The 15 Best Places to Retire in California

By  Danny Newman

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Why do people choose California to retire? Let’s discover the best places to retire in California and learn what makes the Golden State stand out.

Do you like the idea of spending your golden years in The Golden State?

Well, we’re not surprised! The allure of its ocean views, sumptuous weather, laidback lifestyle, and outstanding natural beauty is hard to resist. So hard, in fact, that a staggering 261.7 million people are set to visit California this year.

Sure, its high cost of living and taxation of retirement income are definite drawbacks. Yet life on the West Coast offers such an array of incentives that it’s no surprise so many would-be retirees find themselves California Dreaming.

Where are the best places to retire in California, though? As the third largest state in the country, narrowing down your options can be a real challenge.

That’s why we wanted to put this guide together. In a bid to simplify the decision-making process, we’re going to discuss 15 of the best retirement destinations in California. In no particular order, let’s dive in.

1. Santa Barbara

“You see, there’s beautiful…and there’s Santa Barbara.” Those are the words that greet you upon visiting the official website of this inimitable Californian destination. And for once, the hype is real!

Retire to Santa Barbara, and you can watch perfect Pacific Coast sunsets over monumental mountains and breathtaking beaches. Visit vineyards, embark on endless outdoor adventures, and sample sumptuous cuisine at world-class eateries. Alas, the only obstacle might be money. As an expensive place to live, Santa Barbara may be off the menu for anyone on a budget.

2. Sacramento

By contrast, Sacramento could be perfect for someone hoping to retire to California without breaking the bank. The cost of living here is considerably lower than in other areas, helping those hard-earned retirement dollars stretch further.

Not only that but Sacramento’s also blessed with easy access to wine country and the stunning Lake Tahoe, as well as the excitement of neighboring San Francisco. It boasts various historical sites, too, like the State Capitol, the aptly-named Old Town, and Sutter’s Fort. Nicknamed the “City of Trees”, there are also plenty of green spaces to enjoy, with the downtown riverfront being a particular hotspot.

Thanks to its quasi-Mediterranean climate, lovers of sunshine and blue skies will be in their element in Sacramento. A word of warning, though: temperatures can be sweltering in summer and may be too extreme for people who prefer cooler climates.

3. Visalia

Adore the outdoors? Take a close look at Visalia. A south-central Californian city located in the San Joaquin Valley, it’s a perfect stepping stone to both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. You’re also in the foothills of the almighty Sierra Nevada Mountains, putting you on the doorstep of Mount Whitney – the tallest mountain in the contiguous US.

Visalia’s impressive outdoor acumen isn’t the only reason to retire there, though. In a survey of 350,000 people, the Visalia-Porterville area was ranked among the happiest places in America. It’s also quite affordable by Californian standards and boasts all the attractions you’d expect of a modern city.

4. Palm Springs

Palm Springs isn’t just popular with tourists and Hollywood A-listers. This resort town in the middle of the desert is also a go-to destination for retirees.

The climate’s notoriously warm, sunny, and dry, the scenery’s second to none, and art, cultural, and leisure activities abound. You’d have the glorious Joshua Tree National Park on your doorstep, and with 100+ golf courses in Greater Palm Springs, golf enthusiasts will be in their element.

Palm Springs’ cost of living is another appealing factor. While it’s far more expensive than somewhere like Sacramento, anyone accustomed to living in big cities like Los Angeles can expect a significant price drop.

5. San Jose

Recently voted the 5th best place to live in the entire country, retiring to San Jose certainly has its perks. Its nearly 2-million residents revel in 300 days of sunshine, its bustling big-city atmosphere, and proximity to enviable outdoor opportunities – not to mention the myriad museums, galleries, bars, clubs, restaurants, and leisure activities available downtown.

The main downside to retiring here is the cost of housing, which can be prohibitively expensive. However, if you love city life and have deep pockets, you’ll struggle to find a better place to retire in California.

6. Riverside

Once the home of California’s citrus industry, Riverside’s become a large, sprawling city that’s attracting a growing number of retirees. Its temperate weather, beautiful scenery, and winning location between the ocean and mountains are just a few of its draws. Throw in a cost of living that’s highly competitive compared to other parts of Southern California, and its burgeoning popularity comes as no surprise.

Multiple first-rate hospitals, numerous assisted living communities, and a good public transport system would help make your Riverside retirement a convenient and enjoyable affair from the outset.  

7. Adelanto

Adelanto’s another prime example of a Californian destination that wouldn’t put too much pressure on your pension! A lesser-known place to live, you can expect to get more for your money. However, those who retire here don’t just benefit from its low cost of living…

This small city in San Bernardino County offers a quiet and peaceful place to enjoy your golden years. Expect a family-friendly, community-based atmosphere in Adelanto that lacks the intense hustle and bustle of larger cities.

8. Fresno

Fun fact: the word “Fresno” is Spanish for “ash tree” – a name it earned, unsurprisingly, from the wealth of ash trees found in the county. Given the verdant nature of the city’s name, it may come as no surprise to learn that Fresno’s full of glorious green spaces. There are parks and gardens galore!

There’s also a lively cultural scene, accompanied by all the usual perks and amenities of modern metropoles (i.e., dining, nightlife, and shopping). And let’s not forget about the outdoor adventures Fresno has to offer. The San Joaquin River’s at your fingertips, and you’re a stone’s throw from a host of National Parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon.

9. Pismo Beach

Oceanside retirement destinations don’t get much more enticing than Pismo Beach. Laidback small-town vibes meet a popular beachside community to create another of the best places to retire in California.

Located on the Central Coast, you could spend your golden years surfing waves, taking sunset strolls along the beach, or dining out on the fresh clams that are famous here. The weather’s great at Pismo Beach all year round, too, and it’s within easy reach of both LA and San Francisco if you ever wanted the buzz of a big city.

10. Paso Robles

Another small town located between LA and San Francisco, Paso Robles is jam-packed with attractions that make it a firm favorite among new retirees.

From the weekly farmer’s market to the mass of galleries, cafes, restaurants, and shopping opportunities in town, you’re never short of something to do. There are world-class wineries to visit nearby as well, endless outdoor pursuits in the vicinity, sporting activities to help you stay active, and much more.

Combine those benefits with the range of health care services and adult communities on offer, and it’s no wonder Paso Robles is regularly voted one of the best places to retire in California.

11. Salinas

Salinas has numerous claims to fame. Not only is it the county seat of Monterey County, but it was also the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning writer John Steinbeck. From the Steinbeck House Restaurant and National Steinbeck Center to the John Steinbeck Library, you’ll see his name celebrated at every turn! Nicknamed the “Salad Bowl of the World”, Salinas is renowned for its farming industry too, which produces a glut of fresh fruit and vegetables every year.

Fun facts aside, retirees can expect a quality of life as high as the cost of living! Housing doesn’t come cheap in Salinas, but the Toro County Park, cultural pursuits, independent stores, farmer’s market, and other unique local attractions more than justify the expense for those who can afford it.

12. San Diego

San Diego shares many of the same pros and cons found in other Californian retirement destinations. With its prime location on the West Coast, “America’s Finest City” has all the natural beauty you’d expect, with picturesque beaches at every turn. The weather’s first-class as well, the vibe’s hard to beat, and there’s so much to see and do that you’ll never be bored.

Yet those advantages come at a very literal cost! Expect a sky-high cost of living, coupled with bad traffic and trouble parking.

13. Santa Rosa

Want to live close – but not too close – to the big city? Dream of owning your own vineyard one day? Love great food, wine, and weather?

Well, Santa Rosa could have your name on it. This sought-after location is just 50 miles from San Francisco, is famous for its wines, and boasts dining opportunities to satisfy even the most diehard foodie. You’ll need a sizeable pension pot to settle here comfortably, but the quality of life you’d earn in return is hard to put a price on.

14. San Francisco

No list of the best places to retire in California would be complete without San Francisco! This expansive metropolis welcomes millions of tourists every year. They come to experience the atmosphere, culture, diversity, food, views, and all manner of other amazing attributes that SF has to offer.

Swathes of people choose to retire to the city for similar reasons. We’d be lying if we said it was a budget-friendly place to live out your golden years. If you’re backed by a sizable bank balance, though, then the mass of things to see and do in SF makes it a Californian retirement destination of the highest caliber.

15. Los Angeles

LA’s another Californian city that needs no introduction. Although it’s expensive, congested, and suffers from social/economic concerns that risk dimming the city’s longstanding appeal, there remains a slew of incentives to retire here.

For one thing, it’s a liberal oasis that welcomes people from all walks of life and offers unparalleled opportunities to entrepreneurs, creatives, and dreamers alike. For another, you’ll never run out of things to see and do! The weather’s great in LA as well, and you’re never far from a new outdoor adventure.

Enjoy the Best Places to Retire in California

Given the coastal beauty, climate, and general quality of life on offer, it’s entirely understandable why many people edging toward their golden years see The Golden State as a potential place to retire! If you’re one of them, then we hope the best places to retire in California that we’ve highlighted above will help you decide where exactly to settle.

That’s why we prepared this article about the best places to retire in California to help you begin thinking about the cities and towns which may be right for you.

Of course, making the transition from earning a paycheck to living off your savings and resources like Social Security can be a major adjustment impacting your budget and quality of life. Hiring a financial advisor can help you navigate the journey so you can enjoy decades in retirement in California with less money stress.

You’ll find financial advisors featured on Wealthtender based in California and others who can meet with you online no matter where you live today or tomorrow. Be sure to ask the right questions and understand the costs of hiring a financial advisor before deciding on the right financial advisor for you.

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About the Author

Danny Newman

I’m a digital nomad from England who loves traveling and has a passion for writing.

To make Wealthtender free for readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Learn more. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers.
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