California State Alliance of YMCAs

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history of Y's in California

The Y has a long, rich history of service in California. With the first YMCA sited in San Francisco in 1853, the Y has been a cornerstone for healthy living, youth development and social responsibility throughout California history. As cities emerged and grew, so did the Y’s that served as centers for community development.

It is nearly impossible to capture the depth of Y involvement in California in a single historical record. With a long tradition of tailoring YMCA programs to meet the specific needs of communities, local associations—and even their individual branches—have extensive stories of community benefit, volunteerism, philanthropy and commitment to the YMCA mission. Some of the longest-standing Y’s in California still serving communities today include San Francisco (1853), Stockton (1855), Sacramento (1866), Oakland (1879), San Diego (1882), Los Angeles (1882), and Long Beach (1884). The document at the bottom this page gives a snapshot of the deep presence of YMCAs already established in California by 1890.

Most Y associations in California have published historical records in honor of service milestones and make these publications available on their website or upon request. These publications include not only accounts of the earliest activities, but also of the work of leaders, volunteers and Y staff across the span of California’s history into recent years. Through challenging times and times of celebration, Y’s have been in the fabric of California’s communities, promoting healthy living, youth development and social responsibility for all who wish to be a part of the movement.

For more detailed history regarding the Y in your area, feel free to visit their website (see the “Find a Y” page) or contact them directly. You may also contact California State Alliance of YMCAs' Chief Executive Officer, Kris Lev-Twombly at 916-730-0271 or

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Impact in California

Find a Y