The 10 Best College Towns In California For 2020


Editor's Note: We updated this article for 2020. This is our time ranking the best college towns in California.
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Believe it or not, America has the best colleges in the world. It's been proven by data (and surveys) that the U.S. educational system is of the highest quality

It's actually not even close and California is home to a handful of them.

While we could debate which colleges within the are the 'best,' that's not the goal of this post.

Instead, ride along with us as we determine which college towns in California are the best.

You know, the type of places where there's energy and stimulation, but the type of place you can walk around at night. The happiest, chillest, most downright fun places where you can send your kids off to college where you won't break the bank, or worry about their well being.

Without further ado, here are the best college towns in California for 2020.

The 10 Best College Towns In California For 2020

  1. Davis, CA (Photos | Homes)
  2. San Luis Obispo, CA (Photos | Homes)
  3. Pasadena, CA (Photos | Homes)
  4. Berkeley, CA (Photos | Homes)
  5. Santa Barbara, CA (Photos | Homes)
  6. San Marcos, CA (Photos | Homes)
  7. Long Beach, CA (Photos | Homes)
  8. Stanford, CA (Homes)
  9. Irvine, CA (Photos | Homes)
  10. Turlock, CA (Photos | Homes)

While some of these may not seem like a 'real' college town per se, when you look at the numbers, it's hard to argue against.

And for those who live in Davis, San Luis Obispo and Pasadena - we tip our hats to you and we'll schedule a tour for next week. You can see where Davis ranks in terms of the best college town in America.

Finally, if you live in Laguna Beach, CA - it's officially the worst college town in California. Sorry, Laguna Beach!

Read on to find out more or for more on California check out:

The 10 Best College Towns In California For 2020

Davis, CA
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
8.5
/10

Population: 67,988
% Undergrad Pop.: 30.0% (4th best)
Median Rent: $1,455 (34th best)
Unemployment Rate: 554.9% (43rd best)
Crime Rank: 31st best
More on Davis: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Davis formerly Davisville is a city in the U.S. state of California and the most populous city in Yolo County. It had a population of 65,622 in 2010, not including the on-campus population of the University of California, Davis, which was over 9,400 in 2016. The city is a suburb of California's capital, Sacramento.

Colleges: University of California-Davis

San Luis Obispo, CA
Overall SnackAbility
8
/10

Population: 47,160
% Undergrad Pop.: 33.6% (3rd best)
Median Rent: $1,461 (36th best)
Unemployment Rate: 378.6% (6th best)
Crime Rank: 74th best
More on San Luis Obispo: Real Estate | Data | Photos

San Luis Obispo, or SLO for short, is a city in the U.S. state of California, located roughly midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Central Coast. The population was 45,119 at the 2010 census. The population of San Luis Obispo County was 269,637 in 2010.

Colleges: California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, Cuesta College, Central California School of Continuing Education

Pasadena, CA
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
7.5
/10

Population: 141,246
% Undergrad Pop.: 1.8% (39th best)
Median Rent: $1,598 (47th best)
Unemployment Rate: 472.2% (25th best)
Crime Rank: 30th best
More on Pasadena: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States.

Colleges: Pasadena City College, Art Center College of Design, California Institute of Technology

Berkeley, CA
Overall SnackAbility
8.5
/10

Population: 120,926
% Undergrad Pop.: 18.8% (7th best)
Median Rent: $1,612 (51st best)
Unemployment Rate: 550.5% (42nd best)
Crime Rank: 87th best
More on Berkeley: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Anglo-Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. The 2010 census recorded a population of 112,580.

Colleges: University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley City College, Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology

Santa Barbara, CA
Overall SnackAbility
8
/10

Population: 91,325
% Undergrad Pop.: 20.8% (6th best)
Median Rent: $1,737 (65th best)
Unemployment Rate: 406.6% (11th best)
Crime Rank: 60th best
More on Santa Barbara: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Santa Barbara is the county seat of Santa Barbara County in the U.S. state of California. Situated on a south-facing section of coastline, the longest such section on the West Coast of the United States, the city lies between the steeply rising Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara's climate is often described as Mediterranean, and the city has been promoted as the "American Riviera". As of 2014, the city had an estimated population of 91,196, up from 88,410 in 2010, making it the second most populous city in the county after Santa Maria while the contiguous urban area, which includes the cities of Goleta and Carpinteria, along with the unincorporated regions of Isla Vista, Montecito, Mission Canyon, Hope Ranch, Summerland, and others, has an approximate population of 220,000. The population of the entire county in 2010 was 423,895.

Colleges: University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College, Westmont College

San Marcos, CA
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
8.5
/10

Population: 94,709
% Undergrad Pop.: 5.3% (24th best)
Median Rent: $1,585 (46th best)
Unemployment Rate: 445.2% (18th best)
Crime Rank: 4th best
More on San Marcos: Real Estate | Data | Photos

San Marcos is a city in the North County region of San Diego County in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 83,781. It is the site of California State University San Marcos. The city is bordered by Escondido to the east, Encinitas to the southwest, Carlsbad to the west, and Vista to the northwest. Lake San Marcos is an enclave, or county island, in the southwestern part of the city, within San Marcos' sphere of influence but technically an unincorporated community.

Colleges: Palomar College, California State University-San Marcos, Palomar Institute of Cosmetology

Long Beach, CA
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 468,883
% Undergrad Pop.: 5.4% (23rd best)
Median Rent: $1,252 (16th best)
Unemployment Rate: 708.6% (73rd best)
Crime Rank: 65th best
More on Long Beach: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Long Beach is a city on the Pacific Coast of the United States, within the Greater Los Angeles area of Southern California. As of 2010, its population was 462,257. It is the 36th most populous city in the United States and the 7th most populous in California. Long Beach is the second largest city in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the third largest in Southern California behind Los Angeles and San Diego.

Colleges: California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach City College, John Wesley International Barber and Beauty College

Overall SnackAbility
8
/10

Population: 15,668
% Undergrad Pop.: 50.3% (1st best)
Median Rent: $1,598 (47th best)
Unemployment Rate: 591.2% (52nd best)
Crime Rank: 43rd best
More on Stanford: Real Estate | Data

Colleges: Stanford University

Irvine, CA
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
9.5
/10

Population: 265,502
% Undergrad Pop.: 7.5% (17th best)
Median Rent: $2,259 (88th best)
Unemployment Rate: 493.0% (28th best)
Crime Rank: 5th best
More on Irvine: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Irvine is a master-planned city in Orange County, California, United States. The Irvine Company started developing the area in the 1960s and the city was formally incorporated on December 28, 1971. The 66-square-mile city had a population of 212,375 as of the 2010 census; in 2016 the city's population was 258,386.

Colleges: University of California-Irvine, Irvine Valley College, Brandman University

Turlock, CA
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 72,335
% Undergrad Pop.: 7.4% (18th best)
Median Rent: $1,070 (8th best)
Unemployment Rate: 823.0% (82nd best)
Crime Rank: 70th best
More on Turlock: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Turlock is a city in Stanislaus County, California, United States. Its estimated 2015 population of 72,292 made it the second-largest city in Stanislaus County after Modesto.

Colleges: California State University-Stanislaus, Adrian's College of Beauty Turlock

How'd we figure out the best college towns in California?

To crunch our data on California's best college towns, we had to first decide which qualities (or rankings) make sense to use in the data, and then crunch the numbers for our rankings.

First off, we firmly decided that only cities with a 4 year college should make the cut -- so there has to be at least one college granting bachelors degrees in town.

You might be surprised to hear that there are only 70 places in California with an institution of higher learning with that criteria.

Source of data include OpenStreetMaps, the College Scorecard, the U.S. Census, and FBI reporting data to include the following factors:

  • Students Make Up Large % of the Population
  • College-specific Factors
    • Graduation rate
    • Tuition Cost
    • Student Body Diversity
  • Town Characteristics
    • Safety
    • Affordability
    • Income and Employment Opportunities
  • Things to Do
    • Bars
    • Museums & Libraries
    • Population Density

We ranked each city across each of the criteria, with one being the best.

We rolled up the individual scores into the category and ranked them again based on the category.

Finally, we took the average rank across each category, with the city posting the lowest overall score being crowned the winner of the title "Best College Town In California For 2020".

And it looks like Davis placed Summa Cum Laude.

There You Have It -- The Best College Towns In The

If you're looking for the best college towns in California, you came to the right place.

These places all have great college sports programs, tons of stuff to do, and are great places to raise a family.

If you're curious, these are the worst college towns in California, starting with the absolute worst, Laguna Beach:

  1. Laguna Beach
  2. Ontario
  3. Redding
  4. Emeryville
  5. Vallejo
  6. Burbank
  7. Arcata
  8. Santa Clarita
  9. Santee
  10. Malibu

For more reading, check out:

70 Best College Towns In California

Rank City Population
1 Davis, CA 67988
2 San Luis Obispo, CA 47160
3 Pasadena, CA 141246
4 Berkeley, CA 120926
5 Santa Barbara, CA 91325
6 San Marcos, CA 94709
7 Long Beach, CA 468883
8 Stanford, CA 15668
9 Irvine, CA 265502
10 Turlock, CA 72335
11 Cypress, CA 48955
12 Santa Ana, CA 333499
13 Sacramento, CA 495011
14 Santa Cruz, CA 64273
15 Rosemead, CA 54417
16 Seaside, CA 34077
17 Chico, CA 91998
18 Anaheim, CA 349668
19 Pomona, CA 152494
20 San Jose, CA 1026658
21 San Francisco, CA 870044
22 Sunnyvale, CA 152323
23 Fresno, CA 522277
24 San Diego, CA 1401932
25 Claremont, CA 36025
26 Hayward, CA 158241
27 Belmont, CA 27110
28 Escondido, CA 151115
29 Alameda, CA 78462
30 Carson, CA 92517
31 Los Angeles, CA 3959657
32 Whittier, CA 86523
33 San Dimas, CA 34239
34 Santa Maria, CA 105483
35 Moraga, CA 17398
36 San Rafael, CA 58939
37 La Mirada, CA 48974
38 Fullerton, CA 139866
39 Rocklin, CA 63127
40 Azusa, CA 49544
41 Atherton, CA 7185
42 Santa Clara, CA 126209
43 Camarillo, CA 67543
44 La Verne, CA 32358
45 Santa Paula, CA 30258
46 Oakland, CA 421042
47 Riverside, CA 323935
48 Santa Monica, CA 92078
49 Orange, CA 139873
50 Merced, CA 82289
51 San Bernardino, CA 215182
52 Alhambra, CA 84974
53 Costa Mesa, CA 113198
54 Los Alamitos, CA 11628
55 Bakersfield, CA 375699
56 Thousand Oaks, CA 128481
57 Signal Hill, CA 11538
58 Beverly Hills, CA 34362
59 Stockton, CA 306283
60 Redlands, CA 71012
61 Malibu, CA 12846
62 Santee, CA 57615
63 Santa Clarita, CA 209478
64 Arcata, CA 18050
65 Burbank, CA 104275
66 Vallejo, CA 120977
67 Emeryville, CA 11724
68 Redding, CA 91327
69 Ontario, CA 173580
70 Laguna Beach, CA 23147

Best College Towns By State

Enjoy The Snack?