What It Feels Like To Live In California

June 16, 2015

We are about to sneak up on our first anniversary of moving back to the United States and living in California for the first time.

The Story Behind California's Bear Flag

For parents reading, you know those mile markers such as ‘the fog’ lifting when your newborn is about three months old. Interestingly, this transition period has had a similar feeling because moving to a new community has been a transition just as extreme as giving birth that required treading in a vast unknown (navigating new school rules, new doctors, and finding the closest Target).

I am thrilled to get the first year behind us, now with new friends and routines in our pocket and a bit of a ‘we made it!’ exhale. The ground feels much more stable to us now. Although I’ve lived in 3 countries and multiple US cities in the past, nothing has felt like California before.

Barn in Sonoma, California

1. California is BIG (163,696 sq mi). At first I was surprised to meet native Californians who had never traveled on an airplane. But with the state holding 32 National Parks, forests, mountains, volcanoes, beaches, deserts, islands, ski resorts, amusement parks, and cosmopolitan cities, California offers a lot of choice for staycations covering the gamut of topography and climate.

Did you know California holds the lowest elevation (Death Valley) and highest elevation (Mt Whitney) on the US mainland? And as the third largest state in the country, much of the state is sparsely uninhabited and filled with protected open space.

2. The state is long and designed ‘vertically’. The other time I felt this was when I backpacked through long, narrow Chile.  Major California cities are situated on north/south Highways 5 and 101. While it may take only 4 hours to drive the width of California, one needs to carve at least 15 hours of drive time to reach the northern border from the southern state border.

3. California feels like an island, and it almost is. In fact, the first cartographers drew California as an island on maps. Steep mountain ranges cut off the state from the rest of the country, promoting evolution of unique plants and animals.  California ranks first in the nation in the number of endemic (native) plants, amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fish, and mammals.

With ocean to the west and mountains to the east, most of the population lives somewhere in between. California shares its time zone with only 3 states (and half of Idaho), so I need to be mindful when calling friends or businesses in other parts of the US. Surprisingly, California is actually halfway between Europe and Asia – we’re not nearly as close to Asia as I had expected.

Karl The Fog

4. The coastline is as long as the state. This seems obvious, but the coast has a bigger personality here than it did when we were living on the island of Great Britain. The fog rolls in from the sea, creating countless microclimates along the coast. In fact, Karl The Fog is personified in San Francisco on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with foggy feeds.

From whale-watching, to eating oysters, to surfing and sunsets, the Pacific Coast is a big part of local culture. In fact, plastic grocery bags have been practically eliminated in the state partly to prevent them from settling in coastal waters.

5. Danger lurks everywhere. Living on ‘The Ring Of Fire’ makes this land quite unstable and increases the likelihood of earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, and tsunamis. Earthquake insurance is an expensive addition to home insurance policies, so most people don’t have it.

Some potentially deadly critters also call California home: great white sharks, black bears, rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, scorpions, and mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus. But above all these, wildfires scare people most. Currently in the worst drought in recorded California history, vegetation is extremely flammable.

6. There’s a lot of people. As the most populated state in the US (38,802,500), California has traffic congestion problems in major cities and freeway arteries. There is a shortage of housing, which increases prices. Residents come here from all over the world, bringing their delicious food, interesting customs, and sometimes creating their own communities. I love the international flair here.

Chinatown, San Francisco

7. It’s expensive. Worldwide, highly desirable places to live are expensive, and California is no exception. Real estate is expensive, sales tax is high, and California shares the distinction of highest annual taxes with New York. Ouch! While California’s population continues to grow yearly, many leave due to the cost of living and taxes.

8. Californians feel grateful. Most Californians I’ve encountered are not native to the state. As a result, residents are quick to share why they love living here. If the high cost of living and traffic haven’t scared them off, you know there is something bigger keeping them here. Often I hear about the beauty of the state, healthy lifestyle, good weather, and endless list of activities to do.

Rainbow over Marin

9. Californians march to the beat of their own drum. As the epicenter of the Beat Generation, hippies, music & film industry, internet, and much scientific research, there is no question California attracts ‘outliers’ who find kindred spirits here.  It’s probably the most creative place I’ve lived, where boundaries are pushed in so many industries.

10. California feels healthy. From the state that invented wet suits, hot tubs with jets, and mountain biking, it’s no surprise Californians are active outdoors. There are not many places in the world where you can participate in a morning class of yoga-on-stand-up-paddleboard and then head to the mountains for a late afternoon ski run. Kite surfing, kayaking, rafting, scuba diving, ice climbing, snowboarding – they are all accessible for the beginner and on an extreme level too.

Since California is the nation’s top agricultural state, produce is often fresh, local, and simply beautiful. Farm to fork, farm dinners, paleo diet, locavore, organic, gluten-free are terms I see or hear frequently. Many restaurant menus offer experimental and healthy cuisine.  Did you know almost 100% of artichokes sold in the US are grown in California? And uniquely, growers of fresh produce, legal marijuana, and wine grapes have to work together on agricultural issues. Fascinating!

It has been fun to explore this new home state of mine.

California Road Trip

Thank you for joining my journey!

This is just the beginning 🙂 

Read more: Day Trips from San Francisco

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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  • Reply Beetree June 16, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Hi Laura…(late) welcome to California! So glad you are now blogging about my home-state. 🙂 I loved reading your England facts, and even though I’ve lived here all my life, you still surprised me with a few things! Glad to hear you are settling in nicely. We’ve lived in both NorCal and SoCal, and it is amazing the incredible diversity. Have you been olive oil and cheese tasting in Sonoma yet? So beautiful and fun there!

    • Reply Travel With Lulu June 16, 2015 at 10:56 pm

      Hi Miss Beetree! So great to see you here! Thank you for your sweet words. I have tried cheese tasting in Marin (loved it) and you remind me that I need to add olive oil tasting to the list. Thank you 🙂 xo

      • Reply Beetree June 17, 2015 at 8:21 am

        And if you ever find your way south, let me know! We can do a beach tour… 🙂

  • Reply Amy at love made my home June 17, 2015 at 1:15 am

    Well I think that you have gathered that I love CA!!! So I am so glad that you love it too!!!! You have landed in a great part of the world and I hope that you keep enjoying many more happy years there! xx

  • Reply claire June 17, 2015 at 1:57 am

    looks and sound fabulous. My hubbie has family there and we keep threatening to go visit haha!

    • Reply Travel With Lulu June 17, 2015 at 10:16 am

      Ha! You should – so much to do and see 🙂 It would make for a wonderful vacation.

  • Reply topchelseagirl June 17, 2015 at 6:10 am

    I’m sure your 2nd photo is the Little House On The Prairie House !!! I had no idea that California was an agricultural area (apart from wine of course), thanks for the education.

    • Reply Travel With Lulu June 17, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Yes, it’s incredibly diverse. It reminds me of France with the ocean, snow skiing, agriculture, and wine all in one place.

  • Reply Monique J June 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Laura- You moved to the UK just a bit before us, and back to the US just a bit before us as well. It has been great (and bittersweet) to watch you ‘preview’ the many stages of transition … thank you for sharing.

    • Reply Travel With Lulu June 17, 2015 at 11:51 pm

      Thank you for commenting! Bittersweet, indeed. Good luck with your transition, whenever it might be.

  • Reply Claire June 17, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    I love seeing your emails in my inbox, I can only anticipate what insightful things you’ll unearth for me as well as your beautiful photos. Pls continue to write, you’re womderful! Claire from CT

    • Reply Travel With Lulu June 17, 2015 at 11:53 pm

      Oh Claire, thank you for continuing to follow me and for showering me with your kind words! I hope summer is treating you right in CT 🙂

  • Reply Barbra June 29, 2015 at 4:13 am

    Cali is my dream( But I will move there not so soon(

    • Reply Travel With Lulu July 1, 2015 at 7:04 am

      I have a lot of dream places to live! My list is very long 🙂

  • Reply Elaine June 30, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I don’t know much about California, bit I do know I would love to visit it one day. I love your rainbow picture – so beautiful! 🙂

    • Reply Travel With Lulu July 1, 2015 at 7:03 am

      Thank you, Elaine! It’s a wonderful and diverse place to visit. I look forward to showing you more 🙂

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