It’s not hard to see the draw of life in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.
Already a vibrant city famed for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, hilly streets, painted ladies, and quirky dive bars, the enigma of the nearby Silicon Valley has lured countless tech-savvy and ambitious millennials.
It’s all conveniently located close to the California wine country and some stunning natural scenery, too.
30-year-old Londoner Nicolas Carey relocated to San Francisco with design and development agency Potato a year ago. He spends four days working in San Francisco and one day a week in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, when he visits Potato’s client Google.
Business Insider caught up with Carey while he was in London for the festive period to hear about his first year of life in the Bay as a so-called “transplant.”
According to Carey, there are many things about living in the Bay – and working in Silicon Valley – that aren’t what you’d expect from a global tech hub.
Here are 15 things he has learned since moving to San Francisco:
30-year-old Londoner Nicolas Carey relocated to San Francisco with design and development agency Potato a year ago. Here are 15 things he has learned since becoming a “transplant.”
Temperatures can vary from block to block.
San Francisco’s climate is generally pretty mild, but temperatures in and around the city can vary dramatically from block to block.
“The Golden Gate bridge is often covered in fog, which locals have named ‘Karl,'” Carey said.
“If you live in the Inner or Outer Sunset areas you generally have worse weather than the Mission, for example, that’s only a few miles apart.”
It’s worth taking these microclimates into account when picking where to rent, he said, as well as remembering to layer up.
You can easily pay about $US1,000 a month in rent for one half of a bunk bed.
As a Londoner, Carey’s no stranger to sky-high rents, yet he says accommodation in San Francisco is much more expensive.
“One thing in general that surprised me about San Francisco is that you’d think the city is going to be super high-tech in every way. It’s not,” he said.
“Here most places are advertised on Craigslist – it’s like Gumtree but a significantly worse user experience, where you need to watch out for scams.”
He added that you always need to check out the space in person.
“Often it’s just a bed in the living room. Others try and sell it as a party ‘hacker’ house, but it’s just about 20 people sharing loads of bunkbeds. And I’ve heard of people paying about $US1,000 for one half of a bunk bed.”
Carey said the best tip he ever got was to ask for his work’s housing list.
Most people take a shuttle bus to work in Silicon Valley…
The city isn’t huge, but commuter traffic is thick.
Most people who work in Silicon Valley ride to work on shuttle buses provided by the tech companies.
Carey spends four days of the week in San Francisco, so he only takes the bus one day a week when he works in Mountain View. “My commute will take me about an hour and 20 minutes each way because the traffic is terrible, but that’s good by some people’s standards,” he said.
“I’ve got friends whose journeys take them over two hours each way – that’s four hours a day on the bus, 20 hours a week, basically like spending a whole two days on a bus every week!”
The good news is that the buses are pretty plush, according to Carey – most are fitted with armchairs, desks, and WiFi. Apparently they’re nicer than this photo suggests.
…But public transport is “way behind.”
“Public transport isn’t great here,” Carey said. “As a Londoner, I’m surprised to say I miss the underground.”
The Clipper card, the equivalent of an Oyster card, is a reloadable contactless smart card used to pay for public transit in the Bay Area.
However, Carey said: “The infrastructure is way behind. For example, I was surprised that when you top up your Clipper card online you have to wait several days for the funds to load for it to be used on the buses, trams, and ferries. Again, not really what you would expect from a big tech city.”
He recommends always using the machines at the station instead.
Contactless in general has barely arrived.
Clipper cards aside, Carey said: “Contactless still isn’t really a thing here. When I first arrived I had a Monzo card that I was using until I opened a US bank account and people would ask me what I was doing when I’d go to tap to pay for something.
Instead, the best way to get around San Francisco is by bike — provided you don’t live in an area that’s too hilly…
…Which can be hard to avoid in some neighbourhoods, like the famous Filbert Street, pictured below.
Taking an Uber is often a reminder that the whole city seems to work in tech.
“I’ve more than once encountered the cliché of getting in the back of an Uber with the driver pitching you their start-up,” Carey said. “It can feel like everyone here works in tech.”
When it comes to the social scene, it’s all about the day drinking in San Francisco…
Carey said that the social circuit is based primarily around a strong day drinking scene.
“Brunch is big on both Saturdays and Sundays, after which you can make the most of the city’s abundant green spaces and parks, or hit up the plentiful craft beer haunts,” he said.
Above, crowds gather in Mission Dolores Park to make the most of the good weather, although it’s worth noting that you’re not actually allowed to drink in the parks.
…Likely because everything shuts at 2 a.m.
“If you want to party late into the night, you have far fewer options than back home because everything shuts at 2 a.m.,” Carey said. “It means lots of people head back to each other’s houses for an after party – it reminds me of being back at uni.
“That said, you’re spoilt for choice with live DJs and headline acts who come to town basically every weekend. Since being here I’ve seen FatBoy Slim, Skream, Soul Clap, MK, etc.”
He added that it’s useful to know dive bars are often cash-only.
Day trips and weekends away are the biggest perk of life in the Bay.
Lots of people tend to spend their weekends outside of San Francisco, Carey said. “100% the biggest perk of living here are the day trips and weekends away. And I reckon that’s the thing I would struggle most with moving back to London.
“From here you’ve got the wine country – Sonoma, Napa Valley, they’re just an 1.5 hour drive away.
“Hiking is really big here in the nearby woods, or if you want to venture further afield you’ve got the Yosemite National Park, then going up north coast is amazing,” he added. “Point Reyes all the way to the Sea Ranch coastal areas, or you can go down to Monterrey to Carmel to Big Sur – they’re some of the most beautiful drives.
“And in the winter you can drive towards Lake Tahoe and go skiing. Loads of my friends have a season ticket [called] ‘the Epic pass.'”
The bright lights of Las Vegas are only about a $US100, one-hour plane journey away — but people don’t go that often.
“You’ll maybe get a big group to Vegas once or twice a year, but people don’t really go there any more than that,” Carey said.
The foodie scene is a major draw — if you know the affordable spots.
It’s no surprise that there’s great Mexican food in San Francisco, but Carey says the city also has some of the best Asian food he’s ever had.
“There are very few chains and I’m still going to new restaurants each week after a year,” he said. “One of my favourite restaurants at the moment is a Burmese place.” However, he added that “you’ll miss a good Indian curry” coming from the UK.
In the Mission district, where there’s lots of Mexican influence, Carey said that two adjacent streets epitomise the extent of gentrification in the city. “On one you can get $US2.50 tacos and on the other it will cost you on average $US40 a meal,” he said.
“When I first moved here I was surprised by how little my housemates cooked. Then I went to Whole Foods and realised it was absolutely extortionate for groceries, but I’ve found the Mexican supermarkets in this area of town are amazing and are half the cost for fruit and veg – plus it’s a good opportunity to brush up on your Spanish.”
But the extreme gentrification of the city is a sensitive topic, and the level of homelessness is shocking.
San Francisco has one of the widest wealth gaps and largest homeless populations in the US.
The city is known for its homeless tent camps and there’s a growing working homeless population in Silicon Valley. The lastest tech boom has left many behind, and a severe housing shortage has pushed rents sky high.
Most dating happens via an app.
Given its tech focus, perhaps the least surprising thing about San Francisco is that practically everyone’s on a dating app, according to Carey, and the ratios of singletons are said to be in favour of women.
Some say it’s a difficult place to date because most people are working long hours building their start-up and, being a city of “transplants,” people are always coming and going.
However, Carey doesn’t seem to be one of them – despite the city’s quirks and differences, he said his decision to relocate was the best one he’s made, adding that it’s the best place for his career.
“I’m loving it here and can’t see myself coming back to London,” he said.
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