Not just tourists...
October 2, 2007 12:46 PM   Subscribe

We're visiting San Francisco for a few days, how can we do a "trial run" for permanent residence there?

We're planning to move to San Francisco early next year, and we're going to visit in a couple of weeks, for about 5 days. I know it's not enough time to get a really excellent sense of the city, but we'd love to go outside the normal touristy spots and try to get a feeling for what it would really be like to live in the city. What should we do? Where should we stay? Is this even possible? Unfortunately we may not even be able to stay IN the city itself, so even some day excursions might be valuable.

City living will be very new to us. We both grew up in the hinterlands and are currently in a boring and very bland suburb. We aren't even 100% sure city living is for us, but we feel like we should give it a shot at some point in our lives. What's the best way to quickly decide if it's the thing to do?

I know there are a lot of posts about "what to do in San Francisco", but we're specifically looking for the "we live here" experience, not the "visiting San Francisco" experience. Any advice is appreciated!
posted by eiramazile to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods and though they can have some similarities, knowing what it's like to live in the Mission is not going to tell you much about what it's like to live in Sea Cliff. Do you have any thoughts about where in San Francisco you'll be looking to live? What sort of amenities are you interested in? You say you're used to the suburbs so my guess is that you'll want to check out the "nicer" neighborhoods: Walk up and down 24th Street through Noe Valley (not the stretch through the Mission, which though interesting and vibrant, is probably not what you're looking for). Noe Valley is a pretty upscale, friendly neighborhood albeit slightly bland for my tastes. You might also wander around in the Richmond and Sunset: those neighborhoods have a quieter, more suburban feel.

Really you just need to get out and walk a lot. A LOT. Also, spend a good bit of time driving around in circles looking for parking. That is a very typical experience for people who lives here. Also, wake up at 5:55 a.m. in order to move your car for street cleaning; that's a very urban experience. The weather in September and October is usually warmer and sunnier than in any other time of the year. Think about how you'll feel when it's 4th of July and you're wearing a wool sweater.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:01 PM on October 2, 2007

Best answer: Try some of the following things, maybe:
  • Go to a farmer's market; the weekend morning one at the Ferry Plaza is the best.
  • Go to the symphony or opera. You can't get that in a boring suburb.
  • Eat at a great restaurant. Ideally, walk to a great restaurant after the symphony or opera.
  • Go drinking at one of San Francisco's zillion bars.
  • Go to Golden Gate Park; maybe see if there's a Sunday concert or other major event going on. Or head to the De Young museum. Wander around for a while. You'll see a lot of city inhabitants in parks, hanging out, walking their dogs, exercising, whatever.
  • Don't drive. The city's easier to enjoy on foot.
These are things I enjoy, living in San Francisco. Others will probably chime in with their own favorite things, including sitting at a coffeeshop using Wi-Fi and surreptitiously looking at other people, which is one of my least favorite pastimes.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:02 PM on October 2, 2007

When we moved to SF (25 years ago) we stayed in the Stanyan Park hotel, which is away from downtown, on the edge of the Haight-Ashbury district and close to Golden Gate park. Although the Stanyan Park isn't a great hotel, it was quite decent and gave us a good idea of what living in a residential area of SF could be like, and we ended up living a few blocks away for ten years. There's plenty of "I live here" stuff in that area to check out - shops, cafes, restaurants, library, museum and park, and I'd be happy to spend a month or two there any time (except maybe June & July when the weather's not so great.)
posted by anadem at 1:04 PM on October 2, 2007

For 5 days you're pretty much going to have to choose between doing vacation stuff and looking for housing options.
posted by rhizome at 1:10 PM on October 2, 2007

Seconding ikkyu2: don't drive. Hit the museums, parks, restaurants, cafes and bars. Pick a neighborhood and spend the entire day walking around it: North Beach, Inner Mission, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Inner Sunset. Walk the length of Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach and take the streetcar back.
posted by trip and a half at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2007

Also, spend a good bit of time driving around in circles looking for parking.

This cannot be emphasized enough.

In addition to the farmers market at the Ferry Plaza, check out the one at Alemany, which is not as upscale (or expensive).

Clement St. in the Inner Richmond is San Francisco's "other" Chinatown - much more local, many fewer tourists, and home to the incredible Green Apple Books.

You'll hear people talking about "microclimates", and they ain't kidding. I live in the Mission, which can be gorgeous and sunny and 72 degrees when the rest of the city is cloaked in freezing fog - and by "rest of the city", I mean as close as 10 blocks away. I've heard jokes about how people in the Sunset district only see the sun set about 10 days a year (again, thanks to the fog).

The Outer Sunset and Richmond disctricts tend to be much more residential, with commercial areas fewer and farther between than in the Mission or Hayes Valley or Nob Hill.
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on October 2, 2007

If you're here for a week, you might as well stay in an actual San Francisco apartment rather than a hotel. This will give you more of an idea of what its like to live here as you figure out where your neighborhood grocer is, good local cafes, where to catch the bus to visit other neighborhoods etc...
posted by vacapinta at 1:22 PM on October 2, 2007

Take BART and Muni around, park your car and forget about it.
posted by iamabot at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2007

Whether you ought to drive during your visit depends on whether you'll need to use your car on an average day once you're living there. Would you be working in the city or somewhere else that can easily be reached with public transit? If so, park the car and forget about it for five days. But if you're going to be using your car every day, it'd be worth it to simulate a couple morning/afternoon commutes, plus the aforementioned parking hunt.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:03 PM on October 2, 2007

There's a free bluegrass festival in Golden Gate park this weekend.
posted by gnutron at 2:06 PM on October 2, 2007

Best answer: Seconding what others have said, I would pick a couple neighborhoods to walk around. 24th St in Noe Valley is a good one, as is Valencia St. from 16th to 24th or so (lots of good shops and restaurants). You can also hang out in Dolores Park (18th & Dolores) - it's a popular hipster hangout.

Other neighborhoods - walk down Haight St. - parts of it are touristy but much of it is pretty local-oriented, especially the lower Haight (closer to downtown).

I used to live in the Sunset (I now live in the Mission/Noe Valley area) and the place to walk there is Irving St. - there are clusters of stores around 9th Ave. and around 20th Ave. Another nice neighborhood is Cole Valley (Carl and Cole Sts.). It's near the Haight but is more residential (a friend of mine refers to it as the 'stroller district'.

For a different experience, check out Bernal Heights - it's less centrally located and feels a little quieter than much of SF - Cortland St. is the main drag there.

There are lots of other neighborhoods to check out (the Clement St. suggestion is a good one) but I've never lived in them so I don't know them as well.

Have fun! It's a great city and I'm very glad to live here.
posted by pombe at 2:48 PM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

The comment about microclimates reminded me of this thread, a question I asked a few years ago, which was useful.

My then-future girlfriend posted in it!
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:20 PM on October 2, 2007

Oh and also, you really should ride Muni. BART is all well and good but it's really not all that useful for people who live in San Francisco, unless you live in one of a couple of the neighborhoods that it stops in. But a ride on the 14-Mission bus will really give you an idea of what city life is all about. Okay, so maybe you should start with the 38-Geary. Some say that if you ride the 22-Fillmore, you get the most diverse slice of the city since it runs from the Marina/Pacific Heights all the way down to Dogpatch with the full range of neighborhood experiences in between.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:50 PM on October 2, 2007

Ride the bus. Ride the Muni. If you plan to stay in the city you'll be on the bus and muni pretty often.
posted by chairface at 3:52 PM on October 2, 2007

First empty out everything in your bank account, because that is what you have left after rent.

Second go to the Laughing Squid's Squid List, and find a weird event that is sliding scale. Or check out the music scene on Pirate Cat Radio {self-link, sorta}. Attend. See if the culture is worth being broke.

Also all visitors must take a run down the concrete slides, that alone makes the $700/month.

I'm sorta a clearing house for events in this city, feel free to email me about a suggested itinerary.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:10 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's an idea that will merge the tourist's need for relaxation with your more pragmatic reconnaissance work. Get this book. Pick at least 5 staircase walks in 5 totally different neighborhoods. Start each morning with a tour of that neighborhood and finish with lunch nearby.

I've lived here for 7+ years. Someone gave me this book last Holiday and I've been checking the walks off my list throughout the year. It has had the affect of getting me out to areas of the city that aren't typically considered destinations. You'll encounter work-a-day San Francisco - at it's finest and hilliest.
posted by quadog at 4:12 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rent bikes. I have been amazed how pleasant San Francisco is when you are not stuck with a car. Cars in SF just suck. You can't park them, you can't drive anywhere very fast, and they're beaten on and pilfered from. I'm a confirmed Car Guy in the rest of the world, but Berkeley and SF both are very cycling-friendly.
posted by jet_silver at 4:19 PM on October 2, 2007

Nthing the recommendation to duplicate your transit experience. If you're planning to have a car here, try parking in the Haight on a Saturday at about midnight, or downtown during the day. If you expect to take Muni, ride the 31 on a weekend afternoon (maybe to the farmer's market at the Ferry Building on Saturday) and the 14 at pretty much any time.

Also, car-free Sunday in Golden Gate Park; walk or bike down to the beach.
posted by moonlet at 4:42 PM on October 2, 2007

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's map will help you avoid the worst of the hills.

For most of its length the 22 Fillmore almost perfectly illustrates a correlation between geographic height and social status.

On this map of downtown, I recommend avoiding the Tenderloin and the area between the Tenderloin and Union Square unless you like panhandlers, trannies, and drug dealers. The area below Market Street (on this map, SOMA and South Beach) is mostly industrial with occasional cool things.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:38 PM on October 2, 2007

Best answer: My girlfriend and I recently moved here from small cities in the Northeast (we were both brought up in the most generic of suburbs, but hung around our respective college towns for a bit). I've discussed the experience and logistics of the move quite a bit in previous threads, if those aspects interest you.

We came here once on a vacation with her family and didn't like it at all — the touristy sites are just that. Get away from the Embarcadero and North Beach if you want a real sense of the city (I'd avoid the Ferry Building farmer's market). Seconding some above recommendations: Noe Valley (24th St. between, say, Dolores and Castro) is ridiculously charming; the Mission (walk down Valencia between, say, 17th and 20th) is neat; and visit Dolores Park, my favorite place in the city (we landed a block away). The lower part of the park (north of 19th) can feel painfully hipster — that's the Mission scene and I personally find it very alienating — but up near Church and 20th is a much friendlier crowd (sunbathers and dog people). Also, Castro between Market and 19th is great.

You'll have to walk up some hills to get a good sense of what it's really like to live here. If you're doing a walking tour of what I mentioned above (everything I mentioned is pretty nearby) good hikes would be Sanchez between 18th and 24th or 20th between Castro and Church.

Seconding the suggestion to ride MUNI to get a good sense of the city — though hope on a street car or the underground in addition to any buses. I like the J-Church (which stops in Dolores Park), though it never runs on schedule.

I'm realizing the above is super biased to my immediate vicinity, so for good measure don't miss Golden Gate Park, either. The best general advice is probably: figure out which neighborhoods are in your price range on Craigslist, and then spend some time in them. Maybe even pop your head in an open house or two just to see what the market's like.

And, oh, don't discount the East Bay if you don't feel the need to live in the city (I did, but I sometimes kick myself: it's cheaper, it's warmer, and parts of Oakland and Berkeley have more than enough going on to keep you occupied).
posted by rafter at 9:37 PM on October 2, 2007

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