Sunset at San Diego Waterfront Public Park, Marina and the San Diego Skyline

7 Best Places to Live in Southern California in 2024

The southern region of California, often celebrated for its enviable quality of life, is more than just a hyped-up locale. It indeed offers a superb combination of top-tier education from kindergarten to postgraduate levels, a diverse job market welcoming to newcomers, and stunning landscapes that stretch from beaches to forests and mountains, all under near-perfect weather conditions.

Cities in this area achieve what seems impossible: vibrant nightlife paired with safety, and all at a cost that ensures peace of mind and the opportunity to build the life you desire while enjoying high quality of life. For instance, Rancho Santa Margarita offers a tranquil lifestyle amidst the breathtaking Santa Ana Mountains. Despite California being the third-most expensive state in the U.S. for living, the many advantages of living in the "Golden State" make it a worthwhile choice for many.


Thursday Downtown Anaheim Certified Farmers' Market
Thursday Downtown Anaheim Certified Farmers' Market 

Anaheim is renowned for its world-famous amusement parks, including the enchanting Disneyland and the impressive Universal Studios, making life here seem like an ongoing vacation. Its robust economy is supported by major industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, education, and hospitality, attracting young professionals and those seeking a career and work-life balance. Anaheim, with a population of 347,111 in Orange County, offers a dynamic job market for newcomers and vibrant attractions within an urban-suburban setting where most residents rent their homes. It boasts excellent public schools and low crime rates. The median home price in Anaheim is $858,380, which is steep even with a median household income of $81,806. However, its A-graded nightlife and diversity make it a highly livable city for families, singles, and those with liberal views.

With an unemployment rate lower than the national average of 3.7%, Anaheim provides job security for those looking to plan a future or raise a family. Esteemed educational institutions include Canyon High School and El Rancho Charter Junior School. The city is known for its serene, traffic-free streets, uncommon in large cities, allowing safe biking to work and letting children walk to school unescorted. Locals enjoy a mix of '90s vibes with old-school diners and attractions alongside the glamorous big-city feel of Southern California, offering something for everyone.


Irvine, California: A view of a plaza area inside the Irvine Spectrum
Irvine, California: A view of a plaza area inside the Irvine Spectrum, via The Image Party /

Irvine, home to 268,777 residents, is the often-overlooked core of Orange County that presents a more serious aspect of the fun-loving Southern California. It's ideal for ambitious individuals looking to advance in their careers or start new ones, thanks to its thriving economy, diverse job market, and robust sectors in professional services, healthcare, manufacturing, and education. With a median home price of $1,300,651, Irvine ranks as one of the priciest cities on this list, even with a median income of $115,606. The average rent for a 1-2 bedroom apartment is $4,345 per month. However, the city offers unmatched access to over 60 public parks, 400 miles of bike trails, and beloved Southern California beaches, all within a 20-minute drive, making it immensely attractive.

Over one-third of Irvine is dedicated to parks, trails, and natural wildlands, creating numerous opportunities for relaxation and outdoor activities. With a low unemployment rate of 2.8%, the city embodies a work-hard, play-hard philosophy. Irvine is also a hub for community engagement and entertainment, with world-class shopping and dining at Irvine Spectrum, South Coast Plaza, and Fashion Island. It draws families and students with its top-rated educational institutions, including K–12 schools and universities such as UC Irvine, which ranks highly nationally. Additionally, Irvine is noted for its nearly crime-free record over two decades and the lowest per capita violent crime rate for a city of its size. Residents enjoy day trips to various destinations, including the bustling LA scene or the serene mountains of Big Bear, offering a change of pace to suit any preference.

Long Beach

People enjoy a sunny day on the beach at Long Beach, California.
People enjoy a sunny day on the beach at Long Beach, California.

Long Beach stands out as a favored residential area, with its median house price at $803,000, which contrasts sharply with the national average of $281,900. Despite this, the more affordable median rent of $1,698, compared to the national average of $1,268, results in a distribution where 59% of residents rent and 41% own their homes. This bustling city in Los Angeles County, home to 462,293 people, is filled with bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks, making it attractive to families and young professionals who lean towards liberal views. Its urban-suburban blend and the close proximity of amenities cater well to various demographics, earning it a B+ overall grade from Niche among California cities. With a highly regarded public school system rated 4.2 out of 5, Long Beach is graded B for family-friendliness, A for nightlife, and A+ for diversity.

Hosting major corporations like Boeing and Molina Healthcare, Long Beach provides swift access to the Los Angeles scene via the Metro Blue Line. It thrives with opportunities in healthcare, manufacturing, retail, education, and hospitality sectors, although it faces a challenging unemployment rate of 5.8%. Its economic diversity positions it as an ideal location for recent graduates, those establishing their careers, or seeking advancement. Notably, the city is also home to the esteemed Pacific Coast University School of Law, drawing a significant young demographic with a median age of 36.1. The combination of a stable economy and a lower cost of living compared to Los Angeles or San Francisco makes Long Beach a prudent choice for planning the future, saving money, and raising a family without compromising on the quality of life.

Los Angeles

Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, Los Angeles, California
Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles, often dubbed the "place where dreams come true," embodies both the frustrations of a traffic-congested metropolis and the allure of a glamorous hub for show business. As America's second-largest metropolitan area, LA is a city of contrasts, boasting healthcare and retail as its two largest and most diverse industries. With a median income of $98,200, a median house price of $983,000, and a particular median rent of $1,685, Los Angeles offers a viable living option compared to some northern US cities, where only multi-millionaires can afford to live. With a median age of 36.9, the cost of food and utilities in the city is respectively 5% and 9% lower than the national average. Coupled with a modest unemployment rate of 5.3%, LA is deemed ideal for those seeking to balance work and personal life.

The city's freeway system allows residents to travel between coastal beaches in minutes, traffic permitting, while rugged mountains, tree-lined forests, and stark deserts are all accessible within an hour's drive from downtown. Los Angeles, with its intoxicating blend, encourages residents to explore a wide range of experiences, whether as free-spirited hopefuls or individuals with unwavering ambition; a positive mindset is essential for acceptance among Angelenos. LA also excels in offering job opportunities, especially in tech, with starting salaries averaging $118,000 and reaching up to $850,000 annually. The city’s vibrant after-work scene includes entertainment venues and a rich culinary landscape featuring global cuisines such as Thai, Chinese, and Japanese.

Rancho Santa Margarita

Aerial view of a neighborhood in Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Aerial view of a neighborhood in Rancho Santa Margarita, California

Rancho Santa Margarita, a relatively lesser-known town with a population of 47,702, is celebrated as the top place to live in California, as highlighted by Niche. Situated in Orange County, within the Los Angeles area, this suburb near Irvine boasts an A grade for overall livability, or 4.24 out of 5, with an A+ for its public schools, B for crime and safety, as well as nightlife, and A for both family-friendliness and diversity. The primary challenge, akin to much of Southern California, is the cost and availability of housing. Here, 73% of residents own their homes, with a median house price of $861,100, and a median rent of $2,441, notably higher than the national average of $1,268. Rancho Santa Margarita offers a commendable life-work balance, enriched by numerous parks and coffee shops, making it ideal for students and families alike. The town's proximity to the Santa Ana Mountains provides access to a stunning natural landscape, complete with extensive hiking trails.

Established on January 1, 2000, Rancho is one of the county's newest cities. It is home to a mix of young professionals, remote workers, and commuters, who generally hold moderate political views. The average household income in Rancho Santa Margarita is $173,790, with a low poverty rate of 3.91%. Its economy is vibrant, with employment opportunities in manufacturing, professional, scientific, and technical services, as well as healthcare and social assistance. Rated as the safest city in Southern California in 2024, Rancho ensures a secure environment where tourists feel safe at night and locals are comfortable letting their children walk to school. For leisure, the city offers iconic spots like the Whiting Ranch Wilderness, O’Neill Regional Park for hiking, and the nearby Lago Santa Margarita for scenic drives.

San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, California
The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, California, via meunierd /

San Diego conjures images of world-class beaches, a vibrant downtown, a mild climate, and a relaxed lifestyle – descriptions that aptly fit "America’s Finest City." It boasts a robust economy with plentiful job opportunities in healthcare and professional sectors. The University of California, San Diego, is ranked 7th by Money among the Best Colleges in California and 12th in the nation. The city hosts leading IT and communications companies such as Qualcomm and Nokia, which offer numerous positions for newcomers, alongside a burgeoning biotech sector with firms like Artiva, Illumina, and Amgen. San Diego's housing market aligns with the pricier spectrum of the state, yet it presents more affordable living options than San Francisco and Los Angeles.

With a population of 1,381,127, San Diego maintains a median household income of $96,246 and an unemployment rate of 3.1%. It is notably family-friendly, featuring amusement parks, attractions, 340 parks, and 40,000 acres of open space for outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, surfing, cruises, and whale watching. Balboa Park, spanning 1,000 acres, houses the renowned San Diego Zoo, 15 museums, a horticultural center, and the Olde Globe Theater. The city's culinary scene includes five Michelin-starred restaurants, while the downtown area throbs with coffee shops, entertainment venues, and over 120 breweries and tasting spots. San Diego State University (SDSU) further enriches the city's educational landscape, attracting families, students, and young professionals who find the city's offerings within reach.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara, California

Living the "Santa Barbara" lifestyle is indeed a reality and offers a fantastic experience in this beautiful, world-renowned beachside city. Santa Barbara, with a population of 86,000 and a median age of 33.9 years, affords its residents easy access to Los Angeles, in addition to its own array of amenities and cultural venues nestled within Mediterranean-style stucco buildings adorned with red tile roofs. This motif, which pervades the city, pays homage to Santa Barbara's Spanish colonial heritage and is celebrated through events and annual celebrations like the Old Spanish Days Fiesta, the Summer Solstice Celebration, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. With key industries in healthcare, education, and retail, Santa Barbara provides ample opportunities for relaxation after work. Living on the "American Riviera" is described by locals as living in "paradise," nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Despite being known as a "playground for the rich and famous," Santa Barbara emerges as perhaps the most affordable city in the state, considering its glamour. With an average annual salary of $62,020 and an unemployment rate of 8.6%, the city's median home price stands at $464,954, with a manageable median monthly rent of $1,810. The city attracts newcomers with its outdoor activities and nearly perfect climate year-round, while the vast cultural diversity, bolstered by tourism, adds to its appeal. From the pristine beaches to quaint beach towns like Summerland and Carpinteria to the south, Goleta to the north, and the upscale Montecito, California's south coast spans nearly 3,800 square miles. This expanse offers a lifetime of exploration, including trips to the Channel Islands National Park and the winery-rich Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys.

California's housing market is notably more expensive than much of the country, with prices often surpassing the national average housing cost of $281,900. However, it's still feasible to find homes suitable for various budgets, as evidenced by the options in Santa Barbara and San Diego. Santa Barbara is exceptionally livable, boasting Michelin-starred restaurants, coffee shops, and entertainment options, including over 120 breweries, pubs, and tasting venues. It presents a less polarized alternative to Los Angeles, which, while known as the "place where dreams come true" and a glamorous hub for show business, is America's second-largest metropolitan area with its own unique advantages.

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