Cars parked in Downtown Paso Robles along 12th street with historic Clock Tower Acorn Building in background, via Michael Vi /

9 Top-Ranked Towns in California for Retirees

California is a sought-after retirement destination in the country, thanks to its generally warm climate, abundant natural beauty, diverse cultures, and wealth of recreation opportunities. With so many great places to choose from, it can seem overwhelming to pick the perfect spot to spend your golden years. To get you started, this article examines top-ranked towns in California that consistently rate highly for retirees. 

From charming coastal communities to historical Gold Country villages, these locations offer affordable living, access to quality healthcare, low crime rates, and engaging cultural and social activities for seniors. Whether you want to be near beaches, mountains, or world-class cities, there is a highly-rated retirement town that fits your interests and budgets. From their profiles, you can determine which offers the right mix of amenities, attractions, and ambiance to make the most of your retirement.

Paso Robles

Downtown Paso Robles at sunset, Central California
Downtown Paso Robles at sunset, Central California

Paso Robles presents a mix of scenic nature, mild climate, and rich culture, making it a top consideration for retirees relocating to California. The small community is known for its wineries, lakes, and rolling landscapes. Its pedestrian-friendly downtown houses a diverse mix of businesses and attractions, with the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum being a noteworthy mention. Housed inside are relics and artifacts documenting the town in its formative years. Retirees can have ample opportunities to mingle and interact with other residents during different festivals and events staged throughout the year, including Concerts in the Park. 

The crime rate in Paso Robles is lower than the national average, and average monthly expenses cost less than $2,000. However, elderly citizens can find cheaper accommodation in over 50 senior living communities around the town, including the River Walk Terrace Apartments. 


Town of Lakeport by Clear Lake
Town of Lakeport by Clear Lake, via Aneta Waberska /

Lakeport borders California’s largest freshwater lake, Clear Lake, and enjoys some of the best air quality and a relaxed environment that favors retirement living. The tiny community of about 5,000 northwest of Sacramento presents endless outdoor opportunities in Library Park, including swimming, kayaking, boating, fishing, and hiking. Seniors who prefer indoor pursuits will appreciate venues like the Historic Courthouse Museum, which chronicles the town’s colorful past through documents, archives, and other memorabilia. Lakeport also offers a buzzing nightlife for those who stay active after hours, with joints like Clearlake Pub acting as excellent meeting points. 

The median home price in Lakeport is less than the national average, offering pensioners an easy route to owning a home. Furthermore, the crime rate and cost of living are more or less the same as the national average, while multiple retirement communities, including Sunshine Manor, provide reliable support to seniors during their vulnerable days. 


A busy street in downtown Carmel, California
A busy street in downtown Carmel, California, via Sundry Photography /

If your idea of retirement life is waking up to picturesque water views in a laid back beach setting, this charming coastal enclave in Monterey County provides the perfect atmosphere. Carmel-by-the-Sea offers pleasant opportunities for retirees to step outside for a refreshing walk and other recreations at idyllic open spaces like Point Lobos State Natural Area and Carmel River State Beach. Those who appreciate a sense of nostalgia will fancy touring the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum, which offers a glimpse of an authentic Catholic mission in the state, built in the 18th century. 

While Carmel-by-the-Sea is an ideal retirement destination, pensioners will need to have their savings in check to afford life in the town. The median home price is over $2,000,000, and the cost of living is almost one and a half times more than the national average. But as a reward, they enjoy a very safe environment and access to assisted living centers like the Cottages of Carmel. 


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

As young families and professionals move to Moraga for its quality public school system, retirees get a piece of the pie thanks to lifelong learning opportunities at St. Mary’s College of California. This lovely Contra Costa County community delights with a small-town vibe and close-knit ties that you can get a sense of when strolling through its vibrant downtown. Moraga Farmers’ Market offers retirees the perfect opportunity to mingle and establish friendships in a family-friendly atmosphere. The town also boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene, with many meeting points like the California Academy of Performing Arts entertaining audiences. Pensioners can also take advantage of hiking adventures at the EBMUD Valle Vista Staging Area to remain active and healthy. The crime rate in Moraga is almost the same as the national average, with the living cost slightly higher than the United States as a whole.


Aerial view of Auburn, California.
Aerial view of Auburn, California.

A popular stop for travelers heading to Tahoe, this California Gold Rush town beckons pensioners to establish a retirement home and enjoy a welcoming community with a down-to-earth way of life. Home to about 13,500 residents, it boasts a rich Gold Heritage that seniors can familiarize themselves with at the Gold Rush Museum. Its Old Town hosts a cluster of dining and shopping options, with the weekly Farmers’ Market bringing together the community for a fun day of trade. Meanwhile, the downtown houses the Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, guaranteeing pensioners reliable healthcare whenever needed. 

Seniors who envision an active lifestyle will find plenty of outdoor opportunities amidst the dense wilderness of the Auburn State Recreation Area Ranger Station. The crime rate is conveniently below the national average, and several world-class assisted living communities, such as Auburn Ravine Terrace, ensure reliable support for retirees. 

Sierra Madre

Wisteria Festival event in Sierra Madre, California
Wisteria Festival event in Sierra Madre, California, via Kit Leong /

Spectacular natural scenery makes Sierra Madre one of the best towns in California for pensioners, nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley and bordering the vast Angeles National Forest. This ensures plenty of recreation opportunities for seniors to stay engaged and entertained, from hiking Mount Wilson Trail to picnicking in West Vista of Sierra Vista Park. The tight-knit community of Sierra Madre takes care of its elderly population through multiple assisted living centers, from the Kensington Sierra Madre to the Hart Park House Senior Center. 

Downtown Sierra Madre presents seniors with exciting opportunities to sample healthy farm-to-table cuisine at eateries like the Wistaria Restaurant and Bar. The community also appreciates the arts and often gathers at Sierra Madre Playhouse to enjoy a string of exciting live performances, including plays, musicals, and concerts. 

Los Olivos

Street view in Los Olivos, California
Street view in Los Olivos, California

A quintessential small town in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, this charming community will gladly welcome fresh retirees into their fold. It is famous for its bustling wine culture and respectable dining scene, presenting wine-tasting opportunities at establishments like Solminer Wine Company and Beckmen Vineyards. The rolling landscapes surrounding Los Olivos provide a delightful way to experience nature through lazy walks, picnics, and sightseeing excursions. The downtown corridor has an easygoing vibe that brings together community members at popular joints like Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café for the best of local dining and wining. 

Outdoor enthusiasts can venture into the neighboring Los Padres National Forest for fantastic wildlife viewing experiences, with animals like falcons, eagles, elk, and the bighorn sheep calling the forest home. 


Main street, street view, and tourists in Solvang.
Main street, street view, and tourists in Solvang. Image credit HannaTor via Shutterstock.

Solvang offers retirees a taste of Europe without having to fly across the Atlantic. This adorable village in the Santa Ynez Valley charms with a unique Danish heritage, which is evident in some of the town’s top attractions. Pensioners will have an immersive cultural experience exploring venues like the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, which chronicle Solvang’s colorful historical and cultural heritage. The close-knit community hosts different social events and festivals that celebrate its Danish roots, highlighted by the Solvang Danish Days Festival. For fun in the open spaces, pensioners can find several recreation activities at Sunny Fields Park. Strong community ties allow residents to live in harmony, keeping Solvang’s crime rate way below the national average. Finally, seniors can access reliable healthcare at the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital. 

Pismo Beach

People strolling along the shore in Pismo Beach, California.
People strolling along the shore in Pismo Beach, California.

Pismo Beach is nationally renowned for its spectacular coastal scenery, with long sugar-white shorelines and remarkable sunsets. This picturesque community on the central coast encourages seniors to step into the open spaces and enjoy fresh air during a hike through Pismo Preserve. Alternatively, Pismo Beach Pier presents some of the most gorgeous views of the water, and just next, Pismo Beach allows for a refreshing dip. Away from the coast, pensioners can admire beautiful creations at the Art in the Park at Dinosaur Caves. 

Pismo Beach ensures reliable medical care without having to depart the community, thanks to facilities like Pismo Medical Campus. Incoming retirees can visit the California Welcome Center as the first step in their settlement in Pismo Beach. 

Final thoughts

There is no shortage of wonderful small towns in California to consider after calling time on your career. The destinations highlighted illustrate the diverse locales and environments available throughout the state, each presenting unique benefits for retirees. Whether you value outdoor pursuits, small-town living, cultural attractions, or an urban setting, California puts desirable retirement locations at your fingertips. With its mild climates, thriving economies, and commitment to healthcare, the Golden State continues to attract retirees looking to enjoy their senior years in beautiful, vibrant places full of opportunities. 

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