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California Is ...The Golden StateRarely has a region captured the imagination for as long or as strongly as California. Spanish explorers, the forty-niners, would be film stars, and millions of tourists have all arrived in anticipation of finding America's promised land. Few of them have been disappointed, although California is never quite what people expect it to be.California is a land of golden beaches only along the most southerly quarter of its 1,264-mile coastline; the rest is typified by bracing, pristine bluffs lashed by crashing ocean waves.Inland California embraces parched deserts and snow-capped mountains, but also finds room for the lush valleys of the wine country and the lava landscapes of the far north.The state's two major cities are poles apart. San Francisco is small and visually attractive, and it exudes a warm, cultured atmosphere. By contrast, brash Los Angeles, while never dull, struggles to justify its glamorous image and gives new meaning to the word "sprawl."California is far too diverse and complex -- socially, geographically, and politically -- to be defined by a single, simple image. Of 34 million Californians, surprisingly few were born in the state and barely half fit the traditional Anglo-American stereotype.A flourishing New Age movement strengthens California's anything-goes reputation, while increased environmental protection is a product of many years of legislation. Yet California has plenty of conservatives, and Ronald Reagan's eight-year reign as state governor was far from unrepresentative of the state's political mind.California Is ...SportsJogging, rollerblading, and skateboarding are wildly popularthroughout the state, often in specially designated areas. So are cycling (including mountain biking), hiking and river rafting; toning one's physique in a health club or fitness center is a state ritual. The ocean and winter's snow-covered mountain slopes are other playing fields for this health and fitness oriented culture.Ocean SportsAlthough it may seem the most Californian of all the state's participant sports, surfing arrived from Hawaii in 1907 and did not capture the Californian imagination until the invention of lightweight surfboards in the 1950s.Subsequently mythologized by the songs of the Beach Boys and the beach-blanket films of the early 1960s, surfing became a lasting symbol of the sun-kissed Californian beach life.From the masses gathered at San Diego's Mission Beach to the hardy loners spotted off the rocky Central Coast, surfing has evolved into a subculture with its own barely penetrable language and customs. In some areas, local surfers actively deter outsiders from enroaching on the breakers they consider their own.Scuba diving and snorkeling are pursued in numerous locations, especially along the central coast where the beaches are not crowded.Beach SportsBack on the sand, volleyball nets line many California beaches and anyone-can-join "pickup" games are common. If you play, don't expect mild exertion -- sand is brutal on the leg muscles. You will soon appreciate the stamina of Californians who play beach volleyball professionally -- they are the big-earning stars of televised tournaments held each summer.Winter SportsDuring the winter, many coast-dwelling Californians head inland. The 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley (near Lake Tahoe) gave many residents a sense of the magnificence of their own state's skiing. The winter resorts of Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes are now major destinations for skiers and snowboarders, who are present in rapidly swelling numbers and who dazzle two-footed snow lovers with swooping downhill descents on their four-foot-long boards.