Firstly, congratulations on reaching the retirement stage of your life, where you are free to relax, take life slowly, enjoy the small things, explore uncrowded beaches, and do the things that have always excited you.
I understand that everyone has different preferences; some prefer to stay in California’s Central Valley, while others opt for the Southern part. However, one common factor is that we all seek a retirement destination at affordable rates in California.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay any extra penny, but I’ll get a small commission that encourages me to deliver more helpful content for you.
I want to burst the bubble by letting you know that California is expensive and you cannot accept things on a shoestring budget. You’ve to spend hundreds of dollars, but still, being a Californian and a granddaughter of my sweet grandparents, I have curated a list of the budget-friendly places to live in the Sunshine State and the most affordable beach towns to retire in California.
The list I’ve made is a composition of budget-friendly places as well as a few luxurious options. It completely depends on your budget and lifestyle which one you want to choose. All these places are safe and offer ample outdoor fun opportunities. Lastly, I cannot argue that South CA is home to some amazing hidden natural gems!
So, let’s know the cheapest places to retire in California.
Table of Contents
Best Place to Retire in North Central California
- Population: 320,804
- Cost of living index: 115.6
- Median home value: $429,030
Stockton is one of the “Farmland of California’s San Joaquin Valley,” where culture, history, shopping, and delectable ethnic restaurants all come together. Jess, my friend’s parents used to live in a town situated between Lincoln High and Lincoln Elementary, known for its safety and low crime rates.
I have fond memories of our childhood summers when our uncle used to take us to the Delta River for water skiing and tubing. It was in this town that I learned how to water ski. The town was incredibly peaceful back then.
These days, it is considered one of the fastest-growing towns due to its strategic location, connecting the San Francisco Bay, the San Joaquin River, and Sacramento. It is indeed one of the budget-friendly retirement spots in California.
The town is renowned for its lush greenery, earning it the title of the “best tree city in the western United States” by Sunset Magazine. In the evening you can enjoy strolling, or watch a show at the Bob Hope Theater, or take up a dancing class, or explore the museums. The options are endless!
If you have grandchildren, they could have the opportunity to study at institutions such as the University of the Pacific, San Joaquin Delta Community College, Humphreys University, and the School of Law, among others.
Pro of living in Stockton
- Assisted living cost is $3,649 per month
- Tons of local attractions
Cons of living in Stockton
- Crime rates are higher
- Parking fee is expensive
Best Place to Retire in North Eastern Part of California
2. Vallejo and Fairfield
- Population: 445K
- Cost of living index: 134.3
- Median home value: $579354
On the outskirts of San Francisco, you’ll find Vallejo and Fairfield, considered among the top six cities to live in California, located in the Bay Area. These cities are home to diverse racial demographics, which helps keep housing costs 42% cheaper than the California average and transportation 16% more affordable, making it one of the most cost-effective options in the state.
Eastridge is one of the favorite places for retirees who enjoy the opportunity to spend quality time exploring top-rated activities. Residents have easy access to schools, both public and private hospitals, and various recreational activities, visit amusement parks like Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, sampling the jelly beans factory, and more, all at affordable rates.
However, there are limited options when it comes to fine restaurants, and the increase in crime rates in Fairland has raised some concerns among retirees. Nevertheless, you cannot deny its affordability, beautiful weather, and excellent educational opportunities.
Best Place to Retiree in South California
3. Palm Springs
- Population: 44,552
- Cost of living index: 133.8
- Median home value: $641,168
Palm Springs offers desert visits, a relaxed nightlife, and a sunny, laid-back lifestyle, all of which attract retirees and young populations. I’m sure you’re aware that stars like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra called Palm Springs home!
Around the Coachella Valley, you’ll find hiking trails. On the other hand, there are spa centers, golf courses, poolside resorts, Cabazon Outlet Malls, and Desert Hills Premium Outlets. Palm Springs is a package that offers everything!
Gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park is nearby, and the view of the pink, purple, and red sunset is also amazing! Compared to Los Angeles, the cost of living is relatively low, but in posh areas like La Quinta and Rancho Mirage, property values can go up to $2 million.
- Population: 174,068
- Cost of living index: 154.9
- Median home value: $816,242
Retirees who desire a coastal lifestyle and attractive recreational opportunities by the Pacific Ocean, welcome Oceanside. I’m sure you’ve seen many photos of Oceanside Pier and Harbor Beach, where people enjoy sunsets and various water sports.
Retirees will find 170,000 senior centers that offer amazing fitness and senior services at affordable rates. In terms of healthcare facilities, it is also advanced and provides a high level of care. Additionally, you’ll find a significant number of military personnel and military retirees here; however, the crime rate is higher than average.
On the weekends, you can visit the Sunset Market for shopping and enjoy delicious foods and affordable fruits from vendors. For some fresh air, you can head to Guajome Regional Park, Buddy Todd Park, and much more.
- Population: 38,046
- Cost of living index: 105.6
- Median home value: $373,922
Just 9 miles away from the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County sits Adelanto, where retirees can purchase property without any stress. From apartment complexes and rental homes to small rooms, it has a place for everyone. Here you can retire without breaking your bank in California.
However, its proximity to the desert doesn’t make it barren; it has enough green space at Richardson Park, where adults can come for evening walks, children can play basketball, and on Sundays, families can come together for picnics.
Adelanto is always on the radar of motorbike enthusiasts, as the Adelanto Grand Prix tests off-roading skills. Additionally, the Christmas Parade and various youth sports leagues bring the community together to celebrate and have fun.
6. Paso Robles
- Population: 31,496
- Cost of living index: 134.8
- Median home value: $712,021
Paso Robles is a small town in San Luis Obispo County where you can enjoy a comfortable Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine and take full advantage of the wine culture. Here, you’ll find award-winning wineries like Clavo Cellars, ONX Wines, and J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines.
This small city is situated between San Francisco and Los Angeles, providing residents with the opportunity to enjoy big restaurants, charming cafes, large shopping malls, galleries, breweries, farmers’ markets, and other forms of entertainment. It is indeed one of the most fun and affordable senior living spots in California.
If you want to escape to the coast, you only have to drive 30 minutes to get there. The healthcare services are of such high quality that Paso Robles has been regularly voted as one of the best places to retire in California.
Pros of living in Pas Robles
- The town is always celebrating something. The state Fair festival is one of the famous ones
- Horseback riding experience is possible at Pas Robles
- Residents can enjoy concerts at Vina Robles Amphitheatre
- Easy to commute on the West Coast for weekend trips
Con of living in Pas Robles
- The city is predominated by Hispanic culture
Top Places to Retiree in California – Affordable Counties
7. Mendocino County
- Population: 92,729
- Cost of living index: 119.5
- Median home value: $630K
Mendocino County in North California is just a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area sitting between lush forests of majestic redwood trees, oceanfront towns, and a few hidden villages that offer a rural and slow pace of life.
This region is also known as America’s Greenest Wine Region. But what’s even more interesting is that the TV mystery series “Murder, She Wrote” was shot in this region. Retirees can consider retiring in Ukiah, one of the small towns filled with rich history, vineyards, and rolling green hills. It is one of the best places to reside in California.
On weekends, families often prefer taking the 31-mile road to enjoy a long drive under the shade of the tallest trees and visit the Avenue of the Giants. You should definitely come to Anderson Valley to spend some time in vineyards and go wine tasting.
The local economy is driven by the tourism sector, and retirees won’t get a chance to get bored, as the Mendocino Music Festival in July, the Symphony of the Redwoods in September, the Fisherman’s Harbor and Seafood Festival, and the Mendocino Film Festival, along with local art festivals, will keep you busy.
Pros of living in Mendocino County
- Citytistics rated Mendocino’s livability at 64 out of 100
- Low poverty rate
Cons of living in Mendocino County
- The cost of living is higher
- Decline population growth
8. Solana Beach
- Population: 12.941
- Cost of living index: 154.9
- Median home value: $1.9M
Along the North Coast of San Diego County in Southern California sits Solana Beach, one of the most desirable places to retire due to its coastal charm and close-knit community. Though I know the cost of living is high it is one of the safest places to retire in California with only 14.22 crimes recorded per 1,000 residents.
It has become famous among locals for offering an amazing view of the sunset at Fletcher Cove Park. As the name suggests, life here revolves around enjoying the beach, swimming, and surfing, hiking on nearby trails, dining on seafood, and embracing a laid-back atmosphere.
Additionally, there are many art galleries and scheduled shows at the Del Mar fairground. Interestingly, if you have ever dreamed of opening a boutique shop, you can consider doing it at the Cedros Design District. For a vibrant nightlife experience, go to The Belly Up.
The local economy is influenced by the tourism sector as well. Retirees have the option to choose from excellent 55+ communities with access to great medical facilities. However, the premium house prices become difficult for many families.
Pros of living in Solana Beach
- Idyllic and relaxed environment, Solana Beach is one of the best beach towns to retiree in California
- Music festivals, farmer markets, and art walks happening every month or other
Cons of living in Solana Beach
- Traffic congestion during peak time
- Lifestyle is a little expensive
9. Central Valley
- Population: 6.5 Million
- Cost of living index: 95.6
- Median home value: $551K
The Central Valley is gifted with affordable leisure diversions, making it an excellent choice for those on a budget. Additionally, this region is all about vineyards, orchards, and growing vegetables and fruits.
So, by choosing this region of California, you naturally enjoy fresh food and a laid-back atmosphere!
Mariposa in the Central Valley is undoubtedly one of the ideal places for retirees to settle down because it offers a quiet and peaceful lifestyle. Hence, if you’re in search of retirement on a budget destination in California, this place is a must-pick!
Its proximity to Yosemite, the Merced River, and forests makes it ideal for planning some fun hiking or leisurely strolls. The houses are affordable, and there are many small schools, so if you love teaching, you can definitely consider it.
The median household income, on average, is $50,996, ensuring that people here can maintain a great standard of living. Mariposa in the Central Valley is not the only ideal spot; you can also consider Fresno, Modesto, or Madera.
However, it’s true that these places are growing quickly, which may lead to more congestion and a gradual loss of their rural vibe.
Pro of living in Central Valley
- Affordable part of California with good jobs and medical facilities
Con of living in Central Valley
- Traffic can get worse
10. Groveland, Tuolumne County
- Population: 495
- Cost of living index: 109.7
- Median home value: $ 412032
Groveland is a suburban area in the Sonora Metro Area where you live in a relatively quiet environment with only a few college students and a mostly adult population.
It is a small town in Tuolumne County, which has been ranked as the third-best place to retire in California by the website SmartAsset. Moreover, Tuolumne County is one of the best affordable retirement areas in Central California.
It serves as a gateway to the High Sierras, and all the places here offer a life full of outdoor activities such as hiking trails, golf courses, swimming holes, picturesque wild rivers, and campgrounds. It’s no wonder why it is also called a “Vacation Playland.”
In the autumn, Tuolumne County hosts Halloween events that add another layer of fun to the community. Moreover, watching movies like “The Haunted Mansion” in the park under the stars with your partner, free of cost, feels like reviving your youthful spirit and enjoying every moment of it.
Pro of living in Groveland
- Housing price is low
- Weather is pleasant – you experience a humid subtropical climate
- Low tornado risk
Cons of living in Groveland
- No public transit facilities, you need to own your own car
- Limited entertainment options
- Limited job market
Affordable 55+ Community in California
11. Mill Pond
Mill Pond is situated in one of the most convenient locations in the Willow Glen area of San Jose. Each house comes with a car garage, a fenced backyard, a beautiful garden, and a spot to watch the sunset.
Here, you can enjoy a refreshing pool, a well-maintained tennis court, a spacious dining hall, and various other recreational activities. Typically, each house has 1,512 sq. ft. of space, with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. You can acquire a property here for $160,000.
- Population: 92,906
- Cost of living index: 107.8
- Median home value: $390,282
Couples seeking the best-value retirement cities in Northern California should definitely consider Redding. From your backyard, you can enjoy views of Mount Shasta and the Sacramento River.
You can engage in various activities, from horseback riding and hiking to simply relaxing by Lake Tahoe. There are also opportunities to explore botanical gardens and go camping in the nearby forests.
Additionally, there are some low-cost retirement communities in California Mercy Medical Center and Shasta Regional Medical Center offer affordable medical services, making it an appealing option for retirees.
- 12 Places to Visit in California by not Breaking your Savings Account
- 14 Nude & Clothing-Optional Beaches in California
- Budget-Friendly Places to Travel in the USA
FAQ: Cheapest Places to Retire in California
1. What state has the lowest cost of living?
A. Chico in North California records a cost of living index of 114.5 with a median home value of $305, 300. However, this is not the lowest but affordable and safe place to live in.
2. Which places you should avoid retiring in California?
A. It’s better to avoid Los Angeles in California because choosing it comes with a hefty price tag and dealing with the large crowds can sometimes be quite challenging.