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Why I moved from LA to San Francisco

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From better job opportunities to tastier tap water, former LA dwellers reveal why they moved north

Photos by Patricia Chang

Although it plays host to the country’s priciest rents and comes with a median house price of $1.6 million, people still yearn to call San Francisco home. How could they not? Being the birth place of two dot-com booms and one of the most important LGBTQ meccas, SF’s allure is, for some, irresistible. Why, even Californians from other lauded parts of the state—namely, Los Angeles—are known to pull up and head north.

While many think pieces rightfully champion the move from New York City to the city to angels, San Francisco will, arguably, always be considered the conscientiousness of California. Which is why, despite stratospheric monthly sums and rampant economic inquality, people still want to call the Paris of the West, the 415, the city home.

Here are a few denizens who revealed to us what brought them from Los Angeles to San Francisco—and why they stayed.

In addition to relationships or family, most people we interviewed cited an abundance of job opportunities as the main reason for moving from LA to SF. The unemployment rate in San Francisco was 2.3 percent in August, down from 2.4 percent in July, and below the estimate of 3.1 percent in 2017. A noticeable number compared to California’s unadjusted unemployment rate of 4.3 percent.

For example, Nikki Collister, a freelance writer who moved to San Francisco six and a half years ago, moved to Baghdad by the Bay to kick start her career.

I was pretty tired of LA after five years, and ready for something new. I had realized that the career path I had started down in LA was not the one I wanted to follow, so even though I had no job leads when I decided to move north, I jumped at the opportunity for a change.

Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, had a similar trajectory, noting SF’s wonky side as an added bonus.

I knew I would be leaving Los Angeles the moment I accepted the job offer from San Francisco State University. It was a moment of great relief and pride, plus more than a little anxiety. I had lived most of my adult life in Los Angeles, and had become very involved in the social and political life of my local community. Moving from a place where I was tightly integrated into the community to a new city where I had no friends was a daunting prospect. And yet, I also experienced feelings of pride in the knowledge that I was moving to SF in order to become a professor who focused on local politics in such a great city.

But moving to a city—any city—for a job isn’t uncommon. Let’s talk about the advantages of San Francisco compared to Los Angeles, which, with all due respect to our sibling city down south, run aplenty.

Rachel Alonso, who moved here four years ago to work as a project manager for the city, cites one of the San Francisco’s greatest assets over LA:

It’s easier to live without a car—I walk most places. I won’t miss the long, pedestrian un-friendly blocks lacking in beautiful streetscape. And I won’t miss having to deal with parking.

The city’s walkability was noted several times by interviewees as a prized urban trait, one that other California cities fail to make a top priority. Billy R., an attorney for a large tech outfit, says his commute changed his life for the better once he moved up north.

I remember being mind-blown when I first moved to SF and lived in North Beach. I worked in the Financial District and walked to work every day. It took me 15 minutes to get there. In LA, I lived six miles from my office where it took me 45-60 minutes to get to the work—each way. Compared to my current SF commute, I have at least an extra hour every day that I never had in LA.

McDaniel echos the same sentiment, saying:

My commute now involves either a 15-minute drive to the SF State campus, or a 30-minute Muni ride. I also get to work from home quite often, especially during the summer. My last job in Los Angeles involved a commute of about 45 minutes to an hour that, luckily, was against the flow of traffic, so it was only rarely much worse.

As for the people you’ll meet here? Compared to LA, they’re still stubbornly yet gloriously Californian, just in their own special way. Taylor R., who moved to SF from LA eight years ago, says:

In LA, people seem to always want to know what you can do for them, but they do tend to be more willing to go out of their way to meet someone new because of that. In SF, people stick with their crews. There is not much intermingling with new groups for the sake of meeting someone different.

Collister breaks down the difference between the Golden Coast’s two populaces:

I’m sure this sentiment is partly because I worked in the entertainment industry, but my impression is that people in LA are much more concerned about their outward appearance. Cars are status symbols, as are handbags, sunglasses, dog breeds, you name it. I felt like I knew so much about a person as soon as they emerged from their Bentley carrying a purebred Pomeranian in their Louis Vuitton purse. And since driving is such a huge part of life in LA, people on the road generally seem more angry/impatient (as you would expect).

In SF, the wealthiest people are probably the ones in hoodies docking their Ford GoBikes in front of a SoMa tech office. It’s less about looking beautiful and more about “disrupting an industry.” Even though there seem to be a lot more workaholics in the Bay Area, people are generally more laid back, more outdoorsy, and more health-conscious.

And while many expats cited traffic as a major woe vis-à-vis Los Angeles and San Francisco, R.H. (who asked that we use their initials only), who has lived in the city for 25 years, notes that the weather and the tap water down south cannot compare to the delightful chill and tasty H20 one discovers after moving to SF.

Things about LA I won’t miss: Getting into a hot car, day after day during a seemingly endless heatwave. The bad air-quality in LA. (Even on Spare-the-Air days, the onshore flow keeps the SF’s air pretty clean.) Third thing, LA’s tap water doesn’t taste good.

But fret not, Angelenos—you’re still fabulous in our eyes. Well, some of our eyes. The unreasonable disdain for SoCal was a point of contention for some transplants we interviewed.

R.H. sums it up best:

One thing I don’t understand is the disdain for LA that, even outside the sports rivalries, so many SF people have. Angelenos love SF, love coming to SF and the Bay Area. When I first moved here, I was surprised at how many people (native San Franciscans and transplants) told me they hated LA even though they had spent little to no time there. Are the differences so intimidating?

Hear, hear.

And finally, when it comes to a sense of civic pride, San Francisco—for better and for worse—has LA beat. Says McDaniel:

One key difference is that people in San Francisco often seem deeply invested in the idea that San Francisco is the best city in the world. In my opinion, this kind of thing occasionally leads to a kind of defensive parochialism and nostalgia. People in Los Angeles seem to have a more realistic sense of the pros and cons of living in LA, and perhaps makes them less resistant to change. On the other hand, there is such a stronger sense of San Francisco identity among those that live here compared to living in Los Angeles. The population of Los Angeles is so much larger and spread out than in SF that the sense of an “Angeleno” identity is much more diffuse.