Study: Best Cities to Live in California

Make Your Golden Dreams Come True: Top 10 California Cities to Live

From the bustling cities to the picturesque wilderness, California has something for everybody. However, it's one thing to visit the Golden State and quite another to live there. So which are the California cities that make it worth packing up your life and putting down roots? We set out to find the 10 best cities to live in California.

10 Best Cities to Live in California

Palo Alto, California
Palo Alto, California

Study Methodology

In comparing the best cities to live in California, we considered five factors:

  1. Restaurants per capita
  2. Odds of being a victim of violent crime
  3. Commute time
  4. The percentage of people without health coverage
  5. Income

First we looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau and compared the ratio of bars and restaurants to the population. Nobody wants to live in a city with limited entertainment options, and a lively nightlife means more opportunities to congregate with old friends and make new ones. The cities on our list had ratios that ranged from one restaurant for every 153 people to one restaurant for every 554 people.

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We also looked at the average daily commute times for each city. Why live in California if most of your time is spent in traffic? Among the top 10 cities, the average commute time is around 23 minutes. No matter what your commute, you don’t want to waste your life away in traffic with little payoff, so we factored in the average yearly income of each city. Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy a higher standard of living. Among the 10 best cities to live, the average yearly income is $110,261.

With that kind of income, you should hopefully get health insurance along with it, or at least have enough wages to offset the cost. For this quality-of-life measure, we noted that the lower the number of uninsured people in a city, the more likely it is that residents either receive benefits from employers or make enough to pay for their own plan. We also compared the crime rate, based on FBI data. Safety is an important factor in choosing where to live, and most people can agree that it can make or break their experience in a new city.

10. Rancho Mirage

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 295 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 773
  • Commute time: 22 minutes
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 8.6%
  • Income: $77,304

Rancho Mirage sits in the heart of Palm Springs, a region known for its balmy weather and posh resorts. You may not have heard of Rancho Mirage, but you’ve probably heard of Coachella, one of California’s biggest music festivals that takes place just outside of Rancho Mirage. While Rancho Mirage didn’t top our list in any of the categories, it does boast a good restaurant and bar per capita ratio of one restaurant for every 295 people. The average daily commute is only 22 minutes, which means more time enjoying the warm weather.

9. Milpitas

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 286 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 845
  • Commute time: 22.9
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 9.8%
  • Income: $99,447

Milpitas ranked #9 in our list; the average yearly income is just $99,447, falling below this list’s average, and the number of uninsured people is the highest on our list. However, its prime location in Silicon Valley makes it a great city to live, and doesn’t have the long commute times that most residents of nearby cities have to endure.

8. Cupertino

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 438 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 1,031
  • Commute time: 24.5
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 4.4%
  • Income: $127,534

As the home of Apple Inc., Cupertino is known for innovation and its diverse population. Cupertino has some of the most expensive real estate in the area, which makes sense considering that the average yearly income is $127,534. And you only have a one in 1,030 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime.

7. El Segundo

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 153 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 446
  • Commute time: 21.5
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 8.3%
  • Income: $86,364

For those looking for a more authentic Californian experience, El Segundo is located on the coast and is just a short drive to downtown Los Angeles. However, unlike its big city counterpart, El Segundo has one of the shortest commute times at 21.5 minutes. Entrepreneurial types can find their niche here as well, as it was voted the most business-friendly city in Los Angeles County in past years by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

6. Menlo Park

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 361 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 617
  • Commute time: 21.8
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 7.4%
  • Income: $113,774

Menlo Park looks and sounds like a city from a movie. Situated on the San Francisco Peninsula, it’s a charming town of just 32,881, but its proximity to San Francisco and San Jose minimize chances of boredom for residents here. Newcomers to Menlo Park will find themselves in good company, as the population is both affluent and educated. With a good restaurant per capita ratio and high average yearly salary, it’s easy to see why it’s #6 on our list.

5. Newport Beach

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 266 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 864
  • Commute time: 23.4
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 8.1%
  • Income: $109,677

Newport Beach is the quintessential California beach town. Its eight miles of beaches, boutique shops, and bustling harbor entice tourists to flock to its coastline every summer. Its crime rate is moderately low and its median yearly income high, but where this city really stands out is in its sheer number of restaurants, making it the highest performer for dining options on our list. Newport Beach has become a foodie haven, and chefs from around the world have opened up restaurants in recent years. And it’s not only for those with fat wallets: in January, residents participate in Restaurant Week, where they can sample gourmet food at bargain prices.

4. Los Altos

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 544 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 4,951
  • Commute time: 22.1
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 2.2%
  • Income: $154,821

Los Altos is a small bedroom community on the San Francisco peninsula that’s somehow close to everything, yet far away enough to maintain a rural atmosphere. It’s known for its quaint shopping district and various nature reserves, and was also on Forbes’ list as one of the most expensive areas for real estate. Not only does it have the lowest crime rate on our list at one in 4,971, but it also has the highest average income at $154,821.

3. Coronado

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 325 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 967
  • Commute time: 20.8
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 6.1%
  • Income: $89,277

Coronado Island is a beach lover’s dream. Its beach has been voted one of the top beaches in California by the Travel Channel, and its temperate climate ensures that you can enjoy the beach all year long. As a resort city off the coast of San Diego, it’s known to be bustling in the summer and rather empty in the winter. That’s probably why its commute time is the shortest on our list at 20.8 minutes. Coronado’s relatively low crime rate also makes it a safe city to call home.

2. Los Gatos

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 255 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 794
  • Commute time: 23.5
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 4.4%
  • Income: $121,933

Los Gatos is in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the most populated counties in California, but the small-town feel can make it seem like you’re far away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. A sense of community is encouraged, as shown by events like Shakespeare in the Park and Jazz on the Plazz. While it didn’t dominate in any category, Los Gatos does have a good restaurant-to-population ratio, low crime, and a high median income, giving it a push toward the top of our list.

1. Palo Alto

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 for every 272 inhabitants
  • Odds of being a victim of violent crime: 1 in 1,246
  • Commute time: 22.0
  • Percentage of people without health coverage: 5.1%
  • Income: $122,482

Palo Alto is a city of academics, engineers, and entrepreneurs, and is often hailed as the birthplace of Silicon Valley. For those looking for a city that celebrates intellect and invention, Palo Alto is where they can find their niche and be paid well for it, as its median income is $122,489 per year. The combination of its low crime rate, high number of restaurants, and low number of uninsured people made it #1 as the best city to live in California.


Choosing the perfect city to live in is a daunting task. Everybody has their own criteria of what makes a city livable. Hopefully our data has introduced you to some California cities that were previously off your radar but have exactly the type of amenities you want for the next place you call home. In the end, words can capture only so much of the true personality of a city - the only way to really know what it’s really like is to pack a bag, hop on a plane, and experience it for yourself.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

Cassy Perera is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Cassy Perera at cassy@creditdonkey.com

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