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Top 10 Cheapest Places to Live in California, 2021

By: Susan Finch
July 6, 2021

California doesn't exactly boast a reputation for being a cheap place to live. Cost of living is notoriously high, especially in areas in surrounding metro areas. The good news is there are still deals to be found throughout the Golden State. Have a little flexibility in where you're moving? Here are the cheapest places to live in California.

Note: The data provided below comes from our rent estimates. These numbers expand beyond what’s listed on our platform. For further information, learn about our methodology.

1. Bakersfield

  • Population: 513,624
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,133
  • Median Household Income: $62,335

Bakersfield was once a pass-through city. The city is full of almond groves, farms, and oil fields, and its population is booming. The city is adopting a trendier vibe, although it's still laid-back and embraces its country roots.

Bakersfield attracts young professionals and families looking to settle in for the long haul. Public schools are highly regarded, and the city is home to kid-friendly attractions like the California Living Museum Zoo. Foodies enjoy access to cuisine from around the world with dishes ranging from Tex Mex to Asian fusion.

Bakersfield earned the status as the Oil Capital of the World. It's a top oil-producing region globally and provides nearly 10% of the US oil supply. It created a unique community and dynamic. Instead of that California vibe, you might expect, Bakersfield feels decidedly Southern. Why? An influx of Texans rushed to Bakersfield during the turn of the 20th century to try their luck at finding some "black gold."

Despite the booming oil business, you'll find nearly 60 parks and green space scattered through Bakersfield. If you run out of green space to explore, you can head over to the majestic Sequoia National Park for hiking and biking alongside the towering trees. Outdoor lovers also come to Bakersfield to find work in the agriculture and farming industry. Bakersfield is home to some of the largest carrot-producing farms in the world. Other employers in the city include California State University, State Farm, and the local Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

Learn more about the cost of living in Bakersfield and average rent in Bakersfield.

2. Fresno

  • Population: 531,576
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,254
  • Median Household Income: $50,432

Fresno started out as a railroad town where locals came for the vast open land, streetcars, and train access. Its ample farmland attracted farmers looking to raise crops and run cattle. As the city grew, so did the diverse and ethnic neighborhoods, earning it the title as 58th most diverse city in the United States.

Fresno is situated in the San Joaquin Valley and boasts big city amenities with small-town charm. You'll find all of the shopping and dining you want, as well as a tight-knit community vents and quaint farmer's markets. Young professionals move to Fresno to grow their careers at Aetna, the Air National Guard, and California State University. Fresno is also popular with students at home to seven colleges, including California State University and Fresno Pacific University.

Award-winning public schools are attractive to families looking for a kid-friendly city without giving up on nightlife and adult-sized fun. Family attractions include Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Island Waterpark, and Rotary Storyland Playland Family Amusement Park.

As one of the cheapest places to live in California, Fresno still offers plenty of entertainment and amenities. The Forestiere Underground Gardens attracts locals and visitors for its Roman-catacombs-themed courtyards and underground passageways. There are also Japanese Gardens and rails in Woodward Park. Because Fresno is located at the base of the Yosemite National Park, you get adventurous outdoor fun with waterfalls and rock outcroppings.

Fresno's food scene is growing, providing access to mouth-watering cuisine ranging from tacos, Vietnamese Pho, and fresh corn and produce. The plentiful access to fresh, regionally grown produce also adds a boost of flavor and authenticity to the food scene in Fresno.

Learn more about the average rent in Fresno.

3. Chico

  • Population: 103,301
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,277
  • Median Household Income: $53,32

Chico was founded by John Bidwell, who was on one of the first wagon trains to reach California in 1843. The city has a large biking community and a 100-mile bike race each year. With festivals and concert series, the small city attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Chico is among the cheapest places to live in California, with reasonable rent prices and affordable cost of living. You'll have room in your budget to take in a historic walking or home tour, Chico Museum, shopping, dining, and year-round events.

Enjoy a hallmark community vibe and small-town feel in Chico. Despite its sleepy reputation, it's growing into a regional center for business and culture. Students attend California State University, Chico, and young professionals and families settle in for the low-key vibe and employment opportunities. Some of the biggest employers around Chico include California State University, Chico, Enloe Medical Center, and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

Chico is an idyllic option for all ages looking for outdoor recreation and proximity to nature. The oversized Bidwell Park has something for everyone with a golf course, observatory, and wooded trails. Chico also boasts family-friendly attractions, including the Gateway Science Museum with hands-on exhibits and a National Yo-Yo Museum. The city encourages locals to use bicycles and provides accommodations on roads, bike racks throughout the Downtown area, paths, and bike lanes.

You won't find tons of dining options around Chico, but there are a handful of spots to try, including Downtown eateries likeB Street Public House, Big Hot Crab, and the Banshee. You'll also find your share of fast-food chains.

Learn more about the average rent in Chico.

4. Sacramento

  • Population: 103,301
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,591
  • Median Household Income: $62,335

The city of Sacramento was named after the Sacramento River that runs along its western border. The California Gold Rush drew newcomers to the area looking for their fortune. Today, Sacramento is rapidly growing with new expansions and growing suburbs.

Newcomers to Sacramento enjoy a lower cost of living compared to other areas around California. Rent prices are generally more affordable for young professionals and growing families alike. You'll still have the opportunity to soak up the entertainment around the city's two zoos, historic Old Sacramento and Crocker Art Museum, dating back to 1885.

Sacramento is home to picture-perfect neighborhoods and urban appeal. Young professionals and college students choose Downtown and Midtown for the eclectic atmosphere and community. You're never far from pubs and trendy eateries, as well as tattoo shops. Walking is the norm, and residents walk to work and enjoy the California weather.

College students choose the appropriately named College Greens, which is home to Sacramento State University. Within this laid-back neighborhood, you can still find yards and greenspace in houses for rent or alongside apartment complexes.

Sacramento is celebrated for having 250 days of sunshine a year. It's perfect for exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains, going whitewater rafting, or hiking nearby. Cyclists bike along 32-miles of paved bike travels along the American River Parkway. Plan to hop on and off the trail to enjoy different scenic views and amenities. For some urban fun outdoors, join the Second Saturday Art Walk.

It's all about outdoor dining in Sacramento, whether at a cafe or fine dining restaurant. Middle Eastern fusion, traditional sushi spots, upscale Mexican, and vegan options are the norm around Sacramento. You can also find your share of casual burgers and sandwiches shops.

Learn more about the average rent in Sacramento and the best neighborhoods there.

5. Citrus Heights

  • Population: 87,796
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,651
  • Median Household Income: $62,276

Citrus Heights is known for its central location within two hours of San Francisco or Lake Tahoe. It's also filled with modern shopping facilities, including the Sunrise Mall and Sunrise Marketplace. Like many of the cheapest places to live in California, Citrus Heights offers a small-town feel where crowds are thin and neighbors gather at local festivals.

Citrus Heights is one of the more affordable areas around California. Rent prices are cheaper than cities like San Francisco, though you're still a short drive to Sacramento. Leave room in your budget to enjoy the local Stones Gambling Hall, Sanctuary Salon, and Spa, or indulge at The Couch. History buffs love the Maidu Museum and Historic Site and California State Railroad Museum.

The job market is strong in Citrus Heights, attracting young professionals and rising college students. Major employers include UC Davis, Intel Corporation, and Blue Shield of California. This cozy little city is also just a 20-mile commute to Sacramento too. Schools in Citrus Heights are very strong, and families find plenty to do at the nearby Sacramento Zoo or Roseville Golfland and Sunsplash.

Relax in sun-filled Citrus Heights and get reconnected to nature. Tempo Park features paths, tennis courts, walking trails, and soccer fields. You can also gather with neighbors at barbecue facilities for a festive afternoon. Miners Ravine Bike and Walking Trail wind through 8.4 miles with 50 different species of animals.

While most upscale dining options are found in nearby Sacramento, there are still solid options around Citrus Heights. Try the seafood at California Fish Grill, American fare at Crepes and Burgers, or Tex Mex at El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant.

Learn about the average rent in Citrus Heights.

6. Roseville

  • Population: 141,500
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,732
  • Median Household Income: $89,082

The inland city of Roseville might be less popular than coastal towns but is among the cheapest places to live in California. It's about 19 miles northeast of Sacramento and is known as a gorgeous suburb with fantastic shopping and upscale living. Roseville attracts families, empty nesters, and young professionals looking for a more affordable lifestyle.

The rents around Roseville are appealing to apartment budget hunters. Plus, it’s a quick commute to Sacramento. Save some money to shop at Rosedale Center, one of the largest retail districts in the region, and enjoy some of the nearby attractions like Golfland Sunsplash, Antique Trove, Roseville Telephone Museum. There are also a few cultural opportunities like the Tower Theater and Blue Lines Arts gallery.

The job growth in Roseville is predicted to soar over the next ten years, making it anattractive community for rising career climbers and millennials. Major companies around Roseville include the Intel Corporation, Blue Shield of California, and Apple. Roseville's quick commute also makes it easy to explore job options around Sacramento.

If you're moving with kids, Roseville is the perfect spot to get settled. The city landed on SmartAsset's list of number one places to raise a family. Beyond the great schools and reasonable cost of living, Roseville is also home to attractions like Roseville Utility Exploration Center and Hawks Ranch Petting Zoo.

Despite the lack of a waterfront, inland California still offers outdoor options to explore. Maidu Regional Park features 150-acres with sports amenities and a skate park. Its hallmark attraction, the Native American Museum and Historic Site, boast open spaces and historical exhibits.

World-class dining isn't far away in Sacramento, but there are still options right in Roseville. Sienna Restaurant Roseville, Q1227 Restaurant, and Paul Martin's American Grill are all local favorites. You can dine and drink without leaving the city to find your new favorite spot.

Learn about the average rent in Roseville.

7. Salinas

  • Population:
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,741
  • Median Household Income:

Salinas landed on the map as home of Nobel Prize laureate John Steinbeck and the National Steinbeck Center Museum. Situated in Monterey County, Salinas is a desirable place to live, work, and play. Plus, you’re only 20-miles from Monterrey's coastline and close to some of the best produce around.

Salinas is among the cheapest places to live in California, with less expensive rent prices. The cost of living is reasonable, and locals have more wiggle room in their budget for apartment hunting. Use your extra funds to imbibe at the Odonata Winery's Tasting Room and Wrath Wines. Catch up on your railroad history at the Monterey & Salinas Valley Road Museum or Salinas Valley Art Gallery.

The job market in Salinas is predicted to grow steadily over the next 10-years. The largest employers around Salinas include Dole Fresh Vegetables, the County of Monterey, and Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, among others. Salinas is also known as the "Salad Bowl of the World" for its booming farming business producing lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and grapes for wine. There are also stunning flower fields cultivated for commercial production.

While Salinas offers plenty of wineries for adult enjoyment, kids are right at home in this laid-back city. Parents choose quality schools and open space at Toro County Park, opportunities to go riding at Monterey Bay Equestrian Center, and the Monterey Zoo.

The surrounding Monterey area is home to delectable dining options. Black Bear Diner Salinas, Eli's Great American Restaurant, and Patria attract locals looking for an evening out on the town. You won't find hopping nightlife around Salinas, but there are bars, a few clubs, and live entertainment to enjoy.

Learn about the average rent in Salinas.

8. Riverside

  • Population:
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,750
  • Median Household Income:

Just sixty miles from Los Angeles, Riverside is home to Southern California's first polo field and golf course, and also housed the birth of the state's citrus industry. With a gorgeous mountainous backdrop and dozens of nationally registered historic sites and landmarks, Riverside is a beautiful place to call home.

Riverside is among the cheapest places to live in California, with less expensive rent prices. The cost of living is reasonable with more money to spend on Downtown or area attractions. Stroll the streets and take in the Spanish-Revival architecture Southern California is celebrated for, or pay stops to the Mission Inn Museum, Riverside Art Museum, and Fox Performing Arts Center.

The job market is growing steadily in the greater Los Angeles area and Riverside. With solid jobs and reasonable rent prices, locals enjoy a more affordable living cost than most Southern California. Riverside locals also have their pick of job options around the County of Riverside, University of California, Riverside, and March Air Force Reserve.

Dining options are plentiful around Riverside, with local picks like Mario's Place, the Salted Pig gastropub, and the French Le Chat Noir. Plus, LA isn't far when you need an award-winning dining option or want to indulge in late-night fun.

Learn about the average rent in Riverside.

9. Long Beach

  • Population:
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,796
  • Median Household Income:

The coastal city of Long Beach is situated about 20 miles from Los Angeles, with more affordable rents and lifestyle. Waterfront attractions include the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary and Aquarium of the Pacific. Annual events include the Grand Prix of Long Beach and Long Beach Pride Festival and Parade.

Long Beach is an ideal coastal living situation for students and young professionals looking for reasonable rents. The job market is growing steadily in the greater Los Angeles area. You can commute into the City of Angeles for entertainment, healthcare, and tech jobs. Or stick around Long Beach and work at UTi Worldwide and SSA Marine.

Compared to the rest of the LA area, greenspace and reasonably priced homes make Long Beach an attractive place for families. Kid-friendly attractions include the Aquarium of the Pacific deep-sea adventures and boat rides on the Queen Mary. Colleges around Long Beach include California State University and Long Beach City College. Students can also commute into LA to reach UCLA and other higher learning institutions. No matter how old you are, lounging and playing Long Beach City Beach is a favorite local pastime.

You're never far from trendy dining options around Long Beach, from Cambodian to Filipino Cuisine. Korean BBQ and streetside snowballs are also local favorites. Plus, Los Angeles isn't far from hitting top foodie spots like Silver Lake, Koreatown, and Echo Park.

Learn about the average rent in Long Beach.

10. Glendale

  • Population:
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,857
  • Median Household Income:

Glendale is nestled in the Verdugo Mountain region near Los Angeles. The suburban city is lively with events and community activity but is still quaint and laid-back. Just 8 miles north of LA and a decent commute to Hollywood or Downtown LA, it’s a commuter’s paradise. Glendale has also earned a reputation as being among the top 10 safest cities in the US.

The rent prices in Glendale are more reasonable than the greater Los Angeles metro area. Look for apartments along Brand Blvd to live near the action with restaurants, bars, and shopping. Quiet residential neighborhoods are also an option near rolling hills for hiking. Although Glendale is slower than the City of Angels, it's still the 4th largest city in LA County. It's also diverse, with one of the largest Armenian communities outside of Armenia.

Employment opportunities are substantial around Glendale too. The suburb is so close to LA that many of its locals commute to entertainment, manufacturing, education, and health service jobs. Of course, rush hour and commuting in and out of the City of Angels can get time-consuming quickly during rush hour. It's also possible to live, work, and play right in Glendale and skip the LA commute. Employers include Honeywell, Bechtel, Delta Dental, and AAA.

Glendale offers high-performing public schools and access to nearly 60 four-year colleges within the greater metro area. You're not far from Caltech, University of Southern California, and Glendale Community College. Thanks to its affordable rent prices and proximity to higher education opportunities, college students and staff feel right at home.

Locals make the drive into LA for nightlife and hip dining options. You can also stick around Glendale and shop at the Galleria before grabbing a bite at the Middle Eastern Course Restaurant, brunch at Foxy's Restaurant, or upscale dining at Raffi's Place.

Learn about the average rent in Glendale.

Final Thoughts - Where Should I Move to In California?

The cheapest places to live in California are more than just quiet suburbs. They're rich with culture, diversity, and provide easy access to gorgeous mountain trails and metropolitan areas. Ready to make a move to the Golden State? Sign up for Apartment list to find an affordable apartment in California.

If you're interested in living elsewhere, check out any of our California guides!


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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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