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12 Things to Know Before Moving to California

By: Susan Finch
March 29, 2021

California’s diverse landscape, culture, and weather makes it a desirable place for newcomers. The state is home to a strong economy, a thriving nightlife scene, and many national parks to choose from. If you’re ready to pack up and move to the Golden State, here’s what to know before you go.

1. What's it Like Living in California

California is enormous, with nearly 40 million people spanning 163,696 square miles. The state is 66% larger than the entire United Kingdom. California is also very diverse with many bilingual speakers. 44% of Californians speak a non-English language such as Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese), and Tagalog.

California’s expanse comes with a diverse landscape of bustling cities, coastal towns, and wide-open spaces. Major mountain ranges, deserts, and beaches welcome locals looking for recreation opportunities or a new place to call home.

Central California, Southern California, and Northern California all have their unique cultures and climates. Despite the state's size, areas around San Diego are less than a 20-minute drive to Tijuana. Your world is wide open to the tourist gateway between Mexico and Baja California.

2. Cost of Living in California

California isn't known for its cheap lifestyle. However, it's possible to find a reasonable cost of living depending on where you live. The overall cost of living in California is 149.9, which is more than the US average of 100. Try using our rent calculator to get an estimate of how much to spend on rent.

Using Los Angeles as an example, according to Payscale, the cost of living in California is 43% higher and housing is an overwhelming 127% higher than the national average.

Here’s an idea of how much things cost when moving to California, as reported by Payscale:

  • Energy bill: $180.74
  • Loaf of bread: $3.73
  • Doctor’s visit: $121.67
  • $3.42 for a gallon of gas

Major cities like San Francisco will prove the most expensive. However, you can still find rent specials or team up with roommates if needed.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to a thriving nightlife scene, the entertainment industry, and proximity to beachfront recreation. Research shows a single person needs to plan for a minimum of $1,059 in expenses without rent. A family of four will need at least $3,818.

Median rents in Los Angeles stand at $1,511 for a one-bedroom and $1,982 for a two-bedroom. That's above the national average of $1,101 for a one-bedroom.

San Diego

San Diego's position on the Pacific coast is known for its beach and warm, balmy climate. It's regarded as a balance between urban living and open space where you can live a city life with a slower-paced lifestyle than L.A.

The cost of living in San Diego is more reasonable than Los Angeles. However, it still comes at a premium. You'll need $1,010 for a single person without rent and $3,644 for a family of four without considering accommodations.

Median rents in San Diego stand at $1,576 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,089 for a two-bedroom. The closer you live to the beachfront or urban amenities, the more expensive your rent.

San Francisco

If you're living a single life in San Francisco, you'll need a minimum of $1,223 without rent. For a family of four, those costs go up to $4,434.

San Francisco's rents are notoriously expensive, although the pandemic has impacted the rental market. Rents have been on the decline. However, they’ll likely bounce back as conditions improve. A one-bedroom runs $1,634, and $2,322 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Affordable, Family-Friendly Cities

California offers family-friendly beaches, parks, theme parks, and festivals. There's always something to do or see in the Golden State.

Sacramento and Oxnard are among the most affordable cities for families in California. Depending on where you live, schools can be an issue. So, it may take some creativity to find the right district. A budget for private schools may also be necessary.

Read more about the best cities for families in California.

3. California Job Market and Economy

The strong economy in California may offset your cost of living to live in your favorite city. The state is currently the world's fifth-largest economy with a diversified job market. You'll find a mix of technology, media and entertainment, tourism and hospitality, education, agriculture, and healthcare.

California's cities offer the most robust job markets. However, there are still plenty of places to work in more suburban areas and small towns.

Los Angeles

The City of Angels is known for its booming media and entertainment industry in Hollywood and tech hub in Santa Monica. Whether you want to work behind the scenes or work for a tech start-up, you can find it in the greater Los Angeles area.

Central California

Central California offers agricultural opportunities. Almost all non-tropical crops are grown in the Central Valley. They provide a significant source of food production throughout the U.S.

The job market includes farming, food science, environmental engineering, and agricultural operations managers, to name a few.

Silicon Valley and San Francisco

Silicon Valley is known as the stomping ground for all things tech and online business. The region is home to the world's largest technology companies, including Apple, Cisco, and HP.

Tech is also a strong market throughout the rest of California. Computer occupation jobs rose 280% between 2014 and 2019.

4. Public Transportation in California

There are some public transportation options around California. There’s BART in San Francisco and L.A. Metro in Los Angeles. Bus service is also available through most major cities and some towns. Uber, Lyft, and bike rentals are also widely available.

Car culture is strong throughout the Golden State. It's tricky to get around without one. The exception is if you live in the core of California's cities with strong public transportation, like San Francisco.

The good news is, once you get out of the cities, driving could turn into a favorite pastime around California. Hitting the wine route in Santa Barbara, taking the Redwood Highway Route, or taking the circular route along Lake Tahoe are popular options for a getaway.

5. The Weather in California

California weather may be the reason you move west. Sunny weather, mild winters, and dry summers are a win for newcomers.

Central California

Central California offers a Mediterranean-like climate with dry summers and mild or wet winters. Cities in the region include Fresno, Modesto, Salinas, Santa Maria, and Bakersfield. The Central Valley watershed stretches 60,000 square miles. It takes up a third of California.

Southern California

It's all about the SoCal lifestyle. Weather in Southern California is generally pleasant year-round with mild, dry seasons. You typically don't get scorching temperatures. You can also head to the beach when warm weather settles in.

Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and areas in Orange County are just some of the places you can live in Southern California.

Northern California

Northern California has an oceanic climate with higher annual rainfall amounts than in the south. Popular cities around Northern California include San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Fremont, and Modesto.

Take your pick of climates and weather from beachfront warmth to chilly mountain air. Wherever you live in California, frigid winter temperatures are rare.

6. California National Parks

California is a playground for attractions, from parks to theme parks. California has the most national parks of any other state. There are nine scattered throughout the region.

Joshua Tree

Situated east of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, Joshua Tree National Park is home to two distinct desert ecosystems. The Mojave and Colorado deserts meet at Joshua Tree National Park. They’re home to famous Yucca trees.


Pinnacles National Park is located in Salinas Valley in Central California. A vibrant carpet of spring wildflowers covers the landscape between rock formations dividing the East and West Districts of the park.


Yosemite National Park is situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Ancient sequoia trees tower throughout the park. Visitors hike through to see vistas, Bridalveil Fall, and granite cliffs. Yosemite park is renowned for its waterfalls and incredible hiking across 1,200 square miles.

Channel Islands

Channel Islands National Park is home to five islands off of the Southern California coast. A historic lighthouse attracts visitors to Anacapa Island.

Santa Cruz Islands features sea caves and trails. Wildlife lovers head to San Miguel Island to see thousands of gathering seals.


Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in Northern California. It’s known for its hydrothermal sites. Bubbling mud pots and views of lava rock take visitors on an exploration through forest trails.

Death Valley

Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America. It’s also the lowest national park in the country.

Its scorching temperatures are similar to deserts in the Middle East and Sahara. Heatstroke and dehydration are common. So, bring plenty of water and supplies if you're going to explore Titus Canyon, the Badwater Basin's salt flats, or Telescope Peak Trail.


Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees on Earth. The park is a fantasy destination for trails, beaches, and grasslands along Northern California's coast.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is dubbed "a land of giants." Kings Canyon is also home to the world's largest tree. The dramatic landscape of the area is home to mountains, foothills, canyons, and diverse wildlife. Visitors love to camp out under the stars and wake up along the giant trees.

California Beaches and Resorts

The California coastline is 840 miles long, with 420 public beaches. Whether you want to live near the beach or become a regular visitors, here are options to choose from:

Big Sur

Big Sur stretches across California's central coast. Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean offer sparkling views from seaside cliffs. Driving along State Route 1 to Big Sur and areas like Carmel are popular destinations for locals and international visitors.


Malibu's sandy beaches are known as a surfer's paradise. Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach offer a reprieve from hot, sunny days. Visitors can also head to the trails weaving around waterfalls and the Santa Monica mountains.

Thousand Steps Beach

Thousand Steps Beach is named for its steep stairs that lead to a popular beach for surfing, swimming, and volleyball. Tide pools also house tiny creatures and shells.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica lies west of Los Angeles. It’s home to Palisades Park with views of the Pacific Ocean. You can also check out the outdoor gym at Muscle Beach and Santa Monica Pier's amusement park.


Coronado sits along San Diego Bay with the historic Victorian Hotel del Corado. Surfers and sunbathers flock to the beach before dining and shopping at the Coronado Ferry Landing.

Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach offers laid-back fun at the beach, waterfront bars, cafes, and an expansive boardwalk. The party vibe makes it a popular option for college students and spring breakers.

Big Bear City

Big Bear City is a famous resort city for locals and visitors looking for a reprieve from the city. Visitors are treated to the shoreline from Big Bear Lake, mountain views, and a quaint downtown.

Lake Tahoe

The freshwater lake of Lake Tahoe sits along the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Its beaches and ski resorts make it an attractive destination regardless of the time of year.

7. California's Theme Parks

California is known for its playground of theme parks, from Disney to thrill rides. No matter your age, you can find an amusement park to spend the day indulging in the fun.


Disneyland is located in Anaheim, California. It boasts rides, food events, live entertainment, and character greetings.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood offers theme park rides, live shows, a working movie studio, and entertainment. The park is also home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Beyond the rides, visitors can also take in a film and grab dinner at CityWalk.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium features marine habitats of Marine Bay located in historic Cannery Row in Monterey, California.

Six Flags

Six Flags Magic Mountain is located near Los Angeles in the Valencia neighborhood. Roller coasters and thrill rides are the main attraction in the 262-acre theme park.

Beyond the parks, beaches, and theme parks, California also offers a rich and diverse backdrop of arts. The San Francisco art scene has the highest percentage of artists in the workforce and the highest concentration of art schools per capita.

Los Angeles is also home to an impressive museum and arts district, including the Getty Center. California's long history and gold rush roots have also spawned attractions like the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

8. Food Scene and Nightlife in California

California's melting pot of different cultures offers something for everyone. Night markets are also popular. One option is the 626 Night Market in Arcadia offers seasonal evening shopping and entertainment among 300 vendors.

Farmers' markets are a prime place to mingle, grab a sustainable cup of coffee from organic beans, or sample the food trucks. The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles offers over 100 gourmet grocers and restaurants with trend-setting snacks, produce, and food.

California's cities and towns are full of pubs and speakeasies for craft cocktails and live entertainment. You can also hit the clubs in areas like Silver Lake or outdoor concerts at the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in San Diego.

There's always a new place to shop in California. Rodeo Drive attracts high-end shoppers looking for the latest fashions. Haight Ashbury in San Francisco offers thrift stores, upscale boutiques, and quirky shops.

There are also outdoor shopping complexes in California to take advantage of the views and sunny weather. Areas like the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica feature a pedestrian mall esplanade for a shopping and entertainment complex in the downtown area.

9. Major Annual California Events

California's pristine weather and views make it a popular choice for major events, including:

US Open - Depending on the year, the US Open may be hosted in areas like Torrey Pines, California.

LA County Fair - An annual country fair with live entertainment and rides.

Stagecoach - An outdoor country music festival held in Indio, California.

Coachella - An internationally renowned annual music and arts festival held at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

Pasadena Tournament of Roses - A New Year's Day Rose Parade celebration and annual Rose Bowl Game held in Pasadena, California.

Outside Lands - The largest independently owned musical festival in the country that's held annually at Golden Gate Park

Castro Street Fair - An annual LGBTQ+ San Francisco street festival and fair features live entertainment, DJ, community-group vendors and presentations, and food vendors held in Castro, California.

Cherry Blossom Festival - This Northern California festival features a celebration of Asian traditions, culture, and art.

Award Shows - Award shows are also a prime celebrity-spotting season around California. The state hosts the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, and Golden Globes.

10. Sports in California

NFL: California is home to the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, and Sacramento Kings

NBA: See the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers shoot hoops

MLB: See a home game and watch the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Oakland Athletics

NHL: Root for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks.

11. Top Universities in California

California has the most universities out of the entire United States. With 400 options to choose from, global students attend:

  • Stanford University - Stanford, California
  • California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) - Pasadena, California.
  • University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) - Los Angeles, California
  • University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley / Cal) - Berkeley, California
  • University of Southern California (USC) - Los Angeles, California

12. What City in California Should You Make Your Home?

The best city to move to in California depends on your lifestyle preferences, career aspirations, and budget.

Moving to Los Angeles is ideal if you work in the entertainment industry and want access to world-class amenities and culture. You're also in a prime position to take a day trip to the beach or mountains to escape the urban bustle on weekends.

San Francisco is perfect for tech lovers looking for careers at juggernauts like Google. Rents come at a premium. However, you'll find more deals as the city continues recovering from the pandemic.

San Diego offers beachfront city living at a lower price tag than Los Angeles and San Francisco. Weekends include trips to the beach and downtown entertainment.

Final Thoughts

Ready to move to California's coastal beaches, resort towns, or thriving cities? Register for Apartment List to find your perfect neighborhood and apartment in California.

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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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