Whether you prefer an intimate community banking experience or the anytime, anywhere convenience of a major national bank, Californians can find the best match for their needs.
The Golden State has dozens of homegrown financial institutions, many of which serve only parts of this vast state. California also has a special connection to some of the biggest banks in the country — both Wells Fargo and Bank of America have historical roots here.
We evaluated more than 100 California banks on metrics including interest rates, product mix, online and mobile banking, and customer service quality. But only 10 earned a spot on our list of the best banks in California.
The Best Banks in California
These FDIC-insured banks are the best consumer and small-business financial institutions in California. Our “best overall” pick, Wells Fargo, serves the needs to the widest range of Californians in our opinions. All the other banks on this list do at least one thing really well or excel in a particular region of the state.
Best Overall: Wells Fargo
- Headquarters: San Francisco, California
- Number of Branches in California: 904
- Areas Served: Statewide
We chose Wells Fargo as the top bank in California because:
- It has nearly 1,000 branches in the state, covering all major cities and regions
- It has a comprehensive account lineup, from low-cost personal checking and savings accounts to personal, business, and commercial loans and lines of credit
- It’s one of the best banks for credit card users, with multiple cash-back and low-APR credit cards
- It ranks well on overall customer satisfaction
- It offers an excellent digital banking experience
Though it has deep roots in the Golden State, no one would confuse San Francisco-based Wells Fargo with a humble California community bank. With thousands of branches across the country and nearly $2 trillion in total deposits, it’s one of the biggest banks in the United States.
That makes it ideal for California natives who appreciate both real-world banking convenience and on-the-go access via online and mobile banking. And because it serves customers from coast to coast, Wells Fargo is an excellent choice both for people relocating to California from elsewhere and California-based consumers who travel a lot in the U.S. for work or pleasure.
Best for Students: Bank of America
- Headquarters: Charlotte, North Carolina
- Number of Branches in California: 791
- Areas Served: Statewide
Bank of America is another massive American bank with strong California roots.
A century on from its low-key origins in San Francisco, BofA has grown into the top banking choice for students. That’s largely thanks to its innovative Advantage Banking product, which has no monthly maintenance fee for students under 25 enrolled in school or an educational or vocational program and no monthly maintenance fee for anyone under 18. Read more about Advantage Banking in our roundup of the best student checking accounts.
As a full-service bank, BofA can handle just about all of your financial needs. Choose from multiple rewards credit cards with no annual fee, including the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card. Acquire or tap real estate equity with the bank’s mortgage loans (purchase and refinance) or home equity loans and lines of credit. Enjoy competitive rates on auto loans (purchase and refinance), starting around 5% APR for new cars. And invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds, and more with Merrill, a BofA subsidiary.
Best for Environmental Activists: Bank of the West
- Headquarters: San Francisco, California
- Number of Branches in California: 230
- Areas Served: Statewide
Though it’s now a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, an international financial conglomerate, Bank of the West is another deeply rooted California bank that remains loyal to its home state. With branch and ATM coverage across the entire state, it’s accessible for most Californians too.
Bank of the West leans into California’s long history of environmental activism with its 1% for the Planet Checking account. It donates 1% of net revenues from those accounts to environmental nonprofits at no cost to you (or anyone else who does business with the bank). You can see your debit card purchases’ estimated carbon footprint in your account dashboard too.
And Bank of the West pledges never to use customer deposits to fund Arctic drilling, tar sands mining, or big tobacco — though that leaves out plenty of ethically questionable profit centers.
Best Community Bank: Oak Valley Community Bank
- Headquarters: Oakdale, California
- Number of Branches in California: 16
- Areas Served: Central Valley, Sacramento
Oak Valley Community Bank is California’s premier community bank, which is quite the distinction in a big state full of small hometown banks. As a smaller community institution, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: If you don’t live somewhere between Sacramento and Modesto, you’re uncomfortably far from an Oak Valley branch.
But if you do live nearby, Oak Valley has everything you could want from a small bank:
- Branches staffed by friendly industry veterans
- Multiple checking accounts, some of which are high-interest accounts
- Health savings accounts, which are uncommon in the community banking world
- Mortgage loans and home equity products
- An impressive lineup of commercial accounts and loans
And if life or business takes you outside Oak Valley Community Bank’s home territory, you can count on its mobile apps and mobile-responsive website (another rarity for a small bank) to stay connected to your money.
Best in San Francisco: Union Bank
- Headquarters: New York, New York
- Number of Branches in California: 282
- Areas Served: Statewide
Union Bank can trace its roots back to the early days of California statehood. The Bank of California, its oldest predecessor institution, started in 1864 in a little-known but fast-growing frontier port called San Francisco. Union Bank and Trust Company, which would merge with The Bank of California in 1996, came to life in 1918 Los Angeles. No financial institution is more thoroughly Californian nor so integral to its home state’s prosperity.
Union Bank has nearly 300 branches from one end of California to the other, but it’s particularly popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it can seem like there’s a branch at every major intersection. While a pending merger with U.S. Bank brings some uncertainty, the excellent customer experience for which Union Bank is known seems unlikely to change in the near future.
Union Bank has a comprehensive lineup of consumer and business accounts, including the always-free Bank Freely checking and savings accounts, five personal credit cards (cash-back, rewards points, travel, low APR, and secured), and specialty loans for small and midsize businesses.
Best in Orange County: First Citizens Bank
- Headquarters: Raleigh, North Carolina
- Number of Branches in California: 65
- Areas Served: Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento
North Carolina-based First Citizens Bank barreled into California with the acquisition of OneWest Bank, a beloved southern California institution. Its branch network is particularly dense in southern LA County and Orange County, making it the ideal choice for people who live and work in this area.
First Citizens Bank offers three different checking accounts, including one that’s totally free — no fees, period — when you opt into paperless statements. Its CD and savings rates are nothing to write home about, but five different credit card options (including a rare secured rewards credit card) and competitively priced mortgage and auto loans make up for it.
First Citizens Bank throws a few (good) curveballs. It’s one of the few regional banks that sells insurance (specifically auto, property, life, and umbrella liability) and offers pet health insurance quotes through Embrace Pet Insurance. It has a deep roster of commercial and small-business financing options, including vehicle financing, debt restructuring, working capital, and equipment financing. And it offers in-house financial planning and investment management through First Citizens Wealth Management, its full-service wealth management arm.
Best in Los Angeles: Farmers & Merchants Bank (Southern California)
- Headquarters: Long Beach, California
- Number of Branches: 25
- Areas Served: Long Beach/Los Angeles, Orange County
The best bank in the Los Angeles area is actually based in Long Beach, but that’s close enough. It’s Farmers & Merchants Bank — not to be confused with Lodi-based F&M Bank, the initials of which also stand for “farmers and merchants” and which occupies its own spot on this list.
For a 25-branch bank, Farmers & Merchants has an unusually diverse personal account lineup: seven checking accounts, three savings accounts (including an old-school Christmas Club holiday savings account), CDs with terms ranging from seven days to five years, and three different youth accounts for high school and college students. Business owners can count on four different business checking accounts, multiple business credit cards, and a business lending arm specializing in commercial real estate.
Farmers & Merchants has some other notable selling points. These include a seemingly permanent $500-off-closing-costs promotion for mortgage applicants, specialty banking services for health care and faith-based organizations, and an incredibly experienced staff that includes more than 100 employees with at least 15 years of service (and more than 60 with 20 years or more).
Best in the Central Valley: F&M Bank (Central/Northern California)
- Headquarters: Lodi, California
- Number of Branches: 30
- Areas Served: Central Valley, East Bay, Sacramento
The other F&M Bank has a similar number of branches a couple hundred miles north of LA and Long Beach, mostly in the Central Valley south of Sacramento.
True to its tagline — “where banking is easy!” — F&M Bank has a user-friendly desktop banking interface and slick mobile app that replicates the experience on a smaller screen. All of its physical branches are full-service, meaning you don’t have to travel farther to speak with a mortgage loan officer, investment advisor, or ag loan specialist. And those branches are conveniently located, with at least one in every big town between Merced and Roseville.
F&M’s lending department reflects its rural, heavily agricultural setting, with multiple loan options for farm real estate and equipment, livestock, vineyard and winemaking equipment, and other farm-y functions. But don’t worry: If you don’t own a farm or vineyard, you can still get a regular-old mortgage loan here, plus unsecured personal loans with flexible terms.
Best in San Diego: Bank of Southern California
- Headquarters: San Diego, California
- Number of Branches: 13
- Areas Served: San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles
Though it has operations in Orange County and southern LA County, Bank of Southern California focuses most of its attention on San Diego, where most of its branches are located.
On the consumer side, the standout VIP Checking account reimburses up to $25 in domestic and international ATM fees per statement cycle and pays tiered interest rates depending on your balance. The consumer savings products aren’t particularly noteworthy, but there’s a nice CD term spread at least: 90 days to five years, perfect for building a multi-CD ladder.
Bank of Southern California’s real strength is its business deposit account lineup, which features five distinct business checking accounts — from Basic Business Checking (good for freelancers and sole proprietors) to Analyzed Business Checking (ideal for growing businesses with high transaction volumes). If you’re coming over from another institution, use Bank of Southern California’s consumer Switch Kit to reduce the time and hassle of changing banks.
Best in San Jose: Santa Cruz County Bank
- Headquarters: Santa Cruz, California
- Number of Branches: 8
- Areas Served: Santa Cruz, San Jose
Santa Cruz County Bank has the fewest locations of any bank on this list. But it’s one of the few homegrown banks that operates in the San Jose area (in Cupertino, home of Apple Inc.) That makes it a strong choice for Silicon Valley residents seeking a local alternative to big, faceless financial institutions.
For such a small bank, Santa Cruz County Bank has an impressive lineup of deposit accounts and loan options. Notably, two of its four checking accounts waive monthly service charges with recurring direct deposits. The other two have relatively manageable minimum balance requirements to waive their monthly fees.
The lending side is biased toward business customers, with just a handful of consumer credit cards. But if you do own a business in greater San Jose or Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Bank probably has the type of financing you need to grow it. Choose from short- and long-term asset-based loans, unsecured lines of credit, multiple Small Business Administration loan types, real estate loans, and specialty loans for agricultural and winemaking businesses. You can run your small-business retirement plans (including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs) through Santa Cruz County Bank and/or open tax-advantaged personal savings accounts (traditional and Roth IRAs, Coverdell education savings accounts) here too.
Methodology: How We Select the Best Banks in California
More than 100 homegrown and national banks operate in California. That gives locals lots of choice, but it also makes it tough to decide which are truly the best.
To narrow this list, we evaluated California banks on quality factors like product mix, rates and yields, digital and real-world convenience, and customer service quality.
While there’s no rule against having more than one bank, we understand that many consumers and small-business owners prefer to do all their banking in the same place.
That’s why we give preference to California banks with comprehensive product and service lineups, regardless of size or branch count. You won’t find financial institutions that focus on just one or two account types on this list.
Rates and Yields
Few banks offer the best loan rates and account yields from top to bottom. Most have some areas where they excel and others where they fall short. That being the case, all of the banks on this list offer competitive rates and terms on at least some of their deposit accounts and loan products.
Online and Mobile Banking Capabilities
Every bank on this list has a high-quality online banking interface that allows users to do most of their daily money management without walking into a branch or sidling up to an ATM. Most have mobile banking apps as well, and those that don’t at least have mobile-friendly websites.
All of the banks on this list meet at least one of two geographic criteria:
- Comprehensiveness, meaning they serve several regions of California or have statewide branch coverage
- Depth, meaning they have lots of branches and ATMs in narrower geographic areas
One isn’t necessarily better than the other. But if you value in-person financial services, it’s nice not to have to drive an hour each way to meet with your banker.
Customer Service Ratings
While we take user-generated reviews with a grain of salt, we give preference to banks that have clearly built up good will with the folks they serve. That’s true whether they’re thousand-branch behemoths or community institutions with just a few outposts in one corner of California or another.
Even the smaller banks on this list belong to larger ATM networks that offer low- or no-cost withdrawals at tens of thousands or more machines nationwide. That’s important for people whose work or leisure travels take them outside their banks’ home territories.
California Banking FAQs
Still have questions about banking in California? Need some help choosing among the best banks in the Golden State? We have (some) answers.
How Many Banks Does California Have?
There are more than 100 unique banks with branches or operations centers in California. Dozens of these are based in California, including many of the top banks on this list.
Others are headquartered elsewhere but started or have deep historical roots in California, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Although it doesn’t have as many small banks per capita as some other states, California does have a strong tradition of community banking. Some of the state’s best banks have just 10 or 20 branches and serve distinct regions within California.
What Bank Has the Best CD Rates in California?
Nothing against homegrown community banks, but if you’re looking or the very best rates on certificates of deposit in California, you’ll have better luck targeting branchless online banks like Ally Bank, Synchrony Bank, and Capital One Bank.
Online banks tend to offer better savings account and CD rates because they have lower overhead and thus higher profit margins.
For example, Ally Bank’s five-year CD currently yields 4.10%. That’s much higher than you’re likely to get with your hometown bank.
What Bank Has the Best Savings Rates in California?
The “online banks are better” rule applies on savings account rates as well, though some local banks offer promotional rates on savings accounts to draw in new customers.
One thing is for sure: You won’t find competitive savings accounts rates at big banks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo. However strong they are on other measures, both are notorious for low account yields.
What’s the Best Bank for Mortgages in California?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear winner. As a general rule, online direct lenders have better mortgage rates than traditional or community banks for the same reason online banks pay better rates on CDs and savings accounts. They have less overhead.
That said, if you have a preexisting relationship with a California bank or you’re ready to start one, ask your banker what they can do for you on the mortgage front.
Banks with formal loyalty programs, like Bank of America Preferred Rewards, often give members lower mortgage rates or credits toward closing costs. Smaller banks without formal loyalty programs may still cut longtime customers a break, especially when they have lots of cash on deposit or other loans outstanding.
How to Choose a Bank in California
Still overwhelmed by the sheer number of banks in California? Unsure how to narrow down your list of choices any further? Take a step back and think about what you value most in a bank.
- Coverage and Access: Unless you’re confident you’ll never need to walk into a branch or use an ATM, you want a bank that’s accessible where (and how) you live. Look for banks with branches and ATMs in your neighborhood or hometown — or at least within easy reach.
- Account and Service Fees: Look for banks that offer free checking accounts, no-annual-fee credit cards, and other low- or no-cost financial products for your everyday needs. If you must choose a bank that charges monthly maintenance fees, at least ensure you know how to get those fees waived. And avoid banks with complicated fee schedules that seem designed to squeeze you for more of your hard-earned money.
- Personal Service (or Lack Thereof): If you value personalized, one-on-one service, choose your bank accordingly. Most banks pay lip service to the concept, but it shouldn’t take long to spot the ones that really just treat you like a number.
- Deposit Account Options: Even if you have no problem maintaining accounts at multiple institutions, it’s nice to have the option to deepen your relationship with your hometown bank. So choose one with a wide variety of deposit account options rather than just one or two.
- Credit Options: Maybe you’re not in the market for a loan or credit card right now, but chances are you will be in the future. Choose a bank that offers a range of loans to save yourself the hassle of switching later — and ensure you qualify for existing-customer loan perks and rate or fee discounts when you’re ready.
- Technology: No matter how much you love your bank, you don’t have time to visit in person every time you need to get cash or pay a bill. Make sure the banks on your shortlist have online or mobile banking capabilities comprehensive enough to handle all your daily money management needs.