Average salary in California

4 mins read by Kate Morgan Last updated October 4, 2023

This article will take you through the main things you need to know about the average salaries and highest paying counties in California.

The sheer size of California makes it difficult to define a ‘good’ salary. The Golden State is home to some of the country’s most expensive cities to live in, yet earnings can vary massively. Whether you already live in California, or are thinking of making the move, it can be helpful to establish what the financial landscape looks like.

Numerous sources rank California as one of the most expensive states in the country to live in. Forbes places it second, while the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center ranks it fourth highest for the cost of living. Accordingly, we can expect the average salaries to match up—which is why it is such an attractive prospect to many. The earning potential available in California is an incentive for many to head to the west coast. But which cities and counties offer the highest average salaries? 

Average salary in California by city

City living is often more expensive than living in more rural areas, but it’s also where the money is. California’s own cities can vary massively in average salary; cities like San José and Fremont command well into six figures, while San Bernadino’s average sits below $65,000.  

Average earnings by city—or any other geographical metric—is just one way of calculating wealth, and certainly shouldn’t be the only way you look at your own earning potential in a given place. It doesn’t take into account the type of jobs that people do to earn above or below this average bracket, and omits any consideration for the number of people living in a household. However, it’s certainly one way of establishing which place offers good earning opportunities.  

The US Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey has calculated the average earnings for the 20 largest cities in California, which you can find ranked below.  

CityAverage earnings
Fremont $170,083
San Francisco $167,663
San José $150,601
Irvine $140,764
Oakland $116,585
San Diego $113,681
Chula Vista $105,155
Los Angeles $101,006
Anaheim $97,136
Fontana $93,383
Oxnard $91,636
Riverside $90,520
Long Beach $89,912
Santa Ana $88,829
Sacramento $87,213
Bakersfield $84,592
Modesto $81,841
Stockton $78,712
Fresno $73,396
San Bernardino $64,929

Average salary in California by county

Reviewing average salaries in California by city is not necessarily an adequate metric for average salaries across the state, since it’s entirely urban focused. A good idea is to weigh these figures up against the average salary in California by county, as this will take areas outside the main cities into account and offer a broader idea of salary ranges.  

The same survey from the US Census Bureau gives further insight this way, with the average household income calculated for each county. Below are the 10 highest-paying counties in California:

County Average household income
San Mateo County $182,158
Marin County $181,737
Santa Clara County $174,331
San Francisco County $167,663
Contra Costa County $141,278
Alameda County $138,489
Napa County $129,566
Orange County $127,056
Santa Cruz County $123,689
Placer County $120,740

Highest paying jobs in California

There’s another weighty factor that will influence how much you earn if you live in California: your job type. Average salaries for various sectors and job roles can vary massively across the state, so it’s absolutely something to consider when looking at salaries by location.  

Zippia has calculated a comprehensive list of annual salaries by job title. You can also find the top 10 highest-paying titles in California below.  

Occupation Average salary
Hospitalist Physician $235,100
Primary Care Pediatrician $224,019
Physician-Pediatrician $219,303
Board Certified Orthodontist $213,070
Staff Psychiatrist $212,643
Medical Director $206,896
Md Physician-Dermatologist $206,712
Chief Medical Officer $203,140
Pulmonary Physician $200,669
General Surgery Physician Assistant $199,736

Frequently asked questions about salaries in California

What is the average salary in California by age? 

Alongside location and occupation, salaries in California are also dependent on age, since more senior workers will be paid more. Then, when they retire, their income will dip again as they will rely on pensions and other forms of set income.  

The Census Bureau data finds that householders under 25 have a median household income of $41,045; householders aged 24 to 44 years old have a median income of $84,076; those aged 45 to 64 years old have a median income of $92,828; and those 65 and older have a median income of $57,034.  

What is a ‘good’ salary in California? 

The median income in California is $78,672. Defining ‘good’ relies on all sorts of variable factors and these should be taken into account. For example, $160,000 is a far higher salary than the state average—but is slightly lower than the mean average of San Francisco residents at $167,663.  

What is the average salary in California by hour? 

If Americans work an average of 1,801 hours per year—at 37.5 hours a week—then the average hourly salary in California is $43.69.  

Getting expert advice before you make significant financial decisions can really benefit you in the long term. Protect your financial future and speak to one of our financial advisors today.  

Content writer

Kate Morgan

Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.