California  is a state on the west coast of the USA. It is also the third largest state by area and the largest state by population in the USA. The state offers something for everyone: Southern California is home to such popular attractions as Disneyland, Hollywood and the beaches that inspired the television show Baywatch, while the northern part of the state offers the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the hills of San Francisco, and the vineyards of Napa Valley. Further away from the state's major cities California is home to some of America's most rugged national parks, incredible skiing opportunities, and quiet northern forests.
California varies greatly, ranging from the forested northern coastal regions to the rugged interior mountains to the harsh southern desert. Sandwiched in the center of the state is the fertile Central Valley, home to a massive amount of agriculture.
These are some of the major cities of California.
- Los Angeles - The state's largest city, and second-largest in the nation. Home to Hollywood, Venice Beach, The Getty Center, and Griffith Park.
- Sacramento - The laid-back state capital with historic area of the city, Old Sacramento.
- Bakersfield- The world's largest Basque population outside of Spain is found here and fine Basque restaurants abound.
- Fresno- Gateway to Yosemite.
- Palm Springs- Desert recreation with golf, spas, resorts, casinos, and the famous aerial tramway.
- San Diego- Balboa Park, Old Town, SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, and nearby Tijuana, Mexico.
- San Francisco- Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Chinatown, cable cars, Victorian houses, gay & lesbian mecca.
- San Jose- South of San Francisco. Home of the Winchester Mystery House.
- Santa Cruz - A central coast city. The home of the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Mission Santa Cruz, and the Mystery Spot.
- Lake Tahoe — A large, gorgeous lake great for water sports and excellent skiing in the winter.
- Napa Valley — Spas, wine tasting, wine tours.
- Big Sur — one of the most scenic spots along the Pacific Coast Highway
- California National Historic Trail - road to California carried over 250,000 gold-seekers & farmers to the gold fields & rich farmlands of California during the 1840's and 1850's
- Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail - first overland route established to connect New Spain with San Francisco
- Old Spanish National Historic Trail - journey across the Southwest between Santa Fe and Los Angeles for history, culture, and scenic beauty
- Pony Express National Historic Trail - used by young men on fast horses to carry the nation's mail from Missouri to California in the unprecedented time of only ten days
- Channel Islands National Park - five remarkable islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) and their ocean environment
- Death Valley National Park - A place of legend and a place of trial
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park - witness a brief moment in the ancient battle between the earth shaping forces of creation and destruction
- Redwood National Park - Stand at the base of a coast redwood and even the huckleberry bushes tower over you
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks - These twin parks hold monuments to nature's size, beauty, and diversity
- Yosemite National Park - one of the first wilderness parks in the United States
California State Parks
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park 
- Richardson Grove State Park 
- Calaveras Big Trees 
The state of California was home to thirty different tribal groups prior to the arrival of European explorers in the 1500s. The Spanish were the first European power to build a settlement in California, establishing twenty-one missions in the state by the late 1700s. Many of these missions survive today, with examples including the mission in Santa Barbara.
After the Mexican War for Independence in 1821 California became a part of Mexico, and remained a part of that country until it was annexed by the United States in 1847 following the Mexican-American War. In 1848 the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada mountains kicked off the California Gold Rush, and the state's non-native population surged from 15,000 to over 300,000 within two years, resulting in statehood for California in 1850.
During the 20th Century the state population increased steadily, and today California is the most populous state in the United States with over 33 millions residents.
With over 160,000 square miles (411,000 km2) the landscape of California is vast and varied. The state contains extremes in elevation, with Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet being the tallest mountain in the lower-48 states, while less than 200 miles away Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level, is North America's lowest point.
The state's border to the west is made up of a rugged coastline along the Pacific Ocean. The coastal mountains rise up from the ocean and are home to redwood trees in the state's northern half. The Central Valley bisects the state from north-to-south before giving way to the Sierra Nevada mountains, home of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and other natural wonders. The southeastern part of the state is dominated by desert, which covers 25% of California's total area. The Mojave is a high desert, with elevations ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. This area receives less than six inches of rain each year.
The state's climate varies from temperate at the coast to the brutal winters of the mountains, to one of the world's hottest regions in the desert. Rainfall is more common in the northern part of the state than in the south, and snow is rare except in the mountains.
The hottest temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, 134°F (56.6°C) was at Death Valley in 1913, and temperatures regularly exceed 120°F (49°C) during the summer. In contrast, winter temperatures in the mountains can drop below 0°F.
California is a very diverse state with many ethnic groups. California large immigrant populations of Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Armenians, Iranians, Jews, Chinese, Russians, Filipinos, Eastern Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Thai's, and Hmong's. California also has large populations of African Americans and Native Americans.
Californians have a wide variety of political views. The Central Valley and Orange County tend to be more conservative, while the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area (except for Orange County) and the San Francisco Bay area tend to be more liberal.
Remember, California is a very large populous state, with very different cultures in each region.
All major road and airport entrances (including entrances from other US States) to California have agricultural inspection stations to ensure that some fruits and vegetables do not cross into a region where they may come into contact with the farms in the Central Valley. Often, travellers are subject to border inspection (somewhat strict for domestic travel) and asked if they have been on a farm or are carrying organic matter with them. These measures are likely to be increasingly stringent as extreme biosecurity problems arise from travel-carried fruit and vegetables, imported plants and animals, or even from packing material that may carry bioinvader species.
California is the third largest state in terms of land size, and is larger than many countries. However, getting around California can be quite simple.
In addition to interstates and US highways, California has one of the most expansive state highway systems in the United States. As with all trips in the United States, a car is usually the best way to get around and see all destinations. However the trip from the top of California to the bottom can take well over ten hours. Note that the coast route (Hwy 1 and Hwy 101) is much slower and windier than Interstate 5, and GPS travel estimate times may be extremely inaccurate - especially on Hwy 1.
The network of freeways in major population centers are often confusing and intimidating to those unfamiliar with the area so having a good map is very helpful. Almost all exits from freeways are on the right. At interchanges between freeways, in most cases, the flow of traffic continues through the left lanes with the transition to the other freeway being in the right lanes.
Most highways have free access, although there are a handful of toll roads, mostly in Southern California. Many bridges have tolls as well, especially in the San Francisco Bay area.
In major metropolitan areas, the access ramps to a freeway may have two lanes, one marked with a diamond and the other with a traffic signal. The diamond lane (called the "carpool lane") is for vehicles with two or more persons and motorcycles. Vehicles with a single person must use the lane with the traffic light. During high-traffic times, the traffic light spaces out the vehicles attempting to merge onto the freeway. Be sure to read the sign below the light as some ramps allow two or three vehicles per green. A few interchanges between freeways are now using controlled access lights to lighten the gridlock at interchanges.
Some freeways have a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane located along the center divider. This lane, also called the carpool lane, is marked by signage on the wall separating the two sides of the freeway, and in Southern California by a double-yellow line. In most cases, this lane is for two or more persons per vehicle. Many carpool lanes are in effect during rush hour only, and a few selected areas, notably in the Bay Area, require three or more per vehicle so check the signage before entering a carpool lane. Motorcycles may also use carpool lanes. Carpool lanes in Southern California are usually in effect 24 hours a day, and have limited access points marked by a dashed white line. This is the only point at which a vehicle may legally enter or exit a carpool lane, since you are not allowed to cross a double yellow line.
California requires all persons in a motor vehicle to wear a seatbelt at all times (passengers can be individually ticketed for this offense). Motorcycle riders must wear a helmet. Cellphone users are required to use a hands-free headset if talking on the phone while driving, and texting by the driver is illegal. Unless otherwise signed, right-turns are permitted at red lights following a full stop. If it is raining hard enough to use your windshield wipers, California law requires that your headlights be turned on.
Flying may be a more reasonable option from crossing large expanses of the state. Many major (like American and United) and low fare airlines (like jetBlue and Southwest) link cities within the state of California.
The state's various rail services provide a cheap and reasonably comfortable way to see and get around much of the state. Amtrak  operates a few long-distance routes through and out of California (visit this Wikitravel article for more information), as well as the three Amtrak California  routes: the San Luis Obisbo-Los Angeles-San Diego Pacific Surfliner, the Oakland/Sacramento-Bakersfield San Joaquins, and the San Jose-Sacramento Capitol Corridor.
In addition, there are several commuter and regional services in the state's metro areas: Caltrain, Altamont Commuter Express and BART operate in the Bay Area, Metrolink runs throughout the Los Angeles region, and the COASTER runs along the coast of San Diego County. There are also light rail systems in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose.
English is the official language of California. However, in reality California is a multilingual state. Spanish is the de facto second language of California, and a knowledge of even rudimentary spanish is useful in most cities from Sacramento south - areas with some of the largest hispanic populations north of Mexico. The state is highly influenced by the Spanish language. In fact, California once belonged to Spain, and then to Mexico, and many of California's cities were named after saints or phrases in Spanish (such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose). Store and street signs are sometimes written in English and Spanish in major metropolitan areas, and "Spanglish" (a mixture of English and Spanish) is often used and heard throughout the state. Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi, Punjabi, and Cambodian are also widely spoken among Asian American populations.
Some of the most famous sights in California include:
- Los Angeles, home to the world-famous Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, the Graumann's Chinese Theater, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, and miles of wide, sandy beaches.
- San Francisco, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, a large Chinatown, Italian North Beach, cable cars, and numerous hills.
- The long coastline offers some great California scuba diving.
- See California's amazing wildflowers.California Wildflower Hotline, (818) 768-3533, . From March through May, the California Wildflower Hotline at (818) 768-3533 or visit www.theodorepayne.org offers the latest information on the best places to view wildflowers throughout Southern and Central California. The hotline and website are updated every Thursday evening. More than 90 wildflower sites are included. The hotline, operating more than 25 years, is run by the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, Inc.
- Northern California Blues Festival,  Fastest growing festival of its kind comes in June to Sacramento County around Father's day each year and usually features a spectacular line-up of Blues artists. Event benefits Through the Mind, a non-profit providing free alternative mental health to America's Veterans.
Almost anything you can imagine can be found somewhere in California. Immigration has had a strong influence on the state's culinary landscape, with the cuisines of Central America and Asia heavily represented, and those of nearly every other country available to a lesser-extent. More "American" fare includes everything from burger shacks to vegetarian, organic and even completely vegan restaurants; the Californian love for food has left it with one of the most diverse restaurant scenes in the States. The large cities have the most variety, while things get simpler and more meat-heavy as you get more rural.
California is known for its fine wines. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino are premier wine districts north of San Francisco, but there are others in the Central Coast region and even the San Diego region where suitable microclimates have been found. The inland Central Valley region has hotter summers and traditionally produced inexpensive bulk wines, but quality has been improving with winemaking innovations.
Californians tend to view wine as a natural accompaniment of food or socializing, overlooking its alcoholic content more easily than with distilled spirits. However police crackdowns on drinking and driving are increasingly severe with roadblocks and random checks. Conviction for driving with a blood alcohol level over .08 percent is likely to bring serious legal and financial consequences. Drivers with lower blood alcohol can still be convicted for DUI (driving under the influence) if they fail field sobriety tests such as walking a straight line. You must be 21 years of age to drink any alcoholic beverage.
- Phone 911 for medical, fire, or police emergencies.
- The usual inner city crime can be found in the worst parts of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. Central Valley cities, such as Sacramento, Stockton, and Fresno also have gang problems.
- Smoking is illegal in most indoor spaces, including shops, restaurants, bars, and all large workplaces. In some cities, such as Santa Monica, smoking is illegal within 20' of any doorway, and in certain outdoor public areas. Smoking may be illegal on some beaches.
- Earthquakes large enough to cause damage are rare. The biggest dangers in an earthquake are falling objects and windows which shatter explosively. In the event of an earthquake, face away from windows and hide under any sturdy table or desk that may be available. If you are indoors, do not run outside! Falling building facades are more likely to cause severe injuries than anything inside. If outdoors, stay away from buildings and stay out from under power lines.
- Wildfires are common between May and October in wild areas. Take a few precautions - throw out cigarette butts into trashcans, clear the area around campfire pits/rings in campgrounds, never leave flames unattended (even artifical ones), avoid weapon use in dry areas. The strongest impact from fires is smoke. Smoke affects areas dramatically exceeding the size of the root fire. Travellers with respiratory issues should consult visitor imformation sites before visiting areas where fires are occuring.
- Arizona - Home to the Grand Canyon, Arizona borders California to the southeast across the Colorado River.
- Nevada - California's eastern neighbor is best known as the home of Las Vegas, although towns such as Reno and Carson City are also good day-trip opportunities for visitors wanting to explore the Silver State.
- Oregon - Sharing a border to the north, Oregon is home to impressive mountains and extensive forests.
- Hawaii - Many visitors to America's fiftieth state depart through California on their journey across the Pacific.
- Baja California - Those traveling across the border to Mexico can visit some of that country's most impressive sea and landscapes.
This page was last edited at 16:50, on 12 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Colin Jensen, Ryan Holliday, Michelle Burton and Eric Polk, Wikitravel user(s) Vidimian and LtPowers, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.