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Your Guide to RN Salary in California [2024]

California is the state that both employs the most nurses and offers nurses the highest pay.

In this article, discover the range of RN pay in California, compare compensation from north to south, glean essential insights into hourly rates, and find locations with high-paying jobs. 

Table 1: Comparison of RN Wages in California and the United States

RN Wages Annual Mean Wage Hourly Mean Wage
California $133,340 $64.10
United States $89,010 $42.80

This resource provides publicly available information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the United States Census Bureau, and the MIT Living Wage Calculator about average RN salaries, employment, location quotient, and living wage in California (most recent information as of March 2024). While Nursa currently offers independent contractor RNs in California the opportunity to access per diem jobs that pay on an hourly basis rather than access to salaried or wage-based employment opportunities, this information may be a helpful frame of reference for you as you assess the job market both regarding per diem jobs and employment opportunities.

Table 2: Areas, Cities/Towns, and Mean Wages

Area Locations with Links to PRN Nursing Jobs Mean RN Hourly Wage
Fresno Fresno $59.31
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Alhambra, Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Orange County, Pasadena, Rancho Mission Viejo $60.26
Modesto Modesto $66.59
Napa Napa $70.38
Redding Redding $58.53
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Inland Empire, Riverside, San Bernardino, Angelus Oaks $58.40
San Diego-Carlsbad Encinitas, Escondido, La Mesa, National City, El Cajon, San Diego/a> $56.65
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Hayward $79.21
San Jose-Sunnyville-Santa Clara Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, Santa Clara $76.94
Santa María-Santa Barbara Santa Barbara $55.37
Santa Rosa Santa Rosa $72.67
Yuba City Marysville, Yuba City $58.79

How Much Do RNs Make per Hour in California?

For RNs contemplating per diem positions in California, understanding both typical hourly rates and annual salaries is relevant, as per diem roles typically compensate on an hourly basis. On average, RNs engaging in PRN opportunities receive higher hourly rates than their counterparts in staff positions.

The average RN wage in this state is $64.10 per hour for employed registered nurses; however, the previous table shows the average California RN wage per hour in 12 of California’s large statistical areas and links to towns and cities featuring per diem job offers.

Remember that per diem jobs typically pay substantially higher hourly rates than regular full- or part-time positions. Whether you prefer cities or small towns, browse per diem registered nursing jobs in these additional California locations:

What’s the Average RN Salary in California?

You will find that average RN compensation in California is significantly higher than the national mean, challenging typical nursing pay rates. 

As shown in the table above, RN wages in this state surpass the national average by over $44,000—or almost 50 percent. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

However, the range of California RN compensation is quite diverse, from nearly $85,000 to over $177,000 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides accurate and precise percentiles, delineating the distribution of typical RN income levels—in simpler terms, the proportion of RNs employed in the state who earn up to specific income thresholds.

  • 10th percentile: $84,700
  • 25th percentile: $104,610
  • 50th percentile: $132,660
  • 75th percentile: $161,780
  • 90th percentile: $177,670

What Do These Wage Percentiles Mean?

The 10th and lowest tier indicates that only 10 percent of RNs in California earn less than $84,700, while 90 percent earn more. Conversely, the 90th and highest tier specifies that 10 percent earn more than $177,670 and 90 percent earn less. Understanding mean wage percentiles empowers you to anticipate your potential income and make well-grounded decisions regarding your financial future. 

How Much Do Nurses Make in California? 

Although California tops the list of the highest-paying states for RNs, and RNs in the state make over 40 grand more than the national average, registered nurse salary in California varies according to specialty, location, and type of work. It's important to consider that various registered nurses, such as those who work in TELE, ER, ICU, and Medsurg may earn various pay ranges due to their area of specialization.

Cities that offer top pay as well as large-scale and growing numbers of RN jobs in California include the following:

  • San Francisco
  • Long Beach
  • Sacramento
  • Oakland
  • Los Angeles

To further understand your earning potential as a nursing professional, see Nursa’s practical guide to how much you can make as a nurse.

How to Become an RN in California

nurse holding a stethoscope in shape of heart
California has a large need for more RNs.

Becoming a registered nurse in California involves earning an accredited nursing degree, passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), and meeting specific state regulations to obtain a nursing license. Here is an informative guide on how to become a registered nurse in California:

Educational Requirements

  • Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent, ensuring you fulfill the foundational educational prerequisites for pursuing a career as a registered nurse.
  • Complete an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), considering that both ADN and BSN options prepare you for the NCLEX-RN.

Licensure Exam

  • Take the NCLEX-RN, a standardized exam that tests your nursing knowledge and skills to provide safe and effective care.


  • Once you pass the NCLEX-RN, you can apply for an RN license from the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). Submit your application and the required documents, including your official transcripts, proof of passing the NCLEX-RN, and required fees.
  • Undergo a Live Scan fingerprinting process to fulfill a criminal background check as part of the licensure application.
  • Wait for Board approval. The BRN will review your application, including your education, exam results, and background check, a process that takes 10 to 12 weeks. Once approved, you will be issued a California RN license.

The state requires RNs to renew their licenses every two years and complete continuing education units (CEUs) to stay current in the field.

With its national license lookup service, Nursys provides easy and reliable California RN license verification using data directly from the state Board of Nursing.

Additional Tips:

  • ADN programs typically take two years, while BSN programs usually take four years. Ponder your preferred time commitment.
  • Research accredited RN schools in California. Ensure the program meets California Board of Registered Nursing requirements and has accreditation from an agency, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), or the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Join professional organizations and take advantage of resources and opportunities for networking and professional development.
  • Find outstanding nursing schools with RN programs in California and a wealth of other information in our resource guide to working in California as a nurse.

Cost of Living Considerations for California

Understanding your financial standing goes beyond grasping California nurse salary figures; it also involves factoring in the cost of living. The MIT Living Wage Calculator suggests an estimated annual living wage of about $56,825 for a single adult, increasing to $99,763 for a single adult with one child and soaring to over $128,091 for a single parent with two children.

The yearly mean income for RNs in California comfortably covers the typical expenses for a single adult, and it extends to meet the financial needs of two adults or one adult with two children. However, if you are the sole provider, you should explore ways to augment your income.

people walking in a San Fransisco neighborhood
San Fransisco is legendary for its iconic scenes and neighborhoods.

How Many RNs Work in the Largest California Metros?

Knowing how much you can earn in California and an idea of the cost of living may help you choose the best option when considering independent contractor work or applying for salaried or wage-based employment. Another piece of data that may inform your plans is how many RNs work in some of the largest metropolitan areas in the state, as shown in the table below.

Table 3: Number of RNs and Location Quotient by Area

Metros with a Population over 2,000,000 Number of RNs Employed Location Quotient (LQ)
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 111,660 0.88
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario 31,270 0.92
San Diego-Carlsbad 28,890 0.93
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 41,970 0.84
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara 20,250 0.86
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade 23,180 1.08

Although the Los Angeles metro, with its population of approximately 13 million, provides the highest number of RN jobs in California, the concentration of RN jobs in comparison to the national average—the LQ—is highest in the Sacramento metropolitan area.

What Does the Term “Location Quotient” Mean? 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses location quotient to indicate the concentration of professionals in each state or area. The LQ value of one represents the national average, meaning that an LQ under one shows a concentration lower than the nationwide average, while an LQ over one points out a higher-than-average share of employment or jobs in a particular industry or profession.

For instance, California’s location quotient of 0.89 indicates that the concentration of registered nurses in California is below the national average, even though the total number of RNs working in the state is the highest in the nation.

How Can I Earn More as a Nurse in California?

Are you seeking a financial boost without sacrificing work-life balance? Per diem independent contractor nursing jobs offer an accessible and convenient way to enhance your hourly earnings.

These flexible positions are available at hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which post them to fill temporary personnel gaps. PRN jobs benefit both facilities and nursing professionals.

Here are some benefits for nursing professionals, including RNs, licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), and certified nursing assistants (CNAs):

  • Higher hourly rates, as facilities save on overhead hiring costs and employee benefits, allowing them to offer clinicians more per hour
  • Income flexibility to supplement an existing salary or earn a full-time income through independent contractor work
  • Greater control, as clinicians can choose shifts that fit their schedules

The following are benefits for facilities:

  • Reliable patient care by filling critical gaps and ensuring smooth operations
  • Cost-effective solution since there is no need to pay employee benefits

In summary, you gain increased earning potential and control over your schedule while facilities benefit from effective staffing solutions.

Ready to explore the per diem path? Sign up with Nursa today and pick up high-paying PRN shifts.


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