Oakland. CA neighborhoods
June 9, 2005 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about the different neighborhoods in Oakland, CA.

I'm finally moving back to the SF Bay Area after having been relocated by the dot.com bust. The big difference from my previous life in SF is that I now have a wife and two small children. This means the swinging bachelor pads and areas in the city I've lived before don't suit my needs any more.
I'm thinking Oakland / Berkeley will have the right combination of home/space/price/location that I'll need to situate my family. But I'm only familiar with a few areas (the trendy parts that you'd go to eat - Rockridge, Grand, Lake Merrit) and they tend to be the expensive parts that we probably couldn't afford. Real estate listings show lots of affordable (for the Bay Area) houses on the more East and South sides of Oakland, but I am unfamiliar with these areas. Where is up and coming Oakland? Where is scary drive by shooting Oakland? Which is the area near Mills College?
posted by dirtylittlemonkey to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Prices to buy in Berkeley and Oakland are horribly inflated -- you probably can't afford them, and if you can, you really would need to think twice about buying in at summer 2005 levels. In my opinion, the inflation is consistent across the scale of neighborhoods. $500k for a 3br/1.5ba ranch house in Fruitvale is just as crazy as $1MM for a bungalow in Rockridge...

However, rents aren't that bad -- apartments are spacious and reasonably priced, and all the speculative buying is starting to create a decent (while still small compared to apartments) inventory of single-family houses to rent. If and when the real estate bubble bursts, you'll start to see lots of single-family rentals coming on line as people refuse to sell but get desperate for cash flow.

If you're willing to rent, you can probably find something you're perfectly happy with right on the College Ave. corridor (the Claremont neighborhood in Berkeley and the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland) which were and are probably the best combination of amenities, safety and transit convenience you can look for.
posted by MattD at 8:44 AM on June 9, 2005

MattD has is it exactly.

Temescal is probably the it "up and coming" neighborhood. Its adjacent to the college avenue corridor - but closer to Telegraph and stretches further west. Nice houses - but really only slightly less expensive than rockridge/claremont. Different people also have different ideas on what this neighborhood includes. There are some neighborhoods near Children's Hospital I've heard called Temescal that I wouldn't be prepared to live in.
You don't want to live in South, East or West Oakland. they are all fairly scary bad.
The Mills College area isn't great until you go up the hill - and then its expensive and not particularly transportation friendly. The campus is a strange oasis in the middle of a kind of grimy neighborhood.
posted by Wolfie at 9:13 AM on June 9, 2005

I used to live on Alcatraz and Telegraph, which is about 5-10 blocks north of the Temescal area. It's pretty nice, especially the houses that tend northwards to rockridge. (Close to a Safeway and Whole Foods, too). I would check out stuff around the Ashby Bart station too -- a friend bought a house (a TINY house -- 3 rooms, basically) for $400k in Berkeley about two-three blocks from the BART (and two-three blocks from Berkeley Bowl!) which isn't terrible for Berkeley. I think it might be for sale, actually. This is a good place to look -- don't know if it really has a name. South Berkeley?

Had a friend who lived three blocks from Mills College -- far more rundown than the Temescal area.

East and South oakland *can* be bad, or they can be nice. I've spent some time in a warehouse across the street from the Colessium which was idyllic, as long as you stayed inside (and more industrial than dangerous outside, but def. not pretty). You're probably going to have to evaluate each place when you go check out the houses there. Personally the further you get away from Berkeley/Rockridge/Lake Merritt typically the less access to grocery stores, shops, etc etc. That might also be a good indication of where a neigborhood is at -- are people shopping at a grocery store, or are they forced to go to the corner market?

Anyways. Oakland rules. Good luck.
posted by fishfucker at 11:14 AM on June 9, 2005

If you want more specific recommendations and information, it probably would be best if you'd spell out:

* What size house, and house features, you're looking for, and the maximum you think you could pay [renting, in my option, in as excellent idea, given the insane prices right now, but YMMV];

* The city/location where you will be working - Dublin or downtown SF or Redwood City or what?

* Preferred commute option; tolerance for driving (how long each way);

* Any neighborhood features you'd like - to be able to walk to stores, for example.

* How important public schools are to you. For example, if you figure you'll move before your kids are in school, or that they'll go to private schools, then you have more good choices (like nice areas of Richmond) than if public schools are very important.
posted by WestCoaster at 11:26 AM on June 9, 2005

The basic rule of thumb, which has exceptions but not many, is that above MacArthur is preferable to below MacArthur. This holds true from Fruitvale out in middle avenues at least as far as High Street, but it's generally applicable.

Overall, while there are some exceptionally nice neighborhoods in Oakland, almost all of the flatlands is a kind of uniform mishmash of blight, working class housing, public housing and the occasional tiny pockets of serenity. There are few places in Oakland where most services -- groceries, restaurants, cleaners, and so on -- are convenient. Where they are nearby (except for the seemingly endless supply of several-block-long rows of nail salons, hair weaving shops, liquor stores and check cashing usery stores), the cost of housing is substantially higher.

You might also want to be aware that there are parts of Oakland where having the "wrong" skin color can be, if not dangerous, uncomfortable. My family and our home received a lot of negative attention over the course of several years -- stares, shouts, being pelted with objects, vandalism -- apparently only because our skin tone or primary language differed from some of our neighbors'. This was very different from our experiences in a similar area of San Francisco, where such racist insularity seems somewhat less common.

Oh, speaking of public schools: The Oakland school district offers a transfer program for residents who would normally be assigned an underperforming school. Those from the lowest-performing areas get first pick of other district schools to attend. There is, however, no school bus service to speak of -- you'd be on your own as far as transportation.

"I'm thinking ... Berkeley will have the right combination of home/space/price/location that I'll need to situate my family."

I hope you're relatively wealthy, because as far as I've been able to determine, the only livable family-size housing in Berkeley is so fantastically expensive as to be ridiculous. Frankly, if you're going to pay Berkeley prices, you might as well live in San Francisco and not be stuck in the east bay.

Also, unless you will be working in Berkeley, you need to be aware that the only reasonable transportation in and out of that town is public. Driving in Berkeley -- be it along 80 or through the streets -- is a nearly impossible, Herculean task. As a pedestrian or cyclist, however, Berkeley is easy to get around.

The complete opposite is true in most of Oakland. Public transportation is abysmal, much of the city is highly dangerous to cyclists or pedestrians, and except in expensive neighborhoods, just about everything is "driving distance" away.
posted by majick at 1:40 PM on June 9, 2005

I rent in North Oakland a few blocks south of Alcatraz and just west of Telegraph. Although the east side of Telegraph generally has nicer (better upkeep) homes, my area is on the upswing. (I've lived in this house since 1997, and the neighborhood has been improving steadily.)

I work in downtown Berkeley and have no trouble driving in Berkeley. Majick must have been stuck on University Ave. one too many times.
posted by pmbuko at 4:28 PM on June 9, 2005

I've lived in several neighborhoods in north Oakland (some of which was Temescal and some north of that) and my opinion is that pretty much everything from 40th St north is a very reasonable place to live that I would recommend to a family. The area around San Pablo Ave can be a little more sketchy as you go west towards Emeryville (a town you might also want to consider).
There are both good and bad neighborhoods in east and south Oakland. I have a friend who bought a house in Fruitvale recently who's very happy with it, and another who bought a condo overlooking scenic 580 near Mills who is delighted. The Mills area is an oasis in a pocket of seediness, but there are some random nice streets too (Hillmont, off Seminary, feels like being out in the woods), so don't rule it out. Also, the Laurel District (sort of a Mills student-type neighborhood near the college) seems to be working hard to upgrade it's image. There are a couple of arty cafes and a good organic grocery store there already - it's only a matter of time before it's "discovered".

My advice to anyone looking to live in Oakland is to keep an open mind - that's how you find those secret nice neighborhoods. I also think it's important to visit a prospective home at night at least once - I always do that and I've lived here for years. I've seen sketchy looking streets that are very quiet at night, and homey looking neighborhoods that I wouldn't want to walk alone in at dusk. Another tip is ask a beat cop in the area you're considering how safe they think it is - sounds weird, but I have a friend who got some good advice that way.

Oakland is a wonderful city with a down to earth feel. I was forced to move over here during the boom from SF, and it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. It's true that there are racial tensions in some neighborhoods, and there are definitely neighborhoods I wouldn't want to have my kids live, but that's the case with a lot of cities. Don't let the scary stories put you off. Oakland's hella cool.
posted by smartyboots at 5:04 PM on June 9, 2005

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