California at a Glance
California is the place of legends. For one thing, the Golden State sees an average of 258 glorious days of sunny weather each year. It’s also home to star-studded Hollywood and the tech hub of Silicon Valley, making its career prospects some of the most exciting — and lucrative— in the nation.
Then there’s the matter of California’s majestic natural beauty. Fringed by the rugged, 840-mile Pacific Ocean coastline, the country’s third-largest state is filled with protected land, including Sequoia, Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks. Not to be overlooked, California is home to breathtaking Big Sur. Being among its jagged cliffs, soaring redwoods and coastal hikes is not just jaw-dropping, but also grounding.
Of course, all that beauty comes with a price: The cost of living in California is the fourth highest in the nation. From a quality-of-life perspective, though, that’s a price many are willing to pay.
Pros and Cons of Moving to California
Advantages of Living in California
The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin’.” “California Gurls” by Katy Perry. Tupac’s “California Love.” When it comes to odes, list goes on — and on. A source of inspiration and synonymous with relaxation, California instills a vacation state of mind.
Most Diverse State in the U.S
Beauty and chill vibes aside, there are pragmatic reasons why many decide to move to California. With over 39 million residents and a projection of reaching 45 million by 2050, over 10 million of California’s residents are immigrants and 27% are foreign-born. The bottom line? California is a state where diversity thrives.
As the country’s most populous county, Los Angeles County is home to over 10 million residents, followed by San Diego County at nearly 3.3 million inhabitants. In third place? Orange County, which nearly 3.1 million people call home. Of course, you can’t discuss California without mentioning the highly sought-after San Francisco Bay, the fifth most populous urban region in the U.S.
Strong Economy and Job Market
When it comes to worth, California is a juggernaut. With a GDP of $3.35 trillion — 14.6% of the U.S. total — the State of California has the largest economy in the United States and one of the largest in the world. And it increased by 21% in the last five years alone, dwarfing New York state’s 14% growth during the same timeframe. If California was a country, its economy would be the 5th largest anywhere.
Here, private sector employment fully recovered from pandemic losses, falling to 3.9%. And they aren’t just any jobs — California’s job market is dominated by trade, technology, media, tourism and agriculture opportunities. In the case of the latter, California is pivotal to our nation’s food supply. As the top-producing agricultural state, exports from California accounted for nearly 10% of the nation’s in 2021, employing over three million people when combined with transportation and utility services.
By contrast, Hollywood — the movie capital of the world — brims with opportunities for those in the entertainment, film and media industries, employing 155,920 in 2019 in Los Angeles alone. (Want to learn more about the City of Angels? Be sure to read our Los Angeles City Guide.)
The technology sector is another heavy hitter in California, one that produced 1.8 million jobs. Not surprisingly, California is the state with the most tech companies. As for Fortune 500s, you’ll find plenty of them in California too, including Apple, Chevron, Intel, the Walt Disney Company and Tesla.
Higher Education Opportunities
Not to be overlooked among its perks, California boasts some of the top educational institutions in the world.
Stanford has earned a reputation as one of the country’s great institutions, consistently ranking in the top 10 among national universities. Recognized for its excellent academics, it turns out entrepreneurial graduates who blaze new and exciting trails.
The Rausser College of Natural Resources — part of the University of California, Berkeley — is the oldest college in the University of California system and home to several internationally top-ranked programs. Ranked among the world’s top universities, Berkeley offers 350-degree programs, proving particularly noteworthy in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics. UCLA and the California Institute of Technology do not disappoint either.
With the nuts and bolts out of the way, let’s get back to the great outdoors.
Bordered by Oregon to the north, Nevada and Arizona to the east and the Mexican state of Baja California to its south, the whole west coast of California enjoys breathtaking views – and beaches — along the Pacific Ocean. If you can tear yourself away from the surf-pounded sands, you can also revel in soaring mountain ranges, the tranquil, crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe and vineyard-swathed Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley — two of the world’s top wine-producing regions. (Want to explore the coastal U.S. as a whole? Be sure to check out our regional guide to the West Coast.)
Given its unparalleled beauty, it’s no wonder California features nine of the country’s 63 national parks — and some of the most recognizable ones at that. The hottest, driest and lowest area on the North American continent, Death Valley National Park is a starkly beautiful locale that harbors 1,000 or more plant species, including ancient bristlecone pines and an array of vibrant spring wildflowers, like grape soda lupines. By contrast, a dozen-plus cacti species flourish in Joshua Tree; spectacular redwoods and California poppies flourish in Redwood National and State Parks; and Yosemite protects giant, ancient sequoia trees, Bridalveil Fall and the staggering granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.
Amazing Food Scene
On another note, if you’re a food enthusiast, California could definitely be the state for you. Capitalizing on sustainable, local ingredients, California cuisine takes cues from its diverse population. Owing its fare to Mexican, Latin American and Spanish roots — not to mention Eastern Asian and Oceanian and Western European influences — it also takes inspiration from American cuisine at large.
Naturally, the state has its dining hotspots. Three hours from Sacramento, Mendocino County brims with local producers and restaurants that capitalize on that fact. The small town of Julian — an hour outside of San Diego — is a patchwork of apple orchards; the Napa and Sonoma Valleys offer the epitome of vineyard cuisine; and the Bay Area features nearly 40 Michelin-starred restaurants at last count. And Los Angeles? It’s likewise a tour de force. From ultra-fresh sushi to fresh-plucked catches offset by vine-ripened veggies; French fry-filled California burritos; and bread bowls of clam chowder, drool-worthy options abound. And while there’s plenty of glitz and glam when it comes to dining out, California has ample quaint options as well. A perfect case in point: Andersen’s Pea Soup, an unlikely road food you can’t help but love.
And did we mention California produces nearly all of the country’s almonds, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes and walnuts?
Last but certainly not least, the weather is a selling point for those thinking about moving to California. Largely enjoying a Mediterranean climate, it’s important to note that the large and topographically varied state ranges from an alpine climate in the mountaintops to subtropical in the beloved climes of Southern California. It’s important to note that the cool California Current creates summer fog near the coast; farther inland it experiences colder winters and hotter summers.
Interestingly, summertime temperatures in Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the coolest of all the country’s major metropolitan areas due to maritime moderation. Even the shoreline of San Diego near the Mexico border proves cooler than most areas in the country during the summer. Just a few miles inland, though, it’s a completely different story. The same microclimate phenomenon in Los Angeles happens in the Bay Area, too. In short, you can count on the areas sheltered from the ocean to be significantly hotter than their coastal counterparts. By contrast, the state’s northern reaches are cooler overall than down south.
Considering a move to California? Areas with higher elevations can see snow during the winter — in fact, mountainous regions can even see snow until well into the summer months. If you’re moving to those areas, summer and early fall are the best times to move. Given that much of the state sees moderate temperatures, though, it’s possible to move any time of the year.
If you’re exploring California, check out our road trip playlist!
Disadvantage of Living in California
Along with all the pluses of living in California, there are some drawbacks, too.
High Cost of Living
With a cost of living that’s significantly higher than the national average, California is the fourth most expensive state to call home. Leading the charge is real estate. According to 2016-2020 estimates from the American Community Survey, homeownership rates in California are the second lowest in the United States. Statewide, just 56% of households own the home they live in, compared to 65% in the rest of the nation. It’s no doubt because the median home price was $833,910 as of July 2022. Breaking that down further:
- Southern California’s housing averaged $808,000
- The Central Coast’s average housing price was $950,000
- The Central Valley rang in at a more affordable average of $480,000
- Far northern California proved most affordable with a median housing average of $405,000
That said, the Bay Area tipped the scale with a median home price of $1.3 million. That may be why it was the only area in the state that saw declining housing prices year over year. One of the biggest reasons people move out of state? You guessed it: Housing.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, people who move to the state differ from those who move out. Those who move to California are mostly of working age, employed and high wage-earners. Conversely, they are less likely to be in poverty than those who move away.
Housing isn’t the only thing to break the bank. California’s statewide sales tax is 7.25%, higher than average tax rates. Add that to the fact the state of California sees the highest gas prices in the nation, an average of $5.80 in July 2022.
Long Commute Time
We’d be remiss to ignore the hefty commute times many people experience in California. The commute time in some of the state’s large metro areas are among the highest in the country.
In the Bay Area, getting to and from work averages 30.6 minutes, while it takes an average of 29.4 minutes in Los Angeles. Don’t tell that to those taking the 405 though — it’s the busiest and most congested freeway in the United States, with much longer commutes than that during the best of times.
Thinking about taking the train? Although public transportation is most prominent in Los Angeles and San Diego — the state’s two biggest cities — you really do need a car to get around comfortably in California.
Another negative when it comes to living in California? The degree to which it’s being impacted by climate change. Long subject to drought conditions, wildfires and flood risks follow suit. To address these challenges, California continues to develop and implement several significant programs and policies to fight climate change, from efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to strategies that stretch the existing water supply.
Finally, there are earthquakes to consider. The San Andreas Fault —a continental transform fault extending roughly 750 miles through California — forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. Divided into three segments, each features distinctive characteristics and carries its own degree of earthquake risk. The slip rate along the fault ranges from .79 to 1.38 inches per year.
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