It was first chartered on July 10, 1851, in Santa Clara, California, under the name California Wesleyan College. The school moved to San Jose in 1871 and then to Stockton in 1923. Pacific is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
In addition to its liberal arts college, and its schools of education, engineering, business, international studies and music, it has three professional graduate schools: the School of Dentistry in San Francisco, the School of Law in Sacramento, and the school of Pharmacy and Health Sciences located in Stockton.
It has extensive collections pertaining to jazz musician and alumnus Dave Brubeck, who in 1953 released the live album Jazz at the College of the Pacific. It is also home to the papers of environmental pioneer John Muir.