Redwood-National Park California Hiking

Why We Live in California

In my early 20s I took the requisite college student’s pilgrimage to Europe, exploring its finer train stations and sleeping on the premier park benches from London to Istanbul. I was relatively anonymous—just another tanned and skinny, blond and blue-eyed American with a backpack. That is, until I crossed into the former Eastern Bloc.

The reaction there was dramatic, almost palpable. Like Moses parting the sea, I wandered the crowded streets of Prague and citizens would stop, stare, and step aside as if I bore a scarlet letter A across my chest. It wasn’t until a man with faltering English approached me that I discovered the reason for my newfound celebrity status.

“Eh, you. Where you from? No, no. Let me guess.” He stepped back and gave a cursory examination, followed by a pregnant pause. “Ah, I’ve got it! California! You’re from California, no?” His eyes gleamed as I told him that, yes, he was quite correct. “Wonderful! Wonderful!”

A dozen or so pilsners later with my loquacious new friend, it all became clear to me: To him, I was a celebrity—a rich, convertible-driving surfer who spent most of his days lazing on the beach, fending off hordes of buxom blondes while arguing with his agent via cellphone.

The myth is complete, I thought. I am the Beach Boys. I am Baywatch. Status by association. The tentacles of Hollywood have done what no NATO pact could achieve by offering a far more potent narcotic: the mystique of sun-drenched California, of movie stars strolling down Sunset Boulevard, of beautiful women in tight shorts and bikini tops roller-skating along Venice Beach.

In short, the world has bought what Hollywood is selling.

Of course, the allure is understandable. It is warm and sunny most days of the year, movie stars do abound in Los Angeles, and you can’t swing a cat by its tail without hitting an in-line skater in Venice Beach. This part of the California mystique, however exaggerated, does exist, and it’s not hard to find.

But there’s more—a lot more—to California that isn’t scripted, sanitized, and broadcasted to the world’s millions of mesmerized masses. Beyond the Hollywood glitter is a wondrously diverse state that, if it ever seceded from the Union, would be one of the most productive, powerful nations in the world.

We’ve got it all: misty redwood forests, an exceptionally verdant Central Valley teeming with agriculture, the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, eerily fascinating deserts, a host of world-renowned cities, and, of course, hundreds of miles of stunning coastline.

And despite the endemic crime, pollution, traffic, and bowel-shaking earthquakes for which California is famous, we’re still the golden child of the United States, America’s spoiled rich kid, either loved or loathed by everyone else. (Neighboring Oregon, for example, sells lots of license-plate rims that proudly state, “I hate California.”)

Truth be told, we don’t really care what anyone thinks of us. Californians know they live in one of the most diverse and interesting places in the world, and we’re proud of the state we call home.


I travel the world for a living, but I choose to live in California—because no other place on earth has so much to offer.

— Matthew R. Poole

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By Pooley / Administrator

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on May 20, 2015

Comments (10)

  • Hula Mama

    I hear you Matthew however having grown up in Oregon and become a transplant to CA in 1967, a lot about CA has changed since 1967 and some of it not so nice depending on where you reside. I spend time annually in Hawaii and must say Hawaii has a lot to offer too (though no skiing/Lake Tahoe or redwood trees like CA). I’ve encountered people living elsewhere who believe CA is the land of fruit and nuts and since I’ve seen and lived some of it, well, they have a point. If the weather in OR or WA was a tad sunnier/warmer I’d probably return to the Northwest because I could always visit the areas of CA I like but not be subject to the downside of living conditions here. You need to be wealthy to live the good life in CA these days. Otherwise, not as pleasant.

  • Ruth

    So eloquently written. Thank you, Matt.

  • Laurie Baker

    Love your story!! I am jealous of how you use words to capture the reader. Very well done. We are the Golden State, for certain.

  • Chris M.

    Lovely piece. Thank you for sharing it!

  • JA Komatsu

    Totally agree with you! People ask why we don’t travel abroad but instead have spent 85% of our time in retirement traveling back and forth thru Northern CA? Because people come from ALL OVER THE WORLD to spend a few days here, frantically rushing from place to place to try to see it all. We’re retired and love to find wonderful little streets/sights that are easy to miss. I love the PacNW but CA is truly a magical state to explore in detail.

  • Wendyb964

    Oh, so true! While I love to travel, there’s always a sigh of relief as the plane touches down at home. Time spent in rural India, China, and much of central/south America always humbles me. Boy, do I take it for granted.

    Great writing, great post.

  • Carol

    RIGHT ON! (I am a third generation Californian and have never lived anywhere else.) I have seen some other places around the world one says you must see, but many times when i get there I say, hey I have this in California!

  • B. Kiernan

    Though I was born and raised in Montana I have lived in California for forty years. I love going to Montana to visit and still explore but I’m always glad when I’m heading back home to California.

  • Don Baskin

    Right you are, Matthew. Having traveled the world (much of the time with your Dad), I can say there are many great places but I’m sticking it out here in the Golden State.
    Don B

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