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Top 9 Cheapest Places to Live in California, 2022

March 18, 2022

California doesn't exactly boast a reputation for being a cheap place to live. On the contrary, the cost of living is notoriously high, especially 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.

California State Average Rent Prices

Like much of the country, California’s average rental prices are on the rise. Here’s what to expect to pay in California for different apartment sizes:

Fresno

  • Population: 542,107
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,326.67
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 18.84%
  • Median Household Income: $50,432

Fresno started 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 ethnic neighborhoods, earning it the title of 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 tight-knit community events 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 California's cheapest places to live, 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. In addition, because Fresno sits 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 boosts flavor and authenticity to the food scene in Fresno.

Learn more about the average rent in Fresno.

Arden-Arcade

  • Population: 94,659
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,661.33
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 15.02%
  • Median Household Income: $50,501

Less than nine miles from Sacramento, Arden-Arcade offers a quick commute and access to urban amenities. The area is known for its Cal Expo Fairgrounds that hosts the Sacramento Republic FC soccer club. In addition, the Arden Fair Mall houses big-box retailers and restaurants, and area eateries off of Fulton Boulevard include ethnic and authentic menus.

Arden Arcade is more affordable than Sacramento and area suburbs. Locals have their choice of a variety of apartments and accommodations from residential to options along commercial strips. Join the fun at Country Lanes for laser tag, bowling, and arcade games, or hit the athletic facilities and swimming pool at Arden Park Recreation. For free recreation, stop by Howe Community Park.

Arden-Arcade's job economy leans heavily on Sacramento, where many locals commute to work for careers in healthcare, agribusiness, manufacturing, entertainment, clean energy, and technology. However, Arden-Arcade is home to retail, restaurant, hotels, and small business centers.

The nightlife and dining scene is thriving in Sacramento. However, you’ll still find places to eat and drink around Arden-Arcade. The local-favorite Twin Peaks serves pub food, beer, and cocktails. Pete's Restaurant and Brewhouse features scallops, muscles, shrimps, ahi tuna salads, and pizzas. There are also fast food and chain restaurants to choose from, like Applebee's Grill and Bar and Outback Steakhouse.

Learn about the average rent in Arden-Arcade.

Richmond

  • Population: 116,448
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,794.00
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 10.65%
  • Median Household Income: $68,472

Richmond lies just less than 18 miles from San Francisco and 8 miles from Berkley, making it a central location for young professionals and college students. In addition, Richmond is known for its role in World War II when the city housed busy shipbuilding operations and launched 4747 during the war. The city also attracts Canadian geese during their annual migrations, harbor seals, and mountain lions roaming in the Wildcat Canyon and Point Pinole Regional Shoreline.

Richmond is one of the least expensive places to live in California and has affordable rents. The reasonable cost of living leaves more room in your budget to visit The Richmond Art Center to take in local artwork from the East Bay area, the Magick Lantern, for blockbusters, classics, indie films, and foreign flicks. Fortunately, Richmond is full of free and inexpensive outdoor wonders like Keller Beach for picturesque beachfront, sunbathing, and birding. Miller Knox Regional Park also features 307 acres of promenade and opportunity for fishing, swimming, and boating.

Locals aren’t far from San Francisco to take advantage of the tech and software industry. Options in Richmond include oil refining operations, service businesses, manufacturing, distribution facilities, commercial centers, and more. Opportunities in higher education are also available in Berkley.

There are plenty of dining options in and around San Francisco. However, El Garage is a popular spot for fresh "queso birria tacos," and Mariscos El Layo serves up wings, fries, and shrimp Alfredo. Black Star Pirate BBQ serves up brisket with sparkling views of the water from its patio. Finally, the Mexico City-inspired Estilo Chilanga is famous for its cheesy tacos and gorditas.

Learn about the average rent in Richmond.

Fairfield

  • Population: 119,881
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,807.33
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 11.11%
  • Median Household Income: $84,557

Fairfield lies 47 miles from San Francisco with a more outdoorsy, laid-back lifestyle. The city is known for its iconic Jelly Belly Candy Company and its award-winning factory tours. The area also attracts outdoor lovers to its miles of hiking and biking trails, kayaking, and wildlife watching.

Fairfield is also an ideal location for its proximity to Napa Valley and is just 15 miles to wine country with country roads and open spaces to stroll. Fairfield's job market includes aerospace, healthcare, general contracting, and manufacturing opportunities.

Fairfield is considered part of the Bay Area but comes with a far more affordable price tag. Many young professionals and college students take refuge in Fairfield for its stunning landscape and cheaper rents. Wineries, wine tastings, and farm stands are never far. Beer lovers can skip the wineries and head to the Heretic Beer Company instead. There's also kid-sized fun at the Scandia Family Center with arcades, golf courses, batting cages, laser tag, and more.

Beyond the wine and vineyards, dining options include Yo Sushi for Japanese entrees and Three Restaurant for fish tacos. Rustwater Kitchen & Taproom serves a wide selection of beer and innovative burgers. Locals start the morning at Valley Cafe for country-style breakfasts.

Learn about the average rent in Fairfield.

Sacramento

  • Population: 524,943
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,835.00
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 16.43%
  • 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 than 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, home to Sacramento State University. You can still find houses with big yards for rent or greenspace alongside apartment complexes within this laid-back neighborhood.

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. But, of course, 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.

Citrus Heights

  • Population: 87,583
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,849.67
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 16.67%
  • 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 lower 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, 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.

Elk Grove

  • Population: 176,124
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,868.33
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 17.31%
  • Median Household Income: $93,780

Elk Grove is located about 16 miles south of Sacramento, with suburban greenspace and quality schools that make it an attractive place for families and commuters. It's also known for great restaurants, upscale amenities, and 90 parks. So it’s easy to see why the city has one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

The rents and cost of living in Elk Grove are more reasonable than the rest of Sacramento without compromising dining and shopping. Retail outlets induce Elk Grove Shopping Center, Laguna Promenade, and The Ridge Shopping Center. Like many of Sacramento's suburbs, Elk Grove boasts outdoor recreation opportunities, including Elk Grove Creek Trail and Laguna Creek Trail. Area wineries include McConnell Estates Winery.

Most employment opportunities are available in Sacramento, although there are places to work without leaving Elk Grove’s city limits, including Elk Grove Ford and OC Communications. In addition, the greater Sacramento area offers government, technology, healthcare, clean energy, agribusiness, and real estate opportunities.

It’s a quick drive into Sacramento for dining and nightlife. Or you can stick around Elk Grove for Boulevard Bistro for short ribs and lamb. For casual Italian, locals head to Paesanos for pizzas and pasta dishes.

Learn about the average rent in Elk Grove

Long Beach

  • Population: 466,742
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,937
  • Rent Price Change Year on Year: 17.31%
  • Median Household Income: $556,100

The coastal city of Long Beach is situated about 20 miles from Los Angeles, with more affordable rents and lifestyles. 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. In addition, 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.

Roseville

  • Population: 147,773
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,994.33
  • RRent Price Change Year on Year: 17.78%
  • 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 by shopping 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.

Experts predict the job growth in Roseville to soar over the next decade, making it an attractive 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.

Roseville is the perfect spot to settle if you're moving with kids. 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 boasts 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 local favorites. You can dine and drink without leaving the city to find your new favorite spot.

Learn about the average rent in Roseville.

Cheapest Cities in California Data

Before you head to California, know the average two-bedroom rental prices and their year-over-year growth.

CityAverage 2-Bedroom RentYoY Growth
Fresno, CA$1326.6719%
Arden-Arcade, CA$1661.3315%
Richmond, CA$179411%
Fairfield, CA$1807.3311%
Sacramento, CA$183516%
Citrus Heights, CA$1849.6717%
Elk Grove, CA$1868.3317%
Long Beach, CA$193712%
Roseville, CA$1994.3318%

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 in cultural 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!

California:

If you're concerned about the cost of living in California, learn about the true cost of renting. You can also consider subletting, living in a short-term rental, or finding a move-in special!

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AUTHOR
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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