Are you thinking about moving to California? If so, you’ll be joining many other Californians in the most populous state in the country.
I’m a California native and have lived in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco over the past ten years.
In moving around so much, I’ve had an opportunity to experience living in California through various large cities and I’ve definitely learned a lot about what life in California is like.
Today I’d like to share my list of the honest pros and cons of living in California.
Please keep in mind that this is a personal list, not everyone will feel the same way. Regardless, I hope you find it helpful.
Let’s get to it!
Pros & Cons of Living in California
First, the pros of living in California
#1. Access to nature
California is home to nine national parks, which means it has more national parks than any other state in America, including Alaska!
Regardless of where in California you live, you’re never further than a day’s drive from an epic national park and some of the best hiking trails in the country.
You don’t even need to make a drive to a national park if you’re not feeling up to it because you’ll still be privy to incredible nature that surrounds most cities in California, this is a nature enthusiasts dream.
You’re never too far from the mountains, beach, desert or forests, which is one of the biggest reasons my parents moved to California to raise a family.
#2. The food scene
One thing you quickly learn after moving to California is that you will never go hungry. Los Angeles and San Francisco are international hubs with awesome dining options, but many of the smaller cities have restaurants worth writing home about too.
Los Angeles is considered one of the best food cities in America. You’ll have a plethora of Micheline-Star restaurants and phenomenal cheap eats to choose from.
San Diego alone is home to more than 7,000 restaurants, and the Hispanic cuisine is considered the best in the country thanks to the city’s close proximity to Mexico.
#3. Constant sunshine
Perhaps one of my favorite things about living in California is the constant sunshine. As someone that (briefly) considered moving to the Pacific Northwest, I can’t even begin to fathom that challenge of living under a cloud most of the year.
Enter California, a state that averages 260+ days of sunshine per year. Hard to complain about that!
Average temperatures vary by city, but by and large, you can expect highs around 69°F in the winter and 80-85°F in the summer.
The weather is tolerable year-round and allows you to enjoy the great outdoors or regardless of the season — save for summer, but we’ll cover that shortly.
#4. Mild winters
This goes hand-in-hand with the constant sunshine, but California has some of the mildest winters in the country.
Unless you live in a high-elevation area, you’ll seldom see snow and can count on sunshine even in the dead of winter.
I did a year-long stint in New York City and the harsh winter made leaving an easy choice. Moving to California means leaving behind bitter winters and freezing temperatures, which greatly improves my quality of life.
#5. California is a beautiful state
California is often considered the most beautiful state in the country and it’s not hard to see why.
The landscape is as diverse as it gets and changes drastically from north to south.
From the striking sunny coastline of Southern California to the towering cliffs of Big Sur, you’ll be privy to every natural wonder in between.
Explore the dramatic desert in the Mojave, the granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park, the towering trees in Redwood National Park or the rolling hills of Napa Valley and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
I mean, it’s no coincidence that California has more national parks than any other state and draws millions of visitors annually.
P.S. San Francisco was named one of the top 10 most beautiful cities in the world in 2019.
#6. Job opportunities (especially in tech + film)
If you work in tech or film, there’s no better place to live than California.
In San Francisco alone, tech accounts for 20.5% of all jobs, with the largest employers being Facebook, Netflix, Google, Yahoo, Apple and Tesla.
If you’re in the film industry you probably already know that Los Angeles is the place to be. In fact, most of my friends and neighbors in LA were part-time actors who spent most of their free time looking for gigs.
#7. Life in California has a relaxed vibe
Yet another perk of living in California is seldom feeling rushed. The state has a fairly relaxed vibe to it, people seem to move at a slower pace.
Between the lovely Mediterranean climate, the colorful architecture and the breathtaking nature, it seems that Californians take work-life balance seriously and we are all better for it.
Here’s a real-life example: A close friend of mine works for Patagonia and jokes that suits are all but banned from the company.
#8. The people are kind
I know that not everyone will agree with this sentiment, but I find the people in California to be kind. This goes hand-in-hand with the relaxed vibe.
Obviously there are always going to be exceptions to the rule, but by and large, I feel welcomed in California in a way I don’t feel welcome elsewhere.
Over the past 10 years, there’s been a unified “anti-California” resentment in other states where residents blame Californians single-handedly for the rise in home prices across the country.
Whenever I visit other cities, I’m constantly met with “enjoy your visit, but don’t move here” which stopped being funny in 2010.
As for life in California? There are so many transplants here that it’s hard to pin down what a “real” Californian is these days — so anyone can pass for one.
#9. Variety of activities
I have great news, you should be able to stave off boredom while living in California because there’s never a shortage of fun things to do!
The road tripping opportunities are endless, you can spend days at the beach or peruse a plethora of museums or attend world-class events. Everything from fashion to film and tech is covered pretty well in California, so you honestly won’t have much a reason to be bored.
#10. Access to international airports
I travel often for work, so access to airports is a strong consideration when moving to a new city. Lucky for me, California is home to 12 international airports (including LAX, the second largest airport in America).
I know most folks like to hate on airports, but I must admit — I have a pretty easy time flying into and out of California.
#11. California is diverse
Hands down, one of my favorite things about living in California is the diversity of the people.
All three of California’s major cities rank as being some of the most diverse in America. In fact, Los Angeles is the second most diverse cities in the country, second only to New York City.
As you can imagine, there’s definitely pockets of homogeneous areas and neighborhoods, but if you don’t live in the ritzy part of town, you’ll find it easy to make friends with people from different backgrounds and walks of life.
Cons of moving to California
#1. The wildfires
Wildfires have been engulfing the west coast in record numbers over the past few years and California has definitely been hit the hardest.
Since I’m being honest, I’d like to point out that wildfires will become a part of your daily vocabulary while living in California.
At present, California is the worst state in the country for fire dangers. Year after year, California tops the list as having the most devastating fires in the country and the trend seems to be getting worse — nearly 12 million acres were burned in 2020 alone.
At this point, anyone living in California knows that wildfires are inevitable during the summer and we actually plan around them. I honestly can’t recall the last summer where imminent wildfire danger didn’t stress me out.
#2. Constant drought
When you move to California, one thing will become clear very quickly — California is proof that climate change is real.
Yet another thing to be mindful of while living in California are the constant droughts. I recall a particularly bad stretch where residents were asked to save shower water to water plants. I don’t see this improving anytime soon so when you move to California you’ll need to learn how to better conserve water.
#3. High taxes
California has an astounding state income tax of up to 13.3%, which makes the tax burned of living in California one of the worst in America.
The taxes should be taken into strong consideration while researching if moving to California is right for you because they will greatly reduce your overall take home pay.
If helpful, below is a chart that show the effective California state income tax depending on your income bracket.
#4. The overall high cost of living
California is a “pay to play” state, there’s no way around it. It’s hard to enjoy everything the state has to offer if you aren’t bringing in a considerable annual income.
All three of the major cities in California clock in as some of the most expensive cities in the entire country.
In addition to the high sales and income taxes, California also has the highest gas prices in the country too.
All this to say, unless you’re working in a high-paying field, you may find the cost of living in California unrealistic, especially if you’re moving to California from a small city.
#5. The summer heat
Admittedly, most of California has a Mediterranean climate with pleasant humid-free summers, especially cities that line the coast. But if you choose to live in a city further inland, you can expect blazing hot summers.
If you’re considering moving to California and settling further from the coast, understand that the average summer temperature exceed 95°F and 100°F+ days are not uncommon.
My aunt lives in Sacramento and I refuse to visit her in summer because I just can’t deal with the oppressing heat.
#6. You’ll need a car and traffic is a nightmare
California is a car-centric state and you will absolutely need to have a car while living in California because things are spread far apart.
I’ve never found it easy to get from Point A to Point B using public transportation, which is why I wouldn’t even consider moving to California without a car (with the exception of San Francisco).
Since most everyone moving to California arrives with a car, you can expect nightmarish traffic to become part of your daily life in California.
Here’s the stats on traffic for the three most populous cities in California:
Los Angeles’ horrendous traffic is known the world over and the proof is in the pudding. Year after year, Los Angeles is ranked one of the 10 most congested cities in the country, with an estimated 103 hours a year spent in traffic for the average commuter.
San Francisco: A driver in San Francisco loses 97 hours a year to traffic, ensuring that yet another California city makes the list of top 10 cities with the worst traffic.
San Diego: On average, vehicle trips take 60% longer during rush hour in San Diego.
Living in California is a tale of extremes — extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Alongside million dollar homes, you’ll find tent cities and folks living in doorways and streets.
The discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots is painstakingly clear on the streets and practically impossible to avoid while living in California.
Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Los Angeles consistently ranks as one of the worst cities in America for homelessness. And it’s true, you can’t live in LA without seeing the detrimental effects of homelessness around you.
- San Francisco is home to one of the highest homeless populations in the country.
- San Diego also has one of the highest homeless populations in the country.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know what the right solution for homelessness is, but I want to be transparent about it for anyone considering moving to California because you will notice it on a daily basis.
#8. Poor public schools
California has the largest network of public schools of any US state, but you know what else? It’s also home to some of the worst performing schools in the country.
In fact, California usually ranks as the worst 10-states for public education. So if you plan on raising a family while living in California, account for the cost of private school as well because the public schools leave much to be desired.
#9. Frankly, buying a home while living in California is unrealistic for most
So you’re moving to California with the intention of buying a home? I hate to burst your bubble, but let’s look at the numbers.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the median home prices for the three major cities in California:
San Francisco: The median home price in San Francisco is $1.4 million and the city also has the highest rent in the country.
San Diego: The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment clocks in at a steep $2,400 and the median home price is currently $765,000 (and rising annually).
With prices like this, there’s no denying that living in California isn’t even in the same timezone as affordable.
Moving to California? (Post Summary)
If you’re planning on moving to California, here’s a quick recap of the pros and cons of living in California. I hope you found this post helpful.
- Access to nature
- The food scene
- Constant sunshine
- Mild winters
- California is a beautiful state
- Job opportunities
- Relaxed vibe
- People are kind
- Variety of activities
- Access to international airports
- California is diverse
- The wildfires
- Constant drought
- High taxes
- Overall high cost of living
- The summer heat
- You’ll need a car (traffic is terrible)
- Poor public schools
- Buying a home is unrealistic
Let me know if you have any questions or comments below, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you!