I plan on going to SMC next year. I made this decision solely because of the high transfer rates and the numerous articulation agreements it holds with prestigious universities such as USC.
I've visited campus many times and have to say that you're completely correct about the social life. It's non-existent. I'm currently trying to find a roommate and decent housing (there are no dorms) and it's hell since SMC is mainly a commuter college. Santa Monica and the surrounding college area is very nice and safe. The academics are among the best of any cc anywhere and students regularly transfer to well regarded schools.
SBCC has housing assistance to help you. There is also the option of rooming in privately owned residence halls that gives a real college feel. Santa Barbara is gorgeous and generally safe. Social life is thriving as you're nearby one of the greatest party schools in America, UCSB. There is always something going on in IV and they go all out for Halloween. From an academic standpoint, it isn't as rigorous as SMC. I've researched it and met with counselors a few times before deciding on SMC.
You should also consider Mt. SAC. It's in the beautiful safe neighborhood of Walnut and the academics are well respected.
Here's a link for CA residency, which is almost impossible to get especially if you're not a CA high school grad. University of California - Admissions