Can’t Afford to Live in San Francisco? Live Here Instead.

In San Francisco, the cost of living is as steep as the hills. Get more bang for your buck in these nearby cities.

Catie Nienaber
On Monday, April 23, 2018 - 07:00
San Francisco

Despite its many selling points — historic architecture, beautiful views, impressive museums and thriving nightlife — a harsh reality of living in San Francisco is, well, the cost of living.  

There’s no single contributing factor to this issue, and almost any San Franciscan you meet will have their own hot take on why it’s so prohibitively expensive to live here. Chalk it up to regulations that limit the height of buildings in a city surrounded by water, an influx of high-earning residents and an overall shortage of housing means owning a home often goes to the highest bidder — literally. The median home price in San Francisco just hit a whopping $1.6 million, a 24% jump from last year.  

Thankfully, there’s no rule that says you have to live within city limits to enjoy everything San Francisco has to offer. We’ve compiled a list of alternatives that are geographically close to San Francisco while holding their own as great places to live. The median home prices in these cities are not cheap by any means, but they do offer Bay Area living for a fraction of the price of SF proper. 

Oakland CA
iStock Photo/DenisTangneyJr

1. Oakland

Median household income: $52,962

Median home price: $689,700

Average commute time: 35 minutes

Just a quick drive over the Bay Bridge, Oakland is the place to be. It’s always a little bit warmer than chilly San Francisco, which is often pummeled by marine winds. Cultural diversity abounds in Oakland, so get ready to taste different flavors and experience art and music in ways you may not have before. Take in the classic art deco architecture of downtown and the Grand Lake theater, and don’t forget that Oakland is also home to a couple of world-class sports teams, too.

Alameda CA
City of Almeda

2. Alameda

Median household income: $74,606

Median home price: $896,100

Average commute time: 20 minutes on the ferry

Stroll down some of Alameda’s flat, highly walkable streets and you may feel like you've stepped back in time. Huge oak trees provide shade to the numerous historic homes, and locals and visitors alike line the sidewalks every year for Alameda’s famous Fourth of July parade. Alameda is also home to one of the largest and most celebrated flea markets in the state of California, but don’t assume it lives completely in the past — all the modern conveniences of life are just a few blocks away. It's no wonder Alameda landed a spot on the 2018 Top 100 Best Places to Live list, too. 

3. Pinole

Median household income: $74,379

Median home price: $571,400

Average commute time to SF: 50 minutes

Just north of the Richmond Bridge with tranquil shorelines that border the San Pablo Bay, Pinole is a quiet, family-friendly community with a small-town feel. Their community theater program has been active for thirty years, with regular productions for adults and children. Be sure to check out the farmer’s market and the wealth of easy-to-moderate hiking trails around the area.

Concord CA
iStock Photo/Skyhobo

4. Concord

Median household income: $67,122

Median home price: $547,700

Average commute time: 45 minutes

With Concord, you can have your cake and eat it too — a peaceful, sun-drenched community that is also home to one of the largest music venues in the area. Abundant nature and hiking experiences surround the area, too. And if you’re a fan of the open floor plans and and floor-to-ceiling windows of mid century architecture, definitely browse Concord’s listings, where you’ll often find a variety of iconic Eichler homes for sale.

Daly City CA
iStock Photo/yhelfman

5. Daly City

Median household income: $74,489

Median home price: $945,500

Average commute time: 15 minutes

Immediately south of San Francisco, Daly City is minutes away from all your favorite things. But you don’t always have to commute to the city to have a good time. Check out the local farmer’s markets, take in a show at the Cow Palace, go for a hike in the San Bruno Mountains State Park, or head even farther west to the numerous sandy beaches flanked by lush greenery.

6. Pacifica

Median household income: $96,875

Median home price: $946,500

Average commute time: 30 minutes

Just a quick drive south of San Francisco, this sleepy beach town is a lovely place to unwind after the daily grind in the city. The many beaches and coves in Pacifica are home to a variety of marine life as well as a misty layer of fog. Walk the many historic hillside trails, parks and lookout points with your friends or your dog.


Catie Nienaber is a writer who splits her time between a small apartment in San Francisco and a restored mid century cabin outside of