California has been an economic and cultural powerhouse for decades with immense diversity and population. Some unique demographic characteristics make up the iconic Golden State’s vibrancy and success. For example, it is far from homogeneous as the world’s 5th largest economy pulses with energy from many different communities.  Most know California for its Hollywood history and luxurious cities, but there is some less-common history and really cool places to visit in the state that go beyond LA and beaches. Learn more about this famous American state with these ten facts about California. 

It is no wonder California is such a well-known state as it has been inhabited for over 11,000 years. Shash Wighton for The Fact Site explained that the most commonly agreed-upon scientific theory suggests that the state was first populated by the Paleo-Indians who moved to California in search of better living and hunting conditions. This group of Indigenous Americans were separated by mountains from others, so they had their own unique languages and way of life. The Paleo-Indians thrived off the land now known as California until they were forced out.

With that bit of background, here are ten unreal facts about California.

1. One in Eight Americans Live in California

Crosswalk on Santa Monica boulevard

California is the most populous US state with over 39 million residents. To put it into perspective, California houses more people than the entire country of Canada! About 12% of all Americans call California home. Major global industries from technology to entertainment are powered by Californian innovation and activity. It’s no wonder dreams of making it big attract wide-eyed newcomers though costs of living run high.

2. California Was an Independent Country for One Month

Vast hills, meadows

This second of these facts about California is a bit of lesser-known history. For a fleeting moment in 1846, California existed as a fully independent nation before joining the United States. After breaking from Mexico, hardy American settlers who crossed the continent to the Pacific Coast felt little allegiance with faraway rulers. For just shy of a month, they formed the California Republic. The Republic’s flag featured a grizzly bear which became a symbol of Californian pride before annexation by the U.S. However, the symbol is still present on the state’s flag today, despite most of the grizzly bears in the state being hunted. 

3. Most Californians Belong to Ethnic Minorities

Woman and girl smiling

Minorities comprise the majority in California at about 62% as no single ethnic group predominates. Hispanic and Latino Americans make up 39% while 15% are Asian Americans of Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Indian descent among others. 10% are African Americans and 3% multiracial. Additionally, over 27% of Californians were born abroad as immigrants flock from Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. This high level of diversity fuels culture and commerce.

4. “Watermelon Snow” Covers the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Summer in California 

Sierra Nevada, California, USA

The upper reaches of the lofty Sierra Nevada sprout swathes of crimson snow come summer. This “watermelon snow” phenomenon occurs due to a cold-loving algae species that thrives in the warmer months, staining the snow bright red. Safranin paints scenic glaciers in hues ranging from pink to blood red. While strangely beautiful, the algae actually accelerate snowmelt and make snow dense and slippery for hikers. Tracking watermelon snow provides researchers insight into climate change impacts on ecosystems.

5. San Francisco, California Is Known as the “City of Dogs”

San Francisco earns its moniker “the city of dogs” by having the highest number of dogs per capita in the US, estimated between 125,000-150,000. The city offers ideal urban terrain for dogs with mild weather and compact 7 mile by 7 mile dimensions perfect for walking. Dogs ride public transport and storm beaches and parks alongside outdoorsy owners. Businesses like hotels, malls and offices cater to pampered pooches. The Dogfest festival celebrates furry friends while raising funds for rescue animals making it a true dog’s paradise.

6. You Can See Life-Size Dinosaur Statues at Cabazon Dinosaur Park in California

Mr. Rex at Cabazon Dinosaur Park

This next fact of these facts about California is just straight-up cool. Gazing up at Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus figures four stories tall against the desert landscape feels like a sci-fi film backdrop. But Cabazon Dinosaurs have been a roadside curiosity for Southern Californian motorists since the 1960s off Interstate 10. Beyond selfies, the larger-than-life, steel-and-concrete dinosaurs appeared in big budget films like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. It’s the prime pitstop to channel your inner paleontologist and Jurassic Park fantasies in vintage California kitsch.

7. California’s Sequoia National Park Is Home to the World’s Largest Trees

Sequoia National Forest, California, USA

Sequoia National Park has the planet’s oldest and largest trees by volume. Giant sequoias can grow over 300 feet tall and 100 feet in circumference! Their immense trunks can exceed 60,000 cubic feet, packing 2.7 million pounds. One colossus named General Sherman clocks in at over 50,000 cubic feet and is the largest tree in the world. These redwood elders have survived thousands of years on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range making them wonders of nature.

8. The State Motto of California is ‘Eureka’

Bakersfield, United States

Here is another of these facta about California that details a little about the state’s history. Bold explorers and gold miners flocked to California during the 19th century frontier, shouting the phrase “Eureka!” upon strikes. This Greek exclamation meaning “I found it!” encapsulated the victorious ethos of the state and came to signify California’s pioneering spirit. In 1963, “Eureka!” became the official state motto. It was displayed on medals, institutions and more as an ode to opportunists who built California’s possibility-rich legacy.

9. California Has Very Diverse Climates With the Highest and Lowest Points of Mainland US

Sunrise over Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierras

Given its vast latitude span, California contains staggering ecosystem diversity from arid deserts to icy alpine. Badwater Basin in Death Valley sinks 282 feet below sea level, earning it the title of lowest point in the continental U.S. Meanwhile, Mount Whitney pierces the sky at 14,494 feet as the highest peak outside Alaska. These polar opposite landmarks stretch across less than 90 miles, illustrating the radical landscapes found nowhere else.

10. California Has an Official Ghost Town 

Old car in California

The last of these facts about California is an eerie one. The iconic ghost towns of California’s Gold Rush still stand frozen in time after fortunes dried up. Cerro Gordo is one of the best preserved with original 19th century buildings amid dusty, empty streets. Located high in the remote Inyo Mountains are silver and lead mines that were operated from the 1860s until 1957 when depleted deposits ended mining. The abandoned town soon earned protected status for its 200 historic structures, yet lingering spirits remain undisturbed.