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Here’s 38 OBVIOUS Signs That Someone Isn’t From California (According To Locals)

When it comes to spotting an outsider, Californians seem to have a sixth sense. 

Whether it’s the way someone speaks, dresses or behaves, locals can often tell when someone isn’t from the Golden State. 

We asked some California locals what were the most obvious signs that someone isn’t from California.

And over 450 of them responded!

Based on responses from Californians themselves, here are 38 telltale signs that someone isn’t a true Californian.

1. Saying “Cali”

This is a big no-no. 

Locals rarely, if ever, refer to California as “Cali.” 

It sounds like nails on a chalkboard to them.

2. Complaining about prices

Saying “damn that’s expensive” is a dead giveaway. 

Californians are used to high prices and just roll with it.

3. Not knowing slang like “hella”

If “hella” isn’t in their vocabulary, they’re likely not from here.

This word is hella common in Northern California.

4. Misjudging distances

Thinking all cities are close together or that you can visit LA, San Diego and San Francisco in a weekend. 

They don’t realize California is huge and traffic is real.

5. Speaking to strangers

Making friendly small talk with strangers can seem unusual to some Californians. 

Apparently some locals might think you’re a bit too friendly or just plain weird.

6. Saying “Frisco”

Referring to San Francisco as “Frisco” or, even worse, “San Fran” is a major faux pas. 

This one really grinds locals’ gears.

7. Wearing socks with sandals

A classic fashion mistake.

It’s like mixing oil and water – they just don’t go together.

8. Driving behavior

Using a blinker, stopping fully at stop signs or driving slowly in general. 

Apparently the locals tend to drive fast and loose, especially in LA.

9. Fear of earthquakes

Being visibly worried about earthquakes is a telltale sign you’re not from here.

Californians see them as just a part of life.

10. Holding elevator doors

This simple act of courtesy can seem out of place to some locals. 

People are usually in too much of a hurry to wait.

11. Not understanding diverse geography 

Being confused by the idea of going from the beach to the mountains to the desert in one day. 

They don’t realize you can surf and ski all in one day here.

12. Wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather

Like shorts and a tank top in foggy San Francisco because they think “it’s California, it’s going to be hot.”

The Bay Area has its own unique microclimate. 

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows!

13. Not knowing local foods

Such as a California Burrito, street tacos or tri-tip. 

This is a sin in a state known for its amazing food.

14. Using terms like “sneakers” or “pop” 

Saying “sneakers” instead of “tennis shoes” or “pop” instead of “soda.” 

It’s like speaking a foreign language to locals.

15. Mispronouncing place names

Like saying “Sep-pull-veeda” instead of “Sepulveda” or struggling with names like El Cajon or Jamacha. 

Mispronouncing these names can make you stick out like a sore thumb.

16. Referencing freeways differently

Saying “Interstate 5” instead of “the 5.” 

Locals use “the” before freeway numbers.

17. Not knowing local celebrities

For example, not knowing who E-40 or Too $hort is. 

These artists are legends in the Bay Area.

18. Complaining about traffic

Acting surprised or frustrated by the traffic. 

Californians know traffic is just part of life here.

19. Surprise at gas prices

Shocked expressions at the pump. 

Gas is always expensive here, deal with it.

20. Overdressing for the beach

Wearing street clothes instead of beachwear. 

Beach vibes mean flip-flops and board shorts, not jeans and sneakers.

21. No sunscreen or tan

Pale skin can indicate a non-local. 

The sun shines bright here almost all year round.

22. Not recognizing local weather patterns

Expecting constant sunshine and being surprised by the “June Gloom.” 

Coastal areas often have overcast skies in the morning that clear up later.

23. No sweatshirt in the car

Being unprepared for the cooler evenings. 

Even summer nights can get chilly by the coast.

24. Using different terms for trucks

Saying “semi-truck” instead of “big rig.” 

It’s just not how locals talk about trucks.

25. Thinking Taco Bell is real Mexican food

Believing Taco Bell represents authentic Mexican cuisine is a rookie mistake. 

Californians know the best tacos come from local taco trucks or family-owned taquerias.

26. Referencing the wrong state capital

Mistakenly thinking it’s Los Angeles. 

It’s Sacramento, and locals know it well.

27. Not knowing about local issues

Being unaware of the state’s homelessness or traffic problems. 

These are hot topics among residents.

28. Talking about “miles” instead of “time” to destinations

Locals measure distances by how long it takes to get there, not miles.

29. Unfamiliar with local landmarks

Thinking Oakland is close to Hollywood. 

California’s geography can be tricky for newcomers.

30. Being overly polite and smiling

Overly polite behavior can stand out like if you’re constantly saying “yes ma’am” or “yes sir.”

Locals are friendly but not overly so.

31. Thinking all of Northern California is rural

Believing Northern California is just farms and forests. 

It also includes bustling cities like San Francisco and Sacramento.

32. Cultural shock

Being visibly culture shocked by the diversity. 

California is a huge melting pot of cultures.

33. Not knowing local sports teams

Being unaware of major sports teams like the Lakers or Warriors. 

Sports are a big deal here and everyone has a team.

34. Shocked by high taxes

Expressing surprise at the taxes on goods. 

High taxes are part of the deal here.

35. Thinking LA and San Francisco are similar

Assuming all of California’s major cities are the same. 

The state is incredibly diverse with each region having its own vibe.

36. Misunderstanding the scale of the state

Not realizing how rural much of California is. 

There’s more to California than just cities and beaches.

37. Not knowing about In-N-Out

Being unaware of the iconic fast-food chain. 

It’s a California staple that everyone loves.

38. Wearing a t-shirt that says California on it

Wearing a “California” t-shirt is a dead giveaway that you’re not a local. 

Locals usually don’t wear touristy shirts.


These subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) signs can quickly reveal someone’s unfamiliarity with California. 

Locals have a deep-rooted understanding of their state’s quirks, and it doesn’t take long for them to spot someone who isn’t quite accustomed to the California way of life.


Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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