There’s a long-standing question of where exactly Northern California is located. According to one study, it’s a matter of perception.
Researchers have found that Northern California has no official boundary and is what is known as a vernacular region. A vernacular region is loosely defined and based on people’s perceptions.According to Wikipedia, Northern California made up of the top 48 counties that sit north of San Luis Obispo, Kern and San Bernardino. That theory is far from true for most locals.
Other varying theories exist on the internet about where the north/south California divide is located. Some theories suggest separating the state by physical features, voting history, watersheds, and even by sports fans. It’s a topic that people love to debate.
Dean Fairbanks, a professor in and the chair of Chico State’s Department of Geography and Planning, is an expert on the topic. He’s author of the book “California Cultural Landscapes: An Exploration of Spatial Patterns Over Time” and said even in the book’s second edition, he wouldn’t touch this subject. Why? Because Northern California has no official boundary.
Fairbanks conducted a study with his students in which he asked them to draw a dividing line on a map. While there were some outliers, most of Fairbanks’ students separated Northern California from Southern California somewhere along the 300-mile stretch between Santa Cruz and Ventura. However, technically all of his students were right, and wrong.
According to Fairbanks, unless a border has been declared a hard boundary, it should be thought of as a transition zone.
“And this is a hard thing for the public to understand that everything that we do, when we either crunch the census or let you know what is the habitat boundary for the great spotted owl or for the California condor, boy, it looks like it’s a hard boundary, no, it’s pretty fuzzy,” he said to North State Public Radio.
Using Stanford University’s “Voices of California” project, the dividing line between Northern and Southern California is dependent upon the cultural idea of an area. The researchers of the project went to the communities of Merced, Red Bluff, and Redding and asked them to designate what is definitely Northern California and what is definitely Southern California. The answers varied depending on where they lived.
Essentially, residents of different regions have different cultural ideas of where the North and South divide is located. If you ask a resident of Mount Shasta, their answer might be much more different than someone living in Sacramento. The examples of this location divide are endless.
Active NorCal has defined NorCal as the line drawn right in the middle of the state. Under that category, we cover all things outdoors from Yosemite to the Oregon border. That seemed like the best way for us to do our job, but is certainly disagreed with among many of our readers.
The best way to define Northern California is to think where people say “hella” or where you need to wear a wetsuit in the ocean in summer. It’s possibly even where the palm tree meets the pine. As long as there’s a common characteristic within the places where you’d draw your Northern California line, you’re fine wherever you’d put it.