Location scouting in the Bay area
February 1, 2006 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan a location scouting (relocation) trip to the Bay Area.

I would like to move to the Bay Area and I've planned a location scouting trip to the area in February. I'm flying in and out of Oakland and I'll have 4 full days to look around.

I would like to check out cities/suburbs within an hour of San Francisco. Because I lack familiarity with the area outside of San Francisco, I'm having trouble planning my trip. I'll be renting a car and driving around but where should I stay?

I want to book hotel reservations ahead of time. Can anyone suggest the best places (areas, not hotels) to stay in order to maximize the time I have to look around? For instance, I am looking for advice along the lines of "ABC city is a good place to call home for a night because it is central to several areas, XYZ city is not a good place to stay because it is mostly industrial and far from other areas so it won't give you a good sense of what it is like to live in the area"

Additionally, which areas should I check out? I would like to live in an area that has character, lots to do (restaurants, bars, cultural events) and lots of young professionals. I like city life, however, I am not against the 'burbs. That said, I don't want to live somewhere that is mostly families with children (nothing against families with children, I'm just not at that stage in my life yet). As for budget, cost is an issue. Think reasonable rental rates, etc. I know the area is expensive so which parts are more affordable than others?

Finally, which areas should I stay away from (for instance seedy areas of Oakland, etc.)?

I know I'm asking for a lot of info, thanks in advance for the help.
posted by necessitas to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hmmm...I'd recommend Berkeley. It's cheaper than SF, is less of a suburb and more of a small city, has plenty of character, and a broad range of ages/professions/lifestyles. Also, it's convenient both to the rest of the East Bay and to SF via BART (except late at night). And trees and hills and cute houses.
posted by cali at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2006

Are you specifically excluding San Francisco itself, perhaps due to concerns about housing costs? Or is that a possibility?

Do you have a job lined up, or is there a specific industry you will be working in, or is that wide open? *Where* you would be likely to be working would be useful information before making suggestions- for example, if you are likely to be working in downtown San Francisco or downtown Oakland, then I would suggest places that are convenient to BART. If you are likely to be working on the Peninsula, I would suggest places that are Caltrain-friendly or 101/280-friendly, depending on your preferred method of commuting.

Based on your question and nothing else, cali is right on about Berkeley. (I live in Berkeley and commute to downtown San Francisco on BART.)
posted by ambrosia at 1:36 PM on February 1, 2006

I dont know what your income is but in for Young Professionals in Oakland check out areas like Piedmont Ave, College Ave. (which stretches through Berkeley), and Jack London Sq (though that place is a little too rich for my tastes). West Oakland and Fruitvale are relatively sketchy but to me that's where most of the interesting night life is, since you got the starving artists and hipster bands holding their warehouse parties and art shows.
posted by sammich at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2006

Ooops I glossed over your last sentence about budget! If you are money conscious but want to be in the middle of it all I would probably shoot for Berkeley south and a little past the Oakland border, like south of University Ave til where the i580 is. Drive around and between Telegraph Ave, San Pablo Ave, Shattuck, and Alcatraz Ave. (the main throughfares). Generally the further north you go the nicer and priceier it is.

* disclaimer: i never lived in the east bay. i just spend too much time there.
posted by sammich at 1:59 PM on February 1, 2006

Response by poster: I haven't ruled out San Francisco, however, I am concerned that it will be too expensive. As for working, I'll probably be working from home so proximity to the office isn't an issue.
posted by necessitas at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2006

Every part of the bay area that has the things you want is going to be well above what you are probably used to as "reasonable". Prepare yourself for that. You'll spend slightly less outside the city - but not a lot. You could, though, manage to get more space outside SF for the same price if that is important to you.

To give you really good advice it would help to know where you intend on working. Berkeley and Oakland are both great cities - but if your job is going to be in the silicon valley - your commute will be nothing short of absolute hell with limited/ no viable public transportation options. It's one of the bonuses of SF living - it really is the most centrally located part of the Bay Area when it comes to commuting.

I'll second piedmont avenue in Oakland - and pretty much anywhere off of College Avenue in Berkeley/Oakland. The Peninsula and Marin are mostly all bedroom neighborhoods. Mill Valley in Marin has a cute downtown - but it is stroller central. Palo Alto is the best the peninsula has to offer but you'll still have to head to SF for most concerts and the like. There is culture around Stanford and the downtown is lively enough - but it's still a suburb.

San Francisco itself is a bunch of individual neighborhoods that have their own character and often their own weather. If you're young - I wouldn't even consider much outside of SF/Oakland/Berkeley. If you like city life - Hayward/Walnut Creek/San Carlos/Fremont - and the people who have chosen to live there - aren't going to have much in common with you. .

I'd base myself in SF - spend most of your time exploring the neighborhoods - then take a day or day and a half to drive across thr bridge to check out Oakland/Berkeley.

I've lived in the Bay Area my entire life - email is username at gmail - feel free to contact me if you have more specific questions.
posted by Wolfie at 2:26 PM on February 1, 2006

As Wolfie noted, there's probably nothing that would seem 'reasonable' to a newcomer. The entire Bay Area, suburbs included, is expensive compared to nearly most of the country. So you need to figure out what your realistic price threashold is. HousingMaps can help you spot the areas that meet whatever your price criteria are (hint: use the 'show filters' mode to specify how many bedrooms and whether you need pet-friendly apts). Then we can can help you figure out which might be a good demographic fit.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:43 PM on February 1, 2006

(Also, once you know which towns you're curious about, their Census profiles will show stuff like median age, % of kids under 5, etc.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2006

I would like to live in an area that has character, lots to do (restaurants, bars, cultural events) and lots of young professionals.

Yeah, Berkeley and SF are the places you should look at. Most everything south on the peninsula is pretty boring and suburban (I've lived on mot of it at some point). Santa Cruz would be an option if you didn't need to an hour out SF. Craigslist is a good place to look for rentals.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:10 PM on February 1, 2006

Check out grand lake and lakeshore areas in oakland. (Near the Grandlake and Parkway theatres respectively.) I also like Albany, a little quieter but still pretty neat. Ashby area's pretty nice too. I think fruitvale's pretty great as well. Piedmont's a nice little commercial area but more yuppie/family oriented. Feel free to e-mail me!
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 3:20 PM on February 1, 2006

I just saw "Think reasonable rental rates,"

um, think Sacramento or Tracy. No, really. About $1000 for a small studio in non-crappy neighborhood. $1200+ for anything with an actual bedroom.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:20 PM on February 1, 2006

Sorry to sound repetitive, but want to reinforce what others are saying. College, Ashby, Piedmont, Grand Lake/Lakeshore are great. West Berkeley, West Oakland, Fruitvale if you need to save some money.

Anything else, and you might as well not be in the Bay Area.
posted by laz-e-boy at 3:34 PM on February 1, 2006

I'd avoid Fruitvale in Oakland as a neighborhood to live in, unless you are a huge Mexican food aficionado (absolutely some of the best in the Bay Area). Fruitvale is cheap, but it's out of the way, relatively speaking, and it's still a very high crime area. Reasonable and well located would be North Oakland/Temescal, Grand Lake, Lake Merritt areas.
There are also cool places in Downtown Oakland, if you don't mind the area being nearly deserted on weekends (it's getting better though). Nice urban architecture, cheap rent for decent places- you can get a studio for around 700 a month. There is also all kinds of new housing being built downtown, it's changing very fast. Oakland really is the cheapest place to live while being very close to San Francisco, and the weather is very mild, generally warmer than most of SF. I live in downtown Oakland and I love it- but I like somewhat funky living places. I lived in a warehouse in West Oakland for many years,and I feel fairly secure recommending against that course of action for an Oakland newbie.

I'm thinking that Rockridge, Downtown Berkeley, Alameda, or Piedmont would probably suit you better as far as cafe's, bars, social life. I would avoid West Oakland (nothing whatsoever to walk to) and Fruitvale/East Oakland. I think you'd find plenty to look at basing yourself in the East Bay.

I never have a reason to go down on the Peninsula south of San Francisco, even though I grew up there. However, there may be good deals to be had immediately south of the City in places like San Bruno, though it's very foggy, suburban, and any friends you made in the City would never come visit because there's nothing to do there. There are a few cute, downtown/mainstreet based neighborhoods in places like San Mateo, but I have no idea what rents are like.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:00 PM on February 1, 2006

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