These Are The 10 Best Places To Live In California

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

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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:

  1. Foster City (Photos)
  2. San Carlos (Photos)
  3. Piedmont (Photos)
  4. Mission Viejo (Photos)
  5. San Lorenzo
  6. Aliso Viejo (Photos)
  7. Cupertino (Photos)
  8. Goleta (Photos)
  9. La Mirada
  10. Guadalupe (Photos)

Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your town ranked.

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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.

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1. Foster City

Source: Flickr user KaddiSudh

Population: 30,754
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

Source: City of San Carlos on Facebook

Population: 28,455
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.

3. Piedmont

Source: Google Maps

Population: 10,699
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

Source: City of Mission Viejo on Facebook

Population: 93,699
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

Source: Google Maps

Population: 23,937
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

Source: City of Aliso Viejo on Facebook

Population: 47,910
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.

7. Cupertino

Source: City of Cupertino on Facebook

Population: 58,409
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.

8. Goleta

Source: City of Goleta on Facebook

Population: 29,862
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

Source: CIty of La Mirada on Facebook

Population: 48,568
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.

10. Guadalupe

Source: Guadalupe Fire Department on Facebook

Population: 7,021
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.

Mobile users: Click here to check out the complete list of California cities.

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.

  1. Desert Hot Springs (Pop. 26,474)
  2. Lucerne Valley (Pop. 5,946)
  3. Adelanto (31,040)
  4. Hemet (Pop. 78,833)
  5. San Jacinto (Pop. 43,745)

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Facebook Discussion

18 thoughts on “These Are The 10 Best Places To Live In California

  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.

  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.

  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.

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