The Best Places to Live in California

Which spot in the Golden State is best?

You may be one of many people considering a move to California. While your mind might first jump to Los Angeles or San Francisco as the epitome of life in the Golden State, there are many more metro areas to consider calling home. Drawn from the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. that make up the Best Places to Live rankings, which take into account affordability, job market, access to quality health care and desirability, as well as other factors, we’re highlighting the top 10 Best Places to Live in California.

10. Fresno

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 142
Metro Population: 978,130
Median Home Price: $261,233
Average Annual Salary: $47,340

Ranking No. 142 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Fresno is located in the San Joaquin Valley, roughly a two-hour drive from the coast. Like many inland California metro areas, Fresno is best known for its connection to agriculture, with fruits like tomatoes and peaches among its most common crops. This largely agricultural focus also keeps many residents from having to travel far for work, as the average morning commute in Fresno is just 22.6 minutes, four minutes less than the national average. While Fresno’s median home price of $261,233 is above the national median of $232,933, according to Zillow data, it’s still much lower than in many other parts of California.

Learn more about Fresno.

9. Salinas

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 140
Metro Population: 433,212
Median Home Price: $589,025
Average Annual Salary: $49,700

Located within reach of the Pacific coast, Salinas is one of the smaller California metro areas on the list with less than 500,000 residents calling the area home. While the city of Salinas does not sit directly on the coast, other parts of the metro area, including Monterey, are on the water and attract many visitors and residents. Residents seem to be pleased with where they live, as Salinas ranks second out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. on the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, which asks residents about their overall happiness, community pride and sense of security, among other details (Naples, Florida, ranks No. 1 in the index).

Learn more about Salinas.

8. Santa Barbara

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 104
Metro Population: 443,738
Median Home Price: $464,954
Average Annual Salary: $54,890

After ranking No. 73 on the overall Best Places to Live list in 2019, Santa Barbara has fallen to No. 104 for 2020-2021. While the area is known to have happy residents, based on the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, and residents enjoy a short average commute of just 19.8 minutes, the ever-growing cost of living in the Santa Barbara metro area makes it difficult for people to afford living in this California spot. The cost of living in Santa Barbara requires 29.53% of the area median household income, making it the fourth-most expensive place to live out of the 150 metro areas on the list.

Learn more about Santa Barbara.

7. Santa Rosa

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 102
Metro Population: 501,317
Median Home Price: $608,367
Average Annual Salary: $55,290

If you’re looking to live in the middle of California wine country, look no further than Santa Rosa. Ranking No. 102 on the overall Best Places to Live list for 2020-2021, Santa Rosa receives its strongest scores for the overall well-being of residents and for its low crime rates. In the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, the Santa Rosa metro area ranks fourth out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Looking at crime, Santa Rosa ranks 11th out of all the metro areas on the Best Places to Live list for its low property crime and murder rates.

Learn more about Santa Rosa.

6. Vallejo and Fairfield

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 101
Metro Population: 438,530
Median Home Price: $426,408
Average Annual Salary: $54,890

Northeast of San Francisco, the Vallejo and Fairfield metro area gets strong scores for its proximity to high-quality health care, based on data from the U.S. News Best Hospitals ranking, and because residents report satisfaction with living in the area, according to the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index. Still, living here requires 26.72% of the area’s median household income, and the average morning commute in the Vallejo and Fairfield metro area is 32.6 minutes, the fifth-longest commute out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

Learn more about Vallejo and Fairfield.

5. Los Angeles

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 97
Metro Population: 18,629,045
Median Home Price: $525,762
Average Annual Salary: $55,599

The second-most populous metro area in the U.S. after New York City, Los Angeles offers a healthy job market and desirable location, but its popularity comes at a price. Los Angeles residents spend 29.93% of the median household income on housing, which makes this metro area too pricey for many people. Still, others will sacrifice the cost for a chance to live there: LA tied with Honolulu and Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the No. 1 most desirable place to live out of the 150 metro areas on the list, based on a SurveyMonkey survey of 3,000 U.S. residents asking respondents where they’d like to live, given the choice.

Learn more about Los Angeles.

4. Sacramento

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 81
Metro Population: 2,291,738
Median Home Price: $398,425
Average Annual Salary: $56,430

California’s state capital receives its best scores for its job market — the average annual salary, at $56,430, is nearly $5,000 above the national average. Combined with a low pre-pandemic unemployment rate, Sacramento’s job market ranks 27th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Higher incomes help reduce the impact of housing costs, though not by much. As much as 26.15% of the median household income is required to cover typical housing costs in the area.

Learn more about Sacramento.

3. San Diego

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 45
Metro Population: 3,302,833
Median Home Price: $564,092
Average Annual Salary: $58,090

The sixth-most desirable place out of the 150 metro areas on the list, San Diego attracts many residents for its sunny weather, warm climate and proximity to the beach. But sandy shores aren’t the only thing bringing people to San Diego. An average annual salary of $58,090 and low pre-pandemic unemployment rate mean the job market here is stronger than the average metro area in the U.S. But with a cost of living that requires 29.36% of the area’s median annual household income, San Diego is the fifth-most expensive metro area in the U.S.

Learn more about San Diego.

2. San Jose

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 29
Metro Population: 1,981,616
Median Home Price: $1,024,650
Average Annual Salary: $80,480

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the capital of Silicon Valley ranks highly on the overall Best Places to Live list at No. 29. San Jose is home to nearly 2 million people, and with a median home price of $1,024,650, it has even higher home prices than San Francisco. But like its Bay Area neighbor, a high income offsets the mile-high prices. With an average annual salary over $80,000, San Jose residents aren’t hurting as much when it comes to buying a house.

Learn more about San Jose.

1. San Francisco

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 4,673,221
Median Home Price: $782,350
Average Annual Salary: $72,400

San Francisco has plenty going for it to attract new residents, from its reputation as a fun city to live in to a strong job market. And while San Francisco’s real estate market is notoriously expensive — with a median home price of $782,350, according to data from Zillow — the area’s higher average income of more than $70,000 offsets those high costs. Its high desirability as a place to live among U.S. residents also contributes to San Francisco taking the No. 10 spot on the overall Best Places to Live list in 2020-2021, making it the best place to live in California.

Learn more about San Francisco.

Here are the best places to live in California:

— San Francisco.

— San Jose.

— San Diego.

— Sacramento.

— Los Angeles.

— Vallejo and Fairfield.

— Santa Rosa.

— Santa Barbara.

— Salinas.

— Fresno.

See full rankings.

More from U.S. News

The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for Young Professionals

The 20 Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather in 2020

The 25 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2020-2021

The Best Places to Live in California originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/11/20: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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