New job in Watertown (MA), so many logistics
April 6, 2015 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a new (awesome) job in Watertown, MA. My new challenge is figuring out how to do a move quickly, and without too much misery, and then how to have an awesome life. Questions inside, about housing, commuting, awesome things to check out, and a few other details.

Background: I grew up and went to college in the Boston area, and I've been back to visit since, but I'm also aware how much I don't know that's changed since 1999. (Also, Watertown and Waltham were never my regular stomping grounds.) Then I lived in Minnesota, and have been in rural Maine for the last 3.5 years.

Me: Late 30s, one cat, bunch of books, mostly a homebody when I'm home, but looking forward to being near a much wider range of cultural things again. My stamina and energy are a bit unpredictable right now, for various reasons, and I'd like to save as much of that as I can for the new job. (which is going to take a while to learn.) I have a number of friends in the Boston metro, but I'd like to look for other things to do with people I don't know yet too, in moderate amounts.

My big question right now is housing. Watertown, Waltham, Arlington, Woburn all keep coming up as good locations for a combination of rent and reasonable commute. (I'm looking for something like $1400-1500 at most, the cat, plus off-street parking, no more than one flight of stairs, and I'm up for about 30 minutes commuting, especially if it's fairly predictable, with AC or the ability to put a unit in.)

I've done searches on Padmapper, Hotpad, Trulia, and a couple of other things as they come up. Is there anywhere else I ought to be sure look, especially given the short time frame? I'll be coming down to Boston on Friday/Saturday to see places. I'm aiming north and west because I have friends in Arlington and Andover I expect to want to drive to regularly.

I'm currently living in a small apartment attached to a larger house, and love the quirky part of that, but am also fine with large soulless apartment building so long as it's decently run.

Clearly not going to be great fun. (I used to do a half circuit of the Twin Cities twice daily, I have practice). Busing is probably not quite doable for me, because the walk from the nearest stops to where I'm working is a bit more than I can reliably do in bad-for-me weather. (but it's the 70 and 71)

How horrible is the Pike commute? (Since I keep seeing apartments out in Framingham and near there.) I'm working something like 8-4:30, give or take 15 minutes. I've usually been more comfortable with highway traffic than in-town in the past. (I am looking forward to radio that I actually get clearly, plus podcasts from the phone.)

Awesome things
What should I know about that's in Watertown or nearby areas? Local websites that collect interesting things to do/exhibits/music/etc?

I'd particularly like to find a good local yarn store that's easy to get to (and a local knitting group), but also things like restaurants to check out, interesting grocery stores besides the usual run of things, and I'm interested in a wide range of arts stuff. (In the long run, I'd love to find an easy-enough-to-get-to community chorus that does interesting music, but probably not this first year.) Coffee shops in Watertown or nearby with decent parking options welcome, since there may be some days when I have a break between work and going somewhere else.

I also plan on checking out local MeFi events, once I get settled, naturally.

Other stuff I don't know to ask about:
Particularly ideas on how to make a rapid move at some distance less painful. (I am going to be working on packing things sensibly, and I've done a cross-country move twice before, but this time it's actually worth bringing moderate amounts of furniture, so.)

Said furniture is a futon frame (has to come apart to get out of my apartment anyway), a full-size mattress, a large but lightweight easy chair, and then about 15-20 bankers boxes of books and other things, plus some shelving. Can I fit this in a UHaul van? Do I need one of the actual trucks?

Restart my life
Finally, I believe in moves like this as a good way to restart habits in my life. What ones have you tried that you've really liked/found worth the effort/etc?

I'm particularly interested in getting the daily stuff to be less miserable and less time consuming - food prep, in particular, for bringing lunch to work and having minimal stuff to fuss with after work, and so on.

Thanks! MeMail is fine too, if you'd rather, or the email in my profile.
posted by modernhypatia to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Craigslist is the most common way of finding apartments in the area. One bedrooms are less common, but you should be able to find some around $1500, especially if you include apartment buildings or Waltham. Woburn will be a much longer commute, Framingham even longer. Arlington is pretty close, but Rt 60 can be slow during rush hour (which is probably how you'd go depending on where your job is).

Things to check out/consider:

* Arsenal Center for the Arts. I haven't been, but sounds like your thing.
* Mt Auburn Cemetery is one of the most beautiful cemeteries I've seen, particularly in spring and fall.
* If you end up in Waltham, Moody St is where you'll find the cool and interesting businesses/restaurants
* Harvard Sq is easily accessible from Watertown via the 71 or 73.
* If you like running, the Charles has some very nice paths along it from downtown, through Watertown ending in Waltham.
posted by justkevin at 5:54 PM on April 6, 2015

Best answer: Live in Watertown and bike to work!

Don't forget Belmont, too. It's just north of Watertown.

The East End of Watertown is a great little neighborhood full of Armenian and Lebanese grocery stores and restaurants, plus two neighborhood diners and a post office, bank, medical office, and other necessities. (Including a CVS, coming soon.)

Cambridge Community Chorus is fun, I hear, and audition-free.

Boston Events Insider is a good mailing list with a roundup of local activities.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:58 PM on April 6, 2015

I'd recommend Arlington and plan on taking the back roads to work. The way you described yourself basically described everyone I've ever known who has lived there. Try to live near Mass Ave towards the independent movie theater - a walkable neighborhood with nice shops, restaurants etc. The housing is nicer around there too.
As for the commute - the great thing about the Boston area is there are a million ways to get anywhere - play around and find the best one for the least traffic. I'd avoid the highways/main routes during rush hour.
posted by Toddles at 6:33 PM on April 6, 2015

Best answer: I used to commute from Watertown to Framingham every morning on the Pike, and felt nothing but pity for the poor souls going into the city (and I got sick enough of the reverse commute that I moved to Framingham!).

We were renting a two bedroom ground floor of a duplex for $1500 with two cats, close to the river, right in Watertown. Mrs. Penguin found it on Craigslist, which was the only thing useful for us.

If you do end up in Watertown (which was lovely and we miss, but we wanted a house), I second Mt. Auburn Cemetery. The library is pretty great, Harvard is just down the street.

Re: Yarn: You should check out the Island Yarn Company, which is just in Waltham (next to Russo's which you should also check out if you are interested in interesting grocery stores). Also the Gore Estate in Waltham has an annual Sheep Shearing festival (which is about to happen!)
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2015

All I can speak to is the UHaul issue; their cargo vans only rent locally, not one-way, and wouldn't fit the mattress anyway. Definitely need a truck. I'd say a 14 footer minimum. - Former UHaul employee.
posted by celtalitha at 7:28 PM on April 6, 2015

Best answer: I can only really speak to Arlington, rather than the other towns you list. I live in the neighborhood Toddles mentions, and it's a blend of quiet residential and neighborhood businesses; mostly restaurants and bakeries, but there's the aforementioned indie movie theatre, a direct bus into Porter and Harvard, and a small branch library. There's a Greek corner market there (though you'll find more variety for that in Watertown proper; if you like Greek yogurt, you want to get Sophia's, made in Belmont and incredibly thick and creamy) - I get home too late to take advantage of it during the week, but your hours sound a bit earlier. There's also a *ton* of mom-and-pop pizza shops; I rec Sabatino's and Maria's :)

One note: in Arlington, there's no street parking overnight, but I haven't seen any ads for housing that don't come with off-street parking. Also, most of your commute from Arlington will probably be city streets (stay off 16/2, it's better to take 60 into Belmont and then cut down. 2 will either be awful stop-and-screech, or it will be people driving just a bit too fast on a curvy, narrow-laned road with claustrophobia-inducing trees and the Double Donuts of Doom (two unpleasant rotaries right in a row).).

The local yarn shops I shop at are Mind's Eye Yarns in Porter Square (which is yarn-centric, but closes early on weekdays), and Gather Here, between Harvard and Central, which is more fabric-centric, but does sell yarn and yarncraft notions and has knitter/crocheter gatherings alternate Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. There is a yarn shop on the Cambridge/Belmont border, but it's not particularly near transit, so I've never been by when it's open.

Re U-Haul, you'll probably need to go with a truck rather than the van, size-wise. I don't know how much shelving you have or if any of it compacts, but between that, the mattress, the easy chair, and the futon frame, you're going to need the space.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:51 PM on April 6, 2015

You might want to post your question as well on City Data Forum MA Boston for additional recommendations.
posted by Elsie at 3:16 AM on April 7, 2015

I've lived in Watertown and Arlington, but too long ago to be helpful on practicalities. However I am a huge fan of two places in Watertown... Sevan's Armenian grocery , which has the world's best baklava and many other amazing things; and Town Diner, which is exactly what it says on tin except atmospherically from another era, with truly great diner food.

Being near Sevan's would rate just below parking and public transportation in my list of desiderata, except it would necessitate biking or walking to work to burn off that damn baklava. I'm dreaming of it now dammit. Mmmmmm.
posted by spitbull at 3:56 AM on April 7, 2015

I work in Watertown and live in Cambridge (and previously lived in Waltham).

From a housing perspective, look in Cambridge, Watertown, Waltham, Arlington, and Somerville. Craigslist is the most common place for listings, but you can also try real estate firms (Apartment Rental Experts were great to work with back when I rented). I lived for years in a $900/month 1-bedroom on a side street off Harvard Square; gems like that really do still exist!

I'd stay far away from anywhere that required you to get on the Pike to get to work. Framingham, Natick, and others are great places, but the commute will kill your soul.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:32 AM on April 7, 2015

I live in East Arlington, and belong to a health club in Watertown. Much as I like my neighborhood, I'd advise you to rent in Watertown or Waltham - the commute from Arlington to Watertown is much worse during rush hour than the distance would lead you to believe. The problem is that you'll run in to traffic dropping off of Rt 2 early to try to take side roads into Cambridge. It takes me about half an hour to get from E Arlington to the Arsenal St mall during rush hour, 15 minutes otherwise.

Also, of the towns you mention, Arlington is probably the most expensive, if only by a little. You'd be paying extra for easy access to the Red Line subway, and to the Rt 128 corridor, neither of which matters to you. Woburn is too far away.

I think your rent budget is not unreasonable for a one bedroom, but most of the rental housing stock in these towns is two bedroom apartments in 2 and 3 family houses, and these are running over $1500 plus utilities. And, this being New England, utilities are substantial - heating season is long, and our electric rates are the highest in the country.
posted by mr vino at 5:40 AM on April 7, 2015

I just moved halfway across the country in a cargo van rented from Enterprise with considerably more stuff than you list, and I'm going to say yes, you can fit that in a van. But! No one I could find does one-way rentals of vans, so you might be stuck returning it to Maine. Which might still be cheaper/less nerve-wracking than renting and fueling a moving truck.

Here's the Ford van interior dimensions (in inches, scroll down to the bottom) and here's the Chevrolet dimensions.
posted by mgar at 10:02 AM on April 7, 2015

I live in Watertown now - and I would highly recommend living here too. Don't know where your new job is, but if it's in one of the new business areas / office buildings popping up on Arsenal Street, you have public transport (the 70 and 70A bus). Watertown is awesome - very friendly, the east end as mentioned above has wonderful Armenian grocery stores, Watertown Sq (and elsewhere) has good restaurants, and we've several public transit options to get into Boston/Cambridge. Plus traffic isnt normally a nightmare (other than 7 AM in watertown sq). I cannot say enough good things about it.

If you'd like details of specific neighborhoods, memail me.
posted by darsh at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2015

2 great food-related things in Watertown

Strip T's
Casual diner vibe, ridiculously great food. Sort of a perfect neighborhood restaurant. Sweet potato wedges are unreal.

I am generally very picky about my grocery stores, and this place is amazing. The produce. The produce!!! Not just excellent quality (and surprisingly low prices), but you get lots of unusual fruits and vegetables that you'd never otherwise see, plus there's a great cheese/bakery/garden section. Caveat: not really the place to buy shelf-stable foods or basics, limited meat selection - but I swear moving closer to this place like doubled my vegetable intake.
posted by leedly at 11:05 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're willing to drive like 5 minutes to Newton, you can go to Hopster's. Microbrewed beer, locally sourced liquor and mixers and cheese and charcuterie. I miss it.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:25 PM on April 7, 2015

Response by poster: So many helpful answers, thanks! I'm definitely hoping for something in Watertown or Waltham (or Arlington) but it's that complicated dance of what's available when that is what I want. I've got a bunch of appointments for Friday and Saturday, and I'll come back and update after I have a place with what worked in case it's helpful for anyone in the future.

I've marked a few of the particularly helpful answers, but really, everyone is great, and I'm looking forward to the move.
posted by modernhypatia at 8:08 AM on April 8, 2015

Response by poster: Coming back to update: I found a place on Mass Ave in Arlington near the Capitol (Slightly more commute, but otherwise a great location for me, and at a very nice price. It's also an area I know really well - my mother's lived near there for the past decade so there's a certain amount of 'don't have to think about where things are' that will be helpful.)

What worked for me, in case it's helpful for anyone else hunting on short notice.

- Rummaging through PadMapper and HotPads for places in my price range and location range. I sent out about 40 emails/etc. of interest.

- Getting a clear idea of what my priorities were and why, and how location vs. set up played out in the towns I was most interested in. Also mapping commutes out for the places I was especially interested in. (I set up a spreadsheet of street/town/commute in miles/commute in time/cost/what was included in rent/other notes.)

- Sorting out a couple of backup plans (larger complexes with multiple apartments available when I needed) so that I wasn't totally panicked about not having somewhere to live.

- Setting up something like 8 appointments over 2 days. As it turned out, 3 of these cancelled on me for different reasons, and I cancelled the last one after finding the place I'm moving into.

- Being flexible (the apartment I got actually hit the market on the Friday I was down looking at places: having a good idea what my priorities were made it really easy to say yes to it fast when I saw it.)
posted by modernhypatia at 9:53 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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