Can you live in the Bay Area without driving?
October 26, 2010 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Assuming you don't drive due to poor vision (so you can't rent a Zipcar) is it feasible to live in the Bay Area and have a decent life, with the ability to get around, go to work, and socialize? With respect to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, what areas would be best, and what parts would be too inconvenient or time-consuming to get by without driving?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
San Francisco proper, absolutely possible, especially if you live someplace like the Mission or the Lower Haight.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:59 PM on October 26, 2010

Almost any part of San Francisco
Downtown Oakland
Downtown Berkeley

Basically, stay close to a BART station and stay out of the hills and stay out of most of Contra Costa County (Concord would be the best bet for CC). I don't know too much about the South Bay or the Peninsula.
posted by clorox at 2:05 PM on October 26, 2010

Pretty much anywhere with access to BART would be possible, but it might be a little harder to get around by public transit/walking in some of the more far-flung locations.
posted by dolface at 2:05 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Short version: yes, you betcha. I know tons and tons and tons of folks who do with no car or infrequent car use in the Bay Area.

Long version:
I'm assuming kids are not a factor. No-car with kids is doable but a little trickier.

Where to live really depends on where you work. if you work in downtown SF, you can live basically anywhere in SF, many places in the East Bay (anything near a BART stop, ferry station, or bus line to SF), and anywhere in the peninsula/South Bay that is near a Caltrain station. If you're vision doesn't rule out bikes, you can extend your radius, but I'm guessing it might, so stick close to the main lines of BART / Muni / AC Transit / Caltrain.

That does get a bit annoying if you have to switch modes a lot -- e.g. I'm doing a commute from the west side of SF down to San Mateo right now and it's kinda sorta doable with no car but in no way nice. If it was from downtown SF it would be a breeze.

That's commuting -- and depending on your taste, there should be tons of places in SF and Oakland / Berkeley / Alameda / SF that work for a very non-car lifestyle. Lots of folks do it.

Living on the peninsula / in the South Bay is less friendly to the carless, but can be done. It can be done pretty well for most things if you, say, live in downtown Mountain View, though even there the grocery run / Target shopping can be a bit of a pain. You do want to stick to places near Caltrain and/or light rail (ideally both).
posted by feckless at 2:06 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Peninsula would be more difficult, but it's perfectly possible to live — comfortably and happily — in SF or Oakland/Berkeley without a car (we've been car-free in Oakland for three and a half years now).
posted by Lexica at 2:10 PM on October 26, 2010

fecklass has it.

If you are able to bike, then the Peninsula and South Bay are extraordinarily bike friendly - it's pretty flat, lots of bike lanes, and cars watch out for bikes. I know lots of people who bike 10 or more miles each way to work with no problem - and no one at work looks at them funny for doing so.
posted by Gori Girl at 2:12 PM on October 26, 2010

You might find the Walk Score helpful. Just plug in potential locations and see how they do! The Bay Area tends to rate very high on this scale.

I live in Oakland and until I got a place with off street parking, my car was the bane of my existence!
posted by chatongriffes at 2:15 PM on October 26, 2010

I live in SF quite happily without a car, although once in a blue moon I need to bum a ride somewhere. SF has good public transportation (for an American city, anyway), but it's really good to live near a BART station. BART will get you to the East Bay, SFO and the Peninsula (via Caltrain, at the Millbrae transfer station). If you can't live a few blocks from a BART station, at least try to get a place near a Muni streetcar line, since those connect conveniently with BART and usually run a little faster than Muni's buses.

I've commuted to the East Bay and as far down the Peninsula as Sunnyvale by BART and Caltrain. It takes longer than driving, but on the plus side, you can read or just veg out on the train. Another option would be to find a carpool and chip in for gas instead of taking a turn driving. Living in the city and commuting to the 'burbs also has you doing the reverse commute, so trains are less crowded (but still have to run frequently to pick up people going the other way). There's less car traffic in the reverse direction too.
posted by Quietgal at 2:27 PM on October 26, 2010

Chiming in to agree with the above, and to add one thing: if you are single, and looking to date, you are much much better off in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley. Further-flung places like Walnut Creek or down on the Peninsula will significantly reduce your dating options. If you are going to be working in the Silicon Valley, many employers run shuttle buses from Caltrain or BART to the office park, so a job in South San Francisco or Mountain View is still easily accessible from San Francisco, just pick a neighborhood with easy access to BART or Caltrain. (But if you are going to be working on the Peninsula/South Bay, live in SF proper- having to cross the Bay *and* traverse SF *and* the length of the Peninsula on public transit can get really tiresome (speaking from experience.) If you are working in San Francisco, then SF, Oakland or Berkeley are all good options.

Seconding WalkScore as a great tool for narrowing down neighborhoods.
posted by ambrosia at 2:28 PM on October 26, 2010

You can definitely live and work in SF fine without driving. Transfers between different lines can take some time and you can have a 45 min + commute w/in the city. Muni runs ok and BART runs pretty often. I'm not sure how often Caltrain runs but I do remember there were talks of major cuts sometime back so you might check that out. If you want to live in SF and work in Silicon Valley there might be employer sponsored commuter buses. What might be more difficult w/o driving would be late night events across the water - say going between Oakland and SF given that BART ends service at midnight.

If you have an idea of where you might want to be you can look up potential commute times on
posted by oneear at 2:30 PM on October 26, 2010

I have a friend with uncorrectably bad vision, sufficiently so that he cannot drive. He lives in downtown Berkeley, works in SF. Says that SF area is one of the few places in the country he feels comfortable living, given his lack of driving.

Definitely doable, especially if you're ok with riding on trains and taking some extra time to get some places/ making friends with people who are happy to drive you to farther-away events.
posted by nat at 3:00 PM on October 26, 2010

The peninsula/south bay would be pretty tough. We have light rail, caltrain, BART, and buses but no place where all 4 intersect. Service on these is often insanely slow, like an hour between trains. Shopping for food would be terribly time consuming since you'd need to ride our slow, slow buses to get to most grocery stores.

SF proper should be pretty doable since it has much better transit and often groceries in walking distance in most neighborhoods.
posted by chairface at 3:12 PM on October 26, 2010

Lots and lots of great resources already listed above, but I'll throw this in anyway: if you have a destination (e.g., job prospect lined up in Mountain View) but you don't want to post it to this thread, feel free to MeMail me for a local's perspective on the commute.
posted by tantivy at 8:22 PM on October 26, 2010

I live happily in SF without a car. MUNI is sub-par, but functional, and there are cabs for when you need something more direct/reliable.
posted by judith at 8:55 PM on October 26, 2010

Most of SF proper is do-able without a car, but you might want to avoid living in the Outer Sunset. I used to take public transportation from there to Berkeley (N-Judah to BART) and it took FOR.EVER.

(I didn't live in the Outer Richmond, but I suspect it's equally annoying via transit.)
posted by devotion+doubt at 9:35 PM on October 26, 2010

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