Think July 4, 1776, Independence Day for the United States, and sights and sounds crowd the imagination—the Liberty Bell, American flag, George Washington, fifes and drums, smoking muskets, and fireworks. Red, white, and blue, rat-a-tat-tat. Clear across the continent, colonial life in California—with its missions and modest military outposts—was just beginning. It would be almost 75 years before California would join the first and subsequent United States, as the 31st state in the union. But foreign exploration had been underway since at least 1543, when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his men rode at anchor in San Diego Bay.