How can I move to San Francisco with my wife without ruining my life?
September 6, 2008 11:47 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in San Francisco for a week, how should I plan for moving there four months later and should I move elsewhere?

My wife and I are both 22 and we'll be in San Francisco for around a week in October. A few days of my time will be occupied with work, so I expect to have maybe four solid days of experiencing the city, deciding if I want to move there, and looking at possible apartments.

I looked at a few of the other questions asked which were similar to this, but it seemed like the specifics are different and the answers should be as well.

I'm from the Northeast and my wife is from South Carolina. For her, a city like Boston/Cambridge (where I was most recently living) is fantastic and so much better than where she has been living (Columbia). For me, I've lived there for the last four years and a lot about it is a bit too conservative for me. I'm pretty sure I won't have the same problem with San Francisco, and there are things I like about Boston, that it's a big city with a pretty small feel, relatively safe (my friends don't mind walking home at night), and a lot of exciting and youthful things to do.

I've loved what the intellectual community of Cambridge offers, between MIT and Harvard the weekly programming for the city is just amazing. I'd really miss this if there wasn't anything to replace it.

In short, this is what we're looking for:

Costs: 1br/studio for < $1400
Area: Active, young, diverse, weird, but not, uh, too "Burning Man." A place that's intellectual and challenging like Cambridge but also thriving and young like Allston or Greenpoint, maybe without the gentrification.

I'm most familiar with Boston and New York City, so, here are a few questions:

* If I want to live in the equivalent of Jamaica Plain, Allston, Harvard Sq. or Greenpoint, where should I look in San Francisco?
* Does it make sense to look in Berkeley? Where?
* Are there any good vegan restaurants to check out?
* I hear it's just a bit hilly, is it easy enough to ride a bicycle around?
* What else should I know? Are there good San Francisco apartment utilities other than craigslist?
* Should I live elsewhere? Austin? New York? Seattle? Portland? A job is not a problem, we're both established and only need to live in the US (sorry Montreal, Lausanne).

This will be the first place we've ever lived together without one of us moving in with the other. It's always an option for us to just move back to Boston until September so that we have more time to look for the best place to live. In September, also, a friend of ours will be moving in with us as well and we'll need to locate a 2 BR. Since I've attended college in the last four years I've lived in 13 different apartments/houses, so I'm really, really eager to live in one spot for a few years and actually feel like I'm at home. I hope that will be SF.
posted by christopherbdnk to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend checking out Berkeley. It's much closer to the Cambridge, Mass vibe than SF. Like Cambridge, Berkeley revolves around its university, and is a bit quieter than the nearby big cities (Oakland and San Francisco).

Also, there's something about the Berkeley Hills, particularly north of Campus near Euclid and Rose, that really reminds me of New England. Maybe it's a combination of the hills and the tree-lined roads.

While I'm acting as your Berkeley tour guide, the best vegetarian restaurant I've ever been to is in Berkeley on University at MLK - Udupi Palace. And I can think of another two vegetarian places in the area (Long Life Vegi House - Chinese, and Cha-Ya - Japanese).

Re hills and biking, calling San Francisco hilly is an understatement, but most of the areas are flat, and you can often ride around the big hills.

That said, the big hills are steep. Berkeley has a few of these, too, described on the aptly named page The Berkeley Hills Death Ride (Marin Ave's steepest section is over 25% grade).
posted by zippy at 1:29 AM on September 7, 2008

If you want to live in the City itself for less than $1400, your choices are going to be pretty limited. You might want to try the university housing boards for listings, and look on craigslist for places where students live, say around USF, the inner Sunset, or the inner Richmond. Other options might be the Mission or the Tenderloin. Google all these neighborhoods for more information.

You're not really going to find anything like Allston in the City itself. If that's the main criterion, then I second zippy: look at Berkeley.

Good luck!
posted by trip and a half at 4:14 AM on September 7, 2008

Have you thought about Chicago? Seriously, there is the intellect with UC and Northwestern. You will find lots of young people and diversity. The "El" is a great system, but I have family that bike around the city. You will, of course, have winter. To me, Chicago is like a (sorry New Yorkers) a clean New York. Mefi Mail me if you have more specific questions or if this might be an option.
posted by 6:1 at 6:31 AM on September 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi, I did this move a year ago and I would nth the suggestion you check out the East Bay. Oakland or Berkeley.

I live in Oakland very close to Lake Merritt and Lake Merritt BART. If I want to hang out in the City, I'm there within ten minutes. The same with Berkeley. My friends and I all live in one bedrooms of various shapes and sizes; none paying more than $1400/month. And I LOVE Oakland.

The East Bay also has the additional benefit of being mostly flat and significantly more sunny than the City.

The only down-side to living in the East Bay is that the City is where most of the later-night activities go down (concerts, festivals, raucous bars) and if you are late night people, then be aware the East Bay may not be for you, BART stops running shortly after midnight and after that your public transit options

Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions. Good luck!
posted by ilikecookies at 7:48 AM on September 7, 2008

Just food for thought -- My sister works for a major retail chain as a buyer and is one step short of being in 'management'. She makes about the same as I do... very not shabby, in the top half of five figures. Her boyfriend is a lawyer and makes much, much more.

They have a hard time maintaining a social life there because between commuting expenses and food expenses and rent (which is heinous, and you WILL have a hard time finding anything for ~1400... my sister paid $1680/mo for a 600 sq ft flat on Clifton in Oakland) they don't have much left over.
posted by SpecialK at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2008

By all means check out Berkeley, but I think you'd enjoy San Francisco, particularly since you seem to feel fond of Montreal. Berkeley is great, but with all due respect, it's not really a cosmopolitan city, like SF.

Unfortunately, I don't know the Boston neighborhoods you're referring to so I can't really give you any local equivalents, but while you're here, I'd suggest you check out the Inner Sunset area, which is quite close to UCSF medical school. Also, you might want to look at the Valencia Street corridor, from about 16th to 24th or so. It's a pretty young and happening place that still has a fair amount of edge. North Beach is a very fun community, but it's pretty expensive. The thing to remember is that San Francisco is very small, so it's possible to travel all over.

It's somewhat hilly, but there are *lots* of bike riders, and they are a community and a political force here.

There are many vegan restaurants here - I've heard very good things about Herbivore.
posted by jasper411 at 10:31 AM on September 7, 2008

Vegan restaurants in Berkeley near the downtown Berkeley BART = Cafe Gratitude (raw, new age) & Cha Ya (Japanese). Both also have locations in the Mission, but I like their location +/o ambience better in Berkeley.

Seconding Lake Merritt (north shore, here -- Grand, Lakeshore, Lake Park)
posted by salvia at 11:05 AM on September 7, 2008

nthing the east bay sentiments. the bay area is incredibly awesome (ie worth the massive expense of living here) and there are ways to maximize enjoyment of the wonderful without being a millionaire. I lived in SF proper for 8 years and am now about 8 years in Oakland. Oakland is GREAT and you can be in downtown SF in 15-30 minutes by car or pubtrans.

Herbivore is good, great, interesting menu, lovely presentation and yummy.
posted by supermedusa at 11:59 AM on September 7, 2008

I moved from Providence to San Francisco a year and some months ago. I've talked about the the logistics of the move and some neighborhoods to check out in previous threads.

So in specific response to your questions:

Housing search: Craigslist is it, yep. I think it's a great idea to check out places while you are visiting to get a sense of the market, but unless you guys are ready to sign a lease you won't be looking at anything you might actually get. The market out here is such that just about every place is available immediately or within a couple weeks; unfortunately with a long distance move this means you're stuck crashing in a hotel or with a friend while you try to find housing.

Rent: I don't think it would be worth living in San Francisco for less than $1400. I hope I'm not offending anyone here—personal preference, et cetera—but neighborhoods where you'd hit this price would either be too sketchy (I assure you that you and your wife do not want to live in the Tenderloin) or too remote (the Outer neighborhoods are cold and foggy and have less going on than the East Bay, and are just as far from the happening parts of the city.) There is a great chance you'll get here though and realize you're willing to spend shockingly more than you thought on housing because you fall in love with a neighborhood.

Berkeley: You do sound like you like the university town scene, which you will get far more of in Berkeley. I'm not sure if you mean politically active when you say you are looking for a place that's "active", but that's Berkeley far more so than the city. Likewise, I'm not sure if you mean politically challenging when you say "intellectual and challenging" (you say you find Boston too conservative) but I have to warn you that out here everyone is going to agree with you on every single issue. If you are looking for stimulating political debate, your brain will turn to mush. In any case, North Berkeley is really nice. Check out Oakland, too, though it's a bit rougher around the edges than Berkeley (which a lot of people love).

Vegan restaurants: My girlfriend and I are vegan and have theory about San Francisco proper "pricing out" good vegan food. We do great in the city—don't miss Ike's sandwich shop on 16th at Sanchez (indescribably, disgustingly delicious) or the Cha Ya location near 19th and Valencia—but there are far more options in the East Bay (where, our hypothesis goes, it makes more economic sense to run niche business). There are two great places to get vegan pizza—Pizza Plaza in Oakland is all vegan and Lanesplitters (locations in Berkeley and Oakland) has great vegan sicilian with homemade "ricotta"— as well as a handful of cafe's (I love The Breakroom in downtown Oakland). Fellini on University in Berkeley is an Italian place with several vegan dishes ("cream" sauce, faux meat, and all) and perfect date ambiance. If you're just talking about someplace to eat while visiting, check out Green's or Millenium which are pricey but worth the splurge. Green's is all vegetarian and not particularly vegan friendly but you can't beat the view. (Oh, and to all the recommendations of Herbivore, I highly recommend the breakfast—good vegan french toast can be hard to find—but the rest of the food there is decent but not really anything to write home about.)

Biking: I find the city (I'm referring to the Eastern half of it here) to be extremely bikable, notwithstanding the hills. There are places you'll go several blocks out of the way to get around a particularly nasty climb and of course places where you just have to suck it up (and a few places where you walk your bike no matter how tough you are), but it's really not as bad as one may assume. The East Bay is quite flat from what I see, though my experience biking around there is limited.

Other cities: That's a decision only you can make of course, but I am something of an evangelist for the benefits of Portland, OR (where we often daydream about moving if not for our jobs).
posted by rafter at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Active, young, diverse, weird, but not, uh, too "Burning Man." A place that's intellectual and challenging like Cambridge but also thriving and young like Allston or Greenpoint, maybe without the gentrification.

Keep in mind that San Francisco is like, one-fifth the size of Boston. Anywhere livable has been gentrified by this point. I also don't think you'll find much in your price range in the City- rafter's post is spot on. Personally, I think Oakland has far more interesting and a less self righteous population (generally speaking) than Berkeley, but I don't know if you'll really find intellectual company around any town here just by force of geography. There's good cultural stuff in the City, Oakland, and Berkeley; people from all over go where ever to see or hear or discuss their interests. I don't think living anywhere specific makes that more or less likely to happen. If you are considering Oakland, ilikecookies' initial question on that topic generated lots of really good answers.

Looking at apartments in San Francisco now is not going to help you for four months from now, aside from giving you a taste of how hellish it is to find and secure anything worthwhile. I would instead suggest visiting neighborhoods to get an idea of what they are like and where they are.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:56 PM on September 7, 2008

You don't mention where you'll be working. You should try to live fairly close to where you work; public transit in SF is not ideal, and there is a lot of traffic on the freeways during the commute.

I think the idea of trying to find a 1BR in your price range in SF and then move 4 months later is a silly idea. You'll have to sign a 12 month lease and then break it. You'll find that to be an obnoxious, costly process. Start by looking for your 2BR, and involve your friend in the process. Make him commit some time and money to it so that you know he's serious - maybe he should come out for some of those 4 days you mentioned.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:58 PM on September 7, 2008

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