Symbols of California – A List

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California is the 31st state of the United States of America located in the Pacific Region. It’s home to Hollywood where some of the greatest television shows and movies in the world have been produced. Every year, millions of foreign travelers visit California because of its beauty, and for the numerous activities and the attractions it offers.

California became famous after the Gold Rush of 1848, two years before it officially became a state. As news of gold spread around the world, thousands of people flocked to the state. This caused it to very quickly become the most populous county in the nation. This is also how it got its nickname ‘The Golden State’.

The state of California is represented by many official and unofficial symbols, which represent its cultural heritage. Here’s a closer look.

List of California state symbols

Flag of California

The official flag of the state of California is the ‘Bear Flag’, featuring a wide, red strip along the bottom of a white field. In the upper left corner is the red lone star of California and in the center is a large, grizzly bear facing the hoist and walking on a patch of grass.

The bear flag was adopted in 1911 by the California State Legislature and as a whole, it’s considered a symbol of strength and authority.  The grizzly bear represents the strength of the nation, the star represents sovereignty, the white background represents purity and the red signifies courage.  

Seal of California

The Great Seal of California was officially adopted in 1849 by the Constitutional Convention and portrays Minerva, a Roman goddess of war and wisdom (known as Athena in Greek mythology). She is symbolic of the political birth of California which, unlike most of the other U.S. states, directly became a state without first becoming a territory. If you’re wondering what this has to do with Minerva, it’s because she was born as a fully grown adult, dressed in armor and ready to go.  

Near Minerva is a California grizzly bear feeding on grape vines and representative of the state’s wine production. There’s also a sheaf of grain symbolizing agriculture, a miner representing the mining industry and the Gold Rush and sailing ships in the background which represent the economic power of the state. At the top of the seal is the state motto: Eureka, Greek for ‘I’ve found it’, and the 31 stars on the top represent the number of states that existed when California was admitted to the U.S. in 1850.

Hollywood Sign

Although not an official symbol of California, the Hollywood Sign is a cultural landmark that stands for the state’s best-known industry – motion pictures. The sign consists of the word Hollywood in large, white 45-foot tall letters, with the entire sign being 350 feet long.

Standing on Mount Lee in the Santa Monica mountains, the Hollywood sign is a cultural icon and is frequently portrayed in movies.

Golden Gate Bridge

Another cultural icon, the Golden Gate Bridge spans the one-mile distance between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It was designed by Joseph Strauss in 1917, with construction beginning in 1933 and taking just over 4 years to complete. When it was first built, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest and the tallest suspension bridge in the world.

The Golden Gate Bridge is known for its reddish hue, but the story goes that the color wasn’t originally planned to be permanent. When the parts for the bridge arrived, the steel had been coated in a red-orange primer to protect it from corrosion. The consulting architect, Irving Morrow, found that he preferred the color of the primer to the other paint choices for the bridge, such as gray or black, as it matched the landscape of the surrounding area and was also easy to see even in fog.

California Redwood

The largest tree in the world, the California giant redwood grows to massive sizes and extreme heights. While often used interchangeably with giant sequoias, giant redwoods have some distinct differences although the two varieties are related and come from the same species.

Redwoods live up to 2000 years and have branches that grow up to five feet in diameter. Today, redwoods are protected in parks and on public lands where cutting them down is against the law. Every year, millions of tourists come to see these towering giants that occur naturally only in California. They were designated the state tree of California in 1937.

Benitoite

Benitoite is the state gemstone of California, a status it received in 1985. Benitoite is an extremely rare mineral, composed of barium titanium silicate. It comes in shades of blue and has a hardness rating of only 6 to 6.5 Mohs, which makes it a soft gemstone that is prone to acquiring scratches and damage. Due to its rarity and consequent high price, it’s not often used for jewelry.  Benitoite is best known for being the state gemstone of California.

California Poppy

The California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a beautiful, bright orange flower which symbolizes the Golden State of California. It’s commonly seen blooming in the summer and spring along freeways and country roads throughout the state. These flowers are usually found in shades of orange, but they’re also available in yellow and pink. Poppies are extremely easy to grow and are often planted in gardens for ornamental purposes. 

The poppy is a highly recognizable symbol of California and the 6th of April of every year is designated as ‘California Poppy Day’ while the flower itself became the official flower on March 2, 1903.

Bodie Town

Bodie is a famous gold mining ghost town located in Bodie Hills at the east end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It was named the official gold rush ghost town of the state of California in 2002 in acknowledgement of the important role it played in the history of the state. 

In 1877 Bodie became a boom town and had a population of about 10,000 over the next two years but when two fires broke out in 1892 and 1932, the business district was ravaged and Bodie slowly became a ghost town.

Today, the town is a state historic park, covering an area of 1000 acres with 170 building which are all under protection in a state of arrested decay.

Gold

Gold, the oldest precious metal known to humans, has caused bitter conflict in the history of the state of California from humans either trying to protect or acquire it.

When gold was first discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, the population of California increased from 14,000 to 250,000 people in only four years. Even today, there are prospectors who still pan for gold in the state’s streams. In 1965, it was designated as the official mineral of the state.

California Consolidated Drum Band

The California Consolidated Drum Band was adopted as the official Fife and Drum Corps of the state of California in 1997. The band has played a crucial role during significant events in the history of the state, rousing and inspiring the soldiers during times of war.

The band became the first corps ever in California to be approved for membership at the Company of Fifers & Drummers which was formed to perpetuate the folk traditions and historical significance of drum and fife music, fostering the spirit of fellowship among the drummers and fifers everywhere.

California Grizzly Bear

The California grizzly bear (Ursus californicus) was a subspecies of the now extinct grizzly  in the state of California. It was designated the official state animal in 1953, over 30 years after the last grizzly was killed. The grizzly is an important symbol of strength and can be seen featured on the state flag and the Great Seal of California.

California grizzlies were magnificent animals that thrived in low mountains and great valleys of the state, killing livestock and interfering with settlements. However, after gold was discovered in 1848, they were hunted and killed excessively over a period of 75 years.

In 1924, a California grizzly was sighted in the Sequoia National Park for the very last time and after that, grizzly bears were never seen again in the state of California.

California Red-Legged Frog

Found in California and Mexico, the California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) is listed as a threatened species in the U.S. These frogs were killed in large numbers by the Gold Rush Miners who consumed nearly 80,000 of them each year and the species still continues to face numerous human and natural threats. Today, the red-legged frog has disappeared from almost 70% of its historic habitat. It was adopted as the official state amphibian of California in 2014 and is protected by state law.

California Military Museum

The California Military Museum, located in Old Sacramento State Historic Park, first opened in 1991 during the administration of the Governor Pete Wilson. In July 2004, it was made the State’s official Military Museum by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor at that time.

A repository for military artifacts, the museum preserves the military history of the state. It also highlights the contributions of the units and individuals from California who were in the U.S. military as well as its wars and military operations. In 2004, it was designated the official military museum of the state of California.

California Quarter

Issued in 2005 by the United States Mint, the California State Quarter features conservationist and naturalist John Muir admiring the Half Dome (the monolithic granite headwall) of Yosemite Valley and a California condor soaring in the upper center, as a tribute to the successful repopulation of a bird that was once very nearly extinct.

In the background is a giant sequoia (the official state tree of California. In addition, the quarter bears the inscriptions ‘John Muir’, ‘California’, ‘Yosemite Valley’ and ‘1850’ (the year California became a state). The obverse features the image of George Washington. The coin, first issued in 2005, was the 31st coin to be released in the 50 State Quarters Program.

California Vietnam Veterans War Memorial

Designed in 1988 by a Vietnam veteran together with his colleague, the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial is a reflection on daily life during the war from a personal point of view.

The outside ring of memorial is composed of 22 black granite panels with the names of 5,822 Californians who perished in the war or remain missing to this day engraved on it. The inner ring shows life during the conflict, featuring four bronze life-sized statues: two tired friends, two men in combat, a war prisoner and a nurse tending to an injured soldier.

The memorial is the first to recognize the service and contributions of 15,000 nurses who served in Vietnam during the war and in 2013 it became a symbol of the state of California.

Pasadena Playhouse

A historic performing arts venue situated in Pasadena, California, the Pasadena Playhouse boasts 686 seats and a large variety of artistic and cultural events, community engagements and professional shows every year.

The Pasadena Playhouse was founded in 1916, when the director-actor Gilmor Brown began to produce a series of plays at an old burlesque theatre. A year later, he established the Community Playhouse Association of Pasadena that later became the Pasadena Playhouse Association.

The theatre is a Spanish-style building that’s had several famous actors on its stage in the past including Eve Arden, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and Tyrone Power. It was designated the official theatre of the state of California in 1937 by the state legislature.

Check out our related articles on other popular state symbols:

Symbols of Pennsylvania

Symbols of Texas

Symbols of Alabama

Symbols of Florida

Symbols of New Jersey

State of New York

Symbols of Hawaii

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