California takes up most of the west coast of America. In the late 1900s it became the largest and richest of the 50 states in America. With one American in eight living there, it is like a small America in itself.
Its two great cities are Los Angeles in the south and San Francisco to the north. Hollywood, the seat of the American film industry, is near Los Angeles. Silicon Valley, the seat of the country’s computer industry, is near San Francisco.
California is much newer and younger than the grey north-east where New York and Washington are. It has given the country a second youth.
What California has given the world: Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, iPods, hippies, Google, personal computers and much else.
To other Americans some Californians seem a bit strange and not serious enough.
California has three main parts – it is like three states in one:
- Southern California – the Los Angeles area. Maybe the first place in the world built completely on the car.It has beautiful weather, like the south of France. Hollywood is in the hills to the north, so is JPL and Caltech. Compton is to west, behind the hills by the sea. To the south are Disneyland and San Diego. This is where Presidents Nixon and Reagan are from.
- The Bay Area – the San Francisco area. Has two of the country’s best schools – Stanford and Berkeley. Out of these, at the southern end of the bay, grew Silicon Valley, where you will find Google, Apple, Intel, Sun, HP, Xerox PARC, Yahoo! and others.
- The Central Valley – the middle of the state is like a vast garden that grows most of the country’s fruit and vegetables. This is wine country.
California was once part of Mexico. In fact part of it still is: Lower or Baja California. What Americans call California is, strictly speaking, Upper California.
In the 1700s Spanish missions up and down the coast brought the Christian faith to the Native Americans. Some of these missions became towns and then cities. That is why so many cities in California have religious Spanish names: San Francisco (St Francis), San Diego (St James), San Jose (St Joseph), Santa Monica (St Monica), Los Angeles (the Angels), Sacramento (Sacrament) and so on. The little Spanish church that started Los Angeles is still there in the middle of the city.
In the 1840s America fought a war against Mexico over Texas and wound up taking the north half of the country. That is when America got California. Soon after gold was discovered near San Francisco. That brought the first big wave of Americans.
The second wave came a hundred years later after the Second World War. The young American men who went off to fight Japan went through California and saw what it was like. After the war many of them came back to settle down.
Compared to most of the country California is heavily Mexican. In Southern California maybe two in five are Mexican. Mexico is just to the south and is so much poorer. For many Mexicans moving to California is a no-brainer.