7 Best Places to Live in Central California | 2022 Update

We have found the best places to live in Central California that are affordable, safe, and offer things to do for everyone from young singles to retirees.

California’s Central Valley is often overlooked as a desirable place to move to in the Golden State. But, there are several hidden gems in the middle of the state that are cheaper than the big cities, but still offer a lot of fun and excitement along with a strong sense of community.

These places are also great for those looking for a quiet and balanced life, but still want to be relatively close to big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In fact, most of the cities on our list of the best places to live in Central Valley California are no more than a 2-3 hour drive from one of the big cities.

We think that the next big boom in California will occur in the cheap and spacious lands of the Central Valley, especially after the major shifts in lifestyle that the whole world has gone through recently.

So, check out this list of the best cities in Central California so that you can start to plan your move today.

Let’s first define which part of California is the central part of the state. Central Valley California is the broad lowlands that stretch about 450 miles from the northern part of the state around Sacramento all the way down close to Los Angeles.

It covers about 18,000 square feet and is made up of two main valleys – the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley.

For this article, we will interchange the terms “Central California” and “Central Valley California.”

When we were evaluating the best places to live in this area, we considered several key metrics to gauge the desirability of each city, including:

  • Affordability and access to housing
  • Distance to major cities
  • Crime rate
  • Amenities and entertainment
  • Quality of schools

For the crime rate, we referenced data from AreaVibes that is taken from the latest FBI database.

Additionally, we did not want to include places that were too small, so we set a minimum threshold of 10,000 residents to be considered on this list. That way, there is a greater chance that the city will offer enough things to do for its residents.

So, let’s find out where the best places to live in Central Valley California are.

The 7 Best Places to Live in Central California in 2022

7. Fresno

Best-Places-to-Live-in-Central-California-Fresno

Population: 542,107
Cost of Living Index: 28% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $316,000
Crime Rate: 45% Above California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Fresno is the 5th largest city in California and offers an excellent balance of life.

It is affordable, especially for a city of this size, and you can easily find a home for under $300,000 here.

We think that it is one of the best places to live in Central California for those who want the feel of a big city.

Downtown Fresno is also undergoing a massive revitalization that will transform it into a premier place for dining and entertainment.

Even now, Fresno offers many amenities and things to do that you won’t find in many other cities, such as a minor league baseball team, a beautiful Japanese garden, and the Fresno Art Museum, making it one of the best cities in Central California.

6. Modesto

Population: 218,464
Cost of Living Index: 26% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $389,000
Crime Rate: 24% Above California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Modesto is located in the northern part of the Valley and is only about 1.5 hours from San Francisco and San Jose. But, homes here cost less than half of those found in the Bay Area.
The city itself is a nice community that offers a rejuvenated downtown area as well as numerous tree-lined residential neighborhoods.

Locals also rave about Modesto’s up-and-coming food scene that offers a wide range of mouth-watering cuisines.

5. Madera

Population: 65,860
Cost of Living Index: 30% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $309,000
Crime Rate: 15% Below California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Madera is a city that is located about 20 minutes northwest of Fresno and offers a very affordable way of life. Average homes are just over $300k and the cost of living is almost one-third lower here than the rest of California.

It is also regarded as a safe city, with crime rates that are also below the state average.

Madera’s proximity to the Sierra National Forest and Yosemite National Park makes it an attractive base for nature lovers, too.

4. Visalia

Population: 134,605
Cost of Living Index: 21% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $307,000
Crime Rate: 4% Above California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Visalia is right in the heart of the Valley, situated about halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield. It features a small little main street and many quiet residential communities throughout the city.

Affordability is probably Visalia’s main draw, as homes here can be found for around $300k. Our latest search on Zillow even showed many 2-3 bedroom houses that were available for under $250k, which is an almost unheard of price in most of California, making it one of the best cities in Central California for people looking for a cheap place to live.

3. Ripon

Population: 16,386
Cost of Living Index: 13% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $593,000
Crime Rate: 48% Below California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

The city of Ripon, California is one of the best places to live in Central California for those looking for a tight-knit community in a super safe city. Ripon is consistently named as one of the safest cities in all of California.

Meanwhile, it offers a warm and friendly community that serves up many annual events for its residents to enjoy. Don’t miss the Almond Blossom Festival or the Taste of Ripon in this self-proclaimed “Jewel of the Valley.”

2. Kingsburg

Population: 12,108
Cost of Living Index: 18% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $330,000
Crime Rate: 40% Below California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

Kingsburg is the smallest city on this list and is our choice for one of the best places to live in Central Valley California for those looking for a charming, small town atmosphere.

It features a cute little historic downtown area alongside many idyllic residential neighborhoods.

Kingsburg’s school system is also highly regarded, making it a great place for young families to settle.

1. Clovis

Best-Places-to-Live-in-Central-California-Clovis

Population: 120,124
Cost of Living Index: 21% Lower Than California Average
Median Home Price: $420,000
Crime Rate: 15% Below California Average
Location: Check on Google Maps

We think that Clovis is the best place to live in Central California. We even ranked it quite high on our list of all of California’s top cities to live.

This splendid city has it all. It is located just 15 minutes from downtown Fresno, yet offers its own things to do, like the historic Old Town Clovis.

Additionally, it is quite safe, especially compared to Fresno.

This “Gateway to the Sierras” is a great city for people who want to enjoy California’s beautiful nature as it is just 30 minutes away from the mountains, too.

Best Places to Live in Central California – Summary

Overall, we think that the best places to live in Central Valley California are:

  1. Clovis
  2. Kingsburg
  3. Ripon
  4. Visalia
  5. Madera
  6. Modesto
  7. Fresno

All of these cities feature the right blend of fun, affordability, and safety that can suit the needs of everyone, from young professionals all the way to retirees.

Central Valley California has been an underrated place to live in the past, but it is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

We think that you should plan your move soon before the rest of the world finds out about this great place to live.