Which Bay Area city is best for you? Tool ranks 25 cities based on 'quality of life' metrics

A Chronicle analysis of 16 metrics finds the Bay Area city with the best quality of life is San Francisco.

A Chronicle analysis of 16 metrics finds the Bay Area city with the best quality of life is San Francisco.

Michael Macor, Staff / The Chronicle

What’s the best city to live in the Bay Area? The answer is different for everyone. For some people entertainment options are paramount, while others care more about diversity.

In 2022, The Chronicle ranked 25 largest Bay Area cities by quality of life based on 11 metrics, and the city of Alameda came out on top. For our 2023 ranking, we decided to up our game to include 16 metrics and let readers create their own ranking based on their priorities. These metrics don’t include everything a resident might care about, but they hit on many of the factors that contribute to a pleasant city life.

The tool below allows you to choose the importance of five quality-of-life categories that we’ve grouped our 16 metrics into: entertainment opportunities, art and community spaces, walkability, diversity and environmental factors. Based on what you input in the tool, it outputs a customized ranking that upweights factors you say are most important and ignores categories you don’t care about.

What if all the categories are weighed equally?

San Francisco tops the list, with an average ranking across categories of 6.7. San Francisco’s high ranking is driven by its unusually high marks on entertainment, arts and culture and walkability. Berkeley comes in second at 8.1, followed by San Mateo (9.1), the city of Alameda (9.4) and Oakland (9.5).

At the bottom of the list are San Ramon (18.6 average ranking), Fremont (17.4) and Antioch (16.5). All of these cities rank particularly poorly on walkability and diversity.

Below are the rankings for each of the five major categories and individual metrics within them.


Happiness is often tied to leisure activities , like eating out at restaurants, going to see a movie at a theater or attending a concert. For our entertainment category, we included data on the number of bars, restaurants, movie theaters and music venues per 100,000 people.

San Francisco topped the list for nearly all of the measures, except for music venues where it fell just short of Berkeley’s nearly 14 music venues per 100,000 residents. Napa was fourth on the list, due to the number of theaters, restaurants and venues .

Arts and culture

Museums and libraries act as places for community gathering and enrichment, and people who visit these spaces often feel a sense of belonging . Libraries, for instance, provide resources beyond just books, like shelter and other community services .

The Chronicle used data on museums and libraries for the “arts and culture” category, using data from Google Maps and the California State Library branch data . There are other things we wanted to measure, like the prevalence of public art or number of community events, but data on these metrics was not widely available for the cities we analyzed.

Berkeley scores the highest in this category with the most museums per capita and third most libraries per capita among the 25 cities.

Walking and transit

Living in a walkable community can improve one’s physical health and emotional well-being . The Chronicle used data from Walk Score , a data tool from real estate broker Redfin, to quantify the walkability and bikeability of a city. We also included data on transit stops and supermarkets per capita to measure the convenience of living in a city.

According to our analysis, Berkeley is the most walkable, ranking in the top two for each of the four metrics. San Francisco comes in second place overall, scoring highly in walkability and transit access.


The Chronicle measured diversity across racial, age and country of birth to find the most diverse communities in the Bay Area. Racial diversity was calculated using the U.S. Census’ formula which measures the odds that two people chosen randomly from a city’s population will belong to a different race or ethnic group. Age diversity was similarly calculated, using age brackets of children under 17, people between the ages of 18 to 34, people between the ages of 35 and 59 and people ages 60 and over. The Chronicle also considered diversity of national origin by calculating the percentage of a city’s residents who were born in a country outside of the United States.

Vallejo ranks the highest on diversity, with high racial and age diversity within its community. Hayward comes in second, followed by Fairfield and Richmond.


The environment can be an important factor when considering living in a specific city, for both physical and mental health reasons. The Chronicle therefore analyzed environment-related metrics of each Bay Area city, including air quality, use of green energy and park access.

Vacaville ranks as the greenest city, primarily because it ranks highest in its share of households that use solar energy for heating. The city in Solano County also ranks sixth in air quality and seventh in park access.

San Francisco has the best park access — 100% of residents live within a ten-minute walk from a park — but ranks low on solar energy use, resulting in a 11th-place ranking in the overall environment category.

Leila Darwiche is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer, and Nami Sumida is a San Francisco Chronicle data visualization developer. Email: nami.sumida@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @datawithleila @namisumida