An insider’s guide to California’s cities

California by the Numbers

From the sandy white beaches of Southern California to the metropolis of the Bay Area and the northern forests beyond, California cities are home to vastly different social and political groups.

Having lived in seven different cities across this great state during various times in my life I feel fortunate to be able to offer an insiders view to future residents and visitors of these cities.


My hometown is famous for growing almonds and although it’s also the home of the newest University of California it remains, largely, a farming community. Nicknamed the Gateway to Yosemite this sleepy valley town nestled along Highway 99 is two hours from the park traveling east and two hours from Monterey Bay traveling west. Although the nightlife and entertainment venues are growing this city town has little to offer its twentysomethings who often flee to nearby Sacramento.

If you go:

Be sure and visit Lake Merced, the manmade lake bordering the new University as well as the Applegate Park Zoo housing a variety of rescued wildlife.

San Diego

 This coastal city sprang into the cement and steel jungle that now covers the county in the last 30 years and everyone here thinks they live at the beach. Aside from its high cost of living and never ending traffic jams the city can be a wonderful place to live or visit. From iconic Point Loma to the world famous zoo and tourist filled downtown, the city offers an abundance of entertainment options. One trip will convince any visitor to stay and enjoy the relaxed beach lifestyle, which is probably what’s caused the population explosion.

If you go:

A trip to Mission Beach wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Belmont Park, home of the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster along with a variety of shops and restaurants. Also, be sure and take a walk through Balboa Park; the 1200 acre grounds house a mind boggling number of museums and other treasures along with the zoo.


 This small northern California city is surrounded by towering forests and majestic views and is a great draw for those who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle. The largest city in the Sacramento Valley, Redding makes a great gateway to nearby Shasta Mountain. The job scene is growing although unemployment remains high.

If you go:

 Be sure and visit the scenic Sundial Bridge completed in 2004.


The peninsula is actually made up of a number of small cities culturally centered around Monterey including Pacific Grove, Carmel and Seaside among others, all full of the seagoing spirit. Home to some of the most beautiful beaches, soaring forests and rocky cliffs in the state along with the world famous aquarium and Cannery Row the city can be a tourist’s delight. Nearby Carmel offers white sandy beaches along with a huge variety of art galleries. The peninsula cities, however, close up shop at 10 p.m. and even locals can be hard pressed to find nightlife entertainment that’s not at the local bar.

If you go:

No trip to Monterey is complete without a walk to the end of the wharf where Rappa’s observation deck allows visitors an unparalleled view of the marina.

Los Angeles

The land of the beautiful people is centered around the idea of making it in Hollywood and being a star. Everyday city streets bear the names of famous movies and television shows and everyone you meet has their own story. Everywhere there are actors, musicians and writers who happen to pay their bills by waiting tables or serving cocktails. Image is everything and winners stay on top, but this is also the land of ‘what have you done for me lately’ so don’t forget to keep up appearances. The ubiquitous traffic jams hardly need to mentioned as the locals have renamed highway 405 a parking lot.

If you go:

Skip the Hollywood walk of fame and pay a visit to Venice Beach for some local culture; and be sure to take a walk out on the Malibu pier for some breathtaking ocean views.

San Francisco

This city by the bay is home to some of the most expensive housing prices in the country, but may be the last bastion of the 1960’s despite its high cost of living. It’s still home to the world’s most liberal political activists who aren’t afraid to export their values. From pillow fights downtown to leather parades in the Castro there is something to do here every day of the year. Oh, and the public transportation and especially BART make getting around without a car fun and convenient.

If you go:

After visiting the Twin Peaks park for some amazing city views be sure and hop a bus downtown for a few drinks followed by a BART ride to the Embarcadero.


Where the rent is cheap and the friends are deep or so the local saying goes. There’s a weird kind of karma at work in the desert where helping others is sometimes the only way to help yourself. There’s also a small artistic community devoted to their craft, many of whom can be seen downtown and around town. The city’s saying is: ‘life as it should be’ and it fits this easy going family town perfectly.

If you go:

 Be sure and stop by downtown for a concert and hear some of the best musicians anywhere perform locally for you.


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