15 Misconceptions About San Francisco

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San Francisco is 49 square miles of good times. A youthful place with a mellow vibe, this small, friendly City by the Bay is all about its neighborhoods—from the Mission’s trendsetter tech entrepreneurs to Russian Hill’s old-money set to the Sunset and Richmond’s Asian and Russian immigrants. Visitors will find the city welcoming and temperate (unless it’s during the fog-bound summer!) and full of activities for active travelers, bookworms, shoppers, foodies, and cultural mavens. If you’re going to San Francisco, don’t wear flowers in your hair, and remember to pack a sweater — even if it’s the dead of summer. I’m fortunate to call this place home. Here are 14 misconceptions about San Francisco.

1. San Francisco is big.

As one of America’s “biggest” cities, people think San Francisco takes up a lot of land. It’s only seven miles by seven miles. For comparison, Chicago is 234 square miles. This is a map of roughly what is considered to be the Bay Area. San Francisco makes up a very, very small part of it.

2. “San Fran” is an acceptable nickname.

Don’t call it that. Just don’t. San Franciscans presumably won’t correct you, but you should avoid it at all costs. “SF” is an excellent alternative.

3. There are millions of people.

There are only 800,000 residents in San Francisco’s 7×7, making it the 14th most populous city in the country. San Jose, Indianapolis, Austin, and Phoenix all have more residents. It’s nevertheless very dense, however.

4. BART is like the NYC subway, but not.

BART serves the larger San Francisco Bay Area. There are only eight stops within San Francisco proper. San Franciscans rely on Muni Metro (light rail) and Muni buses to get around the city.

5. Everyone rides a cable car to work.

Not likely. Unless, you live near a cable car route. There are three cable car lines, two running north-south, and one running east-west. They’re not great for getting around, but we can all admit they’re pretty fun to ride once in a while.

6. It’s sunny and warm all the time.

Telling someone you’re from California usually urges up visions of palm trees, endless sunny days, and sand in your shorts. This is true for a portion of the state, but San Francisco has an average temperature of 60 degrees most of the year. It has something to do with the marine layer, which gives us our awesome foggy landscapes.

7. It’s summertime that means it’s warm.

When summer does come, it doesn’t run on schedule. Never mind this quote usually misattributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Summers are foggy, yes, but September-November are marvelous. Afternoons are fog-free and hit 80 degrees, and most of the city gathers in parks and on patios.

8. The ocean is swimmable

Well, it is. But, you’re going to freeze. The water in the pacific is freezing…even on beach days when the weather temperatures reach the 80’s, the was water is ice cold.

9. Everyone takes weekend trips to Los Angeles.

Not usually. Los Angeles and San Francisco are at least six hours apart – with no traffic. California is very, very big.

10. Everyone in San Francisco is gay or a hippie.

There are all sorts of people in San Francisco. Identifying as either hippie or gay is fine, let’s not get it twisted. LGBT folks and hippies have been instrumental in shaping San Francisco’s utopian atmosphere. Anything goes in SF, and that’s one of the most beautiful things about it. But when sports things happen, or other big news stories come out of San Francisco, these labels are thrown around in a derogatory way, which is about as bullshit as it gets.

11. It’s a majority-minority population.

San Francisco is incredibly diverse. The city has a minority-majority population, meaning less than half the residents are white. It’s a big melting pot. (Disclaimer: The housing crisis has rapidly changed the city’s demographics.)

12. There are major earthquakes all the time.

Big earthquakes are rare. There isn’t an “earthquake season” like hurricane season. But, there sure are a lot of small quakes – 483 in the past year. The intensity usually ranges from “dump truck passing your window” to “knock your smartphone off your nightstand.” More than half the time, you probably won’t even feel them. However, most San Franciscans (should) have a plan for when the next Big One hits.

13. The hills are why many people don’t have cars.

Yes and no. Traffic is bad. (I mean, bad.) Moving your car for street cleaning sucks. There aren’t enough spots. Crime is high. It’s not that much faster to get from point A to point B. But having a car is great for getting out of the city on weekends.

14. This is a kid-friendly town.

There are more dogs than children in San Francisco. As of 2012, only 13% of the city’s population was under 18 years old. That’s roughly 105,000 kids to the estimated 120,000 dogs. This wasn’t always the case, but the city has grown increasingly expensive and inhospitable for many families.

15. San Francisco is part of the Silicon Valley.

(Rough outline of the Silicon Valley.) At this point, the entire Bay Area is consumed by the tech industry. But the Silicon Valley refers to a particular area south of San Francisco, where most tech companies were headquartered during the tech boom of the ’90s.

Agree/Disagree? Did I miss one? Let’s hear it below!

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Hi, I’m Valerie!

I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.