Moving to Miami: A Californian's First Impressions

Who needs the cold Pacific Ocean?
Who needs the cold Pacific Ocean? Photo by Seastock / iStock

I'm a fifth-generation Californian whose family has always called the San Francisco Bay Area home. My great-greatgrandparents met at the original Palace Hotel before it was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Besides a short stint in New York City for grad school, California is the only home I've ever known. That is, until I traded my Henny and earthquakes for piña coladas and hurricanes. Here's what I've noticed since moving to Miami:

The weather

Even the hottest day in San Francisco will have a cool night as the fog comes rolling in over the hills from the Pacific. It's so hot in Miami that sometimes I wonder if my air conditioning is working, and it's so humid that my sunglasses fog up as soon as I go outside. My two worst packing choices: a winter down jacket and no bathing suit. I adore not needing to wear at least seven layers of clothing a day for the Bay's fickle weather. Miami is consistent, and the hot nights are fantastic.

Mother Nature

I've become a storm watcher since moving here. Lightning in Miami illuminates the sky, and thunder rumbles and roars. It's awe-inspiring and truly beautiful. That being said, I haven't experienced a hurricane yet. At least there's prior notice if a hurricane is coming, unlike earthquakes or wildfires.

Beach culture

Bay Area beaches are reserved for people with full-body wetsuits, no fear of great white sharks, and an immunity to the cold. But I've embraced my inner beach bum since moving to Miami. The weather is perfect for a day at the beach and a dip in the warm Atlantic.


Miami is ground zero for climate change, but it's also ground zero for developing solutions to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis. I admire Miami's mindfulness for sustainability. It's not a political issue here — everyone knows it's real, it's us, and it's bad.

The Miami time vortex

There's the New York minute, and then there's the Miami hour. I once arrived five minutes early to an event and the hostess asked me where I was visiting from. The next guest didn't arrive for another 25 minutes. Time moves differently in the Magic City.

The car salesman laughed when I used the turn signal during a test drive.

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It's like weed except it doesn't work. You can find it everywhere in Miami: There are CBD popsicles, ice cream, cocktails, smoothies, and even coffee. There's a growing movement in Florida to legalize marijuana recreationally like in California, but for now, CBD is the go-to (unless you have a medical marijuana card).


Drive at your own risk. Public transportation is extremely lacking in a city that will soon be inundated by sea-level rise. Before I bought my new car, the salesman laughed when I used the turn signal during a test drive. The only ones who use their blinkers, drive within the speed limit, and stop completely at a stop sign are the autonomous vehicles testing in Miami. I never thought I'd say I miss BART (Bay Area Rapid Transportation), but I miss BART.

Miami lingo

I will go to my grave asserting that "hella" is the most versatile word in the English language. Just like how "the Bay bounce to thizzle, the West Coast wizzle," Miami also has its own lingo. A co-worker told me he was visiting "the Beach" and laughed when I asked which one. Miami natives call Miami Beach "the Beach," Coral Gables "the Gables," and Coconut Grove "the Grove."

Bienvenidos a Miami

The Miami metropolitan area is incredibly diverse, and every neighborhood is unique. It reminds me of what San Francisco used to be like before the birth of Silicon Valley. Miami's strength comes from its diversity, and its diversity makes it an incredibly welcoming place. You're never a stranger here. Everyone really does say, "Welcome to Miami," when they meet you.

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Jess Nelson is the 2019 writing fellow for Miami New Times. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is excited to be living close to the water again after moving to Miami from New York. She studied history at UC Berkeley and investigative journalism at Columbia University.
Contact: Jess Nelson