We often make faculty salary comparisons based on nominal dollars. However, price levels (the “costs of living”) vary from location to location; a dollar may buy more or less depending on where you are. There have been private surveys that purport to tell you the relative price level in various locations but they typically have unknown methodology. Now the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released estimates of relative price levels by state and selected metro areas. Above you can see the results by state for 2011. With the U.S. average = 100, some metro areas in California are San Francisco (118.1), Santa Cruz (116.8), Los Angeles (114.1), San Diego (113.5), Santa Barbara (104.7), Riverside (104.4), Sacramento (100.1), and Merced (94.3). Before you object to these numbers based on personal perceptions, note that a) I have used abbreviations for the metro areas (they don’t correspond to city boundaries), and b) that if there were measures available, they would show variations within metro areas by neighborhoods. [There doesn't appear to be an index corresponding to Orange County, i.e., Irvine, but I took only a brief look.]
You can find the data release at http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/rpp/rpp_newsrelease.htm
By clicking on options on the right-hand side of the release, you can find an Excel sheet which has the metro areas above including a more complete description of the boundaries involved.
Note: Yours truly will be traveling for the next ten days or so and blogging may be limited. However, I am accompanied on my travels, so I won’t be like the fellow at the link below: