How do I get a feel for living in/near Silicon Valley in 48 hours?
January 12, 2014 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing with a major tech company near Palo Alto and planning a weekend trip to visit the area. I currently live on the East Coast so this would be a major change for me. Where should I visit/what should I do there to get a sense of what the lifestyle might be like if I decide to take the job? Do you have suggestions for neighborhoods to visit or not visit?

I'm having trouble planning this trip - I don't know whether to randomly cruise through neighborhoods, look up actual real estate openings before I go, or ... uh ...? What's the best use of my time to help me make a decision about whether to switch coasts?

I'm a young professional living in the suburbs now. I'm not a big fan of big cities - I hate places like New York, but Boston is nice. Feeling safe is extremely important to me. I have a yard now and some nice walking paths through my neighborhood that I enjoy a lot, but I've also been ok in some previous more urban apartment areas if they have nice shopping/restaurant areas to walk through. I prefer newer construction, but I realize that might not be a possibility. I expect I'd move to an apartment at first in CA before searching for a home. From what I've seen, the real estate is insanely expensive in most of the area, so I'm a little curious as to where everyone actually lives that works out there. I don't know much about the traffic, although I expect it's bad; I'd prefer something around a 45-minute commute or less.

Trying to get a feel for the area feels very daunting to me. I'm looking for advice on neighborhoods to drive through/places to see while I'm there so I can get a sense of if I would want to move to the area. Also especially interested in other East-Coasters who made the same big change. What areas near Silicon Valley sound right for me? What's the best way for me to understand what I might be getting into in a weekend trip? What is life like in Silicon Valley?
posted by RobotNinja to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A couple quick other details I forgot: I'm married, so not looking to cruise nightlife and meet women :) Also looking for pet-friendly places.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:38 AM on January 12, 2014

I have the feeling you'd like Palo Alto, though it's more likely you'd find older (but beautiful) homes than new ones. What is your price range? That would help with recommendations. Los Altos Hills is also beautiful and peaceful, but also very expensive.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:38 AM on January 12, 2014

What town/area would your job be in? "The Valley" covers a lot of territory, geographically and otherwise. And will you have a car?
posted by rtha at 9:57 AM on January 12, 2014

We did this move last year and after taking some time to settle in, we really like it. For commute times we have found that living 10 miles from the office is about a 40 minute drive home in traffic and that was pretty consistent in just about every direction though my husband is based out of Mountain View. We pretty much used an 11 mile radius from the office and only looked inside of it. We liked Palo Alto but rents were well above $4000/month for what we wanted. Plan around $2700-$3200/month for a nice, newer or renovated 2 bedroom. Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos all have nice "community" feel. I haven't come across many areas that didn't feel "safe" to me. If you send me a message with your potential office location I can give you more specifics about the area around it or answer any other questions you might have.
posted by saradarlin at 10:09 AM on January 12, 2014

Parts of Palo Alto would certainly work. The are around California Avenue has apartments within a few blocks, and some restaurants and shops, a Farmers' Market, and a Caltrain stop, which is handy for going into San Francisco to do things. It also has very easy access to the Alma Expressway and 280 via Page Mill Road.

The town of San Carlos might suit you well- it has a nice downtown area with shops and restaurants, and it is reasonably close to Palo Alto and parts nearby.

I can understand wanting to be discreet while asking this question, but Silicon Valley is a large place, and I would strongly suggest that you keep your job location in mind when thinking about where to live. So if you are talking about Menlo Park, Palo Alto or Mountain View, then my suggestion of San Carlos is fine. But if you are talking Cupertino or Saratoga, then San Carlos is not so convenient.

I would, at this point, rule out anything on the coast. You can take that commute on after you have lived here for a while and know what you are getting into, but don't even think about it now.

I live in Menlo Park, which is may well work for you also. It does roll up the sidewalks at about 8pm, though. Feel free to memail if you have questions about Menlo Park.
posted by ambrosia at 10:09 AM on January 12, 2014

I agree that Palo Alto sounds like your best choice. It has basically has two downtowns: one centered around California Ave and one centered around University Ave.

I lived near Ramona and University for a year. It was a bit too sleepy for my (then young and single) tastes, but, as I told everyone, it seemed like a wonderful place for people who were a bit older/married. Both areas have lots of (expensive) housing options and several nice restaurants.
posted by ewiar at 10:19 AM on January 12, 2014

Yeah, it would help a lot to understand your budget/income range. I wanted to suggest San Mateo as a place with potentially more reasonable rents, still a good downtown and Caltrain access (express stop at Hillsdale).
posted by handful of rain at 10:30 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you already like the suburbs, and the new job is near PA, I'd stay looking at the Peninsula suburbs. From there, the personality of different suburbs is pretty similar, so the main variables are going to be what you can afford and the "niceness" of the neighborhood. All the peninsula suburbs are pretty safe. By "niceness" I basically mean how expensive the lifestyles are. For the extreme sides of the spectrum, you can visit downtowns in Palo Alto or Burlingame for one side, and downtown San Bruno for the other side. (This is not a diss on San Bruno -- I really love it and spend a ton of time there, but its definitely a less expensive area compared to the others.)

If after that you feel like you'd like to stay on the Palo Alto side of the price/lifestyle spectrum, than you can investigate the other peninsula suburbs. Basically, you can check every Caltrain stop from Sunnyvale to Millbrae. Redwood City would be my personal preference because it is a little cheaper and has a great downtown, but again, they're all quite similar. If kids are in the picture, it might be worth checking out Cupertino for the schools. In a car, this would take about a day.

If you're looking for the less expensive side of the spectrum, you can either move North to the San Bruno/South SF area, South to the San Jose area, or you'll have to get a little more creative. Some people claim an easy commute from Fremont to PA over the Dumbarton bridge. Try this out for yourself before making a commitment to a lease, as any commute that uses any bay area bridge is going to be highly variable. Pacifica and the other coastal towns are also a less popular possibility, if having an ocean view apartment is worth the commute to you. Again, you could probably give all these places a quick look in about a day, but it would be a longer day than the Peninsula tour.

Lastly, I think the main differences between west coast and east coast living is going to be more about the weather and the people you meet than the amenities of a neighborhood. For this, most tech companies are more than willing to set up a informal meal or two with a future co-worker (and possibly, their spouse). I was only on the East Coast for 4 years of college, so I can't really get deep about the differences, but I'm sure there is a ton of internet philosophizing in previous questions.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:37 AM on January 12, 2014

There are a ton of places throughout the Peninsula that are exactly what you describe -- the issue is going to be price.

If you can, one of the best uses your time would be to set up an appointment with a real estate agent to take you around to places in your price range, just to give you a sense of what's realistic on your price range. When I've done this, the host institution has had an arrangement with a local real estate agent who's happy to do this even if you aren't buying yet. But it may be a little more difficult to arrange before you have a job offer.
posted by willbaude at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Palo Alto is nice, but its housing is really expensive, so probably not representative of where you'll end up buying. Downtown Mountain View (Castro St) or downtown Sunnyvale (Murphy Avenue) and the housing you get in the surrounding neighborhoods would be more representative.
posted by w0mbat at 2:06 PM on January 12, 2014

Another thing to bear in mind is that the Bay Area has microclimates which can vary widely in quite a short distance. It's mostly the distance from the coast that determines the conditions. Generally around Palo Alto there's not much change, but shift a bit nearer San Francisco and you'll be much cooler, or nearer to San Jose you'll be hotter. Redwood City has or used to have a motto "Climate best by government test", but ymmv.
posted by anadem at 3:40 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

That sign is still there.
posted by ambrosia at 6:53 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would suggest renting before buying, and before buying, really understand the ins and outs of California real estate.

One thing, is Earthquake insurance. Very expensive and it typically has a 33% deductible. Another thing, the effects of Proposition 13 have had some weird repurcussions. Mostly gutting enrichment programs in schools, libraries and other state funded programs.

Just a things to consider.

I would agree that you want to be about 10 miles and no further, away from where your office would be. For years I did horrifying commutes. Oakland to San Jose, Sunnyvale to San Francisco, etc. San Jose to San Jose was a breeze in comparison.

Mt. View, Palo Alto, etc. Now I will warn against the community that's the innocuous sounding East Palo Alto. I had a friend who lived there and there were bullet casings in his yard.

With Stanford, Palo Alto is gorgeous, charming and expensive as HELL! I like Redwood City just fine, and it's a bit of a reverse commute compared to Mt. View, but I'd contain my home search between the two, incorporating Menlo Park and if you want to spend the big bucks, Atherton. The good news is that Caltrain is very convenient, so if your spouse wants to work in San Francisco (The City) it's pretty easy to get there by train.

I lived in Silicon Valley for quite a while. I had an advantage in that I was traveling all over the area so I got to know it very well.

It's a suburban sprawl bisected by freeways. In Palo Alto, you've got the 280 end, which is a pretty stretch of road to travel on, much less cluttered than 101, which is a grander version than what it used to be. I remember when 101 in San Jose had stop lights on it. It's now a freeway, but it used to be the main way to get from Southern California to Northern California, before they put in I-5.

I found that the traffic in the bay area about made me distracted. I lived in an apartment complex on San Tomas Expressway, between First Street and 101 in San Jose. If I had to go to the grocery store, it was a 20 minute slog to get there. But the commute to work made that worthwhile.

What's great about Silicon Valley is that you're close to a lot of very cool things. 40 minutes north is San Francisco, full of museums, and art and culture and shopping. Drive about 90 southwest on 17 and you're in the Santa Cruz/Monterrey/Carmel area-so beaches and surf. Take a drive on Skyline/Highway 9 and see pretty Google Mansions and trees. Check out Los Gatos. Drive 5 hours north and you can ski. People like to say that you can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon. I suppose, but it's not really realistic.

At any rate, during the weekdays folks usually do the back and forth to work thing and young professionals make the most of their weekends. Hiking in any of the gorgeous state and national parks. Going to shows in The City, hanging out in bistros in fine weather, going to chic restaurants, all are possible all over northern California.

Don't feel like where you start out at in California is where you'll end up. You'll pick a perfectly decent rental near your job, and from there, you'll explore the area. In a year's time, you'll figure out what areas resonate with you, and then you'll make a more permanant arrangement to live there.

Also, it's okay to be a renter in California. I never owned property there, and I never would. The market is crazy volitile, the taxes make no sense and the possibility for destruction by natural disaster is too great for me to think that buying a house is a good investment.

For this visit, hit Redwood City, Atherton, Menlo Park, and Mountain View. You'll find what you're looking for there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:37 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I lived in an apartment complex on San Tomas Expressway, between First Street and 101 in San Jose. If I had to go to the grocery store, it was a 20 minute slog to get there. But the commute to work made that worthwhile.

That is Santa Clara, not San Jose.
The road is called Montague Expressway on the First Street side of 101, not San Tomas.
That area has changed a lot in the last few years and now has shops and restaurants.
posted by w0mbat at 6:08 PM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

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