Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum, California.

9 Best Places To Live In Northern California In 2024

California is one of the most visited states in the country, a credit to its sunny weather, beautiful beaches, sprawling national parks, and world-class cities. The upper half of the territory is especially renowned for its diverse landscapes, ranging from the picturesque Pacific coast to the imposing Sierra Nevada. Across the NorCal region, several towns present the ideal scenery for anybody planning a move to the Golden State.

From lovely coastal enclaves and relaxed riverfront towns to hidden hamlets surrounded by beautiful nature, they provide an easygoing location for young professionals, big families, and even retirees to establish a permanent home. Whether you prioritize outdoor adventures, affordable living costs, tight-knit communities, or cultural diversity, these are some of the top-ranked destinations in Northern California.

Crescent City

Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City California, green grass, colorful flowers, blue sky on a sunny day
Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum, California.

A seaside escape on the northwestern side of California, this delightful Del Norte County community promises a slow pace of life amidst awesome natural surroundings. With less than 7,000 people domiciled in the town, there is enough space for newcomers to establish a home and join the tight-knit community. Adventurers can fully immerse in nature by hiking through the wooded trails of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, home to old-growth redwoods spanning almost 10,000 acres. The town boasts a couple of historical monuments, but Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum is easily the most renowned.

The lighthouse dates back to the mid-1800s and is listed as a California Historical Landmark. Townsfolk enjoy rare animal experiences at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, a sanctuary for rescued underwater species like otters, sea lions, and seals. Finally, homes here cost an average of $429,500, cheaper than most areas in California.

Half Moon Bay

Resort on top of eroded cliffs and sandy beach, Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay, California
Resort in Half Moon Bay, California.

Half Moon Bay sits less than 40 minutes from San Francisco, which guarantees its residents access to all the urban goodies the big city has to offer. Despite this proximity, the town’s relaxed atmosphere is a far cry from the crowds and chaos in major Bay Area cities. Pristine coastal enclaves like Miramar Beach and Mavericks Beach invite residents for fun recreations like wave surfing and sunset watching. Those who don’t mind a little exercise under the sun can find a fulfilling experience along the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail, partially paved and perfect for hikers and cyclists.

The town also boasts a luscious dining scene, serving culturally diverse flavors to tickle the taste buds. If you love seafood, nobody does it better than Sam’s Chowder House, where guests enjoy lobster rolls, fresh fish and chips, and other delicious combos. The only downside to Half Moon Bay is that homes are pretty costly, with the average listing going for $1.9M.


Lush vineyards surround Sonoma
Lush vineyards surround Sonoma.

Sonoma is positioned smack dab in the heart of Northern California’s wine country of Sonoma Valley. This historic town offers a mix of countryside atmosphere and metropolitan flair, allowing residents to experience the best of both worlds. Among its most popular attractions, the colonial-era Sonoma Plaza is a window into the town’s beginnings, as seen through adobe structures dating back to the 1800s. Residents in Sonoma are exposed to a bustling wine culture, boasting more than 400 wineries in the region, including Buena Vista Winery and Cline Family Cellars.

Furthermore, multiple nature spaces provide an avenue to discover the great outdoors, such as hiking along Sonoma Overlook Trail. With San Francisco about an hour away, locals can access amenities in the city relatively fast. Perhaps this explains why homes are quite pricey, with the median listing cost at $1M.


Boatyard in the beautiful Clear Lake, California
Boatyard in the beautiful Clear Lake, California. Image credit: California State Parks via

Besides being a nature lover’s paradise, Clearlake is one of the most affordable places to live in Northern California. The quaint community of about 15,000 is named after the state’s largest freshwater lake and features serene surroundings with endless opportunities for the outdoor inclined. Among the many parklands dotting the town are Highlands and Redbud Park, where the community can stay engaged with fun recreations like boating, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. You can also choose from a couple of indoor pursuits to spend quality time with family or peers, including enjoying a wholesome meal at Highlands Bar & Grill or catching the latest movies at Clearlake Stadium Cinema.

Clearlake’s laid-back way of life is nicely complemented by an affordable cost of living. With a median home listing price of around $270,000, it is way below California’s average and perfect for young professionals looking to establish a family.

Tahoe City

Tahoe City marina covered in snow in winter
Tahoe City marina covered in snow in winter. Image credit: Editorial credit: AlessandraRC /

If you are not cowed by winter weather and have a soft spot for snow sports, you won’t think twice about settling in Tahoe City. This tiny alpine village is best renowned as a winter destination and attracts enthusiasts from around the country to take advantage of world-class slopes at Granlibakken Ski & Sled Hill. A natural oasis, it is surrounded by dense forests, jagged mountain peaks, and glistening lake waters, presenting diverse outdoor adventures beyond skiing. During the summer months, residents enjoy swimming and sunbathing at Commons Beach, which is the ideal environment for a family day out. Meanwhile, those who prefer to stay indoors can spend time at Gatekeeper’s Museum, discovering the area’s history by browsing old photographs, archives, and other exhibits. Due to the high tourist activity in Tahoe City, home prices have surged to an average of $1.4M.


Historic downtown of Eureka, California.
Historic downtown of Eureka, California.

Unlike the sunny, crowded, and sprawling beaches of Southern California, Eureka offers a different coastal experience, with thinner crowds, chillier weather, and smaller beaches. This small-town feel makes it an enticing prospect for those seeking a tight-knit community amidst rich natural landscapes. The outdoors is a favorite of residents in Eureka, thanks to Sequoia Park, which provides lovely nature trails through massive redwoods. Within the park, you will run into Sequoia Park Zoo, a sanctuary for different species, inviting families for fun animal encounters. Besides immersing in the town’s wilderness, residents get to explore it historical and artistic attractions. The Clarke Historical Museum is an excellent stop for uncovering Eureka’s past, whereas the North Coast Repertory Theater is where people go to watch and support regional creatives. At $437,500, Eureka’s median home price is lower than most places in the state.


Downtown Jackson, California
Downtown Jackson, California. Image credit: Bobak Ha'Eri via Wikimedia Commons.

From a rich gold mining heritage with prominent historical landmarks to a bustling Main Street with Victorian-era structures, Jackson exudes rural charm that leaves a lasting impression on newcomers. This is further enhanced by the tiny population of about 5,000, making the close-knit village an easy option for home seekers in Northern California. The Kennedy Gold Mine is Jackson’s most significant historical site and most visited location. Designated as a California Historical Landmark, it is among the world’s deepest gold mines and offers an intimate glimpse into the town’s California Gold Rush heritage.

Those who like to step outside can find a pleasant environment at Detert Park and Lake Tabeaud, which presents hiking and fishing opportunities. People also prefer Jackson for its affordable living costs, as the median house price is about $499,000.


Quaint town of Mendocino, California
The quaint town of Mendocino, California.

This slice of coastal heaven on the Pacific Coast delights residents with enchanting natural scenery, inviting them to revel in a laid-back environment. Mendocino is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognized for the beautiful architecture in its historic district and the appeal of its natural setting. There are endless opportunities to be in the magical open spaces, including strolling gentle trails inside Mendocino Headlands State Park and lounging on sandy shores at Big River Beach. Mendocino’s famous old-world architecture is best exemplified by the Kelley House Museum, a gorgeous Victorian-era mansion from 1861.

The town also boasts a respectable arts scene, thanks to the presence of Highlight Gallery, which showcases a diverse collection of ceramics, jewelry, furniture, and fine art. Being a popular tourist destination, the housing prices are unsurprisingly steep at $1.2M.

St. Helena

Historic buildings in St. Helena, California.
Historic buildings in St. Helena, California.

If you have a liking for quiet, secluded environments and a taste for freshly crafted wines, this tiny community in the famous Napa Valley region promises you both. St. Helena impresses with lush landscapes featuring sprawling vineyards like Beringer Vineyards, where you can be part of the area’s thriving wine culture. Besides the wine crafting establishments, residents have several options to revel in the bountiful nature encircling the town, with multiple green spots, such as Lyman Park and Jacob Meily Park.

The tiny community of around 5,500 also maintains close ties between members, enhanced by different social events, including the weekly farmers market. Meanwhile, the town’s thriving Main Street houses a string of restaurants and bars ideal for hanging out, including Acacia House. However, you need to save up to afford a home in St. Helena, as the median price is $1.9M.

Final Thoughts

Settling in Northern California means ready access to the diverse landscapes that keep drawing visitors from around and beyond the country year after year. While it might seem compelling to want to settle in big cities like San Francisco and Sacramento, the small towns offer a more ideal setting for those seeking a fresh start in the region. Boasting relaxed rural scenery, fewer crowds, tight-knit communities, and countless adventures, the above locations are some of the best places to live in Northern California.

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