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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

San Francisco is both the cultural and financial center of Northern California.
Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada.
Sacramento, the state capital, is located in central Northern California.

Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The region contains the San Francisco Bay Area, the city of San Francisco, San Jose (the third-largest city in California), Sacramento (the state capital), as well as the redwood forests, the northern California coast, the Big Sur coastline area, the Sierra Nevada including Yosemite Valley and Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta (the second-highest peak in the Cascade Range), and the Central Valley, one of the world's most productive agricultural regions.

Native Americans arrived in Northern California at least as early as 8,000 to 5,000 BC and perhaps even much before, and successive waves of arrivals led to one of the most densely populated areas of pre-Columbian North America. The arrival of European explorers from the early 1500s to the mid-1700s, did not establish European settlements in Northern California. In 1770, the Spanish mission at Monterey was the first European settlement in the area, followed by other missions along the coast—eventually extending as far north as Sonoma County.



The forty-eight California counties within a conventional definition of "Northern California."

Definitions of what constitutes "Northern California" can vary. When the state is divided into two areas (Northern and Southern California) the term "Northern California" conventionally refers to the forty-eight counties north of the ten counties of Southern California; the term is also occasionally applied to the area north of the Tehachapi Mountains. This definition coincides neatly with the county lines at 35° 47′ 28″ north latitude (the sixth standard parallel south of the Mount Diablo base) which form the southern boundaries of Monterey, Kings, Tulare and Inyo Counties.[1]

Because of California's large size and diverse geography, the state can be subdivided in other ways as well. For example, the Central Valley is a distinct region in itself both culturally and topographically from coastal California, though in Northern versus Southern California divisions, the Sacramento Valley and most of the San Joaquin Valley are usually placed in Northern California.

The state is often considered as having an additional division north of the urban areas of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento metropolitan areas. Extreme northern residents have felt under-represented in state government and in 1941 attempted to form a new state with southwestern Oregon to be called Jefferson, or more recently to introduce legislation to split California into two or three states. The region north of Sacramento is referred by locals as the Northstate. Since 2001, the 20 northernmost counties have promoted the region from Point Arena to Lake Tahoe and northward as Upstate California.[2]


Since the events of the California Gold Rush, Northern California has been a leader on the world's economic, scientific, and cultural stages. From the development of gold mining techniques in the nineteenth century that were later adopted around the world, to the development of world-famous electronics and online business models (such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Yahoo!, and eBay), Northern California has been at the forefront of new ways of doing business. In science, advances range from being the first to isolate and name fourteen transuranic chemical elements, to breakthroughs in microchip technology. Cultural contributions include the works of Ansel Adams, George Lucas, and Clint Eastwood, as well as beatniks, the Summer of Love, winemaking, and the open, casual workplace first popularized in the Silicon Valley dot-com boom and now widely in use around the world.

Geography and climate

Mount Shasta at 14,179 ft (4,321 m)

Northern California's diverse geography ranges from the sandy beaches of the Pacific coast to the rugged, snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the east. The central portion of the region is dominated by the Central Valley, one of the most vital agricultural areas in the country. The Sierra Nevada contains Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially-carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the largest trees on Earth, the giant sequoia trees, and the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. The tallest living things on Earth, the ancient redwood trees, dot the coastline, mainly north of San Francisco. Bristlecone pines located in the White Mountains are the oldest known trees in the world; one has an age of 4,700 years. The area is also known for its fertile farm and ranch lands, wine country, the high mountains of the southern Cascade Range, the Trinity Alps, and the Klamath Mountains, lakes, and the windswept sagebrush steppe, in the northeast portion of the region.

The climate can be generally characterized by its marine to warm Mediterranean climates along the coast, to alpine climate zones in the high mountains. Apart from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento metropolitan areas (and some other cities in the Central Valley), it is a region of relatively low population density.


San Jose, the most populous city in Northern California and tenth largest in the United States, is the center of Silicon Valley, the preeminent region for technology in the US.

Northern California's largest metropolitan area is the San Francisco Bay Area which includes the cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and their many suburbs.

In recent years the Bay Area has drawn more commuters from as far as Central Valley cities like the California state capital, Sacramento, from Stockton 45 miles (72 km) south of Sacramento, and Modesto about 30 miles (48 km) to the south. With expanding development in all these areas, the San Francisco Bay Area, Monterey Bay Area, and central part of the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills may now be viewed as part of a single megalopolis.[3]

The state's largest inland city, Fresno, is farther south in the Central Valley, but considered part of Northern California in cases when the state is divided into two parts. Other important cities in the region not in major metropolitan areas include Redding, at the northern end of the Central Valley, Chico, and Yuba City in the mid-north of the Valley, and Eureka on the far North Coast.


Selected cities

The following cities and towns in Northern California have over 50,000 inhabitants.[4]

Metropolitan areas

Northern California is home to three of the state's four metropolitan areas that are home to over three-fourths of the region's population as of January 2009:

Major business districts

Downtown Oakland by air

The following are major central business districts:


Historical events to 1847

Inhabited for millennia by Native Americans, from the Shasta tribe in the north, to the Miwoks in the central coast and Sierra Nevada, to the Yokuts of the southern Central Valley, Northern California was among the most densely populated areas of pre-Columbian North America.[6]

European explorers

The first European to explore the coast was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, sailing for the Spanish Crown; in 1542, Cabrillo's expedition sailed perhaps as far north as the Rogue River in today's Oregon.[7] Beginning in 1565, the Spanish Manila galleons crossed the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to the Spanish Philippines, with silver and gemstones from Mexico. The Manila galleons returned across the northern Pacific, and reached North America usually off the coast of Northern California, and then continued south with their Asian trade goods to Mexico.

In 1579, Northern California was visited by the English explorer Sir Francis Drake who landed north of today's San Francisco and claimed the area for England. In 1602, the Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno explored California's coast as far north as Monterey Bay, where he went ashore. Other Spanish explorers sailed along the coast of Northern California for the next 150 years, but no settlements were established.

Spanish era

The first European inhabitants were Spanish missionaries, who built missions along the California coast. The mission at Monterey was first established in 1770, and at San Francisco in 1776. In all, ten missions stretched along the coast from Sonoma to Monterey (and still more missions to the southern tip of Baja California). In 1786, the French signaled their interest in the Northern California area by sending a voyage of exploration to Monterey.

The first twenty years of the 19th century continued the colonization of the Northern California coast by Spain. By 1820, Spanish influence extended inland approximately 25 to 50 miles (80 km) from the missions. Outside of this zone, perhaps 200,000 to 250,000 Native Americans continued to lead traditional lives. The Adams-Onís Treaty, signed in 1819 between Spain and the young United States, set the northern boundary of the Spanish claims at the 42nd parallel, effectively creating today's northern boundary of Northern California.

Russian presence

Russians, from Alaska, were moving down the coast, and in 1812 established Fort Ross, a fur trading outpost on the coast of today's Sonoma County. Fort Ross was the southernmost point of expansion, meeting the Spanish northern expansion some 70 miles (113 km) north of San Francisco. In 1841, as the American presence in Northern California began to increase and politics began to change the region, a deal was made with John Sutter and the Russians abandoned their Northern California settlements.

Mexican era

After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico continued Spain's missions and settlements in Northern California as well as Spain's territorial claims. The Mexican Californios (Spanish-speaking Californians) in these settlements primarily traded cattle hides and tallow with American and European merchant vessels.

In 1825, the Hudson's Bay Company established a major trading post just north of today's Portland, Oregon. British fur trappers and hunters then used the Siskiyou Trail to travel throughout Northern California.[8] The leader of a further French scientific expedition to Northern California, Eugene Duflot de Mofras, wrote in 1840 " is evident that California will belong to whatever nation chooses to send there a man-of-war and two hundred men."[9]:260 By the 1830s, a significant number of non-Californios had immigrated to Northern California. Chief among these was John Sutter, a European immigrant from Switzerland, who was granted 48,827 acres (197.60 km2) centered on the area of today's Sacramento.[10]

American interest

American trappers began entering Northern California in the 1830s.[9]:263-4 In 1834, American visionary Ewing Young led a herd of horses and mules over the Siskiyou Trail from missions in Northern California to British and American settlements in Oregon. Although a small number of American traders and trappers had lived in Northern California since the early 1830s, the first organized overland party of American immigrants to arrive in Northern California was the Bartleson-Bidwell Party of 1841 via the new California Trail.[9]:263-273 Also in 1841, an overland exploratory party of the United States Exploring Expedition came down the Siskiyou Trail from the Pacific Northwest. In 1846, the Donner Party earned notoriety as they struggled to enter Northern California.

Beginning of United States era

When the Mexican-American War was declared on May 13, 1846, it took almost two months (mid-July 1846) for word to get to California. On June 14, 1846, some 30 non-Mexican settlers, mostly Americans, staged a revolt and seized the small Mexican garrison in Sonoma. They raised the "Bear Flag" of the California Republic over Sonoma. The "Bear Flag Republic" lasted only 26 days, until the U.S. Army, led by John Frémont, took over on July 9.[11] The California state flag today is based on this original Bear Flag, and continues to contain the words "California Republic."

Commodore John Drake Sloat ordered his naval forces to occupy Yerba Buena (present San Francisco) on July 7 and within days American forces controlled San Francisco, Sonoma, and Sutter's Fort in Sacramento.[11] The treaty ending the Mexican-American War was signed on February 2, 1848, and Mexico formally ceded Alta California (including all of present-day Northern California) to the United States.

Gold Rush (1848-1855)

The California Gold Rush took place almost exclusively in Northern California from 1848–1855. It began on January 24, 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Coloma.[12] News of the discovery soon spread, resulting in some 300,000 people coming to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. San Francisco grew from a tiny hamlet of tents to a boomtown, and roads, churches, schools and other towns were built. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service and railroads were built. However, the Gold Rush also had negative effects: Native Americans were attacked and pushed off traditional lands, and gold mining caused environmental harm.

Population and agricultural expansion (1855-1899)

The decades following the Gold Rush brought dramatic expansion to Northern California, both in population and economically - particularly in agriculture. The completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, with its terminus in Sacramento, meant that Northern California's agricultural produce (and some manufactured goods) could now be shipped economically to the rest of the United States. In return, immigrants from the rest of the United States (and Europe) could comfortably come to Northern California. A network of railroads spread throughout Northern California, and in 1887, a rail link was completed to the Pacific Northwest. Almost all of these railways came under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad, headquartered in San Francisco, and San Francisco continued as a financial and cultural center.

Substantial tensions during this era included nativist sentiments (primarily against Chinese immigrants), tensions between the increasing power of the Southern Pacific Railroad and small farmers, and the beginnings of the labor union movement.


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1850 86,105
1860 346,714 302.7%
1870 516,089 48.9%
1880 772,778 49.7%
1890 961,628 24.4%
1900 1,147,725 19.4%
1910 1,569,141 36.7%
1920 2,003,075 27.7%
1930 2,632,273 31.4%
1940 3,066,654 16.5%
1950 4,654,248 51.8%
1960 6,318,482 35.8%
1970 7,849,575 24.2%
1980 9,359,160 19.2%
1990 11,490,926 22.8%
2000 13,234,136 15.2%

The population of the forty-eight counties of Northern California has shown a steady increase over the years.[13][14] The 1850 census almost certainly undercounted the population of the area, especially undercounting a still substantial Native American population.[citation needed]

The largest percentage increase outside the Gold Rush era (51%) came in the decade of the 1940s, as the area was the destination of many post-War veterans and their families, attracted by the greatly-expanding industrial base and (often) by their time stationed in Northern California during World War II. The largest absolute increase occurred during the decade of 1980s (over 2.1 million person increase), attracted to job opportunities in part by the expansion taking place in Silicon Valley and the Cold War era expansion of the defense industry.

Educational institutions

Northern California hosts a number of world-renowned universities including the highly prestigious private Stanford University and the flagship University of California campus UC Berkeley. Top-tier public graduate schools include Boalt Hall and Hastings law schools and UC San Francisco, a top-ranked medical school.

Public institutions

In addition to those mentioned above, the area includes:

  • A large number of local community colleges

Private institutions

(Partial list)

Research institutions

(Partial list)

Parks and other protected areas

National Park System

The U.S. National Park System controls a large and diverse group of parks in Northern California. The best known is Yosemite National Park, which is displayed on the reverse side of the California state quarter. Other prominent parks are the Kings Canyon-Sequoia National Park complex, Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park and the largest in the contiguous forty-eight states, Death Valley National Park.

National Monuments and other federally protected areas

Other areas under federal protection include Muir Woods National Monument, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Devils Postpile National Monument, Lava Beds National Monument, Pinnacles National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries (both off the coast of San Francisco). Included within the latter National Marine Sanctuary is the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge; this National Wildlife Refuge is one of approximately twenty-five such refuges in Northern California. National forests occupy large sections of Northern California, including the Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, Modoc, Lassen, Mendocino, Eldorado, Tahoe, and Sequoia national forests, among others. Included within (or adjacent to) national forests are federally protected wilderness areas, including the Trinity Alps, Castle Crags, Granite Chief, and Desolation wilderness areas.

In addition, the California Coastal National Monument protects all islets, reefs, and rock outcroppings from the shore of Northern California out to a distance of 12 nautical miles (22.22 km), along the entire Northern California coastline. In addition, the National Park Service administers protected areas on Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. The NPS also administers the Manzanar National Historic Site in Inyo County, and the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Other parks and protected areas



The following regions are entirely or partly within Northern California:


See also categories:


San Francisco International Airport or SFO is the largest and busiest airport in Northern California and second in the state and tenth in the United States.

The following airports currently have regularly scheduled commercial service:


The 19th Street/Oakland BART station in downtown Oakland

Major transit organizations

Major transit ferries

The historical San Francisco Ferry Building is the busiest ferry terminal on the West Coast and connects Downtown San Francisco to various parts of the Bay Area.


See also Category: San Francisco Bay Area freeways


U.S. Routes:

I-80 and I-580 in Berkeley in the Bay Area
State Route 120 is one of the many highways that traverse the isolated areas of inner Northern California

Principal State highways:


Telephone Area Codes

Professional sports

Sport League Team Venue
Baseball MLB Oakland Athletics (American League) Oakland Coliseum
San Francisco Giants (National League) AT&T Park
Basketball NBA Golden State Warriors Oracle Arena
Sacramento Kings ARCO Arena
Football NFL Oakland Raiders Oakland Coliseum
San Francisco 49ers Candlestick Park
Ice hockey NHL San Jose Sharks HP Pavilion
Soccer MLS San Jose Earthquakes Buck Shaw Stadium
WPS FC Gold Pride Pioneer Stadium

See also


  1. ^ "County Boundaries". California Government Code. State of California. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  2. ^ "Upstate California". Upstate California Economic Development Council. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  3. ^ Metcalf, Gabriel; Terplan, Egon (November/December 2007). "The Northern California megaregion". The Urbanist. San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  4. ^ Population figures are the most recent figures contained in the respective Wikipedia articles, in the List of cities in California (by population), or in the State of California, Department of Finance 2007 estimates.
  5. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2007 (CBSA-EST2007-01)" (CSV). 2007 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  6. ^ R.F. Heizer (1966). "California Indian Tribes map". Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  7. ^ "Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo: A Voyage of Discovery". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  8. ^ "Hunters and Trappers at Upper Soda Springs". Museum of the Siskiyou Trail. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  9. ^ a b c Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1886). History of California, 1840-1845, Volume 4. A. L. Bancroft. OCLC 9475460. 
  10. ^ "Sutter's Fort Historic State Park". California Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  11. ^ a b "American Transition to Early Statehood". California Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  12. ^ "[E]vents from January 1848 through December 1855 [are] generally acknowledged as the 'Gold Rush' .... After 1855, California gold mining changed and is outside the 'rush' era." "The Gold Rush of California: A Bibliography of Periodical Articles". California State University, Stanislaus. 2002. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  13. ^ HIstorical census data by U.S. Census Bureau
  14. ^ U.S. Census data for year 2000
  15. ^ For current information, see, the North American Numbering Plan Administration site.

External links


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