You’ve endured many sleepless nights wrestling with the idea of moving to California, but you’re just not sure if all that sunshine is worth sacrificing your cozy blankets and hot cocoa for yet. It’s a big decision. We get it.
That’s why we’ve dug out the extensive lowdown on all things Cali, scouring practically every informative source short of setting foot in the actual state itself. We’ve jampacked our insider’s guide with tons of trivia, facts and stats, and even tossed in a bit of weird stuff, for flavor. Here’s hoping it’s exactly what you need to convert all that tossing and turning into peaceful nights that’ll perhaps even have you California Dreamin’.
From Hollywood and the Sunset Strip to San Francisco and the iconic cable cars, California has been dazzling audiences and tourists alike for decades. We’ve seen it proven countless times that there’s no shortage of California fascination…especially when it comes to the extensive list of shows centering around the place. Perhaps Beverly Hills, 90210, The O.C., Laguna Beach, L.A. Law, The Real Housewives of Orange County, Californication, or even NCIS: Los Angeles ring a few bells.
Of course, California isn’t all what you’ve seen on TV or the big screen. In fact, many would argue that none of those iconic TV/movie characters have given you an accurate third-person view of the land of singin’ and dancin’ raisins (remember those guys?). Considering California is the country’s third-largest state by land mass, obviously there’s a lot to this place beyond famous people and gossip over who wore what to which award show. So let’s dive a bit deeper.
California is known as The Golden State, so you know it’s got a rich history. For starters, it was home to the California Gold Rush, which began in 1848 when one lucky duck found a bit of gold. It wasn’t long before everyone wanted in on that action, so 300,000 people flocked to the area. Not surprising that sparkly things of many varieties have long drawn people to Cali.
The gorgeous fields of golden poppies blanketing the state also have a role in making the land worthy of its nickname. The state flower is so plentiful and bright that when you get tons of them in a field together, it has the ability to make the grass look like it’s on fire. Don’t worry, the illusion is real—there’s nothing wrong with your eyes.
As of 2019, about 39,747,267 people are currently living in California and soakin’ up that golden sunshine, which earns The Golden State its ranking of the largest state in terms of population. Heck, 240,177 of them moved here in 2017 alone. Though sadly, when it comes to size, Texas and Alaska have the state beat. But don’t worry, it’s still absolutely massive. Which is a good thing, people can spread out a bit—it’s only the 11th-densest state in the country.
Now, like we said, people mostly think of movie stars and celebrities when they hear the word "California." But again, that’s only really the Los Angeles/Hollywood scene, and this place has tons more ground to cover. So what do the rest of the people here do for a living? Let's check out that West Coast job market next.
We hate to rain on your parade, but not everyone who moves to California to become the next Julia Roberts or Adele will succeed. And even if you do, it’s a long road to get there and you’ll need a steady source of income to stay afloat.
California’s unemployment rate isn't too bad, at 4.2% as of mid-way through 2019, but it's still a couple of ticks higher than the national average. And the state's minimum wage shot up to $12/hour at the beginning of 2019, which is among the highest in the country. Of course, it needs to be, since the cost of living is so high.
So what do you want your job to be? According to zippia.com, the fastest-growing job titles include: wind turbine technician, rod buster, miner, roofer, web developer, statistician and cartographer. That's quite an assortment. Zippia then goes on to talk about those at the higher end of the pay spectrum, which includes: anesthesiologists, surgeons, psychiatrists, CEOs, OB/GYNs, orthodontists and airline pilots.
It’s good to know that even average Joes andJanes have a shot at finding a well-paying gig in California. But when it's time to punch out at the end of the day, where do the hats get hung? Let's move right along to the housing market.
Whether you've got your heart set on a true California-style fancy McMansion or you're just crossing your fingers and hoping to get a cute little studio near a bus stop, you’ve got options. Take the following info into consideration before starting your search.
Those who are home ownership-bound might be interested in the current median home value, which zillow.com states is $548,600, and it has risen 1.3% over the past year. Homes are currently listed on the market for an average of $549,900 and are closing for about $502,800. And if renting is more your speed, you can rent a house for about $2,800/month. Yeah, real estate prices are no joke in California.
But what about apartments? If you're looking for a place in Los Angeles, rentcafe.com says you’ll pay an average of $2,516/month. And if that's not enough to give your heart the flutters, check this out—people in Berkeley pay around $3,240/month, and San Francisco residents are spending about $3,706/month.
You may want to shift your search to Sacramento, where you’ll pay about $1,401/month, or Fresno, where places go for around $1,088/month. Hopefully the choice is up to you, otherwise you could be rockin’ the ramen for your three daily squares just to cover rent.
No need to worry about finding a brand-new place, either—there's oodles of new construction all over. There's development under way pretty much everywhere along the state’s western coast, from San Francisco down to San Diego. The midline of the state, from Sacramento down to San Bernardino, also has tons going on. Caution, though, along the eastern half and the north, there’s very little going on new-development-wise.
Culture and Natives
Before you go believing everything you hear about Californians from TV, let's hear about Cali life from those who actually live it. That’s right, real, warm-blooded, three-dimensional humans. They exist, believe it or not.
First, like anyplace, there's a good mix of folks here. What's interesting about the culture is that there seems to be a huge divide in the attitudes and behaviors of Californians depending on which part of the state they live in. "NorCal" and "SoCal," as they're referred to, are almost like completely different places.
According to locals, those in NorCal are "less fake," "more reliable," "less materialistic" and more adaptable in colder weather than their southern counterparts. See, SoCal-ers have next-to-zero experience with cold temperatures, or even AC for that matter, because it's a "perpetual 70 degrees" there.
Apparently those in SoCal, and especially in and around the L.A. area, tend to be more "superficial," "self-centered," obsessed with working out, and overly concerned with appearance. Remember: their words, not ours. You'll see people doing yoga all over the place in SoCal, but you won't see anyone when it rains. NorCal likes to joke that its southern neighbors turn into cats when it rains. The cities shut down, everyone freaks out, and suddenly no one knows how to drive. SoCal folk also spend a lot of their lives sitting in traffic.
No matter what part of the state they're in, Californians pretty much unanimously enjoy walking, running, biking, surfing and hiking. But they also love to eat (who doesn't, though?). California's food scene is one of the most diverse in the country. You’ll find everything from sushi (apparently the trend in our country was started here) to fancy cupcakes and burritos. And while locals love to be organic or vegetarian, they might love their In-N-Out Burger a little more.
When they're not hitting the beaches in their down time, Californians are celebrating their inner nerd at events like San Diego's Comic-Con, which is apparently the Comic-Con to go to in the US. They also love their music festivals, like Coachella, a huge event famous for reuniting Rage Against the Machine and sharing “Hologram Tupac” with the world. Lots of people also attend San Francisco's annual Pride event, which is the biggest LGBT celebration in the country, spanning two days.
Golden State Trivia
Next up is the rapid-fire section of this guide, featuring fun little trivia tidbits that’ll wash down real nice with a nice Sierra Nevada or Lagunitas brew—something with some nice hops.
The state's home to the first ever McDonald's, which opened in San Bernardino in 1948. Speaking of San Bernardino, it's the largest county in the country. And speaking of large places, L.A. and San Diego are two of the 10 most populated cities in the country.
Hungry for more sunbaked California trivia? Alright, check it out—the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Furnace Creek Ranch, a part of Death Valley, in 1913—a gearshift-melting 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Death Valley is literally THE hottest and driest place in the world. Yet, at the same time, California's also home to half of all the land used to grow fruit for the whole country, including strawberries, grapes, plums, etc. Go figure.
There are more parks here than any other state—282 of 'em—and 840 miles of coastline. The Pacific Coast Highway (aka the PCH) is apparently the most gorgeous drive in the country.
The tallest living tree in the world, a redwood, can be found in Redwood National Park—towering over even the tallest of us at a ginormous 379.1 feet. As for other giants in the state, you'll find them in Silicon Valley—it's home to the tech HQs of such powerful companies as Facebook, Google, Netflix and eBay.
You'll also find big entertainment industry names immortalized on brick stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Actress Joanne Woodward was the first to ever receive a Hollywood Star, in 1960.
Pretty much everyone and their mother has written a song about California, from The Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'," to Eagles’ “Hotel California,” to Katy Perry's "California Gurls." They're all trying to convince us that we need to move there, pronto. But let's check out some specific stuff that might make us want to do just that, next.
Can't-Miss California Fun + Activities
No matter if you're (California) dreamin' of the beach or you're hoping to one day find your name on the Walk of Fame, there’s enough here to keep you entertained literally forever.
Here are just a few of the state's coolest attractions:
- Avenue of the Giants: Part of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park near Weott, this is the "most outstanding display of giant trees in the California redwood belt." Spanning 31 miles along Highway 101, you can hike, bike, swim, fish, picnic and, best of all, drive right through your choice of three different hollowed-out redwoods. Or try out all three and decide which was your favorite.
- The Wave Organ: Located on San Francisco Bay, this acoustic sculpture amplifies the sound of the waves. It's made of more than 20 PVC and concrete pipes. Apparently, you need to visit at high tide to hear actual music and not just random notes.
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery: Head to L.A., where you'll find this "park-like" cemetery that houses more celebs in one place than anywhere else. Both Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone rest here, as well as Judy Garland and silent film actor Rudolph Valentino, to name just a few. You can even catch a screening of a Hollywood classic film, such as Rebel Without a Cause, projected onto the side of the mausoleum.
- Victoria Beach Pirate Tower: This seaside tower in Laguna Beach looks like it's straight out of a fantasy storybook, but it was apparently just a rich "eccentric" person's private staircase. The name came from the owner's game of hiding coins in the stones and cracks in the tower's sides for children to find. The lonely spire was built in 1926 and stands 60 feet tall, spanning the gap from the ground at the edge of the water to the top of the neighboring cliff.
- Encryption Lava Lamps: Want to see something that’s unique and totally trippy? Check out cybersecurity company Cloudflare's office in San Francisco. About 10% of the total net is encrypted by a giant wall of...lava lamps. That's right, websites such as the ones belonging to Uber and OKCupid are protected by 100+ lava lamps, whose patterns are recorded by a video camera and then transferred to a computer. The computer translates the random movement patterns into the encryption code. Visitors are allowed because they further randomize the movement patterns picked up on the camera.
- 24-Hour Sprinkles: Beverly Hills has come to the rescue with the first ever cupcake ATM, stocked with 600 freshly baked cupcakes every day. At $4 a pop, it's a tasty way to eliminate those randomly timed cravings. The company has since expanded to major cities across a few states, and to NYC in 2012.
Pros and Cons of Goin’ to California
Listen, we could talk about tall trees and California spots on the DL all day, but aren't you more interested in hearing some aww yeah's and oh no's related to living here from actual Californians? We'll turn the mic over to them, now.
Pros (as voted on by real-life Californians):
- Epic scenery: California's has it all: beaches, palm trees, rocky shorelines, lakes, rivers, the ocean, mountains, fields, desert... Need we go on? It's also got that golden sunshine pouring down over everything, like practically all the time. This place is beautiful, we get it. Next.
- Celeb sightings: One minute you're just in line at Starbucks, ready to order your grande-no-whip-soy-mocha-latte, and the next thing you know you're staring Brad Pitt in the face. There are famous people all over the place in California, especially in L.A. So if you're into celeb sightings or dream of becoming an obnoxious paparazzi, this is the place for you.
- Stuff to do: Obviously, California's got buckets of fun to be had for just about anyone. With so many major metropolitan areas and tourist attractions mixed with the gorgeous natural landscape, you'll never run out of activities. And we know how much you like activities.
- Perfect weather: That is, at least in SoCal, which locals report is "basically a perpetual 70 degrees" and sunny. You'll have a bit more variety and unpredictability in NorCal, but hey, if it gets too bad, you can always hop in the car and pay your southern friends a paradise-filled visit.
Cons (also from the mouths of real Californians):
- Inner-state rivalry: Who ever heard of a state that was at war with itself? Well, "war" is a bit of a stretch, but there are definitely some bad vibes flyin' between NorCal and SoCal—and even sometimes a third area that tries to emerge around L.A., calling itself Coastal Cal. Why don’t they just call it CoCal, seems like it fits?
- Traffic: Depending on where you look, L.A.'s traffic is either reported as the worst in the nation, or the second worst, after Hawaii's. It's so bad that some areas even report commutes of 50+ minutes each way. That's a serious chunk of time spent practicing calm breathing and listening to podcasts.
- Angry Mother Nature: Despite the nearly-always-perfect weather, sometimes Mother Nature gets in a mood. All kinds of natural disasters strike here, including earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, mudslides, and droughts. It's almost like Californians are getting punished for living in one of the prettiest places in the country.
- Astronomical cost of living: CNBC reported that California was the second most expensive state to live in 2018, right behind Hawaii. It's easily affordable for all those celebs with their Escalades full of bling, but for the average Joe and Jane? Not so much.
That's enough of the serious stuff. It's time for the completely unnecessary, but super-amusing segment of our insider's guide. We've stumbled upon a handful of super-outdated and strange laws in California that are totally worth repeating.
From the good folks at onlyinyourstate.com:
- People may not sleep on a road. We know sitting in an L.A. traffic jam is probably boring as all get-out, but that doesn't mean you can break out your pillow and blankie right on the asphalt.
- A man can't go outside unless his jacket and pants match. Wee-ooo, wee-ooo! Do you hear that? It's the siren of the Fashion Police.
- Detonating a nuclear device within city limits will result in a $500 fine. This punishment actually seems ridiculously lenient to us.
- It's illegal to drive a herd of cattle down the street. Look, you're not going to escape the traffic jams, no matter what tactic you use, so just stop trying. Sit and wait like everyone else, bub.
Californiaaa, Here We Cooome!
There you have it—our insider's guide to all things Golden State, served up with some California rolls on the side. We won’t pretend that we hit on everything you're concerned about (sorry, we're busy working on our tan), but we sincerely hope we've helped push you ever closer to the edge of your decision. We’ll leave you to deal with the many California-themed earworms we threw at you, too (you’re welcome).
Now it's up to you to decide if you'd like to become a Californian, ogling all the celebs, hitting the beach and driving through redwoods. If California's calling, you'd better answer.
NOTE: if you decide California isn't right for you, we've covered the other states, too, to help you find your paradise. If the West Coast isn't your jam, have you thought about Maryland?
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