Moving to San Francisco (Bay Area): A Comprehensive Guide

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San Francisco at a Glance

The land of fog and Fisherman’s Wharf and Painted Ladies. Of towering sequoias, Tasmanian blue gums and majestic cypress. Where the frigid waters of the bay roll through the Golden Gate and onward to the Pacific. Call it the Golden City, the City by the Bay or the Fog City. Whatever you call this West Coast icon, no city in America better embodies the northern California ideals of commerce, culture and nature. 

Settled by the Gold Rush and fortified by Silicon Valley, San Francisco has long attracted hungry-eyed entrepreneurs to its banks. But this commercial capital has also borne the captains of counterculture — literary icons of the Beat Generation, groundbreaking bands like Sly and the Family Stone, CCR and the Grateful Dead. The very first pair of blue jeans were stitched right here at Levi’s in 1873. 

Now with more than 18,600 residents per square mile, this beautiful city of big ideas still draws dreamers and schemers to its boardrooms, bars and beaches, even if the diverse population of 808,437 hasn’t grown much in the last ten years. One reason for that is the staggering cost of living — it’s hard to get a foothold in a city where houses cost more than a million dollars on average. But with its soaring views and so many incredible cultural institutions and restaurants packed into its 50-square-mile footprint, San Francisco maintains a stronghold on the American imagination.   

If you think that the birthplace of the Apple computer might be your next home base, learn more about San Francisco below. Still unsure where to move in in the Golden State? Check out our Moving Guide to California

Climate and Weather

If you’re looking for consistently cool weather, the mild climate of northern California is hard to beat. San Francisco has one of the most predictable climates in the country, with an average temperature of 60 F from June through October and an average of 50 F from November through May.  

East Coast cities may sweat through the dog days of summer, but not San Fran. Foggy days are what this West Coast city has to look forward to between spring and fall. When May arrives, residents look forward to the return of their beloved friend, Karl — the official name of SF fog — who blankets the city with romantic, marine air until October. Karl the Fog has an Instagram following of 276,000, enjoys hanging out over the beach, and his favorite month is Fogust.  

Wintertime is San Francisco’s rainy season, and the city receives an average of 18.5 inches a year, most of which falls from December through March. In late 2022, a “bomb cyclone” event in produced an atmospheric river in the skies over San Francisco, and residents were inundated with more than 17 inches of rainfall in 23 days. They were also treated to 100 mph winds and 30-foot waves.  

You’re likely to see no rain at all from June through September, so if you’re planning an outdoor wedding or wondering when the best time to move to San Francisco might be, summer is definitely the best way to have a guaranteed dry day.   

We don’t want to jinx anything, but we also have to mention that San Francisco is, well, seismic. This is one city that gives you all the feels — you’d be hard-pressed to go more than a week in this earthquake-prone place without being on shaky ground. Most events are too small for humans to detect, but experts expect another big one to rock the area within the next 30 years.  

Understanding the Cost of Living

The cost of living in San Francisco is one of the highest in the nation and the entire world, and real estate prices have now hit rates never seen before in the city. From 2017-2021, the median home value in San Francisco averaged 1,194,500, nearly doubling the cost of housing in New York City and virtually quintupling the national average. Rent in the city tops $2,100 a month, far outpacing San Diego, Los Angeles and the state average, but falling behind San Jose by a couple hundred dollars. 

Although the city’s poverty rate is below the national average, unsheltered homelessness is a constant challenge in the city, and the government has made small but meaningful strides towards addressing the issue over the past few years. 

The only silver lining in the Golden City’s economy is that incomes in San Francisco are far higher than in most American cities. San Franciscan households earn $126,187, on average — comparable to San Jose, but far more than L.A., San Diego and New York City.  

One additional budgeting factor to keep at the front of your mind is taxes. Income taxes in California are imposed on a graduated scale, and the state does have the highest top marginal rate in the country: 13.3%. However, you also have to bring home more than $1.3 million to pay that. Households earning the median income would only pay 8%. California also charges an 8.84% corporate income tax rate, so the tax burden is shared more between individuals and businesses. The average sales tax (local + state) is 8.82%.  

Please note: we are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and counsel from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances. 

Finding a Place to Live 

San Francisco packs more into 50 square miles than most cities can with twice the footprint. To be sure, San Francisco has small feet but big shoes when it comes to neighborhood life, and wherever you put down roots, you’ll never be more than walking distance from another cool scene.  

Bustling tourist areas like Fisherman’s Wharf bustle for a reason — it’s genuinely charming! It’s hard not to fall a little in love with the cable cars, the seafood joints and the sea lions. Plus, Ghirardelli is just down the street from the dock, along with the Musée Mecanique, where all your old-timey arcade dreams can come true.  

Other waterfront neighborhoods like the Embarcadero/Financial District embraces a different vibe. Here, glassy skyscrapers tower over the eastern shores, while landmarks like the Ferry Building’s clocktower and the magnificent Bay Bridge keep this busy commercial district grounded. 

Head West and you’ll find yourself in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the famous Dragon’s Gate will lead you toward a heavenly enclave of boba, scallion pancakes and dim sum delights. This is the oldest area of its kind on the continent, and a trip to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco can give you an appreciation of the deep history in the area and a view into the future, as well.  

Just south of Chinatown, you’ll find the popular shopping district, Union Square, populated by posh hotels and upscale boutiques. The historic Curran Theatre has been an important cultural destination in the area since 1922, and you’ll find the biggest Broadway hits on stage here as well as musical acts and celebrity appearances, from Henry Winkler to Blippi and Meekah. 

San Francisco’s SoMa area circumscribes several arts-centric districts south of Market Street. In Yerba Buena, you’ll find important spots like the Museum of the African Diaspora, SFMoMA, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Yerba Buena Gardens, which has an impressive collection of outdoor sculptures by artists like Sarah Sze, Christine Corday and Leo Villareal, who also created “The Bay Lights” on the Bay Bridge.  

The Mission District, a center of Hispanic and Latinx culture, is famous for its murals, which artists began creating in the 80s and never looked back. These vital streetworks document numerous social justice movements over the decades and make the area truly one-of-a-kind. Residents from all over the city turn out for the Mission’s Carnaval San Francisco, which began as a modest parade in 1979 and has swelled to a two-day festival encompassing 17 city blocks with more than 400,000 attendees. 

San Francisco’s Central Market is an intersection of commerce and culture. Elon Musk’s neon X briefly marked the spot of his social media platform’s headquarters here, but then the neighbors complained, and its alphabetic light dimmed forever. Square is located just around the block, too. But Central Market is also home to the beautiful Orpheum Theatre, jazz and blues clubs and other arts establishments. 

Navigating the Job Market

There’s no mistaking what industry rules the roost in San Francisco: Tech is still the king of Silicon Valley. In the fabled land of garage startups like Apple, the professional, scientific and technical services sector employs 231,400 in the city — nearly twice the number of workers in health care and social services (127,600 employees) or Information (126,000 employees), its two closest industry competitors. As a major tourist destination and a culinary haven, it’s not surprising that the accommodation and food services sector, which took a major hit in 2020, now employs 111,000 people. More than 65,000 San Franciscans also work in finance — the fifth-largest industry in the city.  

In the greater Bay Area, trade, transportation and utilities and manufacturing are also big business, employing 357,000 and 157,000 workers, respectively. Most area industries saw growth over the past year, with leisure and hospitality showing a 6.6% gain over August 2022. The unemployment rate in San Francisco region hit 4% in August 2023 — a marked increase from just this spring, when rates hovered around 3%, but on trend with the national average.  

The largest single employer in the area, though, is the government. The city and county of San Francisco alone employs nearly 37,000 residents. UCSF Health has 29,475 employees, Salesforce has 11,953, United Airlines employs 10,000 San Franciscans, and the San Francisco Unified School District with its 9,047 employees, rounds out the top five. Naturally, Google, Apple and Intel all have bases in the region. 

More than 59.5% of San Francisco residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, and there are several top schools in the area to pursue a degree. Stanford, ranked #3 in the country by U.S. and World Report, has some of the country’s top programs in Engineering, computer sciences and economics. UC Berkeley, ranked #4, is known for a diverse range of programs, boasting top-five rankings from business to physics to English. San Francisco State University makes the Top 100 list of public universities, and it’s a far more affordable option than many schools — its in-state tuition is half the cost of Berkeley’s, and 43% of its student body receives Pell Grants. The University of San Francisco, a private college established in 1855, has popular programs in business, health professions and social sciences.  

Transportation and Commuting

Though San Francisco suffers from long commute times like most large American cities, San Francisco does have a robust public transportation system and is very bike friendly.  

Because housing is so expensive in the city, many San Francisco working residents choose to live in nearby areas, like Oakland or San Jose. This means that, on average, San Franciscans spend 32.8 minutes getting to work each day. If you want to avoid the hassle of driving and the expense of parking in the city, using the SFMTA, BART or your bicycle to get around can be a smart way to go.  

The San Francisco Muni (SFMTA) provides extensive access to destinations within the city on its network of buses and light rail service. The Muni website can help you plan your commute, too, whether you’re walking, biking or riding. A single ride costs $2.50, a day pass costs $5.00, a monthly “M” pass costs $81.00, and a monthly “A” pass costs $98.00, which includes BART services within city limits. 

The BART — Bay Area Rapid Transit — has five lines that travel between San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, East Bay, San Jose and Antioch. You can use your Clipper Card for the service, which also works for the Muni and ferry service, and fares vary based on how far you travel. For instance, a one-way fare from Richmond to Berryessa/North San Jose would cost $7.50, while a trip from Antioch to Millbrae is $9.55.  

Over the past two decades, San Francisco has nearly doubled its number of bike commuters, and the city is committed to making biking to work an even more popular reality. The city has added new, dedicated bike lanes, enhanced safety measures of existing infrastructure and invested in green corridors to improve the environment for cyclists and pedestrians alike.  

For those residing south of the city, Caltrain can connect you to all points along the San Francisco Peninsula between SF and Gilroy.  

Settling in and Getting Involved

Moving to a city like San Francisco can be daunting, especially if you don’t know anyone in the area. This is when it pays to be a joiner (looking at you with kindness, fellow introverts). If you like sports, you might consider joining an adult soccer league like Kickit365, where you’ll always have trash-talking the opponents to bring you together. Volunteering is another great way to meet people who share your interests. Sites like Volunteer Match can help you find an organization that is looking for someone with your skills, like art museums, meal providers and even nature areas, who are looking for help maintaining hiking trails. Be sure to thoroughly vet any organization before joining. 

Getting Outdoors

If you’re moving to the Bay Area, you’re probably familiar with some of San Francisco’s must-see attractions, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, and the Victorian houses along Alamo Square Park known as the Painted Ladies, which were the envy of every Full House fan who longed to be one of the Tanners. 

San Francisco is filled with magical environments, but none are as enchanting as the Muir Woods. In less than an hour, you can hike among these old-growth giants. 

If you want to combine nature with a little history, pay a visit to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where you can see the impressive Sutro Baths, where 19th-century millionaire Adolph Sutro had a crazy-wonderful idea: to build a three-acre bathhouse for all the city to enjoy. Visitors could careen down the Sutro’s slides, fly above the water on trapezes and spring from diving boards both low and high, 10,000 visitors at a time.  

Grassy, 64-acre hilltop park, Twin Peaks, is another popular attraction, one with hiking trails that lead up to wind-swept peaks and in-the-round views of the Bay Area. 

For a quick getaway without ever leaving the city, pop over to Salesforce Park, a pocket-size nature experience hovering high above the city. Just hop on the gondola to make your escape to this verdant, urban wonderland, where kids will be beguiled by storytellers and everyone will be mesmerized by public art features, including murals and interactive sculptural installations, including one by artist Jenny Holzer.  

Experiencing Arts and Culture 

You could spend a month exploring the riches of Golden Gate Park, which has treasures indoors and out. The de Young Museum has one of the finest art collections in the city, and you’ll see some of the best temporary exhibitions of work, as well, from leading contemporary artists, like Kara Walker to Renaissance virtuosos like Botticelli. The California Academy of Sciences, a natural history and aquarium, is a site of many natural wonders, from its 2.5-acre living roof to its four-story indoor rainforest, where tropical flora, butterflies and Amazonian fish make their home. In between museum stops, you can stroll the grounds of the Japanese Tea Garden, stop by the Bison Paddock to say hello to the herd or disappear into your deep thoughts in the Oak Woodlands. 

San Francisco is a hotbed for artists and art enthusiasts, and there are more than 50 museums in the city. Die-hard visualists can make the rounds between the Asian Art Museum, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and SFMOMA, while those looking for unparalleled live performances can get tickets to see the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House, or watch Audra McDonald perform with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. The San Francisco Theatre showcases Broadway performances and hosts appearances by comedians like Trevor Noah, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, along with leading musical acts.  

For some multisensory interactive fun, take the fam to the San Francisco Exploratorium. This unusual destination combines art, science and a lot of magic, making for an educational and highly entertaining experience. You’ll see prismatically mesmerizing crystal paintings, be immersed in a luminous sound loop and can even build yourself into a musical chord with colorful light cubes.  

But you don’t have to relegate yourself indoors to experience the cultural life of the city. San Francisco’s festivals are legendary, and there are fun events each month, from the classic to the quirky. At the Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown, the only thing that eclipses the pleasure of eating moon cakes are the traditional lion and dragon dances. The 25th annual San Francisco Hip-Hop Dance Festival will feature performances by Flawless, House of Jit and Wanted Posse. And the 40th annual Folsom Street Fair drew a crowd 400,000 strong this year to celebrate sexual liberation with drag shows, dancing and even wrestling.  

Indulging on Great Foods

If you’re moving to San Francisco, you should add a special line item in your budget for dining out, because there are so many great places to try. Nearly 30 restaurants have Michelin stars and there are dozens of delicious mom-and-pops that may fly under the radar but soar with delights.  

When you’re in the land of sourdough, visiting San Francisco bakeries is a culinary imperative. Della Fattoria has perfected the sculpting of edible art from its yeasted loaves to its delicate French pastries.   

In the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, you’ll find Mr. Jiu’s, a Michelin-starred, James Beard Award-winning restaurant that offers the unexpected in contempo-cool digs. Their tasting menu changes regularly, but recent highlights have included the strip loin with pine mushrooms and smoked oysters and the Monterey Bay squid with braised peanuts, which has a sweet & sea-salty thing going for it that lifts the palate and the spirits.  

Horsefeather is worth visiting for its floor alone — the blue and brown Q*bert pattern is, admittedly, a little dizzying after putting back a couple of their California Coolers, but you can’t beat the warm schoolhouse vibe that simply melts inner frustrations on sight. And that comfort extends to every dish on their menu, from the duck fat fries with curried ketchup to the OMG-rated braised wagyu, served on bed of heirloom Havarti polenta with a pool of red wine jus.  

It’s always easy to eat local in SF, and there’s no better place to dive into the riches of the sea than at Popi’s Oysterette. There’s no illness that can’t be cured at this cozy clamshell in the Marina District, whether you crave the briny satisfaction of raw Hog Island Sweetwater oysters, the aromatic green cioppino or the creamy, cured trout dip.   

Tips for Relocating to San Francisco

If you’ve made the decision to move to San Francisco, now is a great time to start looking for the right professional moving company to help with your move. During your relocation, we’ll be here for you Every Step of the Way®. Mayflower’s trusted team of movers can help you move to SF, whether you’re moving locally or long-distance. The Mayflower Move Portal will keep all the details of your move streamlined and at the ready. 

If you’re moving cross-country to San Francisco, we can help you move to the West Coast from anywhere in the country. Mayflower’s long-distance movers can provide you with full-service moving services and custom moving packages, which can include packing, unpacking, storage services, car shipping, debris removal and more. 

Are you moving to San Francisco from another city in California? We can also assist you with local movers in San Francisco and the state of California. Our local California movers and movers in San Francisco perform local moves in California independently under their own brands and business names.  

Making a DIY move to San Fran? These essential moving checklists and packing tips can help keep your move to the city on budget and on track, whether you’re going it alone or moving with Mayflower. 

Still curious about other cities in California? Mayflower’s Moving Guide to California can give you a glimmer of the Golden State’s most popular attractions, areas to live and along lots of insider tips for living in California. 

Get a moving quote for San Francisco from Mayflower.  

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