Top 7 Major Cities to Live in California with the Best quality of life – 2024

Home to approximately over 39 million people, California is known as the Golden State for its beaches, mountains, luxury sand and Hollywood stars. Each city in the state has its own unique history, culture and identity. California being one of America’s most recognized states is home to a variety of landmarks and job opportunities. Over the years, California has become a state where many people reside but also a state where many people have left.

If you are moving to California, MovingWaldo has got you covered! Here are the lists of the Top 7 Major Cities to Live in California from Best to Worst.

Major Cities to live in California from best to worst

Methodology

Our selection of these cities is based on the seven most populous cities in California, determined by population statistics obtained from City-Data.com. To determine the ranking (from 1 to 7), we assessed each city based on housing affordability, safety, and quality of life.

For housing affordability, we considered property prices for sale and apartment rentals. Property sale data primarily comes from Rockethomes’ median pricing for October 2023, supplemented by Zillow’s median cost for 1-bedroom apartments in August 2023.

Our safety ranking methodology involves a comprehensive analysis of various criteria, including combined rates of violent and property crimes, obtained from governmental statistics provided by each city. Sources such as the Crime Dashboard of San Francisco Police, Los Angeles Historical Crime Data, and the City of San Diego’s Annual Crime Reports were utilized. To ensure accuracy, we calculated the average number of different crimes per 1000 people.

The “quality of life” aspect is measured based on feedback from real people who have moved to this area in our database or real people from trusted online forums and social media platforms who live there. More specifically, we look for positive feedback on job opportunities, quality of education, quality of healthcare, feeling of safety, public transportation, the environment (cleanliness), as well as the availability of recreational facilities and parks.

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Major Cities to Live in California

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1. San Diego

  • Population: 1,381,069
  • Crime rate21.20 crimes per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $2,399
  • Median property buying cost: $878,363

With a population of over 1.3 million people, San Diego takes the crown for our list of best cities to live in California. Considering its population, San Diego has a low crime rate of 21.20 crimes per 1,000 people.

As Mayor Todd Gloria shared, San Diego is a place of opportunity for young families and children, especially with its well-known educational institutions like the University of California and top public schools such as Patrick Henry High School.

Locals love spending time participating in outdoor activities, like visiting La Jolla Cove beach. The city experiences sunshine year-round, making it perfect for surfing, swimming and spending time with your family. 

As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $878,363 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,399 as of November 2023.

Zillow (Nov 2023)Rockethomes (Oct 2023) & City of San Diego (Dec 2022)

Learn more about living in San Diego

San Diego, CA

2. Los Angeles

Cheapest Places to Live in Los Angeles: Santa Monica, CA
  • Population: 3,849,297 
  • Crime rate32.47 crimes per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $2,195
  • Median property buying cost: $967,514

The City of Angels, also known as Los Angeles, holds a captivating vibe. Renowned for its Hollywood stars, and beautiful beaches such as Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier, this city embodies the West Coast charm. Each area in Los Angeles offers residents a unique experience with entertainment options, like the Dodger Stadium.

As the largest city in California and the second-largest urban area in the United States, Los Angeles is also committed to its education. There are over 106 colleges within 50 miles of LA, including the University of California. With a crime rate of 32.47 per 1000 people, it is a city of dreams, sun, surf, sand, and Hollywood. 

As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $967,514 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,195 as of November 2023.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (Dec 2023)Zillow (Nov 2023) & Rockethomes (Oct 2023)

Los Angeles, CA

3. San Jose

  • Population: 1,015,785 
  • Crime rate14.56 crimes per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $2,220
  • Median property buying cost: $1,299,981

San Jose, California’s connection to Silicon Valley, offers abundant tech job opportunities and a high average income for locals. With a population of just over one million, it is a hub for tech companies and startup businesses, making it an ideal location for tech professionals and entrepreneurs.

While San Jose has many advantages, it’s important to note the high cost of living, primarily due to its proximity to all basic amenities. However, for those in tech or looking for a vibrant and diverse community, this area is an ideal choice. As noted by many locals, San Jose is a safe city with a low crime rate of 14.56 crimes per 1000 people

As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $1,299,981 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,220 as of November 2023.

Zillow (Nov 2023)Rockethomes (Oct 2023) & San Jose Crime Statistics (Dec 2022)

San Jose, CA

4. East San Gabriel Valley

  • Population: 952,352
  • Crime rate: 0.15 per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $1,800
  • Median property buying cost: $749,929

East San Gabriel Valley is located in Los Angeles County, California. Due to Hispanic and Latino ancestry, the second most spoken language in East San Gabriel Valley, after English, is Spanish. Locals appreciate the supermarkets in the city, where fresh produce and goods can be purchased from diverse cultures, including Hawaiian. 

You can expect to find mostly two-bedroom homes and four-bedroom homes, with the population mostly ranging from 29 years or older. East San Gabriel Valley is also known for its great schools, specifically as they are in the San Gabriel Unified School District with many elementary schools and high schools. Locals have noted to be extra vigilant when driving in this city, as there are many car accidents that happen daily. As for safety, East San Gabriel Valley has an extremely low crime rate of 0.15 per 1,000 people

As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $749,929 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,800 as of November 2023.

Crime Statistics (Nov 2023)East San Gabriel Valley (Nov 2023)Zillow (Nov 2023) & Rockethomes (Oct 2023)

East San Gabriel Valley, CA

5. Fresno

  • Population: 515, 986
  • Crime rate40.35 per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $950
  • Median property buying cost: $372,390

Fresno is a major city in California that has received mixed reviews from both past and present residents. Locals suggest that depending on your lifestyle, Fresno can either be a great place or a boring location to move to. One of the advantages is easy accessibility to the beaches and mountains, like Moss Landing or Santa Cruz. Fresno’s unique location places it 2-3 hours away from major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Monterey. 

Residents note that summers in Fresno are long, dry and brutal due to the heat. It is highly recommended to purchase an accommodation with an AC unit or a pool amenity. Locals also mention how there is a large homeless population and lower quality schools. 

In terms of safety, Fresno has a crime rate of 40.35 per 1,000 people, with a population of 515,986. As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $372,390 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $950 as of November 2023.

Zillow (Nov 2023)Rockethomes (Oct 2023) & Fresno Crime (Nov 2023)

Fresno, CA

6. Central Contra Costa County

  • Population: 1,161,413
  • Crime rate0.30 per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $2,252.50 
  • Median property buying cost: $976,362

Located to the east of the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Contra Costa County is known for its suburban atmosphere with a mix of residential and commercial areas. There are a variety of parks, hiking trails and recreational areas for outdoor activities like the Contra Costa Trail, a 13.6 mile trail. The community is mostly middle-working class with a large Hispanic community. As for safety, the city has a crime rate of 0.30 per 1,000 people. 

Residents have noted the high cost of living and high property prices in Central Contra Costa County. As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $976,362 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,252.50 as of November 2023. Rent can be rather expensive, making the area more suitable for professionals rather than families. The city also has a high sales tax which can increase the cost of goods and services. 

Locals have also pointed out that Central Contra Costa County is extremely close to the Buchanan Field Airport, leading to loud noises, air pollution, and safety concerns for residents.

FBI – Crime of the US (Dec 2016)Zillow (Nov 2023) & Rockethomes (Oct 2023)

Central Contra Costa County, CA

7. San Francisco

  • Population: 852,469
  • Crime rate52.36 per 1,000 people
  • Median 1-bed apt rent: $2,903
  • Median property buying cost: $1,124,666

The major city in California that is considered the worst to live in is San Francisco, with a relatively high crime rate of 52.36 per 1,000 people. San Francisco faces challenges when it comes to homelessness, cleanliness issues, rising crime rates, high cost of living and business closures. In fact, California’s violent crime rate increased by 6.1% in 2022, while San Francisco experienced a higher surge, with a 7.45% crime rate increase.

If you are thinking of moving to San Francisco, it is crucial to be aware of the rise in crimes, particularly burglaries in parked cars and on public transportation. Many locals have noted the outstanding increase in the homeless population, so managing risks is essential for a relatively safe experience in the city.

When moving to San Francisco, it’s essential to find a neighborhood where you can feel comfortable and safe. Despite its challenges, the city does have neighborhoods with fewer safety concerns, such as Inner Sunset and Parkside, making it a feasible option for those looking to move with their families or seek LGBTQ-friendly communities.

As of October 2023, the median property buying cost is $1,124,666 and the median cost of a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,903 as of November 2023.

Zillow (Nov 2023)Rockethomes (Oct 2023)Crime in California (Dec 2022)PPIC (Nov 2022) & San Francisco Police Department (Nov 2023)

San Francisco, CA

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Conclusion

All things considered, California is a vibrant state that offers enjoyable living experience, family-friendly neighborhoods, amazing food and work opportunities. California is a perfect choice for an urban lifestyle with its culture and contemporary way of life. There is something for everyone to enjoy, however, it is important to be vigilant about the rise in crime rates, quality schools and overall disadvantages. 

Moving to California and deciding where to settle can be a tough decision. It is just as important to take into account the safety as well as costs when choosing a neighborhood. MovingWaldo’s list from best to worst cities in California in 2024 can help you choose your ultimate neighborhood! 

Thinking of moving to the #1 and #2 places on this list? Be sure to check out the best San Diego movers and the best Los Angeles movers

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Ann Nacario

The author

Meet Ann – our head writer with a knack for making moving and city living a breeze. From the many details of moving to picking the perfect moving company, she’s your guide. Ann has a friendly yet detailed approach to ensure your move goes off without a hitch. When she’s not writing about relocation, it will always be on her mind, but you’ll catch her spending time with her three furry friends.

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