Where should I live in the East or North Bay?
April 6, 2013 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm relocating back to the Bay Area from NYC, and trying to figure out where to live; I work remotely, so commuting isn't an issue. I'd like to be somewhere sunny, walkable, safe (say, safe enough to walk alone at night as a woman from a BART station), and near a park or two, and to pay around $1400 for a studio or one bedroom. I know I like Rockridge, Elmwood, and North Berkeley, but I'm curious about the North Bay. What's it like in Santa Rosa, Mill Valley, etc.? I'm very liberal, vegetarian, etc., but I don't love the hippie flavor of Berkeley or all of the students. I live in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, now, and love it-- just want to be closer to family, with better weather and better air, hence the Bay Area. I don't think I can afford to live in SF, and I prefer the greenery in the East Bay. Very curious about other parts of Oakland. Thanks for your advice!
posted by three_red_balloons to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Various parts of Oakland. The North Bay is beautiful but whitebread and boring. I don't know the rents out there, but I'm typing this in Park Slope as a current Upper Haight resident and I'd ballpark you around the lake or Piedmont/Trestle Glen/Temescal. The more money you can spend (Rockridge) the better the neighborhood, because.. it's Oakland.
posted by kcm at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The North Bay tends to be more suburban and car-based. It's a nice place to visit, but I doubt it's what you're looking for. I'll second the Temescal/Piedmont Ave area.
posted by tau_ceti at 6:37 AM on April 6, 2013

My understanding is that Mill Valley is very suburban and not entirely walkable. It is, though, safe.
posted by dfriedman at 7:14 AM on April 6, 2013

Santa Rosa is a nice small city in the middle of the Sonoma Wine Country. I don't know what the rents are like right now, but it is pretty liberal and vegetarian friendly. There are other smaller towns in Sonoma County (Sebastopol, Occidental) that are very nice. However, there is no BART (it doesn't go north of the Golden Gate bridge), so you are very car-dependent. It is also an hour plus from Santa Rosa to San Francisco -- traffic is horrendous. I lived in Santa Rosa for 9 years and loved it, but I worked in Santa Rosa.
posted by elmay at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2013

Check out San Rafael – a sweet, walkable downtown, good bus connections, a great art/classics movie theater, and (I think) reasonable rents. Also decent hiking trails and a short ride to: Larkspur Ferry, Mill Valley, Marin Headlands, and a not bad off-commute drive to SF and Berkeley.
posted by zippy at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also consider Albany/El Cerrito.
posted by gnutron at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Compared to NYC, the weather will be wonderful. But within the Bay Area, the North bay has the best weather. Parts of the East bay may have clouds/fog daily for many weeks with highs in the low-mid 60's, especially in the spring/summer, while Marin county will be sunny in 70's- 80's on the same day. Generally, the closer you are to the bay/ocean, the cooler & foggier it will be.
In the East Bay, Temescal (north Oakland) is considered a 'banana belt' with slightly warmer & sunnier days. I know folks who can actually grow tomatoes there, which is almost impossible in the North Berkeley - El Cerrito corridor. In Marin you will get more fog from Mill Valley southward, but it is generally warmer, with San Rafael sort of the 'sweet spot'. North of there it can bake in the summer and fall (by our standards).

The rental market is tight, but if you are moving in the next month it will open up a bit in the East bay when students depart.
posted by TDIpod at 9:15 AM on April 6, 2013

Marin is awesome and parts of it are walkable/busable but it's not an ideal place if you don't have a car. I personally wouldn't live all the way up in Sonoma County because it's just *really* far away from the rest of the Bay Area.

Since you mentioned you are looking for warmer weather, it's worth noting that Marin has weird little "microclimates." Mill Valley can be significantly colder and foggier than, say, San Rafael. OTOH, Marin is almost always warmer than the City.
posted by radioamy at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2013

The more money you can spend (Rockridge) the better the neighborhood, because.. it's Oakland.

Maybe? I personally consider Rockridge kind of one-dimensional, and Rockridge is not a gated community so it can be a target for crime. It's certainly walkable and pretty, but I think I like my Oakland neighborhoods to be a little more inclusive (totally just my opinion, of course, people should live wherever they feel best). The Grand Lake area is more mixed, a bit far to walk to BART unless you are intrepid, but well serviced by buses. I love my neighborhood, Lakeside, and flog it all the time on Metafilter. It's mostly low-rise apartments and condos of various vintages, between Downtown and Lake Merritt. Really walkable, sometimes gritty, but I don't have any problem getting around on my own without a car. All kinds of people live here, and it's great. Jack London has a bunch of newer live-work places and some retrofitted warehouses. It's pretty cool, but doesn't have the corner stores and access to BART Lakeside does- it does have Jack London Square, with great restaurants and bars and boats on the estuary. Temescal is nice, not as warm as around the Lake, and some sneaky people will call some pretty shady neighborhoods "Temescal". It's basically centered around Telegraph avenue from MacArthur up to 60th st, and there are lots of shops and restaurants, plus Korea Town. I like Adam's Point and Haddon Hill as well (north and southeast Lake Merritt). Also the area around Piedmont avenue is nice (don't confuse with the exclusive town of wealthy Piedmont). Again, a bit far from BART but the buses go to BART stations. Sunny, walkable, pretty.

I also really like Eastlake around Park Boulevard but might not recommend it to a newbie. Not because you need to be super street smart to live there, but more because its charms (for me at least) are harder to quantify. I would live there in a house with a yard, maybe be less excited to be in an apartment. It is farther from BART so it would be a shift from a relatively more urban lifestyle to a urban-suburban (chickens, gardens, &c.). Still on bus routes, bike-able, lots of great Chinese, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Lao, Latino establishments.

If you have a bike in Oakland, you're golden. I highly recommend it if you feel a bit iffy about walking late at night. The times I feel least comfortable on foot at night are empty places, but being on a bike makes empty places much nicer.

Oh, and your costs are fairly reasonable still, but the rental crunch in SF is causing prices to rise here as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2013

I live in what is technically East Oakland, but only a few blocks from Lake Merritt and it is a great area. Seriously. Almost everything is in walking distance - grocery stores, pleasant bars and cafes, about 15 min. to BART. The lake is a great centering force in our fair city and living anywhere near it provides access to a beautiful trail that connects you to different areas and allows all different kinds of people to interact positively. They've also re-designed a large area alongside the lake that connects downtown and East Oakland which has made this area even more pleasant and desirable.

Also underrated: Alameda. It's maybe a bit more family-oriented and you would probably need a car, but it's got some nice areas and centrally located in the Bay. My pick for the North Bay would be Petaluma, but you would really need a car there.
posted by silvergoat at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live near downtown Mill Valley, and if you have a car to get out of MV with as needed, I think that might work for you; these days, you can definitely find a 1-bedroom in that price range. The weather's great, it's very green (the early spring flowers are nearly done, but wow, for a month or so, it was amazing; the redwoods are awesome year-round), and surprisingly, not very hippie. It's ridiculously safe and quiet. Food's expensive, though--there're no cheap eats here at all. Living just off the main drag, I can walk to Whole Foods, ride my bike to Safeway, or head the other way for coffee, restaurants, markets, shops, parks, and trails. I'd only do it if you can score a place near the downtown and have a car (public transportation is extremely limited--a Marin-wide problem--and you will need to go to other towns sometimes).

I only moved up here after a short-term East Coast move priced me out of SF on my return and have mixed feelings about MV. It's so damned beautiful and the people are largely really nice, but it can be a bit socially isolating, especially if your social network is largely in the East Bay.
posted by smirkette at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2013

I lived on the eastern shore of Lake Merritt for a while and loved it. Walking distance to grocery stores and restaurants and theaters and cafes in the Grand/Lake district (which has one of the better farmer's markets), proximity to the lake and surrounding parks, etc. A mile walk to Lake Merittt BART. Heard about some crime and muggings, but I was never bothered. That was my favorite part of Oakland.

For a while I lived closer to Oakland High, and there was a lot of low-level crime -- teenagers breaking in through unsecured windows to steal laptops, tagging of walls and occasionally cars -- so it wasn't ideal.

Now I live in South Berkeley (like, it takes me a couple of minutes to walk back into Oakland), and it's great, too. Close to Ashby BART, walking distance to downtown Berkeley, lots of nearby parks and libraries, and the Ashby Flea Market is always... interesting. (You can buy a stolen bike there, and if you're not careful, your newly-purchased stolen bike can be stolen and you can buy it there again!) It's not as fancy -- or as expensive -- as North Berkeley and has a nicely diverse feel.
posted by timpratt at 10:36 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you go to the North Bay Petaluma sounds like a better fit than Santa Rosa. It's much more lively, Santa Rosa is mostly families, and very walkable. Sonoma Co is probably the most liberal place on earth so no worries there You can take the bus to the city easily there's a commuter one and a milk run but to truly enjoy SoCo a car is a good idea.
posted by fshgrl at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2013

$1400 for a studio or one bedroom.

I think you need to take a good hard look at Craigslist and get a sense of what the rental market in the Bay Area is like these days. It will be very, VERY difficult to find a place to rent in a nice neighborhood in Oakland at that price point. It will be impossible to find in San Francisco.

For example: I live in the Dimond District in Oakland. It's a nice neighborhood according to the broad generalizations people use to assign "nice" or "not nice" to Oakland neighborhoods, meaning that it's east of the 580 headed towards the hills. It's got a cute, walkable little neighborhood center with a fantastic grocery store, an amazing bakery, a branch of the library, one of the best taquerias in town, several coffee shops, etc., and the transbay bus to downtown San Francisco stops at the end of my street. The weather is spectacular. I can drive to work in the Mission in 20 minutes. I adore my neighbors, who are about as diverse ethnically and socioeconomically as possible. It's the very definition of a nice, neighborly, walkable East Bay neighborhood, and it sounds exactly like what you're looking for.

Well, in the nine months that we've lived here, there's been a homicide at the local convenience store an eighth of a mile from our house and a body found dumped about five houses down from us in the opposite direction. My boyfriend was mugged on his way to work at ten in the morning at a busy bus stop. My car has been broken into. A woman was mugged and pistol whipped in her driveway diagonally across the street from us. People regularly walk down the street trying car door handles to see what they can easily steal.

Despite all this, the 750 square foot, one bedroom/one bathroom house with no yard next door to me rents for $2600 a month.

You could find a place to rent in Oakland for $1400 a month, sure. The question is, would you be or feel safe living there? How much crime are you willing to tolerate? My boyfriend and I don't have any plans to move, but I wouldn't think a friend in our situation, especially a single woman, unreasonable if they decided this "nice" neighborhood wasn't nice enough.

Loving fshgirl's suggestion of Petaluma! If it were within reasonable commute distance for me and my boyfriend, we would live there in a heartbeat. I's a great, vibrant, active place that everyone I know adores.
posted by jesourie at 12:27 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Intellectually (brain rather than gut), I don't feel super safe walking to/from BART alone at night in either Lake Merritt or Temescal (MacArthur BART.) I live/have lived in both places and choose to drive to/from BART at night. I'd prefer to walk but there have been too many muggings at gunpoint in both areas lately. I've even read about someone being mugged *while on a bike.* Apparently only 4 out of 8 Temescal police beats are actually policed by officers regularly due to police shortages. I like Oakland, it's beautiful and has a lot going for it, but I miss feeling safe outside at night.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2013

It will be very, VERY difficult to find a place to rent in a nice neighborhood in Oakland at that price point. It will be impossible to find in San Francisco.

This is totally true for San Francisco. It's not true at all for Oakland. I just spent a couple of months apartment-hunting in Oakland (basically everywhere from Grand Lake to Adams Point-ish to Piedmont to Temescal) and $1400 is solidly in the middle of the range for a 1BR.

[ ... ]
Despite all this, the 750 square foot, one bedroom/one bathroom house with no yard next door to me rents for $2600 a month.

That's for a detached single-family house, yes? Those rents are much higher than for apartments (although I looked at a couple of houses larger than that in more desirable neighborhoods for $2400-$2700; between that and Craigslist something is definitely out of whack with that place).
posted by asterix at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps this will be an unpopular suggestion, but how about Orinda or downtown Lafayette (not Moraga, since there's not a super easy way to get to BART without a car)? It is very safe, but a definitely whitebread. Lots of greenery and hills, plus easy access to Oakland/SF if needed.
posted by extramundane at 7:26 PM on April 6, 2013

Ditto what everyone else said about Marin. It's not cheap. You can probably find a place for $1,400, though it may not be particularly upscale. Streets are safe and quiet. Lots of interesting places to check out around Marin, and lots of open space to hike and get lost in. Really a a fine place, but no BART, so the bus transit running along I-5 is your basic route into the City.
posted by diode at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2013

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