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Moving to San Francisco? Here’s What You Need to Know

What was once a quaint, liberal city on the West Coast has become a highly popular hotspot for tech companies and startups.

From its scenic coastline to the skyrocketing cost of living, here are the highs and lows that come with living in San Francisco.

Quick facts about San Francisco

  • Throughout pivotal developments in culture in the 20th century, San Francisco became synonymous with change. In the 60s and 70s, the city was at the forefront of liberal activism, its Haight-Ashbury neighborhood the center of the Summer of Love gatherings that spread across the country.

    Since then, San Francisco has become the center of two tech booms and is just north of Silicon Valley, where hundreds of leading global tech companies are located.
     
  • San Francisco is near or at the top of a lot of lists: it’s the second most densely populated city in the United States after New York City and has the highest salary rates in the world.

    It also has the highest median home prices and rent in the world, which means a struggle to find affordable housing for anyone trying to move to the area without a higher-than-average income. 
     
  • While San Francisco is located on California’s scenic coastline and boasts a mild climate and proximity to the mountains, don’t expect to find much space for yourself.

    The city’s population of nearly a million is crammed into a seven square mile area, which is surrounded by the ever-growing suburban sprawl of the Bay Area.

    You’ll find hiking and beach access close to home, but you’ll also be sharing it with everyone else close by.

 

What to Know About San Francisco

Population & History

Originally founded as a Spanish mission, San Francisco was a humble, geographically isolated settlement with a small naval base until the 1849 California Gold Rush and the Union Pacific Railroad brought thousands of residents and businesses to the area.

After over three-quarters of the city was destroyed in an earthquake and fire, San Francisco was built into the city we know and love today, with Victorian mansions, scenic Golden Gate park, and development of scenic Treasure Island. 

San Francisco developed such a strong economy that it thrived and funded projects like the Golden Gate Bridge during the Great Depression.

Today, it is one of the most populous and influential cities in the U.S. with a metro area population of nearly 5 million.

The San Francisco Bay Area also contains Silicon Valley, which grew in the 90s to accommodate headquarters for tech giants including Ebay, PayPal, Google, and other household names. 

Weather in San Francisco

San Francisco is located at the northern end of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay in Northern California.

The area has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, with moderately warm summer months and mild, often rainy winters.

Hot air and incoming winds off the Pacific create fog that occurs so frequently that SF residents have given it a Twitter account and named it Karl.

San Francisco is also so varied topographically that there are several microclimates within the city limits that tend to make weather in the eastern neighborhoods more sunny than in western areas.

Despite the discrepancies in city-wide weather, average temperatures across the city remain mild-to-cool throughout the year.

The coldest temperatures in January average at 52, and summer temperatures average at 63 and only rise above 80 for about 20 days in the summer.

Snow is rare, but rain is common, even during warmer days in May. 

Top Attractions in San Francisco

With a culture influenced by international communities and an eclectic, artistic history, San Francisco is full of entertainment, character, and fantastic places to eat and drink. Here are a few:

Places to Visit

  • Tour iconic neighborhoods: San Francisco’s neighborhoods have both unique character and importance to American history.

    The best way to experience them is by foot, whether by wandering through the shops and winding streets of Chinatown to find dim sum or savoring the vibrant murals that cover shops, alleyways, and houses in the Mission District.

    The famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood has become quite upscale since its grungy days during the Summer of Love, but you’ll be able to see the house where the Grateful Dead members lived and can sort through thousands of records and action figures at the legendary Amoeba Music store.
     
  • Spend time in SF’s museums: When there’s fog in the air and it’s raining (yet again), consider checking out San Francisco’s world-class museums.

    The Asian Art Museum has one of the largest collections of Asian art and historical artifacts in the world. For modern and contemporary art, go to the SF MoMA, which showcases paintings by Andy Warhol, Frieda Kahlo, and Louise Bourgeois, among many others.

    There is also an opportunity to have an evening out at the California Academy of Sciences, which hosts an event called NightLife every week. Visitors can grab a cocktail and tour the aquariums and other exhibits with friends, and the museum is offering virtual exhibits in lieu of the event until COVD-19 restrictions are lifted.
     
  • A day with the Blue & Gold: Before the Golden Gate Bridge was built, transport in and out of San Francisco relied heavily on ferries. Now, ferry companies still function as a daily commute for many residents but also offer more scenic excursions in the Bay Area.

    Book tickets on the Blue & Gold ferry to see the city from the blue water and to visit the three nearby islands: Angel Island, Treasure Island (human-made for the 1939 World Fair Exposition), and the infamous Alcatraz Island.

    On Alcatraz, you can take an eerie tour of the former prison that housed criminals like “Machine Gun” Kelly and Al Capone. If you are in for a less creepy experience, hop off the ferry to the flea markets on Treasure Island or for a picnic by the water on Angel Island.
     
  • Catch the game: San Francisco residents cheer on sports teams from both their own cities and from nearby Oakland and San Jose.

    You’ll be able to catch the 49ers play football at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara or choose between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics for Major League Baseball.

    Other local professional teams include the NBA Golden State Warriors in Oakland and the MLS San Jose Earthquakes.

To Eat

It’s pretty hard to narrow down the good food in San Francisco. As a city that’s had to serve the most glamorous celebrities for more than a century,San Francisco. knows what it needs to do to remain one of the best hotspots for restaurants across the globe. Here are some of the city’s best spots:

All kinds of coffee: Start your morning the right way with a cup of strong coffee.

In the North Beach neighborhood, you’ll find Caffe Trieste, which was a meeting and writing place for legendary writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

While Fisherman’s Wharf has become more of a rowdy tourist scene than a relaxing spot on the water, it’s worth risking the crowds for an irish coffee at The Buena Vista, which ages its cream for 48 hours to ensure that it floats correctly on blended coffee and Irish whiskey. 

Mission-style Burrito: The football-sized burritos that we all know and love originate from the Mission District in San Francisco.

These burritos are stuffed with rice and beans and depend largely on their aluminum foil wrapping to prevent them from spilling everywhere.

Pick one up with steak or prawns at Pancho Villa Taqueria, or be the judge between the two joints that each claim to have invented the Mission Burrito: El Faro and Taqueria La Cumbre.

Seafood: Part of the joy of ordering seafood in San Francisco is that it’s fresh and is served all different ways across the city.

You’ll find fresh local Dungeness crab and garlic noodles at Vietnamese staple PPQ Dungeness Island and deep-fried crab at R&G Lounge in Chinatown.

Alamo Square Seafood Grill lets you choose how your fish is cooked and what sauce to pair it with for only $17.50 per person.

For fresh oysters, head to Anchor Oyster Bar, which has served patrons in the Castro District since 1977.

Outdoor Experiences in and around San Francisco

San Francisco might be a tightly packed urban area surrounded by the sprawling developments of Silicon Valley, but it does boast hikes, parks, and great scenic viewpoints of the rugged California coastline that will give you reprieve from the big-city buzz.

Step out and enjoy the mild weather at Golden Gate Park, which does not provide views of the bridge but is home to several of the city’s museums, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and rolling meadows that are perfect for picnicking when the sun’s out.

If you feel the need to see the Golden Gate Bridge and get better access to views of the coastline, head to the Presidio of San Francisco at the northwestern edge of the peninsula.

Here you’ll find a golf club, the Museum of Fine Arts, and a former military fort dating back to the Civil War era.

Baker Beach and Marshall’s Beach are the perfect places for a day spent on the sand, but don’t expect to catch a tan; instead, layer up for the winds and fog coming off the coast and prepare to climb around the rocks to find tide pools, starfish, and sea anemones.

Living in San Francisco

Top employers in San Francisco

As the city with the highest median income in the world, San Francisco is home to some of the biggest companies in the country.

Combined with companies headquartered in the surrounding Bay Area, the city is home to giants in finance and tech and has a booming tourism industry that provides one in seven jobs to residents. 

Biggest companies in San Francisco include Dropbox, Square, AirBnB, Visa, Lyft, Slack Technologies, Stitch Fix, Twitter, Uber, Williams-Sonoma, Yelp, and Zendesk (yes, that’s quite the list).

Other top employers include Wells Fargo, Securitize, BNP Paribas, and Gap. 

Working from home in San Francisco

As a city full of tech startups, entrepreneurs, and artistic creatives, San Francisco’s work culture thrives on networking, brainstorming sessions, and great coffee, all of which you’ll find at coworking spaces across the city.

For memberships starting at $190/month, check out one of the 14 WeWork locations in San Francisco. Canopy is an upscale coworking space designed to please the eye, with ergonomic chairs, fresh pressed juice, and a full kitchen for plans starting from $275/month.

Coworking space Covo promotes health and wellness for its members by providing exercise spaces and nap rooms. 

Want to make the most of your expensive rent and work out of your home? You’ll need reliable internet, which in San Francisco will most likely be provided by AT&T (from $35/month), Xfinity (from $19.99/month), or HughesNet, which provides satellite plans from $59.99/month.

Cost of Living

The cost of living is where the going gets tough in San Francisco.

Housing prices in the city are over five times more expensive than national rates.

The median home price for a 2-bedroom in the city is $1,394,547, and average rent is $3,951/month.

While it’s possible to get this covered by your employer, it still takes a big bite out of your paycheck.

Gas and grocery prices (not to mention eating out) are also pretty steep in comparison to rates in the rest of the country. Utilities and health care costs are closer to national averages. 

San Francisco’s combined sales tax is 8.5%, which is higher than the national average of 7.12%.

The city doesn’t charge income tax, but California residents do have to pay 1.50% of their income to the state.

Property tax in San Francisco is 1.19%, which is only slightly above the national average.

Transportation & Commute

You might think of quaint trolleys when envisioning San Francisco’s public transportation, but the city has fortunately progressed much further and provides extensive light rail and bus service throughout the city, which is broadly known as Muni.

Muni includes the iconic (but often tardy) cable car system, the bus and light rail system within the city, and BART, which provides access between the city and the larger Bay Area.

Due to the city’s high population-to-size ratio, public transit is often crowded and delayed, which is why many commuters choose to bike or, when possible, walk.

San Francisco and the Bay Area are served by the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is the second largest airport in California after LAX.

The airport is a 24-minute drive or 40-minute train ride south of downtown and is also accessible by direct public transit from the East Bay and Oakland areas.

SFO provides direct flights to locations all over the world and to all other major American cities. Primary airlines include Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.

Best neighborhoods in and around San Francisco

Best neighborhoods for families with kids

  • Piedmont: Consistently ranked as one of the best suburbs of San Francisco, Piedmont is a suburb with a friendly, small-town feel.

    It’s 25 minutes from downtown by car and is located across the Bay just east of Oakland.

    Piedmont’s spread-out housing and excellent schools come with a hefty median home price of $2,513,532.
     
  • Albany: A city by the water with lower home prices, Albany is a great option to consider for those who want proximity to Berkeley and nearby Oakland.

    Albany has a strong community and thriving local businesses and is only a 23-minute drive from downtown. The median home price, while steep, is more affordable than other prices in the Bay Area at $1,126,555.
     
  • Orinda: Want a home that feels separate from the urban sprawl but isn’t too far from the city?

    Orinda has a more rural feel than other suburbs but is still just 25 minutes from downtown.

    A tight-knit community with great schools, Orinda’s median home price of $1,714,487 is moderate for the Bay Area.

Best neighborhoods for young professionals:

  • Neighborhoods in San Francisco: Why not live in San Francisco itself? SoMa (South of the Market) and Mission District are two areas with grungy history that have transformed into hotspots for bars, music venues, and local shops and restaurants.

    You can also look for homes in Presidio Heights for closer access to parks and hiking, or Noe Valley for more upscale living.

    Overall, the median home price in San Francisco is $1,394,547, which is cheaper than in many of the nearby up-and-coming suburbs.
     
  • Emeryville: For an affordable suburb with amazing access to the biggest cities and hottest neighborhoods in the Bay Area, check out Emeryville, which has a median home price of only $668,839.

    Emeryville has lower-than-average schools, but it makes up for it by being merely 19 minutes away from downtown SF and just a few minutes north of Oakland.

    Plus, you’ll find local coffee shops, smoothie joints, and a Trader Joe’s. What’s not to love?
     
  • Berkeley: We won’t lie: living in Berkeley is like living the Golden Coast dream.

    However, it comes with a hefty median home price of $4,136,373.

    If that’s something you can afford, then look no further for local music venues, independent bookstores, and the opportunity to rent rooms to students to offset those big mortgage payments. Berkeley is only a 30-minute drive from downtown San Francisco.

Higher Education

San Francisco is home to several accredited, top-ranked universities and colleges.

The area is especially well known for its programs in fine arts at the California College of the Arts and the Academy of Art University.

State universities with lower tuition for in-state residents include California State University – East Bay and San Francisco State University.

Other notable institutions include Mills College, a highly ranked school for women, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Crime in San Francisco

San Francisco suffers from high crime rates that put it high on national crime rankings.

Most crime comes specifically from drug-based violent crime and occur in northwestern neighborhoods of the city.

However, crime is largely contained to these areas, and traveling the city by day and in most neighborhoods by night is considered extremely safe.

As with any big city, keeping your car and home secure and being aware of your surroundings as you travel will keep you perfectly safe.

Are you considering San Francisco as your next home?

With its eclectic culture and roots in tech and innovation, San Francisco holds a lot of potential.

It may be foggy and considerably crowded, but the creative atmosphere and proximity to the ocean are a decent payoff for the high cost of living.

Whether you’re relocating for your career or looking for a place to put down roots with your family, this city’s vibrant energy and beautiful surroundings have plenty of promise. 

Here at Nextburb, we’re committed to providing you with the facts you need to know about any area you’re considering as a future home.

Discover the best places to live in the United States to find out more about neighborhoods to live in, school ratings, crime data, and real estate options.

We’ll provide you with recommendations based on your lifestyle and budget preferences to help you discover where you want to go.

 

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