Since moving down to the Bay Area over two months ago, my natural impulse has been to caveat my ignorance of the neighborhood by sheepishly explaining that I was new to the city. And 9 times out of 10, the conversation would continue along these lines:
Them: Oh cool! Where did you move from?
Me: Vancouver… in Canada! (sensing their hesitation, I would add).
Them: Nice, how do you like it here?
Me: Well – it’s definitely a lot warmer.
As far as small talk goes, this is an easy one for us Vancouverites. There is just so much material to work with: the lack of sports teams, the skyrocketing costs, and of course, the terrible weather.
I would then get a polite chuckle out of the Raincouver pun, and there began my limited social life.
On the whole, I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far. It’s not without its flaws, but between a pretty interesting job and a much healthier lifestyle, I think California is a great place to live in at this point in my life.
Here is a tally of my “2-month accomplishments”:
• 64 episodes of Netflix (Stranger Things!)
• 19 tennis meetups
• 16 home-cooked meals (Blue Apron)
• 5 trips to San Francisco
• 1 functional fish tank (ft. Touchdown Tom)
• 1 semi-functional used car
After spending a summer in Asia where all I did was eat out and drink bubble tea, playing tennis consistently was a nice change. The lack of take-out-friendly restaurants also forced me to cook more, which my girlfriend assured me was a good idea (I’m not so convinced).
What I am still trying to figure out, though, is how these two cities are different. They’re often compared because of their diverse population and beautiful geographic features (oceans, beaches, mountains), but I think each has its own fundamental and subtle characteristics.
The first distinction is the type of people that San Fran attracts. It’s debatable if the area can still be considered as the hub of the new American (start-up) dream, but there’s no denying that it’s an appealing place for young adults. Being here means that the people you meet are more career-driven, more open to new ideas, and less clique-y with their circle of friends.
Looking past the people, San Francisco is also a more dynamic city than Vancouver with its deep history of sports and cultural events (museums/festivals/concerts…). The fisherman’s wharf alone I think offers more than the measly two blocks that is downtown Vancouver, while the AT&T park that hosts the San Francisco Giants is a venue really with no parallel.
Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge are somewhat comparable to Stanley Park, but San Francisco has a bit more interesting neighborhoods to stroll through such as Hayes Valley and Mission. Both cities have their respective sketchy neighborhoods in Tenderloin and East Hastings, but I’m not rating them b/c of insufficient exposure (thankfully).
Now – onto the not-so-fantastic. (A quick reality check stopped me from saying bad).
For all the things the Bay Area is, it’s not a city on its own. The 101
highway freeway connects a number of cities along the bay, including Menlo Park where I live. Because places are so scattered, it’s very hard to find good areas to eat or hangout without going to the city. There are nice spots along the way, but it’s missing something that holds it all together. The inconvenience also extends to driving in traffic here, which is different hair-pulling experience.
The accessibility issue can sort of be circumvented by living closer to the city, but then you’d run into the crazy housing market. Vancouver is also way up there with its housing prices, but I think San Fran edges out a slim victory here. I pay US$1300 (a lot of CAD) for a 2BR with my roommate to live near the ex-murder capital of Cali – East Palo Alto.
Oh and forgot to mention, damn expensive toll bridges everywhere.
Hopefully not lost on me in all of this is the recognition that for all the praise that this city gets, we live in a left-leaning, tech-centric community plagued by issues of sexism and inequality. The honeymoon period had past for most and many of my co-workers are talking about moving away. I’m not in that position right now, but I agree that the fascination here is at least a little overblown.