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The 20 Best Places to Live in Northern California

Northern California

Northern California has a wealth of attractions, from a great education system to prosperous towns, stunning untamed natural beauty to amazing retail opportunities.

Whether you’re attracted to its indoor leisure opportunities or outdoor adventure possibilities, its booming job market or low crime rate, it makes a great destination for singletons and families, retirees and millennials alike. If you’re looking to make the move but need some inspiration, check out our top 20 best places to live in Northern California.

20. Pleasanton

Property in Pleasanton may come with the whopping price tag of $879,800, but few would quibble over the cost when it comes with a family orientated community, all the amenities and services you could ever need, safe, walkable streets, a handful of top-rated schools, and the expectation of a $138,269 median income.

19. Menlo Park

If you want to live in one of the best suburbs in San Jose, you’ll struggle to find much better than Menlo Park. Its population of 33,661 enjoys a low crime rate, great public schools, a superb range of restaurants, bars and entertainment options, a safe, family-friendly environment, plenty of green spaces and parks, and the kind of job market that supports the distinctly unaverage median income of $132,928.

As you’d expect, high property values come with the territory, with a 3-bedroom home coming in for around $1,764,600.

18. Davis

Ranked by Niche as #1 in Best Suburbs to Live in Sacramento Area, Davis certainly has a lot to recommend it. The crime, unemployment, and poverty rates are all reassuringly low, while the median income of $63,071 is, by contrast to the national average, refreshingly high.

Thanks to its clutch of excellent schools and safe streets, the suburb is a huge draw to families, while its easy access to the burgeoning art, food, wine and music scenes of Sacramenta (not to mention its job opportunities) make it as equally attractive to young professionals.

17. Monterey

With a rich history, diverse nature, and attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf, California Roots Music and Arts Festival, and the annual Monterey Jazz Festival, the picturesque city of Monterey offers a little something for everyone.

Aside from the superb range of recreational and leisure opportunities on offer, the city also boasts the usual line up of features that turn an average destination into a remarkable one: great schools, a welcoming community, a thriving local economy, and enough highly paid jobs to support the very robust median income of $73,942.

16. San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo has no shortage of attractions to recommend it. As well as having a temperate climate, a plethora of outdoor leisure pursuits, a tight-knit community, and a decent handful of excellent schools, it has the kind of residents that are happy to leave their stamp of approval on Niche with the worlds, ‘San Luis Obispo is my home town where I was born and raised.

It is the biggest little city on earth yet it is very easy to get from one side of town to the other. All the residents are friendly, and it's known for its healthy living happy people. Great place to raise your kid, take it from me, I’ve lived here my whole life and still enjoy every part of it. For adult night time activity, downtown San Luis Obispo is a great place to go for a drink, dance, or even just a night out at the movie theatre with reclining seats!

And not only is San Luis Obispo great as a city but as a county as well. Head south on Highway 101 to find yourself at the beach in minutes! Drive north on the 101 and you’ll see more of the countryside of the county. Paso Robles is north SLO county and is very famous for its wide variety of wineries, and during the summer the California Mid State Fair.”

15. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz represents the quintessential California beach town, complete with a relaxed, laid back vibe, friendly residents, a host of outdoor recreations, and, of course, the beach.

The fun doesn’t end there: thanks to it its excellent location, residents can enjoy the benefit of having 14 state parks, numerous world-class wineries, museums, farmer’s markets, and every conceivable outdoor activity imaginable on their very doorstep. At $750,600 for a single-family home, property leans towards the higher end of the scale- fortunately, so do the incomes, with most residents enjoying the very decent median salary of $65,421.

14. San Mateo

If you can stretch to the $917,700 median property price in San Mateo, then count yourself very lucky indeed. Crime is among the lowest in the state, while the median income of $105,667 is, if not the highest, then still high enough to warrant a mention.

The town center is well served by a great range of amenities, including a score of excellent restaurants offering every type of cuisine you could wish for. The schools are excellent, the streets are safe, and all in, it’s one seriously attractive destination.

13. Walnut Creek

Life in Walnut Creek revolves around its downtown, a charmingly delightful mix of historic buildings, high-end retail outlets, restaurants, and endless entertainment venues.

Elsewhere, you’ll find a rigorous school system, a job market that’s doing well enough for itself to support a median income of $86,845, a diverse community, and easy commuting access to the outlying cities. In recent years, property prices have skyrocketed, with the average family home now retailing for around $704,900. Considering the desirability of this small city, it’s easy to see why.

12. Palo Alto

Granted, you’ll need to have some serious savings behind you if you want to buy a property in Palo Alto ($1,989,300, to be exact) but humongous median home values aside, the town has some serious attractions.

The community is welcoming and diverse, while the safe neighborhoods and nationally ranked schools offer families a great place to raise their kids. Amenities are abundant, while the median income of $147,537 does an outstanding job of putting that median home value into perspective.

11. Cameron Park

By most state’s standard, $385,700 for a three-bedroom property would be outrageous. By Californian standards, it’s a positive steal. Affordable housing isn’t all Cameron can boast - with a median household income of $75,313, an educated, welcoming population, a good public school system, a cozy, small-town vibe, and excellent proximity to both the ocean and the mountains, it’s more than deserving of a place on our list.

10. Lafayette

If you see an A+ ranking on Niche you can be assured you’re looking at a truly extraordinary destination. If the staggering $152,609 median income isn’t enough to convince you of Lafayette’s merits, a quick look at the comments from residents should leave you in no doubt. “Love Lafayette! A very small town that is close to everything the Bay Area offers.

I commute to San Francisco and it only takes about 35 minutes from BART”, says one, while another enthuses “I love the quiet East Bay town of Lafayette. It has beautiful scenery, great food, nice people, and an amazing school district. Overall, it is an amazing pocket of quiet in the otherwise busy bay area.”

9. Folsom

With a healthy 75,897 population, a superb median income of $106,718, a low crime rate, a diverse, welcoming community, a great line of annual events (including the delightful American River Salmon Festival), excellent hiking, biking, and leisure opportunities, and a quaint, historic downtown, Folsom is unquestionably a supremely attractive destination.

8. Orinda

19,248 residents have chosen to live in the Oakland suburb of Orinda, and for very good reason. While the median property price may be a huge $1,221,800, there are enough attractions on offer to more than justify the price.

As Area Vibes reports, the average crime rate of 825 per 100k people is a huge 70% lower than the US average, giving residents a just 1 in 122 chance of becoming a victim of either property or violent crime (as an added boon, year-over-year crime is down 32%).

The immense median household income of $178,704 is 223% higher than the national average, while the income per capita of $94,377 is 216% higher. The unemployment rate is 42% lower than the US average, while the top-rated schools have an 18% higher than the average high school graduation rate of 98%, and a 75% higher than the US average test score pass rate of 86%.

7. Rocklin

Great job opportunities? Check. Superb schools? Check. A low crime rate? Check. The quiet suburb of Rocklin has it all. The Rocklin Unified School District includes a number of California Distinguished Schools, while the average median income of $91,995 more than makes up for the slightly higher than average median home value of $421,700.

Violent crime is way below the national average (32% lower, to be exact), while the well maintained, clean, safe streets make it a highly desirable destination for families. The range of community-led activities and its array of restaurants, bars, and shops, meanwhile, make it an equally attractive destination for millennials.

6. Ridgecrest

Ridgecrest is a strong community of excellent schools, a decent median income of $60,794, friendly neighbors, farmer's markets, arts and crafts events, lovely parks (including a dog park), and plenty of indoor and outdoor recreational possibilities.

The best thing? Property comes in at the superbly affordable $169,500, making it a great place for first-time buyers to get their foot on the property ladder while enjoying a fantastic quality of life.

5. Granite Bay

While rent and property prices in Granite Bay are both on the high side ($1,763 and $697,500 respectively), the cost of a home here is more than offset by the fabolously high median income of $125,238.

The combination of small-town, rural tranquility contrasts wonderfully with the upscale vibe of the area, while the amenities, services, and activities are superb (thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Granite Bay Community Association, which does a great of keeping the town’s 22,479 residents in farmers markets, gardening club meetings, fitness groups and more besides).

4. Roseville

Diverse, clean, modern, and safe, Roseville is a hugely attractive destination to both families and singletons alike. The shopping opportunities are beyond fault, while the lively downtown is home to a regular schedule of events and farmers markets. Most residents enjoy a very considerable income of $81,119, while the crime rate, schools, and number of green areas are excellent.

3. El Dorado Hills

You might need $575,200 to buy a property in the delightful Sacramento superb of El Dorado Hills, but it’s unlikely to be an expense you’ll come to regret. The regular farmer's markets and year-round schedule of events foster a real sense of community, while the endless recreational opportunities, great schools, excellent job opportunities, low crime rate and a plethora of outdoor green spaces support an immensely desirable standard of life.

2. Dublin

For those who can afford the $756,800 median property price, Dublin makes a great option. While the city’s grown phenomenally over recent years, it still enjoys a small town, cozy atmosphere.

Thanks to its location on the intersection of two major interstates, residents enjoy excellent access to San Francisco and Silicon Valley (and, of course, all the excellent job opportunities that affords).

The downtown offers plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants for residents to enjoy spending their considerable median income of $138,007, while the stunning Dublin Hills Regional Park offers nature lovers all the outdoor pursuits they could dream of.

1. Clovis

According to NerdWallet, Clovis ranks as the #1 best city in Northern California for families… and it’s easy to see why. By Californian standards, housing is eminently affordable at $284,200 for a three-bedroom house, while its less than three hours driving time from the coast and Yosemite guarantees plenty by way of leisure opportunities.

The school system is exemplary, while the Clovis Unified School District offers a great chance for gifted students to progress through an accelerated learning program. The superb community spirit is nurtured by a great line up of events, including weekly farmers markets and a citywide annual rodeo.

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Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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