For reasons best left undisclosed*, I recently found myself looking up facts about California cities. I wasn’t searching for nicknames or mottoes, but somehow I ended up on Wikipedia’s List of City Nicknames in California, and … well, there went the afternoon.
The list doesn’t include one city nickname I’ve always liked: Manteca, in Central California, is known as Fat City. (Manteca is Spanish for “cooking fat.”) But it does contain plenty of nuggets, many of them new to me (a California native). I learned, for example, that Chatsworth, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, is sometimes called San Pornando, and that San Francisco has more nicknames (ten) than any other California city.
Then there are all the “X of the world” cities and towns. A lot of them.
I’d known, of course, that Castroville is the Artichoke Center of the World and that Gilroy is the Garlic Capital of the World; indeed, I’ve attended the Artichoke Festival and the Garlic Festival. But some of the other world capitals surprised me:
Auburn: Endurance Capital of the World. (The Sierra foothills city, about 50 miles east of Sacramento on I-80, is “home to some of the most challenging and historic endurance events on the planet.”)
Bishop: Mule Packer Capital of the World.
Chico: Almond Capital of the World.
Fallbrook: Avocado Capital of the World and Raisin Capital of the World. (But also see Selma, below.)
Forestville: Poison Oak Capital of the World. (Hey, I’ve been to Forestville. It ain’t that bad!)
Holtville: Carrot Capital of the World. (I had to look up Holtville on a map. It’s a town of about 6,000 in Imperial County, about 10 miles east of El Centro.)
Indio: Date Capital of the World. (I have fond memories of spring vacations in Indio. It’s in the hot, dry Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs on the map but worlds away in style. We’d always stop at Shields Date Gardens to order date shakes and watch a grainy black-and-white documentary called The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.)
Shields Date Gardens, via Canuck Rennsau’s Flickr stream.
Lodi: Tokay Grape Capital of the World and Zinfandel Capital of the World.
McCloud: Blackberry Capital of the World. (Really? Well, it’s a nice little town up near the Oregon border in the spectacular Siskiyou Mountains. Worth a detour.)
Oakdale: Cowboy Capital of the World. (Don’t tell Bandera, Texas.)
Oxnard: Lima Bean Capital of the World and Strawberry Capital of the World. (Watch out, Watsonville!)
Pearsonville: Hubcap Capital of the World. (Pearsonville, pop. 17, is home to at least one very enthusiastic resident.)
Salinas: Lettuce Capital of the World.
Selma: Raisin Capital of the World. (Yes, there’s a Selma in California.)
Tulelake: Horseradish Capital of the World. (Sadly, the horseradish industry is shrinking.)
Watsonville: Strawberry Capital of the World. (Don’t tell Oxnard.)
Willow Creek: Bigfoot Capital of the world. (Had to look this one up, too. It’s in Humboldt County, near the Trinity River. Population about 1,000.)
I understand the inclination toward superlatives, but where city mottoes are concerned, I prefer the poetic: Modesto’s sublime “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” Del Mar’s much-imitated “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” Redwood City’s briskly reassuring “Climate Best by Government Test.”
I’m drawn to dark mottoes, too, like San Francisco’s “The City That Waits to Die.” But no California city beats Colma, just south of San Francisco, which Wikipedia reminds us was “founded as a necropolis in 1924.” One of Colma’s mottoes is “It’s Good to Be Alive in Colma”; it’s also known as “The City of the Silent” and as “The City That Waits for ‘The City That Waits to Die’ to Die.”
* Because they’re boring.
And... there goes my afternoon too. I found a page with nicknames for cities in the UK. That should keep me busy for a while.
Posted by: Alina | April 05, 2013 at 07:40 AM
I believe Greenfield, in the Salinas Valley, is the Broccoli Capital of the World.
Holtville used to be at one end of a local railroad known as the Holtville Interurban whose right-of-way was incorporated into the Southern Pacific's line connecting the East-West main line at Niland through the Imperial Valley to El Centro and Calexico.
Posted by: rootlesscosmo | April 05, 2013 at 07:51 AM
On a somewhat related note, the city of Seattle wanted to have a nickname besides "Jet City," which I believe the chamber of commerce (or whoever) thought was a little too focused on one industry. The Seattle Times held a contest -- this was in the 1980s, so I vaguely remember it -- and the winner was The Emerald City. (Not bad, I thought.) It was the only instance I'd personally lived through of a city self-consciously choosing its own nickname, tho I suppose that lots of places likewise have done something similar in a booster-ish way.
Posted by: mike | April 05, 2013 at 09:18 AM
A bit of New Orleans (actually in Metairie) is also called "Fat City", which I love.
All of this "of the world" grandiosity reminds me of the times my wife and I run into some run-down dump or dive called the "World Famous" this or that. She's from Copenhagen, and we always get a giggle out of imagining that the World Famous Breakfast Club on Tybee Island, Georgia is the toast of the salons in Paris and the talk of the town in Tokyo.
Posted by: Lane | April 05, 2013 at 09:47 AM
And here in Iowa, let us not forget: The sign coming into town proudly proclaims that Lake City has "Everything but a Lake."
Posted by: heydave | April 06, 2013 at 06:54 AM
I live near Half Moon Bay, self proclaimed "Pumpkin Capital of the World". Because of draconian coastal regulation, high land prices and NIMBY's, there are not many pumpkins grown around town anymore. For the Halloween pumpkin season, most pumpkins are trucked 65 miles from from Watsonville. In fact, instead of paying $10 for a jack o lantern pumpkin, I've scavenged roadside pumpkins which fell off trucks on the way to the fields.
Mccloud as Blackberry Capital: I can see that. The climate there is perfect for soft berries.
Posted by: Muriel | April 09, 2013 at 12:43 PM
I'm from Hollister, which tried to bill itself as the earthquake capital of the world for some years before it realized that (a) the claim was totally inaccurate and (b) it was scaring away potential tourists. Of course, that was the least of Hollister's tourism problems, but I think it makes for a funny story.
Posted by: Drew | April 10, 2013 at 11:14 PM
As a southerner, maybe I can contribute a little. Here are some names sent in for Orange County cities:
The only ones I've actually heard in conversation are:
Anaheim -- Anaslime
Leisure World -- Seizure World and Geezer World (It's a retirement community.)
Garden Grove -- Garbage Grove
Villa Park -- Vanilla Park (very wealthy, tiny city)
Fashion Island -- Fascist Island (actually a big shopping mall in a stinking rich area)
I'm also familiar with the origin of two nicknames listed for Santa Monica in the Wikipedia entry:
"People's Republic of Santa Monica", actually used in conversation, beginning in the late 1970s when it was the first city in the area to institute rent control
"The home of the homeless", a signature sign-off of Harry Shearer's weekly radio program from Santa Monica College's station
Posted by: Mudge | April 15, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Mudge: I was focusing on official nicknames of the sort you'd see on city-limits signs. Pejorative nicknames are in a separate category. A couple of years ago I posted a link to a discussion of Pennsyltucky, the People's Republic of X, and many others:
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | April 16, 2013 at 05:25 AM