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The Best Places to Retire in California

Emily Brandon

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 100 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:

San Diego

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. The median home price is $483,600 among people age 60 and older, and the median rent in the metro area is $1,212 per month.

Santa Rosa

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. The median home price is $541,300 among people age 60 and older, and retiree renters pay a median of $1,259 monthly. Santa Rosa scored particularly well on the happiness metric, with many residents expressing that they like where they live, enjoy good health and have enough energy to pursue their goals, according to a Gallup-Healthways survey.

Los Angeles

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 median home price of $551,800 could make it difficult to live comfortably in the area, 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 10 in the nation: UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

San Francisco

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. The median home price is $716,100, and housing costs far more in some of the metro area's most desirable neighborhoods. UCSF Medical Center and Stanford Hospital were both ranked among the top 10 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.


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 to much of the rest of the country. The median home price among retirees is $340,400, and the median rent is $991 per month.


This inland California city is considerably more affordable than California's larger metro areas on the coast. The median home price among retirees is $242,100, and the median rent is under $1,000 per month. 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.

San Jose

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 of $822,600 is out of reach for most retirees. Newcomers will probably need to rent an apartment, which costs a median of $1,355 per month among those age 60 and older. 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. Also a college town, San Jose State University is the oldest public university on the West Coast.


Fresno is an ideal retirement spot to launch outdoor adventures. Fresno offers convenient access to many of California's natural wonders, including Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, 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. The median home price is only $216,100, and retiree renters pay a median of just $847 per month.

The Best Places to Retire in California

-- San Diego

-- Santa Rosa

-- Los Angeles

-- San Francisco

-- Sacramento

-- Modesto

-- San Jose

-- Fresno

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