Registered Nurse Salary in California Guide

5 Min Read Published September 2, 2023
RN Salary in California by

California is one of the most sought-after states for employment for nurses. The diverse culture and ample outdoor activities make it an ideal place to start your nursing career.  But the real draw for many is that nurse salaries in California are the highest in the country!

This guide will help you learn more about registered nursing salaries in California and how much you can expect to make if you live there.

How Much Does a Nurse in California Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses,  the average nurse salary across all nurses is $81,220 or $39.05 per hour. But nurses in California make WELL above the national average. According to the BLS, the average annual salary for nurses in California is $124,000 or $59.62 per hour. 

Highest Paying Cities in California

What city you work in will also play a big role in how much you can earn as an RN in California. Here are the highest-paying cities according to ZipRecruiter:


Annual Salary

Hourly Wage

San Mateo



Santa Monica






Daly City






San Francisco















Via ZipRecruiter

California Nurse Salary by Years of Experience

Nurses in California can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience. 

  1. 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $38.82

  2. 5-9 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $41.29

  3. 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $45.00

  4. 20 years and higher years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $56.01

Via Payscale

California Nurse Salary by Work Setting

Typically, nurses in private practice or hospitals will earn more than those in academia. 

The BLS reports that in 2021, the annual mean wage for registered nurses working in hospitals was $78,070, while nurses working in education earned an average salary of $61,780. 

How to Increase Your Salary as a Nurse in California

There are ways to increase your salary beyond the standard hourly wage. 

Increased Education 

Any additional certifications and education that you choose to pursue can have a significant impact on your compensation. Certifications will vary depending on your specialty and nursing field of choice. 

Salary Negotiation 

Most nurses, especially new graduates, will view their salary offer as set in stone; however, the national nursing shortage and demand for experienced nurses have put many in a position to be able to negotiate for a higher salary. 

To put yourself in the best position to negotiate, take time to research what others in your area are being paid and make a list of the special skills or experience that you bring to the facility. 

Practice what you are going to say to the hiring manager, being careful to remain confident and respectful. Be open to the value represented by benefits and perks such as additional vacation days or schedule flexibility. 

Consider Travel Nursing 

As the national nursing shortage rages on, an increasing number of hospitals and private outpatient practices are turning to travel nurses and even crisis nurses. 

While travel nursing may not be a good fit for everyone,  you can significantly increase the amount of money that you earn in a short period. California has the reputation of paying travel nurses well over $100 per hour, making it extremely profitable.   

How You Work 

Most nurses work full time (3 - 12 hour shifts per week) in California, but there are other ways you can increase your salary potential by considering some of the alternatives listed here: 

Per Diem

Per diem translates to per day, and per diem nurses get paid for each day that they work. Because they are available on a flexible basis, their hourly pay rate is generally higher than those who work a standard shift. 

A major downside to per diem nursing is if there is no need on the unit, then you do not work. Not working = no paycheck. 


Contract nurses sign agreements with a facility promising to work in a position for a specific, limited period of time. 

Contract nurses have the advantage of knowing the hours and compensation that they will receive and may be offered extensions if the need continues or another opening arises. Travel nursing is a type of contract nursing assignment. 

Additional Compensation

Nurses who are interested in increasing their income beyond what they are receiving as salary can opt into any of the following ways of earning additional money. 


This is a higher hourly pay provided to those who work beyond a full-time shift, which is usually interpreted as 40 hours per week. It’s important to note that while full-time for nurses might be 36 hours a week, OT will generally not kick in until the standard 40 hours. 

This means that 4 hours will be at your base pay salary.  Each employer will offer their own overtime pay structure, with some paying time-and-a-half and others as much as triple pay for overtime hours. 

Shift Differential

Shift differential is a higher hourly wage offered to those who are willing to work shifts that are harder to fill, including night shifts, weekends, and holidays. 


Bonuses may be offered as signing incentives or as rewards for superlative performance. This is very rare in nursing, especially for staff nurses and those are large hospitals. Nurses working in private practices or clinics might be more likely to see bonuses. 

Hazard Pay

Hazard pay offers nurses a higher rate of pay for working in dangerous or difficult conditions. This is also commonly referred to as crisis pay. 


  • Do nurses make good money in California?

    • According to the BLS, the average annual salary for nurses in California is $124,000 or $59.62 per hour. Currently, nurses in California are the highest-paid nurses in the country. 
  • Why do California nurses make so much?

    • There are several reasons that nurses in California make very high wages. This includes high demand, a very high cost of living, and the power of the nursing unions. Nursing unions not only ensure strong hourly wages but also pension plans and retirement benefits. 
  • Who is the highest-paid nurse in California?

    • According to, medical-surgical nurses in California are the highest-paid nursing specialty. The average medical-surgical nurse salary in California is $112,091, but the range typically falls between $101,408 and $124,869. 
  • Is it worth being a nurse in California?

    • Being a nurse is a rewarding and amazing career. Nursing in California is not any harder than in any other state. In fact, California has one of the largest and strongest nursing unions in the country. For that reason, being a nurse in California is definitely worth it. 
  • What state has the highest RN salary?

    • Nurses in California make the highest RN salary, according to the BLS. They earn almost $20,000 more than the second-highest-paid state, Hawaii. 


Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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