What Makes These California Cities the “Best Places to Live in the U.S.”?

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 13, 2023

When looking for the perfect place to call home, quite a few boxes need to be checked off. Renters and homeowners looking for the best place to live in the U.S. often want to be near cities that offer a combination of low crime rates, great school systems, a thriving local community, and access to quality health care.

Thanks to the researchers at Money, a new report has found the 50 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2023. People living in Southern California might already live in two of the best cities. What are those cities, and what makes them so great? Let’s get into it.

What Makes These Two Cities the Best Places to Live in America? 

Researchers considered several aspects when looking at the 50 best places to live in the U.S. Some of those aspects include economic opportunities, quality of life, overall diversity, and the future of the city.

White Wooden Lifeguard Shed

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A few California cities make the list, with San Jose (#25) and Fremont (#18) representing Northern California. However, SoCal has two cities that made the list: Irvine (#13) and San Diego (#22).

What Makes Irvine One of the Best Places to Live?

Let’s start with what makes Irvine, the home of the University of California, Irvine, one of the best places to live. Irvine is a bustling city that offers an excellent range of jobs, schools, community, and entertainment.

English: Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine, California, U.S.A. During the day, Saddleback can be viewed from this very angle, between the palm trees.

Source: Nandaro/Wikimedia Commons

Located 40 miles southwest of Los Angeles, the residents of Irvine have access to some of the greatest and most diverse shopping and dining opportunities with nearby malls that include Irvine Spectrum, South Coast Plaza, and Fashion Island.

Irvine Has Plenty of Parks and Trails to Enjoy

Irvine has more than shopping and entertainment. For the folks who enjoy the outdoors, there are over 60 public parks (22 community parks, more than 40 neighborhood parks, and special facilities for residents) and 400 miles of bike trails. If residents are looking to enjoy a nice relaxing day in the sun, then the 20-minute drive to the nearby beaches is an easy choice.

North Lake in Woodbridge, Irvine, CA.

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The parks, trails, and natural wild lands that make up more than one-third of the city make Irvine a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of the world.

Irvine is the Safest City to Live In

In 2022, Irvine was named the safest city of its size for violent crime according to FBI data for the 18th year. The city has the lowest crime rate in any city in the nation with a population of 250,000 or more.

Young diverse male friends strolling on crosswalk in city residential district

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Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent said that the efforts of city leaders, community members, and the members of the IPD have helped to maintain low violent crime rates for nearly 20 years. “We appreciate the support of our city leaders, who ensure we have the resources needed to maintain public safety in the City of Irvine,” Chief Kent said in a statement to the City of Irvine.

The City Has a Great Education System

It is no surprise that Irvine’s school system is rated among the best in California. The home to UC Irvine (which ranked fifth on Money’s list of Best Colleges in California and ninth for the 25 Best Colleges in America) and the “A+” earning Irvine Unified School District (via Niche), the city strives to provide all residents with a great education.

Woman Reading A Book To The Children

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With one of the best school systems in California and several colleges and universities, it’s not hard to see why families are drawn to Irvine.


Employment Rates Are High in Irvine Thanks to These Employers

Whether you’re looking for employment or are eager to start your own business, the economic and business opportunities are rich in Irvine. With over 19,000 businesses in the city, Irvine has a shockingly low unemployment rate of 2.8%.

Photo Of People Doing Handshakes

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According to Money, some of Irvine’s largest employers are UC Irvine, Blizzard Entertainment, and Edwards LifeSciences LLC.


What Makes San Diego One of the Best Places to Live?

Often referred to as the “Birthplace of California,” San Diego maintained its reputation as being “America’s Finest City.” From the stunning beaches to the natural habitat sanctuaries to a thriving downtown, the Mediterranean climate has become home to those who are looking for temperate year-long weather and a beach lifestyle.

Marina During Golden Hour

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San Diego offers plenty of outdoor entertainment for its residents, including the massive San Diego Zoo, 15 museums, a horticultural center, the Olde Globe Theater, and more.


San Diego Offers a Ton of Natural Beauty to Enjoy

Many of the residents who live in San Diego are known to take full advantage of the city’s 340 parks and 40,000 acres of open undeveloped land. On top of that, residents often flock to La Jolla, the second-best beach in California, where you can witness hundreds of sea lions resting on the beach’s rocks.

Woman with Baby on Beach at Sunset

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Whether you’re kayaking out from Coronado Beach to get a stunning view of the San Diego skyline or playing a round of golf at Torrey Pines, there is always something to do.


San Diego Has a Promising Job Market

Home to almost 1.4 million people, San Diego’s job market is promising. Largely thanks to the Pacific Fleet of the U.S. Navy, which is one of the largest employers in the city according to Money, the unemployment rate sits at 3.1%.

Multiple aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 fly in formation over the Navy's forward-deployed

Source: U.S. Pacific Fleet/Flickr

However, the naval base isn’t the only notable employer. IT communications companies, including Qualcomm and Nokia, are large employers, as well as the growing number of health care and biotechnical companies in San Diego.


San Diego Has One of the Best Housing Markets in California

With a large population and plenty of job opportunities, the housing market is one of the most forgiving in the state of California, where the market is more expensive compared to the rest of the country. Unlike the millions of dollars it costs to purchase a starter house in San Francisco or Los Angeles, San Diego’s medium house price is $963,261.

San Diego Old Town - Heritage Park - Burton House (1893)

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Compared to Irvine’s medium house price, which is $1,300,651 (via Money), a house in beautiful San Diego looks like an achievable dream.


San Diego Has Stellar Schools

Families can put strong roots down in San Diego thanks to the city’s strong school system. Home to one of the most highly regarded branches of the University of California (ranking #7 in Money’s 10 Best Colleges in California and #12 in the 25 Best Colleges in America), San Diego is focused on providing excellent higher education choices for young adults.

Boy In Green Shirt reading from a workbook in school

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For children, the San Diego Unified School District contains 176 schools and 95,233 students, all achieving an average “A” rating on Niche.


What Was the #1 City on the List?

While we might not all live in SoCal, we can appreciate the effort the locals put into making their city one of the best 50 places to live in the U.S. There is a wide range of cities that made this list, with Atlanta, Georgia, being the #1 place to live and Sparks, Nevada, taking the #50 spot.

City of Atlanta at Sunset


No matter where you live in the U.S., there is something great about your community if you go out and become an active member. All it takes is one person to make a difference in their community, so be the ring leader that helps land your city on this list next year.

Source: Money