When I read this post from Caroline McCarthy about moving from New York to San Francisco, my first thought was, "you're going to hate it."
And perhaps that's not fair, but it was my immediate reaction based on the preconceptions of the city as being made up of Mission hipsters and Silly Valley koolaiders. It is neither. Those are simply two facets of this place, but unfortunately they are often the only experience that short-timers immerse themselves in.
San Francisco is my home. I love it. I adore it. I'm institutionalized and ruined for pretty much anywhere else. And so of course I have some strong opinions about it. And when I hear people are moving here, I naturally want them to love it too. I hate it when people move here for a year or two, and move away having had a bad experience because they never really got to know it. I think that's avoidable.
I don't think the world should look like San Francisco, nor do I think that it should be home for everyone. But if you're going to come here, even if it's only for a year, you should make the most of it. And to do that (and this really goes for anywhere) you need to embrace what's unique about it.
1. Live in San Francisco.
Here's a novel idea. If you're moving 3,000 (or even 300) miles to live in San Francisco; live in San Francisco. And by I don't simply mean that you should not live in the East Bay or the Peninsula or Marin. I mean live in a part of the city that your great-grandparents would recognize as being San Francisco. Somewhere that was entirely residential, and all of the homes in your neighborhood existed, prior to 1915. If you've only lived in SoMa, you haven't lived in San Francisco. I know a lot of people who've moved here from somewhere else only to settle in SoMa (which, when I first moved here, was sort of like NoPa in that it was really only starting to gain traction as a term for a neighborhood) or South Park or China Basin or some other reclaimed part of San Francisco's industrial past. Big mistake. If you haven't lived in one of San Francisco's traditional neighborhoods, you've missed out. You haven't ever gotten to experience one of its primary joys. Sure, you may be close to your job; you may have a lot of space and nicer weather, but by that logic you should find a job in a Phoenix exurb. This is a city of small communities, each with its own character. Get to know one, with its small shops and locally owned businesses, and you'll find it infinitely rewarding. If instead you choose to live in some light industrial zone, however, you may as well be in Seattle, or Atlanta, or Portland, or any other moderately-sized city. Except you'll pay five times the rent.
2. Jump in the water.
If you've lived here more than a year and have never taken a dip in the Pacific; you're doing it wrong. Take advantage of your local environment. One of the greatest things about San Francisco is that it's bounded by so many amazing natural wonders. This is a place where you can--quite literally and I know people who have done it--go surfing and snowboarding in the same day. First and foremost, of course, there is the ocean. This is a region defined by the ocean and the scraping together of two plates. Swim in the Bay. Dive in the ocean. Hike along the seaside cliffs. Explore the tidepools. And when you're finished, get your ass out of here to the Sierra, to Yosemite and Sequoia and Tahoe. One of the greatest things about this city--and it's something that I think is intrinsic to the character of its people--is that you can have nature all day and culture all night.
3. Eat the food.
You may think of California as being the home of the entertainment or technology industry. But neither would be here without the farms that came first. California's agriculture industry is a $40 billion a year enterprise. We have a longer growing season than just about anywhere else in the country, and nowhere else in the country has the year-round selection of local, sustainable, and/or organic options we do. You'll have your pick of farmer's markets, CSAs, and local dairies. Yes, enjoy the restaurants. We have great ones that focus on the local flavor. But do yourself a favor: Find a good source of local food and learn to cook.
4. Get a bike
Looking out my window, at this very moment, I can see where mountain biking was invented. Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties have some of the finest road biking in the world. Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and (again) Marin likewise offer some of the best mountain biking to be found anywhere. Moreover, there's no better way to get around San Francisco than by bike. Muni, especially the light rail lines, is okay for getting around. The bus system less so. Driving is an abomination; good luck finding parking. But on a bike you can be anywhere in the city--anywhere--within 15 minutes. Do it often enough and you won't break a sweat getting there.
5. Make real friends
This only applies to people working in the Internet and technology sectors, but you may be amazed to discover that most people in the city work in fields that have nothing to do with the Internet. It's fantastic to have friends in the industry. You'll have shared interests and they'll always get your meme-of-the-day jokes. But if most of your friends work in the same field you do, that's a little boring, right? Try to branch out. This is a city of people from all over the world, doing all sorts of interesting things. Get to know them. If you want to get to know a place, get to know its people. It will also help you keep things in perspective. If something is truly a big deal (say, an iPod or Facebook) it will be a big deal to your non-techie friends as well.
6. Be real yourself
San Francisco is the kind of place where nobody will tell you when you have a bad idea. That's just how it is. In an effort to remain tolerant, people go out of their way not to judge. That can be a bad thing. "Hey, dude, I think I'm going to pierce my eyelids with this sliver of depleted uranium for Burning Man this year." "Right on, that's cool." No. No, it's not cool. It's a very bad fucking idea. But nobody will tell you that. And because it is a town where nobody calls bullshit, it's easy to get caught up in your own. Stay true to yourself. Sure, let your freak flag fly. You can do whatever you want here and nobody will even look twice at you. Embrace that inner weirdo. But don't be weird for the sake of being weird: That way lies blind hipsterism and the cult of the yogi. You moved here to set trends, not to follow them, right? This is California. You can do whatever you want. So do yourself a favor and make it real, make it genuine, make it your own. Otherwise you're just going to burn out.
Look. You can certainly be a Mission hipster or Silly Valley type and have a wonderful experience here. But to do so you have to get off Valencia street and make some friends outside of the industry. You have to figure out what drew people here in the first place before it became populated by those stereotypes. It's a great place to live. But you'll never know that unless you truly live here.