Best places to live in California in 2020

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Sacramento takes first place on our list of the best places to live in California in 2020. It does well in six different key areas of measurement we looked at, beating out other cities including San Diego and San Jose.

Our list spans the most populous communities in the state, reaching from Northern to Southern California. However, the largest share of top cities are clustered in the upper half of the state, offering qualities like a relatively low cost of living, desirable culture and a thriving job market.

If you’re interested in finding a city on the West Coast to call home, check out this list of the best places to live in California and be sure to check out the latest mortgage rates in California.

What to consider in a best place to live

To put together our list of the top places to live in California, we focused on measuring six objective factors in the state’s most populous areas. But there are also subjective factors that play into where you might want to call home. For example, you may want to remain close to family or live in a particular climate.

It’s important to keep in mind that there may be smaller towns or other areas around the major metros on this list that are as desirable or even more desirable places to live.

Here’s what we took into account:

Affordability: We first looked at affordability. Not only did we measure housing expenses, but we compared the cost of living in each city to the average income per worker.

Culture: In order to determine culture, we looked at community rankings for well-being in each city, based on Gallup’s research.

Job market: Using data from the Census Bureau, we looked at the unemployment rate for 25-to-44-year-olds in each city. We also took commute times into consideration.

Safety: Violent and property crime rates were measured and ranked by city using data from the FBI.

Educational attainment: We used information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in order to factor in the educational attainment of a city.

Net migration: Finally, we considered the growth of a city. All of the cities on our list are growing in population. They are gaining residents faster than they are losing them.

Here are the top seven best places to live in California in 2020:

1. Sacramento

  • Affordability: 9 out of 10
  • Culture: 4 out of 10
  • Safety: 7 out of 10
  • Job market: 3 out of 10
  • Education: 4 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Affordability

Biggest limitation: Job market

Sacramento is a good place to be for affordability. It has one of the lowest cost of living compared with other cities on the list, and it’s one of the fastest-growing large metro areas in the state. It also ranks high for safety. Don’t be dissuaded by its lower ranking for culture — there’s still plenty to do in the city. Dining, museums, sports and wineries are favorite activities among locals. The downside is that Sacramento has a higher unemployment rate and fewer major employers in the area, making for a less-desirable job market.

2. San Jose

  • Affordability: 7 out of 10
  • Culture: 8 out of 10
  • Safety: 9 out of 10
  • Job market: 9 out of 10
  • Education: 7 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Job market/Safety

Biggest limitation: Affordability

The job market in San Jose is its biggest advantage. Here you’ll find one of the lowest unemployment rates in California. That’s hardly surprising since San Jose is home to the vibrant Silicon Valley. You’ll find employers in the area including Adobe, eBay and Apple. It’s also a relatively safe place to live in California, with fewer violent crimes than other cities on our list. Naturally, culture gets high scores in the area as well due to ample opportunities for nightlife and outdoor adventure. To be sure, housing costs are high — in fact, they are some of the highest in the nation — but the area’s higher than average salary helps offset the cost of expensive home prices.

3. San Diego

  • Affordability: 6 out of 10
  • Culture: 8 out of 10
  • Safety: 9 out of 10
  • Job market: 7 out of 10
  • Education: 8 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Safety/Culture

Biggest limitation: Affordability

Proximity to the beach, sunny weather and low crime rates make San Diego a desirable place to live. Residents have access to museums, theme parks and other attractions. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants and bars. The city also has a relatively low unemployment rate and a high degree of educational attainment. Employers in the area include General Dynamics, Kaiser Permanente and SeaWorld. The limitation of San Diego is that a greater portion of residents’ paychecks go towards living costs than other cities on the list.

4. Los Angeles

  • Affordability: 8 out of 10
  • Culture: 7 out of 10
  • Safety: 3 out of 10
  • Job market: 6 out of 10
  • Education: 5 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Affordability/Culture

Biggest limitation: Safety

Surprisingly, Los Angeles is one of the more affordable cities on our list. That’s because the city’s high average salary makes up for its more expensive cost of living. Though the unemployment rate is a bit higher in L.A., there are still a number of major employers in the area, including Kaiser Permanente, University of California, Walt Disney Co. and entertainment groups like Sony. Los Angeles has a thriving cultural scene as well, with renowned restaurants, bars, art exhibits and events. Safety and educational attainment is where The City of Angels falls behind.

5. Bakersfield

  • Affordability: 9 out of 10
  • Culture: 3 out of 10
  • Safety: 3 out of 10
  • Job market: 2 out of 10
  • Education: 2 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Affordability

Biggest limitation: Job market/Education

Next to Sacramento, Bakersfield is the least-expensive city on our list. Residents don’t devote as much of their average income on expenses such as housing, food, transportation, health care, taxes and other necessities. The trade-off for that affordability is living in a city with less of everything else. You’ll find fewer jobs, less educational attainment and less safety. Yet Bakersfield is growing fast, and it’s not just due to affordability. The city also has a budding culture. Residents can enjoy food sourced from local farms, a number of museums and festivals and plenty of outdoor activities.

6. Oakland

  • Affordability: 5 out of 10
  • Culture: 7 out of 10
  • Safety: 5 out of 10
  • Job market: 7 out of 10
  • Education: 8 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Job market/education

Biggest limitation: Affordability

Oakland is located just 20 minutes from San Francisco across the San Francisco Bay. The city lacks affordability, but its cost of living is significantly less than its neighbor to the West. That makes it one of the best places to live for those who wish to take advantage of the prosperous San Francisco job market and culture while paying lower housing costs. Of course, Oakland offers a vibrant job market and culture on its own. It has a number of attractions, nightlife and outdoor activities. Plus, the University of California, Berkeley, is just to the north.

7. Fresno

  • Affordability: 8 out of 10
  • Culture: 3 out of 10
  • Safety: 3 out of 10
  • Job market: 2 out of 10
  • Education: 2 out of 10

Biggest advantage: Affordability

Biggest limitation: Job market/Education

Just two hours from the coast, Fresno’s relatively inexpensive cost of living is no doubt helping it to become one of the fastest-growing major cities in the state. And while its culture lags behind other California cities, it still maintains a bustling community with festivals, events, farmers markets, parks and nightlife. The unemployment rate is on the high side — around 10 percent — but you can still find some major employers in the area, including the insurance giant Aetna.

Next steps

Once you find your best place to live, you may want to buy a home there. Mortgage rates have seldom been lower and lenders have loosened their requirements for getting a home loan. What’s more, there are state and local programs to help first-time homebuyers get a place of their own with little or even no money down. Bankrate has resources to help with every step of the homebuying process.

See Bankrate’s list of best places to live in the U.S.