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California History Facts You Probably Didn't Know

California History Facts You Probably Didn't Know

Learn surprising, fun, and unexpected California history facts you probably didn't know. Discover amazing historical moments. Team


5 min read

October 18, 2020

The Golden State’s natural wonders and way of life are as unique as its history. California has come a long way since its founding and has become one of the most visited destinations across the globe. From the country’s first European explorers to the discoveries of gold and silver, to today’s technological advances, this magical state—which was once believed to be an island of treasures—continues to amaze the world. Read on to discover California’s top fun facts and historical moments. 

Everything You Don’t Know About California’s History

California's famous gold panning culture first came forth along the South Fork of the American River near Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

California historical facts

1. The first European missionaries visiting California were exploring the state in the 1700s. They were reminded of Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s 1510 novel, “The Deeds of Esplandián” in which the mythical island of California was described as a paradise abundant in gold and jewels. It’s a weird and little known fact, but this is where the state’s name derives from.

2. A fun fact about California is that the state declared that it was the independent California Republic in 1846. This only lasted for one month, before California became a territory of the United States in 1847. 

3. The theory that California’s land was a gold paradise was only confirmed once, on July 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall noticed gold flakes in waters taken from the South Fork of the American River near Coloma.

4. Shortly after, in 1849 California witnessed America’s largest mass migration as approximately 300,000 new settlers sought the new American Dream.

5. On September 9th 1850 California finally became the United State’s 31st state.

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Hike up the bumpy dunes of Death Valley—one of the driest and hottest National Parks in CA—on your next dessert adventure.

Historical Facts About California's Natural Wonders

6. Death Valley, California’s hottest, driest, and lowest National Park, is thought to have received its name in the winter of 1849. It’s believed that one of the surviving “Lost 49ers” crossing the mountain range on their way from Salt Lake City to California's gold mines proclaimed “Goodbye, Death Valley."

7. California’s first national park—Sequoia National Park—was established on September 25, 1890.

8. There is evidence that California Caverns was first visited by tourists in 1854.

9. The highest peak in the contiguous United States—Mount Whitney—was first climbed by Albert Johnson, Charles Begole, and John Lucas in 1873.

10. According to a study conducted by Science Magazine, SoCal had 1.81 million earthquakes between 2008 to 2017.

In addition to the construction of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, S.F. offers a great number of interesting historical facts.

San Francisco History Facts

11. San Francisco’s first cable car was driven down Clay Street on August 2, 1873. The car system draws in millions of visitors each year and is considered to be the only moving National Historical Monument.

12. S.F.’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge was constructed within four and a half years (from December 22, 1932 to April 19, 1937).

13. Many of the ships that arrived at the Bay in 1849 were abandoned. To solve the problem, many ships were disassembled and used as construction materials, but others were cemented over and lie under S.F. 's office buildings today. 

14. In 1906, two natural disasters struck the cosmopolitan city at once, taking the lives of hundreds of people and leaving thousands homeless. On April 18, the city was hit by an earthquake which was followed by a fire that burned for four days. 

15. Following the Gold Rush, the “city where everything goes” was the first to implement one of the weirdest laws in California history. In 1867 the “ugly law” made it illegal for anyone classified as “ugly” to walk down the streets.

Escape into the calm and relaxed ambiance of Napa Valley's endless vineyards.

Napa Valley Historical Facts

16. After California became part of the United States in 1850, Napa became one of the state’s 27 original counties on February 18, 1850.

17. The first building in Napa was constructed in 1847—the same year the city was laid out by Nathan Coombs. It was a saloon located on the corner of Third Street.

18. Napa’s first weekly newspaper, the Napa Valley Register, originally appeared in 1856 and is still around today.

19. The Morning Glory Spillway is not only the world’s largest drain hole, but one of the weirdest places to visit in California. It was constructed between 1953 and 1957 along with the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa and swallows about 48,800 cubic feet of water per second. 

20. It’s believed that the first vineyard was planted in Napa Valley in 1836, yet the first commercial winery wasn’t opened until 1861 by German immigrant, Charles Krug. Napa Valley’s first wine bottling line was created by Gustave Niebaum in 1887. Though many of Napa’s wines are world-renowned, it’s a little known fact that about 75 percent of Californian wines are actually produced in the Central Valley.

The iconic City of Angels is brimming with great attractions and interesting stories about its past.

Historical Facts About Los Angeles

21. The United States’ largest outdoor amphitheater—The Hollywood Bowl—opened in 1922.

22. A group of settlers established “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles sobre el Río Porciúncula,” which translates to "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula” in 1781 in the area where L.A. is located today.

23. Miners looking for gold discovered oil in 1892. This find led to the development of Los Angeles. 

24. Hollywood’s first movie studio was established on Sunset Boulevard in 1911. Filmmakers chose Hollywood as their base because of its mild climate and close proximity to diverse landscapes.

25. The original “Iron Man” (Joseph Ardizzone) was an Italian-born mobster who spread fear through the streets of Los Angeles in the 1920’s and 1930’s. 

The main library building of the University of California, San Diego is named after Audrey and Theodor Seuss Geisel.

San Diego Historical Facts

26. San Diego is often considered to be the birthplace of California because it’s where Portuguese navigator, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo—the first explorer to land on the West Coast—arrived on September 28, 1542.

27. San Diego’s population grew from 20,000 to 200,000 between 1900 and 1940.

28. The oldest house in San Diego, Casa de Carrillo, is believed to have been built in 1817.

29. Inaugurated on July 2, 1966 and stretching 1, 971 feet, the Ocean Beach Pier is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast.

30. The glass and concrete building of Geisel Library at UCSD  was constructed in the 1960’s and houses Dr. Suess’ largest collection of manuscripts.

Orange rooftops, splendid coastal views, and historical architecture are only a few of the reasons to pay a visit to Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara history facts

31. Old Mission Santa Barbara was founded on December 4, 1786 and is the only Franciscan mission that has continuously operated since it was established in the 18th century.

32. The human skeletal remains of “Arlington Springs Man” were discovered on Santa Rosa Island in 1959 by archaeologist Phil C. Orr’s. They are believed to be 13,000 years old, making them the oldest fossils in Coastal California.

33. Stearns Wharf was constructed in 1872, making it California’s oldest wooden wharf. 

34. California’s first avocado trees were planted in 1871 by Santa Barbara local Judge R. B. Ord. Did you know that today, the Golden State is considered the Avocado Capital of the World?

35. California’s first bishop was appointed in Santa Barbara in 1842.

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