Arts and CultureEat & DrinkSF Bay Area

Now That Everybody Left, I Love SF More Than Ever

Updated: Jul 12, 2023 10:27
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This beautiful photo is by Eric Ward

By Jeremy Kuempel

“San Francisco is DEAD” read the headline of a party a few weeks ago, hosted at a century-old Victorian mansion repurposed into a group home for artists and weirdos. If your social media feed were any indication, the proclamation that the best days of the City were behind it would certainly seem true. Hundreds of revelers packed the halls that night to share in despair that their collective best days had come to an untimely end, all to the beat of two dance floors, an open bar, and a cushy cuddle puddle with a view of the Bay Bridge winking with iridescent splendor in the distance. Clearly, San Francisco was dead—no one would believe how anyone could have a good time in a mansion packed with hundreds of smart, friendly, and attractive millennials gyrating late into the evening to the sounds of hip hop and psytrance. 

Two macro trends collided in the summer of 2021 that left Bay Area tech workers scattering like ants from under a rock: fully remote work becoming the norm and widely available vaccinations reducing the stigma that came with conspicuously irresponsible travel in the early days of the pandemic. Now freed of the dual shackles of both a fiduciary obligation to present oneself in an open-concept office sporting ping pong tables, massages, and free food, and the need to shelter in place to avoid spreading a dangerous disease, millennials found themselves in droves eager to pack up their things and live out their digital nomad dreams or purchase homes in non-coastal markets like Austin and Denver.

The undoing of the Westward Expansion flowed in the opposite direction—an Eastbound flurry of idealistic, educated, 30 and 40-something’s who had already struck gold in California and were now looking to amplify their bounty by deploying it in less pricey parts of our nation. The population of the Bay Area drained into cities with lower income taxes and lower housing prices, contributing to the rest of America getting to experience the kind of historic cost increases that the West Coast had become accustomed to for years.

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And while I sit back and sip espresso from the parklet of my favorite cafe in the Mission, reading statuses, group chats, threads, and think pieces about why friends and colleagues have chosen to relocate, I gaze out on the beautiful city I am still overjoyed to call home and reflect on everything I love about San Francisco. 

Dope photo by Max Templeton

For more than 150 years, this little City by the Bay has been a boom town that collects fortune seekers from the world over—but with every boom, there comes a bust. And like a great phoenix, the City reinvents itself time and again. I believe post-pandemic San Francisco is becoming the best version of itself than it has been in years.

Yes, San Francisco has had the biggest population decline of any major city in the nation. However, when you consider the top complaints of pre-pandemic San Francisco, many are symptoms of overcrowding and an over-represented tech population. The shrinking of SF was disproportionately composed of tech workers, killing two birds with one stone. 

San Francisco has become the butt of many jokes, receiving shade in equal parts from the bullies of conservative media as well as from former residents who are eager to air out the grievances that lead to their departure. But don’t let all that negativity and ire on the internet misdirect you from the reality on the ground—we will explore how the declining population has changed many aspects of City life in good ways.

1. The Artistic Resurgence

In the pre-pandemic days, @overheardsanfrancisco used to be filled with cringey pickup lines from startup bros; but now those same Brads and Chads are gracing the streets of New York, Miami, and Austin plying their venture backed steel Rolexes and Patagonia vests. The population who stayed, or even took the leap to relocate here, overwhelmingly seems way more awesome as a group than the stressed-out, overstuffed culture of pre-pandemic peak-tech SF.

In the post-pandemic era, hippie tradition is taking over the center stage of the social landscape. The newest cocktail bars aren’t just slinging expensive libations, they’re wrapping them in immersive experiences. The burlesque community is coming out with an impressive lineup of carefully curated shows. House and block parties are once again encouraging creative costumes and collaborative themes.

It’s as though the depopulation of the City is removing people for whom San Francisco was just a place to live, not a way of life. What’s left behind is an incredible density of fascinating, passionate, talented and caring people who are excited to rebuild the crazy culture that attracted them in the first place.

2. San Francisco’s Small Town Feel

The City is almost a misnomer for our city. With a resident population of less than a million, part of the allure (and challenge) of this place is that it’s somewhere you’re likely to run into people again and again. In post-pandemic San Francisco, this effect has been magnified and I love it. As I sat in Golden Gate park listening to a free jazz concert and watching the sun set, a friend I met recently happened to wander past and stopped for a chat. Meet someone interesting at a party or the climbing gym? You’ll probably see them around.

Gorgeous photo by Edgar Chaparro

The small town feel is more than just a convenience for unplanned rendezvous—it’s a powerful social force for good. When people know consciously or subconsciously that they are likely to run into each other again, it reinforces good behavior. In sprawling urban jungles where one can duck in and out of social circles to quietly reassume the blank canvas of a first impression time and again, people are less wedded to the consequences of their actions. But in a small town where everybody knows your name, one is inclined to treat everyone they meet with the respect and consideration befitting a new friend. Whether because of this effect or not, I’ve found the social scene of post-pandemic San Francisco to be incredibly friendly, kind, and courteous.

3. Prices Have Made Relative Progress

While the rest of America lost sleep over a historic boom in housing costs, San Francisco buyers and renters experienced a mild decline in the cost of living. Although it may not always seem like it, Bay Area rental prices are still below pre-pandemic levels and San Francisco is no longer the number one most expensive rental market! All the fun of Bay Area life, however, hasn’t shrunk one bit.

I’m not saying it’s suddenly cheap to live in San Francisco and there are definitely serious issues that still need to be solved. But compared to the significantly increased cost of living anywhere else in America, it’s made relative progress. Friends and colleagues who’ve for years believed that San Francisco would always price them out are often surprised to find that in 2022 they can find rental options at prices similar to downtown Los Angeles and more affordable than New York. While housing affordability is becoming a nationwide problem, individuals looking to relocate must consider their options at hand and how much value they believe they are getting for the housing cost they will ultimately have to take on. Many will come to find that there is no longer enough of a gap in costs to make it worth leaving San Francisco. 

4. There is World Class Entertainment Without a Wait

One benefit of the reduced population of the City is that residents can now get access to all kinds of entertainment on short notice. Just the other night I walked into Coqueta, a top rated Spanish tapas restaurant right on the Embarcadero, at 7pm with a friend but without a reservation and was seated almost immediately. In the pre-pandemic days, this place used to book as much as a week in advance. And guess what? The food still tastes every bit as good.

Bob Moses on a Thursday? Buy your tickets night-of. Want to catch Metallica at BottleRock? Shop for your golden ticket the day before. Above and Beyond playing the Midway? Just show up at the gate. These artists sell out shows and create long lines in every other major city, but in post-pandemic San Francisco you can finish your bong rip and that next episode of Bling Empire before you bother to solidify your plans.

The City offers entertainment options for residents at every level of spending. For free, you can take an underground tour of abandoned infrastructure and emerge from a drain pipe at a renegade techno rave if you know the right people. If fine dining is your thing, you can spend a month’s rent on a single meal hosted by an award winning chef experimenting on a new pop up. If you like festivals, you might be surprised to find that many Bay Area raves offer reduced cost ticket options on a need-basis and even have special sales to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion. An open heart and the willingness to ask is often all it takes to find these opportunities.

5. San Francisco Still Offers an Unparalleled Variety of Experiences

While I’m always happy for my friends who took the leap to find the life of their dreams in other cities, I can’t help but watch smugly as their Instagram stories complain of snowstorms in New York or unbearable heat in Austin while I calmly grab a surfboard and pop down to Santa Cruz to catch a swell or two. One thing that’s been true of this place since before Westerners ever decided to settle here is that it is an incredibly gorgeous location. 

Clever photo by Saketh Garuda

Coastal zephyrs waft off the Pacific in the morning and melt like cotton candy under bright California sun in the afternoon. A short jaunt to the north lies the world-famous Napa wine country, to the East one can break fresh powder at Tahoe ski resorts, to the South you can play 18 holes at Pebble Beach or find your inner Zen in Big Sur. There are six restaurants in the Bay Area with three Michelin Stars, almost half the total number in the whole USA. You can reach nine National Parks in a day’s drive if your hiking boots are itchy for a weekend trip. 

I’ve been fortunate to visit many of my friends who’ve relocated this year. Every single one of these places has its attraction. The restaurants, bars, and music scene in New York is second to none. For all the mountainous nature we get to enjoy in California, Denver does it bigger and better. In the great words of DJ Mikey Lion “Not only does Miami still fuck, but I believe it fucks harder than anywhere else on Earth”. I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

But in terms of finding one place to call home, that one place that can really do it all, there’s just nowhere that’s as good at everything as San Francisco. If post-pandemic San Francisco is dead then let’s let it rest in peace, the blossoming flowers of a hippie resurgence fertilized by the carrion of last decade’s tech boom. 

San Francisco is dead, long live San Francisco! 


Jeremy grew up visiting family in the Bay Area and has been living here for over 10 years. He is an engineer, coffee machine inventor, adventure enthusiast, and entrepreneur.

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