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Useful Notes / California

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California, here I come!
(Go West!) Sun in winter time
(Go West!) We will do just fine
(Go West!) Where the skies are blue
(Go West!) This and more we'll do
Village People, "Go West"

Welcome to California. It's the most populous and third-largest state in the United States (second largest in the Lower 48), 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, to the east is the state of Nevada, and to the southeast is the state of Arizona. 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 nine national parks, the most of any state, which contain the highest peak of the lower 48 states (Mt. Whitney) and, 76 miles away, the lowest point in North America (Death Valley). The state as a whole is host 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. Basically, if something exists somewhere on Earth, you will probably find it in California.

History of California

This strip of the West Coast of North America was first settled roughly ~20,000 years ago. Just like today, the climate and resources of this region made it highly desirable; pre-European contact, nearly a third of indigenous people living in the present-day U.S. lived in the California region, including hundreds of different groups speaking countless different languages. The population of Native Californians was drastically cut down by disease, starvation, and conflict with the Spanish, who asserted control of the valuable region without large-scale settlement in part through a system of missions spearheaded by Junipero Serra in the 18th century.

Though it was not heavily settled by the Spanish (and later Mexican) people, Alta California was critically important as a hub of the Pacific trade and a gateway for the ships of Asia, Oceania, and South America to bring goods to the rest of North America. This drew many Americans to settle in the region, and the United States government soon began to desire it for themselves. During the early years of the Mexican-American War, following the lead of earlier American settlers in Texas, several Americans declared a revolution under a new flag boasting the image of a bear and set up an "independent" California Republic. Unlike Texas, this "independent nation" barely lasted a month before the U.S. officially annexed the region. Soon after, the discovery of gold in 1848 led to a massive population boom as "Forty-Niner" fortune-seekers came flocking, and the territory was named a state. However, California's long vertical shape, which spanned both the North and South of the U.S., led to a protracted debate over whether it should be admitted as a slave or free state. Though a good number of Southerners occupied the (at the time fairly unimportant) southern half, California was admitted as a free state and joined the Union during The American Civil War.

Thanks to its idyllic climate, fertile soil, and prime Pacific location, California experienced massive and sustained population growth through the late 19th and 20th centuries, eventually surpassing New York as the most populous state by the early 1960s as people flocked from across the country and around the world in pursuit of jobs and opportunity. The state's history is unfortunately full of efforts to limit and shape this developing population, many of them very dark in nature. Americans accelerated the ongoing genocide of Native Californians throughout the 19th century in various acts of violence that were not publicly recognized by the state until 2019, passed laws that limited or outright banned the immigration of Asian people, deported thousands of Mexican Californians (even those who had lived in the state for generations) during the Great Depression, and imprisoned thousands of Japanese Californians during World War II. The tension between this history of discrimination and the diversity of the state's citizens has led to moments of civil unrest, some of the most famous examples being the Watts uprisings of the 1960s and the Rodney King riots in the early 1990s. Both were protests against Police Brutality in Los Angeles experienced by its sizable African American population, most of which had come to California in order to flee Jim Crow segregation in the South only to be met by further discrimination. Not coincidentally, the Black Panther Party got its start and had the most local influence in California, specifically in Oakland.

Demographics and Culture

Today, over 39 million people call the Golden State home (by comparison, Canada has a population of 36 million). This population fuels an economy that, in GDP terms, is the fifth largest in the world, behind only the United States itself (without California's contribution), China, Japan, and Germany, just ahead of the United Kingdom. Lest you think this means Californians are packed together like sardines, the state's massive size bears repeating. California has about half the population that a comparably-sized state theoretically would have on the East Coast. While the Bay Area is one of the most densely packed areas in the country, most Californian metro areas sprawl out over miles and miles of suburbs blanketing the coast and Central Valley. Californians generally have as much or more room to move around as those in the East and would have even more if things were more evenly distributed; the eastern half of the state is some of the least populated land in the country, with miles and miles of parkland and wilderness.

As mentioned above, California is the most ethnically diverse state in the Union, and 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, or German. This results in numerous fusion restaurants that serve some of the nation's most delicious (and expensive) cuisine. 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.

Despite its current national reputation as a liberal stronghold, California is a very politically mixed place. The California coast, particularly Los Angeles and San Francisco, is indeed characterized by social liberalism, but residents there are often more moderate, even 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. This leads to a certain amount of internal political conflict split down rural vs. urban and coastal vs. inland lines.note  Gun control and immigration policy are contentious issues, suffice it to say. Furthermore, since Californians have the option to vote on propositions for state laws and initiatives that can be put on the ballot by a petition of voters, California businesses and religious groups can mobilize conservative voters to directly push through legislation or vetos that elected officials would not. This has produced a political culture that seeks to regulate certain aspects of big business but is generally averse to high taxes and worker protections, a situation that generally pleases no one and has resulted in a number of fiscal crises despite the size of the economy.

There are other divisions in the state as well. For one, the northern and southern parts of the state are always arguing over water rights—Los Angeles doesn't have the water to sustain its population and needs to pump it in from NorCal and neighboring states, while farms in the Central Valley (the most productive agricultural region in the U.S.) need all the water they can get. Many of California's conservatives would like to see the state split up into three or four smaller ones so that SoCal couldn't drain their resources as easily and they could have more autonomy, but even NorCal is dependent on resources from neighboring states and the economies of the big cities to get by, so those complaints are not likely to result in the state fragmenting any time soon. However, frustrations with the state have led to many Californians choosing to leave in the last decade; nearly a century of tremendous population growth finally slowed in the 2010s due to outmigration to other Sunbelt states, creating ripple effects throughout the country whose long-term affects have yet to be determined. Don't get it twisted, though: California is still by far the most populous state in the USA, with over 10 million more residents than nearest runner-up Texas.

To outsiders, California is characterized by:

  • Earthquakes. Which fiction often elevates to cataclysmic levels.
  • Wildfires, more or less Truth in Television. Most fires are relatively small, but big ones happen every year. See Wildland Firefighting.
  • Strong social liberalism and activism.
  • Hippies.
  • Strong gun control.note 
  • Theme parks, namely Disneyland, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld.
  • Surfing.
  • An incomprehensible, traffic-clogged freeway 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 Carmageddonnote . Northern Californians, on the other hand, refer to numbered freeways with the number by itself (e.g. "5", "101").
  • Related to the above, the drivers and "rush hour". In Real Life, people drive much more aggressively in Los Angeles than in San Diego or the Central Valley (both which are also noticeably less congested), while San Francisco is populated by Omnicidal Maniacs with motor vehicles. Sacramento has been notable for having statistically some of the worst driving in the nation but Bakersfield and Riverside have occasionally given the state capital a run for their money.
  • The universities, though they are not just party schools or spots for hippies, communists, and beautiful people to hang around and be seen; the University of California system contains many of the best public schools in the nation.
  • Having Arnold Schwarzenegger for a governor. Before that, the state was known for electing a different actor as governor.
  • A massive drought—which officially ended in 2017, when it rained so much that they were worried about dams breaking, and one (Oroville) almost did, only for it to come back the very next year in 2018, then go away again in even more spectacular fashion in 2019. 2023 would then see some of the largest downpours yet, including Tropical Storm Hilary on August 20, which caused significant flooding in some parts.
  • Exorbitant housing costs, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, California has the highest cost of living of any state besides Hawaii, one key factor to the recent trends of outmigration; while California's poverty rate is fairly middle of the road, some metrics that adjust for its high housing costs and taxes rank it close to or dead last in the nation.
  • Silicon Valley

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Regions, Counties, Lakes, Mountains, Rivers, etc.

    Central Valley 
  • 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 vs. economic dilemma over the use of government-provided water rights. Air quality is a major issue as well; while regulatory legislation has helped California's smog problem immensely, wind currents and the geological features of the valley "trap" air pollution generated as far away as the other side of the Pacific, meaning residents have little say in fixing the problem.
    • 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 2,000 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 (or, really, most of the country), this is where your food comes from. Accounts for almost 13% of the entire 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... 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 no longer exists continuously due to diversion of its sources for irrigation.

    Coastal California 
  • 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.
    • Big Sur: A sparsely populated region south of Monterey where the Santa Lucia Mountains (part of the South Coast Ranges) rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean.
    • Monterey Bay: A bay of the Pacific Ocean between Santa Cruz and Monterey.
  • 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; major parts of the economy have been supported by the growth and production of marijuana years before legalization efforts began.
    • 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.
    • Redwood National and State Parks: Located entirely within Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, it comprises of four parks, Redwood National Park, 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.
  • Salinas Valley: A smaller coastal valley and another key agricultural area. Home to Pinnacles National Park, the youngest of the state's national parks, famous for its dramatic pinnacles of rock formed by fault movement.
  • 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 over 18.5 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; only one, Santa Catalina, has permanent residents and is a prominent tourist destination. Not to be confused with the ones in the English Channel.
    • Orange County: California's leading source of rich white Republicans, located just south of Los Angeles proper. Quite densely populated, with a population comparable to San Diego County's (around three million) at less than a fourth of its size. 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 Disneyland and the origin of many 1990s ska and punk bands. Calling the area "the OC" was once very unpopular, but it eventually fell into common usage among residents anyway.
    • San Fernando Valley: The valley that puts the ''The'' in The Valley. Think of it as a northern suburb of Los Angeles proper (with much of it actually within the L.A. city limits), and home to the cities of Burbank, Calabasas, and Glendale, plus the L.A. communities of Encino, Van Nuys, Topanga, Tarzana, and Reseda. Popularized in the late 1980s by a spate of teen comedies. And, omigod, not everyone in the Valley, like, talks like this, but, it does like, totally happen. Also known as the Porn Capital of the US, if not the world. Maybe the universe.
    • Santa Ynez Valley: AKA "Wine Country" (In SoCal!). A mass of small, rural towns such as Buellton, Los Olivos, and the heavily Danish-themed Solvang. Became better known after Sidewaysnote  featured the massive vineyards and Real Life Scenery Porn, among other things. To quote Rosario Dawson (they filmed the chase scene in the backroads of the valley):
    We were up in wine country so we drank every single night and went out and partied every single day. It was really amazing. We were up where the Neverland Ranch was which was directly across the street from a school.. which was…. [laughter]note 
    • The Inland Empire: Yes, we even have an empire here. Though technically just a massive outlying suburb east of the Greater L.A. area, local job growth and the sheer distance to the urban core (well over 100 miles from L.A. in the eastern half) led the U.S. Census to mark this region as its own distinct metro area (13th largest in the country) comprised of four million people living around the cities of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario. Home to a good mix of whites, Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics. Also home to city of Chino and its prison, a relic from the days where the Empire was considered a total backwater before it was enveloped in L.A.'s suburban sprawl. Experienced significant population growth starting in The New '10s, with Los Angeles County residents especially seeking lower living expenses while still remaining in California. Also a region 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.note 
    • 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 Transverse 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: An agricultural valley located in the Lower Colorado River Valley on the eastern border of California.
    • Salton Sea: Possibly the most depressing place in California and one of the biggest ecological disasters in the United States. A shallow saltwater lake formed suddenly in 1905 when a dike for the Colorado River broke from a flood and filled the desert basin, 226 ft (69 m) below sea level. Locals jumped to make it a tourist destination, building inland beach resorts like Bombay Beach frequented by glamorous Hollywood celebrities up through the '60s. However, as the water has been cut off from the river and dried up by the desert heat, the salinity of the remaining water has risen to inhospitable levels. The once-famous bird population is now all but extinct and the shores have retracted far from the old resorts (and are covered in dead fish). The region is now essentially one giant ghost town, as proposals for how to manage the area have been stuck in Development Hell for years.
  • 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 desert 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 east of Fresno and north of and contiguous with Sequoia National Park. It preserves several groves of giant sequoia, 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. Also home to the eponymous Kings Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in North America.
    • 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). Incidentally, the three California high schools in the immediate Tahoe area are members of Nevada's high school athletic federation, since the vast majority of the schools within easy driving distance are across the border. Another example is Needles High School, mentioned in the "Rest of SoCal" folder below.
    • Mono Lake: A large, shallow, alkaline, saline lake just east of Yosemite. 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.) Located in the far eastern portion of Sequoia National Park. Just 80 miles/130 km from Death Valley. The Very Definitely Final Dungeon for day hikers.
    • Sequoia National Park: A national park east of Visalia and south of and contiguous with Kings Canyon Natl. Park. It is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman tree, the largest tree on earth. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States, is located on the park's eastern border.
    • Yosemite National Park: This gorgeous stretch of wilderness is one of America's most spectacular national parks, from the sheer granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome to the massive Yosemite Falls, and contains thousands of unique species of wildlife. It is also one of the reasons for the national parks' existence—Abraham Lincoln signed a bill mandating the state preserve the valley over a decade before the federal government formally began the national park system. Spanning over 1,000 square miles, 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 stratovolcano 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.


Major Cities

    Northern and Central California (NorCal
  • Fresno: A city of about half a million people and the center of a sprawling metro area of suburbs in the San Joaquin Valley, near Yosemite National Park. Largely unremarkable except for the size of its population (fifth largest in the state), large immigrant population (Armenian, Hmong, and Mexican), and dingy yellow sky caused by air pollution collected from as far away as China by unfortunate wind current patternsnote . Generally considered a hellhole, but the rent's cheaper than most of the state. Bulletproof vests are recommended to the intrepid researcher. The largest city in America not served by an interstate highway, not that it matters anyway since it is Fresno. 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 temperatures reach as high as 112 degrees.
  • Sacramento: The state capital and county seat of Sacramento County. (The state's supreme court, however, sits in San Francisco.) 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 (a Wild West tourist trap district adjacent to downtown), Sutter's Fort, the Tower Bridge, the California State Fair, the anime convention SacAnime, the rather important Arms Dealer GenCorp (Aerojet Rocketdyne), and the bands Cake and Deftones. "Sacto" is one of the most ethnically diverse and integrated in the USA. The area is also one of the least seismically-prone regions of California, though it floods occasionally. Sacramento has just one major pro sports team for now (the NBA's Kings, which residents fought hard to keep in town despite them being terrible for years), will temporarily have a second in 2025 when MLB's Oakland Athletics stop over on their way to Las Vegas, and a ziggurat. Does your state or provincial capital have a ziggurat? We thought not. Hometown of two Best Actress winners (Brie Larson and Jessica Chastain) and of Greta Gerwig, who lovingly captured her adolescence in the sleepy capital in Lady Bird.
  • Oakland: The largest city in the eastern Bay Area, perhaps best known today for being home to the Golden State Warriors, Oakland Athletics, and Oakland Raiders (though the Dubs have moved back across the bay, the Raiders skedaddled to Las Vegas, and the A's will soon follow suit by way of Sacramento). One of America's most ethnically integrated urban centers, it was an industrial and port city that was critical to the American war effort in WWII. After that, it was hit pretty hard by the effects of white flight, and it's still rather poor and violent by California standards (though currently undergoing gentrification). Historically the home of the Black Panthers, it has long held the (somewhat undeserved) reputation of being a 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, the oldest incorporated city in California (beating Sacramento by a week), 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 over 800,000 people living in just under 47 square miles of land, and is also one of the most expensive to live in. Its perpetual cold and fogginess often surprises visitors. Planning to work in the tech industry? You must be willing to relocate to San Francisco.
  • San Jose: Located 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.note  The largest city in Northern California and third-largest in the state (as well as the eleventh-largest in the United States), having eclipsed San Francisco a few decades back (currently, the city proper is home to over a million, with roughly that number living in the surrounding suburbs). Do not expect anyone to realize this, however; its short skyline (due to downtown being a mile south of San Jose International Airport) and proximity to the global tourism magnet that is San Francisco have made it a disproportionately obscure city for those not from the area, but it does have notable destinations like "California's Great America" theme park, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and the labyrinthine Winchester Mystery House. Until the 1950s, San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley (known as "The Valley of Heart's Delight") was best known for its agricultural production and as the home of Buck the dog in The Call of the Wild; today, Silicon Valleynote  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. In sports, it is home to the Sharks of the NHL and the Earthquakes of MLS. Yes, the local residents know the way to San Jose note  and have Never Heard That One Before. Warmer than the rest of the Bay Area.

    Southern California (SoCal
  • Long Beach: Located just 20 miles south of Los Angeles but massive enough that locals, unlike many in the greater L.A. area, do distinguish themselves from Angelenos. The most ethnically diverse large city in the U.S. (nearly 500,000 people, with significant White, Black, Latino, and Asian populations, including the largest Cambodian community outside of Cambodia). Second largest, or at least busiest, seaport in the U.S. (after the neighboring Port of Los Angeles). Also considered the birthplace of California surfing, although the breakwater installed by the Navy in World War II and a buildup of pollution caused by offshore oil rigs (now dressed up to look like islands) means that surfing has disappeared from the city; the main tourism draw on the water is now the RMS Queen Mary, a retired British ocean liner permanently moored in the harbor that serves as a hotel. Also hosts a notable Grand Prix and aquarium. Reputed to have a larger gay population than San Francisco. Home to Snoop Dogg and the Freedom Writers. There is also a Long Beach in the state of Washington and one on Long Island; don't mix them up.
  • 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 entire West Coast, the second largest city in the United States, and the busiest port in the country. Its metropolitan area is truly sprawling, encompassing many surrounding cities with sizable populations of their own. 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 multiple major league teams of various sports, plus two universities with insanely successful sports programs, the city was unwilling to shell out any more cash for an NFL team for around two decades. That's why there's Inglewood to fill in that gap. Hey, Tupac said, "Inglewood's always up to no good."
  • San Diego: The state's oldest major city, situated on a unique natural harbor between Tijuana (in fact, directly bordering it) and Los Angeles. It's California's second largest city (over 1.4 million in the city proper and another two million in the surrounding metro—and that doesn't count the two million-plus living in Tijuana and its immediate area), 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 great weather and a really big zoo. Birthplace of the San Diego Chicken (aka The Famous Chicken), Jack-In-The-Box, and Over-The-Line. Currently its only major sports team is the Padres of MLB; the NFL's Chargers called the city home for more than half a century before they moved north to Los Angeles in 2016. The city will get its own MLS team in 2025, joining an insanely successful (at least by attendance) team in the National Women's Soccer League. 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 large military and Latino populations and high concentration of family-friendly attractions tend to give it a reputation for being culturally and politically conservative compared to the rest of the state's big cities. However, it's very diverse in both nation of origin (about 26.6% of San Diegans are foreign-born from places ranging from China to Italy, another 30% are American-born but from another state) and ancestry (46% non-Hispanic white, 29% Hispanic or Latino, 16% Asian, 7% African-American, 5% mixed, 13% other).note  Also famous for being the home of San Diego Comic Con and the University of California, San Diego, consistently ranked among the top 15 academic institutions in the world (particularly in biotechnology and medicine). Contrary to popular belief, San Diego is not German for "a whale's vagina."

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 incorporated in 1997. Home to Sunrise Mall, the Sunrise Market Place, and a street called Madison Avenue (no, not the famous one).
  • Davis: A city just south of Sacramento that is known for the UC Davis campus, which is responsible for its liberal politics, abundance of bicycles and bike paths, and cows. (UCD is the primary agricultural campus of the UC system.) It has its own wiki, one of the largest dedicated to a single city, located right here. It covers everything from local in-jokes to the music scene to what classes you should take at the university, and if you're considering moving here or even just visiting long time residents recommend you check it out before making plans.
  • Dixon: A city between the Sacramento Area and the Bay Area that was home to the locally-famous Milk Farm Restaurant. The restaurant has been gone since the building was dismantled in 2000, but the sign is still there and there have been numerous efforts to revive it. Also the home of the Gymboree Corporation's only distribution center, which serves all stores and customers around the world.
  • Folsom: A city on the eastern edge of the Sacramento metro where the Folsom Lake, a reservoir on the American River, is located. Best known for its (in)famous Folsom Prison, the second-oldest in the state where Johnny Cash recorded one of the most famous live albums ever.
  • Grass Valley and Nevada City: Neighboring Gold Rush towns about an hour northeast of Sacramento, featuring some of the oldest buildings in the state, with some dating back to before the Civil War. Grass Valley has many used bookstores, including one (Booktown) that's basically a "mall" of several different booksellers under one roof. It also has a strong Cornish heritage, from the immigrants who worked in the mines. The pasty (pronounced PASS-ty) meat pie is a local favorite. Nevada City has a Non-Indicative Name, since the "city" only has about 3,000 residents (it was so-named to distinguish it from the state of Nevada).
  • Marysville: The county seat of Yuba County, bordered by the Yuba River on the south and east and the Feather River on the west. 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 called Hangtown (in honor of the rough form of local justice). Despite its name, the city is in El Dorado County, for which is the county seat of.
  • Roseville: It started off as a railroad town just southeast of Sacramento 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.
  • Truckee: A town north of Lake Tahoe along I-80 that was once called Coburn Station to commemorate a saloon keeper. Sitting at an elevation of 5,817 ft (1,773 m), it often has the coldest overnight lows in the continental US during the summer.
  • West Sacramento: An independent city in Yolo County on the west side of the Sacramento River that features Sutter Health Park, home of the Sacramento River Cats (Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) and temporary home to the Oakland A's from 2025–2027 (or 2028, depending on when their new Las Vegas ballpark opens), and where the Ziggurat building actually is.
  • Woodland: Originally known as Yolo Citynote , this city was a gold rush town established in 1861.
  • Yuba City: Founded in 1849 as a gold rush development that is now a marketing center for the surrounding agricultural area. Thanks to a long history of immigration from India, it's home to America's largest population of Sikhs...many of whom are partially of Mexican descent.

    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 (where they kept the nuclear wessels), 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 due to being home to University of California, Berkeley, known for athletic purposes as "California" or "Cal". 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. Scenes from The Fog, The Goonies, and I Know What You Did Last Summer were filmed here as well. Historically notable as the site of the first Russian structures in California (predating Fort Ross to the north by several years).
  • Colma: A small community, incorporated as a town, just to the south of Daly City. Has fewer than 2,000 residents... living residents, that is. The town is best known for its cemeteries—after San Francisco banned new burials within city limits in 1900, and evicted existing cemeteries in 1912, most of the remains were moved to cemeteries in Colma. Today, the remains of more than 1.5 million people lie in the town. The town has been called "The City of the Silent", and has a darkly humorous motto: "It's great to be alive in Colma."
  • Concord: The largest town in Contra Costa County with over 100,000 residents. Mainly a bedroom community known for being the birthplace of Tom Hanks, hosting an annual jazz festival, being considered one of the best places for retirees to live, being the home of De La Salle High School (whose football team went on a record-setting 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004), and the founding of the annual comic book store event "Free Comic Book Day"note 
  • Cupertino: A Silicon Valley (q.v.) city; home to Apple Inc.
  • Daly City: Sitting between San Francisco and South San Francisco, this hillside city is well-known for its high proportion of Filipino residents.
  • East Palo Alto: Despite the name, it's actually north of the below mentioned Palo Alto. In the immediate post-war era, this was the only city in lilywhite San Mateo County where African-Americans were allowed to live, and was historically the blackest part of Silicon Valley. It's now majority Hispanic, but there's still a large black community, and is home to pretty large communities of Tongans and Fijians.
  • El Cerrito: A city 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 Pixar Studios is located.
  • Fairfield: Seat of Solano County. Founded in 1859 by record-setting clipper ship captain Robert H. Watermannote  and named after his former hometown in Connecticut. It is home to the Jelly Belly jelly bean company and Travis Air Force Base.
  • Fremont: Incorporated in the 1950s as an amalgamation of several East Bay cities; now the fourth-largest Bay Area city behind San Jose, San Fran, and Oakland, and a gateway to Silicon Valley.
  • Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda, collectively referred to as Lamorinda: Three neighboring communities in the hills east of Oakland. Ranked as some of the wealthiest, safest, and friendliest in the state. The three public high schools (Acalanes, Campolindo, Miramonte) have top-notch sports programs that have produced dozens of famous pro and Olympic athletes. Moraga is the home of Saint Mary's College. Orinda hosts a prominent independent film festival and has some notoriety for the 1984 murder of Kirsten Costas, a popular cheerleader and swimmer at Miramonte High killed by a jealous acquaintance, a case that got Lifetime Movie of the Week treatment twice.
  • Marin City: Like East Palo Alto mentioned above, this was the only place in Marin County where black people were allowed to live in the 1940s, and still remains an extremely diverse community in a lily-white part of the Bay. Tupac Shakur lived here when he first moved to California from the East Coast as a teenager, and while he made his rap career in Oakland he's still considered a favorite son.
  • Mountain View: Another Silicon Valley city. Home to many tech companies including Google. Also houses the Computer History Museum.
  • 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, Spanish for "the high tree". Home to Stanford University, the "Harvard of the West", although only a small part of the campus is actually inside the city limits.* Friending Network Facebook is based here.
  • Piedmont: Essentially the rich part of Oakland, but actually a separate city surrounded entirely by The Town. It ranks as one of the wealthiest towns in America. Clint Eastwood spent most of his childhood here.
  • San Rafael: County seat and largest city in Marin County. While it's often viewed by outsiders as the epitome of Marin's Bourgeois Bohemian reputation, it's actually an economically and racially diverse area, in contrast to the wealthier towns surrounding it, like Mill Valley, Sausalito, Tiburon and Larkspur. Home of the retro-futuristic Marin County Civic Center, the last great architectural work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Also the home base of The Grateful Dead and George Lucas (whose Skywalker Ranch is located west of town in Lucas Valley, which had already been named that for a century before he built the ranch. Lucas actually lives in neighboring San Anselmo). It's also been identified as the birthplace of the term "420", originating with a group of students at San Rafael High School in 1971.
  • Santa Clara: A city in the center of Silicon Valley that is home to the headquarters of Intel and the Cedar Fair Entertainment amusement park California's Great America. It is also where the San Francisco 49ers are actually based since their current home, Levi's Stadium, was completed in 2014.
  • Santa Rosa: County seat of Sonoma County and the largest city in the North Bay, Wine Country, and the North Coast. Alfred Hitchcock used it as Everytown, America in 1943's Shadow of a Doubt, but it's grown into a sizable business center. Long-time home of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz (for whom the local airport is named) and noted botanist Luther Burbank.
  • Sonoma: A relatively small town located southeast of Santa Rosa, but the anchor of the Sonoma Valley, the quiet, unpretentious Blue Oni to Napa's ostentatious Red Oni. Sonoma is dominated by smaller boutique wineries. The town of Sonoma is centered on a town hall located in the middle of a quaint town square. It has quite a bit of history, as it was the location of the final old California mission and the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. Jack London lived in the nearby town of Glen Ellen and his old ranch is now a state park. The large Sonoma Raceway, home of an annual NASCAR event, is located south of town.
  • Stanford: A CDP adjacent to Palo Alto that consists of the academic core of the university of the same name,* which is used in fiction as shorthand for "like Ivy League, but on the West Coast", and in real life as shorthand for "university that somehow manages to put up quality sports teams despite actually holding its student-athletes to high standards." (Only UCLA has won more championships across all sports, and no university has won more women's championships.) Has an intense rivalry with California (Berkeley); avoid the topic of which team won The Big Game in 1982 in either city.
  • 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 (formerly Marine World / Africa USA). Named for General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. In 2008, it became the largest California city to that point ever to file for bankruptcy. The original home of NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, although his family moved to Indiana when he was a teenager so Jeff could be closer to that state's racing scene.
  • Walnut Creek: Located on the other side of Mount Diablo from Oakland, and a major transportation hub, thanks to its location at the intersection of the main highways connecting the Bay Area and Sacramento as well as its direct BART access. Notables from this suburb include Kyle Gass of Tenacious D; Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Randy Johnson; and the WNBA's Sabrina Ionescu*, who arguably became the face of American women's basketball in 2020 while in college at Oregon.

    Rest of Northern California (NorCal
  • Alturas: Located on the Pit River, this is Modoc County's only incorporated city and also its county seat.
  • Arcata: Located on the north shore of Arcata Bay (itself an arm of Humboldt Bay), it's the second-largest city in Humboldt County. Home to the former Humboldt State University, which was converted in 2022 to the newest Cal Poly institution (formal name: California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt).
  • Chico: A 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. Site of the worst tsunami in American history, after the 1964 Alaska earthquake, which inundated the town and caused dozens of deaths and disappearances.
  • Eureka: Located on the south shore of Arcata Bay, it's the county seat and largest city in Humboldt County, plus, as Wikipedia puts it, "the westernmost city of more than 25,000 residents in the 48 contiguous states" (its population was just over 26,000 in the 2020 census). The huge amount of wealth that flowed into the city with the establishment of logging and fishing in the late 1800s has made Eureka home of some of the most extensive and best preserved examples of Victorian architecture in the country, centering on the impossibly ornate Carson Mansion, but the decline of those industries has led to some hard times for the city. Its position as the largest city in the Emerald Triangle, coupled with the legalization of marijuana, has led to some hope that the cannabis industry could revitalize the city and the region, but thus far the results have been mixed.
  • 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. Immortalized in a Creedence Clearwater Revival song.
  • Redding: Found at the very northern edge of the Sacramento Valley (the northern part of the Central Valley) and just south of Mount Shasta. The Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which is located there, features the Sundial Bridge, a crossing of the Sacramento River reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists. Not to be confused with Redlands which is in SoCal.
  • Stockton: The county seat of and largest city in San Joaquin County with a population over 300,000, though it is often reduced in media to just being the gateway to Modesto. As with Fresno, bring a Bulletproof Vest—in 2012, this city ranked as one of the top five most dangerous 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; in June 2012, the city declared bankruptcy—the largest city in American history to do so until that point, and since then only surpassed by Detroit's bankruptcy the following year, though it seems to be on the road to recovery. The biggest event of the year is the annual asparagus festival... Nuff said. It's also home to the University of the Pacific. And Pavement
  • 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. It was also the home base of Rev. Jim Jones before his Peoples Temple moved to Jonestown, Guyana.
  • Weed: A city in Siskiyou County west of Mount 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. Named for lumber mill founder Abner Weed, but Never Heard That One Before jokes connecting it to other connotations of "weed" abound.
  • 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". Beloved by language nerds as the one-time home of the Yreka Bakery.

    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 its first Artichoke Queen. One of the kids on Stranger Things sports a Castroville Artichoke Festival t-shirt.
  • 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 back 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. Also home to Laguna Seca Raceway, one of the most technical raceways in the United States, (in)famous for having an unusual corkscrew turn that requires nearly a full stop to navigate.
  • San Luis Obispo: The happiest city in America, at least according to Oprah Winfrey. Home to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly)note , another top engineering school in the state. Don't try to change your major once admitted. "Weird Al" Yankovic graduated from here (though he grew up in the LA suburb of Lynwood).
  • 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 the 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.

    Rest of Central California (Usually considered part of NorCal
  • Bakersfield: An industrial and agricultural city located in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the ninth most populous city in the state (375,000 people), and a historical home to a major part of California's oil industry. Often considered a cultural dividing point between SoCal and NorCal. Has a Division I university, Cal State Bakersfield. 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.
  • 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 "Manson 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 National Park to the east and Monterey Bay to the west. Also home to the newest University of California campus.
  • 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, George Lucas and Ensign Bradward Boimler.
  • Porterville: A city 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.
  • 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
  • Artesia: Located in the San Gabriel Valley, this sleepy suburb was once primarily known as the childhood home of Richard Nixon's wife Pat. Nowadays, it's a vibrant and diverse suburb: aside from the East Asian/Latino mix typical of the San Gabriel Valley, it also has Southern California's largest Indian community and the second biggest Sri Lankan community in America behind the North Shore of Staten Island
  • Avalon: The harbor city of Santa Catalina Island, the only one of the Channel Islands with a civilian settlement. With a permanent population of ~4,000 residents, Avalon sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who flock via ferry from Long Beach to view the unique wildlife and scenery of Catalina. The harbor's most iconic landmark, the Catalina Casino, isn't actually used for gambling, instead serving for nearly a century as a movie palace that was once a favorite of Old Hollywood stars. It's very hard to get a permit for a car on the island; most of its residents drive unique "autoette" golf carts instead.
  • Beverly Hills: An affluent city which, together with West Hollywood (below), is surrounded entirely by Los Angeles. America's shallowest city, literally—it seceded so it could have its own police and schools while almost everything below roadbed/basement level was left either to the county or regional commissions dominated by City of LA representatives, which wasn't an issue until they started talking about an east-west subway. Home to numerous Hollywood celebrities, several famed luxury hotels, and the ridiculously high-end Rodeo Drive shopping district, but also more ethnically diverse than you'd expect, with a sizable number of Iranian immigrants who arrived after the 1979 revolution; Iranians make up about a fifth of the population currently, as well as having a significant share of Gulf Arabs (specifically from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE).note  See It Came from Beverly Hills for works with this city's name in it.
  • Burbank: An independent city in the San Fernando Valley. Located on the other side of the mountain from the Hollywood Sign, it's been called "The Media Center of the World", since it's the home of a dizzying number of production facilities, companies and even networks, like ABC, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Studios, Cartoon Network, and Warner Music Group. Onetime home of NBC's production facility, now called The Burbank Studios. Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In taped there and immortalized "beautiful downtown Burbank" into the cultural lexicon. Has a large regional airport that serves as a local alternative to LAX, a miles-long ribbon of a park on land cleared for a freeway that was never built, and to this day not really that much of a downtown.
  • Calabasas: Bedroom community nestled in the hills between the southwest part of the San Fernando Valley and Malibu. One of the oldest communities in LA County, with some buildings dating back to the 1840s, but it's gained recent notoriety as the enclave of choice for the younger generation of superstars. Among many others, Justin Bieber, Drake, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Dwayne Johnson, Katie Holmes, Kanye West, and various Kardashians and Jenners have settled in the town's McMansions, giving it a glitzy, exclusive, New Money veneer (which, since Calabasas means "pumpkins" in Spanish, practically invites Cinderella quips).
  • Carson: Ethnically diverse South Bay suburb: home to large communities of Filipino, Pacific Islander and Hispanic immigrants, and a well-established middle class African-American community. It's one of the few incorporated cities in America where black people make more money than white people. Aside from that, it's best known for the Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly known as the StubHub Center and before that the Home Depot Center) where the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer play... and, infamously, where the Los Angeles Chargers first played after their controversial move to the city from San Diego while waiting for SoFi Stadium to finish construction.note 
  • Chino: Home to the infamous state prison that's a stop for most of the LA area's convicts. Was once a remote cowtown when the prison was founded in the '40s but is now a mostly sleepy bedroom community that happens to surround a massive prison. Not to be confused with Chico, which is in NorCal, or the adjacent city of...
  • Chino Hills: A relatively quiet city in the hills adjacent to Chino that is regularly featured high on lists of the "safest", "quietest", or "most family-oriented" cities in America. Now probably most famous as the home of the Ball Brothers of the NBA and their attention-loving patriarch.
  • Claremont: Tidy old-style suburb on the very eastern edge of LA County (literally; the city limit is the county's border). Originally a citrus farming community, it's now most famous as the home of the Claremont Colleges, an elite consortium of five undergraduate colleges (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, Scripps) and two graduate colleges (Claremont Graduate, Keck) with adjoining campuses and many shared resources, all among the most selective institutions in America, which has led to the nickname "The City of Trees and Ph.Ds." Location of the other Griffith Park (a small neighborhood park with a Little League baseball diamond). Hometown of Jessica Alba.
  • Compton: Often thought to be an internal suburb of Los Angeles, but actually an independent city and one of the oldest in the state (incorporated in 1888). Located just south of downtown L.A., this predominantly Black/Latino city has faced several decades of economic trouble but is also one of the state's cultural centers and is the birthplace of Gangsta Rap, which was made famous by N.W.A and their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton; a generation later, it's still producing acclaimed rappers at a remarkable rate, most prominently Kendrick Lamar. Many legends of West Coast rap rubbed shoulders at the Compton Fashion Center (open from 1983 to 2015), the famed "Compton swap meet" that was not just a place to buy clothes, but a crucial source of cutting edge rap albums not carried in the chain stores. Once notorious for its astronomical crime rates, things have stabilized in the last two decades thanks to the city's investments in infrastructure, economic development, and community relations, even starting an experimental guaranteed income program for selected low-income residents.
  • Corona: A major gateway city to Riverside County adjacent to Anaheim Hills. Known as the "Gateway to the Inland Empire" and nicknamed "The Circle City", Corona was once the "Lemon Capital of the World" before becomming a major suburb of Orange County due to more affordable housing and property. The increased traffic due to residents moving into Corona (as well as the adjacent Riverside) spurred the creation of the Express Lanes on Route 91 due to infamous "Corona Crawl" traffic congestion. There was a proposal in 2002 for Corona to form its own county along with some other cities but this never came to fruition. In The New '20s, the city started rebranding itself as a leisure destination in and of itself to expand upon its bedroom community image.
  • Culver City: Home to the former MGM studio lot (now owned by Sony) and the old RKO/Desilu lot (now the Hayden Tract), this diverse community proudly proclaims itself to be "the Heart of Screenland". After falling into disrepair in the '80s, it's been revitalized as the Westide's arts district. Home to a massive chunk of the Berlin Wall note , a bookstore dedicated entirely to romance novels called The Ripped Bodice, and the distinctive green Culver CityBus.
  • Eastvale: A bedroom community east of Chino that was incorporated in 2010 and is one of the gateway cities for Riverside County. Originally a dairy farm enclave that started to rapidly transform in the turn of the century; now, if there was a poster image contest for Suburbia, Eastvale would be a strong candidate, serving as a popular residence for commuters working in Orange or LA County pushed further inland. Notably, it also contains the historical landmark "Back to the Future: Lyon Estates (1955)", the filming site for 1955's Lyon Estates in the movie Back to the Future.
  • El Segundo: Suburban beachside community, famous as the headquarters for Mattel, Chevron, DirecTV, the North American branch of Square Enix, and, strangely enough, the Los Angeles Times. Also home to a lot of aerospace companies, as LAX is located just north of the city limits. Q-Tip left his wallet here once.
  • Fontana: Good-sized inland city just west of San Bernardino. Mostly notable for being the birthplace of the Hells Angels and the home of California Speedway,note  one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR and IndyCar, though there have been proposals to convert it from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile short track.
  • Glendale: A city in Los Angeles County between Burbank and Pasadena. Has a large Armenian population. Birthplace of Neopets.
  • Inglewood: A predominantly Latino/African-American city that is mostly enveloped by Los Angeles proper. Home to many of the landmarks commonly associated with Los Angeles, including the Randy's Donut donut. Due to being outside of L.A.'s jurisdiction while still being located close to LAX, also hosts the Forum (home to the Lakers in the 20th century) and SoFi Stadium (home to the Rams and Chargers and the most expensive sports venue ever built), and starting in 2024, the Intuit Dome (new home of the NBA's Clippers).
  • Malibu: Basically the epitome of SoCal itself, squeezed between the Pacific and the Santa Monica Mountains. Perpetual sunshine, golden beaches, breathtaking views, glamour, superstars young and old, a legendary surfing culture—if it's a California cliche, Malibu has it. Featured in thousands of movies and TV shows and immortalized by Barbie herself. Still, it's not a movie set, but an actual functioning town, with businesses, schools, and a respected private university (Pepperdine, which is actually located just to the north of the city limits). It's also had its share of darker times, with wildfires and mudslides being a constant hazard and Charles Manson once operating out of Topanga Canyon above town.
  • Moreno Valley: East of Riverside and incorporated in 1984, simply called MoVal by the locals. The city once contained the Riverside International Raceway, which closed in 1989 and was replaced by Moreno Valley Mall. The economic state of the city deteriorated in the '90s, but thanks to the increasing cost of property in Los Angeles and Orange County in the early 2000s, MoVal's desirability was bolstered, and the city experienced a new housing development boom in The New '20s. Though not part of MoVal itself, March Air Reserve Base has been a major player in employment for the region.
  • Ontario: A key city in the Inland Empire, home to one of the region's largest shopping malls — Ontario Mills — and, more critically, its international airport, which is a useful alternative to the crowded and centrally located LAX for suburbanites and those shipping cargo inland.
  • Oxnard: The largest city in Ventura County and a key agricultural center. Cesar Chavez got his start in organizing here.
  • Pasadena: Best known for the Rose Bowl and accompanying parade, an insular city which is NOT A SUBURB of L.A.; before the highway connected the two into a single metroplex, it was traditionally the home of Southern California's "old money" population early in the 20th century and boasts a beautiful downtown that reflects that history. Like Citrus Heights, it has a street called Madison Avenue. Also home to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), one of the most highly-regarded and selective research universities in the world. It's also a major financial center. Locally, Pasadenans are stereotyped as slightly wacky, Midwestern-accented snobs pretending they don't live in California. Jackie Robinson grew up here (though born in Georgia). Evidence points to it as the birthplace of the cheeseburger (at a small hamburger stand in 1924).
  • Perris: Pronounced exactly like Paris. Located just southeast of Riverside, Perris boasts the Southern California Railway Museum, catering to train aficionados with a wide variety of historic trains. There is even a rideable replica of Thomas the Tank Engine among other working trains. Also a popular destination for recreation (Perris Reservoir State Park), skydiving, and hot-air ballooning.
  • Pomona: Site of the Fairplex that hosts the Los Angeles County Fair. It also contains one of California's three public polytechnic universities, Cal Poly Pomona.
  • Rancho Cucamonga: An Inland Empire city known for its Inherently Funny Name (locals usually just call it "Rancho"). Setting of Workaholics.
  • Redlands: Located Southeast of San Bernardino, this city is known for well preserved buildings that date back to the 1800s. The Victorian, French château-style Kimberly Crest House and Gardens is a notable registered landmark. The Redlands Bowl was built in the 1920s and is used for musical and theatrical performances offered at no charge.
  • Riverside: The largest city in the Inland Empire, named for its location beside the Santa Ana River. Home to two NCAA Division I schools, the University of California, Riverside, and California Baptist University, and its many oranges, from the historic Victoria Avenue lined with orange groves to the Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree, one of the two original navel orange trees in California. Also famous for the grandiose Mission Inn Hotel; as the name implies, it's based upon a Spanish mission. While it was once overlooked as a run-of-the-mill bedroom suburb for LA (about an hour drive away) that served as a cheaper alternative to Orange County, it has slowly expanded, largely maintaining its humble roots but gaining more of its own cultural identity.
  • San Bernardino: The second-largest city in the Inland Empire. Home to the Santa Fe Rail Road Museum and the Route 66-McDonald's Museum, aka the site of the original McDonald's restaurant. Called "San Berdoo" for short, and often derisively called "San Bernaghetto", particularly after it entered bankruptcy in 2012, where it languished for over five years and still is struggling to fully recover. On the plus side, it's a surprisingly good destination for Egyptian art.
  • San Dimas: A solidly middle-class San Gabriel Valley suburb best known as the primary setting for the Bill & Ted franchise.
  • San Marino: A high-end neighborhood city that boasts the Huntington Library, which features beautiful art museums and botanical gardens frequently used as filming locations.note 
  • Santa Clarita: One of California's newer cities, formed in 1987 when the unincorporated communities of Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus, and Valencia decided to band together and incorporate. While those four are now technically neighborhoods of the city of Santa Clarita, they've retained strong community identities. People will generally say they're from Valencia or the rest, and just use "Santa Clarita" as a broad name for the region. Home of California Institute of the Arts (abbreviated "CalArts"), the esteemed art institute where almost every big name in Pixar and other major Western animators were trained. Also home to Six Flags Magic Mountain (technically located in unincorporated land outside Valencia).
  • Santa Monica: A mix of Santa Cruz and Berkeley IN SOCAL! but minus the California University (unless you count the community college). Well known for its pier, which boasts a small amusement park. This is where The O.C. was actually filmed, even though it's 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 expats and their descendants, which gives it a vibrant local pub and football culture. Stereotypically depicted as the capital of limousine liberalism or for being an American Gibraltar.
  • Torrance: Another suburban South Bay community, but with a few cool bits of history of its own. It was the birthplace of the American Youth Soccer Organization, was the childhood home of Quentin Tarantino, and has one of the largest communities of Japanese and Korean expats in the US. Honda's America branch is headquartered here.
  • Temecula: An affluent city in Riverside County, known for its vineyards, golfing, and hot-air ballooning among its many attractions. As a result, it's a popular tourist destination for visitors from adjacent counties and nearby cities. Riverside Transit Agency has a bus with a trolley-like design and livery, called the Temecula Trolley, which has a loop in the city, off and on. It is sometimes described as SoCal's Napa Valley due to all of these attractions. Birthplace of Olivia Rodrigo.
  • Upland: An Inland Empire city incorporated in 1906; for its first few decades, it was a major center for citrus production. It became a suburb after World War II, especially when the San Bernardino Freeway (now part of I-10) was completed to LA in 1954. Today, it's probably best known in American culture as the home of Dr. Pimple Popper, the surprisingly popular YouTube channel of dermatologist Sandra Lee that spawned a TLC series of the same title.
  • Ventura: Namesake and county seat of Ventura County. Its formal name is San Buenaventura but no one calls it that. A center for oil production and also known for its extensive beaches that are popular with surfers. Johnny Cash lived in nearby Casitas Springs for a few years in The '60s.
  • West Hollywood: Incorporated in 1985 east of Beverly Hills, with the two collectively surrounded entirely by Los Angeles. Unlike BH, it's policed by the LA County Sheriffs and sends kids to the LA Unified School District. Home to the Sunset Strip, which developed a lasting hard-partying reputation during Prohibition when what was then a piece of unincorporated Los Angeles County wasn't as heavily policed for such things as the city. The city today is so well known for its gay population (which staked a claim during said period of minimal policing) that locals are likely to think that it's merely Los Angeles' most prominent Gayborhood rather than its own independent city. It also has a large community of Russians and Ukrainians... including Russian mobsters.

    Orange County (SoCal, notable suburb/extension of Greater L.A.) 
  • Anaheim: The tenth most populous city in California (over 300,000 people) and the oldest and largest in Orange County. Founded by German immigrants in the 1850s. Infamously the center of a SoCal branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (they briefly took over the local government in 1924, but were quickly ousted and pushed back underground). The home of the Disneyland Resort, Disney essentially owns half of the city, a point of contention for many of the residents; conversely, the swarm of development around the park to capitalize on tourism has limited the park's expansion and is a major reason why its sequel, Walt Disney World in Florida, was built in the middle of a swamp. Also home to two major sports franchises: the Angelsnote  and the Ducksnote . The eastern half, called Anaheim Hills, is filled with some of the wealthier neighborhoods in the state. No Doubt are from here...there's a reason they named the album Tragic Kingdom
  • Buena Park: A small town home to Knott's Berry Farm, which started out in the early twentieth century as an actual berry farm that slowly morphed into a major theme park. Despite being only a 10-minute drive from Disneyland, it remains very popular regionally due to a) boasting several rides that emphasize thrills over Disney's more family-oriented fare and b) featuring a model Old West Town and a very authentic recreation of Philadelphia's Independence Hall (where the United States Declaration of Independence was signed), which makes it a popular field trip destination for SoCal schoolchildren.
  • Costa Mesa: A coastal city that boasts South Coast Plaza, a sprawling high-end mall that rivals the luxury shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Right across the highway from the mall is a massive and gaudy mansion that served as the headquarters of TBN for several decades. Orange Coast College is also located here, right across the street from the OC Fairgrounds, which hosts the Orange County Fair. The Los Angeles Chargers have their headquarters here.
  • Fountain Valley: A textbook example of a commuter town, meaning it is mostly a residential area with a select few shopping centers. Very laid back and quiet. Boasts Mile Square Regional Park which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin though each corner of the park is one mile; the park contains sports activities, notably an 18-hole golf course and even archery. The Square was formerly a Navy landing zone. Very popular place for barbecues on holidays and weekends and the parking is free along the streets.
  • Garden Grove: A city known for its large Vietnamese population and the massive (and gaudy) Crystal Cathedral made famous by its long-running The Hour of Power televised services.
  • Huntington Beach: Nicknamed "Surf City" and home of the world surfing championships. Sports the most inhabitants and longest coastline of any California beach city. It has a mild climate and excellent conditions for surfing, though the bars can get violent. Historically, oil drilling was a staple of its economy and oil rigs once overlooked the city's shores. Home to Golden West College, of Coast Community College District. Its Sunset Beach district contains Huntington Harbor and some of the most extravagant homes in the region. In recent years, as the rest of the OC has become slightly more liberal, it's become known as an especially conservative enclave.
  • Irvine: A city essentially owned and run by a corporation, the Irvine Company, which has swallowed up large swaths of land in surrounding communities as well. Home to UC Irvine, initially one of the system's smaller schools that has been steadily rising in size and prominence in recent decades. Often in the running for safest city in America, it's extremely clean, very quiet (some would say boring), and upper-middle class. If you work in an Orange County office, you probably work here. A number of technological and semi-conductor companies are based out of Irvine and game developer Blizzard Entertainment calls the city its headquarters.
  • Laguna Beach: A small town known for being the setting of the reality show of the same name. Although Laguna Beach shares the wealthy reputation of its neighbors, it is culturally very different and is considered a liberal enclave within the otherwise conservative suburban county, even sporting a sizable gayborhood. Home to many artists, musicians, New-Age Retro Hippies, and other assorted hipsters.
  • Newport Beach: Located directly southeast of Huntington Beach, another seaside city and one of the most affluent communities in an already wealthy area. Famed for being the setting of The O.C. and Arrested Development. One of the best places to find exotic sports cars actually driving on public streets. Also home to Fashion Island, a high-end outdoor mall on par with Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza (and an ideal place to find the aforementioned exotic cars parked for an outing).
  • Orange: Contains the private Chapman University and Orange Plaza, a well-known destination among antique collectors whose old town look has helped it be a desirable filming location: That Thing You Do!, Accepted, Big Momma's House, and Ghost Whisperer were filmed there.
  • Santa Ana: The county seat, second-largest city in Orange County (just behind neighboring Anaheim), and America's largest predominantly Spanish-speaking city. The city features parts of the affluent South Coast Metro area, a very trendy downtown of hip gastropubs, and one of the largest working-class populations in the largely middle-class Orange County. John Wayne Airport has a Santa Ana mailing address, though none of the airport lies within the city limits.note 
  • Westminster: A city that features the largest population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam, almost all of them refugees or descendants of refugees from the Vietnam War.
  • Yorba Linda: Once a tiny citrus farming town in the northern part of the county, it's sprawled into a big suburb in the last few decades. Despite what you might think, "Yorba" isn't actually a Spanish word, it's the name of an early settler family ("Linda", of course, is Spanish for "pretty"). For better or worse, the town's big claim to fame is as the birthplace and childhood home of Richard Nixon. The Nixon Presidential Library is located there as well.

    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, the Mad Greek's Diner and no fewer than seven gas stations. This is because it's at the crossroads between I-15 and CA-127 (through Death Valley) and many stretches where you do not want to run out of gas.
  • Barstow: A city in the Mojave Desert founded as a railroad town (adopting the middle name of railroad president William B. Strong). At the junction of Interstates 40 and 15, it's typically viewed as the dividing line between civilization and the desert. It has a surprisingly diverse population for an isolated town, with large African-American and Hispanic communities, often traced to families leaving South Los Angeles after the 1992 riots. Also home to Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow and the closest city to Fort Irwin Military Reservation. The nearby town of Yermo was the birthplace of regional favorite fast food chain Del Taco, and many SoCal residents travelling to Las Vegas tend to stop at the original Del Taco outlets because they taste better and still serve menu items that have been discontinued elsewhere
  • Carlsbad: A coastal resort city near San Diego with a high standard of living. Home to LegoLand California.
  • Chula Vista: A largely suburban city lodged right between San Diego and Tijuana and the second-largest city in San Diego County (close to 300,000 people). At only 7 miles from the Mexican border, boasts one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country. Also boasts a number of aquatic-themed tourist destinations.
  • 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).
  • Escondido: The name is Spanish for "hidden". A city in San Diego County mainly boasting the San Diego Safari Park, sibling to the San Diego Zoo. It is also home to the San Diego Archeological center which specializes in the preservation of artifacts found in the San Diego region.
  • Indio: The oldest and central city of the Coachella Valley, located southeast of Palm Springs, Indio has a global reputation for being a top producer of the date fruit. It roughly straddles a boundary between the agricultural, poorer south side towards the Salton Sea, and the more populated, wealthier northern side towards Palm Springs. The well-known annual Coachella Festival is held here.
  • Lancaster: One of the two anchor cities of the Antelope Valley, aside from Palmdale. Historically a bedroom community for Greater LA, filled with military personnel due to nearby Edwards Air Force Base, and was the boyhood home of Frank Zappa after moving to California from Baltimore. As the air force base downsized, many former personnel sold their houses to middle-class Black and Latino families, mostly from South Central, fleeing poverty and gang crime...only for the downwardly mobile white residents to start Nazi skinhead gangs targeting black people, leading to a New Yorker investigative piece tackling juvenile crime in the area. Today, it's an ethnically diverse bedroom community for Greater LA. Notable for being the first American city to mandate that all houses have solar panels.
  • Ludlow: An outpost on I-40 about halfway between Barstow and Needles containing two gas stations, a diner, a motel, an airstrip and a fast-food place, along with a ghost town slightly south along the Union Pacific rail line for which it was originally a watering stop.
  • 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. One of the least seismically prone cities in California. Snoopy's brother Spike is from here. The 100 miles of I-40 between Needles and Barstow have few gas stations except the aforementioned ones at Ludlow, one of the longest such stretches in the continental US. Incidentally, its high school is so far from other California schools that it belongs to Nevada's high school athletic association.
  • 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).
  • Palmdale: The other major city in the Antelope Valley. The self-proclaimed "aerospace capital of the United States", it was where the original NASA space shuttles were built. Now, it's home to the factory that makes the trains for Los Angeles Metro Rail. Also, Afroman is from here. You know, the "Because I Got High" guy?
  • Palm Desert: Not to be confused with the below mentioned Palm Springs. Aside from the usual resort amenities associated with the Coachella Valley, it's also notable as a major hub for hard rock and metal music, stoner rock in particular. Music magazine Blender said that it was one of the best places in America to start a rock band, ranking it above Portland. The Palm Desert Scene's most famous son is Josh Homme, of Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and Eagles of Death Metal fame. He once extolled the virtues of playing in the middle of the desert, because "There's no clubs here, so you can only play for free. If people don't like you, they'll tell you. You cannot suck"
  • Palm Springs: A desert resort city in the Coachella Valley. Once a popular destination for jet-setting Hollywood types, the city is still a popular winter vacation spot and retirement community, especially for snowbirds coming from colder climates (the population triples between November and March). In the summer, blazing temperatures drive all but the most foolish golfers out of town. The legacy of mid-century glamour lives on in the city's mid-century modern architecture. Locally famous for having a very large gay population. The Chevron Championship, one of the five major championships of the LPGA Tour in women's golf, was held next door in Rancho Mirage before moving to the Houston area after the 2022 edition. The tournament was the focal point for one of the country's largest annual gatherings of lesbians, which continues even with the tournament no longer in town.
  • Santa Barbara: County seat of Santa Barbara County, though not its largest city (that's Santa Maria). One of the state's oldest cities. Sometimes referred to as the "American Riviera" for its sunny beaches, quiet elegance, and great wealth (many celebrities own properties in the area). 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.
  • Solvang: The largest town in the Santa Ynez Valley northwest of Santa Barbara, but still smallish (around 6,000 people). Founded by Danish immigrants, the town decided to really lean into a Danish theme after World War II. Almost all the downtown is built with traditional Scandinavian architecture, anchored by a vintage-style windmill. Americans find it charming, but Danes who've visited consider it The Theme Park Version of their country, particularly because of the very un-Danish climate (hint: the name Solvang means "sunny meadow" in Danish).
  • Victorville: A city located on the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert that was incorporated in 1962. The last stop travelers heading west on the old Route 66 encounter, with only a few miles of desert and the Cajon Pass to the southwest separating it from the northern suburbs of San Bernardino and solid urban/suburban sprawl all the way to the ocean. Home to the Victorville Film Archive
  • Vista: A city in northern San Diego County, adjacent to Oceanside, Carlsbad, and San Marcos. It is known for shopping attractions, microbreweries, and restaurants and is also home to Broadway Theater, billed as "San Diego County's biggest little theater".

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • 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)
    • California, land of fruits and nuts
    • Hollyweird
    • La-la Land (LA)
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: The trope was in part started by the 1947 Hollister, CA riot and the murder at The Rolling Stones' set during the Altamont Free Concert, a 1969 festival at Altamont Speedway near Tracy, 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 Guerrilla Family, etc.), got started here. Even Californian convicts are the most inventive in the country.
  • Amusement Park: Numerous, but Disneyland is probably the most famous. Knott's Berry Farm or Six Flags Magic Mountain is likely second, though the latter suffers from money issues. It was built to attract business and residents to the desert and drive up property values. It has succeeded so well that now the property is too valuable to use as a theme park.
  • 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. It's now a park and tourist attraction.
  • 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.
  • Boom Town:
    • The towns that sprung up around gold mines were the Trope Namers and Codifiers; unfortunately, they soon became Ghost Towns once the gold supply ran out.
    • The biggest modern example would be Anaheim: once a humble agricultural district, it became a major metropolitan area and tourist attraction once Disneyland first opened to the public, with several other attractions such as Knott's Berry Farm and Medieval Times following suit.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: With the Bay Area as a location of great wealth but also a region deeply steeped in the legacy of The '60s, it's commonly stereotyped this way, with upper-middle-class families getting out of hot tubs to drive their electric cars out to buy locally-sourced arugula. The richer parts of San Francisco, plus Berkeley and Marin County, are viewed as the epicenter of the phenomenon.
  • Buses Are for Freaks: Still a common attitude in certain parts of the state, particularly in the sprawling suburbs of SoCal and the Central Valley, where car ownership is expected to get around.
  • California Collapse: Of course.
  • 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) public 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 one special bonus campus, UC San Francisco, which is a medical school and not an undergraduate institution. There's also a San Francisco law school, now known for short as UC Law SF (known before 2023 as UC Hastings), which for complicated historic reasons is both part of and not part of UC. The education quality at 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 best of the UC System (Berkeley, LA, and San Diego), can rival the Ivy League.
  • City of Adventure: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and various other places; whether it be their scenery, theme parks, tourist traps, proximity to national parks, or hidden gems unknown even to many of the locals.
  • Fan Convention: Like almost any state. Three of its most well-known ones are San Diego Comic-Con, the largest comic-themed convention in the state, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, which is known for its major industry presences and is the largest anime convention in the United States, and FanimeCon in San Jose, a "by fans for fans" convention with more emphasis on fan content than industry. Los Angeles was also the long-time host of E3, the world's largest video game expo.
  • 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.
  • Gangbangers: 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, identifiable 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.
  • Happy Rain: Rain is so novel to Southern Californians (even in the relatively "wet" winter) that people treat it like the fair has come to town. If there's a torrential downpour, expect people to wonder if they're dreaming.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: The stereotype that usually comes to mind when thinking about UC Santa Barbara students. The fact that one of the most populous streets is filled with bars and nightclubs for a few miles and the area in general is considered one of the craziest at night does not help matters.
  • Heat Wave:
    • Prevalent in the inland areas, where summer temperatures above 105 °F aren't unheard of, though even the coastal cities can blaze on occasion. Specifically, Needles in southeast California (in the Mojave) frequently sets national or even world temperature records.
    • Southern parts of California get occasional heatwaves in the form of hot desert winds coming from the east known as Santa Ana winds. While inconvenient when they do come, these are also a major factor in making wildfires spread.
  • Hollywood California: Of course.
  • 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.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Death Valley doesn't beat around the bush. It's extremely hot, but not quite as bad as it sounds.
  • Inner City School: Examples aplenty in most of California's major cities.
  • It's Always Spring: This trope has its origins in Southern California weather, which is sunny for most of the year. 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". It's also common for coastal cities to have overcast skies most mornings. This is called the marine layer, which burns off by mid-day. Northern California is much wetter and rainier, and the mountains are more likely to get snow.
  • Misplaced Wildlife:
    • 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. There's very little other wildlife on Catalina. Besides that herd of bison, most of what lives there are birds, small rodents, and kit foxes, 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, Orange County and other areas of Southern California are infested with "wild" green parrots. Similar flocks live in San Francisco.
    • The areas surrounding the Pasadena/Arcadia border have a large peacock population due to a number of them escaping from the nearby Los Angeles County Arboretum. 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.
    • For decades, the has been a colony of feral chickens living under the Hollywood Freeway. Repeated attempts to flush them out have failed.
    • 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.
    • The pastures near Hearst Castle have zebras and other exotic animals. Their ancestors were imported in the early 1900s.
    • There is a thriving Capybara living near Paso Robles.
  • Ominous Fog: Tule fog of the Central Valley is one of the unique hazards during winter and could be the Trope Codifier. The Other Wiki claims this is responsible for most weather-related vehicular accidents. Visibility can and will drop below 20 feet.
  • Police Brutality:
    • The LAPD has a bad reputation for this. You may have heard "Can't we all just get along?".
    • Oakland PD also has a similar reputation.
  • Polluted Wasteland: Air quality has been a difficult issue for the state, especially in areas with heavy traffic congestion (Los Angeles) or industry (the Central Valley).
  • 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. Marin County officials eventually held a referendum in which residents emphatically voted not to allow any such signs; the county has respected those wishes.
    • It's actually a fairly humble logging town, but for obvious reasons, Weed has gotten this reputation and become an unlikely tourist attraction, with visitors frequently stealing road signs and taking them home.
  • The Rival:
    • California is often considered to the rival to Texas. They are the two most populous states in the Union and the two physically largest of the contiguous 48, and both are rich in resources with fairly self-sufficient economies, but have been polar opposites politically for decades, with California being 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, and many major businesses (and Californians) took him up on this offer. Ironically, this has led to many of Texas's big cities tilting liberal, the same way California's do, though the rivalry is more likely to change in character than fade completely if Texas one day flips blue.
    • The rivalry between California and the cities of the East Coast (such as New York and Boston) also comes up frequently, although this is mainly cultural and less political. The Northeast generally considers Californians to be shallow and without culture, while Cali in turn views East Coasters as overly arrogant Upper Class Twits. This was taken up to eleven in the East Coast-West Coast Hip-Hop rivalry of the 1990s.
  • 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.
  • 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 by number of branches). San Jose has empty condo buildings across the street from churches full of homeless.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Southern Californians like to precede highway numbers with a "The" (e.g. "The 110", "The 405").
  • Strawman Political: 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, and California has elected a fair number of Republican governors.
  • Subways of the United States: Northern California has Bay Area Rapid Transit and the San Francisco Municipal Railway (aka MUNI). Southern California has the Los Angeles Metro Rail. (Jokes are inevitably made about a Fresno Area Rapid Transit.)
  • Surfer Dude: Everyone assumes that all Californians surf, and certainly many do. This is far more likely in Southern California than Northern California, and even so is somewhat limited to those who are lucky enough to live close enough to the ocean, and just as many just enjoy beating the heat by swimming in the freezing ocean water.
  • Theme Naming:
    • Cities beginning with Santa or San (Spanish for "saint") pervade the state enough to confuse foreigners. The reason for this is that the Spanish were the first Europeans to colonize the area.
    • Some streets in newly formed subdivisions are still named in the Spanish style, with "Via" or "Calle" or "Camino" in front of the name, rather than "Street" or "Avenue" or "Highway" at the end.
    • Street designations at the end are frequently dropped. Someone who works on "Broadway" downtown may not know if their business is located on Broadway Street or Broadway Avenue or Broadway Boulevard, and may even be able to send and receive mail without that designation. Dropping the end can mean that sometimes words like "Canyon" are used as a street name, such as "Coldwater Canyon Drive" being shortened to "Coldwater Canyon" and then eventually abbreviated as "Coldwater Cyn" on street signs. On the other hand, there are "47th Street" and "47th Place" and they may not be anywhere near one another, or they may intersect at some point.
  • Valley Girl: The San Fernando Valley is the Trope Namer. Another life form indigenous to Southern California.
  • Vanity License Plate: A result of California's ubiquitous car culture, and a great source of revenue for a state where some cities have more registered vehicles than drivers.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Using the word "like" as a verbal filler is a major part of the Valley Girl stereotype.
    • Many people in Northern California use "hella", as an intensifier, like, hella often. It's become used as a adjective, as in "Those are hella people!" The kid-friendly version is "hecka".
    • Southern Californians refer to freeways with a direct article (e.g. "the 405"). This was parodied by 30 Rock, in a Flashback Cut which shows Liz asking for directions while in the middle of the Rodney King riots. See here.
    • "Dude" is a ubiquitous word throughout California. It's meaning at a given moment is entirely dependent on context and inflection.
    • "Y'know" is also a frequent filler phrase people will use from California.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: It's California after all.
  • Zeerust: The "Googie" or "Raygun Gothic" style of architecture of the The '50s 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.
The California state flag.