life in general

How to Acclimate to a New City

In the past five years, I have lived in four different states. North Carolina, Minnesota, New York and now, California. And every time I’ve packed up and shipped out, whether it was to the frozen tundra of Scandinavian country (Minneapolis) or to the familiarity of the concrete jungle (NYC), I’ve had to reset, adjust and get acclimated to my new surroundings.

It’s not easy, especially if you’re tackling other new things like school or a job, but for me it’s essential to make my transition as seamless as possible. Someone recently asked me how I manage the acclimation period so I thought I’d offer up some tips on how to do it. This list is by no means exhaustive but it’s a good starting point (and what’s on my radar every time I make one of these moves).


Unpack your boxes. This is a given but I’m not lying when I tell you I know people who move, and a year later are still holding onto boxes from their move. I make it a point unpack every.friggin.thing. It’s the best and fastest way for me to feel settled in my new home so I can get out and get acquainted with my new surroundings. Speaking of surroundings…

Learn your transportation system, and how to use it. Whether it be highway names with too many numbers (I’m talking about you, 15-501), acceleration lanes that make you stop at lights (what the what?) or contained metal boxes (aka a NYC subway car), it’s important to know how to get around in your new hood.  In SF, I’m dealing with the GBus (Google’s own bus system for employees), the BART, the Muni rail and the Caltrain. So I have all the transportation maps and the GBus app saved on my phone so I can quickly and easily figure out where I’m going and how to get there. Today I purchased a Clipper card, which is a transportation card that works on all the systems here, and it made me feel just a tad bit more like a local. One thing I have yet to figure out, though, is how to hail a cab here. Anyone? Bueller?

“Star” places you want to go. And then eat, drink, play tourist or exercise your way through your city. Before I even moved to SF, I heard a co-worker telling someone about a bar that plays 90s hip-hop on Friday nights. Um, come again? Friday + Bar + 90s hip-hop? Sounds like a dream to me. I asked for the name, looked it up in Google Maps and starred it. That way, when I’m looking for a place to go, I can throw out a suggestion. I’ve also decided I’m going to exercise my way through the city. I want to try many different fitness classes, so I’ve been starring any that I hear about or pass as I walk around. Obviously, keep track of these places however you’d like but make a plan and hit them up. You’ll not only cross starred places off your list but also learn your way around different neighborhoods.

Make friends. Unless your starting school or a new gig where you’re starting with a class of people this is a tough one. However, it’s not impossible to make friends as an adult in a new city. I have three suggestions: friends of friends, affinity groups and meet-ups. First of all, cash in on all the friends of friends. As I told folks that I was moving to SF, I can’t begin to tell you how many people told me “oh, my friend/cousin/sister/ex-coworker (etc) lives there.” So now, I’m making plans with many people who I’ve been connected to and I feel good about it because they’ve basically come with a letter of recommendation. Second, if you’re starting at a new company, find out if they have affinity groups and join them. And whether you do or do not have affinity groups at work, you can do my third suggestion which is find and join a meet-up or google group that interests you or tap into your local alumni association or sorority/fraternity chapter. This requires putting yourself out there which I understand is super uncomfortable for some people but a new city is not the place for a “no new friends” policy. It will be worth it when you want to have a brunch date or you’re sick and can’t possibly run out for soup. Find a few close people that can become your trusted circle.

Use Google to find ratings and reviews. Or ask around. Or check out Yelp, whatever. There are so many things a person may need to find and/or replace when they get to their new city/state. For me the list looks something like: dry cleaners, tailor, shoe cobbler, nail salon, hair salon, eye brow wax, everywhere else wax, coffee shop, a clean movie theatre, etc. The list goes on and on. And no, I’m not going to find these places and services overnight however, doing a little bit of research and narrowing down your search is a good way to try out local businesses. It’s much easier to try out three dry cleaners and choose the one you like best as opposed to having nine options and feeling overwhelmed. Oh and never be to proud to ask someone where they go to for (fill in the blank). I’ve found many a hair or nail place that way.

Learn your local information. Such as your county, the names of the neighborhoods, your mayor, your local newspapers, newscasters, and radio stations. You could theoretically live somewhere and not know what county you live in or who your mayor is which is b-a-n-a-n-a-s. I know it’s not the first thing to ask when you jump off the plane, but it’s important to know. Because in my opinion when you know, you feel more connected. For me, I always felt excited when I knew the local news anchors. I mean, Sven Sundgaard, my favorite Minneapolis weatherman (yes, Sven) will never beat Janice Huff, Michael Gargiulo or Darlene Rodriguez but I still appreciated the familiar face to tell me it was negative -2 with a wind chill of -17 outside, no bullshit.

Find your doctors now. Nothing is worse than being sick and having to sort through a list of doctors that (hopefully) accept your insurance. To avoid this, I always make an effort to spend a little time reviewing my insurance website and coming up with a shortlist of in-network doctors (medical, dental and vision) before I need them. I find out if they’re accepting patients, read reviews and check out their web pages. I also map out how far the office is from my home or my work. It may sound crazy but it’s never too early to prepare for that because, hello: it’s your health.

Realize it’s not home. Or wherever you call home. Y’all, bottom line is this: There really is no place like home. I mean, even when I was in NYC, it wasn’t the same comfortableness I had in Morris County, NJ. Wrapping my head around that fact and making an earnest effort not to compare where I am to where I came from is probably the hardest yet most effective way to acclimate.

Have you ever had to acclimate to a new city? What do you do? 


8 thoughts on “How to Acclimate to a New City

  1. great tips. i definitely don’t know who my mayor is ha! and funny, i noticed this weather woman over the weekend and knew she was from NYC. turns out she was on FOX 5 but recently moved down here. i read her bio and she actually went to syracuse for grad school, anchored there, moved to a couple places including NYC and is now here. it’s almost like she’s stalking me ok?! haha

  2. Awesome tips Mecky!!! After reading them it reminded me of my move to Kinnelon, NJ (which doesn’t compare to the enormity of moving from state-to-state) but still… It was so uncomfortable for me… remember? I was an absolute wreck… So believe me when I tell you that these tips can prove to be golden for others on the move! ~ MOM Love you. XOXOXO 🙂

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