The 8 Most Affordable Places to Live in California

Life in California is synonymous with sun, sand, and the highest rent prices in the United States. While the national median rent costs $1450 a month, the median rent price in California runs $1620 per month. That number might look daunting, but there are still some very affordable places to live in California.

The Most Affordable City in California: Merced

Located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Merced takes the prize for the cheapest place to live in California, with an average rent price of $1,262. For those interested in buying a home, real estate prices are also lower than in other cities in California, with the average home being valued at $402,601. 

Housing prices aren’t the only factor in making Merced an affordable place to live. Groceries, utilities, and meals in restaurants or gym memberships are also less costly than in most of California’s larger cities. In fact, according to the website Numbeo, the overall cost of living in Merced is estimated to be 70% lower than in San Francisco. 

Merced has a population of approximately 84,000, and two of the main fields of employment in the city are education and library science, as well as office and administrative support. This comes as no surprise, given that Merced is home to UC Merced, part of the renowned University of California school system. 

Merced may not be located on the coast, but it still offers a wonderful, outdoor-oriented lifestyle. The city is known for its proximity to Yosemite National Park and is just two hours from both San Francisco and Sacramento. Within Merced, you’ll find many parks and green spaces, walking and cycling trails, and community activities and events to participate in. There are several museums, a Multicultural Arts Center, local sports leagues, farmer’s markets, and cultural events such as live theatre and music to enjoy.   

The Second-Most Affordable City in California: Fresno

Fresno is an agricultural city in the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by farms growing everything from almonds and pistachios to grapes, tomatoes, and more. The city offers an affordable cost of living, with an average rent price of $1480 and a median home value of $375,000. 

Located near the geographical center of California, Fresno isn’t particularly close to any of California’s other major cities. However, it does offer easy access to some of the state’s most stunning natural attractions, including Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, the Sierra National Forest, and Yosemite National Park,

Fresno itself offers a mix of suburban and rural living. The downtown core features beautiful, revitalized historic buildings from the late 1800s. On the outskirts of town, you’ll find acres of farms punctuated with fruit stands selling delicious, fresh produce. The city hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, including a Taco Truck Throwdown and Greek Fest. Many residents enjoy cheering on local college sports teams, particularly the Fresno State Bulldogs football team. 

While Fresno offers an affordable cost of living and outstanding recreational opportunities, you need to be able to handle the heat. During the summer, temperatures average in the high 90s, meaning air conditioning is essential. If you opt to live here, don’t forget to factor the cost of A/C into your monthly expenses.  

Most Affordable Place to Live by the Coast in California: Oxnard

The real estate prices in most of California’s famous beach towns are not for the faint of heart, but you might be surprised to learn that coastal living is still within reach in some areas. Sandwiched between Malibu and Santa Barbara, Oxnard is a coastal town in Southern California with about 200,000 residents and an average monthly rent of $2,525. Homes in the area sell for an average price of $750,000.  

Oxnard is known for its strawberry fields, as the home of Port Hueneme, its wide, sandy beaches, and as an access point for Channel Islands National Park. You can also access miles of gorgeous hiking trails within a short drive of the city. Those looking for an active, outdoorsy SoCal lifestyle will surely find it in Oxnard. 

One challenge of living in Oxnard is that the city is not very walkable, so you will likely need a vehicle. Although, the excellent weather means you can likely ride your bike all year long. Don’t forget to consider the logistics of your commute when looking for a place to live in Oxnard. 

Most Affordable Neighborhood in LA: Vermont Vista

Vermont Vista is a neighborhood in South Los Angeles with approximately 27,000 residents. The average cost of rent here is $1,522, which is higher than the national average but significantly less than LA’s average rent, which falls around $2,700 per month.  

For those interested in buying a home, the average home price in this area is around $600,000 putting it well below the $795,000 median price for homes in Los Angeles County. 

Located near the intersection of the I-105 and I-110 freeways, Vermont Vista is a practical base for commuting to many other areas of Los Angeles, including downtown LA, Inglewood, Westchester, and Norwalk. Like most neighborhoods in LA, Vermont Vista’s public transportation is lacking, meaning you’ll most likely need a car to live in this area. Depending on where you work, the lower rent prices may not be enough to compensate for commuting time and expenses.  

Vermont Vista is largely residential, but the area is home to a few small commercial areas where you can find grocery stores, independent eateries, hair salons, and more. The neighborhood has several schools and facilities like the Algin Sutton Recreation Center, a large park with an aquatic facility, and the Weingart YMCA Wellness & Aquatic Center, which offer opportunities to exercise or participate in community programs.   

Most Affordable Place to Live in the LA Area: Hawthorne

Located in LA’s South Bay, near the intersection of the 105 and 405 freeways, Hawthorne is a well-connected city with monthly rents averaging $1,753. Home prices in this city average around $900,000. 

The city’s freeway proximity makes it a fantastic base for commuting almost anywhere within the LA area, including the beach. El Segundo Beach is less than 5 miles from the center of Hawthorne.    

Hawthorne has a population of about 88,000, and most of the residents are renters. While the city is well-positioned for commuters, there are many employment opportunities within Hawthorne. The top employers in the area include SpaceX, Amazon, the Hawthorne School District, and many other aerospace engineering companies.  

The city is home to several box stores, supermarket chains, and independent shops and eateries for residents to frequent. There are also many parks and playgrounds where you can enjoy time outside. Ultimately, the city offers a competitive cost of living and easy access to all LA offers. 

Most Affordable Place in the San Fernando Valley: Winnetka

Living in the San Fernando Valley is a common strategy for securing affordable rent close to Los Angeles. Of all the different areas in the Valley, Winnetka offers the cheapest cost of living, with rents averaging $1,697 per month. The average purchase of a home in this neighborhood hovers around $850,000.  

Winnetka has a population of approximately 52,000 and offers a mix of residential areas and commercial zones. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, and shopping centers in this area. There are also several recreation centers and green spaces for residents to enjoy. Winnetka is home to several public and private schools, making it a great place for families to live. 

Winnetka is located reasonably close to the 101 Freeway, and its central location within the Valley makes it a good base for commuting to other cities within the Valley, such as Studio City, Burbank, or even Thousand Oaks. 

Most Affordable Neighborhood in San Francisco: Van Ness – Civic Center

With an average rent price of $2,681, Van Ness – Civic Center is the cheapest neighborhood in San Francisco (where the overall average rent price is $3,397). The median home price in this neighborhood is around $895,000, but most of the neighborhood’s residents are renters.   

Van Ness – Civic Center is a great option for anyone looking for an urban lifestyle. Situated around City Hall in downtown San Francisco, the area is packed with bars, eateries, historic landmarks, and many other attractions. Being right downtown provides easy access to San Francisco’s transit options, including BART and Muni, plus the area is very walkable. There are also extensive bike paths through the neighborhood. You definitely don’t need a vehicle to live in this area.  

Most Affordable Place to Live in the Bay Area: Vallejo

Situated just north of San Francisco, in Solano County, Vallejo is a city of about 126,000. Known as a port city and home to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo has become a popular escape for Bay Area artists looking for more space and a more affordable cost of living. With average rent prices around $2,160 per month and median home prices of $560,000, Vallejo is one of the cheapest cities in the Bay Area. 

Vallejo has a population of approximately 127,000 and offers a suburban lifestyle. Many Vallejo residents commute to San Francisco for work, but there are also many employment opportunities in the surrounding towns of Fairfield and Vacaville. Commuters can reach San Francisco by ferry or via the I-80 freeway.

The city of Vallejo is known for its cultural diversity, and its growing arts community. Local artists hold an Art Walk on the second Friday of every month. The city also hosts many festivals and cultural events, including the Northern California Pirate Festival, the Solano County Fair, and live theatre and musical performances. 

Vallejo also offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation, including cycling and hiking. The Bay Area Ridge Trail, Waterfront Park, and Blue Rock Springs Park are all great places to spend time soaking up nature in Vallejo.  

The Bottom Line

While California is one of the most costly states to live in, there are still plenty of affordable areas to live in. Opting to live away from the coast is sure to reduce your rent prices dramatically, and California’s inland cities still have plenty of wonderful qualities. But your rent isn’t the only factor to consider when looking for a place to live in California; consider your vehicle and commuting expenses as well. A long commute may not always be worth it for the sake of lower rent payments.