I have now lived in California and traveled here (and across the country) enough that I have to say this state is truly impressive (at this point Martha drops her coffee incredulously at me) and is a microcosm of the US. I'm sure none of this is new to readers, but the realization for me is like Cortez silent upon a peak in Darien.
Geographically its variance is as great as everything I have seen in the lower 48 and Hawaii (sadly I have not been to Alaska). Yosemite is staggeringly beautiful -- perhaps the best national park in the US. When one tries to trot out Yellowstone, I counter that Lassen Volcanic is almost as good as Yellowstone and far more accessible. In NorCal, we have the surfing beaches of Santa Cruz and rocky water walls of Mendocino & Big Sur -- crushing IMHO Florida, equaling Maine and at least a shadow of Hawaii. The central valley easing into golden foothills leading to snowy mountains of Lake Tahoe rival the Rocky Mountain and Plains states (and are a much faster drive!). The deserts and mountains of the southern state mirror the Southwest deserts and mountains. Texas and the gulf's oil production are mirrored by the Bakersfield area and a few remaining offshore rigs. The amazingly varied agricultural central valley feeding delta regions pouring into a huge bay of world class sailing exceed the breadth of the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio valleys production and any sailing I have experienced elsewhere in the US. The forests of Northern California exceed every forest I have seen in the rest of the US (I must still get to Washington & Oregon). The migrant labor fortunately does not rival the slavery of the South, but echoes likely can be heard by anyone who opens their ears. The regional accents of the US may be lacking, but they are overshadowed by the variability of immigrants audible in the commercial centers of this golden state. The economies of Silicon Valley/San Francisco and Los Angeles easily rival those of the east coast in production and promise. And politically, any level of bread & circuses promised by DC can be matched if not exceeded by the moonbeams and movie stars of Sacramento. I confess that I haven't experienced the southeast states personally, but I hope to address that in this next trip across the country.
After my 17+ years here, the only things besides family & friends I truly miss are the great museums of New York and Chicago. The Getty is beautiful and had I not traveled so widely I might be suitably impressed. The fact is that the winners of California's recent golden age(s) have not invested in the art and culture as have those in the east or the old world. That may change as the fortunes of today age, but maybe the apparent re-investment by the current crop in creating a better (or at least measured) world may be better for us all in the long run.
It is a truly wonderful state.