Where will I be safe in Oakland?
September 5, 2010 12:04 AM   Subscribe

Safe places in Oakland to live?

I am moving to the Bay Area (probably Oakland or Berkeley for the price) and wondering which neighborhoods are safe. In specific, I like what I see of Lake Merritt but don't know about the safety and feel of the area. Are there interesting places to hang out? Is it safe to walk alone?

I am a young professional working in the area, and would love a place that is safe, accessible by the Bart and walking distance to restaurants/ shops, etc. Are there other nice areas in Oakland or Berkeley like that?

Thank you!
posted by tessalations999 to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Oakland Crimespotting Map is a good resource.

To be honest though, Oakland is not the urban nightmare it often gets painted- there's some bad neighborhoods and some really ritzy ones, and a lot in-between. If you're not involved in drugs, or hanging out with gang members, you're very unlikely to get caught up in violence.

I've been in downtown Oakland 7 years, and the worst thing I've heard is one friend getting mugged, once, and the guy left after she gave her wallet.
posted by yeloson at 12:49 AM on September 5, 2010

My parents live on the border between Oakland and Berkeley near Shattuck and Ashby (near where Kos lives and also near Ashby BART station). They've lived there since 1983 or so and it's always been a pleasant neighborhood filled with homeowners and a few renters.

If you were to live there, Downtown Berkeley would be about a mile away (so walkable, depending on what kind of walker you were).

I have a friend who lives in Oakland (near MacArthur and Lincoln, but deep in the subdivisions to the northwest), just moved there from Pacifica. She says that her house is in a great neighborhood (I've visited but not long enough to really get the vibe). The only crime they're particularly bothered by is that folks will go into their yards to check if their car doors are unlocked (no garage, just a driveway). Creepy, yeah, but kinda like the neighborhood where I live in Baltimore.

I have no idea what the walking/BART/shopping situation is like in my friend's neighborhood. Looking at maps, it looks like it'd be a drive/bus ride to the Fruitvale station, but it looks like there are some shops down the hill from here at MacArthur and Lincoln.

Unfortunately, I only know house purchase prices (my parents' around $500k now, though in the 80's it was about $150k, my friend's probably just under $1M). I don't know how much that translates to in Rent.

North Berkeley (north of Solano Ave) has always been charming and near lots of walkable stores (on Solano), but it's also extraordinarily expensive to buy houses around there. Again, I don't know the deal with renting.
posted by kalessin at 4:25 AM on September 5, 2010

The "nice" parts of Berkeley (north Berkeley, the hills), and Rockridge in Oakland, are extremely expensive - and way overpriced for even what you might get (small 1 BR in poor repair, etc.). A more reasonable option is the Temescal aka "Lower Rockridge" area of North Oakland - bounded roughly by 51st Street, Telegraph Avenue, Broadway and 40th Street. It's not as squeaky-clean manicured-pretty as Rockridge proper or North Berkeley, but it's less expensive, still safe, and very much a neighborhood - there are coffee shops to hang out at, Genova's Deli on 51st and Telegraph (the yummiest Italian deli EVER, a roast turkey or ham sandwich on Dutch crunch bread is a must-eat), people get to know their neighbors, it's a great place to live. It's also an easy walk to, depending on where you live, MacArthur or Rockridge BART.

El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley, is well-served by two BART stations, and is nice and mostly low-crime except up north by the Richmond border. It's very suburban and there's not as much happening as in Berkeley and Oakland, though; however, it's easy to get from EC to Berkeley or Oakland via BART.

And what yeloson said re: crime - you read about Oakland being this horrible cesspit of crime and yuck in the newspapers, but for people who live there and aren't involved in gangs or crime or whatever, outside of a few gritty neighborhoods down around the airport and the San Leandro border, it's not that bad. When I lived in Temescal, most of the crime involved car break-ins (don't leave your car door unlocked, or a GPS or whatever in plain sight, etc.) and - because I lived near a middle school - kids doing dumb kid things. I never was mugged or anything horrible like that.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:56 AM on September 5, 2010

I agree about Genova. They used to have a different location but wherever they are, they have been my family's favorite since before I was born.

I also agree about Oakland's totally undeserved reputation. It's similar to Baltimore's (because, I imagine, of The Wire). You live in a city, a neighborhood of a city, you get a sense of what's the right way to live and the "wrong" way. You avoid the "wrong" way and you can find a lot of charm, safety, security and convenience in cities that have this hugely inflated reputation for crime and danger.

My experience of crime living in Baltimore or South Berkeley on the Oakland border has been almost non-existent. You just have to be careful and smart. Don't leave doors unlocked or unguarded, don't leave valuables that are easily fenced in plain sight, don't rely too heavily on one form of security. I'm a city boy, but I hear that in some parts of the country people don't use locks on their doors. Never was that way in any city I've lived in. In Baltimore it's hardly considered a crime if you forget to lock your car door and someone rifles through the car overnight for change or CDs or what have you.

That said, when I was visiting my parents' home in South Berkeley last year, my Mom, her boyfriend and I went to the Ashby BART station's flea market. I went elsewhere afterwards but my Mom and boyfriend walked straight home and were followed by a mugger who did a home invasion robbery on my Mom and boyfriend, with, apparently, a fake hidden gun (his jacket pocket). This was in broad daylight. No violence, just threatened violence and robbery. The robber got away. This was the worst that has ever happened in my parents' neighborhood, and it sucked, but compared to stories I hear about Oakland (and Baltimore), pretty safe.

It's been decades since I lived in the Bay Area, but Rosie's advice seems very sound to me.
posted by kalessin at 7:25 AM on September 5, 2010



Cute, charming, relatively safe, easy access to BART and freeways. More expensive, yes.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:31 AM on September 5, 2010

For the East Bay in general, the closer you get to the hills and to the Alameda/Contra Costa line, the more expensive housing gets. Right now, with Cal just starting, you will find rentals scarce and the market more expensive anywhere near campus & downtown Berkeley.
I agree with the the suggestion for the Temescal area. you can also check out Emeryville if you like apartments/condos. South Berkeley/North Oakland along the Shattuck/Telegraph corridor will be more affordable; the character of the neighborhood can differ from block to block.
Berkeley also has a well-planned network of bike routes, which make nice commercial districts easily connected to almost all neighborhoods.
posted by TDIpod at 7:40 AM on September 5, 2010

I have friends who have lived in various parts of Oakland for years with no problems. I have friends who intentionally chose a slightly sketchy part of Oakland because that's where they could afford to buy a house (extremely cheap by Bay Area standards.) Agree with what everyone has said about being careful and just paying attention- basically, don't be the low-hanging fruit.

I used to live in the (yes, more expensive) Berkeley hills and my car was broken into regularly. As in, after the third time they smashed a window I just started leaving it absolutely empty and unlocked, which irritated me to no end. That kind of thing happens all over, not just in the low-rent areas.

For checking out walkability, Walk Score is a fantastic resource.
posted by ambrosia at 7:51 AM on September 5, 2010

Not personal experience per se, but I have good friends who live in Oakland. One lives in the Lake Merritt area (up the hill from the lake). I visited twice, the last time 2 years ago. I felt very safe. It is a nice neighborhood, with a mix of small apartment buildings and homes (of which I assume are owner occupied). It is close to a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and a Saturday Farmer's market. His neighborhood is about a mile from the nearest Bart stop but is well served by buses, including express buses into SF. He's never mentioned any safety concerns or problems with local crime and I felt very safe in the neighborhood and surrounding area when I visited. If I were lucky enough to find a job in the bay area, I'd move there in a heartbeat, without any reservations.

My other friends, who are married with a small child, live in what I believe to be downtown Oakland. They have a condo in a tower and it's close to the police station. The only issues they have had are when there have been protests. Not so much that it was dangerous, or felt unsafe, just that there was a lot of activity in the area and it could have turned violent. But as for day-to-day crime, such as break-ins or muggings, I haven't heard anything about it from them. Not saying it doesn't happened but they've lived there for at least 5 years and haven't been affected by it.
posted by kaybdc at 7:56 AM on September 5, 2010

The neighborhoods around Lake Merritt are somewhat safe. Having lived there for a couple years, I can report that nothing ever happened to me and I walked around the Lake quite frequently. However, there was frequent crime in the area, most of it pretty minor but some of it, not. It's not the safest neighborhood but there are lots of affordable rentals and the Grand/Lake neighborhood has a decent shopping district.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:38 AM on September 5, 2010

It really depends on where you're coming from before and what safe means to you. There's technically safe, and the feeling of safety.

On the one hand, Oakland is all kinds of awesome for food and the arts and culture and architecture, and if you aren't a kid or in a gang your likelihood of encountering violence is pretty low. On the other hand, if you are creeped out by having your car broken into, or think no one will steal the seat off your bike, or are upset being approached by the occasional crackhead, you think Oakland is madhouse.
posted by quarterframer at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2010

The information in both of these previous threads is still good and valid.


Only you can determine what safe is for you, but in my experience Oakland is a delight and (with a little common sense) easy to be and feel safe in.
posted by ilikecookies at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2010

I live just north of Alcatraz, about halfway between Telegraph and College. This is Oakland, but the northern end of my block is in Berkeley. I moved here for a job a month ago, and didn't look that hard to find a place - I'm living in a shared house where a friend of mine from college rents a room, and that seemed so much preferable to either living alone in a strange city or with strange people that I took it.

I'm a 15-minute walk from BART (Rockridge or Ashby), a half-hour walk from UC Berkeley (I work there). Most Rockridge shops/restaurants, of which there are many, are near the BART station, so about a fifteen-minute walk; Elmwood (roughly centered around the intersection of Ashby and College) is a bit closer. Buses run on Telegraph and College although I don't really use them -- I have a bit of an aversion to waiting for buses, I like walking, and since I'm usually only going two miles or less and don't live right on a bus route time is competitive. Walkscore gives it a 95, and I agree. By the way, I've seen some people ask if you can use walkscore as a proxy for safety. No, you can't.

Lots of people have bikes. You should get one. (I should take my own advice, but post-move I'm still a bit reluctant to spend money.)

If anything I feel much safer here than I ever did in the Philadelphia neighborhood I moved from. But I'm also paying probably twice what I would in rent for something comparable. Rents are high here, but you probably know that.) I'm still getting used to actually feeling safe when I go outside!
posted by madcaptenor at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2010

Also, take a look at the following previous threads:




The last one is from when I asked a similar question before my own move.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2010

Oakland has a bad rep. Oakland is huge and includes a lot of areas that don't deserve it.

A lot of people will tell you that only North Oakland is safe, I see a lot of North Oakland neighborhoods listed here like Rockridge, Temescal, Piedmont, I think someone even mentioned Genoa, Gaskill is near Genoa and is also pretty great, Longfellow is where I live and I like it a lot.

North Oakland is great, but West Oakland isn't really that bad. It is the kind of area where maybe you don't want to walk a long way home from Bart late at night alone every night. West Oakland is pretty small but there are different areas in it with different feels. There are areas of it which seem to be completely dominated by bizarre burner warehouse communes where people are constantly doing metalworking or glassblowing, and there are decrepit old Victorian neighborhoods where everyone there has lived there for 40 years. There's also a neighborhood around the sewage treatment plant (don't move there).

East Oakland is huge and really easy to think of as one discrete area, but half of Lake Merritt is East Oakland, and East Oakland includes awesome little neighborhoods like Dimond and the Laurel. People tend to think of all of East Oakland (or all of Oakland) as the Shady 80s, but it's huge. There are a lot of different areas and honestly you aren't at any serious risk of crime unless you're trying to buy drugs on the street at 3 am.

Oakland has a lot of places to hang out and a lot to offer. In my opinion, a great way to live in Oakland is to stick near either the north side of the lake, or the west side of MacArthur Bart (north of 38th) near the 72. If you live along Grand on the north side of the lake, you can walk to the Lake Merritt areas, but you can also walk to 19th St. Bart pretty quickly, and from there it's not far to get down to Uptown, Downtown and Jack London Square and all the great stuff down there. If you live west of MacArthur Bart, you can catch the AC Transit 72 down to downtown in the blink of an eye. You can also get to Berkeley really easily. There's so much to do it just can't be summarized. Oakland isn't very accessible to outsiders because, aside from Lake Merrit, there's no general awareness of where different neighborhoods are or what is in them.

Here's a map of Oakland neighborhoods for reference.

No matter what neighborhood in Oakland you end up in, there will be people there who love it, and there will be people who either live there or have lived there who have had bad experiences there. People get mugged and bikes get stolen in every urban neighborhood in America. The only difference, when it happens in Oakland, is that people tend to blame it on the city, whereas, when your car gets broken into, or you get mugged, in Berkeley, people will either call it a fluke, or still tend to blame it on Oakland (this is why BPD is always seriously patrolling the border along Market/Sacramento and San Pablo). I've lived in Oakland for many years now, and I haven't been the victim of crime once; when I lived in South Berkeley, my car got broken into about 6 times. Bike theft also is a way bigger problem in Berkeley than Oakland. Btw, you may as well also consider Emeryville if you're stuck between Berkeley and Oakland.

A lot depends on your taste and your lifestyle. It's not so much about the different neighborhoods as the specific streets and the stuff nearby which you might like. If you like restaurants and bookstores, we're going to give you different advice than if you like bars and parks. A lot depends on how much money you want to spend, what kinds of buildings you like to live in, what kinds of people you like to get to know, if you have a car or bike, what your hobbies or interests are.

You can just cruise areas and go walking around to get to know them. You could take a day, commit to walking about 5-6 miles, and start out east of the Lake, and walk around the north or south side of it to either Emeryville marina (or Berkeley marina, there's a sweet frontage road from the one to the other you can take with beaches and stuff) or Jack London Square, try to catch buses, basically explore. That's the best possible way for you to get to know Oakland and Berkeley to pick a place to live, and fun too.
posted by doteatop at 9:47 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

tl;dr: Don't be scared of Oakland.
posted by doteatop at 9:48 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in North Oakland, near 40th and Broadway. It's a great spot to be, less than ten minutes from the Macarthur Bart and Telegraph, less than five to Piedmont Ave., and twenty minutes by bicycle to UCB. I've never had any problems with crime, but muggings do happen. Bear in mind, also, that as far as street crime grows I think that West Berkeley south of Ashby can be pretty bad too, definitely worse than a lot of Oakland.
posted by goodglovin77 at 10:12 AM on September 5, 2010

There's a little art school on Broadway near Clifton. That area, which backs up to the Claremont Country Club, is pretty decent. The area along College Ave is pretty neat. There's a 3-story apartment complex hidden back at the end of Clifton where my sister (single mid-20s female) lived alone for three or four years.
posted by SpecialK at 10:28 AM on September 5, 2010

Have to agree with the others, Oakland gets a bad rap. I lived there for 10 years (on various sides of the lake and Temescal) with only one car break-in. My most recent place was on Grand, close to Piedmont. It was close enough to jump on the 12 to BART/DT Oakland, still felt urban/city with neighborhood overtones, was in walking distance to Trader Joe's and Whole Paycheck, the lake, misc. (decent) restaurants and the Grand Lake theater. Message me for my old landlord's contact info. or other questions, if you want.
posted by gertrude at 11:32 AM on September 5, 2010

Temescal is great and getting better. We live up the hill a bit from there and I think if we were doing it over again, we probably have looked more closely in lower rockridge. There are plenty of rentals and it's super walkable - kind of inbetween two bart stations depending on where you end up. Welcome! Oakland is fantastic.
posted by Wolfie at 1:10 PM on September 5, 2010

All of the above advice is great.

Can I inquire where you'll be working and how you plan to get there?

Commutes can be hell in this area, particularly by car, so it's a good idea to keep that in mind when choosing a location.
posted by spitefulcrow at 5:23 PM on September 5, 2010

I also agree: don't be scared of Oakland. The reputation it has is vastly overrated. I am always shocked when I happen to catch the local TV news - it is obviously very, very heavily slanted toward the semi-racist attitudes of suburban homeowners. I've also found that the people who rant about the "culture of violence" the loudest are usually the people who spend the least amount of time over here. If you are not involved in drug trafficking and do not do stupid things that would make you a target in any other urban area, you will be fine regardless of the neighborhood you pick.

All you really need to know is that some parts of West Oakland are not great, mainly the Lower Bottoms / Ghost Town area that are very industrial, but there are plenty of safe and cheap neighborhood-y blocks. If you are close to the West Oak BART, even better because the BART police patrol the area in addition to the normal cops. The other place to avoid is the "deep east", I would use the Fruitvale BART (East 32nd-ish St) as your east boundary, although it doesn't get really bad until a lot farther down (60th+). I live on East 12th, about halfway between the Lake and Fruitvale, and love it - it's totally safe even though some people (mostly SF residents!) cringe when I tell them where I live.

Anywhere around the lake is going to be fine. I lived downtown and walked my dog every single night at 12-1AM and never once had a problem. The Grand-Lake area is also nice. Piedmont and Rockridge are the two most "family" oriented neighborhoods and the rent reflects it. If you are young and don't have kids, Temescal is probably where you want to be. Safe, hip, lots to do, and close to MacArthur BART - which is a main transfer point.
posted by bradbane at 10:50 AM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone this is so helpful. I found a place on Jackson st. And 15th st, does anyone know about that area in particular? I have heard mixed reviews, and the apartment owner said to not walk around outside after dark, but other reviews said it was fine.
posted by tessalations999 at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2010

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