15 Most Beautiful Cities in California You Should Visit

Last Updated on June 06, 2023 by Nikki Jain

California is known for its beautiful landscapes, bustling cities and amazing attractions. But which cities stand out as the most beautiful?

From coastal gems to mountain towns, we will explore some of the best California cities with breathtaking scenery and endless opportunities for exploration.

Whether you're looking for a day trip or an extended stay, these prettiest cities in California are nothing short of things to see & do.

So get ready to explore the best of California with this guide to the most beautiful cities in the state.

The Prettiest Cities in California

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1: San Francisco

San Francisco
Depositphotos/lunamarina

What makes San Francisco a beautiful California City

Of course, San Francisco had to make the list. If you could stand on the edge of the city in an elevated position and look down on it, you would experience a world of wonder from above.

The city is a panorama of various colors, with yellows, blues, and reds dominating the foreground, backdropped by towering buildings that seem to expand and stretch for the sky as the view pans back. 

The grandness of the Golden Gate Bridge and the haunted wreck of Alcatraz stands in stark contrast to the gleaming colors of the city itself, which often seems like a painted scene rendered on an oilcloth.

It helps that the climate is mild, with a distinct lack of fierce winters and brutal summers. Just outside the city, you can make out the rolling hills, and San Francisco’s location on the water is the perfect addition to the multi-colored splash of the city itself. 

Things to do in San Francisco

There are bridges all over the world, but only the Golden Gate Bridge offers a sweeping vista of the Pacific Ocean, with the bay in the forefront—deep gray juxtaposed against bright blue. Tourists inevitably find their way to the Golden Gate Bridge almost as a rite of passage.

For a bit of oriental culture, Chinatown is the premiere destination. It's also the most densely populated section of the city. The Chinatown Gate should top your list since everyone takes a picture of this iconic entryway. 

Just because some people choose the city, eschewing the natural wonders of Cali, doesn’t mean you can’t take in some nature. Muir Woods and Bay Cruises are excellent options to get out and explore the native beauty of the land. Don’t forget to tour Alcatraz, one of the most infamous prisons in the world. 

Address: San Francisco, CA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in San Francisco

2: Sacramento

Sacramento
Depositphotos/photoquest7

What makes Sacramento a prettiest California City

Sacramento often ranks in the top ten of the most beautiful cities in America. Unfortunately, it's too often overshadowed by San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

It's a shame, really, because Sacramento has a lot to offer, especially since rivers surround it, and nature seems right on the doorstep.

Sacramento is a generous mixture of modern cityscape and architecture from the era of the Gold Rush and the Wild West. Some buildings look like they belong in a Western cinema prop while overshadowed by skyscrapers that never seem too far away.

The riverside scenery is absolutely fantastic, with archaic bridges spanning rippling rivers, alive with boaters and anglers plying their trade or enjoying the blazing orange of the evening sunset. 

Known as “Old Sac,” the area of Sacramento that gets the most tourism from history buffs is rife with a deep and vibrant history. The buildings practically cry out from the 1800s gold rush era, full of buildings with a variety of rustic and earth-tone colors. 

Things to do in Sacramento

As one of the most beautiful places in California, there is a lot to do and see when you visit the capital. Known as the farm-to-fork capital of the United States, Sacramento plays host to a variety of fine dining restaurants where the food is as fresh as it gets. 

If art is your thing, you won't find a lack of it in Sacramento. There is more art in Midtown than anywhere else in the entire state. If your eyes are aching for some good eye candy, head over to the Tower Bridge on the Sacramento River.

It's truly the only spot you will ever want to watch a sunset from again. There are a ton of 19th-century buildings scattered throughout the city, and you can bring yourself closer to the history of the town by taking a horse and carriage journey through the heart of it.

Address: Sacramento, CA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Sacramento

3: Los Angeles

Los Angeles
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What makes LA the best California City

Los Angeles is often misrepresented in the movies, making it out to be a storm of disorganization and unnecessary violence.

The reality is often the opposite. Los Angeles is one of the most popular big cities in California in the tourism trade, and for a good reason.

Los Angeles is known for having some of the best weather in the entire state, and for that reason alone, it's worth a visit. The lack of random weather patterns means more time to spend in this thriving metropolis, where neon meets eclectic in a clash of colors and vibrancy.

As the sun finally sinks below the horizon, the city truly comes alive—a pulsing, breathing myriad of lights and movement.

If you take advantage of the Metro, you will find that you have access to the entire cityscape, all in the palm of your hand. 

Things to do in LA

One of the first places you are likely to end up in is L.A. Live, a massive entertainment section in the city. It rests on the outer edge of Southern Los Angeles and includes all of the tech industry’s best, including a nightclub that can hold up to a thousand people at once. 

Hollywood Boulevard is another popular destination. This is where the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located, with all the stars scattered across the sidewalks. There's also the Wax Museum which is disturbingly surreal and creepy; however, it's also one of the more fascinating ventures in LA.

The Griffith Observatory is a fascinating location to check out, especially if you are a stargazer enthusiast. The views it offers are incredible, and the place is completely free to enter. You don't have to pay a dime to take in the breathtaking views.

If you're up for some exciting dining options, you should head to the Grand Central Market, where you will find quaint options such as taco and egg sandwiches on the menu. They also serve pupusas, carnitas tacos, Frescas, and great coffee.

Address: Los Angeles, CA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Los Angeles

4: San Diego

San Diego
Depositphotos/sepavone

What makes San Diego one of California's most beautiful cities

Of all the places to go in California, you shouldn’t leave San Diego off your list. Yet another of California’s cities with a tolerable climate, San Diego is flush with beauty, as it's surrounded by beach towns. 

San Diego is itself a beachfront city, and on any given day, you can look out on the water and see a hundred white wings as sailboats make their way across the vast expanse of water.

Many of the areas throughout the city are reminiscent of Florida or coastal towns that dot the long California shoreline.

Palm trees are prevalent and large, bending their tree trunks in sway with the life of the city.

Despite its status as a beach town, San Diego is really a farm town, with one of the most unique combinations of sprawling farmland, skyscrapers, and beachfront in the whole of the U.S.

Things to do in San Diego

With a combination like that, there’s bound to be a thing or two to do around town. Stop in at La Jolla Cove first and foremost and take in the view of what a California coastal city has to offer. It's one of the most photographed places in the state for a reason. 

The Coronado Bridge is like a divine snake, at once both sinuous and huge. You’ll have to travel over the bridge on wheels, however. Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave is an absolute must if you prefer nature’s glory.

It's an amazing, underground spectacle that harkens back to the days of the wary bootlegger and thieves lurking below the city's gates. The Bahia Belle is a giant sternwheeler boat that will take you on a cruise of the surrounding San Diego waters.

Address: San Diego, CA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in San Diego

5: Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara
Depositphotos/sborisov

What makes Santa Barbara one of California's most stunning cities

Of all the most beautiful cities in California, Santa Barbara often gets shunted to the side, falling under the shadow of greater, larger cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 

Except they aren't greater, just more well-known. Santa Barbara is a beautiful city, positively thriving with life and vitality. Like so many of California's best cities, Santa Barbara is a beach town on the southern coastline of California.

While it lacks the towering skyscrapers of the aforementioned cities, Santa Barbara carries a Spanish vibe, combining the greatest of Mexico and the best of Spain. It's in all of the architecture, and Hispanic culture thrives and rides the palm trees that way in a warm and temperate wind.

Santa Barbara is about as close as you come to paradise south of the border. It's like stumbling upon a hidden delight in the dead of the rainforest. As the forest opens up around you, you'll find a tropical shoreline with a colorful city resting on the hill, waiting for you to explore.

Things to do in Santa Barbara

When it comes to things to do in Santa Barbara, “beach” is often the keyword. There’s Leadbetter Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach, Goleta Beach, The Thousand Steps Beach, Sands Beach, and Summerland Beach. 

The Evergreen Disc Golf Park is one of the best disc golf destinations in the country, and that's saying something since most disc golf parks across the country snake their way through every type of terrain imaginable.

If you're into hiking, the Hot Springs Trail is the place to go, that is, if you want to see the most stunning and majestic views that Santa Barbara has to offer. When you're ready to head indoors, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is an incredible achievement in its own right.

Address: Santa Barbara, CA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Santa Barbara

6: San Jose

San Jose
Depositphotos/spvvk

What makes San Jose one of the best cities in California

Living in San Jose is like living in another country, in a good way.

The diversity of peoples and cultures is extravagant. Palm trees dot the city landscape, sharing real estate with modern buildings, and the mix of urban and suburban sprawl is an enticing spectacle.

Even the nights in San Jose are beautiful, as the inky blackness flows into the red brick alleyways, emerging into a dazzling, neon landscape. A smorgasbord of blacks and grays, backdropping reds, oranges, blues, greens, and yellows. A painting fit for a giant. 

It's the largest city in the northern end of California and is not just a metropolitan spread. The surrounding natural landscape is typical of California–like the Diablo Range Foothills and Joseph D Grant Ranch County Park.

Coyote Valley is a natural display of rolling hills, and Henry Coe is like a vision pulled straight from Scotland's Highlands.

Things to do in San Jose

San Jose is one of the most beautiful cities in California, and for a good reason. The number of things to do can't possibly be covered in a single day or even a week. If you have a good pair of hiking shoes, hit up the outskirts of San Jose by hiking Almaden Quicksilver.

Though Almaden Quicksilver is a natural, beautiful vista, it also offers a stunning, elevated view of San Jose. Despite San Jose’s Hispanic underpinnings, they have some of the best Japanese and Vietnamese food in the state at Pho Kim Long and Pho Dao restaurants.

If you like a good mystery, The Winchester Mystery House is the perfect stop. Apparently, the house is rife with trapdoors, mazes, and dead-end hallways with no explanation or architectural advantages.

Address: San Jose, CA

Also Read: Top San Jose Attractions & Things To Do

7: Palm Springs

Palm Springs
Depositphotos/HdcPhoto

What makes Palm Springs a beautiful California city

One of the most beautiful California cities, Palm Springs, is an oasis in the Colorado Desert. Like any oasis, Palm City is bursting with life, greenery, and great pools of glimmering water. The vast majority of the city's many attractions are natural wonders.

Every hiker or nature aficionado's dream is in a place like Palm Springs. It's a picturesque oasis–a carved river bed featuring swaying palm trees rather than a gurgling river. There are multiple canyons to explore, and each one has a distinct and unique personality of its own.

It also features an aerial tramway, which opened for business in the early 1960s, soon to become the tramway with the largest rotating tramcars in this hemisphere. Once you climb to the top, nearly two miles skyward, the view is simply breathtaking. 

Things to do in Palm Springs

Besides the aforementioned Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, there's no end to the potential activities in Palm Springs. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is fantastic, with tons of information on the surrounding desert and many animals that make their home in "no man's land."

The San Andreas Fault is a deeply mesmerizing and frightening sight on the Red Jeep Tours. You can capture a glimpse of the fault on the tour as you ride passengers in a Jeep, taking in much of the surrounding desert as well. 

Time the tour right, and you can finish by watching the sun drop low over the horizon, bidding farewell in a panoramic kaleidoscope of color.

The Indian Canyons are three of the many explorable canyons in Palm Springs. It's a journey through ancient native history, replete with snaking paths, massive and mysterious rock formations, and, of course, palm trees galore.

Address: Palm Springs, CA

Also Read: The Best Attractions & Things To Do in Palm Springs

8: Monterey

Monterey
Depositphotos/lunamarina

What makes Monterey a prettiest California city

One of the most pristine coasts, floral hiking paths, and the city streets that share real estate with the ocean make Monterey one of the prettiest cities in California. It's the kind of place you want to see in the daylight.

Monterey is a fishing city every bit as much as it's an agriculture hub. In fact, you can visit the fish cannery buildings throughout the city. Many of them are historic, with some still in operation. If you love canned tuna, you’ll find a lot to appreciate.

Monterey is also a food lover's dream, with building architecture designed to draw the eye, quickly followed by your feet and then your money. Monterey is the quintessential seaside town with a gigantic splash of tropical vibrancy.

Things to do in Monterey

The aforementioned Cannery Row is an excellent first stop, just to stretch your legs and take in some local history with national food-providing implications. Nowadays, there are a ton of small-town eateries along the way, which makes for some excellent breakfast plans.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail is an excellent place to take your freshly stretched legs; the trail is 18 miles long and is dominated by the rocky, semi-sandy shoreline along its winding perimeter.

You'll also be treated to an unobstructed view of Monterey itself from the perfect position. Since Monterey is also an agricultural city, you should visit the Farmer's Market within the Old Monterey Marketplace.

Unfortunately; it only takes place on Tuesdays. So, if you want the freshest fruits and vegetables, along with homemade foods and treats, be sure to schedule your visit, so it lands on a Tuesday.

Address: Monterey, CA

9: Napa

Napa
Depositphotos/lorcel

What makes Napa one of the coolest cities in Califoria

If you're looking for Italy in the United States, there's no better place to teleport across the ocean and find Italy at home. There are over 200 famous vintages that come from Napa, California, making it one of the coolest cities in California; if you enjoy wine, of course.

There’s the Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot, Joseph Phelps Insignia, and the Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, just for starters. If you're a wine lover, there's no better place than Napa.

None of that is a qualifying declarative of the beauty and awe of Napa and the valley with which it shares a name. Napa’s Lake Berryessa has its vintage nature. It even contains a whirlpool of sorts, which is a physics-defying sight to behold if you have a chance to see it at the right time.

Things to do in Napa

If you’re not a wine person, don’t worry, there is still plenty of things to do to satisfy the explorer, clothes enthusiast, or hiker flowing through your veins. For starters, you should check out the Treehouse Suite at Meadowood Napa Valley.

Especially if you enjoy the look and feel of the natural environment, bent and molded into a sleeping and dining experience of a lifetime. You don't have to climb a mountain if you appreciate aerial views. Hot air balloon rides are a favorite for both locals and tourists.

It offers a breathtaking view of the gently rolling hills, spattered here and there with glittering pools of water amidst hundreds of vineyards. The Napa Valley Historical Society is a beautiful exhibit of local history packed into a miniature castle.

You don’t have to drink wine in a hotel room either. The Napa Valley Wine Train offers a 36-mile rail stroll throughout the countryside with plenty of vintage wines to taste and appreciate as you move along.

Address: Napa, CA

Also Read: The Best Weekend Trips for the Wine Lover

10: Anaheim

Anaheim
Flickr/HarshLight

What makes Anaheim one of California's beautiful places to visit

Home of Disneyland theme park, Anaheim is anything but a hub of theme park entertainment. Fifty German families pitched in to find the city of Anaheim. It's less about natural beauty and more about the creative art of humanity.

Nearly every street in Anaheim is flanked by swaying pine trees, and the climate always seems moderate. Downtown Anaheim is a monument to two-story buildings, with every color and every architectural creation vying for your immediate attention.

Anaheim is like the finesse of the wine country found in Napa, but if you love beer, you'll find it here in immense volume. Crafted beers are a huge attraction in Anaheim. You'll find everything from out-of-state, carefully crafted brews to some of the finest craft breweries in the country.

Things to do in Anaheim

Disneyland is the obvious choice here, but there is so much more to Anaheim than Disneyland. It didn't become one of the best cities in California because Disneyland is its only claim to fame. Professional sports is a big deal in Anaheim, home to the Anaheim Ducks and Angels Baseball.

Plus, both stadiums are located close to the Honda Center, and you can get anywhere in the city via the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center.

It's easy to forget that Anaheim is a beach city as well. Suppose you fancy dipping your toes in the surf. In that case, you should head to Orange County, where surfing is as much an art as it is an entertainment venture.

Head over to Catalina Island and enjoy the festivities or hit up the local wineries (yes, Anaheim shares a little with Napa), you’ll always find something to keep you busy and entertained in Anaheim.

Address: Anaheim, CA

11: Fresno

Fresno
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What makes Fresno one of California's best cities

If you’re looking for one of the best cities to visit in California, it's hard to argue with Fresno. The rich and verdant farmland makes Fresno one of the biggest agricultural hotspots in the state, if not the country.

If you’re aching for something on the beautiful side, everything in Fresno is about natural beauty, rather than the devious and entertaining crafts of people. Speaking of creations, there is quite a bit of art to take on while you’re in town.

Whether it's the eerie yet delightful underground gardens or the Kearney Mansion Museum, Fresno has much to offer the inquisitive visitor. The plants are neatly trimmed and shaped everywhere you go, and the walkways are lined with blossoms that always seem to be in full bloom.

Things to do in Fresno

The Meux Home Museum, designed by Richard Meux, is a masterpiece in 19th-century architecture and is a wonderful way to start your tour through the city. If you enjoy the eye candy of Victorian-era gothic, the Meux will fill that void.

If you’re up for a taste of Italian, Sam’s Italian Deli hits the spot and you can get it to go before you head over to the Island Waterpark. The best part about the water park is its proximity to the Forestiere Underground Gardens.

When you’re through with the Tokyo Typhoon and the Singapore Tsunami, you can hit up the Big Fresno Fair in Central Valley, so long as you are in town during the right time of the year. October, for those who love fairs.

Address: Fresno, CA

12: Santa Clara

Santa Clara
Depositphotos/yhelfman

What makes Santa Clara one of the best places to live in California

Santa Clara is considered one of the best places to live in California. It's basically a suburb of San Francisco, only 45 miles away from the outskirts of the much larger city. So you get the best of the city life and the best of the suburbs in one helping.

Santa Clara is a massive sprawl laid out in the shadows of the distant mountain range. It's the central heartbeat of surrounding, poorer communities but is rated highly in terms of safety.

It's also a diverse city, with a vast number of cultures and the associated establishments for you to feast your eyes and stomach on.

Santa Clara is also known for its incredible year-round weather, which always seems mild, beautiful, and slightly breezy.

The sun is out in Santa Clara for 260 days out of the year. Santa Clara is also ideally located next to the San Francisco Bay area, so you can enjoy a bit of beach life while in town.

Things to do in Santa Clara

If you're interested in Silicon Valley, Santa Clara is a major part of that. The technology seeps out of every pore, trickling into the local communities. California’s Great America is a fantastic amusement park located in Santa Clara. It's not Disneyland, but it's close enough for comfort.

The Intel Corp and Museum is home to the rich history of the tech boom established in Silicon Valley, but you can find something a little more artsy at the Santa Clara Triton Museum of Art. The art museum is right across from the Santa Clara Civic Center, so you can do a two-for-one in a single day.

The Ulistac Natural Area is a good way to commune with nature without ever leaving Santa Clara. It's a 40-acre park that runs along the banks of the Guadalupe River. The entire park is rife with plants native to the region and the wildlife inhabiting it.

Santa Clara can't match Napa, but the area surrounding it is wine country galore. If you are a wine aficionado, you can get your fill in Santa Clara, without the need to head over to Napa.

Address: Santa Clara, CA

13: Santa Monica

Santa Monica
Depositphotos/4kclips

What makes Santa Monica one of the most beautiful destinations in California

If you love beachfront property, Santa Monica is a beautiful, resort-like city at the edge of the mighty Pacific Ocean. It's also one of the best places to live in terms of climate.

There are eight different communities to take in when you visit Santa Monica, so there is more to do than you could cover in a single day.

Santa Monica, like Santa Clara, is a large part of the booming tech industry, so you get the best of both worlds when visiting.

When most outsiders think of California, they envision a place like Santa Monica, with the surrounding community's predilection towards surfing, parasailing, and windsurfing.

Santa Monica is also loaded with parks and recreational activities. There's always something to do there, whether you prefer the inside life or the beachside.

Located just outside of Los Angeles, Santa Monica is the hub of the delicious food industry. Or, at least, it would seem that way, especially if you enjoy seafood.

Things to do in Santa Monica

If you want to find the best restaurants, Montana Avenue is where all the excitement is, especially if you want to partake in some excellent eating. The Santa Monica Pier was constructed in 1909 and is a local and tourist favorite.

There are regular concerts at the Pier during the summer, with everything from hip-hop to country and back to rock and roll. You'll also find Pacific Park near the pier, which is so brightly lit and festive that you can probably see it from space when it's in full swing.

If you love parks, there are parks aplenty in Santa Monica, including Tongva Park, Douglas Park, and Palisades Park, all of which are incredibly popular. You can get your morning exercise in on the Santa Monica Stairs, one of the more popular spots for health and fitness enthusiasts in the area.

The Abbot Kinney district is a massive combination of art and tech, with Silicon Valley merging with the local arts and festivities to form an amalgamation of entertainment and sightseeing fun. 

Address: Santa Monica, CA

Also Read: Top 21 Santa Monica Attractions You Shouldn't Miss

14: Long Beach

Long Beach
Depositphotos/appalachianview

What makes Long Beach one of the most gorgeous places in California

What makes Long Beach unique is not the fact that it's one of the most beautiful places in California, even though that's a big part of it. What Makes Long Beach unique is its surrounded by the best small towns in California.

Long Beach is 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles and is one of California's primary shipping ports. Though the shipping port portion of the city isn't the most beautiful thing in the world, the beachfront and interior of the town certainly are.

Long Beach is loaded with entertainment along the beachfront, and it's the best area to be when you're in Long Beach if you're not up for exploring the perimeter communities.

Shopping and dining are a premium experience in Long Beach, especially if the brightly lit coastal area, sending shimmering reflections of colors on the water, is your cup of tea.

Things to do in Long Beach

Rainbow Harbor is where you will immediately be drawn to since it's the most popular place in the city. The Pike is located at Rainbow Harbor, and if you're new to the area, you'll find that you naturally gravitate to it, especially if you're a people person.

The Aquarium of the Pacific is also a fantastic place to visit, close to the Pike. You'll find just about every marine species at the aquarium and learn all you want to know about the Pacific Ocean while there.

If you're up for a little hotel floating and dining, the Queen Mary is a 1936 luxury liner permanently docked at Long Beach. You can spend the day living like the royalty of the early 20th century and sleep like it too. They even host ghost tours on the liner because it's supposedly haunted.

Address: Long Beach, CA

15: Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Depositphotos/ademyan

What makes Carmel-by-the-Sea one of the most charming towns in California

Besides being one of the most beautiful places in California, Carmel-by-the-Sea is also a one-of-a-kind experience you must see and experience to believe. It's located in Monterey County, which contains Monterey, another city on this list.

The beach is absolutely stunning, whether you’re viewing it from a distance or actively swimming. Everything in Carmel-by-the-Sea is unique, upside down, and adventurous. The alleyways are like something out of a Dr. Suess book, with twisting passageways, dead ends, secret entrances, and more. 

It's a tiny little city, but it's loaded with things to do. It's one of the few places in California with pristine, white beaches you mostly find in the panhandle of Florida. The number of restaurants and lodging opportunities is slim; however, what's there is simply a blast.

Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is loaded with small Farmer's Markets since the surrounding countryside leans heavily towards the agricultural industry. If you want fresh vegetables and homemade food, you'll find them in abundance here. Hit up Scenic Road, and you'll come across a farmer's market more often than anything else.

Carmel Mission is a 1771 construct worth visiting to take in the historical and cultural significance of the area. If you're looking for some entertainment, the Sunset Center and the Pacific Repertory Theatre always have something or another going on, regardless of the time of year.

If you're tired of hotel life, the area is dotted with tiny little cottages that are just as quaint as they are cute. Carmel-by-the-Sea is like a mirror world with a portal only accessible via Monterey, California. It's the escape of a lifetime, all contained in an area no larger than a square mile.

Address: Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Final thoughts on California's most beautiful cities

There you have it, five of the most beautiful cities in California. It's a tricky thing, deciding to hit up the big cities over the vast and stunning scenery that nature in California has to offer. But you just might surprise yourself with what city life has to offer.

As the third largest state in the U.S., California has something to offer for just about everyone of every persuasion. Surprisingly enough, you can find much of it in the largest cities in the state.

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