Believe us when we say there is a city for you on the Golden Coast.
Whether you are moving for better job opportunities, a switch of scenery or a change of pace, you’ll find the best places to live in California scattered up and down the Golden State.
Here are our picks for the best cities in California:
- Population: 371,323
- Average age: 36.8
- Median household income: $63,139
- Average commute: 27.9 minutes
- Walk score: 43
- Studio average rent: $900
- One-bedroom average rent: $1,189
- Two-bedroom average rent: $974
Bakersfield is often the butt of jokes about California, but this city is actually not a bad place to live. The area is centrally located and is well known for its agriculture and energy production.
Los Angeles is only about two hours south, and San Francisco is about four hours north. If you crave culture and city life, you have options for a weekend getaway in either direction.
If you have children, you can take advantage of a handful of good schools. In fact, Bakersfield’s average Great Schools rating of 4.7 is higher compared to Los Angeles.
- Population: 470,267
- Average age: 39.5
- Median household income: $63,017
- Average commute: 37.8 minutes
- Walk score: 84
- Studio average rent: $2,136
- One-bedroom average rent: $2,089
- Two-bedroom average rent: $2,587
A port city just 24 miles south of Los Angeles, Long Beach offers waterfront attractions, bike-friendly roads and trails, amazing Southern California weather and diverse cultural festivals. It’s also a great place to raise a family with plenty of activities for all ages.
Visit the Aquarium of the Pacific, the legendary (and haunted) Queen Mary, the iconic Lions Lighthouse for Sight or relaxing Signal Hill Park. Consider living here if you value an active lifestyle because the walk score is an impressive 84.
Long Beach also has the highest school-rating score (6.5) on this list and is home to California State University, Long Beach.
- Population: 3,950,004
- Average age: 40.6
- Median household income: $62,142
- Average commute: 38.6 minutes
- Walk score: 79
- Studio average rent: $2,387
- One-bedroom average rent: $3,099
- Two-bedroom average rent: $4,557
Los Angeles is the most populous city in California for many reasons. Rounding out the list are perfect year-round weather, great hiking spots, multiple professional sports teams, plentiful jobs and business opportunities, top-notch universities such as the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, delicious eats and beautiful beaches aplenty.
Don’t forget that Los Angeles is a melting pot of diverse cultures, too.
The average commute is 38.6 minutes, so prepare to listen to your favorite podcasts or playlists. Luckily though, in Los Angeles, you don’t need to own a vehicle to get around, as reliable public transportation can get you to most places.
- Population: 417,522
- Average age: 41.7
- Median household income: $92,876
- Average commute: 39.9 minutes
- Walk score: 83
- Studio average rent: $2,807
- One-bedroom average rent: $3,293
- Two-bedroom average rent: $4,264
A hipster enclave just a short drive over the bridge from San Francisco, Oakland offers residents an urban-suburban mix feel.
There are many bars, restaurants, coffee shops and parks for you to enjoy on your days off work.
With year-round weather hovering around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s no wonder locals choose to take to the outdoors. Check out Lake Merritt, located in the heart of the city, where you can bike, kayak and much more.
Oakland is also home to Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics, and you’ll see plenty of the team’s green, gold and white colors on proud display.
- Population: 175,448
- Average age: 42.4
- Median household income: $72,697
- Average commute: 34.9 minutes
- Walk score: 50
- Studio average rent: $2,417
- One-bedroom average rent: $2,257
- Two-bedroom average rent: $2,523
Nestled on the coast of North San Diego County, Oceanside is the least populous city on this list. As such, it’s an ideal place to get away from the hustle-bustle of San Diego, but it’s still close enough — just a hop on Interstate 5 South.
Oceanside offers three miles of shoreline and stunning beaches for runners, walkers and water sports enthusiasts.
The city is also home to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, so don’t be surprised if you encounter men and women in uniform along the way. You might also recognize a few locations in town from the movie “Top Gun,” filmed here in 1986.
- Population: 320,715
- Average age: 38
- Median household income: $69,045
- Average commute: 38 minutes
- Walk score: 54
- Studio average rent: $1,416
- One-bedroom average rent: $1,685
- Two-bedroom average rent: $1,987
The quiet and relaxing Inland Empire city of Riverside sits southeast of Los Angeles, offering more affordable housing than coastal towns. The University of California Riverside adds diversity and gives the city a thriving bar and club nightlife.
If you’re a fan of hot weather, then Riverside is the place for you. Since there is no sea breeze, the summer months mean Riverside is 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the coast.
Grab the family, swimsuits and a fishing boat and day-trip to Lake Hemet for some fun in the sun. Or head over to California Citrus State Historic Park, which preserves the cultural landscape of the citrus industry and shares the story of its role in the development of Southern California.
- Population: 488,974
- Average age: 40.2
- Median household income: $62,335
- Average commute: 30.8 minutes
- Walk score: 60
- Studio average rent: $1,940
- One-bedroom average rent: $1,802
- Two-bedroom average rent: $1,959
Sacramento is not only the state capital but is also known as the City of Trees. It’s additionally known for the beautiful historical architecture of the government buildings around the downtown area.
Spend a fun weekend strolling Old Sacramento’s cobblestone streets, hitting the shops downtown, walking the Tower Bridge or visiting the Sacramento Zoo.
One of the greatest advantages to living in Sacramento is its proximity to some of Northern California’s most visited destinations. While the ocean is just a couple of hours to the west, Sacramento is a short drive from Napa Valley, national forests and mountains.
- Population: 1,392,264
- Average age: 40.5
- Median household income: $79,673
- Average commute: 29 minutes
- Walk score: 71
- Studio average rent: $2,215
- One-bedroom average rent: $2,372
- Two-bedroom average rent: $3,068
Whether you are looking for a place to retire, coming here for work, looking for a place to raise a family or attending a university for higher education, there’s a place for you in San Diego. Best of all, there’s always something to do.
Catch a Padres game at Petco Park, hit the hiking trails, try a new brunch spot or head to the beach. The city scores high when it comes to restaurant offerings, especially in North Park, Old Town and Little Italy.
San Diego ranks second on this list for high-quality education with a Great Schools average rating of 6.3, and there are many exceptional university options to choose from.
- Population: 864,263
- Average age: 44.7
- Median household income: $112,449
- Average commute: 40.9 minutes
- Walk score: 93
- Studio average rent: $3,163
- One-bedroom average rent: $3,981
- Two-bedroom average rent: $5,187
If you’re looking for a career opportunity in tech, then head on over to San Francisco, where the industry is growing at a rapid pace. Granted, the living expenses are the highest here, but the income average is also the highest in California to help offset those costs. Plus, there are plenty of things to do.
Walk around Golden Gate Park, eat delicious food at the Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown, stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, ride a trolley up the famous big hills or visit the museums to learn something new.
Don’t forget to invest in a good pair of walking shoes; this city is extremely pedestrian-friendly, with the highest walk score on this list. It just about makes up for the 40.9-minute average commute.
- Population: 1,023,224
- Average age: 40.8
- Median household income: $109,593
- Average commute: 36.2 minutes
- Walk score: 62
- Studio average rent: $2,304
- One-bedroom average rent: $2,823
- Two-bedroom average rent: $3,459
The capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is known for its fantastic weather, incredible hiking trails and safe suburban neighborhoods for young families.
Thanks to the technology industry boom, the cost of living has shot up compared to other California cities. Still, it’s more affordable than San Francisco.
A great advantage of living in San Jose is its proximity to other popular destinations. You can easily take a day trip to San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley or wine country. The city is also a quick drive to local beaches and is only 3.5 hours from Yosemite National Park. During hockey season, stay put and cheer on National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks.
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Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in March 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Other demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.