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14 Most Expensive Cities in California (with Pictures)

San Jose University California

As you might expect from a state home to Hollywood and the tech industry, California is a place with many wealthy people. That is a good thing because the state also has some of the highest living costs in the country. In a state with high prices, some cities stand out more than others. Here are California’s 14 most expensive cities, based on factors such as the average housing costs and income-to-expense ratio.

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The 14 Most Expensive Cities in California

1. Los Altos

City Stats:
  • Population: 30,700
  • Median household income: $240,094
  • Average home price: $4,077,695
  • Average monthly rent: $3,160

Located near San Jose, Los Altos is one of the most expensive cities in California and the entire country. This city is home to many Silicon Valley tech industry employees and executives. It’s also close to colleges such as Stanford and Santa Clara University. Los Altos is primarily a bedroom city with only a small business district. The schools are highly rated, and the city is full of gorgeous homes and tree-lined streets.


2. Newport Beach

High School Newport AR
Image Credit: Jma661, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 3.0 Unported
City Stats:
  • Population: 84,792
  • Median household income: $133,849
  • Average home price: $3,267,510
  • Average monthly rent: $3,498

Newport Beach is located in Orange County, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles. The coastal city is home to miles of beautiful beaches lined with equally gorgeous and costly homes. You’ll find popular tourist destinations like Balboa Island in this city, along with the busy Newport and Balboa Piers.

Orange County has its own airport, so wealthy Newport Beach residents don’t have to trek all the way to L.A. to fly. Newport Beach schools are highly rated, and there are several top private schools to choose from.


3. Santa Monica

Santa Monica
Image Credit: Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 91,105
  • Median household income: $98,300
  • Average home price: $1,918,783
  • Average monthly rent: $3,958

Home to the iconic Santa Monica Pier, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Santa Monica is also one of the most expensive places to live in California. This densely populated city is located on the western edge of Los Angeles, bordered by Santa Monica Bay to the west and the Santa Monica Mountains to the north.

Families who can afford it often choose to live in Santa Monica for the highly rated schools. Housing is a major expense in this city, but the weather and location can’t be beaten, with the beach and the mountains only a few miles away.


4. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara
Image Credit: Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 88,255
  • Median household income: $81,618
  • Average home price: $2,429,830
  • Average monthly rent: $2,550

Santa Barbara is a picturesque coastal city about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and one of the most expensive places to live in California. It is home to four universities and offers easy access to mountain and beach activities. This city is also a popular tourist destination, with many excellent restaurants, a thriving wine industry, and gorgeous beaches. Housing is the most significant expense in Santa Barbara, but it also has one of California’s highest sales tax rates.


5. Atherton

City Stats:
  • Population: 6,915
  • Median household income: $250,000+
  • Average home price: $7,758,472
  • Average monthly rent: $3,719

Near Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, lies the small town of Atherton, one of the most expensive cities in the United States. Average household income is sky high, but so is the cost of housing.

Renting in Atherton might be cheaper, but you won’t have much inventory since most people own their own homes. The town is primarily residential, full of tech executives who value privacy. There is only a small shopping and dining district and one (large) park.


6. Beverly Hills

ford mustang in beverly hills
Image Credit: BKD, Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 31,896
  • Median household income: $101,241
  • Average home price: $3,951,077
  • Average monthly rent: $2,995

Beverly Hills is a separate city surrounded by the larger Los Angeles metro area. When you hear “Beverly Hills,” you’ll likely think of pop culture classics like the TV show “90210” or the famous shopping district on Rodeo Drive.

Many Hollywood power players make their homes in this expensive city, reflecting the cost of living. Home prices are incredibly high, with rent not far behind. Architecture in Beverly Hills is quite diverse, with many charming, early 20th-century homes available.


7. Palo Alto

Palo Alto
Image Credit: Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 66,680
  • Median household income: $174,003
  • Average home price: $3,605,143
  • Average monthly rent: $3,704

Palo Alto is the home of Stanford University, one of the world’s best private universities. This Silicon Valley hot spot is one of the most expensive cities in California, with many tech industry executives and investors calling it home.

Tesla, Hewlett-Packard, and Skype have headquarters here, and other familiar tech industry names like Google and Apple were founded nearby. The city is full of parks and other natural landscapes. Housing will take up most of your monthly budget in Palo Alto, with rent and home prices among the highest in the state.


8. Malibu

Malibu
Image Credit: Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 10,429
  • Median household income: $162,716
  • Average home price: $4,113,524
  • Average monthly rent: $3,309

A small, extremely wealthy town located just up the coast from Los Angeles, Malibu is a popular destination for celebrities who take advantage of the privacy in the hills. Malibu features excellent restaurants, surfing, and stunning beaches.

You can live right on the ocean or take in a gorgeous view from a hillside property. Malibu offers several outdoor activities, including hiking. As with many areas in California, Malibu residents must deal with the yearly threat of wildfires.


9. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Bridge
Image Credit: kokygonzalez, Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 34,668
  • Median household income: $153,926
  • Average home price: $3,124,438
  • Average monthly rent: $1,768

Manhattan Beach is a coastal city located just south of Los Angeles. It’s popular for those looking to be close to L.A. while enjoying a more laid-back beach lifestyle, complete with excellent schools and gorgeous weather.

The city is also a well-known tourist destination, featuring the Manhattan Beach Pier and world-class surfing. You’ll also find many shops and restaurants around the pier. Luxury beach houses are common in Manhattan Beach with the type of price tags you’d expect.


10. San Francisco

Image Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel, Unsplash
City Stats:
  • Population: 815,201
  • Median household income: $119,136
  • Average home price: $1,534,709
  • Average monthly rent: $3,397

San Francisco is one of the two major cities in California and one of the most expensive places to live. Affordable housing is tough to come by in San Francisco, and those in lower income brackets often struggle.

San Francisco is a popular tourist destination featuring iconic locations like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. The tech and finance industries are major employers, with companies like Salesforce headquartered in the city. There’s no shortage of things to do in San Francisco, whether you’re into sports, shopping, outdoor activities, or nightlife.


11. Hermosa Beach

Villahermosa Tabasco 2000
Image Credit: Alfonsobouchot, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4..0 International
City Stats:
  • Population: 19,314
  • Median household income: $142,500
  • Average home price: $2,331,160
  • Average monthly rent: $3,248

Just south of Manhattan Beach is the small coastal town of Hermosa Beach. Like Manhattan Beach, Hermosa is a popular tourist destination and permanent home for those seeking a quieter lifestyle near Los Angeles. The town is neat, beautiful, and primarily residential, focusing on surfing and other beach activities. Local schools are top-notch, and residents aren’t far from the Los Angeles airport.


12. Laguna Beach

Laguna Niguel, CA
Image Credit: Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 22,795
  • Median household income: $128,099
  • Average home price: $3,254,664
  • Average monthly rent: $3,275

Orange County is home to the city of Laguna Beach, one of the most expensive in California. It was the setting for a popular teen reality show of the same name on MTV in the mid-2000s. This coastal location is known for its beautiful scenery, thriving arts scene, museums, and creative festivals. Housing is a significant expense in Laguna Beach, but residents seem to find the relaxed lifestyle worth the high cost.


13. Burlingame

City Stats:
  • Population: 30,106
  • Median household income: $138,344
  • Average home price: $2,899,978
  • Average monthly rent: $2,946

The town of Burlingame is located just south of San Francisco, near the airport. This suburb is popular with families and young professionals. It is a well-planned community with a deliberate blend of city convenience and gorgeous natural landscapes.

Set right on San Francisco Bay, Burlingame offers plenty of outdoor activities. Public transportation options make it easy for residents to enjoy the quiet life in Burlingame while traveling to their jobs in the San Francisco area.


14. Ross

Ross
Image Credit: Pixabay
City Stats:
  • Population: 2,338
  • Median household income: $102,015
  • Average home price: $4,617,177
  • Average monthly rent: $2,368

Ross is a small Marin County town about 20 miles north of San Francisco. It is a rural area surrounded by gorgeous scenery, including lakes and hills. The Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay aren’t far away. Despite its size, Ross has highly rated schools. The town has many shops, restaurants, and a famous art and garden center hosting cultural events. Ross is close enough to San Francisco for relatively easy commuting while offering a small-town vibe and room to spread out.

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As you probably noticed, location significantly affects how expensive a California city will be. The sites on our list are primarily found near Los Angeles and San Francisco, along the coast. These expensive locales are highly desirable due to the schools, quality of life, and safety, further pushing up prices from supply and demand. Life in California doesn’t necessarily require being wealthy, but you may need to look outside these 14 cities for a place to live if you aren’t.


Featured Image Credit: David Mark , Pixabay

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