Moving to San Francisco: Everything You Need to Know

Moving to San Francisco: Everything You Need to Know

Between 2010 and 2017, San Francisco was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. In just those seven years, its population climbed from 805,770 to 884,353, a total increase of nearly 10%.

During the COVID-19 pandemic (and the subsequent shift to remote work across many industries), the city’s growth slowed significantly. But San Francisco still has a reputation for being a city that welcomes all kinds of people and promises a high quality of life. If you’re moving to California and thinking about moving to San Francisco, you’re certainly not alone.

Before making such a big move, though, there’s a lot to learn about San Francisco. This guide covers everything you need to know about moving to San Francisco, settling in, and living in the City by the Bay.

Things to Know About Moving to San Francisco

San Francisco (also known by locals as the 7 by 7, the Golden City, or the Bay — but never San Fran) is the 17th largest city in the U.S., with a population of 874,961 as of 2019. It’s the second most population-dense city in the nation, containing more than 15,000 people per square mile.

San Francisco is well known for being a relatively small city in terms of its area — the entire city is just 47 square miles, which is where it gets its nickname that locals use: The 7 by 7.

San Francisco is just a small part of the Bay Area of California, which is home to 8 million total residents.

Cost of living

San Francisco is known for being an expensive place to live.

A 2017 survey found that the income one individual needs to live comfortably in San Francisco is $110,357, assuming 50% will go to necessities, 20% to savings, and 30% to discretionary spending. A 2018 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development actually said that $117,400 is the “low-income” threshold for a family of four in San Francisco.

Median household income

Median household income

The median household income in San Francisco is $112,449, which is significantly higher than the national average median household income of $67,521.

Cost of living comparison

Here’s how San Francisco compares to other parts of the country in terms of its cost of living.

Housing Food and Groceries Transportation Healthcare
City % higher or lower than national average % higher or lower than national average % higher or lower than national average % higher or lower than national average
San Francisco 496.2% higher 16.6% higher 58.2% higher 14.9% higher
Los Angeles 73.3% higher 4.1% higher 65.3% higher 10.6% lower
New York City 194.3% higher 16.6% higher 81.1% higher 27.6% higher
Chicago 0.9% lower 2.8% lower 38.5% higher 12% lower
Phoenix, AZ 3.5% higher 2.7% lower 17.9% higher 7.5% lower
Orlando, FL 6.1% higher 0.7% higher 10.1% higher 3.4% higher
Houston, TX 19.8% lower 1.9% lower 19% higher 4.9% lower
Oklahoma City 43.8% lower 5.3% lower 4.5% lower 6.2% higher

*Percentages shown as higher or lower than the national average cost as of September 2021.

Compare San Francisco’s cost of living to your current home city’s using this online calculator.

Should you rent or buy a home in San Francisco?

One of the biggest questions facing anyone who’s moving to San Francisco is whether they should rent or buy their home.

San Francisco is notorious for its incredibly high housing costs. Housing stock tends to be low, which means that in some cases, it can be cheaper to rent than to buy (though not always, and this is heavily dependent on the part of the city, the housing market at the time of your move, and other factors). Overall, housing units in the city are 52% renter-occupied, and 48% owner-occupied, which shows that more people living in San Francisco rent homes than own them.

Average rental prices in San Francisco

If you’re planning to rent, these are the city-wide averages for rentals. Keep in mind that rent prices will vary somewhat by neighborhood.

Studio apartment $2,212
1-bedroom apartment $3,265
2-bedroom apartment $4,476
3-bedroom apartment $5,783

Prices accurate as of September of 2021. Source: Apartmentlist.com

While the pandemic caused rent prices to dip in San Francisco, they’re now rebounding, and have increased more than 10% since the start of 2021.

Average home prices in San Francisco

Bay area home sale prices have increased 17.9% over the last year, showing that while the national housing market seems to be cooling, it remains fiercely competitive in the Bay.

As of August 2021, the median sold price for a single-family home in San Francisco was $1.85 million. Demand has been higher than supply for single-family homes for much of 2021, causing prices to steadily increase month-over-month.

 

Current trends show that throughout 2022, home prices in San Francisco are likely to continue to rise.

Homelessness in San Francisco

No guide to San Francisco can avoid talking about homelessness in the city. Despite being one of the wealthiest cities in the world, San Francisco has long been grappling with a major problem with homelessness — one that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many people, it can be jarring to see hundreds of unhoused people camping and living along city streets.

According to government records, there are currently 8,035 homeless people in San Francisco, with the majority — 5,180 of them — unsheltered.

Despite many ideas and much deliberation by public officials, homelessness in San Francisco has not only remained a major problem, but has increased in recent years. High costs of living and a lack of affordable housing are likely contributing factors.

Economy and major industries

San Francisco has a GDP of $501 billion, making it the sixth-largest economy in the United States. The city is known for being a hub for the tech industry (and its proximity to Silicon Valley), but other major industries include manufacturing, food processing, shipbuilding, aerospace, and tourism.

San Francisco’s job market is considered healthy. After unemployment skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic, the Golden City has added new jobs at one of the highest rates in the nation throughout 2021.

While unemployment is still a bit volatile due to the pandemic, as of May of 2021, it was 5.5% in San Francisco, compared to a pandemic high of 12.7% in May of 2020. That’s also slightly lower than the national unemployment rate in the same month: 5.8%

 

 

One potential downside to the economy in San Francisco is its income inequality — the third highest in the United States. As of 2020, there was a $492,000 income gap between the city’s richest and middle class residents. That extreme income gap has caused lower-income workers, including first responders, teachers, and service workers, to move away to more affordable places, causing labor shortages.

Diversity

San Francisco has long had a reputation for being open, welcoming, and diverse.

As of 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the city is:

  • 45.2% white (39.8% non-Hispanic white and 5.4% Hispanic white)
  • 5.5% Black
  • 34.9% Asian
  • 0.4% Native American
  • 0.4% Pacific Islander
  • 5.7% mixed-race
  • 7.9% other race

San Francisco is especially known for being a welcoming city for members of the LGBTQ+ community. As of 2015, the city ranked highest in the country for percentage of the population that identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, at 6.2%.

Crime

Crime in San Francisco has historically been more prevalent than in other major cities. According to Neighborhood Scout, the Golden City is safer than just 2% of U.S. cities. But recent data shows that car break-ins, robberies and assaults are down compared to the last five years.

However, gun violence is up this year compared to previous years, and city officials say a major problem they’re contending with is homemade, unregistered “ghost guns.”

San Francisco’s violent crime rate is 6.91 per 1,000 residents, compared to a national average of 4 per 1,000 residents. In San Francisco, your chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime are 1 in 145.

San Francisco’s property crime rate is 56.73 per 1,000 residents, compared to a national average of 21 per 1,000 residents. In San Francisco, your chances of becoming a victim of a property crime are 1 in 18.

Weather

As Mark Twain once (allegedly) said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” There’s some debate about whether that quote actually originated with the author, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true. Weather in San Francisco can be unexpected and surprising for those who expect a warm, sunny California climate.

Overall, the weather in San Francisco tends to be moderate, with January lows of 46 degrees, and July highs of 72 degrees. What can often throw visitors for a loop is the city’s many microclimates — it’s perfectly possible for it to be foggy and in the 50s in one neighborhood while it’s sunny and 75 in another.

san francisco fog

The fog in San Francisco is so prevalent, it’s even been named: Karl (or sometimes Karla, depending on who you ask). Part of the marine layer, the city’s famous fog protects it from sweltering summer temperatures seen in other parts of California. In general, you can expect mild weather year-round, with chilly, foggy summers, and cool, rainy winters.

One other consideration for those moving to San Francisco is that climate change has made wildfire season a major part of life in the city. 2020 and 2021 were both record years for California wildfires, and their smoke so harshly affects the air quality in San Francisco that residents are sometimes advised to stay indoors for days at a time. In addition to becoming more severe, wildfire season in the state is lasting longer, now taking place from early May to mid-September.

san francisco golden gate bridge

Getting around

San Francisco has a major traffic problem. The city is saturated with cars, especially in the last few years as rideshare has become an increasingly popular way to get around. Parking can be near-impossible in some neighborhoods, and the city has a reputation for its high instances of smash-and-grab thefts from vehicles.

Luckily, it’s very possible to live in San Francisco without owning your own vehicle. There’s the Muni, a local public transportation system made up of streetcars, buses, and underground trains. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is for commuters, making eight stops throughout the city and in nearby parts of the Bay, like Oakland, San Jose, and the East Bay.

San Francisco is also home to private transit options, including rentable bikes and scooters available at stations all throughout the city.

Many people in San Francisco also get around the old fashioned way: By walking. Walking is a mode of transportation, but also a way of life in the Golden City. Even though some neighborhoods feature steep hills, San Francisco’s compact design makes it extremely walkable. In fact, the entire footprint spans only about 7 miles in any direction, making it possible to walk across the entire city in just a few hours.

Politics

San Francisco is a deeply blue city. In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden won the city by a margin of 73 points.

Election Map SF, a project by local designer Chris Arvin, shows in greater detail how staunchly blue the city is. While the number of votes for Biden in 2020 varies by neighborhood, it ranges from 76% of the vote share in some of the city’s southern and coastal neighborhoods, up to 94% in young, progressive neighborhoods like Haight-Ashbury, the Castro, the Mission, and Noe Valley.

Things to do

San Francisco is a vibrant, major city with no shortage of things to do.

For outdoors enthusiasts, there are the city’s numerous parks and outdoor spaces, including Golden Gate Park (which is larger than Central Park), home to the Golden Gate Bridge. Marin County, Oakland, and Berkeley are all a short drive away and offer hiking amid California’s famous redwood trees. And, of course, there’s the Pacific Ocean, which offers windsurfing, kiteboarding, surfing, sailing, and, for those who brave the cold, swimming. Just a few hours away are Yosemite, Sequoia, and Pinnacles national parks.

For art and culture lovers, the city offers a wide variety of theater and live music venues. It’s also home to some world-class museums, including the de Young Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, Alcatraz Island, and the Exploratorium. San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the oldest and most established in the country, and offers history, culture, and heritage to explore.

For foodies, there may be no better city than San Francisco. The city is home to world-renowned and Michelin-starred restaurants galore, but just as good as the fine dining is the dim sum in Chinatown, Mission style burritos, and fare from small, independent restaurants all over the city. For wine enthusiasts, the world-renowned growing regions in Napa Valley and Sonoma are only a short drive away.

Raising a family

About San Francisco residents:

Median age: 38.2

Average household size: 2.4 people

Married population: 40%

While San Francisco offers plenty of family-friendly entertainment and activities, it actually has the lowest percentage of children of any major city. In fact, San Francisco is home to more dogs than kids.

Even though most of San Francisco’s population is between the ages of 25 and 44, the high cost of living makes this a difficult place to raise a family. Add to that the San Francisco Unified School District’s lottery system that sometimes sends kids to schools outside of their home neighborhoods, and you have a major city that can feel less family-friendly than some.

However, from schools to childcare to family activities, it really comes down to your neighborhood. While many families head for the suburbs, there are some San Francisco neighborhoods that are more conducive to raising children (more on that below).

San Francisco Neighborhoods

San Francisco is made up of 34 neighborhoods (give or take, and for the purposes of this guide, we’ve combined some similar areas into one neighborhood), each with its own style and vibe. Your neighborhood can help determine how you get around the city, the age of your neighbors, the cost of your housing, and many other things.

The neighborhood you choose when moving to San Francisco can make or break the experience. Being able to walk to grocery stores and cafes and keep your commuting time to a minimum is a key part of quality of life in the city. However, the most popular neighborhoods are often the ones where rent and home prices are the highest.

Here’s a quick guide to San Francisco’s 34 neighborhoods and what to expect from each.

San Francisco’s 34 neighborhoods: A quick guide

 

Bayview-Hunters Point

Vibe: Home to the San Francisco Shipyard, this neighborhood is all about the outdoors, with numerous parks and walking trails that feature sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay.

Average rent prices:

Studio/one-bedroom $2,800
2-bedroom $3,500
3-bedroom $4,200

Things to see and do:

Bernal Heights

Vibe: Beloved by 30-somethings for its relatively low home prices, close-knit community feel, and family-friendly amenities, Bernal Heights is so popular with San Franciscans with kids, it’s been nicknamed “Maternal Heights.”

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,100
2-bedroom $3,900
3-bedroom $4,900

Things to see and do:

The Castro

Vibe: One of the first formally established LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in the United States, and still well-known for its diversity and inclusivity. Fun and lively with a younger demographic and plenty of nightlife.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,400
2-bedroom $4,600
3-bedroom $5,800

Things to see and do:

Chinatown

Vibe: The largest population of Chinese residents outside of Asia, bustling with museums, shops, grocers, and restaurants. This is one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the country.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,400
2-bedroom $4,500
3-bedroom $6,000

Things to see and do:

Cole Valley

Vibe: Close-knit with a family-friendly, small town feel, very walkable and dog friendly.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,200
2-bedroom $3,700
3-bedroom $5,500

Things to see and do:

Cow Hollow

Vibe: One of the city’s more affluent and upscale neighborhoods, filled with spas, gyms, wellness centers, boutique shopping, and amazing restaurants.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,300
2-bedroom $5,000
3-bedroom $6,800

Things to see and do:

Duboce Triangle

Vibe: With its Victorian architecture and palm-tree lined streets that many people envision when they think of San Francisco, Duboce Triangle is small, central, and extremely dog friendly.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,500
2-bedroom $4,500
3-bedroom $5,600

Things to see and do:

Dogpatch/Mission Bay

Vibe: Home to the University of California San Francisco campus and the Caltrain station where commuters enter the city, this is an up-and-coming area with an industrial feel. Mission Bay and the Dogpatch are also less foggy than some areas of the city, so they tend to have sunnier summers.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,900
2-bedroom $5,000
3-bedroom $6,800

Things to see and do:

Downtown/Financial District (FiDi)

Vibe: Skyscrapers and primarily office buildings, with less residential than other neighborhoods, Downtown and FiDi are the business centers of San Francisco.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,700
2-bedroom $6,900
3-bedroom $8,200

Things to see and do:

Fisherman’s Wharf

Vibe: One of the most picturesque and tourist-friendly areas of the city, Fisherman’s Wharf is walkable and packed with dining and entertainment.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,200
2-bedroom $4,400
3-bedroom $5,400

Things to see and do:

Glen Park

Vibe: Tight-knit, village feel, thanks to residents’ push to keep this neighborhood almost entirely residential. A little off the beaten path, but quiet and affordable.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,200
2-bedroom $4,300
3-bedroom $5,500

Things to see and do:

Hayes Valley/Civic Center

Vibe: A central neighborhood packed with great restaurants and nightlife, Hayes Valley and the Civic Center have been the focus of large scale revitalization projects to make the area more tourist-friendly.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,600
2-bedroom $4,500
3-bedroom $5,600

Things to see and do:

Haight District

Vibe: Affordable home for hippies and artists, filled with color and vintage shopping.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,100
2-bedroom $3,500
3-bedroom $5,500

Things to see and do:

Ingleside/Oceanview

Vibe: Up-and-coming area featuring many fixer-upper single-family homes, making this an attractive neighborhood for young people and families.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,300
2-bedroom $3,300
3-bedroom $3,600

Things to see and do:

Lower Pacific Heights (previously called Upper Fillmore)

Vibe: Home to two of the city’s best-known live music venues, Lower Pacific Heights is centrally located, making it a great home base for those who want to explore all of San Francisco.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,400
2-bedroom $4,450
3-bedroom $6,100

Things to see and do:

The Marina

Vibe: One of San Francisco’s least diverse (most white) neighborhoods, filled with single young professionals and a college-like party culture.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,350
2-bedroom $5,000
3-bedroom $6,800

Things to see and do:

The Mission

Vibe: A diverse neighborhood full of history, where gentrification is a hot topic as the neighborhood’s historically Latinx residents mix with a younger generation of tech workers.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,100
2-bedroom $4,200
3-bedroom $6,300

Things to see and do:

Nob Hill

Vibe: Swanky and upscale, with shopping, hotels, hills, and streetcars providing iconic city views.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,950
2-bedroom $4,600
3-bedroom $5,400

Things to see and do:

Noe Valley

Vibe: Noe Valley’s location in a valley of San Francisco’s hills makes it feel secluded and community-centric. It’s a family friendly area that’s sunny and clean.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,000
2-bedroom $4,500
3-bedroom $6,000

Things to see and do:

North Beach

Vibe: North Beach is also sometimes called San Francisco’s “Little Italy” because of its history of Italian-American residents. That culture lives on today, in delis, shops, and restaurants.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,200
2-bedroom $4,300
3-bedroom $7,000

Things to see and do:

Outer Mission/Excelsior

Vibe: Diverse and affordable, made up of many single-family homes with mother-in-law units, making this a popular neighborhood for single renters.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,350
2-bedroom $3,500
3-bedroom $4,100

Things to see and do:

Pacific Heights

Vibe: One of the wealthiest areas in the city, home to a section of Broadway that’s called “Billionaire’s Row” by locals.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,500
2-bedroom $4,800
3-bedroom $7,300

Things to see and do:

Presidio Heights/Laurel Heights

Vibe: Not quite as affluent as Pacific Heights, but still very wealthy and very residential.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,200
2-bedroom $3,700
3-bedroom $7,000

Things to see and do:

Potrero Hill

Vibe: Very hilly, but also one of San Francisco’s sunniest neighborhoods, with a mix of older Victorian homes and newer, affordable housing projects.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,400
2-bedroom $4,400
3-bedroom $6,800

Things to see and do:

Inner Richmond

Vibe: Family-friendly residential area that’s known for having a wide variety of ethnic cuisines available for low prices.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,700
2-bedroom $3,400
3-bedroom $4,600

Things to see and do:

Outer Richmond

Vibe: Affordable, off-the-beaten-path, and close to some of the city’s best outdoor spaces: Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, China Beach, Baker Beach, and Land’s End.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,100
2-bedroom $3,800
3-bedroom $4,000

Things to see and do:

Russian Hill

Vibe: Situated at the highest altitude in the city, with steep hills that can make walking and biking difficult. Otherwise, village-like and picturesque.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,450
2-bedroom $5,000
3-bedroom $8,000

Things to see and do:

SOMA (South of Market)

Vibe: Busy and filled with commercial buildings, tech company headquarters, and commuters, SOMA isn’t considered a particularly safe neighborhood and is valued more by younger people who want to be close to their jobs than families.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,500
2-bedroom $4,500
3-bedroom $6,100

Things to see and do:

Inner Sunset

Vibe: Home to a large Asian population, Inner Sunset is known for having great, affordable food. It’s also relatively affordable in terms of housing.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,700
2-bedroom $3,700
3-bedroom $5,000

Things to see and do:

Outer Sunset

Vibe: Cold, foggy, and off public transit so you need a car to get around, but one of the San Francisco neighborhoods with closest proximity to the ocean.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,400
2-bedroom $3,400
3-bedroom $4,000

Things to see and do:

Tenderloin

Vibe: The Tenderloin is a rough area in the center of the city known for high crime and being an area where many of the city’s homeless residents gather. However, the Tenderloin has resisted gentrification and, in recent years, begun revitalization projects that focus on local art in the neighborhood.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,450
2-bedroom $3,450
3-bedroom $4,800

Things to see and do:

Twin Peaks

Vibe: Removed from the city, with a sleepy, residential vibe.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,700
2-bedroom $3,900
3-bedroom $4,950

Things to see and do:

Western Addition

Vibe: Diverse and home to many longtime San Franciscoans and working class families.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $3,200
2-bedroom $3,600
3-bedroom $5,600

Things to see and do:

West Portal

Vibe: Residents call it “The New Noe Valley” because of its similar vibe: Affordable homes, young families, and students.

Average rent prices:

Studio/1-bedroom $2,800
2-bedroom $4,700
3-bedroom $5,400

Things to see and do:

Most affordable neighborhoods

  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Outer Sunset
  • Outer Richmond
  • Glen Park
  • Tenderloin
  • Outer Mission/Excelsior

Most walkable neighborhoods

  • Chinatown
  • Tenderloin
  • Downtown
  • North Beach
  • Nob Hill

Best neighborhoods for families

  • Bernal Heights
  • Inner Sunset
  • Noe Valley
  • North Beach
  • Presidio Heights

Moving to San Francisco: Step-By-Step

Ready to plan your move to San Francisco? Here’s how to get started.

Step 1: Visit the city and explore

As you’ve probably gathered, San Francisco’s many neighborhoods are all unique enough to be cities of their own! The best way to get a feel for the city and choose the best neighborhood for your needs is to visit and do as much exploring as possible.

If you can’t visit, try to research San Francisco as much as you can before choosing where you’ll live.

Step 2: Set your budget

Searching for housing in San Francisco can be a long, arduous, and painful process. Whether you plan to rent or buy your home, know your budget in advance so you can ensure you only look for homes you can afford (there will be plenty outside of your price range).

When setting your budget, don’t forget to account for moving costs. If you’re moving to San Francisco from somewhere far away, the cost of shipping or moving your belongings, hiring movers, or renting a truck and driving, can be in the thousands.

Step 3: Find a home

If you’re planning to buy a home, set your budget, choose your favorite neighborhoods, and work with a local real estate agent to help you find listings and view homes.

If you’re planning to rent a home, start your search online, where most available apartments in the city are listed. Some popular sites for finding rentals in San Francisco are Apartments.com, Zumper, Apartment List, Padmapper, and Hotpads.

Step 4: Pack and Move

Once you’ve found a new home in San Francisco, it’s time to start packing!

For a week-by-week checklist of everything you need to do to move to a new city, check out our Ultimate Moving Guide.

When moving to San Francisco, keep in mind that parking can be hard to find and the city’s steep hills can make it very difficult to navigate and park a large truck.

Step 5: Settle in to Your New Home

Once you arrive in San Francisco, it’s time to unpack, settle in, and enjoy your new city!

If you’re moving from out-of-state, keep in mind that California allows new residents 10 days to transfer a driver’s license, and 20 days to register an out-of-state vehicle. Visit your nearest DMV for more information.

New California residents can register to vote online.

Welcome to San Francisco, and congratulations on making the move!

Use Neighbor to Find Storage in San Francisco

If you arrive in San Francisco and discover you have more belongings than you need (or can fit in a small city apartment), Neighbor can help.

Neighbor connects community members seeking storage for their belongings with neighbors who have space to spare. It’s affordable, safe, and helps bring communities closer together. Find storage in San Francisco today.