Who wouldn’t want to live in the San Francisco Bay area? For many decades, the City by the Bay and the area around it have been considered among the most desirable areas to live in the U.S., due to the area’s concentration of major businesses, vibrant culture and a mild climate. As a result of the influx of tech companies and people relocating to work there, the cost of living, and particularly the cost of real estate, has risen dramatically. Property taxes in San Francisco, at 2.76%, are more than double of those in areas beyond the Bay, and the city is the only municipality in California that imposes a local income tax. 

The high cost of living is driving many families to consider leaving the Bay Area. The past year has seen a mass transition toward remote work arrangements, making it more feasible for people to relocate to areas beyond the Bay, where they can afford a larger, nicer home with lower property taxes, avoid traffic congestion and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle.

We recommend these seven great California cities that are much more affordable and still close enough to the Bay. K. Hovnanian builds quality new homes at affordable prices in all these cities.

Affordable California Cities

(Note: All property tax rates presented in this article are effective averages and do not necessarily include special or local taxes. For more information, here is the source for these rates: SmartAsset California Property Taxes)

1. Live Oak

  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 17% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $287K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .90%
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 2 hr 14 min / 134 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 2 hr 40 min / 166 miles
  • Mass Transit: Amtrak & Bus

The city of Live Oak, located in northern Sutter County, has a population of approximately 8,500 residents and is strategically located along the Highway 99 corridor, with easy access to San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Sacramento.

Live Oak is a thriving rural community with many reasonably priced new homes, good local schools, and nearby colleges. Residents enjoy the nearby Feather River, local parks and abundant recreation opportunities in the area. Among those are the Live Oak Riverfront Park, Grey Lodge Wildlife Area and Cordi Winery featuring family crafted estate wines.

2. Greater Sacramento

The Sacramento skyline reflected in the Sacramento River at sunrise.
  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 13% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $400K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .81% 
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 1 hr 33 min / 88 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 1 hr 54 min / 120 miles
  • Mass Transit: Amtrak / Capital Corridor

If you are looking for a good, affordable place to raise a family, Greater Sacramento is an excellent choice, offering a lower cost of living, quality housing, excellent schools and convenient access to entertainment and recreation destinations. The capital city of California, Sacramento is 88 miles northeast of San Francisco and has a population of about 510,000. Sacramento offers mild winters and over 230 days of sunshine, making it perfect for outdoor activities. 

The City of Trees will delight you with its abundance of green spaces, parks and water activities.  Also known as America’s Farm-to-Fork capital, Sacramento boasts a variety of farmers markets with the freshest local produce and restaurants offering delectable dishes for every taste. Wine and beer lovers will be impressed with the offerings from local wineries and home-grown breweries. Be transported back to the days of the Gold Rush in the district of Old Sacramento, with its wooden sidewalks and wagon rides.

Among the best places to live within the Sacramento Metropolitan area are the cities of Roseville, Lincoln, El Dorado Hills and Rancho Murieta. All of them offer close proximity to Sacramento and major highways, allowing for easy travel to the coast and Lake Tahoe. These family-friendly cities are known for excellent schools, abundant parks and open spaces, a variety of shopping and dining venues and thriving arts and culture. The area is also known for many golf courses for golfers of all levels and wineries offering great local vintages.

3. Winters

  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 14% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $491K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .87%
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 1hr 10min / 69 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 1hr 40min / 101 miles
  • Mass Transit: Amtrak & Bus

Winters is a small town in the western Sacramento Valley, with a population of just over 7,000. Located close to Travis Air Force Base and about 30 miles from Sacramento and 60 miles from San Francisco, it makes commuting for work or traveling for weekend getaways to the big city easy.

Described as a home to local farm, local fork, local music and local fun, Winters is ideal for those looking for a slower pace of life. It offers spectacular outdoor recreation with multiple hiking trails like the Stebbins Canyon Trail and fishing and water activities at Lake Berryessa; the largest lake in Napa County, only 9 miles from downtown Winters. Lake Tahoe can be reached within about 2 hours. Two local wineries invite visitors to their tasting rooms to savor locally produced wines. In the summer and fall, Winters is known for its street festivals such as the Festival de la Comunidad — a community festival with a carnitas cook-off, art, and live music.

4. Stockton

The Stockton downtown skyline along the San Joaquin River.
  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 15% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $352K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .85%
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 1 hr 21 min / 83 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 1 hr 18 min / 76 miles
  • Mass Transit: San Joaquin RTD Bus+

Just 50 miles south of Sacramento is Stockton, a mid-size city with a population of just over 300,000. Located on the San Joaquin River, in California’s Central Valley, it is home to the University of the Pacific. 

Outdoor enthusiasts will be pleased with the abundant recreational opportunities at Oak Grove Regional Park that offers multiple trails, a nature center and a lake stocked with catfish. Art and history buffs can visit the Haggin Museum, known for its collection of fine art and local history displays. Children will enjoy the Children’s Museum of Stockton with its hands-on displays. 

In nearby Lodi, you will find Micke Grove Regional Park with its Japanese Garden, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum and Micke Grove Zoo. Food lovers will appreciate all the choices of cuisines offered by local restaurants, and wine lovers will find multiple wineries and vineyards offering great local vintages. Everyone will enjoy a variety of cultural events that take place in the city throughout the year.

5. Patterson

  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 17% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $407K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .77%
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 1 hr 27 min / 87 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 1 hr 23 min / 80 miles
  • Mass Transit: Greyhound Bus

Patterson is a fast-growing city located 80 miles southeast of Sacramento and 70 miles east of the Bay Area. It’s known for its annual Apricot Fiesta, held in May and June, which has earned the city the title of the Apricot Capital of the World. 

Patterson’s strategic location near Interstate 5 and close to the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as affordability and low real estate taxes, make it very attractive for families seeking alternatives to the Bay Area. The city’s many well-maintained parks provide recreation opportunities for all ages. The Patterson Farmers’ Market is known for offering the freshest local produce. Wine lovers will enjoy tasting a variety of wines at local wineries and vineyards.

6. Merced

The San Luis Reservior in Merced County, CA.
  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 16% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $295K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .75%
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 2 hr 6 min / 131 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 2 hr 4 min / 115 miles
  • Mass Transit: Amtrak

Some 80 miles south of Sacramento, in California’s mid-Central Valley, is the city of Merced, known as the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Here you can enjoy a slower pace of life, plentiful outdoor recreation and pleasant weather. It is now also home to the University of California Merced campus. 

Among places to visit in or near Merced are the San Luis Reservoir, Applegate Park Zoo, and the Merced County Courthouse Museum, a beautiful structure built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, dedicated to local history.

7. Fresno

  • Cost of Living (Compared to San Francisco): 16% Lower
  • Median Home Price as of Feb. 2021: $287K (link)
  • Average County Property Tax Rate: .82%
  • Driving Commute to San Francisco: 2 hr 57 min / 187 miles
  • Driving Commute to San Jose: 2 hr 31 min / 150 miles
  • Mass Transit: Amtrak

Fresno is the fifth largest city in California, known for a lively art scene, abundance of fresh produce, nearby wineries and proximity to Yosemite National Park. Give yourself plenty of time to visit the River Park center, where you can shop till you drop and then enjoy a leisurely dinner and a movie. Forestiere Underground Gardens are a must-see. Among Fresno’s other attractions are Fresno Chaffee Zoo and Island Water Park. Big Fresno Fair, a two week annual event, is to be enjoyed by all.

Just 11 miles southeast of downtown Fresno is the city of Fowler, known for its lush vineyards and expansive farmland. Here you can enjoy a casual carefree lifestyle in a small town setting within minutes of downtown Fresno.

Another nearby city is Madera, only 22 miles away. It’s best known for its Wine Trail, which winds through some of the area’s most renowned establishments and attracts visitors from all over. Madera is also known for its green spaces where you can relax and get some exercise.  Lions Town & Country Park features a variety of facilities, including an amphitheatre, a walking track, sporting fields, and picnic areas. Madera County Museum houses a vast collection of artifacts detailing and preserving the city’s history. Madera Marketplace offers a variety of shopping and restaurants.

Choose New Construction and Make the Move Today

You can enjoy a great lifestyle, beautiful home and reasonable cost of living close to the San Francisco Bay area by choosing one of the affordable cities featured in this post. K. Hovnanian builds new homes in these communities. By choosing new construction, you avoid bidding wars and save yourself from worrying about costly repairs and renovations. A new construction home comes with a warranty, giving you the peace of mind to concentrate on what’s really important – your family and your lifestyle.

We invite you to view all our Northern California communities and to schedule a tour at your community of choice. We look forward to helping you find your ideal home beyond the Bay.

Last Updated on April 28, 2022