Welcome to Notebooking Across the USA, a series of unit studies covering each state in the U.S. in order of admission to the union. You can find the landing page for this series with links to each states unit study as they are published, along with tips, suggestions, and recommended resources for this series here: Notebooking Across the USA. These unit studies are written with homeschool students grades 3-8 in mind.
The most recommended resource for this series is the USA States Pack, and while I believe it will be very helpful if you will be studying all of the states, it is not required. If you do wish to purchase the pack, use the code benandmeUSA for a 25% discount.
California Unit Study
Known as “The Golden State” California became the 31st state to join the union on September 9, 1850. It is the 3rd largest state in the U.S. covering 163,707 square miles, and 1st in the U.S. in population. The northern border of California is Oregon. Nevada and Arizona are on the eastern border and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The southern border of California is the country of Mexico.
The geography and climate of California are both diverse. Along the coast of the Pacific Ocean the climate tends to be mild with cooler temperatures on the central and northern coast. The southern part of California tends to be hot and dry. Rain is common throughout a large portion of California from October to April in the north and November to April in the south. If the season is not rainy, it is dry.
Population: 39,497,345 million (1st in the US)
Nickname: “The Golden State”
The discovery of gold in the mid 1800s and the fields of golden poppies found all over the state inspired California to adopt “The Golden State” as the official state nickname in 1968.
Archimedes, a Greek mathematician and physicist, exclaimed “Eureka!” when he discovered a method for determining the purity of gold. “Eureka!” means “I have found it!” This became the official state motto of California in 1963. It is believed that it refers to the discovery of gold in California in the mid 1800s.
Agriculture: grapes, almonds, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, cotton, hay, rice, corn, milk, beef cattle, eggs, sheep, turkeys, hogs and horses.
Fishing Industry: tuna, swordfish, halibut, herring, mackerel, abalones, crabs, shrimp, and squid.
Industry: electrical equipment, components, military communication equipment audiotape and videotape, lighting equipment, and food product processing.
Mining: oil, boron, diatomite, sodium compounds, tungsten and gold.
Have your students color and label an outline map of California. Include the state capital of Sacramento. Also include the largest city of Los Angeles. Be sure to include San Diego – home of the famed San Diego Zoo, and San Francisco – home to the Golden Gate Bridge. California is home to several national parks. Have your student mark Yosemite National Park, in Sierra Nevada, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in Three Rivers, California.
The nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln (wife of Abraham Lincoln) designed the flag of California in 1846. It was first used by settlers in Sonoma, California as they rebelled against Mexican rule over the state. It was officially adopted as the state flag in 1911. The flag is a white background with a grizzly bear in the center. In the upper left corner is a red 5-point star. Below the bear are the words “California Republic” and a thin red area, the length of the flag, is across the bottom. It is said that the bear symbolizes strength, the star symbolizes sovereignty, the red band across the bottom symbolizes courage, and the white background symbolizes purity.
In 1849, the Constitutional Convention adopted a state seal for California. The design adopted is round with the words, “The Great Seal of the State of California” around the outside edge. In the inner circle are 31 stars signifying the thirty-one states that had been admitted to the union prior to California becoming a state. There is grain and a grizzly bear eating grapes that represents the agriculture and wildlife in California. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are in the background at the shore of the Sacramento River. A miner working and ships on the river represent the industry in California. The Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, is in the foreground of the scene.
California State Bird: California Valley Quail
The California Valley Quail was adopted in 1931 as the official state bird. Often called a California Partridge, it has a black plume on its head and a white stripe under its beak.
California State Flower: California poppy
The California poppy became the state flower of California in 1903. The flower grows throughout the state and it’s golden color is attributed to the reason for “The Golden State” being deemed the state nickname.
California State Tree: California Redwood
Also known as the Coast Redwood, California adopted this enormous tree as their state symbol in 1937. It is the tallest tree in the world, often reaching a height of 300 feet.
State Song: “I Love You, California” written by F.B. Silverwood and music by A.F. Frankenstein (click here to listen to the state song while following along with the lyrics). The song was adopted as the official song of California in 1951.
Learn about California’s state government here: Government
Flora and Fauna
Mammals common to California are: Virginia opossum, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Golden-mantled ground squirrel, Botta’s pocket gopher, California vole, Blue whale, Short-beaked common Dolphin, and the Raccoon.
Common birds include Wrentit, Brewer’s Blackbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Oak Titmouse, Lesser Goldfinch, Black Phoebe, California Scrub-Jay, Band-tailed Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Song sparrow, and the Orange-crowned warbler.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, working for Spain, first explored what is known today as California in 1542. Cabrillo died in California having not found anything he considered to be significant. Almost 40 years later, Sir Francis Drake of England came to explore California. Upon arriving he declared that the land belonged to England. Settlers from Europe did not inhabit California for approximately 200 years. Spain sent missionaries to build missions and forts in California in the late 1760s. Their assignment was to convert the Native Americans to Catholicism. The cities of San Diego and Los Angeles came out of two of the forts that they built. In 1821, California became a part of Mexico. While under Mexican authority, cattle ranching and fur trading became a source of income for many living in California.
The Oregon and California Trails brought settlers from the eastern United States to California around 1840. Many of these settlers did not want to be under the rule of Mexico and a revolt began. The settlers won and announced that they were independent of Mexico calling themselves the Bear Flag Republic. The Mexican-American War soon followed and when the war ended in 1848, California became part of the United States. They were admitted to the union two years later on September 9, 1850.
Also in 1848, gold was discovered in California. Pioneers from all of the United States, and likely from other countries, flocked to California in search of gold and wealth. By 1855, over 300,000 people were living in California. Within 15 years, the “gold rush” had ended but people were still moving west into California. Farming became a major source of income but this did not last long based on the fact that water was not abundant in the state. California contributed soldiers to the Union Army in the Civil War. They also sent gold to the east coast, helped to fund combat units, and sustained a number of forts in the state.
In 1855, railroads came to California. Tracks and railroad lines continued moving into the state until the Great Depression hit the United States in the 1930s. Some railroad companies never recovered following the Great Depression. By 1950, the federal government was building an interstate system that would take over the majority of travel for citizens and visitors to California. After World War II, land in California was sold at extremely low prices. Development of real estate became the top of economic development in California. The mid 1950s saw the opening of Disneyland. Professional sports teams were moving into California and the music and movie industry was booming. Today California continues to be the epicenter for film production. Agriculture has resurfaced and leads the nation in supply. Farming is a major contributor to the California economy, however, the entertainment and manufacturing industry are also very important sources.
Other Uses for Notebooking Pages
dictation and copywork
draw and write
vocabulary and spelling words
recording reading lists
plant and animal classification
Road Trip California
If you have a chance to visit the state of Michigan, be sure you don’t miss these sites. If you won’t be visiting, take a virtual field trip by clicking on the name of the site. Have your student create Travel Journal notebooking pages to record what they learn.
Experience the feats of engineering and ingenuity that have kept the Golden State steaming along for nearly 200 years – from immaculately restored engines and cars to exciting events and exhibits that bring the railroad to life.
California Cavern is a Limestone cave in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in Cave City, Calaveras County, California. The series of interconnected caverns are one of the earliest officially recorded caves in the Mother Lode region of California. California Caverns claims the distinction of being the most extensive system of caverns and passageways in the Mother Lode region of the state.
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to California’s northern counties. With its tremendous 746-foot tall towers, sweeping main cables, signature International Orange color, and Art Deco styling, it is a sensory experience featuring color, light, and sound. With more than 10 million annual visitors, be ready for crowds (especially during the summer) and changing weather conditions.
The all new visitor experiences are centered around an all new Bridge Plaza at the south east end. The visitor experience was recently renovated and renewed by non-profit partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, as their gift to the Golden Gate Bridge in honor if its 75th anniversary which was celebrated on May 27, 2012. Check out the San Francisco Fire Engine Tours for a great view.
Alcatraz Island offers a close-up look at the site of the first lighthouse and US built fort on the West Coast, the infamous federal penitentiary long off-limits to the public, and the history making 18 month occupation by Indians of All Tribes. Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock—gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.
For 218 years, the Presidio served as an army post for three nations. World and local events, from military campaigns to World Fairs and earthquakes, left their mark. Come enjoy the history and the natural beauty of the Presidio. Explore centuries of architecture. Reflect in a national cemetery. Walk along an historic airfield, through forests or to beaches, and admire spectacular vistas.
Hearst Castle’s history begins in 1865, when George Hearst purchased 40,000 acres of ranchland. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst inherited what had grown to more than 250,000 acres, and was dreaming of ways to transform it into a retreat he called La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.” By 1947, Hearst and architect Julia Morgan had created Hearst Castle: 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways—all built to house Hearst’s specifications and to showcase his legendary art collection.
A visit to the Castle Air Museum gives visitors a peek into the past and lends insight into the evolution of aircraft and the past milestones of aviation. It offers visitors of all ages a glimpse of what the future of aerospace might hold.
Their collection encompasses nearly seventy restored vintage military aircraft ranging from pre-WWII to the present on approximately twenty acres of beautifully maintained grounds.
Find a full day of action-packed entertainment all in one place: thrilling Theme Park rides and shows, a real working movie studio, and Los Angeles’ best shops, restaurants and cinemas at CityWalk. Universal Studios Hollywood is a unique experience that’s fun for the whole family.
The San Diego Zoo houses over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. The San Diego Zoo was a pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats. It is one of the few zoos in the world that houses and successfully breeds the giant panda. In 2013, the zoo added a new Koalafornia Adventure exhibit, providing an updated Australian animal experience. Summer 2017 will see the opening of Africa Rocks.
In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II.
In a storied career that spanned more than five decades, Ronald Reagan inspired Americans to act and achieve even more than they imagined. His legacy thrives at The Reagan Library where events and exhibits rediscover his values, actions and spirit of determination.
Visitors can now enjoy the all-new Richard Nixon Library and Museum featuring nearly 70 new major exhibits, 30 unique multi-media experiences, 11 original films, 12 custom digital interactives and more than 300 artifacts.
California’s National Parks
Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra. First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.
This dramatic landscape testifies to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity–huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees. These two parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley. Weather varies a lot by season and elevation, which ranges from 1,370′ to 14,494′. Sequoias grow at 5,000 – 7,000′, above usual snowline.
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California. Come explore for yourself.
In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.
Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes. Jagged peaks tell the story of its eruptive past while hot water continues to shape the land. Lassen Volcanic offers opportunities to discover the wonder and mysteries of volcanoes and hot water for visitors willing to explore the undiscovered.
Many years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. Hikers enter rare talus caves and emerge to towering rock spires teeming with life: prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and the inspiring California condor.
Most people know Redwood as home to the tallest trees on Earth. The parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and nearly 40 miles of rugged coastline. For thousands of years people have lived in this verdant landscape. Together, the National Park Service and California State Parks manage these lands for the inspiration, enjoyment, and education of all.
Famous People from California
Levi Strauss (inventer of blue jeans)
Richard Nixon (37th President of the U.S.)
Ronald Reagan (40th President of the U.S.)
Shirley Temple Black (child actress)
Robert Frost (poet)
General George S. Patton (U.S. Army officer during World War II)
Interesting Facts about California
One out of every eight United States residents lives in California.
California holds two of the top ten most populous cities: Los Angeles and San Diego.
It is estimated there are approximately 500,000 detectable seismic tremors in California annually.
The highest and lowest points in the continental United States are within 100 miles of one another. Mount Whitney measures 14,495 feet and Bad Water in Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level.
In 1925 a giant sequoia located in California’s Kings Canyon National Park was named the nation’s national Christmas tree. The tree is over 300 feet in height.
More turkeys are raised in California than in any other state in the United States.
There are more than 300,000 tons of grapes grown in California annually.
Fresno proclaims itself the Raisin Capital of the World.
California is the largest producer of lemons in the United States.
California has the largest economy in the states of the union. If California’s economic size were measured by itself to other countries, it would rank the 7th largest economy in the world.
Alpine County is the eighth smallest of California’s 58 counties. It has no high school, ATMs, dentists, banks, or traffic lights.
Fallbrook is known as the Avocado Capital of the World and hosts an annual Avocado Festival. More avocados are grown in the region than any other county in the nation.
Castroville is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World.
In the late 1850s, Kennedy Mine, located in Jackson, served as one of the richest gold mines in the world and the deepest mine in North America.
An animal called the riparian brush rabbit calls Caswell Memorial State Park (near Manteca) its home. Endemic only to the state’s park system, the critter lives in approximately 255 acres stretching along the area’s once-vast hardwood forest.
Totaling nearly three million acres, San Bernardino County is the largest county in the U.S.
Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge contains the largest winter population of bald eagles in the continental United States.
In Atwater the Castle Air Museum has the largest display of military aircraft in the state.
The Hollywood Bowl is the world’s largest outdoor amphitheater.
Death Valley is recognized as the hottest, driest place in the United States. It isn’t uncommon for the summer temperatures to reach more than 115 degrees.
The first motion picture theater opened in Los Angeles on April 2, 1902.
Inyo National Forest is home to the bristle cone pine, the oldest living species. Some of the gnarled trees are thought to be over 4,000 years old.
Sequoia National Park contains the largest living tree. Its trunk is 102 feet in circumference and it is nicknamed, “General Sherman.”
Arts, Crafts, and Cooking
Make your own Redwood forest!
Make homemade greeting cards with “grape” thumbprints.
Make a bouquet of poppies!
Try your hand at panning for gold.
Track the Transcontinental Railroad’s construction using this interactive map.
Draw the path of the Pony Express on a map of the U.S. Need a little help? You’ll find it here.
Choose one of these activites to learn more earthquakes.
Read about how Shirley Temple affected America during the Great Depression and then have a family movie night with a Shirley Temple movie or two.
California Resource List
Book Basket (Picture Books)
G is for Golden: A California Alphabet by David Domeniconi
Seabird of the Forest by Joan Dunning
Ancient Ones: The World of the Old-Growth Douglas Fir by Barbara Bash (out of print but may be available at your library)
Redwoods by Jason Chin
Gold Fever: Tales from the California Gold Rush by Rosalyn Schanzer (out of print but may be available from your library)
Striking It Rich: The Story of the California Gold Rush by Stephen Krensky (out of print by may be available from your library)
Ten-Mile Day: And the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad by Mary Ann Fraser
Levi Strauss and Blue Jeans by National Geographic Learnin
First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez
Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi
Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost by Robert Frost
Book Basket (NonFiction)
The Spanish Missions of California by Megan Gendell
The California Gold Rush by Mel Friedman
California Native Americans by Carole Marsh
My Yosemite: A Guide for Young Adventurers by Mike Graf
If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake by Ellen Levine
Richard Nixon: 37th President of the United States by Tamara L. Britton
Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design, Build & Test by Carol Johmann
Book Basket (Chapter Books)
The Cruise of the Arctic Star by Scott O’Dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Zia by Scott O’Dell
Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer by Marguerite Higgins
Riders of the Pony Express by Ralph Moody
What Was the Gold Rush? by Joan Holub
Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party by Rachel K. Laurgaard
Squirrel and John Muir by Emily Arnold McCully
By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman
Blue Willow by Doris Gates
The Ghost of the Golden Gate Bridge by Carole Marsh
What Was the San Francisco Earthquake? by Dorothy Hoobler
Ronald Reagan: Destiny at His Side by Janet Benge
Who Was Ronald Reagan? by Joyce Milton
George S. Patton: War Hero by George E. Stanley
General George Patton: Old Blood and Guts by Alden Hatch
The Story of Shirley Temple Black by Carlo Fiori (out of print but may be available at your library)
Watch this short video introduction to California:
Watch this fun historical documentary on Levi’s jeans — Levi’s As America: A Riveting Icon Part One Part Two (Note: Parents, there are 3 more parts to this documentary that I have not recommended due to suggestive content. If you want to watch them to discuss the history of Levi’s from the 50s on, here are the links: Part Three Part Four Part Five)
Did you see something important I missed? Share in the comments and I may add it!