The most expensive U.S. cities are costly for a good reason – several, really. Residents are willing to pay extra for everything from housing to food to gas if it allows them to live someplace with great weather. Others are looking for cosmopolitan living, with a host of restaurants, museums and other cultural options on tap.
However, in some cases, simple isolation plays a leading role. When pretty much everything has to be imported over long supply lines, prices are bound to be higher.
To determine just how much the most expensive cities in the U.S. can really cost, we turned to the latest data from the Council for Community and Economic Research (opens in new tab). Its Cost of Living Index measures scores of prices across 265 urban areas for housing (opens in new tab), groceries, utilities, transportation, healthcare (opens in new tab), and miscellaneous goods and services (such as getting your hair done or going to a movie). We also gathered data on household incomes (opens in new tab), home values and unemployment (opens in new tab) rates for each city to provide additional insights into the true cost of living for typical residents. Take a closer look at the 11 most expensive cities in the U.S.
Cost of Living Index (opens in new tab) data is based on average prices of goods and services collected for the third quarter of 2022, with index values based on the new weights for 2022. Metro-level data on populations, household incomes, home values, poverty rates and other demographic information are from the U.S. Census Bureau (opens in new tab). Metropolitan area unemployment rates, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (opens in new tab), are not seasonally adjusted, and are as of Dec. 1 for the month of October 2022, which is the latest data available. For the purposes of finalizing this list, Orange County, Calif., and the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, were treated as separate cities.
11. Oakland, California
- Cost of living: 47.3% above U.S. average
- City population: 433,797
- Median household income: $82,236 (U.S.: $69,717)
- Median home value: $848,600 (U.S.: $281,400)
- Unemployment rate: 3.5% (U.S.: 3.7%)
Oakland anchors one corner of a sort of Bermuda Triangle around San Francisco Bay where affordable prices go missing. The second corner is San Francisco, as famous for its sky-high real estate as it is for Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf. The third corner is Silicon Valley (opens in new tab), home to tech giants handing out six-figure salaries like candy on Halloween.
Compared to its neighbors to the west and south, Oakland might seem a bargain. But consider this: Although median household income in Oakland is about 18% higher than the national level, median home values (opens in new tab) are three times the U.S. as a whole.
Rents (opens in new tab) and other costs for keeping a roof over one's head are similarly elevated in Oakland. Total housing-related expenses are triple the national average, according to C2ER. Utilities (opens in new tab), transportation and healthcare costs all run about a quarter higher than the national average, while groceries are 30% more expensive than what the typical American pays.
Helpfully, California ranks as one of the most tax-friendly states (opens in new tab) for middle-class families.
10. San Diego, California
- Cost of living: 47.4% above U.S. average
- City population: 1,381,600
- Median household income: $93,042
- Median home value: $768,800
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
San Diego, with its miles of beaches and nearly ideal climate, is paradise for those who love the outdoors. Be it surfing, sailing, hiking, biking, golfing or just exploring Balboa Park, this city on the Pacific has something for everyone.
And for those who prefer more sedentary activities, San Diego offers a world-class zoo, museums, professional sports teams and a wide-ranging restaurant scene.
Top employers include the U.S. Navy, Qualcomm (QCOM (opens in new tab)) and the University of California, San Diego.
So what's not to like? Well, living in San Diego can really stretch a budget. Housing costs are 127% higher than the national average. The average home price (opens in new tab) in San Diego stands at a whopping $1.04 million vs. a national average of $465,991. Average apartment rent comes to $3,174 a month, vs. the U.S. average of $1,427 .
And the bleeding doesn't stop there. Groceries, healthcare (opens in new tab) and utilities all run about 10% greater than what the typical American pays. Transportation expenses are especially stiff, or nearly 28% higher than the U.S. average.
9. Boston, Massachusetts
- Cost of living: 49.9% above U.S. average
- City population: 654,281
- Median household income: $79,283
- Median home value: $659,700
- Unemployment rate: 2.9%
With its unparalleled collection of universities, hospitals, historical sites, and tech and biotech employers, it's easy to see why Boston is such an appealing place to live. And while there's no question the city's popularity comes at a high cost, it's not nearly as high as some East Coast cities that are often mentioned in the same breath as Boston.
After all, the high concentrations of students, recent grads and young professionals require some level of affordability to get by while they're starting out. Groceries, for example, are "only" 13% more expensive than the national average. Healthcare runs 14% more than what the typical American pays, and miscellaneous goods and services are not quite 21% more pricey.
Housing-related costs, however, are a killer at 117% the national average. Renters and homeowners (opens in new tab) pay at least twice the national average for their domiciles. For example, the average apartment rents for $3,831 a month in Boston. That compares with a national average of $1,427 a month, according to C2ER. The average price of a Boston home comes to $937,122 vs. $465,991 nationally.
In another blow to residents' wallets, Massachusetts isn't particularly tax-friendly (opens in new tab) to middle-class families or retirees.
8. Seattle, Washington
- Cost of living: 52.2% above U.S. average
- City population: 733,904
- Median household income: $110,781
- Median home value: $848,100
- Unemployment rate: 2.7%
Just a few years ago, Seattle's economy was as hot and strong as its coffee, which put relentless upward pressure on prices. COVID-19 offered some respite from the persistent cost increases, but the Emerald City still remains one of the priciest cities in the nation.
It's not hard to divine why. As a major hub for the technology industry, Seattle is awash in high-paid jobs. Microsoft (MSFT (opens in new tab)) and Amazon.com (AMZN (opens in new tab)) are both based in the area, as are many smaller high-tech companies.
As with every city on this list, housing costs are the main driver of Seattle's sticker shock. Housing-related costs for renters and homeowners are more than three times the U.S. average, according to the Cost of Living Index.
But the high prices hardly end there. Groceries, transportation, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services run anywhere from 25% to almost 35% higher than what the typical American pays.
Although the state of Washington presents a mixed picture when it comes to taxes on retirees (opens in new tab), it does happen to be one of the most tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
7. Los Angeles, California
- Cost of living: 52.5% above U.S. average
- City population: 3,849,306
- Median household income: $70,372
- Median home value: $812,800
- Unemployment rate: 4.6%
Few cities can top Los Angeles for excess and glamor, but most of its residents don't work in Hollywood or shop on Rodeo Drive. While high living expenses make L.A. one of the most expensive U.S. cities, median annual incomes are a paltry $655 above the national level.
And yet the allure of the nation's second-largest city remains strong. From Hollywood to Beverly Hills to Venice Beach, few cities can claim as many famous locales. For those who seek culture beyond the Kardashians (opens in new tab), L.A. boasts a number of important museums and the world-class Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Just be forewarned that L.A.'s notorious traffic helps push transportation costs 26% above the national average. And although groceries, utilities, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services are only about 7% to 15% higher than the U.S. average, housing bleeds residents dry.
Indeed, housing-related expenses, including rents and mortgages (opens in new tab), run almost 140% above the national average in Los Angeles. For example, the average price of a home in L.A. comes to $1.1 million, vs. the national average of $465,991.
6. Washington, District of Columbia
- Cost of living: 53.4% above U.S. average
- County population: 670,050
- Median household income: $90,088
- Median home value: $669,900
- Unemployment rate: 4.6%
The nation's capital is a tale of two cities when it comes to living costs. Housing-related expenses, including rents and mortgages, are by far the most burdensome at 2.4 times the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index, but other expenses aren't too bad. In fact, D.C. healthcare costs are about 5% below the national average.
Groceries run about 5% above the national average, too, while utilities and miscellaneous goods and services are each around 18% more expensive. Happily, transportation expenses aren't overly onerous, at less than 10% above the U.S. average. A wide-ranging bus and metro system makes getting to and around the District of Columbia affordable. The Circulator bus (opens in new tab), for example, costs just $1 and its routes reach popular spots including Georgetown, Union Station and the National Mall.
Numerous museums and historical sites are free to visit, too.
Be that as it may, the average price of a home in D.C. stands at $1.2 million. Meanwhile, the average apartment rents (opens in new tab) for $3,322 a month – or $1,895 a month more than the U.S. average.
5. Orange County, California
- Cost of living: 54.9% above U.S. average
- County population: 3,167,809
- Median household income: $100,559
- Median home value: $832,300
- Unemployment rate: 2.8%
Orange County, known as The O.C. for short, is synonymous with wealth – so much so there was an entire TV series (opens in new tab) made about it in the 2000s.
Several large municipalities make up the county, which abuts Los Angeles to the southeast, including Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine. But it's the smaller, tonier enclaves such as Newport Beach (opens in new tab) (median home value: $2 million) that cement Orange County's reputation for sheltering some of Southern California's richest and most famous.
In fact, the average home price for all of Orange County sits at $1.3 million according to the Cost of Living Index. That makes it the fifth priciest market in the country. However, at $3,025 a month, apartment rents are only about twice the national average.
All in all, housing in the O.C. costs 158% more than what the typical American pays.
Somewhat surprisingly, utilities (opens in new tab) are about 5% cheaper in Orange County, while healthcare costs only about 2% more than the U.S. average. Groceries run about 6% higher than the national average.
4. Brooklyn, New York
- Cost of living: 70.3% above U.S. average
- Borough population: 2,641,052
- Median household income: $67,567
- Median home value: $793,300
- Unemployment rate: 5.5%
Technically, Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City, but in the past 20 years or so it has emerged as something of a metropolis unto itself. Indeed, if Brooklyn were an independent city, its population would be on par with Chicago, the third-largest city in the nation.
Once upon a time, Brooklyn was considered a viable alternative for those who couldn't afford to live in Manhattan. Not anymore. Housing-related expenses, including rents and mortgages, are almost four times higher than the national average.
And yet, the median household income in Brooklyn is actually lower than the U.S. median. It's also almost $17,000 lower than the median household income in Manhattan.
Happily, not everything in Brooklyn is eye-wateringly expensive. Utilities run about 4% higher than the national average, and healthcare is only about 6% more expensive. Between them, groceries (opens in new tab) and transportation costs run about 15% more than what the typical American pays.
Adding to Brooklynites' pocketbook pain is the fact that New York is one of the least tax-friendly states (opens in new tab) for both retirees and middle-class families.
3. San Francisco, California
- Cost of living: 82.8% above U.S. average
- City population: 815,201
- Median household income: $121,826
- Median home value: $1,306,400
- Unemployment rate: 2.1%
Years of relentless growth driven by high-paid tech workers have given San Francisco some of the highest living costs in the country, meaning even those with fat paychecks can struggle to make ends meet.
Houses are famously expensive – an obstacle for aspiring homeowners (opens in new tab). The average home price is a staggering $1.5 million in San Francisco, according to the Cost of Living Index, and the median home value is the highest among the 11 most expensive cities in the U.S.
Renters don't fare much better. The average rent for an apartment (opens in new tab) in San Francisco is $3,724 a month. That's almost three times the national average. Indeed, overall, housing-related costs in San Francisco are four times greater than the national average.
And the nosebleed prices don't stop there. Groceries, utilities, healthcare and transportation expenses all run around 30% more than what the typical American pays. Even miscellaneous goods and services are nearly a quarter more expensive than the national average.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
- Cost of living: 86.0% above U.S. average
- City population: 345,532
- Median household income: $73,434
- Median home value: $733,000
- Unemployment rate: 3.4%
To enjoy the perks of living in such a remote Pacific paradise (opens in new tab), Honolulu residents pay more than they would on the mainland for pretty much everything – and it's not hard to understand why. Most goods sold in Hawaii must arrive either by boat or by plane, which jacks up the price considerably.
Honolulu has by far the most expensive groceries of all 265 urban areas surveyed for the Cost of Living Index. For example, milk and bananas cost about twice the national average, while potatoes are almost three times more expensive. Overall, a trip to the supermarket costs 50% more than what a shopper would shell out back on the mainland.
Bills take a big bite as well. Utilities cost 35% more than what folks pay on the U.S. mainland. And healthcare and transportation are a fifth to a quarter more expensive than the U.S. average.
But, as always, housing is the biggest income-eater. Housing-related costs are more than four times the national average in Honolulu. Heck, the average home carries a price of $1.6 million.
On the other hand, Hawaii is among the more friendly states for middle-class families, and is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees (opens in new tab).
1. Manhattan, New York
- Cost of living: 137.6% above U.S. average
- Borough population: 1,576,876
- Median household income: $84,435
- Median home value: $940,900
- Unemployment rate: 4.2%
If you've ever been to Manhattan, you don't need us to tell you that it's an expensive place to visit.
But it's even more expensive to live there.
With space at a premium and location paramount, the median home value (opens in new tab) in Manhattan is second only to San Francisco on our list of most expensive U.S. cities. Typical rent for an apartment averages a stunning $4,531 a month, blowing away every other city tracked by the Cost of Living Index. Meanwhile, the average home price is $2.5 million.
The budget-busting doesn't stop there. Residents pay a premium of 26% at the grocery store, while transportation runs 10% above average. Meanwhile, miscellaneous goods and services are 36% more expensive. For example, if you want to go to the movies (opens in new tab), you'll pay 60% more for a ticket. Yoga (opens in new tab) classes cost almost double the national average. All of this and more conspires to make Manhattan the most expensive city in the U.S.
By the way, you'll need to like crowds if you hope to make it in the Big Apple: Manhattan packs in almost 70,000 residents per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For context, San Francisco, which is fairly compact itself, hosts 17,376 residents per square mile.
Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.
A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.
Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.
In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics and more.
Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.
Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.
Gaining More Certainty in Your Retirement Income Plan
Relying on market performance to close the gap in your retirement income could let you down, but a CD ladder and fixed annuities could provide some certainty.
By Cole Czajkoski, Investment Adviser Representative • Published
Considering a 1031 Exchange? The Rules You Need to Know
Taxes are an inevitable part of investing in real estate. You can, however, defer or avoid paying capital gains taxes by following some simple rules of a 1031 exchange. Yes, you read that correctly!
By Daniel Goodwin • Published
10 Big U.S. Cities With the Cheapest Apartment Rents
places to live Rents jumped nationwide over the past year, but these big U.S. cities remain comparatively affordable for apartment dwellers.
By Dan Burrows • Published
The 25 Cheapest Places to Live: U.S. Cities Edition
places to live Take a look at our list of the cheapest places to live in America for city dwellers. Is one of the cheapest places to live in the U.S. right for you?
By Dan Burrows • Published
10 Things to Know About Hurricane Insurance Claims
Becoming a Homeowner Hurricane damage? Know what’s covered, what isn’t, and how to make the most of your policy if you need to file a claim.
By Kimberly Lankford • Published
15 U.S. Cities With the Highest Average Home Prices
real estate Home prices have rocketed higher across most of the country, but housing costs are acutely painful in these 15 U.S. cities.
By Dan Burrows • Published
11 Reasons You Don't Want to Retire in Florida
retirement An overabundance of boomers, critters, sweat and weirdness. Welcome to the dark side of the Sunshine State.
By Bob Niedt • Last updated
13 Tax Breaks for Homeowners and Home Buyers
Tax Breaks Owning (or buying) a home is expensive. But at least there are some tax deductions, credits, and exclusions that can help you recoup some of those costs.
By Rocky Mengle • Last updated
The 10 "Real" Richest Counties in the U.S.
real estate People living in the richest counties in America enjoy high incomes without the heavy cost pressures that usually come with them.
By Dan Burrows • Published
15 Home Features Today's Buyers Want Most
home Thinking about selling your house? Here are 15 home features potential buyers are coveting right now.
By Patricia Mertz Esswein • Last updated