Overlooking view of houses in Santa Barbara, one of the best places to live in California

13 Best Places to Live in California in 2023 (By a Local)

There are some great places to live in California. From the unparalleled inland beauty to the year-round sunny beaches and bustling cities, California is at the top of the list for people looking to relocate in the U.S.

To say it’s overwhelming to move to a state that’s nearly 164,000 square miles is an understatement. As a California local, I’m here to help you pick the best cities in California for residency in the ginormous state. 

The best place to live in California will differ depending on what your needs are. So, I’ve broken down some of the most common features people want when deciding where to live in California including access to beaches, good school systems, and cost of living.

I’m confident in my expertise to help you find the location of your forever home, so let’s dive right in.

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13 Best Places to Live in California

San Diego

A beachy metropolitan city with incredible nightlife, restaurants, and shopping.

Aerial view of the La Jolla Cove and the Pacific Ocean
La Jolla Cove, where San Diego development meets the Pacific Ocean

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With 840 miles of coastal beachline, most people move to California to be close to the iconic SoCal beaches.

San Diego is a prominent U.S. destination and one of the best places to live in California. This beach city is home to remote workers, surfers, and families alike. San Diego is a good place to move with kids, as there are hundreds of San Diego activities including public parks, schools, museums, the San Diego Zoo and much more.

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.

👉 Pro Tip: Head over to the Gaslamp neighborhood for the best San Diego breweries, bars, and clubs in town.


Less crowded than other California cities and the capital of wine country USA.

A water fountain in the downtown area of Sonoma
Sonoma’s artisan downtown area (photo: Apostolis Giontzis / Shutterstock)

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Sonoma City is in the heart of the winemaking region of Sonoma Valley. This Northern California town is less crowded than other major California cities and encompasses both a metropolitan and small countryside atmosphere. 

Sonoma bears a rich history. Among other attractions in Sonoma, you’ll find a colonial-era plaza, adobe buildings, and the historic Mission San Francisco Solano that once served as a Mexican military outpost. 

Residents over 21 love the variability of the 425 local wineries in the region. This is perhaps the most popular reason why people move to Northern California’s wine country. There are also various family activities around the town like weekly farmer’s markets and hiking among the looming redwood trees. 

Only 30 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma is the perfect escape to the countryside, with big city amenities just a short car ride away. Santa Rosa is a Sonoma County neighborhood that’s ideal for families. Sonoma City and neighboring Santa Rosa are both safe communities with public amenities.

🏘️ Moving With the Family? Check out my guide to the best kid-friendly activities in California.

Los Angeles

The largest city in California with thousands of activities and attractions.

Palm trees lined up in the Rodeo Drive shopping district
The Rodeo Drive shopping district

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Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States, but don’t let its big numbers intimidate you. The “City of Angels” is inhabited by over 3 million residents and spans 34,000 square miles. 

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.

With a city as big as Los Angeles, you will definitely want to do your research before discerning which LA neighborhood is best to suit your wants and needs. 

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.

👉 Read Next: Los Angeles vs San Diego


A family-friendly city with local amenities and affordable home prices.

Aerial view of houses in Downtown Redlands
Redlands is surrounded by the San Bernardino Mountains on all sides

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Redlands is one of the best places to live in California. This San Bernardino County city has a nationally-acclaimed university, the University of Redlands, and a quaint surrounding college town.

There are local community events found in Redlands almost every day of the week from car shows, farmer’s markets, public park events, and concerts. Just outside of Los Angeles, Redlands is the perfect family town in Southern California.

Many Redlands residents hike and camp in the nearby San Bernardino Mountains, just outside of town. City folks can enjoy watching a concert at the Redlands Bowl or browsing through the San Bernardino County Museum’s natural history exhibits.

Because Redlands is just outside of LA, the cost of living can be on the higher end. If you are trying to budget, there are many affordable apartment options in the area. Redlands is one of the top places to stay in San Bernardino, so don’t miss out.

Lake Tahoe

A small town in the great outdoors with a tight-knit community and plenty of opportunities to ski.

Overlooking view from Lake Tahoe during winter season
Wintertime in the mountainous Lake Tahoe city

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Lake Tahoe is a Northern California mountain town. The village is established around the boundary of the lake, the largest alpine lake in North America.

This is the perfect place for individuals who love nature and aren’t afraid of winter weather. Lake Tahoe is nestled between high-altitude Sierra Mountain peaks on the border of Nevada and experiences a proper California snowy winter.

As a result, skiing is one of the main attractions of Lake Tahoe. With a small year-round population of 40,000, this is one of the smallest and most beautiful mountain towns in California.

There are 8 public schools in Tahoe and the main attractions for both families and individuals are outdoor activities like snowboarding, cycling, water skiing, and mountaineering.

Santa Monica

A LA County beach city with a low crime rate and easy access to the beach.

A signage in Santa Monica boardwalk
The Santa Monica boardwalk

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Santa Monica is just a short drive from downtown Los Angeles and is the perfect residential city for beachgoers. Not only will you find high-end shopping centers and top-notch dining options, but also clean public parks and beaches.

The Santa Monica-Malibu School District offers 17 public schools in this Los Angeles County region. The nightlife in Santa Monica is favored by adults but kids also love the area for the close access to the beach.

There are also arcade games on the Santa Monica pier, which is one of the best things to do in Santa Monica. Although the cost of living isn’t exactly inexpensive in Santa Monica, the area is worth the price tag. Not to mention, your neighbor may just be a Hollywood celebrity.

Santa Barbara

A Spanish-style beach town with a luxurious ambiance and one of the top universities in California.

Overlooking view of houses in Santa Barbara
The Spanish-style architecture of Santa Barbara with the Pacific Ocean in the distance

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Santa Barbara is not only an ideal place to stop on your ultimate California road trip, but it’s also one of the top places to live in California. This Spanish-style seaside town is pretty close to surfing paradise.

Most people who live in Santa Barbara are surfers, beach lovers, or college students. UC Santa Barbara is one of the top universities in California and the downtown area of the city caters to the students.

You will find a plethora of bars and restaurants in downtown Santa Barbara. Other fun attractions include visiting the Old Santa Barbara Mission or hanging out at East Beach. 

Although the town caters more to college-aged adults, there are 21 public schools in the unified school district. This ensures your children’s top-grade education.

San Francisco

A Northern California gem with rich history and a multitude of activities.

View of the hillside neighborhood in San Francisco
A tucked away hillside neighborhood of San Francisco

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San Francisco is one of the best places in California for both visiting and living. It is an iconic California city and was one of the first established during the Gold Rush Era.

Living in downtown San Francisco won’t be easy on your wallet, but you can find more affordable options just outside of the city. San Francisco is a Northern Californian hub for shopping, eating, tourist attractions, beaches, and cruising on the bay.

This is one of the best places to live in California because it caters to individuals of all ages and backgrounds. There are fun activities in San Francisco for everyone. You will find an abundance of parks, playgrounds, libraries, schools, colleges, museums, a healthy job market, special events, and more around the city.

Explore further with our guide to the best neighborhoods in San Francisco.

San Jose

A business-oriented city in Northern California with beautiful weather and nearby nature excursions.

Close up view of colorful flowers in Downtown San Jose
Downtown San Jose behind vibrant spring flowers

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Business people and entrepreneurs are brought to San Jose’s Silicon Valley each year. Home to major companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, Silicon Valley is ideal for technology-driven workers looking to relocate for their careers.

Other homeowners are drawn to San Jose for the beautiful weather, safe neighborhoods, and nearby nature excursions. While the city isn’t exactly low-cost, it is far less expensive than nearby San Francisco.

On your tour of San Jose, be sure to check out the Rose Garden neighborhood and admire the 19th-century architecture. The Alameda neighborhood is another highly sought-after historic neighborhood that is known for its tasty restaurants. 


The perfect location in between a bustling city and the sunny beach in Orange County.

View of the ferris wheel in Irvine Spectrum Center
The Irvine Spectrum entertainment and shopping center

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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.

Less than 9 miles from Newport Beach, Irvine is one of the entertainment capitals of Southern California. Things to do in Irvine include browsing around the Irvine Spectrum shopping center, catching a concert at the FivePoint Amphitheater, or going surfing at the nearby beach.


An elegant, historic city just outside of LA settled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Full Moon over downtown Pasadena
The European architecture of downtown Pasadena during a full moon

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Pasadena is hands down one of the places to live in California. Just outside of Los Angeles, Pasadena is less populated than the Hollywood city and is a great place to live for families.

Settled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the downtown Colorado Boulevard area offers high-end stores and delicious, 3-5-star restaurants. Pasadena neighborhoods are clean and the municipality is one of the safest in California.

Home of the Rose Bowl (the giant sports stadium) this city offers luxurious housing options for residents who aren’t necessarily looking to budget for their dream home. Pasadena has all of the amenities you could hope for in a city and does not disappoint its inhabitants.


A Southern California countryside town with an extensive public school system.

Aerial view of an establishment at the hills of Temecula
Rolling Temecula hills disguise themselves behind big residential homes

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Temecula is a Southern California wine region with open land and big family houses. Located in Riverside County, Temecula boasts some of the most affordable house prices in California. 

Praised for its quintessential Southern California weather, local wine, valley scenery, and excellent schools, many California residents are leaving Los Angeles County and heading to the countryside. 

Temecula offers a less congested alternative to living in the greater Los Angeles and San Diego areas and is a top pick for individuals looking to build their own homes. See our guides to what to do in Temecula and where to stay in Temecula for more.

Newport Beach

One of the most beautiful Southern California beach towns.

Close up view of grass in Newport Beach
Beachfront Newport homes during dusk

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Newport Beach is one of the hippest beach towns in California. It is also one of the best places to live in California for year-round sunshine. It’s hard not to fall in love with this Southern California beach town and its 10-mile coastline.

Located in Orange County, Newport has one of the most extensive public school systems in California. The education is among the top in the state and students love their school’s proximity to the beach.

Newport Beach also has a great nightlife scene with an array of bars right on the waterfront. Newport neighborhoods are clean and safe, making this a top destination for people who want to move to California.

Learn more with our guide to what to do in Newport Beach.

👉 Pro Tip: Newport Beach is in close proximity to Huntington Beach, one of the top surf destinations in the world. When the beach is too crowded at Newport, take a short drive to Huntington to enjoy its less-crowded sandy beaches.

FAQs About Living in California

What are some good reasons to live in California?

California has some of the best sunny weather year-round. This west coast state also has great beaches and surfing opportunities. Another advantage of living in California is its large job market.

What are the pros and cons of living in California?

Some pros of living in California include beautiful scenery, national parks, and an overall median home price. Some cons include poor public transportation and expensive living costs in the major cities. 

Is California a good place to live?

California is one of the top places to live in the United States. Famous for sites like Hollywood in Los Angeles, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and the beautiful Pacific Coast, California is the perfect place to live.  


As you can see, there are a variety of wonderful places to live in California. Now it’s up to you to choose the perfect one to fit your lifestyle. Check out my article on the perfect time to visit California to be familiar with the Californian climate before your big move.

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  1. Looking for a place to retire in California where it’s not expensive, and not hot.
    Can you please advise me of places like that.
    Thank You

    1. Sacramento, although hot in the summer, is affordable and has one of the best environments for retired folks including top medical facilities. Sacramento is both one of the best college towns in California, but is the choice of many retired military officers who have seen the world and choose Sacramento.

    2. Eureka, Arcata, Crescent city…, definitely more affordable than anywhere else and has a Mediterranean climate.

    3. Ridgecrest, CA. Two and a half hours from LA or Las Vegas. Small town living, but easy to drive to the hub of a big city. There are many apartments are around $1,250/mo. for two bedroom. Not crazy expensive to live here. Mostly NAVAIR employees, few 18-30yr old community members. 40-55 degrees in winter, 90-100 in summer. You likely won’t get flooded or fire damaged. But earthquakes can be a challenge. That’s where I’m headed in 2024!

    4. Eric, your best bet is in Northern California. Try researching places like Monterey, Shasta, Tahoe, or Sacramento. Hope that helps!

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