25 Cheapest Places to Live in California


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Frankly, when it comes to affordable places to live, California as a whole does not readily spring to mind. In fact, according to MERIC data from the first quarter of 2023, it’s the fourth most expensive place to live in the United States — only surpassed by Hawaii, D.C., and Massachusetts.

Along with the higher-than-average overall cost of living, some California residents see state income tax rates as high as 13.3%. Basically, in a state so beautiful, everything seems to cost just a little bit more.

Still, it is possible to find an affordable way to live here. Particularly if you know which cities to aim for.

Best Places to Live in California

From its gorgeous coastlines to its fertile central valley, California has plenty to offer, no matter where you land. In some places, it’s surprisingly affordable, with a cost of living comparable to the American average.

Below, you’ll find our breakdown of the best (read: most affordable) cities in California, whether you’re a young adult just getting started or a retiree looking to live out your golden years. And don’t worry: We’ve included all the most pertinent data.

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Best Affordable Places to Live in California

If you’ve got your mind on your money and your money on your mind, guess what? You can still make it work in California. That’s why it’s a magnet for immigrants from Asia and elsewhere in the Americas. As a result, you’ll find true cultural diversity here, as evidenced by the events calendar and the restaurant scene.

Job opportunities abound, and not just in tech and Hollywood. The minimum wage was set at $15.50 an hour for 2023, and will rise to $16 in January 2024 as part of the state’s annual inflation-based increase.

Below are the best cities to consider for budget-conscious Golden State hopefuls. If you’re a newbie homebuyer, use a first-time homebuyer guide to learn more about the process before you start shopping.

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1. Bakersfield

Just a couple of hours north of Los Angeles, Bakersfield is so much more than a Central Valley suburb. For one thing, it’s been a pioneer city in the world of country music, with artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard championing the Bakersfield sound. The region produces 80% of the nation’s carrots, along with garlic, tomatoes, and many other vegetable crops. And get this: The rapidly growing city is a low-key hub for Basque cuisine and culture.

Best of all, it’s an awesome spot for those looking to live an affordable life on the west coast, with a cost of living just slightly above the national median.

  • Population: 410,647
  • Median Household Income: $69,014
  • Cost of Living: 109.6% of U.S. average
  • Median Rent Price: $1,795
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.4
  • Average Property Tax: 1.23%

Housing Affordability: With an average home value of just over $350,000 and a home price-to-income ratio at a very reasonable 5.4, Bakersfield is one of the most accessible metros in California when it comes to affordable housing. Rent sits at a median of $1,795 per month — compared to Los Angeles’ $2,950.

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2. Modesto

Farmers markets, art galleries, and a range of festivals make Modesto an excellent choice for those hoping to make a California life with their wallets in mind. And with a population of more than 200,000, you’ll find no shortage of peers to celebrate alongside.

Star Wars creator George Lucas hails from Modesto. The city is also known for its classic car culture, 150 miles of biking and hiking trails, the Gallo Winery (one of the world’s largest), and proximity to one of Yosemite National Park’s entrances.

  • Population: 218,069
  • Median Household Income: $67,011
  • Cost of Living: 117.7% of U.S. average
  • Median Rent Price: $1,995
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 6.4
  • Average Property Tax: 0.91%

Housing Affordability: Modesto housing remains relatively reasonable with an average home value of about $425,000 — only two hours away from San Francisco’s much higher prices. The market is warming, though, so don’t count on its relatively low prices forever.

Image Credit: MattGush/istockphoto.

3. Chico

Home to Chico State, one of the more popular options in the California State University system, Chico has plenty to offer for those beyond their college years, too. It’s the perfect combination of city to-dos and outdoor landscapes that offer plenty of recreational opportunities — and the cost of living is among the lowest in the state.

  • Population: 101,299
  • Median Household Income: $60,507
  • Cost of Living: 118.7% of U.S. average
  • Median Rent Price: $1,645
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 7.6
  • Average Property Tax: 0.82%

Housing Affordability: It’s hard to find a median rent lower than $1,645 in California, and for those looking to buy, home values here hover around $500,000. Combined with an average property tax of less than 1%, Chico is among the most accessible housing markets in the state.

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4. Stockton

It can be a little hard to believe life feels so much slower just 80 miles east of the Bay Area, but it’s true. From its museums and cultural attractions to its walkable waterfront — not to mention a catfish-stocked lake for fishing — there’s truly something for everyone in this Central Valley gem.

  • Population: 321,819
  • Median Household Income: $63,916
  • Cost of Living: 122.6% of U.S average
  • Median Rent Price: $1,900
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 6.7
  • Average Property Tax: 0.98%

Housing Affordability: Housing prices here average $420,000, far lower than the nearby communities in the Bay. Plus, a cool rental market means the potential to find something you like without getting swept out by competition.

Image Credit: MattGush/istockphoto.

5. Sacramento

California’s capital has a lot to offer — not least of which is its relatively affordable lifestyle. With a population of more than half a million, Sacramento residents can enjoy a truly cosmopolitan existence complete with plenty of fine dining options and museums, all without paying LA or SF prices.

  • Population: 528,001
  • Median Household Income: $71,074
  • Cost of Living: 118.7% of U.S. average
  • Median Rent Price: $2,082
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 6.6
  • Average Property Tax: 0.93%

Housing Affordability: Even with an average income lingering around the U.S. median, Sacramento’s home price-to-income ratio remains relatively low, making this an accessible market for many. While rents aren’t exactly inexpensive, a cool market and year-over-year drops make it a better alternative than many other California communities.

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Best Places to Live in California for Families

If you’re bringing kiddos into this world, your metrics for what makes a great city are just a little bit different. Here are the best options in California for families.

1. Chula Vista

For southern California families, it’s hard to do better than Chula Vista, a San Diego-area community that offers plenty of kid-friendly activities at a lower-than-San-Diego price.

 The Lemon Capital boasts some of the best year-round weather on the planet, and attractions like Sesame Place, Eucalyptus Skateboard Park, and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Plus, kids growing up this close to the border have a great opportunity to become bilingual and enjoy the influence of multiple cultures.

  • Population: 279,170
  • Median Household Income: $92,913
  • Median Rent Price: $3,350
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 8.6
  • Average Property Tax: 0.87%

Housing Affordability: Don’t get us wrong: With median rents over $3,000 and an average home value of almost $800,000, Chula Vista is expensive — but less so than San Diego. Plus, given its relatively high median household income, the home price-to-income ratio remains in the single digits.

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2. Clovis

A suburb of Fresno, Clovis is a Central Valley town that offers some of the most affordable California living. Families looking for a home in California will appreciate its highly ranked public schools. And did we mention it’s one of the most affordable places to live in California?

  • Population: 124,556
  • Median Household Income: $89,769
  • Median Rent Price: $2,250
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.5
  • Average Property Tax: 0.93%

Housing Affordability: Homes values here sit under $500,000, but just. Clovis is relatively affordable compared to other big California metros, though a warming rental market means it might not always be.

Image Credit: MattGush/istockphoto.

3. Elk Grove

The best Sacramento suburb for those hoping to start a family, Elk Grove boasts plenty of city parks, family-friendly events, and easy access to the big-city amenities of the nearby capital. And of course, its housing market remains relatively affordable compared to other California cities.

  • Population: 177,558
  • Median Household Income: $106,797
  • Median Rent Price: $2,700
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.9
  • Average Property Tax: 0.93%

Housing Affordability: A median household income over $100,000 pushes the home price-to-income ratio down, though a warming market means rental prices may soon rise higher than the current $2,700. To compete more effectively in the market when home-shopping, think about going through the mortgage preapproval process before your search heats up.

Image Credit: Leonid Andronov/istockphoto.

4. Redwood City

Just about at the midway point between San Francisco and San Jose, Redwood City offers affordable(ish) housing — at least in the context of other nearby Bay Area communities — combined with a school system that will attract parents looking for a good education for their kids. For parents hoping to raise their children in a place with plenty of nearby career opportunities and natural diversions, it’s hard to argue with this town.

  • Population: 80,512
  • Median Household Income: $134,287
  • Median Rent Price: $3,406
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 12.4
  • Average Property Tax: 0.73%

Housing Affordability: Given its over-$1.5-million average home value, Redwood City is in no way cheap. (This is jumbo mortgage loan territory, for sure.) Still, Bay Area families who have the means may be drawn to it for its excellent school district.

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5. Santa Clarita

For a city with LA proximity, Santa Clarita is in the lead for families — thanks in part to its relatively affordable housing market and in part to its numerous parks and playgrounds. Surrounded by wilderness, Santa Clarita gives kids a wild and wonderful place to grow up.

  • Population: 221,435
  • Median Household Income: $106,166
  • Median Rent Price: $3,265
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 7.2
  • Average Property Tax: 0.82%

Housing Affordability: Although housing in Santa Clarita, as in other parts of Los Angeles County, is expensive, the relatively high median household income keeps the home price-to-income ratio reasonable. Plus, property taxes remain below 1%.

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Best Places to Live in California for Young Adults

From job opportunities to dating opportunities and things to do, there’s some incredible city life to be had in California — and it doesn’t have to mean going into debt. Here are California’s best spots for young adults.

1. Sacramento

Once again, California’s state capital makes our list, thanks to its ample population size and relatively low cost of living. Plus, the city offers a wide array of nightlife opportunities for those looking to mix and mingle. Back in 2002, Time Magazine declared Sacramento America’s most diverse city. More recently, the City of Trees has become known for its “farm-to-fork” food scene and high culture, including opera, ballet, and several theater companies.

  • Population: 528,001
  • Median Household Income: $71,074
  • Median Rent Price: $2,082
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 6.6
  • Average Property Tax: 0.93%

Housing Affordability: Although a median rent price over $2,000 isn’t cheap by any means, relative to the rest of California, the housing market remains accessible. For those looking to buy, average home prices hover just over $450,000.

Image Credit: JohnnyH5/istockphoto.

2. Bakersfield

The median age in Bakersfield is just over 31, so young adults don’t have to worry about whether they’ll find peers to befriend (and more). Plus, with plenty of job opportunities in healthcare, retail, and education, many young adults will find gainful employment in this part of the Central Valley.

  • Population: 410,647
  • Median Household Income: $69,014
  • Median Rent Price: $1,795
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.4
  • Average Property Tax: 1.23%

Housing Affordability: With a home price-to-income ratio of 5.4 — one of the lowest on our list — Bakersfield boasts one of the most reasonable housing markets in California, even for first-time buyers. Median rents sit just under $1,800, and though the market is warming, prices have dropped year-over-year.

Image Credit: MattGush/istockphoto.

3. Stockton

Perfect for the 20-40 crowd who wants to be Bay Area–adjacent without being in the Bay Area, Stockton offers a great local art scene and an up-and-coming community that’s just looking to be shaped by a new generation. Plus, its relatively affordable housing market means those getting established can put a roof over their heads without breaking the bank.

  • Population: 321,819
  • Median Household Income: $63,916
  • Median Rent Price: $1,900
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 6.7
  • Average Property Tax: 0.98%

Housing Affordability: Even with a median household income barely above the national average, Stockton’s home price-to-income ratio remains a reasonable 6.7, which means homebuyers have a better chance here than in bigger-city California alternatives. Plus, taxes under 1% mean more of the equity stays in your pocket.

Image Credit: tntemerson/istockphoto.

4. Santa Rosa

City amenities? Check. Wine country? Check. Gorgeous outdoor pursuits available at every turn? You know it. While it’s not the very cheapest option on the map, Santa Rosa is perfect for young adults looking to live a refined lifestyle surrounded by like-minded peers. And it’s all within a stone’s throw of the Bay Area.

  • Population: 177,181
  • Median Household Income: $84,823
  • Median Rent Price: $2,593
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 8.3
  • Average Property Tax: 0.78%

Housing Affordability: While rent may be closer to the top end of your budget at $2,593, a cool market means more options to find exactly what you’re looking for. For those who are ready to buy, property taxes are lower than in many other California metros.

Image Credit: Ward DeWitt/istockphoto.

5. San Diego

For those young adults who just have to have the real, big-city experience, San Diego is the least expensive of California’s big three (compared to Los Angeles or San Francisco). While prices aren’t cheap, they’re achievable for many, especially if you’re willing to budget a bit. Sometimes, being in the center of the action is simply worth it.

  • Population: 1,381,162
  • Median Household Income: $89,457
  • Median Rent Price: $3,395
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 10.5
  • Average Property Tax: 0.87%

Housing Affordability: Don’t get us wrong: the average home price in San Diego hovers just under a million dollars, and the median rent price is more than $3,300. It’s not the most affordable city in the state by any means, but it’s easier to get into than LA or SF. (To see what type of mortgage you might qualify for, consider getting prequalified for a home loan before you embark in earnest on your home search.)

Image Credit: SeanPavonePhoto/istockphoto.

Best Places to Live in California for Retirees

For those ready to slow down and enjoy their golden years, California has many picturesque small towns to offer — plenty of which also provide a relatively affordable price point. Here are a few to consider.

1. Laguna Woods

A whole city specifically set aside for the retirement community, Laguna Woods is Southern California done right, with plenty of planned activities, senior resources, nearby wilderness, and more. If you’re a retiree in California, you might as well take a look at this very special place.

  • Population: 17,192
  • Median Household Income: $53,076
  • Median Rent Price: $3,100
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 7.7
  • Average Property Tax: 0.79%

Housing Affordability: Although rental prices are high, the average home value sits around $400,000, making this a relatively affordable option for southern California. Even with a median household income of just over $50,000, the home price-to-income ratio remains a reasonable 7.7.

Image Credit: Jon Bilous/istockphoto.

2. Camarillo

Halfway between Santa Barbara and LA, Camarillo is a well-known surfing spot with a laid-back vibe. Residents describe the town as small, quiet, and “very clean.” With the beach to the west and the mountains to the east, Camarillo truly offers the best of both worlds — and easy access to all the big-city resources you need.

  • Population: 70,282
  • Median Household Income: $102,789
  • Median Rent Price: $3,100
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 8.1
  • Average Property Tax: 0.78%

Housing Affordability: Although housing remains expensive, a higher-than-average median household income makes the market more affordable for those who live here. Plus, property taxes remain relatively low.

Image Credit: EuToch/istockphoto.

3. Chico

Once again, this Central Valley community makes the list — this time for its combination of outdoor access and city to-dos backed up by a relatively low cost of living. Plus, the atmosphere here is far less rushed than in cities like LA or SF, and more than 13% of the population is aged 65 or over.

  • Population: 101,299
  • Median Household Income: $60,507
  • Median Rent Price: $1,645
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 7.6
  • Average Property Tax: 0.82%

Housing Affordability: Although $1,645 would be expensive in other parts of the country, for California, it’s hard to beat for a median rental price — and year-over-year, prices have dropped. Those looking to buy are in luck with average home values flirting with half a million dollars and property taxes of less than 1%.

Image Credit: Strekoza2/istockphoto.

4. Oxnard

Another option in Ventura county, Oxnard offers coastal living at a slower pace than other nearby communities. The mild climate makes it easy to weather the winter, though that’s true of just about every city in southern California. The relatively affordable cost of living, however, is not. The picturesque city offers historic Victortian architecture, fabulous taquerias, and access to the Channel Islands National Park.

  • Population: 200,415
  • Median Household Income: $83,180
  • Median Rent Price: $3,025
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 8.4
  • Average Property Tax: 0.78%

Housing Affordability: While average home values of just under $700,000 might not sound cheap, they’re a lot better than the prices in nearby LA. Plus, a median household income significantly higher than the nation average keeps the home price-to-income ratio relatively low.

Image Credit: MattGush/istockphoto.

5. Palm Springs

We couldn’t write a “best places to retire in California” list without including Palm Springs — even if it’s not the most affordable city on the list. With a median age over 56, Palm Springs is the quintessential retirement community, complete with beautiful warm days all winter long. The long-time resort area features natural hot springs, spas, golf courses, and a lively, walkable downtown. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes passengers from the desert floor to the mountain top (elevation 8,500 feet) for stunning views.

  • Population: 45,223
  • Median Household Income: $61,597
  • Median Rent Price: $3,100
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 10.3
  • Average Property Tax: 1.04%

Housing Affordability: We’ll be straight with you: Palm Springs is expensive. Still, for those who can afford it, the average home values of around $635,000 are more affordable than in the big city.

Image Credit: Try Media/istockphoto.

Best Places to Live in California Near the Beach

From mountains to valleys to deserts and more, California has it all — but the state’s name probably brings to mind the beach. Here are the best beach towns to consider in the Golden State for those who don’t want to blow their budget.

1. Eureka

If you’re willing to live a somewhat different beach life — think slower, smaller, and chillier — Eureka offers a great opportunity. This northern California coastal town is small but mighty, and just as close to the sandy shore as it is the redwood forests. The people here are quick to identify themselves as northern Californians — a different breed entirely from the rest of the state. The vibe is fiercely independent, as demonstrated by the many small artisanal businesses and unique annual events like the December Truckers’ Parade and Kinetic Grand Championship in May.

  • Population: 26,129
  • Median Household Income: $46,926
  • Median Rent Price: $1,595
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 8.9
  • Average Property Tax: 0.77%

Housing Affordability: With a median rental price lower than most on the list, Eureka is an accessible option even for those who earn less than the national average. For those looking to buy, homes can be had for less than $450,000.

Image Credit: bywriter/istockphoto.

2. Oceanside

Perfectly situated about halfway between LA and San Diego, Oceanside is a southern California beach town with a slightly slower pace. With more than 100,000 neighbors, it’s certainly not small, but it’s less… intense than other coastal communities in the area. And the cost of living is just a little more reasonable.

  • Population: 172,199
  • Median Household Income: $80,837
  • Median Rent Price: $3,200
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 10.0
  • Average Property Tax: 0.87%

Housing Affordability: With average home prices over $800,000, Oceanside isn’t cheap. The good news for those looking to get in: those values have fallen about 3% over the last year, and relatively low property taxes are a nice bonus for those who can afford the market.

Image Credit: Patricia Elaine Thomas/istockphoto.

3. Pismo Beach

A bit further north of LA’s hustle and bustle, Pismo Beach offers gorgeous natural landscapes and plenty of nearby wineries. What more could you ask for? Well, the city loves its clams and puts on an annual festival that’s been running for over 75 years. Activities range from dune-buggy racing to wine tasting in nearby Paso Robles, the location of the 2004 sleeper hit Sideways.

  • Population: 8,044
  • Median Household Income: $94,268
  • Median Rent Price: $3,000
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 13.1
  • Average Property Tax: 0.80%

Housing Affordability: Even with a median household income of almost $100,000, Pismo Beach’s home price-to-income ratio sits at a daunting 13.1. But home values have been on the decline, meaning that more people may be able to afford to live alongside these gorgeous oceanside vistas soon.

Image Credit: Nature, food, landscape, travel/istockphoto.

4. Crescent City

Another option for those willing to weather some beachside cold, Crescent City is a northern California gem that’s considered a gateway town to the nearby Redwood National and State parks. With a population around 6,000, the community is intimate — and importantly, affordable by California standards.

  • Population: 5,983
  • Median Household Income: $34,676
  • Median Rent Price: $1,875
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 10.3
  • Average Property Tax: 0.66%

Housing Affordability: A beachside rental for under $2,000? In Crescent City, you just might find one. Homebuyers will enjoy average prices under $400,000, though the relatively low median household income keeps the home price-to-income ratio high.

Image Credit: cooperdavidc/istockphoto.

5. Long Beach

If you’ve just got to be in the heat of it all, both literally and figuratively, it’s hard to do better than Long Beach. A Los Angeles-area beach town known for its laid-back attitude and (again, relatively) affordable cost of living, Long Beach is the perfect place to feel the sand between your toes. The city is racially diverse, gay-friendly, and brimming with charming Craftsman cottages.

  • Population: 451,307
  • Median Household Income: $71,150
  • Median Rent Price: $2,150
  • Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 11.1
  • Average Property Tax: 0.82%

Housing Affordability: Median rent prices of over $2,100 put this town squarely in the “fairly expensive” category, but you are, after all, getting beachfront property (or close to it) just in the shadow of LA. For those looking to buy, sub-1% property taxes are a nice bonus.

Image Credit: Kirk Wester/istockphoto.

The Takeaway

While California’s not a cheap place to live by any stretch of the imagination, there are plenty of affordable cities to consider if you know where to look. Our top picks include Chula Vista and Laguna Woods in the south, Sacramento in the Central Valley, and Eureka in the north. Bakersfield, in the San Joaquin Valley, takes the top spot.

Before you settle down, be sure to investigate such factors as job prospects, entertainment, and commuting time. Fortunately, Virginia offers many affordable towns with plenty to offer for those looking to purchase a home.

This article originally appeared on SoFi.comand was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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