There’s so much to love about living in San Francisco, California.
The salty sea air, charming colorful homes, lively streets, artsy markets, hills for miles and breathtaking views.
I’ve been living in San Francisco for the past 15 years and have had several folks reach out with questions.
I thought it would be helpful to put pen to paper and memorialize my personal list of the pros and cons of daily life in the Golden City because they were seriously considering moving to San Francisco.
And you know there’s nothing I love more than giving the people what they want! 😉
Read on to learn what it’s like to live in San Francisco, based on firsthand experience.
Living in San Francisco
Note: This post is part of the Local Living Series, wherein locals share honest insights of living in a specific city through comprehensive pros and cons lists. If you’d like to reach out to the author directly with questions, please do so in the comments below and our team will ensure it gets to the right person.
First, the pros of living in San Francisco
#1. San Fransisco is a beautiful city
There’s no denying that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in America.
But don’t just take my word for it, in 2019 San Francisco was named one of the top 10 most beautiful cities in the world.
It’s easy to see why, when most folks picture living in San Francisco they envision Saturdays spent picnicking under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge or roaming the hilly streets in search of lively farmers markets and breathtaking views of the city.
Oh, and if you think that’s not enough you’ll also notice the most charming cable cars!
It’s easy to see why the city has such an alluring appeal on the 875,000 people that call the city home — living in San Francisco simply feels fun!
And since the climate is mild year-round, outdoor activities reign supreme so you can take advantage of living in this pretty city.
#2. There’s always something to do
San Francisco is home to one of the most culturally rich cities in the country so you never have a reason to be bored while living in San Francisco.
There’s ALWAYS something to do.
If you’re an art or history buff you’ll find yourself content with the plethora of interesting historical sites and great museums within San Fran.
I especially love touring Alcatraz Island with out-of-town visitors and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is hard to beat too.
If you’re not into art or history (yet), chances are good that you’ll find that living in San Francisco has something for you too.
The city is chock-full of charming sidewalk cafes, stunning city parks, miles of hiking trails, breathtaking viewpoints, and some of the best restaurants the county has to offer, moving to San Francisco was an easy choice.
Also worth mention, I’ve always had an easy time finding folks to hang out with. Since San Francisco is a city of transplants, I don’t feel the sting of cold shoulder from life-long locals.
I can’t stress how important this is, especially after hearing about the infamous Seattle Freeze, it makes a big difference.
#3. Nature is a stone’s throw away
San Francisco locals embrace the incredible outdoor lifestyle because there’s so many natural wonders to choose from.
Spend a morning hiking the Land’s End Trail (a personal favorite) or hike Marin Headlands for sunset for some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
And then there’s always Golden Gate Park, the third most visited park in the country.
Few know that Golden Gate Park is bigger than New York City’s Central Park. Size aside, some argue that this is the best urban park in the country because of the never-ending list of activities (you can even see Bison at Golden Gate Park).
The park is a true testament to the city’s commitment to the importance of public green spaces.
What’s more, San Francisco is a short 2-hour drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint town just as charming as Italy’s Cinque Terre. Spend a weekend in one of the cottages along the coast and you’ll know instantly why this gem is so beloved.
#4. San Francisco is diverse
With more than 112 language spoken on the street, it’s safe to say that San Francisco is a diverse city and we are all better for it.
In fact, San Francisco is considered one of the top 15 most diverse cities in America.
The perks of living in a diverse city are numerous. You’re bound to meet interesting people from all walks of life, be exposed to delicious fare and stumble upon some intriguing traditions while living in San Francisco.
It’s eye (and mind) opening.
The best part? Overall I think the people that live in San Francisco seem more open-minded, which opens the door for self-exploration and discovery.
In many ways you can be who you want to be because there’s so many other unique people calling San Francisco home.
#5. Job opportunities
It probably comes as no surprise that the tech boom is one of the biggest reasons people are moving to San Francisco.
The Bay Area has one of the most booming economies in the country, so if you work in the tech industry you’ll have your fair share of employers to choose from.
In fact, in 2019, tech jobs accounted for 20.5% of all jobs in the city. The largest employers in Silicon Valley are Facebook, Netflix, Google, Yahoo, Apple or Tesla
If you’re into networking, this is the city for you.
But make no mistake, for all the stereotypes we get about being laid-back (and to an extent, we are), San Franciscans are incredible hard working — work/life balance is hard to master, but we’ll cover that shortly.
#6. Efficient public transportation
As with all cities, locals have a love/hate relationship with public transportation.
But based on my experience, a big pro of living in San Francisco is that public transportation is efficient enough where I can forego owning a car altogether.
In fact, San Francisco’s public transportation is considered one of the best in the country.
Based on my personal experience, I suggest moving to San Francisco without a car because parking (if you can even find it) is unbelievably expensive. Owning a car in this hilly city is a hassle, no way around it.
Trust me, the MUNI (San Francisco Municipal Railway) handles 220 million passengers a year, they have you covered.
And sure, as with all modes of transportation, you may need to wait longer than expected every once in a while, but you’ll always get where you’re going.
Or, if you prefer to bike, San Francisco is considered one of the 10 best biking cities in America.
#7. You’ll never go hungry
Food is at the heart of community, and no one does it better than San Francisco.
The city’s robust food scene is one of my favorite things about living in San Francisco.
There’s plenty of fancy restaurants here, in fact, San Francisco is one of (only) five US cities to house Michelin-Starred restaurants.
But it’s not all upscale and cheap eats are possible to come by, the taco scene is worth writing home about!
Don’t just take my word for it, San Francisco was recently rated the best food city in America.
#8. San Francisco is a millennial city
The median age of people living in San Francisco is 38.2, and the city is often considered one of the best cities in the country for millennials.
And it’s true, the city is charged with entrepreneurial spirit, optimism and opportunity. You can’t help but feel inspired — this is the hometown of tech giants!
But the millennials in San Francisco aren’t necessarily the traditional type in the sense that most forgo rearing children in the city.
In fact, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of kids of any major US city.
There’s roughly the same number of dogs as there are children: 120,000. I would gander that the high cost of living bears most of the blame.
#9. There’s always Napa Valley
Prior to moving to San Francisco for a job opportunity, I strongly considered the move for one big reason — Napa Valley.
Home to more than 400 wineries, Napa Valley is a mere 1.5-hour scenic drive from San Francisco and worth every minute of the effort.
This is the epitome of an adult playground — grab your girlfriends and slip away into an oasis reminiscent of Italy’s never-ending rolling Tuscan hillsides.
On very special occasions (okay, like once) I even had the chance to indulge in a meal at the French Laundry and I swear I’ll never be the same. If you get the chance – go!
Or swing by the sister-restaurants — Bouchon and Ad Hoc, both by world-renowned chef Thomas Keller.
Cons of Living in San Fransisco
#1. Living in San Fransisco is expensive
Often considered one of the most expensive cities in America, living in San Francisco won’t come cheap.
Rent prices play a huge factor in the high cost of living, but I’m not just talking about rent. Everyday things, like haircuts, attractions, restaurants, etc. are often much more expensive in San Francisco than other US cities.
Living in San Francisco opens your eyes to the stark reality of the role money plays in a life well lived.
Even with a well paying job, most folks can’t afford to buy a home or raise children while living in San Fran. This makes the Bay Area a mere pit-stop for most residents until they move on to more affordable cities or the outskirts of town.
As much I love living in San Francisco, it’s hard to talk about permanently settling down here because the cost of living is so high.
#2. The rent is too damn high
Highest rent in the country? Check.
The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment will set you back $3,500 — the highest average rent prices in the country. The reason is simple, there’s a lot of demand and little supply.
What’s more, San Francisco is actively discouraging the “Manhattanization” of the Bay Area, so building skyscraper dwelling units is not an option.
Best way to get around the steep rent prices in San Francisco? Roommates and choosing the right neighborhood.
And if you’re interested in purchasing a home, good luck. The median home price clocks in at an arresting $1.3 million.
#3. The climate and weather (hey, Karl!)
Whether the weather is a pro of con of living in San Francisco is entirely dependent on your preference, but San Francisco is a foggy city.
So much so that San Francisco’s constant fog has officially been nicknamed and even has its own Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to introduce you to Karl the Fog.
As someone that grew up on the west coast, I find the gray weather of San Francisco homey. But some transplants can’t handle the constant fog which is understandable.
But I will add this: whenever I read about the infamous blizzards in the Midwest or the constant extreme heat warnings in New York City, I’m forever grateful to be living in San Francisco where we don’t see temperature extremes as often.
However this is starting to change…
#4. There’s a constant threat of wildfires
Wildfires have been engulfing the west coast in record numbers these past few years and San Francisco is not immune from the damage.
It seems wildfires, and subsequent unhealthy air quality, is all but inevitable during the summer months and is quickly becoming a normal part of daily life in San Francisco.
The wildfires of 2020 burned a record-setting 4 million acres of forests near San Francisco. The hazardous air quality kept residents indoors for days on end and it was very tough pill to swallow.
Unfortunately the forests are burning and nothing indicates that the trend will shift for the better anytime soon, it’s imperative that wildfires be taken into consideration while exploring moving to San Francisco.
#5. Taxes? Yep, the highest in the country
Clocking in at an arresting income tax of up to 13.3%, California taxes are the among the highest in the nation.
Tack on the sales tax of 7.25%, plus San Francisco’s city and county rates and your sales taxes jumps to 8.5%.
The taxes should be taken into strong consideration while researching if moving to California is right for you because they will greatly cut into your overall take home pay.
#6. Traffic, I guarantee it
One of my friends recently moved to Seattle and told me that her new coworkers complain about bad traffic. And it’s true, statistically speaking, Seattle does have terrible traffic.
But it doesn’t hold a candle to the traffic in the Bay Area.
On average, a driver in San Francisco loses 97 hours a year to congestion — one of the top 10 cities in America with the worst traffic.
Wish we didn’t rank so high on this one, but at lease we’re not the absolute worst?
Living in San Francisco is a tale of extremes — extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Alongside million dollar homes, you’ll find tent cities and folks living in doorways and streets.
I promised you a list of honest pros and cons of living in San Francisco so allow me to share a sad fact: San Francisco is home to one of the highest homeless populations in the country.
It’s not uncommon to see needles in the street, rows of tents and homeless folks roaming the streets every hour of the day.
It’s heartbreaking and there’s no easy solution. Being surrounded by homelessness is a stark reality of living in San Francisco and COVID has only exacerbated the problem.
And yes, I understand the homelessness is not unique to daily life in San Francisco, but holy cow — it’s on a whole new level here.
#8. San Francisco is a transient city
In my 15+ years of living in San Francisco, about 80% of my friends have left.
Blame it on the high cost of living or what you will, but there’s no denying that the city is transient — it’s hard for folks to see themselves here long-term, especially if kids are in the picture.
#9. The work-life balance
Ask any local about their work life balance and when they’re done laughing they’ll ask you what that is.
One of my roommates worked a part-time job in addition to her full-time job to afford living in San Francisco.
The cost of living is so high that sacrifices have to be made — tossing any hope of a healthy work/life balance out the window.
If you’re fortunate enough to earn a good salary (by and large, the tech industry pays well) and you live with roommates, you will enjoy living in San Francisco much more because you’ll have time to enjoy what the city has to offer.
But I want this to be an honest list of the pros and cons of living in San Francisco, therefore, there’s no way I wouldn’t mention the challenging work/life balance aspect — it’s tough!
Final thoughts: Moving to San Francisco
I love living in San Francisco and can’t imagine living anywhere else at this stage in my life.
Granted, I’m single and don’t plan on having kids. However, as I mentioned, in my 15+ years of living in San Francisco, 80% of my friends have left.
The City by the Bay cast its spell on my and I’m blissfully in love, but I understand it’s not for everyone. With that said, I think everyone should give it a try once in their life!
Life in San Fransisco (Post Summary)
In sum, here are the pros and cons of living in San Francisco:
- San Francisco is a beautiful city
- There’s always something to do
- Nature is a stone’s throw away
- Rich and diverse culture
- You’ll never go hungry
- Job opportunities
- Efficient public transportation
- It’s a millennial city
- Napa Valley
- High cost of living
- Bad traffic
- Constant threat of wildfires
- The rent is too damn high
- High taxes
- The weather
- It’s a transient city
- Poor work/life balance
living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, pros and cons of living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, pros and cons of living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, pros and cons of living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, pros and cons of living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, pros and cons of living in San Francisco, living in San Francisco, pros and cons of living in San Francisco,
James McGrath says
I love San Francisco more than anyplace on the planet. Having lived there twice (1983 to 1996) and (2007 to 2009) your assessment is spot on target. They pay is excellent but taxes take a huge bite.
MUNI is efficient and largely dependable but it has hiccups and delays. If you adapt to the Marine climate and love the fog it will spoil you to most other places. It is an enchanting beautiful city. And sadly, painfully transient.
Like me, it eventually becomes too expensive for most people, and people leave. Some to suburbs and growing numbers to other cities across the globe. If I win the lottery trust me I’ll be back in a heart beat.
Daniel Cramp says
This is an overly rosy picture. If you noticed, the author only references tech with regards to employment. It is true that tech is booming but only if you are under 40. There is a lot of ageism and “cultural fit” type dismissals as many of my friends have discovered.
There is also a generally dark vibe to the area. If your eyes are open to more than the beauty, which for sure there is a lot of it, which makes the vibe a strange one. People seem inordinately stressed and unhappy. I think because it is so hard for a lot of people to live here economically. Then you have the locals who have seen a fairly balanced city in terms of wealth and opportunity completely transform before their eyes into more of a wealth destination that caters to luxury. If you go down to LA for example, people seem much lighter and easy going. Which is funny because it used to be the exact opposite maybe 15 years ago.
So yes, if you have wealth and enjoy luxury SF is great, you’ll love it. And to be fair, if you can find a set up that works for you and you love the outdoors, it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, seriously. It is just a very challenging place to live otherwise at the moment and it is hard for me to recommend it to most people.
Danie Cramp says
It’s a city. People tend to forget that because it feels like a town a lot of the time. I think there are also a lot of folks coming for tech that have never lived in a city. As cities go, San Francisco is one of the safest. Yes, the Tenderloin is bad and central Market at is bad but…it’s a city. Develop some street smarts like you do in any city and you’ll be fine.
This is pretty accurate for someone in their 20-30s. Another downside is that SF is extremely difficult for families unless you have low cost housing (from another era) or can afford that $3M+ house from your IPO/RSO. Families that don’t often eventually leave and you are left with a distorted cohort of lottery winners and strugglers.
I would not recommend SF for anyone with kids. I’ve been in SF for over 15 years. Gross simplification… there are 3 types of families in SF: 1) those with cultural/family ties too hard to break; 2) those who got into SF housing early so they feel like they have a good deal and don’t want to give it up; 3) those with enough money for a nice SF (and Tahoe or Napa) house.
If you’re not in those 3, suggest you pass.
Gordon Tong says
Good list but you didn’t mention the high rate in SF (vandalism, breaking and entering, hate crimes etc.) due largely to the SF DA’s “catch and release” of criminals of “minor” crimes as part of the DA’s prison reform initiatives. That is why the DA is being recalled…
Kayla Reed says
Thank you for adding that! I wish the author would add info about the crime rate to the article – it is exactly the info I was looking for when I clicked on the link!:-)
Grant Charles says
Your article seems way too optimistic with no mention of covid consequences
Thank you. I just left sf. It’s a mess. Someone broke into my car to steal an empty diaper bag. The cops are useless and there is danger everywhere. I had to explain to my son why the homeless guy was defecating next to the CPK off market. Great life lesson for a 6 year old. I worked in tech and the people all making millions are finally out of jobs or laid off. There’s always a bubble, this one took a bit longer than the rest. Goodbye SF. I’m going back to NY. I could walk around at 4 am and not get mugged and park my car in sketchy areas with no issues.
Ivana Jelincic says
I loved your article. My husband and I are thinking about moving to SF all the way from Chile so the information you provided will definitely help us make the final decision soon (in favour of moving :)) All my best.