What is the best place to live in California? That depends on whom you ask. Rating a city is like rating a movie; everyone has an opinion. And it’s often a matter of individual taste. Even sites that purport to use objective criteria like cost-of-living, crime rates, employment rates, median income, etc., have their biases. As a result, every list is different. Sometimes strikingly so.
To get the most useful answer to the question, “What is the best place to live in California?” we decided to seek a critical consensus. We looked at Google’s top-ranked sites regarding this very question, pulled the winners from each list, and then awarded each city points based on their inverse ranking. (For example, a Number 1 ranking was worth 10 points, whereas a Number 10 ranking was worth just 1 point.) We awarded 5 bonus points to any California city that also appeared on Money Magazine’s national “Best Places to Live” list for 2016. Finally, we added up each city’s total points to determine its place in our list.
Only a handful of cities appeared in multiple rankings, and no city appeared on them all. But we did find the kind of consensus we were looking for.
Our List of Best Places to Live in California – 2017 Edition
After adding up all the points, here are the Top Places to Live in California. (We would have preferred it to be an even Top 10, but there were some ties!):
- Palo Alto (25 points)
This Silicon Valley powerhouse ranked highly on three lists: Niche.com, WalletHub.com and RentApplication.com. With a population of approximately 65,000, Palo Alto is noted for its highly educated citizenry…as well its sky-high real estate values. Here, the median household income is $163,661 and the median home price is $2.36 million. Companies with headquarters in Palo Alto include Hewlett-Packard, Tesla Motors, Skype and Space Systems/Loral. In short, Palo Alto a great place to live (if you can afford it).
- San Ramon (20 points)
Situated in Contra Costa County 34 miles east of San Francisco, San Ramon appears on a few Top 10 lists and gets bonus points for being one of only five California cities to make Money Magazine’s Best Places list. This is another very wealthy city, the median income being $129,062, and 25 percent of households making more than $200,000 per year. In 2016, the FBI Crime Report ranked San Ramon as California’s safest city with a population over 60K.
- Mountain View (17 points)
Palo Alto’s next-door neighbor, Mountain View is another Silicon Valley gem, home to Google, Mozilla, Symantic and Intuit. The median income here is $105,080, the median home price $1.26 million. The city is noted for its pedestrian friendly downtown and lots of free Wi-Fi! Mountain View Fun Fact: The very first 50 Apple 1 computers were sold in this city!
- Irvine (13 points)
Orange County’s first major master-planned community, Irvine was rated a top California community by Money Magazine, and consistently ranks as the safest city in America. Home of the innovative University of California-Irvine (UCI) (Go Anteaters!), Irvine is today the largest American city with an Asian-American plurality (45 percent). The median income here is $111,455, the median home price a relatively affordable $725,000. Irvine Fun Fact: The city operates a computerized automated traffic control system that makes its wide boulevards some of the fastest moving in the state!
- Pleasanton (12 points)
Situated 25 miles east of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Alameda County, Pleasanton made several Top 10 lists, earning it a total of 12 points. In 2005 and 2007, the city was named the wealthiest mid-sized city in America by the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, its median household income is $123,608 and the median home price is $905,000. Fun Fact: The city was named after Union cavalry general Alfred Pleasonton, but a government typo led to it being misspelled “Pleasanton.” We assume the Pleasonton family was not pleased.
- Eastvale (11 points – TIE)
Tied for 6th place, Eastvale, situated in northwestern Riverside County, was ranked highly by both WalletHub.com and Money Magazine. Incorporated just seven years ago, Eastvale is a true product of the 21st century. Here’s how Money describes it: “The city ranks as one of the most racially diverse on our list. Big draws are the city’s virtually crime-free streets and highly regarded Corona-Norco schools. [Eastvale’s local high school was named one of California’s Gold Ribbon schools last year.] Plus, homes here are newer and bigger than what you’ll find in many nearby areas; a typical home costs about $500,000—but that buys you about 3,000 square feet.” The city’s biggest employer is the new Amazon fulfillment center. So you never have to worry about getting that birthday present on time.
- Santa Monica (11 points – TIE)
Tied with Eastvale for 6th place, Santa Monica is perhaps the mirror image of its Inland Empire counterpart. Whereas Eastvale is new and shiny, Santa Monica is a SoCal classic. Home to the world-famous Santa Monica Pier and the vibrant 4th Street Promenade, Santa Monica boasts many charming pre-WWII-era neighborhoods as well as an exciting, revitalized downtown. The median income here is $74,535, the median home price $1.4 million.
- Cupertino (10 points – TIE)
Perhaps best known as the home to Apple, Cupertino is a city of just over 60,000 situated directly east of San Jose. In the Top 10 rankings of both WalletHub.com and RentApplication.com, Cupertino has a median household income of $134,872 and a median home price of $1.77 million. Cupertino Fun Fact: “The Cupertino Effect” is tech-speak for when a spell-check program believes you have misspelled a word (even if you haven’t) and changes it something else. It rose from early spell-checking applications, unaware that most people were now spelling “co-operation” without the hyphen, automatically changing “cooperation” to “Cupertino.” This led to such amusing organizational names as “The South American Association for Regional Cupertino.”
- Orange (10 points – TIE)
Orange — in the heart of Orange County — was #1 on a single list, that being Movoto.com. Here’s why Movoto chose Orange as its city champion: “Where the city excelled was for its unemployment rate, amenities and weather. Additionally, Orange’s overall quality of life earned it the 80th spot on our list, which might sound low, but in actuality is a decent score.” And if you have a movie that needs an Eisenhower-era town square, you can’t do better than the city’s vintage downtown, the location for many a mid-century period film.
- Orinda (10 points – TIE)
We complete our Top Ten list by returning to the Bay Area and the Contra Costa County city of Orinda, population 18,000-plus. Located just east of Berkley, it was recently ranked the second most friendly town in America by Forbes. Another highly affluent Bay Area suburb, Orinda has a median income of $192,531 and a median home price of $1.3 million. More than 70 percent of the city’s population is married, the median age 46.4.
Are you looking to make a move to California? We have apartment listings in may of the California cities on our list. Head over to our apartment search page to get started today!