Moving from the Bay Area to Boston: tips and tricks
August 16, 2016 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I'll be moving to Boston/Cambridge in September for my first job! Help me find a neighborhood in which to search for housing, and feel free to share any tips for a transplant from the west coast (the San Francisco Bay Area).

Important factors:
  • My budget is <$2000 (preferably <$1500) per month for living alone in a studio or 1br.
  • My workplace is in Cambridge, at River and Putnam, near Whole Foods. Ideally, my commute would be at most 20 minutes, via some combination of walking and/or public transit. (Related: I'd like to be near a T stop.)
  • I would like to be within (<15 minute) walking distance of Asian restaurants and ideally an Asian supermarket (though I'm fine with taking public transit to such a supermarket). It'd be cool to be near a bubble tea shop!
Factors to watch out for:
  • I'm not a fan of the suburbs, having grown up in a sleepy suburb. My default mode of transportation is walking, and I'd like to be able to walk to places like bookstores or cute coffee/tea shops.
  • Nightlife is not my thing; I prefer staying in. (I guess this is more of a "you can ignore this" comment.)
If additional information would help, feel free to ask, though I don't really want to threadsit too much.

(Bonus question: are there any anime/manga/similar interest groups in the area that are relatively welcoming to newcomers? I'm in my early 20s, so suggestions from the many colleges/universities around could work.)
posted by sqrtofpi to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There are lots of places you could live and have a decent commute. Davis Square, Porter Square (Red line and walking). You could even live across the river in parts of Allston and have a decent commute (bus and walking).

Cambridge and Somerville are not suburbs. They are cities connected to Boston by really local transit. Allston, Brighton, Jamaica Plain, etc are all neighborhoods of Boston, to give you reference. There will be no shortage of things to do or places to walk to no matter where you live.

If you live in Allston, it can be a really short walk to Coolidge Corner in Brookline where one of my favorite all time book stores is still fully operational, among other things. There are very active Comic, Sci-Fi, and Anime scenes in this area, but I don't know enough about them as to direct you, but there are a good number of comic book shops in the area that you could get info from about such things I'm sure.

I mean, this area is full of all types your age. You're going to be fine if you can last the winters.
posted by zizzle at 8:50 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

You should definitely consider living in the area around Central Square. It would be a ten-minute walk to work, there's an H Mart right there (and Reliable Market up in Union Square, which isn't too far away), and it's definitely very walkable and non-suburban. You'd be able to walk to Harvard Square (which has a couple of good bookstores) and there are tons of coffee and tea shops in the area.
posted by cider at 8:56 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Davis Square, Porter Square (Red line and walking).

It will be tough to find a studio for the higher budget in those areas, and darn near impossible for the lower budget.

You are working in an area, roughly called Cambridgeport, without great public transit. The closest subway stop will be Central Square, and that's a ~15-20 min. walk, depending on your speed (if you are a early-20s dude, you probably go a good clip faster than me). Fortunately, due to the relatively sparse transit options, that area tends to run rents a little lower than in areas closer to the Red Line. I would try looking there first, since it will be convenient for your work. It's not a "bad" neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination, just with fewer amenities than you get closer to the Red Line. And when you walk to Central (which is still totally doable, I used to walk from there to the TJ's a bit further down than the WF all the time), there's plenty of things to do. H-Mart, which only opened about a year and a half ago! So you will be set for your (East) Asian groceries. From Central it is a short hop to fun stuff in Harvard Square and nerdery in Kendall Square (the MIT area).
posted by praemunire at 9:00 AM on August 16, 2016

I was going to suggest Davis Square or Porter Square. Both near T stops (to get to your work, take the red line to Central Square and then walk), full of restaurants (all kinds of ethnic food, definitely some Asian), grocery stores, and little shops. As far as Asian grocery stores, Central Square has a great H-Mart.

You might also want to consider just living right in Central Square, which is a super fun place to live (I lived there for 3 years and loved it, everything you could possibly want is within walking distance). But it's slightly seedier than Davis or Porter, though not dangerous. There's a very active nightlife there, not sure if that would bother you or just not matter to you.

Not an expert on current rent prices in Cambridge, but I thiiiink all of these places should be doable with your budget. Though you'll definitely be looking at a studio instead of a 1BR.
posted by mekily at 9:01 AM on August 16, 2016

The other thing about Porter Square (which is otherwise fine) is that realistically, figuring in walking to the stop and waiting time, you're looking at 15 mins to Central Square, and then the walk down to Cambridgeport. Unless there's some special bus-magic I'm not aware of (and MBTA buses can be frustrating to rely on), it's not a 20-min commute. And Davis is even further (and pricier).

Allston, across the river, is even more inexpensive than Cambridgeport, a very student-y area. You'll have to walk and bus to work, but with the right location and good timing you should be able to manage it. But the T is fairly remote. I don't know if there are any Asian markets nearby.
posted by praemunire at 9:07 AM on August 16, 2016

If you want easy t-access, a 1br or studio in your price range is going to be a real stretch in most parts of Somerville/Cambridge. It is ridiculous how much the rents have gone up in the area of the last few years.

That being said, you might want to look in the Union Square (or Inman Square) area. You're right on the Somerville/Cambridge line and Union has an Asian market, decent restaurants, Saturday farmer's markets, and a lot of block festivals (Fluff Fest, Rock and Roll Yard Sale, Mermaid something-something.) Inman has a wider selection of restaurants and is closer to Central/Harvard, but no Asian market that I'm aware of.

Both would require using the bus (or a good walk as the majority of busses are not reliable) to get to the T, but I'm not sure if there are great options that fit your requirement on that side of the river.
posted by TofuGolem at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2016

Unfortunately, as others have pointed out, your work is in a bit of a transit oasis, the nearest T stop is a ~15 minute walk away, so having a shorter than 20 minute commute means either living in the Cambridgeport neighborhood (roughly the area bounded by MIT to the east, Massachusetts Ave. to the north, the Charles to the south and Harvard to the west) or living somewhere that is on a direct bus to the area of your work (and unfortunately most of the buses either don't cross the river or stop at Central Square, so those options are quite limited).

You don't mention anything about your actual apartment requirements, so assuming you're fine with a small studio or one bedroom, suitable for a single person, this is very doable for ~$2000, not so much for ~$1500. The good news is that Central Square has HMart, which is a huge Asian grocery store, in addition to a selection of Asian restaurants.
posted by firechicago at 10:14 AM on August 16, 2016

Maybe I'm biased, having lived near Central for more than 15 years, but I think Central is your best bet - you can walk to work (or maybe take the 47 bus when it's cold), there's the H-Mart, gyms, shops, other groceries, Pandemonium Books, and MIT and Harvard are both easy Red Line or walking hops. There are tons of anime/manga meetups, etc things around, especially toward MIT.

All that said, you'll have to do a little bit of stretching to make it in your budget. But that's true of Anywhere in your budget and commute constraints. Your other realistic option is to go over the river to Allston and be near the green line (and walk or take that 47 bus to work). But it's much more "studenty", often noisy with its nightlife, and then you're on the Green Line, which, especially the B Line, isn't beloved for its outdoor and multitudinous stops. So, yes, biased, but try around Central first. Porter also has great Asian shops and groceries, but the poster above who pointed out that it wouldn't be a 20 minute commute is correct.

One last note about Cambridge/Boston - I love biking most everywhere, and it does help to open the whole city up to you, if you're willing to bike. That commute to work could be much easier by bike, and might broaden your search a little.
posted by ldthomps at 10:17 AM on August 16, 2016

One last note about Cambridge/Boston - I love biking most everywhere, and it does help to open the whole city up to you, if you're willing to bike.

I lived in Cambridge for two years. The second year, I got a used bike and it was the single biggest improvement in my quality of life that I made in those two years.

It can be a bit rough biking in the cold your first winter, and conversely in the summer if you're anything like me you will start sweating upon just looking at your bike, but if you can mitigate those factors I would highly recommend getting one.

Even if you don't end up commuting by bike it just makes life easier in so many ways -- there are parts of Cambridge and many parts of Somerville that are faster by bike than by bus (don't even get me started on once-hourly MBTA bus service...) It just made me feel like my world expanded that second year.
posted by andrewesque at 11:16 AM on August 16, 2016

Something else to keep in mind if you're coming from out of town -- Boston, and Cambridge/Somerville in particular, has a very large number of leases that start on September 1. I've seen figures that claim that 80% of leases start on that day (As you might guess, it's a result of the very large student population of the metropolitan area). This has a couple of effects:

- I would avoid moving on the day of Sept 1 if at all possible. By this point in the summer it will be very difficult to impossible to reserve a moving truck in a convenient location the day of if you need one, and I'd bet Zipcar reservations are also looking pretty full that day. Stores like IKEA and Target will look like a tornado swept through them. Fortunately Sept 1 is a weekday this year so I think some of the pressure will be spread out, though I would still expect Labor Day weekend to be very busy.

- However, depending on your willingness to pick up random furniture off the sidewalk, there will just be lots of stuff left on curbs in the phenomenon known as Allston Christmas. If you're free that day and looking for a new lamp or whatever, you can probably find it.

- Because the housing cycle is so peaked, a lot of 9/1 leases are nailed down early (and I mean early -- my second year in Cambridge, my roommates and I signed in mid-March for a September 1 lease). However, given that most students are in roommate/group housing situations, you might have a easier time since you're in the studio/1 br market, though I still think the rental market is going to be very tight for a 9/1 lease.
posted by andrewesque at 11:49 AM on August 16, 2016

I agree on location advice, so am going to focus on bubble tea. You have many good options! If actual tea with good chewy boba is your thing, try Dado in Harvard Square or Ave between Central and Harvard. If you want fruity flavors / taro / etc, I *think* T-stop in Harvard Square will be your friend. If you want delicious from powder milk and caffeine to the face (I won't judge, I do too sometimes), the MIT student center has a place on the 2nd floor, and it won't be too weird to go as a non-student.
posted by lorimt at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Consider living in Allston near the Super 88 (Packards Corner) and/or near Harvard Ave. Alternatively, Somerville near Porter Square, as others have mentioned.
posted by houseofleaves at 12:24 PM on August 16, 2016

Oh, and I just remembered: there is a really good SF/F book club meetup in Davis Square. I forget the name, but it's the one that meets at Comikaze. Welcoming, nice mix of people, etc. If your manga/anime interests extend to written SF, definitely worth your checking out.
posted by praemunire at 12:29 PM on August 16, 2016

If you're used to the non-weather of the Bay, Boston seasons may catch you off-guard. I was there two years ago and it was minus 30 in January. My wimpy SF overcoat did NOT cut it. Buy good winter gear and boots and you will be much less miserable, especially if you have a walking / biking commute.

Inman Square has a place you can rent private wooden Japanese soaking tubs by the hour.

There is a HUGE anime convention in Boston! Also, if you like really excellent ramen, go to Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square. Go early. The line gets long for a reason.
posted by ananci at 12:40 PM on August 16, 2016

Welcome (in advance) to the neighbourhood! I have lived in Boston, Cambridge and now Somerville. I lived in Cambridgeport for a year, Central Square for 2 years, Kendall Square for 4 years, and now my wife and I live in Somerville for 1 year and counting.

You should consider getting a bicycle. It's the best way to get around the Boston area. Boston is very flat, especially compared with the Bay Area.

I'm a 3.9 season biker (I bike rain or shine except for the very worst of snow storms) and up to 7 miles, I have found it is faster than the T or bus, especially in morning and evening commuter peaks. I sweat like a beast, but I just carry a spare shirt or build some time to cool off into my travel plans and it is still faster than the bus.

I think you should aim for Central Square. More lively than Cambridgeport where you will be working, and closer to transit options for the greater Boston area.

As others have said, $1500/mo might be tricky for solo living. Definitely more feasible if you get a bicycle and your 20 minute range goes out to is 3-5 miles rather than 1 mile on foot. You could probably find an MIT grad student to live with, and if you play it right they'll basically live in their lab and you'll have the place to yourself.

MeMail me if you want to get a beer or coffee when you're in town.
posted by KevCed at 1:01 PM on August 16, 2016

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