Warm weather, sunshine, and a laid-back attitude famous around the world; for many, SoCal is a dream destination. But where is the best luxury place to live in Southern California?
Whether looking to relocate permanently or simply for a weekend getaway, Southern California has something for everyone. From its spectacular weather to its vibrant culture, its sunny beaches and secluded mountains, its bustling cities, and beach towns, SoCal’s qualities are world-famous.
Of course, Southern California is huge, comprised of a variety of unique cities and towns, and filled with more people than all but three US states (including California as a whole). You might wonder, of all the choices, which places to live are the absolute best? To determine the answer, a variety of factors have been considered, including amenities and activities, natural beauty and green space, crime rates, schools, and career opportunities. The result is our luxurious list of the 10 best places to live in Southern California.
The home prices are high, but the quality of life is even higher. So, without further ado, and with all SoCal puns intended, let’s dive in!
The most luxurious places to live in Southern California in 2021
On one hand, Manhattan Beach is one of the wealthiest cities in Southern California, known for its opulent homes, its low crime rate, safe streets, and unusually clean beaches.
On the other hand, locals point out that Manhattan Beach was the location of the first surf shop in the country in 1950, and declare the city to be the home of beach volleyball – surfing and beach volleyball; what’s more SoCal than that?
In other words, Manhattan Beach is both one of the most exclusive places to live in Southern California, and also one of its most historically significant.
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Newport Beach has long been recognized as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. In 2020, the coastal city of just over 85,000 people was named among the top 10 cities to live in America, while in 2021, it was ranked as the best beach town in California.
Tourists love the area for renowned attractions like Balboa Peninsula and the historic Newport Pier, while locals point to the city’s top-rated schools, a plethora of outdoor activities, and a diverse selection of amazing restaurants and entertainment options.
There simply cannot be a list of the best places to live in Southern California, or the United States for that matter, without the prestigious Newport Beach. And for a more affordable alternative still near all of the coastal beauty, check out Costa Mesa.
Laguna Beach was first settled by a group of artists in the 1920s, and to this day it retains this inherent artistic identity. The community is known for its vibrance, perhaps even its eccentricity, filled with artists, craftspeople, and low-key entrepreneurs.
Did you know: A town of barely 20,000 residents, Laguna Beach is home to more than 80 art galleries and 400 working artists.
Those who move to Laguna Beach do not find it difficult to understand why so many artists take inspiration from the area. Laguna Beach real estate is arguably the most beautiful along the entire Southern California coast. It’s not just the sandy beaches and Pacific Ocean views, but the vast green spaces of the surrounding hills and canyons. Residents have been known to enjoy the sun and surf in the morning, then mountain hiking in the afternoon.
It is no wonder that Laguna Beach receives over six million visitors annually.
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If there is one way to describe Irvine, it is probably ‘top-rated.’ In just the past year alone, the Orange County city of nearly 275,000 has been named both the safest city in California, as well as the best place to start a business in the state. But it doesn’t stop there.
Irvine also ranked within the top 10 in the entire country among healthiest cities, cities with the best public schools, and best cities to raise a family in 2021.
Crucial in the modern age, Irvine has also been named one of the greenest cities in America on numerous occasions, thanks to its longstanding commitment to the environment which was a part of the city’s original planning.
It is these factors which more and more are making a move to Irvine the top choice for professionals, entrepreneurs, and families.
Southern California is known for romance. Curious then, that when the famed sailor and novelist Richard Henry Dana first came across the area that would become modern Dana Point in 1830, he called it “the only romantic spot on the coast.”
Perhaps he was onto something. With its spacious suburban feel, far removed from the hustle and bustle of busier Southern California locales, and its seven miles of coastal bluffs surrounded by rolling hills, Dana Point is an idyllic example of Southern California living.
But what really sets Dana Pont apart as one of the best places to live in Southern California in 2021 is the attitude of the locals. Dana Point has been called “as laid back as it gets.” In fact, the city itself proclaims that “Dana Point isn’t just a place, it’s a way of life.”
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If you live in or have visited Southern California, you’ve probably seen the signs – “Malibu: 21 Miles of Scenic Beauty.” As Forbes put it, “nothing quite compares the relationship Malibu has with its landscape.”
Think dramatic cliffs and ocean views, beautiful beaches bathed in seemingly eternal sunshine. It’s no wonder that the city affectionately known as “The ‘Bu” has become one of the most prestigious places to live in all of Southern California, home of celebrities and the super-rich. Movie stars who own homes in Malibu include everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Courtney Cox and Robert Downey Jur.
However, for those looking to move to Malibu, it is important to note that despite its wealth, Malibu is a diverse and at times eclectic community that has welcomed hippies, surfers, and artists into its melting pot over the years.
When thinking about places to live in Southern California, Malibu is one of the best known, but also one of the best, period. Think Hollywood and Beverly Hills glamor by the beach.
Seal Beach may be one of SoCal’s lesser-known beach towns, but that’s just the point. As The New York Times put it, “Seal Beach is insulated from much of the crowding that afflicts neighboring Orange County towns,” meaning, “the tranquility that one will find in this town, and on its beach, is quite unlike most Southern California beaches.”
The coastal city of about 25,000 is known for its charming small-town atmosphere, while its scenic beaches and the 920-acre wildlife refuge which covers two-thirds of the land inside the city present residents with some of the most beautiful real estate and walkable neighborhoods around.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Seal Beach was the location of the first major planned retirement community in the country – Leisure World, which now boasts a population of 9,000 strong. It is hard to imagine a better place to live out one’s golden years. Nestled next to Long Beach, single-family homes in Seal Beach range anywhere from $800,000 to over $1,000,000.
Quite simply, Seal Beach may be the hidden gem along the Southern California coast.
Another lesser-known gem, Laguna Niguel is located just inland of Dana Point and Laguna Beach. This location means homes with some of the most spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean in all of Southern California.
More than just scenery, however, Laguna Niguel is one of the best places to live for outdoor enthusiasts. Across SoCal, the city is known for its extensive park and trail system, which includes some 80 miles of multi-use trails, and even an 18-acre botanical garden. Nearby cities include San Juan Capistrano, Aliso Viejo, and Ladera Ranch.
The feeling of freedom this provides extends to the city’s homes, which are larger and on larger lots, without losing the area’s distinct beach city vibes. All with easy access to the 405 freeway, as well as the beautiful beaches of Orange County like Dana Point and Laguna Beach.
Accordingly, Laguna Niguel has been called the ‘heartland’ of Orange County’s Gold Coast.
In 2021, Solana Beach was named above better-known areas like Encinitas or Rancho Santa Fe as the best suburb to live in the San Diego area. So, what makes the growing suburb of just over 13,000 residents so great?
Well, to start, it has one of the highest-rated public school systems in the United States. Further, parents who want to access these schools and raise their children in the small-town lifestyle Solana Beach offers while still working in the big city can commute to San Diego down the I-5 in about 30 minutes.
Better still, Solana Beach is home to one of only three train stations in San Diego County, meaning those commuting to San Diego for work can hop on a train and skip the traffic altogether.
It’s no wonder The New York Times recently called Solana Beach “a magnet for families.”
Spanish for “Little Mountain,” Montecito is eight square miles of oceanfront luxury built into the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains just east of Santa Barbara, and it is quickly becoming one of the most exclusive places to live in Southern California.
However, Montecito is not only for the rich and famous. As Forbes recently reported, more young families are choosing to call Montecito home, which is perhaps no surprise given Montecito’s highly ranked public schools.
Just make sure you don’t make a fuss when you see someone famous at the grocery store. Montecito locals are known for playing it cool.
Ready to take the next step?
If you are ready to make Southern California dreamin’ a reality, First Team can help. Talk to one of our experts and find out more about living in the best places in Southern California in 2021.
And if this list is too rich for your blood, check out some of our other top lists including Top places to buy with a budget of $500k – $600K highlighting Riverside County’s Corona neighborhood and the Top affordable and safe cities in Los Angeles County.