People love to compare the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver, and argue about which is the better place to live. I would contend they are incredibly different, each in their own right. With that being said, I think Californians coming to Denver from the Bay Area will appreciate Denver for the very reason it is so different. Whether you are moving to Denver because you were relocated for work, or because you are looking for a change, the Mile High City has tons to offer for an incredible lifestyle.
It is fair to say both areas are amazing places to live. However, I am biased! I moved to Denver in 2014 from Redwood City, Calif. My hometown is located in the peninsula of the Bay Area. Redwood City’s claim to fame is its huge welcoming sign that says, “Climate Best by Government Test.” I was originally captivated by Denver's outdoor adventure opportunities, incredibly friendly people and really great food. After a visit that involved rock climbing, hiking around Red Rocks, learning about the cheaper rent and scoping out some great breweries, I was sold. It seems like a lifetime ago and I couldn't be happier with my decision.
Housing has definitely gotten more expensive since my move in 2014, but I can proudly say I was able to purchase my first house in 2018 and am excited to have established some solid roots here. Working in real estate, I have seen the prices go up by about 7 - 10 percent each year, but compared to back home in California, Denver is still reasonable. According to NerdWallet, Denver's cost of housing is 60 percent lower than San Francisco's and that was definitely a huge incentive for me back in 2014 when I moved.
What to expect before you move to Denver
Slower Pace of Life
When my parents first came out to visit me, they commented on how "happy and relaxed" everyone seemed to be. Maybe with recreational marijuana becoming legal in California this year, they will see that in the Bay Area, too (just kidding). But I do attribute this observation to the fact that a lot of people choose to live in Denver because of the proximity to outdoor recreation. The folks who love hiking and camping seem to enjoy a slower pace of life, and take time to stop and smell the roses, and enjoy life. There is so much more of a focus on work/life balance here than in the hectic Bay Area. In my experience, the people I have spent the most time around enjoy the nature that exists all around us and take advantage of time away from work to decompress and go on adventures.
Downtown Denver could also not be more different than downtown San Francisco. The streets aren't crowded and you can (usually, with persistence) find parking. It's just, in general, much less crowded, even though traffic is definitely a sore subject for most Denver commuters. According to Google, Denver has 704,621 residents and the Bay Area has 7 million (gulp). So expect a more open feeling when in the Mile High City.
Taking a stroll down Larimer Square, a well traveled block of shops and restaurants in Downtown Denver | Photo by Jennifer Black
Denver boasts more than 850 miles of bike trails and a multitude of opportunities to get outside and be rejuvenated.
Since moving to Denver, I have learned to ski and rock climb. I've gone white water rafting, ice skating, canoeing, kayaking (in town -- at Sloan's Lake to be exact), did a day at the Genesee Ropes Course, and hiked a bunch of 14ers. I also became an avid camper. Denver has so much to offer and it was easy for me to find friends that could show me the ropes, so to speak.
A recent camping trip near Buena Vista, Colorado | Photo by Jennifer Black
The Food Scene
Hitting up a TAG Restaurant Group, Edible Beats, or a Bonanno Concepts establishment will not disappoint. These three powerhouses are a foodie's exploration dream and make up a huge chunk of Denver's food scene. TAG Restaurant Group, created by chef Troy Guard, is made up of Guard and Grace, TAG Burger Bar, Tag Restaurant Denver, Mister Tuna, Bubu, Los Chingones, HashTAG, and FNG. I can confidently say all places are really delicious and worth the visit.
However, my all-time favorite is probably the work of Edible Beats, which is the creator of Linger, Root Down, Vital Root, El Five, and Ophelia's. They use insanely fresh, tasty, organic and local ingredients, and I am always impressed with their creativity and beautiful ambiance. They are a staple to Denver's food scene that a ton of residents appreciate.
Denver has many more great food options that are not a part of a bigger company. Some of my other favorites include Hops and Pie, Low Country Kitchen, and Acorn. Union Station is also an awesome space for food adventures such as Snooze, Mercantile and Kitchen Next Door.
A quick weekend lunch at Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery was well worth it | Photo by Jennifer Black
I didn't even own a winter coat when I moved to Denver. That changed pretty quickly due to the unpredictable Colorado skies but I have never considered the weather being a reason to leave the Centennial state. Thankfully, the sunshine makes winters totally bearable and not too harsh. But definitely get a warm jacket upon arrival. The Flagship REI store on Platte Street is a great one-stop-shop to grab these essentials.
When I first moved to Denver, I remember being surprised at how small the houses are. When I did all my home shopping earlier this year that realization struck me again. The house I ended up buying was built in 1948 and I would be shocked if any house on my block is bigger than 1,300 square feet. With that being said, the homes have a ton of charm and character. Many turn-of-the-century Victorians, Tudors and iconic Denver Squares can be found lining the streets of older Denver neighborhoods. But if you want new construction, areas like Stapleton or new build communities like ones found in Aurora might be more for you.
When the A-Line Train (the train that takes you from Union Station to the airport) opened up a couple years ago, Denverites could not have been more excited. It has been an awesome addition to our rail system and is incredibly convenient and easy to use. Guiltily, I must admit, that is the only public transportation system I use in Denver. Before my home purchase in 2018, I had always lived in northwest Denver and unfortunately was not near any light rail stops.
However, RTD has established an extensive network of light rail lines that have become lifesavers for people living throughout the region. With Denver’s growth over the last decade, the main roads leading in and out of the city — I-70, I-25, I-225, Santa Fe, and 6th Ave. — have become desperately clogged with cars. No matter the time of day, backups have become the norm and not the exception.
People are increasingly turning to public transportation to avoid traffic jams and escalating parking lot fees. For folks living in the southern areas of the Denver Metro area, there are light rail lines that run along the I-25 and Santa Fe corridors. At each station, you can find accessible parking, whether on the street or in nearby parking facilities. On the west side of Denver, you’ll find the W line running parallel to 6th Avenue and servicing Golden, Lakewood, and points in between.
To the north, Westminster residents enjoy the B line to Union Station, and Aurora residents have the best of both worlds, now being linked to the A line as well as Lincoln Avenue (via the R line) and the H line (to downtown Denver).
Despite numerous delays, Arvada and Wheat Ridge residents are hopeful the G line will start operations soon. This line is a conventional train, like the A line, and has been plagued with problems where the train crosses roads and the crossing gate technology. Once in place, the G line is hoped to relieve traffic congestion along I-70. It will allow passengers a direct link to Union Station and LoDo.
The Bay Area, with its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, has a gorgeous topography of many different shapes and sizes. According to Wikipedia, “the segment of the Junipero Serra Freeway between Cupertino and Daly City has been called the ‘World's Most Beautiful Freeway’ since its dedication in the 1960s. Drivers along this portion of Interstate 280 are treated to scenic views of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and, at a few points, San Francisco Bay to the east, and are isolated by hills from the cities to the east.”
Denver proper is surprisingly flat. A few neighborhoods do boast some pretty great views, like Clayton, Regis, Lohi, and Athmar Park. However, if you drive 45 minutes outside of town you will be engulfed in the foothills and ultimately the Rocky Mountains. There are endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Heading to Summit County for a hike or a ski day is always a day well spent. Closer destinations like Golden, Evergreen and Morrison are always worth the trip and are extremely close to Denver. From hiking to paddle boarding to ice skating, these perimeter areas have much to offer.
In Denver, the average hourly wage is just over $30 an hour. In the Bay Area it is reported you need to earn nearly $50 an hour to afford median rental prices.
Wages are Lower
Simply put, wages in Denver have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. Nationally, wages have stayed pretty stagnant since the 1970s (The Denver Channel) and home prices have been going up in the Denver metro area anywhere between 7 and 11 percent year-over-year. Luckily, it appears our low unemployment rate (currently at 2.9 percent) may be having an effect on this. Total wages did increase in October, and they went up "5.5 percent year-over-year in Colorado in the first quarter of 2018," (9News). In October, Denver had the highest job growth in the country.
Average hourly earnings in Denver is $30.04. This would be a gross salary of $62,438.20 a year. The median sold price of a home in October 2018 in Metro Denver was $400,000. In May 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that residents of the Bay Area need to earn almost $50 an hour to afford median rent. And San Francisco proper is even more dire. A recent report indicated that an annual income of $333,000 is needed to buy a house in San Francisco and that the median home price for a single family residence is $1.61 million.
Let's Get Political
Colorado, with a pretty even split between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, is considered to be a purple state. According to the New York Times, "Liberals, including an influx of immigrants, tend to inhabit the more urban Front Range, east of the Rockies; Trump support is intense in the rural Western Slope. Colorado, thanks mainly to Denver and Boulder, gave Hillary Clinton a narrow victory. Because population growth and immigration are concentrated in the Front Range, Colorado seems to be edging bluer." The article continued, "In the last 10 presidential elections, going back to 1980, Colorado has voted Republican six times but Democratic in the last three. It’s a state with a strong Libertarian streak, suspicious of government, and so in a sense Republican-inclined; but it’s been won over by strong local Democratic leadership." So, there is something for everyone in Colorado.
A Lot of People are "Transplants"
Similar to the Bay Area, many Denver residents are not actually from Colorado. At a Halloween party I attended with a group of friends, we took a quick poll of the room and 1 out of our group of 11 was actually born and raised in Colorado. We jokingly refer to him as a "unicorn." It is definitely a point of pride for native Coloradans to be known as such; dominantly displayed “Native” bumper stickers will prove that point.
Working in real estate since my arrival in Denver has been a truly rewarding and enlightening experience. Usaj Realty is a very special company and can help any new “transplants” find the perfect neighborhood to settle down in. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us — we have tons of resources and genuinely want to help you with the process. From neighborhood guides to relocation assistance, we can help make the journey as seamless as possible.
The Usaj Realty Office | Photo by Jennifer Black
Comparing Bay Area and Denver Neighborhoods / Areas
Cherry Creek and Palo Alto, CA
Cherry Creek immediately reminded me of Palo Alto. It has some of the best shopping and restaurants in all of Denver. See homes for sale in Cherry Creek.
Denver’s Cherry Creek Neighborhood residences provide more recently built homes and are luxurious and beautiful. With one of the nation’s most popular shopping districts, incredible fine dining and the Cherry Creek Trail, there are plenty of things to do and see in this elegant neighborhood. Denver’s Cherry Creek Shopping Center, also known as Cherry Creek Mall, is an upscale shopping mall about three and half miles southeast of downtown Denver. Cherry Creek North has hundreds of locally and nationally owned shops and restaurants.
Cherry Creek North | Photo by Usaj Realty
Union Station and the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco
Union Station is a renovated, lively and sustainable neighborhood in Downtown Denver where modern meets historical. It boasts a well-preserved deep, rich history of Denver, and is home to a busy transportation hub. The Union Station Train Depot’s glory has been restored as the heart of the neighborhood, and is a revolving door for travelers and locals with the offering of unique shops, prestigious hotels, fine eateries, Amtrak Station, RTD, and more. The neighborhood of Union Station is an eco-friendly place for bustling businesses and social gatherings.
Being downtown, real estate in Union Station primarily consists of housing opportunities in the form of condominiums and studios. See homes for sale in the Union Station neighborhood here.
Union Station's Farmer's Market | Photo by Usaj Realty
RiNo and the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco
RiNo is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Denver. Its vibrant culture of street art and community makes it comparable to the Mission. It is known for its walkability, artwork, and brewery scene. Recently, a ton of fitness opportunities have come to the neighborhood including several yoga studios, a rock climbing gym, and pilates. There are also some of Denver’s best coffee shops here like Blue Sparrow Coffee and Crema Coffee House.
The majority of housing options in the RiNo neighborhood are modern industrial design townhomes, contemporary condominiums with high ceilings, up-to-date townhomes designed with families in mind, and brand new apartments. It is easier to rent in RiNo than to own due to the large inventory of rentals. Many of the homes here feature decks and entertainment-friendly rooftop areas. The majority of residences are within walking distance from the 38th and Blake train station stop which will take you to Union Station as well as Denver International Airport.
A RiNo alleyway getting a face-lift by artist Pharaoh One during Colorado Crush, an annual RiNo event | Photo by Jennifer Black
Park Hill and Redwood City, CA
Ok, I must admit (again), I am biased here since I am from Redwood City and currently live in Park Hill. BUT, with that said, the moment I drove through the thickly tree lined streets in Park Hill, it definitely felt nostalgic to me! Park Hill has this lovely neighborhood feel to it with the pocket areas like the ones found at 22nd and Kearney and 23rd and Dexter. It is definitely more densely residential than the aforementioned areas, but that is also why I compare it to Redwood CIty. If you are looking for a family-friendly place to call home, this is a great area to check out.
Boulder and Berkeley, CA
Depending on who you ask, Boulder is considered a part of the metro Denver area. While that may be arguable, I wanted to include it because it is located just 25 miles northwest of Denver and is a truly an awesome place to visit or live.
Boulder is home to the University of Colorado, the iconic Pearl Street Mall, and the majestic Flatirons and Flagstaff Mountain. Nestled against the foothills, this picturesque community appeals to a wide variety of people, especially outdoor enthusiasts. An endless number of trails erupt in, around and through the center of town, along creeks and into the foothills. Cyclists enjoy challenging rides up the four canyons -- Boulder, Sunshine, Four Mile and Lefthand -- located to the west of Boulder.
A hike up the Flat Irons in Boulder | Photo by Jennifer Black
Cherry Hills Village and Los Altos, CA
Cherry Hills Village neighborhood is renowned for its exclusive rural atmosphere, luxurious homes and elevated quality of life. Cherry Hills Village is one of Denver's most affluent and prestigious neighborhoods.
Learn more about Cherry Hills Village and see current homes for sale. Cherry Hills Village was founded in 1945 and boasts some of the largest residential lots, yet with a private, countryside feel, in the Denver metro area. Most homes are situated on one to 10 acre lots and range in size from modest ranch-style homes to expansive estates. Throughout the years, distinctive upper-end custom home subdivisions have been developed which include Buell Mansion, Charlou, Cherry Hills Park, Cherry Hills Farm, Covington, Devonshire, Glenmoor and Sunset Drive. Some of the nicest and most lavish homes in Colorado are found in the Cherry Hills Village neighborhood. You can see all of the Cherry Hills Neighborhoods here.
Congress Park and Oakland Hills
While it doesn’t have the gorgeous rolling hills of Oakland Hills, Congress Park has some of my favorite architecture and community vibes. Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood is an urban oasis. It is a primarily residential neighborhood that has a plethora of brick bungalows and tree-lined streets. See our selection of Congress Park homes for sale. It is conveniently located near many other great neighborhoods in Denver, too, like Uptown, Cherry Creek, Park Hill, and it's not too far from downtown. A charming gathering of shops and restaurants at 12th Avenue and Madison makes it a conveniently walkable neighborhood as well.
The patio at Tag Burger Bar in Congress Park | Photo by Usaj Realty
Berkeley and San Carlos, CA
The Berkeley neighborhood in Denver is located in northwest Denver, and Tennyson Street is probably my favorite area to take visitors. It's great for a walk, finding a great brunch or dinner spot, and discovering awesome retail options and even a couple of breweries. For that reason, I related it to Laurel Street in San Carlos.
Berkeley is one Denver’s most desirable neighborhoods with some great older architecture and many newly constructed homes as well. See what is for sale in Berkeley.
The bar at Block & Larder on Tennyson | Photo by Usaj Realty
Greenwood Village and Atherton
Offering incredible benefits including access to great schools, exceptional sense of community, close proximity to idyllic trails and open space and easy access to RTD light rail, Greenwood Village is a coveted suburb in south Denver.
See homes for sale in Greenwood Village.
The community is quite diverse featuring stately homes, towering condominium buildings, older and brand new apartment buildings, and a range of commercial ventures in locations ranging from strip malls to the venerable Denver Tech Center. In fact, the DTC provides an enormous tax base for the community, and as a result you’ll find beautiful parks and landscaping, and plentiful jobs within a short commute. From the High Line Canal to Cherry Creek State Park, the residents have a multitude of recreational opportunities including miles of trails for hiking and cycling, top notch parks and playing fields, and even a skateboarding park. Children and parents alike love Westlands Park, near Orchard and Quebec, which features a terrific playground, open playing fields and a wonderful creek bed for exploring.
Please feel free to reach out to Usaj Realty today to help with a move from California to Denver. We are relocation experts and would be thrilled to help you as you transition to the Mile High City.