What’s the Difference Between a King and California King?

It’s easily one of the industry’s most confusing questions. What’s the difference between a regular King and a California King (also known as a Cal King,) and where did the term come from?

Our team hears stories all the time from our customers who believed they had a mattress that was one size for the last 15 years and then opened their box just to find out they’d been totally wrong. Nothing lines up! It’s definitely not the ideal time to learn what size your bed frame is, but we’ve got you covered with a quick lesson in dimensions. If you're looking for a quick answer, the only real difference between the two mattresses is about 4 inches.

King: 76x80 inches California King: 72x84 inches

King vs California King: What’s The Difference?

Standard King Until the early 1940s, most Americans slept on full-size beds. It was almost unheard of to need anything more, but as people started getting taller (According to an article in Bedding magazine published in 1963, 4% of American men in the 1900s were 6 feet or taller, that number was hovering around 20% by 1959.) longer mattresses became desirable. Once stores made their mattresses longer, they figured they could capitalize on widening their beds, too. More is more, right?

In 1958, Simmons became one of the first companies to start marketing “King” and “Queen” sized mattresses to their customers. The names obviously stuck, and as mattress sizing became standardized, the king mattress measured up at 76 inches wide and 80 inches long.

For those who want some extra real estate to spread out when they sleep, the King mattress is the perfect size. The popularity of the larger models soared and led to the King’s slightly skinner cousin, the California King.

California King Sometimes referred to as a “Western King” or "Cal King" due to the mattress's its popularity on the west coast, the California King got its name thanks to the celebrity mansions of Hollywood. In the 1960s, celebrities were requesting oversized mattresses to create luxe bedrooms, and an LA mattress company was happy to oblige. These beds gave the stars plenty of room to spread out and gave their bedrooms an even more expensive appeal.

The trend caught on and the mattress size went into mass production by the early 70s. The “Eastern King” hit European markets around the same time as a way to compete with American manufacturers. A standard California King measures 72 inches by 84 inches. The length you lose on the sides is made up in a little extra leg room, though the surface area of the two sizes is exactly the same!

Now that you’ve got some background on the two sizes, make sure to double-check your bedframe and the tags on your bedding before buying—no one wants to be surprised when they pop their mattress out of the box.

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Shelly Weaver-Cather
Shelly Weaver-Cather

Shelly Weaver is part of the Content Team at Tuft & Needle, leading the writing and editing of our blog. Not quite a Phoenix native, (They take that sort of thing super seriously.) Shelly has spent most of her life in the Phoenix Metro area and has no plans of leaving anytime soon. She made the unexpected jump out of wedding photography and onto T&N’s team in 2016, and found a passion for the people that keep the lights on. She still finds herself shooting in her free time, though these days there are less bridal portraits and more masterpieces of her first child, Duke, a lab-pit mix with an unparalleled love for both T&N mattress hogging and couch destroying.

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