The town, then located in Monterey County, was founded November 19, 1868 originally as the San Justo Homestead Association, established by William Welles Hollister (1818–1886), a group that originally intended to name it San Justo. An association member, Napa vintner Henry Hagen, objected. Hagen argued that place names in California were dominated by Spanish saint names, and suggested that the state should have a town named after someone less holy. The City was incorporated on August 29, 1872. The western portion of San Benito County, including Hollister, was separated from Monterey County in 1874. The county was expanded eastward in 1887 to include portions taken from Merced and Fresno Counties.
Hollister is well-known among geologists because it portrays one of the best examples of aseismic creep anywhere in the world. The Calaveras Fault (a branch of the San Andreas Fault system) bisects the city north and south, roughly along Locust Ave. and Powell St. The streets running east/west across the fault have significant visible offsets. The fault runs directly under several houses. Even though they are visibly contorted the houses are still habitable as the owners have reinforced them to withstand the dislocation of their foundations. Although there was extensive damage in the town after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, this was due to a slip of the San Andreas Fault and was not related to the aseismic creep on the Calaveras Fault.
As of the census of 2000, there were 34,413 people, 9,716 households, and 8,044 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,237.7 people per square mile (2,022.4/km²). There were 9,924 housing units at an average density of 1,510.5/sq mi (583.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 59.1% White, 1.4% African American, 1.1% Native American, 2.8% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 30.0% from other races, and 5.4% from two or more races. 55.1% of the population were Hispanic or of Latino of any race.
There were 9,716 households out of which 52.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 65.3% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 17.2% were non-families. 12.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.52 and the average family size was 3.82.
In the city the population was spread out with 34.6% under the age of 18, 9.5% from 18 to 24, 33.8% from 25 to 44, 15.8% from 45 to 64, and 6.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females there were 101.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $56,104, and the median income for a family was $57,494. Males had a median income of $41,971 versus $28,277 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,857. About 6.9% of families and 9.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.2% of those under age 18 and 7.0% of those age 65 or over.
In the state legislature Hollister is located in the 12th Senate District, represented by Republican Jeff Denham, and in the 28th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Anna M. Caballero. Federally, Hollister is located in California’s 17th congressional district, which has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D +17 and is represented by Democrat Sam Farr.
Hollister has two local newspapers, both published by the Gilroy-based Mainstreet Media Group:
- The Hollister Free Lance is issued Tuesdays and contains a mix of local coverage and mostly AP national stories.
- The Pinnacle is issued Fridays.
- The San Juan Star Newspaper a monthly publication, Local Coverage of San Benito County
The following radio stations are licensed to Hollister:
- KMPG, at 1520 AM daytime, plays regional Mexican music;
- KHRI, at 90.7 FM, is an affiliate of Air 1 playing contemporary Christian music;
- KXSM, at 93.5 FM, broadcasts a regional Mexican format.
- K206BQ, at 89.1 FM, rebroadcasts KUSP.
- K265DG, at 100.9 FM, rebroadcasts KPRC-FM.
- State Route 25 runs northwestward to Gilroy and southeastward to Pinnacles National Monument and Coalinga (the latter via State Route 198). Route 25 through Hollister was until 1984 defined under State law as a segment of State Route 180.
- State Route 156 runs westward to Monterey Bay and northeastward to Los Banos in the Central Valley (via State Route 152).
- San Benito County Express provides local service within Hollister, regional service to San Juan Bautista and Gilroy, on-request “Dial-a-Ride” service, and paratransit.
The State of California, Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development defines Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital as a General Acute Care Hospital in Hollister with Basic emergency care as of August 22, 2006. The facility is located in California Health Service Area 8 near (NAD83) latitude/longitude of 36°50′02″N 121°23′10″W / 36.83389°N 121.38611°W / 36.83389; -121.38611.
The city has been the site of annual motorcycle rallies around July Fourth since 1947. The riot at the 1947 event was the basis for the 1954 film The Wild One. The rally took its present incarnation in 1997, and is known as the Hollister Independence Rally. There is no rally planned for 2010.
In 2005, the Hollister City Council discontinued their contract with the event organizers, the Hollister Independence Rally Committee, due to financial and public safety concerns. The event was canceled in 2006 due to lack of funding for security, but returned in 2007. The format of the rally in 2007 differed markedly from previous rallies, with vendors on San Benito Street instead of motorcycles. The bikes were forced to park on side streets and a strict downtown curfew was imposed, with the entire area being locked up at 9:00 pm.
According to the event’s promoter; Horsepower Promotions, the 2009 Hollister Rally has not been endorsed by the City of Hollister and has been canceled. Despite this, bikers continue to arrive at Hollister every July Fourth, even without vendors and sponsored, organized events.