California History

An Abridged History of California

A lot of people think of California and instantly think vacation. And who could blame them? Home to Hollywood, world-class theme parks like Disney Land and SeaWorld, some of the best surfing on the planet and miles of beaches kissed by the warm California sun, it’s no wonder it’s such a popular family vacation destination.

As you’re planning your list of things to do in California, there are also some fun things to know about the Golden State our first SeaWorld park has called home for nearly 50 years. Here are a few of tidbits of California history to add a little extra flavor to your California family vacation.


Sailing to California during the Gold Rush

A Rich History

The Rich History of California

Few states can claim such a colorful and storied history as California, our 31st state. Long before statehood was granted in 1850, California was inhabited and explored, at one time or another, by Native Americans, Europeans and Mexicans, each leaving their own distinct cultural imprint on the state.

Rumors of fabulously wealthy cities located somewhere along the California coast, as well as a possible Northwest Passage that would provide a much shorter route to the Indies, provided an incentive for Europeans flying the flags of Spain and England to explore the area as early as the 1600s.

When Mexico won independence from Spain in the early 1800s, California briefly became part of the Mexican empire. However, as a result of the US war with Mexico over Texas, California came under US control in the 1840s and in 1850, two years into the Gold Rush, it became a state.

Fun History for Kids

Fun California History for Kids

The famous California Gold Rush sparked the biggest mass migration in the history of the world. Between 1848 and 1852, just four short years, California's population grew from 14,000 to 223,000. The gold-seekers, called forty-niners,” came from the eastern US as well as Latin America, Europe, Australia and China.

The Pony Express ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. The first mail delivered took 10 1/2 days, cutting the Overland Stage time via the southern route by more than half. The fastest delivery was in March 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address was carried in 7 days and 17 hours. Those were some fast horses!

For a part of California history you’ll want to visit – but not stay – there’s Alcatraz, otherwise known as “the Rock.” Once one of the most infamous of federal prisons, the doors were locked for good in 1963 after 29 years and 14 escape attempts – not one of them successful.

Reopened in 1973, the Rock has become one of the most popular National Park Service sites, with more than a million visitors from around the world every year.

The Entertainment Industry

The Birth of the Entertainment Industry

California’s certainly famous for many things, but it’s known world wide as the center of the entertainment industry. Hollywood is considered the place to see and be seen for anyone who loves movies. Southern California’s sunny climate, perfect for year-round movie making, has made this part of the state “the” place where dreams of stardom can come true.

Some interesting Hollywood, California history:

  • From NY to LA: In the very early part of the century, almost all films were made in New York and New Jersey. But the growing popularity of cowboy movies, the need for reliably good weather and patent problems with New York-based camera manufacturer, the Edison Company sent fledgling moviemakers to the “land of milk and honey” to ply their trade.

  • First flicks: Among the first Hollywood pictures, The Biograph Company’s short, A Daring Hold-Up in Southern California, was made in Los Angeles in 1906. D. W. Griffith’s 1910 film, In Old California, was shot entirely in the village of Hollywood where, interestingly, movie theatres were banned within the city limits.

  • Hollywood history gets colorful: While today’s movies are masterpieces of sight and sound, the first motion pictures were crude, black and white “shorts” with no sound. The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie,” came out in 1927 and changed the industry forever. And while the first “colored” movie appeared in 1918, color movies didn’t become popular until 1939’s Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind.

  • And the award goes to…: One of the landmarks in California history was the creation of one of the entertainment industry’s biggest annual events, The Academy Awards. This elaborate production dates back to May 16, 1929, when the first Academy Merit awards were given to Wings, for what was originally called "Best Production," and Sunrise, for "Best Picture." The presentation took place at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, located on Hollywood Boulevard. You can visit the renovated hotel on your Southern California family vacation.

  • Location, location, location: Today, while movies are shot “on location” around the world, the movie industry is still firmly based in Southern California, securing Hollywood’s place in California history as the entertainment capital of the world. The city of Los Angeles alone has more than a dozen motion picture studios and an equal number of television studios, producing entertainment for all ages.

  • SeaWorld’s Entertainment expansion: One of the newest additions to the entertainment industry is our own SeaWorld Pictures® and our popular Saturday morning show, Sea Rescue with Sam Champion. Look for more exciting entertainment from the folks at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment in the future.