- I moved from Connecticut to San Francisco more than 30 years ago.
- I was surprised by several things about living in San Francisco, like the chilly summers and people’s shyness about crossing the street.
- I’m still not used to all of the cultural differences between the East Coast and West Coast.
I visited California just once before I moved from the East Coast in 1987.
It was December, and I was delighted by how much warmer San Francisco was than my home in Connecticut. So, I reasoned, it would be really hot when I moved west in August.
More than 30 years later, I realize I was completely wrong about that, and plenty of my other assumptions about the West Coast. I love living in California, but my first couple of years required some adjustment.
Here are the things that surprised me the most about San Francisco.
It was easier to be a beach bum in New England
I spent my last year in New Haven scheduling work around peak beach times. I put lemon juice in my hair to bleach it in the sun and lathered myself with baby oil for maximum tanning. I loved everything about the beach: the crust of sand on my feet, the salt left on my skin after swimming in Long Island Sound.
San Francisco, I assumed, would be my beach paradise. I would frolic in the surf and get a year-round tan.
What I didn’t know is that the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco is not at all peaceful. Sleeper or sneaker waves drag unsuspecting waders away from shore. Even on calm days, the water is too cold for all but the heartiest to swim.
On top of that, the beach is often cold and windy. Sitting on the beach, doing the Sunday crossword and watching the waves crash on the shore sounds romantic. But I’ve spent more beach Sundays huddled under a blanket, the cold wind blowing sand into my teeth. This is not how I pictured beach life in California.
Sunny California is somewhere south of San Francisco
Before I left New England, I sold my warm, polypropylene long underwear. I have regretted that ever since. Though San Francisco rarely freezes in the winter, the dank cold seeps into your bones. That’s especially true if you live in a Victorian flat with loose windows, no insulation, and very little heat.
Summer, it turns out, it not much warmer. I moved west with my lightweight summer clothes. Within a week, I called my old roommate and asked her to send my winter wardrobe because I was freezing.
The warmest month in San Francisco is October, where it can occasionally reach 100 degrees. But summer weather is more often foggy and cool.
I’m acclimated now. I complain if the thermometer goes below 65 or above 80. But, when I first moved west, I found a climate that was different from the rest of the country in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Winter is beautiful, summer is brown
During a snowy childhood on the East Coast, I got enough of the snow and cold for a lifetime. Spring is my favorite season, because it means the end of winter.
In San Francisco, to my delight, spring comes early. By February, the winter rains have brought lush greenery and gorgeous blooms to the city’s hills and valleys. The days are still short, and the weather can be bleak, but a riot of color brightens winter in the Bay Area.
Summer, on the other hand, is a season of brown, dried grass. It rarely rains during the summer months and living things shrivel and dry up. Summer in the Bay Area is nothing like the lush, green of East Coast summers. On the positive side, the Bay Area doesn’t suffer through the biting bugs that come with warm weather.
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