I'm moving to the bay area in July and am struggling to decide where to live.
May 11, 2010 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone moved to the east bay and commuted into the city via bart? Is it really as bad as people say it is?

I am moving for work. My job is in the heart of the financial district near the embarcadero bart.

I was planning on the East Bay, likely a nice area of oakland near a bart and commute in each day...until a friend of mine who lives in the city literally shrieked in horror and told me not to do it. I am not totally unfamiliar with the Bay as a whole but I'm no expert and now I'm second-guessing myself. My top concern is that I will move to the east bay and feel isolated and annoyed with the time it takes to get to SF. That said, I live in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles now, commute 40 minutes to an hour each way (by car) to the west side for work daily and really have never minded despite all the west siders who are Valley haters who cry boo at me for it. I think it's totally worth the money I save and don't find the inconvenience outweighs the benefits, so I wonder if I will feel similarly living in Oakland.

Some things to know:

-I have 2 cats and can't sleep with those little bundles stepping on me. The last time I tried I dreamt that I had 20 cats in bed with me walking around. I need a separate bedroom.
-I want to bring my car. Don't bother trying to talk me out of it. The car is coming.
-I am a single caucasian girl in my mid twenties who isn't particularly tough. A safe neighborhood is a *must.* I also would prefer an area that is not noisy at night.
-Bustling nightlife is not preferred around my home, though easy access to supermarkets, gyms and food is.
-I'd like to stay around 1300 a month, but could go up a bit for an apartment so perfect it makes me want to cry with joy.

Basically, I want to be able to engage with the city but I also don't want to feel trapped in an urban jungle which I fear will be the case if I move to the city. I want home to feel like home and be a refuge from the rest of my crazy life while not having to offer up my organs in collateral to pay my rent.

Any tips given my situation?
posted by amycup to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty much my life down to the detail, sans cats. I live in Oakland, work in San Francisco, live in a quiet, safe neighborhood in an apartment in your price range, and am altogether happy. My commute is really short and easy. In fact, I often get home before my girlfriends who live in the city!

If you like urban access without being trapped in the concrete jungle, this is just about the perfect plan. Send me a memail if you want any further details, but it sounds like you are very much on the right track.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:54 AM on May 11, 2010

if you're in a nice area of oakland near the bart this is totally doable. i used to commute from south bay to SF and it was a pain but oakland is so freaking close to SF. you'll have to stand because the train gets pretty packed up by the time it reaches oakland but you won't be on it for long. i don't think you'll feel isolated and alone, when i lived in berkeley SF felt really close by (by comparison living in silicon valley, getting to SF feels like an expedition or something...)

a friend used to live near lake merritt and got an apartment with a parking spot, it seemed pretty safe and suburby.

as for your friend, if she's a native san franciscan, they normally react with horror that someone WOULDN'T WANT TO LIVE IN THE CITY OMG so i wouldn't worry about it lol
posted by raw sugar at 10:55 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Commuting to SF from Oakland on BART is easy-peasy, although as noted above, you may have to stand during rush hour. I've commuted on and off on BART for the last 11 years and vastly prefer it to driving or to trying to get downtown from the outer reaches of SF on Muni.
posted by smartyboots at 11:02 AM on May 11, 2010

Ummm... your friend is silly. I live in Oakland, two blocks from a BART station and it takes *literally* fifteen minutes door-to-door to get from my apartment to Embarcadero. BART runs on a schedule and yes, while on occasion there are disruptions, that may result in a delay, you get similar delays due to everyday traffic on roads. The one thing to keep in mind is that BART stops running shortly after midnight (even on the weekends) so sometimes it can be a bummer when you need to go home while others remain out in the City.

Otherwise, Oakland is awesome. And by awesome, I mean I LOVE IT. I'm a single woman and live downtown near Lake Merritt and feel perfectly safe. I can walk anywhere and gyms and supermarkets, etc. are easily accessible. Your budget is a little tight for a 2-bedroom with a dedicated parking space in DTO (which you will want since street parking can be a hassle) or anywhere that has ready access to BART, but with a bit of shoe leather, not out of the picture.

Feel free to message me if you have more specific questions.
posted by ilikecookies at 11:05 AM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your friend's shriek is exaggerated, but typical of SF residents who don't really know the East Bay. Several hundred thousand people do this commute daily. It's generally hassle-free.

The only kicker is enjoying nightlife in SF (which you mention is not a big deal). It's kind of a drag to go to SF and back to the East Bay late at night, especially if you've already gone home to feed the cats. Trains are less frequent in the evenings (depending on where you are headed) and stop earlier than in any other city on Earth. But there is more than enough going on in the EB if you want to go out locally.

I lived in SF for many years but am hooked on the East Bay. IMO it's a lot more culturally vibrant, diverse, is less expensive, has more outdoorsiness, and has less attitude than SF.
posted by quarterframer at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2010

Response by poster: Ha, I didn't phrase that so well. I was thinking in terms of a studio verses a one bedroom since everything in the range I am shooting for in the city is a studio. The cats just cant sleep with me, but the spoiled brats definitely don't need a bedroom of their own.
posted by amycup at 11:14 AM on May 11, 2010

Everyone above is completely correct. Oakland -> SF is one of the best commutes you can get in the Bay Area.

People who live in the city do tend to think that Oakland is too far away; it's a 12 minute drive and a 16 minute Bart trip. Unless you're living deep in the Oakland hills and commuting to the outer Richmond in SF, this is eminently doable. In my opinion, you're going to love Oakland and having time to read on Bart in the mornings and evenings.

Since it looks like you're also open to advice about neighborhoods in Oakland, I recommend either the Temescal / Longfellow / Emeryville border area, or Lake Merritt as ilikecookies enthused about above. For 1300 you should be able to get a pretty sweet 1-bedroom loft.
posted by doteatop at 11:14 AM on May 11, 2010

Do you want roommates? With roommates, $1300 is ample for a large bedroom in a safe, transit-friendly neighborhood anywhere in the Bay Area, including SF.

For a studio or one-bedroom, that's probably just about right for the East Bay— would be really tough in SF (given that "safe" and quiet are requirements).

From any Oakland or Berkeley stop the BART commute is absolutely not bad at all. I do the reverse commute (24th St. SF to 19th St. Oakland) in about 40 minutes; other than the fact that your trains will be more crowded than mine, there's nothing difficult about it. The Financial District is right there, too. Either the first or second stop in SF, depending. It'll be an easy ride.

That's for a work commute though. My biggest bit of advice would be if you want to live "in San Francisco" then actually do that. When I lived and worked in the East Bay, it felt impossible to get into the city for an afternoon or for nightlife. You will not feel like going to parties/picnics/movies in the city if that's where your friends live.

Just going on the above, if I had to guess a good spot for you? Rockridge in Oakland sounds perfect.
posted by rafter at 11:17 AM on May 11, 2010

I used to commute to the City from downtown Oakland, and it was easy and awesome. I live equidistant from 19th st and Lake Merritt stations, so I can take any line home, too.

My neighborhood is great- it's still urban, so I don't keep any stuff in my car parked on the street, and I don't let my guard completely down. However, there are lots of people in my neighborhood that commute on BART, so there are often people walking back and forth. It's also walking distance to bars, food, the Oakland Museum, the Lake, Whole Foods. I walk and ride my bike most of the time (right now I ride my bike or walk to the train station at Jack London Square, then take the train to Davis). As a woman, I generally feel pretty okay on my feet in Downtown. There are some bums that hang around here, but they are pretty well integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood and actually keep an eye on things. There are lots of apartments- if you're searching on CL, stuff here generally shows up under "Lake Merritt" or "Downtown" (though people will also list things that are explicitly NOT in those areas there too, so double check everything on a map). I specifically live in the area between 14th STREET and 19th STREET (not AVENUE), and Oak street and Alice, which is called the Lakeside Historic Apartment district.
I also recommend the Jack London Square neighborhood (a very different, more condo-ized, less eclectic feel, but I've been enjoying walking through it in the morning and evening. Some new good restaurants and cafes, plus the waterfront, and noisy trains), or possibly Rockridge BART(not quite as convenient, longer commute, less diverse, generally more pricing but a very nice walking neighborhood with upscale stuff). There's good places to live in N. Oakland too by McArthur BART, but harder to discover where those places are if you're not familiar with the area.

Some people in the City are very weird about the East Bay, but they are missing out.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2010

Oh, and just to contradict rafter, above: my boyfriend and I often go into the City, frequently on BART, for social stuff. At least once a week, if not more. if we want to come home after midnight we take the car, though I'd rather ride transit if at all possible.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:27 AM on May 11, 2010

Ummm... your friend is silly.

Cosigned. I live in downtown Oakland. Getting to San Francisco is 20 minutes. I'm next to Lake Merritt, by 2 separate BART stations, etc.

The rough sections of Oakland aren't really next to the BART stops. There might be some kids hanging around, but they're not really doing anything different than what kids do at the mall- the hardcore thug action is further out than most of the stops.

You can always look up the crime maps if you're absolutely worried, but just remember that generally violent crimes stick to folks who run in those circles. Unless you have a drug habit or run with people who do, you're not likely to ever intersect with any kind of drama.
posted by yeloson at 11:27 AM on May 11, 2010

BART is almost always better than commuting by car. It's pretty safe, you get to read or sleep on your way in and out.

It also gives you a great excuse to leave the office when you want to "I have to catch my train!"

The big annoyance with BART is that is shuts down too early at night.

There are also busses (AC transit) that go many of the same places, and go all night long. I know many folks that take the AC transit instead of BART since it works a little better due to their location.

Check out the 511.org website for their transit planner to get some ideas of what line to take.

Your commute to the financial district from Oakland using BART is shorter than many San Francisco residents commute from the western neighborhoods driving or using SF MUNI.

Your friend is sheltered and silly.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:33 AM on May 11, 2010

Is your friend with the BART phobia also from LA? All of my friends that moved here from LA seem to be very squeamish about public transportation. BART is great, especially for short trips like that from Oakland -> SF.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:33 AM on May 11, 2010

I've lived both in Oakland (near BART) and in the city. The bay does exist as a significant hurdle in the minds of many people on both sides, though significantly more so for city folks. I came in to the city all the time; getting SF folks east was a real challenge. If you work in the city and a lot of your friends live in the city you'll probably end up spending a lot of social time in the city.

TL;DR: it totally works, but don't expect parity in cross-bay friend travel.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:43 AM on May 11, 2010

Also note that BART stops at around midnight. That's a constant factor in cross-bay funtimes.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:45 AM on May 11, 2010

If your home and job are reasonably close to BART stations, BART is a much sweeter deal than car commuting. (Facing the Bridge every day -- that's what the horror would be.)

You can expect once a year or so for some systemic screw-up to create massive delays, but not much more often than that. The worst thing you're likely to encounter is crowded trains during rush hour and witnessing the occasional shouting match.
posted by Zed at 11:51 AM on May 11, 2010

I used to take BART daily from Rockridge to Embarcadero, a 19 minute commute. My co-workers who lived in the Richmond and Sunset districts of SF were jealous of my commute.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 11:54 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is totally doable. Best, safest neighborhood in Oakland is the one I just left: Rockridge, depending where you are, mere blocks to 0.7 miles away from Rockridge Bart, and you take the Pittsburg-Baypoint line directly into the city. Google "Quarry Ridge apartments, although there's lots of apartments along College Ave (from Elmwood to Upper Rockridge) and Broadway. Also consider casual carpool, and Piedmont Ave for more apartments. Memail me if you want more info!
posted by dhn at 12:26 PM on May 11, 2010

Yep, Rockridge is for you. It's perhaps a little more expensive there than you might want but it describes your ideal situation perfectly otherwise. BART is totally fine. Occasionally there will be delays but it's a million times better than driving the bridge every day and there's nothing to fear about moving to the East Bay.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:42 PM on May 11, 2010

I have lived both in San Francisco and in Berkeley, and commuted to downtown SF (Embarcadero) from both places.

Coming in on BART was more reliable, and often faster, on a day-to-day basis than the N-Judah from Cole Valley ever was. Hands down, no question about it.

The weather tends to be a bit more pleasant (in my opinion) in the East Bay. In the summer, you can actually grow cherry tomatoes in a window box if you are so inclined. Good luck with that in most parts of SF.

Keeping a car is much less of a hassle in Oakland/Berkeley than it is in the city, where you really don't need one.

Your friend has fallen into a bridge/tunnel trap, which is silly. The East Bay is a lovely place to live.
posted by ambrosia at 12:46 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe OP's friend thought by "East Bay" she meant Concord or Danville, or Hayward? Those are perfectly nice places but still like as to make an SF-dweller shriek with more plausibility than Rockridge or Lake Merritt?

Another hypothesis is that the friend has a social life very centered on nightlife (house parties and bars) in Cow Hollow / the Marina / etc. The distance from BART and the midnight cut-off would make even Rockridge sort of unworkable for that kind of person.
posted by MattD at 1:08 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know the Bay Area that well (although I'm planning my own move to the East Bay for a job in a few months). But I think that in general people who live in the central part of large cities are paying for the following:
1. the prestige of being able to say that they live in "the city" (SF and Manhattan are the two most obvious examples);
2. being close to nightlife;
3. living in a neighborhood that people think is safe. (This is different from living somewhere that is actually safe.)

These things are not important to you, and you will pay more to live in SF, so live in the East Bay.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:36 PM on May 11, 2010

I think it depends a bit on where in the East Bay you'd live and where in the city you'd work. If it's Oakland near a BART station/SF near a BART station, definitely fine.

I commuted from Berkeley to a place in SF not very close to a BART station for a while, and it was pretty draining. I usually had to switch BART trains halfway through, and the quickest/most reliable option given the frequency of the buses was to walk a bit over a mile from BART to work. Not so groovy, especially in rain.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:17 PM on May 11, 2010

Echoing everyone who says this is totally doable, and that you should check out Rockridge and Lake Merritt. My BART commute, from North Berkeley to Civic Center, is half an hour. It's a great opportunity to read or sleep. My coworker who lives in the Sunset spends the same amount of time driving to work.

For some reason, getting into the city for social reasons sometimes seems like too much effort. It's really not, though. Heading home after midnight can be a hassle unless you can crash at a friend's place. It can seem expensive, but it's a lot cheaper than living in the city, and some employers do offer a transit subsidy so that'll cut down on the cost if it's available to you.
posted by kiripin at 2:40 PM on May 11, 2010

A cab across the bridge isn't all that expensive, for the times you accidentally find yourself on the wrong side of the bay after BART's bedtime. There are also a few late-night bus routes that will take you across the Bay Bridge too (though those can be sketchy).
posted by janell at 3:07 PM on May 11, 2010

This question I asked years ago when I was first moving to Oakland may also be helpful for you. $1300 will get you a nice one bedroom (with parking) many places in DTO Oakland (and further out) with no problems. :)
posted by ilikecookies at 3:59 PM on May 11, 2010

I chose to live in SF, so I'll give you the opposite perspective that might be more like what your friend is thinking. SF and the East Bay are very different places, but it sounds like you know this and have made your choice. The point you made about definitely bringing your car tells me that you're comfortable driving to things and don't need to have everything right around the corner, which is the main geographical advantage of living in SF.

There's also just the feel of the place though, the people who choose to be here and how they live their lives. Hard to explain, but here's two examples: 1. I had a friend who reverse commuted to downtown Oakland from SF, he'd sometimes cancel our evening plans because he was "stuck in America for a while." 2. A friend said she had expanded the geographical range of her dating search because "all the straight boys are in the East Bay." Oakland is huge in comparison to SF and quite varied, it can feel like Big City USA or suburbia at times while SF can feel almost like a cluster of villages.

You will likely enjoy your neighborhood regardless of which side of the bay you're on, but your friend will also enjoy hers. There is plenty to occupy you on both sides, which can kill the incentive to travel outside your area. You will see your friend much less than you think.
posted by cali at 11:32 PM on May 11, 2010

For an alternate idea: Why not live in Marin and take the ferry in? The Ferry is a million times better than BART: no homeless/crazy people, they serve food & booze, have tables, power outlets and wifi. It's clean and has a beautiful view of the bay. Total boat time is 30 minutes.

I've lived in Oakland and done BART and Casual Carpool to the financial district. The Ferry is much better. As long as you like Marin (I love it), then I think that'd be a better bet. I think you can find cat-friendly housing in your budget walking distance to the Larkspur Ferry terminal.
posted by Four Flavors at 8:53 AM on May 12, 2010

The most easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy commute I EVER had was when I lived in the Temescal area of Oakland and commuted to San Francisco. Where I lived, I could walk - yes, walk! - to TWO BART stations, Rockridge and Macarthur. (The former is much safer after dark, though I walked home after dark from Macarthur with no problems, and I'm a small woman.)

Temescal is sometimes known as "Lower Rockridge," it isn't as glossy or upscale, but it's nice, it's homey and neighborhoody, and it's cheaper. The boundaries are roughly: 40th Street, Telegraph Avenue, 51st Street and Broadway.

Temescal, Temescal, Temescal, baby!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:42 AM on May 12, 2010

I commuted from Oakland to San Francisco for about a year. I hated it, moved to the city, and am infinitely happier. But I think that's a personal preference that it sounds like you may not share. I'll nth that Rockridge was the neighborhood that immediately came to mind when I read your wish list.

One thing I want to stress, though, is that you can't judge your commute solely by the length of the train ride. I used to drive 30-45 minutes each way to work when I lived in Southern California and I didn't mind it much either, because it involved only one step. What annoyed me about my commute from Oakland to SF wasn't the 22 minutes on BART, it was the half an hour extra it took to ride my bike to the Oakland BART station, carry it down the stairs, wait for the train, exit the SF station, and then ride my bike from the station to work. That's why I suggested Rockridge - the station is right in the middle of everything. There are other great neighborhoods in Oakland - Piedmont, Grand Lake (where I lived), and even parts of Temescal - which are just far enough away from BART to be a pain in the ass when you're tired and just want to be home already.

The other thing I want to mention is that SF isn't by any means an urban jungle. There are parts of it that are, but there are so many different neighborhoods that your home can definitely feel like a refuge. If you can pull off finding a place that will take two cats, maybe in Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, or Glen Park (which is most likely to have something in your price range, and has a BART stop that will get you to Embarcadero in 12 minutes), you'll be in a safe neighborhood just far enough removed from the busier areas to feel like an escape, but with less of a risk of feeling isolated.
posted by granted at 10:24 PM on May 12, 2010

1. I had a friend who reverse commuted to downtown Oakland from SF, he'd sometimes cancel our evening plans because he was "stuck in America for a while." 2. A friend said she had expanded the geographical range of her dating search because "all the straight boys are in the East Bay." Oakland is huge in comparison to SF and quite varied, it can feel like Big City USA or suburbia at times while SF can feel almost like a cluster of villages.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say exactly, but my ideas of suburbia and "America" must be quite different than yours. Oakland is far more diverse than San Francisco, with more cultures, more income levels, more age groups. Oakland also has the second highest concentration of same sex couples in the nation (obviously, San Francisco is first). Oakland has more cheap space for artists, and there is a huge art scene here. Certainly the City is denser, more walkable overall, so in that sense Oakland is more "suburban". However if you're talking about the neighborhoods being mentioned in this thread, most are actually all former villages in reality (okay, not Downtown, but it's a city center), with their own little main streets and shopping districts.

To be frank, I have met very few people that live in the City that have a good idea of what goes on in Oakland. I think it's perfectly understandable, mind you- there's plenty going on in SF, and if you live there, you should be taking advantage of it. For that reason, people who come here for a 9-5 are not going to spend much time exploring. Oakland is certainly not San Francisco, but neither is it a homogeneous, generic city like you could find anywhere else.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:08 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like you, I used to live in the SFV -- and did a 37 mile commute (each way). Then I changed jobs and locales, moved to Berkeley, and now my commute to the Financial District is - literally - 12 minutes. I take the early TransBay bus, which FLIES over the bridge because it has its own on-ramp and avoids the toll traffic. Plus I catch it early (6:30) so I work out at the Embarcadero Y and then have a leisurely coffee at the Ferry Building before work. Love my routine!
Echoing others' remarks about the last-BART conundrum, though. And additional service cutbacks are a real possibility, given the system's budget woes. Just discipline yourself to NOT spend your cab fare reserve on that last round of drinks!
posted by memewit at 2:34 PM on May 13, 2010

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