Southern California vs. Northern California… and a Life Update

Southern California vs. Northern California… and a Life Update

I somehow live here now?
I somehow ended up living in wine country

So, my life has been flipped upside down.  I am now kinda, sorta, living in Northern California.

A month prior to my Asia trip, my boyfriend told me he wanted to take a job offer in Northern California.  Although I’m kind of itching to get out of California, we both knew that taking this job was the right thing to do.

So when you get back from Japan and China, boyfriend said, we’re moving up North.

And… here I am.  North of San Francisco in a place I never, ever expected to find myself in.

While I have only been here a few days and I don’t exactly live in the heart of the bay area per se (let’s just say I’m north of San Francisco), the stark contrast between north and south is alredy very apparent.

Weather Rocks in Norcal

Mastanzas Lavender

When I left Southern California, the temperature was 105 F (or 40 C for the rest of the world) and it was simply not safe to be outdoors between the hours of 12 – 6 PM in fear of heat stroke.

Seven hours up north in the bay area, however, I opened my car door and flinched in anticipation of the summer heat–only to be welcomed to a cool, refreshing breeze.

Northern California is a comfortable 70-80 F (21-25 C) almost all year round.   I haven’t had to use my air conditioner once since moving in. At night, it almost feels downright cold (which is crazy for July), with evening temperatures dropping to an average of 50 F (10 C) in the evening and morning.

The weather here is simply perfect.  I now know why people pay ungodly amounts of money to live here.

It’s Super Green and Pretty Up Here

Here is a picture of a typical hike in Southern California, near the Los Angeles area.

Can you feel that desert sun beating down on you through the photo?  Cause I sure I can.
mmmm dirt.

Northern California, on the other hand, looks like this…


With vineyards and trees everywhere, the surrounding scenery pretty much is this:


Yeah.  Pretty green, eh?

The morning fog and intermittent rains make Northern California green, moist and beautiful.  The landscape reminds me of Oregon, but with more sunshine.  Definitely a stark contrast to the deserts of Southern California.

Traffic and Driving

Crazy Norcal Traffic here...
Crazy Norcal Traffic here…

When I lived in the suburbs of Southern California, I faced an ungodly amount of traffic on both highways and local roads.

In Northern California, however, it actually feels like the suburbs.  I’m surrounded by empty and quaint local roads with little to no traffic on the highways.  I know that San Francisco is a totally different ball game, but at least they have the option of public transit there (the BART railway system) to avoid the nastiness of traffic.

So basically, driving (and commuting) here is much, much more relaxed than the Los Angeles area.

Hot Damn, It’s Expensive Up Here

There were vacation homes along this river.. I can't even imagine the cost
There were vacation homes along this river.. I can’t even imagine the cost

Great weather, beautiful scenery, tons of amazing destinations nearby and it’s easy to drive around–what’s not to love?

Well, the main reason the whole country doesn’t flock here can be summed in two words: stupid expensive.

I nearly screamed in the aisle when I saw that a head of broccoli was 4 dollars.  A handful of cilantro 2 dollars.  A regular bag of potato chips, 4 dollars.

And this is at the REGULAR supermarket.  You know it’s expensive when Trader Joes (a boutique grocery store chain) is the cheapest option around.

Rent is also insane.  My friend lives in an Airbnb in north San Francisco and she pays 2,000 dollars per month.  For one room.  In a shared house.  Not counting utilities.  The boyfriend and I live in the suburbs in a very average apartment and the rent is close to 2,200 per month.

That’s not expensive.  That’s insane.

Basically, the only way you can live in northern California is to be filthy, stinking rich.  Or suffer in poverty. Or win the lottery.  It’s hard.

My Final Say

Yes, this tree is 1400 years old

The bay area is extremely nice.  Although I’m not a huge fan of San Francisco, the north bay (where we live now) is amazing.  I was sold on day two.  The weather, the nature, the people, the sights, the scenery–everyone is happy here, and it’s hard not to be.  There are vineyards everywhere, the beaches are only 40 minutes away, redwood trees are in my backyard and it’s sunny and 70 degrees everyday.  Seriously, it’s hard to complain.

But I have to ask myself… is it worth the cost?

San Francisco, in my opinion, is definitely NOT worth the cost.  Unless you’re a techie looking to make it big, I say stay away.  Inequality in San Francisco is extremely apparent with homelessness on the rise and the middle class being squeezed out of the city as we speak.  Compared to other world cities (Tokyo, Berlin, even Paris), I think San Francisco isn’t all that interesting.  I would much rather pay 800 dollars per month to have my own bedroom in Tokyo than to shell out 2,000 dollars per month and live in a closet in San Francisco.  No.  Thanks.

As I’ve been saying to the boyfriend for years, the bay area is nice…. but is it pouring-most-of-my-salary-to-rent level nice?

My answer is no, it’s not worth it.  I do not think the bay area will become my new home, even though it is a damn nice place.  It’s just not worth it, and boyfriend agrees.

But Wait, I’m Moving Again…?

Yup, I'm moving to La Jolla and I totally can't afford it
Yup, I’m moving to La Jolla and I totally can’t afford it

Ironically, I will not be living here (just a frequent visitor).  Believe it or not, Mary will soon return to Southern California and live in another unlikely location: San Diego!  Details to come later.

After 7 weeks of travel and a move across California, it is time for Mary to rest….and write more.  Hopefully.  Expect more posts soon!


Have you been to the bay area?  Do you think it’s worth the price tag and are you a fan?  What do you think about the rising cost of living in big cities?

14 thoughts on “Southern California vs. Northern California… and a Life Update

  1. OMG, that is crazy expensive! I cannot imagine paying 2,200 a month for an average apartment! Or $4 for a head of broccoli! Whoa.

    Wishing you a smooth transition to La Jolla and keep us posted!

    1. Yeah the rent situation here is just too insane. I don’t know how people survive!!! How am I going to buy vegetables!? haha.

      Thanks Jocelyn! Glad to see you’re feeling better!

  2. Yep, Dawen and I almost thought about living in San Fran but it’s so ridiculously expensive. My friend Ellen and Tony lived in a studio apartment over 10 years ago and it cost them $1500. Insane. Not only that, my husband is an Interior Designer…so we are moving back to South Florida…around my old neighborhood again!

    Life can be pure comedy. :O!

    1. WHAAAT $1500 10 years ago!?! Geez, and here I thought 10 years ago was the time to buy… maybe SF was just never affordable huh?

      Wow you’re moving back to South Florida!? Are you sad to leave Atlanta or are you kind of excited to go back to your old hood?

      I know you never know where life will take you. I went to San Diego for the first time 2 years ago and I really loved it, but never imagined living there. Now that I’ve put the deposit down on an apartment and have a move in date set, it feels surreal that I’m going to live there. If you told me 3 years ago I would live in San Diego, I would laugh in disbelief. I’m sure you probably feel the same about Florida 🙂

      Anyway, I haven’t heard from you in a while! Hope you and Dawen are doing well!

      1. Neither. Atlanta is a nice city and all, but I wont miss it. I’ve always felt like a visitor here. Deep down, I kind of knew I wouldn’t stay for long. I don’t know how I feel about moving to Florida. Indifferent, perhaps.

    1. Exactly! I think next to London, San Francisco is the most expensive place to live in the WORLD. It is a nice city, but I am not all that impressed by it. I’d rather live in Utah and save money, like you said, for better things 🙂

  3. I lived in Chico which I liked, but the minimal wage was kept down due to it being a college town. And when we lived in Oceanside, it was hella expensive, too. I love San Diego though. Talk about perfect weather. I know Cali has its challenges, but it sure is a pretty state, diverse (mostly) and such variety of landscapes (mostly) year around. Yes, keep us updated!

    1. Wow, Oceanside is super nice! But all good places in California aren’t cheap… Surprisingly, even Riverside is getting expensive (Riverside is super inland, near San Bernardino!). My friend there pays 1200/month for a one bedroom… so crazy.

      San Diego IS nice. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like San Diego. It’s a little slice of heaven.

      I’ve learned to appreciate California. It is a great place, and I can see why everyone wants to live here.

      Thanks Lani! 😀

  4. Brrrr, those prices!! A vegetables garden sounds like a good investment 😛

    What is the average salary in San Francisco? It has to be super high, or do people spend all their money in rent??

  5. Long time reader but first time commenting (did you change the blog to make it more China internet friendly?)

    Have fun up north before you have to file for bankruptcy. It sure is beautiful in NoCal but so expensive. All of California is way too expensive – I just don’t get it. My sister lives in San Francisco, makes bank but can only afford a rent controlled 2 bedroom (3,000 a month) that would cost like 4,000 a month on the open market. Crazy. I’ve always prefered northern california to southern california because of the weather and the less strip mall/suburban sprawl vibe.

    And maybe you can qualify for food stamps if you make less than 100k….that might help with the 4 dollar broccoli. It must be strange knowing you could get two full bags of veggies for the same price in Shanghai.

    1. Hello! Glad to know I have long time readers 😉 Is there something different about the blog that is more China friendly? I don’t know why but you can access my blog in China, bizarre.

      Haha yeah I don’t think California is worth it either. All of my relatives think California is the promised land and every other state is so much below them–really upsets me. California is nice, but it doesn’t even come close to other cities in the world such as Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, etc… And they’re way cheaper to live in! That’s crazy your sister has to live in rent controlled housing… Seattle is getting that way, too. My friend is a lawyer in Seattle and she barely qualifies for low income housing. Craziness.

      Yeah I much prefer life in Asia–but alas, my family is American and I must stay. Sigh.

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