10 Most Affordable Cities to Live in California

California is one of the richest states in the USA, and for different reasons. The summer sun, the beautiful beaches and the majestic mountains are rich natural resources that offer spectacular living conditions.

In addition to all that, the Golden State has a lot of attractions, with something for everybody: national parks, beachside cities, lakeside towns, food spots, entertainment and more. It’s a highly desirable place to live—and that means high prices for housing.

San Francisco now outranks Manhattan as the most expensive real estate market in the U.S.; with a $1 million budget you may be limited to homes under 1,000 square feet.

But if we look beyond the best-known cities, we will find many communities where you can own a piece of the Sunshine State and stay within our budget. Many of these offer not only affordability, but also low crime rates, good employment opportunities, housing availability, recreational opportunities and educational facilities.

Here is our list of the 10 most affordable cities in California.

1. Imperial


The vibrant community of Imperial is home to more than 17,000 people in a desert valley near the Salton Sea. A mere two hours away from San Diego, this city is quaint, quiet and comfortable, with low humidity and fresh air. It is also popular among bird watchers, as there are a variety of species that inhabit the city.

Residents of Imperial spend their free time engaged with outdoor activities such as camping, riding dune buggies, and golfing on three local courses.

Imperial offers the warm, sunny weather that attracts so many people to California, but the cost of living is much lower than in most metro areas. The median home value is $270,384, and the median household income is $85,163. Home ownership may offer good value; the population is growing, and buying compares favorably to renting, with an average rental rate of $1,837 per month.

10 Most Affordable Cities to Live in California

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2. Vacaville


Nestled between the Sacramento Valley and the Bay Area, Vacaville is a quiet community of over 110,000 people who celebrate many festivities all year ’round. Residents are particularly proud of Fiesta Days, a family-friendly holiday of fun, food and leisure. Locals enjoy strolling in the hills of Lagoon Valley or shopping at the premium outlet mall.

Because of the short driving distance to San Francisco, Vacaville makes for a great private retreat from urban life. In the beautiful setting of the Vacaville hills, residents can enjoy more spacious neighborhoods without sacrificing access to Bay Area’s amenities.

The median home value in Vacaville is about $354,600, and the median household income is $77,807. Renting an apartment in Vacaville may cost you around $1,868 per month.

3. Clovis


Considered one of the best sources for local produce in the area, Clovis is a largely agricultural city near the Fresno metropolitan area. It is one of the least expensive cities in the state. Its location makes it convenient for visiting Yosemite National Park and the city of San José.

While smaller cities around the metro area struggle with high crime rates, Clovis, with its population of 102,000 people, has comparatively little crime. The schools in the vicinity are well regarded and rank among the best in the Fresno area.

The median home value in Clovis is $284,200, and the median household income is $68,682. Apartments rent for around $1,177 monthly.

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4. Livingston


At the heart of the Central Valley in California, Livingston is a small and safe town with a population of around 14,000 residents. Its festivities include the annual Sweet Potato Festival, which celebrates the success of the annual ground crop harvest.

Livingston residents enjoy a quieter lifestyle than nearby urban areas, and can travel to nearby towns for a wider range of shopping and entertainment possibilities.

The median home value here is about $167,400, with the median household income estimated at $51,538. Rents are also low, with an average rate around $883 per month.

5. Perris


An hour away from Disneyland, but far enough from the theme park not to feel like a tourist town, Perris is a city of 70,000 residents with a comfortable standard of living. It offers plentiful shopping and affordable homes.

Perris is located between San Diego and Los Angeles, in one of the fastest growing parts of Southern California. Its central location—the city, beach, mountains and desert can all be reached within an hour or two—means access to a vast array of business and recreational opportunities.

The median home value is around $261,000, and the median household income is $59,141. Monthly apartment rentals are around $1,252.

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6. Woodlake


Situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Woodlake is a picturesque place to raise a family. It’s a community of around 7,000, over a third of them children

The median home value in Woodlake is $154,300, while the median household income is $35,417. Single-bedroom apartments have an average monthly rental rate of $1,193.

7. Fort Irwin

Fort Irwin

Fort Irwin is an army base located in a scenic area of San Bernardino County, surrounded by the Mojave Desert and the Calico Mountains. The base houses Fort Irwin National Training Center. For families living here, there are plenty of attractions close enough for day trips, including Sequoia National Forest, Death Valley National Park, Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, as well as the cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Fort Irwin has about 9,000 residents and offers a full complement of amenities for family life, including a shopping center, a theater, fitness centers, a golf course, and a bowling alley.

On-post housing within Fort Irwin is operated by a private company and provided by the military through the Basic Allowance for Housing. Off-post housing is limited due to the remote location, although there are several towns within an hour’s drive of the base.

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8. Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

Around 8,000 people inhabit the mountain resort town of Mammoth Lakes, situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains about 100 miles east of San Francisco.

With its impressive alpine scenery and proximity to Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lakes has an economy based on tourism. Skiers and snowboarders come to experience the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. The mountains also provide an ideal setting for cycling, hiking, climbing, fishing, rafting, kayaking, photography and more.

The local community consists largely of singles and couples, though there is a small public school system, including an elementary school, a middle school and a high school.

The median home value in Mammoth Lakes is $60,984, and the average household income is $334,000.

9. Oakdale


Oakdale, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World,” has a lot of personality. This SoCal-meets-Wild West suburb of Modesto draws tourists who come for the Cowboy Museum, rodeos, rafting and riding.

With a population of about 21,000, Oakdale offers a family-friendly community without the high costs of nearby cities. Its year-round warm climate supports plenty of outdoor activities.

Residents of Oakdale are within miles of the Woodward Reservoir, which covers nearly 3,000 acres and is a popular place for boating and water sports.

The median home value in Oakdale is $385,200, and the median household income is $53,785. Apartments rent for an average of $1,282 per month.

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10. Rocklin


Rocklin is a suburb of around 60,000 people on the outskirts of the Sacramento metropolitan area. The city bills itself as “A Family Community,” and features recreational activities for all ages, including museums, parks and shopping centers. Golf clubs are abundant and popular.

Oracle is a major employer in the area, though many residents commute into Sacramento. The Bay Area is within easy driving distance for a weekend trip, and outdoor activities like hiking and camping are widely available nearby

Rocklin’s median home value is $381,000, with a median household income of $84,121. The average apartment rents for $1,698 a month.

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California—with its massive economy, warm weather and beautiful natural environment—draws a constant stream of new residents from around the country and the world, and this demand can send home prices in many areas sky-high. But people of average means can find a home here, too, by looking to out-of-the-way inland towns and suburbs. Which one will suit your needs?

Visit HOMEiA for more information about buying and selling in California and beyond.

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