The culture of California is tied to the culture of the United States as a whole. However, there are features that are unique to California. With roots in the cultures of Spain, Asia, Mexico, and the eastern United States, California integrates foods, languages and traditions from all over the world.
Spain had explored the present state during the 16th century, although it did not colonize it and did not exert its cultural influence in earnest until the 18th century. By the 19th century, Spain had built missions throughout the state and California consisted of huge land extensions (called "ranchos"). From that time to the present, Hispanic Californians have always been among the largest cultural groups in the state. Furthermore, Mexican immigration into California has also resulted in a large share of cultural contributions. California was first settled by Native American tribes and the names of many cities in California are of Native American origin.
California culture has also been greatly influenced by Indigenous peoples of California as well as other large populations, especially immigrant groups from East Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America. California is an international gateway to the United States.
California has long been a subject of interest in the public mind and has often been promoted by its boosters as a kind of paradise. In the early 20th Century, fueled by the efforts of state and local boosters, many Americans saw the Golden State as an ideal resort destination, sunny and dry all year round with easy access to the ocean, deserts, and mountains. In the 1960s, popular music groups such as the Beach Boys promoted the image of Californians as laid-back, tanned beach-goers.
In terms of socio-cultural mores and national politics, Californians are perceived as more liberal than most other Americans, especially those who live in the coastal or northern regions of California. The state, in whole, is perceived as liberal, though the northeast region (predominantly the area covering the California half of the proposed State of Jefferson) and certain parts of the southern region (i.e. Orange County) are more conservative. California is also home to many prestigious universities including Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the University of Southern California, the California State University and the Claremont Colleges.
The California Gold Rush of the 1850s is still seen as a symbol of California's modern economic style, a pioneering spirit that tends to generate technology, social ventures, entertainment, and economic fads and booms that, in many cases, are followed all around the globe.
English is the main language of California's inhabitants. Spanish is a very common second language all over the state.
California English is a dialect of the English language spoken within California. California is the home to a highly diverse populace, and this is reflected in many other languages, especially Spanish. As is the case of English is spoken in any state, not all features of California English is used by all speakers in the state, and not all features are restricted in use only to the state. However, there are some linguistic features which can be identified as either originally or predominantly Californian.
As the nation's major motion picture and television entertainment center, Hollywood has influenced English throughout the world, by making English speakers of many dialects very visible and by making known new terms and new meanings. The media outlets and entertainment industry based in California also popularizes the California English accent and dialect to the rest of the country and the world.
The official language of California has been English since the passage of Proposition 63 in 1986. However, many state, city, and local government agencies print official public documents in Spanish and other languages since Proposition 63 doesn't regulate how governments use other languages.
California was once home to 300 Native American languages spoken by indigenous people.
Apart from the architecture of the California missions and other colonial buildings, there are still many architectonic reminiscences of the Spanish period, especially in Southern California, where white stucco walls, red roof tiles, curvilinear gables, arched windows, balconies or even bell towers are incorporated into modern building styles in what is known as the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, a United States architectural stylistic movement that came about in the early 20th century.
While Spanish architectural styles appear statewide, Northern Californian cities more prominently feature historic Victorian architecture, for which San Francisco is renowned, but which dominates the central historic districts of most Northern California towns. The towns of Eureka and Ferndale, in Humboldt County, are particularly noteworthy for their well-preserved Victorian building stock.
Today's architecture in California is a mixture of many other cultural influences that has resulted in groundbreaking modernist styles that have generated many other interesting and unusual building types.
California is home to Hollywood (a district of Los Angeles), the center of the American film industry, which has given rise to the popular fashion movie-star image and stereotypical life styles such as beach-dwelling surfers.
Hollywood has had a profound effect on culture all across the world since the early 20th century. During the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, which lasted from the end of the silent era in American cinema in the late 1920s to the late 1950s, thousands of movies were released from Hollywood studios. Spectacular epics, which took advantage of new widescreen processes from the 1950s, have become increasingly popular.
Today, in spite of fierce competition from other countries and even other states within the US, California still dominates the industry.
The guitar was the instrument that the Mexican state of Alta California chose and two composers for the instrument are represented in the collection. Manuel Y. Ferrer's were collected in a book of 144 pages, called "Compositions and Arrangements for the Guitar" published in San Francisco in 1882, then reprinted in Boston by Oliver Ditson in 1915. Many of his pieces appear in the sheet music collection. An additional Californian artist, of the name of Luis T. Romero is represented his 1889 arrangement for guitar of La Paloma by Yradier.
In 1898, a collection called "Characteristic Songs of the Spanish Californians" was published as Canciones del Pais de California" in Santa Barbara.
California is the birthplace of a number of international renowned music genres, including:
- West coast hip hop, e.g. Tupac Shakur, N.W.A.
- West coast jazz
- West coast blues
- G Funk, e.g. Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre
- Hyphy, e.g. Mac Dre, E-40
- Fusion Reggae, e.g. Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution, Iration, Dirty Heads, and Stick Figure
- Third wave ska with bands such as Reel Big Fish, Suburban Rhythm, Sublime, and No Doubt.
- Bay Area thrash metal, e.g. Metallica, Exodus
- Alternative rock/nu metal, e.g. Korn, Deftones, Linkin Park, P.O.D
- Stoner rock, e.g. Sleep, Kyuss
- Skate punk, e.g. The Offspring, NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, Suicidal Tendencies, Rancid, Guttermouth, Black Flag, Face to Face, Descendents
- Funk rock, e.g. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus, Incubus, Mr. Bungle
- Experimental music, e.g. Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Beck
- Psychedelic rock, e.g. Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Moby Grape, Sly and the Family Stone
- Bakersfield sound, e.g. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Tommy Collins, Merle Haggard
- Surf rock, e.g. The Beach Boys
Other well-known artists from California from genres which did not originate in the state include:
- Heavy metal: Guns N' Roses, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, Megadeth, Slayer
- Rock: Eagles, Counting Crows, Jane's Addiction, Journey, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Faith No More, The Byrds, Rage Against the Machine
- Punk: Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Green Day
- Latin rock: Santana, Ritchie Valens
- Soft rock, e.g. The Carpenters
- Metalcore, e.g. As I Lay Dying, Atreyu, Of Mice & Men, Pierce the Veil, Secrets, A Skylit Drive, Stick to Your Guns, Wovenwar
The song Hotel California by the Eagles references this state.
Notable authors who were either native to California or who wrote extensively about California include:
- Juan Bautista Zappa, the author of the "Estrella del Norte de México" published in Seville on 1668, that was known as the "guide for the spiritual conquest of the Californias".
- Miguel Venegas, who published "Noticia de la California" in 1757, that was subsequently translated into English (1759), Dutch (1761–1762), French (1766–1767), and German (1769–1770), becoming the standard source for information about the early Californias.
- Richard Henry Dana Jr., recounted aspects of Californio culture which he saw during his 1834 visit as a sailor in Two Years Before the Mast.
- Helen Hunt Jackson, depicted a portrayal of Californio culture in her novel Ramona (1884)
- John Steinbeck, was widely known as a regionalist, mystic, and proletarian writer. A prolific writer, he is one of the best known and read writers of the 20th Century.
- Gerald Haslam, "the quintessential California writer," whose fiction and non-fiction is set mainly in the Great Central Valley.
- Joan Didion, the author of five novels and eight books of nonfiction
- Wallace Stegner, known as the "Dean of Western Writers"
- James D. Houston, protege of Stegner, whose novels and non-fiction helped define post-WWII California.
- Raymond Chandler, who wrote about the dark underbelly of mid-20th Century Los Angeles
- John Muir, who spent years in the Sierras and brought Yosemite to international prominence
- Ken Kesey, a counter-cultural figure; was an American author, best known for his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
- Ross Macdonald (Ken Millar), his post WWII work refined the noir novel in California.
- Richard Henry Dana Jr., who wrote about his 19th Century voyage to California and the namesake of Dana Point
- María Ruiz de Burton, the first female Mexican-American author to write in English; wrote The Squatter and the Don, under the pen name "C. Loyal".
- Dashiell Hammett, an American author of hardboiled detective novels and short stories
- James M. Cain, an American journalist and novelist
- James Ellroy, writer
- Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road
- John Fante, an American novelist, short-story and screenwriter of Italian descent.
- Charles Bukowski, a member of the Beat Movement.
- Robert Frost, poet, born and raised (until age 11) in San Francisco.
- Jack London, born in San Francisco.
- Frank Norris, who set several of his novels in California.
- Richard Brautigan, counterculture poet and writer, and one-time poet-in-residence at the California Institute of Technology, San Francisco resident
- Philip K. Dick, prominent Science Fiction writer.
- Frederick Kohner, Wrote the 1957 book about his daughter nicknamed Gidget The novel publication was seminal in the global dissemination of the Southern California Beach and Surf culture as both an influential book and film / television series.
California has notable museums:
- The California Museum in the state capitol of Sacramento, CA is the official museum of the California State Archives. Originally named the Golden State Museum, it opened in June 1998 under the development of the Secretary of State's office to display contents of the state archives. Soon after her husband Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as governor in 2003, First Lady Maria Shriver began working with the Secretary of State and California State Parks to expand the Museum. In 2006, The California Museum became home to the California Hall of Fame, the most notable and diverse of all The California Museum's permanent exhibits.
- The Oakland Museum of California in Oakland. The Museum is dedicated to the history, natural sciences and art that define the people, history and the future of California.
- The Getty Center in Los Angeles. One of the wealthiest art museums in the world.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
- The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.
- California Science Center, the West Coast's largest hands-on science center, in Los Angeles.
- The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the largest natural and historical museum in the Western US.
- California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. A fine art museum.
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.
- The Exploratorium in San Francisco. A hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception.
- California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Operated by the California State Parks system, the museum chronicles the history of railroads in California
- Colton Hall, signing place of The California Constitution
- California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. One of the ten largest museums of natural history in the world.
California's many immigrants bring their culinary traditions to the state. Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, and Indian food, as well as many other foreign foods, can be found throughout California. In 1903, The Landmarks Club Cookbook (which was published as a fundraiser to restore California's Spanish missions) claimed that Los Angeles had the most diverse cuisine of any city.
Produce plays an important role in California cuisine. California encompasses many diverse climates and therefore is able to grow many types of produce. Additionally, California's Central Valley contains some of the most fertile soil in the world. California is the number one U.S. producer of many common fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, tomatoes and avocados, amongst others. A health-conscious culture also contributes to the popularity of fresh produce. Fruit festivals, such as the National Orange Show Festival in San Bernardino County, are common throughout the state.
Avocados play a special role in California cuisine. Many popular California dishes integrate avocados and/or guacamole. Avocados were unfamiliar to most Americans until the mid-20th century, when growers of the subtropical fruit successfully convinced many Americans to try it. In California, avocado is commonly used in sandwiches, hamburgers, salads and even on pizza, in addition to tacos, and other Mexican foods.
With Napa Valley in the north, Santa Barbara, and the Temecula Valley in the southern part of the state, California is the world's fourth largest producer of wines, and accounts for 90 percent of the wine production in the United States. Originally started by Spanish settlers to create wine for Mass in the 18th century, the wine industry in California rivals other wine-producing countries of the world, such as France, Australia and Chile, even winning the Judgment of Paris wine competition.
California has a reputation for environmentalism. Californians, especially those living on the coasts, are viewed as being advocates of environmental issues. The environmental culture of California can be partly attributed to public outrage at the major oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. The influential social conditions resulting from this oil spill are explained in detail by environmental sociologist Harvey Molotch.
In 1965, California became the first state to regulate vehicle exhaust by setting limits on hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emissions. In 1967, the California EPA set the nation's first air quality standards for total suspended particulates, photochemical oxidants, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other pollutants. The United States Congress has allowed California to set its own pollution standards, and the state's legislators have responded with some of the strongest environmental laws ever passed.
Some Californians are concerned about the rising water levels that will be caused by global warming which will threaten areas along the coast. Additionally, with warming trends at their present rates, experts generally agree that the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is crucial to the state's drinking water, could decline by approximately 50 percent.
California's Water Board's regulation of PFOA and PFASs have the strictest notification level requirements in the Nation.
Public universities & colleges
California offers a unique three-tier system of public postsecondary education:
- The preeminent research university system in the state is the University of California (UC), which employs more Nobel Prize laureates than any other institution in the world, and is considered one of the world's finest public university systems. There are nine general UC campuses (most notably at Berkeley and Los Angeles), and a number of specialized campuses in the UC system.
- The California State University (CSU) system has over 400,000 students, making it the largest university system in the United States. It is the oldest public institution of higher learning in the State of California, and is intended to accept the top one-third (1/3) of high school students. The CSU campuses were originally separately-established normal schools, but are now organized in a comprehensive university system, awarding Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral degrees.
- The California Community Colleges system provides lower division courses. It is composed of 115 colleges, serving a student population of over 2.9 million.
Private universities & colleges
California is also home to such notable private universities as Stanford University, the Claremont Colleges, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the University of Southern California (USC). California has hundreds of other private colleges and universities, including many religious and special-purpose institutions.
Public secondary education consists of high schools that teach elective courses in trades, languages, and liberal arts with tracks for gifted, college-bound and industrial arts students. California's public educational system is supported by a unique constitutional amendment that requires 40% of state revenues to be spent on education.
The state's proximity to the ocean influences many aspects of California culture and daily life. Surfing is an extremely popular sport in California, where the famed spots of Trestles, Rincon, Mavericks, The Wedge, Malibu, and "Surf City, USA" reside. Some of the world's most renowned surf companies, including Hurley, Quiksilver, Volcom, O'Neill, Body Glove, RVCA are all headquartered in California. Older surfers such as Corky Carroll, Robert August, Hobie Alter as well as some of today's most renowned surfers, including Bobby Martinez, Dane Reynolds, Tom Curren, Taylor Knox, and Rob Machado are all from California. Many surfing magazines are also headquartered in California, including Surfing Magazine, Surfer (magazine), and Surfer's Journal.
In the 1960s, surfing became immensely popular due to surf rock bands like the Beach Boys, surf films like Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer, and Hollywood blockbusters like Gidget. Due to this mainstream surf culture explosion, surfing soon embodied the ideal Californian lifestyle and became a teen sensation as well as a sport. Malibu, California was at the heart of surf culture not only because it is a world-class surf spot, but also due to its youthful "beach" atmosphere and warm weather. Young men began strutting around the beach in boardshorts and women wore more revealing bikini swim suits, which, along with the surfboard, became symbols of beach culture. The surf culture boom of the 1960s soon led to an enormous increase of surfers at beaches around the country and helped surfing develop into the sport it is today.
Surfing (particularly in Southern California) has its own slang, which has coincided with Valspeak. Words like "tubular", "radical", and "gnarly" and the overuse of the word "like" are associated with both. In the late 1960s, Santa Cruz and Northern California developed their own slang like "groovy", "hella", and "tight". However, the majority of these terms have fallen out of use across the state.
Northern–Southern California rivalry
This has historically manifested through differences in regional dialect, as well as politics. Southern California has historically been more conservative in comparison to northern California. Northern California has been more liberal, to the point that the term "San Francisco values" has become a pejorative among conservatives in both state and national politics. An early example of this divide was the 1860 Presidential election, in which Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge won in the southern counties, while the more populous San Francisco Bay Area carried the entire state for Abraham Lincoln.
The rivalry also manifests itself in professional sports, such as rivalries between the following teams:
- San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in baseball
- Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels, also in baseball
- San Jose Sharks and both the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in hockey
- San Jose Earthquakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy in soccer
- Both the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in basketball
- San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in football
- Sureños and Norteños are rival groups of gangs that, except in rare exceptions, strongly follow a northern-southern divide in territory
- History of California
- California Myth
- Cuisine of California
- Music of California
- California Mille
- Cannabis in California
- List of California state symbols
- Indigenous peoples of California#Society and culture
- Culture of Asia
- Culture of Spain
- Culture of Mexico
- Bborie Park. "A World of Opportunity : Which New Languages Davis Students Would Like to Study and Why" (PDF). Sariweb.ucdavis.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
- "Languages - California". City-data.com. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
- Wesson, Herb (July 17, 2001). "AB 800 Assembly Bill – Bill Analysis". California State Assembly. p. 3. Archived from the original on November 23, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
In 1986, California voters amended the state constitution to provide that the: The [sic] Legislature and officials of the State of California shall take all steps necessary to insure that the role of English as the common language of the State of California is preserved and enhanced. The Legislature shall make no law which diminishes or ignores the role of English as the common language of California."
- Hull, Dana (May 20, 2006). "English already is "official" in California". San Jose Mercury News. San Jose, California: MediaNews Group.
English has been the "official" language of California since 1986, when voters passed Proposition 63. You'd barely know it. The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters prints ballots in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Tagalog. California drivers can take the written license exam in 31 languages, from Amharic, which is spoken in Ethiopia, to Thai. You can view the state's online Megan's Law database of registered sex offenders in Portuguese or Punjabi. [..] Proposition 63, which received 73 percent of the vote in 1986, was largely symbolic, sending a message to immigrants that they should learn to speak English if they expected to live in California. The measure directed the state to "preserve, protect and strengthen the English language," but did not call for any specific action or enforcement. Twenty-six other states have official- English laws on the books.
- "Indigenous Languages". Indigenous Mexicans in California Agriculture. 2007–2009. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
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- "California Issues the Nation's Strictest Notice Levels for PFAS in Drinking Water". jdsupra. September 4, 2019.
- Ormrod, Joan. "Endless Summer (1964): Consuming Waves and Surfing the Frontier." Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 35.1 (2005): 39-51. EBSCOhost. Web. 18 August 2012.
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- California Arts Council
- California Council for the Humanities
- Art California Web Portal
- Collection: "California" from the University of Michigan Museum of Art
- Gallery of California Art from the Oakland Museum of California