Series: Relocation

Moving to San Francisco: An Insider's Guide

Posted on Jul 21, 2020

San Francisco is more than one of the world’s great cities—it’s the doorway to the greater Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and the many beautiful destinations of California, one of the most diverse states in the country. People dream about moving to San Francisco like they dream about moving to New York City. It’s a place of innovation, where great minds meet to come up with world-changing ideas, from Google to the Mission Burrito.

You can’t have innovation without change, and openness to change is as San Francisco as it gets. If you’re considering relocating to this oceanside city, you’ll definitely need to tweak your process to align with our new normal, including social distancing measures.

Not sure what things you need to consider when moving to San Francisco? No sweat. We’ve got your back.

A Brief History of SF and the Bay Area

San Francisco as we know it now was a Spanish mission and pueblo located at the entrance to one of the Pacific Ocean’s largest natural harbors. Conquered by the United States in 1846 and then flooded with prospectors during the California Gold Rush, San Francisco grew into a cosmopolitan American city on the edge of what was then considered wilderness.

Though the 1906 earthquake and the ensuing fire destroyed much of the city, nothing could slow its momentum. San Francisco has grown on top of the ashes into a beautiful tech hub known for its wealth and progressive culture. While many of the neighborhoods you’ll be considering, like the Mission and the Castro, are known the world over, San Francisco has many distinct yet diverse areas, fostering some of the world’s finest restaurants, museums, businesses, and cultural institutions.

Preparing to Move

Before you begin the process of moving, it helps to take a step back and think about the big picture. Are you moving for a job you already have, able to continue working remotely once you’re in San Francisco, or are you going to search for a job when you’re on the ground? Are you looking for a hotel for a short-term stay, an apartment, or to buy a house? Knowing why and on what timeline you’re moving will help you decide what needs to be done and when.

With this in mind, your next step is to make a moving checklist. Everyone’s will be different, but some of the things yours will include are coming up with a moving plan, packing and moving your belongings, scheduling a transfer of utilities, forwarding your mail, and updating your identification (if you’re moving to San Francisco from a different state).

You should also take stock of your finances. Assess your income, expenses, and budget to make sure the often expensive process of moving won’t stretch you too thin. This will help you make a moving checklist that’s specifically for your wallet, which should list anticipated income and realistic expenses. Last of all, have 3–8 months of savings as a cushion in case you need a fallback plan or if unexpected expenses pop up (and with a big move, they almost certainly will), especially if you don’t have a job lined up for your arrival.

Start Executing Your Moving Checklist

Now that your planning is done, it’s time to take action. Deciding how to transport your life to a new city will depend on what you’re bringing with you. Will you be cutting down on your belongings before relocating by selling them or putting them in storage? Or are you bringing everything with you?

The moving truck is a classic for a reason: You can load and unload your own furniture and drive yourself where you need to without having to purchase your own truck or van. But there are shortcomings: Fees for one-way trips can be expensive, especially when you’re moving long-distance. Hiring full-service movers can help reduce moving stress, but the price point for that can be prohibitive for some. This is one of the reasons why portable moving containers have become so popular. Generally speaking, renting a moving container for a long-distance move tends to cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 per month, as compared with the $4,000 to $6,000 that a professional moving company will likely charge to bring you and your things across the country.

If you plan on starting fresh when you arrive in San Francisco, consider renting a furnished apartment. Furnished apartments provided by companies like Zeus Living are more functional than an empty apartment and more affordable than a long-term hotel room. When you rent a furnished apartment or home through Zeus as your SF landing pad, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to settle in and explore the city before committing to a neighborhood, a longer lease, or even buying a home.

Getting There

If you’re flying rather than driving, San Francisco International Airport is a 20-minute-drive south, while the Oakland Airport is right across the Bay. Other regional airports include San Jose International Airport—a 45-minute drive—and Sacramento International Airport, which is about an hour-and-a-half away.

United Airlines is the leading carrier into SFO, with the most domestic and international flights serving the airport annually. United's domestic flights are based out of Terminal 3, with service in the International Terminal. Driving with a car or rideshare from SFO to San Francisco proper is a quick trip, while BART trains run from SFO into the heart of San Francisco. Because BART hours have been reduced due to COVID to 5am–9pm, make sure you confirm that you will have transportation if you arrive very late or very early.

Find the Best Neighborhoods in SF

If it’s possible to visit San Francisco to scout out prospective neighborhoods, homes, or apartments before you move, you should—especially if you’ve never been to the city by the Bay before! If that is not an option, however, you can still educate yourself on the many diverse neighborhoods San Francisco has to offer. The city has something for everyone, but your interests and lifestyle will play a big factor in the neighborhoods you should be exploring.

The Mission: With one of the sunnier microclimates in the often-cloudy city, the Mission is known for its great food—from Mexican staples to trendy hotspots. While you’re eating and drinking your way through the neighborhood, check out beautiful artwork in places like Clarion Alley or visit the sprawling Dolores Park.

The Castro: The Castro District is known for its thriving LGBT culture, glorious Bay views, stores stocked with locally made goods, and one of the oldest movie theaters still operating in the city.

SOMA: One of San Francisco’s largest neighborhoods, SOMA—short for “South of Market”—encompasses an impressive variety of nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, museums, and industry.

North Beach: From its early days as Little Italy, North Beach still retains its vibrant community of pizza places, quaint restaurants, and charming cafes. Stroll through to snag a slice of the award-winning Tony’s Pizza Napoletana or browse at iconic book store, City Lights.

East and South Bay: More affordable and diverse, the East and South Bay areas may be less walkable than San Francisco, but their nightlife, shopping, and restaurants are just as good. Compared to the Peninsula, they may even have a leg-up on outdoor activities, with the East Bay Regional Park District and the South Bay’s countless parks, trails, and recreational areas.

Renting in San Francisco

As a rapidly changing city, San Francisco’s housing options are among the most expensive in the country. Depending on your budget and needs, getting to know the housing market in San Francisco will help you decide whether you should rent, buy, or find roommates.

If you decide to rent, some considerations to keep in mind are whether the neighborhood is safe, has high-traffic, is near public transit or has street-parking, and is pet- and family-friendly. Proximity to places like parks, grocery stores, and neighborhood centers should inform your decision as much as price.

Buying in San Francisco

If renting in San Francisco is no cake-walk, buying a home is an even trickier task. According to 2018 data, existing home sales prices increased by 3.50% from 2017 to 2018, reaching a median price just shy of $1 million, beating out both San Diego and Los Angeles.

Of course, this does not factor other expenses, like food, taxes, and cost of living. Even if you’re confident that your income is enough to support real estate purchase in San Francisco, it never hurts to consider getting a financial advisor to support you through the process.

How to Commute

With its big hills and curving streets, San Francisco transportation may seem intimidating to the new transplant. With San Francisco’s many transit options, however, it’s easy to get around.

Walk or Bike—With its mild weather and walkable streets, San Francisco is very pedestrian and biker-friendly (although the hills may not be). Buy your own bike or use one of the local bikeshare and scooter share options.

MUNI––San Francisco’s network of affordable, fuel-efficient buses, light-rail trains, and streetcars cover all corners of the city.

Ride-sharing services––Uber and Lyft are the best-known rideshare companies, but other options in SF include Summon, Sidecar, and Hitch.

BART––Bay Area Rapid Transit's all-electric trains are a fast, inexpensive, and dependable way to get from SFO to San Francisco easily and avoiding traffic.

Caltrain—Caltrain provides commuter rail service along the San Francisco Peninsula, from the tip of the city to San Jose.

Fall in Love with San Francisco

Getting to know a new city is the best part of relocating. As a new transplant to San Francisco, you can still enjoy tourist sites—like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz—while digging deeper into its unique culture, from its natural beauty to its architectural sites to its local color. From its big-city traits, like its Lunar New Year festivals, to its proximity to California’s natural wonders, Half-Moon Bay and Lake Tahoe, San Francisco has something for everyone.

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