We built our list of the top five most expensive cities in the United States by looking at the national cost of living index. We chose only those cities with populations greater than 100,000. Most of the top twenty most expensive cities in the country are in the Northeast and Southwest. None of our top five has a population in excess of 200,000.
Of the top ten priciest cities in the country, eight are in California. Only Worcester Massachusetts is outside California in the top five, and only Paterson, New Jersey in the next five.
Most of the top five most expensive cities in the U.S. have service economies, with government sectors like education and health care providing most of the jobs. Only Huntington Beach, California escapes this designation, with its vibrant economy centered around a mix of tourism and manufacturing.
#1: Norwalk, California
Norwalk, California, population 106,278, has the highest cost of living of any city on our list. The city’s median household income is $59,476 and its median home value is $300,100.
Norwalk is a suburb of Los Angeles. Most of the jobs in the city come from the government, from sectors like education, health care, law enforcement and other services. Norwalk has a median monthly housing cost of $1,425.
The second most expensive city on our list, Worcester, Massachusetts, is the only one of our top five most expensive cities outside of California. With a population of 182,669, Worcester has a median monthly housing cost of $1,017. Its median monthly income is $43,492 and its median home cost is $204,900. Worcester is the second largest city in New England, second only to Boston.
Warm, humid summers and cold, snowy winters make Worcester a place not for the faint of heart. Once one of the largest manufacturing centers in New England, Worcester is now largely a service economy. Healthcare and education top the list of Worcester’s employers.
The city with the third highest cost of living on our list, Escondido has a population of 147,575 and a median housing cost of $1,309 per month. Its median household income is $45,466 and its median home cost is $312,900.
Escondido, in a low valley surrounded by rocky hills, takes its name from the Spanish word for “hidden.” Its top employers are government sectors like education and healthcare. Its climate is mild and mediterranean, with warm summers and cool wet winters. The city has 15 public parks, including the 3,000 acre Daley Ranch.
The fourth most expensive on our list of U.S. cities, Oceanside California has a population of 171,293. Its median monthly housing cost is $1,471. The coastal city has a median household income of $59,640 and a median home price of $331,700.
Formerly a small beach community, Oceanside’s chief employers are in the government sectors of education and healthcare. Its largest employer is the Tri-City Medical Center and its second largest is the city government itself. Oceanside has a mild, semi-arid climate which they claim gives them nearly perfect weather year round.
The city’s annual budget is $400 million. That’s more than the annual budget of the country of Belize.
#5: Huntington Beach, California
Huntington Beach is a bit of a surprise compared to the other four most expensive cities on our list, in that its economy is the only one not based on government services like education and healthcare.
Early on, city planners designated the beaches as off-limits to construction. They also heavily marketed the city as “Surf City,” going as far as fighting a legal battle with Santa Cruz for the nickname in 2007. These efforts, plus a mild climate and excellent surfing, have given Huntington Beach a vibrant tourist economy. Yet surprisingly their main source of employment is the aerospace industry.
A major Boeing installation is their #1 employer, but not far behind is a manufacturer of surfing gear and several other manufacturing businesses.
Huntington Beach has a population of 194,708 and a median household income of $80,020. The median home value in the city is $603,000.
The Next 5 Most Expensive U.S. Cities
The next five cities on our list of highest costs of living are likewise mostly in California:
- Simi Valley, CA, pop 125,793
- Chula Vista, CA, pop 252,422
- Oxnard, CA, pop 201,555
- Irvine, CA, pop 229,985
- Paterson, NJ, pop 145,219
Also see our list of the 5 Cheapest Cities in the U.S.