Much of California's current prosperity and popularity can be attributed to deft restructuring of the economy during the post-Cold War era. A classic example is the numerous Air Force and Naval bases that were shut down, leaving thousands of civilians unemployed. Yet thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between government and private enterprise, many of the former bases were reopened as business parks (McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento), tourist attractions (San Francisco's Presidio is a prime example), and, in some cases, even movie studios (Treasure Island Naval Base on the San Francisco Bay). California high-tech industries, once employed to build better bombs, have also earned healthy dividends by retooling their trade toward computer and information-based enterprises. Meanwhile, the industries that have always bolstered California's economy -- agriculture, tourism, entertainment, and manufacturing -- continue to thrive and profit.
So what's in California's future? A recent survey of the most popular name given to California's newborns says a lot about the direction in which the Golden State is headed. You probably didn't guess José, but then again, you may not have known that California is the most racially diverse state in the nation, playing host to every race, ethnic heritage, language group, and religion in the world. So if you're prone to xenophobia, you might want to spend your vacation elsewhere, because California will soon be the mother of all melting pots, where no single race or ethnic group will constitute a majority of the state's population.
The numbers are already bewildering: 37 million people, a whopping one-third of whom live in the Los Angeles basin. California already receives the highest numbers of immigrants in America each year -- more than 200,000 annually. Whether this is a potential boon or a time bomb for California's future is impossible to predict, but it makes for a very interesting place to live and visit. How long this social boom will last is anyone's guess, but, in the meantime, California is living up to its legacy as the land of golden promise.
A Tale of Two States
It doesn't take a psychiatrist to figure out that California suffers from an acute identity crisis. We Californians may, on the surface, appear to be one big Happy Days family, but in reality we've divided our state into separate factions worthy of Montague and Capulet. That is, you're either a Northern Californian or a Southern Californian, two opposing tribes that have little in common. In fact, which side you even choose to visit may reveal something about you.
All the California glamour, wealth, fame, fast cars, surf scenes, and buxom blondes you see on television are pure southern invention. If this is the California you're looking for, head due south, dude: Assuming you're not terribly interested in intellectual stimulation, you won't be disappointed. In fact, it's nearly impossible not to be immediately swept up by the energy and excitement that places like West Hollywood and Venice Beach exude. It's a narcotic effect, the allure of flashy wealth, gorgeous bodies, and celebrity status. Even watching it all as a bystander imparts a heady mixture of thrill and envy.
Northern California may be frightfully demure in comparison, but in the long run, its subdued charms and natural beauty prevail. Wealth is certainly in abundance, but rarely displayed. The few hard bodies that exist are usually swathed in loose jeans and shirts. The few celebrities who live here keep very low profiles and are more likely to be on their ranches than in a Rolls Royce. Ostentation in any form is looked down upon (of course, it's okay to own a BMW, as long as it's slightly dirty), and unlike in Los Angeles, you can actually explore smog-free San Francisco on foot.
Ironically, it's the Northern Californians who think of themselves as superior for having prudently eschewed the trappings of wealth and status (in fact, L.A.-bashing is a popular pastime). Southern Californians, on the other hand, couldn't care less what the Northerners think of them; it's all sour grapes as they bask poolside 300 sunny days of the year. In fact, most Southern Californians would be perfectly content to form their own state. The idea has been bandied about the state capital for years, but it consistently meets its Waterloo when it comes to water rights, always a hotly contested issue in California politics. Northern California holds two-thirds of the state's watershed, and without the incredibly complex system of aqueducts, reservoirs, and dams that keep huge flows moving southward, Southern California's 15 million citizens would be in a world of hurt.
But regardless of our polarized views and lifestyles, most Californians do agree on one thing: We're still the best damn dysfunctional state in America.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.