There are approx. seven major mountain ranges in California.
Coast Ranges - The Coast Ranges mountains span two-thirds of the state of California and extend 550 to 600 miles along its coast from northern California redwood coast to Santa Barbara. San Francisco Bay severs the Coast Ranges them into two ranges-- the northern and southern Coast Ranges. To the west of the Central Valley lies the Coast Ranges, including the Diablo Range, just east of San Francisco, and the Santa Cruz Mountains, to the south of San Francisco. These mountains are noted for their coast redwoods, which live within the range of the coastal fog, the tallest trees on Earth. You'll also find the Big Sur Coast is part of the Coastal Range, spanning Carmel to a few miles north of San Simeon, California. The northern end of the California Coast Ranges overlap the southern end of the Klamath Mountains for approximately 80 miles on the west.
South Coast Ranges parallel to the Pacific Coast between San Francisco Bay to the north, the California Central Valley to the east, the Transverse Ranges to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Among the mountain ranges within the southern portion are Berkeley Hills, Mount Diablo, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Gabilan Range, Santa Lucia Range, and Temblor Range of the Central Coast. On the southern end they extend to where the coastline turns eastward along the Santa Barbara Channel near Point Conception.
The highest of the mountain peaks are in southern California. This mountain range is a north-south trending range consisting of valleys and ridges that lie along a series of parallel faults and folds. Steep slopes are common in the southern ranges but most peaks are less than 6000 ft. The highest peak at Big Pine Mountain - San Rafael Range is Mount Pinos at 8,826 ft. elevation.
The Coast Ranges are the result of subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the western border of North America. The coast ranges are folded and faulted and have created the ridges and valleys characteristic of California. Many of California's rock units originated farther south than they lie today indicating long-distance northern transport approximately 100 million years ago. The southern Coast Ranges are thought to be younger than the northern Coast Ranges.
The Coast Range in relatively new, with a central core of granitic rocks separated from Franciscan rocks by major faults. 20 million years ago during early Miocene era, the ocean covered much of the southern Coast Range forming the bays, straits, islands, and inlets that currently exist.
Wet winters provide significant hazards for the Coastal Range and Highway 1 that winds through them. Due to erosion and sea splash much of the cliffs and coastal areas have decreased, and erosion especially wreaks havoc in the form of fallen rock along Coast Highway, sometimes causing closures for a season or even a year or two in parts of the highway where the cliffs become unstable and must be shored up after heavy rain storms and rainy seasons.
These ranges consist of a string of north-south valleys and ridges positioned along a series of faults and folds. As a result of this positioning many rivers run northward from their source, emptying into the ocean many miles away. The Eel River in the North Coast Ranges travels 140 miles to empty into the ocean south of Humboldt Bay. The Salinas River in the southern Coast Ranges travels 100 miles to empty into the Monterey Bay.
The North Coast Ranges consist of two parallel sets of
mountains, one lying along the coast, the other running
further inland. They run from north of San Francisco to the
South Fork Mountains in northern Humboldt County. The
Klamath-Siskiyou ranges lie to the north, and the Southern
Coast Ranges are south of San Francisco Bay. The North Coast
Ranges meet the sea at the Lost Coast.
The longest primitive coastline is found along the northern Coast. The ecological Staircase of Mendocino County involves each staircase possessing a distinctive vegetation type.
The surf created coastal terraces along the rocky shores. Because of continual uplift the terraces are elevated above sea level giving a benchmark like appearance. The changes in sea level over the years can be seen in the coastal terraces. These factors have contributed to ecological staircases such as Jughandle Sate Reserve.
The North Coast Ranges include the King Range of Humboldt County, where the coastal mountains meet the sea at Lost Coast. Component ranges within the North Coast Ranges include the Mendocino Range of western Mendocino County, Mayacamas, Sonoma, Vaca Mountains and the Marin Hills of the North Bay.