Thoughts of California are often accompanied by visions of endlessly warm weather, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and ocean waves crashing alongside sandy beaches. California is truly the Golden State of the United States. Driving north from the Mexican border, you will be in awe of the changing scenery of beaches, mountaintops, deserts and grassy meadows. California’s natural beauty is as diverse as the people living in it.
However, nobody would claim that California is a cheap place to live. It is not a secret that the prices in California are higher than those in other states. Despite this fact, life in California is still achievable, and there are plenty of affordable cities to choose from for your next home.
We assessed the cost of living across Californian cities and compared them to the national average. The cost of living is calculated based on five main categories: housing, food, healthcare, transportation and energy. Based on these calculations, we narrowed down the list to California’s 10 most affordable cities.
I. The 10 Most Affordable Places to Live in California
Table of Contents:
- I. The 10 Most Affordable Places to Live in California
- II. The Important Things to Consider When Living in California
- III. Frequently Asked Questions about Living in California
- A. What kind of income do I need to live comfortably in California?
- B. What kind of taxes should I expect?
- C. Does California have a lot of natural disasters, like forest fires?
- D. Is there diversity of people in California?
- E. What is the state population?
- F. Will I need a driver’s license in California?
- G. What is traffic like in California?
- H. What can I do for fun in California?
- I. What are the highest-paid professions in California?
1. Chico – Northern California
Chico is a moderately sized city just outside of Sacramento, the state’s capital. In contrast to the densely populated capital, Chico has a population of about 130,000 people within an area of about 33 square miles. Chico is part of Butte County and is famous for the gorgeous Bidwell Park, which is filled with nature trails, swimming holes and unforgettable scenery. It is also home to the well-known Chico State University.
According to Neighborhood Scout, Chico is a safe place to live, with the safest neighborhoods being Nord, Cohasset and Canyon Oak. There seem to be higher crime rates as you travel toward the city’s center, especially at night. It isn’t surprising that the safer places also come with higher living expenses, especially in terms of rent and home prices. The most rapidly appreciating homes are in Nord and California Park.
The median household income of the residents of Chico is $53,324, which is lower than the national $62,843 median household income. Its population has an even split of homeowners and renters, with a median home value of $327,700. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment within Butte County is $961, and $1,785 for a three-bedrooms apartment.
Most homes in Chico are comfortably situated in quiet suburbs, the perfect environment to raise a family around beautifully landscaped parks and highly rated public and private schools. Chico is known for higher-ranking schools, with some of the highest scores on statewide standardized tests.
Nationally, the unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Chico has seen an increase in employment opportunities, with an average income of $60,000 annually for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Healthcare in Chico is available in multiple reputable clinics and hospitals, such as Enloe Medical Center and Adventist Health.
Overall, Chico offers residents a comfortable place to live and work. Many people thrive in this beautiful city and lovingly call it home.
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Fresno is the fifth-largest city in California, with a large land area spanning 114 square miles. Nestled in the San Joaquin Valley, it is home to a growing population of nearly 540,000 people. This city is grand in both its size and the benefits it offers to its many residents.
Though Fresno is considered an urban area, it is also well-known worldwide for its vast agriculture industry. In fact, Fresno is a global player in agriculture, with over 1.8 million acres of farmland growing more than 300 different crops.
Agricultural advancements are responsible for Fresno’s thriving economy and contribute to solid employment opportunities for its residents. With unemployment rates lower in 2022 than in much of 2021, Fresno has jobs available in both urban and rural locations.
Living in Fresno, residents have access to the best of both urban and rural living. With its affordable prices, it isn’t hard to guess why people seem to be flocking to this charming city.
According to World Population Review, houses in Fresno have a median value of $242,000. Fresno’s average rent price/apartment size are $1,427/901 sq. ft. according RentCafe.
Safety, mortgage rates, and quality of schools are highly variable in Fresno. For example, according to Neighborhood Scout, Edison neighborhood in Fresno is a community that has lower-ranking schools and a higher crime rate. These facts would typically contribute to lower home values, but Edison has some of the most rapidly appreciating homes in the area. Though Fresno offers many benefits and is a great place to live, it is essential to do your due diligence before choosing your neighborhood.
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Bakersfield is another large city in California, with a population of 391,438 people. Its numbers are steadily increasing, thanks to the affordability of rent and homes in the area. The population of Bakersfield consists mostly of young professionals and families.
With its economy primarily driven by agriculture and oil, the city offers a decent selection of jobs and income. The median household income in Bakersfield is $63,139 annually.
The median home value in Bakersfield is around $330,409. Most homes are built in a suburban style, with parks, schools and community recreation nearby. The cost of living varies throughout the region. Bakersfield’s average rent price/apartment size are $1,368/871 sq. ft. according.
Communities farthest away from the center of Bakersfield tend to have higher prices. However, the communities situated along I-99 and downtown tend to have the highest housing appreciation rates.
The communities where home values are increasing also tend to have increased crime rates. The safest neighborhoods, like Rio Bravo, Stevens, River Oaks and Lakeside, also tend to have the best schools.
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Located within Stanislaus County is the city of Modesto. Like Fresno, it is also a large agricultural center that produces the world’s finest grapes, dairy and fruit. It is conveniently located within two hours’ driving distance from San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose. Modesto’s population is 211,336, and it is very diverse in age, race and background.
Residents and tourists alike have a great selection of attractions and entertainment to choose from for their leisure. The Central West Ballet, the Great Valley Museum of Natural History and the McHenry Mansion are just a few examples of enrichment opportunities around the city.
According to CityTownInfo.com, 84% of the city’s population lives above the poverty level, with a median income of nearly $64,000.
Modesto’s cost of living is comparable to the national average and allows for a comfortable lifestyle. According to Neighborhood Scout, the median home value is $440,000. Modesto’s average rent price/apartment size are $1,597/786 sq. ft.
Modesto’s neighborhoods are generally safe, but crime rates vary by neighborhood. Salida South seems to have the best of all worlds; it is a neighborhood with moderate home values, the best schools and low crime rates.
In terms of healthcare, Modesto has a decent number of healthcare facilities that are highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Among these facilities are Doctors Medical Center of Modesto, Emanuel Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center.
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Ontario is located east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County and is home to 175,000 people. The median home value in this city is $567,000, with the highest prices in Ontario Ranch South. In San Bernardino, the average rent price/apartment size here are $2,364/904 sq. ft. The fastest-rising home values are in neighborhoods near the airport.
Safety is a more significant concern in areas around the airport and neighborhoods with higher poverty rates. Examples of such neighborhoods are Ontario Center, Rancho Ontario and Downtown West.
The quality of education throughout Ontario is pretty decent, with the highest-ranking schools in Ontario Ranch South and Archibald Ranch.
The median household income in Ontario is $67,357 annually, higher than the national median income. Common occupations among Ontario’s residents are office work, sales and management roles.
Like many cities in California, Ontario also has a good quality of healthcare. Kindred Hospital, for example, is one of the top-rated hospitals, according to U.S. News and World Report. Ontario is conveniently located near L.A., where there is also an extensive selection of healthcare providers.
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Rialto is a neighboring city to Los Angeles and is part of San Bernardino County. Though it is very close to San Bernardino, its population is smaller, with an estimated 102,873 people. The average family income is $63,114. A smaller population and the opportunity for higher incomes make this region of California the perfect option for people with families or in need of a fresh start.
With ongoing development projects, the city is growing and offers residents the opportunity for personal economic growth. Additionally, the public schools in the city are exceptional and lean heavily toward college preparatory programs. All these attractive features of Rialto have been driving the booming housing market.
The median home value is $313,400, and the average rent price/apartment size here are $1,533/865 sq. ft., higher than the national average. However, with the increasing job opportunities throughout the city, living expenses become manageable and homeownership becomes possible for many residents. Many homes are located within safe and quiet neighborhoods that provide a fantastic living arrangement for families.
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Victorville is located in California’s high desert, between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It is in a prime location for the perfect climate and some ideal living arrangements.
The skyline of Victorville is beautiful, and the city offers views of the deserts and mountaintops, coupled with fresh air and warm weather. It is located close to major SoCal beaches and national parks. This provides families the perfect selection of entertainment and leisure as they raise their children.
Thanks to the booming retail and growing industrial market, Victorville has many employment opportunities. Currently, the average household income is $69,423 annually, and about 54% of the population consists of homeowners.
As is the case with the housing market throughout all of California, the typical value of homes in Victorville has increased by nearly 30% in the last year (2021), with a typical home now valued at $406,826. The average rent price/apartment size here are $1,533/865 sq. ft.
The high prices are not a surprise, seeing as the economy and prime location of Victorville are attractive to many home buyers. One bonus is that many of these homes are located in safe areas that allow residents to live with peace of mind, knowing that their chances of being victims of crimes are relatively small (1 in 124 for violent crime, according to Neighborhood Scout).
For healthcare needs, Victorville residents have access to quality healthcare in hospitals like Desert Valley Hospital and Victor Valley Global Medical Center.
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8. Apple Valley
Apple Valley is another city located in the high desert of San Bernadino County. It is a very cozy town that features a close vicinity to major cities like Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles. There is no shortage of breathtaking scenery and gorgeous sunsets over its beautiful landscape.
Apple Valley is an attractive place for many people who enjoy a less populated area to call home. There is a population of about 73,765 people, and city is not growing nearly as fast as Fresno or San Bernardino. Apple Valley has a 65.5% rate of homeownership, which is very promising for those individuals and families looking to settle in this small community.
The potential for growth and economic prosperity is quite significant in the Apple Valley region. According to World Population Review, the average household income is $75,496. Employment rates are predicted to grow by 37.4% over the next ten years, thus providing an even more fantastic opportunity for the household income to increase.
The current median listing home value is around $255,000. In Apple Valley, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,202, and $2,065 for a three-bedrooms apartment. The neighborhoods in Apple Valley are largely safe, which is always a desirable feature for a new home buyer.
Apple Valley has a lot to offer both single individuals and families. There are many parks and other recreational venues and a generous selection of cuisines. The region’s education system is one of the best in the state and offers excellent opportunities for K-12 students. Additionally, St. Mary Medical Center provides exceptional healthcare within its state-of-the-art facilities.
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Coachella is famous for its two-week music festival, which is held in the region every April. However, not too many people consider Coachella beyond the music festival. Located in Riverside County and near the Colorado desert, Coachella has seen significant progress in newly developed areas and new parks. With a population of 45,551 people, the town is on the smaller side and allows for a slower, quieter lifestyle.
Palm Springs Life reports that the median value of homes in Coachella is currently $232,000, with a median household income of $36,124 annually. Coachella’s average rent price/apartment size are $1,242/1,033 sq. ft. There is a 65% homeownership rate, which hints at long-term residents and general positive regard for the city’s amenities. With the steadily increasing employment rates, Coachella is the perfect option for those who are tired of crowded towns and congested commutes.
Crime rates in Coachella are much lower than in other parts of the state. These crime rates happen at about 30 crimes per square mile, less than half of the state’s average.
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10. Rancho Cucamonga
Rancho Cucamonga is in San Bernardino County, right next to Ontario and Fontana, California. There are about 174,453 people in this city, and they bring in a median income of $92,290. This high number is likely influenced by the large percentage of residents who have bachelor’s degrees and higher levels of education. The employment opportunities are also steadily increasing, with more flexibility for work-life balance and work-from-home options.
Rancho Cucamonga’s median home value is $696,252, and the most expensive homes are in neighborhoods situated along the beautiful Cucamonga Wilderness. These higher-cost neighborhoods are also the safest, with higher crime rates in Rochester, Southeast Rancho Cucamonga and Vintner’s Grove. Rancho Cucamonga’s average rent price/apartment size are $2,574/914 sq. ft.
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II. The Important Things to Consider When Living in California
A. Climate Differences by Region
The beauty of California is that you can find all sorts of weather and choose the location that will suit you the most. Contrary to popular belief, California isn’t just hot throughout the state. Temperatures vary in a wide range depending on whether you are on the coast, in a northern city or in a southern town.
Northern California experiences stark contrasts in temperature throughout the year. In the summer, it is sweltering hot, but it gets bone-chillingly cold during the winter. Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley and other towns in the mountains have moderately cooler temperatures. Some mountain peaks are piled with snow, even in the summer months. In the summer, many residents from the valley region escape to the mountains for weekend stays to cool off. The Bay Area near San Francisco is also relatively cool year-round.
Along the coast, the weather can change throughout the day. Mornings are often greeted with deep fog and cloudy weather. The sun may peep through throughout the day, but the sky tends to stay gray during rainy seasons.
Southern California cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are warm and generally have temperatures of 75 degrees or higher. It isn’t uncommon to cook Thanksgiving Dinner in 100-degree weather or to go surfing after opening Christmas gifts. The weather in SoCal is perfect for those who hate snow and excessive rain.
B. Employment Opportunities & Pay
COVID-19 has impacted employment opportunities and pay, and now that the pandemic is coming to an end, the unemployment rate has dropped to 4.8% in California, in contrast to the national 6.6%. Wages in California are typically double that of the national average salary for a given profession. The minimum wage is $14 per hour for employers with 25 employees or less and $15 per hour for employers with 26 employees or more.
Many people become immediately concerned when looking at the prices of homes and other expenses in California because they seem high. Living in Cali is indeed more expensive. However, the availability of employment opportunities and the salaries are also significantly higher than in other states.
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C. Cost of Childcare in California
Childcare can drive up living expenses for many families. On average, infant care in California can cost $700 a month and care for preschoolers and older children can cost $150 to $200 a month. That being said, there are still many options available for affordable daycare. The state has an income-based subsidized daycare program for those who qualify.
Many employers throughout the state are facing the consequences of the Great Resignation that is currently underway. Employees are demanding flexible work schedules, the opportunity to work from home and work-life balance. As a result, many employers are now offering daycare options onsite or have developed a telecommuting work arrangement.
On average, the state spends a total of $15,124 per student in public schools, which is higher than the national average of $14,052. The California School Dashboard provides detailed information on the performance of most California public schools, including their funding, test performance and other vital information.
California has some of the top colleges and universities in the country, with Stanford University as the #1 in the state and #6 in the country. Many universities that are part of the University of California rank high in their various programs.
Additionally, many colleges that are located in beach towns are especially alluring to students. San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are all hot spots for the newest generation of college students. There are also a great number of private universities available. That being said, college is fairly expensive, and this should be considered by parents hoping to send their children to colleges in California.
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E. Other Key Factors
- A. California has the highest taxes in the country. It has a graduated-rate state income tax with a range of 1% to13%, depending on individual income. State sales tax is 7.25%, and with local taxes you may be paying more.
- B. The housing market in California is a bit challenging, with a low inventory and climbing prices (as of May 2022). The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a great migration of people around the country. Many people have left California, and many people have also moved to California. Increasing inflation and a higher number of home buyers all contribute to skyrocketing home prices.
The housing market in Sacramento is a good example. In the last couple of years, there has been a huge migration of residents from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sacramento metropolitan area. This has contributed to a lower inventory of homes, and the increase in demand has increased prices as well.
Many potential home buyers struggle with finding a suitable home to buy in their price range. When they do find that perfect home, they are often outbid. This process may repeat many times until the buyer finds a home and a seller who accepts the offer.
- C. California’s road and highway infrastructure is not the best. In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, 35.2% of roads are in poor condition. This compares poorly to the national average of 19.9%.
Commute time is higher because of poor roads and congested traffic. For example, residents in San Diego can easily spend a full hour or two in traffic on their way home from work. Such commute times reduce the quality of life for many people.
In contrast, Sacramento and other smaller cities have faster commute times that have improved due to many employers switching to a telecommuting work structure.
- D. California is the home of many beautiful and famous national parks. There are no shortage of nature walks and hikes. One particularly attractive destination is Yosemite National Park, which has beautiful scenery, including sparkling waterfalls and amazing greenery.
Death Valley National Park is also a notably gorgeous park with great sand dunes, beautiful wildflowers and breathtaking sunsets.
Sequoia National Park offers an unforgettable experience as you trek through the forest of towering, beautiful sequoia trees. There are also Joshua Tree Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Golden Gate National Recreational area. All these places offer endless possibilities for adventure, hiking and camping trips.
- E. Beaches in California are beautiful and vast. Those who live along the coast get to regularly enjoy the refreshing sea breeze and the sounds of crashing waves. Southern California is the home of some of the finest beaches, like Laguna Beach and La Jolla Beach. Those who don’t live on the coast can typically reach the closest beach within a two-hour drive.
- F. As for the political climate of California, there is an even split between Republicans and Democrats throughout the state, with Democratic majorities in the state legislature and senate. However, regardless of your political party, there is always room for you in California. People in California are some of the most outgoing and down-to-earth individuals. There are many locations that practice inclusivity and go to extreme measures to ensure that diversity is respected.
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III. Frequently Asked Questions about Living in California
A. What kind of income do I need to live comfortably in California?
It depends on your housing situation. In general, experts recommend that you spend no more than 30% of your income on housing. For most people, an income at least three times your monthly housing costs should give you a comfortable buffer for other living expenses and some savings.
B. What kind of taxes should I expect?
The statewide sales tax is currently at 7.25%. Income tax is based on the tax bracket you fall into and can range from 1% to 13.30%. To review your potential tax bracket, visit the Tax Foundation.
C. Does California have a lot of natural disasters, like forest fires?
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of wildfires throughout the state, especially during summer months. The majority of the larger cities have been affected in one way or another by these fires. For example, San Francisco had a huge bout with fires in 2020. These fires forced many residents out of the city, making them move to other parts of the state.
In Sacramento, the air quality is frequently at a dangerous level when fires are especially close. These occurrences are highly discouraging and the cause of frustration among many California residents.
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D. Is there diversity of people in California?
With nearly 40 million residents, California is home to many different nationalities, races, religious faiths, sexualities and lifestyles.
E. What is the state population?
According to World Population Review, California’s current population totals 39,664,128 people.
F. Will I need a driver’s license in California?
Yes. Unless you live in a downtown area and have your job, home and other needs met on one street, a driver’s license and your own car will be essential. The majority of Californians own cars because commuting by public transportation takes so long.
G. What is traffic like in California?
Traffic will vary from city to city. Big cities like L.A., San Diego and San Francisco tend to have very congested traffic during peak hours. Aside from rush hour, there always seems to be road construction anywhere you go. While it is good to see these developments, they do cause a bit of traffic.
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H. What can I do for fun in California?
California is one of the most fun states to live in. For those who live on the coast, there are endless ways to enjoy a day at the beach: hiking, paragliding, ziplining and surfing, to name a few. Napa Valley, Sonoma and Murrieta offer a very fine selection of wineries.
Theme parks like the iconic Disneyland, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Legoland are also great places to spend the weekend. If you want a reprieve from the sun, travel up to Big Bear or Lake Tahoe to experience the fresh mountain air.
I. What are the highest-paid professions in California?
Lawyers, air traffic controllers and nuclear engineers are some of the highest-paid professions in California. Today there are more ways than ever to make a living. Freelance work and the side gig economy are on the rise in California, giving residents the opportunity to maximize their earning potential.
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