California Geography and History

Welcome to the Golden State! In the place where everything is possible or at least seems to be. Where you generally find the most liberal Americans and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger made it to senator. Indeed, we’re talking about California, the state of the American Dream, Hollywood and many other world-famous stereotypes. And, despite all its clichés, an unmissable destination for the America enthusiasts among us.

According to deluxesurveillance, California is also unparalleled in terms of nature; the vast, lush forests, the sweltering and deserted deserts and beautiful mountain ranges in the east. The state’s ‘eye-catcher’ is undeniably the Pacific Coast; a beautiful coastline with the inhospitable coastal mountains on the one hand and the much-visited and much-discussed beaches on the other.


California is the third largest state in America, after Alaska and Texas. It is the most populous state with about 38 million inhabitants and the largest cities in California are Los Angeles, San José, San Diego and San Francisco. Nearly half of the residents were not born in the US, making California a multicultural melting pot.


According to electronicsmatter, California borders the Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south, Nevada and Arizona to the east, and Oregon to the north. Contrary to popular belief, the capital of California is not Los Angeles but Sacramento. This city is located a bit more to the north and smaller than metropolises such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, but certainly no less worth a visit.

California’s landscape is incredibly diverse, making it a challenge to explore. It is the land of contradictions where the highest point of the US is, but also the lowest. Death Valley is the lowest and hottest point in the country at about 85 meters below sea level.

Mount Whitney is located in the Sierra Nevada and is the highest point of this mountain range with a top of more than 4400 meters. This mountain is also the highest mountain of the 48 states that make up mainland America. Mountainous, volcanic states such as Alaska and Hawaii literally exceed this height!

Perfect for farming

Sandwiched on all sides between high mountains is the California Central Valley. The soil in this valley is very fertile, so much agriculture is done. It is perhaps one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. The mountains on the west side of the valley are part of the Coastal Range, a mountain range that runs along almost the entire west coast. On the east side is the Sierra Nevada, in the north the so-called Cascades mountains and in the south the Tehachapi mountains.

Several rivers run through the area, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which are deep enough inland for navigation. These two rivers are vital to the people and animals of California as well as to the crops that grow there. Two-thirds of the population needs clean drinking water from these rivers. Another important river is the Colorado, which forms the border with the state of Arizona and is often used to irrigate farmland in the south.

Sierra Nevada

The eastern part of California consists largely of desert, but another dominant factor in the landscape are mountains, namely those of the Sierra Nevada. These high and steep mountains are located on the border with the state of Nevada. Here you will come across some of the must-see Californian highlights such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.

Because the vast majority of the state is in the hands of the federal government, California has many National Parks and National Monuments to protect wildlife. In the Sierra Nevada you will find no fewer than three! How about the Yosemite Valley, world famous for its beautiful surroundings and the glaciers that can erupt at any moment.

Giants of the earth live in Sequoia National Park, such as the sequoia of the same name. This tree belongs to the cypress family, but this species is without a doubt one of the largest. Travel to the southern Sierra Nevada to see the sequoia trees firsthand. They are without a doubt the most impressive trees you have ever seen. Kings Canyon is the third National Park and is often mentioned in the same breath as its neighbor Sequoia National Park.


California has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and dry summers. Still, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecasts before you leave for the Golden State on vacation. Nothing here is as changeable as the weather. The north of the state receives significantly more annual rainfall than the south of the state.

The south is rather characterized by drought and heat. More inland, to the east, winters are colder and summers hotter than on the coast due to the proximity of the Sierra Nevada. Finally, on the coast, the sea influences the weather. Californians flock here in the summer to cool off.


Long before Europeans arrived in what is now California, as many as 70 different Indian tribes lived here. They differed from each other in culture and language. A number of tribes had settled on the coast and learned to hunt and fish for sea creatures. Other tribes living further inland adapted their hunting and feeding patterns to what could be found on land. Early on they traded among themselves in social and economic matters.

Spanish occupation

In the sixteenth century the first Europeans came ashore in California. It was Joao Rodrigues Cabrilho who undertook voyages of discovery for Spain. The Spaniards had not conquered Mexico much earlier and came to California in search of gold. Not much later, British and Russians also moved to the area and colonized a part of California.

To defend their land, and any gold, Spanish missionaries who had moved to the area built fortresses and called the area Alta California. San Diego was one of the first, late eighteenth century. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the peace in California was over. People flocked here from all corners of the world, resulting in tumultuous years.

In the mid-nineteenth century, more and more privateers arrived on the coast. Gold was eventually found in the north of the state and settlers started advancing from other parts of America. They crossed the mountains and reached California in the north. The rumor that gold could be found in California had meanwhile reached other continents and everyone wanted to take a piece of it.

Gold, gold and more gold

The ‘Californian Gold Rush’ accelerated the development of California. The population increased rapidly from just under 15,000 to nearly 90,000! The state was incorporated by America in 1850 as a free state. This basically means that slavery was banned in the state. Sacramento was designated the capital in 1854 and has remained unchanged ever since.

Omdat Californië niet gemakkelijk te bereiken was vanwege de bergketens die het afsnijden van de rest van de VS, werd in de 19de eeuw de eerste verbinding met het oosten gelegd. Een spoorweg die door de onherbergzame Donner pass in de Sierra Nevada kwam te lopen, genaamd de First Transcontinental Railroad. Voor de bouw van deze spoorweg werden Chinese arbeiders naar Californië gehaald die onder barre omstandigheden moesten werken. Na de aanleg van deze spoorweg in 1869 trokken vele Amerikanen richting the west coast om hun geluk daar te beproeven.

Twentieth century

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a rush from all corners of the world towards California. It was discovered that the area was very suitable for agriculture. They started by irrigating the dry soil and planting fruit and nut trees. Cotton also quickly became an agricultural product of the region. This was the beginning of the industrialized agricultural state that California is today.

From the 1930s, the American film industry began to grow and established its headquarters in Hollywood. At the end of the twentieth century, Silicon Valley became the cradle of high-tech developments in the field of computers and the Internet. These industrial developments gave the California economy a huge boost. If California were an autonomous country today it would be the sixth largest economy in the world!

California Geography