~ Agree? kinda on the opposite end of my post yesterday. I grew up in San Bernardino, but there are a few zip codes here that I agree with, but it’s all in good fun and centers around DelTaco ~
We used science to determine which places in The Golden State are the real pits.
California. The American dream. The state where you can get the sun, surf, mountains and deserts. Where dreams are made and movie stars bask in the glory of their own self worth.
Where you have to ration your water. Sit in traffic. Pay too much for your house.
While California is overall, a glorious state, it has some serious, glaring issues, just like most other states. But most of the people reading this live there, and are already aware of this fact, so we won’t dwell on it.
Instead, let’s have some fun and look at only certain areas where things are the absolute worst.
After analyzing all 630 cities with a population over 5,000, we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in California:
- Desert Hot Springs
- Lucerne Valley
- San Jacinto
- Joshua Tree
- San Bernardino
It looks like San Bernardino (9th worst) actually isn’t as bad as you might think. And, as is the norm when we run these rankings, the largest cities are somewhere in the middle. The best city in California? Foster City, located in the San Francisco area.
Actually, eight of the ten are in southern California, and the other two are in central California, making a case that No Cal is better than So Cal. Not like that was in question in the first place.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your town ranked, and check out the abridged chart at the bottom of the post for a complete list of all cities.
How do you decide if a place is lousy or not?
In order to rank the worst places to live in California, we had to determine what criteria people like or dislike about a place. It isn’t a stretch to assume that people like low crime, solid education, great weather, things to do and a stable economy.
So we scraped the internet for those criteria, asked for the opposite of those things, and it spit out the answer. Like magic.
How we crunched the numbers
We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using FBI crime data, the government census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Sperling’s Best Places, this is the criteria we used:
- Population Density (The lower the worse – meaning there isn’t a lot to do)
- Highest Unemployment Rates
- Adjusted Median Income (Median income adjusted for the cost of living)
- High Housing Vacancy Rate
- Education (Low expenditures per student and high Student Teacher Ratio)
- Long Commute Times
- High Crime
- The Worst Weather
If you’d like to see the complete list of cities, from worst to best, scroll to the bottom of this post to see the abridged chart.
Two additional notes. We use Sperling’s Best Places for our data, which pulls in the numbers from the cited sources. Crime numbers are reported by the city agencies to the FBI, and are measured in the number of crimes per capita.
Additionally, ‘vacant homes’ includes foreclosed or unoccupied homes, and includes vacation homes that aren’t used for most of the year.
1. Desert Hot Springs
Crime: 12th worst in California
Household vacancy rate: 22.8%
Median income: $32,883
According to science, Desert Hot Springs is by far, the worst place in the state of California. For those who are familiar with this desert city in Riverside County, is might not be much of a surprise, considering it’s a hot, empty place with nothing to do.
For those who live there, consider these facts: The crime rate in DHS is almost the highest in California, per capita. Nearly 1 in 4 homes is vacant. And residents earn a paltry 32 grand a year. Which goes nowhere on a California budget. Plus, summers are miserable.
While other cities in the greater Palm Springs area might be considered ‘posh’ such as Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs remains one of many sore spots in the region. And now that there are water rations in place, residents who live here can’t afford to water their cactus and succulent landscaping.
Wait, do you water cactus?
2. Lucerne Valley
Household vacancy rate: 28%
Household income: $30,142
Commute time: 32nd longest in California
We’re going to see a pattern here. Lucerne Valley is another desert town on the fringes of society where there’s nothing to do, residents earn meager salaries, and have long drives to their jobs when they can find them.
But when you consider the fact that 28% of the homes in Lucerne Valley are vacant, and the public school system is ranked in the bottom 20% for financial support, a case can be made that Lucerne Valley is a real pit. If you haven’t been here, don’t bother. It’s not even worth the extra 20 minute detour on your way to Vegas to see.
If you need to make a quick stop at Del Taco, that’s what Apple Valley is for.
Unemployment rate: 13.1%
Household vacancy rate: 16.6%
Crime: Worst 20% in California
Adelanto has the exact same problems that Lucerne Valley has, and it’s located only a half hour away. Except, the crime in Adelanto is far worse than it is in Lucerne Valley. Its residents most likely work in nearby Victorville or make the trek through the Cajon Pass to shlep into San Bernardino or Riverside.
Most people have only been to Adelanto while driving on 395 on their way up north, or because they got talked into attending a baseball game at Maverick Stadium.
Or, they were desperate because Apple Valley’s Del Taco was closed.
Household income: $33,460
Crime: Worst 20% in the state
Unemployment rate: 10.6%
Another Riverside County desert city cracks the top 10. For those in the know, Hemet is a really…challenged city to put it lightly. It has a high crime rate, residents earn far less than they should to live comfortably, and 1 in 10 doesn’t have a job at all.
Moreover, 1 in 10 homes sits vacant, and there’s not a lot to do for fun. If you live in Hemet, this ranking might be a slight to your pride. Because, deep down, you know it’s bad there, but you always felt like you had it better than the people next door in San Jacinto. Well, you are wrong. Barely. See number 5.
5. San Jacinto
Crime: Not as bad as Hemet, but still high
Unemployment rate: 12.8%
House vacancy rate: 12.7%
The rivalry kicks up a notch. Folks in “San Ja” have the unfortunate double duo of 12’s to contend with, as 12% of homes are vacant, and 12% are without jobs. Residents in San Jacinto earn far more than their Hemet peers ($14,000 more a year, on average), and the crime rate is lower here. Which makes it a tad better, overall.
Perhaps Hemet will ask San Jacinto to merge, and they can join forces to take on Perris (the 12th worst city in California). The people in Moreno Valley can watch from their hillside homes.
Household income: $25,916
House vacancy rate: 24%
Unemployment rate: 10%
Most people have never heard of Clearlake. A Google map search determined it’s on the banks of Clear Lake, in the middle of nowhere north of Sacramento. Apparently, things aren’t too fabulous there, as the incomes here are almost on the poverty level, and 1 in 10 people are unemployed. While it could be considered a bit of a weekend getaway for city slickers (maybe?), almost half of the city’s roads are unpaved. Not a good sign.
And the nearest Del Taco is an hour and a half away
7. Joshua Tree
House vacancy rate: 16%
Median income: $39,942
Crime: Higher than average
There’s a good chance you’ve never been to Joshua Tree, unless 1) you were a marine stationed at Twentynine Palms or 2) you took a family day trip to the far corners of the desert. Who are we kidding? No one takes vacations to the desert. No one takes vacations at all in California.
An idea of a day trip is heading to the beach or, perhaps, a hike in the mountains every now and then. You can see pictures of joshua trees online, you don’t need to see them in person. An internet search can’t determine exactly what people who live in Joshua Tree do for a living, but there’s a big chance the economy there isn’t booming.
And remember, people, science doesn’t measure beauty. It measures facts, and the facts about Joshua Tree speak for themselves.
Unemployment rate: 12%
Household income: $26,061
Crime: Top 15% for the general area
Mendota is a tiny place wedged between the 5 Freeway and Fresno in Central California. This region of California, to put it nicely, is pretty isolated, hot, and sprinkled with farms and all other sorts of agriculture. It’s an important place, economically speaking, since a lot of the nation relies on California grown crops.
However, when you consider how hard central California has been hit with water-related issues, it isn’t surprising that at least one city in this region topped this list. Crime in the area is way above normal, and residents are underemployed and way underpaid. Simply speaking, there really isn’t anything charming about Mendota.
9. San Bernardino
Crime: Worst 5% per capita
Household income: $39,097
Unemployment rate: 11.3%
Public education ranking: 8th lowest in California
Perhaps the only thing surprising about San Bernardino being 9th is that it wasn’t higher. Crime here is horrible, more than 1 in 10 residents are without jobs (and that’s conservative), and well…we could go on and on about San Bernardino’s issues.
You’ve heard it all before. When considering the data, the only reason San Bernardino is only 9th is that there are some areas of the city in which residents earn professional salaries, and, frankly, there’s a lot more to do in the San Bernardino region than there is in the desert. And no, dodging bullets isn’t one of them.
But as professionals continue to flee into the nearby enclaves of East Highlands, Yucaipa and Redlands, the city of San Bernardino, which saw its glory days spike in the late 1970s, will continue to head down the drain and unfortunately, become an area only for those who have no aspirations to exceed in life.
Unemployment rate: 10.8%
Commute time: One of the longest in the state
Education spending: 25th lowest in CA
Since Adelanto and Lucerne Valley are on here, it’s not surprising to see Hesperia here as well. Don’t fret, Hesperians, your siblings Apple Valley and Victorville aren’t too far behind. It’s just that Hesperia’s residents have a lower income and its schools are rated slightly lower than their neighbors.
There You Have It
Like we said earlier, there are a lot of awesome places in California, but, when looking at science, it’s pretty clear that southern California has the worst places to live. If you’re analyzing places in the entire state with the worst economic situations, where there’s high crime and there’s not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.