12 Most Expensive Cities in California: Luxurious Living

California Most Expensive Cities

If you’re moving to California or relocating within the state, navigating the costs of living found in different cities and regions is of vital importance. Whether you have the budget and want the best of the best, or you’re curious about what cities to avoid due to high costs, an exploration of California’s most expensive cities can shed light on some of the most well-known communities in the Golden State. If you’re ready to learn why tech wealth, ocean views, and upscale lifestyles drive up housing costs in these areas, sit back and enjoy a snapshot of the economic landscape where high prices are just part of the postcode.

Key Takeaways

  • San Francisco, despite a recent decline in home prices, continues to showcase a healthy market with steady demand and high home prices, supported by its strong tech industry and stable real estate market expectations.
  • Coastal cities like Santa Barbara and Santa Monica maintain their high cost of living due to their desirable lifestyle offerings, such as beautiful beaches and luxury amenities, which influence the housing demand and market prices.
  • Iconic cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco remain some of the most expensive in California, with factors like booming entertainment industries and the thriving tech sector contributing to the high cost of living and significant real estate values.

San Francisco

San Francisco, a beacon of culture and innovation in the Golden State, stands as one of the most expensive cities in California, if not the United States. Home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Golden Gate Bridge, Its real estate market is characterized by:

  • Homes range from $200,000 for a studio condo to double-digit millions
  • Ongoing demand and value growth
  • A year-over-year increase in median sale price and price per square foot

These factors highlight the high demand and value of real estate in San Francisco.

The city’s real estate market is as diverse as its culture, with a variety of neighborhoods catering to different lifestyles and preferences, from relaxed areas to luxury districts. The prosperous tech industry, a significant part of the city’s iconic status, has contributed to the high demand for real estate. When looking at San Francisco vs Los Angeles, the lower cost of living in LA can be a major draw.

A significant contributor to the high overall cost of living in California, San Francisco’s housing market exhibits resilience with the following characteristics:

  • Minimal vacancies
  • Average home prices around $1.2 million
  • Expectations of market stability and growth without a forecasted crash
  • An average of multiple offers per property indicates high buyer interest.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is One of California's Most Expensive Cities

Los Angeles, the city of stars, is renowned for its high cost of living. Homes in Los Angeles range from around $400,000 for a two-bedroom condo to nearly $200 million for a one-of-a-kind luxury estate. Both options significantly exceed the national average. 

The Los Angeles economy supports over 200,000 jobs and contributes more than $30 billion to California’s economy, the city’s entertainment industry is indeed booming. Los Angeles offers incentives for the entertainment industry, such as no-charge use of city properties for filming and coordination of filming permits, in addition to California’s statewide tax credit program.

These factors, combined with the city’s iconic status and high demand for housing, contribute to Los Angeles’s high cost of living and its reputation as one of the most expensive cities in California. Nevertheless, it's often considered one of the best cities in California to live in.

San Jose

Being the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose hosts over 2,500 high-tech companies and approximately 90,000 jobs. A city that thrives on innovation, it boasts proximity to renowned educational institutions like Stanford University. Common areas of expertise for residents include science, engineering, technology, and math.

The bustling downtown area of San Jose is a hub of high-rise housing and businesses, while its northern part hosts significant technology firms. This balanced mix of work and play contributes to the city’s high cost of living.

San Jose also enjoys over 300 days of sunshine each year and offers an array of amenities like cultural venues, parks, trails, and sports events, enhancing its quality of life. These factors inevitably contribute to the city’s high cost of living and the average home price of over $1.2 million.

Beverly Hills

Synonymous with luxury and opulence, Beverly Hills—one of Los Angeles’s top suburbs—consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities in California. It’s not just the lavish estates that contribute to this reputation, but the city’s high-end shopping and fine dining experiences as well.

Rodeo Drive represents the pinnacle of upscale shopping in Beverly Hills, with over a hundred high-end labels. Some notable landmarks and shopping centers in the area include:

  • The Beverly Wilshire Hotel
  • Rodeo Drive
  • Wilshire Boulevard
  • The Beverly Center

These destinations enhance the area’s high-end shopping allure and extend the array of luxury shopping options. Condos in Beverly Hills typically list from $1 million to $8 million or more. Beverly Hills luxury homes are priced from $2 million to more than $25 million, and amazingly, there are typically 10 or more homes listed for more than $50 million at a given time. 

The culture of luxury extends to its dining scene, with Michelin-starred restaurants like Maude and CUT by Wolfgang Puck catering to clientele seeking a luxurious dining experience. Other dining highlights include the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel’s restaurants and Il Pastaio, popular for its authentic Italian dishes and ambiance. All these factors contribute to its esteemed cost of living.

Santa Barbara

Living in the Expensive Santa Barbara Community

Santa Barbara, known for its beautiful beaches and desirable coastal lifestyle, is another of California’s most expensive cities. The county seat of Santa Barbara County, where median home prices hover around $2 million, the city’s attractive coastal lifestyle is enhanced by the miles of sunny beaches; all of this fuels the high demand for housing and, in turn, the high housing prices.

Each of Santa Barbara’s beaches, including Arroyo Burro Beach, Butterfly Beach, East Beach, Goleta Beach Park, and Leadbetter Beach, offer unique settings for beach-goers with a variety of activities such as beach play, kayaking, surfing, and horseback riding.

The diverse range of beach-related activities, such as volleyball courts and kayaking, also contributes to the city’s allure and its premium cost of living.

Palo Alto

Palo Alto, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, is where innovation meets affluence. The city boasts neighborhoods like Leland Manor, Professorville, and Green Acres, with homes starting upwards of $600,000. Other neighborhoods like College Terrace and Meadow Park are also notable and boast walkability.

The city’s affluence is magnified by its connection to Silicon Valley—a vital component of the massive economy of California—attracting tech billionaires, venture capitalists, and CEOs, which contributes to the elevated cost of living. The Palo Alto Art Center, a key cultural institution, engages thousands of people annually through various art programs, further enhancing the city’s appeal.

Palo Alto’s residential profile is further enhanced by neighborhoods like Midtown Palo Alto and Fairmeadow, both of which stand out with high median home prices. This blend of innovation and affluence makes Palo Alto one of the most expensive cities in California.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach, located in the heart of Southern California, offers gorgeous Pacific Coast surroundings and tons of things to do. Offering luxury living options replete with a range of indulgent amenities, homes for sale in Newport Beach typically list from the $800s to more than $25 million. Newport Beach is an embodiment of coastal elegance, providing residents with luxury amenities such as pools, outdoor lounges, and alfresco dining.

The city’s connection to upscale nautical activities is evident in the Balboa Yacht Basin, which services the yachting community with a marina that has over 170 slips for various yacht sizes. To enhance the luxurious marina experience, Balboa Yacht Basin also provides high-end amenities including:

  • Dock-box storage
  • Dock carts
  • Restrooms
  • Galley Cafe
  • Other convenient on-site services

This blend of luxury living options and upscale amenities, along with the lofty cost, makes Newport Beach one of the most expensive cities in California.

San Diego

San Diego is a Luxurious California City

San Diego, known for its sun, surf, and sky-high prices, is another Californian city with a high cost of living. The city welcomes millions of visitors every year, with tourism spending surpassing $14 billion in the local economy, underlining the significance of its thriving tourism industry.

San Diego is replete with fun things to do, and it’s home to a significant share of California’s best beaches. From Balboa Park to Coronado Beach, there’s always something to do and see there.

Major tourist draws such as the city’s convention center, SeaWorld, and the International Airport, which handle millions of visitors and passengers annually, add to the city’s appeal. The city’s 70-mile-long coastline, a haven for beach lovers and adventure seekers, further contributes to its tourism appeal and high cost of living.

Santa Monica

A seaside city and one of SoCal's best beach towns, Santa Monica is a pricey playground featuring a range of luxury options, upscale shopping, and entertainment attractions contributing to its high living cost. Real estate here comes at a significant cost, but compared to Santa Barbara and Newport Beach, there are more accessible real estate options. Most luxury homes in Santa Monica are priced from $1.2 million to around $10 million.  

The city’s entertainment scene is enhanced by attractions like The Dr. Seuss Experience and the Santa Monica Pier, which is one of the best places to watch sunsets near Los Angeles. The city’s luxury options have been further enhanced by new additions like:

  • Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
  • The Georgian Hotel
  • Bar Monette
  • Citrin

Santa Monica Place adds to the city's upscale lifestyle with three levels of luxury brands, rooftop dining, and the nearby Third Street Promenade. These factors aid in making Santa Monica one of the most expensive cities in California.

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa, located in California’s wine country, is a priced paradise. As a hub for the wine industry, the city draws individuals seeking employment in this sector, significantly influencing the local housing market. The proximity of Santa Rosa to the famous wineries of Sonoma County has increased tourism, and visiting wine country is among the top things to do in California. This has led to a higher demand for vacation homes and short-term rentals.

Santa Rosa’s housing market sees the following key statistics:

  • A considerable upsurge in home values
  • A median home price of around $700,000, with homes typically ranging from the $500s to around $10 million
  • Properties in Santa Rosa are selling more quickly than the national average

Santa Rosa’s housing market garners attraction for steady growth and investment potential.

Choosing Among California’s Priciest Cities

California’s pricey cities each offer unique lifestyles, opportunities, and attractions, all of which come with a price tag. From the tech hubs of San Francisco and San Jose to the luxury living in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach, California has so much to offer—just make sure to bring the requisite budget!

Frequently Asked Questions

What city in California has the highest cost of living?

Though different sources rank cities based on varying criteria, the four cities with the highest costs of living in California are San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  

Is California one of the most expensive places to live in the world?

No, California is not one of the most expensive places to live in the world. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Worldwide Cost of Living report, Singapore, Geneva, and New York City have a higher cost of living.

Want to live in California? Call The Brad Korb Real Estate Group with LA Homes at (818) 953-5300 to find your dream home.

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