Northern California encapsulates many overseas buyers’ American Dream: high wages, a booming job market, bustling cities and stunning nature. What more could you want? Join us as we take a trip around the northern half of the Golden State, to discover what it offers expats and the types of property you can secure for your money.

We’re taking a welcome break from the changing UK weather and journeying to the beautiful region of Northern California – or “NorCal” as the laid-back locals like to call it. This northern portion of the west coast state starts at the San Francisco Bay area (which includes the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose), and encompasses everything up to the Oregon border.

This is an area where technology meets spectacular natural beauty.

Residents enjoy magical redwood forests, the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Mountains, Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley, and beautiful Lake Tahoe. This is an area where technology meets spectacular natural beauty. Today we’re looking at what this idyllic corner of the country offers those looking to start a new life, or snap up holiday home in the USA.

Why Northern California?

Let’s start with the good stuff – the areas of outstanding natural beauty. If you’ve always wanted to live by the coast, this region has mile upon mile of incredible Pacific coastline, dotted with idyllic towns and exciting cities. Inland, you have the beauty of Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and the Mendocino National Forest.

We can’t mention this region without talking about Redwood National Park. Here you’ll find 45 percent of the world’s remaining sequoia trees – the tallest species of tree, which can live for up to 3,000 years. Just an hour out of San Francisco is Sonoma County – which might ring a bell with you wine lovers. As well as boasting 500 wineries, it’s known for its sandy beaches, rivers, redwood forests, restaurants and Gold Rush history. Sonoma County is an excellent choice for lovers of the great outdoors. Enjoy your days biking, canoeing or hiking. Rounded off with a spot of live music and a table piled high with locally-produced cheeses and wine.


San Francisco is a world-class city

If you need to find employment, position yourself within easy distance of Northern California’s larger metropolitan areas. The largest of which is San Francisco Bay which is constantly growing and merging with surrounding suburbs and towns in Monterey Bay, the Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Presently, there remains distinction between the Bay area and surrounding regions, but it’s not uncommon for people to commute in for work from as far as Sacramento, Fresno, Modesto, Stockton and Turlock.

Wherever you buy, getting a good deal and buying under market value is often a question of good research and planning. Read our guide: How to Negotiate Abroad, to maximise your bargaining position.

Job opportunities

Northern California is at the forefront of the USA and the world’s economic, scientific and cultural progress. The region is home to Silicon Valley, where you’ll find the likes of Apple, Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook. If you work in technology, this is the place to come to work with the best tech minds  and earn the best rates of pay. In fact, median tech wages are 101% higher than the national median wage, with the leading sectors being software development and systems and cyber-security analysts.

Northern California is at the forefront of the USA and the world’s economic, scientific and cultural progress.

With more and more people flocking here, it’s no real surprise that construction is big business too. Outside of the Bay area there is a strong industrial presence, with farming and manufacturing job opportunities aplenty, particularly in Sacramento County, San Joaquin Valley, the Sierra region and in the north.

Due to the high amount of tourists that visit the region each year (Yosemite alone is visited by four million every year), there are plenty of opportunities within tourism and hospitality if that’s your chosen field. When it comes to breaking into viticulture, you’ll be able to choose between Napa County and Sonoma County.


Northern California has a lovely climate, with extremes of temperature mostly mediated by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Mostly, summers are warm and dry, and winters are cool and wet, with extremes of temperature occasionally occurring when you head into the mountains. Wildfires can be a problem in the region, so do bear that in mind when choosing a location. In Northern California’s Central Valley, residents enjoy a more Mediterranean climate.

Best locations

So, where are the best spots to live in Northern California? Here’s our pick of the top five:

San Francisco

San Jose

Santa Cruz

Sacramento County

El Dorado Hills


San Francisco

Are the trams, the fog and the Golden Gate bridge calling your name? We don’t blame you. San Francisco is considered one of the greatest cities in the world for a reason. This attractive city is blessed with spectacular views from the top of every hill, and there are lots of hills! This is a highly cultural spot, with galleries, live music and food, music and literature festivals taking place throughout the year. It’s consistently listed as one of the happiest and healthiest places to reside, and is called home by a population of forward-thinking, politically and environmentally engaged locals. Property is undeniably expensive. The current median home value according to Zillow, stands at $1,353,500 within the city.

San Francisco is considered one of the greatest cities in the world for a reason.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of San Francisco but are happy to live a little distance away from the CBD, there are a range of more affordable options a short commute away on the BART (The Bay Area Rail Transit), including popular Walnut Creek, which is highly popular with young professionals. The median price here currently stands at $871,100. Another laid-back suburban area growing in popularity is Dublin, also located in the Bay Area’s east hills. Dublin has highly-ranked schools and wonderful hiking, biking and horse riding trails in the Dublin Hills Regional Park.

Santa Cruz

For something a little more quintessentially Californian, you might like to set your sights on Santa Cruz. The town is located at the northern end of the beautiful Monterey Bay, just 32 miles from San Jose – Northern California’s biggest city. Santa Cruz has world-famous sandy beaches that attract surfers from all around the world, redwood forests, and an enviable foodie scene springing from the area’s organic farms. Santa Cruz is also a university town which means there is always plenty to see, do and be entertained with.


Cabin in Santa Cruz

This cabin in the woods, a short drive from Santa Cruz, is on the market for $788,000 (£569,000). The property is crafted with redwood throughout, enjoys an enormous back garden and is just a five-minute walk from the beach.

San Jose

If it’s the job opportunities that are attracting you to Northern California, you’ll need to head to San Jose AKA the heart of Silicon Valley. This is a vibrant spot with over 250 restaurants, nine theatres and art galleries and museums galore. With the kinds of wages found here, it’s little surprise that the median property value is currently $1,039,700.

Sacramento County

If you’re looking for a beautiful spot to raise your family, Sacramento County could be an excellent option for you – and the average house price is just $369,400. El Dorado Hills in particular is incredibly family friendly. You’ll enjoy great schools, lakes, over 100 acres of parkland, and the chance to partake in recreational activities like golfing and sailing. Roseville is another lively spot with a chock-a-block events calendar, great shopping, live music and farmers markets.


Five-bed house in El Dorado Hills

This five-bedroom, five bathroom new build is on the market for $720,900 (£520,000). The new development is ideally located just minutes from El Dorado Hills town centre, downtown Folsom and Folsom Lake.



Another excellent location for families is Clovis, which is located in Fresno County in the San Joaquin Valley. Here you’ll be able to enjoy affordable housing – the median house price currently stands at $342800. In 2016 Clovis, and nearby Kingsberg, were rated as two of the best places for young families in Northern California by Nerdwallet. Both offer excellent schools and family friendly activities, including parkland and hiking trails.

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