2021’s Best California Cities for Tacos

Closeup of man reaching for taco outside in summer

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

  1. City Rankings
  2. Key Tacoways
  3. Tacos By the Numbers
  4. Methodology
  5. Tacos for Dinner, Breakfast, and Dessert

City Rankings 

See how each city fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreAccess RankQuality RankPopularity Rank
1Santa Barbara, CA87.72115
2Santa Monica, CA52.213184
3Costa Mesa, CA47.605260
4Newport Beach, CA46.8421057
5San Diego, CA43.567817
6Inglewood, CA42.9227611
7Sacramento, CA42.6623141
8Orange, CA41.0711529
9Berkeley, CA40.7415374
10Escondido, CA37.11242015
11Redwood City, CA37.0516479
12Pasadena, CA36.4361369
13Arden-Arcade, CA35.7580323
14Oakland, CA35.68591914
15Chula Vista, CA35.0852482
16Long Beach, CA34.59211150
17San Francisco, CA34.5614974
18Bakersfield, CA33.81391721
19Whittier, CA33.28205911
20Carlsbad, CA33.1845235
21San Mateo, CA32.4040774
22Santa Ana, CA31.96691543
23Redding, CA31.70132353
24Oceanside, CA31.5693739
25Norwalk, CA31.5590487
26Concord, CA30.75384618
27Elk Grove, CA30.25762326
28San Leandro, CA30.14572728
29Anaheim, CA30.09193733
30Downey, CA30.0665699
31East Los Angeles, CA29.98975713
32Indio, CA29.75227016
33San Jose, CA29.73623127
34Santa Maria, CA29.5349845
35Chico, CA29.51312353
36Hawthorne, CA29.24474819
37Citrus Heights, CA29.04488410
38Los Angeles, CA28.92463340
38El Monte, CA28.92941656
40South Gate, CA28.6697777
41Santa Rosa, CA28.27293748
42Moreno Valley, CA28.20813722
43Huntington Beach, CA28.0986169
44El Cajon, CA27.94454335
45Visalia, CA27.75332197
46San Marcos, CA27.34174466
47Ontario, CA27.21604730
48Jurupa Valley, CA26.91912263
49Thousand Oaks, CA26.88431292
50Riverside, CA26.78423657
51Stockton, CA26.49774541
52Oxnard, CA25.85358225
53Fresno, CA25.80616038
54West Covina, CA25.73633078
55Hemet, CA25.64754846
56Santa Clarita, CA25.61326647
57Modesto, CA25.07715449
58Palmdale, CA24.91723767
58Tracy, CA24.91417141
60Mission Viejo, CA24.88262891
61Alhambra, CA24.85873473
62Pomona, CA24.84846430
63Fullerton, CA24.81584269
64Corona, CA24.77515457
65Hayward, CA24.73827424
66Vallejo, CA24.51702997
67Compton, CA24.37978319
68Chino, CA24.33672389
69Burbank, CA24.24185782
70Clovis, CA23.98506852
71Fairfield, CA23.81526755
72Westminster, CA23.48785263
73Richmond, CA23.46837932
74Garden Grove, CA23.38663586
75Temecula, CA23.29127185
76Antioch, CA23.19935462
77Vista, CA22.98448935
78Torrance, CA22.87347467
79Roseville, CA22.82109551
80Hesperia, CA22.45798443
81Carson, CA22.35886363
82Rialto, CA20.84898060
83Fontana, CA20.66969422
84Victorville, CA20.53748069
85Rancho Cucamonga, CA20.09308882
86Irvine, CA20.00256195
87Daly City, CA19.80977874
88Sunnyvale, CA19.50847181
89San Bernardino, CA19.36649633
90Murrieta, CA18.80369082
91Lancaster, CA18.33957486
92Menifee, CA18.01688786
93Fremont, CA17.23866496
94Simi Valley, CA15.47549390
95Livermore, CA14.48379879
96San Buenaventura (Ventura), CA13.76929192
97Santa Clara, CA13.10559197
98Glendale, CA12.30569792
99Vacaville, CA9.02289997
100Salinas, CA8.817310045
Infographic showing the best California cities for tacos, a ranking based on taco access, Michelin ratings, consumer ratings, and taco festivals
Note: A total of 100 cities were ranked in this study. Due to a significant number of ties, however, the lowest-ranking position for some metrics may not be 100.

Key Tacoways

​​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

Infographic showing taco stats
Sources: NationalTacoDay.com, TOP, CNBC, Smithsonian Magazine, National Day Calendar, Major League Eating, Major League Eating, Austin Chronicle, Guinness World Records, Guinness World Records, Taco Bell, The Huffington Post, Fast Food Menu Prices, Yum!, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter | Research by: Sarah Bahr

Methodology

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.

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. ValueBest
Access
Establishments Serving Tacos per 1,000 Residents20.000.60Max. Value
Quality
Median Consumer Rating for Establishments Serving Tacos31.064.11Max. Value
Total Points for Michelin-Rated Establishments Serving Tacos per 100,000 Residents40.006.57Max. Value
Popularity
Google Search Interest for Taco-Related Terms Over Past 12 Months217.0172.82Max. Value
Taco Festivals per 1,000 Residents10.001.12Max. 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

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Staff Writer