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Visiting San Francisco vs. Living in San Francisco

My first San Francisco experience was nearly five years ago. I came to the city by the bay because I had been accepted into the Summer Training Congress at American Conservatory Theater. I originally was only going to be in SF for five weeks, but instead extended my stay and spent two months in the city I now call home.

The summer I spent here was magical. Literally, one of the best summers of my life, filled with wild adventures and amazing people. When I returned to New York, on my first day back at work, one of my coworkers asked me jokingly, “So did you leave your heart in San Francisco?” I kind of laughed it off, still in a daze from the kickass two months I’d just experienced. But actually, I think he was right.

union square big red

Group Red 4EVR. I’m far right (these were pre-pink hair days). Thanks to Ian for letting me steal his hat and look so super fly in it.

It took me two years to make the move to the west coast (best coast!). It’s not an easy one to make, and I was going without a job lined up and with only a handful of friends in the Bay. Ultimately, though, I had waited so long because the summer I’d spent here was so fantastic, and I was afraid I would show up and San Francisco wouldn’t be as great as I thought it was.

Well, it has been great. I most certainly am obsessed with San Francisco, and while she’s not a perfect city, she’s a pretty stellar one. I can’t picture myself staying still here forever, but I do love living here now.

After being a San Francisco resident for over two years, it’s safe to say I’ve noticed some differences in the way people visit and live here. I mean, I’ve done both myself, I’ve got lots of friends who are locals, and lots of friends who come into town for just a week. So here are some of the fundamental differences between visiting SF and living here.

painted ladies

Everyone in San Francisco sadly does not live in a Full House house. Source.

The housing.

When I visited San Francisco, I had a strangely unique rooming experience. A hotel was obviously out of the picture, because MONEY. So I found a young woman on Craigslist who agreed to let me sublet the second room in her place in Chinatown. With her. She’d never met me, I don’t even think we Skyped or anything, and she was like, “Sure, you can stay here, send me a check and I’ll send you a key.”

Wait, what? If you were to tell present-day T this, I’d be like, “Oh hell no,” but I went ahead and did it. When I arrived in San Francisco, my Super Shuttle dropped me off and voila! I had a place to stay. The key worked, I had a cozy little room complete with a tv, and I was set for the summer.

This gave me a pretty unrealistic view of the San Francisco housing market. I thought just about anybody could get a place in the city, no problem! Ah, to be young and naive.

Living here is a different story. First of all, if you’re not fully prepared to give up your kidney at an apartment showing, there are decent chances you just won’t get it. You’re also bound to encounter some weirdos–my last roommate situation was with a woman who spent all of her time either working or holed up in her room with the door closed. To say life in the house was a little tense and uncomfortable at times is an understatement. Last, it’s freakin’ expensive to be here. I currently live in Portola, which is almost not the city at all, and I can barely afford to be here.

At this point, I don’t really care whose fault it is–the general consensus is that it’s all the techie bros moving in with all their dollar billz–but make. it. stop.

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There’s more to see than this, believe it or not.

The sights.

Downtown seems to attract a lot of tourists, and it certainly appealed to me when I was visiting. Also, ACT is downtown, so I spent my weekdays there anyway. In fact, the one thing my friends and I really liked to do was buy alcohol and drink it in Union Square. Like, the Union Square right across from Macy’s, downtown. Tragic.

I do still like some of the touristy things in San Francisco even though I live here. I mean, Golden Gate Park is quite impressive, the bridge beautiful, and Fisherman’s Wharf is home to Musee Mecanique and the only In-N-Out in San Francisco proper. But there are so many other places to see. Interested in some stellar city views? Go to Corona Heights. Want a buttload of nature? John McLaren Park is a great place to get lost. Interested in shopping? Ninth Avenue in the Sunset has lots of fun, unique shops. There are so many more options out there, people, you just gotta find ’em.

sf cold

A poster to remind you of that summer you almost freezed your butt off. Etsy Source.

The weather.

Ah, San Francisco, you had me so fooled when I visited you. I thought what most people think when they visit SF: that it’s California, and it’s going to be warm. What a cruel, cruel trick. After about three days, I went ahead and bought a jacket because, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Thanks, Twain. *eyeroll* We hate it because it’s true.

I love the weather here now. I’ve come to embrace the sunny but chilly aspect and understand that no matter where I go, I will need a jacket for later. I didn’t think I’d like it, but it seriously has grown on me, and after some time away all I want is that cool breeze on a cloudless day with a blue sky looking down on me.

burrito cup

Sweet Jesus. Source.

The food.

San Francisco likes to call itself a “foodie city,” but what the hell does that even mean? It’s an eclectic city, so there are lots of different kinds of things to eat, and it’s a weird city so anything goes. But ultimately, it means that everything is crazy expensive. When I have friends or family in town, at some point I’m always asked, “So…could we maybe just make dinner in tonight?”

Personally, I didn’t eat out too much when I was just visiting–I was attempting to save money (massive fail), so most of my meals were compliments of Trader Joe’s. The only thing I do vividly recall is how thrilling it was to me that Subway offered avocado for their sandwiches. I splurged on so many veggie sandwiches I was probably reciting, “With avocado, and yes I know it’s extra,” in my sleep.

Now that I live here, I eat, sleep, and breathe burritos. I didn’t even have a proper burrito in my life until I lived in San Francisco. Seriously. My Mexican food experience had been cheese quesadillas, all the way. But now I’m here, in burrito heaven, and life is so, so good. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about a veggie super burrito, and it’s the first thing I crave whenever I leave the city, and the first thing I crave when I return.

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Visit here, live here–either way, you’re lucky to know San Francisco. This is the beautiful view from Bernal Heights.

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