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Best Places To Live In California

Holly Shuffett15-Minute Read
UPDATED: August 19, 2023

The pandemic forced many Americans to start looking for more space and better opportunities. Some jobs were eliminated, while others required a home office or designated teaching space. Low inventory and mortgage interest rates created a competitive market frenzy for homes in California

Deciding where to live can be exhausting, but we’re here to help make it easier. If you’re considering a new start in the Golden State, we’ve pulled together a list of the best places to live in California. 

Table Of Contents

    Where Is The Best Place To Live In California?

    Like most things that come with owning a home, the best place to live in California is subjective. As the third largest state in the U.S. California has a lot to offer in the way of experiences and lifestyles, all of which are subject to personal taste. 

    Whether you prefer nightlife or peaceful ocean views can influence which Californian city is the best fit for you, but regardless, you can be sure that warm weather, easy access to nature, and a unique job market are all staples you’ll find throughout all of California. 

    Best Cities To Live in California

    If you’re looking for adventure or a full social calendar, then city life might be just what you need. These are our picks for the three best cities to live in California ranked by population.

    Los Angeles 

    View of Los Angeles with palm trees.
    • Population: 3,985,516 
    • Median household income: $96,416 
    • Median home sale price: $935,640 
    • Median gross rent: $1,450

    You may know Los Angeles as the American hub of filmmaking and television magic, but LA is more than that – it’s a city that’s constantly changing and evolving. Los Angeles is currently preparing to host the 2028 Summer Olympic Games by expanding its public transit system in hopes of decreasing commute times and street congestion. 

    But one thing about LA that stays the same: its incredible energy. There is never a shortage of things to do or see. From 50 miles of Griffith Park’s gorgeous nature trails to the trendy food scene and shopping centers, the city of angels has plenty to offer. 

    Although, you should be prepared to spend a bit more to live, work, and play as the cost of living exceeds the national average. But with the fifth-largest economy in the world, there is bound to be an opportunity for you. 

    Check out homes for sale in Los Angeles or explore Los Angeles real estate trends

    San Diego  

    Looking down a street next to a beach in San Diego.
    • Population: 1,429,653  
    • Median household income: $108,864 
    • Median home sale price: $787,009 
    • Median gross rent: $1,695

    When you look for the best places to live in California, San Diego will inevitably rank near the top. Home to the second-largest naval base in the country, San Diego has a large population of active-duty military personnel, government employees and veterans. 

    If culture is what you’re after, there is no shortage of sights to see. Balboa Park brings science, nature, and history to life with a mix of museums, playgrounds and of course, the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

    San Diegans love to eat, and it’s clear with their variety of food in the Gaslamp Quarter. This eclectic entertainment district features restaurants and nightlife that will keep you coming back for more. 

    In November 2020, the San Diego city council approved the development of 4,300 new homes in West Mission Valley in hopes of providing more affordable housing options. Low unemployment, high average salaries and shorter commute times are all key ingredients that make San Diego an ideal place to call home. 

    Check out homes for sale in San Diego or explore San Diego real estate trends

    San Francisco 

    San Fransisco seen through the Golden Gate bridge.
    • Population: 873,965   
    • Median household income: $160,396 
    • Median home sale price: $1,188,000
    • Median gross rent: $1,895

    If you’re looking to live in a culturally rich, diverse, vibrant city, San Francisco is it. Whether you’re interested in art, history, tech, music, food, coffee, nightlife or the outdoors, you’ll never be bored in San Francisco. 

    Also coined one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the country, San Francisco is steeped in history as an epicenter of the LGBTQAI+ civil rights movement. 

    However, it’s hard to talk about the livability of the crown jewel of the Bay Area without acknowledging its steep cost of living. Due in part to strict zoning laws, the area’s limited housing supply has caused home prices to skyrocket over the years while developers have a difficult time building new, affordable housing. 

    And though San Francisco natives typically earn higher wages than the state average, their money just doesn’t stretch as far as it might elsewhere. Because of this, most of the city’s residents are renters rather than owners. Though pricey, San Francisco is still heralded as a highly desirable place to live with lots to offer.

    Check out homes for sale in San Francisco or explore San Francisco real estate trends

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    Best Places To Live In Northern California

    Northern California is known for its state parks with breathtaking unmatched coastal views. When you’re ready to “wine” down, visit one of the 40+ wineries for a bite to eat and a nightcap. Here are our top three best cities to live in in Northern California. 

    San Jose

    Above street view of San Jose.
    • Population: 1,003,120 
    • Median household income: $142,635
    • Median home sale price: $1,251,159
    • Median gross rent: $2,107 

    Dubbed the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” San Jose is a diverse city with endless opportunities. The city is a popular spot for high-earning tech workers, and even if you aren’t one yourself, expect to meet quite a few in the industry. San Jose residents love their city and everything it has to offer. 

    Enjoy the lively nightlife, play life-size Monopoly in Discovery Meadow, check out a live theatrical performance, or spend the day exploring the San Jose Flea Market – California’s largest open-air market. 

    Check out homes for sale in San Jose or explore San Jose real estate trends.


    Wide view of Sacramento and bridge.
    • Population: 531,285   
    • Median household income: $83,189 
    • Median home sale price: $336,900
    • Median gross rent: $1,263

    The capital city of California is home to lots of down-to-earth, fitness-minded, outdoors-loving people. It’s also a touch more affordable than most of California’s other major cities, making it an attractive option for those who are looking to keep their cost of living manageable. 

    Whether it’s enjoying a stroll in the park, hitting up one of the city’s many farmers markets or checking out a local band, Sacramentans really go with the flow and enjoy easy living. 

    Check out homes for sale in Sacramento or explore Sacramento real estate trends


    View of Oakland, California above the waterline.
    • Population: 444,956
    • Median household income: $108,297
    • Median home sale price: $986,576
    • Median gross rent: $1,445 

    Just across the Bay from San Francisco sits Oakland, a beautiful and culturally rich city that’s bursting with art, music, incredible food, nature, history and activism. Oakland is an incredibly diverse city, and its residents are very proud of their hometown.

    Nature lovers can spend their weekends boating or birdwatching around Lake Merritt, the city’s beautiful lagoon, or hiking in Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park. Foodies can eat their way around the city’s robust dining scene, sampling cuisines from cultures around the world. Sports fans and families will have a blast during baseball season at Oakland A’s games.

    Check out homes for sale in Oakland or explore Oakland real estate trends.

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    Best Places To Live In Southern California

    Southern California, also lovingly known as SoCal, is best known for its weather and scenic beauty. Here are our top three cities to live in to experience SoCal’s scenic beauty.


    Building in Anaheim California with palm trees.
    • Population: 349,366 
    • Median household income: $92,330
    • Median home sale price: $771,000
    • Median gross rent: $1,651 

    Though Anaheim is best known for being home to Disneyland, this popular tourist destination is also a great place to live. With stunning views, a bustling local economy, and an endless supply of things to do Anaheim has plenty to offer its residents.

    Anaheim’s central location makes for easy beachfront access for those wanting to make the most of California’s sunshine, and the historic Anaheim Packing District offers plenty of diverse local vendors and bars that are sure to satisfy the foodie in all of us. 

    Check out homes for sale in Anaheim or explore Anaheim real estate trends.

    Santa Monica

    Santa Monica Pier.
    • Population: 88,286
    • Median household income: $149,429
    • Median home sale price: $1,550,000
    • Median gross rent: $1,802 
    Located on the westside of Los Angeles County, Santa Monica is home to the iconic Santa Monica Pier and the open-air shopping center, Third Street Promenade. Both nature lovers and business moguls are sure to find something to love about Santa Monica, with its cutting-edge business amenities and sophisticated conference centers to the Santa Monica Farmers Market and Tongva Park, which features seven-acres of abundant flora complete with walking paths and Pacific views. Check out homes for sale in Santa Monica or explore Santa Monica real estate trends. Newport Beach
    Newport Beach California at sunrise.
    • Population: 82,914
    • Median household income: $214,047
    • Median home sale price: $2,824,538
    • Median gross rent: $2,251 
    With its 8-mile stretch of stunning coastal views, it’s no surprise that Newport Beach served as the idyllic backdrop for the hit teen drama “The O.C.”  Set in the heart of Orange County, Newport Beach has plenty of beachfront experiences -  paddleboarding, kayaking and sailing are no stranger to locals. Not to mention, access to bustling piers and high-end shopping and dining experiences. Check out homes for sale in Newport Beach or explore Newport Beach real estate trends.

    Criteria For Choosing The Best Place For You To Live Next

    No one area can completely satisfy the desires of each of its residents. For this list we tried to take a holistic look at each locality, consider its cultural and entertainment offerings, its job market, the strength of its education system, and a variety of different socioeconomic factors. 

    How can you best evaluate whether an area would be a good fit for you, personally? Here are some things to consider. 

    Cost Of Living 

    Housing costs are a big part of the cost of living, but they aren’t the only factor. In cities with a high cost of living, it’s not just rent or home prices that can strain your wallet. In Los Angeles, for example, you’ll likely pay more for something as simple as a gallon of milk than you would in say, a small town in Iowa. 

    However, areas with high costs of living tend to offer higher-than-average salaries to balance it out. Try using our home affordability calculator to see just how much house you can afford before making a big move. 

    Job Market 

    The pandemic turned the typical 9-to-5 on its head, and many looking to move may be working remotely as part of a new norm. The good news is that this can mean more freedom when it comes to exploring new places. 

    If you’re moving to a new city with a job offer already in hand you may not consider this as much, but an area’s employment prospects are an integral part of what makes it a good place to live or not. Be sure to take a look at the job opportunities in a city as well as its unemployment rate, poverty rate, and its median income to get a better idea of whether you’ll be able to thrive or barely survive in a prospective city. 

    Crime Rate 

    It’s important to have a sense of security surrounding your personal and property safety, which is why researching a city’s crime rate can be helpful in determining how much you’ll like living there.

    Keep in mind, however, that simply looking at an area’s crime rate without any context doesn’t necessarily give you a full picture of how safe an area is. For example, while many cities have higher-than-average crime rates, crime is typically concentrated in certain areas, meaning the majority of a city’s residents might rarely, if ever, encounter crime. 

    Public Education 

    If you have school-age kids, or plan to in the future, the quality of the school district is going to be important to you. A great school system will have a high graduation rate and a network of resources to support it.

    Even those who don’t have kids should still consider moving to an area with good quality local schools. Good schools tend to correlate with strong home values, so if you’re planning to buy your home rather than rent, buying in an area with a good school district can help ensure your home holds its value and remains marketable when it comes time to sell. 

    The Bottom Line: California Offers Something For Everyone

    If you’re considering moving to California, you’ll find a variety of wonderful locales that are great to settle down in. Our list is by no means exhaustive, and there are many other cities, towns, and villages in this large state that make for great places to live. When deciding where you want to live, make sure that it’s not just “best,” but “best for you.” 

    If you feel ready to take the next step toward buying your California dream home, apply for preapproval today. 

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    Statistic Sources

    Statistics for each city were pulled from several reliable sources. These are accurate as of April 4, 2022. 

    Cities sourced from World Population Review 

    • Los Angeles population, median household income, median gross rent
    • San Diego population, median household income, median gross rent
    • San Francisco population, median household income, median gross rent
    • San Jose population, median household income, median gross rent
    • Sacramento population, median household income, median home sale price, median gross rent
    • Oakland population, median household income, median gross rent
    • Anaheim population, median household income, median gross rent
    • Santa Monica population, median household income, median gross rent
    • Newport Beach population, median household income, median gross rent

    Cities Sourced from Rocket Homes

    Holly Shuffett

    Holly Shuffett is a staff writer who writes with a focus on homeownership and personal finance. She has a B.A. in public relations from Oakland University and enjoys creative writing and reading in her free time.