From wineries nestled in rolling vineyards to world-class theme parks that ignite the imagination, California’s allure extends far beyond its natural beauty. The state’s diverse landscape and climate provides an array of possibilities for residents and tourists alike. Whether you crave the laid-back coastal lifestyle or the tranquility of mountain retreats, California truly offers something for everyone.
If you’re thinking of relocating to the state, here is our list of the best places to live in California.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 4.11%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.12%
- Violent crime index: 23.4
- Nonviolent crime index: 57.6
- Cost of living index: 102.6
Fresno earns the title of the best place to live in California! The fifth most populous city in the state, Fresno bursts with activity and excitement. There’s plenty to discover, from museums and performing arts centers to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, so you’ll never find yourself bored in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.
Fresno is also home to California State University, Fresno, with an enrollment of more than 25,000 students. The climate runs warm, with an average of 267 sunny days per year — perfect for trying the newest drink at the local breweries, which are also dog-friendly. Fresno leans liberal politically, and popular suburbs include Clovis, Kingsburg, and Sunnyside.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 5.28%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.66%
- Violent crime index: 27
- Nonviolent crime index: 47
- Cost of living index: 100.7
Another San Joaquin Valley hotspot, Visalia is the home of more than 140,000 residents. Like Fresno, Visalia averages 267 sunny days per year, which makes the weather perfect for golfing and strolling through the parks.
The perks of living in an agricultural area of the state include having access to fresh food at your local restaurants, including 19 dog-friendly restaurants. This conservative-leaning city contains three hospitals and 68 schools. Ready to move to the suburbs? Check out Farmersville, Ivanhoe, and Tulare.
3. Imperial Valley
- Housing cost to income ratio: 4.11%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.73%
- Violent crime index: 21.8
- Nonviolent crime index: 42.2
- Cost of living index: 101.7
The Imperial Valley lies in Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California, near the Arizona and Mexico borders. With an average of 3 inches of rain and 306 sunny days per year, life is hot and dry in the valley.
If you can’t get enough of the heat, you’ll enjoy visiting the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area, where you can hike and camp to your heart’s content. The Imperial Valley Expo and Fairgrounds hosts a county fair, the California Mid-Winter Fair and Fiesta, each March.
This area leans politically liberal and has 34 schools. The primary urban area is El Centro with other communities including Imperial and Holtville.
4. Yuba City
- Housing cost to income ratio: 7.72%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.95%
- Violent crime index: 16.4
- Nonviolent crime index: 42.7
- Cost of living index: 112.5
Yuba City lies 42 miles north of Sacramento. As the hub city of the Yuba City Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Sutter and Yuba counties, Yuba City has all the urban amenities you’ll need, including amusement centers, six dog-friendly restaurants, and parks along the Feather River, which runs along the city’s eastern border.
With an average of 260 sunny days every year, you can almost always enjoy fun in the sun at local favorites like the Feather River Parkway trail or the Off the Leash dog park. The city leans conservative and has 24 hospitals in its vicinity. If you’d prefer to live in the suburbs, consider moving to Plumas Lake, Wheatland, or Olivehurst.
5. Vallejo / Napa Area
- Housing cost to income ratio: 6.65%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.14%
- Violent crime index: 43.7
- Nonviolent crime index: 58.3
- Cost of living index: 131.3
Bayside living and wine country await you in the Vallejo-Napa region!
The city of Vallejo is located along the San Pablo Bay, while only about 16 miles north is the town of Napa, gateway to the famous Napa Valley. The sun shines for approximately 260 days per year, providing the perfect weather for enjoying fresh air at the bay parks and area wineries; many parks and wineries are dog friendly, so don’t forget Fido!
Other exciting attractions include Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Children’s Wonderland Park, and Napa Premium Outlets. The Vallejo-Napa region is moderately liberal and offers access to six local hospitals. Thinking about a more suburban life? Check out Benicia, Vacaville, and Fairfield.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 4.70%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.32%
- Violent crime index: 37.7
- Nonviolent crime index: 44.6
- Cost of living index: 137.8
The county seat of Monterey County, Salinas has more than 150,000 residents. This strongly liberal city contains two hospitals, 64 schools, and two dog-friendly parks.
Like nearby cities, Salinas sees no shortage of sunshine, averaging 259 sunny days per year, but it can also get some 28 inches of snow a year. Literary fans can check out the National Steinbeck Center, dedicated to John Steinbeck, who was born and raised in Salinas.
Popular Salinas suburbs include Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Monte Forest, and Pacific Grove, all located along the Pacific coast. Just south of Del Monte Forest is the community of Pebble Beach, known for its world-class golf courses.
7. Riverside-San Bernardino
- Housing cost to income ratio: 8.75%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.48%
- Violent crime index: 28.7
- Nonviolent crime index: 46.7
- Cost of living index: 133.1
Neighboring Riverside and San Bernardino are located approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles. You’ll find natural beauty all around this sunny region; admire the trees at the California Citrus State Historic Park or go hiking in the San Bernardino Mountains (or skiing in the winter).
With nearly 40 dog-friendly restaurants between the two cities, your furry friends won’t feel left out when you enjoy the local cuisine. This somewhat liberal area of California has 34 hospitals, so you have access to excellent medical care wherever you live.
8. San Jose
- Housing cost to income ratio: 7.37%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.69%
- Violent crime index: 25
- Nonviolent crime index: 36.5
- Cost of living index: 214.5
Located in Silicon Valley, San Jose is known for being a liberal technology hub and home to more than 1 million residents.
Immerse yourself in the technology, history, and art museums, and let loose in the Raging Waters San Jose, a family-friendly waterpark. San Jose sees an average of 257 sunny days per year, perfect for outdoor activities like visiting the animals at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo.
With 60 area hospitals, San Jose residents never have to worry about locating medical care. Among San Jose’s popular suburbs are Mountain View, home of Google, Intuit, and other major technology companies; Palo Alto, home of Stanford University; and Los Altos Hills, an affluent yet more rural community.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 6.55%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.73%
- Violent crime index: 35.6
- Nonviolent crime index: 46.9
- Cost of living index: 118.2
The capital of the state slides in at No. 9 on the list of best places to live in California.
Located at the intersection of the American and Sacramento rivers, Sacramento is a politically liberal city — and a sunny one at that, with an average of 269 sunny days per year. Sacramento has activities that are perfect for the whole family, including the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento Zoo, and Funderland Amusement Park.
With 133 dog-friendly restaurants, your dog can take part in the fun too! Outdoors enthusiasts will enjoy stretching their legs and admiring wildlife in the nature preserves just west and south of the city. 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.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 7.85%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.86%
- Violent crime index: 36.2
- Nonviolent crime index: 59.8
- Cost of living index: 107.9
Rainy Redding sees an average of 38 inches of rain per year, making it one of the wettest cities on our list of best places to live in California.
On sunny days, explore the botanical gardens and exhibits of Turtle Bay Exploration Park or take a hike on one of the numerous trails in the Cascade foothills near the city. Redding, which lies along the Sacramento River, leans politically conservative and has five hospitals in its vicinity.
With 21 dog-friendly restaurants, as well as numerous parks, your pet will enjoy the Northern California climate as much as you do. If you prefer the suburbs, check out popular locations like Shasta and Shasta Lake.
This list of “Best Places to Live in California” was compiled using statistics for cost of living, average housing costs, average childcare cost, and crime indices.
Sarah graduated from Trinity University in 2012 with a degree in International Relations and Political Science. She writes blogs on new homes, decor, communities, and more for NewHomeSource. When she’s not writing, you can find her spending time with her three cats.