Article Overview: List of the Pros & Cons of Living in San Francisco
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 year and thought it’d be fun to highlight some of the perks and disadvantages of calling The Golden City home.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, as of 2023, the city is currently going through trying times and isn’t for everyone. However, with a population of 815K, there’s plenty of folks that find themselves content with daily life in San Francisco.
So — without further ado — read on to learn everything you need to know before moving to San Francisco (based on firsthand experience).
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. As our regular readers know, the fun lives in the comments so feel free to add your questions or thoughts at the bottom of the post!
Living in San Francisco
If you plan to visit the Golden City before deciding if moving to San Francisco is right for you, here’s the hotel I recommend to my own family and friends.
First, the perks of moving to 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. Clearly, I’m not the only one that thinks so!
In 2019 San Francisco was named one of the top 10 most beautiful cities in the world, and it’s not hard 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 that’s not enough, you’ll also notice the most charming cable cars! There’s no shortage of iconic San Francisco landmarks to take out-of-town visitors to. Everyone is guaranteed to remark on the endearing charm of the city.
It’s easy to see why the city has such an alluring appeal on the 815K people that call the city home — living in San Francisco simply feels fun!
#2. There’s always something to do
San Francisco is considered one of the most culturally rich cities in the country, meaning you’ll seldom have a reason to be bored while living in San Francisco.
Simply put, there’s ALWAYS something to do.
If you’re into art or history, they you’ll find yourself pleasantly content with the plethora of interesting historical sites and great museums on offer.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve taken out-of-town visitors to Alcatraz Island, yet still find myself interested in returning with the next batch.
In terms of art, there’s no shortage of top-notch museums and local art shops to peruse. But the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art deserves a personal shout-out.
If you’re not into art or history (yet), chances are good that you’ll still find plenty to keep you occupied while living in San Francisco.
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.
#3. Nature is a stone’s throw away
After moving to San Francisco, it won’t take long to notice that 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, San Francisco is considered one of the most diverse cities in the country (and we are all better for it).
The perks of living in a diverse city are numerous. You’re bound to meet interesting people from all walks of life! Not to mention being exposed to delicious fare and stumbling upon some intriguing traditions to boot.
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 while living in San Francisco because there’s so many unique people calling this vibrant place home.
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.
#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 to begin with.
The Bay Area has one of the most booming job 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, and 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 a foreign concept at best (I’ll cover this more in depth 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 perk 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.
Don’t just take my word for it, San Francisco was recently rated the best food city in America.
In fact, San Francisco is one of (only) five major US cities that has Michelin-Starred restaurants.
But the food scene isn’t reserved for 5-course meals and price tags reserved for generous trust-funds. Affordable food is very easy to come by, the taco scene is worth writing home about!
#8. San Francisco is a millennial city
The median age of people living in San Francisco is 38.3 years, 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 special someone or a group of 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
Editor’s Note: As long time readers of this website will know, the fun lives in the comments. Don’t forget to take a look below to see what your neighbors are saying. We update this post regularly based on feedback received. Cheers!
Drum roll please… we are about to discuss one of the biggest disadvantages of living in San Francisco.
The homelessness crises.
Now, I will say this — homelessness was always an issue in San Francisco. The city’s mild climate and ample resources make it understandable. However, in the past 2-3 years, the country has found itself in the grip of a terrible fentanyl crisis and San Francisco is taking a (very) heavy hit.
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.
You Should Know: 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 (and fentanyl) 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.
However, I don’t feel right complaining without offering solutions and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have the slightest idea on what to do.
Editor’s Note: Do you have ideas or resources to share with other readers about the current homelessness crises in San Francisco? Please share in the comments below, folks have been reaching out, but I’m only one person and I (definitely) don’t have the answers.
#2. 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.
Likewise, moving to 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 Francisco.
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 obnoxiously high.
#3. 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 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 skyscrapers full of apartments and condos 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 a startling $1.3 million.
#4. The work-life balance is non-existent
Ask any local about their work life balance and (when they’re done laughing) they’ll ask you what you’re talking about.
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!
#5. The climate and weather (hey, Karl!)
Whether moody weather is a pro of con of living in San Francisco is entirely dependent on your preference, but San Francisco is a foggy city.
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…
#6. The 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 the subsequent unhealthy air quality — is all but inevitable during the summer months. Hell, I’d argue it’s 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 which made daily life in San Francisco miserable for a while.
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.
#7. Taxes? Yep, the highest in the country
With income taxes clocking in as high as 13.3%, California taxes are the among the highest in the nation.
Some of my coworkers found themselves shocked by the first paycheck when realizing just how much the taxes cut into take home pay.
To avoid a similar pitfall, this handy calculator can help you determine your potential tax rate before moving to San Francisco.
#8. Nightmarish traffic
Some people love to complain about the traffic in their hometowns. And while this may be true, it’s worth mentioning that traffic (in most of the US) 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.
Yep, no reason to sugarcoat it, if you commute then you will spend way too much time in your car while living in San Francisco. Thankfully the last two years have seen a rise in teleworking opportunities, which means more folks are working from home.
Even still, I think traffic during rush hour is nightmarish and worth mentioning on this list of the cons of living in San Francisco.
#9. 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.
The transient vibe can be a double-edged sword. On the bright side, it brings in a mix of diverse cultures and ideas, giving the city a lively and innovative atmosphere. There’s always something new happening!
But on the flip side, it can make it harder to build deep connections and find a sense of community. Things can feel a bit less stable with people constantly coming and going.
Final thoughts: Moving to San Francisco
When considering the pros and cons of moving to San Francisco, I can still (full-heartily) tell you that I love living in San Francisco. Honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this stage in my life.
I think the city is going through major growing pains but I’m hopeful that things will improve in the next 5 years. In my opinion, the fentanyl crisis is the biggest things holding us back and I’m guessing stricter policies are soon to follow.
Regardless, I’ll be here to see it through because I (really, really) love living in San Francisco.
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
Map of San Francisco
FAQ – Living in San Francisco
San Francisco is generally considered a desirable city to live in because of its vibrant cultural scene, diverse neighborhoods, beautiful scenery, and strong job market, particularly in the technology industry.
Like all big cities there are safe parts and unsafe parts of San Francisco. San Francisco has a moderate level of safety, with typical urban challenges such as property crime and occasional instances of more serious crimes.
Pin Living in San Francisco
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