How well do you know the famous Golden State? This land of sun, surfing, and stars is known for its stunning beaches, national parks, and diverse culture. California is a state that captures the imagination of people around the world. However, it holds more secrets than meets the eye. Here are 10 fascinating facts about California that you might not know


1. California is named after a mythical island

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Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo wrote a novel in 1510 called  “Las Sergas de Esplandián” (“The Deeds of Esplandián”). In it, he described an island rich in gold and precious gems, ruled by Amazon-like warriors, called California. The story became so popular that when the Spaniards under Hernán Cortés landed on a peninsula (which they thought was an island in the Pacific Ocean), they named it California.

2. It has the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States

The snow-capped peak of Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. And it is only 85 miles from Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level).

3. California once declared itself an independent country

On June 14, 1846, American settlers in Sonoma rebelled against the Mexican authorities governing the territory and declared the creation of the independent California Republic. The rebels made an improvised flag with a single red star and a drawing of a grizzly bear.

However, the leaders of the rebellion, known as the “Bear Flag Revolt”, were unaware that the United States had already declared war on Mexico, and when American Commodore John D. Sloat captured Monterey and raised the American flag over the city, the rebels abandoned their idea of independence just a few weeks after it began and declared their loyalty to the United States.

4. The highest temperature on the planet was recorded here

The highest air temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley: on July 10, 1913, it reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius).

5. San Francisco “evicted” its dead to a separate city

At the beginning of the 20th century, San Francisco began to grow rapidly. Tens of thousands of people moved there, started families, aged, and died. The city was built without considering such growth, and new homes were constructed right next to fresh graves. When public health concerns increased, the city decided to ban burials. In 1912, San Francisco went even further and “evicted” its dead. Many were relocated to the nearby municipality of Colma, and fragments of old tombstones from San Francisco are still used in civil construction projects.

The exact number of burials in Colma is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 1.5 million, outnumbering the living residents by almost a thousand to one. Hence, Colma became known as the “City of Silence” or “City of the Dead,” with the humorous slogan “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”

6. It has a unique lake with moving stones

Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is known for its “sailing stones,” which mysteriously move across the dry lake bed, leaving long tracks. This geological phenomenon puzzled enthusiasts of supernatural theories for many years—until 2013, no one had ever seen or recorded the stones moving on camera.

In 2014, scientists finally solved the mystery and published a study detailing the mechanism of the stones’ movement. For the experiment, they placed several stones weighing 5–15 kg on the dry lake bed, equipped them with GPS devices, and surrounded them with cameras. In short, the stones move due to a combination of a thin layer of water that freezes overnight and wind, which pushes the resulting ice sheets. These ice sheets push the stones, leaving tracks on the wet clay.

7. Sacramento was not originally the state capital

Before Sacramento, California had five other capitals. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, it was in Monterey and briefly in Los Angeles. When California joined the Union in 1850, its initial capital was San Jose, but legislators were dissatisfied with their accommodations and, in 1852, decided to move 60 miles north to Vallejo. However, when they arrived in Vallejo, they found that their new home was still under construction. After a week of unsuccessfully trying to work amidst the construction noise, they moved inland to Sacramento to complete their legislative session. After brief returns to Vallejo and a stop in Benicia, the state capital finally settled in Sacramento in 1854.

8. California is the land of grapes

This state produces more wine than any other in the U.S. and is the fourth-largest wine producer in the world. About 620,000 acres of California land are planted with vineyards, encompassing more than 2,000 registered wineries that produce over 60,000 different wines. The state is globally known for its vibrant and rich wines made from very ripe grapes, produced in popular northern wine regions like Napa Valley and Sonoma County, as well as less-known areas like Mendocino and Temecula counties in the south.

9. … and also almonds and avocados

California supplies nearly 80% of the world’s almonds, and they are of the highest quality. Most of the almond orchards are located in and around the city of Modesto. Each year, from February to mid-March, this vast flat landscape is adorned with a spectacular display of pale pink and white blossoms.

California also provides 95% of the avocado crop in America and 10% of the world’s supply. Most of the avocados are grown in San Diego County, which is also called the “Avocado Capital of the World.” The city of Fallbrook began cultivating this crop in 1912 and became famous for it in the 1940s. For over 60 years, the Fallbrook Avocado Festival has been held every spring, offering a variety of dishes, an avocado-holding contest, and various handmade goods.

10. California is called the “Golden State” not just because of gold mining

Since the largest gold rush in American history occurred here, it’s no surprise that California is known as the Golden State. But it’s also due to the abundance of wild poppies—the state’s official flower, which covers its rugged landscape and blooms in golden-orange from February to May. Incidentally, the reference to California as the Golden State dates back to 1856 in a book by Eliza Farnham, promoting the state’s attractions.

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