A world-class city in every respect, the stunningly beautiful and culturally rich San Francisco is not only a unique place to visit but also to live. The area has a lot going for it: exceptional arts and cultural activities, plenty of history and sense of place, a strong commercial and financial core; and all the education and services anyone could want. The climate is one of the most unusual in the world, and the area is among the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country. The many world-famous tourist attractions- Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, the cable car system, hilltop residential enclaves, and the wine country to the north- mix with considerable local entertainment and culture to make the city one of the most interesting and fun places to live in the country.
But the city’s narrow peninsula location presents an obvious problem upon a first look at a map: lack of space. There simply isn’t enough room for all the people and commercial activity. The downtown area is dense, as one may expect, but the residential areas to the south are as tightly packed as any city in the United States. The result: San Francisco has the highest living and housing costs in the country. The Cost of Living Index is twice the national average, and the median home price is extraordinary. Many residents live in outlying areas, but these areas are still expensive and require long, difficult commutes. Fortunately, the area’s excellent public transit system (spearheaded by the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART) helps soften the blow.
Residential communities lie mostly across the tightly packed southern hills and ridges in the city itself and in Daly City and South San Francisco, north across the Golden Gate in Marin County, east across the Bay Bridge and south along the peninsula in such places as San Mateo, Redwood City and Menlo Park. These “Bayshore” towns and commuter communities have built up and grown with the city. CalTrain has taken over the old Southern Pacific rail commute facilities; this route is a lifeline for these peninsula communities.
Attractive urban living has emerged in a formerly waterfront industrial area just southeast of downtown near the new AT&T Park, home of major league baseball’s San Francisco Giants. Anyone wanting to live in or near “the City” should expect a lengthy home search process covering the many neighborhoods. There are plenty of career opportunities for high-paid professionals, but there is a lot of job competition. The economy, high prices and crowding may deter some, but those tolerant of these issues and prepared for a fascinating urban lifestyle among some of the best cultural amenities on the planet will love San Francisco.
The northern end of the peninsula containing downtown San Francisco is built up, giving way to lushly vegetated coastal mountains to the south. A long, narrow, mostly built-up plain extends along the east (bay) side of the peninsula toward San Jose. A similar topography extends north from the Golden Gate into Marin County. Geographic and strong marine influences result in the unusual climate. It is known as the “air-conditioned city” in summer, and heavy coats are worn frequently during summer in certain locations (hence the apocryphal Mark Twain quip “I spent the coldest winter of my life one summer in San Francisco”). This is due to differences between ocean and inland temperatures and the resulting pressure gradient bring heavy sea fogs and low, ocean-born stratus clouds inland with strong sea breezes.
The area probably has greater variability in temperature, cloudiness, and sunshine than any other similarly sized urban area in the country. In certain locations, hills block the fog; in others, it pours in freely, at times covering the entire area (including San Jose 50 miles south). Although there is almost no summer rain, fogs often produce a chilly drizzle. Maximum summer temperatures frequently reach only the 50’s. Spring and fall are relatively fog free, and temperatures may rise into the 60’s and 70’s. Occasionally, early fall winds blowing from the deserts to the southeast block sea breezes and shoot temperatures into the 90’s or even over 100. Winter temperatures are mild and consistent across the area. Eighty percent of precipitation occurs November through March. Snow may occur in the surrounding coastal mountains but melts quickly. Freezing temperatures in the city are rare.