The Famous Californians You Need to Know

The Famous Californians You Need to Know

By California.com
October 04, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

The West Coast has a way of magnetizing visionaries hoping to make it big one day. From world-class chefs challenging our taste buds and shaping California’s culinary landscape to Hollywood stars revolutionizing the film industry and bringing attention to important issues, the Golden State has produced many influential figures. There are innumerable famous Californians who have greatly impacted the world with their skills, creativity, and talent. Here are the ones you need to know. 

L.A. native and actress Laura Dern is a recipient of five Golden Globe Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and an Academy Award.

Laura Dern

1967–present

Born to a family of famous actors, it was natural for Laura Dern to follow in her parent’s footsteps. The Los Angeles native is a recipient of five Golden Globe Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award for Big Little Lies, and an Academy Award for her performance in Marriage Story. Rising to prominence thanks to her roles in Mask and Blue Velvet, the famous Californian also brought us the iconic role of Doctor Ellie Sattler in the Jurassic Park movies. Always portraying strong female leads, she takes pride in playing steely, confident characters. When she’s not kicking butt on the silver screen, she advocates for women’s rights and equal pay, combats gun violence, and raises awareness of Down syndrome. 

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Julia Child

1912–2004

A government spy or a bestselling cookbook author? Julia Child happens to be both. Long before she taught us how to cook like a pro, she worked at an organization that is our present-day Central Intelligence Agency. Born in Pasadena, the famous California chef got her big break after the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This resulted in Child hosting The French Chef, which ran from February 1963 to January 1973 and was one of the first cooking shows on American TV. Due to the technology back in the 60s, the show was unedited and her clumsiness appeared on the screen, which made the people love her even more. 

Having written more than a dozen cookbooks throughout her life, the famous Californian passionately advocated for farm-to-table eating and food media. She has greatly influenced the proliferation of today’s top chefs and restaurants, with countless master chefs and The Culinary Institute of America at Copia preparing her best recipes. Greatly impacting American households, Child’s cookbooks, authenticity, and relatable character are celebrated by many all over the world.   

California Senator Kamala Harris was the first Black woman to be included on a presidential ticket for a major party.

Kamala Harris

1964–present

California Senator Kamala Harris became a household name when she was elected as the state’s first female African-American district attorney and the United States’ first Indian-American district attorney. Now, she’s making history again by becoming the first Black woman to be included on a presidential ticket for a major party. 

Born in Oakland to a biomedical scientist mother and a Stanford University professor emeritus of economics father, Harris is one of the most influential Black Californians who shaped the state. Making a name for herself throughout the years, the famous Californian went on to write a memoir titled The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, published in January 2019. Describing herself as a “progressive prosecutor” and “top cop” in her former roles, Harris supports decriminalizing border crossings by undocumented immigrants and providing them with healthcare.

Carrie Fisher

1956-2016

Born in Burbank, Carrie Fisher was no stranger to fame due to her well-known family. Daughter of Hollywood’s Golden Era actress Debbie Reynolds, Fisher became a cultural icon after starring in George Lucas’ Star Wars movies as Princess Leia—who soon became an identity rather than a role. Her iconic cinnamon-bun hairstyle, long white gown, and bold personality inspired many generations of girls around the world. 

The writer and comedian suffered in her personal life, but she never stopped making movies. She also starred in When Harry Met Sally..., Soapdish, and The Women. Fisher was also behind some of the most memorable scripts in Hollywood movies and wrote more than half a dozen books throughout her career. When she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the famous Californian became an influential advocate in the fields of mental health and drug addiction. Not only is Fisher a legend in Hollywood, but also in galaxies far, far away.

Donald Glover is not only an acclaimed actor and musician, but also a talented comedian and writer.

Donald Glover

1983–present

Also known as Childish Gambino, Donald Glover is an actor, singer, comedian, and writer. The comedic genius was born at Edwards Air Force Base and rose to fame after playing Troy Barnes on the sitcom Community, which ran from 2009 to 2013. His film credits include The Lazarus Effect, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Solo: A Star Wars Story

When he’s not busy making movies or performing in the best comedy clubs in California, Glover spends time busting rhymes and topping charts. The triple threat is also the creator of the FX series Atlanta, which he also stars in. The show received critical acclaim thanks to its dark comedy, dreamy surrealism, and heavy cultural commentary. Undeniably talented, the famous Californian can do pretty much anything in the entertainment industry. 

Gary Payton

1968–present

Born in Oakland, Gary Payton is considered one of the greatest point guards of all time and one of the few to have won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. Known for his outstanding defensive abilities, the basketball player was nicknamed “The Glove” and holds Seattle franchise records in points, assists, and steals. After Payton rose to fame thanks to his excellent skills on the court, he went on to make appearances in movies like White Men Can’t Jump, Like Mike, and Eddie

Making generous contributions throughout his life, the famous Californian set up The Gary Payton Foundation in 1996, which is aimed at helping underprivileged youth in Oakland stay in school. He also hosts an annual charity basketball game as part of his foundation. 

Tyra Banks is one of the most iconic supermodels of all time and is an influential figure off the catwalk, too.

Tyra Banks

1973–present

Tyra Banks is a producer, businesswoman, actress, author, and supermodel—who was rejected by six modeling agencies until she got her big break at the age of 15. Her career skyrocketed when she became a Victoria’s Secret Angel from 1997 to 2005, and she quickly became one of the world’s top-earning models. The Inglewood native executive produced and presented the long-running television series America’s Next Top Model for the first 22 seasons (host a reality TV show, but make it fashion). The legendary catwalker was also the first African-American woman to be featured on the covers of GQ and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. 

Banks is certainly an influential figure both on and off the catwalk. The famous Californian established the TZONE program, too, which is directed at helping women develop leadership skills. She is also the founder of the Tyra Banks Scholarship, which gives African-American girls the chance to enroll in Immaculate Heart High School—her alma mater. 

Anjelica Huston

1951–present

Daughter of actor John Huston and prima ballerina Enrica Soma, Anjelica Huston is a third-generation Oscar recipient. Although she gained recognition for many successful movies she starred in, Huston left her mark as a cult classic icon thanks to movies like The Witches and The Addams Family. The famous Californian’s portrayal of the legendary Morticia Addams was highlighted by an eerie glow around the eyes, which was most evident in dim light. The Santa Monica native is also known for her frequent collaborations with eccentric film director Wes Anderson. Huston starred in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited

When she’s taking a break from acting, the icon raises awareness of animal cruelty. Urging her Hollywood colleagues to abstain from using great apes on the silver screen, Huston donated her fur coats to further advocate for animal rights. 

Award-winning director Ryan Coogler broke multiple records with his Marvel movie, Black Panther. photo courtesy of consequence of sound.

Ryan Coogler

1986–present

Ryan Coogler first made heads turn when he directed Creed, the seventh installment of the Rocky film series, starring Michael B. Jordan. The two quickly became a dynamic duo, frequently collaborating with each other on several movies. While filming his first feature-length film, Fruitvale Station, Coogler worked as a counselor at juvenile hall. 

The Oakland native also directed one of the most powerful Marvel films, Black Panther, starring the late Chadwick Boseman. The movie broke multiple box office records, and Coogler became the first Black person to direct one of the highest-grossing films of all time. In hopes of creating a more inclusive industry, the award-winning director highlights generally excluded cultures and characters in his movies.   

Jamie Lee Curtis

1958–present

No Halloween is complete without watching a horror movie starring scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. The actress, author, and activist made her acting debut in John Carpenter’s Halloween film series. It’s no surprise that she was drawn to the genre since her mother, Janet Leigh, also starred in one of the most iconic horror movies of all time: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Curtis continued to keep her mother’s legacy alive by going on to perform her iconic shriek in several other horror movies—The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train

Besides acting, the famous Californian spends time writing, too. She writes blogs for The Huffington Post and has penned over a dozen children’s books When she’s not scaring us, Curtis also supports children’s hospitals and their advocacy programs. 

Owner of the renowned French Laundry, Thomas Keller is a three-star Michelin chef known around the world. Photo courtesy of Thomas Keller.

Thomas Keller

1955–present

Renowned for his exceptional culinary skills, Thomas Keller is a world-famous chef, restauranter, and cookbook author. Born in Oceanside, he is the only American chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide. 

After working as a cook for many years, Keller opened The French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, where top chefs flock to compete at the American Fare festival. The restaurant soon became one of the most recognized places in the world and was named the “Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant Magazine in 2003 and 2004. Thomas Keller is the author of five cookbooks—Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc at Home, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, Bouchon, and The French Laundry Cookbook. According to the famous California chef, a great meal is not about the food and wine; it’s an emotional experience. 

John Steinbeck

1902–1968

A literary genius of the 20th century, John Steinbeck is the most famous California author whose works are considered Western literature classics. As the pride and joy of Salinas, the author mostly explored fate and injustice when it came to his writings. His masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, delves into the bitterness of the Great Depression, making readers sympathize with the ill-fated characters. Throughout his life, he wrote many exemplary works such as Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, The Pearl, and The Red Pony. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” He is remembered for holding a place in his heart for the working class and bringing attention to their struggles.

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