killed any chance of it happening was one road.
Drives Like Crazy. Los Angeles specifically and Southern California in general is legendary for this — after all, that's where the phrase "rush hour" comes from. Speeds on open freeways are traditionally 10 MPH above the speed limit, to the point that drivers will be shocked to be ticketed for such speeds. Sacramento drivers, if the reports are to be believed, are worse. California drivers also created the motor vehicle term "California Roll." No, not that California Roll.This one.
A joke was made in regards to what was dubbed as "The California Stop", which is when a person never fully comes to a complete stop at a stop sign, but rather just lets the car crawl along for a few inches on momentum before picking up speed and continuing along the way. As with the speeding example above, Californians may road rage when someone in front of them does come to a complete stop.
A police officer pulls over a car and approaches the driver. "Sir, do you know why I pulled you over? You drove through that stop sign back there." The motorist replies "What do you mean? I came to a complete stop." The cop responds "No, you only slowed down to a crawl. You didn't come to a complete stop." The motorist become belligerent and argues back, but the cop tells him to step out of the car. As soon as he exits the car, the cop pulls out his club and starts beating him down on the ground. The motorist pleads for him to stop, to which the cop responds: "Do you want me to stop, or just slow down?"
There's another joke that if you can learn how to drive in Los Angeles, you can pretty much drive anywhere without problem.
Education Mama: not by any means limited to the state, but its unusually high quality of state- and government-sponsored education, combined with a fairly significant Asian demographic, have had serious impacts on culture and economy. As an example, the sleepy little town of Cupertino, California is famous for only two things: hosting the headquarters of Apple Computers, and having some of the best K-12 schools in the nation. Between the two, average housing prices are around $1 million per. After the housing bubble burst.
Friendly Local Chinatown: San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest, largest, and most famous in America, and is said to be the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. It's so well-established that students of Chinese history and culture from China hoping to find sources that survived the Cultural Revolution often come to California universities to study. Los Angeles and Oakland also have major Chinatowns. The Chinese influence in California is longstanding; Chinese laborers were used in the West during the building of the Trans-Continental Railroad, resulting in great food and a thriving fusion culture.
Gang Bangers: the modern version of this trope is largely based on parts of South-Central and East Los Angeles from the 1980s and 1990s. Still Truth in Television in for many parts of the state's metropolitan (and, increasingly, exurban) areas.
Ghost Town: Many Gold Rush towns that were abandoned after the veins ran out still stand today. They make interesting tourist destinations, and a couple have even been turned into tourist traps. The Knott's Berry Farm amusement park was started when the owner of the farm bought a ghost town and moved it to Orange County as a tourist destination.
Since the real estate bubble burst, lots of small exurban towns have become ghost towns, identifyable by miles of never-lived-in tract houses. Though this is hardly exclusive to the golden state.
Gold Fever: Part of the reason for California's unique culture is the state was largely settled and founded by get-rich-quick schemers and prostitutes. The state's economy to this day still runs very much on a wild boom-and-bust cycle (e.g.: the defense bubble during the Cold War, the dot-com bubble, and the real-estate bubble).
Granola Girl and New Age Retro Hippie: Most common in Northern California, but visible everywhere. Surprisingly (at least to non-Californians), they're more a rural phenomenon these days, as aging hippies from the original movement ran for the hills when urban rents rose.
Heat Wave: Prevalent in the inland areas, where temps above 105 aren't unheard of, though even the coastal cities can blaze on occasion. Specifially, Needles, CA in southeast California (in the Mojave) frequently sets national or even world temperature records.
Hollywood Homely: Almost a case of Truth in Television, particularly in Southern California, probably as a result of the mild weather, outdoor lifestyle, and the impact of the entertainment industry. Suffice it to say that there is such a thing as "California goggles".
Hostage Situation: The ubiquitous police SWAT teams around the country are modeled upon (and often take their names from) the LAPD's unit.
It's Always Spring: Southern California has a reputation for being always warm and sunny year-round. While it is a desert, and the winters are very mild compared to most other areas, California does actually get overcast and rainy on occasion, notably during "June gloom." Coastal cities also tend to get marine layer clouds during the mornings. Northern California is much wetter and rainier.
That said, it's very rare in Southern California for it to drop below forty or fifty degrees, even in the dead of winter.
The Lost Woods: Especially in northern California's gorgeous redwood country. A stretch of the northwest California coast is so rugged and isolated that it's called the Lost Coast. How beautiful is it? Kind of looks like thatforest moon of Endor.
Catalina Island is a small island off the coast of L.A., with an interior that can pass for the Great Plains. A long time ago, a director established a Bison herd there for the purpose of shooting a Western and they still live there today.
However, there's very little other wildlife on Catalina. Besides that herd of bison, most of what lives there are birds, small rodents, and kitfoxes, which will steal anything they can get their paws on. There used to be wild boars on the island, but they were hunted to extinction.
Because of an act of arson in the 1960s, Pasadena and other areas of Southern California are infested with "wild" green parrots.
Also, the areas surrounding the Pasadena/Arcadia border have a rather large peacock population due to a number of them escaping from the nearby Los Angeles County Arboretum.
"Rather large" doesn't begin to cover it. The biggest threat when driving around in Arcadia isn't other cars, it's the freaking peacocks. Not because they cause damage to the car, but because hitting one of the little suicidal nutters carries a huge fine. Occasionally, you'll hear about how some poor teenager failed or nearly failed a driving test due to peacock-related swerving.
Australian eucalyptus trees now plague the whole state (without koalas to eat their leaves). South African ice plants are also choking the coastal regions.
The trees were imported to produce lumber, but in California, eucalyptus trees produce horrible lumber. Literally millions of them were planted before this was discovered.
Police Brutality: The LAPD has a bad reputation for this. You may have heard "Can't we all just get along?".
Quirky Town: Many small towns, especially along the state's coast and in its mountains.
"Keep Santa Cruz Weird" bumper stickers can be seen all over Northern California.
Residents of Bolinas have been known to do things like rip out road signs pointing to their town, lest it become overrun.
In the case of Weed, California, it's the tourists who rip out the road signs — and take them home.
The Rival: California is often considered to the rival to Texas. They are both one of the largest and most populous states in the Union, both rich in resources with fairly self sufficient economies, and the most important part, California is largely liberal Democrat while Texas is conservative Republican. Denizens of either state are not afraid of badmouthing the other. The rivalry even extends to trying to poach business—Rick Perry, governor of Texas, aired this ad encouraging businesses to relocate from California to Texas.
Serial Killer: Unfortunately, it's been called the serial killer capital of the US (already renowned for its abundance of serial killers) having (just to name a few) Edmund Kemper, Herbert Mullin, The Zodiac, Richard Chase, the three Freeway Killers, Richard Ramirez, the East Area Rapist, Harvey Glatman, Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, the Hillside Stranglers, the Astrological Murderer, Juan Corona, and Lonnie David Franklin.
Though he wasn't quite a serial killer, and in fact the term didn't even exist until a few years later, late-20th century America's fear of and fascination with insane killers was sparked by an eerily charismatic ex-con and his "family" who slaughtered nine people in the hills of Los Angeles in the summer of 1969: Charles Manson.
Scenic Route: Most notably Highway 1, the "Pacific Coast Highway" running along much of the state's shoreline.
Sliding Scale Of Shiny Versus Gritty: Can often be directly observed in Los Angeles. In some places there are clean residential hi-rises literally across a single street from heart-wrenching poverty. San Francisco as well, where there is a homeless community that lives in the plaza directly in front of the Wells Fargo Building (WF being the nation's largest bank). San Jose has empty Condo buildings across the street from churches full of homeless.
Strawman Political / Strawman U: California is frequently lambasted and stereotyped in conservative media and blogs. Even when accurate (and they sometimes are), these stereotypes tend to apply only to a portion of the state — inland California and many suburbs of San Diego and Los Angeles are quite conservative.
Surfer Dude: Everyone assumes that all Californians surf. This is far more likely in Southern California than Northern California, and even so is limited to those who are lucky enough to live close enough to the ocean. For those that are, though, a lot of them do surf.
Teens Are Monsters: In a direct contradiction to the California stereotype, many high-school students are vulgar and rabidly homophobic (or put up that frontto sound cool); this may have its roots in the high number of Evangelical Protestants and Catholics (who, by the way, often don't get along well in high school), both of whom have histories of harrassing gays. There are signs in some schools reminding people that school is for learning, not gay-bashing (or discrimination in general, but gays are the most Acceptable Targets). At least they aren't racist, and they usually grow out of it once they reach college.
Theme Naming: Cities beginning with Santa or San (Spanish for saint) pervade the state enough to confuse foreigners.
Yanks With Tanks: Well, seeing as California's a huge state along the Pacific Coast, naturally it is the home of several extremely large military bases. Fort Irwin and the Marine Corps' Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms are probably the most prominent examples of recent vintage, as the terrain very closely resembles Iraq. Fort Irwin was designated as the Army's National Training Center. The state's incomparable geographic diversity lets the Marine Corps train Marines for both desert and mountain and arctic warfare in California (at Twentynine Palms and the Mountain Warfare Training Center at Bridgeport in the Sierra Nevadas, respectively). The Navy's largest and busiest West Coast base is in San Diego as well. San Diego is also where boys west of the Mississippi go to become the few and the proud, and nearby there are two more big Marine bases, Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar, that are home to the majority of the Marine Corps' Pacific forces. California is glamorous and Elites Are More Glamorous, so naturally west coast SEAL recruits begin their training in Coronado. The best Naval Aviators used to, but that school moved to Nevada in the nineties. The Air Force has four major bases: Edwards, Beale, Travis, and Vandenberg, which are each respectively home to some of the Air Force's most significant aircraft testing, unmanned aerial vehicle, air mobility, and space launch activities. And, on the business side, California is home to Lockheed Martin, the company providing both of American's cutting-edge fighter aircraft (or attempting to).
Part of this is because of California's varied terrain (good for training) and the fact that the state is just so freaking huge, but the Air Force bases can also be written off to our fabulous weather.
Zeerust: The "Googie" or "Raygun Gothic" style of architecture of the The Fifties and Sixties looks ripped straight out of The Jetsons and is still found in some areas. Historical societies have formed with the sole purpose of protecting it. A lot of California was effectively built in the mid-20th century, so it figures.