Taco ’bout the perfect finger food. Not only are tacos cheap and tasty, but they also come in countless combinations — especially in California, where locals are simply “tacobsessed.”
But where among The Golden State’s 100 biggest cities can you find top tacos?
LawnStarter crunched the numbers to unwrap 2021’s Best California Cities for Tacos in time for National Taco Day, Oct. 4.
We looked for cities with wide access to taquerias, top Michelin honors, high consumer ratings, and taco festivals. We even considered Google search volumes for “tacos” to gauge local taco love.
Check out the most spec-taco-lar California cities in our ranking below, followed by key tacoways.
Table of Contents
See how each city fared in our ranking:
|OVERALL RANK||City||Overall Score||Access Rank||Quality Rank||Popularity Rank|
|1||Santa Barbara, CA||87.72||1||1||5|
|2||Santa Monica, CA||52.21||3||18||4|
|3||Costa Mesa, CA||47.60||5||2||60|
|4||Newport Beach, CA||46.84||2||10||57|
|5||San Diego, CA||43.56||7||8||17|
|11||Redwood City, CA||37.05||16||4||79|
|15||Chula Vista, CA||35.08||52||48||2|
|16||Long Beach, CA||34.59||21||11||50|
|17||San Francisco, CA||34.56||14||9||74|
|21||San Mateo, CA||32.40||40||7||74|
|22||Santa Ana, CA||31.96||69||15||43|
|27||Elk Grove, CA||30.25||76||23||26|
|28||San Leandro, CA||30.14||57||27||28|
|31||East Los Angeles, CA||29.98||97||57||13|
|33||San Jose, CA||29.73||62||31||27|
|34||Santa Maria, CA||29.53||49||84||5|
|37||Citrus Heights, CA||29.04||48||84||10|
|38||Los Angeles, CA||28.92||46||33||40|
|38||El Monte, CA||28.92||94||16||56|
|40||South Gate, CA||28.66||97||77||7|
|41||Santa Rosa, CA||28.27||29||37||48|
|42||Moreno Valley, CA||28.20||81||37||22|
|43||Huntington Beach, CA||28.09||8||61||69|
|44||El Cajon, CA||27.94||45||43||35|
|46||San Marcos, CA||27.34||17||44||66|
|48||Jurupa Valley, CA||26.91||91||22||63|
|49||Thousand Oaks, CA||26.88||43||12||92|
|54||West Covina, CA||25.73||63||30||78|
|56||Santa Clarita, CA||25.61||32||66||47|
|60||Mission Viejo, CA||24.88||26||28||91|
|74||Garden Grove, CA||23.38||66||35||86|
|85||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||20.09||30||88||82|
|87||Daly City, CA||19.80||97||78||74|
|89||San Bernardino, CA||19.36||64||96||33|
|94||Simi Valley, CA||15.47||54||93||90|
|96||San Buenaventura (Ventura), CA||13.76||92||91||92|
|97||Santa Clara, CA||13.10||55||91||97|
Santa Barbara: The California Taco Capital
The city known as The American Riviera ranks as our No. 1 Best California City for Tacos — and for good reason. Santa Barbara not only scored over 35 points higher than the next best taco town, Santa Monica, but it also dominated two out of three categories: Access and Quality. It doesn’t get any better than that.
And in case you need further proof that Santa Barbara is the “eat” town for tacos — get it? — just take a stroll down the city’s famed Taco Trail.
The City of Santa Barbara already mapped out your journey: “Let the aroma of freshly baked tortillas guide you from Milpas Street and the Funk Zone to the waterfront, downtown State Street, and beyond as you home in on the top tacos, superior salsas made from scratch, and other addictively delicious hand-crafted concoctions.”
Did that make you drool? Pack a bib and plenty of wet wipes.
LA Metro’s (Taco)nfusion
Big cities aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be, and that’s definitely true of Los Angeles in this case. Five out of our top 10 California taco towns are clustered around the City of Angels, while LA itself ranks a near-middling 38.
By contrast, at No. 2 overall is Santa Monica, followed by Costa Mesa at No. 3, and Newport Beach at No. 4. Rounding out the fab five are Inglewood at No. 6 and Orange in eighth place.
Por que? These cities offer a healthy mix of easy access to taco joints and high-quality eats. Curiously, though, only Santa Monica ranked in the top 10 (No. 4) of the Popularity category.
But where might one attend a taco festival? In Los Angeles, of course, the city that ranked No. 9 overall in this metric but average in all others. Huh?
Outranked in the Outskirts
It appears the farther you graze from the big city centers, the worse tacos get. Many of the cities in our bottom 10 lie in the outskirts of major urban cores like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
Salinas, for example, our Worst California City for Tacos due to earning the lowest median consumer rating for its taquerias, is a bit of a hike from San Francisco. As another example, Lancaster (No. 91), Menifee (No. 92), and Simi Valley (No. 94) surround some of the best Los Angeles suburbs in our ranking.
But hey, if you live in one of these smaller towns, just follow your nose and it will taco you to the best tortillas just a few miles down the road.
Tacos By the Numbers
We ranked the 100 biggest California cities from best (No. 1) to worst (No. 100) based on their overall scores (out of 100 possible points), averaged across all the weighted metrics listed below.
|Metric||Weighting||Min. Value||Max. Value||Best|
|Establishments Serving Tacos per 1,000 Residents||2||0.00||0.60||Max. Value|
|Median Consumer Rating for Establishments Serving Tacos||3||1.06||4.11||Max. Value|
|Total Points for Michelin-Rated Establishments Serving Tacos per 100,000 Residents||4||0.00||6.57||Max. Value|
|Google Search Interest for Taco-Related Terms Over Past 12 Months||2||17.01||72.82||Max. Value|
|Taco Festivals per 1,000 Residents||1||0.00||1.12||Max. Value|
Sources: Google Trends, TripAdvisor, and Yelp
Tacos for Dinner, Breakfast, and Dessert
Taco Tuesdays? Why stop at one day a week! Tacos are cheap and good eats, whether they come from a taco truck, gas station, or taco bar at work (if you’re back working in an office).
And why stop at one meal? Many people start their day with breakfast tacos, and they’re on the menu at many Mexican restaurants all day, too.
Maybe you want to finish your meal with dessert tacos?
This import from Mexico is almost as American as apple pie now — and growing international in its flavors. Have you tried kimchi tacos yet?
And there are even healthier taco options. Shrimp and fish tacos tend to have less queso and more pico de gallo. Add a squeeze of lime and you’re all set.
The only great debate is a taco version of that old boxers-or-briefs question: Flour or corn tortillas?
Finally, which beer pairs best with tacos? Well, that’s no doubt the topic of a future study, and we plan to do a lot of hands-on (and first-person) research on that.
Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock