Of the 125 most populated metropolitan areas in the U.S. that are part of U.S. News’ Best Places to Live study, 12 are in California. But what are these 12 best places in and what makes them so great? U.S. News looked at the major metropolitan areas in the state and ranked them based on cost of living, jobs, and quality of life.
Here are the best places to live in California, according to U.S. News’ ranking:
- San Jose
San Jose took the prize for being the No. 1 best place to live in the great state of California. Even though real estate is expensive, with a median home price of $1,039,700 according to Zillow, the plenitude of high-paying jobs in San Jose offsets the high cost of leaving. That, coupled with cultural diversity and 257 sunny days per year, makes San Jose a great place to live.
- San Francisco
San Jose’s sister to the north, San Francisco, came in a close second at No. 2. Like San Jose, San Francisco offers plenty of high-paying jobs to offset the expensive housing costs. The median home price is high, at $1,357,500. But San Franciscans spend about 32 percent of their annual income on housing, which is relatively low compared to other metropolitan areas in California. While the weather is not as sunny and warm as San Jose’s, San Francisco offers a nearly limitless number of fun things to do, whether you love restaurants, museums, hiking, surfing, hearing live music, or just hanging out in the park.
- San Diego
Sunny San Diego came in third on U.S. News’ list. With an unemployment rate of 4 percent, San Diego has a great job market. It’s also relatively affordable, with a median annual salary of $55,480 and a median home price of $590,700. San Diego gets nearly as many sunny days per year as San Jose at 266. With beautiful beaches and fun things to do, it’s easy to see why San Diego ranks in the top three.
- Santa Barbara
Another beautiful coastal city, Santa Barbara came in fourth on the list of best places to live in California. Real estate is expensive, with a median home price of $1,157,400. But Santa Barbara is less crowded than California’s largest cities, with a population of 439,395. That, coupled with great weather and being a university town, makes Santa Barbara a great place to live.
- Santa Rosa
Fifty-five miles north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa came in sixth on the list. With a median home price of $573,900 and a median annual salary of $52,670, Santa Rosa offers a high quality of life that’s affordable for its residents. Commute times for Santa Rosa workers average just over 25 minutes, plus the metro area has very low crime rates. Combine this with Santa Rosa’s proximity to wine country and you can see why it made it into the top five of the best places to live in California.
California’s capital, Sacramento, came in sixth on the list. With a median home price of $326,900, Sacramento real estate is far less expensive than the Bay Area. A great job market, with an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, and a median annual salary of $54,690 makes Sacramento a relatively affordable place to live for its workers.
- Los Angeles
As the second most populated metro area in the U.S. after New York City, Los Angeles has a robust job market with a wide variety of types of jobs. Great weather and fun things to do, not to mention the allure of movie industry glamor, make the City of Angels a highly desirable place to live. But Los Angelinos pay a lot for real estate. The median home price is $686,100, and residents spend, on average, 35.6 percent of their income on housing.
Just 37 miles southeast of Santa Cruz, Salinas ranked in the top 10 of best places to live in California at No. 8. With a median home price of $473,000, according to Trulia, Salinas is far less expensive than Santa Cruz, which has a median home price of $915,000. Salinas has just 430,201 residents, so it’s less crowded than the Bay Area’s larger cities. And the proximity to Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey, great beaches, and more make it a desirable yet affordable place to live.
Two hours from the coast, the California agricultural town of Fresno also made the list of top 10 best places to live in the state. Workers have relatively short commute times at about 22 minutes, which is four minutes less than the national average. And homes are affordable, with a median home price of $242,500.
Ninety-two miles east of San Francisco, Modesto also made the list of the top 10 best places to live in California. Housing is relatively inexpensive by California standards, with a median home price of $297,100. However, the unemployment rate is on the high side, at 8.2 percent, and the annual salary in Modesto is $45,600, which is about $4,000 less than the national average.
No. 11 on the list of best places to live in California is Bakersfield. The median home price is low for California, at $241,600. And residents spend about 30.5 percent of their annual income on living expenses. Thus, the cost of living in Bakersfield is low compared to many other parts of California.
Surrounded by farms and vineyards in California’s Central Valley, Stockton came in at No. 12 on the list of best places to live in California. In addition to being in the heart of California agriculture, Stockton is a manufacturing hub for companies like Safeway and Whirlpool. While the town declared bankruptcy in 2013 and unemployment is high at 7.2 percent, housing prices are relatively low for a California city. The median home price is