If you are trying to decide between living in California or Colorado, there are several factors you are going to want to consider.
Many people compare these two states when thinking about a place to settle down.
Both have beautiful mountains, an outdoorsy lifestyle, and a similar type of mindset among the people who live there.
But, there are a number of factors that make both states uniquely different that must be thought through before you commit to living in one state or the other.
The 5 biggest differences to consider when deciding if you want to live in California or Colorado are the cost of living, access to the ocean, access to the mountains, location in relation to other areas, and overall quality of life.
Change is inevitable for all of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or doesn’t sometimes feel scary.
Both California and Colorado check a lot of the same boxes for people who are yearning for a certain way of life. And the two states have many aspects that would make a person who likes one very happy living in the other.
But California and Colorado are still very different locales and knowing some of the specific differences will help you know you made the right decision when you pack up and head to one or the other.
I grew up in Colorado and it’s one of my favorite places on earth. I also know that California is a place that draws many people in.
Dive deeper with me as we explore both states and some of the things they have to offer.
Living in California vs. Colorado: 5 Biggest Differences
Both California and Colorado have aspects that attract the same types of people.
In fact, some of the biggest migrations take place between these two states!
They are both rich in history, have a certain lifestyle, and provide endless amounts of entertainment, especially for the outdoor enthusiast.
Let’s break down what makes these two states different from each other and why one may be a better fit for you.
1. Cost of Living
California and Colorado have large populations of people who are drawn to both states, and it’s no surprise – they each have wonderful perks. But – this also means the cost of living is high.
California’s cost of living is going to end up higher than Colorado’s, mainly because of the housing prices.
Even though the cost of living in Colorado is way above the national average, California is still significantly more expensive.
Take, for example, housing. A one-bedroom apartment will cost you upwards of $1800 a month in a city like Los Angeles, whereas the same apartment will cost you around $1400 in a metropolitan area like Denver.
And if you are considering buying a home, be prepared. A home that will cost you over $650,000 in California will cost you around $490,000 in a comparable area in Colorado.
When you then factor in things like taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance, you can quickly see how much farther your housing budget will stretch in Colorado.
Other things factor into your cost of living as well. Groceries are about 7% more in California and utilities are similar to that as well.
Gas is more expensive and so is eating out.
Overall, though both California and Colorado are on the high-end of places to live, Colorado definitely has a lower cost of living. Especially when it comes to the essentials, like shelter, food, and transportation.
2. Access to the Ocean
Colorado is a land-locked state.
Though there are beautiful lakes, rivers, and man-made reservoirs, it can’t offer the one thing California can: access to the Pacific Ocean and all the perks that come with that.
California is known for its beaches and water activities. Situated on the West Coast, it is a haven for those who want to surf, snorkel, water ski, and just sit in a beach chair and watch the sun disappear into the ocean at the end of a normal day.
There is no denying that California is a dream location if the water calls to you.
Colorado can offer you crystal-clear mountain lakes, rivers that run through most of the state, and even reservoirs that are perfect for boating, kite surfing, and water skiing.
But no matter how much water Colorado has to offer, it can’t compete with California, if the ocean is calling to your soul.
3. Access to the Mountains
Though there is no ocean bordering Colorado, many people will argue that the mountains make up for that.
The Rocky Mountains are the largest mountain range in North America and stretch from Canada through New Mexico.
Their awesomeness is hard to put into words, though John Denver certainly tried.
Californians will argue that there are plenty of mountain passes in this state as well, and it’s true – you can be at the beach in the morning and the mountains before sundown.
And both states boast plenty of peaks that are over 14,000 feet, if elevation is your thing. But Colorado still has the Rockies.
And for people who love to ski? Colorado’s snow is some of the finest in the world.
Colorado boasts 78 of the 100 highest peaks of this mountain range.
Ideal for avid hikers, backpackers, campers, and mountain bikers, these mountains are hard to compete with. California does have its mountain ranges in the north, and they are quite impressive in their own right.
But for a true mountain enthusiast, the Rocky Mountains are going to be hard to beat.
4. Location in Relation to Other Places
This is an interesting one. Colorado sits smack dab in the middle of the United States.
Because of this, the Denver International Airport is the third busiest airport in the country.
It is known as a major hub for most commercial airlines and more than 5 million people travel through the airport every month.
California also has several large airports and sees millions of people travel through them every month as well.
And, it offers plenty of long-haul flights to the East Coast and other cities around the country and world.
Both states have great travel resources and, depending on where you want to go, both offer a different take on location and proximity to other places.
For example, if travel on the West Coast is your thing, California is going to be ideal.
Also, the state itself offers such a variety of things to do, that some who live in California may say they never even have to leave the state.
But, if you want to be able to get to a multitude of different locations with less travel time, Colorado is going to be a better location to settle in
5. Overall Quality of Life
Many people believe the quality of life in California and Colorado must be pretty close.
With tons of outdoor activities, year-round sunshine, strong job markets, and good education and health care systems, it seems it would be hard to see one state clearly rise above the other in this category.
The problem may be the people. Though Colorado has been growing like crazy in popularity (and population!), California is way ahead in this area.
People discovered the benefits of the California dreaming’ life well before they decided Colorado may have as much to offer. And that has resulted in resources being stretched thin.
Both states are proud of their outdoor lifestyle and it is a big reason so many people have migrated to both. Being outdoors is also synonymous with healthy living and this seems to be a high priority to people from both California and Colorado.
But California has some environmental issues that are making its health score lower than Colorado’s.
Thanks to rapid growth and years of population surges without much regulation, California California’s quality of life score is significantly lower than Colorado’s, due in large part to drinking water quality, air pollution, and environmental concerns.
Though the state has taken great measures to combat these issues, it still lags behind Colorado for overall quality of life.
Things to Consider When Moving to a New State
For those of you who may be considering a move to California or Colorado, you probably have already done your homework and thought through a number of things that are making both these places rise high on your list of places to live.
We are all individuals, and what might be important to me in a quality lifestyle may not be the same as what’s important to you.
Let’s explore the main factors that go into deciding to move and see where each one ranks for you.
Moving to your dream state will end up being a nightmare if you aren’t prepared financially.
Knowing ahead of time what it’s going to cost to meet basic necessities like housing, food, and travel, as well as all the extras you’d like to enjoy will be crucial to your overall happiness once you get settled.
Not only are your future expenses going to be important to understand, but so will your income.
Looking into the job market before you go will help you determine if jobs in your field will be plentiful or scarce in your new state.
No one wants to start a new life living on an impossibly strict budget, so do some research as to what your income and expense ratio is going to look like before you pack that moving van.
This is a big one, depending on where you are in your health journey or stage of life.
If you are young, single, and overall healthy, a state’s commitment to quality health care may not be high on your needs list right now.
But, if you are an older adult, suffer from any long-term mental or physical health issues or if you have a family, having access to good, low-cost health care is going to play a big role in where you settle.
Healthcare expenses can be a major chunk of our costs, depending on where we live.
Spend some time researching what is available before you move.
Quality of Schools
This is another big one, depending on what stage of life you are in.
If you are an older adult, having some continuing education options may sound ideal, and having good school systems will raise your home value, but overall high-ranking school districts may not matter as much to you.
But if you have a young family and are prioritizing strong public schools as well as colleges, how a state’s school systems rank will be a big one on your list of possible places to live.
Each state in our country is rich with its own history and subsequent traditions that have come to make it unique.
Part of your research when choosing a place to live should involve getting to know more about that state’s past, and how it is honored today.
Cultural differences can mean so many things, and you have to decide where your values line up with each of them.
Are a state’s politics important to you? Do you crave living around people of different socio-economic backgrounds?
Again, we are all unique and not everyone in one state is going to feel the exact same way as everyone else.
But, in general, it’s a good idea to get the pulse of a place before you move, especially if certain issues are super important to you and you would be uncomfortable living amongst people whose values didn’t align (closely) with yours.
Oftentimes a visit (or two!) can help you determine what values seem most important to people in a certain region, state, or town.
Even neighborhoods can vary substantially! Do your homework, spend some time with the locals, and decide if this new state is one you will be proud to call home.
Summing Up Living in Colorado or California
Each state boasts its own great positives, and hopefully this guide has helped you narrow down a bit where you want to live if you’ve been struggling with the decision.
The outdoor life, the economy, and cultural diversity all play a huge role, along with cost of living. Make sure you think about everything before taking the plunge!