It’s no secret that living in California can be pricey. In fact, a recent study found the Golden State was the second most expensive state to live in the U.S. The primary driver of that statistic is high home prices, which hit an average of $771,270 in February 2022.
If that figure is out of reach for you, then you aren’t alone — only 25 percent of households in California could afford to purchase a home in that price range in the fourth quarter of 2021. The good news for you? That means affordable housing options do exist if you know where to look.
Here are 9 of the cheapest places to live in California
Below are nine cities and towns in California that represent some of the cheapest places to live in the state. Please note that the estimated median home values listed will fluctuate with market conditions. Click on the value to see current estimates.
Median local home value: $438,411
Median household incomes: $43,199
Known for its active seaport, the coastal city of Eureka sits between San Francisco and Portland in Humboldt County, California. With its ocean landscapes, proximity to redwood forests and beautiful rivers, it’s a popular spot for anyone who appreciates nature and is looking to buy a home in a place with a quaint, rural feel.
The city is well known for its Victorian architecture, eclectic shops, cultural events, and diverse restaurant options. Whether you’re looking for a jazz festival, artisanal chocolate shop, or local brewery, there’s likely something here that will catch your eye.
Median local home value: $368,025
Median household incomes: $65,687
The city of Bakersfield is located between the major metropolitan centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco. With good school systems and affordable housing options compared to other cities in the state, there has been a population surge in Bakersfield in the past few years. In 2020, the population grew faster than in any other city in California.
Agriculture and oil are big industries here, giving the city the nickname of the “Texas of California.” Its ample parks, bike paths, and proximity to the Sierra Nevada Mountains are also a big draw for those who prefer an outdoor, active lifestyle.
Median local home value: $365,650
Median household incomes: $53,368
Fresno is the fifth-largest city in the state. Located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the city is surrounded by farms, which contributes heavily to the agricultural culture here. Whether it’s shopping at an area farmer’s market for local tomatoes and pistachios, or eating at a farm-to-table restaurant, Fresno is a foodie’s delight.
Because it’s a major city, residents can live and work here. And with less traffic congestion than can be found in other metro areas of the state, residents can enjoy a commute that is often much less challenging. Yet, when the desire to visit Los Angeles or San Francisco strikes, each city is close enough for a quick weekend trip.
Median local home value: $449,924
Median household incomes: $58,393
Located in California’s Central Valley, the city of Stockton sits in relatively close proximity to San Francisco and San Jose. Yet, with notably lower median home values of $439,477, it’s significantly more affordable than housing prices in either of those other metropolitan areas.
Known as “Brick City,” Stockton is a diverse community that draws residents from many different cultures and backgrounds. In fact, it was named by a U.S. News Special Report as the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the United States. This diversity can be seen not just in the various neighborhoods, but also in the city’s restaurants, shops, museums, and city-wide events.
Median local home value: $497,620
Median household incomes: $84,119
In 2021, NerdWallet named Clovis the top city in California to raise a young family because of its highly-ranked public schools and affordable housing.
The small city of Clovis is located in the San Joaquin Valley at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, giving the city the nickname, “Gateway to the Sierra.” Not only do the mountains provide a picturesque backdrop to the city, but it gives residents easy access to areas for hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor adventures. At the same time, the city is only a two- to three-hour drive to either the coast or Yosemite National Park.
Median local home value: $502,228
Median household incomes: $65,847
According to an analysis by U.S News and World Report, Sacramento is the fourth best place to live in California thanks to its affordable housing options, mild climate, job opportunities, and overall quality of life. Located just a few hours away from San Francisco, the city has experienced a population surge in the last few years, as families and young professionals were drawn by the city’s affordability compared to nearby metropolitan areas.
Despite being an urban center, the city of Sacramento is known for its abundance of trees, which provides needed relief in the summer sun. In fact, it has more trees per capita than any other city in the country, giving it the nickname “City of Trees.”
Median local home value: $442,285
Median household income: $62,182
The city of Modesto is located in the Central Valley, about 70 miles from the capital city of Sacramento. The city has a thriving arts and entertainment culture, with its own symphony orchestra, opera house, and arts center. As the birthplace of George Lucas, it also proudly hosts the only official American Graffiti car show each June, which includes a festival, parade, and a week-long showing of the movie.
If farm-to-table dining is more your speed, you’ll find plenty of dining options and farmer’s markets in Modesto. As the third-largest food distribution area in the country, the area harvests crops year-round. It’s also home to E&J Gallo, the largest family-owned wine and spirit company in the country.
Median local home value: $227,037
Median household incomes: $44,563
Located along the Arizona border is the quiet, desert community of Blythe. Although the Colorado River does run through the city, much of Blythe is a dry, dusty landscape where cacti grow freely. The city relies heavily on winter tourism when tourists flock to the city to take advantage of the city’s warmth and proximity to the Colorado River. Beyond boating, fishing, and water sports, the area is ideal for hiking, off-road vehicle sports, prospecting, and ghost town explorations.
Because of the city’s small-town feel, as well as its distance from major metropolitan areas, it will be important to consider employment options prior to making the move.
Median local home value: $335,844
Median household incomes: $33,347
Located along California’s northern coastline is the small community of Crescent City. For outdoor enthusiasts or those who simply appreciate nature’s beauty, the area has a lot to offer from beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean to some of the planet’s oldest redwood forests. Hiking, horseback riding, cycling, and surfing are all top activities here.
Much of the city has been rebuilt over the last five decades after it was destroyed by a devastating tsunami in 1964. The historic Battery Point Lighthouse survived the storm and still stands as one of the northernmost lighthouse stations in the state.
Q&A: Narrowing down your California home search
Are there cheap places to live near the ocean in California?
Yes, there are some areas along California’s coastline that offer a more affordable cost of living. Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to live in northern California coastal communities compared to those in the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas, with Crescent City, Eureka, and Arcata all providing affordable housing options. By California standards, the city of Ventura also provides cheaper places to live, though the median home price is still $862,078.
What are the safest cities in California?
According to a 2022 SafeWise report, the safest cities in California are Danville, Rancho Santa Margarita, Moorpark, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, and Laguna Niguel.
Are there cheap places to live in close proximity to good California job markets?
Both San Francisco and San Jose were ranked as two of the best cities in the country for job opportunities. Though given the high housing prices in these two cities, they also have some of the longest commute times. Although San Jose tends to be very pricey, there are some cheaper options in the San Francisco metro area. Vallejo, with a median home value of $585,199, and San Pablo, with a median home value of $620,759 are a few options.
Are there cheap places to live that have good school districts?
Yes, there are affordable communities in California that have highly-ranked school districts. Clovis, Eureka, and Sacramento (which we covered above) have good public schools. Beaumont is another option, which has a median home price of $536,770.
What if I want to live near Hollywood and the stars?
Is this a good time to sell my California home?
House prices have been climbing throughout California over the past few years, putting many current homeowners in a good position to sell. In San Diego, the median sale price has risen by 17.2% in the last year, and in San Jose, it rose by almost 29%.
Of course, the best time to sell your home will be when the market is strongest — that’s why we recommend trying our Best Time to Sell Calculator. This tool will analyze sales data in your neighborhood to provide a more educated estimate about what time of year your home might sell the fastest — and for the highest selling price.
Considering buying or selling in California? Partner with a top agent
As a whole, the California housing market is competitive and expensive. If affordability is key, you’ll want to partner with a top real estate agent who knows the ins and outs of the different communities and can point you toward the best options for your needs.
If you’re a current California homeowner and are curious what your home might be worth right now, we invite you to try HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator for a free, ballpark estimate.
That being said, house sales in the state have been falling — so if you’re interested in putting your home on the market, you’ll benefit from the expertise of one of the area’s top real estate agents.
Header Image Source: (Mike Fox / Unsplash)