However you see it, California is home to a wide variety of bizarre and interesting happenings, and we are going to explore some of the most remarkable.
The Birthplace of Cool
California has long been the cultural epicenter of the world. Most major movie studies call the state home. And, our coolest stuff was invented there. What would we do without jeans, iPhones, the internet, skateboards, and the Tesla? It’s the tech capital of the world. Google lives there.
The eponymous Microsoft XP hilly home screen is an actual photograph that was taken in Sonoma near Napa Valley wine country. Not only that, Barbie dolls, the Frisbee, arcade video games, the electric guitar, McDonald’s, The Simpsons, the hula hoop, and In-N-Out are all California grown.
That’s what it’s called. Watermelon snow is a phenomenon that happens in the summer on the foothills of the Sierras.
As it warms, green algae turns pink and taints the snow. These algae blooms accelerate the melting rate of glaciers. We can thank climate change for those pretty pinks.
Wine country is one of the state’s oldest and most treasured regions. California was yet a part of Mexico in 1854 when the first grapevines popped up on the rolling hillsides of Sonoma County. Located about 50 miles north of San Francisco, the vineyards contribute to ranking California the fourth-largest wine producer in the world.
Surpassed only by Italy, Spain, and France, California pumps out 17 million gallons of the nectar of the gods each year.
The Invention of Hollywood
California was the perfect place for filmmakers. The sea,mountains , beaches, deserts, forests and plains provided a wide variety of locally accessible film sites and weather always permitted. However, it wasn’t the ideal location that instigated the move out West.
Back in New Jersey, a good deal of motion picture patents in the 1900s were controlled by Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company. Out of reach on the West coast, the patents went unenforced. The motion picture company was not able to regulate from the vast distance and California courts threw out many cases.
San Francisco is Home to the World’s Best Tap Water
The third-largest water distributor in the state provides 2.7 million Bay Area folks with Yosemite’s freshest runoff. Spring snowmelt runs down the Tuolumne River and is collected at the Hetch Hetchy watershed just outside of the pristine Yosemite National Park.
It’s so clean they don’t even filter it
Too Much Water
The Great Flood of 1862 was so devastating it drenched Western states continuously from November 1861 to January 1862. The worst of it spanned from the Columbian River in Oregon to San Diego, it also pelted the Washington, New Mexico, and Utah territories, as well as Arizona.
Ten feet of rain and 43 days of downpour submerged California’s Central Valley, turning it into a lake. Crops and livestock were inundated, and the total destruction nearly bankrupted the state.
San Francisco Bay Harbor
The San Francisco Bay harbor is the largest landlocked harbor in the world. Enclosed by Oakland, San Jose, and S.F., and connected by The Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, it is 60 miles long and up to 12 miles wide at the widest point.
Right in the very center, is Alcatraz Island! A tour of the legendary federal prison is the main attraction.
The Infamous 10-Minute Mayor
Corrupt and illiterate building contractor, Joseph Spinney, became so influential in 1890s Fresno that he was appointed to a mayoral position. He left his post after 10 minutes, handing it over to his pal C.J. Craycroft.
He gained political power by promoting corrupt businesses like gambling, prostitution, and boozing. He is Fresno’s most corrupt politician ever.
Educating The Masses
San Francisco was dubbed the “gay capital of the world” in 1964 by Life magazine. By the close of 1981, a strange illness had killed 121 gay American men living in N.Y., L.A. and S.F. Doctors and scientists rushed to understand the new illness.
Campaigns to stop the spread were complicated after Congress banned the use of federal money for AIDS prevention literature. Berkeley, however, stepped up to the plate as the first city anywhere to kick-off a public education campaign, mailing pamphlets out to every resident.
The Geysers Geothermal Field
Northern California boasts the world’s largest geothermal power plant. It is also the very first U.S. geothermal power plant. Located in the Mayacamas Mountains north of S.F. and near Sonoma, it’s heated by a large molten rock chamber spanning several miles underground.
The Geysers Geothermal Field provides 20% of CA’s green power. Before harnessing the steam energy, Native Americans revered the site for its healing powers, going back 12,000 years.
California’s Only U.S. President
You might think movie star President Ronald Reagan was a Californian, but he’s from Illinois. President Richard Nixon, on the other hand, is a genuine native Californian. He was also the first president to ever resign. Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, an O.C. suburb which hosts the Nixon Presidential Library.
He is probably more well known for his San Clemente abode. The coastal mansion served as the “Western White House” during his tenure.
The Artichoke Center of the World
I bet you didn’t know there was an artichoke capital of the world. Well, there is, and it is in Castroville, California, home to nearly every U.S. artichoke grown. It hosts an annual two-day festival, celebrated for over 50 years.
At the very first Castroville Artichoke Festival in 1948, a young brunette we know as Marilyn Monroe, hoping to get her foot in the door in showbiz, took the crown as honorary Artichoke Queen.
The Most National Parks
From forests to deserts to hydrothermal wonders, California holds more national parks than any other state. Nine of the 62 federally preserved lands are found in the Golden State.
California is one of twenty-nine states to host national parks.
Extreme Land Formations
California holds the record for not just the highest point in the nation, but also the lowest point. Out of all the states in the contiguous U.S., Mt., Whitney and Death Valley hit the extremes.
Less than 100 miles apart, Mt. Whitney soars to 14,494 feet above sea level and Death Valley sinks to -282 feet below sea level.
San Francisco Survived the Great Depression
Most banks went belly up after the market crash of 1929 plummeted the nation into the Great Depression. In San Francisco, however, not a single back failed. In fact, S.F. defied the times by building the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, in spite of the economic tumult.
The completion of the Golden Gate Bridge was heralded as a great symbol of progress, overcoming economic disaster.
The Mysterious Death of the Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short, a 22-year-old with Hollywood ambitions, was found severed in half at the waist and propped up near a sidewalk in Los Angeles. A mother out with her child discovered the body which, at first glance, she mistook for a mannequin.
The 1947 murder has never been solved. During the investigation, the press named her “the Black Dahlia” referring to the film that was playing and her preference for black clothing.
The Zodiac Killer
Despite the fact that this serial murderer sent letters to the press detailing his crimes, he was never caught. Writing in code, he would say such things as, “I like killing people because it is so much fun.” Known for prowling the Bay Area in 1968 and 1969, killing at least five people, the last they heard from the self-named “Zodiac” was in 1974.
He was never discovered. The killer has inspired many books and movies, including the psychopath in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 Dirty Harry.
The City of Angels
Los Angeles is the nation’s second-largest city, but it wasn’t always so. Today it is the most robust economic force on the West coast, but it used to be home to Native American tribes like the Tongva and the Chumash.
All that changed when European settlers arrived and named it El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. Or, The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula. We just call it L.A.
They Built this City for the Automobile
As early as the 1930s, General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tire & Rubber had a strong interest in developing a car-centric mecca out of the L.A.-area. Previously, Los Angeles was crisscrossed with an extensive electric trolley system that first began popping up in the late 1890s.
The trolley system fell into disrepair while new freeways popped up everywhere, weaving their way in and around town and out to the shiny new suburbs. Now, the heavily populated city is host to more cars than people!
The Wasco Clown Incidents
Just before Halloween in 2014, viral photos of a clown in Wasco swirled around social media circles. Soon after, a series of copy-cat-clowns showed up for real on the streets of the Northern California town—armed! They were seen carrying weapons like baseball bats and knives.
It all started when a couple posted a picture to their Instagram page of the husband dressed as a clown holding a bunch of balloons.
The Hollywood Sign
It is one of the world’s most recognized symbols, a sign that has literally been seen by everyone, at least on TV. Yet, most do not know its lowly origin. The “Hollywood” sign was first erected as a real estate company advertisement funded by L.A. Times publisher Harry Chandler who had a stake in the Hollywoodland real estate development company. After the business venture went belly up in the Great Depression, the sign fell into disrepair.
In the mid-1940s, the Hollywood chamber of commerce acquired the monument, removed “land” from the sign, and restored it. The Parks department wanted it dismantled, but the city refused, perceiving the value of the now-legendary landmark.
The Strictest Gun Laws in the Country
OMG. San Francisco said goodbye to its last gun store after 63 years of business. The very last one. Now, there are zero gun shops in San Francisco. Doing business under S.F.’s cumbersome gun laws caused the closing.
Specifically, according to the owner, a measure that requires the videotaping of all purchases of ammunition or guns, and that the videotaped footage be handed over to the police.
In L.A. cars outnumber people, but in San Francisco, dogs outnumber children. There are over 120,000 furry friends in the city, but fewer than 108,000 children. Outrageous rent and real estate prices are forcing straight couples to cut back and have fewer kids, while gay couples in the city are opting for adopting Fido instead of raising children.
Dogs are revered in the city with plush dog hotels, a beautiful pet cemetery, dog lounges, high-end dog-centric specialty shops, and luxury rooftop canine cocktail parties.
The Golden Gate Bridge
At first the War Department rejected plans to build the bridge. Then it wanted it painted with highly visible yellow stripes. Construction architects won out on both counts. The Golden Gate Bridge, named for the Golden Gate Straight it spans across, not its color, got its distinctive color randomly.
The actual steel for the bridge came pre-coated with a rusty-colored primer to protect it from corrosion, so the architects just went with that. Morbid quick-bit: The iconic bridge is the world’s most frequent suicide site.
A Mysterious Gravity Hill
A gravity hill, also knowns as an anti-gravity hill, is a downhill area of a road that appears to go uphill. The optical illusion causes it to feel like the car is rolling uphill when it is going downhill. They’re super freaky! Lots of lore surrounds them.
In Southern California, an especially enigmatic gravity hill located in Sylmar has been creeping people out for years. Situated next to a cemetery and rumored to be the site of a deadly school bus crash, people flock there in search of supernatural curiosities.
The Fortune Cookie
Made in California. It’s true. The first fortune cookie was made in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t invented by a Chinese restaurant. Instead, the sweet after dinner staple has its roots in Japanese culture.
The very first fortune cookie was served at the Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden at the turn of the twentieth century by Makoto Hagiwara.
An Economic Powerhouse
The economy of California, as a mere state, ranks up there with the highest grossing national economies all around the world. It defers only to the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and the U.K., but it is just as robust as France; both nations generate a $2.5 trillion GDP.
Italy, for perspective, is the eighth-largest world economy, raking in $1.8 trillion, trailing behind the Golden State’s output as the fifth-largest world economy.
Striking it Rich in the Laundry Business
People poured into the Bay Area with pans in hand hoping to strike it rich. In 1849, there were more people than launders. And doing laundry cost more than most could afford (water by the bucket was expensive!) Some sent their laundry all the way to China or Honolulu!
This phenomenon inspired enterprising folks to offer laundry services, and a growth industry was born. “Washer Woman’s Bay,” the Bay Area’s largest laundry business, employed 300 people!
Gold Rush Winners
The Murphy brothers scored big during the Gold Rush. Irishmen John and Daniel Murphy went out West in 1844 to bring wagons across the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Gold Rush brought them to Vallecito, which would be called Murphy’s Camp after their immense success.
Folklore says that John filled 17 sacks of gold, which required six mules to transport. As savvy merchants and lucky panners, the brothers amassed a fortune of $2 million.
The Gold Rush brought prosperity to California in the shape of industrial growth and an economic boom. But it didn’t allow banking. The 1849 state charter excluded the creation of banks, although the first bank in the Bay Area had already been opened by the beginning of 1849 and remained open.
The flood of gold by prospectors required a depository. But banking was severely limited by the charter. The 1849 charter also limits individual freedoms in the case of duels. Taming the wild West!
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine
This ancient bristlecone pine is not just one of the oldest trees in California, it’s also one of the oldest trees in the world. Pictured here, it lives in the White Mountains of California and is called the Methuselah tree.
Estimated to be 4,850 years old (that predates ancient Greece!) it was thought to be the oldest tree in the world. But then, in 2012, the Rocky Mountain bristlecone was discovered, clocking in at 5,060 years of age!
The Giant Redwoods
The ancient bristlecone is not the only spectacular tree in the Sunshine State. California is also home to the Giant Redwood. These trees not only date back to antiquity, but they are unbelievably massive as well.
The largest tree in the world is General Sherman, pictured here, in Sequoia National Park. At 2,200 years old, it’s a living marvel. It’s 102 feet around the base and 274 feet high.
The California Grizzly
No animal in California is more prominent than the California grizzly bear. Ironically, it is extinct. Sadly, the great grizzly has not roamed the forests of California for over 100 years, meeting its demise to European hunters. The last one was spotted in 1924.
The good news is, the grizzly might be coming back. The California Grizzly Research Network has been studying the reintroduction of the grizzly to the state.
The Most People
California is the most populous state in the entire nation. With 40 million people, it leaves Texas, the next-most populous state behind by many millions. Texas is home to 29 million. California has more people than Canada.
By 2050 even more people are expected, up to 45 million!
The Gold Rush Migration
Gold, the result of ancient tectonic and volcanic activity, was representative of the state’s bounty of natural wonders. The valuable mineral laced hillsides, lay hidden in rock, and was found exposed in streams in the pans of “49ers.” The Gold Rush itself was a prosperous event in California’s history. It brought the largest migration ever in North America’s history, with 300,000 people relocating to strike it rich or find a better life.
Brand new industries blossomed, and agricultural development soared. The booming economy also triggered California’s transition to statehood. It was admitted in 1950, two years after the Gold Rush.
Archimedes, the Greek mathematical genius who discovered “Pi” and early calculus, is credited for exclaiming, “Eureka!” after hitting on the solution to the theory of the displacement of water. Whether or not he actually burst out with the Greek term for “I found it” is lost in history. In California folklore, 49er miners would shout out, “Eureka!”
when they discovered a nugget of gold. In 1848, James Marshall said it. He was the first to dig chunks of gold in out of a creek. He told fellow worker Mr. Scott, “I have found it.” And the Gold Rush commenced.
Much of the natural beauty of California comes from its geological past. The majestic Sierras, for instance, were pushed up into the sky by tectonic forces. It comes with a price. The bulk of the state is situated on the massive San Andreas Fault that creases the length of the state north to south.
Earthquakes are detected daily, but a major shaker in densely populated areas registering 7 or 8 on the Richter causes terrible ruination. The most devastating was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake when a 7.8 shaker killed 3,000 people and caused $20 million in damage.
The Most Diverse State in the Union
California is not only the most populous state, but also the most diverse. It is so diverse that there is not one ethnic group that predominates. In fact, folks have migrated to the state from over 60 countries.
In this way, California best represents the grand notion of America’s melting pot and lends to a citizenry of mostly tolerant and inclusive people. “Haters gonna hate,” but not in CA, for the most part.
Freaky California Lore
One of the wackiest mythologies in California history portrays the Dark Watchers. These manlike supernatural creatures are believed to roam the forests of the Santa Lucia Mountains. They are only observed at twilight and vanish into thin air upon being sighted.
The legend comes from the native Chumash early inhabitants who depicted Dark Watchers on rock walls and animated them in oral histories. The legend even made it into, Fight, a short story by John Steinbeck.
Alcatraz’s Haunted Prison Cell
Solitary confinement is a particularly brutal punishment and the S.F. federal prison Alcatraz was built just for that—to kill the spirit of even the most hardened criminal. Surrounded by water, with no possible escape, one cell, in particular, was exceptionally frightening. Inside cell 14D, known as “the hole,” a prisoner in the 1940s was found mysteriously strangled to death on the floor.
But what makes it freaky is the paranormal lore saying, the night before, a man was screaming that a monster with glowing eyes was trying to murder him. You can visit it yourself and experience the uncanny supernatural coldness that permeates “the hole.”
‘The Horror Hotel’
Constructed in 1925, the Cecil opened headlong into the Great Depression. The surrounding Downtown L.A. streets went to the homeless and shady clientele frequented the place. Pimps, drug dealers and even serial killers—both the Night Stalker Jack Unterweger—stayed there. Its history is a dark one. An inordinate amount of murders and suicides haunt the property. As many as four women have jumped to their deaths from an upper-level window, one of them even took out a pedestrian! Ghost sightings are common.
Known as the “horror hotel,” most recently it’s the location of yet another unsolved murder. A woman’s body was found in the water tank following complaints about the water “tasting funny.”
The Body in the Water Tank
The Cecil has the creepy distinction of being the crime scene of L.A.’s most mysterious and unsolved murders. Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Vancouver student, was found partially decomposing inside of the water tank located on the roof of The Cecil. Nobody witnessed a crime, and it remains a mystery how her body got into the virtually inaccessible tank.
She had been missing for weeks until they found her body on February 19, 2013. She was last sighted in the hotel elevator on surveillance footage acting strange. Suicide was ruled out, but a murder suspect has never been found.
The Winchester Mystery Mansion
The crown jewel of San Jose is the Winchester Mystery House. It’s haunted, it’s a conundrum, it’s a historical relic. And now it’s a major motion picture. Sarah Winchester, the Winchester rifle company heiress, left a freaky legacy. Staircases lead to nowhere, windows are enclosed by walls, and with 24,000 square feet, it holds 160 rooms.
After her husband died in 1881, she contacted a spiritualist who summoned her husband’s spirit who told her she was cursed. To stave off the curse, he said, she must build a room for every soul taken by a Winchester rifle, or else they would come to haunt her
The Los Angeles County Coroner Had a Gift Shop
Only in Los Angeles! Skeletons in the Closet was the name of the official gift shop of the L.A. County Coroner.
Crazy and morbid, featuring CSI chalk-outline beach towels and coroner body bags, the unique shop was tucked inside the medical examiner building at the coroner’s office visitor’s entrance.
The O.C. Punk Scene
In the dark shadows of the Magical Kingdom, the Orange County punk scene scrapped itself together with angsty visceral and societal rage. From backyard jams and single-room gigs at clubs like the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Doll Hut, to world famous recognition, O.C. punks left a mark. Reeling against the so-called Summer of Love, disco and ’60s hippies in general, punks punctuated the 1970s music scene with a new sound—loud screeching strings and percussive aggression.
Punk bands named themselves to make a statement: The Vandals, Agent Orange, A Clockwork Orange, Suicidal Tendencies, Social Distortion, the Adolescents, The Damned, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys.
Home of ‘The Foodie’
The foodie revolution commenced in California, where else? It all happened in 1973 Yountville, an upscale enclave of Napa in a specialty wine house called Domaine Chandon. The French sparkling wine room offered the nation’s only dining restaurant at the time.
The doors have since closed, however, its executive chef Philippe Jeanty from Épernay, France, is still crafting French plates at Bistro Jeanty , his own dining room.
Avocado Capital of the World
Tucked away at the furthest northern and eastern reaches of San Diego County sits avocado country. Avocado groves, weaving over and around rolling hills, blanket the quaint town of Fallbrook which produces an annual $26 million crop.
California is the primary source of the precious fruit. The state generates 95% of the national harvest. Every year, the city hosts the Fallbrook Avocado Festival, bringing in over 70,000 folks to the quiet enclave.
“Orange Pickers Wanted”
As many as 100,000 Dust Bowl refugees left agricultural ruin behind and flocked to California to work. They packed up their cars and left family farms. All for nothing. Jobs dried up and they were forced to shack up in shantytowns. Identified by the “Okie” epithet, they faced discrimination and hate and barely survived.
Perhaps Woodie Guthrie, who actually made the trek out West, says it best. “California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see / But believe it or not you won’t find it so hot / If you ain’t got the do re mi.”
The Golden Age of Hollywood
Smack in the middle of the Great Depression Hollywood shined with glitz and glory. The beloved Golden Age of Hollywood thrived with the dawn of talkies and because of the desperate need of Americans to escape misery. For a nickel, one could walk into a dark theater, settle down and watch The Wizard of Oz, King Kong, Frankenstein, or All Quiet on the Western Front.
Classy and larger than life, Hollywood’s legends glittered on the silver screen. The Golden Age trickled out in the 1940s due to the advent of the TV and the blacklisting of stars.
Coastal Redwoods are Home to the Bigfoot Legend
The Rockefeller tree you see here is the tallest tree in the world. It’s a magnificent coastal redwood tucked away in one of Humboldt’s awe-inspiring groves. But what is truly legendary are the bigfoot sightings. There’s even a museum dedicated to the gargantuan furry legend, boasting actual film footage.
The Sasquatch-like sightings first started in 1958. If you’re brave enough, go trek the forests in search of one!