Suggest some Bay Area (peninsula) neighborhoods that will meet our needs
March 16, 2012 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Bay Area Housing Filter: Partner has been offered a great job in Santa Clara (Hooray!) Where might we live that would not reduce our quality of life and/or suck up all the extra income?

We live in Oakland (Temescal) right now, and we love it. He loves the short bike ride to UC Berkeley, I love my short walk to BART, the neighborhood vibe with cool old houses, being able to walk everywhere, compost, go to the farmers market, ride bikes and have easy access to work and friends in SF. I own an internet company and work from home a lot, but my business partners live in the city and I meet with them a few times a week.

But we can't really stay here. The commute would be 2 hours in traffic and that loss of quality of life just isn't worth it.

However, I'm nervous about moving to the peninsula. All of my friends live in SF or the East Bay and I'm worried I'll be lonely and/or that I'll feel like I've settled into suburbia.

Kids are on the horizon, but not for 3-4 years, and I'm inclined to want a walkable neighborhood when we have them anyway. If you think that's a factor, feel free to weigh in.

Are their cities or neighborhoods we should be looking at that are:
-walkable (decent restaurants and grocery stores within walking distance)
-have some history to them
-that give me a 45 minute door-to-door commute to SOMA on Caltrain (close enough that I can go every day if I want?)
-rent wise, we're paying about $1900 right now for a 2BR, but the new job will raise our net income by almost 50%, so we can go up from there.

He's thinking Menlo Park, but that's an hour+ for me according to google maps and rents are worse than in SF.

[upon preview: there are tons of similar questions, but mostly from single guys with different priorities. The ones that seemed most relevant were a few years old and I'm worried the commute time estimates might not be accurate, but if I've missed a keeper, I'd love to read it]
posted by paddingtonb to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How is he getting to work? What's the acceptable commute time for him?

Menlo Park is pretty terrible.
posted by purpleclover at 4:24 PM on March 16, 2012

What about something in downtown San Mateo? Google Maps says it's ~1.5 hr (sometimes better) to Santa Clara on Caltrain, and an hour to SOMA. It has a cute downtown area and (generally) sunny weather. Would also put you close to the county fairgrounds, which is good for interesting stuff (Maker Faire!).

If you could deal with Millbrae, you'd be able to BART into the city, which would be good for your social life, although Millbrae is a lot more spread out and more suburban than Temescal. Millbrae also has a Caltrain station, so there's that.

Neither of these cities are hip but they're pretty safe, bikeable, and have decent restaurants.
posted by smirkette at 4:28 PM on March 16, 2012

Response by poster: He's open to public transit, biking, or driving. The company is 5 miles from the Santa Clara caltrain, so that's not ideal, but a bunch of the would-be co-workers do bike it.

We both have awesome commute situations right now, so the less awful the better, but for the purposes of the question, lets go up to an hour so long as it's a pleasant-ish commute
posted by paddingtonb at 4:30 PM on March 16, 2012

Response by poster: Purpleclover: How is Menlo Park is terrible?
posted by paddingtonb at 4:32 PM on March 16, 2012

Your constraints plop you in the middle of Silicon Valley and thus you will tend to find upscale business-centric towns, which indeed tend to be suburban. It won't be as cool as SF or Oakland. Palo Alto may be tolerable -- at least Stanford is there. I think there is an express Caltrain that takes 45 minutes or so.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:39 PM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: I'd say downtown Mountain View if you can handle an hour commute on Caltrain. He's very close to Santa Clara and you have express trains to SOMA from the Castro street station that take an hour. Downtown Mountain View is super cute and has nice restaurants, bookstores, cafes, wine bars, and a CVS and a modest grocery.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:42 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Menlo Park, exactly downtown. I've counted 57 steps from my front door to the farmer's market. So ... it's not terrible but it's not exactly that great either. The city doesn't seem to do much to actually bring things like restaurants into the downtown. There are a few - and they're pretty good - but it's very sleepy. Having said that, it is walkable, there are baby bullets from the station here and there is a lot of rental properties. It's weird that it's so quiet, but it isn't like Palo Alto or RWC are exactly far away.

I can't speak directly to commute times (I work a mile from my front door - no idea how many steps that is though!) but I would consider Mountain View. I love Mountain View. And it puts you near the VTA which might be okay for a Santa Clara commute (??).

To not be a complete downer about the city I live in, if you do want to check it out MeMail me and I'd be happy to show you around downtown.
posted by marylynn at 4:45 PM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: Marylynn is more circumspect, and i agree with her. That said: The housing stock in Menlo Park is boring ('50s bungalows that cost $1 million and look like nothing), the downtown is always on the cusp of interesting restaurants (that don't turn out to be that interesting), not quite Palo Alto, not quite anywhere else. On the other hand, they do have a downtown farmers market and Kepler's, a historically lovely indie bookstore (currently in some flux; I haven't been there recently.) And the weather is warm and sunny.

The Menlo Park-SF commute is rough; it's better if you're not doing a standard office M-F thing. I used to work in MP, and the folks I know who lived in the city found the commute grinding. (Nb -- Some were huge whiners.)

I live in San Mateo, but hesitate to recommend it wholeheartedly because the commute to Santa Clara would not be awesome. (It was not unheard of for me to spend up to 45 minutes in traffic on 101 going from SM to MP.)

My advice is really this: All the downtowns have their charms, so pick a place based on the apartment. There are older, charming apartment buildings scattered around, and I think if you can find a home you can get behind, you'll be able to find things you love to do in your downtown of choice. (San Mateo has, for example, a bunch of awesome pupusas and movie theater, and I love being able to walk to my coffeeshop, the caltrain, the movies, etc. If I lived in Redwood City, I'd be going on and on about the great breakfast places, and if Mountain View, I'd be mad for the pho. There are signs of life down here, but you have to find them.)
posted by purpleclover at 4:52 PM on March 16, 2012

What about Daly City? It's close enough to SF that you can easily BART/drive in to see friends and get to work, houses are affordable, and it's right on the 280 for your partner to get to Santa Clara. It is quaint, and not necessarily hip in terms of great walkable restaurants, etc. but it is definitely more accessible to the city and less of a "peninsula" feel. It's also close to the ocean and parks, and it's a good place for families once you're ready for that.
posted by judith at 4:52 PM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: In my opinion the only walkable cities on the peninsula are Palo Alto and Mountain view, with Palo Alto winning by a large margin. RWC and Menlo Park are sort of functional, and if you're in Menlo Park you should be able to bike to downtown PA in 10 minutes. I say this as someone who has lived in Menlo Park, SF, San Jose, and worked in San Jose the whole time. Honestly if you're not concerned with nightlife I think you'll be fine. But it is suburbia. It isn't Oakland or SF.

Commute wise to SOMA - the caltrain bullet from Palo Alto is 40 minutes and from Mountain View it's 45/50 minutes. If my home and destination were both near the station I'd find either commute to be just fine, but that's given that I used to do an unholy caltrain + long VTA ride while also living on top of Potrero Hill in SF.
posted by MillMan at 5:16 PM on March 16, 2012

I would look near the Redwood City Caltrain station, which is right downtown. It would be a boring place to live, more or less, but commutewise it's halfway between SC and SF and there is a range of housing. You have to live north of Mountain View (Palo Alto for Limited) to even think about getting to the city in 45min on Caltrain, which leaves you the MV, MP, RWC, and Millbrae stops as your only Baby Bullet options.
posted by rhizome at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: Alright. God I've lived in almost every city on the peninsula (only San Mateo County), I'll give you my rundown.

1. If you can at all figure out a way to make it work Palo Alto would be my first choice (and parts of Menlo Park) the University Ave area would give you something to do. Easy access to Caltrain. South of Palo Alto, your commute gets uglier (and PA is further south then you seem to want to be right now)

2. San Mateo/Burlingame Border. Look at the area around San Mateo high school. Much lower rents then a few blocks away in Burlingame and easy access to both San Mateo and Burlingame downtowns, again easy access to Caltrain, that area is right on the line. This is likely my best suggestion.

3. I grew up in Millbrae, and honestly its an okay town but there's nothing fun about it these days.

4. If that doesn't work I might look at trying to get something up nearish 280 in Redwood City, I used to live in Portola Valley and commute to the building where Zynga is, it was 45 minutes from 280, its a bit of a reverse commute. Caltrain isn't really an option though and there's not many "downtown" areas up near 280 (except in Woodside, and that's not an option). This would usually be a 2 car thing though you both might have to drive.

5. Not sure your options, but I have a friend who runs an internet company in Santa Clara, and lives in Berkeley (where I live now and wouldn't move unless I had to). He bought a natural gas truck so he can use the carpool lane and for him its about a 45 minute commute from Berkeley to Santa Clara.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions. I've lived in Portola Valley, East Palo Alto, San Mateo, Millbrae, Burlingame and South San Francisco.

BTW Daly City would be a brutal commute to Santa Clara (you'd have to do BART to Caltrain) and the weather is more suited to folks who dig fog.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

For future readers, one of artichoke_enthusiast's new would-be co-workers happens to live in Oakland and happily commutes to Santa Clara by Amtrak. There are bike racks, tables, and wi-fi, and the commute is smooth, calm and pleasant with a few miles of bike riding on each end. Since he can work on the train, the time can count as work hours, so it seems like a pretty good deal. He's going to give that a try for a few months and see how it goes.
posted by paddingtonb at 11:58 AM on March 18, 2012

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