View of a smaller, well-manicured home in Northern California

California is known for its expensive real estate, but there are bargains to be had in Northern California.

Northern California offers such a rich environment for active adult living, the area's reputation for sky-high real estate prices should not discourage you. With careful research, you'll find that Northern California happens to be a great locale for bargains when downsizing to the active adult lifestyle.

NorCal Living

True, property values in the San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay areas have been high for generations, driven by explosive economic growth since the 19th Century. The California Gold Rush of 1848-49 put Northern California on the map, opened the region to the outside world, and drew the “49ers” and some 300,000 more economic emigres to the area. The Rush also increased pressure for California statehood which happened as soon as 1850.

In a little more than a century since the Gold Rush, Northern California has become a world leader in several sectors. In economics, think business models such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, and eBay. In tech, picture Silicon Valley's breakthroughs in microchips and genetic engineering.

In art, visualize the works of Jack London, Ansel Adams, John Steinbeck, George Lucas, and Clint Eastwood. And then there's pop culture phenomena the likes of trendy California winemaking, radical chic, hippies and beats.

For the 55+ crowd, it's the combination of environment and climate that makes Northern California so well-suited for active adult living. The spectacular natural scenery is enhanced by three distinct climates: the Mediterranean sunshine of the Pacific shore, the dry warmth of the Central Valley, and the crisp air of Mount Shasta and the snowy slopes of the Cascades.

And, in the following 55+ communities, homes priced for less than $250k are often listed – ideal for downsizing to the active adult lifestyle.

Rossmoor - Walnut Creek

Mid $200s - Low $800s

Only 26 miles outside San Francisco in the rolling hills of Contra Costa County, Rossmoor in Walnut Creek is a nationally recognized active adult community.

Construction of more than 6,600 homes at Rossmoor over 30 years has created a wide range of architectural styles, prices amenable to downsizing, and ownership options, including co-ops, condominiums, and single-family homes.

Recreation abounds with three swimming facilities, eight tennis courts, three lawn bowling greens, bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, and miles of hiking trails. For golfers, two choices for NCGA-rated golf, an 18-hole, par-72 course, and a 9-hole circuit with a par of 36, plus driving range and pro shop. Rossmoor's five spacious clubhouses offer an array of activities.

Leisure Town - Vacaville

Low $200s - Mid $400s

Midway between San Francisco and Sacramento in Vacaville, Leisure Town consists of 1,150 single-family homes in a neighborhood setting.

Developed in phases since the mid-1960s, moderately-priced homes are one to four bedrooms, one to three baths, with attached garages. Most homes feature front porches, backyard patios, and lawns with mature trees.

The Leisure Town clubhouse hosts rooms for billiards, cards, and arts and crafts, as well as a library, sewing studio, and a stage for resident-produced shows. A state-of-the-art fitness center offers workout classes and equipment.

Outdoors there are two swimming pools, a jacuzzi spa, and a cabana. Recreation includes lawn bowling, bocce, horseshoes and walking, biking, and running trails.

Suncountry - Sacramento

Low $200s - Low $300s

Minutes from downtown Sacramento, Suncountry is a pleasant 55+ neighborhood of detached homes. Prices are very affordable compared to the rest of the Bay Area.

The 307 single-family residences with two to three bedrooms and two baths were built between 1989 and 1999. They feature a variety of one-story floor plans that include high ceilings, walk-in closets, and a two-car garage.

There are two community clubhouses, the main has a library, catering kitchen and billiards, while both have multi-purpose rooms. Outdoors you will find pools, a shuffleboard court, two tennis courts, two horseshoe pits, and walking and biking trails.

The Vineyard - Redding

Low $200s - High $300s

Redding is just south of Shasta Lake which is located in the Cascade foothills at the far northern end of the Central Valley. This lovely setting – and affordable prices – are the attractions of The Vineyard.

This gated community was designed for active adults 55+. Residents can gather in the clubhouse for a card game, a social meeting, or another community event. Outdoors, there is a swimming pool, bocce courts, and shuffleboard courts. And two large ponds on the property are each surrounded by lighted walking trails.

There are 208 single-family homes ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 square feet, The most popular models are two bedrooms, two baths, and a den. Larger floor plans are available.

Shasta Hill Estates - Redding

Mid $100s - High $200s

Another 55+ community option in Redding is Shasta Hill Estates. There are a variety of home styles and most range from 1,200 to 1,800 square feet with two or three bedrooms, two baths, and attached garages.

A clubhouse at the center of the community provides a place for neighborhood get-togethers. Residents enjoy swimming or relaxing on the patio at the outdoor pool. There's greenspace with a gazebo, horseshoe pit, and picnic area. Boat and RV owners can take advantage of on-site storage facilities.

Four Seasons at Los Banos

Mid $200s - Low $300s

Los Banos is on the west side of the Central Valley, a little more than an hour inland from Monterey Bay. It's home to a 55+ active adult community called Four Seasons at Los Banos.

When completed, it will feature 128 single-family homes in two different floor plans. A clubhouse including a fitness center and more amenities is the hub for activity and recreation in the community.

Outdoors there is a swimming pool and patio, tennis courts, and walking trails. And, nearby there's a lot of opportunity for adventure at state parks and national wildlife refuges.

The Collective - Manteca

Pricing TBD

A brand new resort-style, gated community called The Collective is under development about an hour and a half from San Francisco in the Central Valley.

Pricing is not available yet on the nearly 500 new single-family homes being built in single- or two-story floor plans at The Collective in Manteca, near Modesto.

The community clubhouse will host a fitness center, a coffee and wine bar, and a demonstration kitchen. Outdoors you find a pool, patio, and spa as well as pickleball and bocce ball courts, a dog park, and walking trails. The Collective will also have its own outdoor amphitheater for concerts and other live events.