Where should I live in San Francisco?
July 27, 2012 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I will likely be moving from Australia to San Francisco to take a job soon. Which neighbourhood would be best for me personally to live? More inside that might help you make a suggestion.

This kind of thing is hard to find information about online while most residents of a city have an intuitive sense for it they can share.

Some rough details about what is and isn't important to me:

* It's very important that I live close to work and my commute is short, 15 minutes or less. My workplace will be in the Financial District.
* My huge preference for transportation is bicycle, followed in order by walking, train/tram and bus. Not car.
* Short ride/walk to a good fruit/veg store, grocery store and good places to eat out is important.
* Desirable to be close to good bars/night spots/entertainment venues but not necessary.
* Ideally an area where people are on the street day and evening, i.e. rarely a ghost town.
* Ideally populated people my age (20s) rather than families or oldies.
* I prefer older buildings with character over big sterile apartment buildings.
* No studios, 1 bedroom is good, small is fine.
* My budget is about $2400/month (realistic?)
* Trees and greenery would be great whether on the streets themselves or in nearby parks.
* I know it's unrealistic given my other points but a private garage would be fantastic.

Nothing is a concrete requirement, if there's an otherwise perfectly suited neighbourhood but it's a 20 minute train to the financial district I'd definitely be interested in that.

Ask if there's a question that might help make a better suggestion or if there's something important I've missed.

posted by jimwhimpey to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You should live in North Beach.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:45 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you want to be 15 minutes from FiDi your options are Chinatown or North Beach.
posted by colin_l at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2012

You're not going to be distance limited by biking, but rather hill limited. Download the San Francisco Bike Map and try to avoid living at the top of a giant hill.
posted by Phredward at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

North Beach is awesome, pizza at Tony's! Cioppinno at Sotto Mare, melt your face!
posted by Cosine at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is $2400 your budget for the apartment or for all living expenses? If it's the former, you're fine. If it's the latter, that's a stretch.
posted by colin_l at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2012

$2400 is the budget for the apartment.
posted by jimwhimpey at 2:54 PM on July 27, 2012

Yeah, major props for having a realistic budget. Enjoy San Francisco!
posted by colin_l at 2:59 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

This transit time map is useful, although the center of the map is not quite at the financial district, but it sort of gives you an idea of the shape of things.

Given that you want older buildings, you're looking at North Beach, Chinatown, and some of the remaining older buildings scattered around Soma. (Otherwise you could also consider South Beach and the newer condos downtown and in Soma). I'd branch out a little further and look at the Mission (anywhere near a Bart station) and Hayes Valley (on a Muni). You could also consider Oakland, say near Lake Merritt, as a fun non-SF option.

Given all of your preferences bundled together, I would aim for something just off Guererro, between around 14th and around 25th. You might even get a garage in your building, although much more likely you're going to pay for a monthly garage a few blocks away. (I am a little biased b/c that's more or less what I was doing 10 years ago, but hey, it rocked.)
posted by feckless at 3:05 PM on July 27, 2012

Ugh, North Beach. You want to be in the Mission! Like feckless says, along Guererro. Or Valencia, or wherever. It's an easy bike to the Financial District and if you're close to 16th & Mission or 24th & Mission it's also an easy BART ride. Or if you're close to Market st, you can take the Muni subway. All very bikeable to the Financial District, too. The Mission can be a bit of a dicey neighborhood in parts, particularly east of Mission, so you want local guidance / check it out yourself.
posted by Nelson at 3:15 PM on July 27, 2012

Thanks all for your advice so far.

Nelson: Why "Ugh, North Beach" and why is Mission better?

And what exactly do you mean by dicey? High crime? Homelessness?
posted by jimwhimpey at 3:21 PM on July 27, 2012

I think it's a matter of personal taste:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Beach,_San_Francisco versus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_District,_San_Francisco

The mission is much younger and hipper. Lots of restaurants and bars and music clubs. Lots of restaurants and bars in North Beach, too, but the target audience is a little older and a little more affluent.

I think one of the main attractions of North Beach is the proximity to Chinatown (food), and FiDi (commute).
posted by colin_l at 3:27 PM on July 27, 2012

I would look at the Mission, Noe Valley, and Glen Park. I lived right on the Mission / Noe Valley border for five years and it meets pretty much all of your criteria. It's about a 15~20 minute bike ride to the financial district. There's a nice bike lane down Valencia Street that makes that a pretty easy bike commute.

There is a fair bit of homelessness in the Mission, particularly around the BART stations. Valencia and east is very hip and trendy. Mission and west is poorer but and higher crime, but not badly so in my opinion.
posted by pombe at 3:32 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Nob Hill or Russian Hill. I was able to walk to my office in the financial district within 20 minutes, and it's a beautiful area with a lot going on. I'd recommend looking near the Polk Gulch location.
posted by ohyouknow at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also be aware that competition for apartments in the neighborhoods you are looking at is INTENSE. A friend who what in about the same rent bracket as you recent spent a month fighting to put her application in against 40+ people at every showing. Don't expect to be able to find a permanent place from a distance- try to get a short term sublet or something (airbnb, maybe?) so that you can hunt in person.
posted by rockindata at 3:42 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Data for comparing crime rates in different neighborhoods: Crimespotting
posted by tantivy at 3:46 PM on July 27, 2012

pombe has it backwards; Valencia and streets west of it are a bit richer and somewhat lower crime and more sedate, Mission and streets east of it are somewhat less expensive and higher crime and more colorful.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:55 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

There have been some daytime shootings in the Mission lately. I'm new, living in North Beach and happy with this location. I am on the top of a hill. That part isn't so great, however, there's an organic grocery store down the street and lots of restaurants nearby.

My husband walks to work in the Financial District and it takes him about 20 minutes.
posted by shesbookish at 3:56 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

San Francisco is really really small, and all public transportation essentially flows towards the Financial District. And there are plenty of Farmer's Markets you'll be able to live near one. So I don't think there's really any obvious answer.

Each neighborhood has it's own feel, and you should really put some time into learning about the neighborhoods. One thing about San Francisco is how infrequently people leave a 5 block radius from home. Frequent protests, muni delays and traffic all make it easy to decide to stay closer to home.

So put in some time to think about who you want your neighbors to be.
posted by politikitty at 3:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Bah, I got my east and west confused. That's what happens when you're transplanted from the east coast!
posted by pombe at 3:58 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The "Ugh, North Beach" thing was mostly a joke, but not entirely. It's a touristy neighborhood and the bars and strip clubs attract an unpleasant frat boy contingent on weekends. It's also a lovely old neighborhood that still has a bit of Italian feel and is definitely near the Financial District. The melding into Chinatown is also pretty interesting.

The Mission is more hipster central in SF, more where the Internet folks and MeFi types hang out. it's also been a Latino neighborhood for the past 50 years and has an awesome people-who-live-here vibe. It's also run down and, in the past, has had some very unpleasant gang violence. No more homelessness than anywhere else in the city, although the drug dealing and shady types loitering at 16th & Mission is pretty unpleasant.

If you spend two hours in each neighborhood you'll get the difference in feel pretty quickly. Both are reasonable. As folks say above the competition for rentals is really tight right now.
posted by Nelson at 4:15 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live on the border between Mission Dolores (a sub-neighborhood of the Mission) and the Castro/Eureka Valley. Either of those would suit your criteria.
posted by trip and a half at 4:20 PM on July 27, 2012

A neighborhood for people in their 20s with lots of night life? My info is a bit out of date, being the 30-something homebody that I am, but if you'll excuse the stereotypes, the neighborhoods that come to mind are the Marina if you like being around clubber / gym / frat / sorority types, the Mission if you prefer hipsters and yoga teachers, and the Castro if you prefer gay men. As I say, these are just the neighborhoods' stereotypes and I don't mean to insult anyone; each neighborhood has a diversity of great people and places to go. You could probably bike to to the Financial District in 15 minutes from any of those places.

I just tried to fact-check myself and found this article. Some data:
Youngest: Mission (average age 34)
Most Singles: Castro (66 percent single), followed by Marina (62 percent single)
Best Restaurant Scene: Mission (Runners up include SoMA and Marina/Cow Hollow)

Also, here's a Mission vs. Marina "throw down" where you can read the worst stereotypes of both neighborhoods.

Someone above mentioned the Noe Valley-Mission border, and that area would be my personal recommendation too. Often on the border between two neighborhoods, you can access the best of what both have to offer without getting quite so much of either neighborhood's downsides. Good luck with your search!
posted by salvia at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to be 15 minutes from FiDi your options are Chinatown or North Beach.

Lemme throw in a pitch for the border between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill (aka "Lower Nob Hill" aka "the TenderNob"). It's got everything on the OP's list except greenery, but that's going to be a tough sell anywhere other than the Panhandle/Inner Sunset/Inner Richmond.
posted by asterix at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with Nelson's ugh, North Beach. Very touristy, weather not so nice, food and coffee hit or miss (you'll learn what's good and where the locals go eventually, but... ugh). Also ugh Marina, too many collared shirt types barfing on the street on the weekend and spray tans (I ride the bus from Downtown through North Beach to my job in the Marina, and every time I am pleased I don't live in those places, even if I enjoy spending the day. Noe Valley/ Mission, Lower Haight/Hayes Valley (all my friends that don't live in the Mission live there), or maybe an interesting building in SOMA, though beware soulless live-work lofts.
I agree that maybe getting an AirBnB or VRBO rental and spending time checking out neighborhoods would probably be best- they are all so different from each other, and spending time in them is the best way to really get the feel of the place.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:01 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, should have closed parentheses between "day" and "Noe". Noe Valley/Mission &c. are good places.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:04 PM on July 27, 2012

Oh, I should add that padmapper is sort of helpful with geographic placement of rentals. Beware the usual creep of places on the border of desirable neighborhoods being labelled as such. Use the filters and watch out for shared housing, if you want your own place.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:09 PM on July 27, 2012

I would throw in my vote for Mission as well. It's probably a 20-30 minute bicycle ride to the financial district, a bit quicker by BART train, and hits all of your other requirements. If you're going to be using a car only occasionally, ZipCar may be cheaper than the cost of renting a garage (or paying parking tickets)
posted by zombiedance at 5:12 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

How soon are you moving? Because this seems ideal. I'm guessing it's not immediately, but it might be worth writing the manager in case other units come up in the future.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:20 PM on July 27, 2012

Agree that the Mission seems ideal for you. Pros are the BART line, tons of bars/restaurants, Dolores Park (for the greenery), great weather, lots of easy options for groceries - from Mexican produce markets to fancy organic local fair trade blah blah (BiRite), and a plethora or quaint older buildings. Major cons of the Mission are crime, homelessness, and general filth. It's one of the dirtier areas of SF in my opinion. I lived in Mission and commuted by BART for just over a year and loved it.

I also lived in North Beach for about 3 years and I'm going to agree with the crowd that it's probably not the best for you. It's actually pretty isolated transit-wise unless you're going to the Financial District or the Marina. Being close to Chinatown is kind of cool, but I couldn't handle all that humanity on a regular basis.

Depending on how important an old building and nightlife are to you, think about SOMA/South Beach. I could make it to the financial district in about 25 minutes walking from our old place right by the ballpark. Safeway was a block and a half away, Whole Foods was 10-15 minute walk, CalTrain is right there and so are all the major freeways. Also a near constant queue of cabs at CalTrain. That's one of the things I miss the most actually, never having to wait for a cab!

Neighborhoods I'd say you can rule out are Sunset, Richmond, NOPA, Bernal Heights, Potrero Hill, Haight, and Hunters Point/Bayview. Dogpatch might be a doable commute on a bike, but I feel like there's not much down there and probably wouldn't be to your liking.
posted by tealcake at 6:06 PM on July 27, 2012

The process is usually:

1) Email,
2) (Optional) More personal email,
3) Let's meet,
4) Hired! Apartment!

Get an AirBnB for a month. It'll be tougher if you're not available for meeting in person (step 3), and photos can be very misleading. This is what I did when I hunted.

The Lower Haight is young, has lots of grocery stores/bars/restaurants, and around 15-20m bike ride to the financial district. You're 5m bike ride from Golden Gate Park, which has all the greenery you could ask for. It's filled with Victorians, a la Full House.

You'll probably need to search in at least two-three neighborhoods. If you narrow yourself down to just *one* neighborhood, you might not get enough responses.

Good luck!
posted by yaymukund at 6:47 PM on July 27, 2012

The Mission is not for everyone. I would also consider the Hayes Valley/Lower Haight/Alamo Square area.

But I agree that trying to get a sublet or something for the first few months would be ideal. That way you can decide for yourself which area appeals to you.
posted by désoeuvrée at 10:52 PM on July 27, 2012

This is great stuff!

I'd prefer a hipster type crowd to tourists/frat boys so it sounds like Mission is the way to go.

The homeless, drug dealers and crime scare me a bit but it sounds like west of Valencia in the Noe Valley area has much less of that problem while maintaining the benefits.

My shortlist:

* Mission
* Noe Valley
* Glen Park
* Lower Haight
* North Beach

The plan is definitely to stay in an Airbnb place for a month while I check out the neighbourhoods and try to lock a place down. I won't be there until September so stuff available right now probably won't be by then but it's great to get an idea of the type of places and the price.

Padmapper looks great. I've also been using Trulia. Any other suggestions for apps/websites?

Thanks again all, this has been very useful!
posted by jimwhimpey at 2:18 AM on July 28, 2012

I'd encourage you to bump Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, and Western Addition/Alamo Square higher on your list. Handful of bus lines that run straight downtown, decent selection of bars/restaurants, etc.

Yes, housing competition / prices are insane. Rents up ~20% this year in some neighborhoods. If your budget is $2400/mo this will not affect you (but with that kind of cash to throw around, buying is an option worth considering in some neighborhoods.)

A lot of downtown workers also like Nob Hill/Russian Hill. The Tenderloin is great but probably not for you.
posted by spanishbombs at 12:09 PM on July 28, 2012

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