Back in 2014 when my husband and I decided we were moving to California that fall, I had a LOT of friends have a similar reaction. Their eyes got big, they reached for my hand and asked me “don’t you know it’s so expensive out there?”
I had to bite back a lot of sarcastic remarks that summer. Come October we filled up our car and drove across the country from Wisconsin to San Francisco to start the next chapter in our life. And we’ve been here ever since.
If you, too, are considering what living in California is really life according to a transplant who adores her new home, this post is for you! I’m laying out all the reasons life in California rocks, along with being transparent and fair about the aspects that aren’t so great. So you can make an informed decision that’s not influenced by loud trolls on TikTok or family members who have only read about home prices in the paper.
I Moved To California Without A Job Or Apartment
I wanted to start this article with a bit of background so you know where I’m coming from. My husband, Robin, and I both grew up in Wisconsin. I went to college in Minneapolis and by senior year I knew I had the get the F out of a state that has -20 degree winters.
I never imagined myself living in California. I was more the girl who envision herself in New York City, or maybe even living outside the United States (still working towards that goal). Honestly, Robin and I came to moving to San Francisco almost on a whim. I’ve never been to Northern California before here, neither of us had jobs or an apartment lined up. It was one of those things you can only do when you are young and a little stupid. Basically, I didn’t come to California as a lifelong pipe dream and rose-colored glasses.
But it worked out. We found a rent-controlled apartment, got jobs (eventually started our own company) built ourselves a local group of friends who are like family and year after year, we find it harder and harder to even entertain the idea of living anywhere else.
Pros And Cons Of Living In California
Let’s dive into why I love living in California! This covers everything from recreation to everyday living to government benefits.
11 Pros Of Living In California
1. You Can Reach Countless Terrains Within A Few Hours Drive
I love Wisconsin, I really do, but it’s mostly forest, corn and lakes. California has everything. Mountains, deserts, lakes, beaches, volcanos, marshes, hot springs, waterfalls, flower fields, forests, all on top of major cities, too.
There’s even a challenge that teens living in Los Angeles frequently do as a right of passage. They start the day on the beach, drive to Big Bear to go skiing, and end the day in Joshua Tree in the desert (or vice versa) Because you truly can hit all those terrains, and sometimes more, in a single day. I’ve been here for 8 years and it STILL blows my mind!!
And it’s like that everywhere. From the Bay Area the Central Valley, even if you live in San Diego in Southern California, you can take advantage of being close to it all.
2. California Has 9 National Parks & 280 State Parks
On the note about access to nature, California offers 9 National Parks and 280 State Parks. Basically, it’s super easy to live close to nature and slip into a park for tree time. Some of them are popular, like Yosemite National Park, but others like the Channel Islands are less visited (so they aren’t always crowded, I promise!)
There’s so many fun things to do in California but for me, I really adore all the parks. On any given weekend I’m running around in nature.
The 9 California National Parks:
- Yosemite National Park: Stunning in the fall when leaves start the change
- Joshua Tree National Park: Best in the spring when desert flowers bloom!
- Death Valley National Park: Best in late spring before it gets, you know, deathly hot.
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon: Visit in the winter for a unique way to experience the accident giants!
- Lassen Volcanic National Park: Ready to climb a volcano?!
- Pinnacles National Park: Small but so fun to camp in!
- Redwood National & State Parks: Come here in the summer to hike Fern Canyon, too!
- Channel Island National Park: A unique island national park ~50 miles off the coast.
- Point Reyes National Seashore: A serene peninsula that looks like Ireland to me.
3. Lucrative Job Opportunities
One of the main reasons we moved to San Francisco was because of the job opportunities. I remember looking at job boards at cities all across the state and the major California cities simply had pages and pages of jobs in my field, while other cities were slim.
Pretty much no matter what field you work in, there’s going to be a lot of jobs for you out there. And, many of them lucrative. The rumors of Silicon Valley paying insane salaries plus stock and health insurance are totally true.
Yes, the salaries are higher to compensate for the high cost of living, which we will talk about, but in general, they are just higher. Period. I’m talking $40k a year for a marketing position that out in the Bay Area could make me $170k a year.
4. Mild Weather Year-Round
It’s not called the Golden State for giggles. California living is all about that mild weather. No more crazy harsh winters, no more stupid humid summers.
I will be the first to point out that living In San Francisco is different. We have Karl the Fog here, aka the marine layer of fog that rolls in almost every day and causes June to be chilly enough for a heavy coat. And of course, places like Lake Tahoe will get cold and have snow.
But, in general, expect good weather.
5. Quality Higher Education + Many Class Options
California is home to so many fantastic universities and programs around higher education (like coding classes or apprenticeships!) Back in Wisconsin, I remember feeling kinda stuck on college options, as there were only about 2 in the whole state that I felt met my program needs (and were good enough to want to attend).
California has Ivy Leagues, many top-notch public universities, on top of intense niche programs to help you meet your education goals.
6. Diverse Culinary Scene
Aka, the food is not only good here but you can find every cuisine on the planet. I never had Pho before in the midwest, and I didn’t like sushi until I moved out here and got it fresh. We now also find ourselves eating Arabic, Korean BBQ, Polish and of course, mouthwatering Mexican on any given day in California.
7. Fresh & Affordable Produce
On the note about food, as a fresh fruits and veggies lover, I’m still thrilled about how easy it is to find fresh food not only in stock but at an affordable price. I remember visiting my hometown a few years back and being shocked that a single lemon was going for $1.75. In San Francisco, I can easily find a whole bag of local lemons for a dollar.
Some lucky folks even have lemon, lime, orange, apple and avocado trees that grow in their backyard! If you like food and cooking, California will be your foodie paradise.
8. Diverse Cultures & People
California ranks at the number one most diverse state in the country. There’s more Latinos (39%) in California than White folks (35%). There are only 4 Japantowns left in the country after World War II internment camps, and 3 of those Japantowns are in California. (The 4th is in Seattle.) San Francisco has the oldest Chinatown in the country and overalls, it’s just a huge melting pot here. Which I adore.
9. Haven For Street Art
Did you know Los Angeles is dubbed the “mural capital of the world?” LA, especially the West Hollywood area sure has a lot of Instagram-worthy murals, but I swear the whole state is covered in art. Cities commission artists all the time and in cities like San Francisco, homeowners take pride in painting their houses fun colors. California is like a living rainbow.
10. Access To International Airports
As a travel-bug, I love that there are 9 international airports in California! As a kid, we would have to drive 4+ hours to Chicago for international flights. Now I can take a 25 minute Lyft to SFO and be on my way abroad. Or, somewhere across the country.
This also has come in handy for quick flights down to LA or San Diego. Driving can easily take 6-10 hours depending on traffic. A few years ago my friends and I hopped on a flight to LA one morning to drive around and find all the Office filming spots and then flew home the next day. It felt more like a road trip.
11. There’s Something For Everyone
I know that sounds vague, but the reality is California has something for everyone. You have to try hard to get bored here. Outdoorsy? Foodie? Love to cook? Or learn? Want a fast paced urban life or do slow living on acreage in the middle of nowhere? We have it all here. There’s just so many cool things to do in California.
I know everyone thinks their state is the best state, but California really is the best state. You’re gonna love it here.
12. Beach Sunsets & Bonfires
YES, I know there are beaches all over the world, but California beach sunsets just hit differently. Especially in San Francisco and Northern California when the beach bonfire culture is real (and neeeded, since it’s usually chilly and foggy!) You get all bundled up, build a bonfire, drink beer and watch the sunset over the ocean. Magic. Ocean Beach is one of my favorite sunset spots in San Francisco, btw!
Cons Of Living In California
You are – you really are gonna love it here. That being said, just like with anywhere in the world there are pros and cons. I personally think the benefits greatly outweigh the downfalls.
Cost Of Living Is High
The average cost of living in California is about 49% higher than the national average (source.) From coffee to tickets to transportation to income tax, things just cost more here. The upside? I feel incredibly wealthy when I travel other places now – my sticker shock is entirely gone. (Maybe that’s because California is the fifth largest economy in the world? It’s basically its own country.)
Jokes aside, the first few years after a moved here were rough. We spent almost our entire savings on our apartment (deposit, first and last rent) and as I mentioned, we moved out here with no jobs. Which I can’t really recommend. It was only one of those things you can do when you’re stupid and young and fearless.
But we made do. My husband learned how to cook, like really well, because we couldn’t afford to eat out much. We couldn’t afford plane tickets or even hotels, so we did a lot of day trips around Northern California and fell in love with the state that way. We now love to call California home.
Rent & Housing Prices Are Super High
On that note, the housing market is insane over here. I mean, it’s been insane all over the country after the panny but it’s been crazy and getting crazier here. Median home prices are 239 times higher in California compared to the national average. Home improvement costs are high. Rent is high, too. Everything is high.
And that’s the major problems with living in California: real estate and housing is going to take up a large part of your paycheck. We’ve resolved that we probably won’t be able to afford a house out maybe ever, but at least not for another decade. A couple months ago we looked at this cute little bungalow in Sonoma County that was listed for $520,000. It sold for $820,000. It’s hard to compete out here.
Rent is high as well and units are also hard to find. We’ve been in a studio apartment since a good one bedroom apartments in San Francisco are so coveted they’re either way out of our budget or go off the market as soon as they go on. I remember apartment hunting back in 2015 and having to line up around the building because so many people wanted the same unit. Moving to California alone or moving to California with no money is super hard.
Public Transportation Sucks
To be fair, I think public transportation sucks pretty much everywhere in the United States outside of New York City. They’re the only ones who actually have an efficient train system. But it’s really sucky in California. I live in San Francisco and while the city is small (only 7×7 miles) it can easily take up to 2 hours to take the bus to some parts of the city that only take 20 minutes via car.
It’s even worse in Southern California. Los Angeles is famous for so much traffic because their public transportation just ain’t it. Don’t have a car? Good luck easily and cheaply leaving cities to explore smaller towns. I swear every year they tell us that high sped light rail is coming to California but nothing ever happens.
I just spent the summer living in Copenhagen, Denmark and was blown away by how good the train system is there. I could get to a small town way outside of the city via train in the time it takes me to ride to bus to my bestie’s apartment 4 miles away from in San Francisco.
Owning A Car Can Be Expensive
In metro cities, having a car is a hassle but you also kind of need one. Car insurance is expensive, parking is expensive. Smog checks are expensive. The flip side is the average California driver who isn’t commuting to work doesn’t drive as much as a midwest counterpart, so you may be able to ut back on your driving.
Robin and I walk a TON. When we visited home in Wisconsin we drive everywhere (to the store, to activities, to hiking trails, etc) but we can easily walk to all those places in San Francisco. Still happy we have a car though.
Wild Fire Season Is Rough
I’ve heard jokes about it being called the Golden State because of the fires, which is a morbid sense of humor for sure. But they have been getting really out of hand the past 4 or so years thanks to global warming. California Native friends have reported that it wasn’t always like this.
But, you can pretty much count on as early as June and late as November to deal with wild fires somewhere. There’s this certain way the sky and sun looks during a fire… the sun turns red, and the light turns this brilliant beautiful orange at golden hour. At first you think “wow, what a great sunrise today” and then it clicks and it turns from beautiful to hauntingly beautiful. You pull out your air purifier and wonder who is going to lose their home that day.
There’s Just So Many People (High Population)
How many people are living in California do you think? The answer is 39 million. And that doesn’t account for tourists. Guess how many people live in Canada? 38 million. There are more people living in California than in an entire country.
So if it feels like California is always crowded, well, that’s because everyone is here enjoying this amazing state.
Camping Can Be Competitive
And, because there are so many locals and tourists here, and the outdoor gems are *chef kiss* amazing, camping can be competitive. The good campsites book up sometimes within minutes of going live online to reserve. Last year we went camping at Kirby Cove and usually it’s booked up all the time, but I found a last minute cancellation so we jumped on it.
When we want to go camping in California we have to either book something really far out, or look for last-minute sites. Or, go to the much smaller, less popular sites.
What Is Living In San Francisco Like Specifically?
I can’t account for what it’s like moving to Los Angeles or living in San Diego since we didn’t do that, but I can tell you what it’s like moving to San Francisco. A rollercoaster may be the best way to put it?
Applications for apartments are intense. We put together a package with credit cards and reports, employment history, etc to hand to apartments to make their decision easier. But once we found a unit, we quickly fell into the rhythm of San Francisco. And if you are moving here with a job you’ll have an easier time.
This city is dreamy. Parts of it feel like Europe, but then parts of it feel like you were transported to a Redwood forest up North since it’s not hard to find spots where you can’t hear the cars. The houses are colorful, there’s always another local restaurant or happy our to visit. After the pandemic, parklets took over so you can dine outside easily. There are so many hidden photo spots in San Francisco and it’s the perfect mix of nature and urban city.
It’s expensive and be hard breaking into, but San Francisco is my favorite city on the planet. Hands-down. I feel very lucky to call it home.
Is It Worth Moving To California?
YES omg, California a good place to live. It’s a great place to live. It may make you question how you ever managed to happily live other places.
Best California Moving Companies
We didn’t use a moving company so I can’t personally voucher for one of these but this is a list of the top-rated companies to help you move to California.
- International Van Lines
- American Van Lines
- JK Moving
- North American Van Lines
- Allied Van Lines
Moving To California Checklist
How to move to California:
- Decided on the best city or region for you. Are you going to be a NorCal or SoCal person? Oh, maybe the elusive Central Coast?
- Scouted out apartments online, or sign a lease for your first apartment (you can spend the first year looking for your dream spot once you know your city better!)
- Hire movers or ship your belongings in a container.
- Pack up and move out!
- Get renter’s insurance.
Steps to take after moving to California!
- Register to Vote in California: They’ll mail you ballots automatically!
- Get California License Plates
- Get A California Real ID: Stating in 2023 it’s required to fly.
- Get Earthquake Insurance: you can compare insurance quotes, we get our renter and earthquake insurance through Lemonade.
- Find a local vet if you have pets.
- Find local doctor, dentist & eye doctor.
I hope this helps you learn about things to know before moving to California! If you have any further questions, drop a comment below. or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll try and help out!
Do you like living in California? Do you have a beef not mentioned in this post? Tell us in the comments below so everyone can see!