How the 5 Biggest Cities in California Rank for Livability

by Bobbie PrestonAugust 17, 2015

California’s Biggest Cities Compared

The Golden State has a wealth of eminently livable big cities, but which of its five largest is the best place to call home? Find out in our livability survey of the 5 biggest cities in California.

#1: San Diego

Like Los Angeles, San Diego is blessed with nearly year-round sunshine, and easy access to plenty of picturesque and lively beaches. The housing market here is stable as well, with a high concentration of owner-occupied homes, and a median home price of about $452k.

Top San Diego amenities include the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Balboa Park, and the historic charm of Old Town Trolley Tours. The city is brimming with buzz-worthy eateries, and it features a vibrant nightlife scene together with a very active artistic community.

San Diego’s high 85% graduation rates are also worthy of acclaim, and the city’s education system is highly regarded. The student-to-teacher ratio is lower than the state average. San Diego’s job market is another point of pride. The city boasts lower unemployment than the state as a whole, and a median household income of approximately $64,000.

#2: San Jose

San Jose’s livability ratings are neck and neck with San Diego’s. It too benefits from that famous California sunshine, easy ocean access, and relatively impressive high school graduation rates.

San Jose has an edge over San Diego when it comes to median household incomes; here, the average household earns closer to $82,000. It also boasts slightly better air quality, and with a median home value of $575,000, a stronger real estate market, as well.

Main attractions in San Jose include the Winchester Mystery House, the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo.

#3: Los Angeles

Los Angeles: it’s a city that needs no introduction – after all, this city of nearly 4 million people is known the world over as a hub of business and culture. And while some Los Angeles emigrants are drawn by the prospect of silver-screen stardom, most Los Angelinos are enamored with the Big Orange’s excellent livability.

Los Angeles is famous for its many attractions. There’s the excitement of Universal Studios, the festive atmosphere of Venice Beach, the artistic inspiration of the Getty Center, and the celestial enchantment of Griffith Observatory. Of course, we don’t have time to talk about all of LA’s many charms, but suffice it to say, you’ll never be bored living in the City of Angels, and you’ll have lots of great places to eat and shop.

Los Angeles also receives high marks for its strong housing market, which has weathered economic trouble much better than markets in many other major cities. The median home price in LA is $470,000, and growth is projected to be strong.

Of course, the weather is one of the best parts of living in LA. Here, it hardly ever dips below freezing, and even the rainiest months still have plenty of absolutely lovely days. In Los Angeles, you can spend a wonderful day at the beach just about any time of year.

#4 San Francisco

San Francisco isn’t just a city, it’s a sub-cultural icon. This free-spirited California standout is known for its liberal politics, its freethinking residents, and its many fun attractions. Among the top sights to see in San Francisco are Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the infamous Alcatraz prison, now a popular museum.

While San Francisco may be rich in attractions, it’s quite compact for a city of its size, which means that everything you want to see is relatively close at hand, no matter where you are in the city.

San Francisco’s housing market is extremely healthy as well, and some would even say too much so. The median home value here is a lofty $750k, putting home ownership out of reach for many average earners. On the bright side, incomes tend to be high here, too, with median household earnings of nearly $74k per year.

The educational system in San Francisco boasts graduation rates of 84%, and a relatively low student-to-teacher ratio of 19:1. San Francisco’s climate is quite a bit cooler than the state’s other big cities, with year-round temperatures averaging in the 50s. The warmest months are May and June, with average highs of 88 and 87 degrees, respectively.

#5: Fresno

Fresno, California is California’s largest inland city, situated in the heart of the agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley. It’s close to some truly breathtaking natural landscapes, including Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. It’s also home to CSU Fresno, one of the top universities in the state.

When it comes to amenities, Fresno really shines. There’s plenty to do and see here, including the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Forestiere Underground Gardens, the Fresno Art Museum, and the Woodward Regional Park.

Fresno also earns livability kudos for its year-round sunshine, its robust job market, and its affordable cost of living. Median home prices here are just shy of $200k, a far cry from the astronomical asking prices in San Francisco.

Fresno also has less crime than many other large California cities, and its education system, though not as impressive as those found in San Francisco or San Diego, still provides ample opportunities to those who are willing to work hard to make the grade.

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Bobbie Preston