What is now California was first settled by various Native American tribes before being explored by a number of European expeditions during the 16th and 17th centuries. It was then claimed by the Spanish Empire as part of Alta California in the larger territory of New Spain. Alta California became a part of Mexico in 1821 following its successful war for independence, but was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican–American War. The western portion of Alta California was organized as the State of California, which was admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The California Gold Rush starting in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic change, with large-scale immigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom.
Californias diverse geography ranges from the the Sierra Nevada in the east to the Pacific Coast in the west, from the Redwood–Douglas fir forests of the northwest, to the Mojave Desert areas in the southeast. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, a major agricultural area. California contains both the highest point (Mount Whitney) and the lowest point (Death Valley), in the contiguous United States and it has the 3rd longest coastline of all states (after Alaska and Florida). Earthquakes are common because of the states location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.
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At least half of the fruit produced in the United States is now grown in California, and the state also leads in the production of vegetables. Other important contributors to the states economy include aerospace, education, manufacturing, and high-tech industry. If it were a country, California would be the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world and the 34th most populous.
California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas.
In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, bounded by the Sierra Nevada in the east, the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Cascade Range to the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The Central Valley is Californias agricultural heartland.
Divided in two by the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the northern portion, the Sacramento Valley serves as the watershed of the Sacramento River, while the southern portion, the San Joaquin Valley is the watershed for the San Joaquin River. Both areas derive their names from the rivers that flow through them. With dredging, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers have remained deep enough for several inland cities to be seaports.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a critical water supply hub for the state. Water is diverted from the delta and through an extensive network of pumps and canals that traverse nearly the length of the state, to the Central Valley and the State Water Projects and other needs. Water from the Delta provides drinking water for nearly 23 million people, almost two-thirds of the states population as well as water for farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The Sierra Nevada (Spanish for "snowy range") includes the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4,421 m). The range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth, and the deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume.
To the east of the Sierra Nevada are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential migratory bird habitat. In the western part of the state is Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake by area entirely in California. Though Lake Tahoe is larger, it is divided by the California/Nevada border. The Sierra Nevada falls to Arctic temperatures in winter and has several dozen small glaciers, including Palisade Glacier, the southernmost glacier in the United States.
About 45 percent of the states total surface area is covered by forests, and Californias diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Many of the trees in the California White Mountains are the oldest in the world; an individual Bristlecone pine is over 5,000 years old.
In the south is a large inland salt lake, the Salton Sea. The south-central desert is called the Mojave; to the northeast of the Mojave lies Death Valley, which contains the lowest and hottest place in North America, the Badwater Basin at ?282 feet (?86 m). The horizontal distance from the bottom of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney is less than 90 miles (140 km). Indeed, almost all of southeastern California is arid, hot desert, with routine extreme high temperatures during the summer. The southeastern border of California with Arizona is entirely formed by the Colorado River, from which the southern part of the state gets about half of its water.
Along the California coast are several major metropolitan areas, including the Greater Los Angeles Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the San Diego metropolitan area.
As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes. It has many earthquakes due to several faults running through the state, in particular the San Andreas Fault.
Settled by successive waves of arrivals during the last 10,000 years, California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America. Various estimates of the native population range from 100,000 to 300,000, which was about one-third of all native Americans in what is now the United States. The Indigenous peoples of California included more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans, ranging from large, settled populations living on the coast to groups in the interior. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.
The culture of California is a Western culture and most clearly has its modern roots in the culture of the United States, but also, historically, many Hispanic influences. As a border and coastal state, Californian culture has been greatly influenced by several large immigrant populations, especially those from Latin America and Asia.
California has long been a subject of interest in the public mind and has often been promoted by its boosters as a kind of paradise. In the early 20th century, fueled by the efforts of state and local boosters, many Americans saw the Golden State as an ideal resort destination, sunny and dry all year round with easy access to the ocean and mountains. In the 1960s, popular music groups such as The Beach Boys promoted the image of Californians as laid-back, tanned beach-goers.
The California Gold Rush of the 1850s is still seen as a symbol of Californias economic style, which tends to generate technology, social, entertainment, and economic fads and booms and related busts.
The economy of California is large enough to be comparable to that of the largest of countries. As of 2013, the gross state product (GSP) is about $2.203 trillion, the largest in the United States. California is responsible for 13.2 percent of the United States approximate $16.7 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). Californias GDP is larger than that of all but 7 countries in dollar terms (the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France, Brazil, and the United Kingdom), larger than Russia, Italy, India, Canada, Australia, and Spain. In Purchasing Power Parity, it is larger than all but 10 countries (the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil, France, the United Kingdom, and Indonesia), larger than Italy, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
California cuisine is a style of cuisine marked by an interest in fusion cuisine (integrating disparate cooking styles and ingredients) and in the use of freshly prepared local ingredients.
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The food is typically prepared with strong attention to presentation. Foods low in saturated fats and high in fresh vegetables and fruits with lean meats and seafood from the California coast often define the style. The term California cuisine arose as a result of culinary movements in the last decades and should not be confused with the traditional foods of California. French cuisine, Italian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Chinese cuisine, and Japanese cuisine have all influenced Californian fusion cuisine, though this is by no means a complete list of influencing cultures.
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Alice Waters, who opened Chez Panisse restaurant in 1971 in Berkeley, California, has contributed significantly to the concept of California Cuisine. Wolfgang Puck was also an early pioneer of California cuisine; starting with his work at Patrick Terrail’s Ma Maison, and further work with California-style pizza at Spago and Asian fusion at Chinois on Main. Daniel Patterson, a more modern proponent of the style, emphasizes vegetables and foraged foods while maintaining the traditional emphasis on local foods and presentation.