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12 Best Places To Retire In California According To Locals

Retirement can be one of the happiest times of your life…but only if you live somewhere that suits you.

Picking the wrong town to retire in can be disastrous!

That’s why, in this guide, we’re revealing the 12 best places to retire in California based on what the locals have to say.

The locals that live in these towns LOVE living there and think they’re great places to retire.

So, without further ado, let’s find out where the best places to retire in California are.

1. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a sunny paradise that many people dream of retiring to and it’s easy to see why. 

This coastal city is surrounded by stunning beaches where you can enjoy the warm sun and cool ocean breeze. 

Its weather is almost perfect, with mild winters and warm summers, making it ideal for those who love the outdoors. 

Santa Barbara is known, in particular, for its beautiful Spanish architecture.

For retirees, the city offers a peaceful yet vibrant community. Making new friends is easy and there’s always something to do.

There are plenty of activities to keep you active and engaged, from walking on the beach to exploring local art galleries and museums. 

The city is also famous for its delicious food and world-class wine. Therefore it’s perfect for anyone who enjoys dining out. 

The only downside to retiring in Santa Barbara is that it is an expensive place to live.

2. Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a wonderful place for retirees looking for a mix of sunshine and relaxation. 

This desert city is famous for its hot springs, stylish hotels and beautiful golf courses where people can play all year round. 

The weather is sunny and pleasant most of the year. This makes it perfect for anyone who loves warm days and clear skies. 

Bear in mind though that it does get extremely hot in the summer from July to September which makes it too hot to get outdoors during the day.

Palm Springs has a super laid-back vibe with plenty of quiet neighborhoods that make it a peaceful place to live.

The city is also known for its stunning mid-century modern architecture which gives it a cool, retro feel. 

For those who enjoy the outdoors, there are lots of hiking trails nearby that offer beautiful views of the desert and mountains. 

There’s also tons of opportunities for things like swimming, golfing, biking, tennis and other outdoor activities.

Additionally, Palm Springs also has a vibrant arts scene. You’ll find galleries, museums and theaters on every corner.

The community in Palm Springs is really friendly and welcoming and there are many activities and clubs specifically for retirees. 

With all these great features, Palm Springs is a top choice for retirees looking for a fun and fulfilling lifestyle.

3. Redwood City

Redwood City is a hidden gem for retirees looking for a comfortable and vibrant place to call home. 

Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, it offers both modern conveniences and natural beauty. 

The city is known for its mild climate. It actually boasts more sunny days than most places in the Bay Area! 

Redwood City’s downtown area is pretty lively and is filled with restaurants, shops and theaters, providing plenty of entertainment options. It’s also super walkable.

For those who love nature, there are numerous parks and trails where you can walk, bike or simply relax among the beautiful scenery. 

The city is also home to a beautiful waterfront which features serene views and activities like boating and fishing. 

Redwood City has a close-knit community feel. There are lots of events, farmers markets and festivals going on throughout the year that bring people together. 

Public transportation is convenient which makes it easy to explore the surrounding areas without needing to drive. 

One local described Redwood City as the ‘best, most down to earth place on the peninsula’.

4. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a beautiful coastal city that’s perfect for retirees who love the ocean and outdoor activities. 

It’s famous for its stunning beaches where you can enjoy sunbathing, swimming or just walking along the shore. 

The weather in Santa Cruz is pleasant all year-round with mild winters and warm summers. Therefore it’s ideal for spending time outside. Many locals say that it basically never rains!

Santa Cruz has a laid-back atmosphere and is a really peaceful place to live while still offering plenty of things to do.

The city is home to the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk which is an amusement park that’s fun for all ages. 

For those interested in nature, there are numerous parks and hiking trails in and around the city, including the beautiful redwood forests. 

Santa Cruz also has a vibrant arts and culture scene with tons of galleries, theaters and music venues dotted throughout the city.

The community in Santa Cruz is really friendly and welcoming with many groups and activities specifically aimed at retirees. 

The main con of retiring in Santa Cruz is the cost. It is a fairly expensive place to live.

5. Grass Valley

Grass Valley is a charming small town located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It’s an ideal spot for retirees who are looking for nature and a slower pace of life. 

This historic town is known for its beautiful Victorian architecture which gives it a unique and quaint feel. 

Grass Valley experiences all four seasons, from colorful autumns to snowy winters so is perfect for those who enjoy a variety of weather throughout the year. 

The community in Grass Valley is close-knit and welcoming. There are plenty of opportunities for new residents to get involved and make friends.

The town offers a range of outdoor activities from hiking to fishing and exploring the nearby national forests. This keeps retirees active and connected to nature. 

The local food scene is fantastic and includes farmers markets and restaurants that offer fresh, locally-sourced meals. 

6. La Jolla

La Jolla is a beautiful seaside community that’s perfect for retirees looking for a mix of luxury and natural beauty. 

It’s known for its stunning coastline, with cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, offering breathtaking views and gorgeous sunsets. 

The weather in La Jolla is fantastic. It experiences mild temperatures all year round meaning it is ideal for outdoor activities. 

La Jolla has beautiful beaches where you can relax, swim or even try snorkeling to explore the underwater world.

Look out for seals and sea lions on the beach!

The town is also known for its upscale shopping and fine dining which provides plenty of options for leisure and entertainment. 

The community in La Jolla is super friendly and active. There are many clubs and organizations tailored to retirees, making it easy to make new friends. 

La Jolla is surrounded by natural beauty including parks and hiking trails where you can enjoy the local wildlife.

The main cons to retiring in La Jolla are that it can be pretty expensive and traffic can be heavy at times.

7. Davis

Davis is a friendly and vibrant town that’s perfect for retirees looking for a community-focused and active lifestyle. 

Known for its dedication to cycling, Davis offers miles of bike paths and lanes which makes it easy and safe to get around town while staying active. 

The weather in Davis is pleasant, with warm summers and mild winters. It’s ideal for enjoying the outdoors year-round. 

This town is home to the University of California, Davis, which brings cultural events, educational opportunities and a youthful energy that retirees can enjoy.

Davis has a strong sense of community with farmers markets, local festivals and community gatherings that make it easy to meet people and feel connected. 

The town is committed to environmental sustainability and offers green spaces, parks and community gardens for everyone to enjoy. 

Healthcare services in Davis are excellent with easy access to top-notch medical facilities and wellness programs. 

With its active lifestyle, strong community and emphasis on health and sustainability, Davis is an attractive place for retirees seeking a high quality of life.

8. San Clemente

San Clemente is a beautiful beach town that’s perfect for retirees who love the ocean and a relaxed lifestyle. 

It’s known as the “Spanish Village by the Sea” because of its lovely Spanish colonial-style architecture.

The weather in San Clemente is sunny and pleasant almost all year round.

The town has stunning beaches where you can walk, swim or just enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean.

San Clemente also has a charming downtown area with shops, restaurants and cafes meaning there’s plenty of options for leisure and dining. 

For those who enjoy being active, there are golf courses, walking trails and parks nearby. 

San Clemente is also known for its beautiful sunsets which you can watch from the pier or beach.

9. Calistoga

Calistoga is a small town located right in the heart of Napa Valley. It’s a wonderful place for retirees looking for relaxation and nature. 

It’s famous for its hot springs and mud baths which are perfect for anyone looking to unwind and soothe their muscles. 

The weather in Calistoga is comfortable with warm summers and mild winters. It’s generally pretty ideal all year round.

Surrounded by vineyards and wineries, residents can enjoy wine tasting and tours. In fact, Calistoga has some of the best wineries in Northern California.

Calistoga’s downtown area is quaint and full of charm. You’ll find interesting shops, restaurants and art galleries on every corner.

For nature lovers, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails nearby, all offering stunning views of the valley and mountains. 

The town hosts various festivals and events throughout the year which provides locals with a sense of community and provides tons of fun ways to get involved. 

Health and wellness are a big part of Calistoga’s culture. You’ll find many spas and wellness centers available for relaxation and rejuvenation. 

The community in Calistoga is welcoming and tight-knit. It’s super easy for newcomers to feel at home.

10. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque small town on the Monterey Peninsula, known for its fairy-tale cottages and beautiful sandy beaches. 

It’s a perfect retirement spot for those who appreciate art, nature and a quiet lifestyle. In fact, it’s previously been ranked as the best place to retire in California.

The weather is mild all year round which means it’s ideal for outdoor activities like walking on the beach or exploring scenic trails. 

The town’s unique architecture and lack of streetlights add to its charm, creating a peaceful atmosphere. The town is also extremely walkable.

For those who love to shop or dine out, there are plenty of boutique shops and restaurants offering fine dining experiences throughout the town.

Health care services in the area are excellent with many facilities focused on senior health. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea is also close to natural wonders like Point Lobos State Natural Reserve which is famous for its breathtaking views and wildlife spotting opportunities. 

11. Encinitas

Encinitas is a beautiful coastal city that’s perfect for retirees who love the beach and a laid-back lifestyle. 

It’s known for its warm, sunny weather all year round which makes it great for outdoor activities. 

Encinitas has stunning beaches where you can enjoy walking, swimming or just relaxing by the sea. 

The city is also famous for its surfing, with spots suitable for all levels, from beginners to experts.

Encinitas offers a friendly, small-town vibe but with plenty of things to do including shopping, dining and visiting art galleries. 

The city is home to beautiful gardens like the San Diego Botanic Garden where you can go to enjoy nature and tranquility. 

The city also has great walking and biking paths which aim to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. 

With its mix of natural beauty, community spirit and healthy living, Encinitas is a great place for retirees looking for a peaceful yet vibrant place to live.

12. Sebastopol

Sebastopol is a charming small town located in Sonoma County which is known for its vineyards, apple orchards and artistic community.

It’s a great place for retirees who appreciate the countryside and a slower pace of life. 

The weather in Sebastopol is mild, with warm summers and cool winters, perfect for enjoying outdoor activities year-round.

The town is surrounded by natural beauty and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, bird watching and gardening.

Sebastopol has a vibrant downtown area filled with unique shops, cafes and restaurants that feature locally-sourced food and wine. 

The community is known for being friendly and welcoming with lots of social clubs and activities that make it easy for retirees to meet new friends. 

Health care services in Sebastopol and the surrounding area are excellent, providing peace of mind for residents. 

There are also numerous cultural events taking place throughout the year including art shows, music festivals and theater productions.


And that’s it!

Those are all of California’s best towns for retirees according to the locals.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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