STATE OF CALIFORNIA, USA

Geography:

California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area (after Alaska and Texas). It is home to the nation's second- and sixth-largest census statistical areas (Los Angeles Metropolitan Area and San Francisco Bay Area), and eight of the nation's 50 most populous cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach and Oakland). The capital city is Sacramento.

California's diverse geography ranges from the Pacific Coast in the west, to the Sierra Nevada mountains in the east - 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 Central Valley, a major agricultural area. California contains both the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney and Death Valley), and has the third-longest coastline of all states (after Alaska and Florida). Earthquakes are a common occurrence due to the state's location along the Pacific Ring of Fire: about 37,000 are recorded annually.

The name California once referred to a large area of North America claimed by Spain that included much of modern-day Southwestern United States and the Baja California peninsula. Beginning in the late 18th century, the area known as Alta California, comprising the California territory north of the Baja Peninsula, was colonized by the Spanish Empire as part of New Spain. In 1821, Alta California became a part of Mexico following its successful war for independence. Shortly after the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846, a group of American settlers in Sonoma declared an independent California Republic in Alta California. Though its existence was short-lived, its flag became the precursor for California's current state flag. American victory in the war led to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States. Western areas of Alta California became the state of California, which was admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

The California Gold Rush beginning in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic change, with large scale immigration from the U.S. and abroad and an accompanying economic boom. Key developments in the early 20th century included the emergence of Los Angeles as the center of the American entertainment industry, and the growth of a large, state-wide tourism sector. The late 20th century saw the development of the technology and information sectors, punctuated by the growth of Silicon Valley. In addition to California's prosperous agricultural industry, other important contributors to its economy include aerospace, education, and manufacturing. If California were a country, it would be the eighth-largest economy in the world and the 35th most populous nation.

California adjoins the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the north, Nevada and Arizona to the east, and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south. With an area of 160,000 square miles (414,000 km²), it is the third-largest state in the United States in size, after Alaska and Texas. If it were a country, California would be the 59th-largest in the world in area.

In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The Central Valley is California's agricultural heartland and grows approximately one-third of the nation's food.

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 transit them. With dredging, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers have remained sufficiently deep that several inland cities are seaports.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta serves as a critical water supply hub for the state. Water is routed through an extensive network of canals and pumps out of the delta, that traverse nearly the length of the state, including the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Water from the Delta provides drinking water for nearly 23 million people, almost two-thirds of the state's population, and provides water to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The Channel Islands are located off the southern coast.

The Sierra Nevada (Spanish for "snowy range") includes the highest peak in the contiguous forty-eight states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 ft (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 state's total surface area is covered by forests, and California's 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; one Bristlecone pine has an age of 4,700 years.

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, hottest point in North America, Badwater Basin. The horizontal distance from the lowest point of Death Valley to the peak 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 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 sees numerous earthquakes due to several faults, in particular the San Andreas Fault.

Agriculture:

California leads all of the other states in farm income. It's positioned as the agricultural powerhouse of the United States. About 73% of the state's agricultural revenues are derived from crops while the other 27% of revenues are generated by livestock commodities. In terms of revenue generated, California's top five agricultural products are dairy products, greenhouse and nursery products, grapes, almonds, and cattle and calves.

California grows over 200 different crops, some grown nowhere else in the nation. Crops include grapes, almonds, strawberries, oranges and walnuts. California produces almost all of the country's almonds, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries. Only Florida produces more oranges. The most important vegetable crops grown in the state are lettuce and tomatoes. Again, California leads the way. Broccoli and carrots rank second followed by asparagus, cauliflower, celery, garlic, mushrooms, onions, and peppers. Only Texas grows more cotton than California. Hay, rice, corn, sugar beets, and wheat are also grown in large quantities.

Livestock and livestock products include milk, beef cattle, eggs, sheep, turkeys, hogs and horses. Dairy products are California's most valuable products followed by cattle and calves and chicken eggs. California is the second ranked producer of livestock products behind Texas.

Economy:

As of 2007, the gross state product (GSP) is about $1.812 trillion, the largest in the United States. California is responsible for 13 percent of the United States gross domestic product (GDP). As of 2006, California's GDP is larger than all but eight countries in the world (all but eleven countries by Purchasing Power Parity). In terms of jobs, the five largest sectors in California are trade, transportation, and utilities; government; professional and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. In terms of output, the five largest sectors are financial services, followed by trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; government; and manufacturing.

California currently has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12.5% as of January 2010 and had continued to rise, up significantly from 5.9% in 2007. California's economy is very dependent on trade and international related commerce accounts for approximately one-quarter of the state's economy. In 2008, California exported $144 billion worth of goods, up from $134 billion in 2007 and $127 billion in 2006. Computers and electronic products are California's top export, accounting for 42 percent of all the state's exports in 2008.

Agriculture is an important sector in California's economy. Farming-related sales more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from $7.3 billion in 1974 to nearly $31 billion in 2004. This increase has occurred despite a 15 percent decline in acreage devoted to farming during the period, and water supply suffering from chronic instability. Factors contributing to the growth in sales-per-acre include more intensive use of active farmlands and technological improvements in crop production. In 2008, California's 81,500 farms and ranches generated $36.2 billion products revenue.

Per capita GDP in 2007 was $38,956, ranking eleventh in the nation. Per capita income varies widely by geographic region and profession. The Central Valley is the most impoverished, with migrant farm workers making less than minimum wage. Recently, the San Joaquin Valley was characterized as one of the most economically depressed regions in the U.S., on par with the region of Appalachia. Many coastal cities include some of the wealthiest per-capita areas in the U.S. The high-technology sectors in Northern California, specifically Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, have emerged from the economic downturn caused by the dot-com bust. In 2010, there were more than 663,000 millionaires in the state, more than any other state in the nation.

Weather:

California's climate varies from Mediterranean to subarctic. Much of the state has a Mediterranean climate, with cool, rainy winters and dry summers. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast. Further inland, one encounters colder winters and hotter summers.

Northern parts of the state average higher annual rainfall than the south. California's mountain ranges influence the climate as well: some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate, and the Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate but with greater temperature extremes than the coast. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have a mountain climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer.

The east side of California's mountains produce a rain shadow, creating expansive deserts. The higher elevation deserts of eastern California see hot summers and cold winters, while the low deserts east of the southern California mountains experience hot summers and nearly frost less mild winters. Death Valley, a desert with large expanses below sea level, is considered the hottest location in North America; the highest temperature in the Western Hemisphere, 134 °F (57 °C), was recorded there on July 10, 1913.

Visiting in California:

By law, everyone in a vehicle must wear a seat belt, and motorcyclists must wear a helmet. Speed limits are posted in miles-per-hour (mph). Generally, the speed limit on multi-lane freeways is 65mph. On two-lane highways it is usually 55mph. The speed limit on city streets is usually 35mph. In residential areas, near schools and in areas with heavy foot traffic, the speed limit is almost always 25mph.

Along freeways with heavy traffic, car pool lanes (or "diamond lanes") are identified by small black-and-white signs and by diamonds painted on the roadway. To drive in a car pool lane, you must usually have two people (including the driver) in the car. Some car pool lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area require three people (including the driver).

The new Wireless Communications Device Law (effective January 1, 2009) makes it an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone, while driving a motor vehicle. Drivers must also use a hands-free device when speaking on a cell phone.

Roundabouts are uncommon in California. Most intersections are either signed by traffic lights or by stop signs. Unless signed otherwise, it is legal to make a right turn on a red light after you come to a complete stop. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) publishes an online version of its California Driver Handbook which thoroughly explains California road rules.

California is a year-round travel destination, with weather that will please everyone from snowbirds to sun worshippers. The best time to visit really comes down to what you want to do and what you want to see.

Most people visit California between mid-June and August. It's summertime! Summer in California is undeniably delicious, but there are some things to consider: The state's top attractions and parks can be very crowded with visitors paying top dollar for lodging and waiting in long lines for popular sites. That said, it's never hard to hop off the beaten path and have forests, fields and even beaches all to yourself. If you're planning on visiting the Sierra Nevada high country, you have no choice but to wait until summer: roads above 8000ft (2450m) are often closed until late June or early July.

Spring (March through early May) is a marvelous time to visit California. Although it can still be cold at higher elevations, temperatures are comfortable throughout much of the state. The hillsides are green, the air is fresh, and wildflowers are blooming. During these months, you'll also encounter shorter lines and better deals: Many of the state's top tourist attractions are still operating at a slower pace, and hotels often charge low-season rates until June. California's desert areas are much more pleasant during spring than they are during the scorching heat of summer.

Fall (September through November) is another good time to beat the crowds, and it can be an especially beautiful time to see Northern California and the state's wine regions. San Francisco, often shrouded in fog all summer long, sees some of its sunniest days during its "Indian Summer," which generally lasts from September through October.

If you plan to ski, visit between December and February, when the Sierra Nevada almost always has snow. It's not uncommon for ski resorts to open by late October, but the snow is rarely as good as it will be later in the season. Lift lines are mobbed between mid December and the first week of January, when everyone hits the slopes during their holiday break.