Friday, April 15, 2011

Cheapest Cities to Live in California

There was an old joke about living in California that went,

"California and Cheap are impossible to use in the same sentence!"

I say 'old' because the sub-prime crisis has certainly changed the landscape in California especially when it comes to real estate. Still certainly not the cheapest place to live in America but there are parts that offer some of the best and cheapest (esp. foreclosed) real estate in the country.

Living in California has always been an expensive proposition and today the cost of living is being impacted even more what with the liks of some of the most expensive gas in the country. But California boasts a #1 at the other end of the wealth to poverty scale - its also one of the worst places for foreclosures. Add to that the dismal state of the economy and budget crisis and you've got a negative mix that has driven many Californians to move out. And if all of that isn't enough CA is also one of the top ten states for unemployment. Put it altogether and you've got the impact necessary to bring housing and other costs down and for opening up cheaper places to live in California.

The cheaper cities to live in are more likely to be small with lower populations and they may also be a little further away from major centers like LA or San Francisco. Here are our top picks for

The Cheapest Cities in California


California City

California City is located in the northern Antelope Valley area. It's population is around 15,000 with a median age of 35. In California City you can purchase a home for less than $200,000 which is really almost unheard of anywhere else in California. Rents start at around $650 for a two-bedroom apartment - that is much lower than what you would pay for a one-bedroom apartment in a densely populated part of  LA.




Hesperia

You'll find Hesperia in the Mojave Desert area of San Bernardino county. The population here is 80,000 so it's considerably bigger than California City but of course still a fraction of the size of LA which tops 6 million people and that doesn't include all of the other cities in Los Angeles county area. Hesperia also has more to do with a good selection of local shopping centers and a number of unique restaurants. Hesperia is around 2 hours drive from Orange County. Here the average home is also under $200,000 which is very affordable by California standards.

Bakersfield

Bakersfield has had a population boom over the past decade with 2009 statistic counting 333,000 people Even with all those people moving in it is still an affordable place to live in California. The are in and around Bakersfield is beautiful but it can get very hot in the summer months. Other challenges include a a high unemployment rate and poor air quality. In fact it has been labeled as one of the most polluted cities in California.

Lancaster

Lancaster is the ninth fasting growing city in California. Population tops 500,000. If you're looking for a cheap place to rent, this is the spot. A two-bedroom apartment runs at around $800 which is exceptionally cheap for California. If you're more interested in buying a home the average price is $300,000, a little higher than the other cheap cities we've examined so far. Lancaster is great for families with plenty of schools and shopping. On the down side crime has been on the rise in some areas. Lancaster is relatively easy to find. It's about a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles.

These are just a few of the cheap places to live in California. There are more but generally they are found in the same areas as these. This is not exactly the best time to move to California, but if you have to for work or other reasons and living on a budget is top of mind than these cities are all worth a look. For those who already live in California but are looking to downsize and hate the alternative of moving out of state these cities are worth a look too.


Editors Note: I know a few people who live in California so asked them to chip into this conversation and offer their opinions on the Best Place to live in California if one is on a tight budget. Here's what they had to say:


  • Tough question! Even with all the troubles California is facing the main cities are still pretty pricy - it doesn't seem to matter where you look - Los Angeles, the Bay Area, San Diego or even Sacramento - the housing market and cost of living is still expensive by any American standard.
  • A lot of people who are looking for a more affordable lifestyle are checking out of their high end homes in Southern Cal and moving to the smaller towns of the 'Inland Empire' - this is found in the western part of San Bernardino and Riverside. It's cheaper their but these places are still within  commuting range of Los Angeles and San Diego.


  • For even cheaper places to live in California I suggest you try the rural areas - the farming towns, and the desert or mountain towns are a lot cheaper. Imperial County, which is in between San Diego and Arizona is quite rural but has some nice small desert towns like El Centro.


  • The cheapest places to live will typically be in the middle of nowhere but there are obvious negatives which is why they are cheaper! The gas is likely to be more expensive, its tougher to find a decent job and general amenities will be lacking like the variety of shopping, dining and entertainment options.
  • I suspect that most people who answer this question won't know what they're talking about! If you ask most people about California they'll say, there are no cheap places to live in california! But of course there are! You're just not going to find them in the popular big cities that's all! But what's wrong with living in a nice place that no one has heard of before? Nothing as far as I'm concerned.


  • If you're determined or have to (because of work) live in the San Fran or L.A. you're going to have to suck it up. The reality is its' going to be very expensive. But if you have choices than there are plenty of other places to live in California that are quite cheap. Remember California is very large state, in fact it's the 3rd largest state in the nation so there is plenty of room for everyone regardless of their income.


  • The bigger CA cities and their surrounding areas have sprawled creating distant suburbs like  Tracy, Stockton, and Modesto which are an easy commute to San Francisco. They have an excellent transit system, BART which makes getting around a breeze. For LA Lancaster, Palmdale, Riverside, San Bernardino are also cheaper and commutable. Of course if you're not on the transit route the price you pay is a long commute of at least 2 hours each way.

California truly does seem to offer it all. We've written about the Happiest Places and found one in San Luis Obispo. We've looked at some of the nicest and best places to live in California like Pleasanton. Now we've even managed to find some cheap places to live!  Sure this crazy state is having it's challenges but isn't every state? and after all it is California!

34 comments:

milycoy said...

I just move to California from the SOuth and I love it, I live in a small town about 45 min from San Diego and abotu 1hour from LA, is call Menniffe,I love it, it has it all, and I can relax after a nice weeken in the Beach at San diego. California is the Bomb! I love it. Go Inland Empired!

A said...

I've lived in San Diego and L.A., so I'm biased towards SoCal too, but I currently live in Sacramento and I have to say, it's a wonderful city with so much to offer.

It's cheaper to live here than any other larger city in California, wether you live in Sacramento proper (as I do; my fiance and I rent a very comfortable older two-bedroom duplex in upscale East Sac for $1,200 a month) or in the suburbs of Roseville, Elk Grove, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, etc.

I drive all over the state for my job (seriously, from San Diego to Yreka, from the San Joaquin valley to the North Coast, Morro Bay to the Salton Sea) and fuel is always 10 to 15 cents cheaper here than most other places.

The unemployment rate here is very high, but that's mainly because of the budget cuts to State employment numbers. That's affecting local businesses that rely on State workers; for instance, when State workers were furloughed on alternating Fridays, the restaurants and businesses downtown had very little business on those days and often opted to close instead of laying out the overhead only to have no customers. But otherwise there are jobs available, mainly medical, restaurant, and construction.

Like any big city Sacramento has its rough areas, Carmichael and others. But it also has great schools, parks, miles of bike trails along the American River, lots of shopping, a very sophisticated dining scene, and you're within two to three hours of Tahoe, Monterey, the Redwoods and Yosemite, San Francisco, Napa/Sonoma, Santa Rosa/Petaluma, etc. There are great universities around here. I live a few blocks from Sac State, and there's UC Davis about 15 miles away, with a campus extension here in Sac.

The people are friendly and family-oriented. We've got the River Cats and the Kings (for now), Old Sac and the Capitol, the Crocker Art Museum, a thriving art and music scene (CAKE belongs to Sacramento, you know), and plenty of water for recreation (Folsom and Lake Natomas, Sacramento and American Rivers, Tahoe and Berryessa).

It's not just Sacramento; there are wonderful, affordable cities all over northern California, like Auburn, Redding, Eureka, Fortuna, Sebastopol, etc. Look into it.

creativeonee said...

Hello Everyone,

I am looking to move to California,believe it or not. Even with the economy being as bad as it is. I'm a city boy from Michigan looking to set up permanent camp in a small town outside of LA preferably within distance of San Diego. I'm not a country boy and I'm not a big city guy either. I guess I'm a cross between the two. The environment I'm interested in living is part suburb and rural so I call it Subural...lol..I know it sounds funny but that's what I call it. I would like to live in an area where I can fish fresh and salt water since I love to catch and eat fish. I also want to plant a small garden and a few fruit trees. I have noticed that the majority of jobs in my field are in San Diego,San Marcos,Irvine,Woodland Hills,Santa Ana,Costa Mesa,Santa Clara and Torrance California. This is my dream I'm simple man who wants to live off the land with a few amenities. The town has to have a mall,super walmart,movie theater and a few other amenities. I would like the city to be affordable in the apartment and house price ranges previously mentioned. I would like the climate of the small city or town to be similar if possible to San Diego if possible,if not I'm open for ideas. I am open to any suggestions that anyone may have.

Thank you,

wordsandmusic :-)

you're ruining your life said...

Try East County San diego. towns like Ramona or Alpine are rapidly expanding but still have the country and many big plots of land. The commute to downtown is only about 40 minutes driving.

Charles said...

If you could move to any of three cities in CA, which would they be. Keeping in mind cost of living and best year round weather. I am not interested in buying any real estate, I am 62 and retired and an 30' RV. My 20 year old would needs at least Jr College or job training.

Would you mind helping me out with your Ca city picks.

Thanks Charles

Ms T Appleton said...

Charles, I have not bothered to read all the comments here but in light of your comments, here is what I have to say. If you are not interested in living near the coast or living in LA or San Diego proper, I would recommend moving out toward the desert in between. Still close enough to get most of the benefits of being able to travel to whatever you want within a couple of hours and since you aren't looking for a job you are wide open for locations. My top pic for you is the Temechula area. There are several cities that you could investigate around the area and you are right in between LA and San Diego. I lived there for a year and I believe it would be great for what I know about your needs. BTW, there are several Jr. Colleges in the area for your son too.

Girl on the Road said...

I have lived in california all my life & love it. Brea, CA. It is a not to big, not to small town and very friendly. I have to say that I have never liked a place so much. It has its own mall, downtown ( one of my favorites), lots of shopping ect.

Unknown said...

Im surprised they didnt mention Yyuba City, California.

Ms_Laweesa said...

I am a 25/y/o/woman wanting to relocate close to san diego to bring a small cleaning business/find a job to be closer to my sister. I would be relocating from the mid-west area(iowa) I am useto a small, but inner city college town environment. What would be the best city to move to that is safe and where they is also a variety of ethnicities. feel free to leave a comment. looking to relocate in april, but i first would be visiting. thank you.

Ed Murray said...

I live in Oklahoma City now (I was born & raised here but I used to live in Riverside County in the "Inland Empire" area in the
city of Corona, CA. Drive south on I-15 from Corona to Temecula. There are cities like Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake (a gated lake/golf course resort city), Murrieta, Menifee and south of Temecula just across the San Diego county line there is a small artist colony town called Rainbow. The I-15 corridor is basically the desert and it is hot in the summer, 100-110 many days but it really is a "dry heat". 90
degrees here in OKC is worse with the humidity.
Real Estate in some of these cities is half of what you would pay in L.A. or San Diego proper with many nice houses under 200K.
You can drive to L.A. in about 1hr & 20 minutes and San Diego in about 45 minutes. Palm Springs is only an hour away and Las Vegas is 4 hours north on the 15. There are mountains, palm trees, nice neighborhoods, parks, and biking and hiking in the Cleveland Nat'l Forest. I love Southern California and I think about moving back all the time. Check it out & have fun!

Ed Murray said...

Check out the I-15 corridor between Corona,CA & Temecula,CA. Cities like Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake(a gated lake/golf course resort city),Murrieta, Menifee, Temecula & a small artist colony town called Rainbow, just south of Temecula,just across the San Diego county line. Good schools, neighborhoods, parks, hiking/biking in the Cleveland Nat'l forest,ect...Real Estate in some of these cities is half of what you would pay in L.A. or San Diego proper, with many nice houses under 200K. You can drive to San Diego in about 45 min or L.A. in about 1hr, 20 min. About an hour to Palm Springs and Las Vegas is 4 hours north on the 15.
I love this area but it is basically the desert & hot in the summer, with many days of 100-110!
It is a dry heat though. I live in Oklahoma City now and 90 degrees here is worse with the humidity.
Check out these cities and have fun!

Stormy Nicole Wyatt said...

I am a Texan who has always dreamed of California. I am interested in making my dreams come true and make my self an official California resident. I have a six year old child who is an athlete (football,Baseball,soccer,basketball,bmx,extremesports). We live in Austin and I LOVE the deverse community. I am looking for my "Austin" in California. I want to be no more than a hour from beach, a relaxed laid back atmosphere, a community that embraces one another, I love parks a great deal, and housing I can purchase around $200,000. Can as muons make suggestions? Thank you.

Stormy Nicole Wyatt said...

I am a Texan wanting to make my dreams come true and become a California resident. I live in Austin and I am looking for a city like it there. Laid back relaxed, close to beach, housing -$200,000, parks in the city, great schools, homosexually friendly, and not a huge population but not little either 100,000-500,000 range. Can anyone make some suggestions on where I should start looking? Thank you. You can email me at Ndcolewyatt3@gmail.com.

Thanks, Stormy

Shea said...

@ stormy, if anyone emails you could you please share your findings? I'm in the same boat :)

Nuggertrylove said...

I'm from Virginia beach and my partner and I are looking to move west, California being our ideal place. I can get married there, use my medicine of choice, and pursue my dream career.
I'm looking for a smaller city close to the beach that isn't highly expensive. We are continuing to save for this life change but I know we're going to need to rent a cheaper apartment.
Another factor being considered is my job and recommended medication. there would need to be a legal operating dispensary in the city/county or in anysurrounding areas. If anyone has any info, please contact me at anesmith94@gmail.com thank you

james said...

I am looking to relocate to california. my wife is originally from Berkley. We are looking for an with high employment rate affordable living, and little to none gangs and low crime rate. I would greatly appreciate the suggestions.

Boat_mon said...

Stormy, Shea.. Morgan Hill CA. perfect...

Unknown said...

I'm living in Nebraska right now and want to move to southern California. I want to get a cheap studio apartment or so that is $500 / month. I live Orange County and want to live some place near. I also like Santa Cruz. If I could find any studio apartments for about $500 in Santa Cruz or Orange County, CA, that'd be perfect! Any help or suggestions?!

Unknown said...

California would be a great place to live! So sunny and warm. Where should I look to find affordable housing, happy people and low crime rate? I prefer to be near a big city rather than the desert. Would Brea be a good choice? Thanks in advance for your thoughts:)

stephanie kilburn said...

California would be a great place to live! So sunny and warm. Where should I look to find affordable housing, happy people and low crime rate? I prefer to be near a big city rather than the desert. Would Brea be a good choice? Thanks in advance for your thoughts:)

Asia Quran said...

@milycoy:
Thanks for you comment! It gave me a little bit of hope. I have been living in the South for many many years & have dreamed of living in California on my own as an adult. As I child I have lived in LA off & on but never as an adult on my own. Now I have a Son who will be 16 in August & I have gotten him all excited abt living in California! Can you tell me anything abt your town? Also, anything you offer abt the high schools in your area as well as jobs in & outside of your area...it all will be very much appreciated as well. Thanks in advance for your help!!!

momma bear said...

In need of help finding the right city for my family. Recently moved here from las vegas but can't seem to find what I am looking for. Would like to stay in the northern calif area but willing to move south. Love San Fransisco but is too expensive. Have a large family and need lots of space but still affordable. What are some city suggestions? Currently I'm in the san joaquin county.

Nicholas LoCicero said...

Lompoc is where i live right now. There are houses for 165,000. 2 story, 3 br apartments for under 150k. A 2 br 2 bath apartment wouldn't cost you more than 120k. This is the place!

1 - 2 br is around $850. My friend got a house with a huge back yard for 895. There are steals here. It's commutable to Santa Barbara CA. It is next to VAFB and a Federal Prison. Town has shrunk in size over the years and employment is hard to find unless you commute or find it on the Base. I like it here and am thinking of renting a house. Many houses are for rent at only $1350. 2 car garage and all that. Because NASA is so defunded, there are a lot of empty houses that were built in the 50s during the cold war. Vandenberg Air Force Base is a main station for NASA. Lompoc is 8 miles from the pacific ocean and is the southern most town before california juts east.

Nicholas LoCicero said...

Lompoc is where i live right now. There are houses for 165,000. 2 story, 3 br apartments for under 150k. A 2 br 2 bath apartment wouldn't cost you more than 120k. This is the place!

1 - 2 br is around $850. My friend got a house with a huge back yard for 895. There are steals here. It's commutable to Santa Barbara CA. It is next to VAFB and a Federal Prison. Town has shrunk in size over the years and employment is hard to find unless you commute or find it on the Base. I like it here and am thinking of renting a house. Many houses are for rent at only $1350. 2 car garage and all that. Because NASA is so defunded, there are a lot of empty houses that were built in the 50s during the cold war. Vandenberg Air Force Base is a main station for NASA. Lompoc is 8 miles from the pacific ocean and is the southern most town before california juts east.

Indy Kitty said...

I love California with the cooler weather and water of San Francisco. I am wanting to relocate there from Indiana and I know SF is very expensive. Are there any cities/towns close to SF that are not so expensive? Any suggestions?

Optimal Health for Life said...

@ Asia, & Milycoy. I am feeling you ladies. I am also in the south and want to move to Ca for business expansion. how are you doing, please email me with your experiences.

Giodarno Bruno said...

Try the East bay: Berkeley, West Oakland, Emeryville, Oakland hills, Piedmont, Berkeley hills. Cheaper than SF. Fantastic views of the bay. More nature and a friendly folksy atmosphere plus you are just 15 minutes from SF

Julie Lobato said...

I live in Los Banos Ca and i pay 1,100 for a 1800 square foot house built in 2007. 4 bed 2 master baths! Homes are well under 200k and you can drive to the bay area for work. Cheapest by far!!

De Vonsia Davis said...

You're totally right about California City, it's cheap and I have found 2 bedroom townhomes there for $395, but it is in the middle of nowhere. If you don't like the stir of the city, it's a wonderful place to raise a young child. You definitely need a car, but I lived there for 3 years without one and managed just fine. Also, they are less strict on apartment rental history and will work with you as long as you have the money. Some places are rented by slumlords, so try to avoid places like JBL and West Coast Realty.

Aloe Degruy said...

Retired on fix income professional looking to move to California. Need cheap place to live but enjoy diversity of activities, university access and public transportation. Near San Francisco or LA any suggestions, please...

Colleen said...

Looks like no one has posted on here in quite a while but I'm going to give it a shot and see if I get any responses.

My DH and I are retired (73/67 respectively) and currently live in NW PA. We've lived in South TX for several years before moving here. Before that we lived in Riverside, CA and that's when my DH retired in 2001.

We have 3 "kids" in CA (Brea and Anaheim area) and would like to relocate closer to them. We were out there 4 years ago and thought we'd never want to get back into the congestion and traffic but life is funny and you never know what it will bring.

All that being said...we're thinking about going back but this time to a "quieter" area. We don't want to be too far out from them(maybe Hemet, Menifee, even Palm Springs)and we live on a fixed income. I've read Hemet has really gone down hill. Is that true???

We're planning a trip out there in Jan. 2015 via AmTrak so we can look around.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

leslie said...

@Colleen, Have you considered Ventura County, specifically Piru and Fillmore? These are very quiet small, rural towns. Fillmore is quite charming. However they are closer to LA than Orange County. To be nearer to OC and your kids, but not at OC prices, check out Temecula. It has upscale restaurants and interesting cultural activities, but housing is not high. In OC your best bet for affordability is probably Santa Ana which does have its charm. The old historic district is quite nice.

Unknown said...

Seriously, buying a house for 200 in cali, is a joke. The grass isn't always greener on the other side

Shauna Wion said...

You mean Menifee and Inland Empire I am guessing.