Other Western states have services very similar, if not identical, to California's, including Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.
Being a New Englander myself, that method of doing the service really surprised me too. I was a bit leery of having the panel and all the breakers outdoors, to say the least. But, there are millions of homes out there done that way, so it can't be all that bad!
It saves quite a bit of time over our way of doing things, that's for sure.
I took these pics
when I visited CA and as you can see from the second pic, PVC is very commonly used within the wall for the riser into the panel.