We present the first public data release (DR1) of the Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field Area (CALIFA) survey. It consists of science-grade optical datacubes for the first 100 of eventually 600 nearby (0.005 < z < 0.03) galaxies, obtained with the integral-field spectrograph PMAS/PPak mounted on the 3.5 m telescope at the Calar Alto observatory. The galaxies in DR1 already cover a wide range of properties in color-magnitude space, morphological type, stellar mass, and gas ionization conditions. This offers the potential to tackle a variety of open questions in galaxy evolution using spatially resolved spectroscopy. Two different spectral setups are available for each galaxy, (i) a low-resolution V500 setup covering the nominal wavelength range 3745-7500 Å with a spectral resolution of 6.0 Å (FWHM), and (ii) a medium-resolution V1200 setup covering the nominal wavelength range 3650-4840 Å with a spectral resolution of 2.3 Å (FWHM). We present the characteristics and data structure of the CALIFA datasets that should be taken into account for scientific exploitation of the data, in particular the effects of vignetting, bad pixels and spatially correlated noise. The data quality test for all 100 galaxies showed that we reach a median limiting continuum sensitivity of 1.0 × 10-18 erg s-1 cm-2 Å-1 arcsec-2 at 5635 Å and 2.2 × 10 -18 erg s-1 cm-2 Å-1 arcsec-2 at 4500 Å for the V500 and V1200 setup respectively, which corresponds to limiting r and g band surface brightnesses of 23.6 mag arcsec-2 and 23.4 mag arcsec-2, or an unresolved emission-line flux detection limit of roughly 1 × 10-17 erg s-1 cm-2 arcsec-2 and 0.6 × 10 -17 erg s-1 cm-2 arcsec-2, respectively. The median spatial resolution is 3-7, and the absolute spectrophotometric calibration is better than 15% (1σ). We also describe the available interfaces and tools that allow easy access to this first publicCALIFA data at http://califa.caha.es/DR1.