Best Places for Remote Workers in California

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Updated on Tuesday, October 27, 2020

If you ask Californians what they dislike most about their jobs, many will say commuting. For those who can work remotely, the time and money saved by not sitting in traffic is an undeniable perk. Residents in costly regions, like the San Francisco Bay Area, may find that remote work offers the possibility of going somewhere more affordable while retaining their high-paying jobs.

The coronavirus crisis has forced many businesses to embrace remote work. With more employees looking to embrace the remote lifestyle, MagnifyMoney researchers created six weighted categories to rank the best places for remote workers in California.

Key findings

  • North Tustin in Orange County tops our list of best places for remote workers in California, with a score of 73.4.
  • Jamul in San Diego County ranks second, with a score of 73.1. The rest of our top five is as follows:
    • 3: Granite Bay in Placer County, with a score of 72.9
    • 4: Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz County, with a score of 72.8
    • 5: El Granada in San Mateo County, with a score of 72.5
  • Five of the top 25 places for remote workers in California are in Orange County, followed by:
    • Four each in Placer and San Diego counties
    • Three each in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties

Top 5 places for remote workers in California

No. 1: North Tustin

In North Tustin, remote workers should have no trouble whipping up their favorite nutritious meals at home, as only 1% of Orange County residents have limited access to healthy foods.

When it comes time to blow off steam after a day of remote work, fitness is an option for most — 81% of Orange County residents have access to exercise opportunities. The community finished with a solid safety score, too, taking into account violent crime incidents and motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people in the county, among other factors.

North Tustin is a great spot for remote workers with families. Residents are just a quick 15-minute drive from Irvine Regional Park, which is home to a zoo, equestrian trails, paddleboat rentals and tons of family fun.

No. 2: Jamul

Jamul may be an option for those working remotely to get a little more bang for their buck in a less-expensive part of California. In Jamul (San Diego County), the median home value is $663,800, according to owner estimates.

That may seem large for those not familiar with California home prices, but compare that to the median home value in big cities like San Francisco ($1 million) and San Jose ($793,000). Plus, this way, you can keep some extra money in a high-yield savings account.

With the median number of rooms within homes in Jamul coming in at around seven, remote workers will have plenty of space to create a comfortable and functional office. And when you need to escape your home office, the beach is only about a 30-minute drive away. How’s that for work-life balance?

No. 3: Granite Bay

Speaking of home offices, Granite Bay is a great place to carve out some space to work from home. Not only are the homes on the larger side for California (the median number of rooms is 7.6), but Granite Bay also has pretty good access to the internet, as 84% of residents have cable, fiber or DSL internet.

When it comes time to step away from your desk and stretch, you’ll be in good company, as 100% of residents in Placer County have access to exercise opportunities.

Granite Bay’s roots date to the California gold rush, when settlers arrived to take advantage of the plentiful gold mining opportunities in the area — maybe finding the perfect remote work opportunity in Granite Bay could be like striking gold.

No. 4: Ben Lomond

Santa Cruz County, where Ben Lomond is located, is among the counties with the second lowest score for predicted climate change impact in California. And the county’s air quality is cleaner than in most parts of California, too, so feel free to work outside if that suits your fancy.

Aside from scoring highly for environmental factors, 88% of Ben Lomond residents have cable, fiber or DSL internet, which can make the remote work experience more seamless.

No. 5: El Granada

El Granada rounds out the top five places for remote workers in California after scoring highly for health and safety factors:

  • Only 1% of San Mateo County residents have limited access to healthy food
  • The number of people per primary care physician in the county is 940
  • 88% of residents have access to exercise opportunities
  • San Mateo County residents only experience 3.08 mentally unhealthy days per month on average

Internet access also shouldn’t be a problem, as 91% of El Granada residents have access to cable, fiber or DSL internet.

And when you want some fresh air, the San Mateo County Coastside (encompassing El Granada and several other nearby cities) offers access to beaches, forests and plenty of open space.

Tips for finding a work-life balance when working remotely

While remote working has its benefits, it can also be challenging to find work-life balance when working from home. Remote work is not a great fit for everybody, and some may appreciate the structure and socializing opportunities that a traditional office environment can provide.

Keep the following tips in mind for finding work-life balance while working from home:

  • Communicate clearly. When you work from home, it can feel like you’re expected to always be available — that’s not true. Communicate your preferred working hours to your colleagues, as well as when you will (and won’t) be answering emails. Setting expectations about when you’re available will cut down on stress for everyone.
  • Create a home workspace. While it’s tempting to work from your comfy couch all day, having a workspace that is separate from your personal space can help create clear boundaries. Find a quiet, well-lit space in your home to carve out an office space, even if it’s just the dining room table that you don’t use on a day-to-day basis.
  • Get outside. One of the perks of living in California is the great weather. Working from home can start to feel claustrophobic, and spending all of your time there can take its toll. Buy some patio furniture or head to a coffee shop with a patio when you need to get work done, but also want a little fresh air and sunshine.

Understanding California remote worker tax implications

  • If you move to California to work remotely, you’ll be considered a resident if you live in the state for anything other than a temporary period.
  • If you head to California temporarily while working remotely, you shouldn’t have to pay state income taxes.

Since we’re talking about remote working, we wanted to look at it from the opposite angle, too. If you’re working for a California company and decide to live out of state, research to ensure you understand the taxes you’re required to pay.

California is infamously aggressive with collecting income tax. Remote workers employed by companies in the Golden State may owe still state income taxes.

If you leave the state, it’s important to request that your employer update your paycheck and W-2 form to record you as a resident of a different state.

Best places for remote workers in California: Full rankings

Understanding the rankings

To rank which places in California are best for remote workers, we created six categories:

  • Internet availability
  • Home size
  • Home cost
  • Health and lifestyle
  • Safety
  • Climate change impact

Each data point among the categories was individually scored on a rank of 1 to 100, with one representing the worst and 100 representing the best. These scores were then averaged to create the category score. Lastly, the category scores were combined (using the weights described below) to create the overall score. All scores were rounded to the tenth.

The categories and their components are:

Internet availability score (20% weight)

  • The percentage of people who have either cable, fiber or DSL. This shows whether these high-speed and more reliable internet services are widely available.

Home size score (20% weight)

  • The percentage of single-family, detached homes. The outdoor opportunities these homes can provide are more important as people seek to socially distance in comfort.
  • The median number of rooms within homes.

Home cost score (20% weight)

  • The median home value (owner estimate). This is how much owners (in 2018) thought their homes would sell for if they were for sale.
  • The median rent.

Health and lifestyle (20% weight)

  • The highest-ranked hospital in the county. The federal government rates hospitals across a variety of outcome metrics. In counties with multiple hospitals, we took the score of the highest-ranked hospital (on a scale of one through five).
  • The number of people per primary care physician in the county.
  • The average number of mentally unhealthy days in the county. This is the average number of days that residents reported being mentally unwell in a given month.
  • The percentage of county residents who have limited access to healthy foods.
  • The percentage of county residents who have access to exercise opportunities.

Safety score (10% weight)

  • The number of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people in the county.
  • The number of violent crime incidents per 100,000 people in the county.
  • The average daily density of fine particulate matter in the county’s air (micrograms per cubic meter). Breathable air has never been more important amid a pandemic.

Climate change impact score (10% weight)

  • The predicted climate change impact on the county (from 2040 to 2060). This is the sum of impact scores across six categories, each with a worst possible score of 10 for a total worst possible score of 60. These categories are:
    • Heat
    • Wet bulb, or extreme humidity that makes activity excessively dangerous relative to actual temperature
    • Farm crop yields
    • Sea level rise
    • Very large fires
    • Economic damages

MagnifyMoney researchers considered ranking other categories, too, such as the local businesses available for shopping, dining and recreation, as well as school quality features. However, we were concerned that past performance in these areas can’t be taken as a predictor of future performance. Local businesses have shuttered in many parts of the U.S. and schools have struggled with teacher retirements and online learning challenges amid the pandemic.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney analysts ranked every municipality and Census-designated place in California with a population of at least 5,000 people and for which all data was available.

Sources

  • U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey five-year estimates
  • 2020 County Health Rankings
  • Medicare
  • ProPublica

All data is the most recently available for these geographies.