What Life in California is Really Like

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Beaches. Sunsets. Beautiful, tan humans. There’s a reason California real estate is so coveted, On the flipside, though, are sky-high rents, soul-crushing traffic and — let’s face it — tech bros.  

Before making a move to the Golden State, you may have wondered what it’s really like for everyday folks?  

From the jaw-dropping natural scenery to the outrageous cost of living, here’s a warts-and-all look at what it’s really like to live in California.  

The Pros of Living in California: Why People Love Calling It Home 

California Coastline

California’s natural beauty is hard to beat. With sunny skies and mild weather year-round, you can spend your free time at the beach, hiking in the mountains or exploring lush forests whenever time allows. There are so many stunning state parks and open spaces to enjoy, from Yosemite to Joshua Tree and everything in between. 

The food, wine and craft beer scenes are also world-class. You can go wine tasting at scenic wineries in Napa, Sonoma or Temecula, or sample innovative craft beers at one of over 900 breweries. Amazing restaurants, food trucks and farmers markets offer cuisine from every culture. 

Want entertainment and nightlife? California’s got you covered. Catch a show in L.A., party at festivals in San Diego or bar hop in San Francisco. Whatever music, movies or culture you’re into, California has options galore, particularly in urban areas. 

The job opportunities and business climate are strong in tech hubs like Silicon Valley and L.A., too. Many innovative startups are based here, and the state economy is massive. While living costs are high, especially for housing, salaries also tend to be higher to match. 

With stunning scenery, near-perfect weather and a vibrant culture, California has endless upsides. While the costs and crowds can annoy at times, the rewards of living in this special place make any challenges worthwhile for many. 

The Cons of Living in California: The Challenges You May Face 

California certainly isn’t for everyone. The high cost of living and busy pace can be a shock if you’re not prepared. Here are a few potential downsides to keep in mind: 

Sky-High Rent and Home Prices 

Housing in California comes at a premium, especially in major cities and near the coast. Rent and home prices are significantly higher than the national average. Be ready to pay top dollar or look farther inland for lower costs. 

California housing

Insane Traffic and Crowds 

With over 40 million residents, California’s roads and attractions fill up fast. Rush hour traffic in Los Angeles and San Francisco is legendary for good reason. Popular beaches, parks and tourist spots also see huge crowds, especially in summer and on weekends. Time your trips wisely and have patience. 

Higher Taxes 

California has some of the highest taxes in the nation, including state income tax, sales tax and gas tax. While the revenue funds important services, the high taxes can take a big bite out of your paycheck. Make sure any job offer accounts for the higher cost of living. 

Seasonal Natural Disasters 

California’s Mediterranean climate comes with some risks like wildfires, floods, droughts and earthquakes. Take appropriate precautions to prepare for emergencies and natural disasters that could disrupt life temporarily. 

California Wildfire

An Insider’s Perspective: What Daily Life Is Really Like in California 

The secret to enjoying California is discovering the hidden gems amongst the tourist traps, and the quiet beaches amidst the traffic. This place really does have something for everyone if you know where to look. For example, visit lesser-known state parks instead of the most popular ones, or check out smaller beach towns up the coast. You’ll escape the masses and uncover the authentic beauty of California. 

Be sure to get outside whenever you can. Don’t move here without taking advantage of the stunning surroundings. Go hiking in the hills, sunbathing at the beach, strolling through gardens, or just find a nice park to enjoy being outside. California’s natural magnificence is a big reason why many call this state home. 

In California, you can — and should — find your community. Whether your passion is cars, gaming, activism or something else, you’ll find others who share your interests. California’s diversity means niche groups of all kinds thrive here. Search online for local meetups, nonprofits and interest groups. Put yourself out there by attending events and engaging with others. Over time, you’ll settle into life here and embrace the California state of mind. 

The Best Places to Live in California for Your Lifestyle 

California has something for everyone. Are you an outdoor enthusiast? A food enthusiast? Value education or career opportunities? No matter what factors are most important in choosing where you live, California has an ideal spot for you. 

If spending time in nature is a top priority, consider Northern California. Places like Lake Tahoe, with its crystal-clear waters and mountain vistas, or Eureka, surrounded by redwood forests, are perfect for those wanting an active outdoor lifestyle. Prefer warmer weather and beach combing? Check out coastal cities like Santa Barbara, San Diego or parts of Orange County. 

a lake in California

Love the cultural amenities of city life? Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have world-class food, arts, nightlife and career opportunities as hubs for entertainment and tech. However, the high costs of living and horrendous traffic may make you reconsider. For a more balanced lifestyle with access to both natural and urban environments, mid-sized cities like San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz or Santa Rosa could be ideal. 

Education is highly valued across California, from preschool through college. Parts of Los Angeles and Bay Area cities like Palo Alto and Davis are attractive for families with school-age children. California’s public university system is also renowned, with campuses located in many desirable towns. 

No matter which region calls to you, do your research on the specific city or neighborhood to make sure it aligns with what you’re looking for in a place to call home.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Living in California 

California is a popular state, so you probably have a lot of questions about what life here is really like. Here are some of the most common questions from transplants and newcomers: 

Is the traffic really that bad? 

In short, yes. Traffic in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco can be awful, especially during rush hour. It’s common for commutes to take an hour or more. The good news is public transit and ride-sharing options can help you avoid the worst of it. If driving, give yourself plenty of extra time and try to schedule trips outside of peak hours when you can. 

How much does it really cost to live there? 

California has one of the highest costs of living in the U.S., so you’ll pay top dollar for housing, food, and entertainment. According to Zillow, the median rent price in California for January 2024 was $2,750. Meanwhile, a meal out can easily cost $50 per person. Salaries are often higher, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they “match.” 

Is the weather perfect all the time? 

The weather is one of the best parts of living in California. Most places enjoy a Mediterranean climate with mild temperatures for much of the year. However, it’s not always sunny and 70. Parts of the state see extremes of heat, cold, fog and rainfall. Do research on the specific area you’re interested in to understand the seasonal patterns. Summers in Southern California frequently top 100 F, while NorCal winters can be quite chilly. But overall, you’ll find plenty of days to get outside and enjoy activities. 

Are there any downsides to living in such a popular state? 

Along with the traffic and high costs mentioned above, California’s popularity means crowded attractions, beaches and natural spaces, especially in the summer and on weekends. It can be difficult to find an empty stretch of sand or a secluded hiking trail. As a local though, you’ll learn the off-peak times and secret spots. You may also grow weary of the constant tourism in some areas. However, the diversity, culture and natural beauty still make California an amazing place to call home for many. 

Once you’ve soaked up that California sun, breathed in that ocean air and enjoyed the beautiful landscapes this state has to offer, you’ll see why so many folks happily call it home. At the end of the day, California living is all about finding that work-fun balance. If you can handle the hustle and take time to stop and smell the roses (or in this case, the orange blossoms), you just might find that the California dream suits you. 

Moving to California from another part of the country? Mayflower’s trusted long-distance movers are ready to help you make a smooth transition to the Golden State from anywhere in the U.S. Whether it’s packing and unpacking, storage solutions, car shipping services, or even debris pick-up, we’ve got all aspects of your move taken care of. Get a quote today

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