Best Places to Live in California

California is a popular destination for those seeking a new place to call home, offering a diverse range of landscapes, from stunning coastlines to breathtaking mountain ranges.

However, with the state spanning nearly 164,000 square miles, choosing where to live can be overwhelming. As a California resident with local knowledge, I can offer valuable insights into selecting the best cities to reside in. Allow me to use my expertise to guide you in finding your perfect forever home in California. Let’s get started.

13 Best Places to Live in California

1. San Diego

California’s extensive coastline, spanning 840 miles, is a major attraction for those relocating to the state. San Diego, a popular destination, is widely considered one of the best places to live in California.

This beach city appeals to a variety of residents, including remote workers, surfers, and families. Families with kids will appreciate the numerous San Diego activities available, such as public parks, schools, museums, and the famous San Diego Zoo. Adults can enjoy a plethora of dining, shopping, and nightlife options. Although highly coveted among California locals, one drawback of San Diego is its high cost of living.

2. Sonoma

Located in the heart of Sonoma Valley’s wine region, Sonoma City is a charming Northern California town that offers a unique blend of metropolitan and small countryside atmospheres. Unlike other major California cities, Sonoma City is less crowded, providing a peaceful environment for its residents. The town boasts a rich history, evident in its colonial-era plaza, adobe buildings, and the historic Mission San Francisco Solano, which once served as a Mexican military outpost.

One of the main attractions of Sonoma City is its proximity to the region’s 425 local wineries, making it a popular destination for residents over the age of 21. Additionally, the town offers various family-friendly activities, including weekly farmers’ markets and hiking trails among the towering redwood trees.

Situated just 30 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma City provides an ideal escape to the countryside, while still offering convenient access to big city amenities. Santa Rosa, a neighboring Sonoma County neighborhood, is a great choice for families, as both Sonoma City and Santa Rosa are safe communities with ample public amenities.

3. Los Angeles

Los Angeles, commonly known as the “City of Angels,” is the second-largest city in the United States, both in terms of population and area. With a population of over 3 million residents, and spanning 34,000 square miles, Los Angeles can be intimidating at first glance.

Los Angeles is widely regarded as one of the best places to live in California, as well as the most popular tourist destination in the United States. The city offers a wealth of amenities, including numerous public and private schools, vibrant nightlife, entertainment options, tourist attractions, public parks, and libraries, among other things.

However, given the enormity of the city, it’s important to conduct thorough research before deciding which LA neighborhood best suits your lifestyle and preferences. While affordable options are available, they may compromise safety, making it advisable to invest a little more in living in a secure community within Los Angeles. Alternatively, one can consider settling in a smaller town on the outskirts, such as Claremont or Azusa.

4. Redlands

Redlands, located in San Bernardino County, is widely regarded as one of the best places to live in California. The city is home to the highly-regarded University of Redlands, along with a charming surrounding college town.

Redlands offers a vibrant community atmosphere, with numerous local events taking place almost every day of the week, including car shows, farmer’s markets, concerts, and public park events. Situated just outside Los Angeles, Redlands is an ideal family town in Southern California.

Residents can enjoy hiking and camping in the nearby San Bernardino Mountains, located just outside the city. For those who prefer city life, Redlands offers attractions such as the Redlands Bowl, which hosts concerts, and the San Bernardino County Museum, with its impressive natural history exhibits.

As Redlands is located just outside of Los Angeles, the cost of living can be relatively high. However, there are still many affordable apartment options available in the area for those on a budget. Redlands is considered one of the top places to reside in San Bernardino, and therefore should not be overlooked.

5. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a charming mountain town located in Northern California, bordering Nevada. The village is situated around the largest alpine lake in North America and is a haven for nature lovers who enjoy winter weather. Surrounded by high-altitude Sierra Mountain peaks, Lake Tahoe experiences a proper California snowy winter and is a popular destination for skiing enthusiasts.

With a small year-round population of only 40,000, Lake Tahoe is considered one of the most beautiful and intimate mountain towns in California. The town boasts eight public schools and offers a range of outdoor activities for both families and individuals, such as snowboarding, cycling, water skiing, and mountaineering.

6. Santa Monica

Located just a short drive from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica is a perfect coastal residential city for those who enjoy the beach. Aside from its upscale shopping centers and fine dining options, the city boasts of clean public parks and beaches that appeal to everyone.

The Santa Monica-Malibu School District has 17 public schools serving this region in Los Angeles County. The nightlife in Santa Monica is vibrant and popular among adults, but kids also enjoy the area for its proximity to the beach. The Santa Monica Pier offers arcade games and is one of the top attractions in the city.

While the cost of living in Santa Monica may not be cheap, many believe the area is well worth the price tag. It’s also not uncommon to have a Hollywood celebrity as your neighbor.

7. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, located on the coast of California, is not only a popular destination for road trippers, but it’s also a desirable place to live. This charming town has a strong surf culture, making it a haven for surfers and beach enthusiasts alike.

In addition to the surf scene, Santa Barbara is home to one of the top universities in California, UC Santa Barbara. As a result, the downtown area is vibrant and caters to college students, with numerous bars and restaurants to choose from.

Visitors to Santa Barbara can enjoy exploring the Old Santa Barbara Mission or relaxing at East Beach. Families with children will appreciate the 21 public schools in the unified school district, ensuring a quality education for all.

8. San Francisco

San Francisco is a popular city in California that is great for both visiting and living. This city has a rich history, being one of the first established during the Gold Rush era.

Living in downtown San Francisco can be quite expensive, but there are more affordable options in the surrounding areas. San Francisco is a Northern Californian hub for shopping, dining, tourist attractions, beaches, and bay cruises.

This city caters to people of all ages and backgrounds, making it one of the best places to live in California. With an abundance of parks, playgrounds, libraries, schools, colleges, a thriving job market, and special events, there’s something for everyone in San Francisco.

9. San Jose

San Jose is a hub for business people and entrepreneurs, as it is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google attract those who are seeking employment in the technology industry.

Aside from the job market, San Jose’s pleasant climate, secure neighborhoods, and proximity to natural attractions appeal to many residents. Although living in the city can be expensive, it is more affordable compared to San Francisco.

While exploring San Jose, don’t miss the Rose Garden neighborhood, which boasts stunning 19th-century architecture. The Alameda neighborhood is also a popular destination, known for its delicious restaurants.

10. Irvine

For those considering Orange County as their new home, Irvine is a highly desirable location due to its central position near both metropolitan shopping centers and the beach. This populous city is a bustling hub of activity, featuring top-rated schools, a flourishing job market, and a highly acclaimed university.

Irvine’s close proximity to major businesses makes it a favorite destination for many newcomers to California. Located just 9 miles away from Newport Beach, Irvine offers an abundance of entertainment options, such as shopping at the Irvine Spectrum, attending concerts at the FivePoint Amphitheater, or enjoying a day of surfing at the nearby beach.

11. Pasadena

Pasadena is a fantastic place to live in California, located just outside of Los Angeles. It is a popular choice for families due to its lower population compared to the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.

Nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains, the Colorado Boulevard area boasts upscale shops and restaurants with 3-5-star ratings. The neighborhoods in Pasadena are well-maintained, and it is considered one of the safest municipalities in California.

Pasadena is also home to the Rose Bowl, a massive sports stadium, and offers luxury housing options for those who are not looking to skimp on their dream home. With all the amenities you could hope for in a city, Pasadena is sure to delight its residents.

12. Temecula

Temecula, located in Riverside County, is a popular Southern California wine region known for its spacious family homes and open land. The city is recognized for having some of the most reasonably priced homes in California.

Residents enjoy the Southern California weather, picturesque valley landscapes, and the region’s excellent schools, making it an attractive option for those looking to escape the congestion of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Temecula is a preferred destination for those interested in constructing their dream home in a peaceful setting. To discover more about Temecula, check out our guides on things to do and where to stay in Temecula.

13. Newport Beach

Newport Beach, situated in Orange County, is a popular and trendy beach town in California that offers year-round sunshine. With a 10-mile coastline, it is a great place to live and enjoy the beach.

The city boasts one of California’s most extensive public school systems and is known for its excellent education standards. Students love being close to the beach, which adds to the overall charm of Newport Beach.

In addition, Newport Beach offers a vibrant nightlife scene with numerous bars situated right on the waterfront. The neighborhoods in Newport Beach are clean and safe, making it an ideal destination for those looking to relocate to California.