- Between 1542 and 1850, California was explored and claimed by a variety of explorers and colonists. This time period marks the establishment of the most important early settlements in California.
- The Spanish have been a constant presence in California's history. Spaniards Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Hernando Cortez were some of the state's first visitors. In 1535, Hernando Cortez founded a settlement in La Paz, but it failed after a few years.
French and Russian Settlers
- Although the Spanish established most of California's early settlements, French and Russian explorers also played an important role. Russian settlers colonized various areas in northern California, such as Fort Ross. Prior to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, French explorers occupied several settlements in what would later become Spanish and American territory.
The Mission Period
- Spanish missionaries played an important role in early California settlements, which is reflected in numerous city names today. Starting in approximately 1769, missionaries founded 21 coastal missions, extending from San Diego to Sonoma. Settlements in San Diego, Monterey Bay and San Francisco were also established by explorer Gaspar de Portola in 1769.