Aerial view of downtown San Diego, California

San Diego tops the list of Best Places to Live in California. (Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash)

With sun-kissed beaches, towering redwoods, and the allure of Hollywood, California beckons with a kaleidoscope of possibilities. But whether you crave bustling cityscapes, charming coastal towns, or serene mountain getaways, finding the perfect Golden State locale can feel like searching for a grain of gold in a glittering sandcastle. Fear not! This guide sifts through the California dream, unearthing gems from bustling San Francisco to laid-back San Diego, highlighting hidden havens for families, artists, and everything in between. So, buckle up and prepare to discover your own slice of paradise with the best places to live in California.

On one hand, you’ll find the unmistakable presence of Hollywood, which has made California synonymous with the global entertainment industry. This part of the culture is characterized by glitz, glamour, and the pursuit of dreams in the entertainment world. Moving away from the entertainment epicenter, California is a melting pot of ethnicities, with significant Hispanic, Asian, African American, and Indigenous communities. This cultural diversity is celebrated through festivals, cuisine, art, and traditions, adding layers of depth and richness to the state’s identity.

And did you know that some wealthier California towns top the list of America’s happiest cities. If you are wondering, does money buy happiness, this study shows, it’s not always the case — but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Just one more reason that settling in California would be a good decision. 

Why live in California?

Sunshine-kissed shores and cityscapes:

  • Over 840 miles of coastline with vibrant surf scenes (Los Angeles) and quaint charm (Carmel-by-the-Sea).
  • Cultural hotspots and world-class dining in San Francisco with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and Michelin-starred restaurants.
  • Laid-back vibes in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter or buzzing activity at Santa Monica’s pier.

Beyond the coast – mountains, deserts, and wine country:

  • Yosemite National Park’s majestic granite cliffs and cascading waterfalls for the adventurous soul.
  • Napa Valley’s rolling vineyards and charming towns for the oenophile.
  • Starkly beautiful Mojave Desert with its otherworldly landscapes and star-studded skies.
  • Idyllic escapes in charming mountain towns like Lake Tahoe and Big Sur.

A tapestry of communities and lifestyles:

  • Melting pot of cultures and cuisines in bustling metropolises like Los Angeles and San Diego.
  • Slower pace and strong sense of community in smaller towns like Santa Barbara and Ojai.
  • A place for everyone, from artists seeking inspiration in Venice Beach to tech entrepreneurs aiming for Silicon Valley’s heights.

Now that we know the allure of life in Cali, back to our main question at hand. In our search for the best places to live in California, we examined 11 expert websites and pinned down the most suggested places. Of course, you may entirely disagree with this — and that’s fine! Let us know which one is your favorite place or the one that is on your bucket list. 

USA and California flags
Californian and American flags (Photo by Drei Kubik on Unsplash)

The List: Best Places to Live in California, According to Experts

1. San Diego 

Out of all the ten sites we reviewed, San Diego was the most recommended by all. “Located in southern California lies the picturesque city of San Diego. Only 20 miles from the Mexican border, San Diego is as far south as you can get in California. This coastal city is famous for its warm and sunny weather, fabulous beaches, and scenic views. Blending a mixture of urban, suburban, and coastal living, life in San Diego is perfect for any lifestyle. Raining less than 12 inches of rain a year, San Diego is the go-to destination for those wanting to experience a Mediterranean climate all year round,” says Uphomes.

San Diego, California, downtown skyline.
San Diego, California, downtown skyline. (© SeanPavonePhoto –

The Crazy Tourist writes: “The Weather Channel rated it as having the most ideal climate in summer in America, while Wallet Hub ranked it seventh-happiest place to live in America. The nightlife in this global tourist centre is world-famous, especially in the Gaslamp Quarter.”

Budget Travel Buff adds, “The cost of living in San Diego is high if you decide to stay in the posh areas. However, if you choose to stay in suburban areas the price can be curtailed a lot. A medium home price in San Diego is around $878,058 and if you think of renting a medium apartment it will cost you a minimum of $2,682 per month.”

“Adults also love the abundance of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife in the area. San Diego is a beautiful city and highly coveted among California locals. The only downside, however, is that the cost of living is on the high side,” says Travel Lemming.

Bankrate notes: “You don’t have to wait for those to be complete to call San Diego home, though. With a large naval base, the government is one of the city’s biggest employers, and Kaiser Permanente, General Dynamics and SeaWorld all have big operations here as well, so newcomers (or boomerang residents) have an assortment of professional opportunities. The city’s nightlife is top-notch, with plenty of bars and nightclubs in the downtown Gaslamp neighborhood, and during the day, the ocean will be calling your name.”

2. Sacramento

“You might be surprised to see Sacramento on our list of best places to live in California,” writes Zumper, “but if you’re looking for an affordable place to live in California, Cali’s inland capital is the spot for you. Sacramento is within close proximity to wine country, Lake Tahoe, and the coastline, but is located in a spacious, sprawling area…It gets a bad rap because it’s smaller and flatter than its more glamorous beachside counterparts, but young families, millennials, and artists are flocking to Sacramento for its reasonable cost of living, art scene, nightlife, healthy job market, and diverse population.”

a bridge over a river in Sacramento
A bridge in Sacramento (Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash)

Forbes ranks Sacramento first on their list. “Sacramento is also an excellent gateway to the splendors of temperate northern California, while also being two hours from San Francisco. For local leisure activities, there are several professional sports teams, a 32-mile bike trail, breweries and coffee shops”.

New Home Source adds, “If you want to live close to the capital city without dealing with the crowds, check out suburbs like Davis, Folsom, and El Dorado Hills.”

According to Bankrate, it all comes down to money when putting California’s capital high on their list. “Sacramento tops our list of the best places to live in California for one big reason: It’s actually affordable by California standards. The median home price was $460,000 at the end of 2021, according to Redfin, making the capital of California significantly more budget-friendly than many of the other major cities in the state.”

Finally, Nomad lawyer points to the city’s ability to prep families for a strong, successful future: “It provides numerous educational opportunities and is quite affordable compared to other places, making it one of the best places to live in California for families. There are plenty of activities to indulge in, with a 32-mile bike trail, beach sports options, and clubs. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love to explore the farm-to-fork restaurants here that use organically sourced ingredients.”

3. Los Angeles

If the big (and we mean big) city life is for you, you shouldn’t look any further than The City of Angels“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,” writes Property Club. “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.”

bus on road in Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles (Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash)

Says Travel Lemming: “Los Angeles is one of the best places to live in California and is the most popular destination to visit in the United States. The big city has everything you need with an overabundance of public and private schools, nightlife, entertainment, tourist attractions, public parks and libraries, and the list goes on…You will find cheap places to live in LA, but these often compromise a strong sense of security. You may want to spend a little more to live in a safe community in Los Angeles. Or, opt to live on the outskirts in a small town like Claremont or Azusa.”

Bankrate adds: “If Long Beach is too long of a trek for you to get to Los Angeles, then it’s time to figure out what part of the city you can afford to call home. According to Redfin, the median price of home in Los Angeles was $950,000 near the close of 2021, so you’ll either need a.) a lot of cash or b.) the ability to qualify for a jumbo mortgage.”

4. Irvine 

Irvine is considered one of the best places especially to raise a family because it’s one of the safest cities in the country, with great schools to boot. Travel Lemming says, “Many people moving to California consider Orange County for their forever home. Irvine is in the perfect location, near the beach but centrally located near schools and metropolitan shopping centers. Irvine is a heavily populated city in Orange County with great city life, an accredited university, and a huge job market. Many people who move to the golden state consider Irvine due to its proximity to major businesses.”

irvine spectrum center
Ferris wheel in Irvine (Photo by Andrea Arana on Unsplash)

Property Club adds, “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 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. Almost 97% of high school graduates make it to university,” writes The Crazy Tourist. “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 $688,200, being some of the most expensive around. Most single-family homes are in the seven-figure range, but properties here in general remain hot cakes among foreign investors.”

5. San Francisco 

This one may surprise people because it’s certainly well-known these days for its extremely high cost of living, but it’s also a center of the tech world, which means some of the most amazing jobs in the country are there too. Property Club says, “San Francisco is the best place to live in Northern California. It is a global center of the tech industry and the cultural epicenter of Northern California. Many even consider it 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 opportunities nearby in San Jose.”

San Francisco Golden Gate bridge at daytime
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (Photo by Natalie Chaney on Unsplash)

“Those looking for a bustling urban environment, top restaurants and a thriving job market will find it in San Francisco. Recently, the City by the Bay was named the fourth happiest place to live in America, and the 34th best city in the U.S. for job seekers. AreaVibes also gives high marks to San Francisco for its stable housing market, high income per capita, weather and A+ amenities,” notes

Uphomes adds, “While living in the area is fantastic, San Francisco also happens to be the most expensive city to live in California. Home prices here are very high, so much so that it was calculated that in order to make ends meet in San Francisco, residents need to be earning an annual salary of at least $92,139. Due to these high prices, it is no surprise that San Francisco happens to be the city in California with the most millionaires and billionaires.”

Where do you think is the best place to live in California? We invite you to leave your respectful thoughts in the comments below!

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links. 

About Saloni Ordia

Saloni is a freelance B2B SaaS writer who excels at creating in-depth product-focused content. When she is not writing, you can find her in the kitchen whipping up new recipes or curled up with a rom-com novel.

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  1. BP says:

    Any mention of California in an article that allows comments is guaranteed to bring out the trolls. By far the best state in the union in almost every way.

    Just look at the incoherent comment and spelling and grammar of the comments that rip Cali. There are ulterior motivations behind this, like the leech states dependent on the money that CA send to the federal government, or the cost of living.

    It would be great if all these people who comment had to reveal what interests they serve. If they are people or programmed AI trolls.

    As far as this article, it’s not very useful in that it doesn’t qualify what best means and all the places mentioned, even Sacramento are just as expensive or more to live in than the rest of the country.