California is a state spanning the southern half of the west coast of the contiguous United States. With a population of 37 million and an area of 158,402 square miles (410,000 km˛), California is the largest U.S. state in population and the third largest in area. California borders the Pacific Ocean, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican state of Baja California. The state has strikingly beautiful natural features, including an expansive central valley, tall mountains, arid deserts, and hundreds of miles of scenic coastline.
California's geography is rich, complex, and varied. In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, a huge, fertile valley bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the granite Sierra Nevada to the east, the volcanic Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. In the center and east of the state are the Sierra Nevada, which include the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4421 m). Also located in the Sierra are the world-famous Yosemite National Park and a deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume. To the west is Clear Lake, California's largest freshwater lake by area. About 35% of the state's total surface area is covered by forests. This is more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Deserts make up about 25% of this state‘s land area. In the south lay the Transverse Ranges and a large salt lake, the Salton Sea. The south-central desert is called the Mojave. To the northeast of the Mojave lies Death Valley, which contains the lowest, hottest point in North America, Badwater Flat. The lowest point of Death Valley and the peak of Mount Whitney are less than 200 miles apart.
Different regions of California have very different climates, depending on their latitude, elevation, and proximity to the coast. Most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, with rainy winters and dry summers. The influence of the ocean generally moderates temperature extremes, creating warmer winters and substantially cooler summers. Further inland, the climate becomes more continental with colder winters and markedly hotter summers. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have a mountain climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer. The higher elevation deserts of eastern California have hot summers and cold winters.