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Cheapest, Most Affordable Places To Live And Buy A House In California

Katie Ziraldo5-minute read
August 17, 2021

As the third most expensive state to live in the country, moving to California is no easy feat. Whether you’re most interested in the cultural center of San Francisco or the entertainment hub of Los Angeles, those with a tight budget will likely struggle to find affordable housing in the best places to live in California.

But this state is also the third largest state in the U.S. Why does that matter? With large space comes large variety, including variety in affordability. So while some areas in California may be best suited for those with a hefty budget, there are still several cities and towns in this state that can be affordable if you play your cards right.

In this article, we’ll explore the most affordable places to live in California in 2021 and what you need to know if you’re considering relocating to the Golden State.

Most Affordable Places To Live In California

Knowing that California is historically an expensive place to live, the importance of proper research and planning prior to your move cannot be understated. This includes research into the current real estate market.

Understanding buyer’s and seller’s markets and the potential obstacles they may create is crucial, as this will dramatically impact the true cost of buying a house in any given area. Because of this, we recommend doing your own calculations to determine your specific cost of living, based on your financial situation and the current market.

Still, there are a handful of cities where you can start your search. To determine the most affordable cities in California, we leveraged cost of living index data from BestPlaces.net, which analyzes and accounts for the price of food, housing, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services across 383 metropolitan areas. This data was cross-referenced with the median home price in each location to determine the most affordable places to live and purchase a home.

Northern California

Affectionately referred to as NorCal, Northern California is known for everything from redwood trees to pristine ocean shorelines. With a wide variety of parks and attractions to appeal to any type of tourist, this region is a popular travel destination.

But if you’re looking for a more permanent stay, consider the following as a few of the most affordable options.

Eureka

Eureka, California

Located near the northern end of California, Eureka is the biggest coastal city between the cultural hubs of San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, and it’s therefore a popular choice for anyone looking to live near the water. Stepping away from the coast, the city center known as “Old Town” offers a unique historic district filled with buildings from the Victorian era.

Chico

Chico, California

Home to a large campus of the California State University, often referred to simply as Chico State University, Chico is a college town known for outdoor recreation, restaurants and the second-largest craft brewery in the country. Just shy of two hours north of Sacramento, Chico is particularly appealing for those looking for cooler year-round weather.

Southern California

Home of Hollywood, theme parks, iconic beaches and more, there’s no question that there’s something for everyone in Southern California. SoCal is home to several of the largest cities in the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, but there are also affordable cities available in the area.

Oxnard

Oxnard, California

With over 20 miles of coastline, Oxnard is the quintessential coastal town, known for offering more affordable beachfront living. Only about an hour from Los Angeles and 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, this city also boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the state, making this the ideal spot for families.

El Centro

El Centro, California

Surrounded by desert and known for dry, hot temperatures reaching 90 degrees for more than half of the year, El Centro is only 12 miles north of the Mexican border. The cost of living here is 7.9% lower than the U.S. average – making this one of the most affordable cities in the state – and it is also considered the center of one of California’s most promising commercial and industrial regions.

Bay Area

The Bay Area refers to the cities and towns directly surrounding San Francisco. This section of California is considered one of the most expensive to live in, but the area is also incredibly popular, in part because of the booming technology industry in the city. Plentiful job opportunities make this a valid region to look at – especially if you consider the following cities.

Vallejo

Vallejo, California

Considered one of the most desirable commuter communities near San Francisco, Vallejo was once a navy town which has seen consistent growth and development in recent years due to Bay Area crowding. The city is home to several attractions, including Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, which is one part amusement park, one part aquarium and one part zoo.

Fairfield

Fairfield, California

Formerly a military town, Fairfield’s economy has seen growth in recent years. This is primarily due to the commercial and industrial companies that have spread here from the Bay, which has led to consistent income and employment. Although Fairfield itself lacks in the entertainment category, the suburb is only an hour from San Francisco.

Greater Sacramento

Surrounding the state capital, the Greater Sacramento area spreads across the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada regions. Sometimes referred to as the country’s “Farm-to-Fork” capital, Sacramento is known for its legendary produce and world-class restaurants.

But if Sacramento itself doesn’t fit your budget, be sure to consider its surrounding cities.

Newcastle

Newcastle, California

In the heart of metro-Sacramento, Newcastle is considered one of the best suburbs to buy a house in California, with home appreciation up 7.7% in the last year. The economy here is also on the rise, with positive recent job growth and an unemployment rate below the national average.

Yuba City

Yuba City, California

If you’re looking to capitalize on small town charm while remaining close to the cultural attractions housed in big cities, Yuba City could be a good fit for you, as it sits only about 45 minutes from Sacramento. But Yuba itself also offers its own appeal, with a historic downtown entertainment district and a wide range of outdoor recreation options.

Central California

Located between Northern and Southern California, the central region of the state is considered one of the most affordable overall, likely due to its smaller cities and more suburban atmosphere. It goes without saying that being centralized in California has its appeal. By definition, being more centrally located means easier access to attractions located to the north and south.

Let’s take a look at some of the most affordable cities in this region.

Fresno

Fresno, California

With a cost of living close to the national average, a population growing consistently over the last decade and future job growth over the next 10 years predicted at 32.9%, the moderately sized city of Fresno is another viable option to consider. This is particularly true if you want to be centralized in the state, as it sits near the geographical center of California.

Bakersfield

Bakersfield, California

Conveniently located on the main route from SoCal to NorCal, Bakersfield is an incredibly affordable option for California living despite being one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Although the cost of living here is 2.6% higher than the national average, it’s still 31.6% cheaper than the California average, with the most expensive factor here being the cost of utilities.  

The Bottom Line

From beaches to state parks to theme parks, the state of California has a lot to offer. With so much state to consider, choosing a city or town to settle down in is not an easy task – especially when you consider the high cost of living associated with many of the most well-known locations across the Golden State.

But don’t think this means affordable living is impossible to find in California. By doing your research, you may still be able to find a town that’s both affordable and attainable. For more expert advice, we recommend speaking with a real estate agent located in the area you’re considering.

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Katie Ziraldo

Katie Ziraldo found her love of writing through her experience working with various newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press. Her financial literacy stems from her four years as a Recruiter, when she learned the details of every role in the mortgage process. As a writer, she uses that knowledge to create relevant content for homeowners to help them reach their goals.