Trying to figure out the best places to live in California? My partner was in a similar position after getting a job offer that entailed moving to California. That’s actually how we met!
I grew up in San Diego and have lived in California my whole life. I had every intention to move out of state to try something new, but life has a funny way of working out, no? After my husband’s move to California, we’ve both found ourselves pleasantly content in the state.
California has a laid-back culture that’s hard to leave behind. The varied landscapes, epic nature, miles of coastline and mild Mediterranean climate make this a great place to live.
When he accepted the job offer he was given the opportunity to work remotely but had to be located in California. This led to him deep diving into research, trying to find the best cities in California to live in.
Below is the list he came up with prior to deciding on where to live in California. I hope you find this list useful! Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, we’re
here happy to help.
Best Places to Live in California
Best Large Cities in California
The following list of large cities in California includes places with a population of 1M+ residents.
|Average Age||38.3 years|
|Median Household Income:||$126K|
|Median Home Price||$1.3M|
Let’s kick off this list of the best places to live in California with a crowd favorite, San Francisco. The Golden City probably needs no introduction, with a population of 815,000, this is one of the most populous cities in California.
I like to think of San Francisco as California’s economic heart, this is where the action happens. As such, the city attracts folks from all walks of life, from ambitious career climbers (the tech industry is huge here) to talented artists willing to scrap by while working towards a dream.
You’ll be rubbing elbows with a unique blend of folks! It’s hard to explain in words, but to me, San Francisco feels authentic. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Rather, it’s an interesting mix of ambition and enjoyment, providing a little taste of everything.
In terms of climate, the weather is pleasant year-round, with wet/chilly winters but mild summers. This in turn makes it easy to play outside every season of the year, and there’s amply nature to enjoy.
The access to nature is one of the reasons San Francisco is one of the best cities in California. Not only can you enjoy Golden Gate Park on a daily basis, but you’ll also get access to Marin Headlands, Muir Woods National Monument and you’ll be less than a 5 hour drive to Yosemite National Park.
I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention that the perks of living in this California city come with a cost. San Francisco is not only one of the most expensive cities to live in California, but in the country as a whole. With median home prices clocking in at $1.3 million, you’ll need more than a dream and prayer to make living in San Francisco feasible.
You May Enjoy Reading: 18 Honest Pros & Cons of Living in San Francisco
|Average Age||35.2 years|
|Median Household Income:||$132K|
|Median Home Price||$875K|
As mentioned, I’m from San Diego, born and raised! Honestly speaking, I consider San Diego one of the best places to live in California due to the sheer variety of things to do.
If you’re a nature nut, you’ll get unparalleled access to the beach (there’s more than 840 miles of coastline!), hiking, biking, water sport, etc. The youthful vibe of the city is yet another perk, making this a great California city to live in for young adults.
The weather tends to be mild, with average year-round temperatures hovering between 66-78°F. Take advantage of the sunshine and comfortable weather by spending weekends at Coronado Beach or South Mission Beach and see why locals love this city so much.
Between the incredible craft brew scene, top-notch restaurants, year-round sunshine, friendly locals, access to nature and the beach, is it any wonder why San Diego seems to be one of the most social cities in California?
Deep Dive Reading: 15 Honest Pros & Cons of Living in San Diego
|Average Age||35.9 years|
|Median Household Income:||Varies|
|Median Home Price||$1.2M|
Those looking for the best cities to live in California won’t be surprised to see Los Angeles on the list. Home to nearly 4 million residents, LA is the most populous city in California and the second largest city in the country.
But not without reason, Los Angeles provides unparalleled employment opportunities (especially in the film industry) and equal access to world-renowned entertainment. The best part? The dry and warm, year-round sunshine that makes it a joy to be outside every season.
Full of life, entertainment, endless shopping and award-winning restaurants, you’ll be spoiled for choice in LA. Which is why many Californians consider LA one of the best places to live in California.
Granted, the city isn’t for everyone.
The endless shopping is matched by endless traffic (some of the worst in the country). Likewise, there’s a handful of disadvantages to city living, like higher crime rates and homelessness. However, there’s no shortage of charming coastal communities on the outskirts of the city that give you all the perks of city living without many of the disadvantages.
Living in LA offers unlimited options, which is why so many people consider this one of the best places to live in California and it’s hard to disagree.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Honest Pros & Cons of Living in Los Angeles
|Average Age||37.1 years|
|Median Household Income:||$125K|
|Median Home Price||$1.3M|
Home to some of the most powerful tech companies in the world, San Jose is known as the official Capital of Silicon Valley. High paying jobs means high median home prices, and this city checks both boxes. San Jose is one of the most expensive places to live in California, but the median household income helps balance costs to a degree.
Folks put up with exorbitant housing prices and overall high cost of living because of the picturesque city setting, low crime rates, outdoor recreation and excellent schools. If you feel an itch for a bigger city, San Francisco is a mere hour away, making it an easy day trip.
Further Reading: 12 Honest Pros & Cons of Living in San Jose
Mid-Sized California Cities
California cities with population between 200,000 – 1 million residents.
|Average Age||34.9 years|
|Median Household Income:||$70K|
|Median Home Price||$460K|
Sacramento seems to be gracing many lists of the best cities to live in California. Once a sleepier city, the state capital seems more exciting and “grown up” than ever. Lower than average home prices seem to be enticing young families and home buyers to the area.
Being the state’s capital has some advantages, chief among them is employment. Sacramento has one of the lowest unemployment rates of all the cities in California. Between government, healthcare and tech, you’ll find good-paying jobs easier to come by.
Apart from jobs, another huge draw of living in Sacramento is the outdoor recreation. There’s an incredible 32-mile bike trail that can get anyone excited about riding a bike. In terms of the disadvantages of living in this California city, the hot summers keep me at bay because I can’t deal with summer highs of reaching 100°F.
Also worth mention is Sacramento’s proximity to other great cities in California like San Francisco (2 hours), the breathtaking wine country and Yosemite National Park (2.5 hours). Plus, the airport makes international travel a breeze.
All told, Sacramento is one of the best places to live in California for young families. You’ll find yourself with like-minded folks going through similar stages in life, which makes friendships easier to establish (not easy, but easier).
|Average Age||31.4 years|
|Median Household Income:||$58K|
|Median Home Price||$360K|
Located in San Joaquin Valley, Fresno’s claim to fame is that its the largest inland city in California. The city serves as a base for Yosemite National Park, which is considered one of the best national parks in the US.
And while the city is admittedly land-locked, that doesn’t mean you won’t have access to the coast. The beach is only 2 hours by car, and if you love mountains/skiing, then Fresno is a great spot to consider.
But take note, summers tend to be unbearably hot so you’ll need to have a good working A/C (and budget in the cost of electricity too). Better yet, if you find a home with a pool you may find yourself thinking Fresno is one of the best cities in California.
|Average Age||35.3 years|
|Median Household Income:||$64K|
|Median Home Price||$740K|
Found in the southern reach of the state, Long Beach is one of the most popular coastal cities in California. I’ll admit though, the city does feel somewhat run down (not sure if I’m allowed to say that, but it’s been my experience).
However, I love the diversity of this California city and the fact that it’s mostly working class. You won’t see a lot of the glamor most other California cities are known for, but you will find “real” people living “real” lives and I enjoy that.
There’s also a lot of local gems to discover. From hole-in-the-wall restaurants to art galleries and antique shops. The city as a whole has a relaxed vibe that doesn’t cater to prestige and image, which makes it feel informal.
|Average Age||33.8 years|
|Median Household Income:||$114K|
|Median Home Price||$1.3M|
When considering where to live in California, Irvine should be a consideration. Admittedly the town is a bit corporate, but its low crime rate and proximity to everything makes it a great option regardless.
A mere 20-minutes from the beach, you’ll get access to good restaurants, job opportunities, shopping and ample entertainment. The only downside of living in his California city is the lack of nightlife (nothing seems to happen after 10pm).
It seems that may locals seem to prefer having access to the beach over access to a nightclub, but if you’re into vibrant nightlife, you may not consider Irvine in your list of top cities to live in California.
|Average Age||34.8 years|
|Median Household Income:||$94K|
|Median Home Price||$803K|
Anyone that has ever dreamed of Disneyland (or went as a kid) knows about Anaheim, even if they don’t know the city by name. One of the most visited cities in California, Anaheim is the home of Disneyland!
But Disneyland aside, Anaheim has a lot to offer. First, you’ll get easy access to everything the greater Los Angeles area has to offer. You’ll be able to make quick and easy weekend trips to San Diego and Newport Beach if you feel the itch to get out of town.
Anaheim is one of the best places to live in California for famlies because of the unlimited access to child-centered entertainment. Not only can you celebrate milestones (or heck, just weekends) at Disneyland, but you can easily pop over to Lego land, the San Diego Zoo and various beaches nearby.
Best Small Cities to Live in California
California cities with a population of up to 200,000 residents.
San Luis Obispo
|Average Age||26.7 years|
|Median Household Income:||$80K|
|Median Home Price||$985K|
When it comes to best cities to live in California for families, San Luis Obispo feels like a hidden gem. Home prices are still affordable (for California, I mean) and the city attracts young families looking to set down roots.
You’ll find all the amenities that make small town living so enjoyable — helpful locals, great farmers markets, museums, quaint cafes and art galleries. Housing prices are nearing $1 million, which is (shockingly) affordable for California cities, especially considering the proximity to the beach (15 minutes drive).
|Average Age||38.9 years|
|Median Household Income:||$90K|
|Median Home Price||$2.1M|
The Santa Ynez Mountains serve as a dramatic backdrop to this dreamy California city, ripe for exploration. Everything about this city points to Mediterranean-style living. From the white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs to the mild year-round sunshine.
Speaking from personal experience, Santa Barbara is one of the best cities in California to live in and visit. I did a short stint in Santa Barbara when I went to live with my aunt for 8 months last year and I still day dream about the easy-going vibe and epic beach views from her home.
The city if full of interesting art galleries, upscale boutiques, farm-to-table restaurants and award-winning wineries. Any way you slice it, Santa Barbara is one of the best places to live in California (and has the housing prices to prove it).
The local university (UC Santa Barbara) gives the city a youthful vibe, with college students filling the downtown area most weekends and evenings. Expect decent nightlife and trendy bars alongside plenty of working cafes.
|Average Age||38.8 years|
|Median Household Income:||$90K|
|Median Home Price||$1.1M|
Located Northeast of L.A., Pasadena is one of the best places to live in California for those that don’t want to be mixed in with the busyness of city living daily, while still getting perks like ample job opportunities, access to world-class entertainment and legendary restaurants.
The Old Pasadena town center is a lively district full of shopping, dinning and great Victorian architecture. Hosting fun concerts in the summer and great farmers markets nearly year-round, the city offers something for everyone.
The breathtaking scenery is worth calling out as well. Found at the foothills of the striking San Gabriel mountain range, this has to be one of the prettiest cities in California. But with median home prices averaging $1.1million, make no mistake that living in paradise won’t come cheap.
|Average Age||40.5 years|
|Median Household Income:||$100K|
|Median Home Price||$2.1M|
One of the pretty coastal cities in California, Santa Monica offers stunning panoramic views of dramatic mountains and the stunning Pacific Ocean. Located a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica is a great option for those that prefer residential living while still being close to big city amenities.
This California city is also home to one of the most iconic amusement parks in the country, Pacific Park and the beloved Santa Monica Pier. You’ll be privy to high end shopping, award-winning restaurants and have access to some of the best public parks in the US.
|Average Age||54.5 years|
|Median Household Income:||$92K|
|Median Home Price||$960K|
Sonoma is best known for being California’s famous wine region, Sonoma Valley. This Northern California city is graced by a historic downtown core full of cute cafes, great restaurants, art galleries and trendy shops.
The town is marked by beautiful 19th-century abode buildings that were once used by the Mexican military. But the charming architecture and colonial-style square aren’t even the biggest draw. No, that honor belongs to the 400+ wineries within city limits.
This is one of the best places to live in California for those that prefer small town living (the population is a mere 11,000 residents). A mere 30 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma excused coveted small town charm few can resist.
Living in Sonoma is seldom a boring affair. Not only will you have access to some of the best wineries in the country, but you’ll also be mingling with wine-loving tourists during the warm spring and summer months.
|Average Age||47.5 years|
|Median Household Income:||$143K|
|Median Home Price||$3.4M|
Newport Beach is a hot spot for easy-going locals, surfers and tourists. Considered one of the coolest beach towns in California, Newport Beach is one of the best cities in California for anyone that can’t get enough sunshine in their life.
Boasting 10 miles of scenic coastlines, the boat-filler harbor makes it clear that Newport Beach is all about beach living. There’s a reason this is one of the most popular coastal cities in California.
Locals love to spend weekends people-watching from the Balboa and Newport Beach Piers or spending an afternoon taking out-pf-town guests to the Balboa Fun Zone. Corona del Mar State Beach is worth a visit if you’re exploring the area while deciding on where to live in California.
|Average Age||35.7 years|
|Median Household Income:||$88K|
|Median Home Price||$602K|
Redlands seems like a hidden gem when it comes to most charming cities in California. Tucked within breathtaking San Bernardino Mountains, Redlands is a quaint college town through and through.
Expect the perks of college towns if you choose to settle down in this great California city. From creative festivals, numerous events, concerts and farmers markets. But take note, the city’s close proximity to LA (60 miles) means home prices are unusually high for a small town in California.
List of the Best Cities in California
In sum, here’s a quick roundup of the best places to live in California.
- San Francisco
- San Diego
- Los Angeles
- San Jose
- Long Beach
- San Louis Obispo
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Monica
- Newport Beach
What do you think?