Main article: Geography of California
California borders the Pacific Ocean, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican State of Baja California. The state has striking natural features, including a huge fertile central valley, high mountains, and hot dry deserts. With an area of 410,000 km² it is the third largest state in the U.S. Most major cities cling to the cool, pleasant seacoast along the Pacific, notably San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The capital, however, is Sacramento in the Central Valley.
California has many types of geography. Down the center of the state lies the Central Valley, a huge, fertile valley bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. Mountain-fed rivers naturally irrigate the Central Valley. With dredging, several of these rivers have become sufficiently large and deep that several inland cities, notably Stockton, California, are seaports.
In the center and east of the state are the Sierra Nevada, containing the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4421 m). Also in the Sierra is the world famous Yosemite National Park and a deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe. To the east of the Sierra is the Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential seabird habitat.
In the south lie 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.
California is famous for its earthquakes due partly to the presence of the San Andreas Fault. While more powerful earthquakes in the United States have occurred in Alaska and along the Mississippi River, California earthquakes are notable due to their frequency and location in highly populated areas. Popular legend has it that, eventually, an earthquake known as "The Big One" will result in the splitting of coastal California from the continent, either to sink into the ocean or form a new landmass. The fact that this scenario is completely implausible from a geologic standpoint does not lessen its acceptance in public conventional wisdom.