If you have West Coast dreams but Midwest money, don’t worry: There are still a few spots left where regular people can carve out a decent life on a reasonable budget in the country’s three westernmost states.
In order to find the West Coast’s most attractive hidden gems, GOBankingRates used salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), rental price data from ApartmentList, cost-of-living data from Sperling’s Best Places and livability scores from AreaVibes. Livability scores represent quality-of-life factors like crime rates, amenities, schools and employment.
It’s important to note that the cost-of-living index uses 100 as the baseline for the national average; but, to account for the West Coast’s higher living costs, this ranking includes cities with cost-of-living indices up to 125, which is 25% higher than the national average.
Washington dominates the list by a mile, with the Evergreen State accounting for exactly two-thirds of the cities in the ranking. When reading, keep in mind that the statewide average monthly income there is $6,312 — it’s $6,304 in California and $4,880 in Oregon.
West Sacramento, California
California’s second and final entry is West Sacramento, home to 53,915 people. One of only two cities on this list with an average rent in the triple digits, West Sacramento is basically giving away one-bedrooms — by California standards, at least — for $961 per month. On the downside is its cost of living — at 23% higher than the national average, it’s more expensive there than in all but one other city in the ranking. It has an average livability score of 67.
One of just four cities with average rents above $1,400 per month — $1,411, to be exact — the small city of Puyallup is home to 42,973 residents. Its cost-of-living index is even higher than that of Citrus Heights — at 120.9, it’s one of only four cities profiled here where the cost of daily life is at least 20% higher than the national average. Although Puyallup’s livability score is one point lower than that of Citrus Heights, AreaVibes still rates it as “excellent.”
One of the larger six-figure-population cities on the list, Everett is home to 110,629 residents, a little less than Gresham’s 114,247. One of 10 entries from Washington, Everett has a manageable rent of $1,324, average by the standards of this list — its 69 livability score is average, too. The cost of living there is 18.8% higher than the national average, which is high by the standards of this ranking, but not by the standards of the West Coast.
Citrus Heights, California
Located just outside the capital city of Sacramento, Citrus Heights’ 87,583 residents pay the highest rent of any on this list — but $1,538 for a one-bedroom is hardly excruciating by California standards. Neither is its 120.1 cost-of-living index — in the Golden State, 20% higher than the national average still puts you 5% below the regional average. Although AreaVibes rates its livability as “excellent” with a score of 72, there’s room to grow — in terms of livability, Citrus Heights lands just in the middle of this ranking.
(Pictured: Sacramento River in Sacramento County)
One of only two cities with populations greater than 200,000 — 219,346, to be exact — Tacoma offers an average rent of $1,192, which puts it on the lower side, even among the low-cost cities profiled here. Its cost of living is just 13.3% higher than the national average, which is nothing by West Coast standards. Its 66 livability score, however, is barely average.
Gresham holds the unfortunate distinction of being tied for the lowest livability score on this list. Eugene, Ore., also gets a 65 and stands with Gresham as the only other city to receive a “below average” AreaVibes rating. Gresham’s $1,205 monthly rent, on the other hand, is much better than its two preceding rivals, as is its 115.7 cost-of-living index.
The second of only three entries from Oregon, Beaverton boasts a livability score of 78 — considered “exceptional” by AreaVibes. That puts it in a two-way race for the No. 2 spot — and No. 1 beats them both by only a point. A high quality of life doesn’t come cheap. Its 124.1 cost-of-living index is the highest on this list, and the $1,460 average rent is on the pricier side as well.
Although it’s well under Beaverton’s 78, Vancouver’s livability score of 71 is still enough for an AreaVibes rating of “excellent.” A city of 190,915, Vancouver’s cost-of-living index is a much more forgiving 114.3 and its $1,304 rent is less expensive, too. Vancouver is in the exact center of the list.
The first entry on the more favorable half of the list, Silverdale has a population of just 20,733, which makes it the smallest city in the ranking. In terms of quality of life, its impressive livability score of 78 ties it with Beaverton for No. 2 on the list, which is enough to earn it a rating of “exceptional.” Its 119 cost-of-living index is a little lower than Beaverton’s and its $1,493 rent is a little more expensive.
A population of 176,654 makes Eugene one of the bigger cities in the ranking — only three can boast more residents — and with an average rent of $1,039, only two cities have more affordable housing. On top of that, the cost of living is just 5.3% higher than the national average — the lowest on this list so far. The tradeoff is a below-average livability score of just 65, tied with only Gresham for dead last in the ranking.
Spokane Valley, Washington
Spokane Valley has less than half the population of Spokane, but still in the six figures with 102,976 residents. Its low rent of $1,109 is one of the most affordable on the list, as is its 96.7 cost-of-living index. The latter is low even by the standards of the national average, much less the notoriously pricey West Coast. On top of all that, its 74 livability score is one of the highest you’ll find in this ranking.
Olympia has an enviable livability score of 74, enough for an AreaVibes rating of “excellent.” Its 106.1 cost-of-living index is much lower than many cities on the list that don’t score nearly as high in terms of quality of life. Its $1,209 average rent is on the more affordable side of the ranking, too. Olympia has a population of 55,605.
No city profiled so far simultaneously has such a high quality of life and such a low cost of living as Lacey, which scores an impressive 77 with the former and just 105.9 for the latter. Rent in the city of 53,526 is $1,396 per month — not great by this list’s standards, but a gem in terms of West Coast housing.
With a population of 228,989, Spokane is the biggest city on this list — but that’s not what makes it such a great spot. At just $931 a month, the average rent in the Eastern Washington city is cheaper than any other in the ranking and one of only two that fall below $1,000. At the same time, it boasts the least expensive cost-of-living index (92.3) on the list — and one of only three lower than the national average. It has an average livability score of 67.
No city on the list can compete with Richland’s exceptional livability score of 79, and only two can claim a lower cost-of-living index than Richland’s sub-national average 98.4. At $1,190 per month, even rent in the city of 60,560 is more affordable than it is in most other places that make the cut — and they’re all relatively affordable.
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Methodology: For this piece, GOBankingRates first determined (1) average monthly wages in Q3 2021 for Oregon, Washington and California, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) County Employment and Wages news release. GOBankingRates then (2) found cities within the selected states where the average April 2022 rent for a one-bedroom apartment, sourced from ApartmentList, was no greater than 30% of state resident average monthly income (the housing budget guideline recommended by professionals); and (3) the corresponding populations for each city, sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau. Cities included in the ranking had (4) an overall cost of living index, sourced from Sperling’s Best Places, no greater than 25% higher than the national average; and (5) livability scores, sourced from AreaVibes, above 65. All data was collected and is up to date as of April 26, 2022.