California is a large state which more than 38 million people call home. But which places within its borders are the best? As part of an ongoing series to find the best spots to live in each of the 50 states, Movoto Real Estate is taking our Saturday Night Science to the West Coast.

What did we find? Was San Francisco the best place in California, as we'd assumed? Did Los Angeles make our top 10? Nope. When we tallied the numbers, the City of Orange took home the top prize. Still, this Southern Californian city had some stiff competition. Here are the 10 best places in California-the shiniest spots in The Golden State:

1. City of Orange
2. City of Placentia
3. City of Irvine
4. City of San Carlos
5. City of San Juan Capistrano
6. City of Cypress
7. City of Coronado
8. City of Yorba Linda
9. City of La Palma
10. City of San Mateo

What makes Orange the best place in California? How did San Mateo squeeze into our top 10? For these answers and more, put on your shades and get ready to take a virtual tour of the best places in California. First though, we'll tell you how we came up with our list.

How Did We Find The Best Places In California?

To create our ranking, we first turned to the Census to locate all places in California with a population of more than 10,000 people. This gave us 373 places to analyze. However, we excluded three places (Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, and Menifee) because not all data was available for these locations. After this, we ranked each place across a number of criteria from one to 370, with one being the best. Finally, we took the average rank across all criteria, with the place posting the lowest overall score being crowned the winner-the best place in California. The criteria we looked at were:

  • Total amenities
  • Quality of life (cost of living, median home price, median rent price, median household income, and student-teacher ratio)
  • Total crimes
  • Tax rates (sales tax and income tax)
  • Unemployment rate
  • Commute time
  • Weather (temperature and air quality)

If your city or town isn't among the top 10, jump down to the bottom of the post to see a detailed chart of the 50 best places in California. Otherwise, buckle up for a virtual tour of just why these 10 places golden.

1. Orange

Orange, CA

Source: Wikipedia user Lordkinbote

Located in Orange County, the city of Orange handedly took the top spot on our list, beating out 369 other places. Even Placentia, the next location on our ranking, was a distant second.

What made Orange worthy of such an honor? The city had no top 10 finishes in any of our criteria, but with more than 300 cities being ranked this isn't a surprise. Where the city excelled was for its unemployment rate, amenities, and weather. Additionally, the Orange's overall quality of life earned it the 80th spot on our list, which might sound low, but in actuality is a decent score.

2. Placentia

Placentia, CA

Source: Flickr user OCParks_CA

Also a city in Orange County, Placentia soared to the top of our list thanks to its overall weather, unemployment rate, and amenities. Where did the city falter, allowing Orange to pass? This is partially due to Placentia residents average commute time and the city's overall quality of life. It takes Placentia residents 30 minutes to get to work, high enough for the city to rank No. 170 for this criterion. As for residents' quality of life, Placentia took home the No. 137 spot, mostly because the cost of living in the area is higher than most of the places on our list.

3. Irvine

Irvine, CA

Source: Flickr user Infratec

Irvine easily took the No. 3 spot on our list in part because of the area's crime rate and amenities. According to our analysis, there are 1,582 crimes per 100,000 people in Irvine, which is low enough for the No. 49 spot in the criterion. Additionally, there are enough businesses in Irvine to push it to the No. 55 spot.

What kept Irvine from climbing higher? Its weather score and quality of life. When Irvine's average summertime temperature and air quality were taken into account, the city landed in the No. 121 spot for this criterion. The city's overall quality of life earned it the No. 121 spot; as with Placentia, this is in part due its cost of living, which is 45 percent higher than the national average.

4. San Carlos

San Carlos, CA

Source: San Carlos Chamber of Commerce

This city in San Mateo County ran up our list in part because of its unemployment rate, crime rate, and quality of life. San Carlos' unemployment rate is 7.5 percent, low enough for the No. 11 spot in this criterion. When it comes to crime. the city took the No. 19 spot, with 1,264 crimes per 100,000 people. Finally, the cities overall quality of life is good enough for the No. 35 spot in this criterion. The median household income for the area is a major contributor to why people are smiling in San Carlos. A household in this city can expect to take home $110,929 annually.

5. San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano, CA

Source: Flickr user Loco Steve

Another city in Orange County (a trend on our list), San Juan Capistrano ranked in the top 10 overall mainly because of three criteria: unemployment rate, quality of life, and crime rate. The city has an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. The area's quality of life is excellent at No. 33. The high rank for this criterion partly because of the city's high median home price, which, along with high rent prices, is an indicator of desirability. Finally, its crime rate was 1,446 per 100,000 people.

6. Cypress

Cypress, CA

Source: Wikipedia user Epolk

Once more, our top 10 list takes a stop in Orange County. This Southern California city has great weather, relatively low unemployment, and a high number amenities. Anyone wanting to move to California could do much worse than this city. So why didn't it place higher on our list? Residents' average commute time is a killer at 32 minutes. That's bad enough for a rank of No. 234 for this criterion. There is a bright side, though, Cypress locals: You could live in Oakley and have a 48 minute commute, the worst on our list.

7. Coronado

Coronado, CA

Source: Flickr user gibffe

What makes this island of about 19,000 of the coast of San Diego stand out? Residents have a relatively short commute time, lots of businesses, and an above-average quality of life. Those living in this suburban city can expect to spend 20 minutes getting to work, the 20th best time in the state. How about business? According to Yelp there are 16,874 places to patronize. Finally, the city's quality of life came in at the No. 71 spot, mostly because of high home values.

8. Yorba Linda

Yorba Linda, CA

Source: Wikipedia user Vercillo

There are a lot of good things about Yorba Linda, but what helps make it one of the best places to live in California are its weather, low crime, and unemployment rate. Of these three, it was the area's weather rank that really pushed it over the hump. According to our analysis, Yorba LInda has the best weather of the places we looked at. The average summertime temperature is 74 degrees and it scored a 19 for air quality (the lower the better).

9. La Palma

La Palma, CA

Source: City of La Palma

The penultimate place on our list, La Palma stands out because of its weather, which is good enough to warrant a No. 7 ranking for this criterion. This Orange County city also ranked well because of its low crime rate and high number of amenities, No. 57 and 58, respectively. So, in which criterion could La Palma improve? Its sales tax is 8.25 percent, among the highest in the state.

10. San Mateo

San Mateo, CA

Source: Flickr user (matt)

While San Mateo-Movoto's homebase-is the 10th-best place on our list, remember that this city beat out 360 other places to reach this spot. San Mateo should pat itself on the back for its low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the places on our list and its strong quality of life rank. According to our data, the city took the No. 31 spot for this criterion. Where could San Mateo do better? Average commute time; 28 minutes is a long time to spend getting to work.

The Bottom Of The List

Now that we've told you about the cream of the crop when it comes to places in California, here are the bottom five locations on our list (in descending order): Dinuba, Greenfield, Oakland, Mendota, and the last-ranked city on our list, Clearlake. That's right, Oaktown: sure, you're exciting, but that alone wasn't enough to propel you into the ranks of California's top spots to live.

(click to enlarge table)

Best Places In California

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