The sunny state of California, which is listed among the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, features diverse geography, scenic parks and 840 miles of coastline, making it a prime retirement destination for active seniors. The state is made up of a dozen regions, each with its own culture and amenities, and it has nearly 40 million residents, about 15% of whom are retirees. A very comfortable climate means plenty of opportunities to explore the state’s park system, many of which feature stocked fishing lakes, boat launches and picnic spots, and exciting festivals throughout the year provide entertainment and celebrate the state’s unique heritage. 

Independent living communities provide housing for active older adults. These communities promote a comfortable, maintenance-free lifestyle and typically feature amenities such as recreational centers, swimming pools and clubs and interest groups. Some communities also offer daily meals, basic housekeeping and laundry services and onsite spas and fitness centers. On average, Californians pay $3,250 per month for independent living, though fees vary considerably depending on location and amenities. 

This guide provides more details on independent living in California and outlines agencies and programs available to retirees in the state.  

The Cost of Independent Living in California

Independent living is a great option for active seniors who want to continue pursuing their hobbies and interests without the hassles and financial burdens of homeownership. Unlike assisted living facilities that support those who need personal care services, independent living facilities are oriented around the social needs of residents. This living option typically has monthly costs that are 30-40% lower than assisted living. To calculate monthly fees, we deduct 35% from the assisted living rates listed in the Genworth 2020 Cost of Care Survey

California is among the costliest states in the nation for independent living, with monthly rates coming in at $3,250, approximately 15% higher than the national median of $2,795. In Washington, monthly fees are several hundred dollars higher at $3,738, and in Oregon, fees are more cost-effective but still exceed the nation’s average at $3,028. In Arizona, monthly independent living fees come in over $700 less than in California at $2,535, and Nevada is the cheapest nearby option at $2,337.  

$3250

California

$2795

The United States

$3738

Washington

$3028

Oregon

$2337

Nevada

$2535

Arizona

Paying for Independent Living in California

While independent living is among the most affordable post-retirement care options in California, many older adults discover that income from Social Security benefits, workers’ or veterans’ pensions and withdrawals from retirement savings accounts aren’t enough to support their preferred standard of living. Homeowners have several options that may enable them to use their house to cover costs, including selling their home or taking out a reverse mortgage. Those who live in a city that’s a popular vacation destination may find that renting their home out is the most lucrative option for funding their care. Other options for covering independent living include long-term care insurance, which offsets housing costs by covering housekeeping, meals and transportation services. 

Independent Living Resources in California

Older adults in California have access to an array of programs and agencies that provide options for counseling, referrals and access to social and recreational opportunities. These resources are free or low-cost and can help active seniors maintain their independence in the community.  

Resource Contact Service 
Area Agencies on Aging (800) 510-2020 California has a network of over two dozen Area Agencies on Aging. These local nonprofit agencies operate independently of state and federal governments but are funded through the Older Americans Act to provide a range of services and programs to enhance the lives of residents aged 60 and over. Some services available through local AAAs include nutrition assistance, transportation, in-home services, social and recreational programs and information and referrals for services in the community. 
Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (800) 434-0222 HICAP is a statewide program that provides free health insurance options counseling for those who qualify for Medicare. Through this program, trained volunteers meet one-on-one with individuals to answer questions regarding Medicare benefits, Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans and Medicaid. Volunteers can also help older adults understand medical bills, resolve billing errors and resolve denied claims.  
CalCAPA (916) 443-1721 CalCAPA is a state-wide membership organization that provides income-qualifying individuals with access to social and recreational programming, home-delivered meals, healthcare services, utility assistance, home modifications, weatherization services and transportation. Services vary depending on location and participating agencies. 
California Department of Veterans Affairs (800) 952-5626 The California Department of Veterans Affairs oversees and administers a range of programs for veterans in the state, including advocacy, housing, healthcare, home loans and VA claims. Through its online portal, my CalVet, individuals can access customized benefits and services such as survivors’ and veterans’ pension programs, memorial benefits and disability compensation.   
L.A. Works (323) 224-6510 ext. 104 L.A. Works provides volunteer opportunities for those aged 55 and over in Los Angeles and the surrounding region. Through this program, individuals serve their communities through volunteer opportunities open only to RSVP volunteers, such as tutoring and mentoring children, promoting adult literacy, serving as guides in museums and providing administrative assistance for local nonprofit organizations. In exchange for their service, volunteers access special discounts and rewards programs from partnering businesses, supplemental insurance and recognition at appreciation events. Those living in other cities can access volunteer opportunities in their counties through AmeriCorps Seniors Pathfinder.  
California Senior Legal Hotline (800) 222-1753 The Senior Legal Hotline provides in-person and over-the-phone advice on legal issues related to estate planning, housing, pension programs, public benefits and grandparents’ rights to those in 23 Northern California counties. Services are available to seniors regardless of their income. Those living outside of the region can refer to their local AAA for legal assistance.