The Golden Dream: Is Retiring in California Still Affordable?

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California, often referred to as the Golden State has long been a dream destination for many. With its pristine beaches, world-class vineyards, and a melting pot of cultures, it’s no wonder that many envision their retirement years here. But with the rising cost of living and the state’s reputation for luxury, one has to wonder: Is retiring in California still a dream within reach?

The Allure of California

From the sun-kissed beaches of Malibu to the rolling vineyards of Napa Valley, California offers a diverse landscape that caters to every retiree’s dream. Whether you’re an art enthusiast eager to explore the galleries of San Francisco or a nature lover hoping to hike the trails of Yosemite, California promises an enriching retirement experience. The state’s mild climate, with its warm summers and mild winters, is the cherry on top for those looking to escape the harsh winters of the north.

Beyond its physical beauty, California boasts a rich cultural tapestry. The state is a hub for innovation, from the tech giants of Silicon Valley to the film legends of Hollywood. Retirees have the opportunity to attend film festivals, tech conferences, wine tastings, and music festivals year-round. The diverse population means a plethora of cuisines, traditions, and festivals to explore. In essence, retiring in California is not just about relaxation; it’s about continuous exploration and enrichment.

The Financial Reality

However, dreamy landscapes come with a price. Cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego consistently rank among the most expensive in the U.S. Housing costs are skyrocketing, and everyday expenses like groceries, transportation, and healthcare can take a significant chunk out of a retiree’s savings.

While California offers a rich lifestyle, retirees need to be prepared for its equally rich price tag. Planning ahead is crucial. Without proper financial planning, the Californian dream can quickly turn into a financial nightmare.

“My family and I travel to California frequently and have learned to add 20-30% extra costs to everyday items,” says Peter Bobolia, CFP.  “In the past two years, I have been using a 3% inflation rate on all financial plans with the thought that I can possibly reduce this back to 2.5% in 2024. For Californians, I would no doubt simply continue to use 3% or higher.”

Cost of Living: California vs. Other States

California’s allure is undeniable, but when it comes to the cost of living, the state often finds itself at the top of the list. To truly understand the financial implications of retiring in the Golden State, it’s essential to compare it with other popular retirement destinations.

Housing Costs

California’s real estate market is one of the most expensive in the nation. In cities like San Francisco, the median home value can be more than double or triple that of cities in states like Florida or Arizona. For instance, while a retiree might find a comfortable home in Tampa, Florida, for around $300,000, a similar home in San Francisco could easily exceed $1 million.


Healthcare is a significant concern for retirees, and California’s healthcare costs are higher than the national average. In contrast, states like Arizona offer more affordable healthcare options, making it a more attractive option for retirees on a budget.


California has some of the highest state taxes in the U.S. The state income tax can go up to 13.3% for the highest earners. On the other hand, states like Texas and Florida have no state income tax, which can result in significant savings for retirees.

Utilities and Transportation

While California boasts beautiful weather, it also has high utility costs, especially in the peak summer months when air conditioning is a must. Transportation costs, particularly gas prices, are also higher than in many other states. In contrast, states like Texas have lower utility and transportation costs, making day-to-day living more affordable.

Groceries and Everyday Expenses

The cost of groceries in California can be significantly higher, especially in more remote or upscale areas. Fresh produce, while abundant, can come with a premium price tag. In states like Texas or Florida, the cost of groceries and other everyday items tends to be more in line with the national average.

Despite these financial challenges, many retirees find the cultural and natural offerings of California to be worth the price. However, it’s crucial for those considering the move to be fully aware of the financial trade-offs and plan accordingly.

Making the Dream Work

Despite the financial challenges, retiring in California is not an impossible dream. Here are some tips to make it work:

  1. Research Affordable Regions: Not all parts of California come with a hefty price tag. Areas like Redding, Eureka, or certain parts of the Central Valley offer a more affordable cost of living while still providing the Californian experience.
  2. Downsize: Consider selling your current home and moving to a smaller one or even a retirement community. This can free up significant capital and reduce maintenance costs.
  3. Plan for Taxes: Be aware of California’s tax implications and plan your finances accordingly. Consulting with a financial advisor can provide clarity.
  4. Live Locally: Embrace local markets, community events, and free or low-cost recreational activities. California offers a wealth of experiences that don’t necessarily come with a high price tag.

While the Golden State does come with its set of financial challenges, with the right planning and adjustments, it’s possible to live out your retirement dream in California. After all, dreams, much like the state’s golden sunsets, are worth chasing.

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Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.