Best Places To Live In California For 2020


We used science to determine which cities in the Golden State are pure gold.

Editor’s Note: We updated this article for 2020. This is our sixth time ranking the best places to live in California.

California is in its own league compared to other states. To give you an idea, if California were a country, it would have the sixth largest economy in the world. But being such a large state, there’s a wide discrepancy in quality between the best and the worst places to live in California and we’re here to talk about what makes the best places…well, the best.

People in Cali know they’ve got things pretty good, which is why they’re nationally known for being maddeningly laid-back about everything. But when you’re home to some of America’s most prized sites of natural beauty (Big Sur, Yosemite, and Redwood National Forest, to name a few), you can’t really be blamed for believing that life’s too good to bother stressing over.

California undeniably plays a big role in shaping our world today. Between Hollywood dominating the international media game and tech giants like Facebook and Google acting as global leaders in the handling of data, you can’t question California’s cultural ascendancy.

Sure, California’s great, but what does it take to earn a place in the state’s upper eschelon? Well, we looked at a number of factors, but it turns out the best places in Cali all share one thing: wealth. With incomes well over the $100,000/year mark and home prices breaking $500,000, you’d better believe that the best of the best in California ain’t cheap. By and large, the places that made the cut are located around San Francisco in Silicon Valley, so while housing certainly isn’t cheap, big salaries keeps the overall cost of living at a reasonable level.

We don’t mean to offend anyone from SoCal, but the data shows that it’s hella better up north. And with better schools, safer streets, and stronger economies, it’s no surprise that NoCal has the market cornered on quality cities. So break out your avocado toast, pour yourself a glass of Napa Valley wine, wax your surfboard, and keep reading to find out which places in The Golden State get gold medals for excellence.

The 10 Best Places To Live In California For 2020

1. Los AltosLos Altos, CA

Population: 30,588
Median Home Value: $2,000,001
Median Household Income: $215,339

Kicking off our list of best places to live is Los Altos, the first of many Silicon Valley representatives to make the cut this year. Unsurprisingly, residents of Los Altos are highly educated, with over half of folks having a master’s degree or higher. Bigger degrees lead to bigger paychecks, which leaves the residents of Los Altos in the comfortable position of earning around $215,339/year. So, while the $2,000,001 price tag on homes in Los Altos is quite expensive, the overall cost of living is actually quite reasonable.

If you want to settle down in Los Altos for good, you’re in luck because the local schools scored an average of 9/10 on GreatSchools. On top of that, Los Altos has the 7th lowest rate of violent crime in California.

With all of these awesome features, it’s unsurprising that the Los Altos Farmer’s Market is one of the city’s top attractions. If your shopping needs fall outside the purview of a farmer’s market, Santana Row in San Jose is just a fifteen minute drive away.

2. Los Altos HillsLos Altos Hills, CA

Source: Public domain

Population: 8,517
Median Home Value: $2,000,001
Median Household Income: $250,001

We don’t to drive very far to arrive at California’s 2nd best city to call home, Los Altos Hills. The unemployment rate in Los Altos Hills is a mere 2.8%, the 10th lowest of anywhere on this list. Which makes sense when you consider that a staggering 50%+ of Los Altos Hills’ population has received AT LEAST a master’s degree, seeing as you don’t normally find a person with a Ph.D out of work. It also explains why folks in Los Altos Hills earn around $250,001/year, the 2nd highest in California.

Los Altos has the 4th lowest overall crime rate in the state, about 75% below the national average. So you can take full advantage of the 24 miles of trails available at Rancho San Antonio without fearing for your safety.

3. PiedmontPiedmont, CA

Population: 11,308
Median Home Value: $1,844,000
Median Household Income: $210,889

Want to experience the best parts of Oakland without having to deal with high rates of crime? Piedmont is the place for you. With sub-3% levels of unemployment and poverty, Piedmont makes sure that all its residents get a piece of the pie. That may also have something to do with the fact that Piedmont has the lowest rate of high school dropouts in California.

Homes in Piedmont are also slightly cheaper than elsewhere in this list’s top five, so it might be somewhat easier to get yourself established here, especially on a salary of $210,889/year.

Piedmont is also fortunate to get some of the warmer weather that the east bay gets without the hot, dry climate in the Sacramento Valley. And if, even after this season, you’re still a Golden State Warriors fan, you’ll never have far to drive to catch a game.

4. AthertonAtherton, CA

Source: Public domain

Population: 7,185
Median Home Value: $2,000,001
Median Household Income: $250,001

We’re returning to Silicon Valley to arrive at the 4th best place to live in California for 2020, Atherton. Atherton is right outside of Palo Alto, so if you’ve ever dreamed of taking classes at the prestigious Stanford University, you’re in for a treat.

Atherton enjoys the shortest commute time on this list, with residents having to spend 22 minutes to get to and from work each day. Atherton also has the lowest rate of food stamp recipients on this list, so most people here are doing just fine without government assistance. That probably has something to do with Atherton’s ridiculously high median household income of $250,001/year, which ties for the 2nd highest in California.

5. TiburonTiburon, CA

Source: Public domain

Population: 9,151
Median Home Value: $2,000,001
Median Household Income: $163,865

Located at the tip of the Tiburon Peninsula reaching into the San Francisco Bay, Tiburon ranks as the 5th best place to live in California. Tiburon’s poverty level of 2.6% is the 3rd lowest in the state, and the 2.8% unemployment rate is the 11th lowest. Which helps explain why 99.4% of Tiburon’s residents have health insurance, the highest rate of coverage in California.

Tiburon has the 15th lowest rate of crime in California, so you probably won’t need that health insurance to cover you for an assault. Tiburon is also a great jumping off point for getting to Angel Island for a 360 degree view of San Francisco Bay Area or the imposing Alcatraz Island for a history lesson.

6. Aliso ViejoAliso Viejo, CA

Population: 50,925
Median Home Value: $610,600
Median Household Income: $108,558

We’re departing from Silicon Valley and heading towards Los Angeles’ Orange County to arrive at Aliso Viejo, the 6th best place to live in California. Aliso Viejo is a vibrant, youthful city where the median age is only 36. It’s also the most densely populated city you’ll see on this list, so if you crave constant activity, Aliso Viejo is probably your jam.

Aliso Viejo has the 160th best home price to income ratio. That low cost of living means you won’t have to break the bank to enjoy yourself here. As a bonus, you won’t have any trouble getting friends and family to come visit you in Aliso Viejo, because Disneyland is just a hop, skip, and jump away.

7. SaratogaSaratoga, CA

Source: Public domain

Population: 30,886
Median Home Value: $2,000,001
Median Household Income: $176,641

Saratoga is a city of 30,886 located on the western side of the Santa Clara Valley. Of all the San Jose suburbs, Saratoga is the closest to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park and home to the largest stand of redwoods south of San Francisco. That oughta satisfy even the most voracious nature-lover.

Public schools is Saratoga received a 9/10+ on GreatSchools, so you know kids get off to a good start growing up here. Which obviously translates into greater success in later life, seeing as over 40% of residents have a master’s degree or higher. One good thing leads to another, because residents of Saratoga earn a median household income of $176,641, the 8th highest in Cali.

Add to that the 12th lowest rate of crime statewide and the 9th largest percentage of insured residents, and you’ve got a recipe for the 7th best place to call home in California.

8. BelmontBelmont, CA

Population: 27,110
Median Home Value: $1,383,700
Median Household Income: $135,342

Belmont comes in as the 8th best city in California thanks to strong numbers across the board in education, amenities, safety, and solid markets for both jobs and housing. The median age in Belmont is below 40, highlighting the youthfulness that makes California such an exciting place to live.

It should come as no surprise that the largest employers for a city in this region are big-name tech companies like Oracle and Cengage. If working with computers is your dream, Belmont should have more than enough opportunities to keep you satisfied.

Belmont’s also a city with some of the strictest smoking laws in the country, so all the city’s residents are able to breathe a little more freely. It’s also the closest we’re going to get to San Francisco on this list, so if you want the option to get snap some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge in under an hour, Belmont is the perfect choice.

9. CupertinoCupertino, CA

Population: 60,614
Median Home Value: $1,584,600
Median Household Income: $163,954

Ever wonder why Cupertino is the default option for weather on the iPhone? That’s because, in addition to being the 9th best place to live in California, Cupertino is also the home of Apple’s Headquarters. Being the hub of a tech behemoth like Apple, it’s no surprise that Cupertino’s population of 60,614 is hyper-educated, with more than 40% of residents having a master’s, Ph.D, or professional degree.

All that extra time in school really pays off, because folks in Cupertino enjoy a median household income of $163,954/year, which you’ll need to pay off the $1,584,600 mortgage. Only 0.9% of people are on SNAP and 2.0% of people are without health insurance, so you know the residents of Cupertino aren’t struggling to get by.

We all know you can’t really consider yourself a part of the elite unless you’re a wine snob, so be sure to get in on the culture at one of the several vineyards in the Cupertino area.

10. DanvilleDanville, CA

Population: 44,417
Median Home Value: $1,043,200
Median Household Income: $152,714

Wrapping up our list of best places to live in California is Danville, a city of 44,417 just east of Oakland. Danville makes the cut by virtue of being among the safest spots on this list, with the 5th lowest rate of violent crime and 8th rate of total crime in California.

The cost of living in Danville is quite reasonable, with folks spending the 247th smallest proportion of their income on housing of anywhere on this list. It’s also very easy to get yourself set up in Danville, because both the unemployment and poverty rates hover around 3% here.

Once you start earning your salary of $152,714/year, you can spend all the time and money you like at Blackhawk Plaza, a brilliant combination of shopping center and city park. Or if you’ve got your sights set on a pricier prize, check out the classic car collection at the Blackhawk Museum.

The Pressing Question: Size

Before we even started to collect data, we had to answer a tough question: Is it fair to pit Sacramento with a population of 495,011 against places with a population of 18?

We firmly decided no, that just isn’t fair.

So to create our ranking, we broke places to live into three tiers:

  • Cities — Populations over 5,000
  • Towns — Populations between 1,000 and 5,000
  • Small Towns — Populations below 1,000

This left us with 410 cities, 381 towns, and 265 small towns.

We then decided, no matter how much anyone loves their town, the best cities to live in California have more of everything and therefore you need to have over 5,000 people to truly be ‘the best’.

How We Calculated The Best Cities To Live In California

Now that we had our set of cities, it was time to rank them.

We ranked each place in California across a number of criteria from one to 410, with one being the best.

We then took the average rank across all criteria, with the city posting the lowest overall score being crowned the winner of the title “Best Place To Live In California”.

The criteria we looked at were:

  • Median Home Values
  • Median Income
  • Population Density (Higher better)
  • Unemployment Rate
  • Commute Time
  • Crime
  • Education Levels
  • Health Insurance Coverage
  • Poverty rates

Sources of criteria include the New Census Data and FBI Crime Data. You can download the data here.

After the dust settled, what was the best place to live in California? That would be Los Altos.

If your city or town isn’t among the top 10, jump down to the bottom of the post to see a detailed chart of the best places in California.

Otherwise, buckle up for a ride down good living lane with Los Altos at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Wrapping Up The Best Places When It Comes To Living In California

If you’re looking at areas in California with the best economic situations, where there’s lower than average crime, and a lot to do, this is an accurate list.

Los Altos made a strong showing to take in the overall number one spot for the best place to live in California for 2020.

If you’re looking for something more national, check out the best states in America or the best places to live in America.

For more California reading, check out:

About Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar has been in the real estate business for almost ten years now. He originally worked for Movoto Real Estate as the director of marketing before founding HomeSnacks.

He believes the key to finding the right place to live comes down to looking at the data, reading about things to do, and, most importantly, checking it out yourself before you move.

If you've been looking for a place to live in the past several years, you've probably stumbled upon his writing already.

You can find out more about him on LinkedIn or his website.

32 thoughts on “Best Places To Live In California For 2020

  1. Do you realize that “Up North” in California does not end in the Bay Area? You missed many beautiful parts of our State by ending your ridiculous and biased “survey”…in which you completely left out 1/2 of the state…

  2. Burbank has a population of 5789? Looks like there are problems with your data, to say nothing of methodology. Income means nothing if it’s not compared to housing etc. cost of living.

  3. I live in San Diego County and I am appalled that you totally skipped my beautiful city in your “best of” list but included many of the small towns of San Diego in you worst list. Hey, talk to us in December when we are in shorts and flip flops with our sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures and you guys in SFO are freezing!

  4. Dude, I liked your article. Not science but info-taining. I grew up in Mission Viejo in the 70’s and am glad to see it made your list. I would probably be one of those “shady” people moving back to MV. Hahaha

    1. Downey used to be a fantastic place. Then again, Southern California used to be a fantastic place until it turned into the mecca for every 3rd world immigrant. There are still pockets of goodness in Downey, if you have the money, but overall Downey is surrounded by gangster crime ridden sanctuary cities or cities of very high immigrant populations Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Bell, Compton, Lynwood, Bell, Cudahy, Santa Fe Springs, Paramount. Downey is also surrounded by 4 freeways so it like a pollution vortex (105, 5, 605, 710). Downey’s biggest claim to fame, Karen Carpenter lived there.

  5. Seriously? Have you ever BEEN to Foster City? There’s no “there” there! Just shopping malls and business parks. And being literally on the water, it’s gray a good part of the time.

    I grew up in Goleta, and it’s quite nice now, but to mention it without mentioning that it’s a suburb of Santa Barbara is ridiculous. Most of what there is to do is in Santa Barbara.

  6. Ridiculously biased article. Anyone who has lived in CA, knows that Southern is 10 times better than Northern in most every category. Better weather & people, waaay lower crime and any list of best which leaves off Laguna Beach and San Juan Capistrano, was written by a Communist.

    1. I agree, Laguna deserves to be in the Top 5. San Juan, too.
      But actually, Laguna (I’m from there) is an oasis of Liberalism in Red desert of Orange County. So anyone who left it out was probably a Trumpist.

  7. I have lived in Hemet for 35 years. It is a pretty good size city. Size wise. Everything from A to Z. Orange groves. Big Lake. Farms. Horses. Nice schools. Lots of nice shopping nearby.
    Very affordable. Now the bad part. Water rates and taxes are high. Drugs. Unemployment.
    Minimum hour drive for a decent paying job. Very few people maintain their property. This is probably due to so many people renting. Sections of downtown are kinda scruffy. But if you like a house with a little land to do something. Hemet is really nice. Yes Hemet has bikers. Gangsters. Street people. People that live in the parks. Alot of the community services that once helped the retirees that flocked their in the 70’s and 80’s now attract people that need that kind of support. It was bad for a few years. But it is
    stabilizing. The high cost of housing in surrounding areas is forcing people to take another look at Hemet. Just find a nice part of town. And get a good dog or two.
    By the way. Hemet city is run very well. San Jacinto city is corrupt as hell.

    1. Your crazy HEMET CRIME IS HIGH..
      PLUS the Auto Accidents on every road way and Gang bangers Paridise
      The homless drugs gangs
      Shame could be a nice place
      But no way..Highway Hub for Drug trafficing and Gang BANGERS

  8. Heh, La Mirada made the list. I’m happy to see that since I have been a resident nearly my entire life. Hoping not to sound bias but La Mirada has the distinction of remaining a very good city for many years despite being surrounded by cities with “issues”. It’s not to say there aren’t spots within all cities that are good or have great people.

    La Mirada is also interesting in that it manages to retain a lot of people that grew up here as children. I’m 53 and still run across multiple people I grew up with. Many school classes still get together annually for parties. La Mirada is truly unique. Part of the allure of living in La Mirada is that it is a “Bedroom Community”. Not a lot of shopping or dining opportunities here. People complain about it but I like it that way. Keeps out the un-disirables looking for trouble.

    Sadly though, So Cal traffic and crime keeping squeezing La Mirada and the “area” (not specifically La Mirada) isn’t what is used to be. Traffic is stifling, crime is increasing, and starting to look more like the United Nations. La Mirada City council has undergone some significant changes in recent years and the conservative old guard isn’t here to watch over as it once did. We hope the newer council remains firm.

  9. I live in Camarillo now, from Thousand Oaks. Love both towns. Camarillo (and San Diego) has the most even temp in the state, average year round is about 71 degrees F. While Thousand Oaks jas the lowest crime rate in the country for cities of 100k or more. The folks from No-Cal that put the data amd article together are just jealous, as So-Cal is so much better; No-Cal is full of SFO weirdos, they can have it.

  10. Just goes to show how scientific methods skew the facts. Cupertino and Foster City are just typical slightly higher end suburbs with cookie cutter development and traffic conjestion. The sky high costs, generic exixtence and that Foster City sits on fill that becomes jello in an earthquake make neither of these cities the best of anywhere.

  11. I have lived in Palm Desert all my life except for the 20 years I lived in OC, Newport Beach area. I moved back because I got tired of the congested freeways, over populated and the high cost in housing.
    Even though Palm Desert has grown a great deal it still has that small town feeling and I too still run into my childhood friends. There a lot of Pioneers and Old Timers down here too. We also have a lot of people who come down here and retire too. I also love the history and the nostalgia of the area. From Dwight D. Eisenhower training his troops , the speak easy’s in the 1930’s, the old time movie stars, Jimmy Hoffa hotel, all the presidents who visit down here and of course Coachella. However the summer are very hot but then the wheather is great the rest of the year. We go from sunny to extra sunny. We actually want rain to break up the menotony.

  12. This is the list of best places to live for the one percenters. Just because the inhabitants of a place make a lot of money doesn’t mean they make it in that town, grew up in that town, got educated in that town, or made their money in that town. The reason there is low employment is because you have to have a high income to live there. This list leaves out the other 99%. I highly doubt that the service people in that area actually live there. What a ridiculous list.

  13. I agree with the comments thus far.Many great places like Alamo..Sausalito,Monterey Bay Area deserve a mention..along with Malibu and Santa Barbara.
    I grew up in Sharon Heights,Menlo Park and attended prep school in Atherton.It was great being so close to Stanford/Palo Alto.
    A trip to The City was easy by train
    I left for Universities in Miami and New Orleans before returning home to a very different environment.
    I moved to Newport Beach but loved Laguna Beach and Las Brisas Restaurant!
    I returned to The Bay Area…married…children in Walnut Creek..we worked in Oakland and The City but our favourite time was going To The Snow…North Lake Tahoe.
    We moved to Benicia as an avid sailor.
    But it was time to relax and leave the craziness
    I reside now in beautiful Oro Valley,AZ…However,I left my heart in San Francisco.

  14. all I can say is that the bay area places (1,2,4,6,7-10) are all home values from what– 2010? they are no less than $500,000 too low. Median home value for Los Altos early 2019 is $3 million ++.

    1. EXACTLY! Where did they come up with 500k? More like 6 x $500K. Whoever came up with that (bogus) $500k house amount didn’t even bother to research current 2019 real estate purchases. Because there are usually “bidding wars” and the house sells for way over the listed price. The listed price is always over $1m. Example: 1300 sq foot bungalow house made in 1950, on a teeny-tiny bit of land, sold in my neighborhood (Where I rent a room.) The buyers bid up from the $1.2 million to$1.7 million! They paid cash. Then had it demolished and rebuilt. So they paid $1.7 for just the teeny-tiny lot. Insane prices here.

  15. UNLESS YOU ARE A MULTI MILLIONAIRE DO NOT MOVE HERE!
    I’ve lived and worked in Atherton, Silicon Valley and Los Altos areas. This report of “median home prices above $500,00.” IS WRONG! Their typo of $500,00. There are bidding wars on houses in the Silicon Valley/Bay area. You CANNOT find a house in either of these areas for under $1,200,000. No idea where they came up with half a million. Completely unrealistic. Average rents on a (crappy) studio apartment are $2,500 a month and up. Average 2 bedroom walk up apartment $3,000/ On a nice apartment up to $5000 a month. Sigh..

    Factors to avoid or move out of this area: Unfriendly people, bad pot hole ridden roads, traffic congestion (A 20 mile commute takes at least an hour, each way, during morning and evening commutes) high sales tax (Upwards of 10%) high income tax, gasoline (Over $4.50 a gallon right now) Scarcity of homes for sale (Median house price over $1.2 million) and you may also come to the conclusion–unless you are a MULTI millionaire, this place is to be avoided. I applied for “Low income rental” only to find out I don’t qualify. My 30K salary was )Extreme poverty.) I had to make over $75K to be “Low income” and rent a shoebox apartment in Palo Alto (“Shallow Alto.” No thanks.. I am outta here! Just Google “Exodus from the Bay area” and see how it really is here.

    I. like so many others are these days, renting a U-Haul one way to another state.

  16. Hello folks,
    Just ran across this conversation. It hit an accord with me. I may have to “rent” in California due to a new business venture. I will be there 2-4 days a week. I would never “ever” consider, nor want to live in California.
    Despite the traffic and crime which is terrible but the homeless, mostly mental, illegals from all over the world. I don’t discriminate against South Americans. Most are honest and hardworking people that want your lifestyle. Although, California has become its own country!
    I have lived in SF, Sacramento, Marina del Rey, (LA) and downtown San Diego. This conversation is disturbing for the most part. California has become unaffordable for almost all people. Real estate cost, property taxes, gas taxes, food, services etc.
    California government is beyond nutty. Can’t make anything positive happen for the good of people or the State and country. The (ocean) water is disgusting. You can’t go to a park without smelling urine.
    Our favorite hotel in Santa Monica is The Fairmont. Haven’t been back in three years. Almost robbed by a young kid gang. My wife was tripped from behind and fell to the ground.They tried to get me amped up to create a situation. Fight and robbed was their agenda.
    Thank God when I am out and about I carry utensils. I was able to divert what could have been a terrible outcome. We checked out the next morning to never return.
    I currently live in Scottsdale Az. It’s not a perfect place but way better than California. Yes, if you go to certain areas of Phoenix it can happen there too. I guess what I am getting at as there’s not a perfect place anymore. Our world is changing for the worse. People want what you have and won’t work hard to get it. I have worked hard my entire life. I certainly won’t let Gavin Newsome dictate where my dollars go for his crazy liberal ideas.
    Ironically, I have a brother with a small “b” that is extremely liberal. Yes, he lives in Piedmont CA just over the bay from SF close to Oakland. Lives by all this liberal crap exposed. Very wealthy on his own. I will never take that away from him. We grew up in the Midwest and lower middle class upbringing. He wouldn’t buy you a sandwich if you were starving.
    Liberals are greedy and just want what they want at your expense. Look at Hollywood! A bunch of hypocrites with money they can’t spend. How are they helping your country of California?
    Unfortunately, I may have to fly back and forth. I will give California another opportunity to change my views. It’s been three years as stated, I don’t think it’s gotten any better but just worse. Unlike my greedy democratic brother I will take California’s money. I am giving something back to a State that needs a serious overhaul of government, planning and getting their real priorities in line. San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) is one of my favorite destinations. There’s nobody giving me free anything!,,,

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