A group of six friends dancing on a California beach during sunset. There’s a mountain range in the distance, and the sun is so bright that the people mostly look like silhouettes.

12 of the Cheapest Places To Live in California (Your Bank Account Will Thank You!)


by Matt Lyons Posted on June 28, 2024

From the beaches of San Diego to the serene beauty of wine country and everything in between, California truly has something for everyone. But so many amazing destinations also come with a steep price tag — and it’s no secret that the Golden State isn’t the most affordable place to live. So what to do if you have your heart set on Hollywood but your wallet isn’t cooperating? We’ve got you covered. Read on for the lowdown on some of the cheapest places to live in California. And don’t worry: “Cheap” doesn’t have to mean “chintzy.” 

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

First, a few facts to set the stage: After several years of declining population, the state is back on a growth trajectory, with 67,000 new residents in the past year joining the 39.1 million Californians already there.  

And all those people pay a whole lot of taxes. In fact, California has the highest state income tax rate in the country, reaching as high as 13.3 percent, along with a 7.25 percent sales tax. It also has some of the highest gasoline taxes in the U.S. And the average home price in California? A whopping $786,900 — up more than 7 percent from last year. 

Ok, that’s the bad news. The good news? Much of the Golden State’s appeal lies in its natural beauty, including iconic destinations like the Pacific Coast Highway, Yosemite National Park, and Lake Tahoe. Are any of those places affordable? Keep reading. 

12 Most Affordable Cities in California

Many California residents — especially young professionals and urbanites in larger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles — have been struggling with the increasing housing costs in recent years. Even with steadily rising wages that are higher than the national average, Californians are financially strained, as the pay increases fail to keep pace with inflation. So being able to take advantage of the cheapest cities to live in California is more important than ever. Here are 12 that stand out.

Bakersfield, once an agricultural and oil industry hub, has become a true arts and culture destination in California’s Central Valley.
(Source: Visit Bakersfield via Facebook)

1. Bakersfield, CA

California's Central Valley region, which includes Bakersfield, has plenty of surprises that fly under the radar. Once an agricultural and oil industry hub, the city has become a true arts and culture destination with places including The Empty Space, a local theater, and the Bakersfield Museum of Art. The city is also known for having more Basque restaurants than any other place in the U.S. 

Locals take pride in the “Bakersfield sound,” a distinct sub-genre of country music that emerged in the 1960s as a twangy, honky-tonk alternative to the polished Nashville scene. And today, the Buck Owens Crystal Palace live music venue and museum keeps the legend alive with tours and weekly dinner and dancing events. 

As for housing, this affordable city has reasonable home and rental prices. In fact, Bakersfield is regarded as one of the cheap places to live in California, with rental costs actually lower than the national average

Q: Where is the cheapest place to live on the coast of California?
One of the least expensive California coastal towns is Eureka — 8 percent higher than the national cost of living, but 28 percent lower than the Golden State average.

2. Clovis, CA

The town of Clovis is known as the “Gateway to the Sierras” — and it's also one of the cheapest cities to live in California. This region has plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking, cycling, and jogging, with plenty of parks and green spaces within a short drive. Nearby favorites include Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon — both gems in the National Parks system.

Besides outdoor pursuits, Clovis attractions include museums and theaters that make it one of the best places to live in California for families. The charming historic district of Old Town Clovis is home to antique stores, taverns, and local eateries. 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.

A vibrant arts scene is a hallmark of Fresno, one of the most affordable cities in California. 

3. Fresno, CA

Located in California's agricultural heartland, Fresno is full of old-school Spanish charm, adventure, and unique experiences. It's also affordable when it comes to housing, with one-bedroom apartments averaging about $1,550 per month. Homes are also in the reachable range in communities like Fig Garden Meadows, a gated enclave in the Northeast quarter of Fresno.  

The city features a vibrant arts and creative community, including the Fresno Art Museum, local galleries, and the astonishing Forestiere Underground — a subterranean network of rooms, tunnels, and gardens created in the early 1900s by Sicilian immigrant and artist Baldassere Forestiers. Today, visitors can take a 60-minute guided tour of this underground attraction, designed as a respite from the California heat — definitely a unique Golden State find.

Q: Is there anywhere in California that’s affordable?
Despite data showing the Golden State as the most expensive in the nation, it can still be relatively affordable, like in Bakersfield and Fresno. But where is the cheapest place to live in California? 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 the state’s best small towns, many of which are among the most affordable places to live in California.

4. Chico, CA

Although this fast-growing city is best known as a college town — home of California State University, Chico — it’s also one of the cheapest places to live in California’s northern region. And it’s truly a hidden gem. Home prices are a bit steep, but rentals are still reasonable thanks to the student population. Options include Chico’s charming downtown and newer developments like California Park, a planned community of almost 2,000 single-family homes, apartments, and condos on the east side of Chico. 

This area has plenty to offer, including great restaurants, cultural attractions, and outdoor recreation. The downtown district hosts weekly summertime gatherings, including a Thursday night farmer’s market and Friday night live music. And if festive crowds aren’t your thing, 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, features more than 20 miles of beaches and a harbor that’s ideal for easy access to Channel Islands National Park.

5. Oxnard, CA

One of the cheapest places to live in Southern California — when it comes to coastal towns, that is — is Oxnard, situated between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Homes, as you might expect, are more pricey the closer you get to the oceanfront, in neighborhoods like Oxnard Shores, for instance, where well over $1 million is the norm. But affordable options are available in Oxnard communities like Southwinds, which has a mix of single-family homes and apartments. 

This West Coast haven features more than 20 miles of white sand beaches and a harbor that's ideal for easy access to the Channel Islands National Park. And downtown, Oxnard's Heritage Square is where locals can explore the town's lovingly restored Victorian architecture, stroll through beautiful gardens, and enjoy live music through the summer months. 

6. Vacaville, CA

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. It's also an affordable choice for people looking for an authentic community with a rich history and vibrant culture. The town draws visitors to its historic downtown, where the calendar is packed with community events.

Housing options are varied and cater to a wide range of residents — including rentals around the nearby Travis Air Force Base, luxury living in the community of Cheyenne, and apartment homes and condos in the Villas at North Village. Vacaville is also a popular retirement spot, thanks to its gorgeous climate and landscape, with communities like Leisure Town geared toward senior lifestyles.

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

Eureka, California, is known for its small-town charm, active coastal lifestyle, and abundance of beautiful Queen Anne-style homes.

7. Eureka, CA

Located in Humboldt County, Eureka is known for its small-town charm, active coastal lifestyle, and abundance of beautiful Queen Anne homes. And compared to other historic areas with similar architecture, the average home price here is much more affordable: historic Rockville, Maryland, for example, has an average home value of $624,300 — over $200,000 more than Eureka’s average.
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. Outdoor dining spots include Cafe Marina on Woodley Island, with stunning views across Humboldt Bay. 

Q: What state is like California but cheaper?
The Golden State’s eastern neighbor, Nevada, is as similar to California as any state could be in terms of lifestyle and climate — but less expensive. In fact, the cost of living in Las Vegas is almost 59 percent less than in Los Angeles. 

8. Stockton, CA

Among the cheapest places to live in California is Stockton. Although on a map it doesn’t look like it’s on the coast, this waterfront city is connected to San Francisco Bay by the Stockton Downtown Marina — a vital part of the local economy. And thanks to short winters and hot summers, residents can enjoy the bay and all the outdoor activities it offers.

While Stockton has struggled in recent years with economic challenges, the city is undergoing revitalization efforts by boosters and local leaders. South Pointe, for instance, a new 500-unit apartment community underway on the waterfront, is intended to improve affordable housing options for longtime residents and newcomers alike. 

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

Fontana, California, is just 50 miles from Los Angeles, allowing residents to enjoy big city perks without the big city cost of living.

9. Fontana, CA

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. Famously home to drag racing since the 1950s, the Auto Club Speedway was recently demolished — but plans are in the works to build a new track.

Around 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

Located in the San Francisco Bay area, the city of Vallejo is a waterfront community known for gorgeous yet reasonably priced homes. It's also the site of 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.

Vallejo neighborhoods include Harry Floyd Terrace, an urban district of high-rise apartments and older buildings dating to the mid-1900s, and South Vallejo, with suburban conveniences and a family-friendly vibe.

Aerial view of Sacramento, California, including Tower Bridge and the Sacramento River, on a sunny summer day.

Even though it’s one of the state’s largest cities, Sacramento is also one of the more affordable places you can settle down.

11. Sacramento, CA

Looking for an affordable place that’s rich in California’s Gold Rush history? The state capital of Sacramento checks the boxes. The city’s deep roots in agriculture have also grown into a diverse job market, and those who want to pursue higher education can take advantage of several institutions, including California State University Sacramento and American River College.

But Sacramento’s not all about government, work, and school. Plenty of opportunities for family fun include events like the annual Farm-To-Fork Festival in September and the California State Fair, which comes to town in July. And as for housing, Land Park is a family favorite for a peaceful vibe and strong sense of community — with the added bonus of a commercial district that’s chock full of ethnic restaurants, serving everything from Nepalese to Ethiopian cuisines.

Q: Where is the cheapest city to live in California?
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

Located in Central Valley, California's Fresno County, and the San Joaquin Valley's western region, Coalinga is definitely considered a contender for the cheapest city in California, with average homes priced well below the national and state averages. In the middle-income Coalinga East neighborhood, true to the region’s culture and history, there is a greater proportion of farmers, foresters, and fishers than in almost 98 percent of all other American neighborhoods. 

There are also 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. Coalinga Mineral Springs Park and the Harris Ranch Resort serve as local landmarks and tourist destinations.

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. A portable storage unit will arrive in your driveway for packing and loading on your own schedule. And once you're ready, PODS will 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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