California, often referred to as the “Golden State,” is undeniably a desirable place to live. From its picturesque beaches to its majestic mountains and awe-inspiring redwoods, the state offers a diverse range of natural wonders. However, California’s popularity comes at a price, as it is also one of the most expensive states to live in, second only to Hawaii, in the United States

If you’re determined to make your dream of living in California a reality, it’s crucial to have a well-thought-out plan. One of the biggest factors to consider is finding affordable housing and living opportunities.

If you are planning a move to the west coast there are ways to reduce costs and save while still enjoying all California has to offer. Most of the more popular and well-known destinations in California can come with an unattainable cost of living for many. 

However, if you consider moving to one of the lesser known but more cost-effective locations you can still enjoy the many benefits of living in California, but with a significantly reduced overhead.  

To help you on your quest, we have compiled a list of the top 9 cheapest places to live in California. Whether you prefer a rural, urban, or suburban setting, these areas provide budget-friendly options to make your California dream come true.

Let’s dive in and explore these affordable areas!

A Quick Look at the Top 9 Cheapest Places to Live in Southern California

  1. Bakersfield

  2. Clovis

  3. Fresno

  4. Lancaster

  5. Oceanside

  6. Rancho Cucamonga

  7. Redlands

  8. El Centro

  9. Julian

Before You Decide 

When searching for a cheap place to live, several crucial factors need to be considered. First and foremost is the cost of housing. Finding an area with affordable rental or housing options is essential to stay within your budget.

Additionally, considering the cost of utilities such as electricity, water, and the internet is crucial to understanding what your total overhead will be.

Transportation expenses should also be taken into account, including the availability and affordability of public transportation or the cost of owning a vehicle.

Access to healthcare and other essential services is vital for a comfortable living situation as well and should also be considered.

Lastly, evaluating the proximity and availability of amenities and recreational activities is important to ensure a high quality of life without your living expenses exceeding your budget.

The Locations

Here are the top 9 places you can move to in Southern California.

The prices mentioned below are according to 2023 statistics. They can definitely be different at the time of reading this article.

1. Bakersfield

You can consider moving to Bakersfield if you’re open to living inland in Southern California. Situated approximately two hours outside of Los Angeles along I-5 and US-99, this town is home to over 400,000 residents and offers the benefits of city living. As the 9th cheapest city in California, Bakersfield provides a vibrant community atmosphere.

Supported by agriculture and the oil industry, Bakersfield has an average annual household income of just under $73,000. The cost of living in this suburban community is 21% lower than the state average, making it one of the most affordable places to live in southern California. The median home price stands at $484,070 while the median rental cost is $1,460.

Although the cost of living in Bakersfield may still be slightly higher than the national average, it’s important to keep in mind that living in California generally comes with higher expenses. Nonetheless, Bakersfield offers an excellent opportunity for newcomers to the state to get a sense of the local expenses and culutre while enjoying the benefits of a California location.

Bakersfield

Individuals and families who live in Bakersfield state the following as some of the best parts of living in this California town:

  • Close to the Beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains

  • Proximity to large cities such as Los Angeles

  • Active local community

  • Good school system

  • Ample outdoor space and parks for recreating

Read More: Explore the exciting advantages and potential setbacks that come with moving abroad. Embrace new horizons while considering the realities of cultural adaptation and longing for home.

2. Clovis

Clovis

Clovis, a charming and relatively small suburb of Fresno located in the heart of California, offers a central location that makes it an ideal hub for exploring the region. With a population of 120,000 residents, Clovis provides the perfect balance of city living and easy access to the rural beauty of California.  It has all the amenities of many larger cities but with a small town feel.  

What sets Clovis apart is its affordability. The cost of living in Clovis is nearly three percent lower than the national average, which is quite impressive for a locations in California. The median home cost is $492,400, and the median annual household income is just under $94,000. There are great healthcare facilities in the area is wonderful for families and the older demographic.

Aside from its affordability, Clovis offers a plethora of amenities and recreational opportunities. The city boasts over 13 miles of paved pedestrian hiking and biking trails, allowing residents to stay active while enjoying the scenic beauty of the area. Clovis is also known for its vibrant community spirit, with numerous events and activities taking place regularly. 

There’s always something happening in Clovis to bring the community together. So choosing Clovis as your home not only provides an affordable living option in Southern California but also grants you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a community-oriented atmosphere with an abundance of amenities and recreational possibilities.

Some of the best aspects of living in Clovis are:

  • Excellent public transportation

  • Active local community

  • Great school system

  • Low crime

  • Affordable Housing

3. Fresno

Despite not being located along the coast, Fresno has its own unique charm that can capture your heart. While it’s a three-hour drive to the nearest beaches and approximately 215 miles from Los Angeles, Fresno has its own set of attractions. Residents have the advantage of being close to breathtaking destinations like Yosemite National Park and the Sierra National Forest, making it an ideal location for hiking enthusiasts.

Fresno offers a range of amenities, including abundant shopping options, diverse restaurants, vibrant farmer’s markets, and an array of community events. The city has a strong focus on family-oriented living, with award-winning schools, ample job opportunities, top-notch hospitals, picturesque neighborhoods, and a renowned local college.

In terms of housing, the median home price in Fresno is under $475,000, and the median rental cost stands at $1,282. It’s worth noting that one of the notable differences when moving to the area is the utility costs. You may find that water and electric bills tend to be higher compared to other parts of the state.

Despite not being located on the coast, Fresno offers its residents a rich array of amenities, natural beauty in its surroundings, and a close-knit community atmosphere. By exploring Fresno along with Clovis, you can discover an affordable and vibrant place to call home in Southern California.

Biggest Pros of Living in Fresno:

  • Fantastic food scene and access to fresh, local produce year-round

  • Diverse neighborhoods and communities

  • Located centrally with easy access to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and three National Parks

Read More: Explore California’s hottest cities with our top 10 list! From sun-drenched destinations to sizzling attractions, discover the vibrant urban centers that will make your temperature rise. Plan your next adventure in these blazing hotspots of the Golden State.

4. Lancaster

If you’re set on living in Southern California and prefer to remain close to major cities, Lancaster is a viable option to consider. Located only 70 miles from downtown Los Angeles along US-14 and I-5, it offers a convenient commute of a little over an hour to Los Angeles. Furthermore, living in Lancaster provides the advantage of being in proximity to the beach, allowing you to enjoy weekend getaways to the sandy shores.

With a population of nearly 175,000 residents, Lancaster is the 30th largest city in California, offering a comfortable and welcoming environment. The median home price in Lancaster as of 2023 is $450,000, with a slight drop compared to the rates in 2022.

The area is home to 15 elementary schools, as well as 16 middle and high schools, ensuring good educational options for families.

Lancaster stands out as one of the most affordable places to live in southern California while maintaining proximity to Los Angeles. By choosing this vibrant town, you can strike a balance between affordable living and convenient access to the bustling city life of Los Angeles.

Lancaster

Best things about living in Lancaster:

  • High Livability Score-with shopping, public transportation, and good education and healthcare living in Lancaster provides an easy way of life for its residents

  • Variety of affordable housing options

  • Proximity to Los Angeles

5. Oceanside

Finding affordable living options along the California coast is indeed possible, and Oceanside is a prime example. Situated as the northernmost city in San Diego County, just south of the Camp Pendleton military base, Oceanside has a population of nearly 167,000 and a rich history dating back to the 18th century.

While the median home cost in Oceanside is higher compared to most areas in the United States, it is considered affordable for coastal California. You can expect to pay around $789,921 (down from $822,300 in 2022) for a house in this area, and rental costs typically range around $3,200 per month for a one-bedroom home or apartment.

Oceanside offers relatively more accessible rental properties compared to other coastal regions in California. Approximately 46% of the population consists of renters, and the presence of the nearby military base contributes to a steady flow of new residents to and from the city.

In terms of safety, Oceanside is considered a relatively safe place to live in California. Additionally, the city is renowned for its culinary scene, boasting some of the best restaurants in North County San Diego. Oceanside is also home to a popular beer trail and features a beautiful, expansive sandy beach for residents and visitors to enjoy.

  • Great weather year round

  • Big arts and culture scene

  • Proximity to the beach and nature

6. Rancho Cucamonga

Living affordably in Southern California doesn’t necessarily mean relocating to rural areas. There are numerous neighborhoods within major cities that offer affordable housing options. One such example is Rancho Cucamonga, situated between Los Angeles and San Bernardino in a bustling urban area.

This city is built into the scenic hills of the Angeles National Forest, providing residents with easy access to weekend adventures in Mt. San Antonio.

Although the median home price in Rancho Cucamonga is nearly $710,000 due to the area’s growing popularity, it is still considered relatively affordable compared to other parts of Southern California.

The city is renowned for its excellent schools and pleasant weather. With a population of around 174,573, Rancho Cucamonga boasts a rich history of winemaking and offers a wide range of dining options to cater to diverse tastes and budgets.

One of the advantages of living in Rancho Cucamonga is its proximity to downtown Los Angeles, located just 37 miles away.

This allows for convenient commuting into the city for work, as well as easy weekend getaways to explore all that the region has to offer.

You can experience affordable living in a vibrant urban environment, with access to stunning natural landscapes and a multitude of dining choices, if you choose to live here.

Whether you’re commuting to work or seeking weekend adventures, Rancho Cucamonga provides an ideal balance between affordability and proximity to the exciting offerings of Southern California.

Rancho Cucamonga

Benefits of living in Rancho Cucamonga:

  • Rated one of the best places to raise a family

  • Great climate

  • High Safety rating

7. Redlands

Redlands

Located near San Bernardino and nestled in the desert, you’ll find the charming town of Redlands, California. With a population of 73,000, Redlands offers a small-town atmosphere while being conveniently situated for easy access to major cities.

Los Angeles is just under an hour’s drive away, spanning a distance of 63 miles, while Palm Springs can be reached within 45 minutes.

One of the remarkable aspects of Redlands is its affordable housing options considering its central location. The median home price in the area is $577,500, making it an attractive choice for homebuyers.

Renters can also benefit, as the average cost for a one-bedroom apartment or house is only $1,260 per month, which is lower than many neighborhoods in Riverside and San Bernardino. This rental rate is notably below the California state average of $1,568 per month for a one-bedroom space.

Redlands boasts beautifully preserved historic buildings that showcase its rich heritage dating back to the 1800s. Your home in Redlands may feature a charming exterior and be surrounded by thriving gardens.

The town’s top attractions include the sprawling Kimberly Crest House & Gardens, the historic Redlands Bowl amphitheater, which originated in the 1920s, and the renowned San Bernardino County Museum. 

For those who appreciate living history, Redlands offers an essential place to call home.

You can enjoy a close-knit community, affordable housing options, and the opportunity to immerse yourself in the town’s fascinating history through its well-preserved architectural gems and cultural attractions.

Pros of living in Redlands:

  • Close knit community

  • Most residents own their homes and take pride in their neighborhoods

  • Good schools

8. El Centro

El Centro

El Centro is a safe and affordable city in Southern California. It is the county seat of Imperial County and is located 212 miles from Los Angeles. The city has a population of 44,049 and is home to the largest dune field in the United States, the Algodones Dunes. El Centro is also home to the El Centro Naval Air Facility, which hosts the yearly Blue Angels flight event. Other places to visit in El Centro include museums, zoos, and a sports center.

The cost of living in El Centro is lower than in many other parts of California. The median home price is $299,500 and it costs about $650 to rent a studio. El Centro is a great option for those looking for a safe and affordable place to live in Southern California.

El Centro is known for its strong sense of community. You’ll find friendly and welcoming residents who embrace the city’s diverse cultural heritage. The local community organizes events and festivals throughout the year, providing opportunities to engage and connect with others. 

Benefits of living in El Centro:

  • Small town feel where people know each other

  • Great for families

  • Easy livability

  • Low housing costs

9. Julian

Julian

Julian is a small town in San Diego County, California. It is located in the Cuyamaca Mountains, about 60 miles east of San Diego. Julian is known for its apple orchards, its historic downtown, and its small-town charm. 

The cost of living in Julian is relatively low compared to other parts of Southern California. The median home price is $350,000, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,200 per month.

Julian is a great place to live for those who enjoy the outdoors. The town is surrounded by mountains and forests, and there are many hiking, biking, and camping opportunities in the area. Julian is also home to a number of wineries, making it a great place to visit for a weekend getaway.

The downtown area of Julian is home to a variety of shops and restaurants. There are also a number of wineries in the area, making it a great place to visit for a wine tasting. Julian is a great place to experience the best of what Southern California has to offer.

The benefits of living in Julian include the mild climate, the beautiful scenery, and the small-town atmosphere. However, keep in mind the distance from major cities and the limited job opportunities.

Overall, Julian is a great place to live for those who enjoy the outdoors and the small-town lifestyle. The town is a short drive from San Diego, but it feels worlds away. If you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of Southern California, Julian is a great option.

Benefits of living in Julian:

  • Ample opportunities to explore nature

  • Peaceful Environment

  • Beautiful natural setting

  • Good for families

If you’re planning your first trip to California, be sure to check out our budget breakdown, “How Much Does a Trip to California Cost?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the average home value in California?

As of June 2023, the average home value in California is $767,100. This is down 3.8% from the previous year. The median home price in California is $650,000.

What is the comfortable cost of living in California?

The cost of living in California is high, and what constitutes a “comfortable” cost of living will vary depending on your individual circumstances. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can expect to need an annual income of at least $70,000 to live comfortably in California.

Is California expensive to live as a student?

Yes, California is expensive to live as a student. The cost of living in California is about 60% higher than the national average. This means that students in California will need to budget carefully to make ends meet.

How were these places determined to be the cheapest?

These places were determined based on factors such as average housing costs, rental prices, cost of living index, and affordability of essential amenities.

What types of housing options are available in these affordable areas?

You can find a mix of housing options, including apartments, condos, townhouses, and single-family homes, varying in size and amenities.

Are there good educational facilities in these locations?

Many of these affordable places have decent schools, but the quality may vary, so it’s essential to research specific districts.

How can I find affordable housing in these locations?

Consider contacting local real estate agents, searching online platforms, checking community bulletin boards, and networking with residents for potential housing leads.

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