The last time we visited data which involved California, we analyzed the worst places to live there. What we found didn’t surprise anyone at the office: Southern California has, by far, the worst places to live in the state, if you’re looking at it scientifically.
Nothing against SoCal or anything, but we grew up in Cali, and we know it’s hella better up north.
So, with that aside, it’s time to visit the lighter side and take a look at the best places to live there. Because, after all, California has some really great places. You just have to know where to look. (Hint: Look up).
After analyzing all 624 cities with a population of over 5,000, we came up with this list as the 10 best places in California:
- Foster City (Photos)
- San Carlos (Photos)
- Piedmont (Photos)
- Mission Viejo (Photos)
- San Lorenzo
- Aliso Viejo (Photos)
- Cupertino (Photos)
- Goleta (Photos)
- La Mirada
- Guadalupe (Photos)
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your town ranked.
How do you decide if a place is awesome or not?
In order to rank the best places to live in California, we had to determine what criteria people like or dislike about a place. It isn’t a stretch to assume that people like low crime, solid education, great weather, things to do and a stable economy.
So we scraped the internet for those criteria, and it spit out the answer. Like magic.
How we crunched the numbers
We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using FBI crime data, the government census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Sperling’s Best Places, this is the criteria we used:
- Population Density (The higher the better)
- Lowest Unemployment Rates
- Adjusted Median Income (Median income adjusted for the cost of living)
- Low Housing Vacancy Rate
- Education (High expenditures per student and low Student Teacher Ratio)
- Short Commute Times
- Low Crime
- The best Weather
If you’d like to see the complete list of cities, from best to best, scroll to the bottom of this post to see the abridged chart.
1. Foster City
Median income: Best 10% in California
Public school support: Best 10% in the state
Unemployment rate: 14th lowest in CA
When you look at the numbers, Foster City is far and away, the best place in California. The crime rate is very low, and so are the unemployment numbers. Only 3% of Foster City residents are without a job, which is shockingly low.
Plus, the children in Foster City schools receive a ton of support, financially. And when you have San Francisco is your backyard, you’re never out of things to do. It’s basically a little gem tucked away in the endless sea of cities in the Bay Area.
2. San Carlos
House vacancy rate: 2.7%
Household income: $120,112
Unemployment rate: 2.8%
Things are just peachy keen all around for San Carlos, which is right next door to Foster City, making a case that the south bay area of San Francisco just might be the best all around area in the state. That is if you can afford it. The average home here sells for almost $1.5 million and rising by the day.
The schools here are great, everyone has a high-paying job, and you get to play in the San Francisco bay, basically right outside your back door. No wonder there are bidding wars every time a house hits the market around here.
Household income: $206,392
Crime: Bottom 10% in state
Weather: 34th best in California
Piedmont gets to enjoy the best Oakland has to offer without dealing with all of the crime that plagues Oakland. Residents here earn a staggeringly high income, and get some of the warmer weather that the east bay gets without the hot, dry climate in the Sacramento Valley.
So, yes, in this case, life up in the hills is better.
4. Mission Viejo
Household income: $96,088
Crime: 42nd safest in CA
Unemployment rate: 3.7%
The first of two Orange County cities to top this list, Mission Viejo is one of those OC cities tucked away in the hillsides of the county where things are just rosy.
Sure, it’s all track homes up there. But it’s clean and comfortable. A place of cul-de-sacs, where neighbors barbecue with one another, and kids still play in the street. If you talk to residents there, they may complain about how there’s some ‘shady people’ moving into the area over the last five years. But let’s be real people. You have one of the lowest crime rates in the state.
If there’s a knock on Mission Viejo, it would be that the children who live here receive some of the least amount of public school spending support in the state. How is that possible?
5. San Lorenzo
House vacancy rate: 2.38%
Household income: $96,088
Unemployment rate: 3.6%
San Lorenzo isn’t a city, necessarily, it’s what’s referred to as a census designated place. Meaning it isn’t run by a central government jurisdiction. But most people in the Bay Area would probably agree with San Lorenzo ranking so high on this list.
Homes are hard to come by (as are most homes in the Bay Area), and residents here are gainfully employed. The weather here is great, and crime is very low.
6. Aliso Viejo
Crime: Lowest 2% in California
Median income: $98,515
Unemployment rate: 2.6%
Aliso Viejo is Mission Viejo’s twin sister. The unemployment rate here is the fourth lowest in the state of California, and almost everyone who lives here has a job. That’s almost unheard of. The only real difference between the two is that Aliso has twice as many homes considered vacant, meaning it’s not as popular here as it is in Mission.
But, come on. Both are the best enclaves in the O.C.
Education: Top 20% in spending in California
Household income: $127,534
Unemployment rate: 3.4%
Back to the Bay Area we go. There’s two types of people who live in Cupertino. Either the old hold outs who have lived there forever and are watching their home values skyrocket, or the tech elite who work in the Silicon Valley and who can afford to buy a home there.
Either way, you’re set. Your kids go to great schools, there’s a ton of things to do, and you earn a great salary. Cupertino is exactly what you hoped for when you played that board game, LIFE as a kid.
Unemployment rate: 2.6%
Commute time: 22nd lowest in the state
Goleta is where the faculty, staff and students at UC Santa Barbara make home. It’s a beautiful spot right on the coast where people have great jobs and can bike to work.
I’d bet that a few Goleta residents who are reading this are squirming, hoping that people don’t suddenly show interest in their little quiet, hidden slice of paradise.
9. La Mirada
Household income $81,329
House vacancy rate: 2.95%
Finally! A city in Los Angeles County. Barely. La Mirada is one of those cities in the greater SoCal sprawl that you hear about, but you might not know exactly where it is. It’s in the middle of the valley floor north of Anaheim, if that helps.
In relation to the rest of the entire southern California metro area, La Mirada can make a claim that, across the board, it’s a great place to live. It doesn’t really stand out too highly in any category, it’s just consistently great.
House vacancy rate: 3.8%
Weather: 27th best in the state
Crime: Bottom 15% in California
Tiny little Guadalupe is located just west of Santa Maria, off of the 101. Not only is this prime real estate, but the weather here is absolutely wonderful. As is evident by the really low house vacancy rate. Meaning, people want to live here really badly. If they can afford it.
Basically, in Guadalupe, you get the benefits of living near the coast without the traffic or chaos that comes with living in a beach city in California. And for anyone who knows the state of California well, you’ll know that anywhere between Santa Barbara and the Oregon border is amazingly beautiful and tranquil.
There You Have It
Like we said earlier, naming the best places in California sounds silly, since many of the places here would rank really high in other states. But if you’re analyzing places in California with the best economic situations, where there’s low crime and there’s a lot to do, this is an accurate list.
As it turns out, it pays off to live in the Bay Area, Orange County or near Santa Barbara. Quite surprising that more cities in the San Diego area didn’t rank higher on this list.
If you’re curious enough, here are the worst places to live in California, according to science. We also crunched the data and you can see the entire story on the worst places in California here.
- Desert Hot Springs (Pop. 26,474)
- Lucerne Valley (Pop. 5,946)
- Adelanto (31,040)
- Hemet (Pop. 78,833)
- San Jacinto (Pop. 43,745)