My Two Homes

Via Kottle.org, I came across this interesting post about how a person moving to San Francisco from New York (or anywhere else) should experience the city. I heartily agree with its recommendations, especially 1, 3 and 5.

If you’re moving to the Bay Area, at least start out in San Francisco. I understand that it’s expensive, but you have to pay to play. It’s an amazing city that really needs to be lived in to be experienced properly. No offense to the East, North or South Bay, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t start my time here living in one for an extended period of time (and I can’t imagine living in one even now). Don’t get me wrong, each has its own draws (somewhat cheaper real estate, the promise of parking that doesn’t cost $300 a month, etc) but none are as vibrant and accessible as the city.

During my initial run here, I lived downtown at Sutter and Jones in an area affectionately known as the “TenderNob” or “Tenderloin Heights” (take your pick), in deep Noe Valley (Church and 28th), and in Russian Hill (once on Polk and then up on Union). Currently, I’m in lower Pac Heights and it’s as different from Russian Hill (Fillmore is more of a day time hangout, whereas Polk has more of a lively night time scene) as Russian Hill is different from the TenderNob (fewer hookers and junkies in Russian Hill).

I’ve now had the experience of moving from SF to NYC and back (and will do the exchange one more time) and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s much harder for a person who has lived a significant portion of their life in NYC to transition to the city by the bay than it is the other way around. There are a few reasons for that I think (and these are gross generalizations, but here they are):

  • Nightlife/Dining: In NYC, anything goes, pretty much all the time. Over time, it becomes hard to distinguish a weekend night from a Tuesday night. Bars “close” at 4 a.m., but this is more a guideline than a hard and fast rule. Nobody bats an eye at an 11 p.m. dinner reservation, as kitchens stay open deep into the evening. Public transit is generally reliable and runs virtually around the clock. Cabs are plentiful and cheap.

    In SF, generally the opposite is true. Bars close at 2 a.m. (last call is at 1:30). Personally, I get annoyed if I have to settle for a 9:30 p.m. dinner reservation here, and I think that’s true of most people I know because it effectively cuts your night in half. Cabs can be hard to come by depending on what neighborhood you’re in (plus nobody here knows how to use their flag light), and late-night bus service is unreliable, and that’s being very charitable.

    If you walk down Union St., Chestnut St., Fillmore St. or Polk St. (the upper portion, at least) on a Wednesday evening after about 9:30 p.m., it looks dead. It is dead. The Mission might be going off or you might find some club action down in SoMa, but for the most part, SF is shut down Sunday night through Wednesday night. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s certainly different if you’re used to living in Disneyland for adults. I think it’s really hard for some NYC’ers to adjust to the relatively slower pace of life here.

    There’s also a convenience factor in NYC that’s also second to none. I live right across from a 24 hour market in Murray Hill. It’s nice to know that I can get a sandwich or beer at 4 a.m. if I want. You can get almost anything delivered at any time. I consider this a strong plus (especially on nights of hard boozing, ahem) and it’s something I do miss about New York because you can’t get that here.

    As to food, I think a restaurant in NYC can stick around for awhile if it’s got a hot scene but mediocre food, whereas I don’t think that equation would work as well in San Francisco. Maybe it’s because the Bay Area is home to what’s become known as California Cuisine. The organic and slow food movements have strong bases here and we have an abundance of high quality farmers’ markets as well. All of those things combine to make for a very food savvy populace that seems more concerned with the quality, preparation and presentation of what’s delivered to the table than the general aesthetic appeal of the place. That’s not to say people don’t consider atmosphere, just that they’re less likely to make it the deciding factor on whether or not they’d try it out.

  • Nature: When people in NYC talk about nature, they’re talking about Central Park, and while it’s a grand urban oasis, I’ve never gotten the impression that I’d escaped the madness of Manhattan when I was there. When people in NYC talk about getting out of town for the weekend, they’re typically talking about going to the Hamptons, which I take to be like Miami’s South Beach, with more of a tea par-tay crowd.

    When people in SF talk about nature or getting out of town for the weekend, you literally have no idea what they’re talking about until they tell you because there are almost too many options. As noted in the emptypage post, there’s a lot of great stuff within a three or four hour drive (Lake Tahoe, Yosemite) or even within an hour or two (Napa/Sonoma, Muir Woods, Santa Cruz). I feel like people here are much more connected to the outdoors, which only seems right, given the natural beauty of the area.

    You move to NYC because of the city itself. You move to San Francisco because of the city and its adjacent outdoor activities.

  • Weather: This is a big one for a lot of folks and understandably so. For one thing, you’re not getting seasons in SF. Well, you get them, but they don’t look like what most people are used to, nor do they conform to the time of year you’d most associate them with.

    San Francisco basically has three seasons: Cold and Rainy (late-November through March), Foggy (April though July) and Summer (August-mid November). The first is like Seattle, the second like London and the third is like heaven.

    Some folks who visit or move here are under the impression that the weather must be nice all the time because it’s California (!) and so that’s why. A word of warning: San Francisco is not LA (thank God) or San Diego or Santa Barbara. We don’t have eternal summer up here.

    The first year I moved here it (2000), it rained 24 of the 28 days in February and it was so foggy in July you couldn’t see the fireworks on the 4th. I thought I was going to kill myself and I’m not a person who suffers from seasonal affective disorder. But over time, I came to embrace the other two seasons while learning how to tolerate the rain at the start of the year. Once you get acclimated here, it’s quite nice. Virtually nobody has an air conditioner at home because you just don’t need it. The two weeks a year that temps in the city break into the 90s, you trek down to the Walgreens and get a couple of fans like everyone else.

    Layering is a concept that one becomes acquainted with fairly quickly as well because the city’s geography leads to strange packets of weather. It might be sunny in the Mission but foggy and freezing at Pac Bell (never AT & T) Park.

    I grew up in the sweltering heat and (fairly) mild winters in southern Virginia and that kind of weather more or less extends up the eastern seaboard, so I knew what to expect when I got back to NYC, but Jesus…the humidity is a miserable bitch when you haven’t experienced it in years. I tell friends not to visit NYC between June and September. The winter doesn’t bother me much as I’ve always liked cold weather and find snow romantic (at least until it turns into gray sidewalk sludge). But it does have real seasons and I do miss a proper spring (the rolling fields outside Charlottesville were beautiful in late April) and fall (crisp October nights and drives to see the changing leaves are something everyone should experience). If you enjoy traditional seasons, SF might not be a good fit.

    In any case, both are among the best American cities you could live in. They’re different for sure, but both contain multitudes. Just make you don’t call San Francisco “‘frisco” or “San Fran”. That’s a no-no.

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    ~ by uvasig on July 8, 2009.

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