When I was 15, I was obsessed with the idea of California. After a family vacation to San Diego County, the intensity of my interest only heightened.
The endless number of pop-punk songs about my favorite state on my first-generation iPod fueled my obsession, as well as aerial “money shots” of Newport Beach I saw while bingeing on episodes of "The OC." Bottom line: I was California dreaming.
I held on to the hope that one day, a West Coast sunset would be mine. A decade later, I got my wish.
It was a giant leap of faith that led me to LAX with an open-ended ticket. I had two bags and a heart filled with ambition. I was just two months shy of my 25th birthday and I couldn’t wait to celebrate my quarter-century in my favorite state.
One year after that defining moment, my departing flights are no longer out of Los Angeles, but San Francisco.
In my year as a Californian, I’ve managed to live in both Southern and Northern California. I never considered my move to be switching teams or changing sides; it was just an opportunity to continue exploring and adventuring.
While a year might not seem like a long time, I’ve learned and grown over the past 12 months. My eyes, heart and mind have opened to another way of life. I can genuinely say I see the world differently and have been changed forever.
While SoCal and NorCal have both come with separate lessons, there has certainly been a lot of overlap in the wisdom the Golden State has offered me.
Money, Money, Money…
The fastest lesson I learned in California was it’s very expensive to live here. The high cost of living is a quick deterrent for most who’d otherwise consider relocation, but in many ways, you get what you pay for.
California has the best weather in the world — particularly SoCal. It’s rare to truly need either air conditioning or heating, with cool nights and warm, sunny days along the Southern coastline.
Even in Northern California, heating is rarely completely necessary; although, the nights get chilly and sometimes warrant a space heater. However, be prepared to spend about half of your salary on rent if you choose San Francisco.
Get 'Yer Grub On
Food might be expensive and add to the astronomical cost of living, but California has some of the best cuisine in the country.
For any craving you might have, there is likely a world-class restaurant near your metropolitan area. I’d never had Burmese food until I moved to California, but found a world-renowned spot for it within walking distance of my SF apartment.
You can also get an authentic bowl of ramen at a neighborhood joint for less than $10.
Also worth noting is that for every dietary restriction you may have, there’s a place that caters to your needs. Gluten-free? Check. Vegetarian? I’ll one-up you with a list of local vegan restaurants.
Carnivorous and craving a bison burger on a whole-wheat bun, avocado and a kombucha to wash it down? We gotchu.
Just don’t get sticker shock when you’re handed the check. Only in the Golden State…
The Struggle Of Pacific Time
I never realized just how much of a difference three hours makes until I moved out west. It’s so much tougher to connect with friends working nine-to-five jobs and older relatives rarely are awake at convenient times to call after work.
Truthfully, there’s nothing more aggravating than getting a 6 am call from a solicitor who assumes from your area code that you’re on Eastern Time. As if you needed another reason to hate those calls...
Also, it can be incredibly difficult to watch sports on the West Coast. The early games start REALLY early, and if your favorite team isn’t local, it’s surprisingly challenging to find a bar with the game on.
Sports matter a lot less here, and while it’s not impossible to catch the game of your choice, be prepared for a challenge.
Location, Location, Location
It’s now funny to me that everyone loves to brag about the proximity of things on the East Coast.
While it’s true that being able to hop on a train from New York to Philadelphia or DC is a wonderful option for a change of scenery, let’s not forget about all of the incredible sights on the left coast.
Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Mexico, Zion… All of these places are an easy trip from California. When I left Los Angeles, I left friends and a city I was just beginning to get to know and love.
Traveling to LA from SF is a super quick plane ride and not very expensive at all. If I want, I can get out to LA as frequently as once or twice per month.
The convenience of the West Coast also means I can take a weekend getaway to Scottsdale without having to miss a day of work, which is a phenomenal perk (and one I’ve widely exercised.)
Sometimes, I think I never knew true natural beauty until I moved to California. Naturally, I’m not talking about Hollywood beauty (so many puns, you guys!).
The California coastline is one of the most gorgeous in the world, with sights like Big Sur, Point Lobos and Malibu hardly resembling anything else on earth. And, there ain’t nothin’ like watching a sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Trends are a way of life here. No matter how attractive or god-awful they may be, in America, the trends start in California.
Whether it’s a tech trend in coding or engineering, or clothing or hairstyles in Hollywood, you’ll always see it here first.
The archetypical tech employee or engineer wears flannel, beanies, wayfarers and vans or converse.
A Hollywood hipster can be found decked out in American Apparel and discussing the “raw, realness” of vinyl. While these are not true across the board, they possess wide validity.
The image of a Hollywood hopeful batting false lashes and twirling hair extensions is hard NOT to find in the Los Angeles nightlife. However, these cliché visions can be misleading.
Two of the most wonderful females I had the pleasure of meeting in LA were in entertainment, and personality-wise, they provided a stark contrast to the “fakeness” often associated with Hollywood.
In San Francisco, I’ve met plenty of tech employees and engineers who look totally “normal,” or even fashionable compared to the SF start-up stereotype.
If you can look past appearances, all the hidden gems in California will surprise you.
More often than not, you meet people who feel so grateful to be doing what they love in the best place in the world to do it, and that kind of passion and drive is contagious.
Frankie Say Relax
While San Francisco is the most East Coast-esque of the cities in California, I learned a valuable lesson even in fast-paced LA that translates into a mantra every time I step outside the city limits of San Francisco: Breathe.
California is so beautiful it’s ridiculous. If you don’t stop and look up or around you, you’ll surely miss some incredible and awe-inspiring scenery.
Get in your car or hop on a train. Listen to an album that moves you to the depths of your soul. Feel free and enjoy the ride.
Take a deep breath. Be glad just to be.
For a while, I was afraid of truly taking in all of California’s majesty. As a self-proclaimed wanderer, I didn’t want to fear leaving on my next adventure when the timing is right.
I have no idea what’s in store for the future, but I’m happy to be here now. Whatever may come, I’ll ride the waves and roll with the punches.
I got my California dream. All I have to do is breathe.