Top 5 Reasons Living In The Bay Area Doesn’t Always Feel Like Real Life

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We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!

I’ve lived in the North Oakland/South Berkeley area now for about three and a half years, but because there are no seasons, I haven’t noticed time passing in the usual way. Prior to taking up residence in this strange bay, I’d spent six years living in New York and before that a few places, but mostly Northern and Southeastern Michigan. I was vaguely aware that this part of the state had unique meteorological features unlike the climates of New York and Michigan, states that boast awful frozen winters and awful humid summers yet still manage to delight immense numbers of residents. But I was unprepared for exactly how much sunshine I was about to get in my life. Of course, like every state in this country, California has its fair fucking share of problems (and this area in particular is awful w/r/t police brutality and corruption) but the California coast area also has these other things going on that those other states don’t. Like eternal sunshine! And oranges! All these things come together to help dull the potential pain of all my best friends living in other cities and working 16 hours a day (from home). Let’s discuss.

 Top Five Reasons Living In California Feels Like Cheating


5. Ordering Weed Is Easier Than Ordering Anything Else, Ever

In New York, getting weed was generally a time-consuming affair, involving a series of cryptic phone calls, usually teaming up with a friend to coordinate a bulk buy worth your dealer’s while, waiting around for an unspecific interval of time and then selecting a seemingly arbitrarily priced product from a smelly backpack offered up by a complete stranger. I mean, sometimes you’d have “a guy,” but then sometimes your guy would go away from a while (and sometimes your guy would “go away” for a while) and you’d be between guys, or using a delivery service that sent a different guy every time. Now, here, in this strange place called The San Francisco Bay Area, you can access an online menu of flowers, pre-rolls, baked goods, candies, tinctures — anything the heart desires — select your desired items, place them in your cart, place your order online, pick your desired delivery time and then sit and wait for the nice boy to come to your door with your product. You can even pay for it on a credit card machine at the door! It’s so weird.


Look at these queers

Look at these queers

4. Everyone is Gay

I don’t even get the “but you don’t look gay” double-take I got on the reg when I lived in New York and was forced by some turn in conversation or administrative process to reveal that I had a girlfriend or ran a lesbian website. I’ve never felt more comfortable being gay or talking about it than I do here, even with my dentist! Oakland has the highest number of lesbian couples per capita in the country, which seems true. I was just at the grocery store and I saw maybe five lesbian couples per aisle. San Francisco might be a gay man’s paradise, but Oakland has the largest and most diverse queer female population I’ve ever witnessed and has a rich history of lesbian activism, which made it a great choice for last year’s Butch Voices conference.

bb-produce-section3. Grocery Shopping Is Otherworldly

Alameda County residents are encouraged to bring their own reusable shopping bags with them everywhere or else pay ten cents for a paper bag / feel like an asshole. (Exceptions are made for those on food stamps). Here’s the thing: WE ALL DO IT. WE ALL BRING THE REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS. I mean, this is the kind of policy that incites many Americans to declare their freedom impinged upon by those crazy environmentals, but not here!

It’s cute, it’s like every time I go to Trader Joe’s I’m playing Show and Tell Your Special Bag with the entire parking lot, so I feel like we’re all very responsible and in tune with the earth. Also adding to the Earth Goddess aura is the bounty of fresh affordable produce available at Berkeley Bowl. However, Berkeley Bowl is also stressful because the shopping carts are too wide and it’s too crowded, but whatever. There is so much fresh produce here!! Cutting processed foods out of my diet has been about 100 times easier here than it was in the other places I lived.


My cute girlfriend on a day trip we took to Half Moon Bay

My cute girlfriend on a day trip we took to Half Moon Bay

2. So Much Beauty So Nearby

We are within biking distance of awesome natural parks and biking trails and also of the ocean and gorgeous marina. This is a feature shared by most major cities in the Pacific Northwest — similar delightfulness can be obtained in Portland, for example, and Los Angeles. This is great for humans from all income brackets because there’s plenty of free things to do, like hiking and beaching all along the coast, and there’s also plenty of not-free things to do, like spa/resorts and wine-tasting. (That being said, being amongst the 16% of Berkeley residents that don’t own a car really sucks in this regard, but there is a non-profit carshare service with a pod a block from our place, which is also not-real-lifey.) Furthermore, allegedly one can ski on a slope within three hours of here?




1. The weather

The weather here is STUPID. It’s just stupid! What have we done to deserve such plentitude? It’s always about 68 degrees. It almost never rains (but it always rains when Alex comes to visit, because the world refuses to let Alex believe me that the weather here is awesome). Granted, the lack of rain is actually a bad thing when it comes to farming and the overall climate, but it is a good thing if you ride your bike everywhere and I think we get so little rain here that I have room inside my heart for at least another 30 days of rain per year, should the goddesses wish to bestow that upon our land. I might even buy an umbrella.

In the winter, we generally remain in the neighborhood of 50 degrees, and in the summer it’s rare to meet or exceed 80. I’ve never needed an air conditioner or a good winter coat. What’s even weirder, though, is how this perfect weather is limited to very specific pockets of land (I think Oakland/Berkeley, San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Monterey, etc.). I was astounded a while back when, driving a carshare twenty minutes to a doctor’s appointment in Walnut Creek from Oakland, I watched the temperature rise from the mid-60s in Oakland to the mid-90s in Walnut Creek! I’d gotten into the car in a hoodie, and emerged wishing I’d worn a tank top.  Sometimes I wish it would rain or be dark though, because sometimes it rains or feels dark inside of me and the weather feels like a bully. You know what I mean? Sometimes I still feel like New York on the inside. 

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3181 articles for us.


    • I love me some Berkeley Bowl, as long as the people aren’t there. I’ve seen way too many people cuss each other out in the produce section and then buy a buddhist magazine.

    • I’m really happy to live in southern california for a bunch of reasons, and I think we have a lot of the good things on this list too (weather, weed, queers, nature), but… man. the Berkeley Bowl. Oh, how I miss the Berkeley Bowl. and that dollar bargain produce and bulk everything and magical variety of produce and… yeah. sigh.

  1. All of that could easily be applied easily to Venice Beach easily, minus the lesbians per capita statistic.

    • I dunno why the second part didn’t post, but the point was, many places in California doesn’t feel like real life(seriously at one point in Los Angeles and Bay Area) we had more dispensaries than Starbucks coffee shops. Or the fact I have seen tourist(when I was in Venice beach) say I’ve never seen a homeless person with a tan before.

  2. I just need to move back home, now. Love Brooklyn and everything but Berkeley and the sun are calling my name. And yes Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, etc…. grocery shopping heaven.

  3. Yeah, parts of LA feel unreal too. I’ve seen dog gyms. Gyms. For dogs.

    Norcal does not have the great weather the bay does though. We get 110 degree summers, but our winters seldom go under 30 degrees at night. We’ve already had 80 degree days the past week or so.

    California just doesn’t feel like a real place at all

    • Wow… The weather there sounds amazing. Wouldn’t mind travelling there one day. We’re still burried under snow up here in Canada; winter just doesn’t want to let go.

      • It is pretty incredible, that’s true. I live in the Chico area, so our summers are outrageously hot and really long. It only gets cold from November to March, and a lot of the time you don’t need much more than a sweater during the day.

        It hasn’t snowed here the entire time I’ve lived here, which is about 15 years. Lucky for me, I love the heat.

  4. This made me very jealous and feel like I could be happy in the Bay Area maybe. Sometimes I like when it rains though, it can be so relaxing. Maybe I should move to Seattle. I would like to live anywhere but here tbh.

    • Or Portland! I’ve known a handful of long-time Bay kids who moved happily ever after to Portland, and it’s still relatively easy to dash up and down the whole Pacific Coast from there as well.

      • I live in New Jersey right now, so honestly I would like to be anywhere on the West Coast. I think I’d love Portland too!

  5. I miss the Bay Area so much, reading this broke my heart. In spite of silicon valley’s insanity, it’s a beautiful place.

  6. Missing the Bay about a million times more than usual after reading this, but thank you so much for writing it, Riese! It made me feel all of the feels… I still hella <3 Berkeley

  7. The last time I was in the Bay Area, I went dancing alone (something I thought I’d never do, but CA changes me), met a bunch of lovely people, fell in extreme like at first sight, bumped into someone I knew from home randomly AND had the best shrimp burrito ever. All in one un evening… Magical.

    Also my fave dim sum place in the world is in Oakland so… *sighs*

  8. This Portland girl really wants to move to the bay. Really really really really really. really. so bad. wow.

  9. I read this wonderful thing even though it actually battered my already homesick soul (briefly affixed, as it is, to Boston).

    And then I read it again and realized that my own personalized version would swap weed with BevMo (bonus points for superior Costco booze NOT located in cages), and I’d broaden the grocery shopping category to Grocery & Cuisine in general.

  10. In Ireland you have to bring your own grocery bags as theres a government levy on plastic ones, and now when I visit my friend in KY I have mini panic attacks over how many plastic bags they try to put my stuff into. One time in Walmart the lady on the checkout put my eggs in a bag, and that’s it! I was like “You know what, I’ll just carry them…” and she looked at me like I was nuts. Dammit Kentucky.

    • I just added ‘too many bags RIP’ to my list of reasons to move from Kentucky to California. Thank you!

    • I can’t understand why Britain hasn’t done this. It’s ridiculous how many plastic bags are used here.

  11. My girlfriend just got me a reusable bag with a picture of MY two kitties on it. I win Show and Tell Your Special Bag every single time.

  12. Living in Rochester, NY, where it will still be winter for the next month, makes me want to move to the Bay Area real bad. But, I do like weather, especially thunderstorms, and I’m a little too dedicated to my New England roots. I don’t think I’m a jolly enough person to live in California. I’m more of the cranky Connecticutite I was bred to be with our sad, gray Atlantic Ocean.

    • I grew up in CT and transplanted quite happily to the Bay Area. Never before had I felt so free to just be myself, which includes certain New England-y traits and customs that I valued more after they became rare. But I did miss the thunderstorms!

    • I turned down grad school at Berkeley (where one of my best friends goes, too) for financial reasons but I think the real reason is because I’m an East Coast Eeyore and I wouldn’t be able to cope with sunshine and rainbows.

  13. I just went to visit San Diego and I kept thinking to myself “Is this place actually real?” Palm trees everywhere, 70 degrees and sunny all the time, people living next to the beach, vegan fast food restaurants… I don’t know if I could live in California though, there’s not enough hamburgers or rain there.

  14. I’m that asshole Californian that snapchats her out of state friends pictures of the weather reader on my dashboard every time it gets higher than 85.

    Sorry not sorry.

  15. The Topdog guy. Alameda Flea Market. Tilden Park. Oakland Art Murmer. Grocery Outlet on a Friday night 15 minutes before closing. This post actually made me cry. I am so homesick for my hometown. Someone just make a love poem about the Bay Area and I will hella love you, always.

  16. Ok I live in England where we have weather not a climate. On Sunday we had bright sunshine, high winds and hail. In one day. The idea that California has perpetual lovely weather is beyond the processing of my brit-brain. *goes off to start saving for a road trip holiday to cali*

    • I went for a bike ride along the sea front Sunday. In one hour I was sweating, nearly blown off my bike then just managed to get caught in the rain before I got home.


    • Last Sunday, I climbed a mountain in South Wales (Pen Y Fan, if you know it) in shorts and a tShirt, got sunburn. But then yesterday, I wore a scarf, hat and big coat just to cycle home from uni, because it was so cold. The weather has confused be recently.

  17. We all bring our own shopping bags in Wales too! They introduced a 5p charge per bag a couple of years ago, and it’s totally normal now. Although when I go over the bridge to England, I’m like ‘GIVE ME THE FREE BAGS!!’.

    On the other hand, everything else you have mentioned is the complete opposite of my life. I just wish it would stop raining. Please.

  18. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Dear God I hope Alex doesn’t show up on an impromptu visit

  19. I went out to the Bay Area last summer and was dying to move there. This makes me even more convinced.

  20. I lived in the valley and in Santa Cruz for two years before I ran back home to the east coast. In hindsight, it was a fucking amazing place to be and I really should have tried harder to appreciate life there. (Grad school was stressful and distracting, what can I say?)

    So this doesn’t exactly make me homesick, since that’s not my home, but it’s a real similar feel.

  21. This is pretty much everything my little sister has ever told me about her current living situation. She’s stationed in Hawaii, where the grocery stores will blow your mind (with the prices on everything but tropical fruit), the scenery is so scarily picturesque it feels like a sound stage, and the only weather changes EVER are if it decides to pull a 15-minute light drizzle an hour earlier than it did the previous day. It’s definitely a nice place to visit, but she misses affordable apples and seasons and mountains that don’t spit fire at people. Places that feel like real life, basically.

    • No dude it’s TOTALLY just like Hawaii. My mom grew up there and I’ve lived there and it is INSANE. Way too humid for my tastes and the prices on literally everything are too much, even at stands and at the NEX, but you can bike everywhere and you don’t really need a car (/shouldn’t have a car because gas is cray and so is traffic)

  22. California is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. I’m homesick for everything right now…especially the gorgeous, gorgeous produce.

  23. “Sometimes I wish it would rain or be dark though, because sometimes it rains or feels dark inside of me and the weather feels like a bully.”

    OMG I feel like this so much!! And I love living in Oakland :D

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