In honor of my approaching five year anniversary as a San Francisco resident, I’ve decided to write about how living here has been so far. As you can tell by the title, I truly love this city, at least I do right now, we have had our ups and downs as in any love relationship, we have had good times and bad.
Today we went looking at an apartment for rent in the Castro and it got me thinking of what living in San Francisco really is like and how each neighborhood has its own identity and charm. Having lived in Noe Valley for a little more than three years, the thought of living in the Castro is both exciting and a little terrifying. I’m excited by the idea of living in the historic Castro, the symbol of everything we San Franciscans stand for, the home of Harvey Milk and iconic Mission Dolores Park. I’m terrified by the thought of giving up my current neighborhood and my neighbors but also by the thought of walking my kids in the stroller and not being met by the understanding eyes of other Noe Valley parents.
Well let’s start at the beginning, I will try to be brief, as my toddler is sittning in my lap and my little one is dragging at my feet, at this very moment.
Our first apartment in SF, was located on Polk and Clay, (Polk Gulch area, Nob Hill), centrally located among bars, restaurants and cute little shops. A couple of times a week, we would go out to eat at our neighborhood restaurants, like Co Nam, the more upscale 1760 Polk, or one of favorite Italian places, like Milano, Nob Hill Café or Frescati. Whenever we had friends visiting from Sweden, we would take them for drinks at Top of the Mark, so they could see the view. I found a wonderful little yoga studio in Russian Hill and I used to take long walks along Crissy Field so I could see the Golden Gate Bridge every day. I had walking distance to downtown, to Chinatown, the Marina, Pacific Heights and one time I walked all the way to Leighton of Honor, just because.
Our little one bedroom, despite its many flaws, was wonderful. We weren’t planning to move until one summer, when brown water started dripping from the ceiling in our bathroom. This was also around the same time we found out I was pregnant and it made most sense to live closer to my husbands job in order for him to spend more time with the baby. So we looked south. And we found Noe Valley.
At this point, I had limited familiarity with most of San Franciscos residential neighborhoods and was only familiar with places that hosted either good food or good shopping. Having that said, Noe Valley was quite the adventure, we even had to take the bus to get here, as it’s not walking distance from Nob Hill.
During one Sunday, we saw three different places, all 2 bedroom and priced fairly equally. Our Noe Valley adventure started out with some very disappointing viewings which continued mold, stains, smelly carpets and DIY kitchen projects, in general, homes that would fit perfectly as the “Before” in a fixer upper TV show. What someone who hasn’t been apartment hunting in SF might not know, is that there is a tremendous demand for rentals and that the quality of them varies a lot, all from luxury new construction buildings, to beautifully maintained Victorians, to basement in-law units with no windows. Rental prices however don’t vary as much and regardless of quality, they are always and by all measurements outrageous. If you’re reading my blog, because you’re into fashion, I can describe SF rentals like this: quality is Zara, but price tag is Chanel.
We had nearly decided to live with the brown water dripping, when we saw the third place, which by no standards was a two bedroom, although listed and priced as such. It had been renovated somewhat ten years ago and was well maintained by a sickly meticulous landlord, who’s obsession for details has, since we moved in, almost driven us crazy. Beautiful and with a view of downtown, it was love at first sight and we had to take it. Over these three and a half years, we have grown to love our neighborhood more and more but our apartment less and less. What was once plenty of space for a couple is now not enough space for a family of four. With two little girls and a steadily increasing number of toys, it’s obvious that we need to move.
This is me in September 2015, right after we moved into our current place
This was the view from our current place when we moved in, before the Sales force tower and additions to CPMC St Lukes.
So we’re back at the house hunting adventure. This time around, we feel more confident and know exactly what we’re looking for. Since we also considered buying a house about a year ago, we have seen quite a share of San Francisco homes. But it seams rather impossible to find a home that has everything we’re looking for and a compromise is inevitable. Safe neighborhood and a nice standard are on top of my list, but closeness to playgrounds, grocery stores and walkability are also good to have. Then there are the other two requirements that really limit our scope radius; easy to commute to my husbands job in South Bay and our budget. After reading this far, you might think, are there really no good places in SF? Well of course there are. A city that is home to some of the worlds wealthiest people; startup founders and CEOs, all so well known to most people, that it is therefore redundant for me to mention them, you’re sure to find palace like houses, that would make the houses in the MTV Crib show (if you’re my age and used to watch that) seam like little play houses.
But as a renter, even if you’re budget is reasonable for this area, you’re bound to compromise either on neighborhood, square footage or quality. And if you want your rental home to have it all, you have to spend quite a lot of money, see some adds below.
When looking for a home to rent in San Francisco (and this goes to some extent for the whole Bay Area) on Craigslist or other websites, you shouldn’t be surprised by awful pictures. It’s totally normal to see photos of kitchens full of dirty dishes, stained carpets and moldy bathrooms. Places are often described as “Charming”, “Cozy”, “Great Location”. and “High walking score”. So when one must compromise, be sure to not compromise on the walking score, since you’re going to run, not walk away from places like these. Here are some pictures of a few ads on Craigslist right now:
How about this Russian Hill Gem? You need to have some vivid imagination and excellent cleaning skills to imagine yourself living here.
Or how about these places? Hefty price tag on that view.
These are great ads, nice pictures, fair prices for the good neighborhoods. They will typically rent out the same day as the viewing.
Despite the difficult housing market, I cannot express the many ways that I love San Francisco. And after almost five years here, I can without doubt say that I would feel at home in almost any neighborhood. Imagine having the fresh air and smell of pine trees of the Presidio outside your door. If I would live in the Richmond, this is where I’d take my morning walk. I would love the easy beach access and the closeness to Golden Gate Park from the Sunset. I would eat myself happy in the Mission or even happier in the Italian food Mecca of San Francisco, North Beach. I would feel very much at home in Pacific Heights and the shopping in the Fillmore area. I would wear Lululemon yoga pants all day and pretend to be a young and fit Marina girl in the Marina and Cow Hallow. I would enjoy the view of the bay from a Russian Hill Victorian home and the view of everything from a twin peaks mid-century home. I might finally start going to the gym if I had it at home and as in one of those luxury buildings in SOMA, that have more amenities than one could possibly need. I would love to go outside my house and be greeted by the hippies in the Haight or the hipsters in the Hayes. These are only a fraction of all the neighborhoods that this city has to offer and going through them all in one blog post is impossible. The longer I live here, the more I love and appreciate the diversity and hub cultures in this city and I truly believe that what sets San Francisco apart, is its modest and unpretentious attitude.
So where will we find our next home or should we just stay put? There are tons of little things that bother me about our current place, but there are tons of big things that I love. I love that we have forgotten to lock our car outside, on a few occasions, and no-one tried to break in. And in a city with a very high number of car break ins, this makes me feel pretty safe. I love that my neighbors mobilized and organized a list and mail-thread after the last election, in order to support each other. And I love that my 70 year old next door neighbor, lives in the same house that her grandfather bought for her grandmother, who also happened to be named the same as my daughter. I love that every house on our street has a sign that says:
In this house we believe: Black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, kindness is everything.
But mostly I love it because this is the home where I became a mother and it is by far the happiest and most memorable time in my life.
It remains to see where our next home will be but I’m very happy knowing that it will be somewhere within this wonderful city. And I find it very comforting knowing that most residents in this city truly believe in the sign outside their door and spirit of San Francisco prevails across neighborhood borders, across our backgrounds and throughout government changes.
I moved to San Francisco for love, for at the time boyfriend, then husband, now father of my children. And as much as I miss my family in Sweden, I’m still here for love. For the love of my little family who really thrives here, the love of my wonderful friends who live here and for the love of this amazing city San Francisco.
A tourist might think San Francisco is beautiful because of its many iconic landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge. A resident knows it’s beautiful because of the genuine and heartfelt people that live here.