About the Exhibit

Iconic California: State Symbols that Represent California Exhibit opened June 2022 at the California State Capitol.

Virtual Tours of Exhibit Rooms

Archives Exhibit Room

Includes State Symbols panels

Library Exhibit Room

Includes State Symbols panels and the Great Seal



California Poppies


Symbols have always been important in humankind’s development. They have provided important spiritual and cultural meaning, and, with time, have taken on more official and functional forms as well. To better understand the story of California, one needs only to examine the rich collection of symbols that help to define it. Over the last 150 years, Californians have selected for themselves a number of symbols to represent the Golden State.

The nature of these state symbols is as remarkable as California itself. From plant species to marine life, from songs to nicknames, from ghost towns to memorials, the list reveals what Californians value most about their remarkable state.

“We are symbols and inhabit symbols.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-82


State Amphibian - Red Legged Frog



Rana draytonii

The California red-legged frog species is native to California from the coast to the Sierra Nevada Mountains up to 5,000 feet, and south to Baja California. They live in water or moist areas such as under or in vegetation, logs, and animal burrows, and can go dormant during hot, dry weather.

They are the largest native frog species in the western U.S., ranging in size from 1.5 to 5 inches long. Adults are olive green in color with black spots on their backs and are light grey on their underside with red back legs and abdomen. Adults are nocturnal and eat insects, small mice, and fish.

California red-legged frogs are an endangered species due to the loss of habitat, invasive species, and water pollution. Many organizations are endeavoring to protect this native species.

(Assembly Bill 2364, 2014)

State Animal



Ursus arctos californicus

California’s State Animal is the California grizzly bear. As the state’s largest and fiercest predator, the grizzly had California to itself for hundreds of thousands of years. They lived 20-30 years, were 4.5 feet at the shoulder and were 8 feet tall when standing. Females weighed about 400 pounds while males weighed 1,000 pounds. They could run 35 miles per hour for short distances, had a humped shoulder, and were brown-golden in color.

The loss of habitat and over-hunting by a rapidly growing human population led to their complete extinction by the 1920s. In 1953, the California grizzly became the official State Animal and remains one of the state’s most enduring and visible symbols. Notably, California is the only state in the union that carries the image of an extinct animal on its state flag and seal.

(Assembly Bill 1014, Chapter 1140, 1953)

State Bird - California Valley Quail



Lophortyx californica

California Valley Quail live from Canada to Mexico and from the Pacific coast to Utah. They congregate in social groups of 30-300 except during breeding season when they form smaller groups. For protection, quail live in oak woodlands and dense brush, and eat weeds, grain, seeds, and insects. They have a distinctive call and make a loud, unusual noise when taking flight.

They are 10 inches long with a 14-inch wingspan. A distinctive plume of 6 interlocking black feathers extends out of the top of their head, accompanied by a wide variety of intricate feathers. The females are muted in color, providing feathered camouflage when nesting. They lay 12-16 creamy white eggs with dark spots and both the males and females care for the chicks. One of the males performs sentry duty while the flock collectively protects the young and feeds.

(Assembly Bill 776, Chapter 777, 1931)

State Insect - CA Dogface Butterfly



Zerene eurydice

California’s state insect, the dogface butterfly, or doghead, has graced the California state driver’s license and a U.S. stamp. This bright yellow, orange and black butterfly can be found only in California. Its speed makes it difficult to see. They feed on a limited number of plants, live only one season, and lay about 100 eggs in that season.

When the male’s colorful wings are open it appears to have a silhouette of a dog’s head on its wings. Females are all yellow with a black spot on their front under wings, have a wing length of about 1 ¼ inches, and are larger than males of their species. As caterpillars, they are green with small back dots underlined with a white stripe down their sides.

(Assembly Bill 1834, Chapter 521, 1972)

State Reptile - Desert Tortoise



The desert tortoise can live 45-100 years and inhabit desert shrub areas from 1,000-4,000 feet elevation. They can store water in their bodies for nearly a year and eat insects, cacti, fruit, flowers, and grass to get additional moisture. They hibernate together during winter in tunnels up to 30 feet deep.

Males are about 15 inches long, have domed shells, and are larger than females. Females breed when 15-20-years old, laying about 15 eggs 2-3 times between May-July. Young tortoises have a soft, leathery shell that takes 5 years to harden. Being vulnerable to predators, only about 2% of them reach adulthood. They are on the Endangered Species Act list and it is illegal to touch, harm or collect them. Crucial habitat protected areas have been set up to protect them.

(Assembly Bill 1089, Chapter 683, 1972)


Fish - Golden Trout



Oncorhynchus mykiss aquabonita

California’s state freshwater fish, the California golden trout, is native to California’s southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. They live at 6-10,000 feet elevation in clear, cold water at 37-71 F°. Golden trout are one of the most beautiful and colorful of the trout family.

They have an olive-green topside fading to bright gold on their sides and large, round, dark spots. Bright red-orange coloring is found on their under belly, gill-cheek patches, and along their sides. They can live up to 9 years and reach 8 inches long. Females spawn in late spring or early summer, laying 300-2,300 eggs in gravel beds. These hatch in about 20 days. On-going efforts are underway to protect the golden trout by raising and transplanting them into lakes and streams in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

(Assembly Resolution, 52 Chapter 90, 1947)

State Marine Fish - Garibaldi



Hypsypops rubicundus

The garibaldi is a brilliant orange fish that lives in the Pacific Ocean from Monterey Bay south to Baja California. Adults reach 14 inches and live among rocks and reefs in water up to 100 feet. Garibaldis start life as bright yellow-orange fish with iridescent blue spots. After the spots fade they become a bright orange color and gain a sizable lump on their foreheads. They are a tourist draw to places like the southern Channel Islands where they can be seen from glass bottom boats and docks.

In an effort to offer protection from commercial collectors, the garibaldi was named the State Marine Fish and a ban was placed on their collection or possession. As a result, their numbers off the coast of California are stable today.

(Assembly Bill 77, Chapter 948, 1995)

State Marine Mammal - CA Gray Whale



Eschrichtius robustus

California gray whales are amazing travelers, migrating 14,000 miles a year. In the summer, they live in the Bering Sea where they eat small crustaceans on the ocean floor. In the winter, they head south in small groups along the California coast to Baja California. In these warm waters, they mate and give birth. By early spring, they once again follow the California coastline north to the Bering Sea.

Along their route, you might get to see these mottled gray colored whales that have a low hump on their back rather than a dorsal fin. At 35-50 feet in length and weighing 20-40 tons, these large mammals can be seen from the shore. International efforts starting in 1949 helped gray whale populations stabilize in most areas they frequent.

(Assembly Bill 258, Chapter 328, 1975)

State Marine Reptile - Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle



Dermochelys coriacea

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are the largest turtles and one of the largest living reptiles in the world. They weigh up to 2,000 pounds and reach 8 feet in length. This prehistoric species has a soft, leathery shell unlike most turtles that have a hard shell. They have one of the longest migrations in the world, crossing the Pacific Ocean from California to Indonesia, some 6,000 miles one way. They usually surface to breathe every 5 minutes, but can stay under water for up 85 minutes and dive down 4,000 feet.

Despite millions of years on earth, they have become one of the world’s most endangered animals. Worldwide education and conservation efforts are underway to save this amazing turtle and protect our ocean’s ecosystem and species.

(Assembly Bill 1776, 2012)


State Gemstone - Benitoite



Along with a state mineral (gold) and state rock (serpentine)California has a state gemstone, benitoite. This rare gemstone is also known as the “blue diamond” because of its deep shades of transparent blue color. One of over 3,000 known minerals, benitoite is classified as a barium titanium cyclosilicate.

Benitoite was first discovered in 1907 in the San Benito Mountains. Two years later, it was given the label benitoite by a UC Berkeley mineralogist who named the gemstone after the place where it was discovered. Since then, it has been mined by the Benitoite Mining Company. The rare gemstone is only found in a few places throughout the world. The California Legislature designated benitoite as the official State Gemstone in 1985.

(Assembly Bill 2357, Chapter 1365, 1985)

State Mineral - Gold



Gold is the precious metal that made the state of California. Since its first discovery in the 1820s, no other mineral has had a greater impact on the course of the state’s history than gold. The product of violent geological upheavals over millions of years, gold is often found along the mineral rich fault lines of the West.

Though most of the gold was mined along the Sierra Nevada’s famous Mother Lode, it is found throughout much of the state. It was extracted by placer, hardrock, and hydraulic mining. According to the State Mineralogist, up until 1969 California produced over 3,630 tons of gold, more than any other state. As the Golden State, it was only natural that California’s Legislature made gold the State Mineral in 1966.

(Added by Statutes, Chapter 89, 1966)

State Rock - Serpentine



Many Californians might think gold is the state rock, but in fact it is the state mineral. Since 1965, serpentine has been the State Rock, the first such designation for any state. The choice of serpentine was an economic one. Serpentine is a source of asbestos, which was widely used in construction and other industries. With more serpentine than any other state, California benefitted financially from this mineral. However, by the 21st century, it was well known that exposure to asbestos was dangerous to human health and so its use was reduced and limited.

Serpentine is named after the colors of a serpent: green, blue, and cream. Serpentine is often very smooth, slippery, shiny and fibrous and can be easily fractured. It is found from central to northern California in lower to mid-mountain ranges.

(Senate Bill 265, Chapter 89, 1965)

State Soil - San Joaquin soil



California even has its own official dirt – San Joaquin soil. The state has seven major soil orders. These can be divided into two main topographical types: upland residual and lowland transported soil. San Joaquin soil is found in the lower half of the Central Valley, and it is typical of soils brought down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

These well-drained deposited soils make for very productive agricultural lands which support both farming and livestock raising. San Joaquin soil helps to produce “Green Gold” – one-quarter of the nation’s food – including 250 different crops with an annual value of $17 billion. After a group of 8th grade students proposed that soil from their native San Joaquin Valley be honored, the Legislature made it the official State Soil in 1997.

(Senate Bill 389, Chapter 331, 1997)


State Flower - Golden Poppy



Eschscholzia californica

The California golden poppy is bright orange with blue-green, fern-like leaves and grows in bushy clumps up to 2 feet tall and wide. Their flower petals can reach 2 inches long and 3 inches wide. Golden poppies grow throughout California. They bloom from spring to early summer and often cover wide valleys, fields, roadsides, and hillsides with a spectacular orange carpet. Golden poppies are drought resistant, grow best in native soil with lots of sunshine, and prefer temperatures from 50-75 degrees.

While some Native peoples use poppies for herbal remedies, all parts of the plant have toxic properties if ingested. If picked, poppy flowers fall apart. According to California Penal Code Section 384a it is illegal to harm or pick any golden poppy on state and private property.

(Senate Bill 1171, Chapter 69, 1903)

State Grass - Purple Needlegrass



Nassella pulchra

California chose a valuable native grass for its State Grass: purple needlegrass. It grows from the Oregon border to Baja California and can live for 100 years and more. This 2-3 foot tall native bunchgrass has 2-6 feet deep roots. It is drought and heat tolerant, grows in poor soil, and burns slowly. This makes it a valuable plant for habitat restoration, erosion control and stabilizing levees and hillsides. The indigenous population of California used this grass for food and making baskets and benefited from the animals that fed on it. Later immigrants depended on this grass to feed livestock and wildlife.

Purple needlegrass helps the survival of young oak trees and provides food for over 330 species. It is the most widespread native bunchgrass, and once established, helps repel invasive weeds.

(Senate Bill 1226, 2004)

Lace Lichen



Ramalina menziessii

California is the first state to adopt a lichen as a state symbol. Lace lichen is a combination of fungi and algae. Both organisms benefit from each other and have a symbiotic relationship. They are just one of 1,900 lichen species found in California, but they play an important role. They provide food, habitat, and nesting material for animals. They also assist humans, as these lichens are sensitive to air quality and climate change and are being studied for their medicinal antibacterial properties.

Lace lichens hang in clumps from tree bark and branches, grow up to 3 feet long, are flat, yellow-green and shaped like lace. They live from Southern Alaska to Baja, and in California mostly along the coastline where conditions are moist.

(Assembly Bill 1528, 2015)

State Tree - California Redwood



Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

There are two related native species of redwood trees, the Coast Redwood and giant Sequoia, which share the designation of State Tree. Both date back to the dinosaur era and are known for their impressive statistics.

The Coast Redwood is the tallest tree in the world. They are 400 feet high, 100 feet wide and grow 2-10 feet a year. Weighing 1.4 million pounds, they live 2,000 years. Needing plenty of winter rain and summer coastal fog, they live best within 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean, from Oregon to Monterey, California.

The giant Sequoia are the largest trees by volume (52,508 cubic feet) in the world. They grow 300 feet high, weigh 2.7 million pounds and have a 40 foot trunk diameter and 31 inch thick bark. Sequoias need fire for their seeds to grow and live 3,000 years. They are found along a 250-mile stretch of the central western Sierra Nevada at 4,000-8,000 feet elevation.

(Added by Statutes of 1943, Chapter 134; Amended by Statutes, Chapter 1140, 1953)

State Nuts - Almond, Walnut, Pistachio, Pecan



Almond (Prunus dulcis / Prunus amygdalus)
Walnut (Juglans)
Pistachio (Pistacia vera)
Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

California’s nut-growing region is so crucial to the state’s economy that it has four official State Nuts: almond, walnut, pistachio, and pecan. California grows 80% of the world’s almonds, 75% of the world’s walnuts, and 98% of pistachios in the United States. Although pecans are a small portion of California’s nut industry, it is the only state nut that is native to the United States, which is why lobbyists fought to add it to the list.

Despite official recognition as State Nuts, these four are not technically nuts. Biologically, these “nuts” are the edible seeds of stone fruits known as drupes. Botanically, there is a difference. However, in culinary terms, “nut” usually refers to any hard-walled, edible kernel.

(Assembly Bill 1067, Chapter 49, 2017)


Swing Dance



The emergence of West Coast Swing dancing is a California story. It is rooted in the Lindy Hop of the 1930s and the later Jitterbug. These dances were sweeping the country during this time and were incredibly popular. However, these dances did not translate well to the newest craze: movies! Hollywood directors and choreographers wanted a dance where the Jitterbug dancers’ faces were not lost to the camera as they moved in a circular motion. West Coast Swing, with its straight lines of multiple dancers, filled the screen.

At the time, an American dance performed to American music appealed to local and international devotees from a wide variety of backgrounds. In 1988, West Coast Swing and square dancing were made the official State Dance and State Folk Dance, respectively, by the Legislature.

(Senate Bill 2460, Chapter 1645, 1988)

Fife and Drum Band



A fife is a small flute or reed and has been around since ancient times. Fifes and drums were an important source of entertainment for people. However, they also play a major role in military musical tradition that has carried down to modern times. They were used to boost soldiers’ morale while in camp and on the march as well as for sending military commands. Fifes and drums came to America from Western Europe and can be heard for long distances.

California’s chosen State Fife and Drum Band, The California Consolidated Drum Band, are musicians and reenactors who perform music from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War eras. The Band, founded in 1996, fills its ranks with members from northern California. They perform in period attire in reenactments, festivals, and parades.

(Assembly Resolution, Chapter 58, 1997)

Square Dance



California is not alone when it comes to its official folk dance. The square dance, performed by couples, has to be by far the most popular state dance form there is. Nearly half the states in the nation have some form of square dancing as their state dance.

This uniquely American folk dance has its origins in European dance traditions which were brought here by early settlers. What makes it a distinct dance style is that it is cued, where calls or prompts are given to the dancers on their moves. Square dancing probably came to California from the Appalachian region of the country during the Gold Rush. Today, hundreds of thousands of Californians take part in this fun and lively pastime. Square dancing was made the official State Folk Dance by the Legislature in 1988.

(Senate Bill 2460, Chapter 1645, 1988)

I love you California Songsheet



California’s State Song, “I Love You California,” is a musical celebration of the state. Songwriter F. B. Silverwood and composer A. F. Frankenstein, both of Los Angeles, wrote the song in 1913. After being first sung by opera star Mary Garden, the song went on to be performed on the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal and at the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1915.

While it was under copyright, all proceeds from the sale of the song went to charitable organizations. In 1951, it was designated the State Song by the Legislature, and was later given statutory recognition in 1988, after the copyright had expired. Its lyrics celebrate California’s many natural wonders – Yosemite, redwoods, flowers, valleys, mountains and ocean.

(Added to Statutes, Chapter 87, 1951)



Surfing, the ancient sport of riding a surfboard in a forward face of an ocean wave, originated in the Pacific Islands. Surfing was first introduced to the United States from Hawaii during the 19th century by California hotel owners. They promoted the sport by sponsoring demonstrations to attract tourists. As surfing became more popular, the state’s 1,100-mile coastline became one of the most frequented regions in the world for surfing.

A California Institute of Technology student developed light-weight surfboards to replace older, heavier wooden ones. The neoprene wetsuit, another California invention, helped to spread surfing to the colder waters of the northern coast. The rules for international competition were first established at the World Surfing Championships in 1966 at San Diego. The sport’s cult-like popularity inspired films, surf music and skateboarding.

(Assembly Bill 1782, Chapter 162, 2018)


State Dinosaur



Augustynolophus morrisi (au-gus-tine-o-LOAF-us MORE-iss-ee) roamed California about the same time as the better-known tyrannosaurus and triceratops who lived during the Maastrichtian Age (72.1 million to 66 million years ago). Only two fossil specimens of this dinosaur have ever been found – both in California. The first was discovered in 1939 in Fresno County and the second in San Benito County in 1941. A member of the hadrosaur family, A. morrisi was about 26 feet long, weighed about 3 tons, and was a vegetarian with a duck-shaped bill.

Its name honors two Californians: philanthropist Gretchen Augustyn and paleontologist Dr. William J. Morris. Both specimens can be seen at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

(Assembly Bill 1540, Chapter 264, 2017)

State Fossil - Saber-Toothed Tiger



An ancient resident of California, the saber-toothed cat is easily recognizable by its long canine teeth, which averaged eight inches in length! These cats roamed California during the Late Pleistocene, eventually going extinct approximately 10,000 years ago.

Smilodon californicus is the second most common mammal fossil found in the famous Rancho La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. Although shorter than a modern lion with shorter limbs and a stubby tail, they weighed nearly twice what a lion weighs. The short bobtail suggests that they ambushed their prey at close range, rather than chasing them down over long distances like cheetahs, lions, and tigers whose long tails aid in balance. Instead, the saber-toothed cat would wait for game to come near, then use its giant teeth to capture its prey.

(Assembly Bill 940, Chapter 792, 1973)

Prehistoric Artifact


California is the only state to have a State Prehistoric Artifact. This unique relic is thought by many to be the earliest known representation of the California grizzly bear. This small, 2 ½ inch artifact was chipped from volcanic rock over 7,000-years ago and was dug up in San Diego County in 1985. Its carver imbued the work, which seems to resemble a walking bear, with deep spiritual meaning.

This chipped stone artifact seems to capture the power and majesty of the most powerful mammal known in California. Because of its great age it was honored as an official state symbol in 1991. California’s Native peoples lived among the grizzlies for thousands of years, but they seem to have left few identifiable representations, making this small carving unusual.

(Senate Bill 404, Chapter 73, 1991)


State Colors - Blue and Gold



The official State Colors of California have their origins in the early history of the state’s first university at Berkeley. The school’s yearbook – first published in 1875 – was entitled “Blue and Gold.” Though initially used as the colors of UC Berkeley in the 1870s, blue and gold have long been associated with California.

Blue represents the color of the sky, and gold the precious mineral of the same name. In 1913, California Secretary of State Frank C. Jordan began using ribbons in these colors on official documents. Blue and gold became the official colors of the state in 1951 upon the suggestion of his son, Secretary of State Frank M. Jordan.

(Senate Bill 122, Chapter 1214, 1951)

State Fabric - Denim



The origins of denim, the State Fabric, are found in the tough fabric itself and the history of Gold Rush California. The word denim is a 1695 Anglicized version of a particular type of French cloth from Nimes – “de Nimes.” This cotton-based, bluish-grey fabric was introduced to American mills by the 18th century and used for less expensive, mass-produced clothing.

Two European immigrants, San Francisco dry goods merchant Levi Strauss (1830-1902) and Nevadan tailor Jacob Davis (1832-1908), jointly patented work clothes in 1873. This sturdy riveted line of clothes became popular with miners, farmers, and workers. By World War II denim was associated with a popular “Western” style of apparel, known by the iconic name “Levis.” Since then, they have been marketed to the world as a popular, casual style of dress.

(Assembly Bill 501, Chapter 873, 2017)

State Flag



The California State Flag, also known unofficially as the “Bear Flag,” is the oldest unofficial State Symbol. Though it came into existence during the short-lived Bear Flag Revolt in the spring of 1846, it was not officially adopted as California’s official State Flag until 1911. Its full design and color scheme were not settled upon by the Legislature until 1953.

The final flag design was adopted from the now lost Bear Flag, employing a red star in the upper left corner and a red stripe at the bottom. Above the stripe is the legend “California Republic.” The image of the California grizzly bear that is emblazoned in the center was inspired by a nineteenth century painting by California artist Charles Nahl.

(Statutes, Chapter 2, 1911)

State Quarter


The California State Quarter was issued as part of the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program in 2005. From 1999-2008, a series of 50 state quarters were minted celebrating the unique attributes of each state. The State Quarters were released in a series of five per year and in the order that each state was admitted to the Union.

Each quarter retained its traditional portrait of Washington on the front, while the reverse carried imagery unique to each state. In California’s case, this was a scene with naturalist John Muir gazing on Yosemite with a California condor overhead. Every state created their own design, which was then approved by its governor before finally being issued by the U.S. Mint. The California Quarter was designed by Alfred Maletsky and engraved by Don Everhart.

(Public Law 105-124, 2005)

State Seal


The Great Seal of the State of California was designed and approved at the 1849 Monterey Constitutional Convention. The complex imagery on the Great Seal serves as a snapshot in time, capturing some of the main issues facing the convention members. These included many activities and localities in the future state that were important to them – mining, farming and water transportation.

After the Constitutional Convention, the first set of seals were engraved, with further changes following over the next century. The Great Seal also includes two other state symbols: the grizzly bear and the state motto “Eureka.”. The Seal’s 31 stars symbolize California’s admission into the Union in 1850 as the 31st state. The State Seal is stamped on official documents including California driver’s licenses.

(Added to Statutes, Chapter 161, 1966)

State Tall Ship - Californian



The State Tall ship is the topsail schooner, Californian. The 145-foot-long, 2-mast, 9-sail vessel carries 7,000 square feet of canvas. The 130-ton, wooden vessel was launched by the Nautical Heritage Society in 1984. The Californian is a replica of the marine cutter Lawrence, which patrolled the California coastal waters in the 19th century as part of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, the predecessor of the U. S. Coast Guard.

The fully operational schooner was acquired by the Maritime Museum of San Diego in 2002 as part of their remarkable exhibits dedicated to California’s nautical heritage. The Californian continues to serve as a sailing school and educational vessel and takes part in many festivities, ceremonies, and events in the Pacific and Atlantic regions.

(Added to Statutes, Chapter 113, 2003)

State Tartan


Tartans represent a very ancient type of textile weaving associated with the Celtic peoples of Europe and have been excavated at sites in Central Europe and Central Asia. These woolen plaids use various colors woven into bold, crisscross patterns. Their differing designs are often identified with certain clan and family lineages.

The State Tartan began as an idea of the St. Andrew’s Society of Los Angeles. It is based on the tartan of the family of the noted Scottish naturalist John Muir (1838-1914), who championed California’s natural environment. Its pattern is original enough to be registered with the Scottish Tartan Authority as its own design (number 200111). It is meant to honor Scottish, Irish, and Celtic Americans’ contributions to California. The State Tartan may be claimed by any resident of California.

(Assembly Bill 614, Chapter 100, 2001)


Historical Society


The California Historical Society (CHS) has existed since 1871. It was established as a permanent institution in 1922, after C. Templeton Crocker donated his vast California collection to the Society. Since that time, the organization has continuously collected material related to the State’s diverse histories and people, making it one of the major research institutions devoted to California and the west.

CHS was legally recognized as the official State Historical Society in 1979. It is currently located on Mission Street in San Francisco. Its holdings comprise over 4,000 manuscript collections, 500,000 photographs and scrapbooks, 50,000 books and pamphlets, and other printed material such as posters and other visual materials. The Society makes stories of California accessible to the public through its research library, exhibitions, educational and public programs.

(Senate Bill 63, Chapter 52, 1979)

Motto - Eureka



The State Motto that appears on the State Seal is the Greek word Eureka – which means “I have found it!” These famous words were supposed to have been uttered by the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes (c. 287-212 B.C.E.) when conducting an experiment to measure the specific gravity of gold.

During the 1849 California State Constitutional Convention at Monterey, the delegates had to agree upon a design for the Great Seal of California, which included a representative motto. They were following in the tradition adopted by other states. Since the seal’s design included a gold miner, it seemed most fitting to the delegates to adopt this phrase as the State Motto. It became the official State Motto in 1963. Seventeen California locations bear the name Eureka.

(Added by Statutes, Chapter 1237, 1963)

State Nickname - Golden State



State nicknames or slogans often reflect the local pride which is associated with each state, and California is no exception. Nicknames are usually inspired by a native plant, animal, natural feature, mineral, important historical event, or phrase. California, even before the Gold Rush, had been associated with gold. This included the Spanish El Dorado, “the Golden One,” and the name for the entrance of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate.

One of the earliest published uses of “Golden State” can be found in the title of a book published in 1856 by Eliza Farnham promoting California’s many attractions. The name has only grown in popularity, recalling not just the Gold Rush, but the seemingly limitless possibilities of California. The California Maritime Academy named its first training ship the Golden State. Golden State became the official State Nickname in 1968.

(Added by Statutes, Chapter 66, 1968)


Gold Rush Ghost Town



Bodie (Mono County) was named after W. S. Body (or Bodey), who was first credited with discovering gold in Bodie in 1859. At an elevation of 8,379 feet, covered in snow throughout the winter and battered by winds in the summer, Bodie was not an ideal place to live.

Following the gold discovery, a great bonanza began in 1872, triggering a rush. Between 1876 and 1882, the community grew to over 10,000. By the time the last mine closed in 1942, Bodie had produced over $30 million in gold. After suffering a devastating fire in 1932, what remained of the town was turned into a 500-acre State Historic Park in 1962 and State Historic Landmark (341). The California Legislature designated it California’s official State Gold Rush Ghost Town in 2002.

(Added by Statutes, Chapter 365, 2002)

LGTBQ Veteran Memorial


The California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial is the first official veterans memorial of its type to be dedicated in the United States. The California Legislature passed legislation creating the memorial in 2018. It was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in that same year. The memorial represents many years of dedicated work by LGBTQ veterans to gain formal recognition for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

The granite obelisk, decorated with an eagle with out-stretched wings emblazoned with a pink triangle, is located at the Desert Park in Cathedral City. It is accompanied by a plaque reading in part, “This memorial is dedicated in honor of [LGBTQ] Veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cherished freedom we hold dear and enjoy today.”

(Assembly Bill 2439, Chapter 172, 2018)

Military Museum


In 1981, the California Legislature authorized the California National Guard to establish the California State Military Museum and Resource Center. It was then designated the California Citizen-Soldier Museum in 1983. By the time it opened in November 1991, in Old Sacramento State Historic Park, its mission had expanded from its original intent to focus solely on the Guard and instead covered all of California’s military history.

The Museum and Resource Center is home to more than 30,000 military artifacts as well as thousands of books and documents. The museum oversees five satellite museums throughout the state. The institution was declared the official California State Military Museum by the California Legislature in 2004. The museum in Old Sacramento closed in 2014 and a new site is currently under development.

(Added by Statutes, Chapter 133, 2004)

Silver Ghost Town - Calico



The town of Calico in San Bernardino County came to life in 1880 after the discovery of silver ore and other minerals, and took its name from the colors of the rocks in the area. At an elevation of 2,283 feet, this dry, dusty, mountainous town grew and by 1892, there were over 60 mines in the area. These mines produced $20 million worth of silver and $9 million in borate minerals before they were exhausted in the mid-1890s. At one time, Calico had a population of several thousand.

Walter Knott, the creator of Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park, bought the ghost town in 1953. The old town was restored and became part of the 480-acre San Bernardino County Regional Park in 1966 and was designated a California Historical Landmark (782).

(Added by Statutes, Chapter 90, 2005)

State Theater - Pasadena Playhouse



The Pasadena Playhouse began life as a small community theater in 1916. The Pasadena Playhouse Association raised money to build a larger theater which was completed in a Spanish Revival style in 1924. The theater soon became an accredited school for theater arts, training over 30,000 students over the past century. Many famous actors, such as Victor Mature, Charles Bronson, Leonard Nimoy, Dustin Hoffman, and Sally Struthers received training at what would become known as the “Star Factory.”

The theater was made the official State Theater of California in 1937 and later became the first TV station on the West Coast. Closed in 1969, the Pasadena Theater would reopen in 1986. The Pasadena Playhouse, as the theater is known today, is a California Historical Landmark (887).

(Added by Statutes, Resolution Chapter 45, 1937)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial


The California Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated to the 350,000 Californians who served during the Vietnam War (1965-75). This memorial, located in the California State Capitol Park, was dedicated in 1988 and has served as the location for countless ceremonies of remembrance ever since. The many mementos that have been left behind by visitors are collected and housed within a special collection at the California State Archives.

The 3,750 square-foot, circular memorial includes four life-size bronze figures: two soldiers, a nurse (of whom 15,000 served) and a prisoner of war. The memorial’s 22 black granite panels list the names of 5,822 California service members who died or went missing in the line of duty. Legislation was passed in 2009 making March 30th “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”

(Assembly Bill 1289, Chapter 191, 2014)



California Poppies


California Brown Bear
California Flag

State Symbols: Gold (State Mineral), Bodie (State Ghost Town), Surfing (State Sport) and the California Redwood (State Tree).

Bodie California
California Surfer
California Redwoods
california gold nugget

State Symbols: Gold (State Mineral), Bodie (State Ghost Town), Surfing (State Sport) and the California Redwood (State Tree).

california gold nugget


Symbols or emblems are as old as humankind. Humans have given natural or man-made objects special spiritual or cultural meaning over the course of their own development. With the rise of civilization, symbols such as flags and logos have taken on more official and recognizable forms. Many of these symbols also have deep, imbedded meanings which are often universally recognized.

“We are symbols With the rise of civilization, symbols such as flags and logos have taken on more official and inhabit symbols.” — Ralph Emerson 1803–82

The full scope of California’s 42 state symbols is as remarkable as the state itself. To better understand the Golden State, one needs only to examine the rich collection of symbols that help to define it. Over the last 150 years, Californians have selected for themselves various symbols – ranging from plant species to marine life, from songs to nicknames, from ghost towns to memorials – to represent what is most remarkable about their state. California makes up just one percent of the earth’s land surface and yet has one of the most diverse landscapes, geographically and biologically, anywhere. This biodiversity is fully reflected in the 14 state emblems that represent the Golden State’s natural life.

Among those natural symbols is one of California’s most recognizable: the California grizzly, which in addition to being featured on two of the oldest and most prominent of our symbols, the State Flag and the State Seal, has also developed into a large part of our collective identity as a state.





Grizzly bears are of the Brown bear species, Ursus arctos, of which there are only two species in the U.S. – Kodiak (Ursus arctos middendorffi) and the North American Grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis). The California Grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) was a subspecies of the North American Grizzly but they have been extinct since the 1920s. Grizzlies can still be found in other parts of North America. Black bears are a separate species from Brown bears and are now the only wild bear species in California.

Grizzly males are 4 feet at the shoulder, 9 feet standing, can weigh 1700 pounds and run 35 miles per hour. Females reach 800 pounds, have 2 – 4 cubs and care for their cubs for 3 years. Grizzlies are varying shades of brown with golden tips.

California Grizzly and Tent
California Grizzly

“Grizzlies epitomize freedom and untamed nature, and Californians sought to conquer that wildness and its lawlessness. But at the same time, they admired the rugged individualist of the frontier and claimed the virtues of the scrappy miner, the giant redwood, and the grizzly to represent them.”

– Susan Snyder, Bear in Mind:
the California grizzly, 2003

CA Bear Cartoon

Letter sheet print of miners
and bear, 1850s

The grizzly bear had California to itself for hundreds of thousands of years. As humans began to encroach on their habitat, the bears began to face an ever-increasing competition. The grizzly defended its vanishing domain until a combination of growing populations, declining resources, commercial exploitation and new technologies finally spelled its end. California is the only state in the nation that carries the image of an extinct animal on its flag.

CA Grizzly Postcard




Old California Flag


The current California State Flag is derived from the “Bear Flag,” the oldest unofficial state symbol. The banner was the product of the short-lived 1846 Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma when California became an independent country for a month. The flag of the revolt was made from humble materials: plain muslin cloth, red flannel, blackberry juice and brick dust mixed with oil.

“The Bear Flag is the State Flag of California.” – (California Government Code, 420)

CA Bear Cartoon

Engraving for alternative design for the Bear Flag, 1860s

The original flag came down after the American takeover of California and was replaced with the Stars and Stripes. The “Bear Flag” then became a keepsake and eventually found its way into the collection of the Society of California Pioneers. Fortunately, a photograph and an exact copy of the flag were made before its tragic loss in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.

California Flag


CA Bear Cartoon

Early version of the 1911 California State Flag, 1919

After its brief use in 1846, the original “Bear Flag” fell into obscurity. For the next fifty years, it was as if California was without a flag. The Native Sons of the Golden West, which had adopted the “Bear Flag” for its own use as a “marching flag,” lobbied the California Legislature to make it the official flag.

The “Bear Flag” was not adopted as California’s State Flag until 1911. The current flag’s complete design and color scheme was finally settled upon by the Legislature in 1953. The image of the California grizzly bear that is emblazoned on the center was inspired by a painting by California artist Charles Nahl (1818-78).





CA Bear Cartoon

Bronze version of State Seal, mid 20th century

The Great Seal of the State of California was the first official state symbol. It was approved by the 1849 California Constitutional Convention in Monterey. Its imagery serves as a snapshot in time, capturing some of the main issues of the convention. The seated figure of the Roman goddess Minerva, who was born as a full-grown adult, symbolizes the state’s admission to the Union without ever having been a territory. Convention Members also wanted to include activities and localities of the state that were important to them – mining, farming and water transportation, as well as California’s mountains, valleys, rivers, and coastline. The Great Seal also includes two later state symbols: the grizzly bear as State Animal, and “Eureka,” the State Motto. The seal’s 31 stars symbolize California’s admission into the Union in 1850 as the 31st state.


CA Bear Cartoon

State Controller’s warrant with version of the State Seal, 1855

The Great Seal of the State of California was the first official state symbol. It was approved by the 1849 California Constitutional Convention in Monterey. Its imagery serves as a snapshot in time, capturing some of the main issues of the convention. The seated figure of the Roman goddess Minerva,

CA Bear Cartoon

Engraved portrait of Major Robert Sheldon Garnett, the designer of the original State Seal, 1860s

who was born as a full-grown adult, symbolizes the state’s admission to the Union without ever having been a territory. Convention Members also wanted to include activities and localities of the state that were important to them – mining, farming and water transportation, as well as California’s mountains, valleys, rivers, and coastline. The Great Seal also includes two later state symbols: the grizzly bear as State Animal, and “Eureka,” the State Motto. The seal’s 31 stars symbolize California’s admission into the Union in 1850 as the 31st state.

California State Coat of Arms

Trademark with main elements from the State Seal, late 19th century.

California State Seal

Click and Learn

California State Seal

Click on the following items for more information:

* Ships
* State Motto - Eureka
* 31 Stars
* Minerva
* Grizzly Bear
* Gold Miner

California State Seal
MinervaGold MinerGrizzly BearState Motto31 StarsShipsShips


The Roman goddess of wisdom, craftsmen and warriors, Minerva was fully born as an adult. She symbolizes California's political birth as a full-fledged state without having previously been a territory. After helping to slay the snakeheaded Medusa, Minerva placed the monster's head on her shield as a sign of her power and a warning to any enemies.

Gold Miner

The miner busy digging the earth for gold with his pick, shovel, pan and rocker represents the extraordinary mineral wealth of California that made it into the “Golden State.” This lone figure stands for the tens of thousands of Argonauts who rushed into the state to find their fortunes.

Grizzly Bear

The grizzly bear at the feet of the seated Minerva represents the oldest unofficial state symbol for California – the Bear Flag. This majestic State Animal, now lost to us, has come to symbolize the state's remarkable wildlife. The bear feeds on grains and grapes, which represent the bountiful produce of the rich farmlands.

State Motto

Eureka, the Greek word found at the top of the Seal, means “I have found it.” Legend has it that the word was first uttered by an ancient Greek scientist over two thousand years ago. It is a fitting state motto for California and the golden wealth that was discovered among its mountains and rivers.

31 Stars

The thirty-one stars that arch over the goddess Minerva symbolize California's entrance into the Union as the thirty-first state in 1850. Her admission would forever break the balance between Northern and Southern states in the U. S. Congress and help to usher in the Civil War.


The various sailing ships and steam vessels that lay at anchor before the mighty mountains of the state symbolize the maritime trade and commercial wealth that would make California into the major economic power of today. They also represent one of the means of transportation, along with overland travel, used by “49ers” to reach California.


The various sailing ships and steam vessels that lay at anchor before the mighty mountains of the state symbolize the maritime trade and commercial wealth that would make California into the major economic power of today. They also represent one of the means of transportation, along with overland travel, used by “49ers” to reach California.




Top left: Tomato Paste label, 1875 Bottom left: Baking Powder label, 1896. Middle: Chewing gum advertisement, early 20th century. Top right: Sewing thread advertisement, late 19th century. Bottom right: Die cut advertisement for cereal, late 19th century

CA Bear Cartoon

Cover of children’s book by Joaquin Miller


The California grizzly bear has always held a special place in the imagination of Californians. Fearsome, majestic and even lovable are all words that have been used to describe the State Animal. In fact, as human perceptions began to shift from fear to respect, an appreciation for the grizzly developed.

Our view of one of the greatest mammals to ever roam California has been documented in both the arts and popular culture. Found in stories, art and even advertisements, the grizzly bear has earned a prominent place in our consciousness. Its spirit continues to live on because of these many different expressions of recognition.

CA Bear Cartoon
Entrance sign at Grizzly Creek
Redwoods State Park, late 20th century


From the earliest human presence and throughout the history of the state, one of the most common forms of recognition and respect shown to the bear can be found in the names on the land. Toponyms – names assigned to landmarks, features, and towns – exist in many forms throughout California, such as: Bear Valley, Big Bear Lake, Bear River, Grizzly Flat, Los Osos (Spanish for The Bears), Grizzly Creek State Park and a massive Sierra sequoia known as “Grizzly Giant.”

California Bear



Bear with Arrow


State Symbols: Gold (State Mineral), Bodie (State Ghost Town), Surfing (State Sport) and the California Redwood (State Tree).

“The history of the Grizzly Bear, Ursus arctos, in California is the story of disaster. California is the only state in the union that has an extinct animal as its symbol.” – Allan Schoenherr, A Natural History of California, 1992

In less than two centuries, the California grizzly’s population went from 10,000 to zero. This was the resultof the bear falling victim to over hunting, trapping and relentless exploitation. Naturalists and writers sought to defend the few remaining grizzlies, but attempts to save this subspecies of the North American grizzly came too late. By the 1920s, the grizzly bear’s presence in California was a thing of the past.

CA Bear Cartoon
Photographof performance at the “Bear Pit” at Woodward’s Gardens, San Francisco, 1870’s

Before their disappearance, several grizzly bears and their hunters reached a level of fame. The renowned hunter James “Grizzly” Adams (1812-60) captured and trained several grizzlies to perform for circus audiences. Among those trained by Adams was “Samson,” the bear that would eventually serve as the model for the image on the California State Flag.

Californian’s attitudes towards the grizzly changed over the nineteenth century – the earlier bear-and-bull fights were replaced with circus shows and zoo exhibitions. “Monarch,” commissioned for capture by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, remained in captivity for 22 years and was seen by thousands of people until his death in 1911.

CA Bear Cartoon

Cover of children’s book by Joaquin Miller
CA Bear Cartoon
Illustration of Grizzly Adams and bear, 1860



California Poppies

STATE SYMBOL Credit and Acknowledgments:

California State Capitol Museum would like to thank the following for their generous contribution:

  • Anderson Valley Brewing Company
  • Andytown Coffee Roasters
  • Brooks Dry Cider
  • Danny Wimmer Presents: Aftershock
  • Fresno Grizzlies
  • Frisco: California Brandy Co.
  • Historic Theatre Photos
  • Marin Mountain Bikes, Inc.
  • Pacific Coast Apparel
  • Palm Springs Cemetery District
  • Upper Crust Baking
  • Walton’s Grizzly Lodge Summer Camp
  • John Allen
  • Jeff Scovil
  • Mark Baker
  • Barry Cassidy
  • Gary Kurutz
  • Paul Ranky
  • Marty Sampson
  • Christopher Szwedo
  • California Historical Society
  • California Military Museum
  • California State Archives
  • California State Legislature
  • California State Library
  • California State Parks
  • CALVET (California State Veterans)
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
  • San Bernardino County Regional Parks
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service