Jeremy, having lived here most of my life, and spent too many years living close to Sacramento in the valley, here's my list of places in Northern California I'd least want to live in, for larger urban areas:
Tied for number one, worst, Fresno, Bakersfield
Stockton comes close after that, recently gaining acclaim for being the largest city in California to declare bankruptcy, that's after leading the nation in the mortgage default / real estate collapse. Also amusing and largely unreported serious issues with gangs and crime. That goes along with economic collapse. Plus side, if you're buying and you have cash, you can get decent deals on housing now. Rentals are tougher.
Then Sacramento. So Sacramento might be the best inland large city in Northern California, but that's not saying much. It's ok in winter and fall though. Sacramento has a few saving graces, the two rivers cut through it, Sacramento and American, somewhat save it from being a pure hell like Fresno is.
For landscaping what you want is people with cash flow, and those people live along the coasts, Marin county could be fruitful, as could cities down the SF peninsula, where all the dot com money hangs out. Expensive to live in, but it's not far from the East Bay by car, just over the bridge. The reason people with money live along the coasts is that the coasts are by far and away the best place to live in California.
Don't underestimate the massive impact the mortgage collapse had on inland California, huge drops in housing prices, many people sitting there with negative value in the house, banks holding onto property for fear of flooding the market and dropping prices further. Not an ideal location for luxury work like landscape architecting, but you never know. Lots of unemployment and homelessness too to add spice to that mix. Sacramento, for example, had a very large homeless town that I believe was shut down, it was just getting too big, don't remember the details, but it was a news item.
I have a friend who's sister has been clinging to the edge of total business collapse in her home decor/plumbing type business in Stockton for years now, Sacramento is a bit better off, but I don't follow the inland cities much anymore. But summer in Sacramento is about as vile as anything I've ever seen, incredibly hot, smoggy, much like LA in a way, minus the access to the coast. It gets so hot there that if your car is sitting in the sun, you have to open the doors and let it air out for several minutes before you can even place your hands on the steering wheel. And windshields crack from the temperature. 110 degrees F is not uncommon in summer, and nights where it's 90 at least are also common, leaving you praying for the winds that sweep down the delta all too infrequently. Last time I stayed in that area I actually would wear driving gloves until my steering wheel cooled down enough to hold it without burning myself.
As an interesting historical note, the original native americans did not inhabit much of the valley in those parts, it was a mosquito and disease infested swampland, only made habitable by draining. Industrial large scale agriculture is the rule, not the exception, in that area as well, along with strip malls, freeways, and a few nooks that are not so bad. Not as bad as Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, LA, but closing in quickly.
Hopefully this will give you a faint feel. Now, if you like suburbs, endless strip malls, endless miles of 6 lane roads cutting through suburban tracts, dissected by Freeways, where walking is generally not an option, and where the streets glimmer with heat haze in summer, then Sacramento is right up your alley. Some people actually like that stuff, so I can't assume that everyone doesn't.
Better informed than not, and people can often find a way to make things work if they are clever, so you never know, all I know is that there is really no amount of money you could pay me to move to the valley. Now there are nicer spots, like the Sierra foothills, but no large towns there.
Best way to understand California: there are 3 sections, one is the inland belt that covers the entire central valley. This is not profoundly different from the midwest, except it's more expensive in terms of housing, and suffers more from the housing collapse. Two is SoCal, LA, up to about Santa Barbara, down to Mexican border. It is what it is, water guzzling megacity stuck in the desert surrounded by close to a hundred miles of suburbs. Three is the Northern California coastal strip, including the coast range. That includes Mendocino, Marin, Sonoma, and the north counties. This strip is where they grow most of the pot here, and it's generally the state's largest single agricultural product in terms of money. All the good schools are on the coast strip, more or less. And that's where almost all the cutting edge tech stuff is, for very good reason. To me, moving to the valley is not really moving to california, it's moving to the midwest, only closer to the ocean.