The Best Places to Retire in California

·8 min read

California retirement

California has long been a place where people go to create a new life. The natural wonders, including stunning ocean views, dramatic mountains and venerable forests, will charm even the most exhausted and jaded retiree. The year-round pleasant climate and consistently sunny weather make it possible to enjoy the outdoors all year, assuming you can afford the sometimes astronomical housing prices. The high quality of life, prolific job opportunities and top-rated health care options make California a desirable place to retire, according to a recent U.S. News analysis of the 150 largest U.S. metropolitan areas as potential retirement spots. The study included data about housing affordability, happiness, desirability, retiree taxes, the job market and access to quality health care. Consider these California cities for retirement.

12. Visalia

Population: 461,898

Share of population age 60+: 16%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,420

Median monthly rent: $942

Median home price: $199,900

Visalia is an ideal home base from which to explore California's most impressive natural wonders. You can marvel at the world's largest trees at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains include the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. Yet this central California city is much more affordable than many other parts of the state. Housing costs far less in Visalia than in California's larger coastal cities.

11. San Jose

Population: 1,987,846

Share of population age 60+: 19%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $3,347

Median monthly rent: $2,249

Median home price: $970,400

The San Jose metro area has the highest housing prices in the country, according to a U.S. News analysis of Census Bureau data. The median home price is out of reach for most retirees. Newcomers will probably need to rent an apartment. As the headquarters for many global tech companies including PayPal, Cisco and Adobe, the area has ample job opportunities and is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. This is also a college town, home to San Jose State University, the oldest public university on the West Coast.

10. Fresno

Population: 984,521

Share of population age 60+: 17%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,631

Median monthly rent: $998

Median home price: $250,300

Fresno is an ideal retirement spot to launch outdoor adventures. The city offers convenient access to Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, the Sierra National Forest and a variety of lakes. You can enjoy the 62-mile blooming spectacle of fruit and nut trees along the Fresno County Blossom Trail each spring, and the abundant fresh fruit the region produces each summer and fall. This central California city is much more affordable than many other parts of the state.

9. Modesto

Population: 543,194

Share of population age 60+: 18%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,702

Median monthly rent: $1,155

Median home price: $284,200

This inland California city is considerably more affordable than California's larger metro areas on the coast. Located in the Central Valley, Modesto is surrounded by rich farmland used to produce almonds, milk, cattle and a variety of other crops. The local minor league baseball team is called the Modesto Nuts to reflect the region's crops. Star Wars creator George Lucas wrote the film American Graffiti about growing up in Modesto, and the movie is commemorated with a festival each summer.

8. Sacramento

Population: 2,315,980

Share of population age 60+: 21%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,063

Median monthly rent: $1,290

Median home price: $386,400

California's state capital city is the political center of the country's most populous state and a hub for government jobs, lobbying and think tanks. The area is home to several colleges, including Sacramento State University and the University of California--Davis. Major health care providers include UC Davis Medical Center and Sutter Health. Housing costs less in the Sacramento metro area than it does in coastal communities, but it's still expensive compared with much of the rest of the country.

7. Vallejo and Fairfield

Population: 441,829

Share of population age 60+: 22%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,168

Median monthly rent: $1,592

Median home price: $397,400

The median home price in Vallejo and Fairfield is less than half the cost of a home in nearby San Francisco, but housing will still feel expensive to retirees on a limited budget. Seniors age 65 and older can take a ferry from Vallejo to San Francisco for the discounted price of $5.50. Unique entertainment options include a visit to the amusement park Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo or sampling the jelly beans on a factory tour of the Jelly Belly Candy Company in Fairfield.

6. Santa Rosa

Population: 499,772

Share of population age 60+: 26%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,441

Median monthly rent: $1,621

Median home price: $630,700

If your retirement dream is to live among scenic vineyards, or even tend a few grapes of your own, consider retirement in California's famed Sonoma and Napa valleys. Those interested in wine could find a part-time job at a winery chatting about the latest vintage or leading tours of the facility. Santa Rosa scored particularly well on the happiness metric, with many residents enjoying a high sense of well-being and expressing that they like where they live, according to Sharecare's Community Well-Being Index.

5. San Diego

Population: 3,316,073

Share of population age 60+: 19%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,578

Median monthly rent: $1,658

Median home price: $563,900

San Diego is an ideal place to enjoy Pacific Ocean sunsets and lazy days strolling along the California coastline. Those who prefer an active beach retirement will find opportunities to snorkel and scuba dive at La Jolla Cove or surf at Swami's Beach. This southern California city enjoys year-round pleasant temperatures. Health care is available at the Scripps La Jolla Hospitals and the UC San Diego Health-Jacobs Medical Center. However, finding affordable housing in San Diego can be a challenge.

4. Los Angeles

Population: 13,249,614

Share of population age 60+: 19%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,581

Median monthly rent: $1,545

Median home price: $621,900

Filmmakers, actors, writers, dancers and musicians often relocate to the Los Angeles area to be part of the motion picture and television industries and network with other creative people. The consistently sunny days and Mediterranean climate along with the potential to land a part on a TV show, sell a screenplay or bump into Hollywood stars might draw you into the area. However, the high home prices could make it difficult to live comfortably, and a creative retirement job might not pay enough to make the rent. Los Angeles is fortunate to have two hospitals ranked by U.S. News among the top 20 in the nation: UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

3. San Francisco

Population: 4,701,332

Share of population age 60+: 21%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $3,088

Median monthly rent: $1,905

Median home price: $833,700

The City by the Bay has a hot job market with plenty of high-paying Silicon Valley jobs, ranging from innovative new startups to famous tech companies. You'll probably need to work in retirement to afford San Francisco's astronomical housing prices. UCSF Medical Center and Stanford Hospital are both ranked among the top 20 hospitals in the country by U.S. News. San Francisco's famously cool summers make this a great place to escape the heat. Watching the summer fog envelope the Golden Gate Bridge is a sight you won't see anywhere else.

2. Salinas

Population: 433,410

Share of population age 60+: 18%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,265

Median monthly rent: $1,495

Median home price: $597,900

Salinas has considerably more affordable housing than the nearby San Francisco Bay area, but home prices are still high compared with other parts of the country. Salinas scored well on Sharecare's Community Well-Being Index, with residents reporting a high sense of well-being. Salinas is the hometown of author John Steinbeck, and the area is featured prominently in many of his novels, including "The Grapes of Wrath." The city is surrounded by prolific farmland, and its location near the Pacific Ocean helps to keep temperatures cool.

1. Santa Barbara

Population: 444,829

Share of population age 60+: 20%

Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,364

Median monthly rent: $1,643

Median home price: $669,100

You could spend your retirement years watching Pacific coast sunsets framed by Mission-style architecture and tropical foliage in Santa Barbara. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, this southern California city is a popular place to surf and relax at the beach. Santa Barbara's warm winters and cool summers allow retirees to enjoy the outdoors year-round. When you're ready for an adventure, there is plenty to explore at the 1.75 million-acre Los Padres National Forest and Channel Islands National Park. However, housing prices could be out of reach for retirees on a budget.

The Best Places to Retire in California

1. Santa Barbara.

2. Salinas.

3. San Francisco.

4. Los Angeles.

5. San Diego.

6. Santa Rosa.

7. Vallejo and Fairfield.

8. Sacramento.

9. Modesto.

10. Fresno.

Thinking about retiring in Caifornia? Find a local financial advisor now.

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