The two large hospital chains are Kaiser Permanente http://kaiserpermanente.org/
and Sutter Health http://sutterhealth.org/
, and they pay the highest. They have hospitals over the entire bay area, and beyond. You can apply online. I know Sutter will pay up to $5K per year towards your student loans if you are a new grad, and beginning pay is in the $35/hr range. Kaiser is about the same. There is also UCSF (Univ California- San Francisco) http://www.ucsfhealth.org/
, one of the best teaching hospitals in the country, located in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of SF (check out the view from the top floors .... you can see the city and the Pacific Ocean). The pay is a bit less, but the advantages are many: fantastic teaching hospital, fabulous RNs, great preceptorship programs, &c. If you want to continue your education, UCSF is the top ranked nursing school in the country. SF General is affiliated with UCSF and is a very cool place to work, in the Mission District. Helps if you know or want to learn Spanish, and are committed to working with the poor. There are a few other hospitals in SF affiliated with UCSF but you can find these on the website.
I lived in Berkeley for 3 1/2 years after living in Chicago for many years. I found the RN s in the Bay Area to be overall the nicest and most laid back to work with, and management to be of better quality. I had the best work experience of my life there. I made more money than I ever had in my entire life. I worked in an east bay Sutter hospital. The only reason I moved was to go to graduate school. I'm not moving back because midwives make less money than staff nurses there, and the market is saturated with midwives ....
There are many people from the midwest in the SFBA. Lots of folks move there, stay awhile, or stay a long time. I don't know what rent is like in Kansas City, but rent in the SFBA is comparable to many places like Chicago, and even New Haven, CT, I've discovered. Don't be scared off. Other expenses are about the same. Food quality is outstanding, lots of great inexpensive restraunts, coffee shops, &c, which make the quality of life good. The problem is if you buy a house there -- don't! Renting, you'll be able to find something affordable, or find a roommate. You may not need a car if you live and work in SF. Check out www.craigslist.org
if you haven't discovered it already. Hawaii is close, and cheap, and many RNs I knew went there regularly. I could go on and on.
I bet if you start applying online and make phone calls you'll get responses from recruiters pretty quick! Good luck. Back to studying for me ....