San Francisco/Bay Area residents - I need "insider", non-tourist, info

Hi folks. I’m in the beginning stages of considering a new job in downtown San Francisco. I currently live in Portland, OR.

I’m looking for any information I can get my hands on about what things are “really” like in the Bay Area - there’s only so much you can find out on,, etc.

Initial research is showing me that I’m going to need to make somewhere between 35 and 50% more than I make in Portland, but I’m looking for the real skinny from people who actually live there - even better if you’ve relocated there recently.

Is it possible to find decent housing anywhere in the Bay Area without paying through the nose for a dump? How about one where I can park a couple of motorcycles securely?

What are property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and such like? (The car tax is getting plenty of publicity right now :rolleyes: so I’ve got that one covered…)

Where do YOU work and live? How long is your commute?

What’s the area’s general politics like? As a gay man, I understand the basics of certain parts of San Francisco, but just how tolerant is the area in general?

How bad is dealing with DMV? I have visions of having to take a week off to stand in line to get my driver’s license and getting vehicle registrations taken care of.

What about general cost of living? Groceries, haircuts, doctors, dentists, contractors and other household services - in your opinion, costly, reasonable, in-line with the rest of the economy?

Anything else you can think of that would help me to not think of this as an extremely daunting, terrible move? I’m not that much of a “big city” kind of person, but this particular opportunity has dropped into my lap in the last 48 hours and is very hard to pass up - it means a huge move up in my career.

Dispel my misconceptions or confirm my fears - Dopers, I’m relying on you. Thanks in advance.

Yes. You can pay through the nose for a decent place. But you WILL pay through the nose. Unless you don’t mind very long commutes.

Frankly these days I’d say living in the East Bay and commuting is a better bet than living in the city unless you are particularly well-heeled.

They can be found, though they are not always absolutely convenient. A friend has a Triumph, an Aprilia, and an Audi A4. He parks one bike in front of the Audi, but I forget where he has the other stashed - All are in a secure, fenced lot.

Income tax is a graduated rate, topping at 9.3%, I believe.

Sales tax is 7.25%.

Property tax varies from area to area.

Just moved to El Cerrito from Alameda, currently work in unincorporated North Richmond, about 12-15 minutes away on the freeway. Next year ( January ), will probably working in El Cerrito about 7-8 minutes away. A real luxury many Bay Area folks don’t have.

Housing-wise, I pay $1400 a month + utilities for a somewhat unremarkable two-bedroom flat ( I do have my own garage, and another small storage space, plus a roomy laundry room w/my own washer and dryer and a fairly nice patio ).

Probably the most liberal bastion in the country as far as major metropolitan areas go. As an example, the Bay Area as a whole, bucking the CA trend, voted against both the recent recall and Schwarznegger. There is currently either one or none major Republican elected officials left in the region ( and when elected, said Republicans would generally be considered quite moderate by national party standards - usually social libertarian types ). Not that there aren’t conservatives and somewhat conservative areas - Just fewer on average

Very. On average. Racism, homophobia, misogyny - you’ll find them all and more to boot. However, again on average, the Bay Area is much more tolerant than most of the country.

No, no, no - Just half a day :D. Actually it is a little less onerous now that some simple stuff can be done online. But get an appointement ahead of time and prepare to wait regardless ( you might be blucky and breeze through, but better to assume the worst ).

Food - no worse than anywhere else by and large, with the exception that fresh produce can be had cheaper and better than many parts of the country ( especially if you like farmer’s markets ). California is quite the agricultural engine and there are many farms still within and near the Bay Area.

Gas - Very expensive, in the running for worst in the country.

Can’t say as to the rest, but probably mostly in line with the economy generally.

The Bay Area is beautiful, about as ethnically diverse as you can get ( which pays off food-wise - the Bay Area is ground zero for great restaurants, from wonderful inexpensive mom & pop jobs, to fancy high-class establishments ), has very mild weather and is very liberal and tolerant ( if you like that sort of thing ).

The only overwhelming negative ( assuming you’re not conservative ) is housing costs - they’re fucking awful. There are also some smaller issues, for example a large homeless problem, attracted in part by the mild climate and semi-tolerant atmosphere. Gas prices, as noted, are bloody annoying. If you like thunderstorms, forget it for the most part - “mild weather”=“boring weather”. SF can be freeezing in a relative sense - if you live in the city, learn to love fog ( if you live out towards the valley, learn to love dense Tule Fog at certain times of the year ). Plus any number of possible idiosyncratic negatives.

But I love the area, myself.

  • Tamerlane

What Tamerlane said. Try doing a search on “San Francisco” in IMHO and MPSIMS. I’ve posted a lot of information about this area in various threads. For all of its faults (and they are legion), I cannot think of anywhere else on earth I’d rather live.

Check out It is a great resource, and they have forums where you can ask just this type of question. Also a place to find a flat or house to rent.

I moved further north in CA recently because we found the answer to this question:

was “No”.


I was always told to go to the Daly City DMV because it was marginally less horrific than the San Francisco ones. I moved away a few years ago so I don’t know if this still holds true.

If you want to live in the City, try the Richmond district (not to be confused with Richmond, CA, across the bay) or the Sunset. It is easier to park out there-- relatively secure for your bikes, and cheaper than some other parts of SF (maybe $1100 for a small one-bedroom?) It is however, generally foggier and cooler the closer you get to the ocean (the Sunset and Richmond areas are to the west, closer to the ocean).

Housing prices are way high in the City, homelessness is out of control, gas is the most expensive in the country. Food prices are more normal.

I find dentists very expensive in SF. I live in the City, but go to a dentist in the East Bay. Much cheaper. It might be the same for doctors-- I don’t know-- I have Kaiser-Permanente Health insurance ($178/month for just me-- Blue Cross is cheaper, I think.)

Contrary to what some would say-- I find the people in San Francisco to be aloof, clique-ish and a little cold. This is a generalization only-- there are many fine folks here. The natural scenery and architecture here, OTOH are lovely.

All in all, a great place to live if you can afford it. Try it for a while-- you can always move somewhere else later.

California’s DMV has an online appointment system that can fly you through the place like a waxed arrow.

SF’s really not so intimidating, you’ll find, congratulations on your new job and drastic life change!

Cost of living is high, but you’ll probably get paid commensurately. is how most people do things. is a good website to read too get a feel for the city, and to take advantage of its many fine culinary opportunities.

A few tips:
Avoid the Haight and North Beach. Check out The Mission and the Inner Richmond.

The Castro- have you been before?- I don’t like it, and most of my gay male friends don’t either. If that’s a scene you like and a place you feel comfortable, fine. But don’t feel you have to live/spend lots of time there.

Ummmm… I’ll post this and think of more later.

You don’t say much about yourself, but I’m guessing you may want to look into the neighborhoods Potrero Hill, Twin Peaks, and Bernal Heights for places to live. They’re fairly quiet and residential, but not far from activities, fairly nice, but not hoity-toity.

Thanks folks, this is all a help.

toque, I’m a fairly quiet person, almost a home-body, to be honest and not really in to the “big city” life. 'course I’ve also never really lived in the big city, either. Closest I’ve ever come is living in suburbs of Boston and Baltimore.

We’ll see how it goes. I’ve booked a plane ticket for Friday.

I grew up on Potrero Hill. It is nice. As for reasonably priced housing, well, check my current location. I gave up on the Bay Area, at least until I have enough work experience to make enough money to, you know, buy food.

I live in the Mission District of San Francisco, in a tiny rent-controlled apartment with no amenities, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Housing situation depends a lot on what you’re looking for. For a house, you probably do want to look outside of the City, but if you’re O.K. with a small apartment or some kind of share arrangement, there are places to be had at a more reasonable rate. Be sure to ask about a garage for those motorcycles – that can be a big extra expense.

At first I was afraid you were going to be turned off by the political climate, but that was when I had misread your username as TaxGuy. :slight_smile: San Francisco itself is extremely liberal – extremely liberal. It’s a culture shock for me to read threads on the Dope about other parts of the country where religious fundamentalism is a major force, or where people have a conservative outlook about gay rights. Politicians here jump all over each other to point out how much they’ve done to support gay rights and to be more-liberal-than-thou. Wanting to get the homeless off the streets is considered to be the conservative position.

There is no San Francisco city income tax, but the sales tax is excruciating – 8.5%. It’s hard for me to judge general costs comparatively, but my mother (who lives in the D.C. area) has commented on some things being less expensive in S.F., and part of living in a big city is that there are services available at all levels – from very high-end gourmet restaurants and food shops to local taquerias and co-ops that are much less expensive.

To expand on what Zenster said, the online DMV reservation system is one of the greatest developments of the 21st century. I was going to start a thread about it I was so impressed. Back in July, I made an online reservation to renew my driver’s license for 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday in August. I showed up at the DMV at 9:45 a.m. My number was called at 9:50 a.m. At 9:59 a.m. I was out the door with my new temporary license.

I love San Francisco, but I realize that it’s not for everyone. I’ve gotten used to homeless on the streets, the smell of urine in the supermarket parking lot, living without a dishwasher, garbage disposal, or bathtub, and relying on public transportation. Friday night at 2:30 a.m. I had to call 911 about a fight occuring on my street. For some people these things are dealbreakers. For me they’ve become part of the neighborhood.

I work in downtown San Francisco and have about a 7 or 8 minute commute by BART train (25-30 min. from my front door to the office).

Congratulations on the job offer. Whether you’re in the City just to visit or you do decide to move down permanently, let us know so we can get a dopefest together to welcome you.

BTW-- I’m curious… TVGuy do you work in the television business? If you don’t mind answering, are you getting a job at one of the local TV stations?

One thing you might want to do is give up on the idea of parking near wherever your going.

It really isn’t too bad once you understand that walking a few blocks to half a mile is going to be a part of any outing you do. Just figure parking into what your doing, and you’ll save yourself a lot of aggravation. If you let it get to you, it’ll make your life hell. Try to take public transportation when it is convient,. Also, learn to parrallel park on hills. After living in SF for a couple years, you’ll be able to impress everyone with your mad parking skills.

San Francisco is a great place, though. Even for homebodies. If you cook, you’ll have access to the greatest variety of the freshest produce availible anywhere in the world. And if you don’t cook, you have thousands of restraunts to enjoy. Food isn’t that expensive, but your cost of living might go up do to a sudden need for organic tomatos and microgreens.

Housing sucks. But it’s not New York. It’s possible (but expensive) for a professional to own a home. It’s possible for anyone working (economy sucks- working is no longer a given around here) to rent a reasonable semblence of an apartment, but you might have to find a housemate. It sucks watching a huge chunk of your income go towards housing, but when you live in one of the most livable places in the world, it seems lmost worth it…

Congrats! Let us know when you make the move so we can throw you a party.

I don’t mean to sound coy or cloak and dagger, but I’m not really at liberty to say what the job is or where it is at this time. Once the position is filled (by me or someone else) I’ll be able to say without hesitation.

From what a lot of folks are saying, a lot of this sounds mostly like I just need to develop my “coping with the big city” skills. I’ve lived near Boston and near Baltimore and Washington, but Portland is the biggest city of whcih I’ve actually been a resident. I’ve done business in LA, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, San Jose, Houston and a number of other large metro areas - but spending a week on business and living there are two completely different things.

Public transit = good thing. I’ve gotten really good at the ‘T’ in Boston over the years - I visited a lot when I lived in southern NH. I rented no car for this trip on Friday, specifically so I can get a feel for cabs, busses, BART, etc.

I really appreciate everyone’s information. It helps a lot. Not having forty people come back and say things like “Don’t live here” and “you’ll hate it” and “forget about it, economy sucks” and such is good.

I lived in San Francisco for seven years, and it never really felt like a “big city” to me.

Best burritos: El Farolito, no doubt.

If you don’t know the pleasure of banh mi (vietnamese sandwiches), you haven’t lived, and you can get them for less than a dollar sometimes.

No, SF doesn’t feel like a big city, really. It’s divided into lots of little distinct neighborhoods, and is very compact. I clearly remember having the revelation that “you can walk anywhere if you have the time.” Write this down and put it in your wallet or something.

Hey, I am also moving to the SF area (Livermore for work, place of residence undecided) in a couple weeks, I was out there week before last for a ‘preview’. Downtown SF seems a pretty unscary place to me, sorry I can’t really recommend particular places, but I can tell you that some friends of mine have rented a place around 2*th and Geary, huuuuge four bed apartment for $2700 per month which seems a good deal to me- recently renovated, all mod cons and a dual car bay. I pay $850 for a 1 bed in Galway fer Chrissakes.

The social scene in SF looks pretty good, from the little I’ve seen. Nice little bars with adecent crowd. Haven’t been to any clubs yet. I am not gay myself, but pretty much any lifestyle, creed or culture seems well tolerated. I would have little hesitation recommending a move there based on my experience and that of my compatriots over there.

I’m also wondering about the DMV and that kind of thing, as I currently hold only an Irish license. I haven’t heard any horror stories like around Boston though. I would recommed that you don’t drive stick though, as the hill starts would ruin any clutch in no time!

Wish you well in your travails!

If you are willing to travel a bit, there is relatively (by Bay Area standards) housing in the East Bay. There are parts of El Cerrito, Pinole and El Sobrante which are suprisingly affordable and livable.

I live in San Pablo very near the Hilltop Mall. There is a ring of new high end appartments and condos which was constructed to absorb people coming in for the dotcom boom. Since that went bust, these places are now desparate for people…cutting rents, free months rent, and so on. My wife works in downtown SF, and is able to walk out the door, catch a bus (not one of the city buses, but a comfy, cozy, high-tech commuter bus) and be in downtown SF in forty minutes. The downside of that is that this area is basically a souless island of suburbia surrounded by fairly horrific urban blight, but it is pretty close to nicer areas.

I believe there are also new appartment complexes in Berkelely and Emeryville that are having problems reaching occupancy. Don’t rule out living in Berkeley…it has most of the ammenities of San Fran without many of the problems with a cozy, tree-lined small town vibe in places.

DMV? No biggie if you know what to do. Make an appointment online. They only book about two or three weeks in advance, so plan ahead. Try to get an appointment as early in the morning as you can before things start to really foul up. If you do this, you can be in and out in an hour.

I agree with all of the good things that have been said about the Bay Area. I came out here for grad school about a decade ago and have just been unable to leave because I love it so much.

One caution though…this can be a suprisingly lonely place. People tend to be very warm and tolerant of diversity, but also very individualistic and cliquish. I know a great many people that have moved here and felt very isolated. You may just have to work a litle harder than you expect to find a niche.

Good luck.

let us know when you people show up so we can have more BAD fests and the like.

i pay $800 for a room in a house with a vietnamese family, but they make tons of vietnamese food.

The restarants here have a huge variety, there will be several restatrants for you, the problem is finding them since there are so many.