The Cheapest Place to Live in California Based on Your Lifestyle


|10 min read

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California is packed with diverse cities and natural wonders. You can enjoy Korean BBQ in San Francisco one day and then take a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park the next. While California is a gorgeous place to live, it isn’t known for its affordability. It is frequently ranked as one of the most expensive states, falling just below Hawaii on most lists. 

Fortunately, there are a few affordable places to live that are actually close to many of the major cities that people want to move to. You might find that you enjoy living in smaller towns that still offer easy access to pricier areas. Your budget will thank you. Here are some of the cheapest cities and towns in California that you will love to call home.

The Cheapest Place to Live in California


People in California often choose where they live based on proximity to the major cities across the state. For example, you might want to live in San Francisco but find that it is out of your budget. Vallejo makes the list of the cheapest cities to live in California because it is much more affordable than San Francisco while still keeping you within commuting distance. 

If you had an annual salary of $126,000 in Vallejo, you would need to earn $235,767 to maintain the same lifestyle in San Francisco. A $500,000 house in Vallejo would be worth more than $1.2 million in San Francisco. 

Vallejo is a little more than an hour from this city (32 miles). You can find it to the north, near the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. This is a small town with a population of 125,000 because it is starting to reach the foothills of Northern California.


The San Joaquin Valley is located to the east of San Francisco and Oakland. You can find a variety of towns in this area that are often forgotten because they are too far out of the big city. However, many of these communities are growing as residents look for affordable living options and want to take advantage of remote work policies. One small town to consider is Acampo. 

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Acampo is technically a census-designated place in San Joaquin County and has a population of 341. You can drive to Stockton in 20 minutes and Sacramento in 40 minutes. This is a great way to live in a rural area that still gives you easy access to city life.   

A single adult can live comfortably in Acampo for less than $35,000 per year. This is far less than the annual cost of living requirement for California of $45,000 per year. There are other towns that dot the San Joaquin Valley that also offer affordable living options and quick drives to big cities.


Two of the most popular cities in California are San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, finding housing in both of these areas can be difficult. Fortunately, there are some affordable places within Los Angeles County that you might love. 

Lancaster has a considerably lower cost of living than other parts of Los Angeles. It will take you about an hour and a half to reach the LA city center, but the drive could be worth the savings when it comes to housing. The median housing cost in Los Angeles is $912,500, which is more than double the median home value of Lancaster ($415,800).

Just because Lancaster is one of the most affordable cities to live in California doesn’t mean it is small. This is a fast-growing town with a population of 173,000. Lancaster is now the 30th-largest city in California with plans to keep growing. Plus, by living outside of the city, you can spend your weekends exploring the various national parks that are found throughout Southern California.  


There are multiple affordable options for people who want to live in California cities on a budget. Sacramento is both the capital of the state and the gateway to Northern California. Living here might feel more like the Pacific Northwest than other cities in the state. You can easily get to San Francisco and the coast or spend your time hiking in the surrounding national forests. 

Sacramento is “California affordable,” which means it is still more expensive than most of the country but is relatively cheap for the state. For example, the median home value in California is $733,500. This is more than double the national average of $338,100. Meanwhile, the median housing cost in Sacramento is only $427,200. This is still more than national housing costs but is low for California. 

Sacramento is often a forgotten city in the Golden State but it has a lot to offer. It is a hub for young professionals who want to grow their careers in government and public policy. It has near immediate access to ample hiking trails. Just because it doesn’t have the impressive tourist destinations of San Francisco and San Diego doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.

sacramento, california


If you can’t choose between Northern California and Southern California, move to Bakersfield. This affordable city is located in the center of the state at the base of the Sequoia National Forest. The team at Rentcafe reports the cost of living in Bakersfield is 21% lower than in the rest of the state. Keep in mind this is still affordable for California, but not the rest of the country. Bakersfield is 10% more expensive than the national average. 

The median home value in Bakersfield is $484,070 and the average monthly rent falls around $1,460. Housing is oftentimes the biggest expense for residents, which is why it is commonly used as an indicator of affordability. In fact, the housing costs in Bakersfield are 49% lower than the rest of the state. That gives you an idea of how expensive buying or renting in California can be. 

The main drawback of living in this affordable city is its location. It takes two hours to reach Los Angeles and more than four hours to reach the San Francisco Bay Area. However, many people enjoy living inland and enjoy desert life.

National City

If you want to live in Southern California, know that the closer you are to the coast, the more expensive your housing will be. Living in a coastal city is desirable during the hot summer months when residents want nothing more than to bask in the waves and work on their tans. If you want to buy a house near San Diego, be prepared to pay coastal prices. It’s not the most affordable city.  

Fortunately, there are some affordable neighborhoods in the area where you can get a good deal. The median home price in San Diego is more than $833,000 but it is possible to find housing in National City for around $584,000. Because National City is technically part of San Diego County, these affordable housing costs bring the entire city average down.

National City is located next to Chula Vista and borders San Diego Bay. Its proximity to Naval Base San Diego means the area is popular with military families. 


Rounding out our list of the cheapest cities to live in California is Fontana, which is located near San Bernardino. Compared to other housing prices in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California, Fontana is affordable. You can buy a house for around $558,000 and commute into LA in less than an hour. 

Fontana is considered a suburban area that sits at the base of Mt. San Antonio and the Angeles National Forest. Not only can you find affordable housing here, but you might be able to find a house with a beautiful view. There are a little more than 200,000 residents in Fontana, making it the second-most populous town in San Bernardino County. It is also the 21st largest in the state. Fortunately, there is plenty of small-town charm in Fontana so you don’t have to feel like you live in a big city.

Fontana highlights how there are plenty of affordable California cities tucked just outside major metropolises. You can still enjoy the benefits of living near Long Beach and the tourist sites of LA without having to live directly within city limits. Spend some time exploring Fontana and other cities nearby to see if they offer better living options than downtown LA. 

Hire a Realtor in an Affordable City You Love

There are plenty of affordable cities in California if you just know where to look. First, start with your desired area, whether you want to be near San Francisco or closer to Southern California. Then spend some time visiting neighboring towns are learning what you love about them. 

Once you find an affordable place to call your own, contact a Realtor through FastExpert. We curate the best agents from across the country and only recommend the top talent to our customers. Our free service allows you to narrow your search for top real estate agents who can help you achieve your goals. Try FastExpert today and see how we can help you make your real estate dreams come true.

Amanda Dodge

Amanda Dodge is a real estate writer and expert. She has worked in the field for more than eight years. She spends her time writing and researching trends in real estate, finance, and business. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Communications from Florida State University.

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