Livin' in Palo Alto
April 18, 2005 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Where should I live in Palo Alto or environs? I'll be going to grad school at stanford starting in the fall and want to live off-campus but am not that familiar with the options, especially in areas not actually in Palo Alto. I'll have a car.
posted by kenko to Society & Culture (17 answers total)
Your best option is campus housing, despite the difficulty getting it. Palo Alto proper is far too expensive for most students, unless you're one of the lucky few who score a slumlord apartment.

(Quick note about the Peninsula: "north" is kind of a relative concept. The Peninsula doesn't really line up cardinal directions, so most Peninsulan just call "101 towards San Francisco" "north", even though it's actually due west if you go towards San Jose enough.)

Radiating outwards: the next towns are Menlo Park to the north (expensive, but possible), East Palo Alto (the former murder capital of the United States), Los Altos Hills to the west (just forget you ever heard that name), and Los Altos to the South ($1M bedroom community).

None of these cities are good options. When you eliminate Palo Alto, you're more than 2 miles off campus, right there. With this layer of cities gone, you're now 5-10 miles off campus.

This is why most students live in the next ring of cities: Redwood City to the north and Mountain View in the south. (There's the bay past East Palo Alto, and the Santa Cruz Mountains past Los Altos Hills to the West.) Both cities are apartment cities, still WAY expensive by most people's standards, but doable. Lots of valley engineers in Mountain View driving the prices up, so students tend to be up in Redwood City. But these cities can be pretty far -- 20-30 minutes drive, sometimes even 45 minutes.

So, yeah. Campus housing.
posted by maschnitz at 9:21 AM on April 18, 2005

Why do you not want to live on campus? If you're absolutely dead set against it, how long of a commute do you want?

If you claim to be in a "domestic partnership", you can get couples housing if you want more space, and they never actually check if you really have a partner--just make up a name to put down. The 1br highrises are actually pretty nice, if a touch on the small side for a 1br. I haven't seen the inside of the singles housing, but they put up several new buildings of studios for grad students in the past few years, and Stanford tends to do an excellent job of keeping the facilities clean and maintained.

Most of the affordable off-campus apartments in the area are very dingbatty, which personally drives me nuts, but you may not mind. You'll probably get a little more space for a similar price, but may have to deal with more noise, less privacy, that sort of thing. The concrete highrise has its advantages.
posted by trevyn at 10:31 AM on April 18, 2005

The area (sometimes) known as "professorville" in Palo Alto, roughly between Embarcadero and University ave is lovely and within walking distance of both downtown and the campus (depending which part of campus). Rents for whole places (eg houses or apartments) here are very high, but you may get a good deal if you are interested in renting a room or some kind of in-law/coach house/annex type situation. IMO there are a lot of under-occupied properties in this area.
posted by cushie at 10:51 AM on April 18, 2005

The Stanford "Dead Houses" are quite famous for affordability. The guy has 10 houses right off campus and rents them out for below-market price. He can be contacted at roblevistky at yahoo d.o.t. com. He's known to be very difficult to reach, so you have to be persistent in your emails.
posted by alex3005 at 11:02 AM on April 18, 2005

Response by poster: trevyn, I don't want to live on-campus because most of the housing, from what I've read, is for multiple people, and I don't generally like living with others (especially randomly-assigned others), and it feels too much like a dormitory (in that it's furnished rooms, it's rather small, it's transitory, it's all students in a small area and physically located on the campus). I live on my own in a pretty nice place now and I'd like to maintain some feeling of independence.
posted by kenko at 11:19 AM on April 18, 2005

I work in Menlo Park and the cheapest option for me was to live far away and take Caltrain to work. I live in SF, sold my car, and use public transportation exclusively. My monthly Caltrain/Muni pass is about 150$ and Stanford runs regular free shuttles from Caltrain to the campus.

Before that, I lived in Sunnyvale. In my searches the farthest north I could really consider living was Mountainview. I don't really like the feel of Redwood City. In my opinion, you might want to consider taking Central Expressway on your commute. The drive is a little more relaxed than the 101, and a lot less stop-and-go than El Camino Real.

You'll really just need to consider what you can afford to pay and how far that places you from Stanford. Craigslist is going to give you a good idea of those costs.

Oh, also, don't rule out East Palo Alto. Much of it isn't that bad anymore. Part of East Palo Alto is on the western side of 101 and is not a bad area at all.
posted by joelr at 11:50 AM on April 18, 2005

Hey--I'm a grad student at Stanford right now--email me if you have more questions.

The EV studios are reasonable, on-campus, furnished. They're dorm style, but all studios. And all EV and Rains apartments are apartment-style housing, not dormitory. I live in Stanford West and absolutely love it. Pricey, but I can get to the hospital in 2 minutes. Also to consider: you have best priority your entering year for the lottery. If you get an off-campus, subsidized apartment, you have squatter's rights and can stay there as long as you want. If you live on-campus, you might be forced to move the next year if your lottery number isn't that great. Benefit to on-campus: much easier to make friends.

Just be prepared to pay--even with subsidized prices, Palo Alto ain't cheap. I'd go Redwood City or Mountain View, maybe east Menlo Park. Especially if you want to live alone. You also should really consider commuting and gas prices. They'll be $3/gallon in a couple of weeks I bet. The grad student association just struck a deal with CalTrain to let Stanford grad students who live in off-campus, non-Stanford housing to ride for free.

If you really want off-campus, I'd use the Off-Campus Subsidized list.
posted by gramcracker at 12:54 PM on April 18, 2005

Response by poster: gramcracker, I have sent you an email.
posted by kenko at 1:08 PM on April 18, 2005

joelr et al,

Kind of piggybacking on this question, I'm going to be working at Stanford this summer and need a place. Lots of friends of mine are working in SF, and they (obviously) will not live in PA to hang out with me; naturally they recommend I live in SF with them, and commute.

I've spent some time in the Bay Area, and I LOVE SF and would not hesitate to take them up on it, but for the commute. How heinous is it, really, to drive from SF to PA and back each day? I hear a lot of talk about how this is a "reverse commute," does that really help much?
posted by rkent at 3:43 PM on April 18, 2005

i live in a house in menlo park that's pretty close to the back side of campus. one of my housemates regularly rides a bike to stanford (she is a grad student). it takes about 10 minutes and quite honestly is faster than driving.

if you get over your living-with-others thing, let me know. i'm leaving the bay area this summer and will be looking for a replacement. my room is $560/mo and includes my own bathroom, and even a clever entrance on the side of the house.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 3:57 PM on April 18, 2005

Response by poster: It's mostly a living with unknown others thing, I suppose. Most of the ads on are amazingly uninformative; I've found craigslist more congenial.
posted by kenko at 4:02 PM on April 18, 2005

Best answer: There's an easy 3-step solution to living in the bay area which I'm in the process of perfecting. I've been here for a month and this has really helped. Just do these in order:

1. Lower your standards
2. Repeat step 1
3. You're screwed

Good luck!
posted by jewzilla at 5:39 PM on April 18, 2005 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am soooo tempted to mark that as the best answer.
posted by kenko at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2005

rkent, that's a reverse commute until you get to San Mateo. Then, it's a normal commute. That's where all the East Bay folks come in to Palo Alto. (That, and the Dumbarton.) There's a lot of cross-Peninsula traffic too.

It's not terrible -- you won't have huge swings in the time of your commute. But it's not a breeze, either.

Let's put it this way: a good friend in SF recently got a new job in the City. He used to work in Santa Clara. He was very relieved.
posted by maschnitz at 7:32 PM on April 18, 2005

Well, well.
posted by clockzero at 10:54 PM on April 18, 2005

I've commuted to Stanford for the past 4 years by Caltrain. I reccomend it. (Finished the PhD a few months ago. Mopping up now.)
posted by u2604ab at 9:25 AM on April 19, 2005

Response by poster: Hey, Sgt. Sandwich, check your email.
posted by kenko at 11:07 AM on April 19, 2005

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