Now here is a flag that is difficult to argue with:
Not only is it instantly recognizable (and not just because it has "California" on it), but it also has a long and storied history. I mean, when a state's nickname is the "Bear Flag Republic," it would seem like a poor decision to try and tamper with the flag with the bear on it. However, I'm going to anyway.
As a general rule, I'm not a fan of flags with writing on them, especially if it's a name. It feels like an admission of mediocrity, that this flag can't be picked out of a lineup so we'll label it for you. California's is an exception though, but mostly because the original bear flag said the same thing:
To play devil's advocate for a moment, here's what it would look like with out the words:
It maintains the symbolism, speaks to the history, and makes you feel that much smarter for being able to identify it. But as this is only a thought experiment, I'd like to go a step further. Simple isn't always better, but the bear is a little busy, what with the grass and shading for its fur. Here is my idea for new flag for California:
In case you don't recognize it, this is the flag of the city of Los Angeles with the central seal removed. Now before I get complaints, I'm not from California and have no desire to get into some sort of "Southern California is better than Northern California" argument. My only experience in the state was changing planes in LAX and I have no desire to do that ever again. However, taken just on color and design, I think this flag works for the whole state. The green, as it so often does, can represent the natural beauty, the agricultural abundance, or weed (sorry, couldn't help myself), the yellow can be the deserts or the mineral wealth (think gold rush), and the red can be a reference to their past of being ruled by Spain/Mexico.
All the color symbolism is a little generic though, so here's what I think really sells this as a flag for all of California: the jagged border between the colors can stand for earthquakes. Sure earthquakes happen all over the USA, but if someone ever said to you, "Did you hear? There was just a big earthquake in . . ." who among us wouldn't think they were about to say California (or a least a major Californian city)? Earthquakes are terrible and can cause tremendous loss of life, but it wouldn't be the first time there was an awful symbol on a flag (think Mississippi).