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. Salinas

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 141
Metro Population: 433,410
Median Home Price: $628,350
Average Annual Salary: $52,060

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 27th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. on the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, which asks residents about their overall happiness, community pride and sense of security, among other details.

Learn more about Salinas.

9. Fresno

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 136
Metro Population: 984,521
Median Home Price: $368,850
Average Annual Salary: $48,840

Ranking No. 136 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 23.1 minutes, nearly four minutes less than the national average. While Fresno’s median home price of $368,850 is above the national median of $315,743, according to Zillow data, it’s still much lower than in many other parts of California.

Learn more about Fresno.

8. Vallejo and Fairfield

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 135
Metro Population: 441,829
Median Home Price: $440,550
Average Annual Salary: $57,640

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 Sharecare Community Well-Being Index. Still, living here requires 26.94% of the area’s median household income, and the average morning commute in the Vallejo and Fairfield metro area is 33.2 minutes, the fifth-longest commute out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

Learn more about Vallejo and Fairfield.

7. Los Angeles

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 126
Metro Population: 18,657,347
Median Home Price: $527,818
Average Annual Salary: $57,373

The second-most populous metro area in the U.S. after New York City, Los Angeles offers a desirable location and plenty of satisfied residents, but its popularity comes at a price. Los Angeles residents spend 29.66% 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 San Francisco, 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 more than 3,600 U.S. residents asking respondents where they’d like to live, given the choice.

Learn more about Los Angeles.

6. Santa Rosa

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 121
Metro Population: 499,772
Median Home Price: $617,550
Average Annual Salary: $57,080

If you’re looking to live in the middle of California wine country, look no further than Santa Rosa. Ranking No. 121 on the overall Best Places to Live list for 2021-2022, Santa Rosa receives its strongest scores for the overall well-being of residents, its college readiness among high school students and for its low crime rates. In the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, the Santa Rosa metro area ranks 12th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Looking at crime, Santa Rosa ranks 25th 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.

5. Santa Barbara

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 115
Metro Population: 444,829
Median Home Price: $464,954
Average Annual Salary: $56,540

After ranking No. 104 on the overall Best Places to Live list in 2020, Santa Barbara has fallen to No. 115 for 2021-2022. While the area is known to have happy residents, based on the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, and residents enjoy a short average commute of just 20.5 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 29.26% of the area’s median household income, making it the fifth-most expensive place to live out of the 150 metro areas on the list.

Learn more about Santa Barbara.

4. Sacramento

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 98
Metro Population: 2,315,980
Median Home Price: $549,893
Average Annual Salary: $58,390

California’s state capital receives its best scores for its job market and population growth — the average annual salary, at $58,390, is nearly $5,000 above the national average. However, the job market took a hit in 2020, with the average monthly unemployment rate for the year being 8.7%, above the national average monthly rate of 8.1%. Higher incomes help reduce the impact of housing costs, though not by much. As much as 26.01% of the median household income is required to cover typical housing costs in the area.

Learn more about Sacramento.

3. San Diego

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 97
Metro Population: 3,316,073
Median Home Price: $835,207
Average Annual Salary: $60,230

The eighth-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. However, San Diego’s job market suffered significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an average monthly unemployment rate of 9.3%, which was a major factor in the metro area’s drop from No. 45 on the overall Best Places to Live list in 2020 to No. 97 in 2021. Compared with other parts of California, however, its desirability, resident well-being and college readiness among high schools students still make it No. 3 in the state.

Learn more about San Diego.

2. San Jose

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 36
Metro Population: 1,987,846
Median Home Price: $1,302,118
Average Annual Salary: $83,960

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the capital of Silicon Valley ranks highly on the overall Best Places to Live list at No. 36. San Jose is home to nearly 2 million people, and with a median home price of more than $1.3 million, 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 2021-2022 Rank: 15
Metro Population: 4,701,332
Median Home Price: $1,047,714
Average Annual Salary: $75,890

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 over $1 million, according to data from Zillow — the area’s higher average income of more than $75,000 offsets those costs. Its high desirability as a place to live among U.S. residents also contributes to San Francisco taking the No. 15 spot on the overall Best Places to Live list in 2021-2022, 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.

— Santa Barbara.

— Santa Rosa.

— Los Angeles.

— Vallejo and Fairfield.

— Fresno.

— Salinas.

See full rankings.

More from U.S. News

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The 25 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2021-2022

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

Update 10/26/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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