California is more than just a state; it’s a state of mind. From its sun-kissed beaches to its sprawling vineyards and bustling cities, the Golden State offers a diverse range of lifestyles and landscapes. But with its vast size, choosing the perfect spot to call home can be daunting. To help you make your decision, I’ve put together this guide on the best places to live in California.
I’ve explored California extensively over the years, and I can attest to the state’s sheer beauty and diversity. From the rugged cliffs of Big Sur to the serene vineyards of Napa Valley, and from the tech hubs of Silicon Valley to the beach vibes of San Diego, California’s diversity is unmatched. Whether you’re drawn to the laid-back surf culture, the allure of wine country, or the dynamic pulse of cities like LA and San Francisco, there’s a corner of California that feels like it was made just for you.
But where to start? The ideal spot varies for everyone. Some prioritize beach access, others look for top-tier schools, and for many, the cost of living is a deciding factor.
Dive in as I break down the best cities to live in, based on what you value most. As someone who’s experienced the state’s many facets, I’m here to guide you through the best places to live in California. I’ve scoured articles, sifted through stats, and listened to locals to compile a list that caters to every lifestyle and budget. Let’s dive in!
The Best Places to Live in California
Eager to explore the most picturesque living spots in California? Situated on the West Coast of the United States, California offers a diverse range of options for everyone. Continue reading to unveil the top residential areas in the golden state.
Searching for the ideal home in California? Whether it’s city life or coastal living you’re after, California has a place that fits the bill. Here are the must-know neighborhoods and areas to consider for your California residence:
Ah, the Central Valley—California’s agricultural powerhouse. Amidst this fertile land lies Fresno, a city that’s often overlooked yet has so much to offer. With a blend of urban and rural, it’s a great place to live in California for those who want a balanced lifestyle.
Fresno is a hub for foodies, thanks to its farm-to-table restaurants that serve the freshest produce you can imagine. Imagine biting into a peach so juicy, it’s like tasting sunshine. The city is also home to the stunning Woodward Park, where you can walk off that delicious meal.
Culturally, Fresno doesn’t disappoint. The Tower District is the city’s artsy neighborhood, filled with vintage shops, theaters, and murals that tell stories of the city’s diverse community. It’s a place where creativity thrives, making it an attractive spot for young professionals and artists alike.
Affordability is another perk. Compared to other Californian cities, Fresno offers a cost of living that won’t break the bank. Plus, you’re just a short drive away from Yosemite National Park, giving you the perfect weekend getaway.
2. Los Angeles
Picture this: palm trees swaying in the breeze, the Hollywood sign standing tall in the distance, and the Pacific Ocean’s waves crashing against the shore. Welcome to Los Angeles, a city that’s as iconic as it is diverse. It’s one of the best cities to live in California, especially if you’re chasing big dreams and even bigger adventures.
The entertainment industry is the soul of this city. Whether you’re an aspiring actor, a budding filmmaker, or a scriptwriter with a story to tell, LA is where you want to be. The city is a melting pot of talent, ambition, and creativity, making it a magnet for people from all walks of life.
Foodies will find their paradise in LA’s diverse culinary scene. From food trucks serving mouth-watering tacos to Michelin-starred restaurants, your taste buds are in for a treat. And let’s not forget the city’s art scene, from the Getty Center to the vibrant murals in the Arts District.
When it comes to outdoor activities, LA has you covered. Surf at Malibu, hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, or simply enjoy a sunset at Venice Beach. The city offers a quality of life that’s hard to beat, making it a top choice for anyone looking to live the Californian dream.
Ever heard of Modesto? If not, you’re missing out on one of California’s best-kept secrets. This charming city in the Central Valley is a best place to live in California for those who crave a small-town vibe with big-city amenities.
Modesto is a haven for family life. Excellent schools, friendly neighborhoods, and an array of parks make it a fantastic place to raise kids. The city is also home to the Gallo Center for the Arts, where you can catch everything from Broadway shows to local performances.
When it comes to dining, Modesto offers a range of options that reflect its diverse community. Think Italian bistros, Mexican taquerias, and Asian fusion spots that will make your taste buds dance. The city also hosts an annual Graffiti Summer festival, a nod to its role in the classic film “American Graffiti,” directed by George Lucas.
What sets Modesto apart is its affordability. Housing costs are reasonable, and the overall cost of living is lower than the state average, which makes it one of California’s best cities to live. Plus, you’re just a short drive away from the Sierra Nevada mountains and the San Francisco Bay Area, offering the best of both worlds.
Ah, the seat of California’s government, where history and modernity coalesce. Sacramento is often overshadowed by its flashier siblings like San Francisco and Los Angeles, yet it’s one of the best areas to live in California. Trust me, this city is far from just political hustle and bustle.
Sacramento is a food lover’s dream, boasting a farm-to-fork movement that’s as authentic as it gets. The city’s Midtown area is a culinary hotspot, offering everything from artisanal coffee shops to high-end sushi bars. Your palate will thank you for moving here.
The city is also a cultural hub, with museums like the Crocker Art Museum offering a dose of sophistication. And for those who love the great outdoors, the American River Bike Trail provides over 30 miles of scenic beauty, perfect for biking, jogging, or a leisurely stroll.
What’s more, Sacramento is incredibly scenic and diverse, both in its population and its offerings. From hipster enclaves to historic districts, the city has a neighborhood for everyone. And let’s not forget its proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountains and Napa Valley, making weekend getaways a breeze. Overall, there a plethora of reasons why you should try Sacramento as one of the places to live in CA.
Ever wonder where your fresh produce comes from? Chances are, it’s from Salinas, a city that’s not just an agricultural powerhouse but also one of the coolest places to live in California. Located in the scenic Monterey County, Salinas offers a unique blend of rural charm and urban amenities.
The city is a paradise for literature enthusiasts, being the birthplace of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck. The National Steinbeck Center is a must-visit, offering a deep dive into the author’s life and works. For those who love the arts, the Western Stage offers top-notch theater performances that are sure to captivate.
Outdoor activities? Salinas has plenty. From hiking in the nearby Toro Park to enjoying a day at the Salinas Sports Complex, there’s no shortage of ways to stay active. The city is also just a short drive from the stunning beach resorts in California, Monterey and Carmel, giving you the perfect escape when you need it.
Affordability is another strong suit. Compared to other nice parts of California, Salinas offers a more budget-friendly lifestyle without compromising on quality. It’s a city where you can enjoy the best of California living without the hefty price tag.
6. San Diego
Imagine waking up to 70-degree weather almost every day. That’s the life in San Diego, a city that’s as famous for its perfect climate as it is for its laid-back lifestyle. It’s one of the best places in California to live if you’re a fan of endless summers and outdoor adventures.
San Diego is a paradise to all travelers especially the surfers, with beaches like La Jolla, one of the best beach towns in CA, and Pacific Beach offering some of the best waves in the state. But it’s not all about the surf; the city is also a haven for craft beer enthusiasts. With over 150 breweries, you’re never far from a cold, refreshing pint.
Family life thrives here too. The world-renowned San Diego Zoo and numerous parks makes San Diego an ideal place for families with kids. And for the history buffs, the USS Midway Museum and Old Town San Diego offer a glimpse into the city’s past.
The city is also a hub for biotech and healthcare, offering ample job opportunities. Plus, the diverse neighborhoods, from the hip Gaslamp Quarter to the tranquil Carmel Valley, mean there’s a spot for everyone. San Diego truly offers a quality of life that’s hard to beat.
7. San Francisco
Ahh the city by the bay, where cable cars climb halfway to the stars and the Golden Gate Bridge paints the sky. San Francisco is a city of endless possibilities and one of the best towns to live in California. It’s a place where innovation meets tradition, and the result is nothing short of magical.
The culinary scene in San Francisco is a food lover’s dream come true. From the Italian eateries in North Beach to the dim sum spots in Chinatown, your taste buds will be on a global tour. And let’s not forget the sourdough bread, a local staple that you’ll crave long after you leave.
This city is also a cultural powerhouse. San Francisco is home to renowned institutions like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum, offering a dose of culture that’s as diverse as the city itself.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find their haven in places like Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, offering green spaces that are perfect for everything from picnics to hiking. And for those who love the water, the Bay Area offers sailing, kayaking, and much more.
San Francisco’s neighborhoods, each with its own unique charm, make it a vibrant place to call home. From the hipster vibes of the Mission District to the upscale elegance of Nob Hill, there’s a spot for everyone.
8. San Jose
Step into the future in San Jose, the epicenter of Silicon Valley and a city that’s always one step ahead. It’s one of the top cities in California to live if you’re into tech, innovation, and a fast-paced lifestyle.
San Jose is a city that never stops evolving. From the cutting-edge tech companies that call it home to the startups that are shaping tomorrow, it’s a hub of creativity and ambition. And it’s not just for the tech-savvy; the city offers a range of job opportunities in various sectors.
When it comes to leisure, San Jose doesn’t disappoint. The city is home to the beautiful Alum Rock Park, perfect for hiking and nature walks. For a dose of culture, the San Jose Museum of Art offers contemporary and modern pieces that are sure to inspire.
Food options? Think global. From Vietnamese pho to Mexican tacos, the city’s culinary scene is as diverse as its population. And for those who love to shop, Santana Row offers a blend of high-end boutiques and popular retailers.
Affordability might be a concern, given its tech boom, but the high salaries and quality of life often make up for it. Plus, you’re in close proximity to other Bay Area cities, offering the best of both worlds.
9. Santa Barbara
Picture a place where the mountains meet the sea, where Spanish architecture graces the streets, and where the wine flows like water. Welcome to Santa Barbara, a coastal paradise that’s easily one of the best California towns to live in if you’re after a blend of natural beauty and cultural richness.
Santa Barbara is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. From surfing at Rincon Point to hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains, adventure is never far away. The city is also a cyclist’s dream, with numerous trails and bike-friendly streets.
Culturally, Santa Barbara is a gem. The city hosts the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, attracting cinephiles and celebrities alike. For art lovers, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art offers an impressive collection that spans across centuries and continents.
The culinary scene here is just as diverse. From seafood shacks on Stearns Wharf to upscale dining on State Street, your taste buds are in for a treat. And let’s not forget the city’s wine culture; the nearby Santa Ynez Valley is a must-visit for any wine aficionado.
Living in Santa Barbara might come with a higher price tag, but the quality of life is unmatched. It’s a city that offers a little bit of everything, making it a perfect place to call home.
10. Santa Rosa
Ever dreamt of living in a place where world-class vineyards are your neighbors? Santa Rosa makes that dream a reality. It’s a great place to live in California, especially if you like fine wines and scenic landscapes.
Santa Rosa is the heart of Sonoma County, making it a prime location for wine enthusiasts. The city is surrounded by over 400 wineries, offering endless opportunities for wine tasting and vineyard tours. But it’s not just about the grapes; the craft beer scene here is also thriving, with local breweries offering a variety of unique blends.
Nature lovers will find their sanctuary in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where towering redwoods offer a peaceful retreat. For a more active lifestyle, the city’s extensive bike trails and parks provide plenty of options for outdoor activities.
Culturally, Santa Rosa is rich. The Charles M. Schulz Museum pays tribute to the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, while the Santa Rosa Symphony offers classical performances that resonate with all ages.
The city also boasts excellent schools and healthcare facilities, making it a well-rounded place to live. While the cost of living is on the higher side, the amenities and quality of life often justify the expense.
11. Vallejo & Fairfield
Why settle for one city when you can have two? Vallejo & Fairfield offer a dual experience that’s hard to beat, making them California’s best places to live for those who want variety without the hassle of long commutes. Though these cities are 15 miles apart, they are grouped together by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is why I chose to include them together here.
Vallejo, with its stunning waterfront and historic downtown, offers a laid-back vibe that’s perfect for weekend strolls and picnics. The city is also home to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, an amusement park that promises fun for the whole family.
Fairfield, on the other hand, is a foodie’s paradise. The Jelly Belly Factory is a must-visit, offering a behind-the-scenes look at how these iconic jelly beans are made. And let’s not forget the Suisun Valley, Fairfield’s very own wine region that’s less crowded but just as delightful as Napa.
Both cities offer excellent educational facilities, from public schools to higher education options like Solano Community College. The job market is diverse, with opportunities in healthcare, education, and manufacturing.
The best part? Both Vallejo and Fairfield are strategically located between San Francisco and Sacramento, giving you easy access to two of California’s major cities. It’s like having your cake and eating it too, but without the guilt of a long commute.
Tucked away in the San Joaquin Valley, Visalia is a city that often flies under the radar but is one of the best California cities to consider for a balanced lifestyle. It’s a gateway to some of the most stunning natural wonders, including the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Visalia offers a small-town feel with big-city amenities. The downtown area is a blend of charming boutiques, local eateries, and historic architecture. The Visalia Fox Theatre, an art deco masterpiece, hosts a variety of performances, from concerts to plays.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to love. The nearby Kaweah Lake is perfect for boating and fishing, while the St. John’s Riverwalk offers a serene setting for walks and picnics. And let’s not forget the golf courses; Visalia has some of the best in the region.
The city is also family-friendly, boasting excellent schools and a strong sense of community. Events like the annual Taste of Downtown and the Visalia Farmers Market bring locals together, fostering a tight-knit environment.
Affordability is another perk. Compared to other California cities, Visalia offers a cost-effective lifestyle without sacrificing quality. It’s a place where you can enjoy the Golden State’s perks without breaking the bank.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Best Places to Live in California
Looking to expand your knowledge about the best places to live in California? Here are some common questions I get a lot about where is the best place to live in California.
Is it worth it to live in California?
Absolutely, if you value a high quality of life, diverse job opportunities, and unparalleled natural beauty. However, the cost of living can be a drawback for some. It’s all about what you’re looking to get out of your California experience.
The best part? With a little bit of research and flexibility, you can find amazing deals on the cheapest places to fly from California. From the sunny beaches of Orlando to the world-famous casinos of Las Vegas, the options are endless.
Are there still good places to live in California?
Yes, despite the high cost of living in some areas, there are still plenty of great places to live that offer a good quality of life, excellent schools, and job opportunities. Cities like Santa Rosa and Vallejo & Fairfield offer a blend of lifestyle options to suit various needs.
Is California affordable to live in?
Affordability in California varies by location. While cities like San Francisco and Santa Barbara can be expensive, there are more affordable options like Visalia and Modesto. It’s essential to consider your income level and what you’re willing to compromise on, such as commute time or amenities.
Where is the most affordable place to live in California?
Affordability is a significant concern for many when considering a move to California. Here are some cities where your dollar might stretch a bit further:
- Bakersfield: Located in the Central Valley, Bakersfield has a lower cost of living than the California average. It’s known for its oil and agricultural industries.
- Fresno: Also in the Central Valley, Fresno offers affordability while still providing many amenities of a larger city.
- Redding: Located in Northern California, Redding offers a lower cost of living and proximity to outdoor recreational activities.
- Visalia: Situated near the Sierra Nevada mountains, Visalia is an affordable city with a strong sense of community.
- Merced: Home to a University of California campus, Merced has a lower cost of living than many other parts of the state.
- Modesto: Another Central Valley city, Modesto offers affordability and is known for its agricultural industry.
- Chico: Home to California State University, Chico, this city offers a mix of affordability and a college-town vibe.
- Hanford: Located in the southern part of the Central Valley, Hanford is known for its historic downtown and affordability.
- Yuba City: North of Sacramento, Yuba City offers a lower cost of living and a small-town feel.
- Ridgecrest: Located in the Mojave Desert, Ridgecrest is an affordable option for those looking to live in Southern California but away from the higher-priced coastal cities.
Where do the happiest people live in California?
Happiness can be subjective, but some cities in California consistently rank high for overall well-being and life satisfaction. Here are a few:
- San Luis Obispo: Located on the Central Coast, San Luis Obispo, often referred to as “SLO”, is known for its laid-back vibe, beautiful scenery, and a strong sense of community. It’s often cited as one of the happiest places in the U.S.
- Santa Cruz: With its beachfront, redwood forests, and vibrant arts scene, Santa Cruz offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness.
- Irvine: Located in Orange County, Irvine is often ranked high for its safety, excellent schools, and well-planned communities.
- Fremont: Situated in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fremont has been recognized for its low crime rate, diverse population, and proximity to major tech hubs.
- Huntington Beach: Known for its long stretch of coastline, Huntington Beach offers a relaxed beach town vibe combined with the amenities of a larger city.
- Santa Rosa: Located in the heart of wine country, Santa Rosa offers a mix of urban and rural living.
- Chico: The presence of California State University, Chico, adds a youthful energy to the town, and its location near outdoor recreational areas adds to its appeal.
- Ojai: A small town known for its arts scene, spiritual retreats, and natural beauty, Ojai has a reputation as a peaceful and happy place to live.
Where is the best area to live in California?
The “best” area to live in California depends on individual preferences and priorities. California offers a diverse range of environments, from bustling urban centers to serene coastal towns and rugged mountain communities. Here are some top areas, each with its unique appeal:
- San Francisco Bay Area: Known for its tech hub, Silicon Valley, the Bay Area offers a mix of urban living, suburban communities, and beautiful natural landscapes. Cities like Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Francisco are known for their innovation, while areas like Marin County and Berkeley offer a more laid-back vibe.
- Los Angeles Area: LA is a sprawling metropolis known for its entertainment industry. Neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Pasadena each have their unique charm. The city offers a mix of urban, suburban, and beach living.
- San Diego: With its beautiful beaches, pleasant climate, and military bases, San Diego offers a relaxed Southern California lifestyle.
- Sacramento: As the state capital, Sacramento offers affordable living compared to other major Californian cities. It’s close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Napa Valley.
- Central Coast: Cities like Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey offer beautiful coastal living with a slower pace than the major urban centers.
- Orange County: Places like Newport Beach, Irvine, and Anaheim (home to Disneyland) offer a mix of suburban living, beach communities, and entertainment options.
- Napa Valley and Sonoma: For those who love wine and beautiful landscapes, this region is a top choice.
- Sierra Nevada Foothills: Towns like Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Auburn offer a more rural lifestyle with proximity to outdoor activities.
- Desert Communities: Palm Springs and Joshua Tree are popular for those who love the desert landscape.
- Humboldt and Mendocino Counties: For those looking for a more remote, nature-centric lifestyle, Northern California’s coastal regions offer redwood forests and rugged coastlines.
Where is the cheapest place in California to live?
California, known for its high cost of living in many areas, does have some more affordable regions. Here are some of the more affordable places to live in California:
- Bakersfield: Located in the Central Valley, Bakersfield offers a lower cost of living compared to the state average. It’s known for its oil and agricultural industries.
- Fresno: Also in the Central Valley, Fresno is a larger city with a diverse economy. It’s close to national parks like Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia.
- Visalia: Located near Fresno, Visalia serves as a gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
- Redding: Located in Northern California, Redding offers affordable housing and is close to outdoor recreational areas, including Shasta Lake and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
- Chico: Home to California State University, Chico, this college town offers a mix of cultural activities and a lower cost of living.
- Merced: Another Central Valley city, Merced is known for its agricultural output and is home to a University of California campus.
- Modesto: Located in the heart of the Central Valley, Modesto offers a more affordable cost of living, though it’s still higher than the national average.
- Hanford: This small city in the Central Valley is known for its historic downtown and agricultural roots.
- Ridgecrest: Located in the Mojave Desert, Ridgecrest offers a lower cost of living and is close to the China Lake Naval Weapons Center.
- Yuba City: Located north of Sacramento, Yuba City offers a mix of suburban and rural living.
What city in California has the nicest people?
The perception of “niceness” is subjective and can vary from person to person. While there isn’t a definitive answer to which city in California has the “nicest” people, many smaller towns and communities often have reputations for being friendly and welcoming. Here are a few places in California that some people have noted for their friendly residents:
- San Luis Obispo: Located on the Central Coast, SLO, as it’s affectionately called, is often cited as one of the happiest places in America. The community is tight-knit, and the residents are known for their friendliness.
- Eureka: Located in Northern California, Eureka has a small-town feel, and many visitors note the warmth and friendliness of its residents.
- Ojai: A small town located in a valley in Ventura County, Ojai is known for its artistic community and friendly locals.
- Chico: Home to California State University, Chico, this college town has a reputation for its welcoming community.
- Paso Robles: Located in wine country, Paso Robles is known for its friendly winemakers and locals who are proud of their community.
- Julian: A small historic gold mining town, Julian is known for its apple pies and friendly community.
- Solvang: A Danish-themed town, Solvang offers a unique experience, and many visitors find the locals to be quite friendly.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: This picturesque coastal town is known for its artistic community and friendly locals.
Where is the cheapest and safest place to live in California?
Finding a place in California that is both cheap and safe can be a challenge due to the state’s high cost of living, especially in coastal areas. However, there are some cities and towns that offer a relatively lower cost of living while maintaining a good safety record. Here are a few to consider:
- Redding: Located in Northern California, Redding offers affordable housing compared to many other parts of the state. The city is surrounded by natural beauty, including lakes, rivers, and mountains.
- Chico: Home to California State University, Chico, this college town has a relatively low cost of living and offers a vibrant community atmosphere.
- Clovis: Located near Fresno, Clovis is known for its good schools, community events, and a relatively low cost of living.
- Bakersfield: As one of the larger cities in the Central Valley, Bakersfield offers more affordable housing options than coastal areas. The city has been investing in community development and safety.
- Hanford: Another Central Valley town, Hanford boasts a low cost of living and a historic downtown area.
- Loma Linda: Located in San Bernardino County, Loma Linda is known for its health-conscious community and is home to the Loma Linda University Medical Center.
- Temecula: Located in Riverside County, Temecula is known for its wine country and has a reputation for being a safe community.
- Oxnard: Located on the coast but more affordable than many other coastal cities, Oxnard offers a mix of beach life and agricultural influences.
Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Live in California
California is a land of endless possibilities, offering a diverse range of lifestyles to suit just about anyone. From the tech hubs of San Francisco and San Jose to the scenic beauty of Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa, the Golden State has something for everyone. If you’re pondering where to live in CA, the options are as varied as they are enticing.
For those on a budget, cities like Visalia and Modesto offer a more affordable lifestyle without skimping on amenities. They prove that California is affordable to live in if you know where to look. On the flip side, if you’re all about the hustle and bustle, the state’s larger cities provide endless opportunities for career growth and cultural experiences.
And let’s not forget about happiness. Places like San Diego are often cited as some of the most livable cities in California, thanks to their perfect blend of outdoor activities and urban conveniences.
So, what are the best places to move in California? The answer is as complex as the state itself, and ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you value most in your ideal living situation. Whether you’re drawn to the best areas to live in California for their job opportunities, natural beauty, or cultural richness, one thing’s for sure: California is more than just a place—it’s a lifestyle.