Park of the Week: Islands of Adventure

Is California or Florida a Better Place to Live?

July 16, 2021, 4:24 PM · Disney's decision to move about 2,000 jobs from southern California to the Orlando area no doubt will be prompting some tough discussions around dinner tables in the Los Angeles area. Many cast members must decide whether to take Disney's offer to move... or instead to stay where they are and look for another job.

If a cast member has a family, this probably will not be the cast member's decision alone. Spouses, partners, children, and parents may want a say in the family's future. This relocation is a change for The Walt Disney Company, but it's a major disruption in the lives of many affected cast members.

What will cast members decide? One can imagine a wide range of possibilities. If you are just starting your career, maybe you take the move - especially if Disney is not cutting your pay. You probably have a better chance of being able to afford to buy a first home on the outskirts of Orlando than you do anywhere near Burbank or Glendale in California. And the attrition that these types of moves typically cause within a company might give you the chance for a quick promotion. That's useful even if you eventually decide you want to move back to LA.

If you have school-aged children, though, you might be loathe to move to Orlando. Few kids are going to accept any move, but relocating from the Los Angeles area - perhaps the youth culture center of the world - to central Florida is going to be an especially hard sell for a parent. Or to a working spouse whose job lies outside the theme park industry. Families are going to veto a lot of Disney cast members' proposed moves.

But if you are a new "empty nester" who was looking to downsize your home anyway, you might want to jump to accept this move. Moving from California to Florida likely allows you to bank a huge amount of money on your home sale, without taking the Prop 13 property tax hit from moving within the state of California.

Looking beyond the specific decision that many Disney cast members may have to make, I am curious to hear which of these theme park capitals Theme Park Insider readers would prefer to live in. If you had the choice between living in southern California or central Florida, which would you choose? This is more than a Disneyland versus Walt Disney World vote. I'm asking you to consider the entirety of both states and what they offer their residents.

Full disclosure: In running this site, that's exactly the choice I had, and I picked California. And I do not regret that decision for a moment. While I like Florida, I love California. I know that love isn't always 100% rational, but my family have had personal and professional opportunities from living in the Los Angeles area that simply do not exist in Orlando. Yet I also know that every family is different, and the opportunities that each family values can be unique. I likely have a Florida doppelgänger who chose differently.

So let me ask the question: California or Florida? I know that the "neither!" option would be popular, but if you had to live in one of these two states, given all the factors - including location, topography, weather, long-term climate change, economy, cost of living, culture, state politics, local community, education systems, recreation (including theme parks!), and infrastructure - which would you choose?

Readers from outside the United States are invited to vote, too. I am especially interested to hear what you have to say on this.

In the comments, please let's be positive. Praise the qualities that draw you toward one of these two states rather than attacking stereotypes of other. Thank you.

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Replies (26)

July 16, 2021 at 5:12 PM

The other factor is the worker protections between California and Florida.

A very exhaustive subject, but on the whole California law and services are more supportive than in Florida. California isn't perfect by any means, but it's a significant difference to keep in mind.

July 16, 2021 at 5:30 PM

As a lifelong California resident I may be biased, but restricted to these two states I'd say California comes out ahead. It has far more variety in cultural and recreational activities, better weather, and a larger and generally more stable job market. That said, the state has some pretty serious drawbacks: cost of living is extremely high, some of the more recent governmental policies are highly questionable, education is generally subpar unless you're in a particularly wealthy area, and the infrastructure statewide is horribly outdated. That's not to say Florida doesn't have its own set of benefits and drawbacks, but for me California's benefits outweigh its drawbacks more than Florida's (but if the entire country was open for selection, I'm not sure California would be in the top five states for me).

July 16, 2021 at 5:41 PM

I like visiting both states but wouldn’t want to live in either. Access to healthcare is my main concern so the non existent government would have me concerned.

It is interesting how hard it has been for WDW and Universal Orlando to re staff since employees couldn’t collect unemployment in Florida and found other jobs.

July 16, 2021 at 7:09 PM

Hasn't been hard for WDW and Universal Orlando to restaff? Uh... what?

I don't think that WDW and UOR are any better off with staffing than DLR and USH. Disney and Universal do have a leg up on the rest of the service industry because they pay above minimum wage (far above minimum in Florida) and offer benefits to many employees - on both coasts. But not even these companies have been immune from the power shift toward workers in the recovering economy.

It has nothing to do with unemployment compensation, since, BTW, California with its very generous UC is creating more jobs than anyone right now. It's about employers offering an employment package that workers want.

The question for Disney at the moment is... do California-based workers want a package that requires them to move to Florida or not?

July 16, 2021 at 7:30 PM

Longtime reader, first time commenter. I’m originally from Ohio, and faced this same question when moving away a decade or so ago. My wife and I flew to Orange County (CA), spent a couple days at Disneyland, then looked for apartments. We even put a deposit down on a place out there.

We ended up choosing Florida. I love California. I love the natural beauty. If you’re an outdoorsy type, Cali is the call.

But Florida has charm as well. We lived in Orlando, housing was reasonable, and you could be at two totally different shorelines in a couple of hours. I believe in my heart that even though Walt didn’t live to see it, WDW is closer to his grand vision than Disneyland.

You also have Universal. And Busch Gardens. And Sea World. And you can fly to the Caribbean cheaply and quickly. It’s a similar mindset, but different - a lot of Floridians are ex-New Yorkers, thus just a little more uptight than your average Californian.

If I had an unlimited budget, I’d be in California. But speaking from an Ohioan who still wanted to be close to family, central Florida is the way to go.

July 16, 2021 at 7:51 PM

Pretty easy call here. This Midwesterner would (and will choose upon retirement) Florida all day, everyday.

Weather: Either one would be an improvement from our blistering hot summers and frigid winters. Tie.
Long-term climate change: How can we really tell? It’s either droughts in the west or hurricanes in the east. Earthquakes in the west, too! I can see a hurricane coming, but not an earthquake. Advantage Florida.
Economy/cost of living: I think we can all agree Florida far less cost of living than California without specifics. Advantage Florida.
Culture: I can’t say I would really care either way. Tie.
State politics: Even liberals are complaining about California’s liberal government! Florida is closer to 50/50 liberal/conservative, consistently a swing state every four years. Advantage Florida.
Local community, education systems: I know little of either. Tie.
Recreation (including theme parks!): Easily Florida just looking at theme parks! Florida doesn’t have skiing or mountains, so that may be its only drawback. Since I don’t ski or rock climb…Advantage Florida.
Know little of either. Tie.

Florida wins in a landslide!

July 16, 2021 at 9:17 PM

Yep Florida parks have been really struggling to restaff. Universal Orlando has been understaffed with food and security while they’ve slammed and Pantina is offering bonuses for the Space restaurant. While Disneyland just brought back character dining. Small government and low taxes sound good until there’s a crisis.

July 16, 2021 at 10:28 PM

I absolutely can't stand one state is better than the other state debates. I mean would you rather live in the Hollywood Hills or Pine Hills? Or would you rather live in Dr. Phillips or Inglewood? Pine Hills and Dr. Phillips are right next to each other and have totally different living experiences, and Hollywood Hills and Inglewood are right next to each other and have totally different living experiences.

I used to live in Anaheim and moved to Orlando 14 years ago. Personally I like living in Orlando better, but you can't really chose just one state over another. Even though I like living in Orlando better than Anaheim, i'd still rather live in Anaheim than some redneck gun toting bible thumping Trumpville town in rural Florida (which Orlando is surrounded by).

July 17, 2021 at 1:05 AM

California is the most populated state for a reason. But its population is also shrinking for a reason. Florida isn’t a perfect state, but today I’d pick it over California. Historically I’d say California is better. But not anymore. High taxes, high cost of living, rising crime, a growing unacceptable of people who disagree. That’s a problem in this country in general, but California especially. California still has several advantages, but Florida is better overall at least right now.

July 17, 2021 at 1:07 AM

I actually spent four years living in Florida, so I do have an affinity for it. Of course, tone then was a bit different as the current leadership is....let's be charitable and say severely lacking.

California I can see in charm but the heat is a turn-off for me. Then again, that was what I hated the most in Florida, never a guy for warm temps which is why I prefer now living in Chicago.

It's also where you stay. If in California, not sure I could stand L.A. but San Diego and San Fran sound much better in weather and tone. In Florida, Jacksonville was a good place to be and Orlando fun but not into the idea of being in Tampa Bay or the panhandle and Miami a bit too busy.

So if I had to choose, Florida has slight edge (just wish under saner folks) but can understand charms of California.

July 17, 2021 at 1:09 AM

@RandyKeith: If you have problems with a growing unacceptable of people who disagree", you're really not going to like Florida and I speak as a former resident.

July 17, 2021 at 8:57 AM

i lived in Glendale/Burbank/Eagle Rock for 2 years when i was in my 20's...moved to Orlando in 1990 and it is my forever home. many places to love in both states and some may find more to love in CA vs FL but for me, living in LA, the traffic, my commute and high cost of living was just way too much and drove me away. i felt like i lived in my car i was in it so much. Orlando has certainly grown leaps and bounds since i've been here and as much as we complain about I-4, Orlando traffic is non-existent compared to out there. it's tough to beat the SoCal weather but then again, that's why soooooo many people live there. and being a theme park junkie, obviously, both states have lots to brag about but Central Florida definitely has the most. for me personally, i'm all about the sunshine state.

July 17, 2021 at 9:08 AM

I’ll take California any day over Florida. I have better pay and job security here over Florida: There’s no side jobs for working in a film crew/be an extra in a film/tv production. Plus, both Universal and Disney tried to have a movie studio in Florida and it failed badly.

July 17, 2021 at 2:10 PM

The other aspect that makes this difficult is the vast difference in what living in the state looks like. South Florida is one of the most diverse places in the country with a very strong Latin presence, while North Florida feels closer to "the South." California has pretty big differences too depending on where you are.

I'm a Floridian so I am biased. But given the choice, I'd rather stay in Florida. Though I often envy the natural diversity and beauty of California, I also find Florida beautiful in its own right. It is also, ultimately, much more affordable to live here and I'm not even sure if I could sustain a living in the places I'd actually want to live in California (like San Fran or LA), and would be forced to live further away from the cities.

July 17, 2021 at 6:07 PM

I am glad to see this has not turned into any kind of political debate. I would vote for the category of "neither". I actually spent some time growing up in Southern California a looooong time ago (1970s). When my father was stationed at an Air Force base in San Bernardino. I loved so much about living there from being a Dodgers fan to Disney and Magic Mountain. I have visited a few times since then and could not imagine living there again (high cost of living, traffic, etc.).

Living in Atlanta gives us easy proximity to Florida (Orlando, gulf coast beaches, cruise ports etc.). But I could not live in Florida either. Not a fan of heat and humidity, and actually enjoy the mild winters in North Georgia.

July 17, 2021 at 7:05 PM

@Jack H: I made much the same point as Florida has its intriguing division depending on where you live.

An old joke there: The further North you go, the more Southern it gets.

July 18, 2021 at 9:18 AM

I have lived in Orlando for four years now. I choose Florida: it's cheaper, less traffic, the parks are better, diversity is here, Orlando has all the food choices, I never feel bored, and there's always something to do. Outside of the theme park bubble there's still a whole bunch of arts/culture/nature/ and sites to explore around central Florida.

California is hands down more beautiful with mountains, forests, and tinsel town, but ultimately a bit more shallow. I love how Florida has the ability to make fun of itself. It's the crazy uncle at the party: loud, inviting, warm, and at peace with itself.

July 18, 2021 at 10:29 AM

@MikeW - ha, that's good! I have Southern roots but also a love for different cultures and experiences so I think that is part of why I like the Jacksonville area where I live because you get a bit of both. I lived in South Florida for 6 years as well though and really enjoyed my time there too.

July 18, 2021 at 11:28 AM

I'm was born and raised in the SF Bay area (Palo Alto) and it was wonderful. If it hadn't transformed into a dense Silicon Valley sprawl with an astronomical cost of living, I'd probably live there now but I'm enjoying living in Florida now. In fact, I live in Lake Nona and I'm quite perplexed that Disney feels the need to open a campus in my community vice Walt Disney World where they have well over 30 square miles of reaming open space on their property.

July 18, 2021 at 10:56 PM

Any Florida coastal area is better than Orlando, which has the highest humidity and hottest weather.. Why be in Florida and not close to the beaches!? So if it’s Orlando area or Anaheim area I’d say Anaheim. But if actual state to state, I’d say Florida wins - you can’t swim in the cold Pacific !

July 19, 2021 at 8:28 AM

Good article! I think it really depends on where you are in life and you accurately gave reasons.

Both states/cities have pros and cons. I think FL squeaks a little ahead as your pay would get you more in FL vs CA. Disney doesn't pay all that well so the more affordable state is going to come out slightly ahead.

July 19, 2021 at 9:06 AM

Kinda biased here, because I’m a native Californian (Yep, not everybody came here from somewhere else). Housing costs are ridiculous - I mean seriously, who’s making the kind of money to afford the cost of a house here?!? - but central Florida’s not the bargain it used to be unless you want to live a long way out of a major city.

Southern California traffic is legendary, but I-4 is giving it a run for its money, and it feels like every other road is a toll road; when the roads aren’t clogged, it feels like half the drivers are auditioning for NASCAR. Public transportation are sparse in much of CA, but at least I have some options to driving a car; Brightline might manage to connect Miami, Orlando, and Tampa by the time I die.

Climate change is making CA warmer and helping make every summer a cataclysmic brush fire year, but live on the FL coast and you’re going to worry about getting wiped out in a hurricane. I like rain, but not at 2:30 every afternoon, and I lived in perpetual humidity when I was stationed in Hawaii - I’ll pass.

Low taxes are nice until you or your family need help and the Florida state and local government tells you to pack sand; CA state and local government may screw up while trying to help but at least there’s some semblance of a safety net. Would I rather live in a conservative one-party state or a liberal one? Toss up - it’s just different types of incompetence. (Let’s not kid ourselves that the other party in either state has a shot at smoothing out the rough edges of the ruling party’s policies any time soon.)

I think I’d rather stick with the devil I know rather than take my chances someplace I’m not as familiar with. When Disney decamps from Burbank to wherever the senior execs decide they’d rather live more cheaply and dodge paying a reasonable amount in taxes instead, please turn out the lights.

July 19, 2021 at 4:58 PM

Must you even ask, Florida

July 19, 2021 at 8:18 PM

My family considered moving to Florida pre-COVID. Not doing it is the best decision we ever made. We’re now planning our 2022 vacation to CA rather than FL.

July 21, 2021 at 10:05 AM

Personally, I wouldn't chose to move to either of these places unless I was working for one of the major theme park companies. However, having lived in the DC Metro area for all of my life, I appreciate having all 4 seasons with both ski resorts and beaches within a 2-hour drive of where I live. Most places in California have that, while Florida decidedly is devoid of winter sports. So if it was a life or death decision, I would begrudgingly empty my bank account to live in California.

July 23, 2021 at 2:47 PM

OK, a note from "out of the USA".
I do not vote Cal or Fla, as I just cannot vote without knowing the life conditions in both states, at first hand. (It would be based on fantasies.)
However, moving a family, for the benefit of only ONE member of the family, is very tricky anywhere on earth. It can become traumatic for (teenage) kids !
It remembers me how this kind of semi-forced long distance moves has been a regular tied-in frame in an endless flood of typical teenage TV movies. Standard opening scenes : a family moves, new city, new house, nothing and nobody the kids recognise, not accepted and getting bullied at school etc etc .. After those opening sequences, some random adventure starts, never related to real (social) life.
Anyway. The fact it's a basic ingredient in the plot of American teenage movies, and 99.8% NEVER is so in European ones, however shows that such moves and the social disruption which follows is very typical American. ???
From the European context, I would say : I would not move. (In whatever direction) ..and saying this, from an add on perspective I moved myself as a teenage, 2 times with my family, to a different country. (But for relatively short life periods).

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