A post all about moving to and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and buckle up, because this one is a book!
This blog is called A Lady Goes West, and in case you’re in the dark as to why, it’s because almost exactly five years ago to the day, this lady moved from Orlando, Florida to San Francisco, California — a westward move. It was huge. Dave and I had just recently gotten married, and we picked up and took a big leap of faith, knowing basically no one and basically nothing in the Bay Area, other than the fact that Dave had a great job offer.
Moving across the country is hard
I can definitely say that without a doubt, making that move was one of the biggest things that we’ve ever done. Perhaps bigger than getting married. Likely not bigger than becoming parents (which we will be very soon, as we’re anxiously awaiting the appearance of our little Baby Goes West boy). But huge.
It’s funny, because the first year that Dave and I were married and out here, we would often get asked “how’s married life?” and our answer was always that being married is totally easy and hardly a change from before we were married. However, moving across the country is super hard. Like really super hard. Not just the logistics, but also the adjustment to being in a place where you only know one person and you have to live a totally different lifestyle than you’re used to in a very urban setting. We leaned on each other a lot, and we needed each other a lot in our daily lives. And I can definitely say that our marriage is easier now, because we’ve done something as tough as make a move like that — we’re stronger because of it. And I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we didn’t have each other. I don’t think separately, we would’ve done it. So I’m sending major props to anyone who makes a big move on his/her own. You go!
The evolution of A Lady Goes West
When I first moved out to San Francisco, I started A Lady Goes West and wrote blog posts about nearly every single adventure we did and things we learned. I wrote about trying Uber, because it started here in San Francisco and we were very early adopters — back when it was hard to explain to people how it even worked. I wrote about taking the BART, our subway system, and all the things I saw on there, because public transit was completely foreign to me. I wrote about getting our groceries delivered, before that was even a thing. I wrote about searching for a job and building a life in an entirely new place on foot. And I wrote about missing my family, which I still do every single day.
And some of those posts are pretty raw and real. And, well, they remain live on the blog, and I don’t ever plan to delete them, even though they don’t totally go with the theme of what I write about today.
As the years have gone on, A Lady Goes West has morphed into a slightly more professional place, which still isn’t too serious, but is less like a diary and more like a resource. As I’ve learned more about fitness, become a personal trainer and picked up additional certifications, I’ve brought that to the blog, and it’s definitely grown because of it. And at times, I’m shocked and happy how this blog has become so much more than I could have possibly expected. It’s incredibly important to me. And I know for a fact that everything I am doing today in my career and life has somewhat been shaped because of that big move we made five years ago, particularly this blog.
Our respective jobs
Dave’s job is great. He works for the Golden State Warriors NBA team, and if you’ve not heard — they’re basically the best, and we’ve even walked in two NBA Champ parades — an incredible experience.
And my job is non-traditional, and at times, I know that some people back in Florida still don’t quite get it. I’m a blogger, writer and fitness professional, and that’s how I fill my days and make money. And I didn’t even really know that type of combination existed before I moved. When I lived in Orlando, I worked as a copywriter for a hotel brand at a desk each day and taught two group fitness classes on the side as a straight-up hobby, and I likely would’ve continued down the corporate path had I stayed there.
I never dreamed that the majority of my work would one day be related to fitness and not coming from a big corporation. But it does. These days, it’s becoming more common for people to have non-traditional roles all over the world, but here, it was understood very early on, because of the entrepreneurial nature of the Bay Area in general.
Last year, Dave and I won a “40 Under 40” award for the East Bay of San Francisco, and that honor was not bestowed to me because I had a desk job, it was given to me for this blog and for my place in the community touching a lot of people as an instructor. Had I not moved, I wouldn’t know that this was my calling, and I was actually cut out for something other than a respected and easily understood 9-to-5 gig.
At no point do I want to make it sound like I don’t absolutely love my home state of Florida, which is where so many of my life-long friends, and of course, my dear family live. I loved growing up in Florida and living in Orlando after college — I was totally happy there and likely would have remained happy. But I do want to make it sound like there are so many benefits to me from the way things have worked out and from what I’ve learned because of making a big move/transition to a new place — it’s because of that chance to wipe the slate clean and explore new avenues that I’ve been given many opportunities that I may not have ever had if I stayed in Florida. My eyes have been opened more. I’ve traveled more. I’ve been exposed to new ideas. I’ve put myself out there more. I’ve met so many new and interesting people unlike me. I’ve failed. I’ve triumphed. I’ve cried. I’ve laughed. I’ve written an ebook. And I’m still going.
What I’ve learned from five years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area
Now, let’s get to the lessons … and remember this: Where you live is totally up to you. I am absolutely not saying that San Francisco is better than other cities for you, I’m saying this is how it’s worked out for me with the process of relocating to a bigger city and basically starting over. You do you, friends!
You can’t always get what you want, and that’s a good thing.
You may be thinking that this post is going to be about every single amazing thing that has happened to me or to us the past five years. But not so much. Some of the best lessons have come about because of the hard parts. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that I became a non-traditional blogging/writing gal, is because I was turned down from some very big jobs that I thought were perfect for me. I applied multiple times for open roles at POPSUGAR, and I never even got an interview that first year. Fast forward to now, and I’ve been interviewed as a quotable resource for the site, even had one of my original pieces appear on there and been invited to events at the headquarters, in which I met Lisa Sugar.
There was also another “job that got away” out there that really tore me up. Some of you long-time readers may know that there was once a San Francisco office for the Les Mills group fitness company (the creators of BODYPUMP, etc.), and I had the opportunity to work as a contractor there starting just a few weeks after moving to SF. I met some of the Les Mills greats, who worked in that office. I helped ship the Les Mills new release kits, when they were still in hard-copy form. And I also thought I was a shoe-in for a full-time permanent communications role with Les Mills, which was essentially promised to me. Guess what? I didn’t get the job in the end, and another gal, who was willing to work for a slightly lower salary and didn’t even know much about the Les Mills brand, got it. (I’m sure she was very nice and qualified, and I even worked with her on a few things years later via this blog, but it’s easier for me to have some petty disdain. You feel me?) I was so upset that I almost considered quitting teaching Les Mills programs once I got the news (via text … yes, I found out via text). At the time, it was devastating, and those feelings stayed with me for months. But, after it happened, I started doing a little freelance public relations and writing work, something I had NEVER done or considered before, slowly paving the way for my future.
What does all this mean? Those upsets were meant to happen. Truth be told — I don’t like having a boss, and I’ve always wanted to be able to write exactly what I want to write and come and go as I please — without having set office hours. When interview after interview for public relations and communications jobs didn’t quite work out … I should have known that the universe was pushing me elsewhere. I did end up working in a PR job in San Francisco for a while and a pretty interesting writing/content job in the East Bay for a while too — but both times I knew they weren’t the right fit. Yet, those jobs and all of my disappointments sure groomed me to be able to handle my own thing, just like I’m doing today.
Home is where you lay your head at night, and that’s really all that matters.
If you live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ve likely heard that it’s expensive to live here. You’ve heard right, but it’s probably way worse than you expect, and you end up spending way more of a percentage of your income on living costs than you should. When Dave and I first moved, we found a one-bedroom 700-square foot apartment in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco, and the rent was nearly double the mortgage we paid for a much-larger and nicer condo in downtown Orlando.
We downsized like you wouldn’t believe — selling so much stuff (and selling my car, so we’d only have one) and beginning to figure out what it would be like to live with way less. And you know what? Living with less is awesome. Living in a small space is totally fine. And after that apartment, we downsized again to a 550-square foot place in the magical Nob Hill neighborhood, which didn’t even have a full real one bedroom nor a full-size fridge. These places were incredibly pricey to live in, they were tiny, tiny, tiny, and they were so charming. We shared a less-than-ideal closet. Dave’s dresser was in the foyer/hallway entrance to our place. My dresser was halfway between the living room and bedroom, which were only separated by a partial wall. And these space constraints meant that before buying ANYTHING new or bringing ANYTHING home, we had to think twice about whether we had the space for it. It made us much more thoughtful when it comes to material things, and I think that’s mostly remained. We also got rid of having a TV in the bedroom, which was such a great change for our sleep hygiene (such an important thing) that we’ve maintained to this day.
We are currently living in our third place in the Bay Area, and now we are in Walnut Creek, which is outside of the City across the Bay, and I have a car now too. Our place is much larger than our Nob Hill shoe-box, but it’s still pretty small and only has two bedrooms. And yet, it houses two full-grown adults, a dog and a baby on the way. It’s a super nice place, and unlike our other spots in SF, it’s much newer. We have a nice full kitchen with the latest appliances, and a decent amount of storage space. We like it here. But it’s definitely not what we would have pictured or envisioned for ourselves at this point in our lives — especially because we are still renters too.
And something I haven’t yet shared on the blog is that we really are ready to make that step to be homeowners here, and we gave it a try this summer. A big try. In fact, for about four months over the summer, I looked at probably close to 100 houses in the East Bay with our lovely realtor, who is also my friend. We went to countless open houses and we even put forth eight official offers on homes. We never got one though. Each time, there were multiple offers, and we were way outbid. Every time we put forth an offer, we would go in way over the asking price, drop so many of the contingencies that are supposed to keep buyers safe, just to make our application more appealing, and yet, we never won out. We even included a letter and picture of us, telling the sellers that we needed a home for to raise our first baby. None of that worked. We finally stopped searching once we realized the baby’s arrival was too close to deal with all of that stress. Why am I telling you all of this? Because this happens to a lot of people here. And because the houses we were bidding on were not our dream houses. They weren’t large, they weren’t fancy, and they weren’t anything special. Even though just the down payment for them is basically the price of a house in most locations. But we knew we would learn to love them once they were are own, in spite of small closets and older kitchens, etc..
You see, living in many parts of the Bay Area often means your “home” isn’t too big or too luxurious (well, for some people that’s not the case, but I’m talking about the average person here), and you definitely have to accept that you will pay way more than you want to pay, and people outside of the Bay Area will not possibly even believe the conditions. But, what you get is a spot in an area so desirable that every vacant apartment or house has a line of people out the door wanting to occupy it. In a way, that’s kinda cool. But in another way, it’s totally dreadful. It’s just something you learn to accept as reality. And it’s also something that makes it very hard for you to watch episodes of “House Hunters,” in which you see what you can get for much less money in other parts of the country.
Dave and I know how to live with a little less stuff, place importance on our comfort and fulfillment, and not fixate or focus on having the absolutely largest and nicest house around. That’s just not all that important. What matters is that we’re together, we’re happy, and we’re growing our family in a lovely little rented spot, which we currently call h-o-m-e.
It’s harder to make friends as an adult, but that’s okay, because you can have many different kinds of friends.
When I first started making friends in San Francisco, I would get just a bit frustrated early on, because typically, everyone was so different from me. I also didn’t like that they didn’t know that much about my past and history — I was even called, gasp, very Southern. How strange, right? But of course the new friends didn’t know that much about me — we were just getting acquainted. The reason I felt this was because I had spent my entire life until then in Florida with some of the same friends from elementary school, adding onto my circle with other people who I had big experiences with, like college roommates, etc. My inner-circle in Florida had been around a long time, and although I added new friends all the time — for some reason, we often had a lot more in common, maybe some mutual friends, and they came into my established group, so it was just easier.
Fast forward to living in a big city like San Francisco, where a lot of people are from other places, and you’re all working adults with a lot going on, you have to try a bit harder to find that common ground. You have to hang out a few times to even be sure if you click. And sometimes, you will, and sometimes you won’t. I’ve made a lot of friends now in the last five years and have definitely made some really great ones (especially since moving out to the East Bay in Walnut Creek), but I’ve also realized that I’ve made some friends who may never be “great” friends, but they are totally good friends — if that makes any sense at all. We can have a few shared interests and hang out occasionally and not need to be involved in every aspect of each other’s lives, like I was so used to being with my best friends in Florida.
The whole point of this one is that it’s okay to have best friends, work friends, gym friends, casual friends and whatever-you-want-to-call them friends. We need all sorts of people in our lives, and there’s a time and a place for all of them. I like all of my friends I’ve made over the past five years here, and I’ve seen some come and go. I’ve also remained friends with my Florida people, and our relationships may not be quite as close as they once were when we were younger, but we certainly don’t skip a beat when we are together. They are still SO important to me and will always have a huge place in my heart, and we will always be that way. And that’s what friends are for. I love them, especially these girls … pictured at my baby shower in Florida last month.
When you’re younger, it’s easier to go “all in” with new friends, and it takes more time as an adult, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Not to mention, when you add the aspect of a spouse, sometimes you have to try to like the friends’ significant others too, to make sure you guys are all a match, which can be even more tricky.
No matter what, connection and community is essential, so keep trying, because friends are important. Make them. Keep them. Cherish them.
People may not understand your choices, and that’s fine, because they don’t have to get it, only YOU have to get it.
There have been times when I’ve mentioned to someone back in Florida about how much I hate that I don’t live closer to my Mom. And oftentimes, his/her immediate response is to say that we should just move back to Florida. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. I would absolutely LOVE to have my parents, brother (who is actually in Atlanta) and long-time friends nearby … but I can honestly say that I don’t want to just move back to Florida at this moment and go back to what I did before. It’s not that simple. My family would love nothing more than to have me closer, but they also are supportive of me and of us and know that we’re making the right decisions. Do I feel bad about being far? Every day of my life. But do I know this is right for us right now? Yes. We wanted and needed this experience.
When you move to the Bay Area and it clicks for you and you’ve all of a sudden seen what it’s like to live here, you may not want to leave either. I’ve had numerous conversations with friends here who have moved from other places, in which their friends/family back home can’t understand why they deal with the traffic, public transportation, cost of living and hustle and bustle. They don’t get it. But I always tell those people and tell myself — as long as YOU get it, that’s all that matters. And some of you may be thinking you’d not be into that at all, and that’s totally fine — what we like and where we live is hopefully entirely up to us. That’s the beauty of America.
I’ve known people who have become a little fed up with life in the Bay Area and left for cheaper spots. Not a single one of those people doesn’t say how much they miss living here and wish they could return. Maybe their wallets are thanking them, but they know what they’re missing out on. Living in a place like the Bay Area definitely has its pros and cons, and I know that if we ever leave, we will probably miss a lot more than we don’t. And nobody really needs to understand that except for us. And I’m sure many people feel this way about their lives in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, or any other big city, which I’ve never experienced as a resident and may be equally as awesome.
No location is perfect. No city is perfect. No state is perfect. But if you find more enrichment out of one spot than another, then that’s where you should be — even if it means you do endure a few sacrifices to be there. And it’s not up to anyone else to tell you where you should be living.
A few other things I’ve learned
And for a few shorter tidbits …
- California is huge. And there are distinct parts to it. Before I moved to California, I would’ve assumed that San Francisco and Los Angeles were similar and close to each other. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If there is no traffic (and there is NEVER no traffic), you could drive from SF to LA in about six hours. But that never happens. And what you would experience after making that drive would be two entirely different places. Northern California and Southern California are quite opposite with many things. They have their own reputations, and they have their own character. Of course, being that I live in the Bay Area, I think Northern California, with it’s cooler weather, more laid-back attitude and hipster tendencies is superior. But there are millions of Southern Californians who would disagree. It’s actually quite funny how there is a bit of a rivalry in the state. I like it.
- You are close to everything in the Bay Area. We can get to mountains, the Pacific Ocean, islands, the beach, an urban downtown, wine country and even a redwood forest in less than an hour. That’s a lot of great stuff to have in your backyard.
- Good things come to those who wait. People get married and have kids later here in the Bay Area (and in most larger cities, from what I hear), and they’re not at all upset about it. In fact, when I first arrived, people thought it was so weird that I was already married. You see, oftentimes, people here are a bit more focused on their careers and making money and going to festivals before marriage, etc. They often wait to find a mate and settle down with a family well into their 30s instead of their 20s, and that’s fine if that works for them. I even know some ladies freezing their eggs. So cool! And to each his own! (Of course, with our situation, we had a little setback in the fertility/fitness department, but we still weren’t ready for kids until later anyhow.)
- Nicknames are particular. Here’s a funny and slightly petty thing, but you should never call it “San Fran.” This is a mistake my friends from home and many tourists make, but people in SF don’t like that nickname at all — they consider it degrading. You can say, the City, SF or San Francisco, just not “San Fran.” I’m thankful that someone told Dave and me that before we even moved, but quite honestly, I don’t quite get it.
- It’s truly ground zero for innovation. So many companies and products start out in the Bay Area, so you will often get the chance to see things before they hit the shelves across the nation. Uber, Instacart, you name it, we had the opportunity to use it before it became a household name. And I happen to love that. When “they” say there are a lot of start-ups here, they aren’t kidding.
- Saying goodbye never gets easier, nor does distance. I cry every single time I say goodbye to my parents after a visit. It’s always hard. It will always be hard. Distance is tough. And no situation is perfect. If it were up to me, my Mom would live close enough to be my on-call babysitter and shopping partner. But she doesn’t live close, so we make it work as best as we can with longer visits a few times a year, and lots and lots of phone calls. And the reality of having a baby with my family so far away is hard to handle, but it’s about to happen. Clearly, I’d way rather live closer, but that’s just not in the cards right now, and the distance just doesn’t get easier.
I could literally go on and on forever, in fact, I deleted an entire additional section about some of our fun times and memories over the past five years, because it was just too much. And clearly, I needed to write this all out, because the words were a-flowing from my fingertips.
I think this is one of the longest posts ever on A Lady Goes West, and with good reason — moving to and living in the San Francisco Bay Area is a huge thing in my life and marking this five-year point is necessary. We never intended to move out to San Francisco and be here five years later with plans to buy a house in the East Bay. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, and we’re grateful for that. This place, as far away as it is from my parents and dear friends and the only other state I’ve ever known as home, is a great place. There’s just something about it.
People often ask me if we are here for the long haul, and I HONESTLY do not know. We had no idea that the opportunity to move to San Francisco would come up when it did, and there’s always a chance something else like that comes along one day (would I have to change the name of the blog then?). What I do know, and what Dave does know, is somehow this was all meant to happen. In spite of the hardships, the failures, the expense and the distance from Florida, we’re right where we are supposed to be right now.
To all of you out there, my friends, who have been around A Lady Goes West, reading my rambling words for so long — thank you. I hope wherever you are in your life, you can look around and see that you’re probably right where you need to be too. Remember … always DO YOU!
And in case you haven’t had enough, for some more reading, a few posts you may enjoy …
- Maybe it’s time to throw out life “timelines”
- Top 10 things to do in San Francisco
- Top 25 restaurants in San Francisco (one of my most pinned images ever)
- What I’ve learned from two years in the City
- Finally, some old school fun San Francisco adventures on this page
Questions of the day
Have you ever made a big move?
What’s one thing you LOVE about where you live?