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March 3rd, 2024 at 2:00 pm

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Updated March 3, 2024

If you’re going to be buying a home in California, you’re probably considering Southern California over Northern California for many reasons. Southern California is a paradise of ocean views and mountain havens, charming small towns, and urban metropolises. Every county and region brings their own unique style and personality to that quintessential California lifestyle.

If you’re looking to make a move to the best part of the Golden State, or maybe even the best part of the United States, it can be overwhelming to choose from all the options available. However, this guide will cover the best places to live in Southern California and the most important information you need to know to help you find your new home. The list is broken down into several key factors, including:

This guide will also show the city’s Niche ratings in vital categories such as:

With all of this information at your disposal, you’ll be able to explore SoCal’s gems without ever leaving your seat. So, read on—your perfect California home is waiting for you. All you need to do is pick your favorite neighborhood below and find a REALTOR® to help you find a home there. We’ll start with the top of the Southern California coast and work our way down with the best places to live in SoCal.

1. Santa Barbara

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Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the city of Santa Barbara has the best of the old world and the new. This energetic metropolis by the sea boasts a world-class university in the University of California Santa Barbara and Spanish colonial landmarks dating back to the 18th century.

Key real estate information

The small population and active downtown area make Santa Barbara a perfect mix of urban and suburban. Young professionals flock to the city to work in one of the many industries Santa Barbara supports, including health, education, and tourism.

Lifestyle and culture

Because of its lush mountain range bordered by the stunning Pacific coastline, Santa Barbara County is sometimes referred to as the American Riviera. And city natives have come to embrace that identity. Open-air restaurants, farmers’ markets six days a week, and a ubiquitously easy-going population brings the Mediterranean lifestyle to California.

2. Goleta

This Santa Barbara suburb represents the best of small town Southern California. The excellent schools, miles of bike paths, and a monarch butterfly reserve make Goleta a gem of the Southern California coast. 

Key real estate information

The city’s small population, dense suburban areas, and national parks create a uniquely SoCal hometown culture.

Lifestyle and culture

This active coastal city is a hub for families and young professionals alike. While most individuals commute to Santa Barbara for work, small and large businesses create plenty of opportunity in the health, technology, and consumer product sectors. 

Although smaller in size than its big sister, Santa Barbara, Goleta isn’t short on things to do. Horseback-riding, hiking, biking, and surfing are all on a typical weekend itinerary.

3. South Pasadena

Cradled by the San Gabriel Mountains, South Pasadena is Los Angeles County’s best-kept secret. Neighbor to the California Institute of Technology, this Southern California city combines a college-town vibe with Old California history in its rich and storied community.

Key real estate information

South Pasadena neighborhoods are a stunning mix of modern and craftsman, with some houses dating back to the mid 19th-century. Modern developments and urban parks keep neighborhoods green and growing.

Lifestyle and culture

The lively South Pasadena downtown area blends chic restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques with historic buildings, theaters, and landmarks. South Pasadena’s small-town feel creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all. And with CalTech nearby, there’s no shortage of job opportunities in technology, engineering, health, or education.

4. Los Angeles

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The unofficial capital of SoCal, Los Angeles has a little bit (and a lot) of everything. From urban centers full of high-rises to tight-knit neighborhoods, it’s no wonder LA makes it on this list of best cities to live in Southern California.

Key real estate information

At over 1,300 square kilometers, Los Angeles is the largest US city by territory. Which means tons of room for every kind of home you could imagine.

Lifestyle and culture

LA is the epitome of SoCal culture. Native and adopted Angelinos enjoy easy access to the best in food and entertainment, not to mention the city’s proximity to beaches, mountains, and deserts. This action-packed city has an opportunity in just about every industry, from entertainment to tech to marketing. No matter the interest and no matter the hour, there’s always something adventurous to do in the city of angels.

Because this city is so large, here are a few of the best up-and-coming LA neighborhoods to peruse:

5. Santa Monica

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A beachfront city that still feels like a neighborhood, Santa Monica is easily one of the best places to live in Los Angeles County. Only 16 miles away from Los Angeles, Santa Monica combines relaxed beach life with all the benefits of owning a home in this part of SoCal.

Key real estate information

Santa Monica is one of the most walkable cities in SoCal. Its downtown area and residential neighborhoods are all a stone’s throw from the Santa Monica Pier.

Lifestyle and culture

Santa Monica is the LA you see in the movies—stunning beaches, blue sky, lush greenery, gorgeous outdoor restaurants, and bougainvillea everywhere you look. In Santa Monica, you’ll find an active downtown with a variety of businesses, from tech startups to TV streaming giant Hulu. 

But the small population and the city’s walkability makes Santa Monica feel more like a beachy small town. 

6. Manhattan Beach

South of LA, this coastal city is beach-living at its finest. From its bustling beach pier to its charming shopping districts, Manhattan Beach is perfectly situated between the city and the sea.

Key real estate information

The homes and neighborhoods in Manhattan Beach enjoy stunning ocean views as well as a quick commute to Los Angeles. 

Lifestyle and culture

Although it’s close enough to LA for easy access to big city life, Manhattan Beach embodies the best of a beach community. Residents are friendly, outdoorsy, and take every chance they get to relax in the sand and surf. The expanse of beaches and waterfront restaurants give residents every opportunity to enjoy Pacific-living. 

7. Long Beach

A vibrant coastal city, Long Beach entices with its diverse neighborhoods, bustling waterfront, and a dynamic cultural scene, making it a melting pot of Southern California living. Similar to living in Laguna Beach, which isn’t too far from Long Beach, the city is a great choice for anyone who loves living by the ocean. 

Key real estate information

Long Beach offers a diverse range of housing options, from historic neighborhoods to modern waterfront developments. 

Lifestyle and culture

Residents of Long Beach enjoy a coastal lifestyle with a bustling waterfront, a vibrant arts community, and a diverse culinary scene. The city’s commitment to inclusivity is evident in its LGBTQ+ friendly atmosphere, diverse neighborhoods, and an array of cultural events, making Long Beach a welcoming and engaging place to call home.

8. Rancho Santa Margarita

Embracing the concept of master-planned living, Rancho Santa Margarita is a carefully curated residential community in Orange County, offering a high quality of life.

Key real estate information

Rancho Santa Margarita boasts well-designed neighborhoods, top-notch schools, and a range of recreational facilities. 

Lifestyle and culture

Residents of Rancho Santa Margarita experience a lifestyle centered around master-planned living. The city promotes a sense of community through various recreational amenities, family-friendly environments, and a commitment to maintaining a high quality of life. Rancho Santa Margarita stands as an example of a community designed to cater to the well-being and enjoyment of its residents.

9. Solana Beach

The perfect city for cruising beaches and breweries, Solana Beach is a San Diego County favorite. It’s ideal for couples looking to start a family or professionals who want an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of city living. 

Key real estate information

This small beach city enjoys a proximity to the water as well as easy public transport to downtown San Diego. 

Lifestyle and culture

Excellent schools and kid-friendly beaches make Solana Beach a haven for San Diego County families. But there’s no lack of after-dark activities. Solana Beach has cocktail bars, tequila tasting rooms, gastropubs, breweries, and even one of San Diego County’s most famous music venues, the Belly Up Tavern.

10. La Jolla

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Prestige meets paradise in this city, making living in La Jolla, CA, a dream San Diego neighborhood. Home to the globally-recognized University of California San Diego, this brainy beach city offers incredible natural landscapes and some of the most beautiful waterfront neighborhoods in Southern California. Because of the sweeping ocean views, La Jolla happens to be one of the most beautiful places to visit in California for tourists as well.

Key real estate information

Between the gorgeous La Jolla Shores and the sweeping cliffs of Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, residents can choose the best of San Diego County’s natural landscape in this Southern California city.

With great school ratings and the safe neighborhood, La Jolla is one of the best cities in California to raise a family.

Lifestyle and culture

Outdoor activities like surfing, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and paddle-boarding are a year-round pastime for La Jolla residents. While the city truly embodies a surfer’s haven, it’s also a favorite for foodies. 

Some of the best restaurants in the county are a few flip-flopped steps from the water. The highly-ranked schools and parks make this a wonderful community for families who love sun, surf, and sand. 

11. San Diego

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The star of the Southern California Coast, San Diego is a Pacific metropolis with a laidback atmosphere. For families and young professionals, San Diego is the best of Southern California, and maybe even United States, for living.

Key real estate information

With a collection of unique and diverse neighborhoods to choose from, San Diegans can enjoy urban cityscapes or cozy neighborhoods full of personality.

Lifestyle and culture

San Diego wrote the book on the best of nightlife and beach life. Downtown offers San Diego’s finest in food and fun, while the seaside neighborhoods make beach activities a weekly habit. And San Diegans work as hard as they play. Cutting-edge biotech and hospitality companies dominate the city’s business community. 

Locals often say that San Diego feels like a dozen small towns put together. You can find modern apartment buildings and historical craftsman houses, sometimes within a mile of each other. 

Here are a few areas to find a little of everything in San Diego:

Why choose Southern California?

Southern California isn’t all about movie stars and surfing. It’s about having the best of California at your fingertips. Whether you’re looking for exciting city nightlife, a charming mountain hometown, or a beachside paradise, you will always find something to love in SoCal cities.

Find your perfect neighborhood with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties

When it comes to the best city, the best neighborhood, or the best place to live in Southern California, there are no better experts than the agents at Berkshire Hathaway. Whether you’re looking for places to retire or places to buy a home to start your family, we’re here to help. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California real estate agents know the Southern California housing market as well as they know their own backyard. After all, it’s their home, too. Our offices have locations in LA, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego Counties.

So wherever you’re looking and whatever you’re looking for, give us a call. We’ll help you find your perfect Southern California home. 

Sources: 

*City data sourced from this source: Niche. Discover the schools and neighborhoods that are right for you.

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