Advance planning for a move to San Francisco...
February 20, 2013 5:42 PM   Subscribe

This is actually more like a two part question so bear with me. We are very likely moving to the bay area in the near future and could use some guidance. Also, we are heading there in about 10 days as my wife has never been and I want to make sure she falls in love with it.

The first part of my question revolves around where to live given that my office will be located in South San Francisco. I've spent some time in the city but I am not familiar at all with the suburbs. I've looked at past questions here and many of the recent ones seem to revolve around singles or childless couples but we have a five year old and are considering a second in the near future. While we'd love to live in San Francisco, the story I hear is that schools in San Francisco proper are generally poor so which suburbs offer good to great public schools while avoiding a horrendous commute? Even though it's unlikely that we'd live in the city, I would also like recommendations on family friendly neighborhoods just in case. As for criteria, when I lived in Chicago my commute was about 35 miles but took 1-1.5 hours, and while I can manage that, I'd prefer to keep it under an hour. The office will be close to a Caltrain stop and close enough to a BART stop so that should open up some options, right? We are a very urban minded family and would prefer to avoid cookie-cutter suburbs but I am open to any and all recommendations.

Secondly, my wife and I will be heading out for a long weekend in a couple weeks and I want to make sure she's loves the area. She has never been but lived in Minsk until her early teens and then lived in Chicago so she is looking forward to relocating to a major city (we're in Ann Arbor currently). Where should we go while we're in town? What restaurants, in a variety of price ranges, should we visit? What are some decent bars/lounges we should visit? I am fairly certain my wife will absolutely adore the area but I just want to make sure we really hit the highlights so hints and suggestions would be great.

Thanks everyone.
posted by nsomniak21 to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Santa Clara county has better schools, Sunnyvale would put you on the CalTrain tracks. There are some pretty (relatively) affordable areas that are a short bike to the train station. It's a little bit cookie-cutter but not isolated so it's a pretty good compromise.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:07 PM on February 20, 2013

I have considered this move a few times. Various answers on the green led me through what I thought were some helpful resources:
-25 Things I Wish I Knew
-Fun neighborhood stereotypes
-Fun neighborhood stereotypes 2
-Search tips
-Neighborhood map

posted by milqman at 6:09 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Burlingame is worth looking at. So is Daly City, be aware that the song "Little Houses" was written about Daly City. You might get lucky and you could get a flat in San Francisco, in the Richmond or the Sunset district.

Just to get started.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 PM on February 20, 2013

Burlingame and Millbrae leave you with a relatively short commute and both have great schools (and are priced accordingly). I've heard good things about Belmont and San Carlos (although the high schools aren't as great, but that's a ways off). Those are about and extra 20-25 minutes on Caltrain, more if you're driving. Palo Alto/Menlo Park/Atherton are excellent, but pushing the upper limit on how long you're willing to commute. Once you get to Santa Clara, I'd be surprised if your commute were shorter than 1 hour. You'd almost certainly have to shift your work times so that you're avoiding rush hour.

All of these are suburbs on the Peninsula and they are a bit cookie cutter (as is the Peninsula in general). All of them have a sort of cutesy main street with stores and restaurants and things like that, with Burlingame, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park having the least lame ones. Also Redwood City. If you do end up in one of these suburbs, I'd recommend trying to live within walking distance of the corresponding street.

Weather-wise, note that South San Francisco and Daly City still get a lot of the SF fog. The can be cold and grey when it's a hot summer's day elsewhere on the Peninsula. I'd say the sharpest drop-off occurs once you get south of Daly City, so keep that in mind.

All that said, it sounds like you might enjoy the East Bay more, although I know next to nothing about the schools there. What sort of price range are you looking at? The East Bay is also a lot cheaper. You'd need that BART station to really be close enough to your job though.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 6:33 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Came here to suggest Belmont, San Carlos, San Mateo, Burlingame, or Millbrae. I grew up in Belmont and am currently a substitute elementary teacher in the Belmont and Burlingame school districts. Both are fantastic school districts and the housing isn't too bad.

As matildatakesovertheworld said, almost all of the cities on the Peninsula are pretty cookie-cutter, but there are some nice parts that are closer to the down-town areas. I personally really enjoy downtown San Carlos and downtown San Mateo. Both are really nice areas with delicious restaurants (my very favorite restaurant ever is Sushi Sam's, in downtown San Mateo) and cute little shops here and there.

I do currently live in Oakland though, and if Berkeley is within your budget, I would also suggest looking there. They have a great public school system and the neighborhoods are not nearly as cookie-cutter as the Peninsula ones are.
posted by ruhroh at 6:52 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take a look at downtown San Carlos, San Mateo, Burlingame, and Millbrae. Maybe Palo Alto if you're willing to brave the commute. Maybe I've lived here too long, but I feel like there are significant difference between the suburbs on the peninsula.

For example, downtown San Carlos has almost no chain stores, but kind of a "Real Housewives of Silicon Valley" feel. Burlingame is chock-a-block with upscale chain stores and high end strollers. Millbrae and San Mateo are pretty Asian - but where Millbrae is almost exclusively Chinese, San Mateo covers all sorts of Asians with a slightly increased frequency of Japanese. I personally find Palo Alto obnoxious, but you might dig it.

In general, it's kinda amazing (and depressing) at how efficiently the Bay Area self-segregates itself. Certain suburbs are remarkably uniform in their racial or economic makeup. Make sure to do your research before signing a lease.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:14 PM on February 20, 2013

Best answer: Elementary schools in San Francisco are not generally poor. Many of them are quite good, and quite a few are better than the ones in the nearby suburbs. Be aware that SF elementary schools are all city-wide -- the byzantine system of distributing students to schools is worthy of a FPP on its own -- It's likely that you'll be able to get your kid into a "good" one, though it may be across town from your house. Many parents move closer to a school after their first student is enrolled in it.

If school quality is really the primary thing keeping you out of The City, please do your homework on the actual state of SFUSD, especially for K-5. You still may choose to live elsewhere (yes, the lottery system does suck that much), but please be fully informed before you do so.
posted by toxic at 7:42 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you staying the in city on your trip or in the suburbs?

I would definitely drive to your new office site and see how close and how walkable the trip to BART and Caltrain are. as a non driver I've had a few misadventures trying to get to places that were close to BART but were not especially nice for walking.
posted by oneear at 7:46 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Elementary schools in San Francisco are, in general and with some exceptions, very good. The west side probably has the most reliably good ones, though there are good ones all over. The lottery system has been recently adjusted so that you're a little more likely to get a school close to your house than toxic suggests, but the "across town" placement still does happen.

A west side (Sunset or Richmond) commute to South San Francisco by car would not be that long -- certainly under an hour. Sadly, the public transportation options from the west side to SSF are not as helpful -- if you were near one of the BART or Caltrain lines you'd be better off on that front.

The downside to SF itself is that, even in the relatively less expensive areas like the Sunset, housing costs are awful right now (rent or buy). It's brutal, and if living space is a big deal or money an issue, you may end up being better off in one of the less expensive peninsula towns.
posted by feckless at 8:10 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can commute to SSF from almost any part of SF in @1/2 hour via car or BART or Caltrain. If you live in the east bay (Berkeley, Albany), your commute will be 1 hour minimum one way. Public schools in SF are very good, as noted. SSF schools are OK, not great, but the city itself doesn't have much to offer. And the dominant characteristic of weather in SSF is wind- even if it's not foggy the wind funnels through the valley between Skyline & San Bruno Mtn.
posted by TDIpod at 10:15 PM on February 20, 2013

Lot of good advice here, so I will try to just add:

If you're "urban-minded," you might consider Berkeley or Oakland rather than the Peninsula. SF Bay's pattern of urban development is very much diffuse and dispersed, unlike Chicago or elsewhere - in case you don't already know.

In these discussions, the topic of money invariably comes up. SF Bay Area is very expensive, and the suburbs are not always cheaper. Housing prices (buy or rent), in particular, have been on a tear the last couple years. You might consider whether your budget argues for certain areas.
posted by ccl6yl at 12:36 AM on February 21, 2013

The East Bay is also a lot cheaper.

Not anymore. The boom in SF is driving up housing prices everywhere, including the East Bay, and it's also driving up stiff competition for limited housing.
posted by blucevalo at 8:07 AM on February 21, 2013

Best answer: The East Bay is also a lot cheaper.

Nowadays, this is a myth.

There are cheap parts of Alameda County (Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda), but their crime statistics and local schools make San Francisco look like Mayberry by comparison. Do not trust any median housing price data, unless you're looking at zip-code level data, and comparing apples to apples. An average area of Oakland has a different quality of life than an average area of SF -- Sure, a "safe" neighborhood full of single-family homes with children and professional parents near a decent elementary school and needle-free playground will look similar on both sides of the bay, but so will the rent/mortgage.

A lot of your perceived savings disappears if you cross the bay every day for work (either by car or BART). Your housing dollar might get you 10% more space or yard in the East Bay compared to SF proper. Your transportation cost and commute time will swallow that whole -- especially since your commute will end South of SF.

A daily Oakland to South City commute is going to be significantly more painful than one from SF or elsewhere in the Peninsula -- even on BART -- because you'll have to travel through SF (or else drive to Hayward and cross the San Mateo bridge and get in the northbound 101 mess).

Grab a map of SF. Find Golden Gate park. Draw a line from the southeast corner of the park (Stanyan and Lincoln) South to the Balboa Park BART station. Now draw one West from Balboa Park BART to the Pacific ocean. Add the neighborhoods of Diamond Heights, Twin Peaks, Glen Park and Noe Valley (basically, draw another line North from the Glen Park BART to about 18th street, and include anything West of that line, especially if it's on a twisty/hilly road).

That is the quadrant of the city where you are most likely to find families with school-age children, and the best schools, and (in the South East parts) relatively convenient access to BART or interstate 280.

Many (most?) of the newcomers to the city (who are arguably driving up the rents) are young, single high-tech workers. They are looking to live close to work, nightlife or both, and are willing to pay for it. Fortunately for you, they're mostly not looking for rentals West of Twin Peaks. A 3br/2ba, 1300 sqft freestanding place in Westwood Park, near Ocean Beach, or even on ritzy Forest Hill is going to be significantly cheaper than the same place in the Mission, SOMA or Castro -- because the outer neighborhoods don't serve the young, single downtown-workers all that well. Use that to your advantage.
posted by toxic at 9:54 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to good neighborhoods for families, but I will suggest some recommendations for your trip!

Mission Chinese - really unique, delicious, arrive early so you don't have a long wait.

If your long weekend includes a Thursday night, Nightlife at the Academy of Sciences - 21-and-over night at a great science museum, with drinks! So fun. In general, this area of Golden Gate Park is awesome to walk around in - in addition to the academy, you're close to the art museum, Japanese tea gardens, botanical gardens, beautiful places to walk around, etc.

Mission Pie - lots of kinds of pie, delicious.

Check out the Ferry Building on Saturday morning - there's a huge farmer's market, lots of great food, views of the bay. If you like coffee, don't miss Blue Bottle - long line, but it's fast and so worth it. From there, you can walk down the Embarcadero and head up the steps to Coit Tower for a great view of the city/bay.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:57 PM on February 21, 2013

Check your MeMail. I've moved 3 times in 2 years and now I know way more about living situations in the Bay Area than any single person really needs to.
posted by casarkos at 9:20 AM on February 22, 2013

For your upcoming visit, I strongly recommend walking tours with San Francisco City Guides. The tours are run by an offshoot of Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and they're free (donations to the organization are gladly accepted).

Walking is a GREAT way to get a feel for San Francisco, and City Guides offers tours all over the place, every day of the week.

Welcome to the city! It's a great place to live.
posted by kristi at 9:58 AM on February 22, 2013

So, I'm a huge and vocal proponent of living on the Peninsula, especially for people who work in the deep South Bay (gah, buses to Mountain View). I have lived on the Peninsula for 10 years and I think it's often maligned and fairly delightful (San Mateo has amazing weather).

That said: I think you guys should look hard at living in the city! I mean, you're going to work in South City, not, like, Santa Clara. Your commute is going to be a breeze, and you sound like people who will appreciate SF proper.

you may end up being better off in one of the less expensive peninsula towns.

Competition for housing in San Mateo and Daly City (places where good friends have lost out on houses) is, frankly, ridiculous right now. I guess living in San Bruno might be cheaper, but that's a mighty foggy trade-off and a pretty grim fucking "downtown." (I do like that ritzy baby store, but ...)

I never say this, but: Look in the city!
posted by purpleclover at 7:34 PM on February 22, 2013

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