Is West Coast sunshine calling your name? You might be one of the many who are moving to California. With a population of close to 40 million, California is the most populous state in the country. From the rolling hills of Northern California’s wine country to the sandy beaches of Southern California’s oceanfront, the Golden State’s natural beauty and range of outdoor activities and climates are simply unmatched.
How Do You Decide Where to Live in California?
We looked at many cities based on public school ratings, cost of living, job opportunities, and local amenities using the U.S. Census, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Realtor.com (our partner website), and other trusted sources. All of the cities listed are highly rated for their public schools, family-friendliness, nightlife, diversity, and more. If you’re California dreamin’, here’s a look at the 20 best cities to call home.
The 20 Best Places To Live in California
- San Francisco
- Santa Clara
- Thousand Oaks
- San Diego
- Costa Mesa
- San Jose
- Long Beach
Located in the northern part of the state on the east side of San Francisco Bay, Berkeley is our first city to consider if you’re moving to California. It’s known across the world for being home to the University of California, Berkeley and as the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement. People from around the world come to Berkeley seeking acclaimed restaurants, museums, shops, and arts. Since it is in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s also a transportation hub with highly functional infrastructure.
Socially diverse and culturally progressive with a vibrant mix of neighborhoods, Berkeley offers its residents both rich history and deep authenticity. Excellent cultural and educational opportunities earn Berkeley a solid international reputation. All in all, it’s a great place to call home. In fact, Niche.com ranks it as the #1 “Healthiest City in America” and “Healthiest Places to Live” and the #8 “Best City to Live in America.”
Median household income: $91,259
Median listing home price: $1,220,000
Median rent: $3,200
Cost of living index: 192 (92 percent higher than the national average of 100. Note: The cost of living index in California is 140.)
Smack dab in the middle of California’s perpetually sunny Orange County, the affluent city of Irvine is known for its booming job market, family-friendly atmosphere, safe environment, and beautiful weather. Much about Irvine is impressive, including its being one of the wealthiest cities in the country. This is because Irvine’s economy is strong, with plenty of high-paying jobs — thanks in part to dozens of Fortune 500 companies being in Irvine.
Just as well, as housing in Irvine is a hot commodity and very expensive. Education is top-notch, especially considering that the highly-rated University of California, Concordia University, and Irvine Valley College are all located in Irvine. The city is also nationally renowned for being one of the most environmentally conscious in the U.S. and remains committed to sustainability and green living.
Median household income: $108,318
Median listing home price: $1,480,000
Median rent: $5,000
Cost of living index: 178 (78 percent higher than the national average)
3. San Francisco
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the iconic cable cars, San Francisco is one of America’s most beloved cities. Those looking for a bustling urban environment, top-notch restaurants, and a thriving job market will find it in San Francisco. San Francisco regularly makes “best of” lists, particularly for being such a cultural, culinary, and artistic hub. It has an excellent education system, a high-functioning transportation infrastructure, a stable housing market, and great weather.
San Francisco also gets high marks for its vibrant, historically significant neighborhoods, bohemian and trendsetting lifestyle, and world-changing technology. Despite the sky-high real estate prices, San Francisco is beloved by its residents and revered internationally for its world-class museums, family-friendly activities, award-winning restaurants, and impactful strides in the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Population: 815, 201
Median household income: $119,136
Median listing home price: $1,300,000
Median rent: $4,050
Cost of living index: 203 (103 percent higher than the national average)
Sunnyvale is located in the Santa Clara Valley, along the historic El Camino Real and Highway 101. The cities of San Jose, Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino, and Santa Clara are all neighbors of it. And despite its suburban feel, the city has excellent restaurants, active nightlife, and lots of outdoor activities.
Since Sunnyvale is a big part of Silicon Valley, many reputable technology companies are headquartered there. The city is considered the birthplace of the video game industry, too. High-paying jobs abound. LinkedIn, Yahoo, Amazon, Target, Deloitte, Apple, Microsoft, Comcast, and Google are just a few of the household names that have offices in Sunnyvale. So, if you like laid-back, tech-forward culture, Sunnyvale is for you!
Median household income: $150,464
Median listing home price: $1,650,000
Median rent: $3,700
Cost of living index: 204 (104 percent higher than the national average)
Torrance’s coastal community covers roughly 21 square miles in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Torrance has a lot going for it: 30 parks, 1.5 miles of beach on the Pacific Ocean, over 400 eateries, and approximately 212 acres of green space. Plus, LAX is only 15 minutes away. And Torrance’s Del Amo Fashion Center is one of the five largest malls in the United States at 2.5 million square feet.
Torrance is also home to the U.S. headquarters of Japanese automaker, American Honda Motor Company, and its luxury vehicle division, Acura. Robinson Helicopters, Honeywell, and King’s Hawaiian Bread Company are other large employers in Torrance. The sustainable and enriching environment assures a high quality of life for those who call it home.
Median household income: $94,781
Median listing home price: $999,000
Median rent: $3,750
Cost of living index: 169 (69 percent higher than the national average)
6. Santa Clara
Santa Clara, or “The Mission City,” is located 45 miles south of San Francisco. Santa Clara was first a Spanish mission that was established in 1977 and dedicated to Saint Clare de Asis. Santa Clara is in the heart of Silicon Valley. Therefore, many high-tech corporations make their home there, including Applied Materials, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle, and Ericsson. It is perfect for those who want a career in tech, young families, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Moreover, the city is also home to Santa Clara University, Mission College, California’s Great America Theme Park, and Levi’s Stadium. Other notable attractions are the Triton Museum of Art, Central Park, and the Ulistac Natural Area which is dedicated to the preservation of native Californian vegetation and wildlife. The nature preserve has several distinct natural habitats, including grassland, coastal scrub, savannah, riparian woodland, and wetlands.
Median household income: $136,870
Median listing home price: $1,410,000
Median rent: $3,610
Cost of living index: 190 (90 percent higher than the national average)
Carlsbad is a coastal city in the scenic North County region. It is 87 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles and 35 miles north of Downtown San Diego. Often referred to as “The Village by the Sea,” Carlsbad was named after a famous spa in Karlsbad, where the water was found to have similar mineral content.
The Californian city is home to several renowned beaches, like Tamarack Surf Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach. It also houses several breweries, world-class resorts, shopping malls, golf courses, dining destinations, and more. LEGOLAND and the adjacent SEA LIFE Aquarium are also located in Carlsbad. Outdoor activities include The Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, which is in a canyon and features free-roaming peacocks, and The Flower Fields of Carlsbad Ranch, with its 50 acres of blooming flowers every spring.
Median household income: $112,933
Median listing home price: $1,500,000
Median rent: $5,500
Cost of living index: 175 (75 percent higher than the national average)
Founded in 1886, Pasadena is the second-oldest city in the Los Angeles area. These days, it’s home to many scientific, educational, and cultural institutions, including Caltech, Pasadena City College, and ArtCenter College of Design. You’ll also find the Pasadena Playhouse, Ambassador Auditorium, Norton Simon Museum, and USC Pacific Asia Museum in the area. When it’s time to work, residents look to Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Huntington Memorial Hospital, and Kaiser Permanente.
Searching for a fun afternoon? Old Town Pasadena spans 21 blocks downtown. It boasts many shops and a wide variety of restaurants, nightclubs, and outdoor cafes. There’s also a plethora of events in the city, like the Tournament of Roses Parade and The Rose Bowl, which is one of the first and most famous post-season college football games.
Median household income: $85,129
Median listing home price: $1,200,000
Median rent: $3,800
Cost of living index: 168 (68 percent higher than the national average)
9. Thousand Oaks
Named after its thousands of oak trees, Thousand Oaks is located in the northwestern part of Greater Los Angeles, approximately 15 miles from the city of Los Angeles. It’s not an extension of LA, though. It is its own city — a quiet, upscale community with lots of green space and two lakes. Thousand Oaks’ location in the Conejo Valley also gives residents easy access to Malibu Springs, Point Mugu State Park, and Satwiwa Native American Indian Natural Area.
Agriculture was the dominant industry in Thousand Oaks, but a number of tech companies have since dominated the employment statistics. For this reason, there are plenty of jobs in the biotech, electronics, automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, healthcare, and financing industries. Amgen, Teledyne Technologies, and Skyworks Solutions have headquarters in Thousand Oaks. Not to mention, Bank of America, Verizon, Volkswagen, Audi, General Motors, BMW, and Anthem Blue Cross have regional offices in the city.
Population: 125, 754
Median household income: $108,377
Median listing home price: $1,100,000
Median rent: $4,900
Cost of living index: 171 (71 percent higher than the national average)
10. San Diego
With its warm climate, outstanding restaurants, and surfable beaches, San Diego is without a doubt one of the best coastal cities to call home in California. It is also the second largest city, right after Los Angeles. Since San Diego has a wide range of outdoor activities, distinct neighborhoods, and a healthy job market, the city is also one of the happiest in America. Add to that a stable housing market, and you’ve got a slice of paradise.
There’s more to this Southern California beach city than its sandy shores. One of the most unique features of San Diego is that it seamlessly combines beach, urban, and suburban environments into one beautiful place that’s full of adventure. And don’t forget to check out Balboa Park and its several museums, the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Old Town — all of which are huge draws to the city every year.
Population: 1,381, 611
Median household income: $83,454
Median listing home price: $939,900
Median rent: $4,400
Cost of living index: 150 (50 percent higher than the national average)
Burbank is located at the southeastern end of the San Fernando Valley. Situated about 12 miles northwest of Downtown Los Angeles, it is often referred to as the “Media Capital of the World” because of its close proximity to Hollywood. Plus, tons of major media and entertainment companies are headquartered in or have significant production facilities in Burbank. These include Warner Bros. Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and more.
It is the ideal destination to experience the sunny, laid-back lifestyle Southern California is known for. Though, it does come with a high price tag. Yet, it might be worth it for the seemingly endless shopping opportunities, dining options, and nature adventures that await both inside and outside of Burbank. You can hike, bike, ride a horse, or golf in a scenic setting. Or, you can go for movie tours, show tapings, and Hollywood-related theme parks. See what we mean? Burbank is as diverse as it is unique!
Median household income: $79,212
Median listing home price: $1,180,000
Median rent: $3,890
Cost of living index: 163 (63 percent higher than the national average)
12. Costa Mesa
The 16-square-mile Costa Mesa is known as the “City of the Arts,” earning its nickname by being a premier cultural and business center in the heart of Orange County. Shopping, dining, and entertainment options are everywhere, with Michelin-star restaurants, the luxury shopping mecca of the South Coast Plaza, and numerous recreational options in the city’s green spaces.
You can also catch Broadway productions and concerts at the famous Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the Orange County Performing Arts Cente, or the South Coast Repertory Theater. Another big draw of Costa Mesa is that several top-rated beaches are minutes away. Both Los Angeles and San Diego aren’t far, either. When considering a move to Costa Mesa, think of an eco-friendly, luxurious, and fitness-based lifestyle with access to internationally acclaimed amenities.
Median household income: $90,370
Median listing home price: $1,230,000
Median rent: $4,600
Cost of living index: 165 (65 percent higher than the national average)
Roseville, the largest city in Placer County, is located within the Sacramento Metropolitan Area. The cost of living in Roseville is even eight percent lower than the cost of living in California. When you live in Roseville, you can enjoy its mild Mediterranean climate, which is ideal for year-round outdoor activities. Good thing that Roseville has more than 80 parks and recreational facilities! Better yet, Yosemite is only four hours away, and San Francisco and Lake Tahoe are fun and quick trips for many.
Other perks of Roseville include its affordable, community-owned utilities, city-run municipal services (e.g., police and fire departments, transit, parks, and libraries), and pro-business mentality. Roseville ranks on many best lists for startups and working remotely. Locally, the largest employers are Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Sutter Roseville Medical Center, and Union Pacific Railroad.
Median household income: $95,519
Median listing home price: $698,000
Median rent: $2,900
Cost of living index: 132 (32 percent higher than the national average)
14. San Jose
Often called the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is known for its sprawling tech campuses. Just like the nearby Mountain View and Cupertino, San Jose has a solid infrastructure to support this tech hub and is filled with suburban neighborhoods. When it’s time to play, Santana Row in West San Jose is a destination for boutique shopping, while the SAP Center and PayPal Park host hockey and soccer games for the local teams.
San Jose also lucked out in terms of its location. The foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range surround it, and the Sierra Nevada is close by. The Santa Cruz beaches are a 45-minute drive. And Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe are only several hours away. Unfortunately, the cost of living in San Jose is one of the highest in the nation. Not just housing but everyday necessities also cost more. But if you can afford it, San Jose is definitely one of the top cities to live in California.
Population: 983, 489
Median household income: $117,324
Median listing home price: $1,300,000
Median rent: $3,800
Cost of living index: 179 (79 percent higher than the national average)
Glendale is a very desired locale in the San Fernando Valley and Verdugo Mountain regions of Los Angeles County. It is a suburb in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area that actually sits 10 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles. The city is also known for its vast amounts of office space — over six million, to be exact — and is home to such giants as Walt Disney Imagineering, ServiceTitan, IHOP/Applebee’s, DreamWorks, LegalZoom, and Public Storage.
Residents love Glendale’s well-maintained streets and variety of transportation services, as well. It’s easy to commute to and out of — thanks to the close proximity of LAX and four major freeways. What’s more, Glendale has outstanding schools, state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, and growing restaurant and entertainment options.
Median household income: $70,596
Median listing home price: $1,100,000
Median rent: $4,000
Cost of living index: 166 (66 percent higher than the national average)
Temecula is a tourist and resort destination in Riverside County. Although Temecula is geographically closer to Downtown San Diego, it is considered part of the Greater Los Angeles Area. The main attractions are the Temecula Valley Wine Country, the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, the Temecula Valley International Film Festival, and Old Town Temecula. Because of these popular activities, people in Temecula experience the best in life and enjoy wine tasting, hiking, hot-air ballooning, and sampling hyper-local cuisine.
Moreover, the Wine Country features more than 2,460 acres of producing vineyards and nearly 50 wineries. Golf is big here, too, with a golf course being part of every resort. Besides tourism, the educational, leisure, professional, finance, and retail sectors contribute to the city’s economy. In a nutshell, Temecula has some of the best features California has to offer, like a great climate, good schools, and close proximity to entertainment and tech hubs.
Median household income: $98,631
Median listing home price: $753,450
Median rent: $3,350
Cost of living index: 133 (33 percent higher than the national average)
17. Long Beach
Long Beach (known as the “LBC” by the locals) is a fun waterfront town located approximately 20 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles. The Port of Long Beach is among the world’s largest shipping ports, but the city itself has a small-town feel with bike-friendly streets, family-friendly attractions, and funky stores. Long Beach also hosts the Grand Prix of Long Beach and an IndyCar race. Plus, the city’s biggest waterfront attractions are the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Just like with many waterfront cities, recreation is tied to water and entertainment. Long Beach is no exception with its whale watching, sailing, family-friendly beaches, busy marinas, and beach-town vibe. So, if your idea of perfect living includes excitement and relaxation on the beach with all the amenities of a prosperous waterfront city, Long Beach is it!
Median household income: $66,410
Median listing home price: $799,000
Median rent: $2,810
Cost of living index: 139 (39 percent higher than the national average)
Orange, which is located approximately 32 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is a great place to live and work. Its historic charm and small-town feel also come with top-rated hospitals, good schools, and over 20 parks.
Interestingly enough, Orange’s history dates back to 1869. It started as a one-square-mile town with a 10-acre farm filled with orange groves, hence its name. The center of the town became known as Plaza. Believe it or not, it is still well preserved and serves as a gathering place for both locals and visitors. Similarly, Old Towne Orange contains the largest Nationally Registered Historic District in California and is filled with antique stores, specialty shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
Median household income: $96,605
Median listing home price: $992,500
Median rent: $3,800
Cost of living index: 156 (56 percent higher than the national average)
The California capital is more affordable than most California metro areas, yet it still provides a high quality of living. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s located only a few hours away from Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma. Sacramento’s relative affordability, robust job market, and a wide array of outdoor recreation have led to its significant population growth, helmed by young professionals and families. Because of this passionate population, there’s a strong sense of community, plethora of annual events, top-notch breweries and wineries, and an abundance of farm-to-table restaurants.
Despite being an inland city, Sacramento is brimming with outdoor recreation opportunities. There are 223 parks and parkways, totaling nearly 4,255.5 acres of land. Then, there are rivers and foothills to explore. Take Folsom Lake, for instance. It is great for swimming and waterskiing. So, if most of the places on this list seem too pricey, consider Sacramento’s affordability in comparison to our other selections.
Median household income: $65,847
Median listing home price: $499,000
Median rent: $2,000
Cost of living index: 118 (18 percent higher than the national average)
Oakland may offer less in terms of excitement and fewer amenities than nearby San Francisco, but it’s way more affordable than most of the Bay Area. It’s also environmentally conscious, can be navigated without a car (walk, bike, or use reliable public transit instead), and is incredibly diverse and family-friendly.
Located on the east side of San Francisco Bay, Oakland features such attractions as the Old Oakland area with restored Victorian architecture, as well as Chinatown, the Oakland Museum of California, and the Fox and Paramount theaters. And there are a ton of restaurants, bars, and galleries to explore. In short, Oakland is a great place to live for many reasons, including its relative affordability, diversity, and more.
Median household income: $80,143
Median listing home price: $789,000
Median rent: $2,400
Cost of living index: 156 (56 percent higher than the national average)
Ready to Move to One of These Cities?
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