Sacramento, with a population of 466,488 residents as of the 2010 census, is the oldest incorporated city in California and the state’s capital. A very scenic city, “Sacto” has stately government buildings, and long, tree-lined streets of Victorian homes. Old Sacramento, the original city, is reminiscent of simpler times of river boats and wooden sidewalks. Its interesting restaurants and galleries are located along the river’s edge.
Climate: Retirees will love Sacramento’s climate which continually ranks in the top ten sunniest cities in the United States. 78% of its days are called sunny, and Sacramento gets 17 inches of rain per year and basically no snowfall.
Cost of living: Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this lovely climate where the cost of living in Sacramento is 36% greater than the national average. Likewise, retirement homes are approximately 19% greater than the U.S. average with the median home cost in Sacramento at $222,200.
Colleges and Universities: There is an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of California Extension Department in Davis 15 miles away from Sacramento. OLLI presents an extraordinary variety of provocative courses, informative programs and cultural events to serve active minds in retirement.
Transportation: Flights to all major destinations are available out of Sacramento International Airport. There is good regional transportation by bus and light rail, and Amtrak serves the city with passenger rail service. An increasingly popular transportation mode is bicycling, due to Sacramento’s mild climate and flat terrain.
Travel and tourism: In addition to Old Sacramento’s unique 28-acre National Historic Landmark District, there is also a California State Historic Park located along the beautiful Sacramento River. Retirees will enjoy the bustling activity in this district, with its shopping, dining, entertainment, historical attractions and world-renowned museums set within the time of the California Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad.
Stockton, with a population of 291,707 people as of the 2010 census, lies in the heart of the San Joaquin River Valley. As an inland sea port, Stockton is actually connected westward with San Francisco Bay. Retirees will enjoy the recreational opportunities such as boating and fishing on the California Delta which makes up thousands of miles of waterways and rivers in and around Stockton.
Climate: A mild climate, Stockton has dry summers and cool winters with some fog. No worries about snowfall here, and the area gets a mere 16 inches of rain per year to interfere with outdoor pursuits.
Cost of living: As with much of California, the cost of living in Stockton is 36% greater than the national average, and homes are 11% greater than the U.S. average. However, this is less than the California average, where the cost of an average retirement home will run less than $200,000.
Colleges and Universities: The University of the Pacific has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and that means there is something for every retiree. OLLI programs retirees might enjoy include lectures, outdoor hikes featuring agriculture and wildlife, painting, writing their life story, being active in Tai Chi or Yoga, or enjoying the rhythms of symphonic music.
Transportation: Allegiant Air, a low cost airline that might appeal to retirees, flies out of Stockton Metropolitan Airport. Local transportation is provided by San Joaquin Regional Transit District and Altamont Commuter Express. Amtrak offers rail service to major destinations on the west coast.
Travel and tourism: Retirees will enjoy seeing movies and live performances at the historic Fox Theatre which has been extensively renovated over the past years and serves as one of only two “movie palaces” in the Central Valley. For those retirees who love to romp with their dogs, Stockton has many dog parks such as Barkleyville which consists of four acres with a separate play/agility course.
Modesto, with a population of 201,165 as of the 2010 census, is a city with a sense of humor that shines in the name for their minor league baseball team which is called the Modesto Nuts. Visitors to the down town area are welcomed by a snappy rhyming motto, “Water Wealth Contentment Health”, which is proudly displayed on a beautiful old arch. The A&W Drive-In in Modesto served as the inspiration for George Lucas’ film “American Graffiti”, a favorite of many retirees.
Climate: With only 12 inches of rain per year, and no snow, Modesto’s climate is cool in winter and has very hot, dry summers.
Cost of living: The cost of living in Modesto is greater than the national average, as with many cities in California. Housing is a bit more affordable by California standards, but still 17% greater than the U.S. average. Retirees will find the median home cost in Modesto is $219,100.
Colleges and Universities: Retirees can look to Modesto Junior College for classes that feature personal enrichment, recreation, or other areas for learning in retirement.
Transportation: SkyWest Airlines (operating as United Express) offers service to San Francisco International Airport out of Modesto City-County Airport. Modesto has three public transit systems: Modesto Area Express (MAX), StaRT, and the San Joaquin Regional Transit District.
Travel and tourism: Modesto is centrally located as a base camp for trips to the ocean, mountains and some of the nation’s most renowned parks such as Yosemite. San Francisco and Sacramento are easy day trip options from Modesto. The mild climate makes being outside year round pleasant. Modesto’s location in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley offers many fresh produce stands, and retirees can “taste Modesto” at the Farmers Market.
Fresno, with a population of 510,365 as of the 2010 census, is by far the biggest city in the San Joaquin Valley. Fresno has a diverse culture composed of Mexican, Basque and Chinese communities that have been here for decades, and, more recently, thousands of Hmong have put down roots in the area. Author and playwright William Saroyan, who was born, lived and died in this city he loved dearly, wrote about the longstanding Armenian community here.
Climate: With only 11 inches of rain per year and no snowfall, Fresno has mild, moderately wet winters and hot, dry summers.
Cost of living: Greater than the national average by 11%, the cost of living at least offers some breaks in housing costs. The average price of a home in Fresno is significantly less (58%) than the rest of California, and runs about 10% greater than the U.S. average at $203,800.
Colleges and Universities: California State University Fresno has an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which is music to retirees’ ears. OLLI is a program created for people age 50+ who wish to continue learning and exploring for the sheer joy of it.
Transportation: There are actually two airports that serve the area, Fresno Yosemite International, and Chandler Executive. Local transportation is provided by FAX (Fresno Area Express), and both Amtrak and Greyhound have routes here.
Travel and tourism: Retirees will enjoy exploring the Tower District which has book and record stores, music clubs, and a handful of stylish, highly regarded restaurants. History and architecture buffs will appreciate Fresno’s old brick warehouses lining the Santa Fe railroad tracks and the many historic downtown buildings such as the 1894 Fresno Water Tower and the 1928 Pantages Theatre.
Bakersfield, with a population of 338,689 as of 2011, lies at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. As a key agricultural center, Bakersfield is also one of the biggest oil producers in the nation. The Kern River oil field which was developed in 1899 has brought prosperity to this region.
Climate: Bakersfield is just behind Yuma, Arizona and Redding, California as one of the sunniest cities in the U.S. It has long, hot, dry summers, and brief, cool, wet winters with a mere 6 inches of rain per year. This is weather guaranteed not to interfere with a retiree’s golf game.
Cost of living: Unlike many other cities in California, the cost of living in Bakersfield is 2% less than the national average, and housing is also affordable. A retirement home will cost on average around $197,900.
Colleges and Universities: There is an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at CSU Bakersfield’s Extended University. This OLLI program is designed for people aged 50 and better who want to participate in a community of fellow learners.
Transportation: Kern County Airport is one of two international airports in the San Joaquin Valley, so retirees will find good connections. If LAX is preferred, the Airport Bus of Bakersfield runs a shuttle seven times daily between Bakersfield and that airport. Local bus transportation is provided by Golden Empire Transit (GET).
Travel and tourism: Retirees will enjoy exploring downtown Bakersfield’s upbeat mix of restored buildings, county offices, restaurants and antique shops, such as the Five and Dime inside an original Woolworth’s building. There are a variety of performances at the Fox Theater and Buck Owens’ multi-million-dollar Crystal Palace.
Santa Maria, with a population of 100,062 as of the 2010 census, is located in California’s Central Coast Wine Country. This peaceful valley lies between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. It boasts friendly neighbors, world-famous Santa Maria Style barbecue, and fabulous California wines.
Climate: Santa Maria’s climate is typical of coastal areas of California, which means mostly sunny with ocean breezes. With only 14 inches of rain per year, there are 280 sunny days for golf each year in Santa Maria.
Cost of living: Surprisingly, the cost of living in Santa Maria is 2% less than the national average. However, housing is about 32% greater than the national average with the median home cost around $263,500.
Colleges and Universities: GenSpan is a program that creates and supports intergenerational activities in which different age groups are brought together in work, play and lifelong learning. This might be an interesting possibility for retirees interested in mentoring young people and participating in a different type of continuing education.
Transportation: There is an airport at Santa Maria which offers convenient and hassle-free service with daily commercial flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Local transportation is provided by Santa Maria Area Transit.
Travel and tourism: There are many things for retirees to enjoy in Santa Maria, such as beautiful scenery, championship golf courses, nationally recognized live theater productions, bird watching, pristine beaches, performing arts, world famous barbecue, succulent strawberries, nearby missions, hiking, festivals, special events, and award winning wineries.