42 Bizarre Facts About California

Mathew Burke

“The mornings along the coast where the fog and mist meet with the salty spray of the seas is one of my favourite smells. I love the smell in the evergreen forest just after it rains – The Redwood Forest in California has the coast, too, so you have the best of everything.” —Paul Walker

Larger than many of the world’s nations, California is an enormous part of the United States with an even larger history. It is is so expansive that the city of Reno in Nevada is actually further west than Los Angeles, and it’s so powerful that it is one of the world’s leading economies. Naturally, a state this legendary has some stories to tell. From the spooky to the rich, here are some of the most interesting, bizarre facts about the state of California.

California Facts

42. Cultural Production

When you think of modern America, many things come to mind. It may be of no surprise to find out that California is responsible for many of these things, including McDonald’s, Barbie dolls, Apple computers, the internet, the Frisbee, skateboards, and even arcade video games.

41. Watermelon Snow

At the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains there is snow tinted pink, known as Watermelon Snow. Chlamydomonas nivalis is a microscopic algae that changes the color of this snow to a light pink and makes it smell and even taste (to some brave souls) like watermelon (sadly, it doesn’t look quite as amazing as the photo below, but it’s still pretty cool!).

40. Wine Country

California is famous for many things. One of the newest ones is wine, but even Californians may be astounded to find out that they’re actually the world’s 4th largest producer of the intoxicating drink. Sitting behind only Italy, France, and Spain, they produce 17 million gallons yearly. Whether you’re a Sideways snob or just someone who likes your cheap box wine, California has got you covered.

39. Traveling West

Los Angeles was the perfect choice for the movie industry to develop because of its sunlight, but it wasn’t really chosen on purpose. At first, whenever aspiring filmmakers tried to make something of their own, they would run into a bit of a snag because Thomas Edison actually owned most of the film-making patents in the country. So, in order to escape the reach of Edison, filmmakers decided to venture out west because the courts of that area of California were legally against patent claims. It seems to have worked out pretty well for them.

38. There’s Something in the Water

85% percent of the water that the people of San Francisco drink and bathe in is pure snow-melt from Yosemite National Park. This is because the lucky San Franciscans get their tap water piped in directly from Yosemite, making it some of the best tasting water in the entire country.

37. Flood Damage

California suffered an incredibly devastating flood that lasted from Christmas Eve of 1961 all the way through to January 1862, which left the state in ruins and transformed Central Valley into a central sea. Close to a quarter of the entire land property was destroyed and the state was forced into bankruptcy due to the damages.

36. No Way Out

San Francisco Bay is the largest landlocked harbor in the world. That’s probably good to know for the future, so you don’t get too lost paddling around in there.

35. Corrupted Mayor

Fresno, California has labeled former mayor Joseph Spinney the “most corrupt” in Fresno history. Back in the late 19th century, Spinney was a building contractor who was known for promoting vices around the city and making shady dealings. This brought him considerable sway, and his used that influence to get himself appointed to the chairman of the board of the city, equal to being the mayor in 1893. However, he allegedly stepped down after only ten minutes, making him also the shortest serving mayor in the city and state.

34. Spreading the News

It took the United States some time to get on board with educating the population about AIDS, but not California. Berkeley was the first city in the country to begin a widespread education campaign, and they mailed out pamphlets to each individual household in the city in order to spread awareness.

33. Steam the Pain Away

You may think Iceland holds the title of the largest geothermal field in the world, but you’d be wrong. It is, that’s right, in California. Located in part in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, The Geysers is now home to a massive complex of geothermal power plants. However, before industry hit the area, the Natives used it for its healing properties for over 12,000 years, and even had steambaths built there.

32. Only President

The only US President to ever resign from office, Richard Nixon, is also the only California native to hold the country’s highest office. Another record Nixon holds is that of Time magazine covers, as he has appeared 55 times, spanning across four different decades.

31. Queen of the Artichokes

Castroville, California is the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World.” Taking themselves quite seriously, in 1948 they began naming honorary Artichoke Queens at the Artichoke Festival. Their first queen was none other than Miss Marilyn Monroe.

30. Get Into Nature

With nine national parks, California is home to the most national parks in the entire United States. If you thought California was all cities, stars, and wine, think again, as there is an incredible amount of beautiful scenery to explore.

29. High/Low

California is home to both the highest and the lowest point in the contiguous United States. Mt. Whitney, reaching the height of 14,494 feet, is located only 76 miles from Death Valley, the lowest point in the country.

28. Surviving Bank of San Francisco

During the Great Depression, most of the banks throughout the United States crashed, and many of the great cities were collapsing—but not San Francisco. Somehow, not a single bank in the city went under, and they all survived the great stock market crash of 1929.

27. The Black Dahlia

One of the most mysterious murders in the history of the United States happened in Los Angeles, California, when Elizabeth Short was found dead. At first, no one reported her corpse because they thought she was a mannequin; all that they found was her torso. It has now been over 70 years, but the killer of who we now know as The Black Dahlia has still yet to be discovered.

26. Zodiac Scare

Besides The Black Dahlia, the Zodiac Killer, another California native, has also yet to be found. Famous for terrorizing Northern California and then taunting the police and public by sending letters to the newspapers to be published, he has haunted the state ever since. We don’t know what’s up with California, but maybe it’s in the Yosemite water.

25. City of Angels

Los Angeles is one of the most famous cities in the world. Its great name is likely one of the reasons for this, as it just sounds so good! However, this wasn’t always the case, as the city had to rebrand itself. The first settlers of the city originally named it “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles del Rìo de Porciúncula,” which translates to “The town of our Lady Queen of the Angels of the Porciuncula River.” That means the name Los Angeles is actually an abbreviation.

24. Parking With Angels

Have you ever tried driving in Los Angeles? Hopefully, for your own sanity, you have not, because between sitting in traffic and the effort to find a parking spot, you can sometimes lose your mind. What can explain this? How about the fact that there are actually more cars in the city than there are people.

23. Clowning Around

After the appearance of the Wasco clown spooked the city of Wasco, California (though it was only for a photo shoot) people took notice. Because if there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that clowns are creepy. After that, a series of clowns showed up through California, in the name of mischief, and began terrorizing people.

22. Hollywood Switch

Ah, Hollywood. The land of sun and stars. Just one look at the famous “Hollywood” sign and the image of glitz and glamor rushes forth to you. The sign must have been originally built to honor the location responsible for the modern film industry, right? Well, no. The sign was actually originally built as an advertisement by the real estate company “Hollywoodland,” and actually spelled out the entire company name at first. It wasn’t until 1949 that it lost the “land” and became the iconic sign it is today.

21. Streets Paved With G…uns

In order to clean up the muddy streets of the burgeoning San Francisco, the settlers took to paving their streets with anything they could find, including guns. Dumping barrels of revolvers all throughout the city in order to create proper streets from the mucky ground, you can say that the city is built on guns.

20. City of Dogs

Dogs outnumber children in San Francisco. It sounds like many of the people are replacing their children with dogs. Maybe this is how they’re able to afford the rent!

19. Bridge Temperature

Though it wasn’t its original purpose, the Golden Gate bridge now also serves as a thermometer. This is because it is especially good at indicating the temperature, given its metallic nature. Depending on the day, when the metal contracts and expands due to temperature change, the deck level can change by up to 16 feet.

18. Wacky Gravity

There are spots littered throughout California known as “gravity hills,” where gravity just doesn’t seem to abide by the same laws as the rest of Earth. On these streets, an optical illusion makes the land seem as though when you are falling, you are rising. So, if you put your car in neutral, it will seem to start rolling uphill. This has led to numerous ghost story claims throughout the state, as there have been car accidents resulting in childhood deaths, and subsequent sightings of these children roaming the hills.

17. Fortune State

The fortune cookie was created in San Francisco, California. Your favorite post-stuffing-your-face-with-Chinese food treat has its origins in Japan, taking from the omikuji tradition of giving out random fortunes. They were first served by Makoto Hagiwara at the Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden in the 1890s or early 1900s.

16. Rivaling Italy

Responsible for over a trillion dollars in economic GDP, California was the first US state to reach that massive figure. Standing alone, the state has the eighth-largest economy in the world, tying it with the whole country of Italy.

15. Dirty Laundry

Gold mining is a dirty business, and not all miners struck it rich. During these tough times, most people didn’t care what they looked or smelled like, but every once in a while, they needed to clean up and do some laundry. The problem was, laundry in California during 1849 was stupid expensive. So, an alternative feasible way of doing laundry was conceived: sending your laundry all the way to Honolulu, Hawaii.

14. Luck of the Irish

Perhaps the greatest gold rush success story was that of the Murphy brothers, John and Daniel. Very shortly after arriving in California to mine gold, they hit it big. After hitting, they just kept pushing, and within one year, they had reached more than $1.5 million worth of gold!

13. Banking on It

The United States was suffering through a depression in the 1830s, and thus the state of California prohibited the opening of any sort of bank, whether for commercial or state purposes. This meant that when the gold rush hit, it was up to the individuals themselves to watch over their finances. Naturally, certain individuals operated as private bankers, which led to the rise of some of the country’s most powerful bankers.

12. Old Trees

The oldest tree in the world is a bristlecone pine tree, located in the White Mountains of California. Estimated to be 5,062-years-old, it is a bit sensitive about its age and prefers to be called just 4,999-years-old. The location of the tree has not been disclosed, in order to protect it, but it is located near Methuselah, the tree that was considered to be the oldest in the world until Mr. 5,000 was found to actually be older. The location of Methuselah is also kept a secret, so don’t go looking for it!

11. Big Boys

In addition to the oldest living trees, California is home to both the largest and tallest trees in the world. General Sherman, a tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest, while a coastal redwood tree in Redwood National Park is known as the tallest.

10. Bear Hugging the Flag

You know how the state flag of California has the image of a bear on it? Well, that bear is a grizzly bear, and the image is of a real-life grizzly bear who went by the name Monarch. A grizzly bear was chosen because of their presence in the state, however, Monarch was chosen for depiction because he was the last of the wild grizzlies to roam free. That is, before he was caught and put on exhibition by William Randolph Hearst.

9. Home to Many

California is now home to over 40 million people. That is an incredible amount of human beings, making the state more populated than the entire country of Canada. This is a far cry away from the couple of thousand people that lived there in 1848, the year that the United States acquired the territory from Mexico.

8. 49ers

I mention the year 1848, because what happened in 1849? The gold rush. When gold was found in California, it triggered one of the largest migrations in the history of the North American continent. The rapid accumulation of wealth and soaking up of people led to the United States deciding to admit the territory into the Union as a state only two years later, in 1950.

7. Found It!

The state motto of California is “Eureka,” which is an ancient Greek word used in excitement upon discovering something new. The expression is attributed to the Ancient Greek innovator Archimedes, and refers to the discovery of gold in the state.

6. Shaky Ground

California is located on the San Andreas fault, which means that it is a hotbed for platonic shifts and their subsequent earthquakes. The state is actually constantly being shaken, as there are over 10,000 earthquakes per year in just Southern California alone.

5. Diversity Rules

California has historically been a place of diversity. From the Native Americans Yuma and Pomo living there to Mexico claiming it as territory, to the gold rush, all the way up to now. About one in four current residents were not born on American soil, and minority ethnic groups actually make up the majority.

4. Watching Over the Mountains

The Dark Watchers have been said to haunt the Santa Lucia Mountains of California ever since the Chumash tribes passed on legends about them, and there are many chilling cave paintings depicting the creatures. These phantoms are said to follow travelers around, silently watching, and even esteemed author John Steinbeck said he witnessed the phenomena.

3. Alcatraz Legends

In Alcatraz prison, there lies the haunted room known as “the hole.” The room was used for solitary confinement for years but is now considered haunted. According to legend, during the 1940s while one prisoner was locked up there, the guards ignored his frantic calls that he was confronted by a glowing-eyed demon, and he was found strangled to death the next morning. There is still no explanation for exactly how he died.

2. Dead Water

Back in 2013, the guests of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles thought the water tasted funky. Beyond tasting funky, it was tinted a dark color. When management checked in on the situation, they found the body of a woman named Elisa Lam decomposing in the water tank. To this day, no one knows how she died or ended up in the water tank.

1. Blog After Death

Strangely enough, after Elisa Lam died, footage was released from the hotel in which she was acting strangely in the elevator. And then, after she passed away, her blog was maintained and updated by…well, who knows?!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

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