California Land for Sale

California is what most people think of when they hear the words “west coast.” While the northern neighbors of Oregon and Washington State share the left coast with old Cali, the west coast is undoubtedly defined by the mere presence of the Golden State. California also distinguishes itself by being the most populous state in the entire United States. The U.S. Census reports 37,253,956 Californians at the time of the 2010 headcount. Texas is a distant second in population, with a mere 25,145,561 at last official count.

The history of the Golden State is as rich as the precious metal for which the state gets its nickname. While the area now known as California wasn’t even discovered by Europeans until the 16th century, indigenous peoples have lived there since at least 17,000 BCE, which is the date of the oldest human artifacts found. While some areas were discovered in the mid-1500s, then subsequently occupied by Spanish and British explorers, many of the native Californians in the interior did not encounter any non-native people until the 1770s. This phenomenon contributes greatly to the culture blend and explains to some degree the current population’s ethnic and cultural proportions.

During the 19th century, a few things happened, not the least of which were the Mexican War of Independence, the Mexican-American War, the California gold rush, and a variety of epidemics, which wiped out nearly 90 percent of the native population of California. All of these and many other events moved rapidly to change the social, demographic and economic climate of California. California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

While California is a very large state, it’s a very distant third place when it comes to competing with Texas and Alaska for area. While the state covers a respectable area of 163,696 square miles, there are fewer than 250 people per square mile, putting California in 11th place in population density. Of course, the population of any state is not distributed equally; the majority of California’s population is concentrated on the coastal areas. What this means for the land buyer is that there is a lot of available land in the interior of the Golden State and elsewhere.

While 52.1 percent of the state is government or public land (local, state and federal), the majority of this land is composed of wilderness preserves and state and national parks situated on the west coast, forested areas in the east and north and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the eastern part of the state. The remainder of the state includes vast tracts of land, much of which is in central California.

The entire western border of California is 840 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean. The eastern border is defined by the western edge of Nevada in Northern, Central and part of Southern California, and Arizona in the extreme southeast end. The northern border meets up with Oregon; the southern boundary shares an international border with Mexico, mainly the Baja peninsula.

In proportion to its size, California has a wide variety of terrain and climates. From sweltering desert valleys and sunny, mild beaches to craggy, sub-arctic mountains, California is a study in geographic and climatic diversity. We can divide California into three main regions: northern, central and southern. We’ve defined he borders of each region to our own purpose, but in actuality, the borders of each area will vary depending on whom you speak to.

Northern California

Starting from the top, Northern California — NorCal for short — encompasses the area south of Oregon border to the southern borders of the following counties: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Joaquin, Calaveras and Alpine. The Pacific Ocean defines the west boundary, while the western border of Nevada defines the east boundary. While southern Cali has the golden sun on the horizon of golden beaches, Northern California is where the real gold was found. A tiny sawmill in sleepy little Coloma, California was the site of the discovery of several gold flakes on the ground in 1848. While the discoverers did their best to keep things secret, this set off a chain reaction of massive proportions that quickly overwhelmed the area. By the end of the gold rush, some 300,000 prospectors (called forty-niners) tried their hand at getting rich. A few did, but the vast majority went home with little more than what they started with. Others never made it back.

Northern California is an area of splendid beauty and stark contrasts, with the San Francisco Bay to the west and the northern end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east. The metropolitan areas include San Francisco, the famed Silicon Valley, situated north of San Francisco, and Sacramento, which is also a bustling epicenter of technology and innovation. The Sacramento Valley, which takes up the area between the coast and mountains, is the northern portion of what is referred to as the Central Valley. With the exception of the San Francisco Bay and metro Sacramento areas, this area is among the least populated in the state. The focus of this area is largely agricultural. The Klamath Basin is a major part of this area, as is the Wine Country, which includes the counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Part of Northern California is what many refer to as Upstate California. It is the area north of the Bay area and the Sacramento Valley and is famous for the ancient Redwood trees north of San Francisco. This area also distinguishes itself as separate from the remainder of California. In 1940, Upstate California leaders moved to separate itself from the rest of California to establish the state of Jefferson. Although the bid failed, residents of the area continue to assert their own separate identity from the rest of the state.

The climate of Northern California is hard to nail down, even in the wine-growing and other agricultural areas. The geography and weather patterns are extremely diverse. Many areas have a number of microclimates, with different amounts of precipitation within them. However, the general climate is mild – dryer in the open areas of the valleys, wetter in the portions that are closer to the mountains and the ocean. The coast will experience warmer, almost Mediterranean weather. The higher elevations, especially around Mount Shasta and the Sierra Nevada Mountains are considered sub-Alpine, and experience a good deal of snowfall in the winter. Northern California, including Upstate, has vast tracts of wilderness and is home to a number of game reserves, where hunters can track down deer, turkey and wild pig. Several lakes dot the area, where fishing is plentiful. The coastal area is mostly rocky, and isn’t known for its fishing; however, some hardy souls will try their hand at surf fishing.

Central California

For many people — especially those who travel through Central California on Interstate 5 — the area might be viewed as endless fields of produce and not much else. While much of Central California consists of the agriculturally oriented Central Valley, there is much more to the central part of the state than agriculture. Central California, as we describe it, extends from the northern borders of Monterey, San Benito, Merced, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Mono counties to the southern edge of the Monterey, Kings, Tulare and Inyo counties. This area encompasses the Coast Range to the west, past the Sierra Nevada Range and into the High Sierra Desert to the east.

On the west side of Central California, part of the coast rises up dramatically in an area known as Big Sur. This area extends from approximately 120 miles south of San Francisco to about 245 miles northwest of Los Angeles. About half of this area is public land. However, there are areas extending north and south of that land, which offer some spectacular views.

The Central Valley area includes the San Joaquin Valley and is situated between the Central Coast Range to the west and the Sierra Nevada Range to the east. Elevation in this area ranges between sea level and 1,000 feet. From an agricultural standpoint, it is one of the world’s most productive regions, thanks to two major river watersheds (the San Joaquin and the Sacramento). To put this in perspective, this area makes up less than one percent of all of the farmland in the United States, yet produces eight percent of the nation’s crops by value. The late fall and winter is the California rainy season, and during that time, this area is known for a unique weather phenomenon. Called a tule fog, it’s named for the tule grasses in the wetlands of the area. This is an exceptionally thick, persistent ground-hugging fog that obscures the vision of anyone who encounters it, including drivers.

East of the Central Valley is the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. This range runs somewhat north and south through the southern portion of Northern California, and the entirety of Central California. This range is largely responsible for the plentiful rainfall and humidity of the Central Valley, as well as the dry deserts of Nevada. Much of this area is protected by the U.S. government and includes Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, which is home to some of the oldest and largest living things on earth — the giant sequoia. Further east in this section of California is the Mojave Desert, home to the famous Death Valley.

Southern California

Southern California runs north from the Mexican border to the northern borders of the San Luis Obispo, Kern and San Bernardino counties. A large portion of Southern California consists of a large network of metropolitan areas and includes Los Angeles, San Diego and in-between, extending eastward to Palm Springs. Called a megaregion, this part of SoCal is heavily developed. Heading east, much of the interior of this part of the state is less densely populated desert.

However, “desert” does not mean “barren” or “uninhabitable.” The interior south is the domain of the Mojave Desert to the north and the Colorado Desert, which is a sub-region of the Sonoran Desert to the south. Both desert regions are dotted with cities and towns, with a great deal of land in between. Both deserts are within the area of the western United States called the Great Basin, which covers the majority of Nevada and a portion of Colorado, as well as Central and Southern California. The Mojave is considered “high desert,” and, while it is arid, receiving less than 13 inches of rain per year, the Colorado Desert receives even less, usually no more than six inches of rain per year. Both deserts have very high summer daytime temperatures. Death Valley, in the Mojave Desert, is the hottest place in North America, with temperatures routinely exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The Colorado Desert is a bit cooler than the Mojave, but not by much. Temperatures hover between 104 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures are tolerable and are largely responsible for the phenomenon of the “snowbird.” People who live the rest of the year in the northern and eastern United States make temporary moves to the deserts of the southwest to escape extreme winter weather.

California Industries and Culture

Those who have spent any amount of time in any part of California would say that the west coast seems to have a more casual culture than many other parts of the country. This seems especially true for Southern California, but this culture can be found in varying degrees throughout the entire west coast. The attraction for those who live in the colder winter climates is the ability to pass the winter away at a more comfortable temperature, and come in droves each winter. Many snowbirds may own a home in both locations, traveling between them annually. This melding of northern and southern cultures has made their mark on some areas, with many winter destinations becoming a blend of northern European and Hispanic influences.

Industries in California vary as much as the terrain in the state. Northern California is world-renown for the high tech Silicon Valley, which remains a leader in technological innovation. Central California is primarily known for the agricultural productivity of the Central Valley. Southern California is known for surf and sand, tourist destinations and winter respites for snowbirds. However, the entire state places conservation of public lands very highly. The amount of land that is set aside for the enjoyment of future generations attests to this. No matter where you go in California, the natural beauty of each area — whether mountain, sea or desert — is sure to convince you that you’re ready for the California way of life.