You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in California? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your California city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Golden State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- San Diego (Photos)
- Pomona (Photos)
- Marysville (Photos)
- Los Angeles (Photos)
- Benicia (Photos)
- Stockton (Photos)
- Santa Barbara (Photos)
- Eureka (Photos)
- San Jose (Photos)
- San Francisco (Photos)
For being 249 years old, San Diego doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in California? That would be El Cerrito — a brand spanking 1 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In California… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in California, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 476 out of 634 in California with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 75.1% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with San Diego turning out to be the matriarch of California at the ripe old age of 249.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
1. San Diego
Population: 1,390,966Founded: 1769
The original inhabitants of the region are now known as the San Dieguito and La Jolla people. The area of San Diego has been inhabited by the Kumeyaay people.
The first European to visit the region was explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, sailing under the flag of Castile but possibly born in Portugal. Sailing his flagship San Salvador from Navidad, New Spain, Cabrillo claimed the bay for the Spanish Empire in 1542, and named the site ‘San Miguel’. In November 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent to map the California coast. Arriving on his flagship San Diego, Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and what are now Mission Bay and Point Loma and named the area for the Catholic Saint Didacus, a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego de Alcalá. On November 12, 1602, the first Christian religious service of record in Alta California was conducted by Friar Antonio de la Ascensión, a member of Vizcaíno’s expedition, to celebrate the feast day of San Diego.
Population: 152,366Founded: 1830
The area was originally occupied by the Tongva or Gabrielino Native Americans.
The city is named for Pomona, the ancient Roman goddess of fruit. For Horticulturist Solomon Gates, ‘Pomona’ was the winning entry in a contest to name the city in 1875, before anyone had ever planted a fruit tree The city was first settled by Ricardo Vejar and Ygnacio Palomares in the 1830s, when California and much of the now-American Southwest were part of Mexico. The first Anglo-Americans arrived in prior to 1848 when the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in California becoming part of the United States. By the 1880s, the arrival of railroads and Coachella Valley water had made it the western anchor of the citrus-growing region. Pomona was officially incorporated on January 6, 1888.
Population: 12,225Founded: 1843
In 1842, John Sutter leased part of his Rancho New Helvetia land to Theodore Cordua, a native of Mecklenburg in Prussia, who raised livestock, and in 1843 built a home and trading post he called New Mecklenburg. The trading post and home was situated at what would later become the southern end of ‘D’ Street, Marysville’s main street. In 1844, the Mexican government granted Cordua his own land grant, Rancho Honcut.
4. Los Angeles
Population: 3,949,776Founded: 1850
The Los Angeles coastal area was first settled by the Tongva (Gabrieleños) and Chumash Native American tribes thousands of years ago. A Gabrielino settlement in the area was called iyáang (written Yang-na by the Spanish), meaning ‘poison oak place.’
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese-born explorer, claimed the area of southern California for the Spanish Empire in 1542 while on an official military exploring expedition moving north along the Pacific coast from earlier colonizing bases of New Spain in Central and South America. Gaspar de Portolà and Franciscan missionary Juan Crespí, reached the present site of Los Angeles on August 2, 1769.
Population: 28,011Founded: 1850
The City of Benicia was founded on May 19, 1847, by Dr. Robert Semple, Thomas O. Larkin, and Comandante General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, on land sold to them by General Vallejo in December 1846. It was named for the General’s wife, Francisca Benicia Carillo de Vallejo. The General intended that the city be named ‘Francisca’ after his wife, but this name was dropped when the former city of ‘Yerba Buena’ changed its name to ‘San Francisco’. So Sra. Vallejo’s second given name was used instead. In his memoirs, William Tecumseh Sherman contended that Benicia was ‘the best natural site for a commercial city’ in the region.
Population: 304,358Founded: 1850
When Europeans first visited the Stockton area, the Yatchicumne, a branch of the Northern Valley Yokuts Indians, occupied the Stockton area. They built their villages on low mounds to keep their homes above regular floods. A Yokuts village named Pasasimas was located on a mound between Edison and Harrison Streets on what is now the Stockton Channel in downtown Stockton.
The Siskiyou Trail began in the northern San Joaquin Valley. It was a centuries-old Native American footpath that lead through the Sacramento Valley over the Cascades and into present-day Oregon.
7. Santa Barbara
Population: 91,443Founded: 1850
Evidence of human habitation of the area begins at least 13,000 years ago. Evidence for a Paleoindian presence includes a fluted Clovis-like point found in the 1980s along the western Santa Barbara County coast, as well as the remains of Arlington Springs Man, found on Santa Rosa Island in the 1960s. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Chumash lived on the south coast of Santa Barbara County at the time of the first European explorations.
Five Chumash villages flourished in the area. The present-day area of Santa Barbara City College was the village of Mispu; the site of the El Baño pool (along west beach, was the village of Syukhtun, chief Yanonalit’s large village located between Bath and Chapala streets; Amolomol was at the mouth of Mission Creek; and Swetete, above the bird refuge.
Population: 27,024Founded: 1850
Eureka’s Pacific coastal location on Humboldt Bay, adjacent to abundant redwood forests, provided the reason for settlement of this 19th-century seaport town. Before the arrival of Euro-American settlers, including farmers, miners, fishermen, and loggers, the area was occupied by indigenous peoples.
9. San Jose
Population: 1,023,031Founded: 1850
The Santa Clara Valley was home to the Tamyen group of the Ohlone people since around 4,000 BCE. The Tamyen spoke Tamyen language of the Ohlone language family. With the Spanish colonization of California, the majority of the Tamyen came to inhabit Mission Santa Clara de Asís and Mission San José.
California was claimed as part of the Spanish Empire in 1542, when explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo charted the Californian coast. During this time, California and Baja California were administered together as Province of the California (Spanish: Provincia de las California). For nearly 200 years, the Californias were sparsely populated and largely ignored by the government of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in Mexico City. Only in 1769 was Northern California finally surveyed by Spanish authorities, with the Portolá Expedition.
10. San Francisco
Population: 864,263Founded: 1850
First Mexican Empire 1821–1823
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In California
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in California. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in California.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Golden State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to California:
- El Cerrito (Founded in 2017)
- Davis (Founded in 2017)
- Culver City (Founded in 2017)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In California
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