Home to more than 37 million people, or almost 12 percent of U.S. population, California is a surprising mix of geography, culture and people. From the movie studios of Tinseltown to the cable cars of San Francisco, and from the consistent surf at Huntington Beach to the attractions of Disneyland, the state comes close to the truth when it boasts that it has a little of everything.
California is home to the highest point in the continental United States and the lowest point in all of North America. At 14,494 feet, Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the Sierra Nevada range, and draws climbers and hikers from around the globe. Just 135 miles east is Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, which is 282 feet below sea level.
The state has 840 miles of coastline, more than any other state except Alaska. The Pacific Coast Highway, or Cabrillo Highway, takes drivers along spectacular cliffs and past towering redwoods. It’s not unusual to catch glimpses of sea lions sunning themselves on offshore rocks. While driving this All-American Road, travelers will discover Monterrey, immortalized by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row, as well as the art community of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Drive inland at the northern end of this scenic highway to reach California’s wine country in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Wines from this region have enjoyed a strong reputation since the Judgment of Paris in 1976, when blindfolded judges picked unknown California wines over the best French wines.
A different route, El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, takes you back in time to the Spanish colonial period. Part of the Historic Mission Trail, the road stretches from San Diego to Sonoma and is lined with 21 missions built between 1769 and 1823.
Silicon Valley puts the state at the forefront of computer-related industries, but California is also a leader in other high-tech industries, including aerospace and seismology. At the other end of the spectrum, the state is ranked first in agricultural production, with more than 400 commodities. Almost half of the vegetables, nuts and fruits grown in the nation come from California.