Best Places to Live in California
What are the Best Cities to live in California?
Are you California dreamin’? With 840 miles of gorgeous coastline, nine national parks, and a beautiful sprawling wine country, it is no wonder why 39.51 million people call California home. While the COVID-19 Pandemic may have led to difficulties alongside a notoriously high cost of living, the fact of the matter is that young professionals and families are still moving to California. Full of amazing business opportunities and top-of-the-line higher education, life in California is happy and easy-going. In fact, California residents are thought to be some of the happiest citizens in the country according to a new study.
With a lifestyle that prioritizes healthy living and outdoor recreation, it is easy to imagine why California is a great place to move to. If you are among the masses that decide to flock to the Golden State then you have come to the right place. By factoring in affordability, safety, and cleanliness, this city guide was created to help you find the place where you belong. With so many cities to choose from in this large state, finding the best place to live in California that meets your specifications can be harder than it looks.
Read on to learn more about the 7 Best Places to Live in California!
Often described as enchanting and eccentric, San Francisco is arguably the number one city in California with the most charm. Located in northern California and considered a part of the pacific northwest, San Francisco is best known for the iconic Golden Gate Bridge which is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Construction of the bridge began in 1933 and was not completed until 1937. Standing at 746 feet tall and bringing in more than 10 million visitors a year to the city, the Golden Gate Bridge stands as a symbol of power and progress.
Celebrated for its progressive and bohemian lifestyle, San Francisco is filled with trendy boutiques, hip eateries, and many historical landmarks. Perfect for entrepreneurs and independent thinkers, San Francisco was named the 34th best city in the United States for those looking for a job. Whether you are hopping aboard a cable car or having a picnic at one of the many outdoor greenspaces, living in San Francisco is unlike any other city. While living in the area is amazing, San Francisco also happens to be the most expensive city to live in California. Home prices here are very high, so much so that it was calculated that in order to make ends meet in San Francisco residents need to be making an annual salary of at least $92,139. Due to these high prices, it is no surprise that San Francisco happens to be the city in California with the most millionaires and billionaires.
- Alcatraz Island: Located 1.29 miles off of the shore of San Francisco, hop aboard a boat and head over to this small island that once operated as a federal prison. Open from 1934 to 1963, this island made an escape from the prison impossible. Now a popular tourist destination, make sure to book your tour months in advance to secure your spot to visit.
- Muir Woods National Monument: Protecting 554 acres of redwood forests, Muir woods is a beautiful landmark that is run by the National Park Service. Walk the trails and admire the huge redwood trees.
- The Painted Ladies: This iconic row of colorful houses is one of the most photographed areas in San Francisco. Featured in the popular TV show Full House, grab your camera and snap a picture for yourself.
- The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop: If you love chocolate make sure to visit the original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. The workers give away free chocolates just for stepping foot into the shop.
- Pier 39: Featuring shops, restaurants, an aquarium, and even a carousel, this pier in the Fisherman’s Wharf district of the city is a must-do. Even the California sea lions like to hang out on the dock.
Nestled right in the heart of Silicon Valley, the city of San Jose in Northern California is only an hour south of San Francisco. Mixing Spanish revival architecture with modern styles, San Jose is truly a unique city with its own charm. Gaining popularity over the years as more and more leading big technology companies make their way to the area, San Jose has made itself a pioneer in science and technology. Prized for its diverse culture and abundance of business opportunities, living in San Jose is a dream come true for innovative thinkers and futuristic minds.
Popular companies such as Apple, Google, Netflix, Oracle, Cisco, and Amazon are all headquartered in the city and have brought in thousands of jobs. Many young professionals and college graduates are flocking to the area for the chance to work for such large corporations. Luckily, working in Silicon Valley normally coincides with a hefty paycheck because living in San Jose certainly comes with a high price tag. Named as the 31st most expensive city to live in the entire world, the cost of living and housing prices in San Jose are not cheap. As of 2021, the median home price is listed at $1.2 million dollars. For those that can afford it, deciding to move to San Jose is definitely a top choice. Plus, Santa Clara County which is the county that houses San Jose was named as the number one best county to live in California as of 2021.
- Winchester Mystery House: Former home of Sarah Winchester who was the heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Rifle Company, the house remains a mystery to this day. Full of hidden rooms and trap doors, visit this mansion to witness one of the most bizarre and mysterious homes in California.
- Santa Cruz Beach: Only about a 30-minute drive away from San Jose, the beaches of Santa Cruz are famous for their laid-back and relaxing vibe. Bring the family and the dog for a fun day of surf and sun. There is even a boardwalk with an amusement park to explore.
- Santana Row: Did someone say retail therapy? This outdoor shopping mall and lifestyle center is a primer destination with over 50 shops and 30 fantastic restaurants.
- Los Gatos Creek Trail: Walk or run along this paved nature trail that takes you through San Jose, downtown Los Gatos, and to Levi’s Stadium where the San Francisco 49ers play.
- The San Jose Sharks: If you love hockey then make sure to head to the SAP Center at San Jose to watch the San Jose Sharks National League Team play.
Located in southern California lies the picturesque city of San Diego. Only 20 miles from the Mexican border, San Diego is pretty much as far south as you can get in California. This coastal city is famous for its warm and sunny weather, fabulous beaches, and scenic views. Blending a mixture of urban, suburban, and coastal living, life in San Diego is perfect for any lifestyle. Raining less than 12 inches of rain a year, San Diego is the go-to destination for those wanting to experience a Mediterranean climate all year round.
Offering its residents an abundance of outdoor recreational activities, fabulous dining, professional sports, prime nightlife, and tons of entertainment, never run out of things to do. Whether you want to live in San Diego or just want to visit, the business and professional opportunities that the city provides can not be beaten. Ranked as the number three best place to live in California, the population continues to rise year by year. While San Diego may not relatively be considered affordable, the cost of living is certainly not as high as San Francisco or San Jose. Home prices continue to be higher than the national average.
- The San Diego Zoo: Named as one of the most infamous zoos in the whole United States, check out exhibits, animal shows, and programs. From giraffes to koalas, admire beautiful animals up close and personal at this zoo in a safe environment.
- Seaworld San Diego: This aquatic park and outside aquarium is a great place to learn about ocean preservation and the animals that live in it.
- Balboa Park: A garden and cultural hub, meander along the trails and admire the historical Spanish architecture that makes up this free park. Make sure to visit the botanical building that features over 2,000 different plant and flower species.
- Coronado Beach: Only four miles from Downtown San Diego, walk along this pristine shoreline and catch the waves. Sunbathe, learn how to surf, swim, or build an amazing sandcastle. Known for its calmer waters Coronado Beach is a fantastic destination for families.
- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Protecting 1,750 acres of land, hike up to eight miles at this natural reserve along the oceanfront.
The capital of California, Sacramento is only an hour away from San Francisco in northern California and is about two hours to Lake Tahoe. Ranked as one of the best places to live in California, Sacramento is pretty but also more affordable than other California cities. While crime may be a bit higher than other comparable areas, finding a safe neighborhood perfect for settling down and raising a family is no hard task. Over the recent years, more and more young professionals and families are starting to discover Sacramento as seen reflected in the noticeable population increase.
Best known for its world-class healthcare industry and the University of California Davis School of Medicine, finding a job especially in healthcare is easy to come by. Experiencing many technological advancements and a push towards sustainability, check out the many farm-to-table restaurants, wineries, green spaces, and over 200 public parks. Attend the weekend farmers market, visit the many art galleries and historical museums, or go to a concert or music festival including the annual hard rock festival Aftershock in Discovery Park. In our opinion - Sacramento is one of the best cities to live in California.
- California State Railway Museum: Learn all about the history of the California railroad and the impact that it has had on the city of Sacramento. Featuring exhibits, artifacts, and educational programs, this is a cool place to bring the kids.
- Crocker Art Museum: Officially the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River, this museum has been around since 1885. Featuring collections dating all the way back to the Gold Rush, admire art from all over the United States and the world.
- California State Capital Museum: The location of the California government, this museum has also listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.
- Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park: Opened in 1839, this fort was the first established community in the central valley of California. A notable location during the California Gold Rush, this historic park is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for tours.
- Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail: Bordering the Sacramento River and the American River, this trail is 32 miles long is a cool place to run, walk the dog, or bike.
Also known as the City of Angels, Los Angeles is found in southern California and is home to A-list celebrities and all things film and TV. Considered one of the most popular and well-known cities in the world, thousands of people move to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune. Surrounded by mountains and the desert, Los Angeles attracts tourists from near and far every day of the year. Known as the second-largest metropolitan area in the nation, Los Angeles is often glamorized and thought of as the place where dreams come true.
Representing hope and ambition, the residents who are lucky enough to call Los Angeles home share the same resilient and strong spirit. Considered the third most expensive place to live in California, the luxurious and desirable areas of Beverly Hills, Hollywood Hills, and Malibu are within Los Angeles, County. While you can technically move to Los Angeles without any money since there are many free things to do, a base salary of at least $74,371 annually is recommended in order to live comfortably. Much like any large city, Los Angeles certainly has its fair share of both safe and dangerous areas so keep that in mind when deciding where you should and should not live when moving.
- Disneyland Anaheim: If you love all things Disney, then make sure to visit this theme park only 30 minutes away from Los Angeles. Though smaller than Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Disneyland features many rides and experiences that make it unique and set it apart from the other Disney parks.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Highlighting modern and contemporary art through paintings, photography, sculptures, and art installations, this museum is worth seeing.
- Griffith Observatory: Get up close and personal with the Hollywood sign and overlook the whole city of Los Angeles at this observatory. Go at night to catch the sunset and view the lights of the city.
- Santa Monica Pier: This pier in Santa Monica is on the beach and is home to an amusement park including a Ferris wheel and smaller attractions.
- Hollywood Walk of Fame: Take a stroll along this famous stretch of sidewalk in Hollywood that spans up to 15 blocks and features more than 2,690 stars honoring famous celebrities and figures.
Situated right in the center of the northern California wine country lies the picturesque city of Santa Rosa. Thought to be one of the most beautiful cities in California, Santa Rosa is perfect for all walks of life including young professionals, families, and retirees, Santa Rosa is in the midst of a population increase much like Sacramento and has a current population of about 501,000 people. Located in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa is most known for its wineries, sustainable agriculture, and gourmet restaurants. Only an hour north of San Francisco, this small town and rustic rural area are attracting residents who want a laid-back and relaxing way of life.
Living a happy and healthy lifestyle is part of Santa Rosa culture. Find your neighbors going to the gym every day and eating a well-balanced farm-to-table diet. Also rated as a safe city and beloved for its warm weather, spend the day at the beach, play a round of golf with friends, or journey out to one of the many wineries for a wine tasting. With a cost of living that is 38.6% more expensive than the national average, it goes without saying that Santa Rosa is another California city that is on the pricer side.
- Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens: Selling super premium wine in the United States, stop by this winery for a wine and cheese pairing while learning about how wine is made.
- Paradise Ridge Winery: Surrounded by beautiful scenery, sip on popular wines and watch the sunset. A great destination for a girl’s trip or a couple’s getaway.
- DeLoach Vineyards: See where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. Make sure to stay for a tasting and take a tour!
- Sugarloaf Ridge State Park: This 3,900-acre park in northern California is situated right in the middle of Sonoma County and Napa County. Hike miles of trails, camp, mountain bike, or rock climb.
- Safari West: Found 12 miles north of Santa Rosa lies this 400-acre wildlife preserve that houses African wildlife including cheetahs, buffalo, rhinos, hyenas, and zebras. Spend the night in one of the onsite vacation lodgings and wake up to wildlife at your window.
Often referred to as the city that has the best weather in all of California, Santa Barbara is right on the central coast and is only an hour and a half drive to Los Angeles. Surrounded by white sand beaches and pristine landscaping, there is a reason why Santa Barabara is one of the most sought-after destinations in the state. Celebrities even love Santa Barbara. Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Rob Lowe, Ellen Degeneres, and many other famous names call Santa Barbara home. Boasting Mediterranean architecture and Spanish styles, the buildings and houses in Santa Barbara are designed to reflect the cities Spanish heritage that dates back to the 18th century.
A great destination for beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, learn to surf on the coast, swim, jet ski, kayak, hike, fish, or join a recreational sports team. Full of never-ending entertainment, music venues, museums, events, and celebrations, there is always something to do in Santa Barbara. Ranked at the top as one of the most expensive cities in central California, Santa Barbara has a cost of living that is 100% more expensive than the national average which is hard to fathom. Los Angeles is even 22% less expensive than living in Santa Barbara. Due to this lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living that is a common trend in California, the state has seen 53% of residents leave in search of more affordable options. But, if you can afford to live in Santa Barbara then it will definitely be the best decision ever.
- Old Mission Santa Barbara: This 18th-century Spanish mission still stands today and is a cool glimpse into the past of the city.
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art: View both permanent and exclusive collections and exhibits featuring pieces from all over the world.
- Stearns Wharf: Known as the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- Lotusland: This botanical garden near Santa Barbara includes walking tours and is a great place to check out exotic plants.
- Arroyo Burro Beach County Park: This breathtaking beach along Cliff Drive is a favorite destination for beachgoers and is also dog friendly.
Best Places to Live in California - The Bottom Line
While California is considered one of the most beautiful states to call home, most cities are expensive to live in. Unless you have the money or are moving for a job, not everyone can afford to live in California. Even though the cities on this list are a bit more expensive than other areas, they ranked as the best places to live in California due to many other factors. If you do decide to move to California, then you may want to find a home to live in. Before making a buying decision, make sure to get in touch with our knowledgeable Realty Specialists to help you through the home buying process. Contact us today!
Hi there! My name is Ryan Fitzgerald, and I am a REALTOR®. My goal is to help you learn more about real estate through our Real Estate Blog! Hopefully, you enjoyed the above blog post and it found a way to provide help or value to you. When you're ready to buy or sell a home of your own let us know here. Please feel free to join the conversation by dropping us a comment below.