San Francisco, often referred to as the “Golden City,” occupies the northern tip of a peninsula in Northern California. It’s situated between the vast Pacific Ocean to the west and the picturesque San Francisco Bay to the east. Covering a compact 46 square miles, the city also serves as its own county. Among its most iconic features are the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, the charming cable cars, rows of elegant Victorian-style houses, and its characteristic year-round fog.
The city’s layout forms a roughly square shape, and its hilly terrain led to a distinctive grid-like street plan, giving rise to the city’s steep streets, where cable cars have become a necessity. If you’re considering a move to San Francisco, you probably have numerous questions about life in this city. We’re here to offer you in-depth insights into what you can expect there.
A Brief History of San Francisco
San Francisco’s history can be traced back to 1769 when Spanish explorers, led by Gaspar de Portolá, were the first Europeans to lay eyes on the San Francisco Bay. Surprisingly, despite its natural harbor being one of the world’s finest, it took over two centuries for European explorers, including Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, Sir Francis Drake, and Sebastián Vizcaíno, to recognize the bay’s value. In 1775, Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala anchored in the bay. A year later, in 1776, the settlement’s foundations were laid with the construction of a military outpost and the Mission San Francisco de Asis. In 1835, a small village, initially founded by an Englishman, was renamed San Francisco when the United States claimed the area in 1847. With the official annexation of California under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, San Francisco’s transformation accelerated.
The discovery of gold in 1849 brought a surge of people, with the population skyrocketing from under 400 to nearly 80,000 as gold prospectors flocked to the city. This influx led to skyrocketing costs of living and tumultuous financial times until the bubble burst in 1857. A couple of years later, the discovery of silver in Nevada further fueled the city’s prosperity, and by 1870, the population had swelled to nearly 150,000 people. Despite challenges such as the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, the city has thrived ever since.
Living in SF
San Francisco consistently ranks among the happiest cities in the United States. With a significant proportion of the population being singles, around 39 percent, it’s an ideal place to meet new people. The city promotes a casual and carefree lifestyle, influencing everything from attire to dining choices. Its diverse population ensures a range of niche cultures and alternative lifestyles, providing a sense of belonging for everyone, whether it’s related to ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith, or style. With more dogs than children, San Francisco also offers a wealth of amenities for canine companions, including luxury dog hotels and numerous dog parks. San Francisco places a strong emphasis on health and environmental consciousness.
Recognized as one of the most “veg-friendly” cities in the U.S. by PETA, the city boasts a wide array of vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Organic food is readily available, and numerous parks, recreational activities, and exercise options cater to health-conscious residents. The city actively diverts the majority of its waste away from landfills and has has achieved zero waste as of 2021. Residents and businesses are required to sort their trash into three categories: landfill waste, recycling, and compost, with less waste in the landfill bin translating to cost savings.
Distinctive Weather Patterns
Despite its location in sunny California, San Francisco’s weather is distinct from the stereotypical Californian climate. With an average of 259 sunny days each year, temperatures rarely dip below 45°F. However, rather than being described as “warm,” San Francisco’s climate is better characterized as “mild.” The city boasts a Mediterranean climate, which typically features mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. While winters are indeed mild in comparison to other regions, San Francisco’s summers are cooler than many would expect, with average highs in the 60s.
Cool, Foggy Summers
San Francisco’s geographical position between the hot Central Valley and the cool Pacific Ocean results in a unique climate pattern that serves as a natural air conditioner for the city. As hot air rises in the Central Valley, cool Pacific air is drawn inland, creating a consistent flow of cooler air over San Francisco. This phenomenon contributes to the city’s renowned fog. The summer months, particularly in neighborhoods close to the bay, experience heavy fog.
A typical summer day begins with dense fog in the morning, with temperatures in the 50s. By 10 a.m., the sun usually warms the city and clears the fog. However, in the late afternoon, cool oceanic winds carry the fog back into the city, resulting in chilly evenings. Locals humorously refer to these cool, overcast, and foggy conditions as “Gray May,” “June Gloom,” “No Sky July,” and “Fogust.”
Mild, Rainy Winters
San Francisco’s residents recommend dressing in layers to adapt to the city’s fluctuating temperatures. During the winter months, an umbrella or raincoat may be a worthwhile addition. San Francisco receives an average of 24 inches of rain annually, primarily between November and March. While winters are among the city’s coldest periods, even during the coldest months, average low temperatures hover around 46°F.
Highs typically range from the high 50s to low 60s, and snowfall is virtually nonexistent. The winter climate in San Francisco can be variable; the city can experience prolonged dry spells, or sometimes, it might receive a month’s worth of rain in just a day or two. Spring and fall stand out as the most pleasant seasons, offering milder and more stable weather.
Diverse and Vibrant Population
San Francisco’s population has seen consistent growth since the mid-1800s, with current estimates suggesting over 850,000 residents living within the city limits. When considering the larger metropolitan area, the population estimate surpasses 4.6 million. Notably, this number nearly doubles when the broader San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area is included. Although San Francisco ranks as the 11th most populous city in the U.S., it stands second in population density, with 6,266 people per square kilometer, second only to New York City. The city is celebrated for its diversity, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, its population in 2015 consisted of 53.6 percent White, with 41 percent identifying as non-Hispanic White. African Americans accounted for 6.1 percent of the population, while Hispanic and Latino residents made up 15.3 percent. The city’s Asian population is notably the largest ethnic minority at 35.3 percent, including over 21 percent of the population being of Chinese origin and a significant Filipino population at 4.5 percent.
The city is also a melting pot of residents with diverse backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian heritages. Notably, San Francisco has a thriving LGBT community, with about 15 percent of the population identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The city’s average resident is approximately 38.8 years old, with children constituting just 13 percent of the population, the lowest proportion among major U.S. metropolitan areas. Remarkably, the vast majority of San Francisco’s residents are either immigrants or transplants; only about a third were born in California, while roughly 25 percent arrived from other states, and over one-third moved from other countries.
San Francisco’s Neighborhoods
Living in San Francisco comes with a relatively high cost of living, 62 percent higher than the national average. The average monthly rent for an apartment is nearly $3,500, and the average house price is over nine times the city’s median income, making homeownership a distant dream for most residents. Thus, affordability often dictates where to live in San Francisco. Although there are no truly “cheap” neighborhoods, some areas are more budget-friendly than others. Generally, rental prices are lower near the city’s outskirts and suburbs. Start your search in neighborhoods like Outer Mission, Outer Richmond, Bayview, Presidio Heights, Inner or Outer Sunset. Young professionals often gravitate toward trendy areas like Dogpatch, Hayes Valley, Lower Pacific Heights, and The Marina. Pacific Heights is home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents.
Among the more affordable neighborhoods suitable for families are Bernal Heights and Glen Park. The former features several parks and kid-friendly restaurants, while the latter offers a quiet community in a convenient location. Potrero Hill is well-suited for upper-middle-class families, The Castro has a large LGBT population, and Excelsior is among the most ethnically diverse and budget-friendly neighborhoods. Inner Richmond boasts a relatively large Chinese population as well as strong Irish and Russian roots. For dog owners, Cole Valley, Duboce Triangle, and Noe Valley are popular choices, especially among families with kids.
Education in San Francisco
The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is the seventh-largest school district in California, serving over 57,000 students. The district includes 64 elementary schools, 8 alternatively configured schools, 13 middle schools, 15 high schools, 12 early education schools, and 14 active charter schools authorized by the district. Students typically attend elementary school from kindergarten through fifth grade, followed by middle school for grades six through eight. However, some students attend alternatively configured schools that blend both elementary and middle school levels. High schools accommodate students in the ninth through twelfth grades. The best schools in San Francisco, as rated by GreatSchools, include Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, Lawton Alternative Elementary School, Lowell High School, Ulloa Elementary School, and Sunset Elementary School. Generally, the northern and western parts of the city are home to better-rated schools compared to the central, eastern, and southern areas. Alongside public schools, San Francisco boasts a large number of private schools, educating more than 27,000 students, with roughly half of these being religiously affiliated institutions.
Some of the top-rated private schools include San Francisco University High School, Lick-Wilmerding High School, The Urban School of San Francisco, Convent & Stuart Hall, and French American International School – San Francisco. Several A+ rated private schools are also located outside the city’s limits. Furthermore, San Francisco offers a range of higher education institutions, including City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, the University of California – San Francisco, and neighboring institutions like Stanford University and the University of California – Berkeley.
The Job Market
Known for its high cost of living, San Francisco requires a family of four to budget approximately $91,785 per year for necessities, equivalent to $7,649 per month. For single individuals, this figure amounts to $43,581 annually or $3,632 per month. Fortunately, the average annual salary in San Francisco surpasses the national average, standing at $90,000 compared to $59,428. The city’s median household income is nearly double the national median, with San Francisco households earning approximately $126,187 in contrast to the national median of $74,580. Unemployment in San Francisco, at 3.3 percent, is about 1 percent lower than the national average. Encouragingly, the city’s unemployment rate has been declining at a faster rate than the national average. U.S. News rates San Francisco’s job market at 8.8/10, highlighting a more robust job market than most similarly sized areas.
Although the tech industry has a significant presence, the city’s economy also benefits from tourism and the finance sector. Notable employers include Wells Fargo, Salesforce, PG&E, Deloitte, Amazon, and Uber. The healthcare field is another prominent industry with key employers like Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and California Pacific Medical Center. Additionally, government entities and local educational institutions contribute to job opportunities in the city, including schools, colleges, and universities.
Transportation in San Francisco
Given its high population density, San Francisco does have it’s traffic congestion woes. In 2017, the city was ranked as the fifth worst for traffic congestion globally and the third worst in the United States. With limited room for road expansion, the city focuses on improving existing infrastructure to alleviate traffic issues. Efforts include pay-to-use express lanes, bus lanes, and bridge tolls used to fund public transportation. San Francisco provides ample options for getting around without a personal vehicle. Lyft and Uber, along with traditional taxi companies, serve the city. The city also boasts a comprehensive bus and metro system known as Muni, with stops distributed throughout the city for easy access. Information on routes and schedules can be obtained by calling 511 or using the 511 SF Bay Transit Trip Planner app.
Cable cars and streetcars are also available in the downtown area, with three cable car lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street. Fares can be paid on board with exact change or through the MuniMobile app. San Francisco is a walkable city, consistently ranking as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. Over the past few decades, the city has added bike-friendly infrastructure, including dedicated bike lanes and bike traffic signals. Bikes can be brought on public transit, and bike-share programs are also available.
The San Francisco Food Scene
San Francisco is a haven for food enthusiasts, with an abundance of locally sourced, artisan-quality restaurants. North Beach is renowned for Italian cuisine, while the Mission neighborhood offers fantastic taquerias. For Chinese dishes, head to the Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods, which also offer genuine Russian, Korean, and Japanese cuisines. The Tenderloin and Hayes Valley are additional popular food districts. Some local favorites by cuisine type include:
- Pizza: Pizzetta 211, Pizzeria Delfina, Golden Boy, Delarosa, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Za Pizza.
- Ice Cream: Bi-Rite Creamery, Swensen’s Ice Cream, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Humphry Slocombe, Smitten Ice Cream.
- Sushi: Ryoko’s Japanese Restaurant & Bar, Roka Akor, Akiko’s Sushi Bar and Restaurant, Sakana, Ebisu.
- Mexican: Tato, La Taqueria, Nopalito, Tacorea, El Farolito, Matador.
- Bakeries: Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop, Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop, Boudin Bakery, Tartine Bakery, Golden Gate Bakery, Liguria Bakery.
- Vegan: Gracias Madre (Mexican), Shizen (sushi), Mensho Tokyo (ramen), Vegan Picnic (deli), The Flying Falafel.
San Francisco’s culinary scene features numerous food trucks, often gathered in food truck parks like SoMa StrEat Food Park and Truck Stop SF. “Off the Grid” events bring together food trucks and local vendors in various locations such as Fort Mason and the Presidio. Regardless of your cravings or dietary preferences, you’ll find excellent dining options in San Francisco. The city boasts 55 Michelin-starred restaurants. Farm-to-table restaurants with locally sourced ingredients are prevalent, and vegan and vegetarian dishes are readily available. San Francisco is also known for its craft beer, which you can enjoy at pubs, bars, and breweries throughout the city. Fort Point Beer Company, ThirstyBear Brewing Company, 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant, and Black Hammer Brewing are just a few of the top-notch local breweries.
Annual Events and Attractions
San Francisco’s community spirit is evident in its annual events, offering ample opportunities to engage with others. Even on a tight budget, you can partake in free outdoor events, as they are a staple in the city. Several significant annual events take place in San Francisco throughout the year:
- Cherry Blossom Festival: Hosted in April in San Francisco’s Japantown, this festival celebrates Japanese culture with a Grand Parade, traditional activities, food booths, cultural performances, live music, and martial arts displays.
- Craft Brew Festival: Held in March, this event is a beer lover’s paradise, offering a variety of craft brews.
- San Francisco International Film Festival: Taking place in April and May, this festival showcases a selection of international films.
- International Beer Festival: This May festival offers a wide range of international beers for attendees to sample.
- Pride Parade: Held in June, this parade is one of San Francisco’s largest events, celebrating the city’s vibrant LGBT community.
- Fillmore Jazz Festival: Taking place on the Fourth of July weekend, this two-day event in the Pacific Heights District features jazz performances.
- Outside Lands Festival: Held in August, this three-day music festival at Golden Gate Park combines music, food, wine, beer, and art, making it a highly anticipated event.
- Summer Events: Additional summer festivities include the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Juneteenth, Eat Drink SF, Oysterfest, Fourth of July Fireworks on the Bay, Craft Spirits Carnival, North Beach Festival, Union Street Festival, and races like the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and the San Francisco Marathon. The city offers free concerts throughout the summer on Sunday afternoons in Grove Park.
- Comedy Day: In September, San Francisco comedians show their appreciation to the community with a free comedy festival held in Golden Gate Park.
- Folsom Street Fair: Also in September, this event is a BDSM and leather subculture street fair that is among the city’s most unique and adult-oriented events.
- Fall Antiques Show: Held in October, this event showcases high-end antiques from the U.S. and Europe, featuring over 60 dealers.
- Litquake: This two-week literary event in October brings together authors, poets, and literary enthusiasts.
- Pinot Days: This wine festival in November offers attendees a taste of some of the best pinot noirs from around the world.
- Chinese New Year Parade: This event, based on the lunar calendar, varies in timing but usually takes place in early February and celebrates the Chinese New Year.
- NYE Fireworks Over the Bay: This New Year’s Eve celebration features a fireworks show over the San Francisco Bay.
- SF Sketchfest: In January and February, this comedy festival hosts a wide range of sketch comedy, improv, and stand-up performances.
- ZAP Wine Festival: In January, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Wine Festival allows attendees to taste a diverse selection of Zinfandel wines.
- Union Square Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony: Held in December, this event marks the start of the holiday season with the lighting of the Union Square holiday tree.
Things to Do in San Francisco
In a city as diverse and vibrant as San Francisco, the list of things to do is nearly endless. Whether you’re interested in shopping, sports, art, history, family-friendly activities, or simply enjoying the great outdoors, San Francisco offers an array of options.
San Francisco is a paradise for shoppers, offering a wide range of options from boutique stores to well-known brands. Fillmore Street is a hub for boutique clothing, home décor, skincare products, and more. The Mission District is famous for vintage items, handcrafted products, and local art. For brand-name retail therapy, Union Square, the city’s largest shopping district, offers numerous options. Westfield San Francisco Centre is a large shopping mall with a selection of high-end stores. The Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhoods are popular for upscale boutiques and home furnishings. Haight-Ashbury is known for its vintage shops.
For seafood enthusiasts, Fisherman’s Wharf provides specialty seafood stores selling fresh catches and seafood-related merchandise. Furthermore, the area is home to stores selling souvenirs, including Alcatraz-themed items. The Ferry Building Marketplace in Embarcadero is known for its gourmet food shops and farmer’s market.
San Francisco offers a variety of sports experiences for fans and the city is home to several professional sports teams. Among them we have: The San Francisco Giants, a Major League Baseball team, play at Oracle Park. The Golden State Warriors, an NBA team, now play their home games at the Chase Center in the Mission Bay neighborhood. The San Francisco 49ers, an NFL team, host their games at Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara.
The city’s soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes, plays in the Major League Soccer league. San Francisco also features an NHL hockey team, the San Jose Sharks. Several college sports teams and local minor league teams, such as the San Francisco Deltas, provide additional sports entertainment options.
Arts and Culture
San Francisco boasts an impressive array of cultural institutions and artistic venues. Some of the most renowned include:
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA): This museum showcases a vast collection of modern and contemporary art.
- The de Young Museum: Housed in Golden Gate Park, this museum features an extensive collection of American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries.
- Asian Art Museum: This institution houses one of the most extensive collections of Asian art in the world.
- The Contemporary Jewish Museum: This museum combines art, culture, and Jewish heritage in a contemporary setting.
- The California Academy of Sciences: Located in Golden Gate Park, this museum combines a planetarium, a natural history museum, and an aquarium.
- The Exploratorium: A hands-on science museum, it offers interactive exhibits and science-related activities for all ages.
- The Palace of Fine Arts: This beautiful structure was designed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and features a rotunda, colonnades, and a lagoon.
If you’re interested in history, San Francisco is home to several historical sites and museums:
- Alcatraz Island: This former prison is now a National Historic Landmark, offering tours and exhibits about its history.
- The Cable Car Museum: Learn about the history of these iconic San Francisco cable cars.
- The Presidio: A former military post, the Presidio now features parks, hiking trails, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.
- Museum of the African Diaspora: This museum explores the history, culture, and art of people of African descent.
- Fort Point National Historic Site: Located under the Golden Gate Bridge, this Civil War-era fort offers historical exhibits and great views of the bridge.
Families will find a multitude of activities to enjoy together:
- The San Francisco Zoo: This 100-acre zoo offers more than 2,000 animals from around the world.
- Children’s Creativity Museum: This interactive museum combines technology, arts, and design for kids.
- Golden Gate Park: In addition to its museums, this sprawling park offers gardens, playgrounds, and the Koret Children’s Quarter with its famous carousel.
- The Aquarium of the Bay: Located at Pier 39, this aquarium offers marine exhibits, including a walk-through tunnel.
- Yerba Buena Gardens: This park features a children’s garden, a playground, and an ice-skating rink.
San Francisco’s natural beauty and outdoor attractions provide numerous opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Some must-visit places include:
- Golden Gate Park: Covering over 1,000 acres, this park offers gardens, lakes, and more, along with attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers.
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area: This vast urban park includes the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods National Monument, and miles of hiking and biking trails.
- Baker Beach: A popular spot to enjoy the Pacific Ocean, this beach features scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Lands End: Offering stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, this area has beautiful coastal trails.
- Mount Tamalpais State Park: Located just north of the city, this park provides hiking opportunities with panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay Area.
San Fran is a city that never ceases to amaze and inspire with its diversity, culture, and natural beauty. Its rich history, innovative tech scene, and vibrant neighborhoods make it a compelling place to live and visit. From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the intriguing Alcatraz Island and the flavorful delights of Chinatown, San Francisco offers a unique blend of experiences that cater to all interests and tastes.
Q : What is it like to live in San Francisco?
A : The San Francisco life style is pretty fun. The city boasts stunning views, a diverse culture, and a thriving tech scene, but it comes with a high cost of living, challenging housing market, and occasional traffic congestion.
Q : How is living in San Francisco so costly?
A : The high cost of living in San Francisco is primarily driven by its competitive housing market, skyrocketing property prices, and demand for tech talent, which leads to higher wages but also increased living expenses.
Q : Why live in San Francisco?
A : SF living is attractive because of it’s vibrant cultural scene, diverse communities, job opportunities in tech and other industries, beautiful natural surroundings, and a unique urban lifestyle.
Q : What is San Francisco like?
A : San Francisco is a vibrant, diverse, and progressive city known for its iconic landmarks, cultural diversity, and a strong tech industry presence. It offers a mix of unique neighborhoods, excellent cuisine, and a mild, often foggy climate.