Living in the City by the Bay comes at a steep cost
Ever since its early days as a coastal California boom town, San Francisco has been an expensive place to call home. But with the rise of Silicon Valley and the tech industry in the Bay Area, the cost of living here has skyrocketed even more in recent years.
In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the United States. Of course, that high cost of living comes with plenty of perks like outdoor access, multicultural cuisine and walkable neighborhoods of historic architecture.
If you want to better understand why San Francisco‘s cost of living is so high, we’ll explore five things that are affecting the rising cost of living.
- Housing costs
- Food prices
- Utility costs
- Transportation costs
- Healthcare costs
- Goods and services costs
- Tax rates
- How much do you need to earn to live in San Francisco?
San Francisco cost: housing prices
As you may have heard, housing prices are at the forefront of San Francisco’s cost of living crisis. In fact, it’s 206.6 percent higher than the national average. Currently, a one-bedroom apartment costs an average of $3,498. Studio units go for around $2,781 a month. If you want extra space, be prepared for a significant jump in price as three bedrooms average a whopping $4,696 a month. Prices are going up the most in trendy, popular neighborhoods like Nob Hill, Dogpatch, the Lower Haight and Northeast.
A small beacon of hope is that studio and one-bedroom prices are down 5 percent and one percent, respectively, from last year. But two-bedroom prices are up 2 percent from the previous year.
If you want to live in the Bay Area and not pay San Francisco prices, you’ll have better luck elsewhere. In nearby Oakland, you can find one-bedroom apartments for around $2,788. Fremont one-bedrooms fetch an average of $2,347 and you can even go as low as $1,800 for a one-bedroom in Vallejo. But at the same time, San Francisco doesn’t even have the top housing prices in the Bay Area. Living in Palo Alto, expect to pay around $4,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
If you want to buy a home in San Francisco, prepare yourself. The median sale price of a house in San Francisco is $1,350,308. This is down 10.9 percent from last year, but that’s small comfort to most homebuyers.
San Francisco food prices
From fresh seafood to some of the best pan-Asian cuisine in America, San Francisco is an amazing foodie city. While not as expensive as housing costs in Los Angeles, food prices in San Francisco are still high at 31.4 percent above the national average. This is 1 percent higher than last year, so prices have gone up slightly.
Time to get groceries? As an example of how food prices in San Francisco may affect you, here’s the average cost of some common food items. Buying a dozen eggs costs around $3.83, a half-gallon of milk is $3.38 and a loaf of bread will set you back $5.04. Fancy a steak night? With a price tag of $18.36, it’ll be an expensive meal.
San Francisco utility prices
One of the best things about living in San Francisco is the climate. With its Mediterranean-style climate and the cooling effect of oceanic breezes, summers are kept tolerable and winters don’t get too cold. The mild weather allows for year-round outdoor recreation and enjoyment, which is great to know for anyone considering a move to the City by the Bay.
That also means that utility prices here aren’t too extravagant. Utility rates are only 31.8 percent over the national average, which is down 1.8 percent from last year. Average monthly energy bills for San Francisco residents come out to around $267.64. For the Internet, $69 is the average monthly price for 60 megabits per second.
San Francisco transportation prices
Everyone knows that driving in major cities can be a real pain. You have to deal with heavy traffic congestion and hard-to-find parking. Luckily, San Francisco has a great public transportation network of buses and light rail for locals and visitors alike to use to navigate the city and surrounding Bay Area.
Transportation costs in San Francisco are 38.4 percent above the national average, which is down 4.7 percent from last year.
For getting around San Francisco, riders have several different options. The Muni system from the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency offers bus routes, light rail, and historic cable car lines around the city. Rates vary by the type of transportation. A single ride on both bus and light rail lines is $2.50 for adults and an unlimited day pass to buses, trains and cable cars is $5. A monthly “Clipper” pass on all Muni transit options (including cable cars) is $81. For exploring beyond San Francisco, the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system (BART) has six different routes around the Bay Area. Fares are paid using Clipper, the all-in-one transit card for both Muni and BART and fares vary by duration of ride.
Along with avoiding traffic, another great reason to use San Francisco is because of tolls. Driving between Oakland or Marin County, you’ll find tolls on both the Golden Gate Bridge (to Marin County) and the Bay Bridge (to Oakland). Toll rates vary by vehicle axle number. For example, a one-time toll for two-axle vehicles is around $8.80. For a complete list of Golden Gate Bridge toll amounts, check here. Tolls are also collected electronically via FasTrak, so if you don’t have an account, an invoice is sent to the address attached to your license plate. Tolls on the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland start at $7 for two-axle vehicles.
San Francisco’s compact city center and interconnected neighborhoods also make it an exceptionally great city for walking and cycling. It boasts a near-perfect walk score of 93 and a great bike score of 77. Thanks to BART and other local mass transit options, San Fran also has a high transit score of 82.
San Francisco healthcare prices
Home to nationally ranked hospitals, San Francisco is a great place to live for healthcare quality and access. Prices also aren’t too astronomical, being only 31.5 percent above the national average. This is up 8.4 percent from last year, however.
This is what you can expect to pay for some general healthcare costs living here. A doctor’s office visit runs around $174.07 and going to the dentist is slightly more affordable at $148.07. Over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen are around $12.52 a bottle.
When looking at healthcare costs, though, it’s important to take these average rates with a grain of salt. Everyone’s healthcare needs vary depending on their health situation and health insurance. While your neighbor may have high costs due to their medical needs, your other neighbor may not need to spend a lot of money on healthcare. Because of these extremes, it’s tough to determine average overall healthcare costs.
San Francisco goods and services prices
Enjoying urban fun like going out for pizza or heading to the movies is one of the best parts of living in a major city like San Francisco. Luckily, the costs of miscellaneous goods and services in San Francisco are one of the more affordable cost of living categories. It’s only 23.6 percent higher than the national average, up 1.1 percent from last year.
Going out to the movies, tickets cost around $15.41. Want to grab some pizza after? It’ll be around $14.77. For some general monthly maintenance services like getting a haircut, the average cost is $26.74.
Taxes in San Francisco
Calling California home means living in one of the most heavily taxed states in America. That means that, on top of all the other cost of living expenses, every person living there expects a hefty tax burden.
California’s state sales tax is 7.25 percent. Combined with local and county sales and use taxes, San Francisco’s overall tax rate is 8.62 percent. For every $1,000 spent living in San Francisco, you’ll be paying $86.20 in taxes.
How much do I need to earn to live in San Francisco?
Affording San Francisco’s high cost of living comes with many benefits as well as a high price tag. But how much would you need to make to comfortably afford housing, food, utilities, taxes and other miscellaneous purchases living here?
The median household income for people living in San Francisco is $126,187. While this may seem high for an average salary, remember that all those big expenses add up and will take a decent chunk out of your monthly salary.
The easiest way to calculate if you can afford to live in a particular city is by starting plugging the rent into a cost-of-living calculator. Experts recommend that you only spend 30 percent of your gross monthly income on rent. This leaves 70 percent for everything else.
Going back to the housing section, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,498. To fit the 30 percent rule, you’d need to make $11,660 a month for $3,498 to account for 30 percent of your monthly income. That would mean looking at an annual income of $139,920.
Want to see what your salary or income can get you in San Francisco? Use our rent calculator to crunch the numbers.
Life in San Francisco
Even though San Francisco is an expensive place to live, it gives locals plenty of bang for their buck. You get to live in one of the most picturesque places in coastal California, in a vibrant, cultural city with thriving industries, great connectivity and a educated, progressive population.
The Cost of Living Index comes from coli.org.
The rent information included in this summary is based on a calculation of multifamily rental property inventory on Rent. as of September 2022.
Rent prices are for illustrative purposes only. This information does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.