Street view in Half Moon Bay, California

11 Best Places to Live in California in 2024

Constant sunny weather, access to nature, diverse cultures, and a thriving job market make living in California appealing for many. The Golden State offers residents an unbeatable combination of outdoor activities, a bustling social scene, and economic opportunities. With its long coastline and mountainous interior, California provides a fantastic variety of landscapes and environments within its borders. The state presents excellent options for families, professionals, and retirees, from bustling urban hubs to idyllic rural towns. 

These communities exemplify the best California offers for living, working, and raising a family in 2024. The following places stood out based on factors like employment, income growth, affordability, amenities, and overall quality of life. Whether you crave big-city energy or small-town charm, you will find your match on our list of the top locations to live in California this year.


Buildings on the streets of Historic Calistoga, California.
Buildings on the streets of Historic Calistoga, California. Image credit Dragan Jovanovic via

This charming community in the heart of California’s Napa Valley presents a healing environment to settle in, renowned for its natural hot springs, therapeutic mud baths, and world-famous wineries. Calistoga is an excellent choice for those who want an easygoing lifestyle with fine wine-tasting opportunities at the numerous wineries in the town, such as Castello di Amorosa. Its famous geothermal springs inject an aura of wellness into the city, and you can visit the popular Old Faithful of California to get a feel of this natural healing wonder. 

Strong community ties among the 5,000+ residents in Calistoga encourage a safe environment, with the crime rate more than 20% below the national average. The annual cost of necessities is around $47,000, slightly higher than the state and national averages. Meanwhile, the median home price for a single-family home is just above $1,000,000. 


Famous pink Amtrak train depot in Davis, California
Famous pink Amtrak train depot in Davis, California, via ZikG /

Sitting just west of Sacramento, Davis delivers a cozy suburban setting with access to nature and a vibrant social scene. The community hosts the University of California, guaranteeing high-quality learning opportunities for young professionals and seasoned veterans. The institution has elevated the local arts and culture scene, leading to venues like the Davis Varsity Theater and the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. There is also plenty of nature in a town known for its biking culture. Cyclists can take advantage of at least 300 cycling routes, with scenic trails and the laid back atmosphere of the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Headquarters. 

Davis is a harmonious community, with the close ties between members best embodied at the Davis Farmers Market. The crime rate is way below the national average, while the cost of living is 28% over America’s average. If you buy a home, you can find a decent abode for around $800K, but if you choose to rent, expect to pay about $2,400 monthly. 

Half Moon Bay

Grocery store in downtown Half Moon bay California
Grocery store in downtown Half Moon bay California, via DreamArt123 /

If you dream of spending your days in the easygoing setting of the Pacific Coast, Half Moon Bay is an enticing prospect just south of San Francisco. This picturesque locale is famous for its string of beaches, from Half Moon State Beach and Miramar Beach to Poplar Beach, inviting outdoor enthusiasts to revel in nature’s splendor. This cluster of beaches provides various recreation opportunities, including swimming, hiking, wave surfing, and horseback riding. The dining scene is abuzz with multiple restaurants serving a cocktail of local and internationally inspired flavors. If you love Italian, you can pop into Pasta Moon for upscale Italian dishes. 

The chances of being a victim of violent crime in Half Moon Bay is 1 in over 400, making it a safe place. But you need to have your savings in check to enjoy a piece of this coastal heaven, as the cost of living is more than twice the national average. Furthermore, the median housing price is upwards of $1.5 million. 


Petaluma River downtown in Petaluma, California.
Petaluma River downtown in Petaluma, California.

Petaluma offers something for everyone in a small town that boasts a well-preserved history, a thriving craft brewery scene, and idyllic nature spaces. Its walkable downtown features an eclectic cluster of antique stores, ice cream shops, restaurants, and galleries. You can make the most of the lively atmosphere by visiting venues like Phoenix Theater to enjoy live musical performances. Every year in September, Petaluma celebrates its brewing culture with the Petaluma River Craft Beer Festival, an excellent time to step out and interact with the community in a family-friendly atmosphere. 

With a crime rate below the national average, residents don’t have to obsess over their safety when exploring isolated nature trails in outdoor spaces like Helen Putnam Regional Park and Shollenberger Park. If you can afford Petaluma's $800K average home price, you can also look forward to prompt returns on your investment. 


The Old Town of Truckee, on Donner Pass Road, is well known for its great restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops.
The Old Town of Truckee, on Donner Pass Road, is well known for its great restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops. Editorial credit: David A Litman /

Outdoor lovers and serenity seekers love Truckee for its small-town appeal and access to nature. This tiny village in Nevada County is surrounded by lush outdoor spaces that invite hikers, campers, skiers, climbers, and anglers to make the most of a recreational hub. Donner Memorial State Park is the perfect example of the endless outdoor adventures in Truckee, offering enthusiasts opportunities for kayaking, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and cross-country skiing. The town’s proximity to major landscapes like Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake, and the Truckee River makes it a four-season destination, ensuring it’s never dull.

There is enough fun to go around, and children will enjoy exciting learning opportunities and interactive outdoor exhibits at KidZone Museum. Truckee is no longer a hidden gem, and the influx of new residents has pushed the median home prices to about $1 million. Also, the cost of living is 30% over the national average. 

Palo Alto

University Street in downtown Palo Alto, California
University Street in downtown Palo Alto, California, via Lynn Yeh /

Often considered the Birthplace of Silicon Valley, this charming city in the San Francisco Bay Area is home to dozens of prestigious blue-chip companies and world-leading entrepreneurs. It also hosts Stanford University, which prepares students to transition into the thriving job market in Silicon Valley, assuring parents of a bright future for their kids. But there is more on offer in Palo Alto, including a thriving arts scene, thanks to the presence of Cantor Arts Center and Palo Alto Arts Center. Outdoor lovers will find pleasant adventures inside Bylands Nature Preserve. 

With so many opportunities available in Palo Alto, the town may not be a fit for average home seekers. The median home price is around $3M, and the living costs are almost 50% above the national average. On the bright side, a median home income of about $81,000 should be sufficient to afford a mortgage. 

Borrego Springs

View of the Grange Hall and the Livery room at the Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort at Borrego Springs, California
View of the Grange Hall and the Livery room at the Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort at Borrego Springs, California, via Rosamar /

This tiny community of about 2,000 is uniquely encircled by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It has been referred to as one of the most beautiful places to visit or live in California. Besides its picturesque desert scenery, several life-size metal sculptures of mythical beasts make this town unique, and you can admire the artsy creations at Galleta Meadows. Nightimes in Borrego Springs are perfect for stargazing, thanks to dark skies and limited light pollution in the town. Hellhole Canyon Trail offers one of the best settings for this. 

Borrego Springs’ charm crosses over to the cold season. During winter, numerous species of snowbirds descend upon the town, affording residents free bird-watching opportunities. The cost of living is 8% lower than the national average, and the median home price is around $340,000, making Borrego Springs an affordable place to call home.


Historic old town of Julian, California.
Historic old town of Julian, California.

This small town near San Diego was officially designated a California Historic Landmark due to its rich Gold Rush heritage. It has multiple historical markers preserving this legacy, including the Julian Pioneer Museum. At the Eagle and High Peak Mines, visitors relive the town’s gold mining heydays by exploring underground tunnels and panning for gold. Julian sits at a 5,000-foot altitude, presenting breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscapes at vantage points like Volcan Mountain County Preserve and William Heise County Park. These also offer countless outdoor opportunities, including hiking, camping, and hunting. 

Julian’s living cost is about 17% above the national average, while homes here cost around $520K. On the bright side, the crime rate is generally lower in a small town than the national average.


Street view in Avalon, California
Street view in Avalon, California

If you are looking for an isolated spot to call home, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Avalon meets the criteria almost perfectly. This gorgeous town on Catalina Island sits off the coast of Southern California, and you need a boat to access it. Avalon boasts an unrivaled small-town ambience, with exciting opportunities to get on the water offered by local outfitters like Catalina Adventure Sailing and Catalina Island Company. The restaurant scene does not disappoint either, featuring multiple eateries serving sumptuous seafood, including the Lobster Trap. 

Avalon’s crime rate is almost 10 points below the national average. As expected, homes don’t come cheap in a relaxed coastal paradise like this, and you will have to pay almost $850K to own one. Alternatively, you can rent a house for around $3,200 per month. 


Victorian storefronts in Ferndale, California.
Victorian storefronts in Ferndale, California.

Sandwiched between the sprawling Humboldt Redwoods State Park and California’s Lost Coast, Ferndale is an excellent choice for those with a penchant for the outdoors. Exploring its historic downtown reveals well-preserved Victorian-era structures and a main street bustling with restaurants, shops, and antique stores. For some background to the town, Ferndale Museum exhibits a vast collection of artifacts that bring the area’s past to life. Nature lovers will enjoy picnicking at Fireman’s Park or hiking along miles of trails in the 105-acre Russ Park. 

Residents also enjoy a lovely arts and culture scene, often assembling at Ferndale Repertory Theater to enjoy various live performances throughout the year. Ferndale favors young professionals looking to establish a family, thanks to a low unemployment rate of 3.2% and a median home price just above $400k. The crime rate is also 50% lower than the national average. 


Aerial view of Moraga, California.
Aerial view of Moraga, California.

Set in the hills of the East Bay, Moraga provides natural beauty and small-town charm. This quiet town enjoys mild weather year-round and features a tight-knit community of about 17,000. Residents looking to explore the outdoors will appreciate the ample trails and open spaces at Moraga Commons Park and Captain Vineyards. Downtown Moraga provides culture and entertainment; you can catch the latest indie films at the historic Rheem Theater. Alternatively, browse the Moraga Farmers Market, a weekly tradition where residents shop for fresh local produce and connect with neighbors.

While the cost of living is over 80% higher than the national average, residents benefit from safety and accessibility. Property crimes are extremely rare. Also, the town’s proximity to iconic Bay Area destinations like Lafayette and Orinda means residents can easily access the larger cities' top-tier healthcare, entertainment, and social offerings.

In Conclusion

California remains one of the most desirable places to live and retire in the United States. The communities featured offer exemplary quality of life through their natural beauty, cultural attractions, economic opportunities, and high living standards. Whether seeking an energetic large city or a tranquil small town to live in California, there is an ideal community on this list to suit various lifestyles and budgets. With its diverse landscapes and year-round sunny climate, the Golden State fosters healthy, active lifestyles for residents of all ages. 

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