a can't-MIIS opportunity.
January 25, 2014 11:30 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: what's life like as a student in Monterey, California? Snowflakey details inside.

So my friend got accepted to the Monterey Institute (yay!) However, this will be her first foray to the US, and she is, understandably, completely at sea. Student Services has been great, but she still has a lot of questions.

- What's the cost of living like in Monterey? She's gotten estimates of about $1500/month, does that sound reasonable for a single woman who'd prefer her own place?

- Related, any Monterey-specific tips on keeping costs down?

- What's the part-time job scene like? Her student visa will allow her to work, but how easy will actually finding a job be?

- What's there in Monterey for a bookish, introverted type who doesn't like to drink or party to do? Bonus points for free/cheap.

- I'm told that Monterey is colder than the rest of CA, but I'm having trouble figuring out what that means. Cold = jeans and jacket, or cold = a nice warm coat and boots? For reference, where my friend is from, winter temps generally are in the high 60s/low 70s.

- She's also trying to figure out the cost/benefit ratio of bringing things from home vs buying them there, especially bulkier stuff like coats and boots. Desi Mefis, was there anything you regretted bringing, or leaving behind?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Tamanna to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also! She's spent her entire schooling either wearing uniforms or subject to a very strict dress code so suggestions on what kind of clothing would be appropriate would be much appreciated.
posted by Tamanna at 11:39 PM on January 25, 2014

At Stanford I had a classmate from Sri Lanka. She was *always* cold. Sri Lanka may be hotter than where your friend is from, but Monterey is also a lot cooler, foggier, and windier than Stanford. So ... it doesn't snow, but during a normal winter it's chilly and wet a lot, and summertime is no guarantee that there won't be fog and chilly winds.

I don't live in Monterey, but I've been there for fun and for job interviews. There are art galleries, coffeeshops, beautiful parks and beaches (the windswept, rocky kind), and lots of interesting places nearby. Check out Edible Monterey, Monterey County Weekly, See Monterey, etc. for events. I don't know about shopping and other stuff from home in Monterey proper, but if she can catch a ride or take a bus up to the San Jose area, there are lots of Indian grocery stores.

Someone who actually lives there should comment on the rent and cost of living...

Good luck to your friend! I hope she has a great time.
posted by wintersweet at 11:49 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Monterey is sweater-under-a-windbreaker chilly/damp in the winter (40s/50s but feels colder) and quite often that way in the summer too, at least until the fog burns off around mid-day. No relief if you're a beach person -- the beach is colder than inland, and the water is cold almost all year round.

Key for cost of living and lifestyle calculations is whether your friend will have a car. Having a car should be factored in the cost of living for an ordinary Monterey life, not having a car leaves you very limited in what you can do and where you can go.
posted by MattD at 3:46 AM on January 26, 2014

$1500 seems like a very low estimate for an expensive coastal city. I don't live in Monterey but I used to live nearby, and that seems like it is pushing it.

From looking at rent mapping sites to see what stuff runs today, she'll need to budget at least $1000 if she wants to live alone in a small studio. Options within a reasonable distance of the institute are few, so she might want to look at Seaside for places to rent... but then you need a car.

Unfortunately I would think that like most California towns, she would want a car, or her options are going to be awfully limited in terms of where to shop, where to go, et cetera. And Monterey isn't a cheap place for a car- gas prices are upwards of $3.75 during the winter (when gas is cheap), insurance is expensive, etc.

Plus, it's great to have a car to be able to go to Seaside or Salinas easily for shopping (like going to Target, for example), and it's nice to be able to drive to places like Carmel or Big Sur, or up to the Bay for day trips. Not having that means you're pretty well stuck with stuff near downtown (though Monterey is a pleasant place to be stuck).

Food in Monterey is spendier than the national average, and higher than most of the rest of California.

So, I would think $1500 is really pushing it. $1000 for rent, plus additional costs for utilities (another $200 for power and internet?) plus at least $50-75 weekly for food, assuming not going out to eat hardly at all, and $1500 seems ambitious.

A last bit on weather- it's really not that bitterly cold or damp, but she should not be assuming this is a TV version of a Southern California beach town... you have to go all the way south to Pismo Beach to start getting that. It will get chilly, for sure... highs in the low 60s and lows in the 40s in the winter, and it warms up to the high 60s/low 70s the rest of the year. Coastal climate, so it's fairly constant year round... no hot summers, no snowy winters.

Best of luck to her- it would be a safe, inviting place to live and go to school! Maybe not that cheap, though.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:06 AM on January 26, 2014

One thing- she doesn't drive so a car isn't an option.
posted by Tamanna at 7:11 AM on January 26, 2014

Your friend should learn to drive. In Monterrey you'll need a car to make a small budget work.

California is a great climate for cars, so you can buy one outright, and just get state liability insurance on it.

Having a car means you can get out to Santa Cruz, Carmel, Seaside and other communities. The Housing Site for the Institute recommends looking at Craigslist. So, let that be your guide.

Here's the Route list for MST, to give you an idea of what to expect from public transit.

But if you're coming to California for the first time, it's such a wonderful place to explore. Having a car would make it so much more fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:11 AM on January 26, 2014

If she doesn't drive then unfortunately her housing options are going to be expensive. Otherwise she could save a lot of money by commuting 20 minutes from Marina or Seaside. Carmel, Pacific Grove and Monterey are MUCH more expensive than the surrounding communities and even for practical things like going to Target she's going to need to get out of Monterey. At the least she's going to have to learn to love long bike rides.

I have family in Carmel so I've spent a lot of time there. The temperature varies dramatically from day to night and is very dependent on whether there is sun. Wearing a down jacket with jeans wouldn't be out of the question at 8 am on a foggy winter morning. Of course the same day it could easily warm up to tank top and shorts weather for a couple hours in the afternoon. Layering is key.

10 years ago I paid about $800 a month for a room in a nice 3 bedroom condo in Monterey. So $1,500 for a one bedroom sounds very reasonable to me. For the location she'll need to live in proximity to the school since she can't drive, it may well be more. I'm assuming the $1,500 is for rent, not total cost of living. If that's her total budget, then she will absolutely have to learn to drive, have roommates and commute. Even then not easy. I lived on a little more than that when I lived there and that was 10 years ago, I had roommates, and I was still broke/ran up some credit card debt just to get by while working 2 jobs.
posted by whoaali at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2014

$1500 is her total budget, although after looking at these answers she's definitely planning on a part-time job and room-mates. Car's a no-go, though, for reasons too long to get into here.
posted by Tamanna at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2014

We lived in Monterey for 4 years, until 2012. Some of the specific things I mention may have changed since we left.

Monterey is on the expensive side. The less-expensive big-box stores (Target etc.) are not walking distance from Monterey proper, but busing is an option. It will be difficult to make large shopping trips to those places without a car. There's a Trader Joe's a couple blocks from MIIS. There are several major farmers markets, one on the main drag through old Monterey (two blocks from MIIS). There's a Whole Foods, but you said money was an object.

I strongly recommend getting a bike There's a coastal rec trail and biking from Seaside to Pacific Grove is no problem. A bike would permit travel to the nearest Target, Home Depot, Cost Plus etc. from pretty much anywhere in the PG/Monterey/Sand City/Seaside metroplex. Haha! Metroplex. Right.

There might be some housing on the hill above MIIS - there are some really strange old houses in Monterey where it looks like zoning and inspection were never enforced, so there can be some inexpensive housing with "character" up there, but it's kind of a crapshoot. Seaside is affordable, but there'll be a bus or bike commute. Roommates is the way to go to save money, if her introversion doesn't rule it out.

Weather is as described above. It's not bundle-up-in-a-parka weather, but it tends to be on the cool side. Summer is usually September-October. It can be misty and foggy (the microclimates out there are really interesting and east to observe).

There are plenty of smaller cutlural, academic, historical and other brainy activities a lot in the area. In addition to MIIS there's the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey Peninsula College and CSUMB, all of which host interesting cultural and historical events. There will be no shortage of lectures, talks and small interesting events to attend, the Monterey County Weekly is a good resource for such things. There are also groups she could get involved with (again depending on the level of her introversion). Monterey is the site of a lot of California "firsts" so there are a few historical societies/groups. There's an indy cinema downtown (near MIIS) and a mainstream multiplex over at Del Monte Center. Movies are quite cheap in Monterey compared to other places I've lived. There are plenty of festivals at the fairgrounds.

There's also a staggering array of beautiful places to hike and enjoy nature, which might be nice for an introvert. There's a public library close to MIIS.

Food is mostly aimed at the retirement and tourist crowd - "California Coastal Cuisine" - and tends to be pricey. I'm sad to say that there was a real lack of ethnic restaurants or progressive (vegetarian/vegan/raw) cuisine. There are a few cheap places to eat, like Chopstix or the Bagel Bakery. Monterey presents itself as a foodie town, but the focus is on a pretty narrow part of the food spectrum. Even restaurant tyupes that would be less expensive elsewhere are priced closer to the tourist restaurants in Monterey, and in my opinion were not very good (complacency is a problem in the business community at large in Monterey and restaurants are no exception).
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:28 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, $1500 is really low for anywhere desirable to live on the west coast, and Monterey is BEAUTIFUL and a really great place to live.

Asilomar State Park is one of my favourite places in the world, and there are so many great places that this introverted bookish person can quite easily find more than enough to do. Salinas is the home of John Steinbeck, and there is some great local history and literature to explore there.

Cold there means layers. I can rarely get away with a t-shirt (at least not without layers), even in summer - the coastal breeze just makes it colder than areas inland.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:12 PM on January 26, 2014

I lived in Monterey with under_petticoat_rule for four years. Everything he said is correct, but I'm going to add my two cents here.

There's a community of foreign students at MIIS that she could connect to, which might be helpful for her to adjust.

In addition to the farmer's market, if she wants to get vegetables without having to think about it, there's a farm share that drops off weekly at MIIS. It's very good, with high-quality produce and a nice variety, including a couple of items that we had to Google.

If she doesn't drive, I can't emphasize enough how useful it would be to have a bike. We used to ride up the coast on a regular basis, and I commuted to work exclusively by bike for quite a while. It would be easy to do errands by bike as well. The Targets in both Seaside and Marina are right off the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, as is the grocery store in Seaside, and the Del Monte Center (which has Whole Foods, the only place in Monterey likely to have the spices she'd probably be looking for) is a really easy ride up Munras. So long as she has panniers and a basket, that makes shopping eminently doable. The hills in Monterey are also a great workout for the cardiovascular system!

Biking opens up more places to live for her: she could look at New Monterey and even Pacific Grove. She will not want to live by the airport; housing is cheap but it's not a commute that's doable by bike. Anything advertised as "near DLI" will probably work for her as MIIS is DLI-adjacent. Anything beyond those two towns probably won't work, though - the residential bits of Seaside are quite a ways from the bike path, and Salinas and Marina's residential areas are way too far away.

Regarding rentals: Mangold Property Management controls the majority of apartments, so it's worth going straight to their site and not just to Craigslist. It will take some work to find a place within biking distance of MIIS for $1000 or less. We moved there from LA and were surprised to find that the rents weren't much cheaper in Monterey. There is a lot of competition for housing in that area; we got our (well-priced) rental condo basically because we saw it on Craigslist, called the owner within 15 minutes of it being posted, saw it first, and immediately placed a deposit. As we walked out there were five people coming in to look at it.

We found that most places were poorly insulated. I just got used to being slightly chilly all the time. Our neighbor was from India and adapted to the climate without a problem, but she'd also lived in Boston.

My Monterey-specific tips to keeping costs down, given that she will not have a car:
- shop for food at Trader Joe's and the Tuesday farmer's market downtown (which also has a lot of great food booths)
- About a half hour before closing, Paris Bakery in downtown Monterey marks down most of their loaves to half price as "day old" bread, but they're really that-day bread.
- If she's not a vegetarian, Whole Foods sells its roasted chickens at half price starting at about 8pm or so and you can live off one of those for a few days
- Buy a membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium because the free admission pays for itself pretty fast when you live there; it's a fun place to hang out and they have lots of neat events
- The food at the one Indian place in town, Ambrosia, is overpriced at dinner but their lunch buffet is a good value
- The Goodwill on Lighthouse in New Monterey gets a lot of great designer clothing; I racked up a lot of cheap Ann Taylor (like, $5/dress) and so forth and I'm a larger size. If she's under a size 12 she can get tons of great clothing (but wash before wearing because they don't!)
- The used book store Book Buyers on Lighthouse in Monterey has tons of great books at great prices
- Jose's Mexican on Wave Street in New Monterey does a great cheap vegetarian burrito
- You will never find artichokes and brussels sprouts anywhere as cheap as you do in Monterey. Learn to love them.
- If she likes wine, or wants to learn to like it, wine tasting in Monterey and Carmel is inexpensive as compared to the rest of California, and the quality of a lot of the wineries is up there with Sonoma - it's the great undiscovered wine country. I could write a book about how awesome wine tasting is - and there are public buses that will take you to the tasting rooms in Carmel and Carmel Valley.
- Learn the MST bus system. It's not complicated and it will get you a lot of places - even down to Big Sur!
- Monterey Airport! Great airport, very friendly, don't ever connect through SFO because those flights get delayed and cancelled all the time. I cannot count the number of times that our flight to SFO got canceled and we hopped in the car to drive up to San Francisco to make our connection. However, connecting through Phoenix, LAX or Denver generally goes a lot better. Sometimes airfares can be high out of Monterey - in that case, the Monterey Airbus goes to San Jose and SFO Airports and leaves right from downtown (the stop was next to Montrio on Calle Principal when we left, but it may have moved).

I don't get the impression there's a lot of options for part-time work unless she's looking on campus. It's a transient area and a lot of people are loathe to hire folks associated with the schools because they know they won't stay.

I'm sure I have a million more tips somewhere in my brain. Feel free to MeMail me and put me in touch with her if she'd like to ask specific questions. I worked for the tourism organization there for four years so it was my job to know this stuff through and through.
posted by rednikki at 2:20 PM on January 26, 2014

Fantastic stuff so far. Keep 'em coming, please!
posted by Tamanna at 3:13 PM on January 26, 2014

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