How we narrowed down neighborhoods to live in and found our apartment in San Francisco

After spending two full days with the (local) agent showing us the different neighborhoods in San Francisco (and, respectively, Oakland and Alameda County), we had decided that we would want to make a move into the city, aka San Francisco. Since we hadn’t lived in the States before nor had visited San Francisco longer than a couple of days as (student) tourists, we had no idea which neighborhood could be a great fit for us and how we should look for an apartment. Here’s how we narrowed down our search, the criteria we applied, and what area we eventually chose.

When we first arrived in the States, Daniel had a couple of days off before he would start his new job. His company was nice enough to provide us with an agent that would show us some popular neighborhoods, anchor streets, coffee spots and lookouts in Alameda County an San Francisco. After driving around in her car for two days on both sides of the bay, we had enough impressions to be convinced to try our luck in the Golden City aka San Francisco.

With the help of the agent, we already had narrowed down the endless list of neighborhoods based on our wishes, concerns, and needs. Since we like the sun, she told us to avoid the western part entirely, as the fog makes an often appearance there. She also advised us which neighborhoods are considered more dangerous than others and whose are better for families vs young couples.
Our concerns and needs are obviously very individual. However, I am happy to share all of them with you to show you how we proceeded, pinpointed our search to only a handful of neighborhoods and eventually found our apartment.


First, we had to narrow our search down to an area that we liked or could ourselves see living in. San Francisco is not as big as the city we grew up with its 46,87 mi² but it still composes a lot of distinct and „micro-hoods“, some of which comprise only a handful of blocks. Granted, we couldn’t explore all within the first week. That’s why we had to set some criteria, with the following points being our main concerns. The area we wanted to live in should be:

  • Relatively safe (= far away from Tenderloin, Beach Road, and parts of the Mission).

  • Located close to Daniel’s work in Alameda, or with a reasonable commuting time (e.g., close to Bay Bridge/Ferry).

  • Offer potential workplaces nearby for me (aka Design District, and Mission Bay, as there are lots of companies headquartered that I would want to apply for once I receive my authorization).

  • Loaded with coffee shops, yoga studios, restaurants, and bars in walking distance.

  • Ideally, close to the water or some park(s).

  • Sunny (San Francisco is known to be very foggy, and our agent had told us which neighborhoods to avoid if we like to see the sun regularly).

  • Vibrant, or have a certain vibe (do we “feel” the area?)

City vibes…

… or bay views?

Again, those are very individual requirements. Having said that, Daniel and I had narrowed down our search for an apartment to the following areas:

  • Pacific Heights / Marina (Northern part of the peninsula, not as great when it comes to commuting, but with lots of restaurants, coffee shops, yoga, and sports studios and an overall cool vibe, great outlooks to the Golden Gate Bridge, recreational areas like parks and the sea in walkable distance and fairly sunny. Relatively expensive and weird floorplans as mostly impressive but old/protected buildings).

  • North Beach / South Beach – Mid-Eastern part of San Francisco, divided by the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Terminal that Daniel needs to take in order to go to work, less busy than Pacific Heights and the Marina due to its closeness to the Financial District which was basically dead after the pandemic, close to fun bars and restaurants in Little Italy but also fairly close to Tenderloin and some more sketchy parts of the city. More sunny, amazing bay views and the Embarcadero being great for walks/runs along the water.

  • Mission Bay / Design District / Dogpatch / Potrero Hill – South-Eastern part of San Francisco, close to the Oracle Park and Chase Center, very industrial and “coastal” vibes as it’s so close to the Bay, less busy, and not as many restaurants and coffee shops, but a fair amount of cool companies around (Uber, Adobe, Pinterest) that spark hope that once the pandemic is over, the area will become popular again. Lot’s of condos and apartment complexes in new buildings in Mission Bay, more residential style houses in Potrero Hill. Bay views. Sunniest areas in San Francisco due to the distance to the Pacific Ocean and the Potrero Hill that keeps Karl the fog at its gates.

The Apartment

When it came to the apartment itself, we were primarily interested in renting out a condo or an apartment in a complex in order to get into a community and have access to facilities and amenities like community management, a gym, a rooftop, and others. Those are rarely found in Marina / Pacific Heights area (if there are any?), as most of the buildings there are protected and very old. There are more of those in South Beach and especially Rincon Hill which is known for its highrises and the dominance on San Francisco’s skyline. There’s also a lot of them in Mission Bay, particular around the Oracle Park. We quickly concluded that it was easier to look for apartment complexes/companies rather than condos, which are usually privately owned. It seems that you need a little luck to find the landlord/owner of a specific apartment. However, those might come at more reasonable and negotiable prices as it’s not regulated by a company.

Among the $$$ part, which is crucial in SF, that has just been announced to be the most expensive city to live in the US, we were looking for:

  • 1-2 Bedroom Apartment (just as in Singapore, they count ‘bedrooms’ in the US, not just rooms as we do in Germany. We don’t necessarily need a second bedroom, aka a place for a bed and another wardrobe, but we wanted some space for office stuff and to be able to work from home)

  • Fully Equipped Kitchen (granted.)

  • Balcony (with lots of sunshine, please!)

  • South-West Facing / Bright

  • No high-rise (max 7-8 stories, we like small communities)

So far, the details and the specs at the beginning of our search. After seeing the first few apartments, however, we had to add more necessities to our list, just because we hadn’t considered them coming from Germany and having lived in all-luxurious Singapore for two years:

  • Value for money / upscale amenities – SF living is expensive but OMG, you have no idea what crap some apartment complexes try to sell for an incredible amount of money. This is why we had to narrow down our search to somewhat “upscale” appliances that didn’t fall apart upon entry or looked so sketchy that I wouldn’t trust the door lock preventing break-ins at all.

  • No Carpet – I just don’t understand why in the US they still use carpet in so many bedrooms and, on top of that, wear their shoes inside?? A matter that makes me appreciate Singapore’s cleanness once more.

  • A floorplan that makes sense – We have learned that many two-bedroom floorplan layouts come with what is basically a mirrored version of the one-bed type, which wouldn’t make sense for us, as we are neither a co-living couple nor have children but would use the second bedroom as office space and storage.

The Hunt

In the following, I am sharing a few apartment complexes that we have visited, and I will also reveal a few thoughts on them if I remember something stuck out. Again, this is a personal decision, and I don’t write this to mock or talk down any other apartment we didn’t pick. But eventually, we could only choose one, and that has to have the right vibes for us personally. We have visited the following apartment complexes over the span of a week:

Alameda / Oakland

  • Aero Apartments (by Equity Apartments)

  • The Logan – wonderful apartment complex, unfortunately, no availabilities for our needs.

San Francisco – Dogpatch

San Francisco – Mission Bay

San Francisco – Potrero Hill

San Francisco – SoMa / Design District

And those are the apartments that were on my list but we didn’t manage to visit them /they didn’t match our needs.

The Found

The first neighborhood that we visited again and explored a little bit closer was Dogpatch. Right next to Mission Bay and at the Bayside of Potrero Hill, this neighborhood looked vibrant and busy enough for our needs and was yet calm enough to feel relaxed and cozy. And since we felt so “home” in the area, we never looked somewhere else, eventually.

We found “our” apartment in Dogpatch, eventually, and were pretty happy with our choice. However, looking back a couple of months later, I wonder if we would have found something more suitable for our needs in North Beach or South Beach, as summing up all the advantages of the areas seem to highlight that area in particular. We will see whether we have or want to move after our first lease ends and if we will eventually end up there. For now, we are pretty happy with our apartment, and the proximity to highways (and Bay Bridge) and the airport has come in handy when we want to fly out on the weekend or just are looking for some time at the beach. Another factor that we hadn’t calculated in the beginning but are grateful for now, too.

I am aware this is a lot of information and might be too specific for some, but I personally would have loved to have a guide or an idea of how other people narrow down their apartment search in a city they have never lived before nor know any soul. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about neighborhoods or apartment complexes in San Francisco – I kind of consider myself a pro now, ha!


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