The Best 7 Places to Live in California
Thinking of moving to California but not sure where in The Golden State to call home? Our guide will help make your decision easier.
From the sprawling city of Los Angeles to the iconic streets of San Francisco, California offers some of the best experiences the US has to offer. It’s not surprising that 11 million foreign-born residents now call America’s third-largest state home.
If you’re keen to move to California, our guide will show you where to live for the best work opportunities, food and drink, climate, and more.
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Best places to live in California – at a glance
Want to cut the reading and just see our picks of the best places to live in California? Here they are.
|Napa||Food and drink|
|San Francisco||Work opportunities|
California's abundant sunshine is a top reason to move there
Best for food and drink
For lovers of great food and wine, you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere quite as good as Napa.
Located in the heart of Napa Valley, this city is one of the best launching pads for exploring Wine Country.
Rolling hills are painted with vineyards and wine-tasting events are as common as the sun rising and setting.
Food-wise, it’s an intoxicating blend of Michelin-starred brilliance and farm-to-fork quaintness.
You can find everything in Napa, from gourmet elegance to street food markets that use locally sourced ingredients.
The abundance of independently owned cafés and bakeries make mornings a treat too.
Nothing beats a stroll through the famous Oxbow Public Market on a weekend, where you can grab a delicious pastry to start your day, and stock up on organic produce grown in the Napa Valley’s fertile soil.
This soil makes Napa one of the best places to experience some of the US’s top culinary delights.
|World-renowned food and drink||Property is expensive; the majority of housing starts from $500,000 (£396,000)|
|Plenty to do for fans of the great outdoors||Work opportunities outside of hospitality can be limited|
|Busy cultural calendar, with loads of festivals every year|
Best for work opportunities
Home to Silicon Valley, San Francisco remains on the cutting edge of America’s technological revolution. If you’re looking for top salaries, attractive work benefits, and an electric work culture, San Francisco is the place to be.
Neighbourhoods like Mission Bay and Pacific Heights are popular choices. Prepare to pay a fair price for the privilege, however — these areas are not cheap.
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Mission Bay is an eye-watering $3,384 (£2,684). Pacific Bay is $3,200 (£2,538), so either way, you’re going to need a big salary to call one of these places home.
However, if you do land a good job in the Silicon Valley area, the high rental prices won’t put much of a dent in your finances. The average salary among the top companies in Silicon Valley is $133,204 (£105,674), as of 2022.
That’s a huge jump over the average for the rest of the US, which stands at $56,310 (£44,672).
|The city is beautiful||San Francisco is very expensive to live in|
|Golden Gate Park is one of America’s best urban parks||Income taxes are the highest in the US|
|San Francisco is very diverse, with more than 112 languages spoken||Traffic is bad, with drivers here losing an average of 97 hours to congestion per year|
The famous Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco
Best for climate
If you want great weather all year round, look no further than San Diego.
That’s not an opinion either, as San Diego statistically has more ‘pleasant’” days than any other city in the US. A ‘pleasant day’ is between 13–24°C, and San Diego has an incredible 261 every year.
Winters are mild and summers never get too hot, making San Diego a brilliant place to call home if weather extremes aren’t your thing.
There are bucketloads of places in San Diego to enjoy the climate, including plenty of excellent beaches. Many are hidden in sheltered bays, which make them ideal for leisurely swimming.
And don’t panic if you’re a surfer — San Diego has some of the best surfing spots in the country.
Our personal pick is Bermuda Beach, a relatively hidden spot best known to the locals for its spectacular sunsets.
|Plenty to see and do, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo and a vibrant nightlife||Public transportation isn’t the best|
|The people in San Diego are generally friendly and laid back ||The average house costs $550,000 (£446,430)|
|Good job opportunities||Rent is expensive too, at around $2,756 (£2,186)|
Best for rural escapes
The small city of Fresno is paradise for nature fans, with access to a plethora of breathtaking parks and hiking trails.
It’s also within driving distance of Yosemite National Park, a 1,200 square mile area featuring one of the country’s tallest waterfalls, at 739 metres.
Alongside the many other waterfalls are a slew of evergreen valleys filled with the imposing sequoia trees.
These trees frequently reach heights of 65 metres or more. The park’s tallest tree is The Columbia tree, which reaches an astonishing 87 metres in height!
For rural escapes closer to the city, the Kings Canyon National Park is equally lovely. Located in a valley, it’s deeper than the Grand Canyon and is also home to some of the biggest trees in the world.
Don’t miss the General Grant Tree — though at 85 metres high and with enough width that 20 people could only just wrap around it, you’d struggle to.
|Comparatively low cost of living — Fresno is 47.3% cheaper than the Californian average||Fresno is a warm city — summer temperatures reach 40°C with ease and heat waves occur most years|
|Like Napa, Fresno has a rich and diverse food scene, with plenty of locally grown produce||It’s not easy to find work, and the unemployment rate is high|
Yosemite National Park boasts breathtaking sights
Best for affordability
This city of 375,000 people is one of the best bets for finding a cheap home in California. On average, you can pick up a home for $315,000 (£249,898). Still quite a lot, but incredibly cheap for the US’s third most expensive state.
This affordability doesn’t mean Bakersfield is undesirable — far from it. There are tons of things to see and do here, with museums, zoos, and other attractions that make family days out a breeze.
The city’s location near to the Kern River makes picnics along its banks a rite of passage, and there are plenty of challenging hiking opportunities for those keen to push themselves.
|Easy access to hiking trains, parks, and picnic spots||As an oil-producing city, air quality in Bakersfield is low|
|Surprising amount of cultural activities for a city this size||Cars are almost essential, as few places in the city are within easy walking distance|
|Good public schools|
Best for families
Located in Silicon Valley, Cupertino regularly makes the top five in lists for best places to raise a family. We can see why, as it has some of the highest-rated public schools in the state.
A massive 97% of people finish high school, and 44% go on to complete post-grad degrees. This is helped in part by the easy access to some of San Francisco’s top public schools and universities.
Monta Vista, a neighbourhood in Cupertino, is the pick of the bunch. Its close proximity to excellent parks and schools, plus stunning hillside views from many of the properties there, make it a top choice.
All of this naturally makes Cupertino an expensive place to live, with many homes easily passing $1.5 million (£1,189,995) on the property market. If you can find a way to afford a home here, you’ll find an unbeatable environment for you and your family.
|Low crime rate ||Very expensive|
|Close to San Francisco and everything it has to offer||Public transportation isn’t great|
Silicon Valley is home to some of the most famous tech companies in the world
Best for culture
Where else could we have picked for culture but the home of Hollywood and all the glitz and glamour that comes with it: Los Angeles.
Few places compare to Los Angeles when it comes to the sheer volume of things to do. Museums, art exhibitions, festivals, and of course, legendary activities like the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Creativity influences so much of what happens in the City of Angels, with many people moving to the city to pursue careers in acting, writing, and other artistic fields.
The nightlife here is fantastic too. Check out the many bars and clubs in West Hollywood for an unforgettable night out, or head to one of the city’s excellent restaurants.
Sure, Napa is still the culinary capital of California, but with 27 Michelin-starred restaurants in Los Angeles, you won’t struggle for choice.
|An incredibly diverse population makes Los Angeles an exciting place to call home||Traffic in Los Angeles is suffocating and drivers spend 102 hours stuck between vehicles every year|
|Great access to mountains, beaches, and other wild areas||Competition for jobs is high|
|Year-round sunshine||Buying a home outright will cost a lot — the average property price is $800,000|
Best places to live in California: the verdict
California is like no other state in the US. Its range of diverse cities, breathtaking environments, and varied climates means there’s something for everyone.
To recap, here are our picks of the best places to live in California:
- Napa: best for food and drink
- San Francisco: best for work opportunities
- San Diego: best for climate
- Fresno: best for rural escapes
- Bakersfield: best for affordability
- Cupertino: best for families
- Los Angeles: best for culture
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