California's 11 Most Affordable Places to Live

California's 11 Most Affordable Places to Live

By Alejandra Saragoza
August 08, 2020

California is undoubtedly unlike any other state, boasting pristine beaches, crashing surf, gorgeous mountains, numerous iconic cities, and year-round moderate temperatures. But residing in a place with such enticing features can sometimes come at a cost. A rising number of California cities are becoming increasingly expensive, and many Californians—especially aspiring millennial homebuyers and residents living in larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco—are certainly feeling the financial squeeze, as the state’s housing and rent prices continue to climb but wages stay relatively stagnant. 

Despite its infamous reputation as the most expensive state in the country, California (believe it or not) still has several economically sound places to reside. While most of the affordable cities are tucked away in California’s inland regions, many of them are still within close driving distance to popular destinations, so you can make a road trip out of it and listen to a binge-worthy podcast or a jammin’ California playlist.


The 11 Cheapest Places to Live in California

So, if you want to live in one of America’s most exciting states but don’t want to deal with the high real estate prices (and still want to be close to famed attractions and bustling metropolitan areas), here are the least expensive places to live in California:

  • Clearlake
  • Bakersfield
  • Fresno
  • Eureka
  • Stockton
  • Clovis
  • Sacramento
  • Chico 
  • Fontana
  • Vacaville
  • Oxnard
Settled on the shores of the largest natural freshwater lake in California, Clearlake is an oasis for outdoor enthusiasts.

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1. Clearlake

Median home price: $176,192

Median household income: $27,034

Population: 15,384

Closest metropolitan city: San Francisco, which is roughly 2.5 hours away

Situated on the shores of Clear Lake—the largest natural freshwater lake in California—this small town is a paradise for nature lovers and is home to a flourishing wine scene. Clearlake also happens to be one of the cheapest places to live in Northern California, with the average home costing less than $200,000. Residents can explore the scenic trails of Clear Lake State Park; fish for largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill; kayak or swim in the tranquil waters; and meander through the historic downtown for shopping, wine tasting, and gourmet dining.

2. Bakersfield

Median home price: $242,800

Median household income: $56,842

Population: 383,579

Closest metropolitan city: Los Angeles, which is a two-hour drive away

Bakersfield is located in California's Central Valley, where there are plenty of pleasant surprises. Historically known only for its oil and agriculture, Bakersfield has transformed into a hub for arts and culture and a rapidly growing city in recent years, but the region still retains its rich past. Bakersfield boasts the largest concentration of Basque restaurants, cultural attractions in the gallery- and museum-filled Arts District, and several antique shops. Outdoor enthusiasts, meanwhile, are bound to find nirvana at the nearby Wind Wolves Preserve, the West Coast’s largest nonprofit nature preserve. Plus, with so many beautiful lakeside campgrounds and bucket-list national park experiences to be found nearby, Bakersfield offers more than meets the eye.

3. Fresno

Median home price: $247,600

Median household income: $41,455

Population: 530,093

Closest metropolitan city: Los Angeles, which is less than two hours away

Set in the agricultural heart of California, Fresno is a booming city abounding with old-school Spanish charm, one-of-a-kind experiences, and outdoor adventure. Fresno features gorgeous gardens and parks, a vibrant creative community and arts scene, delicious farm-to-fork cuisine, and an unforgettable (and underground) attraction you won’t find anywhere else. And with some of California’s most famous national forests and three national parks—Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia—just a short drive away, there are ample opportunities to connect with nature, too. 

The historic town of Eureka is known for its Queen Anne Victorian homes such as the famous Carson House.

4. Eureka

Median home price: $303,638

Median household income: $38,007

Population: 26,998

Closest metropolitan city: San Francisco, which takes about five hours to reach

Nestled in Humboldt County, near the northern end of the state, Eureka is the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. This popular destination oozes with small-town charm, thanks to the ornate Queen Anne homes lining the sidewalks, the Victorian-era Old Town Eureka, and the entertaining family-friendly activities. The bustling waterfront offers maritime museums and boat tours, too, so passersby can watch the fishmongers reel in their fresh catches of the day. There’s also no shortage of lush hiking trails, famous film locations, and artisanal California chocolate for new residents to discover here.

5. Stockton

Median home price: $320,319

Median household income: $45,347 

Population: 311,178

Closest metropolitan city: San Francisco, which is about 1.5 hours away

Stockton is 70 miles from the coastline, but residents can still enjoy waterfront vibes. The town sits on a winding channel that winds its way inland from the San Francisco Bay, ending at the state’s largest inland deep-water port. The Stockton Marina makes it possible to explore the intricate maze of inlets and bays via riverboats; afterward, wander the downtown waterfront to hear live music, grab some premium California olive oil at the farmers market, or catch a hockey game at Stockton Arena. Away from the scenic waterways, the can’t-miss attractions include the Haggin Museum, colorful Cambodian Buddhist Temple, and Oak Grove Regional Park. 

6. Clovis

Median home price: $360,509

Median household income: $63,662

Population: 112,022

Closest metropolitan city: San Jose, which is situated about three hours away

Clovis is known as the “Gateway to the Sierra” for a reason: The town is nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, making it a top real-estate choice for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a cheap place to live in California. With Yosemite National Park as well as Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks just a short drive away, you can take your pick of activities such as cycling, hiking, or jogging on the many trails that encircle Clovis. The city itself offers entertainment, too, between its various museums, parks, theaters, and other family-friendly attractions. And when you crave the hustle-and-bustle of a larger city, take a trip to San Jose and enjoy some South Bay adventures.

Home to soothing rivers, historic streets, farm-to-table eateries, and affordable homes, the state capital is a top place to live.

7. Sacramento

Median home price: $362,400

Median household income: $65,046

Population: 508,529

Closest metropolitan city: San Francisco, which is roughly 1.5 hours away

Sacramento is arguably among the best places to live in California. The state capital is not only an affordable place to live, but also a vibrant destination packed with fun things to do. Whether you want a place to savor farm-to-table fare, float down the river, enjoy bike rides and hikes, learn about the state’s Gold Rush history, or explore the creature comforts of Old Town, Sacramento has it all. The city is also very close to top destinations—including luxe California ski resorts, buzzy San Francisco, and stunning towns around Lake Tahoe—making it easy to escape whenever the mood strikes. 

8. Chico 

Median home price: $388,566

Median household income: $42,334 

Population: 94,776

Closest metropolitan city: San Francisco, which is about a three-hour drive away

The charming town of Chico is the fastest-growing city in California and among the hottest 2020 destinations. Though it’s most well-known for being home to Chico State University, one of California’s first state colleges, Chico is a largely undiscovered NorCal gem with affordable housing options. In-the-know locals are well aware of everything Chico offers, including foodie hot spots, fashion-forward boutiques, cultural attractions, and of course, ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. Expansive parks and waterfall hikes abound in the town, but when the mountains call, the majestic Lassen Volcanic National Park is merely a stone’s throw away.

9. Fontana

Median home price: $423,560

Median household income: $64,995

Population: 213,739

Closest metropolitan city: Los Angeles, which is less than one hour away

Historically a rural town, Fontana became a flourishing community after World War II, when entrepreneur Henry J. Kaiser built a large steel mill in the area. Now, the city is one of the cheapest places to live in Southern California and is home to more than 200,000 people who enjoy access to waterfall hikes, verdant parks, go-kart racing, and the quirky Bono’s Historic Orange on Route 66. Thanks to Fontana’s proximity to Los Angeles, it’s also easy to make a day trip to L.A. to see the city’s best attractions and most beautiful beaches

The gorgeous Lagoon Valley Park is one of the many attractions in the thriving city of Vacaville.

10. Vacaville

Median home price: $473,319

Median household income: $82,513

Population: 100,154

Closest metropolitan city: San Francisco, which is less than one hour away

Tucked away in the rolling hills just west of Sacramento Valley, about halfway between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco, Vacaville is an ideal place for families seeking a thriving destination without the hustle and bustle of big-city life. With a fascinating past as an agricultural heartland and a rich, vibrant culture, the charming community draws droves with its historic downtown, premium outlets and shops, diverse restaurants, pretty parks, and popular U-pick farms. Residents are also very close to top Bay Area destinations, making it possible to spend a day in Walnut Creek and explore the attractions in Wine Country

11. Oxnard

Median home price: $518,706

Median household income:  $62,349 

Population: 209,877

Closest metropolitan city: Los Angeles, which is about one hour away

Oxnard is one of the most affordable places to live on the West Coast. Situated between L.A. and Santa Barbara, this coastal town boasts seven miles of white-sand beaches, bountiful farm stands (with ultra-sweet strawberries), world-class taquerias, and a lovely harbor that offers easy access to Channel Islands National Park. Residents may also wander through Oxnard’s Heritage Square to see Victorian-era architecture, visit renowned car museums to soak up the local car culture, surf and swim at the beloved Silverstrand Beach, and peruse the shops downtown. To see the wilder side of Oxnard, take a trip to Channel Islands National Park and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, a 90-minute boat ride from the harbor. Other nearby attractions include the pastoral town of Ojai and the incredible city of Santa Barbara, so there’s always an adventure to be had when living in Oxnard.

While not all of these affordable California cities offer oceanfront property or luxe mountain homes, they each have their own unique appeal—and who knows, they just may surprise you. But if you’re set on living in one of California's most exciting and diverse cities, check out the cheapest places to live in the Bay Area and see ways to save money in these popular destinations.

Alejandra Saragoza

Alejandra Saragoza

Alejandra is a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Via, Tourin…

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  • Car Ke | Oct, 31

    No jobs in any of those places except Riverside and most of those people are commuters.... driving 1.5 hours each way to either Orange County, San Diego County or LA County for jobs. Riverside has a lot of crime also. People are leaving this state due to taxes, utilities and the government running the state!! Schools here are awful!! Reply

    • Stephen Lee Byrd | Nov, 21

      Prices are so high in California because of its very success in attracting way too many people, who are swamping the boat for everybody. Too many people is what bids up demand and prices skyrocket skyhigh. This is a natural balloon boom/bust cycle. As is already happening when prices get too high for too many people, they start to go somewhere else. That is exactly what we need: to encourage about 2/3 of the people now in California to go somewhere else. Reply

      • Benjamin Hansen | Sep, 29

        Lead by example maybe... Reply

    • Chris | Jan, 28

      Well I guess you’ll be leaving our beautiful state. Reply

      • Stephen Lee Byrd | Feb, 22

        Why me? I was born here. You go. Reply

        • Chris | Feb, 22

          My comment was directed at car ke. Reply

    • Master Chings Auto Inc. | Mar, 7

      Riverside is average in crime at 10, while LA is 13 and most dangerous is San Francisco. My kids moved to Riverside, CA, after leaving my home in Palo Alto. They live in the Orangecrest neighborhood when I go to visit them. Same safety as my city of Palo Alto. The thing is, Riverside is a major city, which will have more crime than a suburb usually, like my, Palo Alto. Reply

  • Betty | Jan, 24

    Good luck finding a good job in Ridgecrest if you don't have a degree, especially an engineering degree. So, while it may be cheaper than a big city, you probably will just be making rent. Also, if you're used to bigger city amenities, this might not be the place for you. Reply

  • Erin | Dec, 2

    Clearlake is full of mercury. The lake is polluted with mercury which is unsafe. No wonder it’s cheap. Reply

  • LZ | Mar, 4

    Oxnard? Who the heck wants to live in gangland? It’s super overpopulated too. Reply

  • Lorenzo Tindal | Apr, 3

    I've been all over Cali. Take a ride due east to Needles or other towns along California's eastern border. Reply

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