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.