A multi‐scale soil moisture monitoring strategy for California was designed to inform water resource management. The proposed workflow classifies soil moisture response units (SMRUs) using publicly available datasets that represent soil, vegetation, climate, and hydrology variables, which control soil water storage. The SMRUs were classified, using principal component analysis and unsupervised K‐means clustering within a geographic information system, and validated, using summary statistics derived from measured soil moisture time series. Validation stations, located in the Sierra Nevada, include transect of sites that cross the rain‐to‐snow transition and a cluster of sites located at similar elevations in a snow‐dominated watershed. The SMRUs capture unique responses to varying climate conditions characterized by statistical measures of central tendency, dispersion, and extremes. A topographic position index and landform classification is the final step in the workflow to guide the optimal placement of soil moisture sensors at the local‐scale. The proposed workflow is highly flexible and can be implemented over a range of spatial scales and input datasets can be customized. Our approach captures a range of soil moisture responses to climate across California and can be used to design and optimize soil moisture monitoring strategies to support runoff forecasts for water supply management or to assess landscape conditions for forest and rangeland management.