15 Best Places to Live in California

Written by Darren Griffiths
Updated on
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California is widely regarded as the most remarkable state in the United States. Not cool as in the weather (it’s mostly sizzling all year long, even in winter), but cool as in the most fashionable place to stay.

The weather is excellent. The beaches are gorgeous. The people are beautiful. It’s home to Hollywood royalty. The tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley, is located here. And there’s just about everything.

It is one of the few places in the world where you can go from skiing to surfing to sandboarding in the desert – all on the same day.

It’s little wonder everyone wants to move here, and in fact, this happens to be the most populous state – and state with the largest economy in the U.S.

California’s Healthcare and education are among the country’s best, ranking the Golden State in the top 10 states, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report.

However, California came in at No.23 when all other criteria were factored in – crime and corrections, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, and government, with the last two contributing majorly to the drop.

Overall, there is no denying that California is a dream with a magnetic allure that is hard to resist for most people. It begs the question, when it comes down to it, which are the best places to live in California? Below, we serve you the 15 best places to live in California!

1. San Diego

San DiegoSource: Dancestrokes / shutterstock
San Diego

California is one of America’s most culturally diverse states, and few capture that better than San Diego. This is the largest city in California after L.A., with a population of over one million. San Diego, considered one of the best places to live in the world, is truly a melting pot of cultures.

The Weather Channel rated it as having the ideal climate in summer in America, while Wallet Hub ranked it the seventh-happiest place to live in America. The nightlife in this global tourist center is world-famous, especially in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Expectedly, the cost of living is high, much to the deterrent of most people. Median home value and rent are above the national average.

This rate can vary sharply depending on the suburb, of which there are many stunning ones both inland and along the coast, each with its distinct personality.

However, employment prospects here are brighter than most other parts of California, thanks to the varied industries. The median household income is over fifty thousand, significantly higher than the national average.

If you can afford it, there is no denying that San Diego is one of California’s best places to live. It perfectly combines the benefits of living in a big city with world-famous attractions and idyllic weather.

Great for young families, health enthusiasts, college students, and, of course, beachgoers.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in San Diego are:

  • USS Midway Museum
  • San Diego Zoo
  • La Jolla Cove
  • Balboa Park
  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

2. Irvine

IrvineSource: LagunaticPhoto / shutterstock

Irvine is one of California’s smaller cities, boasting over two hundred and forty thousand residents. But you will be hard-pressed to find any city, large or small, with such an impressive CV as this.

Nestled in sunny Orange County, Irvine is one of the wealthiest and safest cities in the United States. You will often find it in many reputable Best Places to Live lists, and this is because the town has it all going for it.

The economy is strong. The jobs are plenty, numbering as much as the residents – and well-paying. Almost 200 Fortune 500 companies are located here that provide the bulk of the jobs, with a rail system connecting the town to other notable centers, including Los Angeles.

The education quality from kindergarten to college is top-notch, and people especially come from far and wide to attend such notable institutions as the University of California, Concordia University, and Irvine Valley College. The majority of high school graduates make it to university.

Irvine has also received national recognition for its enduring commitment to a cleaner environment, something that has seen it named one of the greenest cities in America.

It’s tough to afford Irvine, with its homes averaging over half a million, being some of the most expensive. Most single-family homes are in the seven-figure range, but properties here, in general, remain hot cakes among foreign investors.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Irvine are:

  • Orange County Great Park
  • Pretend City Children’s Museum
  • Irvine Spectrum Center
  • Tanaka Farms
  • Irvine Museum
  • UC Irvine Anteaters
  • Bommer Canyon
  • Global Village Festival
  • Irvine Regional Park

3. Palo Alto

Palo AltoSource: SmadarSonyaStrauss / shutterstock
Palo Alto

Palo Alto is considered the ‘Birthplace of Silicon Valley,’ and dozens of high-tech companies call the city home. This is the seat of Stanford University, and these two facts alone should give you a rough idea of what type of place this is.

The small town of California has a population of slightly above sixty-six thousand. Considering some of the world’s top minds come to either study or work here, it is as diverse a community as they come.

Its public schools rank as some of the best in the country, and some of the best eateries in the Bay Area are located here.

Palo Alto, though, is not all work and no play. It may be a small town, but it feels far from sleepy. The night scene is bubbly, with plenty of bars and clubs for everyone, from college kids to those who prefer it low-key.

The small town doesn’t come for cheap, though. Home prices average upwards of over one million, but the median house income is correspondingly high, hovering above six figures (more than double the national average.)

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Palo Alto are:

  • Baylands Golf Links
  • Stanford Theater
  • Palo Alto Farmers Market
  • Hoover Tower
  • Palo Alto Art Center

4. Mountain View

Mountain ViewSource: Lynn Y / shutterstock
Mountain View

You may recognize Mountain View as the seat of one of the most recognizable tech brands in the world, Google.

The town of slightly less than eighty thousand residents is located in San Jose, the largest city in Northern California, which is Silicon Valley’s economic, political, and cultural epicenter. Homes here average, keeping up with this region’s steep prices.

But that is what you get to pay in exchange for an exceptionally low crime rate 30% below the national average and high-quality schools – two features that make it an excellent place for families.

Being a tech city, the town is also keen to balance the work and living aspect, and this has seen multiple parks and recreational spaces sprout within the urban setting.

Rent is above the national average, but the overall cost of living is offset by the high-paying jobs, mostly tech, which has sent the median household income north of six figures.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Mountain View are:

  • Computer History Museum
  • Shoreline Amphitheater
  • Mountain View Farmers Market
  • Cuesta Park
  • Stevens Creek Trail
  • Pioneer Memorial Park
  • California’s Great America
  • Shoreline Lake Events

5. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan BeachSource: Lucky-photographer / shutterstock
Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is a small town in Southern California with a population of about thirty-six thousand. Despite the low numbers, the town has been in existence since 1912. The high cost of living has possibly contributed to the low population, but the residents would rather keep it that way.

Because of this, this is a place for the high roller.

Houses here fetch a hefty million or more, with income per household averaging six figures. For such prices, you would expect the accompanying amenities to be up to snuff, precisely what you get in Manhattan Beach.

The tiny coastal city has exceptional educational institutions, both private and public, within 15 miles of the town.

Despite its small size, the area is dotted with recreational facilities, from beautiful hotels that draw in crowds all year round to parks that promise a deal of to-do’s, including outdoor water activities for children and picnic spots for the family.

One of the many benefits of being a small community is that the area provides a sheltered environment for the residents. This is affirmed by the low crime rate, below the national average.

Rental properties are also above the national average Steep, but the benefits are well worth it.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Manhattan Beach are:

  • Manhattan Beach Pier
  • Roundhouse Aquarium
  • Bruce’s Beach
  • Live Oak Park
  • AdventurePlex
  • Manhattan Beach Art Center
  • Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden
  • Sand Dune Park
  • Nick’s Manhattan Beach

6. Davis

Davis, CaliforniaSource: davidkrug / shutterstock

Davis is a community near Sacramento with over sixty-six thousand residents. It is small but home to one of the most prominent University of California campuses. Yes, that makes it a college town, technically.

House prices here average slightly above half a million dollars, with the average resident contending with rent above the national average.

The university campus, aside, the suburb boasts a pretty solid education system overall. The number of high school students who graduate and the percentage of high school graduates who complete college preparatory courses is high, and it is generally deemed one of the best-educated and brainiest cities in the country.

Regarding amenities, families have sprawling park space (400 acres) to enjoy all sorts of activities, including berry picking in season.

But there is always something to keep everyone occupied, or rather, entertained. Local theatre. Outdoor concerts. Shopping (there are thrift stores here, too – plenty of them). Cycling. And, of course, the Davis Farmers Market, one of the best authentic markets you will come across.

During summer, an event that goes by the name Picnic in the Park involves the whole town coming together for music, dinner, and the market.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Davis are:

  • Mondavi Center
  • Dunloe Brewing
  • Great Bear Vineyards
  • Wildhorse Golf Club
  • Davis Farmers Market
  • The Artery

7. Lake Forest

Lake ForestSource: mikeledray / shutterstock
Lake Forest

Lake Forest lies south of Irvine and offers a similar lifestyle, although in this case, you get it at a fraction of the price. The median home value is lower than its southern counterpart, going for half a million, while the average household income is slightly higher.

So, what would make you opt to settle here?

Well, according to Nerd Wallet, this is one of California’s top 10 cities for job seekers. State data puts the graduation rate over ninety percent, with several schools in Lake Forest scoring upwards of 8 out of 10 on the Great Schools website.

The suburb of almost twenty thousand residents also has this program particularly tailored for teens that involve students getting after-school study help, taking day trips, and learning about volunteer opportunities.

Families with young children can hang out at the Pretend City’s Children’s Museum or head to Omar’s Exotic Birds. There is also plenty to do at the more than a dozen parks.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Lake Forest are:

  • Lake Forest Sports Park
  • Baker Ranch Community Park
  • Frisby Cellars Winery
  • Disneyland Park

8. Sacramento

SacramentoSource: Andrew Zarivny / shutterstock

If some places on this list sound out of reach due to steep prices, then a move to Sacramento might be an excellent idea.

The inland capital of California is best known for its tree-lined streets, burgeoning food, and a great wine and beer scene. But there are multiple reasons it remains an appealing prospect for anyone looking for a place to live in California.

The housing is affordable compared to most other parts of the state. Perhaps there is, after all, a benefit that comes with being outshined by its flashier coastal cousins. Median home value in Sacramento sits below the national average, surprisingly, which remains accessible to the majority of people.

With a population of just under half a million, Sacramento perfectly marries the excitement of city life with the serenity of a quieter suburban life, and many would not have it any other way.

It may not have a coastline to boast of, but it is not short of outdoor activities. You’ll have rivers, parks, and foothills for hiking, swimming, waterskiing, and sunbathing in Folsom Lake. Tahoe is an hour-and-a-half drive away, and so are Napa and Sonoma, famous for their high-quality wines.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Sacramento are:

  • California State Railroad Museum
  • Crocker Art Museum
  • Fairytale Town
  • Stanford Mansion
  • William Land Regional Park
  • Sacramento Zoo
  • Sacramento History Museum
  • McKinley Park
  • California Museum
  • Crest Theatre

9. Redlands

Redlands, CASource: inkknife_2000 (8 million views +) / Flickr

Speaking of affordable housing, another area in California with attractive housing rates is Redlands, California. The small town of over seventy thousand residents has a median home value of over $300,000, with average rent prices slightly above the national average.

Education levels in Redlands are pretty high compared to the national average, and the public school system is ace, rated a solid A by Niche.com.

Most of the town dwellers are professionals, service providers, and sales and office workers. The ratio of white-collar to blue-collar jobs does not lean predominantly towards either, as you are likely to find in most cities.

Redlands is one of those family-oriented communities, something the residents themselves are keen to acknowledge. This means everything from the amenities to the crime rate and education system is favorable, with various parental groups formed to uphold this status quo.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Redlands are:

  • Prospect Park
  • Redlands Bowl
  • Kimberly Crest House & Gardens
  • Lincoln Memorial Shrine
  • Hangar 24
  • Redlands Dog Park
  • Caroline Park
  • Lifehouse Theatre
  • Redlands California Temple

10. Murrieta

Murrieta, CASource: Steve Minkler / shutterstock

Murrieta is a town of a hundred thousand people in Riverside County, California. It is ideal for families looking for affordable housing and plenty of activities to engage in.

The median home value in Murrieta is over $300,000. This may be above the national average of $178,000, but it is on the lower end of the spectrum going by California’s pricey standards. Indeed, these housing prices continue to make it such a draw for individuals and businesses.

Median annual household income is over fifty thousand (also above the national average) in a city best known for beautiful surrounding vineyards and natural attractiveness. This fact has made it easier for local property managers to market the rentals.

It is within 100 miles of Los Angeles, and if safety is always on your mind, it will undoubtedly come as welcome news to learn that 24/7 Wall Street ranked Murrieta as the safest city in America.

Murrieta has two full-service hospitals, three golf courses, plenty of amenities, and the town’s growing economy makes it ideal for emerging entrepreneurs.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Murrieta are:

  • Mulligan Family Fun Center
  • Epic Rollertainment
  • Susie Q Ranch
  • California Oaks Sports Park
  • Los Alamos Hills Sports Park
  • ACES Comedy Club
  • Glen Arbor Park
  • Inland Wharf Brewing

11. Santa Barbara

Santa BarbaraSource: Alexander Demyanenko / shutterstock
Santa Barbara

The county of Santa Barbara is a magnificent place to call home, as over four thousand residents do (the small city of Santa Barbara is home to ninety thousand).

The county has some of the most picturesque scenes in California, and there is a reason it has been christened the American Riviera.

The stunning harbor aside, the western and southern areas are dotted with splendid coastal plains, and the world-famous mountainous range, comprising the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Sierra Madre Mountains, and the San Rafael Mountains, is also found here.

Unsurprisingly, the southern coastal plains are more densely populated; you’ll pay around the national average for a rental property here.

Median home value is close to half a million, but this does not mean you won’t find cheaper options considering this average has been blown upwards by the gorgeous mansions (some owned by movie stars) peppered across the county.

The cost of living is generally high, and you may find it hard going if your income is under the sixty thousand mark. So this is something you should keep in mind when looking for a place to live in California.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Santa Barbara are:

  • Stearns Wharf
  • Old Mission Santa Barbara 1786
  • Santa Barbara Zoo
  • Shoreline Park
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
  • Santa Barbara Harbor
  • Lobero Theatre

12. Yuba City

Yuba CitySource: Ray Bouknight / Flickr
Yuba City

Yuba City is a small town in Sutter County, about 45 miles north of Sacramento. The 2011 census puts the population at over sixty thousand residents, with the median home value below the national average. That’s an attractive price going by California’s standards, and the affordable housing, coupled with opportunities for growing incomes, make Yuba City an appealing proposition.

For instance, between 1999 and 2011, we witnessed a median annual household growth of 48.6%.

Yuba City may not match the likes of Irvine and Manhattan Beach regarding entertainment. But it does have its waterpark, plenty of excellent restaurants, and boutique shopping, among a slew of other small-time attractions.

The culturally-diverse town has its share of attractions, especially for the outdoor lover. But if you ever need variety, you can revel in the fact that Sacramento and many other attractions are just minutes away.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Yuba City are:

  • Sutter County Museum
  • Cinemark Yuba City
  • Dowers Cocktail Bar
  • Gauche Aquatic Park
  • Sutter Buttes Brewing
  • Gold Rush Billiards
  • Sutter Buttes Mountain Peak

13. Clovis

ClovisSource: sevenMaps7 / shutterstock

Clovis is considered one of the best places to live in California, at least in the northern part. The town of about 100,000 people ranks quite favorably regarding public school ratings, crime and safety, diversity, nightlife, and good quality of life for families.

Clovis guarantees many family activities, including 285 acres of trails and parks. The Big Hat Day is a popular activity that goes down every April, bringing together thousands of people for food, art, and music.

Summers are an invigorating time around these parts, for among the host of outdoor activities to immerse yourself in, it is when the famous farmer’s markets of Clovis come alive.

This is one of those growing towns where all positive aspects seem to be on the upswing – graduation rates, salaries, area growth, and declining crime rates.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Clovis are:

  • Clovis Botanical Garden
  • No Surrender Adventure Park
  • Sierra Vista Cinemas 16
  • Old Town Clovis
  • K1 Speed
  • Wild Water Adventure Park
  • DEFY Clovis
  • Sierra National Forest

14. Newport Beach

Newport Beach, caSource: Beach Media / shutterstock
Newport Beach

The seaside community in Orange County is one of California’s best places to live. It scores exceptionally well on almost every aspect, from public schools to health and fitness – and everything in between commute time, outdoor activities, a place for families, and nightlife.

Perhaps the one downside of living in Newport Beach is the high cost of living associated with the town of about eighty-seven thousand residents. Housing, too, is characteristically high, keeping in line with other coveted places in California.

Monthly rent and home properties are above the national average and more expensive than other areas on our list.

It is a town for the well-heeled, and you can be assured that the amenities match that aspect.

With a crime rate below the national average and stunning beaches that bring tourists from far and wide, it is easy to see why Newport Beach is considered one of the most desirable addresses in the state.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Newport Beach are:

  • Newport Beach Pier
  • Fashion Island Shopping Mall
  • Balboa Island Ferry
  • Crystal Cove State Park
  • Newport Landing Whale Watching
  • Little Corona Beach
  • West Jetty View Park

15. Folsom

Folsom, CaliforniaSource: Hitman Sharon / shutterstock

Folsom is an eternal feature on many lists featuring the best places in California to put roots in, and we strongly agree. This is because the modern suburban neighborhood about 20 miles east of Sacramento has everything you could ever wish for.

Excellent schools with some of the highest graduation rates in the whole country. Great opportunities for job seekers, with full-time jobs the most common openings. A robust small business community. A wide range of homes, with a median home value above the national average. Plenty of outdoor activities thanks to the beautiful weather and an abundance of family-friendly activities.

It is everything you could ever ask for, Folsom.

Some great activities in this small community of seventy-four thousand include picking up fresh produce at the Folsom Farmers Market every Saturday of the year, dining at the multiple restaurants in town, and an array of outdoor activities that include swimming, boating, and sailing at Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Folsom are:

  • Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary
  • SeaQuest Folsom
  • Harris Center
  • Folsom Premium Outlets
  • Folsom Prison Museum
  • Folsom Kids Play Park
  • Folsom Historic District
  • Johnny Cash Trail


15 Best Places to Live in California:

  • San Diego
  • Irvine
  • Palo Alto
  • Mountain View
  • Manhattan Beach
  • Davis
  • Lake Forest
  • Sacramento
  • Redlands
  • Murrieta
  • Santa Barbara
  • Yuba City
  • Clovis
  • Newport Beach
  • Folsom