Living In California: 9 Questions To Ask Before You Move

Discover all the benefits and disadvantages of living in the Golden State, the costs, the best areas and whether you should choose California as your next destination.

Imagine a world where you can ski snowy mountains in one city and then spend the next day on the beach in another, just a few hours away. This is Cali. 

It’s not surprising so many people flock to and inhabit the Golden State every year—California’s size gives it the ability to have so many things to do, no matter what your interests are. 

Throughout this guide, we highlight everything you should know about living in California before you relocate.

Is it a good idea to live in California?

California is often depicted as the land of opportunity, and you’ve probably heard once or twice that those who move there are doing so to follow their dreams. The artists. The creatives. 

Living in California
Manhattan Beach, a laid back South Bay community, boasts 115 acres of beautiful sandy beaches.

Yes, California has enough Hollywood talent and pop music to go around, but the truth is, it can be a good fit for just about anyone—from city dwellers to rural-living devotees.

Do you spend your weekends looking for new wineries or happy-hour bars to frolic through with your friends? Then North Cali’s the place for you, vineyards and all. 

Are you dreaming about leaving your cold, rainy state and craving warm living? Look no further than Los Angeles, which is literally another name for 75 and sunny. 

Do you like diversity, tacos, and world-class beaches? You’ll love San Diego.

Interests aside, California is brilliant for careers or business opportunities. The area is home to some of the nation’s top universities, including Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of California-Los Angeles. 

The Bay Area, composed of Silicon Valley, is home to major tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Facebook. 

These all contribute to its strong economy, making it an even more attractive state if you want to start a new career or accelerate in your current one. When it comes to what you can gain from moving to California, there really is no limit. 

Why is California great for retirement? 

With the second-highest cost of living in the country, California is not a cheap place to retire.

While the cost of living is higher than in other states, all Social Security benefit payments to retired people are exempt from personal income tax, which is a huge win. 

Most people seeking retirement are looking for a place with warm sunny beaches, and California’s 900-mile coastline boasts just that. Add to that an abundance of outdoor activities, food options, and culture, and it quickly becomes a senior’s living dream. 

California’s life expectancy rate is the second-highest in the nation, and its quality of life is a major contributing factor. I guess we can also chalk it up to the sand, sun, and surf. 

Is California a safe place to live?

In general, California is a safe place to live. Although such a large place does mean there are shadier spots you shouldn’t be alone in at night. 

Living in California
Venice Beach bike trail is 22 miles long and great for bicycles, roller skates and skateboards alike.

Just as in any big city, homeless people are plentiful and with them bring crime and robbery. As long as you’re not flaunting your wallet and walking through an alley by yourself, you’ll be fine.  

The only other thing you should be concerned about in terms of safety in California is traffic accidents. The highways are always congested and Californians drive loud and proud, very different from what you might have been used to in your home country. 

What are the pros and cons of living in California?

California has so much to offer expats. Keep reading to find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of your new home.

So what is so great about living in California?

With a big state comes all sorts of different people and ways of living. California really offers it all.

1. The climate 

Much of California has a Mediterranean-like climate with warm summers and mild, rainy winters.

If you live along the coast, you can feel the constant breeze of the ocean even when inside your cozy apartment, so much so that it feels refreshing to keep the windows open.

Los Angeles county’s beach town of Long Beach has an average of 31 rainy days each year, and let me tell you, that one rainy day a month is much needed.  

2. An abundance of culture

From the food to the festivals, California is known for its diversity.

You can find people from all over the world here, and often they bring their talents here and start great businesses like French Cafes, Mexican breakfast joints, or hotshot music artists.

Californians are known for their individualistic personalities and the state accept them with open arms, allowing anyone to live under his or her own beliefs. 

3. More economic opportunities 

The third-largest state in the US is known for its creative talent and its plethora of opportunities. Many successful businesses have established their roots here, including Wells Fargo and Airbnb.

Education is also a lot more rigid in California compared to say the east coast of the United States, so the ones that do get degrees here are more competitive. 

California might be known for its high-tech, but this isn’t the only booming industry.

Some would be surprised to know that agricultural jobs still make up a lot of the jobs in areas such as the Central Valley, and other industries including entertainment, sports, and marketing follow close behind.

The truth is, people come here to follow their dreams and expand their careers because it is the place where they can. 

4. Plenty of recreational options

California is known for being an overall health-conscious state. Its inhabitants are no strangers to fitness, protein donuts, and fresh, local foods. 

Living in California
The road leading to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California.

Living here makes a healthier lifestyle that much easier because it’s so easy to spend all day outside. In just a distance’s reach, you have trails, hikes, beaches, outdoor gyms, parks, bike paths, etc. All at your disposal. 

Another great thing about California is its proximity to national parks such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Zion in Utah. 

5. It’s a very friendly place

It’s a very friendly state and welcoming to new people—I mean, it better be, with the 100,000+ migrants it accepts every single year. 

When you squeeze 40 million (crazy!) people into one place, you are bound to get a wide variety of cultures. So yes, California is very diverse not only in terms of ethnicity but also in languages and political views. 

People that move here can expect a very tolerant culture, offering religious freedom and very LGBTQ+ friendly. 

6. Good travel connections

Traveling around the west is amazing because there are so many neat views along your route.

Also, being a large and popular state means that there are always flights leaving the state, so you never have to worry about not being able to find one in case you have to travel. 

7. Fresh, seasonal food

Cali’s miles of coastline give it access to fresh seafood and fish of all kinds.  Also, 80% of the country’s fruits and vegetables are grown here and sold at the weekly farmer’s markets.

Shopping at the farmer’s markets means eating foods at their seasonal peak, which means they’re rich with nutrients and packed with all the flavor.

The cons of living in California

1. The cost of living is high

You know by now that the cost of living in California is higher than in many other states, and that is due to the increased demand for housing, tax rates, car insurance, and daily living expenses. Budgeting your expenses before you move is the smartest decision you can make.

Living in California
Boats and houses along a canal in Naples, Long Beach, California

2. Natural disasters

In 2021 alone, there have been over 8,000 fires and over 3 million acres of land burned. This is an unfortunate consequence of its lack of rain, miles of forests, and dry climate.

3. High taxes and Insurance

California has one of the highest tax rates in the country. It has the highest minimum sales tax at 7.25%. 

Car registration and insurance is an additional heavy fee that you might fail to think about until after you actually move.

When I moved to Los Angeles, my car insurance for one car was the cost of the insurance I was paying for two cars in another state.

So, make sure it’s something you know you can budget for and afford. Or, you can always move to one of the walkable cities and get a bike, eh? 

4. Traffic

Increasing numbers of residents and a consistent influx of tourists naturally bring heavy traffic on the roads.

California is also the largest economy in the USA with a lot of goods shipped in and out of the state regularly, so trucks also take up lots of road space.

Those that commute to and from work can expect a 15-mile ride to take upwards of 45 minutes. You win some, you lose some. 

Is it expensive to live in California?

With notoriously high housing costs and transportation fees, California is a very expensive state to live in. The cost of living varies slightly depending on if you’re in a rural or urban area, but generally, prices are still well above average. 

Living in California
Balboa Park in San Diego, California.

For example, the average price of a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara is $2,300. The average rent for an apartment in San Francisco, CA is $3,102 and median home prices are over $600,000. 

Traveling around is not cheap. Taxis are quite expensive so check out public transport. Many cities have trams that run throughout them and are easy to navigate, routes and all.

For example, if you are at the Los Angeles Airport trying to get to Belmont Shores, an Uber might take you an hour and a half and cost $120. Yes, the tram might also take you the same amount of time but will instead cost you a total of $4. You choose. 

With high costs of living come high taxes. We have already mentioned a sales tax which is one of the highest in the country. The income tax starts at 1% and goes up as high as 13.3%.

Gasoline prices are also higher in California because the state mandates stricter pollution controls than most states.

Electricity prices have also risen as a result of less water flowing through the dams that provide most of the state’s electricity.

So, even though we enjoy the lack of rain in this beautiful state, there are times when its absence affects other aspects of life. 

How much money do I need to make to live in California?

For a single person in California to live comfortably in 2021, they will have to earn an average wage of $19/hr. Bring a family and child into the equation, and this shoots up to $26/hr.

Living in California
Rodeo Drive in Hollywood, LA.

Again, this depends greatly on what area of California you decide to live in. Families living in inland areas such as Colusa would be just fine with a household income of $120,000, while those in Silicon Valley might struggle. 

Unless you make over a $400,000k salary as a single person, you probably will not be able to afford a house in San Diego. However, I would choose to rent an apartment in a place that I absolutely love rather than living in the middle of nowhere in a house that I own, just to own a house. Wouldn’t you? 

Where to live in California

Where you choose to live in California will likely be based on the lifestyle you want to live. In general, it can be divided into five main regions, which we will explore in more detail below. 

Southern California 

SoCal is known for its sunny weather, party scene, and entertainment. Many young people in their 20’s gravitate towards this area because it also brings out a lot of job opportunities in big cities such as LA.

Southern Cali is also the only place you can ski and surf on the same day, so outdoor activities are plentiful.

The diversity of the people and culture makes it a fun place for those dating or looking for a new relationship-you certainly won’t have any shortage of that here.

The Bay Area

The Bay Area is known for its wineries, its foundations in tech, and economic opportunities.

Some of the more popular areas here include Silicon Valley, San Francisco, San Mateo Santa Clara and Sonoma/Napa Valley.

Living in California
Famous Lombard Street in San Francisco.

The weather can vary drastically compared to the South; San Franciso summers are steady around the 60s, and it sees way more rainy days.

While its outdoor life is also beautiful due to its proximity to national parks and fields of agriculture, this region is the most expensive in all of California.

This area is best for retirees or families who are looking to settle into a historical culture without the accompanying chaos. 

Upstate California 

California’s northern region has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country. If you live here, your weekends involve hiking a National Park or skinny dippin’ in Orr Hot Springs.

There are many attractions in the area that attract millions of tourists each year, including Lake Tahoe, Yosemite Park, Sequoia National Park, and the California Museum.

Residents enjoy the small-town feeling and can find homes in popular areas such as Ferndale, which is famous for being the Victoria-era dairy capital, and Boonville, which is famous for its breweries and trendy lodging.

This area gives a suburban and rural feel without the outrageous home prices of the Bay Area, which makes it attractive to retirees and families.  

The Central Valley 

Known for long fields of flat valleys and land, this is California’s most productive agricultural region, one of the most productive in the whole nation, actually.

Its affordability makes it attractive to many, besides its small-town charm and recreational opportunities. 

The Inland Empire

The Inland Empire is also known for its production of agriculture, and also wine and dairy.

The area includes the cities of San Bernandino and Riverside counties, both of which are seen as accessible and affordable, bringing many singles and even families looking for great quality of life at a reasonable price.

The moral of the story is, if your first concern is affordability, you should tread towards inner California where you can enjoy a quieter way of living and be surrounded by fresh food and delicious wine. Sounds good to me. 

Things to do in California

You will never get bored in California. Living in Los Angeles means tanning weather all year round. In the winter you can also drive an hour and a half north to Big Bear, a cute little cozy ski resort tucked away in the mountains. Then, when you get sick of the cold, you can drive back to the sauna that is Los Angeles. 

Living in California
The Pirates’ Tower At Victoria Beach In Laguna Beach, South California.

If you’re more of the indoor type, you would enjoy the countless number of museums, drive-in movie theatres, or even historical events such as exploring the Capitol Building in Sacramento.

If you like history, you should head over to Victoria Beach pirate town.

This is a private staircase hidden in Laguna Beach that leads to a seaside tower built for a rich senator. It stands at 60 feet tall and is said to have been named after a game of collecting coins and hiding them in cracks and stones of the tower for children to discover.

If you visit, take a gander around the base of the tower… maybe there is still some treasure left.

Community events are also very big here, and we aren’t just talking about concerts. Rise and shine your way into a Kumina ritual at your local San Diego park, or watch a camel race during the yearly date festival in Indio, California. The creative energy is truly unmatched in any other place. 

Do you enjoy shopping? You can probably get lost in the number of shopping plazas there are that cater to all sorts of fashion senses and people. 

While you can definitely shop till you drop, it’s perfectly acceptable to dress casually in your favorite denim jeans and a white top. That’s been my style since I have lived here, anyway. Californians don’t judge and they don’t really care what you do or what you wear, as long as you’re not in their way. 

What should I know before moving to California?

There are many different sides to California, literally and figuratively. To prepare you for your move to the best coast, I mean the west coast, we put together a list of the 7 things you need to know.

Living in California
Napa Valley Vineyards

1. California is huge

Well, yeah, duh. But I don’t think people realize how much changes when you move to a bigger state. You have so many options for everything-different areas can make you feel like you’re in an entirely different state.

Keep in mind you will also never run out of events, restaurants, cafes, or concerts to attend. With everything from traditional Bollywood shows to hip-hop performances to flaky European desserts and authentic Mexican tacos, there truly is something for everyone.

2. There’s a lot of talent

We are not talking just about the movie stars and musical artists, but the creativeness that you see even jogging down the street.

Don’t be surprised to find a local belly dancing class happening in the middle of your nearby park. I really think it’s the vibe of this place that brings out the creativity in people. 

3. Oh, you’re moving to California? So is everyone else 

California is one of the most sought-after places to live in, and for good reason. So while you’re planning your move, so are at least 100,000+ people a year. This number drastically decreased during the pandemic, but as of 2021, is steadily rising again.

4. Healthy living is a lifestyle, not an option 

Blame the outdoor living and local food options. No, but really, California has the second-highest life expectancy rate for a reason.

For one, it is very easy to be active because the weather allows you to do so many things outside, whether it be skateboarding down the beach walk, hiking up the hills, or going to an outside gym.

Healthier food options are plentiful as well, and farmers provide local, seasonal fruits and vegetables during farmer’s markets. Even the restaurants always have alternative options whether you’re gluten-free, vegan, low carb, low fat, no fat, whatever.

People here are really conscious of healthy living.

5. High-quality education

Some of the best high schools and colleges are found in this state, so there’s always an influx of students. Families choose to raise their children here for good reason.

Universities are competitive, but they attract some of the brightest students from the whole country. 

6. Healthcare is actually good

The hospitals in California are ranked some of the highest in the country. While insurance is not cheap, it will give you peace of mind knowing you reside in a place where you and your family members can get help if needed. 

7. Choose one – Hippie or Surfer

Okay, so, California has its stereotypes too. While it is true that North San Fran is known for its hippy-dippies and South Los Angeles is known for its surfy dudes, California, in general, is home to the largest diversity of people.

There is something special about this state – no matter who you are or where you come from, it feels like home. 

Living in California – summary

Known for its attractive climate, delicious food, and picturesque views, California is popular for anyone looking for a new life or wanting to settle down for retirement. You might become addicted to its artistic atmosphere and freedom of expression; whatever you do, be prepared for it!

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Joana Neziri
Joana Neziri

Joana is a freelance content writer based in Los Angeles, California, but she often takes time off to live a digital nomad lifestyle. As an avid fitness enthusiast and traveler, she often spends her time visiting new places so she can write about them and help others with their travels. Whenever she's not traveling, you'll find her working out, baking, or trying new coffee shops!

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