20 Best Places to Live in California (CA)

Among the countless options of beautiful places available in the US, living in California is still one of the most popular alternatives. Located on the American West Coast, California brings together beautiful cities with countless attractions for different lifestyles. Besides a pleasant climate all year round, with sunshine and little rain in much of the state, California has a diverse nature with beaches, mountains, lakes, and even snow.

Also, it is a state with a high concentration of immigrants and a good reputation for welcoming new residents with open arms. Not to mention that the largest technology and innovation hub in the world is located in the region of Silicon Valley. With a stable economy and strong growth, living in California is an attractive factor for job seekers.

Interactive Map of 20 Best Places to Live in California

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. San Diego

San Diego
Source: Unsplash / Daniel Guerra

San Diego is among the most sought-after cities to live in California. Among the reasons are, mainly, the most affordable price and quality of life in the region. Located in the south of the state, San Diego is just 10 miles from Tijuana, Mexico. The natural beauty and quality of life are impressive and the proximity to the Mexican border allows for intercultural tourism.

With a great climate and healthy lifestyle, the city has one of the most stable and pleasant climates in the world. And regarding jobs, it offers many opportunities, mainly in the pharmaceutical, electronic equipment, and aerospace sectors.

2. Los Angeles

Los Angeles
Source: Unsplash / Joel Mott

The second most populous city in the US, Los Angeles is the center of beauty and entertainment, making it a good option to live in California. Located in the south of the state, Disneyland, Beverly Hills, and the Walk of Fame are among the main attractions you will find there. 

Besides, in the surroundings of the city, there are several other types of attractions, such as valleys, mountains, forests, and even deserts. Its pleasant climate, with sunshine practically all year round, means that there is not a bad time to spend a season in the city.

3. San Francisco

San Francisco
Source: Unsplash / Tim Foster

San Francisco is the commercial and financial cradle of Northern California. Those who choose to live in San Francisco can take advantage of all its diversity. San Francisco has a lively cultural life and a great structure for sports. Not to mention its exuberant nature with beaches, mountains, and other breathtaking landscapes. Also, it is a great tourist region, which gives you several attractions to visit in your free time. On the outskirts of San Francisco, you will find Silicon Valley, the universities of Berkeley and Stanford, and Yosemite National Park.

But not only tourism moves the city’s economy as there are many opportunities in the area of Information Technology. In San Francisco, you can find companies such as Airbnb, Deloitte, Oracle, Infosys, Wells Fargo, Accenture, Amazon, Google, Salesforce, and IBM.

4. Sacramento

Source: Unsplash / Curstis Hystad

The city of Sacramento has a population of over half a million and it is California’s capital. Sacramento is a fun city full of cool tourist attractions, such as the historic Old Town, boat trips on the Sacramento River, and some good museums. Not to mention the chance to visit the Capitol close by.

During the Vietnam War era, the Port of Sacramento was the main stop on the supply route for all military parts, hardware, and other cargo going to Southeast Asia. Currently, Sacramento is the fastest-growing city in California. This is due to its status as a financial center on the west coast. And it is also an important educational center since it is home to the California State University and the University of California.

5. San Jose

San Jose
Source: Unsplash / Andrii Ganzevych

Located in Silicon Valley, San Jose is also on the list of the best cities to live in California. As such, it has one of the best base salaries per year, and among the best professions to work for in San Jose are product manager, systems engineer, and clinical nurse. However, the best companies to work for in San Jose are the multinationals Apple, Google, Cisco Systems, Infosys, Deloitte, Intel Corporation, and IBM. In fact, San Jose is one of the main technological centers, not only in the US but in the world.

Furthermore, it is on the outskirts of the city that Stanford University is located, one of the best institutions in the world.

6. Palo Alto

Palo Alto
Source: Unsplash / Mac Gaither

Located 33 miles from San Francisco, Palo Alto is a Californian city with more than 60 thousand inhabitants. Part of the city is in the Bay of San Francisco and part of the famous Silicon Valley, where all the technological advances of the moment come from.

The city is just over 100 years old and is named after a tree on the San Francisquito Creek. The city is home to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, and founder of Facebook. You can even see him in some restaurants in the city. Since the city is home to Stanford University, the area is packed with students and their bikes, which run everywhere.

7. Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa
Source: Flickr / Sharon Hahn Darlin | CC BY 2.0

The city of Santa Rosa is yet another city very close to San Francisco, which means that it is easy to visit if you want a break from the big city and explore a different place. Curiously, many people do not know that Santa Rosa is truly the home of the Peanuts cartoon, as this was the hometown of Charles M. Schulz. So, make sure to visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center and explore various historical sites.

Aside from the popular cartoon, the city of Santa Rosa has a wealth of other exciting attractions as there is so much to explore and enjoy in California’s magnificent landscapes without large crowds. 

8. Irvine

Source: Unsplash / Christopher Sardegna

Considered the least violent city in the US, Irvine is the city that recorded the largest population increase in southern California. With approximately 212,000 inhabitants, this region is located in Orange County and offers a huge mix of fun with a high-quality academic scene. It is a reference in the area of ​​Social Sciences worldwide.

Besides the student vibe, the city offers other venues, aimed at entertaining its residents, including shopping malls, restaurants, and beautiful beaches. Its proximity to the Las Vegas region is yet another differential. Therefore, the Irvine region is a true summer camp for those looking to mix study and leisure.

9. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara
Source: Unsplash / Samantha Fortney

Santa Barbara is small in size and population, making it a perfect candidate for anyone who wants to live in California, but prefers to avoid the hustle and bustle of larger cities. It rains more often there, but you still have many sunny days to enjoy the coast on the weekends. And for those looking for excitement, Las Vegas is very close.

With a Spanish-influenced architecture, this seaside town is inviting to the beautiful beaches, great for surfing or diving. Also, if you want something a little more cultural, you can find it at the Old Mission, a beautiful church with an enchanting view. And, of course, at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, whose main tower serves as an incredible viewpoint.

10. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach
Source: Unsplash / Jake Blucker

Manhattan Beach, south of Los Angeles, is a classic Californian beachside city. This is a charming city that was built on dunes with its reflective houses in elegant style. The region itself is filled with a large concentration of restaurants and stores.

Used by professional athletes and amateurs, Manhattan Beach Sand Dune Park is one of the two most popular locations in the city. This enormous dune was once the subject of journals and magazines as an excellent place to prepare for fitness challenges.

11. Newport Beach

Newport Beach
Source: Unsplash / Austin Neill

Newport Beach is your typical Californian seaside city with two piers, an easily accessible island of stores, palm trees, and colorful bicycles everywhere. The city has many marinas, beautiful houses, and trendy stores. And after visiting Newport Beach, you will likely want to move there.

The main attraction in Newport Beach is to visit Balboa Island and explore Balboa Village, Balboa Pier, Balboa Ferry, and Balboa Fun Zone. Also, Newport Beach’s main waterfront street, Bay Front, is where the rich residents with their fancy and beautiful houses are concentrated. A majority of them including a deck with a ship in front.

12. Piedmont

Source: Flickr / Sharon Hahn Darlin | CC BY 2.0

Located in Alameda County, Piedmont is in fact a suburb of Oakland with around 11,000 inhabitants. With highly-rated schools, this is actually a great place to live as a family. Featuring a liberal culture, the city also has many bars, restaurants, cafes, and parks.

One of the things to do there is to visit Sea View Avenue and Sotelo Avenue/Glen Alpine Road in ‘Alta’ Piedmont. Take your time to admire the beautiful mansions built in the roaring twenties when Piedmont was known as the ‘City of Millionaires‘.

13. Santa Monica

Santa Monica
Source: Unsplash / Denisse Leon

The small town of Santa Monica is a great option for those who prefer to live in a smaller place. However, the city has a lot to offer, especially its beaches with perfect waves. In fact, the Santa Monica Pier is famous all over the world. And on top of it, there is a small amusement park, with a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, and some electronic toys.

For those who like history, it is worth visiting the city to discover the mythical Route 66. During your free time, look for the Third Street Promenade, one of the most famous streets there, where you will find several famous brand stores, restaurants, and bars.

14. Berkeley

Source: Flickr / Charlie Nguyen | CC BY 2.0

Located just over half an hour from San Francisco by train, Berkeley is a super young city, full of personality and home to one of the most famous American universities, U.C. Berkeley. This small student town has a unique atmosphere that combines modern hipsters with college students and super cool people. 

For those getting to know the city, the tip is to turn left on Telegraph Avenue and get to know the most alternative street in the city where many of the social and political movements in the region started. Take advantage of the university atmosphere to have a coffee in some of the many student cafes on the street. And do not be alarmed by the huge amount of hippies. Also, Berkeley is home to one of California’s most famous restaurants, Chez Panisse.

15. Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley
Source: Unsplash / Jose Rago

The Silicon Valley covers the area south of San Francisco Bay. The name comes from Silicon, the raw material for the chips that started the digital revolution, but today it is associated with technology in general. In Silicon Valley, wherever you look you see super mega-companies such as Google, Netflix, HP, and Nasa. This way, it can be a bit expensive because normally those who live there work in these companies and earn very well.

Silicon Valley is formed by several cities including Campbell, Cupertino, Fremont, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Milpitas, Newark, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Sunnyvale, and Union City. And all of these cities are very close to each other.

16. Solana Beach

Solana Beach
Source: Unsplash / Keaton Elvins

Located 22 miles north of San Diego, Solana Beach is a small coastal community known for its stores and cute boutiques. This is a good place to go shopping for furniture as well as surfing gear, and to visit art galleries. Also, Solana Beach is a great place to live given that it has sunshine almost every day and the temperatures during winter are not that bad.

Solana Beach was first occupied as a farming community with no beach access. Nowadays, it has 3 main beaches which are more suitable for surfers and bodyboarders due to the strong power of the waves.

17. Mountain View

Mountain View
Source: Wikimedia / Aleh Haiko | CC BY-SA 3.0

Popularly known as Googleplex, Mountain View is a city in Silicon Valley. The city has this nickname because Google’s headquarters can be found there. So, you can imagine that Mountain View is where the CEOs of the company are and where most of the innovations happen.

Coming out of the modern, glassed-in buildings is a complex of wooden-framed buildings that look very old and do not even look like Google. Given its popularity among technology lovers, Mountain View’s most popular attractions include the Android sculpture garden, Google Store, and Google Visitor Center.

18. Bakersfield

Source: Flickr / Rain0975 | CC BY-ND 2.0

Bakersfield is most known as the “country music capital of the West”. The city gained this title as a result of welcoming many Dust Bowl refugees. As well as being the home of many country singers including Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

Located in the southern region of California’s Central Valley, Bakersfield has a rich history involving oil and agriculture. Nowadays, Bakersfield is a hub for energy production involving industries such as natural gas, petroleum refining and distribution, mining, and other energy extraction sectors.

19. Burlingame

Source: Flickr / denipet | CC BY 2.0

Located south of San Francisco, Burlingame is a family-friendly small city featuring many museums, parks, restaurants, and candy shops. In fact, most of Burlingame’s popular attractions are waterfront parks that are connected by hiking trails along the coast. The most famous park is the Bayfront Park with its beautiful views, ball fields, and dog park.

Known for its eucalyptus trees, high quality of life, walkable and cute downtown, and highly-rated public school system, the city is surrounded by natural beauty. Some of its sights include Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia, Crystal Springs Golf Club, and Peninsula Museum of Art.

20. Davis

Source: Unsplash / Nischal Malla

Davis is the ideal destination if you are looking for a family-friendly green city, with several well-maintained parks. The city also prioritizes the bicycle as the main public transport. With a population of almost 70,000, Davis has a Mediterranean climate and a university lifestyle. Also, the small town is known for hosting the University of California, very important for the entire state. Even so, the city receives a very high load of young visitors every year.

Due to its youthful character, the city offers a large number of bars and nightclubs, which keep students in a party rhythm every weekend.