Retiring in California. A couple laughs in a Corvet.

Retiring in California? 6 Best Places + Financial Considerations

If you’re looking to spend your golden years in a state where sunshine is abundant and health and happiness are priorities for many of its residents, retiring in California is likely at the forefront of your mind.

Whether you want to feed your young-at-heart-soul by living in a city or opt for a slower pace of life in a smaller town, many options await you in California.

It’s not all sunshine and sea lions, though—California is notorious for being expensive, with World Population Review ranking it as the third most expensive state in the U.S.

Is California a Good State to Retire in?

California is a good state to retire in if you’re seeking a warm to moderate climate and enjoy cultural attractions, golfing, or hiking, among other activities. However, you’ll need to have saved well for retirement to afford life in The Golden State.

A fixed income can make it challenging for seniors to afford California’s high cost of living, as social security checks are rarely enough to scrape by.

Nevertheless, many retirees consider California the best place to retire because of its pleasant climate in most areas, which for some, makes up for its high cost of groceries, amenities, and housing.

Benefits of Retiring in California

Costs aside, below are some of the benefits you’ll receive by choosing to retire in California:

  • Excellent climate
  • Plentiful senior living facilities
  • Easy to meet other retirees
  • High-quality medical facilities
  • State policies tend to favor seniors for healthcare and social services

Above all, California’s favorable weather is often the biggest draw for retirees, especially those moving from colder climates. The San Diego area is especially known for its mild weather year-round, allowing you to spend time outdoors enjoying the beautiful west coast.

Downsides to Retiring in California

If financial worries come to mind when you think about retiring in California, it’s for good reason. The median home price in California in January 2023 was just shy of $700,000.

According to Vanguard, Americans 65 years and older have an average of $280,000 in retirement savings account balances. Needless to say, you’ll need above-average savings to retire comfortably in California, with different forms of retirement income and the added income of a spouse alleviating some of the financial struggles certain retirees face.

The high cost of living aside, below are some other reasons why California isn’t always a good fit for retirees:

  • High taxes (income, sales, and property taxes)
  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and wildfires
  • Cities have heavy traffic and air pollution
  • Public transportation is lacking in many areas
  • Crime is high in certain districts and regions

Spoiler Alert: The Best States to Retire in the U.S.

If the disadvantages of living in California have you rethinking your retirement plans, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Timothy Uihlein from Vincere Wealth Management offers suggestions for alternative states to consider. He says that the following eight states don’t tax personal income:

  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Nevada
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Furthermore, Uihlein advises that “from only a financial perspective, Wyoming and Alaska are the best states to retire. Both have no state income tax, low sales taxes, and lower-than-average property taxes.”

Best Places to Retire in California

If you’re willing to sacrifice some savings during retirement for the benefits that California living offers, below are six places to consider spending your golden years.

1. Carlsbad

Carlsbad is a small city north of San Diego along the Pacific Ocean. It’s famous for its 7+ miles of coastline and scenic cliffs that plunge steeply to the beach.

While Carlsbad is a popular destination for tourism, it’s an excellent spot for active retirees to have recreational opportunities, for it’s near several state parks and nature preserves. You can also say goodbye to driving, for it’s easy to get around town by bike.

The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner runs between Carlsbad and downtown San Diego for when you’d like to feel the pulse of bigger city life. Don’t expect to pay less for living away from a big city, though; Carlsbad isn’t the most affordable place to spend your California retirement.

That said, you can feel confident knowing many long-term living options exist for seniors in Carlsbad.

Whether you want an independent or assisted living facility, options abound. There are also memory care facilities, though with such an active and social lifestyle you can lead in Carlsbad, you hopefully won’t ever need it.

2. Fresno

Fresno is a city in central California located in the beautiful San Joaquin Valley. It’s more affordable than upscale Carlsbad—and most towns along the California coast, for that matter.

Nevertheless, retirees will get to take advantage of Fresno’s many amenities, given that it has a population of over 500,000 people. Golf courses, parks, and hiking trails abound. When you tire yourself out from outdoor activities, you can get cleaned up and enjoy a performance at the Fresno Philharmonic.

You won’t need to search far to find nearby day trips from Fresno. Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park are a few examples.

You can expect top-of-the-line medical treatment in Fresno, as it has plenty of high-quality hospitals and senior living facilities.

3. Monterey

Marine biology enthusiasts have likely heard of Monterey because of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and golf enthusiasts probably know about it since it’s near the famous Pebble Beach golf course.

Needless to say, you’ll have to save a pretty penny to afford retirement in Monterey. But if you can swing it, it’s a fantastic place for retirees to call home. Monterey has a vibrant cultural scene with the help of the historic Cannery Row district and the Monterey Museum of Art.

Kayaking, hiking trails, and, of course, golfing are also favorite activities among retirees living in Monterey.

You’ll have access to excellent healthcare facilities on this beautiful piece of paradise. Plus, with hospitals like the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, you’ll never be more than a stone’s throw away from the ocean. Sunsets in Monterey will never get old, nor will your spirit with such a beautiful retirement place.

4. Hemet

Are small cities your style? If so, Hemet, a town with less than 100,000 people located in San Jacinto Valley, could be up your retirement alley.

Hemet is tucked away in inland California, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It calls a portion of Diamond Valley Lake home, where you can enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle walking along its many trails or enjoying the views from a bench.

You’ll also be near Mount San Jacinto State Park, where hiking opportunities and wildlife sightings abound for outdoor enthusiasts. Concert lovers will have many entertainment opportunities at Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre, and the Western Science Center is perfect for science lovers who enjoy natural history museums.

You’ll encounter more affordable senior living facilities in Hemet than in many other parts of California. The cost of living is also relatively less expensive, helping retirees stretch their retirement savings further.

5. Corte Madera

Corte Madera is an excellent option for people considering retiring in California who want to get away from crowds, given that it’s a village with less than 11,000 residents. Nevertheless, you can enjoy small-town living without being too far from the bustling metropolis of San Francisco.

Corte Madera is an excellent option for retirees looking for a strong sense of community. With a town so small, it’s easy to get to know your neighbors, local store owners, and become involved with community events.

Despite its small size, Corte Madera isn’t devoid of nearby cultural activities. It’s located a short drive from the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art and the Marin Theatre Company. You can also visit the Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve, where you’ll have incredible views over the San Francisco Bay Area.

So, if you’re looking for a quaint, tranquil town where you can leave the stresses of your career life on the other side of the California state border, Corte Madera might just fit the bill.

6. Santa Rosa

Calling all wine lovers! Santa Rosa sits in beautiful Sonoma County. It’s famous for its nearby vineyards, rolling hills, and outdoor activities.

It’s hard to find a retirement destination in the U.S. where you can have it all, but Santa Rosa comes close. You can dance your heart out at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, where well-known artists perform. Then, between wine tasting at Santa Rosa’s many boutique wineries, you can visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, created for the “Peanuts” cartoonist.

If you have young grandchildren, they’ll love visiting the mini train station at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County. And I’d be remiss not to mention all the hiking and biking you can do in the beautiful Sonoma countryside.

Santa Rosa is ideally located in Sonoma County, offering you access to cream-of-the-crop medical, independent living, assisted living, and memory care facilities.

Will You Retire in California?

Whether you love beaches, museums, hiking, or making fellow retiree friends, California checks these boxes.

If you have questions about your ability to afford retirement in California, it’s best to speak with a licensed financial professional. The further ahead you prepare before retiring in California, the better.

P.S.—You can check out our articles on wheelchair accessibility in San Diego and wheelchair accessible beaches in San Diego if you plan on visiting America’s Finest City and require accessible facilities.

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