Tips for Moving to San Francisco with Kids

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tips for moving to san franciscoIf you’re reading this, you’re probably considering whether to relocate to the Bay Area and specifically whether living in San Francisco is the right move for you. While you’ll have to answer that for yourself, I’m here to share what it’s really like to raise a family in San Francisco because all of us who write for San Francisco Moms Blog are doing just that.

The Reality

This place is expensive. You probably already know that, but it’s worth repeating because unless you’re moving here from New York City, one of the other most expensive cities in the world, or you have unlimited personal funds (can we be friends?), the cost of living here will take some getting used to – a gallon of milk, a pound of chicken, a pint of beer – it all seems to cost more here.

And then there’s housing. The average rent for a three bedroom apartment in San Francisco is over $4,000 and will get you about 1,400 square feet. The cost can be much higher than that for not much more space, depending on the neighborhood. While I think there’s something special about living in small spaces, it takes some getting used to if you’re accustomed to a private garage, yard space, or a reasonable amount of storage.

And, not to burst your bubble, but the entire Bay Area is, well, a real estate bubble. You may get a little more space for your money in the ‘burbs, but it’s not going to stretch that far, so you might as well live here!

Where to Live

There are a bunch of wonderful, family-friendly neighborhoods all over the city, and we’ve compiled them for you into the San Francisco Neighborhood Guide for Families.

Of course, a lot is going to depend on your budget and priorities: size of living space, access to outdoor space, walkability, bikeability, access to mass transit, commute times, access to childcare, amenities like parking and laundry, safety, curb appeal and aesthetics of the neighborhood. Take time to explore the areas that interest you. Large areas like SoMa, with a decidedly downtown feel, can seem less inviting than intimate neighborhoods like Cole Valley, but the more time you spend there, the more local gems you’ll discover. Consider the whole package before nixing a neighborhood off the list.

Childcare

I’m taking a deep breath before we dive into this discussion because the short answer is that finding childcare can be tough. We wrote a whole series of articles on the topic, including direct links to websites that’ll help you find daycares, nannies, au pairs, and everything in between. This is something that every family has to deal, even if you don’t move to the city, and the good news is that we all figure it out. You will, too!

After you read up on those posts, check out our childcare section of the website, where we’re frequently adding articles written by local moms on this topic, and our summer camp guide for fun extracurricular experiences/ patchwork childcare solutions for the summer months.

Schools

Get comfy because this is where it gets really fun.

Preschools. If you do nothing else, read 7 Tips to Get into Preschool. It includes practical advice for navigating the application process (oh, yes, there are applications), and links to help you research preschools near you.

K – 12. There are many wonderful public schools in San Francisco, but the process of getting into them is pretty convoluted. It’s too much to explain here, so please, please, please visit the San Francisco Unified School District website and Parents for Public Schools for an abundance of clearly explained information on the process. But now you’re probably dying to know what it’s all about, so here’s a summary: it’s a lottery system. You’ll tour schools the year before you’re ready to enroll and rank them on a school choice form, then you wait with bated breath for months until schools are assigned. If you’re not happy you have multiple rounds of appeals to try to get into a different school. Complete these steps for kindergarten, most likely repeat them for middle school (some schools are K-8), and definitely do it again for high school. Of course, if you’re moving here mid-year, the process is a little different, and that’s why you want to read up on the websites mentioned above.

Plenty of parents also send their kids to private independent and parochial schools. You’ll have tours, applications, mixers, and interviews for these, too. Check out Independent Schools of the San Francisco Bay Area (ISSFBA), the Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic Schools, or the resources of your religious institution to find private school options that are a good fit for your family.

Why I Live Here

tips for moving to san francisco with family
Photo by James Everett Photography

After writing out all of the obstacles to raising a family here, it took me a minute to remember all the good stuff. I often get asked if I think my children are sacrificing some idyllic part of their childhood by living in a city, and my answer is always no. Of course, I can’t speak for all families living here, but for us, it’s the best of all worlds.

Community. This big city starts to feel much smaller once kids enter the mix. For instance, we go trick or treating, just like families in the burbs (insider tip: here are the Halloween hot spots), and you’ll be surprised how fast you see the same faces on the playground circuit and in music classes. Once kids hit school, there will be plenty of opportunities to mingle with other families, too. In the meantime, you can join San Francisco Moms Blog’s neighborhood groups to find other families near you.

Convenience. Living in a densely populated area means you probably don’t have to go far to get what you need. Out of milk? I bet there’s a corner store close by. Want to go to Target? We’ve got them, too. Hate driving? You can probably walk, ride the bus (called the MUNI) or train (BART and Caltrain), or quickly grab a Lyft or Uber to where you need to go. Work in the city? Add to the list of commuting options Chariot and whatever other new “disruptor” service du jour has appeared on the scene. Commuting to Silicon Valley? Your company probably has a bus to take you there and back. Work in the East Bay or in Marin? Enjoy the reverse commute. Want to see all the pretty holiday displays in the big hotels and departments stores or a Broadway show touring through town? Easy peasy. You already live here.

It also means it’s an on-demand city, where there is most definitely an app for everything you want, and many of them were created right here in SF! Need groceries, but can’t make it out? Choose from one of the many food and grocery delivery services available, like Instacart, Good Eggs, Postmates, and Caviar. Wish Amazon could deliver the same day or in an hour? It does. Want help running errands or doing odd jobs around the house? TaskRabbit is for you. Wishing for someone to make you dinner? Pocket Chefs is perfect. Daydreaming of having a maid to straighten the bed and clean the dishes? Say “hi” to Fairy. No time to get gas for your car? Try Filld. Need an oil change? YourMechanic comes to you. No time to do laundry or pick up dry cleaning? Rinse picks up and delivers. The list goes on and on.

Outdoor living. We’re the first city in the country to have a park within a ten-minute walk of every home. We’re also one of the fittest cities in the nation, and that has a lot to do with our access to nature. Our kids aren’t continuously breathing in dirty, dusty air in stuffy city streets. They’re hiking, playing on the playground and at the beach, running around Golden Gate Park, toddling up steep hills, and playing outside in fog or shine (The rain can send us indoors. We’re not Seattle, after all).

tips for moving to san franciscoIt sounds cool. This is totally vain, but I’m being honest here. When we travel, and people ask where we live, it’s fun to say San Francisco. It’s a world-famous city and is well thought of internationally. Plus, it’s really nice to not have to use any more descriptors than that to explain ourselves. We live in San Francisco – not fifteen minutes south, not an hour east, just San Francisco.

I say all of this not to dis my fellow writers south at Mid-Peninsula Moms Blog or up at Wine Country Moms Blog or anyone else in the Bay Area. This whole part of the country is an amazing place to live, but for my family, the city is the place to be. Maybe it’ll be the right fit for you, too. Leave your questions in the comments, and let’s see if we can help you decide.

For the locals reading this, share your thoughts about living here, too.  The more perspectives, the better!

 

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Great post! One of the top reasons we live here (in addition to the career opportunities and natural beauty of sf and the bay area) is the diversity of people and experiences that we get to enjoy and expose our children to on a daily basis. I love going to the neighborhood playground on any given day and hearing not less than 3 languages being spoken by kids, nannies and other parents there. I love being able to offer them unlimited cultural activities and events around the city practically every week of the year. I love that we have LGBT and multi-racial families living on our block. Truth be told, this was not “normal” for me when I grew up on the east coast, but I am glad it is, here, for my sons.

  2. I lived in SF for almost 10 years before relocating to East Bay. We are (family of three) plan to come back! Since my son is going to start kindergarten in the fall….I’m slightly nervous about walking in a school system so late in the game. Guessing we won’t be able to register until August (selling house, etc). My friends think we are crazy from moving from a great school rating of 9…to an unknown. But it’s the city 🙂 they are jealous 😉

  3. Thanks for the info. Very helpful.
    I am considering a move to SF. I have a few job offers, and need to make a decision ASAP. But, I have a preschooler and a first grader. From what I’ve read, there’s really no chance of getting into a school unless you move during a transition year (K, 6 or 9). Even then, you have to have a SF address in December to get into the lottery for September. Good luck if you have two kids! Any advice for someone relocating to SF with kids already in school? Or should I skip the headache and move to Marin, Berkely or Oakland? Any resources would be appreciated as well. TIA.

  4. Hello! Glad this post popped out on my San Francisco ”family” search. We currrently live in a Houston suburb. My husband, who works for a commercial airline is getting re located in San Francisco. We are a little terrified to move from such a quiet conservative place, to a city like San Francisco. I have been a stay home mom since my I had my two girls, now 7 and 4 years old. I had no idea about the school system over there. Will my girl be guaranteed to go to the same school? My are thinking of moving next summer. When should I start the process to enroll then to school? For someone like us, is it more recomendable to look for a place in the suburbs? A lot of questions!! I know but we are having a hard time with all this. Thanks for your great article!
    Regards,
    Angelica

    • Hi Angelica! Moving from Houston to San Francisco is definitely a big change. Honestly, deciding between living in the city and suburbs is going to depend a lot on your priorities, what you want out of your experience here, and your housing budget. You’ll need to have a San Francisco address set up in order to enroll your girls in school here. By summer, you’ll have less say over which school your kids can get into. It’ll be based on which schools have openings for both of them. There’s a transfer process that you can go through later to try to change schools. Another option is to research private schools (links above for resources) and see who still has openings leading up to the start of the school year.

      If your husband is going to be commuting to the airport and you want to live in the city, then you’ll probably be looking at family neighborhoods in the south of the city: Potrero Hill, Bernal Heights, Glen Park, West Portal…

      If you want to explore the suburbs instead, reach out to Suburban Jungle. They specialize in placing families in the right towns. Here’s an article I wrote about them a few years ago to give you an idea of how it works: http://sanfrancisco.momcollective.com/education/raising-family-sf-stay-go/

  5. Thanks so much for your response. I definitely need to do a lot more research before making a decision. After reading a couple more of your articles, I’m consdering trying the suburban jungle service. I love the idea of living in the city, I’m 31 years old but a mom of two, so Ultimately I want to do what’s best for them as far as schools. My husband, who is a Pilot, is out of town 4 days a week, so Im raising the girls by myself half of the time. Are there any suburbs on top of your head that you can recommend? We have looked at Walnut Creek, Danville, and a couple others but Wr don’t know anything about the Bay Area, and also don’t know anyone in California. I’m originally from Colombia and my husband is from Kansas. :s I feel like we are Two small fish swimming in the huge ocean. Thanks again for your help. I will be reading more of your blog! It already gets me excited just reading about San Francisco!

    • Angelica, will your husband be flying out of Oakland or SFO? I’m assuming Oakland since you’re looking at the East Bay suburbs Walnut Creek and Danville. Moving anywhere new is scary, but considering you’ve moved COUNTRIES in the past, you can definitely do this! I know that Walnut Creek and Danville are really great areas, but I’m not personally familiar with them. I also hear about Orinda, Pleasant Hill, Livermore, and Pleasanton a lot.

      Suburban Jungle will be a really great resource for you. If your husband will be out of SFO, then Burlingame, San Mateo areas are more convenient. There’s a lot of traffic around here. I know Houston has bad traffic, too. The problem with this area is that there are a lot of people and only a few roads to go on because of the mountains and waterways, so even though a town might only be 20 miles away, it might take an hour to get there with traffic.

  6. He will be flying out of SFO. We have been told about the crazy traffic! He doesn’t mind commuting an hour to the airport (he only has to drive once a week for work) that’s why we are willing to live anywhere as long as it fits well our family. We both love the city but the schools lottery sounds a little hard. I think with one income in the house at the moment, private schools would be out of our range, unfortunately. Thank you for all the information you have shared! It has been so helpful!

  7. Hello, my husband, myself & our toddler are looking to move from Australia to San Fran very soon for a few months! My husband will be working in the financial district. Any tips on safe suburbs to live near there & is public transport easy to navigate with a toddler as we will most likely not have a car. Thank you so much

    • Hi Kirsten! You’ll want to focus your search on the East Bay and south on the Peninsula, along the BART lines, if you’re planning to live outside of SF without a car. Burlingame and Daly City are always popular options on the Peninsula. Lafayette, Berkeley, and Piedmont are all near Oakland and very popular family spots. There are so many more! We suggest checking out neighborhood insights on Suburban Jungle: https://suburbanjunglegroup.com/neighborhoods/san-francisco

      If you end up working with them, tell them San Francisco Moms Blog sent you!

  8. Hello!! we are moving from Florida To California. My husband will work in Foster City. We have no idea of a good place to live and affordable. The most important thing for me is the schools, my kids are going to fuorth grade and first grade.
    Help me please!

  9. I am a single mom contemplating moving from the East Coast to SF for work. I am so scared of moving again (we relocated once and travel 50 – 75% of the time for work) as well as settling down with my son, who is an awesome 4 y.o.
    I have so many questions like, how do I commute to the Financial District and where should we live. Would I be able to pick him up on time? I’ll read the resources you’ve shared and I am sure to be back with more questions. Thanks for this post, it sheds a lot of light on the reality of what this would mean for us.

  10. Hi Rebecca! We live in SF and were lucky enough to get a condo and have two amazing little ones (toddler and infant)..in a great preschool and daycare.. with pretty good jobs as well.. But, I am still not feeling too settled here because I grew up on the East Coast with seasons… I know I know it’s easier here with moderate weather all the time, but I just can’t get used to the foggy summers. It looks like you also moved here from East Coast.. wondering how you adjusted to that and if it was an issue at all for you? I miss summer nights and want to put my kids in summer clothes (more than winter clothes, but even winter clothes I miss – I know that might be more romanticized though than summer).

    • Hey Diana! It took a couple years for me to adjust to the lack of seasons. You don’t realize how much the seasons mark time until you don’t have them anymore. Thanksgiving and the holidays just sneak up on you around here!

      I still miss all the things you’re describing, so we savor every moment of summer when we go home for visits, and we’ve learned to appreciate SF’s moderate temps at other times of the year, like when it’s March and our East Coast family and friends are preparing for (and whining about) yet another blizzard, or when it’s insanely hot and humid there and just walking outside feels like a chore.

      The fall is the best time of year in SF — it’s 75 degrees as I write this! — so there will be a time and a place for the summer clothes… even if it’s not during the official summer months. And when you really need to escape during the summer, you can go pretty much anywhere else in the Bay Area and enjoy gorgeous warm weather, so plan lots of weekend outings.

      Sounds like everything else is going well for you!

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