Travel Guides

San Francisco: Healthcare Employment Location Guide

Travel Nurse Pay Rates in San Francisco

California is one of the best-paying states for travel nursing. Any hours over 8 hours is time and a half, and the state has some legitimate staffing ratios. Read my California travel nursing guide for more info on pay across the states. Pay rates for travel nurses in San Francisco ranged from $1500-$3900 per week in 2020, with the average pay for almost all specialties being around $2500 per week. The most lucrative specialties are Cath Lab, OR, and PICU.

Travel Nursing Hospitals in San Francisco

The University of California, San Francisco: A 796-bed teaching and research hospital in the center of San Fran, this hospital is associated with the University of California. It’s consistently rated among the top 10 hospitals in the country and travel nurses have reported back with great things to say about the working environment.

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center: A branch of UCSF, this is San Francisco’s only level I trauma center. They serve over 1.5 million people and have over 4000 trauma activations per year.

Kaiser Permanente: Kaiser is a huge hospital system in California (as well a few other states). They have multiple facilities and campuses in and around San Francisco.

Fun fact: Kaiser was started in Oakland, just across the bay from San Fran. The Kaisers owned the shipyards and the Mrs. Kaiser thought that the workers should have healthcare! Kaiser tends to be friendly to first time travel nurses and is a great place to start your travel nursing career! Find your first travel nursing job in San Francisco with Vivian.

California Pacific Medical Center: CPMC San Francisco is the largest and flagship hospital for Sutter Health system. CPMC Davies is most popular with travel nurses. The Davies campus has 785 beds and is an academic medical center.

Where to Live: Best Neighborhoods

Haight Ashbury: This neighborhood is named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. This area is known for being the birthplace counter-culture and of the ‘summer of love’ in the 1960s. You can still find vintage shops, record stores, and tons of tie-dye throughout the neighborhood. Live among the charming Victorian era houses in the popular Lower Haight area.

The Mission: The general area is known as “The Mission”. The real magic happens in “Mission Dolores” (aptly named for the 1776 Basilica located there). One of the flatter SF neighborhoods, this area is filled with taquerias, live music halls, and craft cocktail bars. Dolores Park is a great place to hangout on the weekends and has some fantastic skyline views! This is a very vibrant, and sometimes loud, neighborhood due the fact that 55,000 people live within 1.48 square miles.Haye’s Valley: Located in the Western Addition, this neighborhood has been revitalized with boutiques, live music venues, and trendy watering holes. It’s a closely knit community with a public garden and art installations scattered throughout the streets.

Excelsior: Known for being one of the more affordable neighborhoods within San Francisco, and also for being one of the last to gentrify. You can still find legit dive bars, dark taquerias, and a tight community of residents. Many of the people in this neighborhood also work in the area, and the residents often throw block parties or other community-driven events. This area is located between Outer Mission and Bernal Heights.

Cow Hollow: Home to many affluent young professionals, this neighborhood has everything you may need within walking distance. Fashion boutiques, yoga studios, juice bars, fresh grocers, and beauty salons line the main street. The main attraction of Cow Valley is Union Street, where the wealthy young people of San Fran come to play. During the 1800s this area was a cow pasture, hence the name ‘Cow Valley’.

Inner Sunset: A local favorite, this neighborhood has it all. Similar to Cow Valley, but more affordable, there are tons of restaurants, coffee shops, and and parks. The neighborhood as been described as ‘densely urban’ due to the amount of homes packed into the area.

The Castro: Historically known for being LGBTQ friendly, “The Castro” is synonymous with gay culture. The bars, theaters, and history in this neighborhood make it one of the most colorful places to live in San Francisco. If you are looking for a quiet area, I would avoid the Castro. But, if you want to be in the heart of things and love people watching- this place is for you!

The Tenderloin: This neighborhood is famous for its gritty and underground culture. Speakeasy lounges, divey bars, and trendy restaurants line the funky streets of The Tenderloin. Little Saigon is also found in the tenderloin where you’ll find out of this world Vietnamese food here. The neighborhood hasn’t gentrified (yet), it is the hub for most of the homeless community in SF, so therefore certain streets are lined with tents and homeless encampments which might not appealing to everyone. Saying this, there are lots of hidden streets that are great and away from the chaos.

I could write a whole post devoted to the best ‘hood of San Francisco. I chose some of the most popular areas, but if you want to know more check out Thrillist’s article featuring over 30 San Fran neighborhoods!

Cost of Living in San Francisco

San Francisco rent costs are quoted as 105% above the average cost of living in the rest of the United States! Average rent for a one bedroom apartment will cost you at least $3000-$4000 per month, and studios aren’t much cheaper. Two bedroom apartments are consistently priced over $4000. 

You may find more affordable prices in The Tenderloin, Presidio Heights, Excelsior, and Inner Sunset. The more popular the location, the higher the cost of rent. Apartments tend to be ‘cozy’ and parking is a bit of a challenge. The cities of San Jose and Santa Clara, just outside of San Francisco, have equally high rental costs but a bit more space. 

Bonus tip: To cut your costs of living, check out Oakland, just across the bay from San Fran. Oakland has a bit of a rougher feel and its crime rates are a little worse than areas of San Francisco, but rent is about ⅓ of the cost. 

In Town Attractions

Fisherman’s Wharf: Set on the northern waterfront with epic views of the bay, the wharf is filled with eateries and of course those famous sea lions. Food stalls serve up clam and crab chowder, and Ghirardelli Square is full of eateries and boutiques. The sea lions put on a good show at Pier 39.

Golden Gate Park: San Francisco is known for the Golden Gate bridge, but the park deserves more credit! At over 1000 acres of public lands with lawns, lakes, museums, gardens, and a musical concourse- this park is bigger than Central Park in NYC.

Alcatraz Island: Take a tour of the island in the middle of the bay that was a federal prison until 1963. Alcatraz housed inmates such as Al Capone and Whitey Bulger, and is known as one of the most haunted places in America. Increase your fun factor by taking a night tour!

Union Square: Check out this shopping, hotel, and theater district located in downtown San Francisco. The square is a historical landmark where rallies supporting the Union army during the Civil War used to be held.  Today, the one block long plaza has some of the best shopping in San Francisco.

The Castro: Let your freak flag fly high in this district known for its gay culture, good times, and promotion of individuality. Visit The Castro theater or the GLBT historical museum, or stop by one of the lively bars for some cocktails.

Painted Ladies: Everyone’s first question when they get to San Francisco is, Where is the Full House home? The Painted Ladies are a set of houses painted vibrant colors that look like a perfect postcard of San Francisco classic homes. Walk about 10 blocks up and 4 blocks west to find the home featured in the opening credits of Full House.

San Francisco Cable Cars: The street cars of SF are the oldest and last manually operated cable car system. Check out the F line historic streetcar for a truly authentic journey.

Foodie Spots 

Tartine: Warm your soul at this bakery with one of their famous Morning Buns and a cup of exquisite coffee. Organic ingredients and a cozy atmosphere make this a San Fran must.

La Taqueria:  Nothing fancy or frilly about this place, but their carnitas burritos are legendary. Their burritos are made rice-free in the traditional style.

Pearl 6101: This Mediterranean style small restaurant and bar serves up gastronomic goodness and specialty cocktails that will have you talking about the food long after you leave.  Stop by and check out the quaint setting and excellent service. Dine on modern Korean BBQ on their chic outdoor patio. The quail eggs, spicy scallion salad, and other entrees have been described as ‘modern Korean home cooking’.

Gap Year at Nico: The idea behind this place is pretty cool. The head chef has assembled a team of chefs committed to diving deep into French Cuisine with a modern twist. The group has a year long residency, and their tasting menus and wine pairings will have you feeling like you’re actually in France. Open for a limited time!

Macondray: Being from the East coast, I never expect to find Maine lobster west of the Mississippi. But, this place delivers!! The New England theme to the restaurant will have all east coasters jumping for joy! Best of all- the lobster rolls are cheaper here than in Boston!

Bi-Rite Creamery: This organic ice cream shop is located on the northeast border Dolores Park. Lines are often long, but so worth the wait. They have seasonal and signature flavors – I recommend the honey lavender!

Bars and Nightlife 

The 500: This bar has been a staple of the The Mission for almost 20 years. The flickering neon lights beckon you into this dive bar where the drinks leave you warm and fuzzy, and the bartenders are always quick to refill your beer.

Cat’s Club: This club is known for drink deals, dancing, and music. The dimly lit exposed brick venue hosts theme nights with something for everyone.

Sessions at the Presidio: A trendy craft beer spot with a perfect patio for sipping cold ones on a sunny day. They serve gastropub-like food and wine is also available by the bottle or glass.

The Barrel Room: The menu is re-invented every four months with food and cocktails inspired from a unique region of the world. This is one of the most popular wine bars in San Francisco.

Twin Peaks Tavern: Known as “The Gateway to The Castro”, this is a famous gay bar and historical landmark (only two bars in SF have been awarded the landmark recognition). Twin Peaks is located at the corners of Market and Castro streets and has sat at the center of the Bay Area gay rights movement for decades.

Raven Bar: A party bar with cocktails, dancing, and music videos. Dance like nobody’s watching as the DJ plays your song all night long.

Day Trips and Exploring

Napa/Sonoma: Explore both of these beautiful places! Napa is more well-known, but Sonoma has some can’t miss wineries (and is often less busy!) Hire a car or take a group tour on a minibus for the best experience (and avoid any DUI trouble!!) There is so much more to Napa than wine! Make sure to stop at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. For an extra special experience, make dinner reservations (as far in advance as possible) for The French Laundry.

Big Sur: Driving this beautiful stretch of coastline on Highway 1 between Carmel and San Simeon is a once in a lifetime experience. Make sure to spend some time at Julia Burns and Pfeiffer Big Sur. If you have the time, camp here for a night or two, but be sure to make advanced reservations.

Carmel by the Sea and Monterey: Two of the most charming coastal towns I have ever experienced! Carmel by the Sea is the gateway to Big Sur, and is home to some of the most expensive real estate in California. Check out cannery row in Monterey, and drive through picturesque Pebble Beach Golf Course on the scenic ’17-mile Drive’ in Carmel by the Sea.

Yosemite: One of the most visited National Parks in America and worth every minute of your time. The best time to visit is late spring (before the kids are out of school!) for massive waterfalls and super green scenery. This place always makes me feel like their should be dinosaurs walking around! Make it a priority to visit Glacier Point at sunrise or sunset.

Lake Tahoe: The lake is actually split between two states, California and Nevada. Lake Tahoe and the whole surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous. There are endless hikes, epic views, and good vibes everywhere in Tahoe. South Lake is a bit less refined (more fun, IMO) than North Lake, but make sure to drive around the whole lake for the full experience and different perspectives of that Alpine blue water!

Redwood National and State Parks: A World Heritage site and home to the world’s tallest trees, this park is a lovely 5 hour drive up the California coast. It would be best to spend a night or two here to see everything!

Public Transportation 

San Francisco has some great public transportation options. There are city buses (called Muni), streetcars/trolleys, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains, cable cars, ferries, and Golden Gate transit to help you get around the greater Bay Area. There is a lot of options for tickets/passes and the whole system can seem overwhelming at first. . Check out the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority  for transit routes and information. The ‘inside guide to San Francisco’ breaks the information down in a more readable way.

The good news is that you really don’t NEED a car in San Francisco, which is great since traffic is heavy and parking is a struggle.

Weather and Best Time to Take a Travel Nurse Job in San Francisco

The San Francisco area has mild temps year round, but is not as warm as southern CA. The city doesn’t have super hot summers, with average temperatures in the 70s. Winter weather is rainy with temps in the 50s-60s. The Bay Area can see a lot of fog and the farther west you live in San Francisco, the more fogs and clouds you will see.

A new phenomenon in the Bay Area is the ‘atmospheric rivers’. These massive weather systems build over the Pacific and dump large quantities of rain (often in very short periods of time) on the greater San Francisco area. This has resulted in some flooding and washouts. These systems seem to occur more during the fall season.

Summer is the most popular time to be a travel nurse in San Francisco, as it is the warmest time of year with the most opportunity for outdoor activities. But, travel nurses flock here year round due to high pay rates and regulated nurse to patient ratios. Some nurses will even fly here, work their 6 days in a row while renting a room, and then fly back to their home state. There is no perfect time of year to travel here and nurses never have much to complain about in the Bay Area!

Find your dream travel nursing job in San Francisco with Vivian.

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton became an RN in 2007 and has been part of the Vivian team since 2019. She has always worked in critical care, and spent the first 12 years of her career working in a surgical neuroscience trauma ICU. She's also worked as a flight nurse, started travel nursing in 2010 and continued working in the ICU until joining Vivian full-time in 2022. As a user researcher, Rachel advocates for healthcare workers to help bridge the gap between employee and employer expectations.

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