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What’s Living in San Francisco Like? | [2021] 🌉 ULTIMATE Moving to San Francisco Guide

Thinking about moving to San Francisco? San Francisco covers 47 square miles in the San Francisco Bay Area on the north of the San Francisco Peninsula. This vibrant and bustling metro area boasts world-famous landmarks, beautiful architecture, and an exciting nightlife. What is San Francisco known for? Its high cost of living, amazing food scene, top-notch public transportation (and cable cars!), a thriving tech industry, and its famous Chinatown.

It’s no surprise that this exciting city has earned many nicknames. Some of the many San Francisco nicknames you’ll hear include SF, the Golden City, Fog City, Golden Gate City, the City by the Bay, the Bay City, and simply The City. Frisco and San Fran are usually used only by out-of-towners and unliked by locals.

San Francisco was originally a Spanish mission in the 18th century that became part of Mexico in 1821. It became part of the United States in 1848, the same year the California Gold Rush led to a massive population boom and rapid immigration. During this time, San Francisco was a hotbed of crime including gambling and prostitution but, by the end of the century, it was known as the Paris of the West thanks to the development of its cable cars and magnificent Victorian homes.

Ruins at Grant & Post Avenues south of Chinatown after the devastating 1906 earthquake.

While devastated by the 1906 earthquake that destroyed 80% of the city and killed more than 3,000, San Francisco rebuilt bigger and grander than ever. During the 20th century, San Francisco became the epicenter of America’s counterculture and known for its bohemian culture and the 1967 Summer of Live. By the 1970s and 1980s, the Bay City was known as the Gay Mecca. It was also during this time that San Francisco experienced a construction boom called Manhattanization when high-rise condos and skyscrapers were built.

Ready to see what living in San Francisco is like today? This complete guide to relocating to San Francisco covers absolutely everything you want to know before moving to San Francisco and why it’s such an amazing place to live.

San Francisco Demographics & Population

The population of San Francisco is 881,000 which makes it the fourth largest city in California. It’s the second-most densely populated U.S. city after New York with almost 18,791 people per square mile. The San Francisco metro population spreads over 3,500 square miles with a population of 4.73 million. The larger San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland CSA is home to 9.67 million people.

Who is living in San Francisco? The City of San Francisco (and the greater Bay Area) is known for its diversity! The Bay City is a minority-majority city with a racial and ethnic composition that’s:

  • 41.9% non-Hispanic White
  • 33.3% Asian
  • 15.1% Hispanic (7.4% Mexican, 2% Salvadoran, 0.9% Nicaraguan, 08% Guatemalan, 0.5% Puerto Rican)
  • 6.1% Black or African American
  • 0.5% American Indian
  • 6.6% other race
  • 4.7% two or more races

People of Chinese ancestry account for the largest minority in San Francisco at over 21% of the population. Other major Asian ancestry groups include Filipino (4.5%), Vietnamese (1.6%), Japanese (1.3%), Indian (1.2%), and Korean (1.2%).

San Francisco’s Hispanic population is mostly in the Excelsior, Tenderloin, and Mission Districts. Most of the city’s Black residents are in Visitacion Valley, Fillmore District, and Bayview-Hunters Point. Crocker-Amazon and Daly City are home to a large Filipino community while the Chinese community is mostly in Chinatown, Sunset District, and Richmond District.

Over one-third of San Francisco residents were born outside the U.S. 43% of residents speak a language other than English at home. There are more than 112 languages spoken in the Bay Area!

There are 104 men for every 100 women in San Francisco with an average age of 38.

The Bay City has been home to many famous residents including photographer Ansel Adams; Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey; PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel; dozens of actors like Tom Hanks, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, and Danny Glover; and filmmaker Francis Coppola. Hundreds of musicians have also called San Francisco home like Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Faith No More, and Metallica.

San Francisco Climate – What Is the San Francisco Weather Like?

San Francisco has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate typical of coastal northern California cities. While living in San Francisco, you’ll experience dry summers and wet, mild winters. The City experiences minimal temperature changes between seasons but the coolest minimum, maximum, and mean daily temperatures between June and August among all major American cities.

Known as the Fog City, San Francisco summers are characterized by rising warm air in the valleys which creates a low pressure area. This draws in winds through the Golden Gate which causes fog and cool wind. The western part of the city is particularly known for fog which is most frequent in the summer.

Thanks to its sharp hills and seaside location, San Francisco has many microclimates. There’s a 20% difference between rainfall in the high hill neighborhoods compared to other parts of the city. These hills protect neighborhoods in the east from the worst of the fog and cold wind.

Temperatures only hit 80°F or higher about 20 days a year. May to October is usually warm with a mean temperature that peaks at 63°F. November to April is rainy with a mean temperature of 51°F. There are 73 rainy days per year on average with annual precipitation of 24 inches. There are an average of 260 clear, sunny days in eastern San Francisco.

The best time to visit San Francisco is September through November when fall brings warm temperatures and fewer crowds. During the spring, you’ll experience mild and dryer San Francisco weather.

How to Get Around San Francisco – Public Transportation & More

Getting around San Francisco is easy by public transportation and foot. San Francisco is one of the most walkable cities in the U.S. so you can take care of most errands and reach restaurants and entertainment on foot. 75,000 residents also commute daily by bicycle, a common mode of transportation in San Francisco. The city has a large bicycle sharing system and it’s considered a very bicycle-friendly city.

San Francisco public transportation is excellent; many residents do not even have a driver’s license. 32% of people living in San Francisco use public transit to get to work, third overall for America.

Ferries are a popular and unique form of public transit in San Francisco. The Ferry Building and Pier 39 are operated by the San Francisco Bay Ferry to destinations like Oakland and Alameda. The Golden Gate Ferry connects The Bay City with Marin County.

San Francisco is connected to the East Bay and San Jose by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. The Caltrain commuter rail system runs from San Francisco to San Jose. There are shuttle buses through Amtrak California Thruway Motorcoach to surrounding areas like Oakland and Emeryville.

The San Francisco Municipal Railway (SFMTA) or Muni has over 560,000 daily users on its buses and 140,000 daily light rail users. It’s the main public transit system in The City and features a combined light rail and subway system called the Muni Metro plus a network of buses and trolley coaches. It also runs the famous San Francisco streetcar line and cable cars.

 

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Only 41% of San Francisco residents commuted by car, a number that is on the decline. I-80 is the only direct link to East Bay via a car. US Route 101 connects I-80 to the south of the city and US 101 is the only highway linking the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.

San Francisco is served by the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with North America’s largest international terminal. It’s a hob for Alaska Airlines and United and it’s America’s 8th busiest airport. Oakland International Airport is a low-cost alternative to SFO and it’s just across the bay.

San Francisco Real Estate – Home Prices & Rent in San Francisco

The San Francisco real estate market is infamous. The city was once a bohemian mecca, but its booming tech industry, high density, and proximity to Silicon Valley have made it the most expensive housing market in the West.

While San Francisco housing costs have for years shown little sign of slowing, the coronavirus pandemic that made remote work for the city’s tech workers more popular and accessible than ever has caused people to flee San Francisco. This led to a 96% increase in year-over-year inventory in 2020 with home prices and rent on the decline. Even before the pandemic, The Bay City was losing residents as its housing market priced out almost everyone. Still, don’t count on finding affordable housing!

San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street.

The median home price in San Francisco is $1.35 million. This is the price for an average home such as a condo or single-family home, not a spacious, luxury home. You’ll still pay over $2 million for a luxury condo in the infamous sinking building in San Francisco. The pandemic affecting the market with 68% more listings dropping their price and 21% fewer homes selling for over listing. You can see San Francisco, CA homes for sale here to see what you can afford in the city.

Planning on renting after moving to San Francisco? The average rent in San Francisco is $3,050 according to RentJungle, down 24% from 2019 thanks to the pandemic. Average apartment rent in San Francisco dropping a whopping $1,000 in 2020.

Best Places to Live in San Francisco

Ready to start exploring the best neighborhoods in San Francisco? Whether you’re looking for safe, affordable places to live in San Francisco (comparatively!) or you want to be near action and excitement, here are some top picks to explore ahead of moving to San Francisco.

Castro – San Francisco’s LGBTQ Hub

San Francisco’s Castro District is known for its role in the LGBTQ movement and it’s the heart of the city’s vibrant gay culture. It was also one of the first designated gay neighborhoods in the U.S. with a rich history. It’s popular today with artists, tech workers, and young families thanks to amenities like the famous Dolores Park. Average rent in Castro is $3,100 per month.

 

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North Beach – San Francisco’s Little Italy Neighborhood

North Beach is a charming, lively Frisco neighborhood located between Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf with the Coit Tower dominating its skyline. Best known for its authentic Italian eateries, retro bars, and eclectic shops, North Beach is home to many young professionals and families with a diverse population. It’s also one of the most walkable neighborhoods in San Francisco! The average home price in North Beach is $1.15 million or $909/sq ft with an average rent of $2,900. It’s one of the most affordable San Francisco neighborhoods for renters.

Potrrero Hill – Best San Francisco Neighborhood for Families

Potrero Hill is a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. This quiet residential neighborhood is best known for its skyline and bay views with a mix of Victorian homes and condos. It’s popular with families thanks to its many parks, sports facilities, and the SomArts Cultural Center.

Mission District – Great San Francisco Neighborhood for Millennials

The Mission is an energetic neighborhood in the heart of downtown. It attracts people from all walks of life but particularly millennials and young professionals who appreciate being close to downtown. It’s home to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants and it boasts great weather because it’s spared from most of the Bay City’s fog! There are more than 55,000 people living in this neighborhood of just 1.5 square miles.

Mission is in the high-middle when it comes to rent: expect to pay around $3,300. You can see Mission, San Francisco homes for sale here with a median price of $1.15 million.

San Francisco Cost of Living – How Much Does it Cost to Live in San Francisco?

The cost of living in San Francisco is notoriously high. The San Francisco cost of living index is 196.6 which means it’s almost 97% more expensive than the national average!

Virtually everything is more expensive than the national average and likely more than you are paying where you currently live unless you’re moving from New York, Boston, or parts of L.A. Groceries, healthcare, and utilities in San Francisco are 20-30% higher than the national average. Housing is what really makes San Francisco so expensive: the housing price index is 365!

The median household income in San Francisco is $112,500. The top 30% of households earn $192,500.

San Francisco Typical Living Expenses

  • Inexpensive restaurant meal: $20
  • Milk, 1 gallon: $4.48
  • Dozen eggs: $3.67
  • Imported beer, 6 pack: $10.66
  • Movie ticket: $15
  • Nanny: $22/hour
  • Fitness club: $81/month
  • Monthly Muni “A” pass: $98 (includes cable car and BART service)
  • Average cell phone bill: $194
  • Average monthly utility bill in San Francisco: $227

According to Numbeo, the typical family of four pays $4,455 per month in living expenses excluding rent.

San Francisco Taxes

Taxes are an important aspect of the cost of living you should consider ahead of living in San Francisco. Here’s what to expect:

  • The California income tax rate is 1% to 12.3%, the highest in the United States.
  • The San Francisco property tax rate is 1.1801% of the assessed value. Note that California’s Proposition 13 limits the property tax rate to 1% plus a rate necessary to fund voter-approved debts.
  • The San Francisco sales tax rate is 8.5%.

San Francisco Economy

San Francisco’s Financial District, the Wall Street of the West.

San Francisco has been a global city since before the Gold Rush thanks to its diverse population, technological innovation, and international connectivity. The City on the Bay has a strong service economy focused on tourism, financial services, and technology. The city is the banking and finance center of the West Coast and its Financial District has been called the Wall Street of the West.

Tourism accounts for one of San Francisco’s largest private sector industries and 1 out of every 7 jobs. However, San Francisco is most known for its booming tech industry since it became a location for Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and technology startups.

Jobs in San Francisco, CA & Best Places to Work

The average salary in San Francisco is $99,000, according to Payscale, with an hourly rate of $26.80. The minimum wage in San Francisco is $16.07 per hour. This is adjusted annually.

Here are average salaries in common careers:

  • Software engineer: $121k
  • Senior software engineer: $151k
  • Registered nurse: $54/hour
  • Executive assistant: $34/hour

According to employee feedback, Glassdoor awarded the following places as the Best Places to Work in San Francisco. The first three are among the world’s most prestigious management consulting firms.

  • Bain & Company
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • Google
  • In-N-Out Burger
  • Microsoft
  • Facebook

Ahead of moving to San Francisco, start your search for jobs in San Francisco on Indeed and with the City and County of San Francisco job board. For some sectors, you want to work with a recruiting agency like Scion Staffing, The Barrett Group, or Robert Half instead.

San Francisco Healthcare & Hospitals

Eligible uninsured residents in San Francisco can have the cost of some medical services subsidized through Healthy San Francisco. The city expanded its indigent medical programs and Medicaid into this program.

This program guarantees health coverage to every San Francisco resident. San Francisco is the only place in the U.S. with universal health coverage!

Top Restaurants in San Francisco & Iconic San Francisco Foods

San Fran’s food scene is as famous as its street cars. The city is famous for its sourdough bread, Dungeness crab, and abalone. Mission-style burritos were invented here in the 1960’s and the city has become known for its Asian fusion cuisine. In 2006, San Francisco became the only West Coast city with a Michelin guide and it has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.!

While it’s hard to pick just a few, here are some must-try San Francisco restaurants you’ll absolutely love.

La Taqueria

This unassuming, no-frills Mexican restaurant has been a favorite among tourists and residents in the Mission District for over 40 years. It’s been called an American Classic and known for its traditional rice-free burritos.

La Taqueria, 2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 285-7117

The Buena Vista

This world-famous café introduced Irish coffee to Americans in 1952. Stop by this San Francisco icon at Fisherman’s Wharf for its signature Irish coffee and and a Dungeness crab omelet with sourdough toast – a true San Francisco breakfast!

The Buena Vista, 2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (415) 474-5044

Foreign Cinema

Don’t be fooled by the name: Foreign Cinema is more restaurant than cinema. Often crowded, Foreign Cinema serves Californian and Mediterranean cuisine and brunch in a chic outdoor space that screens films. It’s been named a Top 100 Restaurant by the San Francisco Chronicle for 18 years running!

Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 648-7600

Best Things to Do in San Francisco – Culture, Parks & Attractions

You’ll truly never run out of fun things to do in San Francisco for families, singles, and couples. The city hosts tons of famous events like the Chinese New Year Parade and San Francisco Pride, one of America’s largest and oldest pride events. Shopping, dining, music, and cultural attractions are seemingly around every corner but don’t be fooled by Frisco’s dense population: there’s also plenty of green space and outdoor recreation. Here are some of the top San Francisco things to do.

Attractions in San Francisco

The Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue & Bush Street marks the entrance to Chinatown.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf is a top tourist attraction in San Francisco with plenty to explore with popular tourist attractions, food stalls, shops, historic ships to board, and a colony of sea lions at Pier 39.
  • Golden Gate Bridge welcomes you to Frisco, also known as the Golden Gate City. It’s one of the world’s most recognizable suspension bridges and it’s been described as “the most beautiful and certainly the most photographed bridge in the world.”
  • Alcatraz Island is located just over one mile off the shoreline and was one home to the famous federal penitentiary. Be sure to take a ferry to the island and tour the penitentiary.
  • Chinatown in San Francisco is the largest Chinatown outside Asia and the oldest in North America with theaters, temples, stores, teahouses, and restaurants.
  • Oracle Park is home to the San Francisco Giants and it’s located in the South Beach neighborhood.
  • Exploratorium is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids. Explore hands-on science exhibits at Pier 15.
  • Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries in San Francisco Bay and a famous food market. This historical landmark is one of the most famous San Francisco attractions with stalls from tons of artisanal food producers.
  • Coit Tower is a recognizable landmark in Pioneer Park known for its murals and 360-degree views of the bay.

Music & Entertainment in San Francisco

The SFWMPAC covers 7.5 acres in the Civic Center with four separate performing arts venues.
  • War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, one of America’s largest performing arts centers, is home to the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet.
  • The Fillmore is a historic music venue where Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead performed.
  • Golden Gate Theatre hosts touring Broadway shows like Moulin Rouge and My Fair Lady.
  • Orpheum Theater is a San Francisco hallmark. This striking historic theater is in the Civic Plaza and hosts large productions in its cathedral-like performance hall.

San Francisco Parks

  • Golden Gate Park is America’s third most visited park. Explore more than 1,000 aces with lakes, gardens, and attractions like a buffalo herd, a Japanese tea garden, an arboretum, and a playground with a carousel.
  • USS San Francisco Memorial is an iconic park dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln. It covers 100 acres and commemorates more than 100 sailors and Marines killed aboard the USS San Francisco.
  • Mission Dolores Park is a popular city park in the west of the Mission District with a playground, dog park, game courts, green space, and palm trees.
  • Pioneer Park at the top of Telegraph Hill is one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks. It was established in the late 19th century to celebrate the U.S. Centennial.

San Francisco Museums

The League of Honor is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
  • Legion of Honor is a beautiful fine arts museum located in the Lincoln Park Golf Course.
  • California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a unique museum with a living roof. It boasts the Steinhart Aquarium, Osher Rainforest, and Kimball Natural History Museum.
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) features an internationally recognized contemporary and modern and it was the first museum on the West Coast focused on art of the 20th century.
  • Asian Art Museum boasts one of the world’s largest collections of Asian art with over 18,000 pieces up to 6,000 years old.

San Francisco Shopping

  • Union Square is the largest and best shopping district in San Francisco. This 2.6-acre public plaza is the top destination for shopping, entertainment, and dining in San Fran.
  • Japan Center is located in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood. This shopping center offers a variety of shops with goods from Japanese brands.
  • Westfield San Francisco Centre is a popular tourist attraction all its own! This 9-story mall has over 170 restaurants and shops plus a multiplex and atrium.

Map of Things to Do in San Francisco

Crime in San Francisco

Is San Francisco safe? The San Francisco crime rate is 123% higher than the California average and 148% higher than the national average. However, the vast majority of San Francisco is very safe aside from typical crimes that often affect tourists like pickpocketing.

The Tenderloin neighborhood is the most dangerous area of San Francisco. Tenderloin alone accounts for a whopping 70% of San Francisco’s violent crime and 25% of its murders. This neighborhood also has high rates of drug use, prostitution, and gang violence. The Bayview-Hunters Point area is another high-crime area.

You can avoid most San Francisco crime by staying out of high-risk areas. To demonstrate that, consider the risk of homicide. On average, there are 40 to 55 murders per year in San Francisco: about 10 are in Tenderloin and 25 are in Bayview-Hunters Point.

In some areas of San Francisco, gangs can be a serious problem. Gangs like the the Sureños, and Norteños, and MS-13 operate in the Mission District. The Joe Boys and Triad groups operate in Chinatown.

The crime rate in San Francisco is 6,175 per 100,000 people. This compares to the national average of 2,489/100k people. The violent crime rate is 670/100,000 and the property crime rate is 5,506/100,000 people. Your chance of being the victim of crime in San Francisco is 1 in 150. Remember: reduce this chance dramatically by avoiding dangerous areas! Use this San Francisco crime map to find the safest places to live.

San Francisco Sports

If you’re a big sports fan, you’ll have a lot in store for you after moving to San Francisco! The Bay Area is ranked third among America’s Best Sports Cities with 30 total championships. Its oldest team, the Giants (New York), debuted in 1883. While living in San Francisco, you can watch the following teams play:

  • San Francisco Giants (MLB) moved from New York in 1958 and play at Oracle Park. The Giants won the World Series in 2014, 2012, and 2010.
  • San Francisco 49ers (NFL) play at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and they won 5 Super Bowls between 1982 and 1995.
  • San Jose Sharks (NHL) play at the SAP Center at San Jose and they were the first NHL franchise in the Bay Area.
  • Golden State Warriors (NBA) play at the Chase Center in San Francisco and have won 6 championships and made five recent consecutive NBA Finals.
  • Oakland Athletics (MLB) or the Oakland A’s have won 9 World Series and play at the Oakland Coliseum.

 

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San Francisco was named as the top U.S. metro area for producing Major Leaguers over the last century. As the Best City for Baseball, the San Francisco Giants have had stars like Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

The Bay Area was home to the Oakland Raiders but they sadly moved to Las Vegas in 2020.

Schools in San Francisco, CA

Moving to San Francisco with kids? You’ll be served by the San Francisco Unified School District. The State Board of Education, however, operates some charter schools like the historic Lowell High School.

Students are assigned a school based on an assignment system, not neighborhood proximity. San Francisco’s school lottery system can be a nightmare for parents who may have children assigned to schools that aren’t in their neighborhood or even on their list! Learn more here.

There are over 100 private and parochial schools attended by almost 30% of school-age students. Nationwide, just 10% of kids attend private schools.

If you’re considering higher education, you’ll find excellent options!

  • The University of California, San Francisco, among the 5 top medical schools in America
  • University of California, Hastings College of the Law, California’s oldest law school
  • San Francisco State University
  • City College of San Francisco
  • University of San Francisco, founded in 1855
  • Academy of Art University, the country’s largest art and design institute

Setting up Utilities & Getting Your California Driver’s License

As you prepare for moving to San Francisco, it’s helpful to get a jumpstart on setting up utilities and knowing how to get a California driver’s license if you’re moving from out-of-state.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission provides water and electricity to San Francisco. You can click here to start water service and power service.

PG&E left San Francisco in 2020 after 115 years. No natural gas is allowed in new buildings in San Francisco since 2020.

To get a California driver’s license as a new resident in the state, you must visit a DMV office and submit the driver’s license application. You can start the application online and finish at the DMV.

Ready to start your adventure moving to San Francisco? AMS Relocation is a premier San Francisco moving company ready to help you relocate from elsewhere in California or the rest of the United States. Give us a call for a free San Francisco moving estimate!

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