Honda sold 71,578 Accords in the state last year, besting the 71,210 sales of the Prius by a razor-thin margin, according to IHS Automotive, an industry research firm that tallies vehicle registrations.
The sedan, redesigned for the 2013 model year, overtook the Prius even though the popular hybrid also enjoyed increased sales.
Prius sales were up 2% over the previous year, despite falling gas prices and an aging design. But the Accord took the lead with a hefty 17% increase over 2013 sales.
Honda officials are crowing over the achievement.
"California is a bellwether state for the rest of the nation," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda. "We are proud to have the bestselling vehicle."
The Honda Civic ranked third in California.
"We're in a very strong position with core products like Accord, Civic and CR-V," Mendel said.
Toyota, despite losing the top spot, has three models in the state's top 10, including the Camry and Corolla. The Prius had been the state's bestselling car in 2012 and 2013.
The Prius figures represent sales of all four variants in a unique model array: a hatchback, a station wagon, a plug-in hybrid and a smaller subcompact model. If sales of the top-selling Prius version — the hatchback — were considered separately, the model would fall from second to sixth place in state sales, with 39,036.
Honda has seen steadily increasing Accord sales, both in California and nationally, since the automaker overhauled the family sedan.
"The latest Accord redesign was a huge improvement, and the most striking change was in fuel economy," said Jake Fisher, automotive test director for Consumer Reports. "The Accord had been lagging its competitors for several years, but we got 30 mpg in our testing, and that puts it near the top for family sedans."
The Prius is due for its own redesign soon. The current version was first introduced in 2009, and Toyota is expected to unveil a new generation later this year, with improved amenities and better fuel economy.
Prius sales have historically done well when gas prices are high. California, which perennially has among the highest fuel prices in the nation, accounted for more than a third of Prius sales nationally last year.
Libby said the car is considered "mainstream" in California and has decent sales on the East Coast. But many in the Midwest and South still shun the egg-shaped hybrid.
Nationally, Prius sales fell nearly 12% last year to 207,372.
"The Prius really hasn't advanced in fuel economy since the 2004 redesign, where mainstream vehicles have," Fisher said.
And almost all models see sales decline in the waning days of their design cycle.
"Once a new model comes out, sales will go back up," Fisher said.
Toyota's Camry and Corolla were fourth and fifth in California sales, respectively, followed by the Ford F-series pickup truck, the Honda CR-V, the
The rankings reflect the car-centric nature of the California auto market, Libby said.
"The difference in vehicle mix varies so much between states that it is almost like they are different countries," Libby said. "At the other end of the spectrum is Texas, which skews toward big pickups and then domestic products."
Japanese brands accounted for eight of the top 10 sellers in California. There were seven sedans, two trucks and just one crossover.
"California just doesn't have the 'buy American' culture of the Midwest and other places where the American car companies manufacture their vehicles," Fisher said. "The environment also has been a bigger issue in California car sales, and that helps brands like Toyota and Honda that have pioneered fuel-efficient and less polluting vehicles."
Nationwide, Japanese brands accounted for six of the top 10 sellers. There were six sedans, three trucks and one crossover.
The Ford F-series truck was the top seller, accounting for 753,881 of the 16.5 million vehicles Americans purchased last year, according to Autodata Corp., an industry research firm.
The Chevrolet Silverado was a distant second with sales of 529,755. Chrysler's Ram pickup was third, followed by the Camry, Accord, Corolla, Altima, CR-V, Civic and Ford Fusion.