Spare Your Bank Account When Relocating to the Golden State: Check Out These Cheapest Places to Live in California

California

by Matt Lyons Posted on September 15, 2023

California’s famous for its surf culture, beautiful national parks, vast wine country, and a variety of attractive business opportunities, among other things. Due to its large population and land area with over 39 million residents, California is one of the most popular states to settle down in the entire nation. 

The state boasts many spots to explore some lovely natural beauty, such as the iconic Highway 101 and large coastal areas, which allow residents to enjoy long stretches of beaches and picturesque sunsets along the Pacific Ocean. The region also has quite diverse natural features, such as national parks, lakes, deserts, and mountains — some of which include Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.

But while the Golden State takes pride in so many of its great living perks, we all know it’s not always the most cost-friendly. In fact, California has the highest state income tax rate in the country that can reach as high as 13.3 percent, along with a 7.25 percent sales tax. In addition, it has some of the nation's highest gasoline taxes. And the average home price in California? It’s also quite high at nearly $750,000.

So what do you do if you have your heart set on moving to California but your mind is set on saving a buck? That’s where we come in. Take a look at some of our favorite cheapest places to live in California below.

Planning a move to California? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

12 Most Affordable Cities in California

Many California residents — especially young professionals and those living in larger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles — have been struggling with the increasing housing costs in recent years. Even with steadily increasing wages that are higher than the national average, Californians are financially strained, as the wage increases fail to keep pace with inflation. So when it comes to cities in California with a low(er) cost of living, here are 12 that stand out to us.

Q: Is there anywhere in California that’s affordable?
A: Despite being regarded as the most expensive place in the nation, California still has relatively affordable places to live, like Bakersfield and Fresno. Many of the state's affordable homes are located inland, but these also tend to be close to some of California's most popular attractions. Curious to find out more? Check out some of California's most affordable yet vibrant places to live!

A view of Downtown Bakersfield, California, on a cloudy day. In the foreground is the Padre Hotel.

Bakersfield, California
(Source: Visit Bakersfield via Facebook)

1. Bakersfield, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,475
  • Average home value: $378,600
  • Great for: Arts, culture, rich history, restaurants, cultural attractions, shopping, young professionals, families, retirees
  • Closest big CA city: Los Angeles
  • California's Central Valley region, which includes Bakersfield, has plenty of surprises that fly under the radar. The city used to be known mainly for its agricultural and oil industries but has since become an arts and culture hub. Its rich history still lives on, though, of course.

    This affordable city has reasonable home and rental prices. In fact, it’s actually regarded as one of the cheap places to rent in California because the average rent is actually lower than the national average. It is also known for its many cultural attractions and Basque restaurants, as well as a variety of antique shops and galleries. Those who want to explore the outdoors can visit the Wind Wolves Preserve, a cherished nature preserve in Bakersfield. 

    2. Clovis, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,650
  • Average home value: $497,000
  • Great for: Outdoor activities, national parks, museums, theaters, families, young professionals
  • Closest big CA city: Fresno
  • The town of Clovis is known as the “Gateway to the Sierras,” and it's also one of the cheapest places to live in California. This region has plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking, cycling, and jogging — all within a short drive of the town. Some of the parks nearby include Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Parks.

    Aside from its nearby parks, the city also has plenty of other attractions, like museums and theaters, that make it one of the best places to live in California for families. And if you're craving the hustle and bustle of a bigger city, Fresno is only a short 10-mile drive away!

    Aerial view of the historic Downtown District of Fresno, California, on a summer day.

    Fresno, California

    3. Fresno, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,550
  • Average home value: $365,900
  • Great for: Spanish charm, fun activities, creative community, parks, forests, proximity to Yosemite National Park, families
  • Closest big CA city: Bakersfield
  • The city of Fresno is located in California's agricultural heartland, and it's full of old-school Spanish charm, adventure, and unique experiences. It's also affordable when it comes to housing, and it features a vibrant arts and creative community, delicious farm-to-table cuisine, and an underground attraction that's hard to find elsewhere.

    Several of California's most popular national parks and forests, such as Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite, are just a quick drive away. Needless to say, there are plenty of opportunities for people to get in touch with nature in Fresno!

    4. Chico, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,100
  • Average home value: $462,700
  • Great for: College students, families, outdoor recreation activities, restaurants, young professionals
  • Closest big CA city: Sacramento
  • One of California's fastest-growing cities is Chico. Although it's best known for its university, which is one of the first state institutions in the state, it's also a hidden gem that offers a variety of affordable housing options — making it one of the cheapest places to live in northern California. Residents know that this area has plenty to offer, including great restaurants, cultural attractions, and outdoor recreation, which would be perfect for any young adult! DeGarmo Park and the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve are some of the outdoorsy highlights in the area.

    View of large waterfront houses in Oxnard, California, with the mountains in the distance.

    Oxnard, California

    5. Oxnard, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,575
  • Average home value: $704,300
  • Great for: Beaches, farming, local architecture, young professionals
  • Closest big CA city: Santa Barbara
  • One of the cheapest places to live in southern California — when it comes to coastal towns near Los Angeles, that is — is Oxnard, which is situated between Santa Barbara and L.A. This West Coast town features more than 20 miles of white sand beaches, several farm stands, world-class eateries, and a harbor that's ideal for easy access to the Channel Islands National Park.

    Oxnard's Heritage Square is where locals can explore the town's Victorian architecture. They can also visit one of the area's many car museums and enjoy the beach at Silver Strand.

    6. Vacaville, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,225
  • Average home value: $605,200
  • Great for: Tranquility, history, shopping, restaurants, bay area attractions, wine, families, retirees, young professionals
  • Closest big CA city: San Francisco
  • Located in the rolling hills west of Sacramento Valley, Vacaville is an ideal place for families looking for a place to live without the hustle of nearby San Francisco and Sacramento. It's also an affordable choice for people looking for a more authentic community with a rich history and vibrant culture. The town draws in visitors with its historic downtown and various stores and restaurants.

    Because of its proximity to some of the most popular Bay Area attractions, residents can do anything from visiting a fun museum to enjoying a day in the city of nearby Walnut Creek. Wine Country is also a must for residents to check out!

    Rooftop view of charming Eureka, California, and its quaint waterfront on a clear day.

    Eureka, California

    7. Eureka, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,100
  • Average home value: $424,100
  • Great for: Queen Anne homes, family-friendly activities, boat tours, hiking trails, young professionals, families
  • Closest big CA city: San Francisco
  • Located in Humboldt County, the city of Eureka is known for its small-town charm. It's also one of the largest coastal cities in the state. Fun fact: The city is filled with beautiful Queen Anne homes and, compared to other cities with similar architecture, the average home price is much more affordable. For example, in Eureka, the average home value is $424,100, but Rockville, Maryland’s, average home value is closer to $607,800
     
    There are plenty of family-friendly activities in this area, and it's easy to get around. Boat tours and maritime museums are abundant in the city, and people can actually see the fishmongers in action by taking a trip to the waterfront. There are also plenty of hiking trails and film locations to check out.

    8. Stockton, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,200
  • Average home value: $429,000
  • Great for: Waterfront scenery, waterways, outdoor activities, young professionals, families, retirees
  • Closest big CA city: Sacramento
  • Among the cheapest places to live in California is Stockton. Although it doesn’t look like it’s on the coast, it’s still a waterfront city and is connected to San Francisco Bay by the Stockton Downtown Marina.

    The city's marina is a vital part of its economy, and it provides residents with the opportunity to explore its many waterways and take in panoramic views of California. It also offers short winters and hot summers, and these allow people to enjoy various outdoor activities.

    In addition to its affordable housing, Stockton also has a variety of budget-friendly establishments, such as Genova Bakery and Manny’s California Fresh Cafe, which is ideal for retirees on a budget.

    Aerial view of the city of Fontana, California, and the surrounding mountains on a clear summer day.

    Fontana, California

    9. Fontana, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,875
  • Average home value: $593,200
  • Great for: Drag racing, beaches, tight-knit community, retirees
  • Closest big CA city: Los Angeles
  • If you're looking for a place that's affordable and has a deep history in racing, then look no further than California's San Bernardino County city of Fontana. It was home to drag racing during the 1950s, and the city's racing spirit continues to live on with regular events being held.

    Less than 50 miles away from L.A., you can easily visit the big city without having to pay for the big-city lifestyle. It also offers a variety of great job opportunities (perfect for young adults and working professionals) and is close to the beach. Who wouldn’t love that?

    10. Vallejo, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,100
  • Average home value: $544,600
  • Great for: Fun local attractions, waterfront community, families, retirees, diversity, young professionals
  • Closest big CA city: San Francisco
  • Located in the San Francisco Bay area, the city of Vallejo is a waterfront community that is known for having some gorgeous yet reasonably priced homes. It's also home to some of the area's most popular tourist attractions, like the Empress Theatre and the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The best part about this entertaining and affordable city? It's a great place for families, retirees, and young adults alike!
     
     Aerial view of Sacramento, California, including Tower Bridge and the Sacramento River, on a sunny summer day.

    Sacramento, California

    11. Sacramento, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,850
  • Average home value: $471,000
  • Great for: Fun local events, college students, agriculture, young professionals, safety
  • Closest big CA city: San Francisco
  • Looking for an affordable place that’s rich in California’s Gold Rush history? Sacramento checks those boxes! The city’s deep roots in agriculture have also grown into a diverse job market with plenty of opportunities for family fun. In fact, the city hosts various local events, such as the Farm-To-Fork Festival and the California State Fair.

    Because of its low cost of living, Sacramento is regarded as one of the state's best places to live. And those who want to pursue higher education can take advantage of several institutions in the city, such as California State University Sacramento and American River College.

    Q: Where is the cheapest city to live in California?
    A: Even though it is one of the state’s largest cities, Sacramento is also one of the more affordable places you can settle down.

    12. Coalinga, CA

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,150
  • Average home value: $273,400
  • Great for: Oil industries, college students, trails, restaurants, young professionals
  • Closest big CA city: Los Angeles & San Francisco
  • Located in Central Valley, California's Fresno County, and the San Joaquin Valley's western region, Coalinga is a relatively inexpensive place to live with great job opportunities in agricultural and oil industries. It also has a local college.

    There are plenty of things to do in Coalinga, such as exploring the many trails in the area or taking in the views from the San Joaquin Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It also has several restaurants and shopping establishments that are ideal for any budget!

    PODS Is Here to Help With Your Move to California

    If you’re planning on relocating to California and living in one of the cheapest areas in the state, you can certainly get help from PODS to get you there. They can provide you with a portable storage unit that you can use to pack and load your things on your schedule. And once you're ready, they'll deliver it to your new West Coast residence! It’s as easy as that!

    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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