- Download our Moving to San Francisco Guide (PDF)
The best places to live in San Francisco
With dozens of areas and suburbs in San Francisco to choose from, there are many options when it comes to finding the right neighbourhood to call home. Whether it be for its architecture, closeness to nature or a cosmopolitan crowd, freshly arrived house hunters are sure to find their ideal home in an area best suited to their needs and lifestyle.
Family-friendly suburbs in San Francisco
For expats moving to San Francisco with children, it will be a priority to be close to good schools. Suburbs with access to open spaces and facilities that cater for children are an added bonus.
Walnut Creek is a leafy suburb in the East Bay area of San Francisco. With its green open spaces, sports fields and facilities for extra-curricular pursuits, it's well known for being a family-friendly area.
There is a strong sense of community in Walnut Creek with a number of good public and private schools in the area. The suburb is well connected to San Francisco by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and bus. There are also a number of bike lanes and trails for cycling enthusiasts.
Novato, located in the North Bay region of San Francisco, is another great area for expats with children. There are numerous good public schools in the area, as well as several private schools. Novato has an abundance of parks and museums, so there's plenty for families to do. There is also a growing number of chic eateries and boutique fashion stores in the area.
Young and trendy areas in San Francisco
San Francisco is popular with young expats starting careers in the area's famous tech hub, and it has some excellent living options for those that want to be close to the hustle and bustle of the Golden Gate City.
South of Market, or SoMa as it is more commonly known, is one of the largest neighbourhoods in San Francisco. The area is dotted with trendy clubs, software headquarters, bars and eateries. It is also close to the Museum of Modern Art.
SoMa’s proximity to the city centre makes it perfect for those who make it a priority to be close to work, and its massive residential blocks and warehouse conversions are popular with young professionals in San Francisco.
There is easy access to the major highways as well as public transportation. This is one of the best areas when it comes to easy access to buses and trains.
Full of colourful Victorian houses and often referred to as an urban village, Bernal Heights has become popular with artists, young families and single professionals because of its affordable properties and bohemian charm. The area is brimming with quaint cafés, trendy boutiques and innovative eateries, and there are also regular markets.
There are many accommodation options available in the area, ranging from small studios to larger family homes with gardens.
Luxury living in San Francisco
On average, rental prices in San Francisco are among the most expensive in the US. Although rent in the city is steep in general, for those who want the very best, San Francisco boasts plenty of upper-class neighbourhoods.
Noe Valley is one of the most sought-after and prosperous suburbs of San Francisco. Many dot-com millionaires have chosen to make the area home, and it is filled with upscale bistros, boutique shops and cosy bookstores.
The hills that surround the valley give the area a feeling of removal from the urban chaos of the city. Properties in Noe Valley are predominantly low-rise Victorian houses, which contributes to the historic charm of the area.
For those who want the best sea views in the city and are willing to pay for it, Sea Cliff is the ideal location. In fact, Sea Cliff is the only neighbourhood in San Francisco that touches the ocean at Baker Beach and China Beach.
As well as being close to the sea, residents of Sea Cliff live in close proximity to Lands End, which is part of the Golden Gate National Park. It is also close to a number of San Francisco’s top international schools.
It is an immaculate residential suburb of free-standing properties, and it has a distinct Mediterranean feel. The properties are large and luxurious and generally come with impressive gardens and swimming pools. Rental properties are sought after in Sea Cliff, and expats may find it difficult to secure an apartment here, especially during the summer months.
Areas to avoid in San Francisco
By and large, San Francisco is a safe city. No matter where new arrivals end up living, they're unlikely to fall victim to violent crimes. Nevertheless, some areas are less desirable than others due to a somewhat higher incidence of theft-related crimes and, in some cases, the noticeable presence of a homeless population.
Tenderloin, located in downtown San Francisco, is one such neighbourhood, particularly the area south of the Civic Center. It may be necessary to pass through Tenderloin on the way to attractions such as Union Square, Market Street or Nob Hill – doing so is fine during the day, but living in Tenderloin isn't recommended.
Mission District is an area that need not be completely avoided but should be approached with caution. Some parts of this neighbourhood have vibrant murals, making it well worth a daytime visit, but it's best to stick to the West Side, towards Castro. The eastern side of Mission can be unsafe, particularly at night.
Where do expats recommend living in San Francisco?
"It all depends on where you're working/frequenting. If your job is on the peninsula or in the city I wouldn't recommend living anywhere in East Bay because you will hit a mountain of traffic every day both ways just on the bridge over and back. If you need something cheaper than the inner city, go for South San Francisco, Milbrae, and parts of Daly City are not too bad."
Read more about Aussie expat Katherine's experiences in San Francisco.
►For more about the city's property market, see Accommodation in San Francisco
Photo credits: Bridge photo by PxHere; SoMa by Jason Barone; Noe Valley by Daniel Abadia. All sourced from Unsplash.
Are you an expat living in San Francisco?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Francisco. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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