A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me this article, the title of which, for those of you to lazy to click on the link, is “25 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to San Francisco.” With all due respect to the author, who seems like a stand-up guy, I feel like this article was missing a certain…je nes sais quoi, so I took it upon myself to write a new version. Since I’ve been here a while and consider myself to be a Bay Area native, I won’t list “things I wish I knew before I moved,” but instead, without further ado, here are 25 [OTHER] THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SAN FRANCISCO BEFORE YOU MOVE HERE:
1. It’s cold. The author of the other article started with this one, and with good reason. I once had friends visit from NY, and the first thing they said to me was, “this is California, it’s supposed to be warm!” No, that’s southern California. Were you also looking for movie stars? Because you won’t find them here (except for Danny Glover, and Robin Williams sometimes). If you want the sun, move to LA. If you want an enjoyable life experience, move here. The choice is yours.
Pro tip: If you really want warmer weather, you can get it by leaving SF and traveling 2 or 3 miles in any direction (well, west is the ocean and you may have to go 5 miles to the south, but you get the point).
2. It’s expensive. Of course, if you’re going to move here, you already figured this out when you hopped onto Craigslist to find an apartment. Do yourself a favor—hop into your time machine, go back to March 2011 (or earlier), and find a cheap apartment with good rent control. While you’re at it, please assassinate Twitter. That’ll help keep rents down.
3. There do exist San Franciscans who are not tech people. If you’re moving here now, you’re probably doing it because you got a job in the tech industry, but please understand that there are many other people who have lived here for a long time (over 2 years) who never read Techcrunch and don’t give a hoot about apps. They are more knowledgable about the city than you (having been here for a longer time) and we’re also capable of appreciating some things with which technies generally struggle, like the joy of choosing a restaurant without the aid of yelp. Oh shit, did I just switch pronouns? The point is, the glorious city of San Francisco existed for a long time before tech people came here, and although we welcome them with open arms (and by “we,” I mean “greedy landlords,” who love the fact that not one of y’all could negotiate your way out of a paper bag), there’s so much more to the city than it being “tech central” or whatever the kids are calling it these days.
Pro tip: Make the most out of the time you spend with the teachers, police officers, waiters (that’s a unisex term now, right?), bartenders, artists, nurses, small business owners, and other people you meet in the city who are not lawyers, techies, or working in finance. They won’t be able to afford to live here much longer.
4. The Chinese food in Chinatown is shit. If you want darn good Chinese food, go to the Inner Richmond. You can also get amazing Thai and Vietnamese there (and yes, there’s also a Burma Superstar, if you succumb to that kind of trendy).
Pro tip: For dim sum, I say hit up Tong Palace on Clement and 11th. If you go on a weekday it’s insanely cheap.
5. Many people here are socially liberal, fiscally conservative. This is mainly due to the fact that many people here make a lot of money. If you’re looking for fiscal liberals, go to Berkeley with all of the other commies. If you’re looking for social conservatives, then get the fuck out of my town.
Pro tip: NPR is a thing of the past, now it’s all about podcasts for political opinion. Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how podcasts work, so I can’t tell you which ones are good.
6. The Richmond District is historically gay. Before the gays flooded to the Castro (in the time of Harvey Milk) and then to Folsom street (for those who like things a little more “interesting”), they generally lived side-by-side with Chinese immigrants in the Richmond. I know this because a gay friend of mine told me (I’m unable to find any proof on Google, but I think it’s true). Why is this important to know? Because when you take a girl on a date to the Richmond for some Thai food and Toy Boat, you can drop this little tidbit of knowledge and totally impress her.
Pro tip: Many gays from the older generation still live in the Richmond, so if you play your cards right, you can probably see some wrinkly old man balls in the area, if you’re into that sort of thing.
7. The tap water here is safe and delicious. I recently went to Costco with a friend and bought her a jumbo pack of Brita filters. It was $40! SUCH A WASTE OF MONEY! In San Francisco you simply do not need to filter your water! Really! LA is a different story; the tap water there is disgusting. But they do have that great California weather!
Pro tip: You’ll also save money by asking for tap water in restaurants, as opposed to bottled water. You shouldn’t be drinking bottled water anyway—ask me why if you’re interested in knowing more.
8. Living in Oakland is a totally viable option. If you want to move here but the rent is scaring you away, head east, young man! Oakland is basically the Brooklyn of San Francisco—slightly cheaper, rapidly gentrifying, and hipper…at least according to its residents. If I ever leave my rent-controlled apartment, I’ll probably move there.
Pro tip: BART is great and all, but there’s something called the “casual carpool,” wherein you let random strangers drive you across the Bay Bridge from Oakland to SF, and it saves you both money (as the fare is lower if you have multiple people in your car). I’d think it’s a great way to meet people, but apparently there’s sort of an unspoken “no talking” rule. Is “unspoken ‘no talking’ rule” redundant?
9. You never need to take public transportation in the city, because you can ride your bike everywhere. I know what your thinking—“but aren’t there all of those insane hills?” Yes, but trust me, after one month, you’ll have calves of steel. Also, you’ve probably seen this chart that shows which bikes are seen in which neighborhoods, and it’s true that, among the young folks, there is some bizarre snobbery involved in what kind of bike you ride. But honestly, fuck that shit. I ride a relatively old Cannondale mountain bike with city tires and Rock Shox and it gets the job done. That’s all that matters: getting the job done.
Pro tip: The hipsters still haven’t caught on that you can be the ultimate manifestation of old-school irony by riding a penny farthing. If you start that trend, you’ll be the coolest guy in town.
10. San Francisco is a tiny city, and you will bump into everybody you know here all the time. Including that girl with whom you went on that incredibly awkward and uncomfortable okCupid date.
Pro tip: There’s no shame in ducking into an alley to avoid a face-to-face interaction.
11. Going to the Ferry Building will make you happy. It always does, due to the multitude of amazing food options. If you want the full experience, grab a loaf of Acme bread, some Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and some tasty salted pig parts from Boccalone (note: not kosher), and you’ve got yourself some good eatin’
Yes, that’s salami in a cone.
Pro tip: The Ferry Building is appropriately located right next to the ferry terminal, where you can catch a ferry boat that will take you to Marin. And while you’re there…
12. There’s more to Marin than Sausalito and Muir Woods. I grew up in Marin, and it kind of bothers me when people talk about how the only places in Marin are Sausalito, which is one giant sea-side tourist trap (except for the No Name Bar, which is awesome), and Muir Woods, which is a slightly smaller, more outdoorsy tourist trap. Once you move past the rich white people, Marin County has so much more to offer.
Pro tip: I suppose I should tell you what else Marin has to offer, since I haven’t actually written that blog post about it yet that I planned on writing last year. If you’re the outdoorsy type, check out the watershed on the north side of Mt. Tam. There are four lakes (or maybe five?) and any number of excellent hikes. In fact, this one looks pretty damn awesome, although it’s kinda long. If you want something scenic but with a cute town feel, I recommend going to Blackie’s Pasture and walking down the bike path to downtown Tiburon, where you can order some fresh seafood at Sam’s or some killer gourmet Mexican at Guaymas.
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We’re not even halfway there. Damn, 25 is a lot! I’m so used to top 10 lists! Fortunately, there’s hella more to know about San Francisco…
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13. It helps if you know Spanish. San Francisco was once part of the Spanish empire, and the legacy sort of lives on today, with many of our residents speaking Spanish. Like California in general, there is a fairly large Mexican population (and smaller Central and South American populations), and although most of our resident Latinos/as speak English, it helps to understand Spanish if you want to know what they’re saying about you behind your back (as if you’re that special that they’re actually talking about you). Sadly, I don’t speak Spanish. I speak some Japanese, but that only comes in handy when I’m flirting with the waitress in a sushi restaurant (unless she’s actually Chinese…or Mexican).
Pro tip: If a woman begins a sentence with “Mira!,” that means you probably did or said something wrong.
14. 49er fans are legit… I grew up in the Bay Area in the ‘80s, when the Niners were simply a way of life. The team’s performance on Sunday affected the mood of the entire Bay Area the next week (bear in mind that the Raiders were in LA at this time, so even East Bay folks were Niner fans). If the Niners won, everybody was smiling from Monday until the next game. If they lost, the skies would be gray until we redeemed ourselves. If you wanted to befriend a San Franciscan, all you had to do was mention the word “Niners.” I think this all still holds true—when I was in Japan teaching English, one of the Japanese teachers with whom I worked said he loved Joe Montana, and we instantly became friends. Dana Carvey (a Bay Area native) has a great bit about the phenomenon:
As far as I know, Niners fans are faithful. I don’t know for sure, because I left the Bay Area in 1999, just when the Niners started to suck, and came back in 2011, just in time for them to start kicking ass again. I’m assuming that the seats at the ‘Stick remained packed all of those years, and the city still tuned in, gray skies be damned. That’s what I believe. Please don’t tell me otherwise.
Pro tip: Ladies, if you want to get a San Franciscan man, just mention that you think that Jerry Rice is the greatest player to ever have graced the gridiron. Note: this will only work if the man you want to get is straight. Actually, I’m not even sure about that.
15. …Giants fans, not so much. Let’s not lie to ourselves. Before 2010, there were very few Giants fans. Sure, there were Barry Bonds fans, but very few of them could actually name another player on the team. Suddenly, the Giants won the world series and soon the whole town was bathed in Orange. Frankly I don’t care, I love seeing people excited about the “team of the tweens,” whether or not it’s solely due to the bandwagon effect. But don’t be fooled—if the Giants start losing, there will be no more sell-outs at AT&T Park. That’s not horrible—as of now, the only people who can afford to go to Giants games are those who work in fancy law firms or for wealthy tech companies, who sit in their luxury boxes and eat gourmet sausage and drink Chardonnay while looking up from their iPads only if there’s a homerun or maybe if Buster Posey is up.
Pro tip: At trivia night, when they ask a question about a former Giants closer, the answer is almost always “Rod Beck.” If they ask a question about an old-timey player from the New York Giants days, the answer is almost always “Mel Ott.”
16. There are a lot of poor and homeless people in San Francisco, and they are human beings too. I’m going to get a little political here…and preachy and annoying and self-righteous. Oh well. Most of the young people in San Francisco are liberal Democrats, and love talking about helping the less fortunate. However, many of these young liberals also talk about how homeless people in San Francisco are a problem that they’d like to see disappear. It’s as if we’d like to live in a bubble where not only are we more “accepting” than the rest of America, but we don’t have to see any of the downsides of the urban environment. I don’t want to make a blanket statement, because I know there are a lot of altruistic folks in SF too, but I have heard enough statements from friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and other folks-about-town to believe that this hypocrisy is rampant. I find it particularly disgusting that it is now in vogue for the nouveau riche to get dressed to the nines and go to fancy “speakeasy”-style establishments in the Tenderloin for $14 single malts. First there was just Bourbon and Branch, but now there’s also Rye, Swig, and I’m sure others—all places that none of the actual residents of the TL could afford to step into (if they got past the bouncers, which they wouldn’t.) The TL residents have enough shit in their lives without getting their noses rubbed in their poverty by young wealthy douchebags.
Don’t get me wrong—poor/homeless people can be scary. They sometimes yell to themselves, smoke crack, or shit on the sidewalk. And that sucks. But their lives suck more than you can ever imagine, and if you think the solution is to just sweep them under the rug, or out to Oakland, then next election you can vote Republican and see #5 above.
Pro tip: If you have time, there are myriad volunteering opportunities for helping the underserved communities in SF and the Bay Area. If, like me, you don’t have time, there are many wonderful organizations that accept donations. A few of my favorites:
St. Anthony’s San Francisco. This is a one-stop shop for poor/homeless services in the TL, with food, clothing, medical and rehab services (and you can volunteer here too).
Athletic Scholars Advancement Program: helping kids from low-income households get athletic scholarships into top-tier universities.
Women’s Community Clinic: Provides testing, outreach, birth control, and health career training for the poorest of the poor women in the Bay Area.
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto: Providing legal services to those who need it the most, for real.
17. Parking is tough, so learn how to work the system. I could write an entire post about where and when you can park in the city, but that would get kind of boring. As a general rule: you’ll struggle to find parking in residential areas at night (except on weekends), and downtown during the day. If you need to move your car to avoid the streetcleaner, do it in the morning before work, not in the evening afterwards. If you’re going out and you have a primo parking spot near your apartment, consider walking, riding your bike, taking an Uber, or, gasp, taking public transportation. Then, get as drunk as possible to further make yourself happy about leaving your car behind.
Pro tip: If you’re going to park your car somewhere overnight, (1) try to find a spot in front of a house or apartment building, as opposed to in front of a park, business, church, or other place where people don’t live; and (2) don’t leave anything in your car. If you follow (1) and (2), you probably won’t get your window smashed in. If you don’t follow (1) or (2) (or both), in certain neighborhoods (including, without limitation, the TL, Lower Haight, Mission and Portrero), there’s a pretty high likelihood that your car will get burglarized.
18. Noc Noc is a better bar than Toronado. I love the Lower Haight, and Haight Street between Fillmore and Steiner may be the best city block in all of San Francisco. When most people in the city think of this block, they think of Toronado, you know, the bar with over 100 beers on tap. Don’t get me wrong—the beer selection is amazing, and at 3 PM on a weekday afternoon, I love going there and letting the bartender introduce me to some amazing new microbrews. However, on a usual weekend night, the place is packed with douchebags, the music sucks, and the lighting is too bright. I don’t understand why people go here, when just three doors down there’s this amazing bar called Noc Noc. It’s never too packed, the tunes are bompin’, and the décor is trippy and evokes a kind of “Beetlejuice-meets-that-Cure-video-where-Robert-Smith-is-in-a-cave” vibe. They don’t have 100 beers on tap, but the beer they have on tap is always damn good (try the Peach Porch Lounger if they have it), and there’s a great selection of Belgian beer in bottles. Just go here, dammit.
Pro tip: Normally, if you want to keep your secret spot secret, it’s not good to post it on your blog. But I really want more people to go to Noc Noc, mainly because the only attractive women I’ve ever seen in the bar are those whom I’ve brought myself.
19. You can see great music in small venues. Yes, we get all of the big acts at Shoreline or Oracle Arena or sometimes at AT&T Park, and we get lots of really dope concerts at the Independent and the Warfield and the Fillmore, but you can see some hot, quality shows on the cheap at our little venues, such as Make-Out Room, Elbo Room, Slim’s, Bottom of the Hill, Amnesia, and Neck of the Woods. I prefer small shows—I often find them to be more intimate and more interesting.
Pro tip: Elbo Room also has some fun DJ nights, including “Soul Night” every other Saturday. If you dress up, you get a discount! Note to ladies: “dress up” = “don’t wear jeans.”
20. There’s a fun underground comedy scene. Some of you know this, but I had a brief foray into stand-up comedy, doing a couple of open-mike nights before I realized that, like all hobbies, I didn’t have time for it. There are a bunch of regulars, and I got to recognize many of them and their respective styles. They seemed to form a great community, one that I would have liked to get into, but the reality is that I’d never join a club that would accept me as a member. This was not particularly relevant, as they didn’t really accept me as a member. Still, good times, and I would recommend checking out some local comedy at some point.
Pro tip: If you’re gonna try your hand at the comedy thing, you can’t go wrong with dick jokes. At least that’s what everybody here seems to think. Of all of the jokes I heard in my month-long sojourn into the SF open-mike comedy world, I only remember this one:
“I like to do this trick called ‘the stranger’. When I wanna get off, I sit on my hand for a really long time, so it falls asleep and I can’t feel it. Then I have a stranger jerk me off.”
Pro tip: Some people like to say, “In San Francisco, two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.” My corollary: “In San Francisco, two wrongs don’t make a right, but one wrong can make a left, if there are no cops around and there aren’t any of those pesky cameras. Fuck those.”
22. You can actually get good pizza here, if you know where to go. Since San Francisco is such a “foodie” town (ugh, I detest that term), I thought I’d throw in one food item. East coasters, particularly New Yorkers, claim that SF doesn’t have good pizza. I’ll concede that delicious pizza is not as ubiquitous here as it is in NY, but you can still get it. Here’s the breakdown:
Pizza-by-the-slice: Escape from NY (various locations)
Italian-style: Delfina (in the Mission)
Chicago deep-dish style: Paxti’s (in Hayes Valley and I think they opened somewhere else too)
My other favorite: Club Deluxe (Upper Haight)
Pro tip: Pesto/potato pizza is common here, and it’s usually damn tasty. Say what you want about our hippie culture, but this is one of its best side effects.
23. Due to a new city ordinance, public nudity is no longer allowed. Sorry.
Pro tip: There are exemptions for certain events, such as Bay to Breakers and the Folsom Street Fair. There is not an exemption for Christmas. I learned that one the hard way.
24. The touristy crap can be kind of fun! San Franciscans rarely go to Fisherman’s Wharf, the California Academy of Sciences, or Haight-Ashbury, but if you have a friend visiting from out of town, or a 4 year-old nephew, it’s totally worth it to check out these places.
The Haunted Gold Mine was my favorite Fisherman’s Wharf attraction as a wee lad. Note: the kid in the picture is not a younger me, nor my nephew. This is just the first pic that came up on a Google search.
Pro tip: If you want to actually enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf, it helps to get drunk before you go.
25. Yes, we’re snobby. I apologize. Deal with it. While writing this post, I’ve been gchatting with a friend. She asked the topic, and I sent her a link to the article that inspired this whole shebang. She replied, “i thought to send it to you, but i figured you would think it’s too elementary.” I wonder how many of my fellow San Franciscans read that piece and thought, “this so pedestrian, clearly this man does not know his feces from his shinola when it comes to our glorious city by the bay” in a really haughty internal voice, while drinking some microbrew you’ve never heard of. I bet at least several dozen. And yes, I know that this blog itself has been quite snobbish (I like the part where I refer to Burma Superstar with contempt, as if I’m too cool for their tea leaf salad and mint chicken). Don’t worry, the irony is not wasted on me.
Pro tip: There are a few well-known quotes that exemplify our general attitude towards our city and ourselves, which you can feel free to use:
“One day if I do go to heaven…I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’” – Herb Caen
“San Franciscans are very proud of their city, and they should be. It’s the most beautiful place in the world.” – Robert Redford
“We San Franciscans don’t think we’re better than everybody else, we are better than everybody else.” – Bumper sticker, circa 2007
You gotta give us some credit—we do love our town. It’s okay if we’re a little bit obnoxious about it. At least we’re not New Yorkers. FUCKIN’ 49ERRRSSS!
UPDATE: 9 months later, this remains, by far, my most visited post. Thank you Jason! I’m working on a couple of new SF-based projects, so if anybody has any further interesting thoughts on my fair city, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.