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Spend Those Golden Years in the Golden State: The Best Cities to Retire in California

Retirement California

by Matt Lyons Posted on December 20, 2023

In search of a retirement destination that’s home to year-round beautiful weather, diverse views, and adventures around every corner? Then the Golden State of California could be your ticket to paradise! And you wouldn’t be the only one. In fact, nearly 16 percent of California’s population is 65 years of age or older. But where do these retirees prefer to live? Here are our top picks for the best cities to retire in California.

 

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Pros and Cons of Retiring in California

If you’re considering California as a legitimate retirement destination, it’s important to take into account the best living perks to look forward to as well as some of the drawbacks. 

Some of the major pros you can expect to experience when retiring in California? Those include:

  • Sunny weather: Many retirees tend to be snowbirds looking for new locations in warm climates. In sunny CA, there’s an estimated number of over 250 days of sunshine per year in the state, with temperatures staying comfortable year round in most areas.
  • An abundance of nature: From the scenic views along the coastline to the breathtaking sights at the various national parks (like Yosemite National Park), there is no shortage of natural beauty within the state.
  • Different activities to keep you busy: While California is ideal for exploring the outdoors, the state also boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene to take advantage of, along with fabulous shopping, dining, and other entertainment options.

The biggest drawback to retiring in California is the high cost of living, which is nearly 50 percent higher than the national average, with a cost of living index of 149.9. California is also not considered tax-friendly toward retirees, as withdrawals from retirement accounts and public/private pension income are fully taxed at a rate of 2 percent. Social Security income, however, is not taxed. 

Some other drawbacks of retiring in California include the potential for natural disasters, like the wildfires that they’ve dealt with in recent years. And with high temperatures and lack of rain throughout the year in the state, the risk of drought has also increased. 

Places To Retire in California – FAQs

Q: What is the best city to live in California for retirees?
A:
Carmel-by-the-Sea takes the top spot on Niche’s “2023 Best Places to Retire in California” list. 

Q: Where is the most affordable place to retire in California?
A:
Seal Beach is one of the most affordable places to retire in California. It also ranks among the top 10 places to retire in California, according to Niche. 

Q: Is California a good place to retire?
A:
It certainly is! Considering the state boasts a healthy and active lifestyle with so many options for outdoor recreation and entertainment, California is a fabulous place to fulfill your golden years!

Best Cities To Retire in California 

From quaint coastal sceneries to vibrant downtown areas, California is home to a mixture of places that cater to different retiree lifestyles. Take a look at our top choices for the best cities to retire in California.

View of beach houses and condos in Seal Beach, California, seen from the water. The Pacific is a bright blue, and the sand on the beach looks soft and fine. Tall, skinny palm trees poke up from behind the beachfront buildings.

Seal Beach, California

1. Seal Beach, CA

Seal Beach is a small, affordable city situated south of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It’s famous for its surfing scene, and it’s even home to the second longest wooden fishing pier in California. Many retirees living in Seal Beach enjoy the free access to the pier, but a fishing license is required to fish. 

Besides the pier, residents living in Seal Beach enjoy exploring the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for a diverse variety of plants and wildlife, such as migratory birds. And there’s always fun to be had at the annual events like the Summer Concert Series and Kite Festival

2. Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Situated between the major cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the beautiful town of Carmel, or “Carmel-by-the-Sea,” sits on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula. With history dating back all the way to the Spanish missionaries, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts a storybook atmosphere with “fairytale cottage” architecture. 

The arts and culture scene in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a major draw for many of its retired residents, as the town features venues such as the Golden Bough Playhouse and the Sunset Cultural Center, home to the Monterey Symphony and the Carmel Music Society

And to experience a bit of history and art, the Basilica Church located in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a registered National Historic Landmark with plenty of art galleries to explore. In fact, it’s considered the centerpiece of the Carmel Mission.

3. Del Monte Forest, CA

Wondering where to retire in California with mountain views? How about Del Monte Forest? Spanish for “of the mountain,” the area of Del Monte in Monterey County offers a diverse view of the region’s natural beauty, from the Pacific Ocean to the large Monterey pines. 

There are a variety of things for retired residents to do while living in Del Monte Forest, whether it be indoors or outdoors. For those who enjoy spending their free time shopping, the Del Monte Shopping Center is a nearly 700,000-square-foot regional shopping center with stores, dining, and entertainment. And for those who like to stay active, The Links at Spanish Bay is one of the best local golf courses that offers scenic views to enjoy while you play. 

The local Pebble Beach also provides picturesque views at locations like the Bird Rock Vista Point, where you can explore the coast and bird-watch!

Aerial view of luxury mansions in Beverly Hills, California. The large estates intermingle with lush trees and vegetation for a natural escape from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.

Beverly Hills, California

4. Beverly Hills, CA

The city of Beverly Hills is a familiar name to many across the world, as it's known for its exclusive and high-end aura. Filled with luxurious estates, high-end shopping opportunities, dining, and more, you’ll certainly be living the prestigious lifestyle throughout your golden years if you decide to retire in Beverly Hills!

The world-famous “90210” ZIP Code is home to an extravagant shopping experience, to say the least, with Rodeo Drive at the heart of the city. In fact, Rodeo Drive is best described as a three-block stretch of luxury that boasts the glamorous lifestyle of the city, with world-renowned shopping destinations that include Gucci, Fendi, and Saint Laurent. 

The culinary scene in Beverly Hills caters to people with a variety of different tastes, as it showcases many diverse Michelin-starred establishments, like the Nozawa Bar and n/naka. And for the best entertainment options, residents can travel to the nearby cultural epicenter of Los Angeles to explore art galleries, theaters, and a variety of nightlife options.

5. Walnut Creek, CA

Walnut Creek is the best retirement city in California for outdoor and arts enthusiasts. Situated in the hills east of San Francisco and Oakland, the Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area is one of the best spots for outdoor recreation, such as hiking, swimming, and picnicking. And a major cultural institution available to explore in Walnut Creek is the Lesher Center for the Arts, home to year-round family-friendly and holiday events. The California Symphony, Civic Arts Program, and Clay Arts Guild are other arts and culture happenings you’ll want to be sure to check out. 

6. Larkspur, CA

Retirees who enjoy having access to a vibrant downtown area should consider the city of Larkspur. It’s the best place to retire in California for those who enjoy staying active in local festivities, exploring local outdoor hotspots, and, of course, shopping and eating!

The area around downtown Larkspur is referred to as Magnolia Avenue by local residents, and it features a variety of luxury shops and local restaurants like the Left Bank Brasserie, Mag's Local Yogurt, Emporio Rulli, and Pizzeria Pico. The historic Lark Theater, which was recently restored to its former glory, is a great venue for live music and film, when you're looking for a fun night out on the town.

And if you want an outdoor adventure, consider visiting the beautiful Baltimore Canyon Preserve for a hike among the stately trees. Mount Tamalpais State Park also provides picturesque views along with a variety of biking and hiking trails ideal for people of all ages.

A small white sailboat glides through Newport Bay past a busy coast in Newport Beach, California. Tall, skinny palm trees are spaced evenly behind the colorful waterfront buildings, creating a distinct skyline.

Newport Beach, California

7. Newport Beach, CA

Retirees seeking a lively atmosphere will fit right in at the coastal city of Newport Beach, as it’s the best city to retire in California for those who love spending time outdoors, engaging with the local community, and shopping (of course).

Residents with younger grandkids can easily visit Balboa Island for fun family-friendly activities like whale watching, shopping, dining, or simply enjoying the ocean breeze. 

And the local Fashion Island mall features a wide variety of stores and restaurants, while the Newport Beach weekly farmers’ market is the best way to snag local produce and goods. 

The active community of Newport Beach also boasts several engaging festivals throughout the year, including the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival and the Newport Beach Jazz Festival

8. Del Mar, CA

Nestled in San Diego’s North County Coastal region, the small city of Del Mar is most ideal for retirees who are searching for more of a laid-back lifestyle, as it’s home to a serene and tranquil atmosphere along the breathtaking coastline.

Besides the natural beauty of Del Mar and its spectacular beaches, retired residents can find lots of ways to keep themselves entertained throughout the city. The Del Mar Village, for example, is a charming and vibrant downtown area just 20 miles north of San Diego that provides shopping, dining, and a variety of other entertainment experiences like horse racing.  

And the Del Mar Racetrack attracts horse lovers from all over the world, as it’s a prominent local institution for world-class horse racing during the summer season. 

9. Alamo, CA

The city of Alamo encompasses most of the best things that the state of California has to offer, from the nature parks to the restaurants to the vibrant arts and culture scene. 

For the best hiking experience, retired outdoor enthusiasts living in Alamo can explore the local Ringtail Cat Staging Area. And for the best local arts and cultural experiences, retired residents living in Alamo can explore popular attractions, such as the Blackhawk Museum and the Board & Brush Creative Studio in nearby Walnut Creek. Foodies living in Alamo are pretty satisfied, too, as there are a variety of quality local restaurants, such as The Peasant’s Courtyard and Alamo Palace

Aerial view of a coastal road in Pacific Grove, California. The residential side of the road is lined with high-end homes and shade trees, and the coastal side is rocky with a steep drop-off.

Pacific Grove, California

10. Pacific Grove, CA

Similar to Del Mar, Pacific Grove is a quaint coastal city that’s most ideal for retirees looking for a peaceful and laid-back lifestyle. Sitting between Pebble Beach and Monterey, and located at the tip of the Monterey Bay Peninsula, Pacific Grove is best known for its beautiful Victorian homes, fabulous golf course, and even a butterfly sanctuary

Along with the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, Pacific Grove Art Center, and Point Pinos Lighthouse, Pacific Grove also boasts 28 parks with stunning views of plants and wildlife, including Lovers Point Park & Beach, a great place to swim. Asilomar State Beach is another hotspot that showcases the area’s natural beauty. 

11. Cerritos, CA

The city of Cerritos in Los Angeles County truly offers something special for every personality, whether you prefer peace and quiet or you’re looking for a vibrant vibe. Residents of Cerritos enjoy a variety of local amenities designed to keep them active. Some of these include Liberty Park, Cerritos Sports Complex, and Los Coyotes Country Club, which offers a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a golf course.

And in addition to a variety of ways to stay active, the city of Cerritos also has a variety of cultural and entertainment facilities, which include the Cerritos Library and the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, featuring performances in music, dance, and theater. 

12. Montecito, CA

Located just about five miles from Santa Barbara, the small town of Montecito is in a secluded area with the most gorgeous coastal views, a variety of fun (yet difficult) hiking trails, and plenty of restaurants that leave local residents and tourists more than satisfied. 

Because Montecito is situated at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, residents can enjoy excellent hiking that comes along with the most scenic coastal views. Some of the popular trails in the area include the San Ysidro Trail, the Hot Springs Canyon Trail, and the Cold Spring Trail.

There are plenty of world-class restaurants in the area, and Bettina is, by far, one of the residents’ favorites. This Italian restaurant serves authentic Neapolitan pizza, made with California's finest ingredients.

On the other hand, Stonehouse at San Ysidro ranch is a great place for an upscale meal. This Victorian home has beautiful creekside views and is known for its modern menu, which features lots of fresh seafood. During the weekends, you can even enjoy a champagne brunch.

A retired couple speaks with a PODS driver as he opens the door to the PODS portable moving container in their driveway.

PODS Can Help With Your California Move

If you're looking to relocate to California and need help moving and storing your things, look no further than PODS. PODS will provide you with a portable storage container that can be delivered to your doorstep, where you can load your belongings at your own leisure. And each move includes one month of storage, so you can easily unload your things without feeling rushed, as well.

Editor’s note: For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

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