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5 Best Places to Retire in California

Table of Contents
Best of the larger cities — Sacramento Best for affordable cost of living — Clearlake Best off the grid living — Arcata Best natural wonders — South Lake Tahoe

Many people aspire for California retirement. Not only is the Golden State known for its year round pleasant climate, beautiful beaches, and consistently sunny weather, there are a plethora of cities renowned across the world as being bastions of culture and fun.

From the hippie counterculture of San Francisco to the posh Hollywood excitement of Los Angeles, there’s something for everyone in California (no wonder it’s the most populous state).

San Diego and Palm Springs are great, but you don’t need us to tell you why. Instead, here’s a list some other great municipalities California has to offer, whether you’re interested in affordable housing, outdoor adventures, or simply want to enjoy pacific ocean sunsets every evening.

Best of the larger cities — Sacramento

Despite being the state capitol, Sacramento is not on a lot of peoples’ metro area radars when it comes to retirement options in California. And yet, this central California city probably should be.

If you’re looking for somewhere bustling to spend your retirement years, Sacramento is definitely worth consideration.

Key statistics

Population data

The population of Sacramento is 525,000 (as of 2021), which means big-city amenities. Key amongst those is access to quality health care. Sacramento’s UC Davis Medical Center is actually one of the best health care facilities in California.

The city is also fairly bikeable and there are neighborhoods you can live in that are walkable as well. Midtown and downtown are the best in terms of walkability, however there are a total of 9 neighborhoods with a walkability score of over 70 (which is excellent).

Cost of living

The median home price in Sacramento is $435,000, which makes it one of the best cities in California in terms of housing affordability.

(California has some of the highest housing prices in the US with a median of over $600,000. San Diego, for example, has an average home price of nearly $800,000.)

Rent, however, is slightly more expensive compared to other California cities: an average apartment in Sacramento will run you $1,855 per month.


Sacramento has relatively warm winters (highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s) and dry, warm weather in the summer (highs in the 90s and lows in the 60s).

The weather in Sacramento is also relatively predictable, so if it’s nice in the morning it’s likely to be nice all day (and vice versa, of course).

What makes Sacramento awesome?

Sacramento is just a short drive away from San Francisco, whose astronomical housing prices might preclude your even thinking about retiring there.

Don’t worry though: Sacramento has plenty of merits beyond its proximity to nearby San Francisco.

Farm to Fork Festival

Sacramento’s premier food and music festival celebrates the best the Sacramento region has to offer in terms of food, drink, and entertainment.

Each year, the festival features musical acts and chefs you won’t want to miss (the 2022 lineup included musical performances by Japanese Breakfast and Gregory Porter, and culinary features from Tyler Bond and Greg Desmangles).

Old Sacramento waterfront

The Old Sacramento Waterfront has 28 acres full of restaurants, bars, shops, and parks. There’s something there for everyone, from electric motorcycle vendors to crystal shops and even a mobile photo booth in an old VW Bus.

Best for affordable cost of living — Clearlake

If your dream retirement scenario involves scenic lakes and mountains, Clearlake is going to blow your mind.

Located on the banks of the largest fresh water lake in the state just two and a half hours North of San Francisco, this small city offers many benefits of California living with a price tag that will make your jaw drop.

Key Statistics

Population data

Clearlake is a small town, with just under 17,000 residents according to census bureau data. So, if you’re looking for a place to retire in California where you can really get to know your neighbors, this is a great option.

Cost of living

One of the best things about Clearlake is that it is officially the cheapest place to live in California.

The median home price is just over $200,000, which makes living there about a third as expensive as the average California city (and a quarter as expensive as San Diego). The median monthly mortgage cost here is a paltry $1,200.


The climate in Clearlake is quite mild. Winters last from November to February, with average lows in the mid 30s and highs in the 50s.

What’s more, relatively cool summers mean you’re not going to sweat to death walking to your car in the morning: highs top off in the low to mid 90s and lows are in the high 50s.

What makes Clearlake awesome?

Affordable homes are just one of the benefits Clearlake has to offer. Here are just a few of the other things you’ll appreciate:

Close to San Fransisco

The close proximity to San Francisco (2.5 hour drive) means you can enjoy large city amenities without too much hassle. You’re also far enough away that the sometimes astronomical housing prices of the city shouldn’t impact you.

(Although, many global tech companies might be scouting Clearlake for cheap real estate relatively close to silicon valley, so hustle before prices skyrocket to metro area levels.)

Easy access to natural beauty

The town sits on the banks of the largest fresh water lake in California, and is surrounded by dramatic mountains to boot. There are tons of hiking, fishing, kayaking, and camping opportunities quite close to Clearlake.


There are literally dozens of excellent wineries in the area (eat your heart out, Sonoma). You’ll have to try VERY hard to get bored of all the wine this area has to offer.

Best off the grid living — Arcata

Arcata, California is located on the edge of Arcata Bay smack dab in the middle of nowhere in Humboldt County. It’s a city known for its hippie counterculture and proximity to the Redwoods.

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of 21st century life, this is one of the best places to retire in California.

Key statistics

Population data

Arcata is a bigger city than you might expect for being about as off the beaten path as civilization gets. This oceanside town is home to just shy of 20,000 residents, plus about 6,000 students at California State Polytechnic University.

Because of being located in Humboldt County and being home to a California state school, you might expect politics in Arcata to skew liberal.

You would be right.

The city is known as a hippie haven, and for being “‘green’ before it was groovy.”

Cost of Living

Living in Arcata isn’t quite as affordable as Clearlake, however it’s still well below average as home prices in the Golden State go. The average home in Arcata will run you around $460,000. (You can compare that to an average of nearly $700,000 in Santa Rosa.)

Rents are even more affordable (relatively). The average rental in Arcata ran about $1,100 per month.


Arcata’s climate is quite mild. The lows in the winter months bottom out around 40 and the highs in the summer tend to stay below 65. So, if you like sweater weather and basically nothing else, Arcata is a great place.

It is worth noting, however, that Arcata is a rather wet city to live in (this is definitely not Palm Springs). The rainy season lasts for about 9 months: from September to June, you can expect anywhere from 5 to 15 inches of rain per month.

What makes Arcata awesome?

Despite being small and in the middle of nowhere, Arcata actually has quite a lot going for it. Access to nature, a surprisingly robust food scene, and a high level of walkability make Arcata one of the best places to retire in California.

Access to nature

Not only is Arcata home to over 600 acres of redwood groves, it’s boasts pristine ocean beaches, scenic bays and rivers, and is within 45 minutes of several enormous state parks.

Food Scene

Whether because Humboldt County is known as a haven for marijuana growing or because there’s a college within city limits, Arcata has a great food scene for a town its size.

Not only is the city home to dozens and dozens of excellent restaurants, but they have an oyster festival every summer full of delicious food, live music, and (of course) fresh oysters.


If you aspire to be part of active adult communities in your retirement, Arcata is the place for you.

The town is quite walkable, and even has a goal of 50% of all trips within the city being non-motorized.

There’s also a plan in the works to connect Arcata to Eureka and other towns in Humboldt County through a series of trail systems.

Best natural wonders — South Lake Tahoe

emerald bay, lake tahoe, california

If you’ve ever thought about donning skis, you’ve probably heard about Lake Tahoe. The city of South Lake Tahoe, however, is known not only for its proximity to excellent skiing, but for the abundance of natural wonders of all kinds. It’s one of the most beautiful locations in California, and that’s saying something.

Key statistics

Population Data

South Lake Tahoe is home to just over 21,000 individuals, although it may feel more crowded than that at times due to the heavy tourism traffic that comes through.

An estimated 15 million people visit Lake Tahoe every year, and while not all of them are going to the city of South Lake Tahoe, quite a few of them do.

Cost of Living

As you might expect for a resort town on the west coast, affordable housing isn’t really a thing in South Lake Tahoe. The average home price is just shy of $650,000 (nearly double the national average).

Renting, too, is quite expensive here: the average apartment goes for over $2,000 per month.

Most retirees may not be able to afford the high cost of living in South Lake Tahoe on social security income alone, but those who can will certainly get what they pay for.


South Lake Tahoe has a cooler climate than you would typically expect from a town in California. However, when you remember that it’s a skiers haven, it does make sense.

In the wintertime, temperatures can drop into the 20s (which, if you like snow, is actually a good thing). Winter highs, however, do get into the 40s.

Summers are quite mild, however, with highs in the 70s and lows in the high 40s.

What makes South Lake Tahoe awesome

If the cost of living isn’t prohibitive, this is one of the best places to retire in California. The lake and surrounding mountains mean you will never not be surrounded by absolutely stunning natural beauty.

What’s more, because of the tourism that is so prevalent in the area, there are quite a few amenities in South Lake Tahoe that you normally wouldn’t expect in a town its size.

Outdoor activities

Active adults will definitely find themselves with plenty to do in South Lake Tahoe. Not only is the area home to the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America (11), but some of the best hiking the US has to offer as well.

No matter which of the over 100 hiking trails in the Tahoe area you choose to check out, you will never be far away from pristine lakes and towering mountains.

The lake also provides ample opportunity for relaxing boating and fishing as well.


Black Jack certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of South Lake Tahoe, but the city actually shares a border with Nevada.

And by “shares a border” I mean that you can get to a casino from downtown South Lake Tahoe in less than 10 minutes.


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