Best Towns to Live in California 2016
With nearly 900 miles of coastline, the state of California stretches from Mexico to its northern neighbor, Oregon. Its terrain is varied, including the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Mojave desert, redwood forests, and numerous beaches. Almost 40 million people reside within state limits.While the state may be home to some world-famous cities, there are also many quaint and picturesque towns. Most notable economic industries include finance, real estate, technology and entertainment companies. Students from across the country and around the world come to California each year to attend some of the state’s top public universities.
Our ratings were compiled by combining census, education, wealth , happiness and internal RentApplication data to create a unified rating system for all of the towns in California. Ranked below are the top towns.
#1 Palo Alto
Palo Alto is a city of approximately 66,000 residents, situated in San Francisco’s Bay Area. The climate includes wet winters and dry, hot summers. Palo Alto is a focal point within Silicon Valley. Notable companies with headquarters in this city include Amazon.com’s A9.com, Mashable, Tesla Motors, and Xerox.
#2 Mountain View
This walkable city is located within Santa Clara County. Mountain View boasts beautiful vistas of the Santa Clara Mountains. According to the 2010 census, 74,066 people live in the city. Mountain View is a hotbed of world-renowned high technology companies. Today, these include companies like Google, Mozilla Foundation, and Intuit.
#3 Santa Monica
Santa Monica can be found along California’s southern coast in Los Angeles County. Its proximity to the beach makes it the perfect place to unwind and relax. The city of Los Angeles borders the beachtown on three sides, and includes places like Brentwood and Venice. 89,736 call Santa Monica home.
#4 San Ramon
Situated in San Francisco’s valley, San Ramon is the 4th largest city in Contra Costa County. Its surrounded by cities like Danville, California. 73,927 people currently reside. There are no shortage of mountain views, forests and greenery. Headquartered in San Ramon are companies like the Chevron Corporation, 24-Hour Fitness, and AT&T Inc. (West Coast division).
Cupertino, California sits just west of San Jose, on the border of the Santa Clara Valley. Parts of the city extend into the mountains as well. The tech industry is booming in Cupertino, especially since its the location of Apple, Inc. Overtime, the mega-giant tech company has expanded within the city of Cupertino. Additionally, Cloud.com, Lab126, and IBM are also located in the city.
Quintessential small-town America, Pleasanton is made up of roughly 70,000 inhabitants. Its considered a suburb of San Francisco Bay Area, and is only a 25-mile drive from Oakland. Pleasanton has been featured on many lists of the top cities to live in the United States for its low crime rate, proximity to other cities, and prominence in the tech industry (headquarters of Safeway).
#7 Santa Barbara
Known for its long stretch of coastline, Santa Barbara has some of the best views and most luxurious real estate in all of California. To the east, span the Santa Ynez Mountains, and to the west: the Pacific Ocean. The city of Los Angeles is 90 miles away. The population was 88,410 according to the 2010 census.
#8 San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is oftentimes regarded as the halfway point between san Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s sought after for its rolling green hills and small town appeal. About 45,000 people live in the city today in an area 12.93 square miles.
#9 Morro Bay
This tiny town offers access to the sea and stunning panoramic views. In the 1940s, Morro Bay was established as a fishing community. Today, the industry persists, as well as small businesses and tourism. Just over 10,000 people live in the city. Points of interest include Morro Rock and Morro Bay Harbor.
#10 Newport Beach
Newport Beach is located in Orange County and lays along the water. The city is made up of an upper and lower bay, with canyons carved out above the beaches below. It’s also home to Newport Harbor and Newport Bay, where shipbuilding once took place, as well as commercial fishing. Today, the site is mostly used for recreation. 85,186 people reside in Newport.
#11 Walnut Creek
Although mid-sized, Walnut Creek is a coveted suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area made up of 67,000 residents because of its location–including the intersection for highways leading to Sacramento and San José, but also because of it s accessibility to San Francisco’s BART subway system.
#12 San Rafael
Located in the North Bay area of San Francisco, the city of San Rafael has a notable Spanish flare. One of the most recognizable landmarks in the city is the Mission San Rafael Arcángel. San Rafael boasts a variety of natural terrain and habitats, including forests and marshes. In total, 55, 713 people live within the city limits.
Start-up companies are finding a good reason to stay in Tustin, California. Among the cities of Orange County, Tustin has a population of 75, 540. It has consistently ranked high with national business publications as one of the best towns to live in America.
Folsom city is within Sacramento County, California and has a population of 72,203. Nature lovers will appreciate Folsom Lake and a variety of bike paths which pass over several historic bridges. Folsom’s Historic Sutter Street is located downtown and is filled with small shops and local restaurants.
#15 South San Francisco
Considered a city of San Mateo County, South San Francisco is also a part of the San Francisco Bay Area. As of 2014, an estimated 67,000 people reside in South San Francisco. The city is an ideal transportation hub. To the south is the San Francisco International Airport. Ferry service operates between Oyster Point Marina and the cities of Oakland, Jack London Square, and Alameda. Additionally, the BART subway system extends out to the city, connecting it to San Francisco and San José.
#16 Fountain Valley
Fountain Valley is situated in the suburbs of Orange County, 9 square miles in size. It’s a middle-class town with a population of 55, 300 in 2010. Huntington Beach is just a short drive away, as is Santa Ana to the northeast and Costa Mesa to the southeast. The city’s economy remains contingent in part today on the agriculture business.
#17 Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz offers an extensive coastline, located on the northern tip of Monterey Bay. The area of 15.828 square miles welcomes 59,946 local residents. Today, tourists flock to the city to admire parks, beaches, greenbelt districts, and marine protected areas. Year round, visitors and locals alike can stroll along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or enjoy sports like cycling, hiking, and rock climbing.
Redwood can be found in San Francisco’s Bay Area. The city’s density is mixed, with some urban areas to the north and east as well as wealthy neighborhoods in the hills. Recently, the city has begun to expand and attract new residents from nearby towns. The city’s population was 76,815 in 2010, and is thought to be roughly 83,000 today.
Just 13 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, Arcadia provides an ideal commute for its residents (56,364 in 2010). The city itself also has a lot to offer due to its orientation between the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains just beyond. Arcadia has consistently ranked highly in terms of average household income.
#20 Arroyo Grande
The main streets of Arroyo Grande Village are lined with small cafés and restaurants, repair shops, and corner stores. It’s the perfect mesh of history and small town comfort: small town America at its best. In total, the city spreads across an area of 5.8 miles; 17,716 residents were registered as of 2013.
Milpitas has an area of 13.641 square miles and is located within the Silicon Valley. Some of the 66,790 residents work for companies such as Maxtor, Flextronics, Cisco Systems and SanDisk. Milipitas is generally regarded as a San José suburb, and sits at the foothills of mountains belonging to the Diablo range.
#22 Mammoth Lakes
Towering mountains cradle this Mono County, California town. It has an area of 9 miles and an altitude of 7,880 feet–a skier’s personal paradise. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is located along the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Outdoor adventurers will also appreciate the Ansel Adams Wilderness. 8,234 live in Mammoth Lakes year round.
Truckee is located in Nevada County, California. It makes up an area of 33.7 square miles, which approximately 16,180 people call home. Truckee River flows from Lake Tahoe to the Great Basin, and then finally into Pyramid Lake. Truckee was given its named based on the indigenous inhabitants and a Paiute chief.
#24 St. Helena
This North Bay region city within the San Francisco Bay Area is in Napa County, California. In 2010, the population was about 5,800 residents. Many residents are employed with the St. Helena Hospital, Trinchero Family Estates, and The Culinary Institute of America.
The Mediterranean climate here will make for year-round recreational fun outdoors. The city had a population of 68,747 in 2010, and continues to grow. It’s situated south of downtown San Bernadino and is easily linked to the city as well as Los Angeles via the MetroLink transportation system.
Nestled between the Chino Hills, the city of Chino is located in the western portion of the Riverside-San Bernadino Area. For generations, Chino has been a major contributor to California’s agricultural industry, primarily dairy farming. The city’s namesake translates to “curl,” in reference to the grama grass which is plentiful in the valley region. Today, 77,983 people live in the area of about 29.652 square miles.
At the intersection of US Route 50 and State Route 49, Placerville sets its limits within El Dorado County. Some portions of the city extend out to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, meaning altitudes can reach as high as 4,000 feet. Placerville is a small town with 10,389 residents. Industry in the area has become increasingly dependent on the wine production business.
#28 Rancho Cordova
Rancho Cordova has a population of 67,839 (2014 census records) and is located within the Sacramento Metropolitan Area. Residents can easily access the city of Sacramento via the Sacramento Regional Transit and the Gold Line rail. Vineyards and orchards are prevalent in the city today. Families have lots to enjoy on the weekend, including American River Parkway, Sacramento State Aquatics Center, and the Sacramento Children’s Museum.
Auburn is a part of Placer County, California. Famously, Auburn is the site of the California Gold Rush, and has therefore been deemed a California Historic Landmark. The city contains many bike and running trails, and is the site of more sports endurance events, such as marathons and triathlons than anywhere else in the world. 13,330 people live in Auburn as of the 2010 census records.
#30 Monterey Park
Just outside of Los Angeles, Monterey Park houses many attractions such as Garvey Ranch Observatory, operated by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. The Jardin El Encanto building built in 1929, once a speakeasy, is visited today for its remarkable architecture and Spanish flare. Monterey Park, with a population of 60,269 people, is easily accessed via the Long Beach Freeway, the San Bernadino Freeway, and the Pomona Freeway.
Calistoga is a tiny town of just over 5,000, located in Napa County, California. An economy once reliant on mining (silver and mercury) and agriculture (grapes, prunes, walnuts) has grown to also include revenue based on tourism. People travel to the city today to visit Calistoga AVA, part of California’s Wine Country. Once rumoured to contain gold, Calistoga is also famous for its hot springs and geothermal geyser.
Napa of Napa County, California, has made a name for itself in the wine industry. But wine production hasn’t alway been the economic powerhouse. Miners flocked to the city in the 1850s and early 60s in the search for gold and silver. As a result, the city grew and developed. Today, Napa is the site of the Treasury Wine Estates and the Napa River Waterfront. Over 80,000 people currently live in Napa.
#33 South Lake Tahoe
With more residents than any other city in El Dorado County, residents enjoy views of the Sierra Nevada mountains as well as Lake Tahoe to the north and panoramic views from the shoreline. According to the 2010 census, 21,403 call this city home. Although many visitors abound in summer and winter months, South Lake Tahoe has maintained its small town charm.
Historical buildings in the area nod to Sonoma’s colonial past. Today, the city is not only a focal point of California’s wine industry (Sonoma Valley Appellation), but also home to the Sonoma International Film Festival. The number of residents was 10,648 in 2010.
#35 San Leandro
San Leandro can be found on the east coast of the San Francisco Bay. Neighboring cities include Oakland and Hayward. Many corporate companies have roots in the city, including JanSport, Northface, Ghirardelli, and OSIsoft. San Leandro had a population of 86,869 in 2014 and is connected to San Francisco via highway and BART transit.
#36 Yuba City
Yuba City is in Northern California, in the county of Sutter, California. Every year, the town of 64,925 (2010) holds several arts events and cultural festivals. The California Swan Festival lasts for a weekend in November. Yuba City is home to a long list of community and neighborhood parks as well as other green spaces.
Arcata sits beside Arcata Bay, within Humboldt Bay County. The city had 17,697 residents as of 2010, and today promotes environmentally friendly initiatives in a variety of ways, including a freshwater and saltwater network of ponds. Arcata is home to many green spaces and public parks, as well as the Headwaters Forest. Each year during summer months, Arcata sets up a local farmers’ market.
Solvang is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, in Santa Barbara County. Over the years, Solvang has remained a small town of about 5,000 residents. Storefronts on main street pay homage to the city’s Danish roots; Danish settlers came to the city in 1911 on respite from cold midwestern winters. Other cultural points of significance include a Little Mermaid statue (a copy of the original in Copenhagen) as well as a statue of Hans Christian Andersen. There’s even a Danish-style windmill along main street.
#39 Grass Valley
Grass Valley is located 57 miles from the capital of Sacramento, in the western part of Nevada County, California. The city of 12,860 (2010). Today, the economy is powered majorly by tourism industry. Visitors come to see designated historical landmarks such as the Empire Mine State Historic Park, Overland Emigrant Trail, and the Site of the First Discoveries of Quartz Gold in California.
A short distance from Sacramento, the city of Dixon is located in Solano County, California. It had a population of 18,351 in 2010. The Dixon area became a destination point for European settlers during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. The city has been built to incorporate the railroad system.
Sandwiched between the Mojave desert and San Joaquin Valley, the city of Tehachapi has an elevation of 3, 970 feet and a population of 14,414 (2010 census). A community orchestra and theater can be found in Tehachapi. In the past, the city has also been featured in many Hollywood productions.
Kingsburg is situated in Fresno County, California. It’s located southeast of Selma, and on the banks of the Kings River. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are a two hour drive away. Kingsburg is famous for its grape vineyards, mostly used to produce raisins. The city takes part in cultural festivals every year, including the Swedish Festival during the first weekend of May.
Carson is located in Los Angeles County, California; the city is only 13 miles away from downtown Los Angeles. Carson, California is home to California State University, and a soccer stadium used by the Los Angeles Galaxy–who signed David Beckham in 2007. Developers have proposed Carson be the site of a future NFL stadium. 91,714 people reside in Carson (2010).
Chico is the most heavily populated city in Butte County with 86,187 resident sin 2010. Chico, “The City of Roses,” offers large parks and green spaces. Historical sites include the Bidwell Mansion, named after John Bidwell, a rider in one of the first wagons to arrive in California in 1843. Chico has some of the most diverse terrain of its area, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, the Sacramento Valley to the south, and the Sacramento River to the east.
Winters is a rural city of 6,624 located in Yolo County, California. The city is a total of 2.9 square miles and maintains dry summers, and cool-wet winters. Some of the city’s biggest employers include agricultural businesses and the Winters Joint Unified School District.
Galt is situated in Sacramento County. The population is a modest 23,647. Galt is bordered by cities belonging to Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties. Galt is well known for its community involvement, including such organizations as the Galt Area Historical Society and National Register of Historic Places as well as several landmarks like the Cosumnes River Preserve and the Galt Market.
Escalon is located in San Joaquin County, California. A large agricultural presence in this city of 7,266 can be observed in the DeRuosi Nut company, the number one employer in the area. The city boasts an award-winning school district and consistently low crime rate.
With a spot along the Sacramento River, this city has natural beauty as well as modern day attractions. Redding is located in the northern part of the state, in Shasta County. Nearly 90,000 people were living in Redding as of 2010. At the northwestern tip, Redding touches the Central Valley and Cascade foothills and Sacramento Valley. The city is famous for its Turtle Bay Exploration Park and its historic Cascade Theatre.
#49 Rio Vista
Rio Vista belongs to the San Francisco Bay Area, on the Sacramento River in Solano County. The city is quaint, with 7,360 residents in 2010. Rio Vista is located at the heart of the Sacramento River Delta. Points of interest include the Rio Vista Museum and the Western Railway Museum.
Just off of US Route 101, Eureka, California is the principal city of Humboldt County. Eureka provides expansive coastline, the largest in fact, between San Francisco and Portland. Eureka’s home to one of California’s primary fishing ports as well as California’s oldest zoo: Sequoia Park Zoo. 27,191 people live in Eureka (2010 census) and enjoy the mild weather in addition to shopping, victorian architecture, and annual culture events.