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The 20 Worst Places to Live in California


California is often considered one of the most livable places in the nation and is called “The Golden State” for a reason. However, not all is great in this state, and there are many places that are problematic or concerning. Not everything is so golden in California, and many areas struggle heavily.

In fact, some of the worst cities in California are among the most problematic in the state and should be avoided at all costs. Here are the 20 worst cities in California and the reasons why each is problematic. If you plan on moving to or visiting the area, stay out of these regions.

20. Fresno


Located in Fresno County, this is one of the worst cities in California for a few reasons. While the schools aren't so bad, there's little for young people to do in the area. This may cause mischief and problems with crime, and Fresno's crime rate is an issue at about 1.2-times the national average.

Frustratingly, Fresno also has a high median price on homes, making it hard for many people to afford to live there. Pair that with a high cost of living, and Fresno is not a great place to live or even visit beyond some access to naturally beautiful areas.

19. Stockton


Stockton is a real crime-ridden city, with about 1,397 violent crimes per 100,000 people. This rate is 155.8% higher than the state average. That makes it a troubling area to move or visit, though much of this crime is centered in specific areas rather than being a whole-city problem.

While Stockton's 5-7% unemployment rate isn't too bad, it has been higher: up to 10.29%. That's because there is a lack of job options for many people in the area, which forces them to move elsewhere. Young people are unhappy with Stockton and have fled in droves.

18. Eureka


Eureka is a northern California city that is a common tourist destination for many because of its proximity to the ocean, its cozy atmosphere, and its friendly residents. However, it is also one of the worst cities in California, with a high crime rate and middling unemployment rates.

This information highlights an important fact when choosing the worst cities in California: they may be pleasant and even great to visit. Many of the cities on this list are visited regularly by tourists but are not beloved by their residents. It's a bit of tragic irony.

17. Signal Hill


California is interesting because many of its most dangerous areas are small towns. For example, Signal Hill is just 11,555 people and is considered one of the most dangerous areas in the state. It has a D- for safety, and 86% of all cities in the country are safer than Signal Hill.

Homes are not cheap in this area, with prices soaring toward $735,000 in many areas. That makes it both an expensive and dangerous place to live. Many people in the area install alarms on their homes and cars to ensure that they are correctly protected.

16. Santa Monica

Santa Monica

One primary reason that Santa Monica isn't higher on this list is that it is so close to the ocean. Its beautiful view of the Pacific makes it an excellent place for people who want to visit. However, the crime rate is bad, and you have a 1 in 171 chance of experiencing a violent crime and a 1 in 24 chance of a property crime.

That makes Santa Monica hard to recommend, particularly for long-term living. Furthermore, the city is known for its high homelessness rate and serious economic issues. In one area, about 60% of the stores are vacant, which gives homeless people a place to squat and which may cause confrontations.

15. San Jacinto

San Jacinto

San Jacinto is a sister city to Hemet, sharing many of its services and amenities. Unfortunately, it also shares many of that city's problems. These include high unemployment rates and crime rates that, while lower, are still a problem and deter many people from living here.

San Jacinto also shares the problem of being “boring” with Hemet and having little to do within its borders. Many people venture out of the city to find fun, which may even cause some to move. While not the worst place to live, it's still one of the worst cities in California.

14. West Hollywood

West Hollywood

When most people hear the word “Hollywood,” they likely think of big movie stars and glamorous events. However, residents of West Hollywood think of their high crime rate, which has skyrocketed by 130% in recent years and left the area as one of the most dangerous places in the state.

What is particularly frustrating for residents is the high real estate median price, with costs of $928,000. That kind of high home rate, paired with crime issues, makes West Hollywood a far less enjoyable place to live. It may even see a population decrease if the crime isn't managed better.

13. Mendota


Mendota is a small town with just 12,000 people and is close to Fresno, which is a slightly better place to live. However, Mendota is one of the worst cities in California because it often feels isolated and lonely to its many residents. They're too far from the extensive metropolitan areas to the north and south to visit.

While Mendota's crime rates aren't incredibly high, they're still concerning. You have a 1 in 166 chance of being a victim of a violent crime or a 1 in 71 chance of a property crime. Combined with mediocre schools, minimal public transportation, and almost no diversity, and you have a very unfortunate town.

12. Barstow


Barstow is another Californian city with a high crime rate, one that many citizens of talked of in despair. Many people claim they are uncomfortable going out at night and that there's a “lot of crime” in the area. Unfortunately, many who live there cannot move because of limited funds.

Crime rates are considerably higher than the national rates, by about 113%, according to some. Barstow is close to San Bernardino, a fact that many residents discuss. These cities' proximity likely feeds into violent crime, gang-based wars, and other issues.

11. Red Bluff

Red Bluff

While unemployment in Red Bluff isn't necessarily that bad (around 4-7% on average most of the time), this city has a real problem with crime. It has a violent crime rate of 1 in 102 and a property rate of 1 in 22. The latter is problematic for the area.

For a town of just 14,283 people, that type of crime rate is very devastating. The reasons for this high crime rate include problems with its police force and a high population density. High population density pushes people together in uncomfortable ways in many situations.

10. Hemet


Hemet is a troubled area with a high unemployment rate that often ventures as high as 15%. About 15% of its population has disabilities, which further impacts the area's economic impact. Unfortunately, there are a lot of vacant homes in the area and trouble with retaining strong educators.

As a result, Hemet also has troubles in their schools and problems with boredom. Residents complain about a lack of things to do and often leave the area for entertainment, taking their money elsewhere. Such boredom-related issues may seem petty, but they affect the quality of life for many people.

9. Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs may have a nice name, but it is not a nice place to live. Many who live here complain about a lack of amenities and things to do, typically finding it impossible to have fun. The higher crime rates are also a problem, with 1 in every 149 people experiencing a violent crime.

Vacant or unavailable homes are also a problem in this area. Few people in the city own their homes, with just 47.5% owning a home. Combined with a lower median income and poor school scores and Desert Hot Spring is not the kind of place most people would want to settle down.

8. San Bernardino

San Bernardino

San Bernardino has historically had one of the worst crime rates in the nation. Reports claim that people have 1 in 67 risk of violent crime and 1 in 36 rate of property claim. This makes it hard to visit and live here, though some people do love its occasionally beautiful architecture.

San Bernardino also trends towards high unemployment rates, with levels that often exceed the state and nation's rate (often as high as 10%). However, it has become a popular area for young professionals due to lower home costs, despite its many obvious problems.

7. Wasco


Wasco is not the kind of California city you hear about much beyond reports on its high crime rates. These include rates of 1 in 126 for violent crimes and 1 in 51 for property crimes. That's a severe problem for people who want to visit or even relocate to this area.

Even more troubling, Wasco has a high unemployment rate that is almost always at or near 10-15 percent. There simply aren't many places to work in the area beyond restaurants and other service industries. Even worse, the schools are ranked low, and houses are not easy to find.

6. Commerce


Commerce is another dangerous city with a small population. Its proximity to Los Angeles probably doesn't help, as there are nearly 1,000 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents. That's a rate of almost 10%, which in a city of 12,808 people mean that nearly 1,290 experience a violent crime.

The city also has a high poverty rate, which may cause many of its residents to turn to crime in desperation. Even worse, the home prices here are still fairly high, meaning that many homes are unoccupied or hard for people in the area to afford on a limited budget.

5. Clearlake


In the past, Clearlake has struggled with unemployment problems, hitting a heady high of 17.5% in 2009. While the city has recovered heavily since then, it is still not a great place to live. Median home levels are low, poverty is high, and the city even has many unpaved roads.

Located north of Sacramento, Clearlake doesn't get a lot of attention from the state for rebuilding projects, either, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage. These problems make Clearlake a really hard place to recommend, though the lower house prices may be appealing to some.

4. Los Angeles

West Hollywood

Though this listing might be controversial, there is a logic behind it. While Los Angeles provides many of amazing work opportunities, its home prices are excessive. Even with a downward trend in 2022, their median prices are still $750,000, with many homes being far above that level.

Even worse, pollution in Los Angeles can make it very hard to breathe and may even shorten a person's lifespan. While chemicals that may damage lungs and cause heart attacks have dropped in this city in recent years, they're still present and potentially devastating.

3. Adelanto


Adelanto isn't necessarily a violent or dangerous place to live in California. However, it ranks high on this list because of its high unemployment rate. With just over 34,000 people in the city, the unemployment rate varies between nine to 22%, depending on the economy.

Unfortunately, there aren't many employment opportunities in this city because of its relatively isolated location. While people may travel to Victorville to work, traveling to San Bernardino or Riverside to find jobs is often too much for many people to handle. As a result, they stay unemployed.

2. Oakland


Although Oakland is a critical manufacturing, employment, and educational hub for California, it is also a somewhat dangerous place to live. Residents experience crime at a heavy rate, including 16 murders per every 100,000 people and 609 robberies per every 100,000 people.

The reasons for this crime rate include heavy commute rates between various areas and a dense city population. At one point, Oakland was known as the murder capital of the world, though its murder rates have decreased since it earned this dubious distinction in 1983.

1. Emeryville


Emeryville is one of the worst cities in California because it has the worst crime rate in the state. While it is only about 12,104 people in its population, it has a crime rate of 18,192 crimes per 100,000 people. The violent crime rate is 1,429 per 100,000 residents, which is incredibly high.

This city lies between Berkeley and Oakland and is known for its crime rate, as well as being the home of Pixar Animation Studios. It is a heavy employer throughout Alameda County, which is probably why many crimes occur. While it has a pleasant climate, it is very dangerous and should be avoided.

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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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