The Thing About California

California is a fascinating state. Growing up on the east coast (outside of Philadelphia), I knew California existed and could point to it on a map, but I’d never been there and, honestly, didn’t think a lot about it. Here’s what I’ve learned since moving here seven years ago.

California is Massive

Before moving to California I knew it was a “big” state, but I didn’t know what that really meant. Where I lived in PA, I could drive to another state (New Jersey) in about 10 minutes and to five more states (New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) in less than 3 hours. It’s hard to comprehend being able to drive for almost 12 hours and still be in the same state, but that’s California for you.

While that’s a long drive, I think the best way for east coasters to understand just how big California is to see it:

California is flipped here to make it fit, but you get the idea. Driving from one end of CA to the other is like driving from Maine through North Carolina.

Another funny thing about California is the concept of Northern vs Southern California. I live in “Northern” California. I live here:

I’d call that pretty much the middle of California. It’s over 300 miles to the northern border. However, no one lives up there. No seriously:

There’s basically Southern California, The Bay Area, and Sacramento. Thus, the Bay Area becomes Northern California and everyone forgets that that upper half of the state exists.

For all of California’s vast size, it’s not a very populous state. At least, it’s really not outside of the cities. As you can see above, most of the state is pretty sparsely populated. This would probably be fine if I hadn’t grown up in a very horsey area. I’m used to being able to drive to multiple large tack stores in less than an hour and chose from tons of different barns. On any given weekend, there would be multiple shows or events to chose from. Here in California, there just aren’t enough equestrians to support a lot of stores, shows and facilities. There are 24 total rated events in the entire state (Area VI) and 9 of them are in Southern California, a 6+ hour drive away. If we move to Area 1, we’ll have 30 rated events within a 3 hour drive. Since California basically stretches across both Area I and Area II on the map, we could go to 87 rated events in the same amount of driving we’d have to do to get around California.

That’s it; that’s all we’ve got

The Weather is Weird

Before moving here, I had heard that the weather was nice, but I imagined that it was like the south: warmer in the winter, but still having a winter. Well, that’s not the case; most of California doesn’t have winter in the normal sense of the word. There’s wet season and dry season. And in some parts of Southern California, there’s just one temperate season all year long. The Sierras actually get cold and snow, but they’re the exception.

If we’re not experiencing a drought, rainy season is November-March with a smaller chance of rain in September through May. The rest of the time, it doesn’t rain. It’s an actual desert. The flora and fauna respond accordingly. Whereas most of the country sees greenery in the summer, we only see grass in the winter. Oak trees here in California aren’t deciduous, they’re evergreens. Cows actually have fall calves instead of spring calves because theirs only grass in the winter.

This weather has it’s advantages. You can safely plan on having outdoor events in the summer without any fear of rain. Sometimes it rains, but it’s equivalent to snow in July: super rare and everyone freaks out about it. Outside of the higher elevations, it doesn’t get cold in the winter. Occasionally it gets down near freezing, but never for long and usually not at all.

Riding in January

While everyone on the east coast is shoveling snow and posting about what winter gear they wear to ride in, we’re here pulling out the t-shirts. Which is kinda awesome and I know I’ll be b*tching about the cold when we move, but there are downsides to this California weather. The whole lack of winter has a profound effect on flies. Since California decided to skip straight to summer after January this year, we’re starting fly control in February. Levi has already started itching. I need to call the vet about doing spring shots early since they’re all fly vector diseases. So fun.

The worst downside is drought. When it only rains in the winter, if it doesn’t rain, you’re toast because it’s not coming later. Over the last few years, our barn has had to truck water in to preserve the well for the houses. That means no bathing, no hosing down after a ride, and no watering the arena. And when it doesn’t rain all summer, you get forest fires. And then mudslides when it finally does rain. Honestly though, it’s tough to complain about riding in T-shirts in February. if it weren’t for the forest fires, I’d be down with California’s weather. But at the end of the day, I’d rather be cold than live in constant fear of getting a call/text saying I need to evacuate.



Final Thoughts

This post kinda got away with me. I could name a lot of other things that are weird about California, like the insane cost of living here and how most of the state is an actual desert and yet it’s where the majority of the country’s produce is grown, or the fact that its such a young state, there are very few historical sites compared to the east coast.For all I complain about living here, California has a lot going for it as a place to live: it’s the prettiest place I’ve ever lived, it’s the most socially diverse and accepting state, there is a ton of open space, protected ecosystems, and parkland. If I could afford to live here and there weren’t forest fires, I would totally stay.

I can see for miles and miles and miles #muleearmonday #mulesofinstagram

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What’s unique about your state?

46 thoughts on “The Thing About California

  1. roamingridersite

    I was shocked when I went to San Fran in October one year and everything was brown and dead looking. Not what I had expected to see in California at all. I hope you find your dream place!

    1. Olivia Post author

      It’s brown here about 1/2 the year. I don’t actually mind that anymore. I think the golden hills look pretty. But it is odd when you’re not used to it.

  2. Emma

    California is such a gorgeous place and I’ve been fortunate to visit it regularly since childhood, to visit family (in LA), for vacations (driving the length from San Francisco and Sequoia National park down to baja Mexico), and often for work too. I love the west coast and seriously considered moving there for a job a couple years ago.

    Ultimately tho….. It’s such a different way of life from the east coast, and I’m a Marylander through and through. My state certainly gets a true winter, but it’s not as intense or as long as more northern states. Same story for our summers relative to more southern states. And we basically don’t get natural disasters beyond the rare hurricane hit (tho we get tropical storms). Maryland and its surrounding states are my ideal when it comes to horse keeping too, with a very high density of world class professionals and competition venues in a variety of horse sports.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I grew up near you in the Philly area (and spent a lot of time in Baltimore as I have family there). I would prefer to move back to that area if I had my choice (lots of horses, decent weather, reasonable cost of living) but my husband wants to go north.

  3. lauracoburn1111

    Interesting! I’ve always been fascinated by California – thanks to tv, I’m sure. lol I’m in Canada and have visited up and down the east coast and the central US, but not much to the west. I was actually supposed to go to San Fran in October, but we cancelled the trip due to the forest fires!

    I do get the large size of some states – Ontario is pretty darn big – I’ve never even driven all the way E-W or N-S. I should go google how long that would take!

  4. Megan

    For eventing there aren’t a ton of shows, but I can do a rated dressage show basically every weekend from March to September without driving longer than 2-3 hours. So at least it’s not all disciplines.

    1. Suzy

      And you couldn’t do that (show every weekend) with eventing anyways, unless you have a whole lot of horses! I actually think we have a lot of showing opportunities here for most disciplines.

  5. Gina Vergata

    Thanks for the info. I love to visit California, but never considered how different it would be to live there. This inspired me to write about living and horsing in NC.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I didn’t think about it as blog hop fodder, but go for it. I am truly curious about how people keep horses all across the country.

  6. Emily

    Wow. Idk why I thought California was like… East Coast Summer all the time. (aka – warm but with rain storms here and there) It must be such a drastic change in horse management from the east coast (and KY)

  7. Carly

    I was born in California, lived there for several years, and the majority of my family (immediate and extended) still lives there. Fuck that state, man. I like looking at CA bloggers pictures, but I would never want to live there again.

    1. Kat

      Born and raised in California. If it wasn’t such better pay here (even against cost of living) for my profession, I’d have left years ago. It’s a lot less fun, lawmakers are crazy, tired of droughts, and some of the worst roads, especially since we don’t get snow.

      1. Olivia Post author

        The pay is great. Luckily my husband will be able to keep his job and work from home. Even in the 7 years we’ve been here the traffic has gotten so much worse.

  8. Holly

    This is really interesting! I’ve spent time in California, but never considered it as somewhere to live until more recently, looking at the Sacramento/Davis area. The lack of eventing opportunities is really throwing me for a loop though. I’ll have to write something up comparing the different places I’ve lived!

    1. Olivia Post author

      The Sacramento area has more eventing and more horses all around than where I am. We ended up out there a lot when we were horse shopping.

  9. L. Williams

    I am going to take you to task. I am a Californian born and raised. Northern California starts at Monterey, Everything below that is the Central Coast and Santa Barbara is squarely Southern California. There is also the Central Valley which pretty much runs down the inside of California. Californians definitely know that Northern California includes places like Humboldt, Yreka, Eureka etc etc forever. Lots of beautiful state parks up there.

    39 Million people (2016) is not sparsely populated. Yes people tend to live in the Metropolitan areas on the coast. More people live in California than live in Canada and Canada is a fucking country! In 2015 California ranked 5th among countries for GDP.

    As far as historic sites go, you’re probably in the wrong spots and not looking in the correct places. There are lovely old historic places to go visit (yeah no 1776 shit or the civil war (double barf) but we have the oldest trees (Inyo County has a bristlecone pine that’s almost 5k years old).

    California does suck for horse stuff, and I slap other Californian’s and transplants alike on the back of the head when they talk about how much they love it being 80 degrees and bone dry in winter. Come on people have some fucking sense. California is not for everyone (and you make it abundantly clear how much its not for you).

    1. Olivia Post author

      39 million might be a lot, but just the Northeast (which is like half to 2/3 of California size wise) has 55 million people. My point with the population is that it effects horse showing. Less people = less horse shows. I know California has natural history, but I did mean the pre 1776 stuff. I grew up in a town with multiple buildings from the 1600s in a house that was built around when California became a state. And I know that’s nothing to Europeans who are tripping over medieval stuff, but at least it’s something. The oldest building in California is a mission built in 1782 (I started writing a longer paragraph on this so I remember it). It’s not a complaint about California; I just find it weird because it’s not what I’m used to. And I’m with you on the drought thing. People keep saying how awesome the weather is right now (80s and no rain) and I’m like it’s gonna suck in the summer, when we have no water.

      1. L. Williams

        While that area might be denser per square footage population wise than California how many places are actually inhabitable by people? California has the MOST National Parks ( 1 more than Alaska) and 118 State Parks. People don’t usually live in these places and they include things like deserts and mountain peaks.

        Don’t get me wrong, I like Olivia – and if she had complained about the Traffic I would definitely have fallen all over myself to agree with her (noteworthy terrible other traffic I’ve sat in has included DC and NYC).

        I hope the next state you live in has more of what you are looking for.

        1. Olivia Post author

          I didn’t really intend any of this post to be a complaint about California. Because trust me if this was a complain about CA post, then traffic would be like my #2 complaint (forest fires still take #1). This post was just about things I find odd about California since I’m not a native. Being used to the small state size, dense population, and normal seasons of the east coast makes California’s size and weather weird to me.

          1. Kat

            Even though fire has been a serious, and close threat to both barns I board at, until this last year, it wasn’t quite so crazy all over California at once. Oregon, Canada have also had some crazy fire seasons lately, which seems so weird to me as I think of them as so much “wetter” climates. I would put traffic as my #1 gripe, not just the volume, but quality of roads, lack of public transit, etc. because its a daily issue, even going to the store has “better” and “worse” times.

  10. megan k

    i lived in northern and southern california. it’s beautiful, but I would so not keep horses there. And in the beginning youll miss the weather but then you’ll forget that’s even a thing 😛

    1. Olivia Post author

      I didn’t know you’d lived out here. I don’t think I’ll forget the weather though. I’m pretty sure I’ll be wishing I was in CA every time it snows.

    1. Olivia Post author

      The microclimate thing is fascinating to me. I live about 5-10 minutes from my barn and they often have different weather. Like it’ll be sunny and warm at my house and raining at the barn. But even the coast doesn’t get rain in the summer so some of the climate trends are consistent. As for eventing every weekend, I know people who live on the east coast do that. Especially when there are a lot of schooling shows and 1 days as options. I don’t think I would do an event every weekend, but it’d be nice to have more than 1 event in a month to chose from.

      1. Suzy

        No rain but plenty of condensation; I have a green lawn year round and I don’t water. Also we only have flies at the barn like one month a year. The fire danger is in pretty isolated areas, not something I’ve ever worried about in any of the places I’ve lived around the peninsula.
        I was born in CA, and aside from one year in Europe and half a year in DC have lived in the Bay Area or Sac area all my life and never want to leave. I can’t believe people live in areas that flood or have a hurricane pretty much every year! Or are freezing cold or humid a good part of the year.

        1. Olivia Post author

          We thought about moving towards the coast a few years ago. The redwoods are my favorite for riding in especially in the summer when it’s nice and cool there and hot where we are. We even looked at a few places in the Santa Cruz mountains. And then there was the Loma Fire and I was scared off.

  11. Liz

    What you note about the fire evacuation is one of the biggest reasons I quit pursuing what I thought was a dream to move west. I have an absolute irrational fear of fire and the idea of having to evacuate because of it terrifies me. I’ll take my wet seasons and my snow!

    I grew up in WV and ultimately have made it my permanent home. To touch on things you noted in your post – starting with natural disasters – we really don’t have any! Flooding is about it. You can plan around that by not living in a floodplain of any kind. There is pre-Civil War history here and the first land battle of the Civil War was in Phillippi – about 40 miles from me. We have 4 beautiful seasons and fall is absolutely resplendent. Public lands for horseback riding aren’t highly contentious and we’re allowed almost everywhere – which is awesome. I’m in a rural area about 3 hours from major horse stuff, but there are plenty of areas of the state close to horse options both English and western. Outdoors recreation is huge here and you can get into just about anything you really want to do minus beach-going things haha.

    I hope y’all find your dream home and hopefully we’ll meet up once you’re in the same time zone 😉

    1. Olivia Post author

      I spent a summer working in West Virginia. It’s such pretty country. I’ve never been there in the winter, but I love seeing your pictures.

    1. Olivia Post author

      ha ha. That state is Legit tiny though. Like even being an east coaster I forget about RI even being a state most of the time it’s so tiny.

  12. Stacie Seidman

    Yeah, no thanks with the fires! I’ll take the miserable ice and snow we keep having any day! I do really love having so much old history here in New England. My house was built in 1759 which totally blows my mind.
    As for anything unique in my state… I think our ridiculously high taxes is about it!

  13. Kat

    I love reading all the comments, I have always been an avid Cali girl til I grew up, now I’m just kinda chicken to leave/ stuck where I’m at. Having visited Florida, I cracked up, they had flood and hurricane seasons, but were scared of our earthquakes… um yea… anything large enough to do damage is really really uncommon. The drought made us extra fire prone last year, but generally if you live city, you are safe, and if you live country, you learn to keep some big fire breaks. The 110F summers out in my valley are more dangerous/ scary overall.

    Having lived a short time in low sierras, I know I don’t want to live around a bunch of snow, like occasional dusting fine, but no way shoveling drives, etc. I’m not made for cold weather. We also looked around the Santa Cruz area, but quality of house for the price wasn’t worth leaving the burbs at the time.

  14. rooth

    What? No Texas horse bloggers have responded so far? I’m a Texas girl through and through – born here, went to college here, stayed here to work. You think the state is wide open spaces and that’s true but I keep my horse in a commercial barn smack dab in the middle of the city, so they live in a space the size of a NYC apartment. I live in north Texas and it feels like we have cold weather and then unbelievably hot weather. Someday, I’ve got to do a blog post about my barn / trainer / training situation to sum this all up.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I’ve visited Texas. Once. I also had the idea that Texas was always warm, but I’ve read enough Texas based horse blogs now that I realize it can be cold there.

  15. Kaity Clark

    Really interesting post – I’ve only been to California once, to visit family in the LA area. I felt super out of place and uncomfortable the entire time (born and raised midwestern girl/awkward 16 y/o), and I absolutely couldn’t believe how SPRAWLING the city was. There’s so much space! I would love to go back and visit Northern California some time – it looks stunning! But I definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

    1. Olivia Post author

      It’s really pretty up here. LA is a huge city; it’s very different than SF. I haven’t spent much time in South CA myself.

  16. Bakersfield Dressage

    As a life-long Californian, it’s funny to read what a “visitor” thinks of our state. I gripe far more about the political climate of California than I do about the meteorological climate.

    I grew up in northern California (Sacramento/Humboldt County). From Humboldt County, the Bay Area felt like southern California! Now that I live in Central California, an area that you missed, we endure constant over-looking. North and south are quite easy to identify when you live in the Central Valley. LOL

    While the Bay Area, central coast, LA, and San Diego are expensive, the rest of the state enjoys a very comfortable standard of living. We live in a 3100 square foot home in a gated community with a lake as our backyard. Even though Bakersfield is the 9th largest city in California, the cost of living is quite reasonable.

    I am sorry you ‘re moving. While there are things that bug me about this state, it’s a pretty neat place to live. :0)

    1. Olivia Post author

      I like the politics of California; it’s one of the main reasons I wish I could stay here. The weather thing isn’t a complaint; it’s just something that’s really weird to people who are used to 4 seasons. While I know the central valley exists, I don’t hear about it much about it. On the news for example, I only ever here northern and southern California mentioned (unless it’s the local news because Californians know the central valley exists). We thought about moving to a different part of CA, but the wildfires really put a damper on that. And Bakersfield might be affordable, but I know from reading your blog that there’s a real lack of horse shows/trainers/facilities there. I miss being able to go to 3 different tack stores in < 60 minute drive or pick between multiple shows on any given weekend.

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