Based on Crime Data, The 10 Most Dangerous Places in California to Avoid in 2023
Below you will discover the most dangerous cities in California in 2023, but before jumping into the criteria, the violent crimes per city, and so on, we need to do a disclaimer:
There are also very safe places in the golden state. Cities like Irvine, Murrieta, and many of the safest cities in California have lower crime rates than the national average and at similar levels to European countries.
Not everywhere in Cali is dangerous, but some places are. And in a few paragraphs, you will discover some of the highest crime rates in the state and the entire country, places where the chance of becoming a victim is dramatically increased.
Before, we wrote some guide about violence with considerable repercussion (and a fair share of polemics):
- The 8 Safest Big Cities in the US and the Safest Metro Areas in 2023.
- The 10 Most Dangerous Cities in Michigan in 2023
- The Most Violent Cities in Texas
- The Most Dangerous Cities in Europe in 2023
- The Most Dangerous Cities in Mexico & Their Similarities
Below is a quick explanation of the criteria we used for the list of the most dangerous cities in California.
The criteria used to define the most dangerous places in California
First of all, we considered only cities with more than 30 thousand residents.
While this threshold may look random, there is a reason for it: small towns may have very distorted crime rates from one year to another.
This happens because one rare event, like a hostage situation during a bank robbery that has fatalities, can make a once-peaceful small city look dangerous, even though it happened that particular year and is unlikely to happen again.
This kind of single incident seldom impacts statistics in big cities. The crime rate in a city that is large doesn’t move considerably unless there is a citywide change, causing a real decrease in crime overall.
The violent crime rate per 1000 residents is the measure we used. The rate is proportional to the number of people in the area. Violent crime is a set of offenses that includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault
The fact that all of the crime rates are calculated by 100,000 people guarantees a fair comparison between cities of distinct sizes.
All the data about California comes from:
The national data for comparison comes from the UCR FBI.
The 10 Most Dangerous Cities in California
For comparison, the national violent crime rate in the United States is 3.95 crimes per 1000 people per year (or 395 crimes per 100,000 people per year, as per Statista).
Any value above 3.95 is considered a higher crime rate than the rest of the US.
10 – Richmond
County: Contra Costa County
City Population: 110,567
Richmond violence numbers are 97% higher than the US national average.
Opening our top 10, Richmond is located in the Bay area, very close to San Francisco.
The areas around the Richmond/El Cerrito border have become particularly worrisome, with residents and potential homebuyers expressing fear and uncertainty.
The general degradation in multiple cities in the Bay Area has only deepened this concern, casting Richmond in the common pool of cities where living can be a challenge.
Innovative (and controversial) approaches, like offering financial incentives to criminals to stop committing crimes, failed and couldn’t shift the broader narrative.
Other areas of Richmond that are mentioned as dangerous are:
- Iron Triangle Area and North Richmond:
- The Richmond BART station
- Point Richmond
9 – Antioch
County: Contra Costa County
City Population: 111,535
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 7.84
Violence numbers are 98% higher than the US national average.
Antioch is another city from the bay area and not far from the previously mentioned Richmond.
According to NeighborhoodScout, the crime rate in Antioch is 48% higher than the national average. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, aggravated assault, rape, and murder, is also higher than average in Antioch.
The areas of Antioch that are considered to be the most dangerous include:
- The city’s downtown core
- The area around the intersection of 9th Street and G Street
- The area around the intersection of Sycamore Avenue and A Street
- The area around the intersection of Lone Tree Way and Sycamore Avenue
- The area around the intersection of West 10th Street and I-80
8 – San Francisco
County: San Francisco County
City Population: 883,305
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 7.95
San Francisco violence numbers are 101% higher than the US national average.
In this city, safety concerns extend beyond the well-known challenges in districts like the Tenderloin district (also known as San Francisco’s Skid Row). The city’s issues with crime are pervasive, affecting various areas.
Neighborhoods that have also been identified as areas where crime rates are higher are:
- The previously mentioned Tenderloin District
- The Mission District
- The Bayview-Hunters Point District
- The Western Addition District
- The South of Market District
While the chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime in San Francisco is almost double the US average, the property crime rate has even more shocking numbers.
Car break-ins are a city-wide problem, with nearly 30,000 reported last year, affecting residents and tourists alike. This issue is not confined to any single neighborhood but is a reflection of a broader problem of theft and vandalism that permeates the city.
The handling of these issues continues to be a matter of debate, and the lack of clear (and non-idealized) solutions contributes to a catastrophic situation in the largest city in the Bay area.
7 – Santa Cruz
County: Santa Cruz County
City Population: 64,465
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 8.26
Santa Cruz violence numbers are 109% higher than the US national average.
Differently from the previous 3 cities mentioned so far, Santa Cruz is not exactly in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it is still very close to it. Only a half-hour drive separates the city from the bay.
So far, all cities mentioned here are in northern California, and so is Santa Cruz.
According to data from the FBI, the violent crime rate in Santa Cruz has increased by 15% in the past five years. Property crime has also increased by 10% in that time period.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to Santa Cruz’s rising crime rate. One factor is the city’s growing homeless population. Santa Cruz has one of the highest rates of homelessness in California,
The areas of Santa Cruz that are considered to be the most dangerous include:
- The downtown core
- Near the boardwalk
- The area around the university
- The area surrounding the local homeless shelter
6 – Modesto
County: Stanislaus County
City Population: 215,030
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 8.64
Modest violence numbers are 119% higher than the US national average.
There are a number of factors that contribute to Modesto’s high crime rate, but the most relevant is probably the city’s proximity to Stockton. Smaller cities often suffer an increase in the overall crime rate when cities around are too violent.
Modesto is also a major transportation hub, which makes it a target for criminals.
The areas of Modesto that are considered to be the most dangerous include:
- The downtown core
- The area around the airport
- The area around the west side
- The area around the highway village
- The area around 9th street
5 – Vallejo
County: Solano County
City Population: 121,692
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 8.65
Vallejo violence numbers are 119% higher than the US national average.
Just like the city of Modesto, mentioned above, Vallejo is likely violent due to its proximity to an even more dangerous city: Oakland, which is one of the most dangerous in the United States.
The areas of Vallejo that are known to have high rates of violent crime are:
- Downtown Vallejo
- The area around the Mare Island Naval Base
- The area around the Vallejo Amtrak Station
- The area around the Vallejo Marina
- The area around the Vallejo High School
4 – San Bernardino
County: San Bernardino County
City Population: 215,941
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 9.92
San Bernardino violence numbers are 151% higher than the US national average.
The city’s reputation has been marred by crime, economic blight, and specific neighborhoods that have some of the highest violent crime rates in California.
The city’s neighbor to the west, Rialto, is also known for its high crime rates.
Some neighborhoods in San Bernardino might be considered dodgy at night, and caution is advised when driving through these areas even during the daytime. Here are some of them:
- The area surrounding of San Bernardino train station
- The area around the San Bernardino City Hall, which is located near a number of homeless shelters.
- The area around the San Bernardino Community College. The college is close to a number of low-income neighborhoods that are considered unsafe.
3 – Compton
County: Los Angeles County
City Population: 96,455
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 11.49
Compton violence numbers are 191% higher than the US national average.
An enormous factor for Compton to be on the dangerous list is the city’s history of gang violence. Compton was once a major center for gang activity, and this legacy of violence continues to impact the city today.
Some of the areas that add to the city’s violent crime rate are:
- The downtown core
- The vicinity of the Compton Swap Meet
- The surroundings of the Compton Community College
- The area around the Compton Metro Station
2 – Stockton
County: San Joaquin County
City Population: 311,178
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 13.31
Stockton has a crime rate 237% higher than the US national average.
Stockton’s urban area has degraded, especially due to agricultural industry shifts. The city has many unemployed, poor people who cannot speak English. These individuals live in inadequate housing, making education and socialization difficult for children. School attendance and performance are poor, and many kids join gangs.
Increasing violent crimes, including sexual assaults, are worsening in Stockton.
The city established Operation Raven to reduce crime, which reached 55 homicides in a single year—the highest in recent history. Stockton is also the fourth worst place to raise a child in the US.
Most dangerous parts of Stockton:
- Central City and Downton Stockton: Numerous homeless and drug dealers. It is not recommended to leave your home during the night.
- South Stockton: Industrial areas and low-income neighborhoods. Better avoid.
- West Stockton: This area is home to a number of high-crime neighborhoods, including the Fruitridge neighborhood and the El Dorado neighborhood. West Stockton is also located near a number of freeways, which can make it easy for criminals to escape.
1 – Oakland – The Most Dangerous City in California
County: Alameda County
City Population: 425,195
Violent crime rate (per 1000 people, per year): 16.85
Oakland violence numbers are 327% higher than the US national average.
When examining California’s most dangerous cities, Oakland stands out.
By the numbers, Oakland’s crime rate is scary. It has the second-highest rate of theft in the state and the third-highest rate of violent crimes per person.
Every three days, on average, a murder happens, and that’s just counting the ones that are known to have happened. One in twelve people who live in Oakland are robbed, attacked, or even killed every year. This is a shocking and disturbing number.
People have tried to solve these problems by getting the community involved, talking to people who are armed, and even talking to gang members who are in the hospital. Unfortunately, most of these attempts haven’t worked. People who break the law don’t seem to care about social values or the rule of law.
Shootings, armed thefts, and carjackings have all gone up by 50%, and carjackings have doubled. The situation has gotten so bad that people are being told to give up their car keys in order to avoid deadly fights.
The problem is made even worse by Oakland’s judicial system. Criminals are often let out of jail without posting bail, court cases take a long time, and there aren’t many charges.
The number of police officers has dropped to less than 700, which is the lowest amount it has been in decades.
Even when people are found guilty, their punishments are often short. This is part of a larger state policy that seems to favor “catch and release” over long-term jail time. This pattern is also seen in most of the most dangerous California cities. The ‘three strikes’ rule, which used to be a barrier, is no longer in place.
Key Takeaways – San Bernardino and Stockton are NOT the only Places with a High Violent Crime Rate in CA
California has many cities that face challenges with crime.
While problems in areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area are well-known, there are other places where a high violent crime rate stands.
The crime rate in Barstow tops the list, where being a victim of violent crime is 1 in 14. Other cities with the highest violent crime rates include areas with a significant population. The largest city in California, Los Angeles, has dangerous neighborhoods but also shows improvement.
Overall, the state’s approach to reducing crime varies across cities, and in many cases like the before mentioned innovative approaches in Richmond and San Francisco, are ineffective.
The Safest Cities in California
There are many cities with very low crime in California. Large cities in the Golden State like San Diego or Chula Vista are, in terms of crime at least, great places to live in California.
We published multiple well-researched articles about these cities. Below you can see their violent crime rates (remember that a value below 3.95 is considered a lower crime rate than the rest of the US), and if you click in their names, you will access a complete report about the best and worst neighborhoods in each one of them.
Santa Ana – 3.74 violent crimes per 100,000 people per year.
Santa Rosa – 3.68
Escondido – 3.42
Anaheim – 3.17
Pasadena – 2.81
Garden Grove – 2.31 violent crimes per 100,000 residents per year.
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Levi Borba is the founder of The Expatriate Consultancy, creator of the channel The Expat, and best-selling author. Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, meaning that the author will have a commission for any transaction.