Many longtime residents of the Bay Area would say moving to San Francisco was the best decision they ever made. Home to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Embarcadero and the Painted Ladies off Alamo Square, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The food is unbeatable, the climate is mild year-round and the neighborhoods are unmistakably unique.
Almost everyone has thought about living there, and so many people end up moving to San Francisco that the cost of living in the city is very high. But with some insider tips and local knowhow, most people can find a great spot in the Bay Area.
If you’re moving to San Francisco, you’re in for a world of wonderful experiences and a few difficult realities. Here are some tips that can help you make the most of your time in the City by the Bay.
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Living in San Francisco: What’s Not to Love?
There is art around every corner and cable cars climbing the hills. It’s home to the tech startups and also historic neighborhoods you can spend years exploring. Living in San Francisco is like living in a postcard and riding the Hyper-loop to the future at the same time.
Should You Move to San Francisco? Top Reasons to Say Yes:
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San Francisco Weather Can Be Unpredictable
Even though the climate is technically mild, the weather can catch you unprepared any day of the year., especially in the summer when fog rolls in off the Pacific. One minute you could be basking in 80-degree-Fahrenheit sunshine and the next you could be pulling on a sweater. Always leave the house with a windproof shell and a few warm layers, and you’ll be fine.
Getting Around San Francisco
Even locals who have a car don’t drive much inside San Francisco. Between MUNI (the city’s bus and light rail service), BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), biking and walking, you can get almost everywhere you need to go. If mass transit can’t get you there, there are always taxis, Uber, Lyft and car-sharing services.
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You can get oriented to transit basics at San Francisco MTA.
Where to Live in San Francisco
San Francisco neighborhoods are cities unto themselves. Haight-Ashbury, the Castro, the Mission District, SoMa — get to know them all before you narrow your search. Gentrification is changing everything, so be sure to check the date on any articles or guidebooks you read.
Walk the neighborhood virtually: Parts of San Francisco are extremely hilly — so hilly that you should think twice about living in them if you’re not able or willing to climb a distance. You can use Google or Apple maps to get a street view of the neighborhoods you’re considering.
Visit the San Francisco Apartment Hunting Map: This super-handy map combines MUNI and BART stops, dog parks, playgrounds, grocery stores and the fog line.
Pay attention to the fog line: Fog is important because it does three things to a neighborhood: It makes it colder, gloomier and a little bit cheaper.
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Check the crime map: It shows recent reports of crime (up to the previous 180 days). It probably won’t help you save on rent, but it might help you sleep easier.
How to Find an Apartment in San Francisco
Once you’ve picked your top neighborhoods, it’s time to start looking for an apartment. Rent is extremely high, the competition is intense and properties rent fast.
If you’re searching from out of town, you might want to find a roommate (or a few) in town first so you have boots on the ground that can pounce on opportunities.
Craigslist is a good place to start, especially for sublets and roommates. Check social media for comments and reviews about specific apartment buildings and managers. Yelp can be especially useful for larger complexes.
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Apartments Near BART and MUNI
Even if you have a car, San Francisco is not a friendly place to drive. Plus, once you find a parking spot, you’re not going to want to give it up until street-cleaning day. You’ll likely go days and weeks without driving, so make sure your place is a short walk or bike ride from transit, especially the lines you’ll need to get to work.
Cheap Apartments in San Francisco?
San Francisco is not cheap. Rents are more expensive than in New York, more than in Boston and way more than in Los Angeles. Dining out is expensive. Groceries are expensive. San Francisco is … expensive!
There are more affordable neighborhoods and some older buildings are rent-controlled, but if you want to be on the peninsula in San Francisco proper, you need to plan and budget for reality.
Roommates are a must: If you can afford it, rent a place on your own and then rent out a room to someone else. It will give you more control over the situation.
Leave your car behind: San Francisco is easy to navigate by foot, bike and transit. Uber and Lyft give you even more flexibility. Put the money you’d spend on car payments, gas, insurance and parking tickets toward rent and, hopefully, savings.
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Get a side gig: The app economy gives you many ways to make extra income. You can walk dogs through Rover, drive for Uber or Lyft (they’ll even lease you the car), deliver food, housesit and more. If you have serious skills such as coding, accounting or video editing, you have even more options.
Cook at home: San Francisco is foodie heaven, but eating out adds up. Luckily, it is also home to endless farmer’s markets, fresh food stands and exotic ingredients.
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Take advantage of the free/cheap things to do: Golden Gate Park, the summer Shakespeare Festival, Stern Grove Concerts, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Cable Car Museum … there are many weekends of free and nearly free things to do in the city.