Northern California is a land of dramatic contrasts: soaring skyscrapers and towering redwoods, bustling cities and pathless wilderness, pounding surf and glittering snowcapped peaks. Vintners practice their centuries-old craft in some of the greatest wine-producing areas of North America, while nearby entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley reinvent the world of computers on almost a daily basis. Northern California is home to California's capital (Sacramento), its third-largest city (San Jose), the second-highest mountain of the Cascade Range (Mt. Shasta), the third-most visited national park (Yosemite). It is a land of superlatives.
The area has been popular for a long time. The first pre-Columbian settlers arrived here as long ago as 8,000 BC, and quickly made the area one of the most densely populated in North America. Europeans didn't settle here, however, until 1770, when the mission of Monterey was founded. But with the discovery of gold near Sacramento in 1848, northern California became a magnet for settlers. The area experienced a 300% increase in population during the Gold Rush years; and while the pace slowed considerably in later years, by the turn of the century over a million people lived in the region.
Today, more 12 million live in the northern California region. Yet outside of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento areas, northern California has a low population density: of the fifteen counties at the bottom of California's population figures, only one of them is outside this region.