Registered Nurse California Salary Guide

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.

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. 

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

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

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Via Payscale

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. 

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.   

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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. 

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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. 


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