The probable cumulative Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic right-lateral strike-slip displacement along the San Andreas fault in central California is 350 miles. The San Andreas and the allied faults into which it branches southward trend longitudinally into the Gulf of California, and the seismicity of the region indicates that the fault system follows the length of the Gulf and enters the Pacific basin south of Baja California. Crustal structure of most of the Gulf is of oceanic type, so that an origin by structural depression of continental rocks is not possible.
Tectonic styles north and south of Los Angeles differ greatly. To the north, the Coast Ranges expose thick Upper Cretaceous and Cenozoic sedimentary rocks that were deposited in local basins and deformed tightly and repeatedly. To the south, in the Peninsular Ranges and Baja California, correlative rocks are thin and show little compressive deformation.
The California batholith of mid-Cretaceous age and allied crystalline rocks form the basement of Baja California, southwestern Arizona, and northwestern Sonora and probably extend along the coast of mainland Mexico; the Gulf apparently bisects the crystalline belt longitudinally.
These features suggest that Baja California initially lay 300 miles to the southeast, against the continental-margin bulge of Jalisco. The Gulf of California may be a pull-apart feature caused by strike-slip displacement plus up to 100 miles of cross-strike separation of the continental plate, subcontinental materials having welled up into the rift gap. The strike-slip motion has a tensional component across the continental margin south of Los Angeles but a compressional component to the north.