Best Places to Retire in California

California has long been a place where people go to create a new life. The natural wonders, including stunning ocean views, dramatic mountains and venerable forests, will charm even the most exhausted and jaded retiree.

“Its diverse climate offers everything from sunny beaches to mountain retreats to the dry air of the desert,” says Jon Ekoniak, managing partner at Bordeaux Wealth Advisors in Menlo Park, California. “In particular, living in the desert may be very beneficial for those suffering from respiratory conditions or allergies, as the dry air helps moderate symptoms.”

Ekoniak says the biggest downside is the cost of living in the Golden State, especially for those who continue to generate significant income in retirement. “California is known for aggressively taxing its citizens,” he says. The cost of living is typically higher in urban centers, but Ekoniak says there are more economical options available, specifically inland regions. “Cities like Stockton, Vallejo, Santa Rosa and Salinas are more affordable, yet still provide access to the many amenities of the Bay Area,” he adds.

High quality of life, prolific job opportunities and top-rated health care options make California a desirable place to retire, according to a recent U.S. News analysis of the 150 largest U.S. metropolitan areas as potential retirement spots. The study includes data about housing affordability, happiness, desirability, retiree taxes, the job market and access to quality health care. Consider these California cities for retirement.

[READ: 2024 Most Affordable Places to Retire]

14. San Jose

Population: 1,995,351 Share of population age 65+: 13.5% Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,844 Median monthly rent: $2,511

The San Jose metro area has the highest housing prices in the country, according to a U.S. News analysis of Census Bureau data. The median home price is out of reach for most retirees. Newcomers will probably need to rent an apartment. As the headquarters for many global tech companies including PayPal, Cisco and Adobe, the area has ample job opportunities and is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. This is also a college town, home to San Jose State University, the oldest public university on the West Coast. San Jose offers a prime environment for outdoorsy residents, with its proximity to the ocean, the Sierra Nevada and the vineyards — not to mention about 300 sunny days a year.

13. Stockton

Population: 771,406 Share of population age 65+: 12.6% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,506 Median monthly rent: $1,387

Stockton is an inland California city located about an hour and a half drive from San Francisco and San Jose and less than an hour from Sacramento. Housing is considerably more affordable in Stockton than in many other parts of California, but could still feel expensive to people relocating from out of state. Those interested in the arts can enjoy the Haggin Museum and shows at the Bob Hope Theatre. The area tends to have very hot summer weather, but temperatures are mild in the winter.

12. Vallejo and Fairfield

Population: 451,432 Share of population age 65+: 15.9% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,745 Median monthly rent: $1,802

The median home price in Vallejo and Fairfield is less than half the cost of a home in nearby San Francisco, but housing will still feel expensive to retirees on a limited budget. Seniors ages 65 and older can take a ferry from Vallejo to San Francisco for the discounted price of $5.50. Unique entertainment options include a visit to the amusement park Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo or sampling the jelly beans on a factory tour of the Jelly Belly Candy Company in Fairfield.

[The 10 Best Beach Towns to Retire in the U.S.]

11. Santa Rosa

Population: 492,498 Share of population age 65+: 19.9% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,970 Median monthly rent: $1,856

If your retirement dream is to live among scenic vineyards, or even tend a few grapes of your own, consider retirement in California’s famed Sonoma and Napa valleys. Those interested in wine could find a part-time job at a winery chatting about the latest vintage or leading tours of the facility. Santa Rosa scored particularly well on the happiness metric, with many residents enjoying where they live.

10. Salinas

Population: 438,953 Share of population age 65+: 13.7% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,837 Median monthly rent: $1,718

Salinas has considerably more affordable housing than the nearby San Francisco Bay Area, but home prices are still high compared with other parts of the country. Salinas scored well on the happiness metric, with residents reporting that they enjoy where they live. Salinas is the hometown of author John Steinbeck, and the area is featured prominently in many of his novels, including “The Grapes of Wrath.” The city is surrounded by prolific farmland, and its location near the Pacific Ocean helps to keep temperatures cool.

9. Bakersfield

Population: 905,644 Share of population age 65+: 10.9% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,181 Median monthly rent: $1,063

This inland city is among the most affordable places to live in California. Housing costs in Bakersfield are some of the lowest in California. The hot and dry summers and mild winters make the area ideal for growing a wide variety of crops. The city is surrounded by productive farmland, with year-round fresh local produce. Bakersfield has a variety of music venues, and musicians in the area developed a subgenre of country music know as the Bakersfield Sound, which includes a mix of guitars, drums, fiddle and steel guitar.

8. San Francisco

Population: 4,725,584 Share of population age 65+: 15.6% Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,562 Median monthly rent: $2,155

The City by the Bay has a hot job market with plenty of high-paying Silicon Valley jobs, ranging from innovative new startups to famous tech companies. You’ll probably need to work in retirement to afford San Francisco’s astronomical housing prices. UCSF Medical Center and Stanford Hospital are both ranked among the top 20 hospitals in the country by U.S. News. San Francisco’s famously cool summers make this a great place to escape the heat. Watching the summer fog envelope the Golden Gate Bridge is a sight you won’t see anywhere else.

[READ: What Are the Average Retirement Ages Around the World?]

7. Modesto

Population: 829,992 Share of population age 65+: 12.3% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,260 Median monthly rent: $1,315

This inland city is considerably more affordable than California’s larger metro areas on the coast. Located in the Central Valley, Modesto is surrounded by rich farmland used to produce almonds, milk, cattle and a variety of other crops. The local minor league baseball team is called the Modesto Nuts to reflect the region’s crops. Star Wars creator George Lucas wrote the film “American Graffiti” about growing up in Modesto, and the movie is commemorated with a festival each summer.

6. Santa Barbara

Population: 447,651 Share of population age 65+: 15.2% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,841 Median monthly rent: $1,810

You could spend your retirement years watching Pacific Coast sunsets framed by Mission-style architecture and tropical foliage in Santa Barbara. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, this southern California city is a popular place to surf and relax at the beach. Santa Barbara‘s warm winters and cool summers allow retirees to enjoy the outdoors year-round. When you’re ready for an adventure, there is plenty to explore at the 1.75 million-acre Los Padres National Forest and Channel Islands National Park. However, housing prices could be out of reach for retirees on a budget.

5. Visalia

Population: 470,999 Share of population age 65+: 11.3% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,090 Median monthly rent: $1,037

Visalia is an ideal home base from which to explore California’s most impressive natural wonders. You can marvel at the world’s largest trees at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains include the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. Yet this central California city is much more affordable than many other parts of the state. Housing costs far less in Visalia than in California’s larger coastal cities.

4. Fresno

Population: 1,003,150 Share of population age 65+: 12.1% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,199 Median monthly rent: $1,098

Fresno is an ideal retirement spot to launch outdoor adventures. The city offers convenient access to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Sierra National Forest and a variety of lakes. You can enjoy the 62-mile blooming spectacle of fruit and nut trees along the Fresno County Blossom Trail each spring and the abundant fresh fruit the region produces each summer and fall. This central California city is much more affordable than many other parts of the state.

3. Sacramento

Population: 2,379,368 Share of population age 65+: 15.4% Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,597 Median monthly rent: $1,465

California’s state capital city is the political center of the country’s most populous state and a hub for government jobs, lobbying and think tanks. The area is home to several colleges, including Sacramento State University and the University of California, Davis. Major health care providers include UC Davis Medical Center and Sutter Medical Center. Housing costs less in the Sacramento metro area than it does in coastal communities, but it’s still expensive when compared with the rest of the country.

2. Los Angeles

Population: 18,628,215 Share of population age 65+: 13.8% Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,102 Median monthly rent: $1,737

Filmmakers, actors, writers, dancers and musicians often relocate to the Los Angeles area to be part of the motion picture and television industries and network with other creative people. The consistently sunny days and Mediterranean climate — along with the potential to land a part on a TV show, sell a screenplay or bump into Hollywood stars — might draw you into the area. However, the high home prices could make it difficult to live comfortably, and a creative retirement job might not pay enough to cover rent. Los Angeles is fortunate to have two hospitals ranked by U.S. News among the top 20 in the nation: UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

1. San Diego

Population: 3,296,317 Share of population age 65+: 14.1% Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,081 Median monthly rent: $1,842

San Diego is an ideal place to enjoy Pacific Ocean sunsets and lazy days strolling along the California coastline. Those who prefer an active beach retirement will find opportunities to snorkel and scuba dive at La Jolla Cove or surf at Swami’s Beach. This southern California city enjoys year-round pleasant temperatures. Health care is available at the Scripps La Jolla Hospitals and the UC San Diego Health-La Jolla and Hillcrest Hospitals. However, finding affordable housing in San Diego can be a challenge.

More from U.S. News

What Are the Average Retirement Ages Around the World?

What Is a Good Monthly Retirement Income?

How to Create a Retirement Budget

Best Places to Retire in California originally appeared on

Update 04/15/24: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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