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‘I’m finally leaving:’ Stories of Bay Area residents moving because of the pandemic

Tessa McLean is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @mcleantessa.

Is it finally time to leave the Bay Area? California issued a shelter-in-place order in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and many residents are still working in tiny apartments with astronomical rents. But as companies like Twitter, Facebook and Square announced permanent work from home changes, the temptation of a sprawling backyard or the elusive third bedroom (ADD JOKE HERE) is sounding pretty good right now. An anonymous survey of 4,400 tech workers, conducted by Blind, found that two-thirds of employees would consider leaving the Bay Area if they had the option to work remotely.

So we decided to ask readers who are actually doing it to share their stories. Here’s where they’re going and why.

SF -> Hawaii

“I am a native San Franciscan, born and raised. A golden opportunity was presented to me to do traveling nursing back in November 2019. Well, my contract came to an end at the beginning of the year and the hospital that I worked for hired me full time in Hawaii. With the inflation in housing and cost of living we decided to permanently move to Hawaii. Yes, the cost of living may be expensive but when you take into consideration housing and free entertainment (beach, hikes and sun all year round), there is just really nothing to discuss. We purchased a home at a fraction of what SF real estate is going for. And we have a huge yard for gardening! We are super happy to be living in the Hawaiian Island, but I got to say one thing we do miss is the food: Mexican, Indian and all the melting pot SF has to offer!” — Demi Lundgren, 39

SF -> Portland, OR

“This decision has been years in the making, but we did not have the opportunity to leave until my husband recently accepted a new job where he can work remotely. We just bought a house and are moving to Portland on July 1st. We wanted to buy a house that we would be happy to live in for decades, and that’s just not possible in the Bay Area, within our budget, even as well-paid professionals. We have a 5-year old and hope to have another kid in the next year and so things like space and a yard were really important. And we wanted a more family-friendly city, and Portland really takes the cake for that. We just bought a house and are moving July 1st. It’s bittersweet but we are also relieved. That said, I will severely miss beaches and all the incredible nature California has to offer. Not that Oregon is lacking in this department, but California whets many different appetites. Oh, and I’ll miss the weather.” — Samantha DuPont, 36

SF -> Houston, Texas

“I just moved to Houston, Texas two weeks ago! I got a promotion at work, at a new company, and it’s a technology I’ve always been passionate about. Moving to Houston from San Francisco allows me to have a higher quality of life here due to the lower cost of living, higher income from my promotion and I’m closer to family (I have family in Houston). Also, the real estate investment opportunity in Texas was attractive to me, given the lower cost of land (there’s a great growth trajectory in Texas in real estate for many reasons — including the tech exodus from coastal cities happening now). I’m looking forward to a great time in Texas!” – Lemar Ashhar, 26

SF -> LA

“I’ve lived in San Francisco since 2011 (also lived in the Bay Area for a few months in 2008 and 2009) and consider SF to be my home. I’m really sad to go, but feel like it’s the right thing to do given the cost of housing/living and the general condition of our streets and neighborhoods (i.e., the poop/needles/trash on the streets).” — Josh Garber

SF -> Santa Barbara

“I am moving because most of the things I love about living in a city are closed indefinitely due to the pandemic — live music, art galleries, bars. Without these options, the pace of the city really changes. I figured I might as well take this opportunity to live in a new place while saving money. It’s also really awesome that my job supports employees working from anywhere. I’m from Los Angeles and my sister currently lives there. I want to be closer to family and most importantly, live on the beach so I could surf every day.” — Natasha Vo, 33

San Jose – Sacramento

“My husband and I (and our 1-year old adopted daughter) are moving from San Jose to Sacramento this summer. We’re moving primarily to be closer to family, including our daughter’s abuelitos, but also because after we sell our house in San Jose we’ll use the proceeds to live mortgage-free in a top neighborhood. There’s a lot I will miss about the Bay Area, like the food & restaurants, the theatre scene, and the weather in particular, but mostly the people we’ve known and the wonderful friends we’ve made. Fortunately, we’ll only be two hours away.” — Ben Walter, 42

SF – St. Louis, MO

“I think St. Louis is a hidden gem that people haven’t quite discovered yet. I have lived in SF for 20 years and I have a nice home in the Mission that I am now in contract with to sell.  My job is allowing me to permanently work remotely. I didn’t think living outside of SF would be OK but I’ve found there are good restaurants and nice urban living outside of SF/CA. I have always loved SF so for me to find a place that I’m ok with leaving my house that I took a lot of time to remodel and my friends/community then it says something.” — Julie Conrad, 43

LimeWave – inspiration to exploration/Getty Images

SF – San Diego, CA

“We moved out of San Francisco last month. My wife and I have now transitioned fully to work from home. We decided after the first month or two of lockdown that our environment was going to be more important than ever going forward, and that living in an expensive, small apartment in a city that doesn’t offer the same experience as it did prior to Coronavirus wasn’t worth it. Therefore we moved to a beach house in San Diego. It was the best decision we’ve ever made, and we won’t be considering a return to the bay. The part we didn’t expect: that we would start a trend amongst our friends.” — Brandon, 36

SF – Portland

“I live in San Francisco in a one-bedroom apartment in the mission near Dolores Park. I’ve been here for 8 years and was in Oakland for 8 years prior to that and Santa Cruz for 10 years before that. I’m buying a place in Portland that closes on July 10, planning to move up there about a month after that. I’m keeping my current job and working remotely, and yes, this is newly supported by my company. I’m planning to come back down to the office for a week at a time now and then once things open back up.” — Brett Zane-Ulman, 46

SF – Santa Cruz, CA

“My partner and I live in Clarendon Heights, however, we’ve decided to relocate to our second home in Santa Cruz for the time being. We aren’t able to do a lot of things we enjoy because many of our favorite spots are now closed due to COVID. I work in the interior design industry and I will start a new position with my job that will allow me to WFH. We hope to return one day!” — Alex

SF – Charlotte, NC

“My boyfriend and I left the Bay Area for good yesterday. He had been in SF (same apartment in the Mission) for 10 years and I had been in SF for 3 years. I had worked remotely permanently with for a year, but my boyfriend had worked in an SF office. His company allowed him to work remotely, and we were able to buy a $900k home on Lake Wylie in Charlotte with a pool. We were looking forward to more space and a more relaxed lifestyle. We will miss the Bay Area, but really looking forward to more space.” — Carolyn McDonough, 27

George Rose/Getty Images

Oakland – New York 

“My spouse and I left Oakland less than a month ago and we’re settling for the moment in Central NY. We lived in Oakland where we owned a home for over 20 years. The natural and man-made disasters got to be too much for us. We’re in our 50s and 60s. My partner is retired, but my employer gave the OK for me to work remotely for which I’m grateful.” — Rita Liberati, 58

SF – Corte Madera

“I was working in downtown SF and renting an apartment in Noe Valley for an absurd $4100 a month (rent controlled!!!). Once COVID-19 hit, it wasn’t even a question, I ended my lease and have worked from a home I own in Phoenix AZ since. Why pay the rent when I don’t have to be there? I am over the noise, crowded Muni/Bart, and awful homeless population. My company is going to adopt a “hybrid” approach where most days (3 per week) we can work from home and then 1-2 days in the office. This allows me to leave SF and the crazy rents there, but I need to still be within reasonable commute distance. I decided on Marin, (Corte Madera) for peace, nature, an easy ferry ride when and as needed, and safety. I am moving there July 4th weekend. Crowded Bart was why East Bay suburbs were not even a consideration either.” — Matt