I'm not being indecisive
January 29, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Where in the San Jose area should I live?

My husband and I live in the midwest and are considering moving to the San Jose area. Neither of us have ever been to California in recent memory--this is just part of the preliminary research I'm doing to try to decide where we should live, since we both pretty much hate Wyoming. (Other places we're considering are Boulder CO, Monterey, North Carolina, and Massachusetts). Our main reasons for wanting to move to California are a) good weather, b) job opportunities, and c) natural beauty. Eastern Wyoming has none of these things.

I've been obsessively reading through the many previous questions about San Jose and the bay area but in order to narrow down the many options, I would like to know:

1) Which area is the safest?
2) Does San Jose have good public transportation? Would we be able to get by without a car?
3) Is there a nightlife in San Jose?
4) Is there access to a variety of outdoor activities?

In case it helps, we're in our mid 20s and never plan on having kids. My husband has a few years of work experience as a software engineer/web designer but no degree, and I have a small amount of work experience and a degree in literature. We have a decent amount of personal savings (I think around $20k). If you think it's a stupid idea for us to move there, please say so, because I have my doubts. Also, we do plan on flying out there in the near future to scout it out before committing to anything.

posted by Lobster Garden to Travel & Transportation around San Jose, CA (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ahh, San Jose.

I've lived in the Bay Area my whole life, mostly in the East Bay, then down in Santa Cruz for 2 years, a year in SF, and then the past two years in San Jose.

I must say, in comparison to other parts of the bay I've lived, San Jose is pretty dull. But here are answers to your questions:

1) San Jose is HUGE. It is flat and spread out. There are many safe neighborhoods and just a few bad ones. Safety is not something you generally have to look to hard for.
2) There is a train system called CalTrain that goes from SF to San Jose (ie. the Peninsula) with many runs during commute hours. San Jose also has a comprehensive bus system and a light rail system called VTA. BUT, because San Jose is SOO spread out, it can take forever to get from here to there unless you happen to live on a direct line. If you don't want to spend all your time commuting, you absolutely MUST have a car. This is my least favorite part of San Jose.
3) There is a nightlife, but it is not very exciting. San Jose has a proper downtown area with bars and such but it's nothing like San Francisco.
4)If you have a car, there is definitely access to outdoor activities. I live in south San Jose and happen to be 10 minutes from a velodrome and a frisbee golf course. Within an hour you can reach Santa Cruz and its beaches, rivers, and forests (my favorite!). You can also head to nearby and under-appreciated Morgan Hill which I have yet to visit but I hear has a few vinyards and wine tasting, similar to what you might get in Napa.

Now I don't know what kind of person you are or if you already have jobs lined up, but you can find software jobs up and down the peninsula. A few larger companies, like Google, run shuttles from SF to their headquarters (in Google's case, Mountain View). So unless you have some real reason to keep to San Jose, I recommend looking up and down the peninsula. If you want excitement, you should be closer to SF, Berkeley, or Oakland. Anywhere in the Bay Area you will not be more than an hour away from some forest or another.

Another option, although with more restricted access to San Jose, is to live in Oakland. A lot of younger people, many of who live in SF previously, are moving to some safer parts of Oakland. In spite of its reputation, there are some really beautiful parts to that city. If you want to be in the trendier parts of Oakland, you should look near Lake Merrit. But again, the commute from Oakland to San Jose is pretty bad.

Good Luck!
posted by cman at 7:20 PM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Excitement is important, but cost of living is more important. I think SF is probably prohibitively expensive for us. Berkeley sounds very interesting; I'll have to look into it. Thanks!
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:45 PM on January 29, 2010

I grew up in San Jose (go Sharks!) so I can offer my .02 worth.

1) Overall SJ is a pretty safe place for it's size. East San Jose and certain parts just outside of downtown were the places we would avoid.

2) San Jose's public transit system can get you to the train station, airport, arena and a few shopping malls. You *will* need a car, as cman said above.

3) There is some nightlife downtown, but all the cool kids go up to San Francisco when they want to get their drank on.

4) SJ is a hub to all sorts of outdoor activities. The beach, mountains, San Francisco are all within an hour's drive. A little more driving gets you down to Carmel or Monterey.

If you think it's a stupid idea for us to move there, please say so [...]
I can't answer that directly but - neither one of you has a job lined up, right? So you and your hubby have some leeway in picking where to live? When I lived in SJ all of my younger (your age) colleagues lived up in San Francisco and those surrounding areas, they much preferred the vibe up that way.

I would encourage you guys to investigate San Francisco during your scouting trip as well. Also, brace your soul if you peruse the real estate listings. It's expensive in SJ and the SF area. Feel free to MetaMail me any questions you guys might have.
posted by shino-boy at 8:08 PM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: neither one of you has a job lined up, right? So you and your hubby have some leeway in picking where to live?

posted by Lobster Garden at 8:15 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: I've lived in San Jose for 16 years and I love the Bay Area. What cman says is spot on. San Francisco is a 'real' urban city, compact and easy to get around. But the rest of the Bay Area is pretty suburban and so just to repeat, unless you live in San Francisco (and even so I wouldn't recommend it) you MUST have a car. California is a big place and it was built around cars. There is passable public transportation, especially for commuting into San Francisco (or inside San Francisco itself), but getting to & from the train stations on buses is a very time consuming process. Most people drive their car to the train station.

Much of the Bay Area's night life suffers from being close to San Francisco. So the downtown areas really don't match-up to the size of the city. San Francisco has such a great variety of attractions its hard for nearby cities to compete. That said there are still lots of nice spots, downtown San Jose, Sunnyvale & Mountain View are all good places to eat and party.

This is Northern California! every possible outdoor activity ever invented and many still in the midst of being invented are available. The Bay Area is fairly compact, it's squashed between mountains and San Francisco Bay. So a 30 minute drive from almost anywhere urbanized will bring you out into splendid wilderness.

You can find software jobs all around the Bay Area. I'd say that software/web design is one of the few tech jobs that you can get in San Francisco (Biotech being another). So don't get hung up on San Jose - I'm here because I'm a silicon chip engineer and San Jose is really where that industry is centered. But there are lots of other great cities. The peninsula is more expensive than the east bay, but has easier access to San Francisco. That said Oakland is a very short trip to San Francisco on a BART train and has a pretty good city vib on its own. Its gets a lot of bad press, but i'm sure there are plenty of safe areas. Berkeley has that student/college town atmosphere. Palo Alto has it as well (Stanford), but is also very wealthy (center of Venture Capital). Mountain View, Sunnyvale & Campbell are all on the West & North West of San Jose and are all pretty nice.
posted by Long Way To Go at 8:19 PM on January 29, 2010

You mentioned natural beauty and good weather. For what it's worth, if those are major motives, you may find SJ and/or Monterey a disappointment. San Jose is accessible to a lot of natural beauty but is not itself especially pretty. It's a sprawly suburban kind of bland town for the most part. You can get to a lot of pretty stuff by hopping in the car, but it not a town that matches the "California" expectations set by Hollywood. Visiting would be advisable. Monterey is chock full of natural beauty, and the sky can be quite lovely. However, it's still NorCal coast, where mist and chill are fairly commonplace. For hearty midwesterners, no big deal. But again, may not match up with what you're looking for.

Put serious research time into cost of living. SJ is better than SF in that respect, but any part of the bay area is expensive compared to similar quality of living nearly anywhere in the midwest. Look at the overall picture, not just housing. CalTrain, for instance, is comfortable but pricey. And with so many locals dealing with layoffs, competing for jobs could take a while. Would you be okay with dipping into the savings for living expenses?
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:37 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: 1) SJ tends to come in toward the top of 'safest cities' rankings. The areas with the highest crime rates tend to be some areas of downtown and areas of East SJ. While it's a fairly common local thing to dismiss all of the east side, I've lived here since '91 and have never had a single unpleasant incident, including the time I accidentally left my front door wide open for 3 days while away on vacation. IMO, the bad rep keeps the assholes away. (The downside of ESJ is the housing values are considerably less than comparable homes on the other side of the valley, largely due to the poor performance of the ESJ school districts and we're miles and miles from the nearest Caltrain station).

2) Not so much. It's not a great city to rely solely upon public transit as it's largely big sprawling suburbs. Compounding the problem have been recent cutbacks by VTA There are some neighborhoods that are compact and self-contained enough where you could probably get by without a car (Willow Glen and Rose Garden spring to mind) if you're the sort who can live w/o shopping at big box stores. At this time, SJ doesn't have ZipCars outside of Santa Clara Uni. Personally, I hate bicycling here due to insane drivers + inconsistent bike lane access and the few times I've taken the light rail has been an advanced Zen exercise in extreme patience. Given where I live (up in the hills) there's no way I could see living here w/o a car.

3) Not really. Great place to be a parent, pretty boring for 20-somethings. Downtown tries.

4) Holy cow, yes. Huge regional parks ranging from highly manicured to completely wild. Pacific Ocean is 40 minutes away, SF Bay is 15 mins away via car. Lots of hilly terrain once you get away from the valley floor, lots of wildlife (I have recurring issues with wild boar and deer in my yard), fantastic weather. The only thing I find missing (having grown up further north) is easy access to fresh water sports. It's easy to find salt water activities but finding quiet lakes to boat in or rivers to raft down will require a drive. Sierra ski resorts are ~4 hrs via car.

Feel free to memail me when your preview tour plans firm up: I've lived in SJ since '82 and would be happy to give you a tour (fear not, I am not a realtor nor related to one).
posted by jamaro at 9:01 PM on January 29, 2010

Within the last 10 years, I've lived most of the places you're considering for at least 1.5 years, including San Jose CA, San Francisco CA, Boulder CO, and Raleigh NC.

Briefly-- by your four criteria, Safety, Public Transit (i.e., can you get by without a car), nightlife, and outdoor activity: Boulder completely crushes San Jose.

Safety: We lived in a decent neighborhood in San Jose and had our house broken into, a car stolen, and lost multiple car stereos in smash & grab. We lived in a similarly decent neigborhood in Boulder for a similar amount of time (~1.75 years) and never had to phone the cops. We left convinced that the city in SJ rigged crime statistics to always show up on the "safest cities list." (Data, of course, is not the plural of anecdote.)

Public Transit: Boulder has, I kid you not, the best bus system in the world. I've ridden busses in at least 20 major cities throughout North America, Europe and Australia, and the bus system in Boulder friggin works. If you're willing to get on a bike as part of your commute/transit routine, it's hard to beat Boulder (check out the League of American Bicyclist ratings: you can't beat Boulder in America for bicycling. It's a dream to commute by bicycle in Boulder-- except during the winter, which is only slightly milder than you likely experince in eastern WY.) San Jose's public transit, compared to Boulder is broken. Caltrain works very well to get you out of the city, but within the city, the light rail is patently un-useful, and the busses were extraordinarily unreliable in my experience.

Nightlife: San Jose downtown nightlife (circa 2005-06, maybe it's evolved now) really kind of sucked. Basically, I decided that San Francisco, Berekely, and even Mountain View tended to draw the people that are interested in nightlife into them at night, leaving SJ comparatively barren. Now--- You can make that trip from SJ to SF for a night out, but you're left with a 1 hour drive or 1.5 hour train ride at the end of the night, which, kind, of, sucks. I did it a few times anyway. Boulder--- is kind of the Berkeley of the Front Range. It's a major draw at night, and must leave other places comparatively barren.

Outdoor activity: Here there is definitely more diversity if you're homed in San Jose, but you're also driving further. From San Jose, you can hike great places if you *drive* 20-30 minutes. You can surf/swim/scuba/ocean if you *drive* 1 hour, and you can ski in the sierras if you *drive* 3 to 4 hours. Bouder-- There's no surfing, no scuba; You can walk out your back door and Kayak Boulder creek. You can ride the (amazing) city bus system up to Eldora and Ski for a day. You can walk out your back door and into hiking in the mountains. In Boulder, you don't really need a car to enjoy the outdoors. This is not true in SJ.

Cost of living: implicit in your question. Boulder is more expensive than areas just outside of Boulder, but Boulder felt like "1/2 price San Jose" as far as most things went, and you can live without a car in Boulder, which you really can't in the surrounding communities. Fort Collins-- it ain't bad either, and it's even cheaper that Boulder. :) (check my location in profile.) and me-mail me if you have more questions. I don't recommend NC (at least Raleigh), and have no experience with MA, but I do have strong, experienced based opinions on most of the places you're considering.

Way too much written here, and I need to go to sleep. Will go skiing tomorrow.
posted by u2604ab at 10:46 PM on January 29, 2010

I know you asked "San Jose area", but if I can interpret that to mean the "Bay Area", based on your questions I'd recommend looking at living in San Francisco. It is safe, you can easily get around without a car (in fact, most people here don't have cars), there's definitely a night life, and you'll still be relatively close to nature. Also, the city is full of young people without kids, since people tend to move to the suburbs (down the peninsula or across the bay) to start families, so meeting people your own age should be pretty easy. There are also plenty of companies hiring software engineers and web designers in SF, though quite a few people living here also commute to neighboring areas too (enough so that big companies based outside of SF, like Yahoo and Google, run their own shuttles for employees).
posted by ryochiji at 12:50 AM on January 30, 2010

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