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The 9 Best Places to Live in Southern California

San Diego skyline

South Pasadena | San Diego | Murrieta | Yorba Linda | Irvine | Lake Forest | Rancho Santa Margarita | Agoura Hills | Rancho Palos Verdes

Southern California is an amazing place to live, and not just because of the delightful year-round weather. A melting pot of diversity with tons of culture, it boasts a strong economy (by size, it’s the fifth-largest economy in the world). The state also features top-tier schools and stunning landscapes that make the area a fabulous place to live.

If you’re thinking about putting down roots in sunny SoCal but aren’t sure which cities to focus on, consider these nine best places to live in Southern California, including a few hidden gems.

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1. The Best Place to Live in Southern California: South Pasadena

Don’t let the median home value fool you — there are plenty of affordable neighborhoods in this growing city close to Los Angeles. Pasadena residents enjoy the benefits of big city life without all the chaos and noise that comes along with it.

They also enjoy a very strong local economy, with a median income of just over $104,000 that far outpaces both the national U.S. median income, and the California state median. In 2019 (the most recent year with data available), that median income grew by an extremely healthy rate of 8%. In a city that enjoys an economy this strong, it’s probably no surprise that poverty is much lower than the national average.

Known as the “City of Trees,” South Pasadena boasts over 21,000 trees to go along with over 100 acres of parks and playgrounds, a generous amount of green space to complement the architecture of a well-preserved community.

2. San Diego

San Diego is known for its great weather, exceptional beaches, world-class golf courses, a vibrant arts scene, famous nightlife, and a melting pot of cultures. It also has an excellent job market, with more variety than other Californian cities, including jobs in defense, tourism, technology, life sciences, and international trade.

San Diego’s median household income of $85,507 is significantly higher than the U.S. median, as well as the California state median, and San Diego incomes grew by an impressive 7.36% in 2019.

While the median home values in San Diego are high, you can find cheaper options in its surrounding suburbs.

3. Murrieta

It’s an excellent time to move to rapidly growing Murrieta. The city gets 275 days of sunshine a year on average, and features miles of hiking and biking trails, elite golf courses, over 52 public parks, several lakes and reservoirs for boating and sporting. Murrieta is even home to a famous annual wildflower “super bloom” – making it ideal for people who love an active lifestyle.

Murrieta has a thriving economy, too. The median household income here is $90,535, which is significantly above both the national median and the California state median. In 2019, the Murrieta median household income grew by 6.74%. As you might expect from a community this affluent, the poverty rate here is much lower than the national average.

4. Yorba Linda

Yorba Linda is frequently ranked by many publications as among the best locations to live in the United States. The city features a robust local economy and a growing local school system. With its smaller population, the pace of life is a little slower but the area certainly retains its California charm.

Yorba Linda has been carefully planned and designed, with neatly subdivided residential neighborhoods, public green spaces, multi-use trails, and discrete commercial corridors. The local schools are highly-rated, and the town is home to some award-winning arts centers and libraries, including the Richard Nixon Library.

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5. Irvine

For more than a decade, the FBI has rated Irvine as the safest large city in America. With an extremely low crime rate and beautiful surroundings, it’s an ideal city to live in. Residents have access to many excellent schools including UC Irvine. It also has the vibrant arts and culture you’d expect from a university town, such as the annual Irvine Global Village Festival.

Irvine was a carefully planned community, and the centerpiece of the city is the Irvine Open Space Preserve, which has preserved thousands of acres of natural habitat in the center of the city. There are hiking and biking trails through the preserve, and families can join nature stewardship and restoration programs.

The median household income in Irvine is nearly double the U.S. median, coming in at $111,574. In 2019, it grew at a very healthy pace of 9.74%.

6. Lake Forest

Lake Forest is rated as one of the best places to live in California, with low crime, high median household income, a very low poverty rate, and access to the great outdoors.

Kids can play at the Pretend City’s Children’s Museum or one of the city’s many parks. Adults will enjoy nights out at one of its many restaurants and bars. The city has a great public school system, and teen programs that focus on after-school study help, day trips, and volunteer opportunities.

The strong job market features industrial and commercial office parks hosting a diverse spectrum of industries, including manufacturing, tech, retail, and research and development.

7. Rancho Santa Margarita

This quiet development is home to many planned communities, and young families should have no problem finding an affordable place to settle down here. The city earns an impressive safety rating (in 2022, the city ranked as the second safest city in the entire state),

Rancho Santa Margarita also features abundant shopping, dining, and entertainment options, including nearby amusements parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, Lego Land, and Sea World, as well as dozens of public beaches, and some of the finest golf courses in the region.

8. Agoura Hills

Whether you’re looking for a small-town vibe or a pulsing beat of local culture, Agoura Hills can provide it. The city hosts a thriving local music scene, and has many opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, with easy access to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains.

While it’s an easy driving distance to big business districts, this city remains quiet and quaint. Get immersed in the charming personality of the area and you could easily fall in love.

9. Rancho Palos Verdes

Situated on a peninsula and surrounded by breathtaking ocean cliffs and sea views, “beautiful” is the only way to describe Rancho Palos Verdes. Residents enjoy miles of hiking and biking trails, along with fantastic beaches, and the world-class 1,400 acre Palos Verdes Nature Preserve.

With highly-rated schools and a booming economy, this city combines small-town charm with a beach city lifestyle. Though homes are on the more expensive side, the price tag comes with its fair share of benefits.

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Is Southern California a good place to live?

Yes, Southern California is a great place to live thanks to its strong job market, booming economy of high-growth industries, and highly sought-after amenities. The warm, sunny weather is perfect for outdoor recreation and an active lifestyle. Southern California is also home to some of the safest cities in the country. Discover the 9 best places to live in Southern California!

Why are home prices so high in Southern California?

All the desirable amenities of Southern California cities lead to a high demand in the housing market. With so many homebuyers and a limited housing supply, the home prices in this region are rising steadily. Find out how you can find a top-rated real estate agent and get cash back at closing.

What are the best places to live in Southern California for families?

Some of the best places to live in Southern California if you’re raising a city include Murrieta, Yorba Linda, Lake Forest, and Irvine, with South Pasadena topping our list. Read more about the best places to live in California.

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