Best Places to Live in California

The PropertyClub Team
Oct 6th 2020
There are plenty of incredible places to live in California. Here are some of the best cities in the golden state, from Northern California's tech hubs to Southern California's glamorous areas preferred by Hollywood royalty.

California is the most populated state in America, and for good reason. It features incredible weather, palm trees, and opportunities you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a large state that’s incredibly diverse, and each city in the country has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here is a look at California's best cities to live in based on the quality of life and access to opportunity.

The Best Cities To Live In Southern California

Southern California is known for its pleasant climate, and incredible beaches, as well as for being home to Hollywood and the center of the movie business. Here are some of the best places to live in Southern California.   

San Diego

Population: 1.43M

Median Income: $79,646

Median Property Value: $654,700 

San Diego is the second-largest city in California, and it’s also one of the state’s most popular destinations. San Diego is sometimes overshadowed by Los Angeles and San Francisco, but it has a lot to offer residents who want mild weather, beaches, and great job opportunities. It’s one of America's healthiest places and relatively affordable for a major city in California. It’s the oldest city in California and has a rich history as the birthplace of the state. The Navy operates the largest naval fleet in the world out of San Diego. The presence of the military largely influences the economy of the city. San Diego is a fun coastal city with a high quality of life and plenty to do. It’s a great city for young families and working professionals. 

Los Angeles

Population: 3.99M

Media Income: $62,474

Median Property Value: $682,400

Los Angeles needs no introduction. It’s a sprawling city of interconnected neighborhoods in Southern California that is home to the Lakers and Hollywood. Los Angeles features some of the best shopping and entertainment options in the world, plus a unique local culture that is difficult to define. It’s a hub for show business, but it has a diverse economy and is the second-largest contributor to GDP in America, after New York City. Los Angeles is a truly one of a kind city, which is why it’s the largest in the state. However, it does feature a high cost of living and social issues like crime and homelessness. Like any major city, Los Angeles has major strengths and also major weaknesses. It’s great for ambitious young professionals who are hungry for opportunity. It also features plenty of great suburbs for families and retirees. But it’s not for everyone, and the quality of life in the city is radically different depending on where you live.  

Irvine 

Population: 282,584 

Median Income: $101,667 

Median Property Value: $843,600

Irvine is the nation’s largest planned community and encompasses more than 65 miles of territory in Orange County. Irvine is a sought-after suburb that features lower property values than other surrounding neighborhoods. It’s known for being a hub for higher education - UC Irvine, Pepperdine, and USC all have campuses in the city. Irvine is a clean, quiet city with great weather and a high quality of life. It’s an amazing city for families or students of all levels working toward a degree. It doesn’t offer as much unique culture as other California cities, but it does offer a relaxed pace of life, great weather, and access to opportunity 

The Best Cities To Live In Northern California

Northern California is well known for its natural beauty, world-class vineyards, and as a global center of the tech industry. Here are some of the best places to live in Northern California. 

San Francisco

Population: 883,305

Median Income: $112,376 

Median Property Value: $1.2M

San Francisco is the cultural epicenter of Northern California, and it’s considered by many to be the crown jewel of the state. It has a robust job market, especially for those in the tech industry, with Silicon Valley providing a wealth of opportunity nearby in San Jose. In addition to economic opportunity, the city has a vibrant local culture that features world-class restaurants and entertainment options. It’s certainly not the most affordable city in California, but it does feature some of the world's highest salaries and disposable incomes. It’s hard not to fall in love with San Francisco, and if you can find good job opportunities, the high cost of living is a small price to pay to live in this great American city. 

Sacramento

Population: 508,517 

Median Income: $65,046

Median Property Value: $358,300

Sacramento is the capital of California and the sixth-largest city in the state as well as being one of the most affordable places to live in California. Sacramento is often forgotten when discussing major California cities, but it offers a stable economy and a low cost of living, with all the benefits of Northern California life. It’s considerably cheaper than anything you’ll find in the Bay area but offers a similar climate and a unique local culture. In 2002, Harvard University named Sacramento the most diverse city in America, and it’s also been called the most “hipster city in California.” Those who want a quirky, affordable city with a strong job market will love Sacramento. It’s the fastest-growing major city in California and features a healthy economy supported by government, healthcare, and education. 

San Jose 

Population: 1.03M 

Median Income: $113,036 

Median Property Value: $968,500

San Jose is the third most populated city in California, and it’s located on the Southern shore of the San Francisco Bay. It’s the center of Silicon Valley and serves as the epicenter of America's technology sector. It’s become known as a center for innovation and affluence. Those who work in tech will find the highest abundance of opportunities in America -eBay, Adobe, PayPal, Broadcom, HP, and Zoom are just a few of the major tech companies headquartered in the city. Those who are not in tech may feel a bit left out of the party and find the cost of living too high. But those who work in the field should seriously consider making a move to San Jose. 

Oakland

Population: 429,114 

Median Income: $76,469 

Median Property: $717,700

Oakland is a city on the East Side of San Francisco Bay. The city offers residents a semi-urban ambiance with a low cost of living compared to other cities on the Bay. It has a strong economy supported by the Port of Oakland, as well as education, tech, and healthcare. It’s an ethnically diverse area with a unique local culture. Residents love Oakland for its easy access to popular urban centers like San Francisco and San Jose. But it’s not nearly as expensive. It’s a great city for your families and professionals looking for access to opportunity without being forced to pay exorbitant rents. 

Salinas

Population: 156,500 

Median Income: $58,598

Median Property Value: $378,000

Salinas is a city in Monterrey, California, that is known for its sweeping vineyards and breathtaking flora. It’s a major agricultural center and is known affectionally as the “salad bowl of the world” for being a major producer of vegetables. John Steinbeck was from Salinas, and many of his stories take place in the region. Salinas has the classic pastoral beauty for which California is known. It has more of a rural-suburban feel than dense or urban, and it’s a great area for those who want a calm pace of life and affordability. It’s perfect for families and retirees who want a mild climate and low crime rate. Much of the local economy is centered around agriculture. It’s also the center of the emerging AgTech industry – or technology-centered around agriculture. It’s not as bustling or culturally diverse as some of the other cities on this list, but it’s a great area for those who want to live in comfort. 

The Best Places to Live in Central California

The major population centers in Central California comprise of cities along California's central coast as well as the inland empire region. Here are some of the best places to live in Central California.  

Fresno 

Population: 530,073

Median Income: $49,813 

Median Property Vale: $257,200 

Fresno is a mid-sized city in the center of the San Juaquin Valley. Fresno is positioned in the center of the state, with Los Angeles 220 miles to the south and Sacramento 185 miles to the north, offering residents the best of both worlds. Fresno is also close to several major parks including, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Park. Fresno is a laid-back city that offers affordable living and a suburban ambiance. It’s great for nature lovers and those who enjoy the outdoors. It’s the agriculture industry's economic center in San Joaquin Valley and offers a stable job market. It’s not the most glamorous city on this list, but it offers great weather, a stable economy, and friendly residents. 

Santa Barbara

Population: 446,527 

Median Income: $77,472

Median Property Value: $629,400

Santa Barbara is a picturesque beach town about two hours outside of Los Angeles. It’s a popular tourist destination because it’s a city that is emblematic of life in Southern California. It’s known for pristine beaches, beautiful scenery and a relaxed pace of life. It features a healthy local economy that is supported by tourism, education, technology, health care, finance, agriculture, and manufacturing. Plus, it features a low cost of living, moderate property values, and a low crime rate. Santa Barbara is a perfect example of California living. Residents enjoy some of the best qualities the state has to offer – amazing wine, warm weather, and a laid-back pace of life.