It has been said that everyone in California is from someplace else. As a result the state is an astonishing blend of cultures. When chefs mix the offbeat and the conventional, we call it fusion, but when it comes to California's culture, alchemy is a better word. Native American, Asian, European, African, Latino, Midwesterner–pick any and you'll find the heritage thriving in California: celebrating, interacting and producing magic. Within a generation, the slow-cooker that is the Golden State has given us the Grateful Dead, Silicon Valley, Redding's Sundial Bridge, lowriding, the gay pride rainbow flag, and Dogtown skateboarders. The powerful rhythms of African drum-dancing on one stage, the sweet cymbal surprise of the Korean nabich'urr (butterfly dance) on another, the happy triumph of Cinco de Mayo dancers and trumpets on a third—California is a party where the world plays host.
One of the state's greatest attributes is its diversity. California's immigrant populations lend a flare to the state that you won't find anywhere else. Here, 39% of the population speaks a language other than English at home, meaning California has more foreign language speakers than any other state in the country. On city streets from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you'll hear Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Tagalog, Russian, Italian and more.
One result of this incredible diversity is California's vast array of cultural sights and activities. You can explore Chinese American history in California's Gold Country, delve into Mexican music at San Jose's Mexican Heritage Plaza or wander the streets of San Diego's Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District. Asian American culture livens up the San Francisco Bay Area, where you'll find the world's largest Chinese New Year celebrations, Asian art museums and outstanding Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Mexican radio stations echo through the air, from San Diego to the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.
California also has incredibly rich African American culture, which you can tap into by visiting sites that run the cultural gamut from the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, to Oakland's Your Black Muslim Bakery. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park in the Central Valley is one of the best-known parks with African American ties. Allensworth, an Army chaplain, educator and orator, was born into slavery. Through his desire to succeed, he founded a farming community in the San Joaquin Valley that was owned and governed by African Americans.Whether it's hard-hitting hip-hop boiling up from the streets of south-central LA, or mellow rhythm-and-blues emanating from a club in San Francisco's Fillmore District, African American music is an integral part of California's musical landscape.
And then, of course, there's the food. In the 1970s, chefs like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck revolutionized cooking in the United States, using fusion techniques and the freshest ingredients to kick off the culinary movement known as "California Cuisine". Thanks to Waters' legacy and the state's burgeoning immigrant population (primarily Mexican and Asian), California has become one of the world's most exciting places to eat.
Vibrant and cutting edge, chaotic yet undeniably beautiful, California's biggest cities have a unique way of combining culture, nature and the 21st century, offering visitors unforgettable urban experiences.
For many visitors, Los Angeles embodies the very essence of California: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, beautiful people, sunny weather, automobiles and beaches galore. It lives up to every expectation. But there's more: Latino culture, rocking bars, fabulous food, fascinating modern architecture and one of the country's hottest art scenes. California's biggest city is a must-see.
With its eternally perfect ocean breeze, San Diego boasts one of the country's most blissful climates—and San Diegans know it. With its beautiful waterfront and miles of coastline, you'll have no problem enjoying it right along with them. Less than an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border, San Diego is infused with Mexican culture that gives it a unique twist. The city's historic Gaslamp Quarter, the epicenter of San Diego's nightlife, is one of the city's highlights.
The Golden Gate Bridge, the fog, the beautiful wooden houses, the parks—there's no denying San Francisco is one of the world's most beautiful cities. It's easy to walk (if you don't mind the hills) and exceptionally friendly. From the restaurants of North Beach and China Town to the coffee shops of the Mission District, exploring this city of neighborhoods could fill weeks on end.
Immediately south of San Francisco, the city of San Jose is actually California's third largest city. It's the heart of the Silicon Valley, where technology reigns supreme. Northeast of San Francisco lies Sacramento, the state's capital and its seventh largest city. In terms of population, it's right behind Long Beach (just south of Los Angeles) and the city of Fresno, the cultural and economic heart of California's Central Valley.