Living in San Francisco can be a dream. It’s a welcoming place, offering plenty of charm and character. It’s also a hotbed of artistic creativity and innovation in technology. The city’s beauty, access to nature and mild weather make it easy to love but also contribute to its desirability — and the consequential high cost of living.
1. Public Transportation Is Easy
San Francisco is not an easy town to park or drive in — the streets seem to constantly be under construction — but it has a number of public transportation options including buses, streetcars, light rail and cable cars. An elevated heavy-rail and subway system called the BART cuts through town and to the East Bay. The Caltrain service offers commuter rail trains for travelers heading south toward San Jose. The city is a haven for cyclists, and there are even bike-share programs like Ford GoBike. San Francisco is also ground zero for ride-sharing services, which are popular among locals.
2. SoMa Is Perfect for First-Time Buyers
With real estate in San Francisco so expensive, what’s a first-time buyer to do? Consider starting small. In South of Market — or SoMa, for short — you’ll find plenty of studios, lofts and even some micro-apartments. Once primarily used as work spaces, lofts offer a less expensive option for first-time buyers. SoMa is also close to the Caltrain and the highway for anyone commuting to the South Bay.
3. It’s a Artsy and Inclusive
In the 1950s, San Francisco was the epicenter of the Beat Generation. Today, City Lights bookstore is still a gathering place for poets, as well as a thriving art scene, with galleries strewn throughout town. Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury attract free spirits from all over the country and the world, and San Francisco continues to be a tolerant city that welcomes newcomers.
4. There’s a Bounty of Farmers Markets
Living in San Francisco means plenty of opportunities to shop at farmers markets. While the most well-known one is at the Ferry Plaza and takes place Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are markets on Clement Street and at Fort Mason that take place on Sundays, a market at the Civic Center that takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays and many more scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. There are about 15 markets in the city, according to SF Environment.
5. There’s a Museum for Everything
San Francisco has more than its fair share of museums. Major art museums include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, the de Young and the Legion of Honor. Other museums that have smaller permanent collections but great temporary exhibitions include the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Design. Of particular interest to families are the California Academy of Sciences and the interactive Exploratorium.
6. The Bread Scene is Top-Notch
San Francisco offers many ways to get your carb fix. Start with B. Patisserie, a classy bakery and cafe space in Pacific Heights. Famous for its kouign amann and bostock pastries, it’s also a great spot for a light lunch. The Mill Bakery actually mills its own grains. As the epicenter of the artisanal toast craze, each of their versions comes on a different type of toasted bread with toppings such as cream cheese and pepper, seasonal jam, avocado or almond butter. In addition, Mission district favorites that have branched out into other neighborhoods include Tartine and Craftsman and Wolves. Last but not least in the city’s bread scene is Arsicault, the unofficial kings of the croissant.
7. Free Concerts in the Park
San Francisco’s mild weather makes it perfect for outdoor concerts and events. On the first weekend of October, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass hosts over 90 performers of bluegrass, rock, country and more on seven stages at Golden Gate Park. A gift to the city from a local philanthropist, it reportedly draws upward of half a million attendees. Each summer, the Stern Grove Festival presents free concerts that range from classical to international to rap. Performers have included Smokey Robinson, Janelle Monae, Ozomatli, Kronos Quarter and Rufus Wainwright, as well as annual performances by the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Symphony.
8. Summer Happens in the Fall
San Francisco can be chillier in the summer than other areas of California. Locals are experts at dressing in layers, prepared for the moment the wind kicks up or the fog rolls in. In fact, it’s in September and October that residents experience some of the warmest weather — warmer than the average highs in June, July or August, according to U.S. Climate Data. San Franciscans use this to their advantage by dining outdoors at places like Fiorello, Americano, El Techo and Trou Normand. But don’t worry: These spots generally have outdoor heaters, just in case the weather takes a turn.
9. Photography is SF’s Thing
San Francisco is a center for photography. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is home to the Pritzker Center for Photography and has more than 17,800 photographic works, making it the largest space permanently dedicated to photography in any art museum in the U.S. Another lesser-known spot for photography is Pier 24, home of the Pilara Foundation, a group dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting photography. It offers free admission and is open by appointment only. Last but not least, the Harvey Milk Photography Center is named for one of Castro’s most famous residents, the first openly gay elected official in the U.S. The center hosts classes, exhibitions and lectures.
10. The Music Rocks
Since the 1960s, San Francisco has been known for rock music. It’s the city that gave birth to Rolling Stone magazine and the Summer of Love in 1967. In addition to a local music scene, it’s also a can’t-miss stop on most major tours. Bimbo’s 365 Club, Slim’s, the Fillmore and Great American Music Hall are relatively small venues with terrific acoustics and tons of character. There are also larger venues, but San Francisco excels at creating intimate concert experiences.
11. Murals Are Hidden in Plain Sight
San Francisco boasts murals from Diego Rivera, one of the world’s most famous modern muralists, dating back to the early 1930s. His “Allegory of California” can be seen at The City Club. “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City” is located at the San Francisco Art Institute and expresses the artist’s views of art, industry and the world. The Mission is also home to a host of contemporary murals; you’ll find them lining Caledonia Alley, Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley.
12. It’s a Foodie Haven
San Francisco is the best foodie city in America, according to WalletHub — but most of the food here doesn’t come cheap. Nonetheless, you can still find great inexpensive options for eating out. Local favorites for budget-minded diners include dim sum, tacos, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and fusion street food like Filipino sisig fries, Korean burritos and Indian naan pizza. Street-food markets take place all over the city and offer new and exciting options for adventurous eaters. Two markets worth checking out are Off The Grid and SoMa StrEat Food Park.
13. Unique Stairways Offer Spectacular Views
San Francisco is a city of hills, and many outdoor sets of steps offer great views of the surrounding scenery — as well as a cardio workout. The Lyon Street Steps offer views of the bay and the Marina. Their grand style reflect the beauty of the surrounding neighborhood. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps form a vibrant cascade depicting a sea-to-stars theme. The Vallejo Steps wind through beautifully maintained gardens and reach a crest where you can enjoy an incredible panoramic view of the city, Bay Bridge and the hills of the East Bay.
14. Golden Gate Park Holds a Few Surprises
Golden Gate Park is a major attraction, and every visit brings a different experience. For over 20 years, park visitors have been delighted to stumble upon Lindy in the Park on Sundays, which offers free swing dance lessons. Those who meander past the Conservatory of Flowers will find themselves transported to what seems like prehistoric times in a New Zealand tree grove. Depending upon the season, you may also see magnolia trees and fuchsia plants in full bloom. Other unexpected features of the park include windmills, bison and an archery range.
15. Dogpatch and Bayview Are Up-and-Coming
These back-to-back neighborhoods are definitely what’s next in town and offer some of the most affordable real estate in the city. Some neighborhood highlights include the contemporary art complex Minnesota Street Project and Flora Grubb, an outdoor garden shop with a coffee bar, creative vertical gardens and plenty of exotic plants. For dining and drinking, locals favor the Neapolitan brick oven pizzas from All Good Pizza and the small craft brewer Laughing Monk Brewing, which blends California with Belgian styles of beer.
San Francisco is a world-class city filled with historic neighborhoods, developing districts and a reputation for embracing newcomers. It’s accessible, artistic and a dream for foodies. Whether you come for the West Coast lifestyle or a job in tech, the benefits of living here go way beyond the mild climate and picturesque views. Even locals can enjoy being tourists on the weekends taking advantage of the amazing museums, concerts and restaurants.
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