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Where do you think is the best place to live in California?
San Francisco? Maybe if you only looked at home prices and considered the biggest cities in California.
Beverly Hills? Maybe if you only watched TV in the 90's.
Today we're taking a look at the best places to live in California based on science and data -- not any preconceived notions of the best places. We've been doing this for over five years now digging into the data and crunching the latest census and FBI data to determine the best places to live across America. We take into account all the things that make a place great to live -- education, home prices, and safety. And while California has an abundance of all these things (Not to mention traffic and sunshine), certain places have them in spades. It's these places that we want to shine a spotlight on today.
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).
What is the best place to live in California? Looks like the best place to live in California for 2020 goes to Los Altos. Right in the heart of Silicon Valley, this city combines all the great things of San Francisco, without all the negatives.
To be clear, the price of admission to these cities is steep -- with median home prices above $500,00 and median incomes over $100,000 -- but the reward is worth it.
Continue on for more on how we calculated the best places to live in the Golden State and for a detailed breakdown of the top ten. We also mapped out the location of each city so you figure out how long your commute will be.
For more California reading, check out:
- Best Counties To Live In California
- Cheapest Places To Live In California
- Best Places To Raise A Family In California
The 10 Best Places To Live In California For 2020
Los Altos has some of the most employed as well as the highest earning residents in the entire state of California. Factor in a very low crime rate, and this Los Altos is a real gem.
With high incomes comes a high cost of living, which can been seen in the home prices. Additionally, the commute time for Los Altos residents to work is significantly higher than average.
The tiny town of Los Altos Hills may not remain tiny forever. The word has been out for a long, long time about how special this place is.
The residents are heavily involved in making their community even more awesome, and as many California residents know, Los Altos Hills is a great central spot for making the most of life.
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.
It's obvious why Atherton ranks 4th in the state for best places to live: they have the 100th lowest unemployment rate and the 6th highest home values.
Plus, they're known for their quality education and relatively low crime, making Atherton a great place to live.
At an unemployment rate of 2.8%, everyone who wants a job can get one in Tiburon. And the residents command high salaries ($163,865 a year combined income), and live in big fancy homes ($2,000,001 each).
We're not saying money is why these cities are the 'best' in California. What we're implying is that money means safety and peace of mind. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Aliso Viejo is Mission Viejo's twin sister. The unemployment rate here is the 86th 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 Viejo has slightly lower priced homes, meaning it's not as popular here as it is in Mission.
But, come on. Both are the best enclaves in the O.C.
When you're looking at the best places you could live in California, Saratoga came in 7th. Let's see why.
It has a low unemployment rate and high incomes.
Plus, Saratoga has an impressive history for a place of just over 30,886 people. The median home costs a cool $2,000,001 and households make $176,641 which is good for 8th in California.
Who doesn't want to live in Belmont? Because, according to the data, most everyone should want to.
Crime is lower than the state average, and the unemployment rate sits at only 4.0%. The school systems are generally well funded, meaning lots of personal attention for area kids.
Expect to see more of Belmont in the news in the coming months.
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.
If you don't have a job in Danville, you're most likely not trying very hard. The unemployment rate here is almost as low as you can get -- 3.6%. In fact, there are probably enough butler and landscaping jobs available here to put every single unemployed resident to work, what with a median income of $152,714.
That's actually not a bad idea...
Mapping The Best And Worst Places To Live in California
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'.
You can see those two top tens at the bottom of the post.
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
- Education Levels
- Health Insurance Coverage
- Poverty rates
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.
Best Towns To Live In California
- Shell Ridge (Pop. 1,123)
- Ladera (Pop. 1,514)
- Loyola (Pop. 3,425)
- West Menlo Park (Pop. 3,830)
- Acalanes Ridge (Pop. 1,000)
- Emerald Lake Hills (Pop. 4,716)
- Mission Canyon (Pop. 2,769)
- Monte Sereno (Pop. 3,514)
- Highlands-Baywood Park (Pop. 4,261)
- Los Ranchos (Pop. 1,630)
Best Small Towns To Live In California
- Blacklake (Pop. 895)
- Diablo (Pop. 807)
- Alto (Pop. 649)
- Tomales (Pop. 245)
- Spreckels (Pop. 745)
- Alhambra Valley (Pop. 501)
- Silverado Resort (Pop. 988)
- Los Olivos (Pop. 871)
- Rolling Hills (Pop. 832)
- Lake Almanor Country Club (Pop. 357)
If you're curious enough, here are the worst places to live in California according to the data:
- Desert Hot Springs (Pop. 28,430)
- Adelanto (Pop. 33,416)
- Clearlake (Pop. 15,323)
For more California reading, check out:
- Best Places To Retire In California
- Richest Cities In California
- Safest Places In California
- Worst Places To Live In California