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California is the most populous state in the United States and the third most extensive by area. Located on the western (Pacific Ocean) coast of the U.S., California is bordered by the other U.S. states of Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona and shares an international border with the Mexican state of Baja California. The state capital is Sacramento. Los Angeles is California’s most populous city, and the country’s second largest after New York City. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation’s second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, respectively. California also has the nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County.

California’s diverse geography ranges from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east; and from the redwood–Douglas fir forests in the northwest to the Mojave Desert in the southeast. The Central Valley, a major agricultural area, dominates the state’s center. Though California is well-known for its warm Mediterranean climate, the large size of the state means it can vary from moist temperate rainforest in the north, to arid desert in the interior, as well as snowy alpine in the mountains.

What is now California was first settled by various Native American tribes before being explored by a number of European expeditions during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish Empire then claimed it as part of Alta California in their New Spain colony. The area became a part of Mexico in 1821 following its successful war for independence, but was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican–American War. The western portion of Alta California then was organized as the State of California, and admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The California Gold Rush starting in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic changes, with large-scale emigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom.

If it were a country, California would be the 6th largest economy in the world and the 35th most populous. It is also regarded as a global trendsetter in both popular culture and politics, and is the origin of the film industry, the hippie counterculture, the Internet, and the personal computer, among others. Fifty-eight percent of the state’s economy is centered on finance, government, real estate services, technology, and professional, scientific and technical business services. The San Francisco Bay Area has the nation’s highest median household income by metropolitan area, and is the headquarters of three of the world’s largest 40 firms by revenue, Chevron, Apple, and McKesson. Although it accounts for only 1.5 percent of the state’s economy, California’s agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state.

The word California originally referred to the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico; it was later extended to the entire region composed of the current United States states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.

The name California is surmised by some writers to have derived from a fictional paradise peopled by Black Amazons and ruled by Queen Calafia, who fought alongside Muslims and whose name was chosen to echo the title of a Muslim leader, the Caliph, fictionally implying that California was the Caliphate. The story of Calafia is recorded in a 1510 work The Adventures of Esplandián, written as a sequel to Amadis de Gaula by Spanish adventure writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The kingdom of Queen Calafia, according to Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by griffins and other strange beasts, and rich in gold.

Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to that part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body with strong passionate hearts and great virtue. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks.

— Chapter CLVII of The Adventures of Esplandián
When Spanish explorer Francisco de Ulloa was exploring the western coast of North America, his initial surveys of the Baja California Peninsula led him to believe that it was an island rather than part of the larger continent, so he dubbed the “island” after the mythical island in Montalvo’s writing. This conventional wisdom that California was an island, with maps drawn to reflect this belief, lasted as late as the 1700s.

Shortened forms of the state’s name include CA, Cal., Calif. and US-CA.

Although most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, due to the state’s large size, the climate ranges from subarctic to subtropical. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast. Farther inland, there are colder winters and hotter summers. The maritime moderation results in the shoreline summertime temperatures of Los Angeles and San Francisco being the coolest of all major metropolitan areas of the United States and uniquely cool compared to areas on the same latitude in the interior and on the east coast of the North American continent. Even the San Diego shoreline bordering Mexico is cooler in summer than most areas in the contiguous United States. Just a few miles inland, summer temperature extremes are significantly higher, with downtown Los Angeles being several degrees warmer than at the coast. The same microclimate phenomenon is seen in the climate of the Bay Area, where areas sheltered from the sea experience significantly hotter summers than nearby areas that are close to the ocean.

Northern parts of the state have more rain than the south. California’s mountain ranges also influence the climate: some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate, and the Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate but with greater temperature extremes than the coast. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have an alpine climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer.
California’s mountains produce rain shadows on the eastern side, creating extensive deserts. The higher elevation deserts of eastern California have hot summers and cold winters, while the low deserts east of the Southern California mountains have hot summers and nearly frostless mild winters. Death Valley, a desert with large expanses below sea level, is considered the hottest location in the world; the highest temperature in the world, 134 °F (56.7 °C), was recorded there on July 10, 1913. The lowest temperature in California was −45 °F (−43 °C) in 1937 in Boca.

The table below lists average temperatures for August and December in a selection of places throughout the state; some highly populated and some not. This includes the relatively cool summers of the Humboldt Bay region around Eureka, the extreme heat of Death Valley, and the mountain climate of Mammoth in the Sierra Nevadas.

FAQ California

How do I get my first driver’s license in California if I’m over 18?

If you are over 18 years old and are applying for your first driver’s license in California, you will need to do the following:

How do I take the driving test in California?

To take the driving test you will need to do the following:

  • Schedule an appointment
  • Provide a proof of financial responsibility
  • Provide a proof that your vehicle is properly insured

Who is required to take the driving test in California?

You will be required to take the driving test if you have for one of the below:

  • never been licensed in any state or you hold a foreign country license.
  • a vision-related problem.
  • a limited term license for specified physical and mental (P&M) conditions.
  • a physical condition (except corrective lenses) and DMV imposes a restriction, or if you are currently restricted and you request that the restriction be removed.
  • an out-of-state junior, provisional, or probationary license.
  • been licensed out-of-state but do not have the license to surrender.

Does everyone take the same driving exam in California?

Adult and teenage drivers are taking the same driving tests. However, a driver with a physical and/or mental condition may take a different version of the driving test containing additional test elements.

What will be on my knowledge exam in California?

The knowledge exam is covering traffic laws and traffic signs areas. It contains 46 questions with multiple-choice answers. You will need to answer 38 questions correctly to pass the test (83%).

What can I expect on my driving exam in California?

The driving exam will last about 20 minutes. During the exam you will be tested on basic maneuvers such as left and right turns, stops at controlled and uncontrolled intersections, straight line backing, lane changes, driving in regular street traffic, and in some cases driving on the freeway.

What vehicle can I use for my driving exam in California?

Before you can take the driving exam, the officer you inspect your vehicle. Your vehicle will have to have the following to pass the examination:

  • two license plates. The rear plate must show current registration.
  • both front and back turn signal lights and working brake lights.
  • a working horn designed for the vehicle.
  • tires with no bald spots.
  • adequate brake pressure (you will be asked to step on the brake pedal to see if it works properly).
  • a driver’s side window that rolls down.
  • a windshield that allows a full unobstructed field of vision.
  • two rear view mirrors (one must be on the outside, to the driver’s left).
  • driver and front passenger doors that open from both the inside and outside.
  • a secured glove compartment door so it doesn’t open during the test.
  • a passenger seat permanently attached to the vehicle.
  • working safety belts, if the vehicle was manufactured with safety belts.
  • working emergency/parking brake.

What if I fail the driving test in California?

You have three chances to pass the driving test. If you fail, you may practice for a while, then make another appointment. There is no waiting period, but you must make an appointment. If you fail to successfully complete the driving test on the first attempt, you must pay a $6 fee for each additional driving test that is administered under an application for an original or renewal driver license.

However, if you are under 18 and fail the driving test, you will have to wait at least two weeks before you can take another driving test.

Can I take the knowledge exam in other than English language when applying for driver’s license in California?

You can take the basic Class C written driver license exam in other languages besides English. The exam is available in Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Persian/Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog/Filipino, Thai, Tongan, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Can I use a translator to take the knowledge and driving exams when applying for driver’s license in California?

If you need an interpreter to take your knowledge exam The Department of Motor Vehicles will provide you one at no cost to you. You will need to call 1-800-777-0133 and indicate that you will require foreign language assistance.

What is a learner’s permit?

A learner’s permit is a restricted license that is given to a person who is learning to drive, but has not yet satisfied the requirement to obtain a driver’s license. Having a driver’s permit for a certain length of time is usually one of the requirements (along with driver’s education and a road test) for applying for a full driver’s license. To get a learner’s permit, one must typically pass a written permit test, traffic, and rules of the road.

How do I get a learner’s permit if I am over 18?

You will be issued a learner’s permit after you take and pass the vision and knowledge exams. You must bring the learner’s permit to your driving exam.

Am I required to take a Driver Education course if I’m over 18?

You are only required to take a Driver’s Education course if you are under 17 ½ years old. If you are over 17 ½ but under 18 years of age, you may get your permit without the driver education and driver training certificates however, you will not be able to take the driving test until you turn 18.

How old do I need to be to apply for a learner’s permit in California?

You must be at least 15 years old to apply for a learner’s permit in California.

How do I get my first driver’s license in California if I’m under 18?

If you are under 18 years old and are applying for your first driver’s license in California, you will need to do the following:

  • Be at least 15 ½, but under 18 years of age
  • Make an appointment before visiting a DMV office (walk-ins are only accepted at our Driver License Processing Centers).
  • Complete the application form DL 44 (An original DL 44 form must be submitted. Copies obtained by xeroxing, faxing, or other methods will not be accepted.)
  • Have your parents’ or guardians’ signatures on the application form DL 44
  • Provide your social security number. It will be verified with the Social Security Administration while you are in the office.
  • “Provide your true full name if your name no longer matches the name on your birth date legal presence document.”
  • Verify your birth date and legal presence
  • Submit the proper form(s) for driver education and/or driver training classes.
  • Give a fingerprint
  • Pay the application fee
  • Pass a vision exam
  • Give your fingerprint again, provide your signature (that will appear on the driver license), and have your picture taken.
  • Pass a traffic laws and sign test.

What if I fail the knowledge exam in California?

You will have 3 tries to pass your knowledge exams for the price of one. If you fail all three attempts, you will have to schedule an other appointment and pay a fee. However, if you are under 18 and fail the knowledge exam in California, you will have to wait 7 days before you can retake it. You will also have to pay the re-take fee.

What are the Driver’s license fees in California?

You can click here to learn about the Driver’s license fees in California.

Can I drive in California if I have a driver’s license from another country?

You can drive in California using your out of country valid driver’s license. However, if you wish to obtain a California driver’s license, you will need to complete all the steps as the first time driver.
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