40 reasons not to leave San Francisco
This article was originally written by Dan Gentile of SFGATE. Find the original article here.
San Francisco is the type of city that captures you.
For many, it’s love at first sight. How could you not fall for the fog-draped skyline, the stately Victorians or the many parks scattered throughout the city? Others might not warm up until the second or third date, the deal sealed by a life-affirming burrito or yet another impossible Steph Curry 3-pointer. Or maybe you need to stumble upon a punk concert on a BART train to be convinced that the city still has a renegade streak underneath its techie exterior.
Yet San Francisco is far from a perfect partner. Issues of inequality, gentrification and high costs are just a few of the reasons many have lost faith, exacerbated by a pandemic exodus that we’re still recovering from. Despite the many reasons to leave SF, there are so many things to love. To celebrate San Francisco, 20 members of SFGATE’s staff contributed reasons we’ve resisted the temptation to leave for less-foggy pastures. Here’s why we’re staying in our beautifully complicated city.
They can change your life permanently.
2. The weather
When the temperature occasionally rises above 90 degrees, the heat never lasts for long. Within a day or two, the fog always rolls in, spreading across the Sunset and Richmond before frosting the hills and dipping into the valleys. Tired of gray gloom? You can almost always find balmy weather in the Mission or the Bayview, where the sun comes out most afternoons, shining into the alleyways and across the bay.
3. It’s the best costume town in the world
From Bay to Breakers to the city’s yearly mass exodus to Burning Man, San Franciscans will take any excuse to escape from the normalcy of jeans and hoodies with a fantastic look — even if it means they may need to reserve sections of their closets just for costumes.
4. The Robin Williams Tunnel
On your way back into the city from a day in Marin, passing through the rainbow-painted archway dedicated to SF’s patron saint of comedy is a simple pleasure that naturally shoots a big grin across commuters’ faces and feels like a huge welcome to the city and all its endless possibilities. Next time you drive through it, make a wish and hold your breath all the way through until you see that first glorious view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
5. The mysteries of Golden Gate Park
The city’s crown jewel is bigger than Central Park and full of the whimsical surprises that make San Francisco so special — from miniature Victorians to flowing waterfalls to a literal buried treasure.
6. Quirky old houses, especially Victorians
San Francisco is known for its colorful, old Victorian homes, some so special they’ve been moved around the city. But this didn’t just happen in the late 1800s. The city came out in droves to watch the 5,000-square-foot “Englander House” crawl through the streets of Hayes Valley in 2021, cheering as it cleared street signs and power lines. These homes are also full of quirks, from mysterious door levers to split bathrooms to “California coolers,” making living in one feel like a window into another era.
7. Because it’s still raining in the Tonga Room
Even our tourist traps are worth a visit.
8. Day trips
A day off in the Bay Area is the start of untold possibilities. If you’re up by 7 a.m. on Saturday, you could be in the snowy mountains of Tahoe by lunchtime, overlooking the expansive coastline of Big Sur with a cocktail in hand by the afternoon. Sleep in a bit, and you can be in a glorious state park to watch the sunset. Plus, an easy 30-minute BART ride to Oakland unlocks an entirely different city. If you’re not visiting the Town at least once a month, you’re doing SF wrong.
9. Steph Curry
You know this isn’t normal, right? Not every city has a tiny immortal magician who is as good at basketball as ever — which for him means as good at basketball as anyone has ever been — two months shy of his 35th birthday.
10. Every corner store sells It’s-It
11. High-quality “curb candy”
One millionaire’s trash is another’s treasure, and one could fill a whole apartment with oddities you find alongside a curb. On Haight Street, you might stumble upon a brand-new nylon string guitar left behind in a pile of furniture during someone’s move. Or perhaps you’re randomly gifted an antiquated Stella Artois art piece tossed from a city hotel near Union Square. Not to mention the proliferation of free little libraries, providing every neighborhood with a wealth of secondhand reading material.
12. The doors
We’re not talking about Jim Morrison’s tortured psych poetry but rather the beauty of simply strolling through a San Francisco neighborhood admiring the ornate, colorful and quirky front doors that may or may not lead to a chamber of secrets.
13. San Francisco’s rebellious spirit lives on
Skaters bomb hills with reckless abandon, punk rockers throw rebellious shows on BART trains, the St. Stupid’s Day Parade marches on and the city’s most divisive public performer is back to scaring tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf.
14. It’s an epicenter of LGBTQ culture
Even as the city weathers socioeconomic and demographic changes — which have affected the gay population dramatically — we’re still a landmark for LGBTQ people worldwide. Where else in the world could a trans “Drag Race” alum become one of the most influential figures in city politics? Where else would a kinky, queer leather event rival Pride in popularity? And, most importantly, where does the rest of the country look to for the standard of how the LGBTQ community should be treated? It’s all here in the City by the Bay.
15. Multilingual public transportation
Every regular Muni rider hears announcements in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Tagalog.
16. Convenient voting
In a city that’s only 7 by 7 miles, somehow nearly 200 polling places are set up in peoples’ garages scattered across the city’s patchwork of neighborhoods, atop hills and at the bottom of valleys.
17. The LSD museum
Counterculture holdouts are few and far between these days, but San Francisco’s Summer of Love spirit still thrives in hidden corners of the city — like the crumbling Victorian in the Mission that houses what’s likely the world’s largest (and only) collection of LSD tab art.
18. Flocks of wild parrots
There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon a gaggle of San Francisco’s wild parrots — a band of mischievous green-feathered creatures that have flocked to the city for decades. You can spot them soaring loudly in the sky or dangling from telephone wires near the Embarcadero or in Dolores Park, as well as the Lower Haight, Noe Valley, Lafayette Park, Crissy Field and even as far south as Sunnyvale and Brisbane.
19. The ocean
20. Ridiculously easy composting
San Francisco has had large-scale composting since the 1990s and curbside pickup available since 2001, but in 2009, things kicked up a notch with a new mandatory waste diversion policy. The fact that we can toss food scraps, compostable takeout utensils and used paper products into a regular ol’ Recology bin and they’ll get whisked away to a new life is so wonderful for the environment that living in another city seems downright wasteful.
Outside of Hawaii and Los Angeles County, the United States just doesn’t have that many large Japanese American enclaves, statistically speaking. But San Francisco’s Japantown serves as one of the few places in the Bay Area where Japanese Americans (and all San Franciscans) can bond over good ramen, dollar stores and a cherished corner of California where a woman speaking Japanese can cut you the biggest, freshest block of tofu you’ve ever seen.
22. The smell of Italian food in North Beach
North Beach is full of bars, restaurants and shops with unshakable reputations: Vesuvio. City Lights. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Specs’. Each stands on its own. But what really makes North Beach special is the smell of Italian food. It’s an overwhelming mood-lifter and stomach-rumbler, a somehow underrated part of the city. Let it waft over you, and then pick a spot — any spot, really — and enjoy.
23. We are the center of the ‘Star Wars’ universe
What other city boasts a Yoda statue? The Lucasfilm headquarters in the Presidio is just one more reason SF is an epicenter of geek culture.
24. Our historic theaters
From the century-old Castro Theatre to the cozy and newly reopened 4 Star Theater in the Outer Richmond, every old movie house has its own special qualities. Legendary filmmaker John Waters is on the advisory board of the Roxie Theater and occasionally stops by. And the Balboa Theater’s raucous monthly showings of “The Room” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” are can’t-miss film events, the latter of which is accompanied by a live performance from the Bawdy Caste.
25. The best dive bars in America
This is not a subjective statement; it is an objective one, so much so that we hired America’s first dive bar columnist to help cover an unending number of legendary neighborhood spots like Clooney’s, Black Horse London Pub, Bow Bow, Doc’s Clock, Molotov’s, Shotwell’s, CC’s, Tempest, Hi Dive, Zam Zam, Mauna Loa, Edinburgh Castle, Zeitgeist, Phone Booth, Li Po, Bender’s, Madrone and so many more.
26. 220 city parks (and counting!)
The city’s impressive park system is always growing, most notably with the recent addition of Tunnel Tops, which expands on the Presidio’s already amazing 2 square miles’ worth of (mostly) nature. John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park also permanently closed this year, which has given us a whole new way to appreciate the city’s crown jewel. Dolores Park on a sunny afternoon is essentially the town square. Downtown even has public green spaces between the tall buildings, otherwise known as POPOS (though these may be at risk). There’s just nothing quite like being able to choose from so many luscious parks. And without them, of course, there would be no place for people to put their mysterious nightstands.
27. The Godfather of Skate
Not all heroes wear capes — some wear roller skates. David Miles Jr. deserves a place in the San Francisco Hall of Fame for his relentless advocacy for skating culture, running the Church of 8 Wheels, Skatin’ Place at Golden Gate Park and even a roller disco just steps from City Hall.
28. Musical instrument shops and record stores
From North Beach woodwind showroom Flute World to electronic music outpost Mission Synths, San Francisco has a shop ready to send you on your way with a new instrument. And for those looking for musical inspiration, the city has some of the world’s finest record stores, from Haight Street mainstays like Amoeba and Vinyl Dreams to Parkside outpost Tunnel Records.
29. Stern Grove
For 85 years running, the city’s premier summer concert series has been totally free.
30. Rent-controlled apartments
Finding one of these last bastions of affordability might be the only reason you can stay.
31. Pioneering chefs
San Francisco’s trailblazing chefs have created a culinary legacy recognized around the globe — and their accolades are proof. Take for instance Martin Yan, the celebrated chef who earned a place in America’s heart with his hit PBS TV show “Yan Can Cook.” He no longer has a restaurant in the city, but restaurateurs like Brandon Jew are carrying the torch for the next generation of Chinese chefs and scoring James Beard awards in the process at his upscale restaurant Mister Jiu’s. Not to mention the dozens of fine dining pioneers, like Dominique Crenn, whose artistic expression permeates through every dish at Atelier Crenn and helped her become the only female chef in the U.S. with three Michelin stars (as well as a consultant on foodie horror films).
32. It’s a dog paradise
Walking through Hayes Valley, a random corgi owner might approach you and ask, “Would you like to pet Boba?” Friendly pups — and their owners — can be found everywhere across the city, romping in parks, barking in meetups and even enjoying their own fine dining restaurant. San Francisco just might be dog heaven. And yes, if we absolutely must, we would be delighted to pet a corgi named Boba.
33. Every street hides a wild history
San Francisco’s early robber barons, adventurers, outlaws and pioneers built some of the weirdest and most wonderful structures in America, many of which still line our steep streets today. There’s the cartoonlike tower on Telegraph Hill with no address, built by a lovelorn Italian immigrant; the half-house in Pacific Heights that never got finished after two rich sisters became enemies; the 130-year-old tunnel by the beach that’s seen raves, ghosts and satanic rituals.
These obscure architectural gems seem to unearth themselves on any Sunday stroll, revealing a history that die-hard San Franciscans would never want to leave behind.
34. The ferry
Sometimes being crammed shoulder to shoulder with commuters in a dark BART tunnel can feel a little claustrophobic. That’s where San Francisco’s ferries come in — a spacious, beautiful way to travel about the Bay Area using the same Clipper card you use to get around the city while sipping a ferry-themed beer from a local brewery.
35. The legendary drag scene
San Francisco’s drag scene is still recovering from the pandemic, but the city is incentivizing its return. Applications for the city’s first Drag Laureate program launched in November 2022. The initiative will highlight a drag performer to “serve as spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ Community of San Francisco” by putting on drag events in collaboration with civic organizations. They’ll be paid $55,000 over 18 months to bring San Francisco’s rich drag history into this new era.
36. It’s just so damn gorgeous
In some ways, all big cities look the same. Dull downtown skyscrapers, busy streets, rows of apartments with no front yards or backyards in sight. San Francisco has that urban core, but take a few steps up any hill, and you’re met with sweeping views of blue ocean and green mountains. Unlike New York City, where it’s a surprise when a street dead-ends into the water, SF is never far from nature, and it’s worth staying in for the vistas alone.
37. Danny Glover is still fighting for San Francisco
And repping Vegan Mob while he’s at it.
The city’s high housing prices keep many families away, but those who can make it work know it’s an incredible place to raise children. Despite a Byzantine lottery system, immersive language programs mean your child may be bilingual at 9 years old. If you can trust your kids to take Muni, they’ll learn patience and problem-solving, which is hard to come by in the suburbs. And there’s always a new playscape to explore, like the Seward Mini Park, with two 40-foot-long concrete slides.
39. You can just change neighborhoods
San Francisco isn’t just one city; it’s really dozens of tiny cities smashed together in 46.87 square miles. If you’re feeling a lack of inspiration or bored of the same old streets, moving across town is an easy way to unlock fresh experiences. Just watch out for apartments that don’t really exist.
40. Because there’s a lot of room for improvement
Let’s face it: For every one of the previous 39 reasons to stay in the city, there’s an easy rebuttal framing it as a sign of San Francisco’s demise. The city’s identity was built on hippie ideals, but it can seem impossible for artists to afford even a one-bedroom apartment. We celebrate our diversity, but the most poignant San Francisco film of the past decade, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” is about the shrinking Black population (which has fallen from 10.9% to 5.7% in 20 years). Crime, drug addiction and mental health issues make walking down many city streets a shocking experience. The disparity between extravagant wealth created by the tech industry and our inability to provide solutions for the unhoused population is an embarrassment.
Complaining about these issues is actually one of our city’s great unifiers, but running away from them isn’t the solution. To truly celebrate the spirit of San Francisco is to acknowledge that the city’s evolution is far from complete — and that change is necessary for the things we love to remain the same.
Those are our 40 reasons to stay, but we’d love to hear more. Share with us why you’re sticking around San Francisco on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Kimberly Alters, Amanda Bartlett, Joshua Bote, Andrew Chamings, Katie Dowd, Amy Graff, Susana Guerrero, Fiona Lee, Nico Madrigal-Yankowski, Grant Marek, Tessa McLean, Sam Moore, Steph Rodriguez, Victoria Sepulveda, Alex Shultz, Kendra Smith, Silas Valentino and Dennis Young contributed to this story.