California life isn’t cheap. The median price tag for a single-family home was $815,340 in April 2023, according to data from the California Association of Realtors. That’s a whole lot higher than the nationwide median price of $388,800.

But the adage “you get what you pay for” really applies here. In exchange for California’s high cost of living, you get a lot in return: the chance to surf big waves, climb big mountains, earn big money at tech giants and chase big Hollywood dreams.

Choosing a place to buy, though, isn’t easy. California covers more than 163,000 square miles and is the biggest state in the country in terms of population. If you’re considering a move to (or within) the Golden State, start your search with these five gold-medal-worthy cities:

  1. San Jose
  2. Oakland
  3. Sacramento
  4. Ventura
  5. Santa Rosa

1. San Jose

If you’re on a tight budget, well, San Jose is not for you. But that’s the thing about this Silicon Valley hub: If you’re looking to live here, you’re probably working with more cash than most due to a high-paying tech job at Adobe, Cisco, eBay or one of the other high-tech companies based here. Apple, Meta, Alphabet and Google are all in the San Jose area as well, as is Stanford University. And while San Francisco tends to get all the love when it comes to food and culture, San Jose can go toe-to-toe with its more famous Bay Area neighbor with spots like the Michelin-starred Portuguese restaurant ADEGA and the San Jose Museum of Art.

  • Median home sale price: $1,246,000
  • Cost of living: 153.3 (national average is 100)
  • Average salary: $121,619
  • Unemployment rate: 2.4%
  • Total employees year-over-year: +5.0%
  • Well-being: 69.7 out of 100
  • Diversity: 72.8 out of 100
  • Net migration: -2.5% population decrease year-over-year

Why it stands out: Two words: earning potential. San Jose’s cast of high-paying employers make this a place for young professionals who want to leave their mark on the tech scene. The median home price and average salary are both high, to be sure, but it’s not all about money: This city’s diversity score is impressive as well. It’s home to culturally diverse neighborhoods including Little Italy, Little Portugal, Little Saigon and Japantown.

2. Oakland

If San Jose feels financially out of reach, head 40 miles north to Oakland, where homes are far cheaper (though still not cheap, sadly). This city is packed with things to do including a monthly First Friday Festival and annual events like Restaurant Week, the Chinatown Street Festival, the Black Joy Parade, “Oaktoberfest” and more. Getting around here is easy, too: Oakland is very walkable and also well served by public transportation, so you can leave the car parked and avoid the headaches of Bay Area traffic.

  • Median home sale price: $920,000
  • Cost of living: 152.5 (national average is 100)
  • Average salary: $111,050
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Total employees year-over-year: +5.9%
  • Well-being: 68.8 out of 100
  • Diversity: 77.3 out of 100
  • Net migration: -2.7% population decrease year-over-year

Why it stands out: Living in Oakland means living with a diverse cast of neighbors. More than 125 languages are spoken in the city, according to, and the city earned the highest diversity score of any spot on our list. Plus, it’s known for being a welcoming and progressive place to call home with a perfect 100 rating from the Human Rights Campaign.

3. Sacramento

Much of California is losing residents to lower-priced states, but Sacramento managed to grow last year — it’s the only city on our list with positive net migration. The state’s capital is also a hub for healthcare, with major employers like Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and Dignity Health, and it has made a name for itself as a leader in food and agriculture tech as well. In fact, the area is home to more than 1.5 million acres of farms (and 40 farmers’ markets). And while the city is not set not right on the Pacific, it is set right on the Sacramento River, with a popular 28-acre riverfront park.

  • Median home sale price: $482,000
  • Cost of living: 120.3 (national average is 100)
  • Average salary: $61,852
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5%
  • Total employees year-over-year: +2.9%
  • Well-being: 66.9 out of 100
  • Diversity: 72.2 out of 100
  • Net migration: +0.3% population increase year-over-year

Why it stands out: Sacramento is proof that living in the Golden State doesn’t require actually sitting on a mountain of gold. While the cost of living here is still higher than the national average, it’s much more affordable when compared with the rest of the state. The median sale price of a home here is the lowest on our list by far — less than half of what a home runs in San Jose.

4. Ventura

Forget the insane traffic in Los Angeles and the busy beaches of San Diego: If you’re looking for a place where the relaxed SoCal vibes can really shine, check out Ventura. Nestled right on the Pacific around 65 miles up the coast from downtown L.A., this city has an average daytime temperature of 70 degrees year-round and an abundance of activities for lovers of the great outdoors. You can raise a toast to the good life at local favorites like Poseidon Brewing Co. and Four Brix Winery.


  • Median home sale price: $812,500
  • Cost of living: 144.6 (national average is 100)
  • Average salary: $67,422
  • Unemployment rate: 3.0%
  • Total employees year-over-year: +4.6%
  • Well-being: 67.8 out of 100
  • Diversity: 68.1 out of 100
  • Net migration: -0.5% population decrease year-over-year

Why it stands out: This city is a relative bargain for beachside living in pricey California. For example, Ventura’s $812,500 median price is far more approachable than homes in Santa Barbara, a popular Pacific Coast destination to the north, which sell for closer to $2 million, according to Redfin data.

5. Santa Rosa

If you’re looking for a calming piece of northern California, Santa Rosa should be at the top of your list. Around an hour north of Oakland, it trades the Bay Area’s crowds for the charm of a small downtown filled with farm-to-table dining. This is the heart of wine country — Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County — as well as the home one of the best beer destinations around, Russian River Brewing. Life in Santa Rosa isn’t simply about indulging your appetite, though. It’s a healthy and active city with loads of opportunities for outdoor adventures. If you’re a serious cyclist, set your sights on the Santa Rosa Cycling Club’s annual 100-mile Wine Country Century ride.

  • Median home sale price: $714,000
  • Cost of living: 144.6 (national average is 100)
  • Average salary: $71,386
  • Unemployment rate: 2.7%
  • Total employees year-over-year: +4.6%
  • Well-being: 67.8 out of 100
  • Diversity: 59.2 out of 100
  • Net migration: -0.4% population decrease year-over-year

Why it stands out: The average salary here is more competitive than you’ll find in Ventura or Sacramento. And while $714,000 is certainly not cheap, many people find it a fair price to pay for an address in the middle of all that Sonoma wine country has to offer. Santa Rosa’s low unemployment and high rate of employee growth are also solid draws.


Choosing the best place to live is a very personal decision: It all depends on you and your individual circumstances. To help you decide, we’ve utilized data across five important categories to determine the Bankrate Best Places to Live lists: well-being, job markets, affordability, migration and diversity.

We sourced data from several trusted sources, including Sharecare, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Council for Community and Economic Research and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Below, find the formula that we utilized to calculate the weighted sum score for each city:

Best Places to Live Formula
Weighted sum score = (Well-being * 0.30) + (Unemployment rate * -0.20) + (Total employees year-over-year * 0.05) + (Cost of living * -0.10) + (Average income * 0.05) + (Median home sale price * -0.05) + (Net migration * 0.15) + (Diversity * 0.10)

For more information about our data sources, what the individual data points mean, how they are weighted and more, visit the full Bankrate Best Places to Live Methodology.