The 10 Worst Places To Live In California For 2021

We used science to determine which places in The Golden State are the real pits.

RoadSnacks is reader-supported. When you click through real estate links on our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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 410 cities with a population over 5,100, we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in California:

What? Where are these places you wonder? And before you get all riled up and say we’re picking on small town America, that’s not the case.

We understand there’s a lot of good in every place.

However, according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty and ‘friendly people’), there are far better options in the state for making a place home. And the worst place to live in California? That would be Clearlake.

Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2021.

If you’re looking for something more national, check out the worst cities in America or the worst states in America.

For more California reading, check out:

The 10 Worst Places To Live In California For 2021

Clearlake, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 15,349
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $110,500
Unemployment Rate: 18.4%
More on Clearlake:  Data | Photos

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.

Adelanto, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 33,660
Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $195,800
Unemployment Rate: 12.9%
More on Adelanto:  Data | Photos

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.

Desert Hot Springs, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 28,585
Rank Last Year: 4 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $194,500
Unemployment Rate: 9.7%
More on Desert Hot Springs:  Data | Photos

According to science, Desert Hot Springs is one of the worst places 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.

Seriously, this place is filled with homeless people and smells like a combination of Mexican food and tumbleweeds.

Commerce, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 12,830
Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $411,200
Unemployment Rate: 6.1%
More on Commerce:  Data | Photos

We’re heading to Los Angeles’ worst suburb to reach California’s 4th worst city overall, Commerce.

For starters, Commerce is one of the most dangerous cities in California, with an overall crime rate 260% above the national average.

The median household income in Commerce is also nearly 40% lower than the statewide average. On the bright side, things are more affordable in Commerce than the rest of the state, and unemployment and poverty rates are basically on par with California as a whole.

And if you’re feeling especially gloomy about living here, at least Disneyland is just 20 minutes down the road.

Avenal, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 12,961
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 7)
Median Home Value: $152,500
Unemployment Rate: 12.5%
More on Avenal:  Data | Photos

Avenal ranks as the 5th worst place to live in California for several reasons.

62.2% percent of the population is male, but here’s the catch: Avenal is home to an all-male state prison, and inmates make up nearly a third of the “residents.” So it makes sense that more than a quarter of residents have less than a 9th-grade education.

The median household income in Avenal went up by over 10% from last year, but it’s still $41,114; far below the statewide average.

Ironically (for a city with a large prison population), Avenal’s crime rate is actually 60% below the national average. Not to mention that the cost of living in Avenal is about 30% cheaper than the rest of California.

Mendota, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 11,531
Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 2)
Median Home Value: $158,700
Unemployment Rate: 19.2%
More on Mendota:  Data | Photos

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.

Hemet, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 84,542
Rank Last Year: 6 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $196,700
Unemployment Rate: 12.9%
More on Hemet:  Data | Photos

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.

Dos Palos, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,351
Rank Last Year: 18 (Up 10)
Median Home Value: $194,500
Unemployment Rate: 11.7%
More on Dos Palos:  Data

Situated a half-hour south of Merced, Dos Palos is a city of 5,351 that ranks as the 8th worst place to call home in California.

The poverty is moderately high, unemployment is nearly double the statewide average, and criminal activity (especially violent crime) is all too common.

On a positive note, Dos Palos is one of the most affordable cities in California, with a cost of living below the national average (that’s rare in the Golden State).

Also, it’s easy to get away from it all if you’re a fan of nature; both the San Luis and Merced National Wildlife Reguges are just a short drive away.

San Bernardino, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 216,089
Rank Last Year: 5 (Down 4)
Median Home Value: $249,400
Unemployment Rate: 9.2%
More on San Bernardino:  Data | Photos

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.

San Jacinto, CA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 47,989
Rank Last Year: 9 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $241,000
Unemployment Rate: 9.2%
More on San Jacinto:  Data | Photos

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.

How we determined the worst places to live in California for 2021

To figure out how bad a place is to live in, we only needed to know what kinds of things people like and then decide what cities have the least amount of those things.

We don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that people like the following things:

  • Good education
  • Lots of jobs
  • Low crime
  • Low poverty
  • Nice homes
  • High incomes
  • High population density (Lots of things to do)
  • Short work commutes
  • Health insurance

The data comes from the Census’s most recent American Community Survey and from the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

We broke crime down into violent crime and property crime to give violent crime a larger weight — if you did a simple calculation of all crimes per capita, property crimes are normally 7x more common and really bias that ranking.

Furthermore, only cities with at least 5,000 people were considered — leaving 410 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 410 for all the criteria with a #1 ranking being the worst for the particular criteria.

Next, we averaged the rankings into one “Worst Place To Live Score”.

Finally, we ranked every city on the “Worst Place To Live Score” with the lowest score being the worst city in California — Clearlake. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in California. You can download the data here.

This list is a scientific analysis based on real data and is completely unbiased.

Wrapping Up The Worst In California

If you’re looking at areas in California with the worst economic situations, where there’s higher than average crime, and not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.

And in the end, Clearlake ranks as the worst city to live in California for 2021.

If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in California:

  1. Pacific Grove (Pop. 15,522)
  2. Aliso Viejo (Pop. 50,663)
  3. Los Altos (Pop. 30,504)

For more California reading, check out:

Where Are The Worst Places To Live In California?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Clearlake 15,349 18.4% $110,500
2 Adelanto 33,660 12.9% $195,800
3 Desert Hot Springs 28,585 9.7% $194,500
4 Commerce 12,830 6.1% $411,200
5 Avenal 12,961 12.5% $152,500
6 Mendota 11,531 19.2% $158,700
7 Hemet 84,542 12.9% $196,700
8 Dos Palos 5,351 11.7% $194,500
9 San Bernardino 216,089 9.2% $249,400
10 San Jacinto 47,989 9.2% $241,000
11 Barstow 23,899 9.2% $117,100
12 Victorville 121,902 12.9% $221,200
13 Hesperia 94,203 10.3% $235,700
14 Wasco 27,193 10.3% $168,500
15 Perris 77,290 7.4% $281,600
16 Huntington Park 58,353 8.3% $412,600
17 Lathrop 22,341 6.6% $358,900
18 South Gate 94,642 9.6% $408,200
19 Rialto 103,045 10.6% $313,400
20 Richmond 109,884 6.0% $462,600
21 Los Banos 38,914 13.3% $293,400
22 Lindsay 13,310 16.0% $142,200
23 San Pablo 30,967 6.7% $355,000
24 Compton 96,803 9.4% $355,200
25 Arvin 21,249 9.5% $166,900
26 Lake Elsinore 65,817 8.2% $352,600
27 Red Bluff 14,264 11.0% $174,300
28 Blythe 19,643 8.3% $150,000
29 Moreno Valley 207,289 8.4% $312,000
30 Jurupa Valley 105,653 8.7% $363,000
31 Coachella 45,181 14.3% $219,400
32 Merced 82,662 12.7% $237,500
33 Stockton 309,228 8.8% $273,400
34 Palmdale 156,293 8.0% $280,000
35 Montclair 39,155 7.5% $354,500
36 Huron 7,115 14.4% $163,000
37 Gustine 5,813 11.6% $222,700
38 Shafter 19,447 9.1% $175,300
39 Lompoc 43,232 10.0% $315,900
40 Atwater 29,296 11.2% $229,400
41 Calipatria 7,395 20.4% $145,700
42 Lynwood 70,635 8.4% $399,100
43 Madera 64,833 9.2% $224,100
44 Pomona 152,209 7.1% $394,500
45 Oroville 19,393 8.7% $183,600
46 Dinuba 24,015 11.6% $197,500
47 Pittsburg 71,422 8.3% $386,200
48 Taft 9,372 5.0% $146,500
49 Banning 31,072 9.1% $234,900
50 Lancaster 159,028 6.5% $261,400
51 Brawley 26,076 18.0% $188,900
52 Ontario 176,760 6.5% $375,000
53 Palm Springs 47,897 8.6% $389,800
54 Fort Bragg 7,302 7.8% $342,200
55 Orland 7,622 5.8% $208,200
56 Antioch 111,200 8.4% $397,400
57 Shasta Lake 10,206 6.4% $183,000
58 Riverside 326,414 6.6% $365,300
59 Bakersfield 377,917 8.4% $247,000
60 Apple Valley 72,726 10.5% $255,000
61 Vallejo 121,267 8.2% $370,000
62 Inglewood 109,613 8.0% $483,000
63 Marysville 12,327 7.1% $207,200
64 South El Monte 20,721 5.8% $445,500
65 Highland 55,049 8.3% $330,200
66 Firebaugh 8,300 23.7% $173,300
67 Los Angeles 3,966,936 6.3% $636,900
68 Corning 7,590 10.1% $167,700
69 Bell 35,682 7.4% $413,400
70 Calimesa 8,814 6.1% $217,500
71 Corcoran 22,156 11.6% $149,300
72 Yucca Valley 21,622 11.8% $172,600
73 Oakland 425,097 6.1% $687,400
74 Porterville 59,697 12.4% $172,500
75 Ceres 48,214 11.9% $270,500
76 Indio 89,469 8.5% $281,400
77 Eureka 26,966 7.4% $281,400
78 Colton 54,580 7.1% $257,500
79 Chino 89,631 5.1% $459,100
80 Santa Fe Springs 17,810 3.6% $447,400
81 Delano 52,886 11.9% $182,900
82 Big Bear Lake 5,241 3.0% $391,000
83 Arcata 18,178 11.7% $341,000
84 Selma 24,675 7.0% $186,300
85 Montebello 62,742 7.0% $492,300
86 Anderson 10,407 4.8% $200,200
87 Livingston 14,228 7.3% $229,900
88 Bell Gardens 42,421 7.4% $388,100
89 Calexico 39,946 15.3% $207,600
90 Wildomar 36,445 7.7% $356,700
91 Cudahy 23,890 8.5% $420,700
92 Ukiah 15,943 11.4% $349,600
93 Modesto 212,616 8.9% $283,800
94 El Centro 44,003 13.1% $192,600
95 Gridley 6,744 5.9% $190,500
96 Woodlake 7,622 7.1% $162,900
97 Tulare 63,547 6.9% $207,000
98 Tehachapi 12,680 7.4% $211,200
99 Farmersville 10,716 12.5% $153,800
100 Paramount 54,513 5.3% $343,800

How Is The Area In ?

Editor’s Note: This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out we updated this article for 2021. This is our seventh time ranking the worst places to live in California.

About Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson earned his masters in Business Administration from the Drucker School At Claremont Graduate University. He has written for 39 publications across the country and ran the media relations department at Movoto, a real estate portal based in San Francisco. He has been featured in over 500 publications as an expert in real estate and as an authority on real estate trends.

Nick's the creator of the HomeSnacks YouTube channel that now has over 260,000 subscribers and is an excellent source to learn about different parts of the country.