The Golden State. It’s the land of sunshine, ocean views, Redwood forests, wine country, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. If that sounds like the place you want to be, you might wonder: What are the safest cities in California in which to live?
Given that California is our most populous state and third-largest by land area, that question offers many potential answers -- some of them, subjective. Life comes with risks. You have to decide how many you’re willing to accept.
Yet there are ways to begin to judge the safest cities in California in an objective manner. Doing so on an apples-to-apples basis requires an understanding of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
The program gathers statistics on both property and violent crime from local municipalities. With some fundamental analysis, and adjusting for population, you can get a top-to-bottom list of crime rates for every city in every state.
We all know about the bigger cities in California. The list of the safest cities in the state, though, includes areas you may not know. These are cities with small-to-medium sized populations that don’t often make the news.
A Matter of Perception
Our ranking of the safest cities in California focuses on one narrow context -- the issue of personal safety. Even in evaluating crime rates, it's important to remember that not all crime carries the same weight as a matter of perception.
Crimes of violence, such as murder or assault, suggest a higher level of risk. So it's important to remember that no single number provides an absolute understanding of the safety of a community.
Researchers are also recognizing that safety in a modern, technology-driven society is taking on greater complexity. You can't focus only on personal safety to assess one's well-being.
For example, with the advent of the Internet, and the increasing amounts of time we spend on e-commerce and other matters such as e-banking, cybersecurity also represents an area of concern in judging an area’s safety.
The Safe Cities Index, a report from the intelligence unit of The Economist, takes recognition of the mounting threats we all face. The index considers digital, health and infrastructure security, along with personal security in doing its analysis.
Still, crime rates can and do provide important context when evaluating an area’s livability. That’s why we’re focusing on this set of factors in presenting our rankings of the safest cities in California.
As you’ll see, you can dig deep into the numbers. The FBI UCR program reports data on specific instances of violent and property crime. So you may want to look closely at the specific numbers before drawing any conclusions.
The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting programs dates to the 1930s. It depends on voluntary reporting of data from local, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.
The data falls into two categories. The first captures incidents of violent crime, which includes murder, manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault. The second concerns property crime -- burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.
FBI administrators highlight several principal purposes for the UCR data. Law enforcement uses the crime reports to help structure budgets and making crucial decisions on manpower, policing strategy and technology acquisition.
UCR data also provide value to chambers of commerce and researchers for decision-making. You’ll also find many news articles invoking UCR data, as reporters seek to inform the publication about what’s going on in their areas.
The FBI indicates that people should be cautious in drawing too many conclusions in comparing one city or region to another. As we explained above, the rankings alone could miss some or all of the bigger picture. The FBI points out there are many aspects that go into shaping a city's crime rate.
These include questions of the makeup of the population in terms of age and gender, where people live, how they get around, their basic level of education, the state of the economy, how hot, cold or wet an area is, family stability, and more.
How We Identified the Safest Cities in California
With the FBI cautions in mind, we looked closely at the FBI UCR report for 2017 to determine the safest cities in California. The data can give you an indication about what to expect should you decide to set down roots. But do consider the fullest possible picture of a community before making a decision one way or another.
In our analysis of the UCR data, here's what we did:
First, we added together reports in the violent and property categories, to create an index of the total number of crime reports for each city included in the UCR.
Then we adjusted for population. The larger cities will always have more raw incidents of crime, simply through the law of numbers. To even out those variables, we divided the total number of crimes into the population and then multiplied by 1,000.
What that provided for us was a list of cities, ordered by the number of crimes per 1,000 people. It helps give an understanding of the prevalence of crime in a particular area for comparison purposes.
But we weren’t done yet. Towns and villages with tiny populations are also part of the UCR program. Since we’re looking at the safest cities in California, we set some population parameters.
We eliminated any city with a population of less than 25,000. We figure there’s a big difference between a hamlet of 100 and an urban area of 200,000.
The results may surprise you.
The Safest Cities in California
Because we figure some people like big, and some people like small, we divided the safest cities in California into two groups.
The first group is the largest safest cities in California -- those with populations over 100,000.
We are breaking those out individually to give you a sense of some of the other livability factors involved in certain specific geographies.
Then we are providing a shorter round-up of some of the smaller safest cities in California.
With the state’s size and diversity, there’s just so much to choose from.
In case you’re looking for a frame for comparison, SafeWise, which researches and reviews security systems, also provides an annual analysis of the safest cities in each state, including California. Make sure to examine their methodology as well.
The "City of Innovation"
It’s an hour outside of Los Angeles, a short drive from the beaches of the Pacific Ocean, a stop-over point on the way to San Diego and a fast-growing California city.
Irvine is also one of the safest cities in California, with a crime rate we calculated at 13.8 incidents per 1,000 residents.
The majority of those events fall into the property crime category, with a particularly large number of larceny and theft reports.
Irvine is a city of about 277,000 residents, up almost 30 percent since 2010 and close to triple the population since 1990. It's a wealthy area, with a median income of more than $93,000 and a median home value of more than $820,000.
Irvine is also racially diverse. According to the city of Irvine, almost half the population is Caucasian, while 40 percent is Asian, 10 percent Hispanic and 2 percent African-American.
The largest employers in Irvine are the University of California at Irvine, the Irvine public schools and Edwards Life Sciences Corp., a maker of heart valves.
The climate sure gets our attention. The average temperature in January is 65 degrees; by August the average climbs to 85. Sounds quite ideal to us.
City of Oaks
The next of our safest cities in California also sits in the shadow of Los Angeles and is known for its natural resources, which you can glean from its name.
Thousand Oaks, California reports a property/violent crime rate of 14.4 incidents per 1,000 residents, consisting mainly of larceny and theft reports.
Here’s where the UCR data gets tricky. Thousand Oaks reported slightly more incidents of violent crime in comparison to Irvine.
But its population is about half that of Irvine, meaning that statistically between the two cities you have a higher chance of being a violent crime victim in Thousand Oaks
Thousand Oaks’ population is about 129,000 and growing, though not at the same rate as Irvine. It has climbed nearly 2 percent since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The median household income in Thousand Oak is about $108,000, with the median home price coming in at just below $700,000.
Caucasian residents make up about 70 percent of Thousand Oaks’ population, while 19 percent of the population is Hispanic, 10 percent Asian, and 1.4 percent African-American.
Major employers include Amgen Biotechnology, Conejo Valley School District, Anthem Blue Cross, and Los Robles Regional Medical Center.
Average high temperatures in January check in at about 66 degrees. The average rises to 79 degrees by August.
Gem of the Valley
Murietta markets itself as a place where people can experience the pleasures of coastal California without having to spend as much as some of the other high-income areas in the region.
You also get the benefit of a low crime rate. Murietta makes our list of the safest cities in California with a crime rate of 14.7 crimes per 1,000 residents -- similar to Thousand Oaks and a little higher than Irvine.
In comparison to those two cities, Murietta’s violent crime incidence is also much lower. Upwards of 95 percent of crime in Murietta falls in the property category.
Murietta’s population was estimated at 113,000 in 2017, an increase of about 10 percent since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Median household income is lower than both Irvine and Thousand Oaks at about $80,000. The median home price is also lower at about $437,000, according to Zillow.
Demographically, the majority of the population remains Caucasian. But it is shifting rapidly to include a mix of Asian, Hispanic and African-American families.
Major employers include the Southwest Healthcare System and the Murietta Public Schools, according to the California Economic Development Department.
You can expect a little higher effort-to-sweat ratio. The average high temperature in Murietta in January is 67 degrees, rising to 91 degrees in August.
The City of Reagan
When researchers want to learn about the presidency of Ronald Reagan, they make their way to Simi Valley, another of the safest cities in California. Simi Valley sits about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
The crime rate in Simi Valley is 15.9 incidents per 1,000 people, according to our calculations. For a smaller sized city of 126,000, Simi Valley has a higher number of violent crimes with 184 reports made to the FBI UCR in 2017.
Simi Valley has grown steadily, but slower than surrounding areas. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the growth rate in Simi Valley over 2010 is about 2.1 percent.
Median income is about $87,000 in the region, which is comparable to Irvine and Thousand Oaks and in line with Murietta. The median home price comes in at about $326,000.
Caucasian residents make up the largest share of the population at about 80 percent, followed by Asian-Americans at 10 percent and African-Americans about 1.4 percent. Of that population, more than a quarter identify as from Hispanic origin.
Major employers include the Simi Valley schools, Simi Valley Hospital, and Health Care and Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.
Average high temperatures range from 65 degrees in January to 83 degrees in August.
Between the San Gabriel and Santa Susana mountain ranges in southeast California sits Santa Clarita. Santa Clarita happens to be a hotbed for the nation’s film industry, with about 550 permits issued each year from 2015 to 2017.
By now you may have noticed one commonality between these cities: They all sit in orbit around Los Angeles. Santa Clarita is about 30 miles from Los Angeles.
The crime rate in Santa Clarita checks in at 15.8 incidents per 1,000 people, in line with nearby Simi Valley. Santa Clarita has double the number of reported violent crimes, but with less than twice the population.
The city of Santa Clarita consists of an estimated 216,000 people. That's roughly the size of Irvine but more than Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, and Murietta. The population has grown about 3.3 percent since 2010, according to the Census Bureau.
The area’s largest employers include the Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme Park, College of the Canyons Community College, and Princess Cruises.
About 70 percent of the city consists of Caucasian residents. Asian-Americans make up 11 percent, and African-Americans 4 percent. Across the city’s entire population, an estimated 32 percent identify as Hispanic.
The median annual household income in Santa Clarita is $83,178, while the home price sits at $550,000, according to Zillow.com
Average high temperatures range from 63 degrees in December and January to 94 degrees in August.
Other Safe Alternatives
So let’s just say for the sake of argument that you’re not interested in big cities. Or that you'd prefer a different location. What options do you have?
Plenty. Here are the 5 cities under 100,000 population with the lowest crime rates:
Saratoga is situated southwest of San Jose. With a 2017 population of just under 31,000, Saratoga has a crime rate of 7.3 incidents per 1,000 people. The city is one of the most diverse in the state, split roughly between Caucasian and Asian-Americans. Major employers include Global Foundries and Saratoga Hospital.
Rancho Santa Margarita
Rancho Santa Margarita is another city in the Los Angeles universe. This city has a population of just over 49,000 but with a crime rate of 7.3 incidents per 1,000. Large employers include Applied Metal and O’Connell Landscape.
Danville is a city across the San Francisco Bay and further east from Oakland. (Oakland, incidentally, has the highest California crime rate.)
The crime rate in Danville is 8.2 incidents per 1,000 people. Danville has a population of just under 50,000. Major employers include Job Connections, a personnel agency, and the San Ramon Valley schools.
Aliso Viejo is a city between Los Angeles and San Diego. The crime rate in Aliso Viejo is 8.43 incidents per 1,000 people. The city’s population is just over 51,000. Major employers include United Parcel Service and Pacific Life.
Soledad is a city of 26,000 people just south of San Jose. The crime rate in Soledad is 8.6 incidents per 1,000 people.
The economy of Soledad is heavily vested in agriculture, with significant employers that include Dole Fresh Vegetables Company.
The sad fact is we live in a world with dangers aplenty. No geographical area offers guaranteed security and any that claim to do so should fill you with doubt. It takes common sense to live safely, and a keen understanding of what you value.
Overall, as large and as diverse it is, California ranks very well as a state in comparison to other states. The Public Policy Institute of California says the Golden State ranks 16th nationwide.
Its findings confirm our own. The institute notes that crime rates around California change depending on the region. You'll find violent crime is highest in the San Joaquin Valley. Property crime is highest near San Francisco.
How to make sense of it all? Do your homework, keep your guard up, and be smart. No matter what the data shows, you can live happily in one of the safest cities in California.
Do you live in any of these cities? Got any stories to share? Thinking of moving? Sound off in the comments below.