15 Best Places to Live in Northern California in 2023

In California, the territorial division can be made into two parts. Northern and Southern California are both great places to stay, but Northern California has better perks.

Like it is cost-effective for millennials to live with all the basic comforts of life that one can expect. It has a lot of treasures to attract people from worldwide as it also forms a good baseline in terms of education, recreational facilities, and employment opportunities.

best places to live in northern california

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay any extra penny, but I’ll get a small commission that encourages me to deliver more helpful content for you.

What Makes Northern California Better than Southern California

The beach, coast, inland valley, and snowcapped mountains are forever great for any single person, ex-pats, students, or the whole family. The pollution-free surroundings also make northern California a great place for retirees and senior citizens.

Northern California offers world-class cuisine, art, architecture, tourism, attractions, and industry. It has some of the best universities in the country and huge job opportunities. Also, for families, it is one of the great spots to take their children to explore zoos, botanical gardens, and parks.

So, if one is planning to switch to any part of the USA, one must be inspired by what’s written below. Let us check out the best places to live in Northern California.

The cost of living in California is more expensive than in the rest of the country but still, it is manageable.

The average cost of living in Northern California is somewhere between $40,000-$46500 per year(although it varies from person to person).

If you are in a dilemma choosing between California and Florida, check out this article before taking your final decision.

1. Pleasanton

  • Population: 81,717 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 103.5(100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $1,409,100
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 25.88
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.9-6.0 %

The city tops the list of the best places to stay in Northern California. Pleasanton is iconic and located in the heart of the region. San Francisco is not far as well.

The hills are rolling far and wide which is also the home to many big and small vineyards. Wine lovers love the place for this reason.

The residents also get the taste of good food served in the restaurants.

People who would move here would also find the facility of schools and universities which have good curricula and well infrastructure. This is also the best place for retirees to live in Northern California.


  • The sunlight is perfect there.
  • The countryside is stunningly pretty.

Cons: The tourists get attracted due to the wide range of wine that is manufactured here. So, it might not be a good choice for peace seekers.


2. Menlo Park

  • Population: 34138 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 355.1 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $2,075,905
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 26.47
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.9%

It is truly a gem in northern California to reside. The close neighbors are Napa and Sonoma County. People can also get access to San Francisco, which is only some kilometers away. This is one of the best places to live in Northern California.

People here are down-to-earth and live in a cost-effective manner. The cost of living is also not exorbitant.

The housing prices are 20% lower than in San Francisco. People get amenities of higher quality here along with options for outdoor activities.


  • An affordable wine country relatively in every manner.
  • It is also heaven for food bloggers and lovers.


  • There might be concerns about traffic.
  • The cost of housing is also increasing with the passing time.
Best Places to Live in Northern California_Menlo Park
Menlo Park

3. Davis

  • Population: 68,543 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 161 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $767.5K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 49
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.9-6.0 %

It is almost like a small beautiful community that has happy-go-lucky people and Sacramento is not far also. Davis is one of the fastest-growing cities in California. The structure is a mixture of a town and a city. The place is mostly residential and deals with amenities that must be required for families who come here for the first time. There are nice parks here sprawling over acres of land with trees cut and maintained for their natural beauty.

There are options for commercial parks also. There are numerous options to wine and dine and almost everything is connected to the heart of the town.

READ NEXT:  5 Best Santa Cruz Tide Pools Spots in California

There are large and small supermarkets as well as a trail of retail kiosks and stores.

The airport is also not far and is just some kilometers away by drive. For tourists who have come to California for educational and recreational purposes may settle here.


  • The town built is unique for people who are into adventure sports.
  • Very good to stay for Millennials.
  • The location is great as it is surrounded by mountains and other large towns and cities.


  • The cost of living is very high here.
  • The neighborhood and the surrounding region are suburban.

4. Monterey

  • Population: 28,352 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 176.4 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $997.5K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 46.74
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.5%

It is a famous place all over the world for its beaches. The life of surfers gets blessings here as there are options for whale watching as well.

The old-school vibe of that colonial California can be sensed in Monterey. The views are amazing here that is for sure, with great opportunities to entertain yourself with long sprawling venues, hearty weather, and over the average teaching institutions.



  • The living cost is soaring high here.
  • Rate of crime is growing with each passing year.

5. San Luis Obispo

  • Population: 47,302 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 163.9 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $829K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 4.72%
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.5%

This place has Wolf lake which makes it a great place to reside. It has a combination of world-class education, fussy crimes and the cost of living is moderately high with a huge diversity.

It has truly something for anybody who dwells here and is homely in its way.


  • The livability of San Lusi Obispo is more than average.
  • The standard of life is good overall.
  • The cost of living is lower than in the rest of Northern California. Some regions can be a bit higher than others. That can be marked in the federal and state level measurements.
  • The place is equipped with convenient transportation, food services, good health system.

Cons: In the land of San Luis Obispo, the rates of crime are mostly on the higher slab. People moving here might face concerns due to the rising crime rate.

6. Santa Cruz

  • Population: 64,522 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 203.5 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $832
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 44 Unemployment Rate: 5.3%

Located near Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is just half an hour away from San Francisco. The bay is the gateway to enjoy the pristine water of the Pacific Ocean.

The weather is apt for getting some soft sun that is not harsh on the skin. An abode of both sea and mountain.


  • A great place that is a hub to find various types of entertainment.
  • People can find a community of surfers, and creative recreational activities that do not take place in other parts of the world.
  • The weather is fine and thus food gets easily digested here without motion sickness or gastritis, heaven for senior citizens. You will also find here some of the best senior living communities in northern California.


  • The place is a bit on the expensive side if we look into avenues of settlement.
  • Buying or renting a place here might be pocket pinching.
Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz

Read Also: 9 Most Affordable Places to Live in the Bay Area

7. San Mateo

  • Population: 77,000 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 203.5 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $1.7 M
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 3.05 %
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.0%

San Mateo is located around 20 miles toward the southern edge of San Francisco. It is a lively city and is often termed Silicon Valley.

The biggest companies like Facebook or Google are just hours away. The employment opportunities are high here as it is the hub of the biggest tech giants or one may think of their startup as well.

Read Also: 10 Most Romantic Vacation Spots in California


  • Tech giants give a lot of employment opportunities
  • The season is mellow here all around the year thus living becomes sweat-free.
  • There are several parks for your pet to grab some fresh air and also for you to heal in the laps of nature.
READ NEXT:  9 Magical Secret Spots and Hidden Gems in Southern California


  • High cost of living.
  • It is a prime location, thus is populous and polluted.
  • Medical cost is sky-reaching.

8. Walnut Creek

  • Population: 69,567 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 195.1(100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $725K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 5.0%
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.90%

The place is affordable by all means and the cost of living is also low in comparison to other parts of California. If you are looking for the cheapest places to live in northern California, Walnut Creek can be your best bet. The crime rate is lower and there are various amenities like shopping malls, restaurants, pubs, discotheques, hotels, motels, etc. Walnut Creek is considered to be the best community in Northern California.

The poverty rate is low thus it makes a safe place to reside in. But it is not a place for affordable and quality education.

If you want to invest in something sustainable, then this is the right choice.


  • The place is livable.
  • The living cost is lower than in the rest of the region.

Cons: Education is not available here in an affordable or qualitative manner.

Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek

9. Palo Alto

  • Population: 66,573 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: $471 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value:  $3.3M
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 3.6
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.10%

Palo Alto is a good place to work and thrive. It is beyond the idea of what is seen in the movies like “Silicon Valley”. A Magical Bridge Playground is present here and it is popular among local children. Hiking or running can be done as there are clubs which offer these sports.

You might also like to read: 10 Most Scenic Hikes in Lake Tahoe


  • The culture is rich here as people from different cultures cause a “culture-vation”.
  • New friends are readily available.
  • Dining choices of various genres like Mexican, Korean, and Chinese are available.


  • Loss of the old world charm due to tourists and Millennials stepping in daily.
  • Day trip adventures are very costly here.

10. Cameron Park

  • Population: 19,171 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 148.0 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $665K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents:5.5%
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.3%

It is one of the best small towns in northern California to live on a budget. Cameron Park is quite a valued place as it opens newer opportunities for hikers, and transportation workers. The local community is friendly and there are vents for elite class study in sophisticated schools and crèche options are also available for working moms. But this region freezes during the winter season.


  • It is good for pilots as it is also known as an airfare estate.
  • The airport is nearby and the roads are easy to commute to work or any other locations.


  • The living cost here is 40% higher than in the rest of the part of the USA.
  • One needs to pay more for groceries, healthcare, and basic utilities.

Read Also: Top 10 Places to Live in California

11. Lafayette

  • Population: 127,000 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 87.7 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $244.8K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 6.6%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4%

It is a mid-sized city but there is a recent decline in the new residential pull. The population is booming in this region and one would get a dense urban feel because people typically live and work at the same time here. People hardly want to live in this part of Northern California.


  • The place is livable and the cost of living is not burning to the pockets.
  • Options to get education and support to enlighten oneself are available.


  • The crime rate is ever increasing in this place.
  • The environmental factors are degrading the natural quality.

12. Folsom

  • Population: 78,159 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 148.2 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $799K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 2.2%
  • Unemployment Rate: 3%

Folsom is a place with an active lifestyle and modern outlook among Millennials.

The housing options are a bit expensive but due to high demand now cheaper segments are also available here and there.

The place is anyway a safer option to stay in. But then again during the summer months, people suffer from heat waves.

READ NEXT:  The Ultimate Guide to Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary with 13 Stops


  • The place is kids and family-friendly.
  • Fishing and boat riding is popular here.
  • Outdoor malls and snorkeling are also open in this region.


  • The land is filled with pollens during springtime so might cause asthma attacks.
  • Great schooling option is not readily available.

13. Orinda

  • Population:19,646 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 291.1 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $1.7M
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 5.5%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4%

Orinda is present in the central region of Contra Costa County which is in the exterior of Oakland, Northern California.

It is also known as “Highway 24” because of the presence of modern high-end stores and downtown restaurants. It is considered to be the affordable beach town in Northern California.

It has a family-oriented vibe that is surrounded by hillsides. It is the best city to live in Northern California apt for young adults.

Pros: Cluster of motels, hotels, and restaurants.

Cons: The town is fragmented into small villages that are underdeveloped.

Read Next: 10 most inexpensive places to visit in California

14. Rocklin

  • Population: 64,835 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: 137.8 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $685K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 2%
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.5%

It gives an urban feel and is slow-paced, better than surrounding suburban regions.

It is better than packed cities as there is a balance of the population. The community is closely knit.


  • The livability is pretty good to go.
  • The cost of living is not pocket pinching.

Cons: There are no such cons. Almost everything is available, affordable and composite.


15. Ridgecrest

  • Population: 28,755 (2019)
  • Cost of Living Index: $96.0 (100=National Leverage)
  • Median Home Value: $267K
  • Crime Rate/1,000 Residents: 2.2%
  • Unemployment Rate: 3%

New residents still move here as it provides cost-effective education, good colleges, high safety.

It has a suburban feel. Families looking for larger space can easily settle here. You will find here some of the most popular Northern Californian attractions like Little Petroglyph Canyon, Rainbow Basin Natural Area, and China Lake Naval Weapons Center.

Pros: The cost of living is effective for Millennials.

Cons: The population size is high.


Nobody regrets moving to Northern California because it has so much to offer that makes life worth it. The towns are quite prosperous with untamed beauty all over the place that is so natural and exquisite.

The opportunities to get involved in leisure and other vents like adventure sports have bright possibilities. But the job market is booming in the northern part of California with an extremely low rate of crime being committed.

Certainly, there are pros and cons to living in California. Although, the cost of living is high here, however, the weather and recreational activities attract tourists in a greater format.

Read Next:

FAQs – Best Places to Live in Northern California

1. What are the most expensive places in Northern California?

Ans: The most expensive places in Northern California are Mountain View, Menlo Park, Woodside, Napa, Orinda, and Redwood City. These are some of the best neighborhoods in North California.

2. Is Sacramento a good place to live in?

Ans: Sacramento is meant to be one of the better places to live in as per safety is concerned. It has many mountain chains surrounding it and offers plenty of free attractions and activities. It is one of the best places to live in northern California with families. The inhabitants of this place are mostly friendly.

3. Where should I not live in Northern California?

Ans: Salinas is a place where one should not live in Northern California. The study of this place depicts more than 39 homicide murders, 1098 crimes that were quite violent, 80 or more rapes. Here is a list of the 11 most dangerous places in California.

4. What city in Northern California has the lowest cost of living?

Ans: Chico is one of the cheapest and safest places to reside in Northern California. As the market structure of Chico is very competitive thus livability is highly apt. A Northern California town to live in with kids is here.

Similar Posts


    1. Hi James, you can stay in Palm Valley, Pensacola or Fleming Island to live a peaceful retired life.

  1. tv schedule today says:

    I’m so excited for Northern California in 2023! I can’t wait to see all the new places and neighborhoods that have been created!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *