Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
January 28, 2022 - 6 min read

Travel Nursing in California | Top Paying Specialties & Cities 2022

Travel nursing is an exciting opportunity to see parts of the United States while making some serious money. California — one of the most sought-after states because of the diverse culture, fun outdoor activities including swimming in the Pacific Ocean or sipping wine in the Napa vineyards — is the ideal place to take a travel nursing assignment.

This guide will help you learn more about travel nursing in California and why it might be a great fit for you!

Speak with a recruiter about available travel nursing assignments in California!

COVID & travel nurses in California

As of December 3, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported a minimum of 7,612 new cases per day.

California has been particularly hard hit with COVID cases, especially during the surge from the Delta variant. As a result, news reports indicate that more than ever, California is relying on travel nurses to fill the staffing shortage and help relieve overwhelmed hospitals. Furthermore, the Omicron variant has now been detected in California which could continue to strain hospitals and healthcare systems.

Currently, there is a shortage of 40,567 full-time RNs, which is projected to persist until 2026, according to an analysis of preliminary data from the 2020 Survey of California Registered Nurses and final data from the 2019-20 Annual RN Schools Survey.

How much do travel nurses make in California?

According to ZipRecruiter, the top locations for travel nurses are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento.

Los Angeles

  • Hourly Wage: $49.00
  • Weekly Wage: $1,953/week
  • Monthly Wage: $8,463/month

San Francisco

  • Hourly Wage: $50.33
  • Weekly Wage: $2,013/week
  • Monthly Wage: $8,724/month

San Diego

  • Hourly Wage: $45.48
  • Weekly Wage: $1,819/week
  • Monthly Wage: $7,883/month

Sacramento

  • Hourly Wage: $44.40
  • Weekly Wage: $1,776/week
  • Monthly Wage: $7,696/month

Highest paying nursing specialties in California

The highest-paid travel nursing specialties depend on a variety of factors including location, demand, and urgency of needs. Right now, the demand for travel nurses in California is extremely high due to COVID and crisis contracts. As a result, the wages that are being offered are steadily increasing. Unfortunately, this is not being seen across all disciplines of nursing.

Historically speaking, the top paying travel nurse specialties are,

  1. Labor and Delivery
  2. Operating Room
  3. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
  4. Post-anesthesia Care Unit
  5. Intensive Care Unit

With COVID, the top paying travel nurse jobs have changed and are based on location more so than position.

According to ZipRecruiter, the following cities have these top-paying specialties:

Los Angeles

  • ICU Travel Nurse: $58.54 per hour
  • Emergency Room Travel Nurse: $57.29 per hour

San Francisco

  • Labor and Delivery Travel Nurse: $63.26 per hour
  • Intensive Care Unit Travel Nurse: $63.13 per hour
  • Critical Care Travel Nurse: $65.32 per hour

San Diego

  • ICU Travel Nurse: $58.29 per hour
  • ER Travel Nurse: $59.04 per hour

Sacramento

  • ICU Travel Nurse: $56.18 per hour
  • Labor and Delivery Travel Nurse: $59.06 per hour
  • Emergency Room Travel Nurse: $54.84 per hour

Looking for travel nurse assignments in California? Speak with a recruiter today!

Top 5 hospitals in California

With more than 39.51 million residents in 2020, California is the most populous U.S. state in population. California’s population is projected to reach 45 million people by 2050. With such a large population, California has multiple cities with over a million residents including Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose.

U.S. World News and World Report evaluated 416 hospitals in California. The top five hospitals in California as of 2020 were:

1. UCLA Medical Center

  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Nationally Ranked: 14 Adult Specialties and 6 Children’s Specialties
  • High Performing: 17 Procedures/Conditions

2. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Nationally Ranked: 11 Adult Specialties
  • High Performing: 1 Adult Specialty & 17 Procedures/Conditions

3. UCSF Medical Center

  • Location: San Francisco
  • Nationally Ranked: 14 Adult Specialties and 10 Children’s Specialties
  • High Performing: 14 Procedures/Conditions

4. Stanford Health Care – Stanford Hospital

  • Location: Stanford
  • Nationally Ranked: 11 Adult Specialties
  • High Performing: 1 Adult Specialty & 16 Procedures/Conditions

5. Keck Medical Center of USC

  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Nationally Ranked: 12 Adult Specialties
  • High Performing: 14 Procedures/Conditions

Cost of living for travel nurses in California

As the national cost of living continues to rise, California has continued to see a dramatic increase in the cost of living. In fact, the cost of living in California has always been one of the highest in the country. Cost of living is defined as the amount of money needed to cover basic expenses such as housing, food, taxes, and healthcare.

The cost of living is always higher in larger cities than smaller towns, therefore housing will cost more in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

According to Bestplaces.net, the overall cost of living in California rates 149.9. The number is well above 100, which means California’s cost of living is significantly higher than the U.S. average. The median house cost is $684,800 as compared to the median home cost in the U.S. as a whole ($291,700).

Payscale.com reports on the cost of living in major California cities including the median home price, median rent, and monthly energy bill.

Los Angeles

  • Compared to National Average: 43% higher
  • Median Home Price: $788,384
  • Median Rent: $2,470 / month
  • Median Energy Bill: $180.74 / month

San Diego

  • Compared to National Average: 44% higher
  • Median Home Price: $817,185
  • Median Rent: $2,560 / month
  • Median Energy Bill: $192.64 / month

San Francisco

  • Compared to National Average: 80% higher
  • Median Home Price: $1,146,835
  • Median Rent: $3,593 / month
  • Median Energy Bill: $182.92 / month

Sacramento

  • Compared to National Average: 17% higher
  • Median Home Price: $474,696
  • Median Rent: $1,487 / month
  • Median Energy Bill: $149.72 / month

San Jose

  • Compared to National Average: 49% higher
  • Median Home Price: $860,907
  • Median Rent: $2,697 / month
  • Median Energy Bill: $210.75 / month

A great resource to evaluate how far a salary will stretch in a given city is CNN’s Cost of Living Calculator.

Pros & cons of travel nursing in California

With any career, there are pros and cons to the job. Travel nursing is no different. It’s important to take into consideration your own personal circumstances, family obligations, and reasons for wanting to be a travel nurse. Reasons that some nurses might see as a con may in fact be a positive for you.

Pros

  1. Increased earning potential: Travel nurses have the ability to earn significantly more money than staff nurses. Furthermore, they can make more due to reimbursements and incentives. Most travel nurses receive free housing or have a monthly allowance to put toward housing expenses.
  2. Travel: One of the main reasons travel nurses start this adventure is to experience different cities and states they may not otherwise get to experience. It also is great for nurses who are not sure where they ultimately want to settle down.
  3. Flexibility: You have the ability to take a contract when you want to and where you want to. If you really want to travel to Hawaii, you have the ability to find a contract that fits your needs.
  4. Networking: Most don’t consider this a huge pro of travel nursing, but it is! With an increase in the number of nurses that go on to earn an advanced degree, making connections with different hospitals, providers, and nurses can be very important when trying to find preceptors for graduate-level clinical rotations.
  5. Avoid hospital and unit politics: Most don’t like to admit but bedside nursing comes with drama and politics. It can be as simple as a hierarchy based on seniority or something more serious. Being a travel nurse allows you to avoid all of this by not being fully invested in the unit but rather helping out for a very specific amount of time.

Cons

  1. Always the new person: Being new to a unit can be exciting but can also be frustrating or even lonely. Not knowing anyone on the unit can affect the type of help you will get in your work environment.
  2. Not the best assignments: Some hospitals will assign travel nurses patients just like any other nurse on the unit. Others will assign them the easiest patients, the hardest patients, or the ones who no one wants to deal with.
  3. First to float to another unit: Despite being contracted to a specific unit, most travel nurses will have to float to other parts of the hospital within their skill set. This again will make you the new person which can affect how others perceive you and assist you throughout the shift.
  4. Finding a place to live: All travel nurse companies offer their nurses places to live during each contract. However, it is not always in the location that you want or with the amenities you desire. Contracts will offer a housing stipend instead, which most travel nurses take, but then finding appropriate housing falls on you.
  5. Changing health insurance policies: With each contract may come a new health insurance policy. This will be dependent on the agency that you work with. If you switch between multiple agencies then there will most likely be a lapse in your health insurance. However, nurses can opt for private insurance and pay out of pocket. That way, when the assignment ends, you won’t lose your insurance.

Why travel nurse in California?

California is a great state with sunny weather, diverse food, a rich cultural scene, pristine beaches, vibrant nightlife, mountains, and vineyards as far as the eye can see.

With an ongoing high demand for travel nurses of all specialties at very competitive wages, California is a great fit for anyone interested in becoming a travel nurse. Whether it is your first contract or your fifteenth, California has something to offer anyone willing to explore!

Speak with a recruiter about available travel nursing assignments in California!

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