Surviving San Francisco: An Intern’s Tale

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Are you taking an internship or a permanent position in San Francisco? I’m no expert, but I’ve picked up a thing or two about settling into the Bay over the last three months.

I moved from Florida to Southern California thinking I’d stay there for the rest of my life.

That was before I got there. Turns out that Los Angeles is not my city. Like at all.

Just having moved to the Bay Area, I already feel much more in my element.

Except that apparently I walk too slow to be fully accepted in any major city in California. Damn my East Coast mosey!

Living here is very different from anything I’ve experienced before. I’m still learning to appreciate it for all of the new things that the Bay has exposed me to.

One super sweet perk of having taken an internship instead of a full-time position up here is that I’ve gotten to learn a little more about San Francisco before deciding whether or not I want to continue to work (and eventually move) here. After all, it would have sucked to set my sights on yet another city only to find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

With so many big things changing in my life all at once, I’ve been grateful for the chance to taste-test some things (like careers) while making serious commitments when it comes to others (like signing a long-term lease in Berkeley).

So, without further ado, here are some tips and tricks to help you navigate the city:

  • Shop around.

When I was looking into moving to San Francisco, it seemed obvious for me to start looking for housing in neighborhoods with which I was the most familiar. The Mission, the Castro, Bernal Heights. Those are the places that pretty much everyone lives, right?

Wrong. There are so many different neighborhoods in San Francisco and you’ve probably never heard of most of them.

The first time that I met someone from Polk Gulch in San Francisco, I thought that she’d burped in the middle of her sentence.

Nope. Turns out it’s an actual place.

From Russian Hill to the Sunset, each district has its own unique personality (and bike stereotype).

Making the right choice for where you will live is a big decision. To some, it may even be a defining factor.

Oh, she lives in the Marina? That totally makes sense.

Because I’m new to the Bay, I’m glad that I chose to live outside of the city during my first year. That way, I get to thoroughly explore each neighborhood and get a feel of the people, food, and services in each before signing my life away.

I highly recommend subletting during your internship or during your first few months in the Bay Area. You can do this in San Francisco or in a neighboring city like Oakland or El Cerrito. The important thing is not to make any rash decisions that you end up regretting.

Even if you want to make a permanent move into the city, subletting for a while is still a good idea. It’s so much easier to secure a house, room, or apartment when you can see it in person. Avoid any nasty surprises by having a temporary home base to operate from while you look for your new, permanent place.

  • Carry cash.

In my college town, it wasn’t really necessary to carry more than $5 to $10 in cash at a time. And that was only so that you could buy multiple loaves of fresh-baked Challah. The pizza delivery guy, Jamba Juice, the laundry rooms—everyone took what we called “Claremont Cash.” I miss those days.

In San Francisco, however, everyone wants my money. Like real, paper, green-backed dollar bills. I’ve quickly learned that there are so many great bars and food trucks that you completely miss out on when you’re only packing plastic.

It’s really tragic.

Spare yourself the heartache by always keeping a crisp $20 or two in your wallet. I promise you’ll thank me later when you’re not scrambling to find an ATM and paying those extra fees.

  • Prepare to spend lots of time in the city.

I know that I live in Berkeley, but sometimes I swear that I actually reside in San Francisco.

There’s so much to see here in the city. I try to stay after work as often as I can and just walk around or take a bus to a place that I’ve read about or heard about from a friend. There are also a lot of really interesting people to get to know here in San Francisco. I’ve made quite a few friends out here that I wouldn’t have encountered if I just went home every day.

I value those new friends, but it has occurred to me that our relationship is a bit… uneven.

Because there’s so much to do in the city, your friends who live here will think that it’s the only place to be to have fun (completely untrue!). My new friends always expect me to meet them on this side of the Bay. Whenever I mention them coming to the East Bay, they always manage to craft some reason not to.

Hmm. Okay, maybe I need new friends.

But even my close college buddies who live in the city just kind of chuckle and shake their heads when I mention them coming to Berkeley or Oakland. I don’t get it!

This odd mentality means that the majority of my evenings are spent here in San Francisco.

Regardless of which side you live on, this may be your reality as well—which leads me to my next point…

  • Know the bus and train lines.

BART is truly wonderful, but the one huge flaw (and I mean HUGE. I’m looking at you, Department of Transportation!) is that it doesn’t run 24 hours a day. In fact, the train that goes directly from the Financial District where I work to my neighborhood stops running at 8pm.

I’m definitely out later than that even during the workweek. That means that I need to know what other lines to take in order to transfer to another train that will take me to the station closest to my house.

My biggest fear is missing the last train to the East Bay and having to take the most expensive Lyft or Uber of my life back to North Berkeley. If you want to avoid this kind of thing happening to you, you’d better know that schedule like the back of your hand.

I’m already studying for the inevitable. I know that it’s going to happen to me at least once. I can feel it. At the very least, take pictures of the schedules and keep them on your phone (and in your wallet in case your phone dies).

If you’re frugal like me, you may vouch to take the super long (something ridiculous like two hours) but cheap bus route back home. In that case, you’ll need to know which combination of buses (in my case, there are three or four total) will get you home.

All of that drama aside, understanding the BART and Muni lines can make traveling around the city incredibly fluid. Our office recently did a scavenger hunt all around San Francisco and knowing those routes was key in our success.

Public transportation. I’m a believer.

  • Have unconditional love for your city.

And now, I share with you the most important thing that I have learned about San Francisco.

Are you ready?

Lean in.

Friends, this is a smelly city.

I know, I know, all big cities smell bad, but there’s something about San Francisco that just sets my olfactory glands off in the worst way.

But you know what? I still really love this place. For all of the unsavory scents and unsightly scenes, I can still see myself settling down here for a long time.

When you commit to a city, you take it for better or for worse. By living, working, partying, and studying here, you will learn the true meaning of city pride. Whether it’s the dense fog, killer traffic, or packed transit stations that make you cringe, you’ve got to take San Francisco for all that comes with it.

Homework time! Check out our very own Kellen McKillop’s post about what she and last year’s AfterCollege interns thought it took to survive in the city.

P.S. Have you recently moved to San Francisco? Share your tips to navigating this crazy jungle with us in the comments below!

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