California, the golden state of the United States, is the third most expensive state to live in the country. It is a dream place to live for many for its stunning beaches, beautiful mountains, and year-round moderate temperature. In this post, I’m here to tell you where are the cheapest places to live in California.
If you are budget travelers there is no shortage of cheap places to visit in California. But it is not that easy to find a cheap place in California if you have a dream to live here.
My goal was to provide you with a truly comprehensive idea of affordable California cities to live in. To achieve this I collaborated with fellow travel bloggers and worked together to compile a list of most affordable places to live in 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.
Why It is Cheap?
Even though the city has a sizable population, prices have remained affordable when compared to other places in Southern California. Family homes can be found in the mid 400s and a one-bedroom apartment can be rented for $1,500 per month (or less). Utilities and transportation are lower than the state median.
Oxnard is an agricultural hub. Because of this, there is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year-round. This is a great way for residents to balance their food budgets.
It is one of the cheapest places to live in California near the beach. A lot of people choose to have a beach house (secondary house) in Oxnard. In some areas within walking distance to the water, houses are for sale between $300,000 and $500,000.
The number of things to do in Oxnard is high. The city counts with 20 miles of beaches, a harbor, and plenty of water-related activities (kayaking, deep-sea fishing, whale watching). From the harbor, you can visit the Channel Islands National Park, an archipelago dubbed the “Galapagos of North America.”
Other attractions include Heritage Square, two automotive museums, wine tasting rooms, breweries, and shopping venues.
When it comes to food, restaurants in the city showcase multicultural hues. You can enjoy Mexican, Brazilian, Italian, Japanese, and American cuisines.
Cost of Living in Oxnard
The California Budget Center estimates a single adult needs $2,200 per month to cover costs in Oxnard. This budget includes housing, utilities, food, health care, transportation, miscellaneous, and taxes.
Ventura County shines when it comes to the manufacturing, retail, tourism, agriculture, defense, and healthcare industries. On the other hand, the area is not strong when it comes to technological industries such as e-commerce, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and advertising.
By: Ruth Rieckehoff
#2 Cheapest Places to Live in California: RANCHO CUCAMONGA
Rancho Cucamonga is a city located about halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, along Route 66. Nestled in the foothills of the mountains, this once a large wine-producing region has turned into a growing metropolis that is a perfect stop on a road trip and an affordable place to live in California.
Why It is Cheap?
This area is much more affordable than living in Los Angeles, and it is still close enough to commute into LA for work. The train runs into Los Angeles and it takes a little over an hour to reach Union Station. If driving, you can be in Downtown LA in 50 minutes.
Rancho Cucamonga has a few local historical museums and hiking options. The John Rains House gives an overview of the history of the area. The most popular hiking trail, the Etiwanda Preserve, is perfect for an afternoon hike. There are even several local wineries to go wine tasting at. It is very easy to take a day trip into the Los Angeles area, Palm Springs, or Joshua Tree.
Pros and Cons
There are several pros to living in Rancho Cucamonga. Not only is it more affordable than Los Angeles, but it is also a great place to be in for day trips as well as weekend trips. One con of living in Rancho Cucamonga is the public transportation situation. Although there is a train, it only runs around once an hour, so it is not always convenient to take.
Cost of Living in Rancho Cucamonga
I suggest a monthly budget of $2000/person for rent, utilities, and food. Rancho Cucamonga contains multiple unique and local places to eat. The newly opened Haven City Market offers a variety of food vendors. Vince’s Spaghetti and the Sycamore Inn are also classic joints locals love. Rancho also contains several chain hotels to stay in.
By: Francesca Makana
Bakersfield is probably one of the most affordable places to live in California that is also a fairly big city with over 300,000 residents.
Why It is Cheap
For those who are accustomed to living along the coast in California, they will find Bakersfield as “sub-par” to live in comparison to big-city amenities such as Los Angeles. However, if you’re looking for an inexpensive place to live that is within 2-3 hours driving distance to some of California’s best attractions, then you might just love it.
Bakersfield does not have big-city vibes and is more of a suburban community supported by agriculture and the oil industry. It’s also at the gateway to the Sierra Nevada Mountains making it an easy weekend trip to some amazing hiking adventures like hiking Mount Whitney (the highest peak in California and the lower 48 states), which is only a 3-hour drive from Bakersfield. If you lived in Los Angeles, you would be driving upwards of 4-7 hours (depending on traffic) just to make the same trip.
Likewise, Bakersfield is only 2-3 hours from the coast, great wineries, big cities, national parks, and there are even some local parks like the Wind Wolves Preserve and local breweries in the Kern Canyon like Kern River Brewing Company that are only an hours drive from Bakersfield. Undoubtedly, Bakersfield is one of the best places to live in California on a budget.
If you’re looking for a place to live that’s not only affordable but a close escape to weekend adventures, then Bakersfield is a great choice.
Cost of Living in Bakersfield
The average cost of living is around $1600 per month. If you’re looking for plenty of travel opportunities, Bakersfield makes for an excellent choice to live in.
The city of Clearlake is in Lake County in Northern California, approximately 110 miles north of San Francisco. The city itself is not densely populated with an estimated population of 15,250.
Why It is Cheap
If you are finding cities with lowest cost of living in California, Clearlake is one of that. Housing is the biggest factor in cost of living and median home prices are very favorable for individuals in Clearlake at around $107,531. You may also be able to find a property with acreage that will allow you to build or farm.
Dining out is very affordable, as there are not too many high end, expensive restaurants in the city as you may find in larger cities. If you have taste for gourmet foods, then a short drive to the nearby Napa Valley is a great option.
Life in Clearlake is relatively laid back. Recreational options are high on the aquatic side due to having the luxury of California’s largest natural lake Clear Lake being here. Activities range from fishing, boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, and sailing.
If hiking is your thing you can take in the natural trail walk at historic Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, one of the best hiking trails in California. You can also take a short 20-minute drive to Kelseyville and take the Mt. Konocti trail hike. You will be amazed by the view overlooking Clear Lake.
There are no large retail stores in Clearlake, other than a Wal-Mart. So, you will have to drive over an hour out of town to the Ukiah or Santa Rosa if that is what you are after.
Cost of Living in Clearlake
Based on all these factors, a single individual could be able to live comfortably on an average of a budget of around $1,835 a month. That may be favorable for some individuals, but not all. It is all about your preferences and needs.
By: Mike Holland, The Hollapinos
If you want to live close to the coast in San Diego County, you’re going to be paying a pretty penny to do so. But those who have been keeping an eye on San Diego real estate and rentals no doubt notice that the city of Oceanside often has much more affordable housing than even popular Carlsbad Village, just to its south.
Why It is Cheap
Luckily, many of the restaurants and bars from years past still are operating in Oceanside. They provide laidback and affordable places for brunch or a place to meet up with friends after work. Oceanside is the northernmost city in San Diego County and is just south of Camp Pendleton, a military base. Above all, it is a relatively safe place to live in California at cheap.
Oceanside has long had a bit of a wild reputation, but in the past decade it has cleaned up its act and the downtown area has undergone a massive revitalization, turning into a hip and happening place.
It’s now home to some of the best restaurants in North County San Diego, has a popular beer trail, and a gorgeous long, sandy beach that is also home to a lovely pier that you can walk down and even get a milkshake from the Ruby’s Diner on the end of the pier.
Cost of Living in Oceanside
Oceanside is one of the best affordable places to live in California. An expat can live for less than $2000 per month in the inland valley of Oceanside
By: Gina Tarnacki
#6 Most Affordable Places to Live in California: SACRAMENTO
Surprising to see that the capital of California is indeed an affordable place to live in the State. Located in the center of the state and in between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada’s and Lake Tahoe, Sacramento has a fantastic quality of life and is still affordable. Significantly, there are find lots of free things to do in Sacramento.
Why It is Cheap
Good jobs, affordable property values, and outdoor lifestyles make the city a wonderful place for families, multi-generational families, and even solo professionals enjoying the lifestyle in this city. Good paying jobs with state and local government, hi-tech companies, biotech, and a diversified economic base affords a good employment base and opportunities to afford a very comfortable lifestyle in the city and that makes it one of the cheapest places to live in Northern California.
One of the definite advantages of living midway in the state is the access to mountains in the Sierra and outdoor adventures and also an easy drive to the Bay Area for urban culture, historic sites, and other big city exploration. Sacramento itself has lots of interests and attractions being the capital city of the state.
You can check out what to do in Sacramento here for all of the fantastic attractions, landmarks, and historic places of interest along with some quirky and fun places to explore around the city.
Cost of Living in Sacramento
If you are looking for a 1 bedroom, expect to pay near around $2300 per month which is pretty typical for the downtown/midtown area for nice apartments. You will get a cheaper option on the outskirts of Sacramento, Suburbs, or surrounding areas where you can easily find 1 bedroom for $1200–1500.
By: Noel Morata
#7 SAN DIEGO
San Diego is not cheap. So why is it mentioned on this list of Cheapest places to Live in Southern California? Because luckily, there are quite a few pockets in and near San Diego that are still affordable to live in.
Why It is Cheap
Barrio Logan is a neighborhood right next to downtown, some of it even in walking distance. The neighborhood is really up and coming and has some nice restaurants, taco shops, bars, and taprooms, as well as lots of cheap markets. Rent starts at $800 for a 1 bedroom 1 bath, which is really great for Southern California and especially such proximity to downtown.
Tips: While most of Barrio Logan is safe, be aware that there are some areas that have higher crime rates and also gang activity, so I recommend you get to know the area first, before you rent a place.
La Mesa is a few miles inland and is a great family-friendly neighborhood that is still very affordable. A 1 bedroom 1 bathroom will start between $700-800 per month. Unless you go during rush hour, you can get to downtown or the beaches within 20 minutes, so it is still very centrally located. La Mesa also has a cute little Main Street with shops and restaurants that make it a fun place to live in San Diego.
If you are ok with sharing an apartment and want to live near bars and beaches, I highly recommend finding a shared apartment in Pacific Beach. This is where many college kids live and finding roommates will be easy. There are a ton of bars and you are within biking distance to the beach. A private room in a shared apartment will start at around $700-800.
Cost of Living in San Diego
San Diego comes out as slightly more expensive compared to the other cities on the list, but it makes up for the excellent regulatory framework. Expect to pay a minimum of around $2000-2200 per month to live in San Diego comfortably.
By: Maria Haase, San Diego Explorer
#8 SLAB CITY
Truly, if you are looking for the cheapest places to live in California for seniors, it doesn’t get any cheaper than Slab City. Nicknamed “The Last Free Place in America,” Slab City really takes FREE to heart. The small town is more of a large community compound, inhabited largely by snowbirds and the few hundred people who live there year-round.
Why It is Cheap
The origins of Slab City are pretty interesting, as it is technically on government-owned land and is the remnants of an old marine training base. After World War II, the military pulled out of the area and left behind giant slabs, where the town’s name originates. These slabs attracted RVers and snowbirds, who eventually settled in the area and began to set up permanent camp which attracted more and more individuals.
The residents of slab city live in old buses, tents, trailers, and other makeshift homes – all rent-free. But even freedom has a price, as there is no running water, electricity, sewage lines, wifi or cell phone service.
It’s extremely simple to live in Slab City if you don’t mind off-the-grid living! Just find an open plot of land and set up your camp. Slab City is about an hour from Palm Springs and two hours from San Diego. Though grocery shopping can be done in any of the nearby towns!
While Slab City is essentially in the middle of the desert in Imperial County, there are a few cool sightseeing spots nearby. The first, Slab City itself, which is home to Salvation Mountain and an incredible collection of contemporary art pieces and installations that spark discussions and challenge mainstream societal beliefs. It is also close to the Salton Sea, the cities of Coachella Valley, and the California-Mexico border!
#9 LONG BEACH
California is known for being one of the most expensive places in the United States. Fortunately, there are a few great places that are considered affordable. My favorite affordable city in California is Long Beach. It is one of the most affordable, laid-back, fun, progressive, and active cities in Los Angeles County. If you find yourself in Los Angeles with family, be sure to make a stop in Long Beach.
Why It is Cheap?
Depending on the specific area of the city you decide to live in, public transportation is easily accessible and inexpensive. If you are close to Downtown Long Beach the train is the easiest way to get around the city. The other most popular option is the bus, but it is more convenient to get around the city in a car.
There are a lot of popular activities such as Pride, concerts at the Convention Center, the Queen Mary, the Pike, amazing food, fun beaches, and festivals. There is always something to do in Long Beach on any given weekend. One of my favorite things about this city is the people. Most people you encounter are happy and will have a smile on their face. It is also a city that is very dog friendly. If you have a found-legged friend this is the place to be.
Please Note: There are a few cons about Long Beach. The major pain point is the lack of parking in some areas. If you have a car you may have to pay a monthly fee for parking. Also, the small-town feel has been overshadowed over the last few years with the increase of businesses in the area.
Cost of Living in Long Beach
Long Beach is one of the cheapest and safest places to live in California. You can live on a monthly budget of $2,400 per month. Please remember, everyone’s budget is different depending on their lifestyle.
By: Cee Lewis
It is a fact in California that the closer to the ocean you are, the more expensive the city is to live. If you like sunny weather Fresno can be a perfect place for you to live in California at cheap. Fresno is never too cold, or wet although it is pretty hot in the summer. Smog and crime rate can be your headache, but if you consider living near the California State University area, it can be a great place to live with beautiful surroundings.
Why It is Cheap?
San Joaquin Valley is also known as the agricultural center of California where 90 % of the entire United States fruits and vegetables are grown. The average rate for a one-bedroom apartment is very cheap and can be found within $800. The city is laid out on a grid and the topography is flat, so it’s easy to find your way around in Fresno.
Fresno has plenty of things to do for all ages. Fresno is a place that is within two hours of three national parks, three hours from Los Angeles, and three hours to San Francisco, two hours to the Pacific Ocean, and some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The proximity to the magnificent nearby sightseeing is the main advantage of staying in Fresno.
Cost of Living in Long Beach
The cost of living is reasonable compared to other parts of California. From a one-bedroom apartment to grocery and clothes, everything is affordable in Fresno. You can expect to live here for less than $1600 per month.
So, it is very much possible to live in California without breaking your bank. I hope you’ve found this guide to the cheapest places to live in California useful. As always, I would love to hear from you! Let us know if you are planning to move any of these cheapest cities to live in California.
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