Where Exactly is Northern California? The Final Debate

As we cover all of our favorite activities and destinations in Northern California, we hear this all the time from our readers – “that’s not in NorCal.” California is a big state with many different regions and it’s become a lively debate to determine exactly what is North, South and Central California.

(These are just very recent comments, of which we receive many like these)

First, I’ll start with Active NorCal’s stance on the debate. We see Northern California as Yosemite National Park stretching north all the way to Oregon border. That basically takes the NorCal line from San Jose and cuts the state in half all the way to Nevada. Why? Because it’s our opinion that we should stake claim to the best parts of California.

With this definition, we claim the beautiful Yosemite, the Mammoth Lakes area, the incredible city of San Francisco, including Tahoe and Sacramento. That’s quite a great place to call home, right? Our definition simply stems from our selfishness of wanting to call NorCal the best place in the world.

Also, Wikipedia sees Northern California the same as us (in fact, they have it going further south).

Okay, now that our argument is presented, I went out to research what other people think on the issue and was able to find a great debate on Reddit called “Settle my argument – is San Francisco part of Northern California?” Here are the arguments presented in the thread:

1. California should be divided into three regions – North, South and Central

This is the most prevalent of arguments and frankly, it makes a lot of sense. In fact, in 1992 Assemblyman Statham presented the state with a plan to cut the state into three sections, and even concocted a map that cut the state into the three regions based off of county:

This would put Sacramento, San Francisco and most of the Napa area into the Central region and gives Tahoe to the North.

I think this definition of the three regions of California is a realistic definition, although I think you have to at the the very least put Sacramento into NorCal. I can see San Francisco and Napa in the Central region, but Sacramento is very much the city of NorCal.

2. NorCal is anything north of Sacramento, because that part of the California is very different from the rest of the state

This argument presents NorCal as a series of small towns and wilderness areas, devoid of any “big cities” or tourist traps. It certainly captures the feel of NorCal, as many of the people who live North of Sacramento feel like that area is much different than the rest of NorCal.

I can’t get past the feeling that Sacramento is part of NorCal. Sure, it seems to be a big city in what is otherwise a “small town feel” of NorCal, but is there anything wrong with having one city in NorCal?

3. There is Northern California, then there is Far Northern California

Many NorCal residents have this feeling and I have to agree. In fact, I think this argument goes hand-in-hand with the assertion that SF, Yosemite and Mammoth are part of NorCal. If you split the state in half, and then split up NorCal in spirit, I think you have a winner.

Honestly, I get that people north of Sacramento feel like they live in the true NorCal, but can’t we include the other regions while claiming to be Far NorCal?

4. Northern California should start at the elbow of the state

If you’re looking for an easy solution to this argument, the elbow seems like a good place to start. looking on a map, it’s easy to just draw a line across from the elbow and call it NorCal. It’s basically saying that NorCal is Tahoe and anything north, leaving Sacramento out of the area.

I keep going back to the assertion that Sacramento is part of NorCal. Also, this definition just seems too easy. In fact, it’s flat out lazy…

5. State of Jefferson

Politics aside, the State of Jefferson folks have managed to carve out a map that many people see as a true Northern California. The map above shows a group of NorCal that are seemingly like minded. But if you want to split up the state based on Liberal versus Conservative, you probably have to leave out the Tahoe area, as they lean much more Liberal than the rest of the mapped out area.

After considering all of these arguments, we stand by our definition. I think adding a Far NorCal aspect is fair, separating Sacramento, SF, Yosemite and Mammoth from the rest of the PNW folks.

What do you think? What is your definition of NorCal? Let us know in the comments!

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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