Since I became a travel nurse over four years ago, the number one place on my “travel nurse bucket list” was to work in San Francisco. As I worked my way along the West Coast, I couldn’t ever seem to land a job in my dream city – until now. Working as a travel nurse in San Francisco was all I could’ve wanted and more. The city is lively and fun, everywhere you go is a scene, and there is just so – much – to – do. Day trips to take, weekend getaways, incredible food, beautiful weather, and more. I loved the city so much that I renewed my contract to explore it more in-depth. After living in San Francisco for 26-weeks and exploring the ins and outs of the city and surrounding areas, I’m thrilled to share this ultimate travel nurse guide with you.
Everything You Need to Know About Being a Travel Nurse in San Francisco
Best Time to Be a Travel Nurse in San Francisco
Located in Northern California, the weather in San Francisco isn’t what you may typically think of when you think of California. It’s never *too* hot, and sometimes the city can be quite chilly. The most bizarre part about the weather in San Francisco is that the weather is flipped – summers are foggy and fall is nice and sunny, typically the best time of the year. This is a phenomenon referred to as “Indian summer”; when San Francisco experiences a heatwave in October after the summer fog has subsided. Aside from that, you can also expect many different microclimates throughout the city. Some neighborhoods can get chilly, while others are nice and warm. In my opinion, it’s the most ideal to visit in the fall or spring.
My experience: I traveled to San Francisco in September and stayed through March. The weather was perfect in October, November, and March; while the other months were cloudy and more chilly. While I don’t recommend signing a contract over the holidays (perks of being a travel nurse), I highly recommend San Francisco around this time.
Where to Live in San Francisco
RESOURCES/WHERE TO LIVE
Although San Francisco is only 7 x 7 (seriously, the city is only seven miles wide and seven miles long) there are 36 different neighborhoods to choose from. I highly recommend choosing your living arrangements based on what hospital you’re working at. My favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco are Cow Hollow, Russian Hill, Presidio, North Beach, Haight-Ashbury, Financial District, and certain areas in the Mission. The only neighborhood I would avoid at all costs is the Tenderloin.
When choosing where to live, the cost may play a big factor. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the world so if you’re taking an assignment and want to save some money, you may live outside of San Francisco and commute in. If you choose to do this keep in mind that the city can get congested so commuting to and from work may take a while.
When searching for housing I usually search on Facebook, Furnished Finder, or Airbnb. If you’re moving to San Francisco as a travel nurse, make sure to join the Facebook group “Travel Nurse Housing – San Francisco Bay Area, CA”. If you search on Airbnb, keep in mind that prices tend to be outrageous due to all of the extra fees. Because you’re renting a place for 3+ months, it doesn’t hurt to message the Airbnb host requesting a discount before booking. Half of the time I’ve been told yes, and half of the time I’ve been told no.
My experience: I found a one-bedroom apartment in Haight-Ashbury only 1.2 miles from where I was working. This was perfect because I didn’t bring a car to the city so I could walk to and from work. While it was expensive, I valued living alone, loved the location, and thought that the price was worth it.
For a more comprehensive guide on how to find housing as a travel nurse, read Resources for Finding Housing As a Travel Nurse
COST OF LIVING
As I mentioned earlier, the cost of living in San Francisco is outrageous; it’s one of the most expensive cities in the US and the world. The average one-bedroom apartment goes for $3,500/month. To offset the high prices, you can always choose to live with a roommate (or a few). But remember, San Francisco is a hot city and people love it.
Aside from rent, overall, the city is quite expensive. Eating out can be expensive, drinks can be expensive, and other activities are also expensive. But remember, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to live in different places as a travel nurse, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. Plus, travel nurses in Northern California tend to make the most money compared to other nurses in the US so you should be able to afford a few months of expensive living.
Travel Nurse Guide to Transportation in San Francisco
San Francisco is congested and you don’t need a car if you plan to live in the city. Parking can oftentimes be a nightmare and you might end up paying a hefty fee for a parking space at your apartment (pst… make sure to ask about this before signing a lease!). The only reason I see needing a car is if you are going to commute in (or out) for work; or if you are big on day trips/weekend trips.
My experience: I did not bring a car to San Francisco. Instead, I walked or utilized ridesharing. Times when I wanted to escape the city I booked a rental car on Kayak.
There is a train that operates around San Francisco, connecting the city to the rest of the Bay area called Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). If you plan on using BART, I highly recommend downloading the BART app. You’ll be able to see departure/arrival times, a fare calculator, and more.
To access BART you’ll need a Clipper card. To obtain a Clipper card, you’ll pay a one-time $3 fee from a BART station vending machine. You can purchase Clipper cards from SFO at the airport information booth, some Walgreens in the city, BART station vending machines, and here.
There are two airports near the city – San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – located 10+ miles south of the city. And Oakland International Airport (OAK), located 20+ miles east of the city.
Ridesharing in the city is quite popular. Both Uber and Lyft operate in San Francisco and can be requested at all hours of the day/night.
If you’re looking for other ways to get around San Francisco, make sure to read: 8 Apps You Need for Transportation in San Francisco
Hospitals in San Francisco/CA Licensing
There are so many hospitals to work at in San Francisco. There’s Kaiser, UCSF, CPMC, and more. Aside from the hospitals in the city, there are also hospitals located outside of the city too – Stanford, Oakland, etc. Most hospitals in the San Francisco area are traveler-friendly and welcome travelers year-round. If you want to work in San Francisco, but you don’t have your California nursing license yet – plan to get it soon. Licensing in California can oftentimes take up to four months so you’ll want to plan well in advance if your dream is to head to the west coast. (Oh and don’t forget to save those receipts so that your company can reimburse you for your license).
Prioritizing Your 13-Week Stay – What Should You Do?
Whenever I arrive at a new destination, I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed at all there is to see and do. I think to myself, how in the world do I accomplish all that I want to accomplish without wasting any time in 13 VERY short weeks? Where do I even start? Well, that’s what I’m here for! Santa Barbara is brimming with things to do. Here is a comprehensive list of what to do, restaurants to eat at, bars to visit, and more!
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Baker Beach – One of the most famous beaches in San Francisco, Baker Beach is the place to be for incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a parking lot at Baker Beach and parking is free.
Battery Spencer – Another place to head for incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Battery Spencer is on the north side of San Francisco so not only will you have views of the bridge, but you’ll also have views of the city as well. Street parking is available and free to use, however, please note that car break-ins are frequent in the area.
Golden Gate Bridge – While you can view the Golden Gate Bridge from several places in San Francisco, while you’re in town for 13-weeks you should also walk/bike/drive across it! One of my favorite activities is to rent electric bikes from SF Wheels and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.
Golden Gate Park – The Golden Gate Park is the largest park in San Francisco (fun fact, it’s even larger than Central Park) and is located on the west side of the city. There are a lot of activities you can do in the park – take a ride on the Ferris Wheel, visit the Conservatory of Flowers, visit the Japanese Tea Garden, or head to the end of the park to eat and drink at Beach Chalet.
Lombard Street – Lombard Street is a famous street in San Francisco for being steep and having hairpin turns. The houses in the area are beautiful so I think it’s worth checking out.
Mile Rock Beach – Mile Rock Beach is another beautiful beach in San Francisco. It’s not as touristy as Baker Beach and the views of the bridge aren’t as great, but it feels a little bit more secluded.
Painted Ladies – The Painted Ladies are famous because they were the opening shot of Full House. And while Full House wasn’t filmed inside of the Painted Ladies they still have garnered a lot of attention. Pack a picnic and sit and have wine at Alamo Square Park, across the street from the Painted Ladies.
Pier 39 – Pier 39 is an incredibly touristy thing to do in the city, but if that’s okay with you then don’t miss popping down to the pier for some food and fun. I like to get clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from Boudin Bakery before visiting the California sea lions on the docks.
Rent a GoCar – If you’re living in San Francisco for some time then chances are you’ll see one (or more) yellow GoCars around the city. You can rent them from nearby the wharf and take one out for the day to see some of San Francisco’s most famous attractions and learn a little bit of history along the way.
The Palace of Fine Arts – Personally, my favorite park to hang out in is The Palace of Fine Arts. It’s a little bit quieter than the rest of the parks but the scenery is beautiful.
Twin Peaks – One of my favorite “hikes” (walk up a hill) in the city is the Twin Peaks hike. It’s a 922-foot-high summit in a residential neighborhood in the heart of the city. It offers incredible views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
DAY TRIPS FROM SAN FRANCISCO
Monterey + Carmel + Big Sur – While visiting all three of these places in one day is a LOT, it’s well worth it if you’re limited on time. South of San Francisco, you can stop in Monterey for lunch, then take the 17-mile drive to Carmel, before heading out on one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world that will take you through Big Sur. For more information on this trip, make sure to read The Best Road Trip to Monterey, Carmel, & Big Sur.
Mt. Tam – If you’re looking for a more active day trip, then Mt. Tamalpais would be for you. Mt. Tamalpais is located outside of the city, north, in Marin County. For more information on hiking Mt. Tam, read Hiking Mt Tamalpais.
Napa Valley – Arguably the most famous wine region in America, Napa Valley is only a short hour and a half drive north of San Francisco. You can easily take multiple day trips to wine country and explore different wineries on your days off from the hospital. If you do plan to visit Napa, don’t miss The Best Vineyards in Napa Valley, The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley, and The Ultimate Napa Valley Travel Guide.
Sausalito – Sausalito is a quiet town on the water, north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s fun to ride bikes over for a day (you can also take the ferry if you don’t like biking) and get lunch and drinks while you walk around the cute downtown area. For more on visiting Sausalito, read A Day Trip to Sausalito.
Sonoma County – West of Napa Valley, Sonoma County is an equally incredible wine region north of San Francisco. Like Napa, there are tons of wineries to explore in Sonoma and it’s such an easy day trip from the city. If you plan to visit Sonoma, make sure to read Sonoma Wine Tasting, Which Vineyards to Visit if You Only Have One Day and Spending the Day in Healdsburg – The Best Healdsburg Wineries to Visit.
RESTAURANTS IN SAN FRANCISCO
Burma Superstar – Incredible Burmese food best for take-out.
China Live – A Chinese marketplace where you can get different foods from different vendors in one place.
Flores – A chic and fun Mexican restaurant.
Foreign Cinema – While I prefer to eat at Foreign Cinema for brunch, it is also a fun place for an upscale dinner too. At dinner, an old movie is projected on the exposed brick wall outside.
Mamanoko – Incredible Japanese small plates and sushi in the Cow Hollow neighborhood.
Rich Table – The most unique food I’ve eaten in San Francisco, Rich Table serves seasonal California fare.
Zazie – A go-to brunch restaurant in Cole Valley. Zazie focuses on French food and is more laid-back than the previously mentioned Foreign Cinema.
If you’re looking for more restaurant recommendations, don’t miss: 15+ of the Best Restaurants in San Francisco
BARS IN SAN FRANCISCO
Amelie – Go for: Wine
Balboa Cafe – Go for after-dinner espresso martinis
Birba – Go for: Wine
Charmain’s Rooftop and Lounge – Go for: Cocktails and views of the city
Magnolia Brewing – Go for: Beer
The Patio – Go for: Wine
Although San Francisco is a compact city with tons to do, I hope that this guide helps you explore the best that San Francisco offers in a short period. Travel nursing in San Francisco is an incredible opportunity and I hope that if you’re reading this, you plan to take full advantage of the city.
If you’re looking for other ideas of where to be a travel nurse, check out these posts: