San Francisco may have netted some serious fame from Full House, but the city isn’t all idyllic vistas, painted ladies, and wholesome family-sitcom situations. The truth is that San Francisco is a vibrant, fun, weird, different, confusing, and sometimes infuriating place, and most residents wouldn’t have it any other way.
Still, if you’re getting ready for a move to San Francisco from virtually anywhere else in the country, there are some things you need to know. Keeping these tips in mind won’t just help you fit in with the locals, they’ll also help you find the right neighborhood and better understand expenses before you move in.
Cost of Living
San Francisco is rated as the second most expensive city in the United States. In some ways, it might be the most expensive city in the United States, since your average renter will be able to get a better apartment for their money even in a city like New York.
Food costs, utilities, house prices, and everything else cost a bit more if you want to live in San Francisco.
Some things can lower your costs. Walking and taking mass transit, green-living, and visiting the many local farmers’ markets can all bring down the bills. But you should be prepared for some sticker shock when you first move to The City.
You Don’t Need a Car, Except When You Do
Mass transit is pretty good in San Francisco. It’s certainly better than in most US cities, but still worse and less well-connected than in New York. There are two main transit systems, BART and MUNI. The systems don’t interconnect, and bus times are more like guidelines than hard and fast rules.
Still, mass transit can be one of the easier ways to get around town once you’re used to it, especially if you need to leave your neighborhood on a regular basis.
San Francisco is also consistently rated as one of the best cities for bicyclists in the nation. Even if you don’t have a bike of your own, there are many bike-share programs and even scooter rentals that make getting around easier. Bikes are especially helpful if you only have to move through your area of the city.
At the same time, it’s a good idea to maintain a car if you want to make the most out of life in California. Wine country is just around the corner, and there are plenty of natural environments and other attractions just outside SF. But you need a car to enjoy them.
Even with a car, you’ll probably want to use mass transit when you can. Why? Because it’s always Rush Hour.
Not San Fran
The City has plenty of nicknames, but the most common one you’ll hear on tourist’s lips is San Fran. While that’s fine for visitors, you don’t want to be mistaken for a tourist if your planning on living here.
Instead of using this common non-local nickname, stick to San Francisco, SF, or The City, and you’ll get by just fine. Even tourists are mistaken for locals if they use the right moniker for the City, and you’ll fit in that much sooner if you adopt them early.
Tennis Shoes Are Your Friend
San Francisco is a famously hilly city, but people still somehow forget that you need the appropriate footwear. If you’re planning to walk around town, leave the heels and dress shoes behind.
Anything that pinches your feet, makes your legs work harder or substantially alters your gait should probably be left behind. There are too many hills, more than one hill per square mile, and too many steep grades to mess around with uncomfortable footwear.
If you’re walking or taking mass transit to work, and you can’t get away with casual footwear in the office, plan on packing your dress shoes and changing when you arrive at work.
It might feel a little strange to wear your business clothes with a pair of comfortable casual shoes at first, but trust us, your feet (and back) will thank you in the long run.
Bring Your Layers
San Francisco, like much of California, has a famously mild and predictable climate. You can pretty much count on something between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. But that doesn’t mean you can leave your warmer clothes and layers behind.
San Francisco is also famous for its foggy days, humid air, and microclimates that are always changing. Cross three different neighborhoods in SF, and chances are you’ll have gone through three different types of weather. Even the temperature of the air can change from block to block.
All that fog can also make even a comparatively warm day feel cold. So, it’s best to dress in layers. Bring scarves and light jackets, gloves, and yes, umbrellas and hats, to make the most of San Francisco’s unpredictable weather.
Once you’ve lived here a while, you’ll be used to the kinds of layers and outfit changing that happens throughout the day. Don’t worry, everyone else is changing their clothes too.
Fast Moving Housing Market
Especially if you haven’t already bought your home, you need to know that housing in San Francisco tends to move at light speed.
The average days for a home listing to remain active hovers around 30, with some variation for the season and neighborhood you’re looking at. Particularly attractive homes and neighborhoods will go faster than less attractive alternatives, even if the price tag is significantly higher.
It’s also common for potential buyers to offer an all-cash purchase. That can motivate home sellers to move faster, and also means that the market to buy a house is more competitive even than similarly crowded housing markets.
Be prepared to move quickly, and hope that you aren’t outbid. Most houses in this city sell at or above asking price, and they don’t stay on the market very long.
SF is Smaller Than You Think
If you’re moving here from a big city elsewhere in the country, you’ll probably be surprised by how small SF is and can seem. The whole city occupies less than 50 square miles, significantly smaller than similar metro areas across the country.
That doesn’t mean that the City is a small city, you’ll still get all the benefits of living in a metro area, including more restaurants per capita than any other large American city. But it isn’t the sprawling urban mass that you get other places.
Composting and Green Living
SF is all about green living. You’re probably already familiar with some things that come along with greener living, like hybrid and electric cars, reusable water bottles, and recycling, but San Francisco takes those things a lot more seriously.
Don’t count on your restaurant offering a trash can, or any other public space for that matter. You should plan ways to contain any disposable trash you produce until you get home.
Also, don’t be surprised if compositing and recycling are regular topics of conversation. It’s more than people wanting to look good or politically forward-thinking. The environment is a genuine source of concern for most people here, and green living is a way of life.
Bring Your Hiking Boots
Speaking of the environment, you should make sure your hiking boots make it into your boxes. The Bay Area is filled with green space, 220 parks, and plenty of opportunities to get our of the city and into nature for a little while.
Not only if the City itself full of parks, including the Golden Gate Park, but you can also visit the nearby mountains, spend a day lounging on the beach, or both in a single day.
Other outdoor gear, from swimsuits and snorkeling equipment to bouldering and rock climbing equipment should come with you. The beautiful weather and countryside make this a city of people who love to spend time in the outdoors.
Year-Round Farmers Markets
One of the benefits of living in California is access to some of the best farmers markets anywhere. The produce that comes out of California is rich and varied, so getting access to the fresh farmers’ markets is a special treat.
While there are plenty of seasonal farmers markets in San Francisco, and the product changes from season to season, there are also several year-round farmers markets that call the City home.
It’s worth taking the opportunity to see several different farmer’s markets through the year, even if you have to go a little out of your way. The different farmers and artisans that call the farmers’ markets home bring something unique to the City, and you don’t want to miss out on any of it.
Home To Young Professionals
San Francisco is also one of the most popular cities in the United States when it comes to young professionals. The area is a booming with new tech jobs, not to mention a thriving arts and humanities sector if tech isn’t your wheelhouse.
The result is that the City is predominantly young, well educated, thinkers, and office workers. There are fewer families here than in most cities, except of course the neighborhoods that are almost entirely families.
There are lots of opportunities in SF. Of course, if you want to save a little money when you move here, check the areas around San Francisco. Housing gets more affordable in the South and West, and once you leave the city proper.
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