Moving to California
Moving to California is a concept as American as apple pie. Here is a guide to make it more than just a dream.
Before moving to California, you should know one thing: there are a lot of people living here. At last count, almost 38 million. This isn’t to say that you’ll have to learn to fight for elbow room just to get around.
In fact, there are many places in the state where you can lead a life with plenty of breathing (and elbow) room. And if you’re coming from a sizable metropolitan area elsewhere in the nation, you might not even notice much of a change.
If, however, you’re moving to CA from a comparatively sparsely populated region, you’re likely to take one look at the vast freeway-bound throngs and wonder how more people don’t succumb to ochlophobia (fear of crowds).
If you’re moving to California and headed for one of the state’s bigger metro areas like San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego or Los Angeles, you’ll do well to arrange your schedule around the high probability of freeway traffic.
You’re not always guaranteed to run into gridlock, but the occasional traffic jam can even be found on Sunday nights. Here are a few insider tips to help make your move to California go smoothly:
- Heaviest freeway traffic occurs between the hours of 6AM and 9PM in the morning, and 3PM to 7PM in the afternoon.
- Carpool lanes are established to allow vehicles with more than one passenger access to a more free-flowing traffic lane; however, many of them are only carpool lanes during certain hours of the day. Pay attention to this.
- An adult riding with a child is considered a carpool.
- San Francisco’s hilly streets are known the world over for their unusual layout, but if you’re moving to CA with your sights set on Fog City (or a city with a similar, hilly orientation), be sure you know in advance what the parking situation adjacent to your new home will be.
- Moving van permits aren’t required, but are a smart thing to have in order to secure a temporary “no parking” zone where you or your movers can unload easily. Requirements vary throughout the state. To obtain a moving permit, contact the city offices or police department of the city you’re moving to for more information on fees and availability.
- With a climate that can vary greatly depending on your location, be sure to check weather forecasts ahead of your planned move-in to avoid the possibility of heat exhaustion and dehydration in the hot, dry areas of the state, and to avoid snow delays or cold exposure at higher elevations.
- Complete a change of address form with the USPS a week prior to your move to allow for the 7- to 10-day lag that can often accompany the necessary completion of paperwork.
- When hiring a moving company, always check the company’s record with the Better Business Bureau, and be on the lookout for the possibility of frequently perpetrated moving scams.
Cities and Metro Areas
Of the 366 officially defined metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in the country, California alone holds 26, with four ranking in the top 20.
The majority of cities and towns in California are within one of the six major metropolitan areas in the state.
Largest cities in California
|Metropolitan Area||Approx. Population|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana||12.8 million|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont||4.3 million|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara||1.8 million|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario||4.2 million|
|San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos||3 million|
Cost of Living
The median household income in California is approximately $61,000, which is above the national average of around $53,000.
Taken in this context, moving to the Golden State might seem like a smart financial move, however the high cost of living in California is one of the major factors to take into consideration before making that decision.
Home prices in California have begun to rise significantly over the course of the past few years after recovering from the recession. Today, the median price of a home in California is $479,000, but that figure isn’t representative of all areas of the state, some of which are even higher and others which are ripe for investing.
Highways and Public Transport
One of the first things you’re likely to encounter during your move to California is freeway traffic. California’s “car culture” and ever-growing population are the two main reasons for its seemingly overflowing roads and freeways.
Planning your move during non-holiday weekends is your best bet to encounter the least amount of traffic. If you’re moving to California during the week, plan on doing freeway driving between the hours of 9AM and 3PM when traffic is at its lightest.
If you’re unable to plan your move to precise hours such as these, consider adding an hour or two to your travel time to accommodate for regular to unusually heavy levels of freeway congestion, especially when in and around major cities.
Even though you may be throwing yourself into the lion’s den of traffic congestion by moving to California, the good news is that there are plenty of public transportation options for you to take advantage of once you settle in. Here are a few helpful public transportation links.
To say that California’s not a small state is a massive understatement.
If you were to hit the road on its southern tip just north of the Mexican border and head up in the direction of Oregon without stopping, it would take you about 15 hours to complete your trip.
That’s roughly 800 miles of road that can take you through deserts, forests, flatlands and mountainous terrain. Because of this variation in geography, it’s hard to know what kind of weather to expect when you’re moving to CA without nailing down a specific target area.
If you’re moving to California and have your sights set on a coastal life, you can expect warm summers and mild winters with average yearly temperatures ranging from the low 40s to the low 80s. Living further inland, things get a bit hotter in summer, and if your elevation is high enough, a bit snowier. As always, when you’re moving to California it’s critical that you plan your move with some foreknowledge of the weather at your destination so you can be adequately prepared for either blistering heat or slick conditions.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the weather in California by city:
- San Diego: Very little rain, with even temperatures from the 60s to the 70s year-round.
- Los Angeles: Experiences a total of between 10 and 15 inches of rain during the winter months, but temperatures are typically in the 60s. In summer, expect heat in the 80s.
- Central Valley: Mild winters that dip down into the 50s, hot summers where 100-degree temperatures are not uncommon.
- Central Coast: Mild year-round weather with occasional rain and fog, as you might expect being in such close proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
- Gold Country: Dry, hot summers with winters that are cold and wet, and depending on your altitude, snowy.
- The High Sierras: Warm and dry summers that give way to the kind of snow capable of closing roads in winter.
- San Francisco Bay Area: Summers here are warm and dry, and can even be downright hot the further inland away from the Bay you go. On average, expect summers in the 70s and 80s, and winters in the 50s with the exception of San Francisco itself, whose proximity to the Bay provides a year-round cooling effect. The Bay Area is also known for foggy conditions that peak between May and July.
- The North Coast: Rainy from November to March, with average temperatures in the 50s and 60s all year.
Some of the more densely populated areas of California are known for occasionally heavy levels of smog as a result of overcrowded freeways. Statistics on daily air quality can be found by visiting the state-operated AIRNow website, which publishes a frequently updated Air Quality Index (AQI) that allows California residents to learn what their local air quality is on any given day.
Visit the following government websites for helpful information when moving to California. The vast resources on hand cover everything from vehicle and voter registration to state tax laws.
- Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for vehicle registration and driver’s licensing.
- California Tax Service Center.
- Secretary of State for voter registration.
- California Department of Agriculture for the importation of plants, fruits, vegetables, pets, fish, game and livestock.
If you’re moving to California with kids, one of the first things you’ll want to look at is the quality of schools in the area. You may even decide to plan your move around the best possible educational opportunities for your kids.
California’s open enrollment policy allows for you to send your child to any school (including charter schools) within your home district, provided there’s enough room.
Here is a ranking of the top five best schools in California broken out by elementary, junior high and high school levels:
Top 5 Elementary Schools in California:
- Bullis Charter Elementary (Los Altos)
- William Faria Elementary (Cupertino)
- La Jolla Elementary (San Diego)
- Covington Elementary (Los Altos)
- Manchester Gate (Fresno)
Top 5 Middle Schools in California:
- Elkhorn (Stockton)
- William Hopkins Junior High (Fremont)
- North Star Academy (Redwood City)
- John F. Kennedy Middle (Cupertino)
- Windemere Ranch Middle (San Ramon)
Top 5 High Schools in California:
- William & Marian Ghidotti High (Grass Valley)
- Oxford Academy (Cypress)
- University High (Fresno)
- Ihigh Virtual Academy (San Diego)
- Whitney (Gretchen) High (Cerritos)
Top 5 School Districts in California:
- Hillsborough School District
- Las Lomitas School District
- Los Altos School District
- Lakeside Joint School District
- La Canada School District
California also houses many of the top universities in the nation. Well-known private institutions such as Standford University and University of Southern California are ranked among the best in the United States. Public universities including University of California, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Irvine among the California State University branches are also prestigious institutions that can provide students with a more affordable education. Check out our scholarship search for more scholarship opportunities that help make higher education affordable.
Although California isn’t quite as steeped in history as some of the states that lie on the east coast, there’s still plenty of history to be found here—and it’s usually right beneath your feet.
Here are just a few of the state’s most interesting historical sites.
- Sutter’s Fort: Located in the state capitol of Sacramento in the middle of the city, Sutter’s Fort is a fascinating outpost dating to the mid-1800s that’s been turned into a self-guided museum.
- El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park: Found in the downtown area of Los Angeles, this is a 44-acre park with structures dating as far back as the early 1800s.
- Coit Tower: This world-famous icon on the San Francisco skyline is located on Telegraph Hill and offers a stunning view of the city, including other landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the financial district skyscrapers.
- Trinidad: Located in far northern California in Humboldt County, Trinidad is the oldest town on the state’s northern coast and as such, is one place history buffs moving to California won’t want to miss.
If history isn’t your thing and your interests lie in the here and now, there’s also plenty of that to be found by moving to CA.
A thriving cultural megalopolis with numerous huge metro areas, California has an abundance of riches when it comes to art and culture of Hispanic and Western American influence.
Not just limited to what you’ll find hanging on museum walls, that cultural influence can be seen, heard and even tasted.
- Architectural: Many homes and businesses in California reflect the state’s Spanish Colonial building styles.
- Music: The birthplace of surf rock, funk rock and a number of experimental musical styles, the music scene throughout the state of California is one of the richest in the world.
- Literature: Some of the most famous and influential writers in the world hail from California, including John Steinbeck, John Muir, Jack London and Robert Frost.
- Food: California is a melting pot in the physical sense as well as the cultural sense, with a wealth of Mexican, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian restaurants that lend to the state’s stature as one of the best-tasting in the world.
- Spirits: California’s Napa Valley isn’t the only region in California that produces some of the world’s best wines. There are American Viticultural Areas found throughout the state’s north coast, central coast, south coast and central valley.