California ( /kælɪˈfɔrnjə/ (help·info)) is the most populous state in the United States, and the third largest by area. It is located on the West Coast of the United States, along the Pacific Ocean, and is bordered by Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, Arizona to the southeast, and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south. Its four largest cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. The state is home to eight of the nation's fifty largest cities. It is known for its varied climate and geography, as well as its diverse population.
California is the third-largest U.S. state by land area, after Alaska and Texas. Its geography ranges from the Pacific coast to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east, to Mojave desert areas in the southeast and the Redwood-Douglas fir forests of the northwest. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.
Beginning in the late 18th century, the area known as Alta California was colonized by the Spanish Empire. It and the rest of Mexico became an independent republic in 1821. In 1846, California broke away from Mexico, and, after the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded California to the United States. It became the 31st state admitted to the union on September 9, 1850.
In the 19th century, the California Gold Rush brought about dramatic changes, with a large influx of people and an economic boom that caused San Francisco to grow from a hamlet of tents to a world-renowned boomtown. Key developments in the early 20th century included the emergence of Los Angeles as center of the American entertainment industry, and the growth of a large, state-wide tourism sector. In addition to California's prosperous agricultural industry, other important contributors to the economy include aerospace, petroleum, and information technology. If California were a country, it would rank among the ten largest economies in the world, with a GDP similar to that of Italy. It would be the 35th most populous country.