California is the third-largest state in the union and second-largest state in the contiguous United States, at 158,706 square miles. Additionally, the state has the highest population in the country, at approximately 37.7 million residents.
California became the 31st state of the union on Sept. 9, 1850 and was the site of the gold rush of 1848. Due to influx of prospectors looking to get rich during that time, the state nickname is "The Golden State." Spain originally controlled California, where the country established its first mission in 1759 in San Diego. In 1847, California became a U.S. Territory.
Although the current capital of California is Sacramento, San Jose, Vallejo and Benecia have all held the title at some point since statehood. The largest cities in California include Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco. Ten national parks, 18 national forests and 278 state parks and beaches are among the state's riches. Well-known landmarks and tourist attractions in the state include the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, San Francisco's Chinatown and the San Diego Zoo.
The state also has the tallest trees in the world, the California redwoods. Additionally the lowest point in the nation lies in Death Valley, while the tallest point in the lower 48 states lies at Mt. Whitney, both in California.