When visiting or moving to a new city, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong—especially when that city is associated with uber-liberal free-loving hippies who throw fetish festivals, gay pride parades, and generally outrageous/clothing-optional events that would drop most of the country’s jaws to the red-faced floor. And for the most part, it’s all true; San Francisco’s charm comes from its open-minded and laid-back acceptance of just about everything and anything, whether it be LGBT rights, environmental issues, or culturally diverse groups and beliefs.
For newcomers, this diversity can be confusing and overwhelming when all you want is to fit in. When you’re a new city dweller, you feel like an outsider. But there’s so much diversity that even as a native who identifies with one or several groups, you can still feel like an outsider to the others. Here lies the San Francisco paradox: to be an outsider is to be one of the in-crowd.
It’s okay if you’re feeling lost; there are a lot of people to meet and places to explore before you can get your bearings. To keep you entertained in the meantime, here’s a list of San Francisco stereotypes (for better or worse), where you’re likely to encounter them, and how to fit in until you find your groove.
Hipsters (aka Social Media Experts and their Tech Cofounders)
Where you’ll find them: Any coffee shop in the Mission, Cole Valley, or Deco Ghetto
Every major city has fixie-riding, mustache-grooming, organic-toting, indie-loving ‘hipsters’ who try very, very hard to look like they’re not trying at all (i.e. anyone under 30). What seems to set San Francisco’s hipster crowd apart? Tolerance. San Francisco was and continues to be an open-minded city that appreciates difference, and in SF even those who are notoriously cliquey and exclusionary in what they deem “cool” will envy rather than scoff at newbs with originality. Rock style that bucks popular trends, explore the well-stocked vintage and secondhand stores in the Mission, find a tech expert to code that website that’s going to launch you to fame and fortune, and update your Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/ownpersonalblog with real-time statuses and filtered soft-focus pics of your #newpad until SF’s hipsters come running to you. You’ll secretly love the attention.
Techies and Wantrepreneurs
Where you’ll find them: Mission, SoMa, Glen Park
It should come as no surprise that in the tech boom capital, techies are the norm—not the exception. Either app developers, post-grad programmers, or highly-paid new hires at Bay Area-based magnets like Google, YouTube, and Facebook, techies dream of making it big as CEOs of their own startups and anxiously await the day when the hundreds of hours spent debugging meticulously crafted code (work already, dammit!) will all pay off with a big acquisition or IPO. When not barricaded in their steeply priced studios for LAN parties and Chuck marathons, you’ll likely find SF’s tech crowd networking and nodding their heads to techno at exorbitant launch parties stocked with weed purchased by their young millionaire bossman. Fitting in is easy enough: familiarize yourself with Game of Thrones, know the difference between Minesweeper and Minecraft, and channel enough angst and post-grad insecurity to rival an army of anxiety-riddled twenty-somethings.
Young (Aspiring) Professionals
Where you’ll find them: Mission, SoMa, Glen Park, Russian Hill
Like any other city, San Francisco represents opportunity—and young’uns hungry for the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder come flocking the fastest. While some are successful in their quest to become high-profile finance gurus and settle in Russian Hill with their junior account exec boyfriends, reality for most is a dismal unpaid internship with the possibility of eventual hire…that never comes. “What’s that, you say? You’re a multi-degree holding doctorate? Great! You should be able to finish this extra cost analysis before you go home to your dream-shattering debt.” Yeah, it’s pretty grim. But it will get better. Until then, bars and nights spent with friends will keep you and your fellow professional hopefuls from jumping off those thirty flights of stairs you walk up everyday. (Elevator for paid employees only.)
Where you’ll find them: Marina
Fear the beard! Panda-monium! MVPosey! There’s nothing finer than a 49er, and if you disagree you’ll be sucked into the Black Hole. A devout orange and black (or red and yellow, or blue and yellow, or black and silver) enthusiast, the Diehard sets fire to buses to celebrate the boys’ latest win before sloppily high-fiving everyone (and no one) on the BART ride back to their Marina bachelor(ette) pad. More often than not, the Diehard is an overgrown bro or sister who’s too old to be waking up in a frat bathtub of regurgitated AT&T garlic fries (still appetizing), but too scared to grow up. Who wants to do that when there are only fifteen minutes to dust the crumbs off our jerseys and double fist a few brews before Cain throws the first pitch of another perfect game? I was THERE. Where were you, bro?!
San Francisco is a city built upon numerous culturally rich streetscapes that owe their unique character to the families who have inhabited them since the city’s 1776 founding. Since the 90s tech boom, however, gentrification spurred by the bubble’s influx of skilled tech workers has contributed to an exceptionally high standard of living and the consequent relocation of many of these families to the outer suburbs. But although traditionally Hispanic and Asian areas like the Mission and Sunset may be transitioning into more modernized retail hot spots, the international diversity that San Francisco has always enjoyed continues to thrive. Feast on the most authentic Puebla eats in town at La Torta Gorda in the Mission, experience Vietnamese banh mi crack at Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon, catch the largest Asian event in North America at the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown, geek out with a giant stuffed Totoro while perusing the most extensive collection of anime and Asian movies in the Bay at Japan Video and Media in Japantown, and forget any need to fit in. These culturally diverse districts and groups proudly stand out.
Yuppies and Families
Where you’ll find them: Noe Valley, Nob Hill, Sea Cliff, Bernal Heights
Multiple degrees, high-paying professions, conspicuous levels of consumption, and the making and spending of more money than any human being (except Beyonce) should be worth are all signs that you’ve wandered off the path of sanity and into the spawning grounds of the ‘burb-ified yuppie (i.e. Noe Valley, Nob Hill, Sea Cliff, or Bernal Heights). To fit in? Buy your two year-old a mini Lamborghini and subtract all social responsibility from wealth. Dear god, please don’t.
Where you’ll find them: Haight (trivia aficionados on Lower Haight)
The stereotypical California hippies who have been around long enough to see the Summer of Love, the dot.com explosion, skyrocketing rent, the first hand-held, the iPhone, the iPhone 5, and both JT AND the Bieb’s frosted tips do exist and will in fact share or sell cannabis-infused hot sauce, lollipops, and truffles to you while philiosophizing about the looming apocalypse and technological obsolescence in the afterlife. Most of these free spirits reside in the Haight, and no matter who you talk to the conversation is sure to be entertaining and enlightening. Sit back, shoot the breeze, and enjoy time well spent.
Where you’ll find them: Castro (also Twin Peaks and Bernal Heights)
San Francisco has no shortage of opportunities to be acceptably scantily dressed in public, not that you ever need a reason to be in the state whose ‘gurls’ are iconically clad in “daisy dukes with bikinis on top.” Most, if not all, of these publicized events—including No Pants Subway Ride, Critical Mass, World Naked Bike Ride, Pride, Bay to Breakers, and the strategically placed leather of the largest fetish festival in the world on Folsom Street—take place in the Castro and are embraced and celebrated by no one more than the district’s prominent community of tightly-knit LGBT advocates and activists. On sunny days, you’ll find Castro boys lounging in the sun at Dolores Park and toning their already flawless physiques in banana slings and see-through mesh short shorts. How to fit in? …Somebody needs to go shopping.
Where you’ll find them: Ocean Beach, Presidio
San Franciscans love their dogs, microbrews, and the beautiful parks and natural landscape that makes their city a romanticized standout in most Americans’ minds. They’re also super fit. Like really fit. The best of these sinewy workout extremists can be seen hiking up Mount Tam, jogging effortless 5-minute miles through Crissy Field in the Presidio, fighting the frigid 6am current while swimming across the Bay, or doing push-ups on the beach in between surfing some gnarly rounds of waves. If you wear North Face, carry Clif bars in your pocket, have a strange affinity for carabineers, or are particularly fond of your exposed torso, you’ll likely be mistaken for one.
Stable Families, Fulfilled Individuals, and Overall Happy People
Where you’ll find them: Everywhere
The majority of San Francisco residents and the only cross-sectional category on this list that you should actually pay attention to.
Last but not least is the most important group of all: the newcomers. If you’re new to San Francisco or if it’s your first time visiting, you’re not alone—only 37.7% of San Francisco residents (as of the 2012 census) were born in California, and more than a third of the San Francisco population (35.7%) was born outside of the country. Rest assured that being an outsider in San Francisco is far from the exception—it’s the norm. And in a place so diverse and open-minded, there’s no pressing need to fit in. (As long as you’re not attempting the tourist flip-flops/shorts/I [heart] SF ensemble in 50-degree fog.) Living amongst individuals who are proud to stand out makes being the new kid on the block a badge of honor.
*PHOTOS (top to bottom): viator.com; Kate Killet; greentortoise.com; Getty Image; details.com; coloradopeakpolitics.com; baycitizens.org; buff-dudes.com; taketours.com; thebolditalic.com