If you’ve always dreamed about living in San Francisco, now might be the right time to make your move. As San Franciscans are relocating to the suburbs, average rents in the City by the Bay led the nation in declines with monthly rent prices falling 25.5% to $2,750 one-bedroom apartments year-over-year, according to Realtor.com.
Whether you’re moving for work or for fun, you may know San Francisco for what you’ve seen on-screen: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and that iconic “Full House” house.
As someone who worked as a radio news reporter in the heart of San Francisco and lived in the region for 10 years, I’m here to give you an in-depth look at what it’s really like living in San Francisco.
San Francisco at a glance:
- With a population of just under 900,0000, San Francisco is just a small part of the 8 million-strong surrounding Bay area
- San Francisco is 47 square miles — locals refer to it as 7×7
- The median household income is about $112,000 per capita
- San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any major city
- Most of San Francisco’s population is between the ages of 25-44
1. Yes, San Francisco is expensive
If you’re thinking about living in San Francisco, get ready to face constant sticker shock. It’s not just the rents that are expensive, it’s everything. I’ll never forget a pizza dinner I shared with my two cousins, where the bill came to $75 each. Coffees are routinely $5 and you can grab a pint of craft beer for $8. Parking meters are also off the charts, with some charging $6 per hour during peak times.
According to Numbeo, San Francisco’s cost of living is fourth in the nation, behind Santa Barbara, New York City, and Honolulu.
If you are going to rent an apartment in San Francisco, you may have to double up with a roommate to afford the bills.
Looking to buy? You won’t find anything under $1 million in the City by the Bay, which is why so many young professionals move to San Francisco’s suburbs to afford a home and a yard.
What do rental and home prices run in San Francisco?
|1-bedroom apartment average rent||$2,750|
|2-bedroom apartment average rent||$3,773|
|Median sales price for homes||$1.3 million|
2. There’s a neighborhood for everyone in San Francisco
Despite the expense, one really exciting thing about living here is the diversity of San Francisco neighborhoods. If you have kids, you might want to settle in a kid-friendly area like Cole Valley or Noe Valley. Looking for water views? The Marina District, Pac Heights, or even the Dogpatch might suit your fancy.
The Mission district is popular with young techies looking for vibrant coffee shops, restaurants, and live music. And the Outer Richmond and Sunset Districts offer proximity to the beach, cheaper rents, and good ethnic food. (Think Chinese, Russian, and Burmese.)
The good news is that all San Francisco neighborhoods are walkable and in close proximity to a park. I also love that there are many distinct ethnic neighborhoods, where you know you’ll get some delicious food.
3. The Golden Gate Bridge “sings”
If you happen to choose a neighborhood in the north or western part of the city, you might just hear the Golden Gate bridge “sing.” This sounds like an eerie high-pitched humming that was hard for us to identify at first, like someone blowing over the top of a bottle.
Turns out, the phenomenon happens during high winds when air vibrates against the bridge’s new sidewalk slats. If you ride your bike, walk, or boat under the Golden Gate bridge while it’s “singing,” it’s so loud you might just have to cover your ears.
4. The homeless issue is hard to stomach
Any article about living in San Francisco that doesn’t mention this problem is simply not dealing with reality. While it’s one of the wealthiest cities in the world, there is no denying that San Francisco has a huge issue with homelessness. And coronavirus has made it worse.
It can be tough living in San Francisco and seeing hundreds of homeless people lying on city streets right across from glitzy tech companies. Taking a stroll in San Francisco often means walking by tents, piles of blankets, and shopping carts overloaded with stuff. It’s heartbreaking to see. Yet some believe there may be signs of hope and renewed determination for providing more affordable housing in San Francisco.
5. The fog here is so crazy, it even has a name
When you first move to San Francisco the amount of fog you see, especially during the summer months, can be shocking. In fact, when I lived in the Inner Sunset District, fog rolled in every afternoon, moving so rapidly I could see it swirling through the tops of the buildings.
Fog also streams through the Golden Gate Bridge and is a beautiful sight to behold. If you’re driving across the bridge at just the right time, you’ll feel like you were engulfed in a cloud.
The fog in San Francisco even has its own Twitter account, called Karl The Fog. Yep, Karl is very busy in the City by the Bay, especially during a season when the rest of the country is warm.
6. You may get trapped inside by smoky air
Speaking of the air, one hazard of living in San Francisco can be dealing with smoke from wildfires. The summer of 2020 was the worst I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was a record-breaking year with 10,000 wildfires burning 4.2 million acres. At one point, the August Complex Fire crossed seven counties and was bigger than the state of Rhode Island.
There was smoke in the sky for weeks on end, with hazardous air quality that kept us indoors. One day, the smoke never cleared. It was dark outside, with a reddish glow, from dawn until dusk. I got used to checking the air quality before going on a walk or making outdoor plans with friends.
You’ll have to be prepared for a summer and fall wildfire season when living in San Francisco. It’s now a way of life here and isn’t expected to get better in the coming years.
7. The seasons are as funky as the city’s character
The seasons play opposites, which is a strange thing about living in San Francisco. There can be 75 degree days in February and 57 degree days in July. Those summer days feel extra chilly thanks to dew and fog in the air.
Summer is also known for its wild temperature swings. One day, you won’t reach 60, and a few days later, there will be a 95-degree scorcher.
My favorite month in San Francisco is September, which is when the city finally has its “summer.” The fog lets up, the sun comes out, and the parks and outdoor restaurants fill up. This is when it’s truly glorious to be living in San Francisco.
However, no matter what time of year it is, no matter how hot the daytime is, you should always layer up.
8. There are tons of things to see and do
One of the things I love about living in San Francisco is there’s so much to do. If you want to hang outside in the city, you can visit one of the many parks, including the Golden Gate Park and Dolores Park. There are a variety of theater and live music options and fine dining galore. San Francisco truly has an incredible restaurant scene.
Love art? There’s a smorgasbord of museums in San Francisco, including the de Young Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and the Exploratorium.
If you’re up for a little driving, Napa Valley and Sonoma are under an hour away. Marin County, Oakland, and Berkeley offer beautiful hikes with redwood trees. And there are national parks just a few hours away such as Yosemite, Sequoia, and Pinnacles.
Got your eye on a water sport? You can learn to windsurf, kiteboard, surf, and sail — all in San Francisco. It’s a nature and water lover’s paradise, with all the trappings a big city has to offer.
9. San Francisco public schools tend to be better than in other big cities
Although families with children tend to move to the Bay area suburbs for lower prices and more space, the city’s public schools achieve higher student success rates than those in other highly urban areas. For example, San Francisco Unified School District students scored higher proficiency levels than California students statewide in both English Arts and Math.
One cool thing about the district is its Choice Enrollment process, which allows students to request placement in any school in the district instead of zoning them to a specific neighborhood school. When there’s more demand than seats available, assignments are made based on “tie-breakers,” which vary depending on the program. To learn more, see these tips on choosing San Francisco schools.
Other learning options include public charter schools and a large selection of private schools, which enroll nearly half as many students as the public school system.
10. You’ll need to watch where you step
When you first start living in San Francisco, you might notice the abundance of dogs. In fact, there are more dogs than kids living here. And what does that mean? Poop! While most dog owners are pretty good about picking up after their pooches, you’ll still run into smears of dog poop on a lot of street corners. And some people don’t pick up after their dogs at all. The city even has a “poop patrol” to try to deal with the problem.
11. San Francisco is the smallest big city there is
Even though San Francisco might look big, with its towering downtown buildings and epic bridges, it really can feel like a small town.
It’s amazing how often you’ll run into people you know, regardless of neighborhood or where you are in the city. I’ve often run into friends and coworkers in the most unlikely of places!
That’s one thing that makes San Francisco truly quaint. You don’t get lost in endless urban sprawl. Everything is walkable, bikeable, and Uber-able. That means people hop from neighborhood to neighborhood easily and often, upping your chances of running into someone you know.
12. Moving can be tricky business here
San Francisco, with its steep hills and dense neighborhood, can make moving day more challenging than usual. Since street parking is always jam-packed, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somewhere to park a moving truck. That’s why it’s a good idea to apply for temporary signage with the SFMTA so you can get “tow away” signs to reserve several spots. These permits do cost around $300 for 120 feet of space.
If you’re driving your own moving truck, you’ll have to carefully scope your route through the city. Larger trucks have a hard time making it up and down super steep hills. Semi trucks have been known to scrape bottom! Also, be aware that all three bridges in the Bay area have tolls. The most expensive one is the Golden Gate Bridge at $8 to enter San Francisco.
If you want to avoid paying hefty rates for full-service movers but want to skip the spine-tingling experience of driving and parking a huge moving truck in San Francisco, you can opt for PODS City Service. Designed for urban moves, your moving container is kept on the truck while you load it up and your PODS driver can take it to a secure PODS Storage Center and keep it there as long as you need, or you can have it delivered to your new place. Or, if you have a place where you can keep a container overnight, then you could use PODS standard service. Either way, there’s no driving a moving truck involved.
We hope this guide gave you some insider details about what it’s really like living in San Francisco. Now it’s time to start packing up your stuff and looking for a place to live. Try using our detailed moving checklist to stay organized and motivated during your move.
Kristin Hanes is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in SF Gate, Marie Claire, and Realtor.com, among other publications.