The Cost of Living in San Francisco in 2021

Even though it's a large city, San Francisco still retains a very welcoming and neighborly vibe, and much like New York and Los Angeles, there is a certain charm here that draws in many new residents each year.

You will find rolling hills, shoreline parks, infamous cable cars and pleasant year-round weather here. In addition, as one of the most walkable cities, San Francisco is a haven for the environmentally conscious.

Yet with all of these incredible amenities comes a steep price. San Francisco's cost of living is 94 percent higher than the national average. Read on to see how it all breaks down.

San Francisco neighborhood.

Housing costs in San Francisco

When searching for housing in San Francisco, you will face a lot of competition.

Fortunately, despite being one of the hottest housing markets in the country, San Francisco has seen a 45 percent decrease in one-bedroom apartment rent prices over the past year. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop San Francisco from being 257 percent more expensive than the national average for housing.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is $3,137. For a two-bedroom, it's $4,103. If you want to live in one of the more popular downtown neighborhoods like Rincon Hill and Channel Mission Bay, a one-bedroom apartment is between $4,445 and $4,564.

For neighborhoods geared more towards young families, a one-bedroom apartment in Noe Valley averages $2,503 and Westwood Park $2,596. At these rates, we see a 22 percent and 24 percent reduction in year-over-year rental prices.

For those looking to buy a new home, real estate prices vary widely depending on the neighborhood. Home prices in San Francisco are up 1.6 percent compared to last year, for an average of $1,362,163. These homes often sell very quickly — within 20 days — at much higher prices than the listing price.

Farmers market in San Francisco.

Food costs in San Francisco

With over 60 Michelin-starred restaurants listed on SFTravel and authentic cuisine prepared by top chefs from around the world, San Francisco is the epicenter of delicious food. But having such fantastic options does not come cheap.

For those who like to cook at home, San Francisco grocery costs are 30.5 percent higher than the national average.

A dozen eggs will cost you $3.16, and a half-gallon of milk rings up at $2.83. For sandwich lovers, expect to pay $1.60 for a can of tuna and $4.68 for a loaf of bread.

While there are plenty of locally crafted small-batch breweries, you will pay a premium price for your lager — the average six-pack is $10.50.

Utility costs in San Francisco

Recognized as one of the most expensive cities to live in, utility rates in San Francisco don't make things any cheaper. While it is 37.9 percent higher here than the national average, the saving grace is the year-round mild Bay Area weather.

There is little need to turn on the air conditioner during the summer, and during the wet winter months, a sweatshirt indoors will usually suffice.

Even still, the average total energy cost in San Francisco is $268 per month.

Transportation in San Francisco.

Transportation costs in San Francisco

Between the famous cable cars, the bus and rail systems and an abundance of ride-share services, San Francisco leaves you with plenty of ways to get around.

The traffic is terrible and only getting worse, especially if you are trying to enter or exit the city, but things are more relaxed once inside city limits.

The transportation costs in San Francisco are 48.3 percent higher than the national average, but it comes with the advantage of multiple public transit options.

To travel in style, the iconic cable cars are a great way to experience the city. Offered through MUNI, you can pay $8 per ride or purchase one of the Visitor Passports, which offer one, three or seven consecutive days of unlimited rides. MUNI also runs buses and light rails throughout the city, connecting you from one end to the other.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) is a separate train that runs from SFO through a small part of San Francisco before heading out towards Oakland, Fremont and other East Bay cities. The cost to ride starts at $2.10 and goes up to $15, depending on the route. One way to save money while riding BART is to get a Clipper Card and buy in bulk, saving you 6.25 percent off the original cash value.

Thanks to its extensive public transit network, San Francisco currently holds an 82 transit score.

Biking and walking

As one of the more popular ways to get around, biking around the city is cheap but arduous, thanks to the many famously steep hills that San Francisco is known for. With a bike score of 77, you will often see bright green, bike-only lanes running next to busy streets — plus plenty of bike-share stalls located throughout the city.

Although a progressively bike-friendly city, San Francisco is ideal for walking. With so many stores, restaurants and parks in such close proximity to each other, this city earned itself a walk score of 93.

So, if you get too tired to make your way home, simply hop on the MUNI to finish your journey.

Healthcare costs in San Francisco

At 24.7 percent higher than the national average, San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to receive healthcare. However, the upside to living in San Francisco is that you do have access to some of the nation's top doctors and treatment facilities.

It's difficult to calculate an average for overall healthcare costs, as prices are dependent on personal needs. That being said, a routine visit with your doctor will cost $150. Need a prescription filled? Expect to spend an average of $449. For an eye exam, you'll see a bill for $145 from your optometrist while a trip to the dentist will set you back $133. These prices are without medical insurance, so the total cost could be very different depending on your plan.

To help with these high-cost headaches, you can pick up some ibuprofen from the pharmacy for $12.

Dog in San Francisco at a park.

Goods and services costs in San Francisco

San Francisco is full of yoga moms, gym buffs, film enthusiasts and pet lovers. The cost of goods and services is 25.9 percent higher than the national average, but you do get some bang for your buck.

There are a plethora of dog-friendly parks every few blocks, with a handful of yoga studios and independent bookstores along the way.

Need to take your pup to the vet? That'll cost you about $68. A yoga class will have you stretching for about $20 a class, while a ticket to the movies will have you dishing out $16.41. A trip to the beauty salon costs about $82, and you can show off your new haircut at one of the many free parks around the city.

Taxes in San Francisco

California has some of the highest taxes in the nation — its base sales tax rate is at 7.25 percent. The minimum combined sales tax rate for San Francisco is 8.5 percent, which is the total state, county and city sales tax rates. If you were to purchase $100 worth of groceries, you would have to pay $8.50 in sales tax.

California has a progressive income tax, with rates between 1 percent and 13.3 percent, separated into ten brackets. Lower earners pay a lower income tax while higher earners are in the upper end of the tax bracket.

Property tax has an average effective rate of 0.73 percent.

Park in San Francisco.

How much do I need to earn to live in San Francisco?

Living in San Francisco is no cheap feat, with the average one-bedroom apartment costing $3,137 a month. According to financial advisors, who recommend keeping your rent to 30 percent of your gross income, you would need to earn $125,480 annually.

While the national median household income was $68,703 in 2019 — San Francisco sits at $112,449. But, of course, this doesn't mean that San Francisco is a particularly lucrative place to earn money, especially considering the astronomical cost of living.

To figure out how much rent you can afford, check out our free rent calculator.

Living in San Francisco

Don't let the high prices deter you from the unique beauty and charm that only San Francisco can offer. With its many parks, perks and happy people, this is a city for dreamers and doers.

Offering a plethora of lifestyle and career opportunities, San Francisco is full of wonder, natural charm and close to many popular vacation destinations. In addition, there is plenty to explore within the city limits, from fine dining and food trucks to world-class art galleries and museums.

There are innumerable reasons why people from all over the world relocate to the Golden City, so start your search for a new apartment or home today.

Cost of living information comes from The Council for Community and Economic Research.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and's multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.
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Sean JarvisSean Jarvis is a west-coast based writer and interior decorator with 15 years of experience. Covering a wide range of topics, his work has been featured in Design + Décor magazine, Uncover Colorado and Travel & Leisure. Immersed in a wide range of writing projects, from articles and interviews to dating profiles and short stories, Sean finds no topic too foreign or familiar for him to tackle.

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