Travel & Day Trips

What is the Biggest City in California? The Clear Winner

California is a big place! If it was a country, it would have a larger economy and land mass than many of the world’s existing nations.

Still, there aren’t too many big cities in California. There’s a lot of open space and rural land.

Which city in California is the largest? Is it San Francisco, with its big hills and bigger tech scene? Sacramento, the state capitol? It turns out there’s a clear winner, and it’s way bigger than all the others.

Walking by the beach

An Overview of Los Angeles

Situated in Southern California, Los Angeles is not just the largest city in the state, but also the second-largest city in the United States, trailing only behind New York City.

The city has a unique blend of culture, arts, business, and technology. Here are some of the key features that make Los Angeles stand out:

  • Population: Los Angeles boasts a population of nearly 4 million people as of the last U.S. Census Bureau report.
  • Area: It sprawls across approximately 502 square miles, offering residents a diverse range of neighborhoods.
  • Diversity: LA is renowned for its multiculturalism, with residents hailing from around 140 countries and speaking approximately 224 different identified languages.

I once talked to an Uber driver from Los Angeles who had driven in the Bay Area, too. They said that in the Bay Area, you were constantly driving from city to city, taking people from the Bay Area’s airports to its urban centers, etc.

In LA, by contrast, they could drive for a full day and never leave the city.

The vibrant and diverse Venice Beach area

Comparisons With Other Major Cities in California

Los Angeles’ size and population are significantly larger than other major cities in California. The table below provides a comparative view of the five biggest cities in California by population:

CityPopulationArea (Square Miles)
Los Angeles~4 million502
San Diego~1.4 million372
San Jose~1 million180
San Francisco~880,00047

As clearly seen, Los Angeles comfortably leads in both population and geographical size.

It’s physically the largest city, but also the most populated by a longshot.

Los Angeles: The Hub of Entertainment

Gotta love that sand!

Beyond its sheer size, Los Angeles is globally recognized as the entertainment capital of the world. This is due to:

  • Hollywood: Home to many major film studios, Hollywood has earned a reputation as the heart of the American film and television industry.
  • Music: LA also houses significant landmarks in the music industry, like the Capitol Records Building and the Grammy Museum.
  • Arts and Culture: The city has over 800 museums and art galleries, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Getty Center.

There’s tons of great food in LA, too. But there’s also legendary traffic that’s often much worse than even San Francisco traffic.

All that space and all those people can mean lots of driving in the City of Angels.

Conclusion: The Allure of the Big City

From its staggering population and expansive cityscape to its cultural, artistic, and economic influence, Los Angeles stands proudly as the largest city in California.

Its size and dynamism make it a vibrant, exciting place to live and visit. Whether you’re exploring Hollywood, enjoying its beautiful beaches, or discovering diverse cuisines, Los Angeles truly offers something for everyone.

You can also easily take a trip down to Carlsbad for LEGOLAND California or San Diego to visit the San Diego zoo. You can even drive from Los Angeles to our home base in the Bay Area if you’re really ambitious.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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