THE 10 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.

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.

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:

The 10 Best Places To Live In California For 2020

Los Altos, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 30,588
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $2,000,001 (6th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.7% (46th best)
More on Los Altos: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Los Altos Hills, CA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 8,517
Rank Last Year: 3 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $2,000,001 (6th best)
Unemployment Rate: 2.8% (10th best)
More on Los Altos Hills: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 11,308
Rank Last Year: 2 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $1,844,000 (14th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.0% (16th best)
More on Piedmont: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Atherton, CA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 7,185
Rank Last Year: 4 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $2,000,001 (6th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.5% (100th best)
More on Atherton: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Tiburon, CA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 9,151
Rank Last Year: 13 (Up 8)
Median Home Value: $2,000,001 (6th best)
Unemployment Rate: 2.8% (11th best)
More on Tiburon: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 50,925
Rank Last Year: 5 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $610,600 (132nd best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.4% (86th best)
More on Aliso Viejo: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Saratoga, CA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 30,886
Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $2,000,001 (6th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.3% (83rd best)
More on Saratoga: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Belmont, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 27,110
Rank Last Year: 6 (Down 2)
Median Home Value: $1,383,700 (24th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.0% (65th best)
More on Belmont: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Cupertino, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 60,614
Rank Last Year: 14 (Up 5)
Median Home Value: $1,584,600 (20th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.9% (126th best)
More on Cupertino: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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.

Danville, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 44,417
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 2)
Median Home Value: $1,043,200 (41st best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.6% (33rd best)
More on Danville: Real Estate | Data | Photos

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'.

Now we also realize that city living might not be your cup of tea, so we ran the following analysis on towns and then again for small towns.

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
  • 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.

Best Towns To Live In California

  1. Shell Ridge (Pop. 1,123)
  2. Ladera (Pop. 1,514)
  3. Loyola (Pop. 3,425)
  4. West Menlo Park (Pop. 3,830)
  5. Acalanes Ridge (Pop. 1,000)
  6. Emerald Lake Hills (Pop. 4,716)
  7. Mission Canyon (Pop. 2,769)
  8. Monte Sereno (Pop. 3,514)
  9. Highlands-Baywood Park (Pop. 4,261)
  10. Los Ranchos (Pop. 1,630)

Best Small Towns To Live In California

  1. Blacklake (Pop. 895)
  2. Diablo (Pop. 807)
  3. Alto (Pop. 649)
  4. Tomales (Pop. 245)
  5. Spreckels (Pop. 745)
  6. Alhambra Valley (Pop. 501)
  7. Silverado Resort (Pop. 988)
  8. Los Olivos (Pop. 871)
  9. Rolling Hills (Pop. 832)
  10. Lake Almanor Country Club (Pop. 357)

If you're curious enough, here are the worst places to live in California according to the data:

  1. Desert Hot Springs (Pop. 28,430)
  2. Adelanto (Pop. 33,416)
  3. Clearlake (Pop. 15,323)

For more California reading, check out:

Where Are The Best Places To Live In California?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Los Altos 30,588 3.7% $2,000,001
2 Los Altos Hills 8,517 2.8% $2,000,001
3 Piedmont 11,308 3.0% $1,844,000
4 Atherton 7,185 4.5% $2,000,001
5 Tiburon 9,151 2.8% $2,000,001
6 Aliso Viejo 50,925 4.4% $610,600
7 Saratoga 30,886 4.3% $2,000,001
8 Belmont 27,110 4.0% $1,383,700
9 Cupertino 60,614 4.9% $1,584,600
10 Danville 44,417 3.6% $1,043,200

How Is Your Town In ?

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 “THE 10 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.

    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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