Living in California means easy access to beaches, skiing, hiking and some eclectic and fun cities. That's probably why it's one of the most popular states in the country to call home. However, it also means the cost of living can jump from one city to the next.
From beach towns to inland hills, a little research can bring you to the perfect California spot, combining natural beauty, amazing food and a lifestyle that fits right into your budget. So, don't let the high cost of living in some of the bigger California cities deter you. You can take advantage of all the sunshine and mild weather at just about any price point.
- Housing costs
- Food prices
- Utility costs
- Transportation costs
- Healthcare costs
- Goods and services costs
- Tax rates
- How much do you need to earn to live in California?
California housing prices
Overall, the cost of living for housing in California sits above the national average, some even hitting those incredibly high numbers that cause you to desperately look around for a roommate. While some cities' average rents are jaw-dropping, others have surprisingly affordable options. You may get lucky and find a perfect, budget-friendly apartment once you expand your search. Try looking beyond a major city to a smaller community within driving distance.
To get a solid understanding of what rent looks like throughout the state, check out average rents in a few major California cities.
When you need a price break in the housing department, looking a little further inland in California can make a big difference. Cities that don't have a coastline are more affordable in general, without sacrificing amenities or those qualities of a California city that people want. Bakersfield is one such option, right in the middle of the state.
The average one-bedroom apartment is $1,615 in rent, and the average two-bedroom is $1,527 per month. These rents hit just 3.7 percent above the national average.
Although more affordable, Bakersfield is seeing huge growth in housing. One-bedrooms are up 49 percent over last year, and two-bedrooms are up 22 percent. The median home price in Bakersfield is also up 22.5 percent with a price tag of $392,000.
It's no surprise that Los Angeles has higher rents and home prices than many other California locales, with housing costs on the rise. The city's stash of multi-million dollar homes for all those celebrities quickly skews the averages.
A one-bedroom apartment will cost you $2,828 in rent per month, and a two-bedroom averages out at $3,862. Both apartment types have seen similar levels of growth when it comes to price, at around 14 percent. These numbers exceed the national average by 134 percent. L.A. is an expensive place to live no doubt.
Homeowners are seeing similar growth patterns, as well. The median home price in L.A. is $1.02 million, and growth over the last year reached 13.8 percent.
Calling a state capital home often comes with a higher price tag, but Sacramento is keeping things on the affordable side when it comes to California numbers. A one-bedroom apartment averages out at $2,224 in rent each month, and a two-bedroom isn't that much more at $2,516. The median home price in Sacramento is also pretty middle-of-the-road at $516,500.
Journeying down to the southern end of California, you find San Diego. Yet another city on the more expensive side, San Diego is seeing a lot of upward movement in housing costs. Slightly cheaper than Los Angeles, and much more affordable than San Francisco, you'll still need to budget carefully to live here.
Housing costs in San Diego are 115.6 percent above the national average. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages out at $2,808 per month. That's an increase of 23 percent over last year. A two-bedroom apartment's rent has an average monthly cost of $3,592 — a raise of 21 percent over last year.
Home prices are rising, as well, up 22.8 percent over last year. Currently, the median home price in San Diego is $890,000.
In the City by the Bay, you'll find housing costs that reach an all-time high. San Francisco home prices come close to those in New York City, a place most people consider to have the highest cost of living in the country.
The average one-bedroom rent is $3,523 per month, up 12 percent over last year. The average two-bedroom apartment rent is $4,606, up only 6 percent. And, although rent increases aren't huge, the average cost of housing in San Francisco is more than double the national average.
This includes the price tag around buying a home, as well. The median home price in San Francisco is a whopping $1.6 million, up 11.5 percent over last year.
California food prices
Overall, the average Californian spends between $233 and $266 per month on food. This cost of living for California food is only slightly above the national average. Though some cities, with lower expenditures, even out those eating a more luxurious diet, overall, California is an affordable state when it comes to keeping yourself fed.
Based on total grocery spending, Sacramento is the least expensive city on our list to shop for food. Here's how the other cities fit in:
- Sacramento is 7.7 percent above the national average
- Bakersfield is 12.5 percent above the national average
- San Diego is 13.4 percent above the national average
- Los Angeles is 13.7 percent above the national average
- San Francisco is 30 percent above the national average
It's no surprise that San Francisco has the highest food prices, but to see this in a more relatable way, the average price of a dozen eggs in San Francisco is $3.47, but in Bakersfield, they'll only cost you $3.13. The average price of cereal in San Diego is $5.82, but in Sacramento, it's only $5.15.
These price differentials also come into play on date night, or whenever you're eating out. The cost of a three-course meal for two in Los Angeles averages out to a little over $86, but in Bakersfield, the same meal averages out to $55. That's a 36 percent price difference.
California utility prices
There are really three key utilities to look at when working on a housing expense budget — electricity, water and internet. Luckily, in California, some areas offer alternative energy sources, so what's powering your home could come from a more sustainable source. Looking at the overall cost of utilities in our California cities against the national average:
- Sacramento is only 6.2 percent above the national average
- Los Angeles is 9.9 percent above the national average
- San Diego is 10 percent above the national average
- San Francisco is 33.8 percent above the national average
- Bakersfield is 54.1 percent above the national average
You have much more significant jumps the further north you creep when it comes to the cost of utilities. This is important to take into consideration when you add rent prices into the mix, as well.
California is also unique when it comes to utilities because of its water “crisis." The scarcity of water, due to several years of low rainfall and unattainable practices around groundwater usage, has led to a state-wide push to conserve. It can also mean higher-than-normal water bills and water shortages.
California transportation prices
Not all California cities provide public transportation, but a lot do. This offers up an affordable alternative to paying for parking, gas, vehicle maintenance and all the other expenses car ownership requires.
Even though public transportation can save you some money, it's worth noting that all these California cities have transportation costs that exceed the national average.
- Bakersfield is 13 percent above the national average
- Sacramento is 20.7 percent above the national average
- Los Angeles is 26 percent above the national average
- San Diego is 30.4 percent above the national average
- San Francisco is 41.6 percent above the national average
Although all our highlighted cities have some form of public transportation, the three most extensive systems are in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.
Muni in San Francisco
The Muni system in San Francisco consists of fuel-efficient buses, light rail trains, streetcars and cable cars. The system runs through nine subway stations, 24 surface stations and 87 additional surface stops. A single-ride fare is only $3 and a monthly pass is $98.
San Francisco also has the Bay Area Rapid Transit system or BART. These buses serve the entire Bay Area, with 50 stations running through six routes.
The costs for riding BART vary based on where you start and how far you're going. The cheapest fare is around $2.10, and the most expensive is a little under $14.
Having all this public transportation available is ideal because of the city's high walk score. At 93, San Francisco is all about getting from Point A to Point B on foot. What's nice is that, when you get tired, there's always a public transportation stop nearby.
MTS in San Diego
Consisting of trolleys, buses and light rails, the MTS covers all urbanized areas of San Diego County in addition to a few rural routes to the East. There are four light rail lines and 95 different bus routes. An adult fare is $2.50 each way, and monthly passes are $72.
This is especially helpful since only certain areas of San Diego are highly walkable. The city, overall, has a walk score of 71, but there are gaps where you'll need public transportation to get you where you want to go.
Metro in Los Angeles
Most major city centers across the greater Los Angeles area are part of the Metro system. With six rail lines and 114 bus lines, this is a useful public transportation system for sure. A one-way fare is $1.75, and a 30-day pass costs you $100. However, you can get a single-day pass for only $7.
Since the cost of monthly parking spots in L.A. averages around $200, riding public transportation is a great way to significantly save on your overall cost of living. Between the Metro and the city's high walk score of 79, you shouldn't have any trouble getting around.
California healthcare prices
California's healthcare cost of living is challenging to average out. Everyone's personal health is different based on pre-existing conditions, prescriptions and how often you end up in a doctor's office. In general, though, you should budget for a set of standard visits each year. You should see a general practitioner once a year, an eye doctor once a year and have your teeth cleaned at the dentist every six months.
Adding up those visits, without taking into account any surprises (although you should budget for them), healthcare costs per city are all relatively close in range.
- Bakersfield: $318.90
- San Diego: $355.40
- Los Angeles: $388.80
- Sacramento: $425.26
- San Francisco: $484.08
In total, the price of healthcare in each city is above the national average.
- Bakersfield is 2.4 percent above the national average
- San Diego is 7.2 percent above the national average
- Sacramento is 13.5 percent above the national average
- Los Angeles is 15 percent above the national average
- San Francisco is 33.9 percent above the national average
San Francisco has both the highest doctor visit costs and the highest price in total healthcare, but for the rest of the cities, it's a bit of a mix-up. Although you may pay a lot to see Sacramento doctors, overall healthcare there is right in the middle of the group.
California goods and services prices
Creating a monthly budget for everyday items is much easier when you know how much a few essential items cost. Here's a chart that breaks a few down per city.
|City||Average cost of pizza on a night out||Average cost of ibuprofen||Average cost of dry cleaning||Average cost for a haircut|
As you can see, just because one city has the highest price in one area, doesn't mean they'll hold that rank all the time. Sacramento may have the highest haircut prices, but it's the cheapest when it comes to dry cleaning bills.
One more regular expense to look at is childcare. For some, this expense is as frequent as a trip to the gas station. Childcare costs in California vary based on whether you want to put your child(ren) into a private preschool for a full day or half-day. Not all cities will offer public preschool, so this is your only option, and it's costly.
For a child to attend a full-day private preschool in San Francisco, the cost is around $2,583 per month. This is at the highest end of our California cities. The lowest per-month childcare expenses are in Los Angels, at $1,267 per month. That's still not very affordable for many and all cities are above the national average monthly payment, which is $1,230 per month.
Taking it all in, California is an expensive state, and the overall costs of all goods and services, compared to the national average, make that obvious.
- Bakersfield is 3.1 percent above the national average
- Sacramento is 8.1 percent above the national average
- San Diego is 10.1 percent above the national average
- Los Angeles is 15.2 percent above the national average
- San Francisco is 24.3 percent above the national average
Hopefully, though, you get what you pay for, and a more expensive lifestyle means better quality service.
Taxes in California
In California, the statewide sales tax is 7.25 percent. This means that if you went clothes shopping and spent $1,000, $72.50 would go solely to taxes. That's a decent markup.
Along with the state sales tax, each district can tack on its own additional tax, and most do. This makes taxes inconsistent between cities. It also makes some cities significantly more expensive than others.
- San Diego has a combined tax of 7.75 percent
- Bakersfield has a combined tax of 8.25 percent
- Sacramento has a combined tax of 8.63 percent
- San Francisco has a combined tax of 8.75 percent
- Los Angeles has a combined tax of 9.5 percent
This means Los Angeles has earned the distinction of the most expensive city on our list. You're paying $95 in tax alone each time you spend $1,000.
San Diego and Bakersfield both stick relatively close to the state tax rate. You also have the option of only paying slightly more with cities like San Francisco and Sacramento keeping their additional taxes under two percent.
How much do I need to earn to live in California?
Since many experts suggest rent takes up only 30 percent of your monthly income, you'll need to make $106,240 annually to comfortably afford the average rent of $2,656 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in California.
This is most likely a manageable situation for many residents, given that the average California salary is $111,622. However, cities like San Francisco skew these numbers really high, while cities like Bakersfield come in significantly below for a more affordable option.
If you need to do some number crunching, make sure that the perfect apartment fits into your budget, check out our rent calculator.
Living in California
The cost of living in California is not the cheapest in the country by far, but the state offers a variety of perks you won't find anywhere else. It's really the only state where you can take Silicon Valley by storm, spend a day surfing and shoot through wine country all in one week. So, if you have an outdoorsy, laid-back and adventurous side, and a larger-than-average budget, California may just be the perfect place for you to call home.
- The cost of living in San Francisco
- The cost of living in Los Angeles
- The cost of living in San Diego
- The cost of living in San Jose
- The cost of living in Sacramento