The vacancy rate in San Francisco is a miniscule 2%, with a whopping 65% of the city being renter-occupied as opposed to homeowners. Take some of the following tips to heart and you’ll have a much better shot at finding a spot for your extensive record collection.
How much will it cost? Prices vary greatly depending on what neighborhood you’re looking at, but it’s not uncommon to see 1 bedroom units for $2000. Lucky for you, the city does have rent control laws in place for apartments built before 1979 (most were), so you won’t have to worry about dramatic annual spikes if you do end up in one of those buildings. If your place is newer, be sure to ask about their history of rent increases, as 20% rent hikes after the first year have been known to ruin many's mood.
When to rent: Winter is the quietest season for renting, while Spring and Summer are busy. But be prepared; finding an apartment in San Francisco will be a challenge—a challenge that could take weeks, months or hours. Hours? Yes, hours. You should be prepared to plunk down your money as soon as you start physically looking at places, because odds are if you like it, someone else will too, and they’ll snatch it up while you’re home “sleeping on it.” Don’t sleep on it.
What you need: Be prepared to raise your game. With the competition for places being über stiff, you’d be wise to treat your apartment search like a job search (and a job search in today's economy, at that). When you get an appointment with a landlord, be on time. Be friendly. Be professional. Have your documents ready. Remember that 3-ring binder? Yeah, get that and put inside of it your credit report, rental application, letter of employment (or your 2 most recent pay stubs), references, and if you’re bringing a pet, you might need a “pet resume”—something to show the management that your precious parakeet has had all her shots and doesn’t have a record of biting people’s earlobes off. Of course, have your checkbook ready too because you’ll need to be ready to act quickly. A security deposit paid on the spot speaks volumes.
There’s no shortage of quality and quaint neighborhoods here. We’ll do our best to break some of the biggest nabes down for you here, but for in depth neighborhood overviews.
Bernal Heights: Next to the Mission (see below), Bernal Heights has parks and restaurants.
Castro: Remember Milk with Sean Penn? This is the ‘hood where Harvey Milk made history. It’s close to the Haight, close to the Mission, and there’s loads of great shopping and eating.
Chinatown: A famous downtown community jam-packed with shops, restaurants, vendors and history.
Cole Valley: Just a couple of blocks south of Haight-Ashbury, Cole Valley is a popular place with some very nice living options. Cole Valley is one of the smaller hoods in SF so only a few blocks worth of rentals will place you in this area.
Cow Hollow: Area near The Presidio & the Marina. It’s pretty much just the Marina.
Civic Center-Tenderloin: Neighborhood contains an array of restaurants, along with City Hall.
Financial District: The central business district of San Francisco and where the city gets its beautiful skyline from.
Haight-Asbury: It’s flat here, so great for walking and biking and you’re close Golden Gate Park & the Panhandle for a handful of sunny SF days. Upper Haight is a bit cooler temperature-wise (and more shopping/touristy heavy) than Lower Haight, which is just down the street past Buena Vista Park and Divisadero.
Hayes Valley: Somewhat of an unsung gem, this area boasts great restaurants and culture. Hayes Valley is fairly centrally located among the other hoods mentioned, so it would make for a nice walk to the Mission or Haight.
Hunters Point/Bayview: Located in the southeastern part of the city, this is where you’ll find the 49ers playing at Candlestick Park.
Marina District: Marina is a neighborhood with a great view of the bay and great food.
Mission District: Here you’ll find murals, great food, and some rad thrift, antique and used bookstores. If you can, look for a spot near Dolores Park as this is one of the choicest hangouts in the city and boasts one of the best views around.
Nob Hill-Russian Hill: These hilly, cable car-loving neighborhoods offer spectacular apartments and views. Some blocks lack the Victorian charm of many parts of the city, so if you're adamant about crown molding and vaulted ceilings you might want to take a gander at Google Street View before touring for yourself. Nob & Russian Hill offer big blocks of residential living, it’s a great spot to consider.
Noe Valley: Another primarily residential area.
North Beach: One of the classic San Francisco neighborhoods, you’ll find lots of restaurants, boutiques and tourists here. Washington Square Park is always packed on Saturdays, Sundays, and, well, most days. If you can find a spot, it’s a great choice.
Pacific Heights: There are many Victorian homes here, and Lower Pacific Heights can be a great find with convenient access to the park, Fillmore Street shopping & dining, and Japantown.
Richmond District: A residential area. It’s foggy here, but it’s less expensive than elsewhere.
Sunset District: Home to lots of parks and an increasing amount of surfers. Outer Sunset also has plenty of rental deals. Oh, and fog. The Sunset district is on the westernmost edge of San Francisco. Unlike elsewhere in SF, if you’re moving here (or the Richmond), you’ll probably want a car.
SoMA (South of Market): This is the perfect place to live if you work downtown. Filled with museums, hotels, and plenty of great restaurants, here you’ll find many loft style apartments, an eclectic energy, and baseball’s Giants. SoMA is home to many industrial and warehouse buildings & newer high-rise apartment complexes.
Western Addition: Home to the musically rich Fillmore neighborhood, this area also contains Japantown and has no shortage of Victorian homes. It’s primarily residential, but there are corner stores galore.
It’s not “San Fran”, and don’t you dare call it “Frisco”
- San Franciscans are a unique breed, and one that’s very protective of their home turf. “San Francisco” is just that, and nicknames of any variety (with the exception of “The City” and “SF”) are a dead giveaway for tourists. Also, Gough Street is pronounced “GOFF”, & and that “L” in Polk Street, that’s not just sittin’ there for kicks.
- Because the city is just 7 miles by 7 miles, you’ll learn the streets well and in SF it’s common to use cross streets (as opposed to exact addresses) as a navigational means. Speaking of navigation...
The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Muni
- Public transportation is a major way of life here and there’re many options. Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway) combines it all: light rail, subway, bus, trolley, carrier pigeon, you name it. Learn your neighborhood, ask around, and you’ll soon find the best combo of public transit. Be sure to order & fill a Clipper card online (or get one at a local Walgreens), as this is the form of payment most easily accepted on Muni vehicles.
- For drivers, traffic can be an issue depending on where you live. If you plan on commuting to Silicon Valley, you’ll want to rent in the southeast section to ease your freeway access & minimize your drive time. Make sure to get an apartment with an assigned parking spot, too, as street spots are rare and parking tickets are not.
- If you’re a fan of repeatedly putting one front in front of the other, you’ll love San Francisco; Walkscore.com ranked it America’s most walkable city in 2008. If you’re a fan of bicycles, great; you’ll have plenty of company with fellow commuters who pedal their way to work. If you’re a fan of forgetting to put your car in park – a very weird thing to be a fan of, we might add – then rethink your move here. Lots of hills mean lots of opportunities for things to roll down them.
- For the true 21st century dudes and dudettes, check out Zip Car if you’re not planning on owning, but would still like to get behind the wheel occasionally, and be sure to download the “Transporter” app to your iPhone for real-time updates on Muni & BART arrivals.
In San Francisco, you’ll be treated to one of the world’s greatest cities, full of culture, history, open minds, and spectacular food. Congratulations on your move and best of luck finding that perfect pad!