5 Best Places to Live in Southern California

Southern California is one of the most liveable places in the country thanks to its Mediterranean-esque climate, big cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, and the influence of many different cultures making an exciting food, music and art scene. 

If you grew up in a place with a real winner, the perpetual sunshine of Southern California is probably calling your name. With SoCal, you get the best of both worlds: moderate summers with some of the best skiing and snowboarding mountains within a day’s drive. 

There are endless other outdoor activities within a few hours of any town in SoCal like hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, surfing on waves for beginners and pros alike, or cycling along the coast. 

Southern California is also great for foodies because of the diversity of culinary influences in the region. You have Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan and other Central and South American foods and ingredients mixed with the large population of Korean and Japanese American foods. It’s a land of food, music and art fusion just waiting for visitors to enjoy it. 

The big metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Diego may seem like the obvious place to live in Southern California. They’re great locations with easy access to city living amenities, but if you’re looking for a more residential area of Southern California, keep reading. We’ve listed the top five places to live in Southern California with a wide range of costs, locations, amenities, population sizes and more. 

A black and white drawing showing the word California. There are tall buildings, possibly from LA, palms trees, and a bird
  1. La Jolla

La Jolla is what most people picture when they think about a Southern California beach town—expansive ocean views with bluffs down to the beach, and dry, sunny weather. 

Not an independent town, it’s a seaside neighborhood located within San Diego, only fourteen miles from downtown. It’s the best of both worlds because you get all of the amenities of San Diego, beach access and a suburban, smaller town feel. 

The cost of living in La Jolla is about 35% higher than the national average. In total, 93% of apartments have a rent of $2,000 or more, while the median home price is $2.7 million

If you have children, you’ll be pleased to know that La Jolla boasts some of the best public schools in the state. La Jolla Elementary School is a fantastic choice for your kid’s early education. It’s also a safe neighborhood in a city with low crime rates. 

In La Jolla, there’s no shortage of things to do. You can visit the San Diego Zoo, head to the La Jolla Shores Beach, or treat yourself to a nice dinner with a view at The Marine Room. 

  1. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is a small beach city located within Los Angeles County, only a 21-mile drive from downtown Los Angeles. People know it for two things: its 2-mile-long beach and its year-round moderate weather.

Manhattan Beach is quite expensive, especially for people not used to the SoCal cost of living. A one-bedroom apartment will set you back about $2,860 per month, while the median home price is a staggering $2.8 million. 

It’s home to five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school in a school district that is consistently ranked as one of the top three in California and top six in the country. It also has a low crime rate, especially violent crime, compared to national averages. 

Manhattan Beach’s beach is a pristine stretch of sand that’s kept much cleaner than most other beaches in California. It’s also home to the Manhattan Beach pier, which is a great spot to enjoy the ocean view. The Sand Dune park is also a lot of fun for kids. 

The Manhattan Beach Farmers Market is also a local favorite for fresh, locally grown produce and food trucks with crowd favorites like gourmet tamales. With the low crime and vibrant commercial offerings, Manhattan Beach is a great destination

  1. Newport Beach

Newport Beach, in Orange County, is another great SoCal beach city. The city is famous for its large harbor, ocean views, and big waves at the Wedge. Their beach is a great spot to take a dip or relax in the golden sand. 

Newport Beach, like most other SoCal beach cities, is more expensive than the average US city. It’s even more expensive than La Jolla and Manhattan Beach, with a median home price of $3.5 million. A one-bedroom apartment costs, on average, $2,929 per month to rent. 

Newport Beach boasts some of the best public schools in Southern California, so if you have children, they will be able to get an excellent education from the public school system. It’s also a safe place to raise kids with a significantly lower crime rate than the rest of California and the United States. 

There’s no shortage of fun things to do in Newport Beach for both kids and adults. You can take a trip to Balboa Island, surf the legendary waves at the Wedge, or indulge in some retail therapy at the Fashion Island mall. 

A photo of Newport Beach CA. A canal of water runs through the center of the photo, with densely packed residential houses lining both sides of the canal
  1. Julian

Everyone has heard of the beach towns of Southern California like Newport Beach and La Jolla, but if you like a more off-the-beaten-path city to live in, Julian is a great option. It’s a small town in the Cuyamaca Mountains, so it’s perfect if you’re a nature lover or prefer mountains to the beach. Plus, the energy of places like La Jolla can overwhelm some people.

One benefit of Julian is that the cost of living is significantly lower than in the rest of California, especially Southern California. A one-bedroom apartment, on average, is about $1,300 per month. Buying a house is a lot more accessible to most people in Julian with a median home price of $488,700. 

The schools in Julian are of good quality, with four elementary schools, four middle schools, and five high schools in the public school system. It’s an exceptionally safe city with a crime rate 59% lower than the national average. 

Julian is a trail town for the Pacific Crest Trail, which means every summer, the town swells with hikers, making it a fun and lively place to be. Mom’s Pie House is famous for its apple pie and ice cream, so you can treat yourself as often as you’d like. While it’s not oceanfront like some of the other cities on this list, you can take a refreshing swim at Lake Cuyamaca on a hot day. 

Related: Cheap Places to Live in Northern California

  1. Lake Arrowhead

Another fantastic SoCal mountain town to live in is Lake Arrowhead. It’s located in the San Bernardino Mountains right on the Lake Arrowhead Reservoir, so it’s a nature lover’s paradise. 

Like Julian, the cost of living in Lake Arrowhead is lower than in the rest of Southern California. A 1 bedroom apartment is only $1,157 a month, which is quite a steal for anywhere in California. The median home price is $732,500, very reasonable for Southern California.

Lake Arrowhead is part of the Rim of the World Unified School District, which has seven elementary schools, four middle schools, and five high schools with high-quality teachers and excellent educational opportunities. Lake Arrowhead is a safe city; however, there are some neighborhoods you should avoid, especially in the eastern parts of the city. Most of the crimes reported are retail thefts, so residential areas are usually quite safe.

There are many things to do in Lake Arrowhead throughout the year, most of them being outdoor activities. There are hundreds of miles of trails to hike and bike, as well as the Lake Arrowhead Reservoir to swim in. Lake Arrowhead Village is a conveniently located shopping area right on the shore of the lake. 

An aerial photo of Lake Arrowhead. A blue water lake surrounded by pine trees and mountains

Conclusion

There you have it—the five best places to live in Southern California. It’s hard to narrow down to the top five, but we considered cost of living, access to outdoor recreation, safety, school quality and more. Some picks have more of one qualification than another, but we’re confident that there’s a town for everyone on this list. 

If you’re a young family with two working professionals looking for a suburban area with amenities, a place like Manhattan Beach is a perfect fit. If you’re a young couple looking for a quiet mountain town close to a bigger city for amenities, Lake Arrowhead is a beautiful spot to pick. If you want oceanfront living with easy big city access, La Jolla is an obvious choice. 

With Southern California living, you have access to all of the best parts of the state. You can surf major waves one weekend and spend the next skiing in the mountains. With bigger cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, you also have access to major sports and music events, world-class shopping and dining, and a diverse offering of services.

Related: 17 Pros and Cons of Living in California