We find that foreshocks provide clear evidence for an extended nucleation process before some earthquakes. In this study, we examine in detail the evolution of six California foreshock sequences, the 1986 Mount Lewis (ML, = 5.5), the 1986 Chalfant (ML = 6.4), the. 1986 Stone Canyon (ML = 4.7), the 1990 Upland (ML = 5.2), the 1992 Joshua Tree (MW= 6.1), and the 1992 Landers (MW = 7.3) sequence. Typically, uncertainties in hypocentral parameters are too large to establish the geometry of foreshock sequences and hence to understand their evolution. However, the similarity of location and focal mechanisms for the events in these sequences leads to similar foreshock waveforms that we cross correlate to obtain extremely accurate relative locations. We use these results to identify small-scale fault zone structures that could influence nucleation and to determine the stress evolution leading up to the mainshock. In general, these foreshock sequences are not compatible with a cascading failure nucleation model in which the foreshocks all occur on a single fault plane and trigger the mainshock by static stress transfer. Instead, the foreshocks seem to concentrate near structural discontinuities in the fault and may themselves be a product of an aseismic nucleation process. Fault zone heterogeneity may also be important in controlling the number of foreshocks, i.e., the stronger the heterogeneity, the greater the number of foreshocks. The size of the nucleation region, as measured by the extent of the foreshock sequence, appears to scale with mainshock moment in the same manner as determined independently by measurements of the seismic nucleation phase. We also find evidence for slip localization as predicted by some models of earthquake nucleation. Copyright 1996 by the American Geophysical Union.