Thinking About Making the Move to California? Read This Guide First.
Table of Contents
- Where Are The Best Places To Live In California?
- How Is The Job Market In California?
- How Is The California Real Estate Market?
- How Much Does It Cost To Live In California?
- Is California A Good Place To Retire?
- What Are The People And Culture Like In California?
- Some Of The Coolest Things To Do In California
- The Pros And Cons Of Living In California
- California Fun Facts & Strange Laws
California, known as ‘Golden State’, is famous around the world for it’s beautiful Pacific coastline, perpetually sunny weather, and glamorous celebrity residents, but there’s much more going on here than what we see in the movies.
California has the highest population of any US state, and there are all kinds of people, climates, and cultures to be found, explored and enjoyed within its borders. In fact, California is known for being among the most diverse states in America.
If you have been considering a move to the Golden State, we’ve got you covered. Moving yourself or your family is a major life decision that takes careful planning and research to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.
You likely have questions about the job market, housing prices, cost of living, culture, best places to live within the state and more. In this guide, we’ll explore all of those elements and more, providing you with the information you need to make the best decision for you or your family.
Grab a coffee or your favorite beverage and let’s dive right in…Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations
Where Are The Best Places To Live In California?
With a state this diverse, there’s bound to be countless incredible places to live and explore. Although we can’t fit them all into this guide, we’ve done our best to highlight some of the biggies. Don’t be afraid to venture out further into the suburbs and rural areas though. There are some real hidden gems to be found.
In no particular order…
LA is California’s largest and most famous city. It’s the home of Hollywood glitz, glamour and fame, and celebrity sightings are a regular occurrence.
The city sits at the center of the sprawling LA County, which is home to nearly 4 million people. With such a large population, you can expect some pretty awful traffic, but if you can put up with a painful commute, LA can be a great place to call home.
Among the area’s perks include the stunning Pacific coastline and world-famous beaches, along with the perfect weather to enjoy it; the average summer temperatures sit in the high 70s to low 80s, and even in the ‘winter’ months, there’s plenty of sunshine and it’s rarely too cold.
The city has a massive variety of world-class entertainment, nightlife, and dining options, and there’s plenty of opportunity for exploring the outdoors and staying healthy. The mountains are close by and there are some incredible hiking trails within easy reach of the city.
Living in the City of Angels doesn’t come cheap. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is a colossal $2,400 per month, and the median home value is $723k.
If beachside living and surf culture is your thing, California’s second-largest city-San Diego is the place to be. It’s positioned right down in the southwest of the state, and residents enjoy year-round sunshine and warm temperatures.
There’s a large military presence here, thanks to the huge Marine Corps and naval base, but the city still has a laid back vibe and a slower pace than its neighbor to the north, LA.
San Diego is just over the border from Tijuana, Mexico, so heading south for a day trip with a difference is easy when you live here. There’s also a diverse array of hiking trails to explore and the perfect weather to enjoy them, all throughout the year.
Living in San Diego is expensive compared with the national average, but it’s a heck of a lot more affordable than some of the other cities on our list.
A one-bedroom apartment rents for an average of $1860 per month, and the median home price is currently $680k.
California’s capital city is located further inland than the other areas on our list, around 2 hours from San Francisco. There are some interesting sites of historical significance in the downtown area and plenty of unique architecture that you won’t find in other Californian cities.
The city itself is not too large; with a population just under 500,000, it’s California’s 6th largest city and has a great balance between having all the amenities of a major metropolitan area without feeling overwhelming.
There’s also a lower crime rate than the majority of California’s big cities, plus an excellent public school system, so it’s a popular place for families.
The weather in Sacramento is a little different than the coastal cities on our list. Being further from the ocean means that the summers can be hotter, and the winters are a little cooler.
One of the great perks of living in Sacramento is the price. It’s the most affordable place on our list; a one-bedroom apartment rents for around $1400 per month, and the median home price is $363k.
Culturally rich San Francisco is an incredible place to call home- if you can afford it. This super liberal city is packed full of rich local culture, an incredible food scene, awesome nightlife, and exciting entertainment.
It’s one of America’s most visited cities, and people come from all over the world to explore the picturesque hilly streets, see the famous Golden Gate Bridge, visit world-class museums and take in the incredible sweeping views across the city.
San Francisco has a more European vibe than most cities in America, and unlike most of California, if you live downtown you’re unlikely to need a car- the city is super walkable and there’s a good public transport network here.
The weather in San Francisco is famously unpredictable; thanks to its microclimates, it can be warm and sunny one moment, then cold and rainy the next, so it’s hard to dress for the weather. As a rule of thumb though, the warmest months tend to be September and October.
If you thought LA was pricey, think again; San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the nation. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $3,700 per month, and the median home price is a staggering $1.3 million.
The San Francisco Bay Area
The Bay Area that surrounds San Francisco attracts thousands of new residents every year. It’s the home of Silicon Valley, so if tech is your field you’re bound to find some amazing (and pretty well paid) job opportunities here. It’s also home to some of the best schools and higher education facilities in the country, with the likes of Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkley, so the locals are an educated bunch.
Despite being right next to San Francisco, the weather tends to be warmer and sunnier in most of the Bay Area. It’s also easy to go on day trips and weekend breaks here, with awesome outdoor spots like the Redwood National Park, Napa, and Sonoma close by.
The biggest city in the Bay Area is San Jose, but there are also plenty of smaller cities and towns to choose from, all within a stone’s throw of San Francisco.
The cost of living here is more affordable than in San Fran, but it’s still pricey by any stretch of the imagination. A one-bedroom apartment goes for an average of $2,400 per month, and the median home price is $996k.Need cheap moving supplies? Fast free delivery.
How Is The Job Market In California?
Since the COVID 19 pandemic began, California, like much of the nation, has suffered a huge blow and the unemployment rate skyrocketed from around 4% to 15.5% in less than 2 months.
It’s estimated that around 2.3 million jobs have disappeared, and in a state with so many people competing in the workforce, the immediate outlook is similar to much of the country in that competition for fewer jobs is on the rise.
But as bleak as the job market looks to be in America as a whole, California is already on the rebound and shoring healthy signs of recovery. The state is also fortunate in that it has a wide variety of industries due to its size, varied climate, and natural resources.
Southern California, especially LA, is famed for its entertainment industry, including movies, music, and TV production. Further south in San Diego, the large military presence creates a huge amount of jobs, and up north in the San Francisco Bay Area, tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Apple dominate the workforce, along with countless other smaller tech firms who are drawn to the Silicon Valley bubble.
Across the whole of California, tourism is a major driver of industry, as is agriculture due to the clement weather and fertile land.
California’s Top Employers
These are the companies with the largest workforce across the state. Bear in mind that the figures reflect data taken before the COVID 19 outbreak; things have changed and will continue to change as the consequences of the pandemic unfold.
- Los Angeles International Airport, better known as LAX, has a staggering 45,000 staff across its 9 terminals.
- 32nd St Naval Station in San Diego, which is the 2nd largest Surface Ship base in the nation, has a whopping 42,951 employees.
- The University of California, Los Angeles employs around 30,000 staff primarily in its ‘Community Based Learning” program.
- Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in Anaheim, Orange County, has over 28,000 staff on the books.
Other Major Employers In The State Include
- University of California (Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco)
- Alphabet, Inc (Parent company of Google)
- Department of Transportation
- UC Berkley
- Western Digital Corp
- Cedar-Sinai Medical Center
- Chevron Corp
- Ebay, Inc.
- Cisco Systems, Inc.
- D&G Mortgage Group, Inc.
- Edwards Airforce Base
- Mccs Mcrd
- Vision X
- Loma Linda University Health Board
- LA Police Department
- Applied Materials, Inc
- Amgen, Inc
- Oracle Corp
- Prime Materials
How Is The California Real Estate Market?
California is a notoriously expensive state to live in, and the housing market certainly reflects that. The median average home price in the Golden State sits at a hefty $534,000, with rent for a small house running you an average of $2,795 per month. However, it is important to note that these prices can vary wildly across the state, with some cities seeing double these average figures, while in other areas it’s still possible to find a bargain.
Last year the state saw an overall 4.4% jump in home prices, with this upcoming year projecting a modest 1.1% overall decline (in part due to COVID). Given that California’s real estate market tends to lean towards the positive each year, these next 12 months represent a great opportunity to invest in a house at a potential discount.
Worst Month of the Year to Buy for Value:
In Cali, May and June can be among the worst month to find a deal, with homes sold during these months commanding upwards of a $20,000-21,000 premium over the yearly average.
However, due to the state’s size, these numbers vary quite a bit based on the city. For example, the worst month to buy for value in various cities is as follows:
- San Francisco (March)
- Oakland (June)
- Los Angeles (June)
- Riverside (October)
- San Diego (July)
How Much Does It Cost To Live In California?
No matter how much money you make, the cost of living is almost always a major consideration when making a move. From housing to taxes, localized costs can really eat into your budget.
California ranks among the highest on the cost of living index in the USA.
How high? The Golden State is 50% more expensive than the national average, but this figure is mainly due to the sky-high property and rental prices. When it comes to things like grocery shopping, you’ll pay much the same as you would anywhere else in the country, and the same can be said for utilities like gas and electricity.
Transport costs tend to be more expensive and the price of gas is higher than in other states, but you’ll save money on healthcare in the Golden State compared to the national average.
Luckily, Californians tend to earn much higher wages than their counterparts in cheaper states, which helps to offset those expensive housing costs.
Cost of Living Breakdown As Compared to the National Average
- Grocery: 5.1% above the national average
- Health and Medical: 7.6% below the national average
- Utilities: 2.4% above the national average
- Transportation: 33.1% above the national average
- Miscellaneous: 3.7% above the national average
Is California A Good Place To Retire?
California is a super popular retirement destination for those that can afford it. In terms of quality of life, California has it all. The weather, beaches, beautiful natural landscapes, and diverse cultures mean that there’s something to please every retiree in the Golden State.
Unfortunately, it’s not cheap to live here. Once you’ve paid the sky-high cost of your retirement home, you’ll also have taxes to think about. California does allow exemptions on Social Security taxation, but all other types of retirement income are taxed at the state’s income tax rates, which can be as high as 13.3%.Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations.
What Are The People And Culture Like In California?
California’s perceived culture and lifestyle is featured heavily in movies and TV shows, but there’s more to the local way of living than the glossy veneer of the silver screen.
Just like anywhere else, there are all kinds of people living in California, and since its one of the most diverse states in the nation, it’s hard to pin down one set of attitudes, customs, and cultures that extends to everybody in the Golden State.
That being said, there are some pretty well agreed upon generalizations across the state. LA folks tend to spend a lot of time sitting in traffic, due to the lack of walkability and public transport across the city. There’s also a stereotype that people here are a little more superficial and tend to be focused on looks over substance, but of course, this is not true for everyone.
Further south in San Diego, the lifestyle is a little more laid back, and people tend to be less ‘cut-throat’ and competitive in the working world. The wall-to-wall glorious weather means that people live a lot of their lives outdoors, and activities like hiking and surfing feature pretty heavily in people’s day to day lives.
Northern California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s different again, with the locals claiming themselves to be more ‘down to earth’ and ‘less materialistic’ than their southern counterparts. People are more likely to dress down for dinner, and looks aren’t as important to the general population as they are in LA. There’s also a high population of super-smart tech heads here due to the proximity of Silicon Valley.
Wherever you are in California though, you’ll likely witness one unifying theme; people love the great outdoors, and activities such as hiking, biking, running, surfing and sailing are all super popular.
People tend to be pretty health-conscious when it comes to food too, so finding organic, vegan, and farm-to-table restaurants is never a problem.
California is also a famously liberal state, and the majority of people tend to vote democrat come election time. This progressive state was also one of the first to decriminalize marijuana use as well as legalize gay marriage.Need cheap moving supplies? Fast free delivery.
Some Of The Coolest Things To Do In California
California is a huge state which is packed with exciting attractions and things to do. There’s far too many to list them all, but we’ve narrowed it down to just a few of our favorites to get you inspired.
Avenue of the Giants
If you want to check out giant redwoods, this is the perfect place to do it. Some of these trees are so big, they’ve been hollowed out and you can drive right through them. This 31-mile long section up the coastal highway 101 is part of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and makes an awesome place for swimming, fishing, hiking, and camping.
Yosemite National Park
This awe-inspiring national park is slap bang in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is famously one of the most picturesque parks in America. It’s famous for its Half Dome, an incredible granite rock formation, as well as the towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan. There’s also a huge collection of giant Sequoia Trees in the most stunning setting imaginable. There’s plenty of lodging and camping available so you can enjoy an extended stay to really make the most of your trip.
This contemporary art museum housed in an eye-catching building in downtown LA is free to enter, and well worth a visit when you’re in the City of Angels. Some of the most famous pieces of contemporary art in America are housed here, as well as the unforgettable Infinity Mirror Room; designed to create an ‘out of body experience’ through the clever use of lights and mirrors.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Any trip to San Francisco would be incomplete without getting a good look at its most famous landmark. One of the best ways to enjoy an immersive experience of the bridge is to take a bike and ferry journey across; cycling rental bikes along the bridges cycleway to the charming town on Sausalito on the other side. From there, you can board a ferry back over to the city and take in the incredible views of the bay, and the famous Alcatraz Island.
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery
This is the final resting place of some of the biggest names in show business. Located right in heart of Hollywood, you can pay your respects to silver screen legends and even catch a movie at the same time at the drive-in ‘ Cinespia’, or enjoy live music at one of the regular outdoor concerts here.Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations.
The Pros And Cons Of Living In California
Now that we’ve taken a look at what California has to offer, let’s examine some of the pros and cons of moving to the Golden State.
- Natural Beauty. From the stunning Pacific coastline and golden sandy beaches to incredible mountains, deserts, rivers, and forests- California has it all.
- Perfect Weather. This is especially true in Southern California where it’s perpetually summertime with a pleasant ocean breeze.
- Diversity. California is the most diverse state in America in terms of race, ethnicity, and culture. It’s so big that there’s also a huge array of climates and topography too, so there’s something to suit everyone.
- Nightmare Traffic. This is a huge problem, especially in LA County, which is often hailed as having the worst traffic in the country.
- Natural Disasters. The weather might be near perfect in a lot of California, but sometimes Mother Nature gets angry and there’s a real danger of things like wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, and droughts.
- High Cost of Living. California’s living costs are pretty astronomical, in fact, it’s the 2nd most expensive state in the nation after Hawaii.
California Fun Facts & Strange Laws
Strange Laws in California
Every state has a few weird and wacky laws that puzzle even their long time residents, and California is no exception. Let’s take a look at some of the stranger laws from the Golden State.
- It’s illegal to sleep on the road.
- It’s against the law to lead a herd of cattle down the street.
- It’s illegal to hunt animals from a moving vehicle, with the exception of whaling ships out at sea.
- Driving a vehicle in your housecoat is illegal, but only if you’re female.
- Driverless cars can only go up to a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour.
- In the city of Downey, CA, it’s illegal to wash your car in the street.
- In Arcadia, CA, peacocks have the right of way while crossing streets and driveways.
- It’s illegal for animals to mate with each other within 1,500 feet of a school or place of worship.
- It is against the law to wear cowboy boots unless you own two or more cows in Blythe, California.
Fun Facts About the State
To wrap up our overview of moving to California, let’s look at some fun facts from the Golden State.
- Fallbrook, CA, is known as the “Avocado Capital of the World.”. They even hold a special Avocado Festival every year.
- The Hollywood Bowl is the biggest outdoor amphitheater in America.
- The world’s largest tree is found in Sequoia National Park; ‘General Sherman’ is 275 ft tall with a circumference of 102 feet.
- California is so populous that 1 in 8 US residents live there.
- California is named after a mythical island paradise from a 16th-century Spanish novel.
- The Golden State’s official animal is the grizzly bear. It even appears on the state flag- but the population has been extinct here since 1924.
- California is the third-largest US state, after Alaska and Texas. It’s roughly the same size as France, Spain, and Sweden.
Are you Ready to Make the Move to Cali?
The west coast is the best coast. At least that’s what those in Cali love to say. Is making the move right for you? Only you can answer that question. There are certainly plenty of positives to consider, and you simply can’t beat the weather and laid-back vibe. We hope this guide makes your decision a little easier, and we wish you safe and fruitful travels no matter where you end up.
Further Reading: Looking For More Moving To California Resources? Check These Articles Out!
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About the Author: Kris Lippi is the owner of ISoldMyHouse.com, the broker of Get LISTED Realty and an official member of the Forbes Real Estate Council. He actively writes about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, Fox News, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as other major websites. Read more about us here.