Where to live in the bay area?
March 31, 2011 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Help me decide where to move in SF/east bay that would allow for an easy commute to Cal.

Starting this summer, I'd like to live in SF and take some combo of Muni + Bart OR live in the east bay (Berkeley, Oakaland) and do a combo of shuttle and bike.

What I'm looking for:
  • A studio/ 1-bedroom/ In-law cottage
  • Rent <=$1200
  • a commute to Cal no more than 45 minutes each way
  • Free parking (I wont be using my car much during the week but I need a place to park; street parking is ok but I don't want to pay for a garage).
  • A quiet,safer neighborhood is preferable even if rent is slightly more expensive
  • Bonus: A yard, however small.
  • Bonus 2: Cafes, bars, parks, and running trails close by.
Do not want:
  • Living in/near high density of students, burby areas.

  • Living in SF would be ideal but I imagine it's somewhat difficult to satisfy most of the above criteria. If east bay would be better, what neighborhoods should I be looking into?
    posted by special-k to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
    Rockridge is fantastic; run hills, cute little shopping area all walkable. I also have enjoyed Lake Merritt and used to run the lake when I was staying out there.

    Personally I think you'll enjoy being a student more if you hang out in the East Bay, it's got way more to offer then people give it credit for and it's a lot more affordable for what you get as well.
    posted by straight_razor at 11:43 AM on March 31, 2011

    Response by poster:
    Personally I think you'll enjoy being a student more if you hang out in the East Bay

    I'm not a student.
    posted by special-k at 11:47 AM on March 31, 2011

    you might check out the area around the North Berkeley BART station...I don't think it is full of students...it would probably have parking and you'd be within walking/biking distance to Cal [although uphill...].
    BTW, what do you mean by a "burby" area?
    posted by calgirl at 11:52 AM on March 31, 2011

    Apologies, however this doesn't change my above point of view.
    posted by straight_razor at 11:52 AM on March 31, 2011

    I'd take Hwy 24 through the tunnel and rent the first place where the price hit you price point.
    Lafayette or Walnut Creek perhaps. It is the burbs, but it's pretty nice burbs with a short commute (depending on the hours you need to go)

    More of a city guy, Rockridge is indeed way nice, with lots nearby. Might be out of your proce range.
    posted by cccorlew at 11:53 AM on March 31, 2011

    Friends of ours live in an adorable little house in El Cerrito. They're a few minutes' walk from the El Cerrito BART station and a stretch of San Pablo that has restaurants and bars and a movie theater, even. And they're always posting pictures on facebook of the cool things they see on their bike rides (today's was from Coffee Cup beach in Point Isabel). Don't know about running trails, though. I don't know exactly how much they pay, but I know it isn't much.
    posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on March 31, 2011

    Response by poster: straight_razor: No worries, Rockridge is one of the areas I am considering.

    BTW, what do you mean by a "burby" area?

    Places like Walnut Creek. Living there will suck out what bits of soul I have left.
    posted by special-k at 12:03 PM on March 31, 2011

    Walnut Creek is a dead elephant graveyard.
    posted by straight_razor at 12:06 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

    In SF, living near a Muni stop (not the bus) will make your commute to UCB easy and right around 45 minutes. My neighborhood, Cole Valley, would be ideal (although I can't speak to rent prices since I haven't apartment hunted in awhile.). A few blocks from GG Park, Cole & Carl muni stop, lots of cafes, bars, etc. and you can get a temporary parking permit for the neighborhood that allows you to park on the street without restriction.

    Alternatively, you could check out the Muni map and check out areas around various stops to see if anything strikes your fancy.

    In the East Bay, I would not recommend Lafayette or Walnut Creek -- I don't think it's your style (although there are, as cccorlew says, some nice areas.) Areas I do think you'd like: around Lake Merritt, Rockridge and Temescal. Also check out the area around the North Berkeley BART station -- I've got a few friends who live around there and they love it.
    posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:07 PM on March 31, 2011

    You might want to check out Albany. It's an easy bus or bicycle commute to Cal (maybe 20 minutes each way), quiet, but with a number of cool places on San Pablo (eg: Afghani burrito Shop, Mallard Club) so you don't feel like you're off in the suburbs. And Bart stations are nearby if you feel like heading into SF.
    posted by zombiedance at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2011

    Uptown/downtown Oakland are also good. Close to BART, more and more life & nightlife, lots of new complexes that are renting out, and you can almost certainly find a studio or 1-bedroom for ~$1200 and most of them have parking now. Not very dangerous, although also not "quieter".

    Rockridge/Temescal, and North Berkeley/Gourmet Ghetto are probably better for most of what you want, but don't discount downtown Oakland either.
    posted by brainmouse at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2011

    The combination of free parking and a short commute to Berkeley will be hard to manage in SF proper. And bars and running trails in close proximity isn't striking any chords for me, on either side of the bay.

    In the east bay, stay away from the immediate south side of the Berkeley campus - that's where the largest concentration of students lives. I second the suggestion of the North Berkeley BART area, though that may be over your burb threshold. Or pick any place along the Ohlone Greenway, a bike/pedestrian trail that extends from downtown Berkeley to El Cerrito.

    As for Oakland, check out the Temescal and Piedmont Avenue (not Piedmont the town, Piedmont Avenue) neighborhoods.
    posted by expialidocious at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2011

    and you can get a temporary parking permit

    Dunno why I said temporary! Basically, you can get a parking permit that costs around $70 for a year for your neighborhood so you can park on the street without worrying about posted time limits.
    posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:13 PM on March 31, 2011

    I live in the lower mission and though i think studio prices may be a little higher than 1200$ (this is what i found by searching for studios in the mission), i can say that we have bars, cafes, parks, and running trails (up the rather large bernal hill) in close proximity to each other. we also are fairly close to bart and though my neighborhood is not very safe (recently a dude was shot less than a block from my house), it is fairly quiet as we are surrounded mostly by families. studios in the mission will probably not have yards, but a lot of the house do, if you are so inclined to have roommates. i have a car and am lucky in that my specific area does not have parking permits, so i just have the hassle of moving my car every couple days to find free parking. I rather enjoy my neighborhood and all of its funny quirks, but I would also highly suggest checking out rockridge and temescal, because i love those areas as well.
    posted by ruhroh at 12:24 PM on March 31, 2011

    If you're going to live in SF, you need to be close to BART, not to Muni. Having to transfer from Muni to BART on your commute will significantly increase your travel time. Occasionally you'll hit the sweet spot with a seamless transfer but more often than not you'll end up waiting in between the two modes.

    I was going to suggest Glen Park due to its BART station and access to Glen Canyon Park for trail running but I think you'd need to spend more than $1200 for a studio. It's quiet and safe and has a neighborhood shopping district with restaurants and bars. Parking is okay there, too.
    posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:52 PM on March 31, 2011

    padmapper lists a few places near glen park that are in your budget. It's not a super trendy neighborhood but your commute would be reasonable, parking is easy, and you can get wherever you want on public transit.
    posted by foodgeek at 12:59 PM on March 31, 2011

    I disagree with the Cole Valley recommendation. I do the reverse, which is commute from north oakland to UCSF, which is right up against cole valley and its HORRIBLE. I think it would be extremely unusual to be able to get from there to Cal in 45 min (granted, i'm going the commute direction, but I've never made it in less than about 50, and I'm three stops closer on the east bay side.)
    posted by juliapangolin at 1:09 PM on March 31, 2011

    If you're going to live in SF, you need to be close to BART, not to Muni. Having to transfer from Muni to BART on your commute will significantly increase your travel time.

    Not necessarily. Last year I commuted for six months via SF Muni to BART/North Berkeley and my commute time usually landed right around 45 minutes each way. Obviously just taking one train (BART) is the more streamlined approach but I know many who use Muni-BART or BART-Muni and it's worked out fine.

    Also, not trying to be argumentative - clearly, everyone's had different experiences!

    posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:13 PM on March 31, 2011

    I just don't see you getting all those things you want in SF for 1200 or less. More in the realm of 2000. Try Rockridge or Temescal, or maybe South-ish Berkeley, near Ashby BART. Piedmont avenue is a bit of a trek to BART.

    I live in Downtown Oakland, which is really awesome, but you won't find cottages or yards here. You might just east of Lake Merritt, near Lake Merritt BART.
    posted by oneirodynia at 1:27 PM on March 31, 2011

    Rockridge and the Piedmont Avenue area are close to hiking but you need to go uphill to the parks (Sibley, Tilden), not so easy on a bike though there are hardy souls who do it. A partner lives in Rockridge and apart from the difficulties of parking as a non-resident it's quite a good place in my view. Temescal can get a bit sketchy, but some friends live there and they have had no issues in several years. You probably need some local help to identify what parts of Temescal might be OK with you.

    A funny thing about the East Bay: friends from SF won't want to come across the bay, though when you are in the East Bay (and near BART) SF seems reasonably close until about 11:30 pm when it suddenly becomes very far away because BART stops around midnight. Driving across the Bay Bridge sucks almost all the time.
    posted by jet_silver at 1:29 PM on March 31, 2011

    A transbay commute can be a real soulsucker, even if you're going "against" the majority of commuters. The only people I know who do it everyday without really hating are folks who live near the West Oakland, Lake Merritt, or 12th St. stations and go into downtown SF (that's only 3 or so stops, which isn't bad).

    Rockridge sounds like what you want, but it's pricey. Another option is Jack London Square in Oakland. It's an odd neighborhood, but charming in its own way, and it's full of unsold condos that are being rented below-market. It does lack proximity to good running trails, but it's easy to run through downtown to Lake Merritt (it's about .6 miles each way, and 3.5 around the lake), and you're a 10-minute drive from Crown Beach in Alameda (great running with nice city views) and the Skyline Gate trailhead in Redwood Park (possibly the best trail running I've ever done).

    I think the $1200 goal is going to be the hardest to meet. Feel free to memail for more info.
    posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:33 PM on March 31, 2011

    Hmm, I read bike and shuttle as BART, for some reason. Anyway, I'm not sure which shuttle you're talking about. Bear Transit is pretty much confined to campus. AC Transit has good bike racks on their buses. If you live in Temescal, you can just ride up Telegraph to campus.
    posted by oneirodynia at 1:39 PM on March 31, 2011

    Friends of ours live in an adorable little house in El Cerrito. They're a few minutes' walk from the El Cerrito BART station and a stretch of San Pablo that has restaurants and bars and a movie theater, even. And they're always posting pictures on facebook of the cool things they see on their bike rides (today's was from Coffee Cup beach in Point Isabel). Don't know about running trails, though. I don't know exactly how much they pay, but I know it isn't much.

    El Cerrito really depends on where you live. If you're south (where your friends live), it's exactly as you describe. If you're north, it's still a neat place to live, but much more burb-y. I lived in north EC (walking distance to del Norte BART) and liked it far more than I thought I would, but I'm still happier living in the Piedmont Avenue area of Oakland. (And EC really only has the one running trail: the greenbelt running along BART. Anything else, you need to head up to Wildcat Canyon or Tilden.)
    posted by asterix at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2011

    Agreed that Cole Valley is not a good option. I love Cole Valley, I lived there for years, but unless the stars align for your commute, it's just not a great fit for commuting to Berkeley. I'd second El Cerrito, Albany, or North Berkeley. Gourmet Ghetto is awesome but probably above your price point. If you have your heart set on being in San Francisco, Glen Park might work, but I don't know what rents are like around there anymore.

    Points west of the Caldecott Tunnel are far less burby than points east.
    posted by ambrosia at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2011

    nthing Rockridge. I feel like Rockridge is very often the answer to "where should I leave in the East Bay" questions.

    Also, a transbay commute can get expensive, which is something worth keeping in mind. Wouldn't Muni + BART round trip end up something like $10 a day?
    posted by madcaptenor at 2:09 PM on March 31, 2011

    I lived in Rockridge and commuted to Cal for a couple years. It was awesome. I loved the neighborhood, and it was relatively convenient both to the campus and to the city (straight shot on the Pittsburgh-Bay Pt line). I walked, biked, and took the bus to work in roughly equal measure (~40 minute walk, short bike ride, short bus ride made maddeningly longer by the random delays between buses).

    I don't know if you can quite do it for less than $1200 though. FWIW I paid somewhere around that (4 years ago, roughly) for a 1-BR cottage with a lovely private garden, a bamboo-covered ceiling, and a living room that seemed to get more light than the laws of physics would allow. The closest pizza place was Zachary's; the closest burrito place was Cactus; I was very happy.

    Downsides, for what they're worth: the general refusal of most of my SF-based friends to come over to the East Bay more than, say, once a month; the parking (there's a rule that you have to move your car every 3 days, and I actually had people call in my car for violating this); it's not cheap or especially diverse relative to many other neighborhoods.

    If you have a car and don't mind using it to commute, you might also look into some areas up in the hills above Rockridge. I had a couple friends who had ridiculously nice places (think sweeping views of the Bay, outdoor terraces, etc) for less than I paid; but I wasn't willing to deal with the commute.

    Good luck with your search!
    posted by chalkbored at 2:17 PM on March 31, 2011

    I would look at Rockridge and Temescal. I lived by Lake Merritt and commuted to Cal. I could walk to BART and it was easy. If I took the bus home, it was about 45 minutes. But I was an apartment dweller and it seems like most of the people I knew in the neighborhood were apartment dwellers. I wouldn't really want to live in Albany or El Cerrito, but that's probably just uninformed bias. Plus, if you are south of Campus, you're that much closer for visits to Santa Cruz.
    posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2011

    I rather liked living in Emeryville, and that would be a very reasonable bike commute to Cal.
    posted by deadmessenger at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2011

    Response by poster: Thank you all for the input and advice!

    I can pay higher rent but just wanted to leave room for commuting costs if I ended up living in the city.
    posted by special-k at 2:38 PM on March 31, 2011

    Walnut Creek is a dead elephant graveyard.

    *trumpets forlornly*
    posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:56 PM on March 31, 2011

    One thing to bear in mind about commutes relying on the Berkeley BART station: the Cal campus is a big rectangle on a hill with the longer dimension running uphill west to east, and Berkeley BART is off campus to the west. Depending on where your office/lab is you will have a morning walk that ranges from long to very long, and will be uphill every step of the way. Rockridge and surrounding neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland will bring you up College or Telegraph to the center of campus -- leaving you a pleasant stroll away from most campus workplaces.
    posted by MattD at 4:49 PM on March 31, 2011

    You could look at neighborhoods in San Francisco that are close to the Muni express buses, which are designed to get commuters from the residential neighborhoods to downtown and connect to BART.

    I commuted from San Francisco to Cal for five years. I lived at California and Fillmore, which is the last inbound stop going downtown. I got off at the first downtown stop, two blocks from the Montgomery Street BART station.The whole commute was about 45 minutes to an hour each way.

    The first couple years my office was just outside the Sather Gate, where Telegraph runs into the campus, and the walk wasn't bad at all. It's uphill, but nothing strenuous, and it's along a creek lined with redwoods so it's really pretty.
    posted by kirkaracha at 6:28 PM on March 31, 2011

    Opinions, assholes, something something. Here's mine.

    How do you feel about biking? I used to live 2 mi. away from my office downtown. Muni took 30 minutes on a good day. 12 min, consistently, if I biked. Consider that if you don't live near BART (and your 'quiet, safe' requirements eliminate everything except Glen Park and Balboa Park) getting downtown and getting to a BART station are basically the same trip. If I had to add BART on top of that, I'd kill myself.

    If quiet & safe weren't considerations, the Mission obviously. But we're not 20 anymore--because seriously, fuck that. Rockridge... I feel like that's for people who would be secretly happy to live in Walnut Creek but can't admit it. Like they couldn't let go of the idea of having a garden and a garage and basically a house like the one they grew up in but insist on living close enough to some vague sense of authenticity, so they can claim they haven't given up entirely. They're the sort of people who would describe a neighborhood (or anything) as "a little funky".

    I say if you want to be in SF, you want to be in SF; and not the suburb of a city that defines itself by not being San Francisco.

    As for parking, if you do live in SF I'd consider getting rid of your car and just doing a car share. None of the places that have relatively easy parking are near BART, that's for sure. I think you're gonna need to adjust one or more of your requirements, to really find something that'll make you happy.
    posted by danny the boy at 9:33 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

    danny the boy: despite the fact that I like Rockridge, I agree with your characterization of a lot of my neighbors.
    posted by madcaptenor at 9:41 PM on March 31, 2011

    A few other thoughts:

    My favorite pizza and shortbread cookie are both in Temescal, but if you live there you may end up electing to take BART to the Rockridge station rather than MacArthur late at light... depending on your level of comfort.

    I used to live in a small neighborhood in SF that no one has ever heard of: Anzavista. It's got interesting history, feels like a suburb, is very quiet, and has the easiest parking available in SF. It's also a 5 minute walk from all the development happening in what they are now calling NOPA (good bars, restaurants, cafes, etc). You'd have to take a bus to the BART, or bike though.
    posted by danny the boy at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2011

    « Older Minor Family drama, fight with parents. Run or...   |   Lost Location Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.