Practical details of moving to the Bay Area
December 16, 2016 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Boyfriend and I-- a non-engineer and an engineer-- moving to the Bay Area for a job offer. I don't know many people out there, so trying to get a realistic picture.

I got a job offer to work in Silicon Valley as an engineer. My boyfriend and I are both looking forward to it, not least of all because we're in the middle of the cold Midwestern winter at the moment. We have a few questions, though:

1) Where to live? Where do people who work for Facebook, Apple, etc. actually live? I know one Google employee who lives in Mountain View, and the rest of the engineers I know live in SF, but I don't know them well enough to ask them questions about their living space/rent. I know that rent is a huge problem in the Bay Area, and I am starting with a decent salary, but I want to have realistic expectations about where I might end up and how much it might cost. From a personal standpoint, I like SF and am generally a city person, but I'm more concerned with living somewhere safe/not horribly expensive, compared to surrounding areas, than living in the most exciting possible place. We don't have a car, but maybe we could get one? (I hate driving, would prefer pretty much anything else.)

2) Getting a job as a non-engineer? My boyfriend just graduated with a Masters degree in humanities, and he is job searching at the moment. I'm assuming the job search will be different in the SF-area, since I've heard a lot of non-tech people actually do work for tech companies in other roles. Is this something he should look into? Are there any industries in particular where it might be fruitful to job hunt? He's had sales experience and is interested in jobs tangential to recruiting or law.

3) Trying to get a realistic image of my finances. Let's say I was going to make 100k a year (I'm not, but this is a useful figure to me for several reasons). How much of that would I actually take home? How much should I expect to spend on rent? (I know the 30% rule, but does it realistically apply in SF?)

Thanks, everyone! I've really never lived outside the Midwest, so everything I'm thinking about this move is based on the stereotypes and complaints I've heard from other tech people-- I would appreciate knowing more about the details.
posted by stoneandstar to Work & Money (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
OH, and a dip into my posting history shows that I have a serious lifelong battle with shitty apartments with a roach problem. If there is ANYTHING I CAN DO to avoid living with roaches ever again, at least in CA, please advise.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:09 AM on December 16, 2016

I would start with a temporary arrangement relatively close to your work. That will allow you to get a feel for the different areas and your tolerance for commuting.
posted by vunder at 11:15 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

San Francisco rents have recently somewhat stabilized (at their absurdly high levels) and perhaps dropped slightly. Have a look at this map, which is still about right.

Generally, absurd as it sounds, $100K/year pre-tax does not get you very far in San Francisco. If you want to live in the city and pay rent that is somewhat more reasonable, I'd consider the Richmond (not to be confused with the city of Richmond in the East Bay) and Sunset districts. Residential, safe, and generally close to one or more direct routes downtown.

Most large SV employers provide buses from SF for their employees (much to the consternation of a lot of locals and public transport activists). Ask yours whether they do, and where it stops.

Renting an apartment in SF is still a bit of an adventure, particularly if you are price-sensitive. It's done largely through Craigslist and involves running around to a lot of open houses, eyeing other potential renters warily, and hoping to convince landlords to rent to you. You should block out some time for this. Ask your employer what they can do to help (e.g., providing temporary housing).
posted by eugenen at 11:16 AM on December 16, 2016

Just a quick note-- I will have temporary housing for about two weeks, so I expect to spend a lot of time laying some shoe leather and seeing the area. Just wanted to calibrate my expectations in advance!
posted by stoneandstar at 11:20 AM on December 16, 2016

I wouldn't live in SF unless you are working there. Being on the buses down to the peninsula or South Bay eat up a lot of time and cause back problems. Many of my colleagues do SF -> cupertino and it seems soul crushing and takes up a lot of their day. I was doing east bay -> Cupertino work bus for awhile and had to see a chiropractor

Traffic here has gottten RLY bad. Like to the point where, I lived 5 miles from work but it could take me an hour to get home. I'd really recommend you live as close to your work as you can afford to, but YMMV. You will likely be spending more on rent than you're comfortable with, but it's worth it not to deal with the bad commute.

I am a non-engineer and there are a lot of options available to me just bc there are so many companies in the Bay Area.

Also: living in California you are going to need a car, sorry, I'm from Asia which has amazing public transit and I hate driving too but you can't get around it here, unless you live and work in the city and never leave the city.
posted by raw sugar at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2016 [16 favorites]

Also: living in California you are going to need a car, sorry, I'm from Asia which has amazing public transit and I hate driving too but you can't get around it here, unless you live and work in the city and never leave the city.

I don't agree with this. I do live and work in the city but I don't own a car and get out plenty, and know plenty of others who do as well. Zipcar/CityCarShare have gotten more expensive but they remain a good option, and parking is expensive and a hassle.
posted by eugenen at 11:26 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

We don't really have roaches in the Bay Area, so ease your worry on that one. If anyone wants to correct me on that, please do -- but in my sixteen years here I haven't heard about anyone having them.

Look at some of the outer districts of SF, as mentioned above. Sunset, Richmond, Excelsior, Portola -- the last two are up-and-coming but not yet gentrified or hipsterized, and you may be able to find decent apartments or even a single-family house to rent.

If you live in the city, you won't really need a car except for grocery trips, and maybe not even then if you live near a big store. Use Zipcar or take a cab for that, or get together with friends to do a big grocery run. Public transit is pretty good in the city, and it's a small city anyway.
posted by vickyverky at 11:30 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

The big company buses cover most of the south bay and peninsula -- it's not strictly an SF-to-HQ-only affair.
posted by aramaic at 11:32 AM on December 16, 2016

Could you provide the city where your job would be? I'm assuming by "Silicon Valley" you mean something like Mountain View or Cupertino, but the term covers a pretty broad area (although less than "Bay Area" which is literally the land surrounding the SF Bay).
posted by curagea at 11:33 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Trying to get a realistic image of my finances. Let's say I was going to make 100k a year (I'm not, but this is a useful figure to me for several reasons). How much of that would I actually take home?

To answer this kind of question, I like the Paycheck City Salary Calculator. You can put in your annual gross salary and state and it will figure out your tax withholdings. If you already know your benefits package, you can also put in your other voluntary deductions like health insurance premiums and 401k contributions and it will calculate your take-home pay.
posted by muddgirl at 11:37 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

We don't really have roaches in the Bay Area, so ease your worry on that one. If anyone wants to correct me on that, please do -- but in my sixteen years here I haven't heard about anyone having them.

Sorry, but we do. Not bad, but in the 16 years we've been in our current apartment we've seen them a couple of times. Low-key treatments like borax and diatomaceous earth seem to be adequate for dealing with them, but they do exist.
posted by Lexica at 11:45 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding Paycheck City. It will get you darn close to your actual take-home, especially if you already know what your pre-tax deductions are likely to be.
posted by praemunire at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Non-tech worker San Francisco resident here!
Most tech workers I know live in San Francisco and much prefer it to living in Mountain View/Palo Alto/San Jose. The shuttle commutes are a pain, but it's doable and it means you spend your weekends in SF. (I don't know that I would choose to do it, but I live and work in SF.) You are correct that rent is problematically high. It's not as competitive as it was a year ago, but a centrally-located one-bedroom in most "desirable" neighborhoods will still run you around $3k/month or more. Add on the security deposit and that's quite a chunk of money to move in. Just something to consider. Better deals can definitely be found, but it sounds like you're concerned about vermin and such (which is understandable) so you'll most likely want to lean toward newer buildings. Roaches aren't as big a problem here as say, NYC, but they are around - especially in old buildings.

I like the Richmond and the Sunset and they tend to be a bit more affordable (and closer to the beach!) but the Sunset has a train and the Richmond does not, which can feel really limiting. It would also be difficult to have a car in either of these neighborhoods unless your building has a garage. On the car front, I have had a car in SF and not had a car in SF - I prefer not to have one. Public transportation here is unreliable at best, but we have Uber and Lyft if you need to take quick trips around the city, and Getaround and Zipcar when you want to hit the road. Street parking is stressful and usually requires a zoning sticker and car break-ins are rampant and car insurance rates are pretty high in CA and traffic! If you live outside of SF, then a car would make sense. But you don't need one in SF.

100k here doesn't get you very far, unless you're sharing your rent. Bars and restaurants here are crazy expensive (though the Richmond and Sunset have lots of cheap Asian food) and groceries are pricey too. But it all depends on how you spend your money. I make less than 100k and I get by. I split rent with a roommate, my expenses are minimal, and I have no debt. But after taxes and spending on food and fun, I'm not saving a ton. (which I am working on) On two salaries though, you guys should be able to make it work.

Not sure what kind of work your guy is looking for, but there are lots of schools/colleges here. There's also an ABUNDANCE of restaurant jobs right now and they pay pretty well. If I were him, I'd probably snag one of those while I looked for something more long-term.

Good luck and memail if you'd like!
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 11:57 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Live as close to your work as financially feasible. In the San Jose area, at least there are apartments very close to many of the workplaces. Single BR that we have looked at are ~2400. Living close could give you back 2 hours a day, depending on your alternatives, so factor that in to what you want to allocate for housing.

Spouse knew someone who bought in SF to work in SJ. That struck me as insane, but it worked for him.

There's reasonable public transport in the densely populated areas.

I've seen more silverfish than roaches. Still ugh, but to ridiculous levels of ugh.

I have very little firsthand knowledge of non-engineer employment opportunities, but I've had a few inquiries and requests for resumes, am not an engineer, and am not looking, so I assume they are reasonable.
posted by pearshaped at 11:57 AM on December 16, 2016

I work for one of the companies you list there and the trend I am seeing amongst all of my coworkers is that they are are leaving SF to live closer to work because the commutes suck so fucking bad. Even with the nice cushy shuttles, it is demoralizing to lose 4 hours a day to traffic. Some common areas I am seeing coworkers end up is E Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, Mountain View, San Mateo, all the way up to Burlingame (super cute little town, by the way). A few coworkers have actually moved over to the Newark/Fremont area because the commute is not awful AND it's still pretty reasonably priced, albeit boring and not hip at all.

Among my friends and coworkers who have stayed in SF they have all pretty much said they never actually get to enjoy living in the city on work nights because of their commutes, so they might as well live somewhere else and go up on the weekends.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:02 PM on December 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

Where do people who work for Facebook, Apple, etc. actually live?

Unhelpfully, they live everywhere. People live as far north as Marin and as far south as Gilroy. A lot of people live in SF because it's an actual city, but lots live all along the peninsula. A lot live in the south-east bay, like Fremont, because it's less expensive. A few live in Berkeley or Oakland but that's really far from the valley. Many live in Mountain View/Cupertino/Sunnyvale/Palo Alto but those places are expensive, pretty close to the cost of living in SF really. San Jose is kind of weird IMO, it's not really very urban and doesn't have the same benefits of living in SF. Some people like but most of the nice neighbourhoods are fairly suburban and similar to Mountain View etc.

As far as rent goes, $4000 per month is not totally crazy. You could do $3000 per month. $2000 per month is unlikely. From the SJ Mercury:
  • In September 2016, San Jose rents fell year over year by 3.4 percent from $2,814 in September 2015 to $2,718.
  • During the same time period, San Francisco rents fell year over year by 3.3 percent from $3,336 to $3,226.
  • And Oakland rents fell year over year by 0.6 percent from $2,392 to $2,378.

Note these are averages and most people who work in a big company have a nicer than average place and pay above-average rent.

The trouble with living in SF and working in the Valley is losing 2 hours a day to commuting with the occasional traffic situation making it two hours each way. Some people bike. Commuter busses are good because they're free for employees but subject to highway traffic. The Caltrain costs money and is generally more reliable until there's a track blockage when it's a nightmare and totally blocked. My commute is a whopping 8 miles and that's an average of 30 min each way. I bike because it takes the same amount of time as driving.

Getting a job as a non-engineer?

There are plenty of jobs and competition for lower-pay jobs is less intense because people can't afford to live here on a "low" salary of say $65K annually. A job hunt will take time and effort like anywhere but there are lots of sales and non-tech jobs around.

We don't have a car, but maybe we could get one? (I hate driving, would prefer pretty much anything else.)

You could maybe pull this off in SF but anywhere else you need a car. Even in SF you'll probably want a car unless you're really dedicated to cycling.

Trying to get a realistic image of my finances

CA has a relatively high state income tax and high sales taxes. So you'll pay approx 33%-ish effective in federal+state+medicare etc tax - 100K becomes about 66K after tak, say $5500 per month. (roughly) Say $3000 for rent, that's $2500 monthly for everything else. You'll be OK but money can go fast around here, that estimate is probably optimistic. For a couple it's fine, for a family of 4 it's probably tight.
posted by GuyZero at 12:07 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also on roaches - they're generally not an issue but we had a weird outbreak of beetle-type roaches here in Sunnyvale last year but they went away again. Most places don't have them and they're easily treated. They're not the madagascar-type roaches at least. We get these huge japanese beetles in my backyard garden and I have to sift the soil for grubs every spring but I don't think that's the issue you're worrying about. :)
posted by GuyZero at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2016

I work on the Peninsula and have lived in Mountain View and Palo Alto with great contentment. Sometimes I consider moving to SF because it’s cheaper there (no seriously, because the suburbs are only interesting if you live within walking distance of downtown which is pricey as hell), but I can’t handle the commute.

However, I have plenty of work friends happily living in SF and one who just moved from Mountain View to SF (also changed jobs, but part of the reason for the move was that “going to SF on the weekend” wasn’t working that well).

Datapoint: I moved into my downtown Palo Alto apartment last year and am paying $2400/month for a small but clean/well-managed apartment that allows cats. But give up the idea of both living on your own and having in-unit laundry, unless you want to live in the South Bay suburbs (requires driving everywhere and commute is still 45 min at peak hours). In SF, if you're prioritizing safe over exciting and want a better commute than Sunset/Richmond, take a look at Glen Park and Ingleside (near the Glen Park and Balboa Park BART stations, respectively, and much closer to highway 101). Glen Park is cute and getting more expensive; Ingleside is hopefully still in that sweet spot of relatively affordable and boring and convenient, because few of my friends have heard of the neighborhood.

Speaking of cars: you will need one if you live anywhere but SF (or Berkeley/Oakland, but I really don’t recommend that if you’re working in Silicon Valley). I know many, many people in SF and can only think of 3 who own cars, so it’s definitely not a necessity in the city.

Craigslist tips: don’t rely on the alert emails, keep a search open and refresh it several times a day. Look for listings that don’t have good/any pictures and are lacking in detailed tags (so don’t filter your search down too much). And be willing to take a vacation day in order to go see an apartment immediately once you get through on the phone to someone. I’ve found 3 under-market-rate apartments this way. We were the first people to see my current apartment, in a very low-inventory neighborhood, at 3PM on Friday afternoon, and we put the deposit down before the other 9 people with later appointments could show up.
posted by serelliya at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding everything GuyZero said. If you work in SF, you can definitely live there, but if you don't work in the city, understand the tradeoffs. Your minimum commute on any tech bus is likely two hours per day, which is an extra work day per week. If you're working for a company big enough to ride the bus, you're also likely to be working 10+ hour days in the first place, so you're looking at 12 hour days minimum, including commute. Unless they work from home a couple days per week, most people are not going to be spending a ton of time in the city on weeknights, even if they live there.

Consider signing a month to month lease for more money until you figure out where you actually want to live. I'm of the mind that you won't really know until you get there. If you're searching for apartments in San Francisco, have your credit reports, two pay stubs, a rental resume and your checkbook with you when you show up. Ask for and fill out a rental application ahead of time. Be one of the first people to reply to a new listing. If you want the place, give the property manager your resume as quickly as possible. Understand that you may be competing with people who will offer over the advertised rent or who will offer a check for the whole lease when they sign it. (Little of this applies on the Peninsula or in Silicon Valley).

There isn't a lot going on in Silicon Valley, but it's slightly less expensive than SF and a lot closer to many of the jobs. I would choose either as close as possible to your job, or San Francisco. There's little sense spending an hour commuting inside Silicon Valley. Don't live in Downtown San Jose. (Just trust me on this). Contrary to what was posted above, there's almost no relationship between the age of a building and whether or not it has vermin. Almost no market rate places have vermin problems.

We don't have a car, but maybe we could get one? (I hate driving, would prefer pretty much anything else.)

If you don't live in SF or parts of Berkeley, you *are* going to need a car. Transit and density in the rest of the Bay Area are poor at best.

living somewhere safe/not horribly expensive

Most places in the South Bay and Peninsula are safe, but if rent is far cheaper than average, there's probably a reason.

Getting a job as a non-engineer? My boyfriend just graduated with a Masters degree in humanities, and he is job searching at the moment.

In general, my experience was that the local economy was really healthy for non-tech workers. No-specific industry advice.

Good luck!
posted by cnc at 1:03 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll nth what others have said about needing a car if you live anywhere other than SF.

I'll also say that, as an engineer, depending on your company, you may have flexible hours. My husband does the "engineer commute" and works about 11 am to 7 pm (plus some time at home in the mornings and evenings) so that he can miss commuting during rush hour.

If your boyfriend gets a non-tech office job, he may be a lot more locked in to a 9-to-5 schedule, and in that case it may be more advantageous to live closer to his work if you can commute at non-peak times.

If you really hate driving and you're working someplace like Google near a Caltrain station, I'd look into living along the Caltrain line, whether that's in San Francisco, South San Francisco, San Mateo, Redwood City, etc. Personally I'd find the train much less awful than a shuttle bus every day, but I also really dislike buses.

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2016

I live in Bernal Heights, which borders the Mission (which makes my work commute easy) but I also hear a lot of SV workers are moving here because it is similarly less awful on the commute. Bernal is pretty family-friendly and there are lots of dogs, and a nice little main street with restaurants and cafes. It's not as nice as Glen Park (which borders on the southwest) but we really like it. We would probably stay here if I got an SV job versus a city job and be okay with it (but we would get a car for me to commute, which we currently do not have).
posted by olinerd at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2016

A) It is 100% not necessary to have a car in the Bay Area, IFF you live and work in suitable places. My husband and I have been car-free for 10+ years now and still find ourselves remarking "I'm so glad we don't have to hassle with having a car."

B) If you live or work on the Peninsula, statement A is probably not relevant to you. In our case, we live in Oakland and I work in Oakland while my spouse works/has worked in Oakland and SF. Work and running errands are not a problem on public transportation. Visiting my folks, who live in Palo Alto, is a problem. If we want to visit them at their place, it's literally (literally literally, not figuratively literally) less expensive (not to mention SO much less hassle) to rent a car from Hertz than to wrangle public transit. $35 rental+fees per day vs. [huh, so no longer tells you how much the transit will cost? that sucks] as I remember for two people it cost well over $35 round trip. Plus driving is an hour, hour-and-a-half each way, while transit is 3+ hours.
posted by Lexica at 2:06 PM on December 16, 2016

Traffic between Silicon Valley and SF is insane. Those bus commutes from SF down to Silicon Valley are literally 2 hours each way, for Apple, and not much less for Google (which is a couple highway exits north; FB is the northernmost.) The only way it works is if you can work on the bus: they all have WiFi, but if you have to be in meetings it is a problem (people can and do attend their meetings remotely by phone or VC but for secure teams obviously that's not as doable.)

It's a priorities thing. If you need to live in a hip city, you make SF work. If you want time with your SO or for your house hobbies, live on the peninsula. Downtown Mountain View is cute with lots of nice restaurants, but not much else, culture-wise.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:29 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live and work on the peninsula and while we do have a car, we don't use it that often. The good thing about bay area weather is that you can bike 90% of the year without too much hassle. So that's an option, though I realize it is not necessarily an option for everyone.

Adding to that, if you are within short biking distance from a Caltrain station, it really opens up the possibilities for where you can live and work without having to involve yourself with bay area traffic.

As for your question about salary... I moved from Chicago making about 80K and got a job out here right about 100K. It felt like a wash or perhaps a slight downgrade, but that difference is all rent, in my opinion. Yes, food and other things is slightly more expensive but not enough to really move the needle.

And it was a LOT more work to find a rental here than it was in Chicago, so here are some tips:
1) Have your pre-paperwork ready (like copies of credit reports, past references, paystubs)
2) Get on craigslist, padmapper, etc, to get a good idea of what's out there.
3) When you see a place you like and the landlord/manager is there, tell them you are ready to put down a deposit and start paying rent immediately instead of "I'd like to move at the end of this/next month"

Also feel free to memail me.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:43 PM on December 16, 2016

I know this isn't the question you're asking, but if you're an experienced software engineer, I'd encourage you to look at other job opportunities once you get settled. You should be making well over $100K as a software engineer in the Bay Area, especially when including stock and bonus (but even the base should be over 100K in most cases). I don't generally recommend job hopping, but one of the things that makes living in the Bay Area pleasant despite the costs is the crazy compensation, so you want to make sure you're taking full advantage of it...
posted by primethyme at 2:48 PM on December 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

2) Getting a job as a non-engineer? My boyfriend just graduated with a Masters degree in humanities, and he is job searching at the moment. I'm assuming the job search will be different in the SF-area, since I've heard a lot of non-tech people actually do work for tech companies in other roles. Is this something he should look into? Are there any industries in particular where it might be fruitful to job hunt? He's had sales experience and is interested in jobs tangential to recruiting or law.

Other people have talked over the other two questions really well, but I have some second-hand experience with this one. I moved here more than two years ago under similar circumstances to you with my wife, who has a humanities BA, an in-progress humanities MA, has been actively employed with no breaks since she was 15, is an excellent writer, interviews well, and has worked positions from server to floor manager to carpenter's apprentice to research assistant, and it's only just in the past month that she's landed a non-temp full-time position. It took her months to even get placed with a temp agency in the first place. Looking for a non-engineering job at a tech company might be a good bet, especially if he's looking to get into recruiting, but my sense is that it's going to be an abnormally difficult experience compared to other metro areas that have a broader economic base and/or less-insane costs of living. I hope that isn't discouraging, but if your preparations hinge on this at all, it's a good thing to be aware of beforehand.

On another note, when deciding where to live, keep the microclimates in mind with regards to your weather preferences. Many places on the west side of San Francisco are going to be extremely cloudy/foggy compared to the east side or the East Bay, but it can vary by altitude too, so it's always worth getting a sense of how that is on a per-neighborhood basis. I'm always happy to recommend Oakland, especially since I've known a lot of city-loving people who move here expecting to like SF and finding that they absolutely prefer Oakland in spite of its being a smaller city, but it does make for a particularly brutal commute to the South Bay if that's where you're working.
posted by invitapriore at 4:41 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Employees of companies like Facebook and Apple tend to concentrate in San Francisco, the Peninsula, and parts of the South Bay. Living in the southern part of the East Bay is also feasible (and generally less expensive) depending on your tolerance for commuting time. In my opinion, commuting from anywhere in Marin County, or from the East Bay north of Union City or maybe Hayward, to the Peninsula or South Bay is not practical unless you have a non-standard work schedule or really like sitting in traffic.

San Francisco is of course notorious for high rental prices, but living in the suburbs can be just as expensive as those communities (especially the wealthiest parts of the Peninsula like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Los Altos) have an entrenched dislike of high-density residential growth and heavy competition for housing due to the booming regional economy. Where you choose to live will be as much a product of your commute tolerance and lifestyle preferences (suburban vs. urban, access to more cultural amenities vs. space for a detached house with yard, warmer or cooler climate, etc.) as your sensitivity to housing costs.

Be prepared to adjust your expectations downward about the quality of housing stock. Cheap mid-century construction is common in this area and while the rental market does seem to be cooling off slightly, it remains that landlords have relatively little incentive to repair minor aesthetic and quality-of-life defects.

Most parts of the Peninsula and South Bay are family-oriented and quite safe. San Francisco, meanwhile, is relatively safe as far as violent crime goes but property crimes and car break-ins are common. On the Peninsula, be cautious of East Palo Alto (note: a different city and county from Palo Alto) and the Belle Haven neighborhood in Menlo Park, though I hear both areas are gentrifying, and perhaps some parts of Sunnyvale and Redwood City. In San Francisco, be cautious of Bayview/Hunters Point, the Tenderloin, Sunnydale, and some parts of the Mission, Visitacion Valley, and SOMA.

I am going to go against the prevailing wind here and say that unless you live and work within San Francisco, your quality of life will be a lot better if you have at least one car for your household. It is possible to live car-free on the Peninsula, much of which is flat and bicycle-friendly, but that does not make it ideal. I used to live in Southern California (which has a reputation for being highly car-dependent) but I have never done so much day-to-day driving in my life as when I lived in Palo Alto. Public transit coverage on the Peninsula is generally poor and having a car will give you easier access to a much broader range of services and recreational opportunities than if you try to go without.

The Bay Area is less "buggy" than the Midwest (though by no means cockroach-free) but what we do have here is ants, and lots of them.
posted by 4rtemis at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Consider downtown San Jose - it's actually a bigger city than San Francisco. It's more spread out, but the downtown should be big enough; rents should be much more reasonable.
posted by coberh at 9:03 PM on December 16, 2016

Many of my neighbors commute from the middle of SF (Cole Valley) to the South Bay, and by all accounts, the 1.5 hour commute is brutal, even on a shuttle with wifi. It's just a lot of time, and it's a clogged ride both ways. Is there any way you can experience the daily slog before you commit to a location? San Francisco is SO much fun to live in, but leaving at 7:30 AM and getting back at 8 PM is the necessary tradeoff.

Finally, if you consider living in San Francisco, be sure you're aware of where the actual freeways are. For me to get to the Bay Bridge (my daily commute), it takes about 25 minutes in the morning because traffic in the city is pretty serious, just getting to the freeway. If you live in the Dogpatch, though, you'll be able to cut that 25 minutes of leaving the city from your daily commute.
posted by flyingfork at 9:00 PM on December 30, 2016

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