I moved to San Francisco 9 months ago from the East Coast bastion of Boston. Despite having experience living in a major US city, I found quite a few surprises coming here. Some have been great, while others not so much.
If you’re planning the move here, I hope this will help you know better what to expect. And if you already live in SF, this should give you a laugh or two and hopefully inspire you to leave a comment with anything I missed. Consider this the guide I wish someone had given me when I moved here.
It gets cold at 4pm.
On the east coast I got used to it staying warm on a nice day til 10pm. If it was 70 degrees in the morning, you could rest assured that the temperature would be about 70 when you left work that night. That is not the case here.
Working in SoMa, I’ve found that somewhere around 4pm the temperature starts dropping and so by 5 or 5:30pm it’s 10 degrees cooler outside. A lot of this is due to the fog that seems to roll in around then.
Pro Tip: Be prepared to always have layers with you. A light jacket is your best friend in San Francisco.
Neighborhoods define you.
People take the neighborhood you live in pretty seriously. It’s often a quick way to figure out a lot of what a person values most as SF is a city with something for everyone. Each neighborhood has a unique set of offerings, and pros and cons. Like any stereotype, it’s not always true, but you will find that yes, there are a lot hipsters in the Mission, bros in the Marina and families in Noe Valley.
Pro Tip: If you’re moving here, spend some time in different neighborhoods before you get locked into living somewhere. (See one man’s opinion here)
If you’ve ever lived in SF, you’ll totally get this, and if not, it’s a pretty good idea of the stereotypes & diversity of neighborhoods:
Bikes of SF by Tor Weeks
Rent is insane.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get here is the sticker shock on rent. This is the most expensive city to live in now and only Manhattan is in the race with them. A studio is now over $2,000 a month in most parts of the city and even with roommates you’ll end up paying $1,000-$1,500 a month for a place pretty much anywhere in town. I just looked up the building I moved into April 1, 2012 and as of January, 2013 the rent is up $700 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. If you’re wondering why that is, this PandoDaily article does a good job explaining why.
Pro Tip: Finding an apartment is a full contact sport. There’s a lot of important advice on finding an apartment in San Francisco here.
Lovely, an apartment listing site, did a great infographic on SF rent prices:
Cost of living overall is sky high.
Of course these high rental prices are just part of the challenge of living here economically. The cost of goods in my experience have been as high or higher as anywhere else in the country. I’ve solved much of this by moving to buying more online, which is a shame because that means not supporting local businesses. The most crushing aspect I saved for last though. Taxes here are significantly higher than I’ve experienced anywhere. This means you’re squeezed both on your take home pay and your expenses.
To put it all in perspective, I used to take home about 75% of my pay in Boston and here it’s only 65%. Meanwhile, my monthly expenses have risen almost a third from $2,500 a month in Boston to $3,300 here. This combines to mean despite a significant pay raise when I moved here, I live less comfortably here. I have no idea how anyone who isn’t working in a high tech role that pays an above average salary can live here.
Pro Tip: If you’re moving here for a job, take into account the added costs so you’re sure you get paid a salary that won’t dramatically hurt your standard of living.
There are crazy and cool things always going on.
One of my favorite things about coming to San Francisco has been this fact. It is truly amazing to me how often there are festivals, concerts, and just randomly awesome cultural events going on. From SantaCon to Fleet Week, Buena Yerba to the Academy of Science, there’s not just something for everyone; it’s impossible not to get drawn to something you didn’t expect. I give huge credit to the city of San Francisco for how often they let streets get shut down, allow for impromptu performances and try to make it easy for people to participate by adjusting public transportation accordingly.
Pro Tip: There’s quite a few great sites out there to find things to do. The best I’ve found are Sosh (my goto site), UpandOutSF and Thrillist. Finding something exciting on one of those sites and asking people to go with you is the fastest way to make friends.
Costumes are a way of life.
“Is that a costume, or is that how you always dress?” is a legitimate question in San Francisco. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought that question when I look at a fellow passenger on the bus or a group of people walking down the street. San Francisco takes costumes so seriously, we even make up extra occasions for it as Bay to Breakers is essentially a second Halloween for SF.
Also, as a forewarning, some people choose the cheapest costume of all, their “Birthday Suit”, on some days. As one friend told me, “You’re not a true San Franciscan until you see a naked guy walking down the street.”
Pro Tip: Don’t fight it. San Francisco is one of the most creative cities and it’s because of the self-expression that comes from events like this.
This is a drunken costume party, err, race, across the city: