Although the high cost of living in California makes it less than ideal for enjoying retirement, there are affordable places to retire in the Golden State. Browse these options for affordable retirement living in California with median home sales and two-bedroom rental averages provided via Trulia, the national online residential expert. Further cost-of-living details are from Sperling's Best Places and Niche's 2017 Best Places to Retire in California.
Its relative proximity to San Francisco, wine country, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the Sierras puts Sacramento in an enviable position for active retirees. The leafy downtown riverfront has a historic "Old Town" and the city's dining scene is tagged as "farm-to-fork," emphasizing access to the extensive Central Valley's fresh, local produce. Sunny days and mild evenings year-round do become hot in summer.
The median home price in Sacramento is $277, 200 and the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment or house is $986 monthly. In addition to the desirable downtown residential area, several Sacramento neighborhoods earn an A+ or A grade on Niche's best retirement list. New Brighton, Elder Creek, Belvedere, Morrison Creek, Valleyview Acres, Ramona Village, Granite Regional Park, and Village 14 carry this distinction.
The state capital with a population of 490,000-plus is California's fastest growing city. A busy Sacramento Senior Citizens Club offers activities from computer and tech training to monthly casino trips; B Street Theater has acting lessons; and Crocker Art Museum has art history, crafts and studio painting classes. Municipal transportation on buses and light rail trains provides discounts for seniors from age 62 and Sacramento has both Amtrak and Greyhound stations. At Sacramento International Airport, only 10 miles from downtown, nine carriers serve nonstop routes from Honolulu to New York City.
Redding, a medium-sized city of 90,000 in Northern California, is underrated as a retirement destination. With Mount Shasta as a backdrop and the Sacramento River running through town, Redding offers lots of outdoors opportunities and plenty of sunshine, making it a great climate for active retirees. Summers are hot and dry while winters can be cold and wet. As of mid-2017, median home prices are $264,000 and median rent on a two-bedroom unit is $860 per month, well below California averages.
If you are looking to be close to transportation, Redding has an Amtrak station in town and shuttles to the airports in Sacramento and San Francisco. Redding's regional airport also offers daily flights to and from San Francisco, about 215 miles south. Located along Interstate 5, Redding is easily accessible by car; it's a two-hour drive due south to the state capital in Sacramento. A local van service for seniors makes getting around town easy as well.
As a retiree, you'll find a strong community in Redding. Its active senior center offers a full slate of activities, including classes in computer training, exercise, card games, bingo and dancing. If you don't enjoy organized social activities, you may want to take in a show at the Cascade Theater or Riverfront Playhouse or listen to live music by the Sacramento River. Other Redding highlights include Sundial Bridge, Lake Redding, Market Fest and the Redding Rodeo.
As the Shasta County seat, Redding is the hub for medical services in the region. Residents have access to top-notch care from two hospitals (one of which is the award-winning Mercy Hospital) and many clinics. Shasta County offers a wide range of helpful and cost-saving programs for seniors, including legal services, accessible housing, utilities assistance and a nutrition program.
If your ideal retirement locale is one without crowds, traffic, and pollution, consider small town Eureka with its population of 27,000. Located in Humboldt County on the Northern California coast, Eureka boasts beautiful scenery and a mild year-round climate. With its pretty Pacific beaches and towering redwood trees, Eureka is a haven for nature enthusiasts.
It also hosts an abundant stock of Victorian homes in the historic downtown district, great for those who are looking to restore an older home or who take pleasure in walking along picturesque streets to admire the architecture. Since the median home price is $257,500, Eureka is among the affordable options in Northern California. Eureka rent prices run below the California average, with a median of $999 per month for a two-bedroom unit.
Eureka's economy has become sluggish since the decline of the logging and mining industries that dominated the region. However, as a retiree not seeking full-time employment, a somewhat higher-than-average unemployment rate won't impact quality of life. Retirees can spend their days hiking among the redwoods or strolling along Humboldt Bay, listening to live music at local venues, or getting involved in volunteering and social opportunities through the Humboldt Senior Resource Center.
Those looking for a lively art scene will find one in Eureka, listed seventh in John Villani's book, 100 Best Art Towns in America. Other cultural and entertainment attractions in the area include the Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, Redwood Coast Jazz Festival and Sequoia Park Zoo. Close to Humboldt State University, Eureka benefits from the nearby college town of Arcata, which attracts additional cultural events and puts an emphasis on ongoing education.
Eureka is the largest city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Range mountains. The San Francisco Bay Area is 270 miles south on Highway 101, and the Oregon border is 100 miles north. Eureka provides access to ample dining, health care and transportation options. Regional bus services are available as is Amtrak train service and Greyhound bus service. A regional airport nine miles north in Arcata provides easy flights in and out of Humboldt County.
Rio Vista, California
Affordable small town experiences are an everyday pleasure in Rio Vista, which is along the Sacramento River in eastern Solano County. With a population of about 8,000, Rio Vista has easy access to the larger Sacramento and San Francisco itself, 60 miles southwest. Rio Vista is known for its annual Bass Derby and Festival in October, which not only attracts sports fishermen, but also brings in live music and artists.
Wine lovers know that Rio Vista is less expensive but just 25 miles west of Lodi, "Zinfandel Capital of the World," known for its wine festivals. Rio Vista home prices are below the state's average, with a median of $325,000. Two-bedroom rentals average $1,150 monthly and the city is popular with outdoors enthusiasts. Residents enjoy fishing and hunting, hiking and exploring nearby towns and countryside.
Those who are civic minded might join the local Lions, Moose, or Rotary clubs in this relatively safe, small town where the average age is 58. A newly revamped senior center provides a social hub for retirees, and there are many other organizations and two museums that take volunteers, providing an outlet for meeting others.
Seniors can be active outdoors year round due to a pleasant, moderate climate of warm summers and cool winters. The Delta Breeze transportation system provides rides around town and between other cities in the county. Though shopping, medical care and entertainment options are limited in Rio Vista, the city is close to more bustling areas; Oakland and Sacramento are less than an hour's drive in either direction, both of which have large airports. A drive of 15- to 20-minutes will get you to a larger city with more services.
Palm Springs, California
What did Frank Sinatra and his pals know best? If ever there was an oasis to enjoy retirement in the desert, Palm Springs is it. This resort town of 48,000 is affordable and sunny. Chock full of golf courses, Palm Springs has become a magnet for retirees. With its dry climate, picturesque landscape, art and culture, Palm Springs is listed as one of Condé Nast Traveler's 2016 12 Best Places to Retire in the U.S.
The median home price is $370,000 (far below the California median home price of $499,000), with two-bedroom rentals running $1,000 on average. Retirees enjoy an active lifestyle in Palm Springs, with plenty of outdoors activities and cultural events. Residents can continue their education at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Cal State San Bernadino in adjacent Palm Desert or at the Palm Springs Art Museum. About 45 minutes northeast, nature enthusiasts can enjoy a day's outing at Joshua Tree National Park in the high desert.
Getting around town and in and out of Palm Springs is easy, with an international airport located close to downtown, a local bus service, access to Amtrak and Greyhound. San Diego is just two hours' drive. Palm Springs is surrounded by smaller desert communities, the San Bernardino Mountains, Salton Sea, Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
On the northern border of San Diego County, the beach side city of Oceanside attracts retirees for its climate and easy lifestyle. As far as Southern California's desirable beach towns go, Oceanside real estate is comparatively affordable. The median house price is $425,000 with the cheaper real estate located inland from the coast. On the rental front, there are several active retirement and 55-plus communities, as well as senior apartments.
Not far from Camp Pendleton, a good deal of military personnel and military retirees live in Oceanside. However, the crime rate is just higher than average. Still, many enjoy strolls along the beach, walks on the famous Oceanside Pier or attending any of the myriad community events and festivals throughout the year. The city of about 170,000 also boasts a revamped senior center that offers many classes and events as well as a fitness center and senior services.
Located just off Interstate 5, it's an easy one-hour drive north to Los Angeles. The San Diego airport is 45 minutes south, and the train runs regularly through Oceanside. Being so close to major cities allows access to major cultural attractions and services. There are plenty of options for high-level health care in Oceanside, as well as in the nearby communities of Carlsbad and Vista.
This college town north of Sacramento has easy access to the Sierras and plentiful outdoor activities. Chico is a relatively safe oasis with an affordable cost of living. The senior population in Chico is on the rise, with those 50 years and older making up more than one quarter of the total population of about 90,000.
Home to Chico State University, more than half Chico's residents have at least some college education. The university is the hub of most arts and culture in Chico, though there are a number of outside music venues, a symphony, museums, and art galleries. Olive growers have found a home in Chico. However, possibly the most famous attraction in Chico is the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
The median price for a home purchase in Chico is about $310,000 and a two-bedroom apartment can be rented at an average of $940 per month. Quaint neighborhoods have historic homes mixed with new construction catering to active adults. If being active on the water is your thing, the Sacramento River runs just to the west of town. This designated Tree City USA contains a large municipal park, and mountain trails for gentle hikes are a quick drive away. Access to health care is good, as there is a large hospital and several clinics in town with plenty of specialists on staff.
Getting in and out of Chico is easy by car. It is located about two hours north of Sacramento on Highway 99, which runs north and south for almost the entire length of California. Chico has a small regional airport and the Sacramento international airport is an hour and a half south, served by a twice daily shuttle service to and from downtown Chico.
East of Los Angeles County on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, Riverside has grown into a sprawling city of 300,000 that attracts retirees for its climate, affordability, and access to services. With a growing population, this is the state's 12th largest city. Known for having some of the best mild weather in the nation, Riverside has come a long way from the days when its famous orange groves made it the center of California's citrus industry.
Named for its proximity to the Santa Ana River, the city's distinct neighborhoods have a median home sales price of $380,000. Riverside has a rental median for a two-bedroom unit of $1,163 monthly. Ten active retirement communities offer another option for housing.
The University of California Riverside campus attracts many cultural events and brings an influx of academics to town. Attractions include free movies in the park, Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry; California Citrus State Museum; Fox Performing Arts Center; Riverside Art Museum; International Automotive Museum; and UC-Riverside Botanical Gardens. At the holidays, the Festival of Lights is centered around the historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.
Access to quality medical care is easy in Riverside, with three top-notch hospitals and many assisted living communities. Riverside has a well-established bus system and access to the Metrolink local commuter train that services the Riverside and San Bernardino areas. For longer trips, Riverside has a small regional airport for light aircraft. The Ontario airport is 15 miles away, which is small but easy to access with scheduled service on carriers such as Southwest Airlines. Los Angeles International Airport is more than an hour away, but shuttle services from Riverside will get you home and back.
Grass Valley, California
If stunning mountains and lakes is what you're looking for in retirement, Grass Valley fits the bill in the Sierra Nevada foothills northwest of Lake Tahoe. This Gold Rush-era town of about 12,000 people has an outdoorsy vibe, and a quaint historic downtown with art galleries; casual and fine dining; and local entertainment.
Grass Valley can feel remote, but in a good way - the town thrives on inbound tourism. Getting away is easy, too. Sacramento is an hour's drive and San Francisco is about three hours away. Meantime, in Grass Valley the air is fresh, natural beauty abounds, and residents enjoy a mild four seasons.
The city of Grass Valley caters to retirees, providing many options in housing, activities and adult education classes. The median price of a home in Grass Valley, where 84 percent of the residents are homeowners, is about $359,000 and Trulia's crime rate index ranks it "very low."
In 2015, Where to Retire magazine profiled Grass City and neighboring Nevada City among a select list. Three hospitals are nearby, including a state-of-the-art hospital with cardiac and cancer treatment centers. Senior communities have independent living with services, assisted living, memory care and short-term stays.
Located at the intersection of two state highways and north of Interstate 80, Grass Valley is easiest to access by car, though a bus service does connect other nearby communities to the city. Bus service in Grass Valley is limited to city limits and there is a shuttle service for seniors. The Sacramento and Reno-Tahoe airports are closest, both about an hour away, and they are served by private shuttle ground services.
Not only does Grass Valley offer access to a small, historic town with plenty of natural beauty, it is close to the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe. During the summer, the downtown district hosts farmers markets, festivals and street fairs. The local chamber of commerce and downtown business association initiate many community events, such as a Harvest Festival, Cornish Christmas and an art and wine walk.
Affordable Is Possible in California
While California's cost of living is higher-than-average among the 50 states, there are plenty of options for an affordable retirement within the nation's most populous state. Whether you plan an active retirement in the mountains, or long to get around in a golf cart in the desert, or prefer to gaze at sunsets on the beach, California is diverse enough that you will find the perfect spot to get all you want out of your retirement.