Moving to California

Moving to California

If it seems like few people are moving to California these days, you’re not wrong. The 2020 Census showed the state experienced its slowest growth ever during the 2010s. Fewer people are moving to California in recent years, and many people are moving from California to other states.

While it’s true that California gets a bad rap for its expensive housing, high cost of living, pollution, traffic, and other issues, the Golden State still has plenty to offer: beautiful weather, a booming economy, or just a change of scenery and pace. And that slowed-down growth could be an indication that the cost of living in the state is finally stabilizing, making now the perfect time to move to California. So before you make the move, read this guide to learn everything you need to know about living in the Golden State.

Table of Contents:

Moving to California

Things to Know About Moving to California

Median household income

Average home price

Cost of living

Tax rates

Education

Unemployment

Job market

Diversity

Crime

Politics

Things to do in California

Cost of Living in California’s Major Cities

Major Regions in California

Southern California Megalopolis (Greater Los Angeles and San Diego)

San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley

Northern California

Central Coast

San Joaquin Valley

Inland Empire

How to Move to California: Step-By-Step

Step 1: Visit the state and explore

Step 2: Choose a city to call home

Step 3: Choose a home type

Step 4: Set a budget

Step 5: Find a home

Step 6: Plan and make your move

Step 7: Settle in

Use Neighbor to Find Storage in California

Things to Know About Moving to California

  • California is the 3rd largest state in the U.S. with 155,973 square miles of space.
  • The state’s total population in 2021 is estimated to be around 39.7 million people.
  • California has the 11th highest population density in the U.S. with an average of 246.1 people per square mile.

Capital city: Sacramento

Major airports:  

  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • San Diego International Airport
  • San Jose International Airport
  • Oakland International Airport
  • Sacramento International Airport
  • John Wayne International Airport (Santa Ana)

Median household income

california Median household income

California’s median household income is $75,235. That’s 9.5% higher than the U.S. median household income of $68,703.

Average home price

california Average home price

California’s statewide median home price is $813,980. That’s 183% higher than the U.S. median of $287,148.

Cost of living

california Cost of living

California’s cost of living index is 149.9, or 49.9% higher than the national average.

Tax rates

California has the 11th lowest effective tax rate in the country. A median household in the state can expect to pay an effective overall tax rate of 8.96%, which is lower than the national average of 10.8% (combined state and local taxes assessed for a median household).

california Tax rates

California’s income tax rate ranges from 1% to 12.3% depending on income.

The statewide sales tax rate is quite high — 7.25% — with some counties and cities imposing their own, even higher, taxes.

California charges a liquor excise tax of $3.30 per gallon, as well as the highest gas tax in the country at 51.1 cents per gallon.

Businesses in California are taxed at a flat rate of 8.84%, with franchise taxes also applicable in certain situations. 

Education

california Education

California ranks 21st in the nation for spending per student, at $12,498 in state funding per student. Despite high spending, the state ranks 33rd in college preparedness, and 36th for its high school graduation rate.

Unemployment

california Unemployment rate

As of spring 2021, California’s unemployment rate was 8.3%, which is nearly 41% higher than the overall U.S. unemployment rate of 5.9%.

Job market

In early 2021, California was experiencing healthy job growth ahead of the state’s “Grand Reopening” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, year-over-year data shows that job growth has been slow in the state over the last decade. There’s no telling what the long term effects of the pandemic will be on job growth in the state.

California’s top industries are:

  • Agriculture
  • Education
  • Health services
  • Tourism and hospitality
  • Financial services
  • Film
  • Manufacturing (especially in technology)

Diversity

California is the most diverse state in the U.S. It ranks first out of 50 for cultural diversity, and 11th out of 50 for economic diversity.

Crime

Experts still don’t have a clear picture of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected overall crime rates in the U.S.

However, in 2019, California had a violent crime rate of 430 incidents per 100,000 residents, which is 13% higher than the national average rate of 379 incidents per 100,000 residents.

california Crime rate

California’s property crime rate in 2019 was 2,272 incidents per 100,000 residents, which is about 8% higher than the national average rate of 2,110 incidents per 100,000 residents.

Politics

California is widely considered to be a blue state, with 46.3% of the state’s registered voters identifying as democrats. 24% identify is republican, and 24% are not affiliated with a major political party (the remaining 5.7% declined to answer).

Despite the state’s reputation for being solidly blue, some counties, particularly in the northern part of the state, voted republican in the 2020 presidential election.

california Politics

Both of California’s U.S. senators are democrats. Of the state’s 53 U.S. representatives, 42 are democrats and 11 are republicans.

The state assembly consists of 60 democrats, 19 republicans, and one independent. The state senate comprises 30 democrats and 9 republicans, with one seat vacant as of summer 2021.

Things to do in California

No matter what you like to do, you can find it in California. The state is home to some of the best (and best-known) entertainment in the world, with some of the largest cities on the globe, rural communities with ample outdoor recreation, world-famous wine regions, beautiful beaches, decorated restaurants, theme parks, and so much more.

Arts and Culture: From the Getty Museum to the California Science Center and the Griffith Observatory — and everything in between — California is one of the best places in the world to take in arts and culture. The state is home to a number of world-class museums, and large venues for live music and theater. The city plays host to touring musicians and productions from all over the world. No matter what kind of art and culture you’d like to take in, you can find it in California.

Arts and culture destinations to check out:

Nightlife: The same goes for nightlife. California’s cities rival New York when it comes to never sleeping. From packed nightclubs to late-night comedy to pubs, all-night diners, late-night movies, and so much more, you can find something to do at any hour in the Golden State.

Nightlife destinations to check out:

Family entertainment: California is home to Disneyland, Seaworld, Six Flags, Knott’s Berry Farm, the San Diego Zoo, and so many other world class family venues. The state is also home to a wide variety of professional and semi-pro teams in just about every sport imaginable. Families with kids will find no shortage of things to do in the Golden State.

Family destinations to check out:

Food and drink: California’s cities are home to some of the most famous chefs in the world, with a total of 609 Michelin starred restaurants in the state. California is also home to several famous wine regions, including the Napa Valley.

California’s most famous food and drink destinations:

Outdoors: California is well known for its beaches. But the state boasts just about every landscape, from snowy mountain peaks to deserts, lakes and rivers, redwood forests, and everything in between. That makes California a great state for any outdoor activity: running, hiking, mountaineering, climbing, horseback riding, cycling, boating, kayaking, skiing, and more.

Outdoors destinations for your next adventure:

Cost of Living in California’s Major Cities

California has thousands of different cities to choose from, and their cost of living varies quite a bit. The 28 cities shown below are some of the state’s largest, as well as a few of the most populous cities from each of California’s regions. In the likely event that you’re considering moving to a California city that isn’t on this list, you can compare its cost of living to your current home city using an online calculator.

Housing Food and Groceries Transportation Healthcare
City % higher or lower than national average % higher or lower than national average % higher or lower than national average % higher or lower than national average
Los Angeles 73.3% higher 4.1% higher 65.3% higher 10.6% lower
San Diego 60.1% higher 9.7% higher 20.2% higher 11% lower
San Jose 114.5% higher 13.7%​​ higher 51% higher 0.5% higher
San Francisco 169.3% higher 16.6% higher 58.2% higher 0.3% higher
Fresno 2.6% higher 0.8% lower 1.7% higher 9.4% lower
Sacramento 18.2% higher 4.8% higher 21% higher 3.3% lower
Long Beach 60.4% higher 1.9% higher 57.9% higher 10.6% lower
Oakland 74.4% higher 11.3% higher 25.8% higher 3.5% higher
Bakersfield 2.6% higher 1% lower 3.6% higher 11.2% lower
Anaheim 52.2% higher 2.5% higher 18% higher 4.1% lower
Riverside 33.1% higher 0.4% higher 46.1% higher 12.2% lower
Stockton 13.9% higher 3.9% higher 15.5% higher 1.8% higher
Irvine 87.1% higher 5.6% higher 11% higher 4.1% lower
Fremont 127.3% higher 14.4% higher 24.5% higher 3.5% higher
San Bernardino 10.4% higher 1.7% lower 11.3% higher 13.1% lower
Modesto 13.7% higher 3.9% higher 13.9% higher 1.1% higher
Santa Rosa 49% higher 9.8% higher 3.6% higher 2.3% higher
Pasadena 88.6% higher 4.5% higher 55.5% higher 10.6% lower
Visalia 0.7% higher 0.6% lower 5.7% lower 0.5% lower
Santa Clara 150% higher 15.9% higher 40.5% higher 0.5% higher
Berkeley 135.2% higher 14% higher 18.7% higher 3.5% higher
Temecula 42.6% higher 1.2% higher 51% higher 12.2% lower
Ventura 51.7% higher 8.1% higher 11% higher 0.3% lower
Chico 17.4% higher 2% higher 13.1% lower 9.2% higher
Redding 7.9% higher 0.1% lower 8.2% lower 11.1% higher
Santa Barbara 123.4% higher 13.8% higher 3% lower 3.9% lower
Napa 62.1% higher 10.3% higher 1.3% higher 1.1% higher
Mendocino 62.3% higher 10.6% higher 15% lower 9.8% higher

*Percentages shown as higher or lower than the national average cost as of July 2021.

Major Regions in California

Here are California’s major regions (starting with the two most populous areas of the state, and then moving from north to south).

Major Regions in California

Southern California Megalopolis (Greater Los Angeles and San Diego)

Southern California Megalopolis (Greater Los Angeles and San Diego)

Population density: 2,019.4 people per square mile.

Climate: 81-degree average summer high, and 49-degree average winter low. Yearly average rainfall of 15 inches.

Major industries:

  • Entertainment
  • Digital media
  • Hospitality and tourism
  • Information technology
  • Bioscience
  • Aerospace and defense
  • Fashion
  • Trade and logistics

Biggest employers:

  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • State of California
  • University of Southern California

Major universities:

  • California State University (Los Angeles, Dominguez Hills, Northridge, Fullerton, San Marcos)
  • Long Beach State
  • Cal Poly Pomona
  • University of California (Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego)
  • Chapman University
  • Concordia University (Irvine)
  • Saddleback College
  • Vanguard University
  • San Diego State University
  • Palomar College

Cities in the Southern California Megalopolis:

  • Los Angeles (See our complete guide to moving to Los Angeles)
    • Population: 3.967 million
    • Median age: 35.6
    • Median household income: $68,044
    • Median home price: $725,000
    • Median rent: $1,995
    • Married population: 41%
  • San Diego
    • Population: 1.41 million
    • Median age: 34.9
    • Median household income: $79,673
    • Median home price: $825,000
    • Median rent: $1,950
    • Married population: 45.6%
  • Long Beach
    • Population: 466,776
    • Median age: 34.9
    • Median household income: $61,610
    • Median home price: $750,000
    • Median rent: $1,600
    • Married population: 45%
  • Anaheim
    • Population: 349,964
    • Median age: 34.5
    • Median household income: $76,154
    • Median home price: $770,000
    • Median rent: $1,735
    • Married population: 38%
  • Irvine
    • Population: 273,157
    • Median age: 34.2
    • Median household income: $101,667
    • Median home price: $1.06 million
    • Median rent: $2,565
    • Married population: 52%
  • Pasadena
    • Population: 141,258
    • Median age: 38.6
    • Median household income: $83,068
    • Median home price: $899,000
    • Median rent: $1,838
    • Married population: 48%

RELATED: Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles Urban Farming and Starting an Urban Garden

San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley

San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley

Population density: 1,429.3 people per square mile.

Climate: 70-degree average summer high, and 46-degree average winter low. Yearly average rainfall of 38 inches.

Major industries:

  • Manufacturing
  • Apparel and textiles
  • Technology and electronics
  • Food processing
  • Shipbuilding

Biggest employers:

  • Apple
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Salesforce
  • Wells Fargo
  • Sutter Health
  • Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Kaiser Permanente

Major universities:

  • Stanford University
  • University of San Francisco
  • California State University East Bay (Hayward)
  • San Francisco State University
  • San Jose State University
  • University of California (Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Cruz)
  • California Maritime Academy (Vallejo)
  • Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (San Francisco)

Cities in the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley:

  • San Francisco
    • Population: 874,961
    • Median age: 38.2
    • Median household income: $96,265
    • Median home price: $1.3 million
    • Median rent: $2,700
    • Married population: 40%
  • San Jose
    • Population: 1.028 million
    • Median age: 36.7
    • Median household income: $109,593
    • Median home price: $1.255 million
    • Median rent: $2,185
    • Married population: 51%
  • Oakland
    • Population: 425,097
    • Median age: 36.5
    • Median household income: $76,469
    • Median home price: $749,000
    • Median rent: $1,995
    • Married population: 42%
  • Fremont
    • Population: 235,740
    • Median age: 38.3
    • Median household income: $127,374
    • Median home price: $1.3 million
    • Median rent: $2,038
    • Married population: 62%
  • Berkeley
    • Population: 121,485
    • Median age: 31.1
    • Median household income: $80,912
    • Median home price: $1.1 million
    • Median rent: $2,100
    • Married population: 32.4%

Northern California

Northern California

Population density: 134.3 people per square mile.

Climate: 93-degree average summer high, and 41-degree average winter low. Yearly average rainfall is around 18 inches.

Major industries:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Clean Energy
  • Agribusiness

Biggest employers:

  • State of California
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • UC Davis Health
  • Sacramento County
  • Sutter Health

Major universities:

  • California State University (Chico)
  • College of the Redwoods (Eureka)

Cities in Northern California:

  • Sacramento
    • Population: 500,930
    • Median age: 34.5
    • Median household income: $65,046
    • Median home price: $430,000
    • Median rent: $1,495
    • Married population: 43%
  • Chico
    • Population: 94,529
    • Median age: 29.7
    • Median household income: $42,334
    • Median home price: $474,000
    • Median rent: $955
    • Married population: 35%
  • Redding
    • Population: 91,580
    • Median age: 38.1
    • Median household income: $54,278
    • Median home price: $370,000
    • Median rent: $930
    • Married population: 47%
  • Napa
    • Population: 79,074
    • Median age: 38.8
    • Median household income: $88,596
    • Median home price: $867,000
    • Median rent: $1,838
    • Married population: 50%
  • Mendocino
    • Population: 855
    • Median age: 55.3
    • Median household income: $51,416
    • Median home price: $467,000
    • Median rent: $1,200
    • Married population: 48%

Central Coast

Central Coast

Population density: 193.6 people per square mile.

Climate: 76-degree average summer high, and 43-degree average winter low. Yearly average rainfall is about 38 inches.

Major industries:

  • Agriculture
  • Tourism
  • Wine

Biggest employers:

  • Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
  • Bacara Resort Svc Inc
  • Cottage Health
  • Deckers Outdoor Corp
  • Four Seasons Resort

Major universities:

  • University of California Santa Barbara

Cities in the Central Coast region:

  • Santa Barbara
    • Population: 91,376
    • Median age: 39
    • Median household income: $74,798
    • Median home price: $939,000
    • Median rent: $2,095
    • Married population: 41%
  • Ventura
    • Population: 109,910
    • Median age: 39.6
    • Median household income: $84,566
    • Median home price: $769,000
    • Median rent: $1,895
    • Married population: 49%
  • San Luis Obispo
    • Population: 47,302
    • Median age: 26.7
    • Median household income: $71,148
    • Median home price: $775,000
    • Median rent: $1,613
    • Married population: 50%

San Joaquin Valley

San Joaquin Valley

Population density: 110.2 people per square mile.

Climate: 100-degree average summer high, and 40-degree average winter low. Yearly average rainfall is just over 11 inches, making this area extremely dry.

Major industries:

  • Agriculture
  • Oil and gas
  • Mining
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing

Biggest employers:

  • Aetna
  • California State University
  • Cargill
  • Community Medical Ctr
  • Foster Farms

Major universities:

  • California State University (Fresno, Bakersfield, Stanislaus)
  • University of the Pacific (Stockton)

Cities in the San Joaquin Valley:

  • Fresno
    • Population: 525,010
    • Median age: 31
    • Median household income: $50,432
    • Median home price: $325,000
    • Median rent: $1,104
    • Married population: 47%
  • Bakersfield
    • Population: 377,917
    • Median age: 30.8
    • Median household income: $60,002
    • Median home price: $300,000
    • Median rent: $925
    • Married population: 49%
  • Stockton
    • Population: 309,228
    • Median age: 33
    • Median household income: $54,297
    • Median home price: $375,000
    • Median rent: $1,115
    • Married population: 45%
  • Modesto
    • Population: 212,616
    • Median age: 35.6
    • Median household income: $59,287
    • Median home price: $395,000
    • Median rent: $1,363
    • Married population: 49%
  • Visalia
    • Population: 132,104
    • Median age: 32
    • Median household income: $58,820
    • Median home price: $329,000
    • Median rent: $1,000
    • Married population: 48%

Inland Empire

Inland Empire

Population density: 151.1 people per square mile.

Climate: 90-degree average summer high, and 68-degree average winter low. Yearly average rainfall is around 11 inches, making this one of California’s driest regions.

Major industries:

  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Software
  • Financial services
  • Retail

Biggest employers:

  • University of California
  • Riverside Unified School District
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • March Air Force Reserve

Major universities:

  • University of California (Riverside)
  • California Baptist University (Riverside)
  • California State University (San Bernardino)

Cities in the Inland Empire:

  • Riverside
    • Population: 326,414
    • Median age: 31.6
    • Median household income: $67,850
    • Median home price: $540,000
    • Median rent: $1,740
    • Married population: 49%
  • San Bernardino
    • Population: 216,089
    • Median age: 29.9
    • Median household income: $67,903
    • Median home price: $439,000
    • Median rent: $1,073
    • Married population: 49%
  • Temecula
    • Population: 113,381
    • Median age: 34.8
    • Median household income: $90,964
    • Median home price: $660,000
    • Median rent: $1,975
    • Married population: 57%

How to Move to California: Step-By-Step

Ready to plan your move to California? Here’s what to do next.

Step 1: Visit the state and explore

If there’s one thing to take away from this guide, it’s that California is a huge state with communities of all types and sizes, and different climates and terrains.

The best way to get a feel for the state and whether you’d like to call it your new home is to visit and explore as much of it as you can. Try to visit at least one major city in each region to get a feel for what each one offers. Alternatively, do as much research as possible, reading about and looking at pictures of different areas and communities to see what might be a good fit for you.

Step 2: Set a budget

If you plan to buy a home in California, now is the time to reach out to lenders for pre-approval. This will help you determine a budget for your home search.

If you want to rent instead of buy, you’ll still have plenty of options. Just keep in mind that a good rule for renters is to plan to spend no more than ⅓ of your monthly income on rent.

When budgeting for your new home, don’t forget to factor in moving costs! If you have a family and are moving from a state that’s far away from California, the move itself could add thousands of dollars to the total cost of your relocation.

Step 3: Choose a city to call home

Choosing the city you’ll move to is deeply personal, and only you can decide which city is right for you (and how to choose it). Some factors to consider:

  • The cost of living.
  • The cost of housing.
  • Your profession.
  • Amenities you’d like to have nearby.
  • Your lifestyle and hobbies.
  • Your short- and long-term goals.

Step 4: Choose a home type

In California, you can live in any type of home, from a sprawling, rural estate to a small city apartment, or even a working farm or vineyard.

One challenge to keep in mind, though, is that home prices in nearly every part of California are higher than the national average.

Choose a home type based on your budget, or based on the part of the state where you’d like to live and what’s available there.

Step 5: Find a home

If you’re planning to buy a home, start your search online or find a real estate agent you’d like to work with. Be ready to move quickly if you find a home you love, because in many parts of California, a hot real estate market means homes sell very quickly after they’re listed.

If you’re planning on renting, sites like Zillow, Hotpad, and Rentler are popular places to look for homes.

Step 6: Plan and make your move

Once you’ve decided on a city and found your new home, it’s time to start planning, packing, and moving.

For a week-by-week checklist of everything you need to do to prepare for your move, as well as downloadable box labels, packing lists, and more, check out our Ultimate Moving Guide.

Step 7: Settle in

Welcome to California, and congratulations on making the move! Let’s wrap up some loose ends so you can finish settling in.

California gives new residents 10 days to transfer an out-of-state driver’s license. To transfer yours, complete the application for a California driver’s license online. Then, gather documents to show proof of identity and residency and head to a DMV in your county to complete the process.

When you move to California, you have 20 days to register an out-of-state vehicle. If you take longer than that, you may be required to pay late fees. To register your vehicle, go to your county’s DMV with:

  • A completed Application for Title or Registration(Form REG 343).
  • Your vehicle’s title
  • Your out-of-state registration
  • Proof of insurance
  • A smog certificate, which can be obtained at an official emissions testing checkpoint
  • Payment for any fees assessed

New California residents can register to vote online.

Now that you’ve taken care of all that, do something fun to celebrate!

Use Neighbor to Find Storage in California

Once you get settled into your new home in California, you might find that you have more belongings than you need — or can fit in your new home.

If that’s the case, Neighbor can help! Find affordable storage near you by connecting with hosts who have available space for your belongings. Neighbor is safe, affordable, and brings communities together in California and all over the country. Find storage in California today.

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