Living in California: The Good, the Bad and the Sunny

Get a Quote

Endless sunshine, golden beaches, celebrity sightings and traffic — lots and lots of traffic. The Golden State certainly has its fair share of ups and downs, but that’s what makes life here so interesting.  

From the redwood forests up north to the desert landscapes down south, California’s natural beauty is unparalleled. Sure, the cost of living is high and taxes make you cringe, but there’s just something about those Pacific sunsets that soothes the soul. 

Whether you’re thinking of moving to California or just want to experience the state vicariously, here’s the inside scoop on what it’s really like living in this little slice of paradise. Welcome to the California state of mind. 

California Sunshine: Enjoying the Outdoors Year-Round 

California coastlines

One of the best parts of living in California is the near-perfect weather. With mild temperatures for most of the year, you can enjoy outdoor activities almost any day. 

Want to go to the beach? In SoCal, the water’s warm enough for swimming and surfing even in the winter. NorCal beaches are a bit chillier, but still pleasant in the summer. If you’re more of a hiker, California has everything from desert trails to coastal paths to mountain vistas. Boasting nine national parks — including Yosemite and Joshua Tree, so many stunning spots are within a day’s drive.  

Love wine? You can go wine tasting at scenic wineries year-round in Napa, Sonoma, Temecula and Paso Robles. Prefer craft beer? California has some of the best, with over 900 breweries across the state. 

If you want to get out on the water, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and explore the coastline or one of many lakes and rivers. Or learn to kiteboard — with all that wind, California’s a prime spot for it. 

Whether you want to lay out on a sunny beach; hit the slopes for some spring skiing; go stargazing in the desert; or take a sunset bike ride along the coast; California weather means adventure calls every single day. Of course, all that Vitamin D and fresh air means you’ll sleep great at night too.  

The Price You Pay for Living in California 

California housing

California living is all sunshine and beaches, right? Well, mostly — but there’s a price to pay for that perfect weather. Housing costs in California are astronomically high, especially near the coast. Average rent across the state in January 2024 is $2,750. Meanwhile, California median home price is forecast to rise 6.2 percent to $860,300 in 2024, following a projected 1.5 percent dip to $810,000 in 2023 from $822,300 in 2022. 

The High Cost of Living 

Want that beach house? You’ll pay a premium. Coastal homes usually soar well above $1 million. Living farther inland or in a smaller town can save you money, but you’ll probably face a long commute to work. Everything from gas to groceries costs more in California. Sales tax is almost 10% in some areas. 

The state income tax rate is also one of the highest in the U.S., reaching up to 13.3% for top earners. Many people struggle to afford basic necessities on a single income. However, wages in California also tend to be higher to account for the increased costs. If you have a high-paying job, especially in tech, you may find the balance works in your favor. 

For most though, living comfortably in California requires dual incomes, budgeting and making some sacrifices. You may need to choose between living close to work or living in a spacious place. Dining out regularly probably won’t fit into your budget. While the natural beauty and Mediterranean climate are appealing, make sure you understand the financial realities of living in the Golden State before packing up and heading west.  

Please note: We are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and counsel from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.

Finding Your Tribe: Diverse Communities Across the State 

California is an incredibly diverse place, with vibrant communities of every kind. No matter what you’re into, you’re bound to find your tribe here. 

Outdoor activities in California

The Outdoor Enthusiasts 

If you love spending time outside, California is paradise. You’ll find huge communities of hikers, surfers, mountain bikers, rock climbers and more. Head to spots like Yosemite, Lake Tahoe or Big Sur to connect with like-minded nature lovers. The Sierra Club and local meetup groups are great for finding hiking buddies and outdoor adventures. 

The Food Lovers 

California cuisine is storied, from fish tacos to fusion fare to farm-to-table cuisine. Every city has enthusiastic communities of home cooks, professional chefs, craft cocktail connoisseurs and wine enthusiasts. Check sites like Yelp or Chowhound to find fellow food-obsessed Californians or take a cooking class to meet locals with similar tastes. 

The Artists 

California has long attracted creative types, from writers and musicians to fine artists and craftspeople. Major metro areas especially foster artistic communities where you can network, collaborate and find inspiration. Look for local art walks, live music venues, craft fairs and DIY art spaces. There are so many ways to tap into California’s creative scene and find your artistic kindred spirits. 

Something for Everyone 

Whether your passion is vintage cars, gaming, activism or something else, you’ll find others who share your interests. California’s diversity means niche communities of all kinds thrive here. Do some searching online for local meetups, nonprofits and interest groups. Put yourself out there by attending events and engaging with others.  

Traffic Jams and Crowds: Dealing with Downsides of Popularity 

Living in a popular state like California has its downsides. With over 40 million residents, you’re bound to run into traffic and crowds. Here are some tips for dealing with the negatives of California’s popularity. 

Traffic in California

Traffic Troubles 

California’s highways and roads are notoriously congested, especially during rush hour. Expect delays and leave extra time for trips. Try using traffic apps like Waze to find the fastest route or see if public transit or ride-sharing are options for your commute. If driving, make the most of the time by listening to audiobooks, podcasts or your favorite music. 

Crowded Coastlines 

California’s beaches attract millions of visitors, especially in the summer. Head out early to claim a good spot or visit during off-peak days like weekdays. Check if the beach you want to visit charges a parking fee and go prepared. Less popular beaches away from major cities may have fewer crowds if you’re willing to explore. 

Tourist Traps 

Popular attractions like Disneyland, Fisherman’s Wharf and Rodeo Drive are meccas for visitors, leading to long wait times and congestion. Go during the off-season or weekdays if possible and buy tickets in advance online. (when applicable) Overall, residents don’t feel pressure to visit the major spots frequently. There are plenty of lesser-known attractions to experience with smaller crowds. 

Housing Headaches 

With so many people wanting to live in California, housing costs are sky high. Be prepared for a competitive rental market and homebuying process. Consider having roommates, living slightly further from work or in a smaller space to save money. If buying a home, work with a real estate agent to help navigate multiple offers and bidding wars. 

While the crowds and costs can be annoying at times, the natural beauty, vibrant culture and perfect weather still make California an appealing place to call home. 

With realistic expectations about the potential downsides of its popularity, you can enjoy the state’s many upsides. The secret is finding the right balance between tourist traps and hidden gems, rush hour traffic and quiet beaches. California really does have something for everyone if you know where to look! 

Making California Your Home: Tips for Transplants 

California has a lot to offer, from stunning beaches and snow-capped mountains to exciting cities and an unbeatable Mediterranean climate. However, the high cost of living and crowded freeways can take some getting used to. Here are some tips to help you transition to life in California: 

Do your research. California is a big state with lots of regional differences. Make sure you understand the climate, job market and lifestyle of the area you’re moving to. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area has a very different vibe than Los Angeles or San Diego. Choose a location that fits your needs and personality. 

Visit first if you can. There’s no better way to get a feel for a place than spending time there in person. If visiting isn’t possible, connect with locals online to learn more about neighborhoods, traffic and day-to-day life. 

Be ready for sticker shock. Housing costs in California are among the highest in the nation. Rent, utilities, gas and groceries will likely cost more than you’re used to. Make sure your salary can cover the increased cost of living before accepting a job offer. 

Learn the roads. California highways and byways can be confusing, especially in cities. Study up on the major roadways in your new area and you’ll avoid getting lost on your first drive. Rush hour traffic in many cities is no joke, so try to schedule driving outside of peak commute times. 

Get outside. Don’t move to California without taking advantage of the natural surroundings. Go hiking in the mountains, sunbathing at the beach, strolling through gardens, or just find a nice park to enjoy being outside. California’s stunning beauty is a big reason why many people move here. 

With the right mindset and preparation, you’ll likely embrace the California lifestyle in no time. The rewards of living in this special place are well worth any challenges.  

Want to dig deeper?  Check out our guides on moving to California, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego for ideas.  

Relocating to California from across the country? Let United Van Lines, America’s #1 Mover® help you. Our long-distance movers are here to assist you in seamlessly transitioning to the Golden State from any U.S. location. From handling your packing and unpacking to providing storage, car shipping services, and even debris pick-up, we’ve got every aspect of your move covered. 

Get a quote on moving to California

Get a Quote from America's #1 Mover® Today

Other Moving Resources

  • moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Benjamin Franklin Parkway - United Van Lines

    2024 Guide: Moving to and Settling in Philadelphia, PA

    Explore the vibrant tapestry of Philadelphia – a city steeped in history and culinary delights – as you embark on your relocation journey!
    Continue Reading
  • Moving to Phoenix AZ - Phoenix skyline - United Van Lines

    Moving to Phoenix, AZ: What You Need to Know Before Relocating

    Planning a move to Phoenix? Explore the cost of living, job opportunities and endless sunshine that await in the Valley of the Sun.
    Continue Reading
  • Moving to Boston MA - Sailboat on Charleston River - United Van Lines

    Moving to and Living in Boston, MA: Your Essential Guide

    Thinking about moving to Boston? Explore the lifestyle in the City of Champions and decide if it's the right move for you.
    Continue Reading