Even though it's a large city, San Francisco still retains a very welcoming and neighborly vibe, and much like San Diego, New York and Los Angeles, there's a certain charm here that draws in many new residents each year. The cost of living in San Francisco scares many off, but there are plenty of secrets to discover within this picturesque city.
All of these incredible amenities come with a steep monetary price. Even in the area's most affordable neighborhoods, estimated monthly costs are high. In fact, the cost of living in San Francisco is a whopping 84.2 percent higher than the national average.
This is how San Francisco's cost, as a whole, all breaks down.
- Housing costs
- Food prices
- Utility costs
- Transportation costs
- Healthcare costs
- Goods and services costs
- Tax rates
- How much do I need to earn in San Francisco?
San Francisco housing prices
When searching for apartments in San Francisco, you'll face a lot of competition, even where the median rent is high. Despite the infamous San Francisco cost of living, though, people still want a San Francisco home.
As one of the hottest markets in the country, San Francisco housing is 242.3 percent above the national average. Although there are some affordable neighborhoods, many properties have an average apartment rent that's sky-high. Not surprisingly, this greatly affects your estimated monthly costs and raises your living index. It's also the primary reason this is such an expensive city.
To break down what this cost means, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is $3,554, up 4 percent over last year. For a two-bedroom, rent averages out to $5,007, an increase of 10 percent over last year. This is mind-boggling when you look at nearby cities like San Jose, where the average monthly rent is almost $1,000 less for both one- and two-bedroom units.
For those looking to buy, home prices vary widely depending on the neighborhood, but the median sale price in San Francisco is $1.525 million. This is up only 1.2 percent over last year, but homes often sell quickly. The median days on the market is less than three weeks.
Apartment hunting in San Francisco
Whether living a life of luxury or trying to keep things affordable in San Francisco, there's a neighborhood for you. Even in expensive cities, you can find those hidden gems if you're willing to look.
If you want to live in one of the more popular downtown neighborhoods like Rincon Hill and Nob Hill, prepare to pay (or find a roommate.) The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is between $3,595 and $4,505.
For a neighborhood geared more toward young families, the average rent for a two-bed in Bernal Heights is only $2,800. For those wanting to live in California on a budget and still stay safe, the average rent for a two-bed in Outer Richmond is only $3,195.
San Francisco food prices
San Francisco is the epicenter of delicious food — more than 30 restaurants have garnered 44 Michelin stars. But, having such fantastic options does not often come cheap. Thankfully, when you're on a budget, just go for that bread bowl, whatever is in it. In fact, you can get an entire meal at an inexpensive restaurant for $20.
For those who like to cook at home, San Francisco grocery costs are 29.8 percent higher than the national average. The data isn't all bad, though, as this total is down by 0.6 percent compared to the past year.
Although there's obviously variation by brand and store, there are some standard product prices that shed a light on grocery costs. For example, a dozen eggs will cost you $3.47, and a half-gallon of milk rings up at $3.55. For those who can't get enough of that sourdough (or any kind of bread,) the average loaf will run you $4.81.
While there are plenty of locally-crafted, small-batch breweries, you'll pay a premium price for your lager — the average six-pack is $10.19.
San Francisco utility prices
Utility rates in San Francisco neighborhoods won't help keep your cost of living index low. While they're 33.8 percent higher here than the national average, the saving grace is the year-round mild Bay Area weather.
As a result of the mild temperatures, there's little need to turn on the apartment air conditioner during the summer. And during the wet winter months, a sweatshirt indoors will usually suffice. That said, the average energy bill is still high, at $275.58.
This makes utilities in San Francisco a cost of living concern, compared with most other cities. Even the companion California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego have lower utility averages.
San Francisco transportation prices
Transportation costs in San Francisco are 41.6 percent higher than the national average, which is actually 3.4 percent less than last year. The most expensive city for transportation in California behind San Fran is Oakland, San Francisco's next-door neighbor, which has an average that's 39.2 percent above.
What's great about San Francisco is that the city comes with the advantage of multiple public transit options. There are the famous cable cars, the bus and rail systems and an abundance of ride-share services.
To travel in style, an iconic cable car is a great way to experience the city. Offered through San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI), riders can pay $8 per ride. The MUNI buses take your transportation expenses down a notch with single-ride fares at only $2.50. You can also purchase a monthly pass, which includes busses and cable car rides, for $81.
To take the train in, out and around the city, use BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport). Stops include the airport, as well as an assortment of East Bay cities. Six lines are available, with easy color-coded routes. The best way to verify the price of your one-way fare is to use the BART fare calculator. To save a little, get a Clipper Card and buy in bulk.
Thanks to its extensive public transit network, San Francisco leaves you with plenty of ways to explore where you don't have to own a car.
Biking and walking
Biking, a popular way to get around the city, is cheap but arduous thanks to the many famously steep hills that San Francisco neighborhoods are known for. With a bike score of 77, you'll often see bright green, bike-only lanes running next to busy streets — plus, plenty of bike-share stalls located throughout the city.
San Francisco is also ideal for walking, especially for renters in city-centric apartments. With so many amenities in proximity to area housing, this city earned itself a walk score of 93.
San Francisco healthcare prices
At 33.9 percent higher than the national average, the data says that San Francisco is an expensive market when it comes to healthcare. However, the upside to living in San Francisco is that renters do have access to some of the nation's top doctors and treatment facilities.
It's difficult to calculate an average for healthcare expenses, as prices are dependent on personal needs and other factors. That being said, the price for healthcare issues in San Francisco is more than in most places. Overall prices are 18.9 percent more than in Los Angeles and 26.7 percent more than in San Diego, and these other cities have their own reputations for being high-end.
Looking at medical costs in the Bay Area, a routine visit with your doctor averages out to $177.33. For an eye exam, you'll see an average bill of $156.75 from your optometrist, while a trip to the dentist will set you back $150. These prices are without medical insurance, so the total cost could be very different depending on your plan.
San Francisco goods and services prices
Whenever your cost of living includes something you want more than you need, it's most likely a good or service. Many of these expenses are optional, unlike housing costs, so it's easier to keep them in check.
That said, this is an expensive item on the list. The cost of goods and services in San Francisco is 24.3 percent higher than the national average, up 2.4 percent over last year. This means you'll most likely spend more for that movie ticket ($15), yoga class ($24.17) or a trip to the salon ($85.71) than friends in other cities.
Taxes in San Francisco
California has the highest state sales tax in the nation at 7.25 percent, and localities can add an additional tax on top of it. This makes the minimum combined sales tax rate for San Francisco 8.625 percent.
What this means is when you purchase $1,000 worth of clothing and home goods, as you browse around Union Square, you would pay $86.25 of that in sales tax.
California also has a progressive income tax, with rates between 1 percent and 13.3 percent, separated into nine brackets. Making less money means paying lower income taxes while those with a higher salary should expect to sit in the upper end of the tax bracket.
How much do I need to earn to live in San Francisco?
The price to rent a San Francisco apartment is not cheap, but it's a huge factor in working out your own cost of living. If you're not sure how much apartment you can afford on your annual salary, you can figure it out using our rent calculator.
You can also do a little estimating using the current standard cost of a one-bedroom apartment. The monthly rent for this unit is $3,621. If you apply 30 percent of your annual income to rent, as many experts suggest, you'd need a job that pays at least $134,720 to live on your own.
This isn't always possible, given that the median household income in the city is $119,136. You may have to spend a little more than that 30 percent of a more average salary to live alone or consider other options. This may mean finding a monthly rent that's lower, spending less money on those goods and services or even living with roommates. All of these options can bring San Francisco costs down and improve your own cost of living in this expensive city.
Living in San Francisco
San Francisco is full of unique beauty and charm. With its many parks, perks, great schools and happy people, this is a city for dreamers and doers — one of the best in all of California. The trick is to not let the high cost of living deter you from calling this great city home. You can do it if you watch costs carefully and budget well.