What's a California King?

April 19, 2021

Everybody knows that getting enough sleep is vital to your everyday health. But the health benefits of sleep go well beyond simply recharging your batteries: Your sleep quality can affect your mental health state and overall physical health.

So then why do so many people settle for less-than-quality mattresses?

Part of the issue is that finding the right mattress is not always an easy task. For starters, you have to consider the price, comfort, and support. However, one of the most critical factors of a good night's sleep is having enough space. For many, this is where the California king mattress comes in.

What's a California King Mattress?

The California king bed is the most oversized standard bed available for purchase. It is roughly 6 by 7 feet (72 inches wide by 84 inches long), making it about four inches taller than a standard king.

The California king bed is considered the tallest mattress available on the regular market. In exchange for the height, this model sacrifices a few inches in width compared to its standard counterpart. This means that the California king bed is ideal for tall people, whereas the standard king is more appropriate for people around six feet tall.

What Does California King Mean?

King and queen beds were introduced to the mattress market over the span of several decades between 1941 and 1965.

Around the time of World War II, most people slept in single and double beds. But when the war finally ended and soldiers returned home, many families began relocating to the suburbs. When their houses got bigger, so did their stuff.

Even so, at this point, more extensive beds like the king were a nearly untapped market. Buying bigger and better items was a new trend, especially when material things became obtainable once again.

Where Did California Kings Come From?

King beds already existed by the time California kings were introduced, so why were they called “California” kings?

Unfortunately, there are a few conflicting stories:

Some say that mattress manufacturers began making oversized beds in the 1960s for celebrity mansions that could afford their lavish lifestyles and bigger furniture.
Others say that a California-based mattress merchant couldn't find a bed to fit his long legs, which were always dangling off the ends of a standard king-size bed.
- Lastly, another common story is that the same mattress merchant built his own California bed to appeal to wealthy Los Angeles celebrities.

    Whichever it is, this style of king bed made a lasting impression in Americans' homes over the coming decades.

    Why Did They Make a California King Mattress?

    Considering its overwhelming size and cost, how did California king mattresses catch on so quickly?

    It all came down to profit: The larger the mattress, the more money for manufacturers could charge. Many merchants and manufacturers saw California king mattresses as an opportunity to upgrade the American home so that families would spend more money.

    In 1954, furniture store owner William London pointed out how his company carefully worded the appeal to Americans about California kings: “We attempt to show the customer that he needs a bigger mattress and spring. We point out to the reluctant ones that for a few additional dollars more than he had budgeted, he can assure himself comfortable sleeping.”

    supersize mattress

    Image Source

    A 1956 bedding magazine featuring a "supersize mattress"

    The result was successful but slow in growth. In 1953, when king-size beds began making their regular appearance, they made up less than 1% of bedding sales. However, by 1962, nearly 10% of bedding sales were kings. Today, the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) says almost 18% of bedding sales belonged to king beds.

    Why Consumers Wanted Bigger Beds

    There are a few reasons why American consumers wanted bigger beds.

    For starters, people were getting taller: Over the span of a century, the average American has grown 10 centimeters (or four inches). You can compare the average person's height from 1896 to 1996: In 1896, the average height for men was 165 centimeters (5.4 feet) while women were around 154cm (5.0 feet).

    By 1996, the average man reached 180cm (5.9 feet) while the average woman reached 164cm (5.4 feet).

    human height graph

    Image Source

    Another reason that people wanted bigger beds is that life was returning to normal after World War II. Consumers craved the American dream of owning their own homes and furnishing it with material items once again. They wanted to fit their bigger houses with bigger furniture, so king and queen beds couldn't have come at a better time.

    What Is the Difference Between a King Size Bed and a California King?

    The debate on the king vs. California king bed is an old yet common one. The bottom line is that king-size beds are broader and shorter, while California kings are longer and more narrow. With the dimensions listed as WxL, the exact measurements are:

    - King Size Mattress: 76x80 inches (6080 square inches)
    - California King Size Mattress: 72x84 inches (6048 square inches)

       king vs california king mattress

      You'll notice that in comparison, standard kings have more of a square shape, while California kings look more rectangular.

      (The easiest way to remember the difference between the king and California king mattress is that California is the longest state, and therefore, the California king is the longest bed.)

      The Bottom Line: California King vs. King Mattress

      If you don't know which one to shop for, there are clear-cut pros and cons for the standard king vs. California king bed.

      California King Size Mattress

      California king beds are suitable for long and narrow rooms, taller people, single sleepers, and couples. Because of its more narrow width, California kings are not ideal for co-sleeping or sharing with pets.

      Instead, California kings are meant to serve tall people who otherwise have a hard time finding mattresses that fit their height. An estimated 15% of American men and women are over 6 feet tall, which puts them at or well over 72 inches—just a foot under the California king length, leaving plenty of room for movement, stretching, and staying under the covers.

      Standard King Size Mattress

      Standard king beds are good for short and wide rooms, single sleepers, couples, and co-sleeping families that involve children and pets.

      Because standard kings are wider than California kings, they are better for multiple sleepers or couples who want a little extra stretching room.

      Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Mattress

      Whether you're interested in memory foam or latex foam, it's a good idea to consider a bed's pros and cons before making a selection, like size, price, and accessory affordability.

      Size

      There are a couple of sizing aspects when it comes to selecting the right mattress. First, consider your current sleeping habits. Do you:

      - Struggle for space?
      - Fight your partner for the covers?
      - Consistently nudge them to move over in the middle of the night?
      - Often wake up with your arms or legs hanging off the bed?

         If so, then you know that it's time to upgrade from your current bed size to the next one up.

        However, it’s not just the size of your mattress that will determine how much space you'll have in bed. Your bed’s size also depends on how much space you have in your room.

        When shopping for a bed, consider your room size and how much space you'll have to move around. A good rule of thumb is to leave about two feet of space on either side of the mattress.

        Price

        If you're on a bed that makes you groan with aches and pains every morning, then you know it's probably time to upgrade to something more comfortable. 

        Having a good night's sleep is all about your sleeping habits and mattress quality. The average mattress lasts around a decade, so it's an investment entirely worth the cost.

        With that being said, Sleep Council spokesperson Jessica Alexander says that people should always buy as big a bed as they can afford since “having a bed that fits will considerably improve the chances of a good night's sleep.”

        Accessories

        Let's say that you're interested in the biggest bed at the store. However, you've just found out that only certain participating retailers sell its accessories, and for a far higher price point than you're comfortable spending.

        If you decide to upgrade your bed size, then you need to consider the other options that come with that. For starters, you'll need to upgrade your bed frame, too. Your older sheets and blankets likely won't fit a larger bed, which means they also need to be replaced.

        Before buying big, make sure that you can also comfortably afford the frame, blankets, sheets, and other accessories like mattress pads and pillowcases. For example, king vs. California king bed sheets and blankets will not fit the same.

        What's the Difference Between a King and Queen Bed?

        Both king and queen beds can easily accommodate two people, but the exact dimensions are (WxL):

        - Queen: 60x80 (5 feet by 6.8 feet)
        - King: 76x80 (6.4 feet by 6.8 feet)
        - California King: 72x84 (6 feet by 7 feet)

        mattress size comparison

        Kings are wider than queens, and therefore are typically more expensive. They are more spacious with an extra 16 inches in width for those who want more stretching space, are light sleepers, or co-sleep with children or pets.

        But what might surprise you is to learn that queens and kings have the same length—which is what called for the longer California king. The California king-size mattress is better for those who are over or around 6'4" in height.

        What's Bigger than a California King Mattress?

        The California king was made for those who are well over six feet tall...but then the question has to be asked: Is there anything bigger?

        Yes, there is something bigger than the California king mattress. In fact, there are quite a few much larger beds—and when compared collectively, the California king hardly seems large anymore!

        After the California King mattress, you have:

        - Wyoming King: The Wyoming king is 84x84 inches, making it the same length as the California king but an extra 12 inches wider. Wyoming is a good option for those who like the size California kings offer without compromising the width space.
        - Texas King: Texas kings are 80x94 inches, making it more narrow than the Wyoming king. Like the California king, Texas compensates for its width loss by adding extra length, which is 14 inches.
        - Vermont King: At 96x96, Vermont kings are a happy medium between huge and enormous mattresses. However, they're typically only available at specialized Vermont mattress stores.
        - Alaskan King: Named after the United States' largest state, Alaskan kings are 108x108 inches. These extra-large beds give you the luxury to sprawl out as far as possible.

          mattress sizes

          If you're shopping beyond the readily available California king bed size, then you'll end up paying a lot more for accessories from specialized stores. Beds like Wyoming, Texas, Vermont, and Alaskan kings require huge rooms and plenty of shopping for well-fitted accessories.

          Should I Get a King or a California King Size Mattress?

          Deciding between a standard king vs. California king is a hard one to make. Both are expensive because they are among the largest standard beds on the market, but it's important to note that California kings are not as widely available, so they and their accessories are considerably more expensive.

          At the end of the day, deciding between a king vs. California king mattress is about size: yours and your room.

          Bigger and wider rooms may call for a standard king, which can comfortably take up enough space. More narrow rooms will require California king mattresses, which are longer and can better match the length of your room.

          Additionally, if you are around or under 6 feet in height or have a wide-set frame, then you can get away with a king-sized bed comfortably. A king-size bed is also beneficial for families that share the bed or couples that like to sprawl out those extra inches.

          However, if you are tall with a more petite frame, it's worth investing in a California king mattress. California kings are ideal for tall single sleepers or couples who don’t mind sleeping close.

          Conclusion

          You know that your sleep health is just as important as diet and exercise, which is why having the right mattress is crucial. For many, bigger means better—which is why beds like the California king are tempting, and even viable, options.

          Whether you’re caught between deciding on a king vs. California king bed, deciding on the right mattress can be daunting. You have to consider the cost, the size, and the comfort. (Pro Tip: Opt for a natural mattress made from organic latex if you're looking for a firm mattress with exceptional comfort. This is an excellent choice no matter the bed size.)

          And in the end, if you do decide to buy a California king-size bed, be sure to choose a hypoallergenic, high-quality mattress that can last you for years to come.