Defining Upper Class Income In California: Salary, Location And Lifestyle

With its lucrative tech sector and coastal career hubs, California is home to more than its share of wealthy households. But how much money does it really take to be considered upper class in this state? The answer depends on factors like location, cost of living, and lifestyle.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: In 2021, upper class annual household income in California started around $150,000. However, that figure is much higher in expensive metros like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This comprehensive guide examines the income thresholds, geographic variances, occupations, and spending habits that define California’s upper class. We’ll provide data-driven insight into how much money places a household among the wealthiest in the Golden State.

Statewide Income Thresholds for the Upper Class

Census Bureau Data on Household Income

The Census Bureau provides valuable insights into household income distribution across the United States, including California. According to their data, the median household income in California in 2020 was $80,440.

However, to define the upper class income threshold, we need to look at the higher percentiles.

For instance, households in the top 10% in California had an income of around $195,000 or more. This means that to be considered part of the upper class in California, a household would need to earn at least this amount.

It’s important to note that these figures can vary depending on factors such as location, occupation, and family size. High-cost areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles may have higher income thresholds for the upper class due to the higher cost of living.

Top Income Percentiles in California

When looking at the top income percentiles in California, the numbers become even more impressive. According to recent data, households in the top 1% in California have an average income of over $1.5 million per year.

This shows that the upper class in California is not just defined by a certain income threshold, but also by a significant disparity between the top earners and the rest of the population. The wealthy elite in the state enjoy a lifestyle and level of financial success that is far beyond what most Californians experience.

It’s worth noting that these income thresholds are constantly changing as the economy evolves and income distribution patterns shift. Therefore, it’s important to consult updated data from reliable sources, such as the Census Bureau or reputable economic research institutions, to stay informed about the latest income thresholds for the upper class in California.

Regional Differences in Upper Class Income

When it comes to defining upper class income in California, regional differences play a significant role. The Golden State is known for its diverse geography and vibrant cities, each with its own unique economic landscape.

In this article, we will explore the regional differences in upper class income across California, focusing on the Bay Area/Silicon Valley, Los Angeles Metro, San Diego, and Inland California.

Bay Area/Silicon Valley

The Bay Area, particularly the Silicon Valley, is renowned for its concentration of high-paying tech jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple have established their headquarters here, attracting top talent from around the world.

As a result, the upper class income in this region is exceptionally high. According to a report by The Mercury News, the median household income in Silicon Valley is over $120,000 per year, which is well above the national average.

The extravagant lifestyles of the wealthy residents in this area are evident in the luxurious homes, upscale neighborhoods, and high-end amenities.

Los Angeles Metro

The Los Angeles Metro area is another hotspot for the upper class in California. The entertainment industry, including Hollywood, plays a significant role in the region’s prosperity. Actors, producers, directors, and other professionals in the entertainment field often enjoy substantial incomes.

Additionally, Los Angeles is home to several major corporations and industries, including finance, fashion, and technology. The upper class income in this region allows residents to indulge in a glamorous lifestyle, with access to exclusive clubs, designer boutiques, and extravagant events.

San Diego

San Diego, known for its beautiful beaches and pleasant climate, also boasts a thriving upper class. The city’s economy is diverse, with sectors such as defense, tourism, and healthcare contributing to its overall prosperity.

According to a report by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the median household income in San Diego County is approximately $79,000 per year, well above the national average. The residents of San Diego enjoy a high standard of living, with access to stunning coastal properties, upscale shopping centers, and world-class dining.

Inland California

Inland California, which includes regions such as the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, presents a different picture when it comes to upper class income. While these areas may not have the same level of affluence as the Bay Area or Los Angeles, they still have their fair share of well-off residents.

The cost of living is generally lower in these regions compared to the coastal areas, allowing individuals to achieve a comfortable lifestyle even with a relatively lower income. Additionally, the agricultural industry in the Central Valley and the logistics industry in the Inland Empire contribute to the region’s economic growth.

High-Earning Occupations

When it comes to high-earning occupations in California, there are several industries that stand out. These industries not only offer attractive salaries but also provide opportunities for growth and advancement. Here are some of the top high-earning occupations in the state:


The technology industry in California is thriving, with Silicon Valley being the epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship. Tech professionals, such as software engineers, data scientists, and artificial intelligence specialists, are in high demand and command impressive salaries.

Companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook are known for offering competitive compensation packages to attract top talent.

Business and Finance

The business and finance sector is another lucrative field in California. High-level executives, investment bankers, and financial analysts often earn substantial incomes. The state is home to numerous Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, and venture capital firms, making it an ideal place for business professionals looking to climb the corporate ladder.


Medical professionals, such as doctors and surgeons, are among the highest earners in California. With a large population and a growing healthcare industry, there is a constant demand for skilled medical practitioners.

Specialized fields like orthopedics, cardiology, and neurosurgery are particularly lucrative. However, it’s important to note that becoming a doctor requires years of education and training.


Lawyers and attorneys in California also enjoy high earning potential. From corporate law to entertainment law, the state offers a wide range of opportunities for legal professionals. Many prestigious law firms are headquartered in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, providing lawyers with access to high-profile clients and complex cases.

It’s important to keep in mind that while these industries offer the potential for high incomes, individual salaries can vary depending on factors such as experience, education, and location within the state.

Additionally, the cost of living in California is generally higher than in other parts of the country, which can impact the overall lifestyle of high-earning individuals.

For more information on high-earning occupations in California, you can visit websites like Bureau of Labor Statistics and

Spending Patterns and Lifestyle

When it comes to the upper class in California, their spending patterns and lifestyle reflect their elevated financial status. Let’s take a closer look at how the wealthy indulge themselves in various aspects of life.

Real Estate

One of the defining features of the upper class lifestyle is their opulent real estate choices. The wealthy in California often reside in luxurious mansions and penthouses located in exclusive neighborhoods such as Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and Pacific Heights.

These properties boast breathtaking views, expansive grounds, and state-of-the-art amenities. The affluent not only invest in their primary residences but also in vacation homes and investment properties, further solidifying their status.


Education is another area where the upper class in California spares no expense. They prioritize providing their children with the best education possible. Private schools and prestigious universities are the norm for these families.

From renowned boarding schools like The Thacher School and Cate School to Ivy League institutions such as Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles, the wealthy are willing to pay top dollar to secure their children’s future.

Luxury Goods

When it comes to luxury goods, the upper class in California knows how to indulge. High-end fashion brands like Chanel, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton are staples in their wardrobes. They don’t hesitate to splurge on designer clothing, accessories, and jewelry.

Luxury cars like Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Rolls-Royces are a common sight in their garages. These individuals have a penchant for the finer things in life and spare no expense in acquiring them.

Travel and Leisure

The upper class in California also enjoys extravagant travel experiences and leisure activities. They jet-set to exotic destinations around the world, staying in five-star hotels and resorts. From private yacht charters in the Mediterranean to exclusive ski trips in Aspen, their vacations are nothing short of extraordinary.

Additionally, they indulge in high-end dining experiences, attend exclusive events and parties, and partake in elite sports and hobbies like golf and polo.

It’s important to note that these spending patterns and lifestyle choices may vary among individuals within the upper class. While some may prioritize real estate investments, others may focus on luxury goods or travel.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the upper class in California enjoys a lavish lifestyle that is a reflection of their substantial wealth.


Defining upper class status by income alone does not tell the full story of California’s wealthiest households. High salaries, especially in coastal tech hubs, are just the beginning. Lavish real estate, prestigious education, expensive activities and discretionary spending better reflect the California upper class lifestyle.

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