The 12 Best Cities to Live in California in 2021

From SoCal to Silicon Valley, the golden state is home to many great cities. But which are the best of the best right now? This article breaks down the 12 best cities to live in California in 2021.
Best Cities California 2021

There is a reason more people live in California than in any other state. From Silicon Valley to SoCal, wine country to the Hollywood Hills, bustling cities to beach towns, California has something for everyone. But with seemingly endless options, each with its own unique qualities and charms, those looking to move to California, or relocate within the area, might wonder which cities are truly the best of the best.

To determine the answer to this question, this article considered a variety of factors, including amenities and activities, natural beauty and green space, crime rates, schools, and career opportunities. The result is a seminal list of the 12 best cities to live in California right now.

So let’s get started!

The Best Cities to Live in California in 2021

Top 10 Neighborhoods With The Best Irvine Homes For Sale 5Fb5066B609D1


Quite simply, Irvine is one of the most highly rated, largest cities in the United States. In just the past year alone, the Orange County city of nearly 275,000 residents has been named both the safest city and the best place to start a business in the state of California, while ranking in the top 10 nationwide among healthiest cities, cities with the best public schools, and best cities to raise a family.

Crucial in a 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. Many of the newest neighborhoods still have Mello-Roos taxes, but don’t let that deter you from purchasing in this amazing community. To help you narrow down your search for Irvine real estate, check out our list of top 10 neighobrhoods.

Further, Irvine is a place of higher thought, home to some of the best universities, great high schools, and top medical facilities in the country, and, as Orange County’s business hub, some of the top white-collar jobs in Southern California.

Unsurprisingly, Irvine is quickly becoming a top choice for many professionals, entrepreneurs, and families.

Anaheim Hills Orange County California First Team Real Estate


Anaheim may be known as the birthplace of Disneyland, but there is so much more to it than that. Yes, the city boasts world-class attractions – from the aforementioned theme park to the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, to the Angels baseball team, and beyond. But this only begins to scratch the surface of what makes Anaheim one of the best cities to live in California.

Compared to its Southern California peers, Anaheim’s homes are larger, and its neighborhoods are more walkable. The city has many parks, trails, and green spaces, providing outdoor adventure opportunities which do not exist in more tightly packed areas across the region. It is big city Southern California living without the same level of bustle.

But perhaps the standout quality of Anaheim is that alongside its high standard of living, it provides easy access to all that Southern California has to offer. The city is a 30-minute drive from Los Angeles in one direction, and a 30-minute drive from some of the best beaches in the country in the other. Students can access numerous colleges and universities in the area, including USC and UCLA, while professionals can quickly commute to cities across SoCal on the Metrolink.

For the best of the best in Anaheim, check out Anaheim Hills.

Palo Alto Best Cities California

Palo Alto

Located 35 miles south of San Francisco and 14 miles north of San Jose, Palo Alto is considered to be the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley,” and to this day the city remains the historic region’s spiritual home. It is the location of the headquarters of tech companies like Tesla, Hewlett-Packard, and Skype, while Facebook, Apple, and Google all have an important corporate presence in the city.

Unsurprisingly for a city in which forward-thinking is such a pivotal part of its fabric, Palo Alto’s public schools rank as some of the best in the country. Stanford University located in the area as well is one of the most prestigious institutions of learning, ranking as the third best university in the world in 2021, behind only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, and the University of Oxford in London.

All told, Palo Alto has quickly become one of the most exclusive cities in the United States, one of the country’s most luxurious and expensive, and one of its most intellectually important.

Newport Beach Orange County California First Team Real Estate

Newport Beach

Newport Beach has long been recognized as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. In 2020, it was named among the top 10 cities to live in America, while in 2021, it was ranked as the best beach town in California.

Living where others vacation is truly a dream come true.

So, what makes Newport Beach so great?

For tourists, it is renowned destinations like Balboa Peninsula and the historic Newport Pier, but for locals, it goes much deeper than that. For them, what makes Newport Beach one of the best cities to live are its top-rated schools, crime rates well below California and national averages, and diversity of amazing restaurants and entertainment options, all set in one of the most idyllic beachfront environments in the world. That’s why we’ve ranked it as one of the best places to live in Orange County too. If the high cost of living has you thinking twice, consider checking out Costa Mesa as well.

Did you know: Newport Beach has a vibrant economy based on tech, tourism, and finance. In a city of just over 85,000, there are 76,000 payroll workers and more than 12,000 local businesses.

Santa Monica Beach Los Angeles County First Team Real Estate

Santa Monica

Santa Monica has been ranked as the best suburb to live in California in 2021 by Niche. Further, on their list of the best places to live in America, two Santa Monica neighborhoods finished in the top three – City Center and Ocean Park.

Why Santa Monica? The first thing is its hip and artsy aesthetic; it is filled with independent coffee shops, boutique stores, and art galleries, including the ones housed at historic Bergamot Station. In fact, the city has the second-largest collection of art galleries per square foot in the country after only New York City. Then there is Santa Monica Beach and the eminently popular Santa Monica Pier.

But it is not just pleasure that makes Santa Monica one of the best cities to live in, but business. Santa Monica and its nearby neighbors Venice and Alsace have collectively earned the nickname “Silicon Beach,” SoCal’s response to Silicon Valley. Companies like YouTube, Hulu, and Tinder have all set up shop there, while heavy hitters like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo operate satellite offices in the area.

No wonder Santa Monica has been called the perfect blend of laid-back beach town and modern cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Did you know: Santa Monica Pier marks the end of the famous Route 66, which stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles.

San Clemente Luxury Homes In California

San Clemente

San Clemente real estate is best known for its unique Spanish-style architecture with red-tiled roofs and white walls, which, along with its incredible ocean views, give the city a Mediterranean feel. With its charming homes and plethora of local family-owned businesses, it is the perfect place to live for those looking for those classic small beach town vibes.

It is also perfect for those who love outdoor adventure. Hiking and bike trials snake across the town’s coastline, while just off its shores lies the Trestles break famous with surfers around the world.

Better still, San Clemente sits at the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Diego, meaning residents of this paradise can easily commute to either major center.

The best slice of paradise? Top neighborhood Southwest San Clemente.

Yorba Linda Orange County California First Team Real Estate

Yorba Linda

Known as the “Land of Gracious Living,” Yorba Linda is famous for its strong sense of community, and its mix of modern urban amenities with small-town charm.

To start, it is one of the safest towns in Southern California, with great schools and ample green space.  But further, Yorba Linda provides opportunities for residents to spread out and enjoy their hobbies. The city boasts an unbelievable 100 miles of equestrian, biking, and walking trails. Unsurprisingly, equestrian properties are very popular among residents, as are the city’s luxury homes on spacious lots with sweeping views of Orange County.

Just a day trip away from the growing wine scene in Temecula and the trendy streets of Palm Springs, Yorba Linda’s location on the eastern edge of Orange County offers plenty of perks.

Did you know: Yorba Linda is the birthplace of Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. Today, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library is one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Santa Rosa Best Cities California

Santa Rosa

Eat, drink, and be merry. This is not the official slogan of Santa Rosa, but surely it could be.

The city of nearly 180,000 sits at the southwestern gateway to the Sonoma and Napa Valleys of California’s famed Wine Country, providing residents with some of the most unique dining experiences anywhere in the country. It’s not just the over 800 wineries in close proximity. Santa Rosa has also been named the microbrew capital of the US (Sorry Portland!). And with sustainable agriculture in all directions, Santa Rosa’s local food scene is on another level.

In addition, the area’s amenities are incredible, from plentiful hiking trails, to top-quality restaurants, to a museum dedicated to the author of the Peanuts comic strip, and even a full-blown jungle safari park, complete with cheetahs, monkeys, and rhinos.

It is no wonder that Santa Rosa ranks among the top 10 happiest cities in America, and the top 25 healthiest.

Lake Mission Viejo With View Of Homes On The Water

Mission Viejo

Mission Viejo is one of the largest single-project master-planned communities in the United States, and certainly one of its best. Having been laid out so meticulously from the very start, the 11,000-acre community of nearly 100,000 people features homes and roads strategically placed throughout the area’s rolling hills, and approximately two parks per square mile.

Though Mission Viejo is not a coastal city, a large lake at its center gives residents access to lakeside properties and a range of water activities.

Better still, homes for sale in Mission Viejo present something for everyone, from charming townhouses and condos to multi-million-dollar estates. Families, in particular, are drawn to the city’s older neighborhoods, where homes possess spacious backyards. Combined with the city’s exceptionally low crime rate, this makes Mission Viejo not only one of the best cities to live in California but one of the best places to raise a family.

If you have any questions about Mission Viejo real estate, reach out to the experts in our First Team Mission Viejo office.

Santa Barbara Best Cities California

Santa Barbara

In 2020, Santa Barbara was named one of the top 20 best cities to live in the United States. It earned this place largely on the strength of two factors – its weather, and its incredible education opportunities.

To start, Santa Barbara is ranked as the best place to live for weather, and with good reason; the city’s position in the southern foothills of the San Ynez Mountains provides weather that can’t be found anywhere else in the state. This mountain range is unique in that it is the only one from Alaska to Cape Horn which runs east to west, rather than north to south. This means that Santa Barbara is provided with year-round southern exposure, and weather which has spawned the city’s nickname – the American Riviera.

Second, Santa Barbara is home to some of the most prestigious higher education opportunities in the country, including the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has been ranked among the nation’s top 50 universities, the Santa Barbara College of Law, and the award-winning Santa Barbara City College.

Santa Cruz Best Cities California

Santa Cruz

If there is one thing Santa Cruz is known for, it is its world-class surfing. In 2017, National Geographic named the city as one of the 20 best surf towns in the world, and, in fact, Santa Cruz is said to be the birthplace of mainland surfing in the United States.

But give the city a closer look, and you will realize that Santa Cruz is so much more than its surf culture. It is a town of sun-soaked beaches and towering redwood forests where residents enjoy more outdoor activities than most, including sailing and paddleboarding, as well as hiking through the area’s numerous parks and trails. Moreover, Santa Cruz is an eclectic countercultural hub with infectious energy, home to a myriad of entertainment and dining options, as well as the prestigious University of California, Santa Cruz.

In short, even without its historic surfing, Santa Cruz is surely one of the best cities in California. Not to mention it’s proximity to Yosemite National Park, located roughly four miles inland.

Did you know: According to local legend, a group of Hawaiian princes visited the city in 1885 and showed locals how to surf the waves using boards fashioned from redwood trees. This history is remembered and taught to this day at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

Fremont Best Cities California


Disneyland may have a rival for “happiest place on earth.” In 2021, Fremont was named the happiest city in America, and while there is no word as to whether Disneyland itself was in the running, certainly, the Silicon Valley city has become one of the most popular places to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why are Fremont’s residents so happy, and its real estate so desirable?

Perhaps the main reason is a booming tech manufacturing economy. Fremont is where Apple made its first Mac computers, and where Tesla has its main automobile factory. Unsurprisingly, a city stocked with good jobs at the country’s most significant companies has been ranked the second least stressed city in America.

Further, Fremont’s well-maintained parks, excellent school system, and ample entertainment venues mean it has been ranked the #2 best city to raise a family in America.

Move over Disneyland Resort.

Ready to take the next step?

If you are looking to move to California, or relocate within the state, we can help. Contact us today to get started on your journey to the best cities in California.

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