moving to san francisco
December 12, 2009 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Is there anyone who has experience living in San Francisco and can give me advice about moving there?

I live in rural midwest. I have dreamed of moving to San Francisco, CA for several years. I am sure I could find a decent paying job there, as my job is in high demand.

I am a single middle aged woman. No children. I have to do this all alone. I have no one to help me, and I am a little fearful/anxious about making such a big move, making a mistake and moving to a place I may not know is a dangerous area.

My questions are:
1. How much would rent be on a house/apartment? I want a decent sized apartment (not a studio).
2. What are safe areas to live, and dangerous areas for a single woman?
3. How do I research an area to find out if it is safe/crime or not?
4. What are the fun things to do there....cultural, musical, food, etc. and where?
Thank you everyone.
posted by bananaskin to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I live in a "safe" area, by SF standards, which is the Castro. Yesterday I saw a one-bedroom apartment sign for $1700/month. I think that is the going rate in the Castro and maybe a little on the low side.

There are other neighborhoods that are a little cheaper.

For crime information, you may or may not want to read this blog. It's a little scary. (And for some reason the author after several years has stopped updating.) But will certainly identify the neighborhoods with violent crimes.

I looooove it here, but to live here happily you have to accept (in my opinion) that everything will cost you all of your money.

And don't worry about the fun things to do here. That part will take care of itself.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2009

Response by poster: I saw some apartments in Richmond, Hayward, and San Leandro Areas for $1000 or so. What about those areas? Are those considered close enough to SF to get there in decent time?
posted by bananaskin at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2009

Ah, well, that is a whole different kettle of fish. If you are willing to live in the East Bay, there are entirely different factors re price range and lifestyle and crime considerations.

Although the East Bay is miles-wise very close to San Francisco, psychologically and travel-wise it can seem and be pretty far. The bridge is often clogged, and public transit takes a while and is more expensive than you might think. But some people make it work -- live in the East Bay and socialize in San Francisco. You have to be ready to spend some serious time and effort with traveling. Maybe decide you like the train/bus and read books.

Me, I lived in El Cerrito for a few years (near Richmond) and Did Not Like. Sterile and suburbun up the hill, and ugly-gas station-big-box-stores at the bottom of the hill. I'm sure there are people who love it, but it was not for me.

Richmond itself has, very sad, a terrible problem with crime and poverty.

I don't know enough about San Leandro or Hayward to comment.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:34 AM on December 12, 2009

I am a single, middle-aged woman. I lived for 10 years in the Marina and loved it. I lived right near the Palace of Fine Arts (which doesn't really have anything to do with art anymore, the name is leftover from the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition). The neighborhood is a mix of old families who have been there for years and the rich or upwardly mobile.

It is expensive (looks like studios for $1500+) and more so if you want off-street parking--but the nice thing is you don't really need a car--you could get away with a City Car Share for weekends. However, it is very safe and there is lots to do in walking distance. It is convenient to public transit as well.

There are many restaurants and shops on Chestnut street (sort of the "main street" of the Marina). You are right next to the Marina Green, Chrissy Field and the Presidio parks that are great for walking and bike rides. There is a great YMCA in the Presidio with pool, etc.

I had a dog and while walking her I met lots of nice neighbors who became friends, but you don't really need a dog, just get out and walk.

As a single person, I'd avoid the Sunset and Richmond Districts as they are family neighborhoods and kind of isolated--still cool bits.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2009

I live on the edge of the Castro in the Inner Mission, not far from Claudia. I agree that $1700/month seems a bit low for a one bedroom. I also agree with her that living in the City itself is going to basically cost all of your money. If you want one of the 'truly safe' areas (Marina, Pacific Heights, Lake District, etc.), you're probably looking at twice that amount in rent.

Richmond has one of the highest crime rates in the country. I don't know much about Hayward or San Leandro. I will say (purely anecdotally) that if you want to really enjoy what the City has to offer, you're probably going to want to find a place in town. Of all the people I know who live in the Bay Area but outside of SF, only one of them seems to make it into town regularly for recreation. The rest mostly just commute in for their jobs and then go home, at least partly, I think, because traffic is a nightmare.

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely love living here, have loved it for thirty years, and can't imagine living anywhere else, but those are some aspects of the reality you should keep in mind.
posted by trip and a half at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2009

Check SFRentStats, which pulls listings from craigslist and lets you easily sort them by size/price/neighborhood.

Depending where in the EBay you live, you might *have* to have a car, if only to drive yourself to the BART (i.e., our subway system) station to get into SF. And gas here isn't cheap. (Yes, there's a Chevron refinery right there in Richmond! But state taxes really raise the price of gas here, which has hovered around the $3/gal mark at the cheapest for a couple of years.)

Another thing you should be aware of is that the weather in the EBay is different from SF's. They're really not kidding about microclimates here. In the summer it can be 80 degrees in Hayward and 60 (and foggy) in SF. Living in SF, you will wish you had air conditioning maybe a week a year; living in parts of the East Bay, you'll wish for it a lot more often than that.

I live in the Mission in San Francisco and love it. It's warmer and sunnier than most other parts of the city, but it's got gang troubles. I've lived in Cole Valley(-ish) (I was never clear if I lived in Cole Valley or Parnassus Heights) and nearly froze my ass off, but it's a lovely neighborhood.

Spend a lot of time looking at maps of the Bay Area, and look at public transit accessibility. The further you go from SF, generally speaking, the less expensive rents are - well, except for heading down the peninsula - but the more it will cost to get to SF for work, if that's where you end up working, and that may be a trade-off you don't want to make. And the bridge tolls aren't getting cheaper, either.
posted by rtha at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you go for the East Bay I'd try to stay near a BART station--and I don't say that because I work for BART--it is the easiest way to get back and forth to the City. I would stay away from Richmond--while there are nice areas, there are also very scary bits.

They have been doing a lot of development in downtown Oakland (they are calling the area "uptown") new restaurants, fixing up the walking path around Lake Merritt but it still gets a little sketchy in the late evening (some folks are preying on the new residents walking from the BART station to the condos/apartments in the area later at night). I work in the area and feel perfectly comfortable during the day and early evening--even wandering with a small group at Midnight isn't scary. I probably wouldn't do it alone, though.

Albany and El Cerrito are nice. I find Hayward and San Leandro pretty bland. If you want a more upscale (but less expensive than SF) suburban experience, you could look at Orinda or Walnut Creek--there is a nice shopping/restaurant area in WC--but they roll up the sidewalks much earlier there.

One thing I will say (having hunted for lots of apartments in the SF Bay area) is you have to see a place--landlords get very "creative" in their descriptions sometimes. Also, when I rented in Southern California I was surprised to find that I had to supply a refrigerator--most apartments up here come with all appliances.

Feel free to memail with specific questions.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:00 PM on December 12, 2009

I am sure I could find a decent paying job there, as my job is in high demand.

I also meant to say: be sure about this. I know a lot of highly-skilled people with a diverse range of expertise, and these days most of them are either unemployed like me, or under-employed and working outside of their fields to make ends meet. I can't think of a single field of employment that I would say there's a 'high demand' for in the area. There's a huge glut of talented and skilled people.

Best thing would be to try to line up a job before you get here. At least be sure to do careful research.

Again, I'm not trying to discourage you, but be prepared.
posted by trip and a half at 12:23 PM on December 12, 2009

I lived in the inner sunset for a year (9th and Irving area), which has (relatively) reasonable rent and is a beautiful, quiet area with plenty to do, if that's your thing. Right by GG park and many restaurants and cafes, close to the ocean. It does get very foggy, which happens to jive with me very well.

I currently live in Berkeley, where I grew up, and prefer it. I'm close to Bart, pay less and live in a house rather than an apartment. But ClaudiaCenter is 100% right on - travel into the city is pretty stressful, regardless how you go about it.
posted by ORthey at 12:31 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rent is not the only cost to think about. Everything is more expensive, from bananas to kleenex. Even fruit grown in CA are more expensive! Lots of things you might not think of at first add up too, like power, insurance, taxes, etc. Here is a cost calculator that gives some idea.

That said, the answer to your question 4 makes it all worth it. Everything!

Also, this and this may not be helpful, but I enjoy.
posted by cjemmott at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2009

There's some useful information in previous AskMes.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:28 PM on December 12, 2009

I've lived in the bay area since 2003, east bay, city (SF), and peninsula. If you're planning on "moving to san francisco," move to san francisco. don't move to the east bay (or anywhere else other than "san francisco, ca," on your return address) and expect it to be SF living. like @claudiacenter said, the psychological barrier is huge.

also, read this.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 1:28 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in the east bay and I would definitely not want to live in Hayward, San Leandro, El Cerrito, Richmond, or really any other east bay location other than Oakland/Berkeley. I never go to those other places, no one who lives in the city does, and you probably won't make it to the city because even though it's not that far, it's still a long train ride or a nightmare car ride to get there. I'm like a 10 minute BART ride from the city in Oakland and I still have to convince myself sometimes the trip is worth it for socializing.

Lake Merritt but it still gets a little sketchy in the late evening (some folks are preying on the new residents walking from the BART station to the condos/apartments in the area later at night). I work in the area and feel perfectly comfortable during the day and early evening--even wandering with a small group at Midnight isn't scary. I probably wouldn't do it alone, though.

I live in this area and take my dog for a walk every night at 12-1AM by myself and have never felt unsafe or sketched out. I'm a guy though. I've lived in crappy, high-crime neighborhoods before and downtown Oakland/Lake Merritt area to me is super nice and safe. I think car windows get smashed on a semi-regular basis but that's true of any urban area - I've never heard of my neighbors complaining about crime or having problems, and I've been in the neighborhood almost 2 years.

In Oakland I would look at downtown/uptown, Lake Merrit/Grand Ave, Piedmont, Rockridge, or (slightly sketchier but also a lot hipper) Temescal.

I am one of the few people I know in the east bay who doesn't own a car, but I'm also a short walk to 3 BART stations and like riding my bike. YMMV. For reference I pay a little over $1000 for a fairly decent sized studio in downtown Oakland.
posted by bradbane at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2009

I would definitely recommend living in sublets for the first few months, maybe the first year, if you can. We lived in sublets for a year in SF and lived in 4 different areas. It really let us know where we wanted to settle more permanently.

It also gives you flexibility in finding a place that is a decent commute after you find a job. Craigslist is awesome for SF apartments.
posted by qwip at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

All the above comments are spot on. I lived in Marin for 25 years, also Berkeley and a short time in SF.
SF's got the cultural life, the events, the city vibe. Just be sure you can handle fog, cold winds and lots of cement and traffic. I fled because I just needed more green around me.
Marin's a great place to live, of course it has its own unique set of qualities. The commute to SF sucks. There's a half-decent transit system across the Golden Gate plus ferries into SF from Sausalito, Tiburon and Larkspur. Overall, I went into SF only occasionally and still feel like a tourist when I go there.
posted by diode at 2:39 PM on December 12, 2009

Yes, definitely have a job lined up before you move here. It's such a nice place to live, everybody wants to live here and there are tons of seriously skilled and talented people competing for the good jobs. And rents are staggeringly high in any area you'd want to live in, so you'll burn through your savings alarmingly fast if you don't have a paycheck.
posted by Quietgal at 4:43 PM on December 12, 2009

Also noting that while living in the east bay, one can feel mighty far from the city. I lived in Oakland, and only went into sf when people from back east visited me. I found plenty to do, see, eat, drink, etc. right in my own backyard. I am a fairly car-dependent person, so I couldn't imagine life in the east bay without a car. I would never, however, try to manage owning a car in the city.

If you are enchanted by the idea of living in San Francisco, please don't move to Richmond, or Hayward, or San Leandro. You will be disappointed.
posted by missmary6 at 6:53 PM on December 12, 2009

I am a fairly car-dependent person, so I couldn't imagine life in the east bay without a car.

Just a data point, my husband and I have been car-free in Oakland for two and a half years now and consider it one of the secrets to happiness (the car-free part, not Oakland (although we do love Oakland)). It's perfectly possible, depending on where you live, how much you like to walk, whether you have a bicycle, etc.
posted by Lexica at 7:27 PM on December 12, 2009

If you been spending years dreaming about San Francisco, then live in "San Francisco, CA". I can't stress this enough. After six months, you might want to move to Berkeley, but if SF is your dream, give your dream a chance -- the experience inside the city is surprisingly different from the experience just outside of it -- much more than in most urban/suburban metropolitan areas.

Oakland and Berkeley and Marin and the Pennisula are all very nice for their own reasons, and many people prefer to live there. But, for a whole host of reasons (transportation being a big one), most people who live outside of the city also spend most of their free time outside of the city. Once you've been here a while, you'll decide whether the silliness and constant contradictions that are SF are what you want, or whether you'd prefer the cheaper rents of Oakland, the open spaces of Marin, the aura, activism, university, and awesome produce of Berkeley, or the backyards and good schools of Los Altos.

Also, read this.

Richmond/San Leandro/El Cerrito is especially far from SF. It may be geographically close, and BART may be able to get you to The City without a car, but it is culturally night-and-day different. (Plus, Richmond, CA is not at all a safe place for a single woman who is newly arrived from the "farm-country-midwest" (profile)).

1. How much would rent be on a house/apartment? I want a decent sized apartment (not a studio).

As mentioned above, Craigslist and especially SFRentStats are your friends. $1500-1700 should get you a non-studio in a decent area. If you want one that's been recently renovated or is in an especially desirable area, and it's got off-street parking, it's going to look more like $2,000. You'll be expected to give at least one month's extra rent as a deposit prior to move-in, and you'll have to prove that you'll be able to support the lease (either through significant savings or a pay stub). It is notoriously difficult to evict a tenant in SF once they've moved in, so the landlords will give prospective tenants quite a bit of scrutiny. If you don't have stellar credit and don't (yet) have a job, you are going to have a very hard time finding a landlord willing to rent to you.

n-thing the "get a job first", or at least "be prepared and have enough savings to spend six or more months looking for a job". Many of the people living here have skills that are in enormous demand (this is an expensive town, without a whole lot of old money. Most people who aren't in demand can't afford to live here). Many of these skilled, in-demand people are unemployed or underemployed -- and they've got an existing network that they can use to find unposted jobs, where you probably don't.

2. What are safe areas to live, and dangerous areas for a single woman?

Most of them. In general, SF is significantly safer than the typical American urban environment, especially for person-on-person crimes. We have a lot of theft/burglary, vandalism and other property crimes, and some pretty staggering rates of drug use and homelessness, but generally low rates of assault, rape and homicide. There is some gang activity, especially in the lower-income areas, but the great majority of that activity will not involve you if you are not a member of any gang.

Painting with a broad brush, I'd encourage newcomers to avoid Hunter's Point, the Bayview, the Tenderloin, SOMA west of about 5th street, Crocker Amazon, and most of Ingleside. There are nice things about all of these neighborhoods (and they're all worth visiting!), but they're probably not the sort of place for someone who's new to town.

Statistically, the safest neighborhoods in SF are from Twin Peaks West to the Pacific and North of about Sloat Blvd to the Golden Gate and the Bay. (This includes: the castro, twin peaks, diamond heights, west portal, forest hill the sunset, parkside, golden gate heights, "the richmond" (which is different from the city of Richmond, CA), as well as the exclusive Pacific Heights and St. Francis Wood.)

There are lots of safe places that aren't in the upper left corner of the city (and some people find that quadrant of the city to be a little slow and almost suburban), but it's harder to identify them by geography or neighborhood (parts of The Mission are great, parts are pretty nasty and sad, most are somewhere in-between).

Always spend some hours as a pedestrian, at night, in and around any place you're considering. The neighborhoods change fast here, and three blocks in any direction can make a huge difference. What defines "safe enough" or "nice enough" or even "gritty enough" will vary from person to person.

3. How do I research an area to find out if it is safe/crime or not?

The SFPD Crime Maps are what you want here. It shows the locations of crimes that have been reported in the last 90 days. See also the SF Chronicle's homicide map.

4. What are the fun things to do there....cultural, musical, food, etc. and where?

All of it. If it weren't for the fun things (and overall sense of the ridiculous), not nearly as many people would move to SF and then stubbornly refuse to leave :)

You could eat at a different restaurant and go to a different live musical event every day, and it'd be years before you ran out of new things to do and see (in fact, considering the turnover endemic to the restaurant industry, you might not even have to eat in the same place twice).

It's a reasonable drive from the hills of Marin, the mountains of Tahoe, Yosemite, and countless other natural wonders. People fly here from all over the world to ski at Squaw/Heavenly, surf at (or near) Mavericks, ride the roller coaster in Santa Cruz, hug a giant sequoia, smoke a joint at Haight and Ashbury, play Pebble Beach, or get a tattoo from Ed Hardy or Lyle Tuttle (or their apprentices). All of these things and much much more are within the reach of anyone in SF.
posted by toxic at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

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