Moving to San Francisco 101, please?
June 11, 2011 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm 18 in downstate NY, and I've been offered a retainer position at a San Francisco company. I'm looking to to move out there in the end of August, and I have some questions about apartments, the city, and big leaps in life. San Francisco 101?

I'd like to move out there with my friend and get a 2 bedroom apartment. I'd like to pay somewhere around $1500-$2200 per month, and be able to take some form of public transit to near moscone center (the company's office is near there, I think).

Some contacts of mine in the city have mentioned the mission as a good, cheap place to live. I'm concerned about having cheap places to eat, and I know from manhattan that expensive eats can be the downfall of cheap living. Does anyone have any suggestions of other places to go? Or places to avoid? I've just been surfing craigslist for apartments lately- are there better options? How do I go about setting up an apartment before I bring all my stuff out there? The company is saying they may want me to come out for a week or so during the summer, could I maybe set things up for the apartment then?

Another thing up in the air at the moment is how I'm going to get there. My first plan was to drive my Honda Element out, but I don't like the idea of paying $100+/month for parking a car that I can't imagine myself using in a city with such good public transit. That said, I really like the idea of having my car there so I could take little road trips on the west coast.

The new plan is to drive a uhaul from NY with all my stuff to SF. However, I'm not even sure I can rent a uhaul if I'm 18. I'm sure there's some way to make it happen though, right? I'd consider flying, but if I'm going somewhere for an extended period of time I want my equipment there with me... and I have quite a bit of equipment.

Also- I lack basic knowledge of San Francisco. What are some things I should know that might not necessarily be covered in the wikipedia page? Oh- and what do you think is the best way to learn the geography of a new city as quickly as possible?

I'm sure there are a ton of questions I don't even know enough to ask, so any help or pushes in the right direction are appreciated. Thanks everyone!

tl;dr - Where should I live? What should I eat? How should I get there? Is this real life?
posted by ejfox to Work & Money (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any SF-centric advice, but I have moved from NYC to LA (and back.) Don't bother with the U-Haul. If you want to have a road trip, that's awesome and you'll probably love it. I don't know anyone who hasn't. But as far as your stuff goes: sell it and buy new stuff there. You might live a little spartan for the first while, but unless your possessions are literally irreplaceable; dragging a U-Haul cross-country is just not worth the hassle.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Congrats on the job! The west coast is awesome, and I'm excited for you!

However...why do you want to live in the actual city? You can get something bigger, nicer, cheaper, and just as close to public transit in Oakland or really anywhere on the BART line. Then you can keep your car and not pay ridiculous parking "rent" for it. If you're really set on living in the city, that's fine - I just want to know if you've considered the other options.

Something to know about SF is that if it's not on the BART line, it can take forever to get somewhere. My husband subs at schools around the city and finds that often there will be a bus there, but not a bus going back the same way. He walks up to 45 minutes sometimes trying to get to the school and/or back. Not as convenient as transport in other major cities.

As long as you have a driver's license and are 18, u-haul is fine. BUT...for a cross country move, it's going to be massively expensive so keep that in mind.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:57 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since the Moscone Center is right next to Powell BART station, you can live anywhere a bart station is close. If you want something a little sunnier (and someplace you can keep a car), consider a place near the Rockridge BART station.

Also, do you ride a bike? BART is fairly fast but it can be a pain to take MUNI across the city. My more well-off friends take taxis or drive.

What kind of attributes are you looking for in a location? Food, sun, traffic, people (young/old/college student/professionals), safety, access to the outdoors?

Lastly, I assume you're 18 and don't have a ton of expensive things to move. I've heard from friends that they've regretted moving their college possessions from the west coast to the east coast. The cost of moving a bed was equivalent to just buying a new bed altogether. Sell your stuff, buy new stuff.
posted by just.good.enough at 9:25 AM on June 11, 2011

Don't take anything with you, live in SF first, and then if you want you can move out to the East Bay or, uh, Colma.. it's a lot harder to do the other way around. I'd second the Mission-Dolores area since you're younger, but since SF really is completely different block to block, you might want to try a short term (3-6 month) furnished lease - though expensive - and use that time to figure out where you do and don't particular like living in SF.
posted by kcm at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2011

Congratulations on the new job! San Francisco is awesome!

You can get a feel for San Francisco by looking at the local papers - SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian are the local alternative weeklies, similar to Village Voice. The Chronicle is the local daily, but isn't anywhere as good as it used to be. Just don't call if 'Frisco'. The East Bay Express is the weekly paper of the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley, mostly.) All of them have searchable classified ads for apartments and such, so you can get an idea of what the housing situation is. San Francisco is a city of neighbourhoods, and two adjacent blocks can be quite different. Use your judgement about the Tenderloin, Mission District, or Bayview/Hunters Point, but bear in mind that gentrification is taking over some of the formerly sketchy neighbourhoods. You may be able to get a place to live in SoMa - South of Market - near your office, but If you need to commute, learn about
- Caltrain (the regional commuter rail network)
- BART (the other regional commuter rail network)
- MUNI (The city transit service.) (The underground streetcars are pretty reliable, the above-ground buses are an adventure.)

Good luck!
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:03 AM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Mission is probably where you want to be. You'll be walking distance to all sorts of cheap and delicious food, public transit is good, and you'll have lots of stuff to do. If you decide to keep your stuff, there are a bunch of freight companies that will ship your stuff for you for roughly the same cost as renting a uhaul and paying for gas along the way and driving a truck across the country isn't fun.

Having a car in SF is really convenient for weekend trips out of town or if you want to get to anything on the north or west sides of the city in under an hour. BART is quick and efficient, everything else takes forever. City Car Share and ZipCar both work really well for trips to the suburbs to buy toilet paper and all the other bulky stuff that is way easier to buy in a gigantic grocery store. I'd say the hassle of having a car all comes down to how much of a pain in the ass street parking is where you live. It's probably not worth paying for parking but it's super convenient to have a car.

While it's true that much of SF is slowly gentrifying that doesn't mean you can walk home at night without finding piles of human shit on the sidewalk if you're living in the tenderloin or SoMa. On the other hand, the tenderloin has many of the best cheap restaurants in the city.

Your best bet may be to convince a friend to sell or ship your stuff a few weeks after you get here, depending what you find you want when you arrive.
posted by foodgeek at 10:11 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Craigslist is where it's at in the Bay Area. Padmapper scrapes it and sticks pins on a map so you can visualize what's where.

Do you really need to move a lot of stuff? Furniture stuff? Because unless they're family heirlooms, don't. We have stores here, and used furniture is readily available, and if you end up moving into a group house, you're not going to need much beyond something to sleep on to begin with.

Cheap places to eat: Yes, we have lots. The Tenderloin is replete with cheap and very good Vietnamese food, and if you can't find a decent and inexpensive taqueria in the Mission then you're doing it wrong. None of this, though, will be as cheap as cooking for yourself as often as possible. We have both high-end farmers markets (Ferry Building) and low-end farmers markets (Civic Center, Alemany).

On preview: there may be cheap places in the Bayview and Hunter's Point, but they are a pain in the ass to get to/from on public transit, and there's not much there there (grocery stores, clubs, coffee shops, funky stores) compared to other neighborhoods.

Finally, regarding having a car: depending on where you end up living, you probably won't have to pay to park (i.e., rent a space in a garage). You're not required to rent in a building that charges tenants for parking - there aren't many of those in the Mission anyway. Street parking is not the easiest in the city, and racking up parking tickets for failing to move your car on street cleaning days is not inexpensive, but it's also avoidable if you're diligent about moving the car. This can take time and be a pain in the ass, so keep that in mind as well.
posted by rtha at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

In answer to your question about the best way to learn about the geography of the city, it's not necessarily the quickest way possible, but biking and walking are great. MUNI is unreliable, has been for decades, and there's not really any expectation that that will change anytime soon. BART covers only certain parts of the city -- take a look at a BART map and you'll be able to get an idea of what BART does and doesn't cover. BART though is a good and fast way of exploring parts of the city like the Mission and Glen Park that would otherwise be harder to get between. There is planning going on for extending light rail/subway service from the South of Market area to Union Square and Chinatown, but that won't be finished until 2018 at the soonest.

San Francisco seems large and daunting at first but if you've been to NYC it won't be that daunting. It's 49 square miles and most of it is surprisingly walkable (although you will have to get used to the hills -- of which there are many, and in places you wouldn't expect). The other thing you will have to get used to is the microclimates -- the west end of the city can be shrouded in fog all day while the east end is bathing in sun. But walk. You'll have to do it anyway, at one point or another, and walking really gives you a feel for the city in a way that no other transportation does.
posted by blucevalo at 10:30 AM on June 11, 2011

I just moved to SF from LA 3 weeks ago and I'm currently apartment hunting.  Here's what I've learned so far:

1. U-Haul cross country is going to be rough.  We did it from LA and discovered that they're speed limited to 75 mph.  When the speed limit is 70, that can be a problem.  It makes it very difficult to pass, etc.  Also, it has such a high profile that the tiniest breeze blows the whole truck across the freeway.  The six hour drive left my husband completely worn out (I was following in the car with the cats).  Just think about trying to drive the truck through the flat parts of the country.  It's doable, but physically exhausting.

2. Yes, the mission district is awesome, especially at your age.  So is Castro, the Haight, all of those places.  The problem with those is that they're really expensive.  I'm currently looking in the same price range, and you can get a 1 bedroom for that price, but not a 2.  

3. Parking is all over the board.  Some apartments will come with a parking spot.  Some will offer parking at anywhere from $75 to $300 a month.  Most parts of the city will have street parking available, but that can get tricky.  Some parts require a permit (which is about $90 a year from the city) others don't.  One thing to know about street parking is you can't leave your car in any one spot for more than 72 hours or else it will get towed - yes, even if you have a permit.  If you can find a place with off-street parking, bring the car.  It'll be a godsend when it comes to stuff like grocery shopping.  You'll beable to go to a real grocery store and spend WAY less than you would at the little corner markets you would normally go to if you were on foot.

4. Transportation - BART and MUNI are 2 different things, but people keep using them interchangeably here, which can get confusing.  Just remember BART goes to the 'burbs.  Those are the lines that go across the bay to Oakland, Berkeley, down to Daly City, etc.  I would NOT recommend commuting in from any of these.  I have also discovered that I hate the busses.  Your best betwould be to find a place off of oneof the MUNI train lines (JKLMN).  Downtown they run underground, but once they get out of the central area, they come up to the surface and run like trams.  It's kinda neat actually.

5. Neighborhoods - with all that in mind, you could easily find an apartment in Inner Sunset or Richmond that ticks all the boxes.  2 bedrooms for $1500-2000, with parking, on the L, J, or N line that goes straight downtown to where you need to be.  They're safe as well.  Are they as exciting and trendy as the other places mentioned above?  No, but let's be honest.  Exciting and trendy tends to be either insanely expensive or stabby - or both.

posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 10:35 AM on June 11, 2011

Not SF specific, but you might consider boxing up your needed possessions, and setting them aside where you are now.

Head to your new city and find a short-term flop house and explore explore explore. Then pick a place and have someone friendly back yonder ship your stuff/crap via Amtrak. It's cheap.

As for moving yourself, take the train. It's not cheap, but is a nice transitional land cruise where you can sort your thoughts as America pokes by. The scenery always beats the pants off the interstate.
posted by mmdei at 2:50 PM on June 11, 2011

If I were you I would definitely try for the Mission. It's easy to get pretty much anywhere in the city from there, has lots of cheap eats, fun stuff, young people etc... Craigslist is where it's at here, although there are lots of scams, so if you can get people to check places out for you that would be ideal.

Driving Uhaul type vans does suck. I would probably drive your car out here. It'll be nice to have a car for at least a little while for picking up furniture, general house stuff, etc.. and if you end up somewhere with a crappy parking situation you can always sell it!

As far as learning SF, it's pretty easy. The city is really small compared to most major cities, so you can just spend a few weekends poking around getting a feel for the different neighborhoods, and then focus in on the areas you like.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:06 PM on June 11, 2011

The Mission is full of cheap food, especially if you like burritos. It's the grocery shopping that might get you, if you always shop at the corner store on your way home. Plan weekend time for making a shopping trip to Trader Joe's or Safeway. I'd recommend you leave your car at home. It will just be a pain if you live in the city.
posted by salvia at 4:19 PM on June 11, 2011

Thanks to rent control and common apartment layouts here, it's far, far cheaper to live with roommates than to sign a new lease. Finding a place with two rooms open for you (on Craigslist, natch) and your friend wouldn't be out of the question at all and could easily save you $500-$1000 dollars monthly.
posted by animalrainbow at 7:51 AM on June 13, 2011

However...why do you want to live in the actual city? You can get something bigger, nicer, cheaper, and just as close to public transit in Oakland or really anywhere on the BART line.

If I was going to live anywhere in East Bay (perish the thought, Silicon Valley for life) I'd be looking at Concord not Oakland.
posted by Talez at 11:11 PM on June 15, 2011

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