A freelancer’s guide to San Francisco and Oakland
California’s Bay Area – including San Francisco and Oakland – is a diverse region currently known for its tech community. Aside from the booming tech and startup industry, the region remains an eclectic melting pot with tons of art, culture and plenty of nature. Yes, it’s an expensive place to live but freelancers have made the most of what the community has to offer to make a healthy living there.
As the second in our city guide for freelancers series, we asked our Bay Area Peeps to share the pros, cons, tips, favorite places, and insights about living there as a freelancer. Check out the first in the series, a freelancer’s guide to Portland or New York City and Brooklyn after learning more about SF and Oakland below!
Freelancer livability score: 7/10
If there were only two words to describe San Francisco, they would be vibrant and eclectic. Peep Jessie Wood put it best when she said, “San Francisco is a beautiful, vibrant city, with great food, people who are passionate about what they do, and pretty much any type of subculture you could ever want to find. It’s a fantastic city. There’s always something to do or explore, and plenty of free activities. You’re surrounded by the gorgeous nature of California, and it’s easy to get out to go camping and take an internet break for a few days. Also, burritos.”
A photo posted by Jessie Wood (@jessiewould) on
With a large tech and startup community comes a ton of opportunities for social events. Jessie added, “there are always meetups, happy hours and other professional events going on. People like to drink here, especially in the tech world, so often activities will revolve around that. But it’s pretty easy to find some people to go on a hike or a bike ride with.”
One thing I’ve noted in the times I’ve visited the Bay Area is that work/life balance is much more prevalent than on the East Coast. Peep Christa said, “Smaller start-ups may be highly demanding, but later stage companies often respect work-life balance. Large clients will have perks like free or subsidized lunch when you’re visiting the office.”
A photo posted by Shannon Byrne (@shannonleebyrne) on
I’ve also noticed that people in the area take fitness and outdoor time very seriously. Peep Krista Gray added, “SF is super close to so many great hikes and outdoor activities, which inspire me to step away from the desk. I love Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, the Lands End Trail, Mt. Tam, and stand up paddle boarding on the Bay at Seatrek in Sausalito.”
Christa added, “there are beautiful parks, daytime fitness/yoga classes and a huge fitness community in general. There are also a ton of healthy food options everywhere, as well as “hipster toast,”amazing bread (Tartine; Arizmendi) and other Bay Area food specialties.
The one big con of the city is that it’s expensive. Jessie said, “if you want to pay under $2,000/month in rent, expect to live in an apartment or house with roommates. If you look very hard and know a lot of people, you can find a room for under $1,000/month. Everything else is expensive too. The city has significant markups on alcohol, groceries, gas, everything.”
Job opportunities for freelancers
Christa noted that most job opportunities are in tech, so if that’s not an industry of interest than SF might not be the place for you. One thing to consider, however, is that the tech industry offers opportunities to work with companies who are innovating in almost any area you’re passionate about.
That said, there are also considerations to keep in mind about working in tech. Christa noted that for one, “tech is very male-dominated and many clients are based in Silicon Valley, which may require a long commute on Caltrain.” There is also tough competition. Krista says that you’ll meet many people with the same skillset as you. Plus, there has been an explosion of burnt out startup employees getting into contract/consulting work.
But with those payoffs comes a generous compensation in the industry, typically. You don’t have to work with local companies, either. One of the great things about freelancing is that you can work with clients around the world from anywhere. There are tons of companies outside of the Bay Area that also pay well. I suggest building (or updating) your CloudPeeps profile and checking out the jobs available on the platform. It’s a great place to find clients looking for freelancers to work 100% remote.
The layout and transportation situation
Everyone we spoke with said that the city is very walkable and bikeable, even with the hills. If that’s not your thing, taking an Uber or Lyft is pretty inexpensive since the city is fairly small (7 miles x 7 miles). If you Uber Pool or Lyft Line with other people, most rides will cost you between $5 and $7. Jessie added that “public transportation isn’t fantastic but it’s much better than most American cities. If it’s a straight shot, expect no problems. If you have to transfer, expect delays.”
We ❤️ walking and biking on the #GoldenGateBridge and would hate to see tolls for these activities. If you agree, add your voice to the thousands urging Gov. Brown to sign AB40, which would prevent bridge tolls for people walking or biking on ALL #BayArea bridges. Go to: sfbike.org/our-work/regional-advocacy
A photo posted by SF Bicycle Coalition (@sfbike) on
Jessie also warns that “bikes get stolen all the time. If you have a bike, try to never leave it on the street, and when you do, make sure you lock it properly. There’s a big biking community that works together to create safer conditions, and as a result, there are many streets with designated bike lanes. There’s also something called The Wiggle, which is an official bike route from Market Street (downtown) to Golden Gate Park, so-called because it wiggles around the hills, giving you a mostly flat ride through the city.” If you have a car, expect parking to be a pain but the ability to quickly leave the city for an adventure can be fun!
Coworking and cafes
Jessie says that working from coffee shops is a big thing in the area, so most have wifi and food. “Most shops are fairly relaxed — you can hang out all day and never get the stinkeye from an employee.”
Here are our Peeps favorite coffee shops:
- Any Philz Coffee (particularly the 24th one and the new Dogpatch one)
- Coffee Bar in the Mission
- Vinyl on Divisadero
- Cafe du Soleil in Lower Haight
- The Roastery on Chestnut and Union streets
- Capital One Cafe
- Java Beach
- Jane Cafe
A photo posted by Clarisse (@coffeeshop_diary) on
Coworking spaces are one thing that the Bay Area is not short of. Jessie says that they’re mostly in SoMa and the Financial District and range from $200 – $500/month for a single person.
Here are our Peeps favorite coworking spots:
- Workshop Cafe in the Financial District – a hybrid coffee shop/coworking space that’s $2/hr or free for regular customers
- StartupBasecamp – a co-living coworking space for entrepreneurs operating within a motel
- Treehouse Space (formerly 1920C)
- Nomad-a-What Travel Coworking
- Runway Incubator
- Impact Hub (in SF and Oakland)
- The Port (Oakland)
- Oakstop (Oakland)
Here are eight more coworking spaces in San Francisco to check out as well.
#coliving is the new #coworking. Join our startup community in #sanfrancisco & Be part of something bigger! Discover the incredible benefits when you are new to a city – meet likeminded friends and create business opportunities!#entrepreneurs #nomadpreneurs #digitalnomads 👉🏻💥link in the bio we hope to host you soon!
A photo posted by Startupbasecamp (@startupbasecamp) on
Communities, events and groups
Several of our other Peeps said that they haven’t found a unified community of freelancers, but we’re working to change that with Freelance Friday! Andi says that connecting with other freelancers “opens the door to some really fun collaborations between freelancers and brands we’re all working on!”
As mentioned earlier, there’s no shortage of events to attend in the Bay Area and they’re a great way to meet new people. Christa said, “When I moved to San Francisco I knew one person. I met most of my friends at meetups (non-specific to freelancing), in yoga classes and my meeting up with online friends in real life.” You can find an event for pretty much any industry and interest in the area. Here are our Peeps favorite freelance and tech events.
Meetups and communities:
- Freelance Friday SF (monthly coworking)
- Freelancer’s Union Spark
- Bay Area Web Freelancers (Oakland)
- Nomad Pass Happy Hours
- Creative Mornings
- Women 2.0
Conferences (there are too many to name, but here are some of our favorites):
- CMX West (for community professionals)
- SaaStr (for SaaS and tech companies)
- SF Music Tech Summit
- Launch Festival (for startups and VCs)
- Incite Summit
- The Startup Conference
- Lean Startup Week
- re:make (from Brit + Co)
- Hustle Con (Oakland, startup tactics for non-techies)
Life in the Bay Area
As you can see, the Bay Area has a lot to offer for freelancers – in tech for sure, but also in other creative areas. Like any region, it’s all about carving your own niche and making it work for you. If you’re into nature, day trips, biking and tech – the Bay Area is a great place for you. You may have to put in the extra effort to attend events to meet people, but locals tend to be super friendly. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll meet collaborators, coworkers and friends!
A photo posted by Nomad Pass (@nomadpass) on
Huge thanks to Peeps Christa, Jessie, Krista and Maria at Nomad Pass for sharing your insights! Have insights or favorite places based on your experience as a freelancer in the Bay Area? Share them in the comments below!
*Top photo by Ian Schneider.*
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