Moving to Oakland?
September 5, 2018 3:24 PM   Subscribe

My fiance and I have been in SF for about two years and we are not enamored. Would Oakland suit us better?

We moved to SF about 1.5-2 years ago and live in the very northern part of the Mission District, kind of sandwiched between Castro, Hayes Valley, Duboce and Mission. I think it's a great location as far as SF goes and we have easy access to transit to get downtown, we both have good commutes and we love our apartment.

That said, I'm just not in love with SF. I loved it when we visited before moving, but after living here for a while I see the issues of the city and while I feel like I should like it a lot more, and I don't hate it, I wonder if I would be happier somewhere else in the Bay. I grew up in Seattle (like it more than SF, but fiance hates the weather) and we spent the last 5 years in NYC (Brooklyn, which we loved, and then Manhattan, which I did not like). We talked about Oakland when we first moved to SF but it didn't seem dense enough -- I feel that SF has a similar density to Brooklyn and Oakland less so.

The things I don't love about SF are how chilly it is (it's better than NY winter, but I miss being able to wear shorts and dresses out at night in the summer), the difficulty in getting around (we really can only get downtown or to the Sunset area easily from our place, so we basically never go anywhere north or south, and the cost of parking a car is very hight), and the extremely aggressive homeless people.

I have been followed down the street being screamed at twice since moving here, with countless other people approaching me in a threatening way, and I don't like not feeling safe in a lot of parts of the city. I have lived and traveled all over the world including in some places people would consider dangerous (such as Rio, Colombia, etc) and I have never felt threatened or unsafe the way I do here. I don't know if Oakland is any better but when I travel I find it so refreshing to just be able to relax and feel that I am in a normal, safe place. My fiance and I used to like to just wander around NYC all day on our weekends, and we have a hard time doing that here because it seems every time we want to walk somewhere it involves walking through an unpleasant neighborhood. I don't necessarily fear for my safety but I have felt multiple times that I should carry pepper spray, and I don't like to take my dog out in my neighborhood alone at night. It's mostly just a lot of unpleasant and slightly scary interactions.

We have talked on and off about buying a place for a long time, and obviously SF is very expensive. I think we can afford a small place in the city but I am not sure if I want to stay here for years. Oakland would obviously be cheaper, we could have a car which would hopefully allow us to take more advantage of the Bay Area (more weekend trips, hiking, etc). Sunnier, warmer weather is a plus as well. My concerns are that it will feel very suburban, and although I do want a car I do not really want a car -dependent lifestyle (we have not owned a car since around the time we met, 7+ years). I'm concerned my social life would take a hit although most of my fiance's friends are in the East Bay. We are young (early 30s) and intend to remain childless for the foreseeable future, and we really enjoy living a walkable, urban lifestyle.

So, any people here have made this move and how do you feel after the fact? Or anyone who lives in Oakland?

Thanks in advance!
posted by queens86 to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oakland is generally warmer and sunnier than most neighborhoods in SF. I don't know that I would call it a much safer place though. Just like in SF, there are good neighborhoods and bad ones. It is a lot bigger, though, so the safer parts are larger so you're not wandering into a sketchy area within a handful of blocks.

Oakland has a downtown and plenty of urban areas if you don't want that single-family-home with yards vibe. Walkability varies wildly by neighborhood, though. I would say generally you do need a car in the East Bay, simply because Oakland is so much larger -- things tend to be further apart than in SF.

You would probably really like Rockridge, Temescal, Piedmont, and Lake Merritt. Those are all fairly walkable and safe areas. You probably won't love East Oakland, Alameda, or anything over a mile south of the lake.
posted by ananci at 3:44 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

So tempted to tell you not to move to Oakland because there's been a huge rush of people moving here from SF (so many high rise apartment buildings under construction). Oakland's lovely, and it sounds like it would definitely suit you and your partner. It's extremely walkable/bikeable/scooter-able and there are quite a few safe, cute neighborhoods to explore and meander through (Temescal, Lakeshore, Lake Merritt...). The Ford Go-bikes and scooters have definitely made Oakland more accessible without a car. That being said, parking isn't a nightmare here yet, and I feel like there's generally less startup/tech talk here than SF. As you noted, it's a solid 5-10 degrees warmer on this side. There are many great neighborhoods that don't feel suburban, but still feel safe. Obviously it's not the safest place in the world (I don't feel comfortable walking around by myself at night, friends have gotten mugged by Lake Merritt, and everyone's cars get broken into eventually - same as SF).
Sadly, your social life will probably take a hit since no one ever seems to wants to cross the bridge, sorry!
posted by blueberrypuffin at 3:47 PM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Your specific grievances:

The weather here in Oakland is generally warmer and better but no, you will not generally be able to wear shorts and dresses in the summer very often. That's just not the weather in this area.

Getting around: It's easy to get around Oakland by car, less easy by other modes of transport. The driving and parking is easier than in SF and than in neighboring Berkeley, but there is still traffic in places and parking is impacted in popular areas during popular times. You can bike, scooter, ride share, etc, but you CAN have a car with less hassle.

There's a bit less direct panhandling in Oakland overall, but there are now lots of homeless encampments and there is more serious crime (homicides, etc) overall, though some of that is concentrated in places you would not likely live. The fact that you may overall spend less time walking on the streets and dealing with public transport may also mitigate the overall level of harassment you would feel on a regular basis.

I lived in SF for 10 years in 2 neighborhoods and have lived in the Oakland for 15+ years in 3 different neighborhoods. I like it better here in Oakland but that may be because SF is no longer my place and when I go I find it filled with insufferable young, trendy, moneyed white people with high levels of self-regard (believe me, there is plenty of that in Oakland too, somehow it bothers me less). I still have friends who live there and I love them, of course.

Oakland doesn't feel suburban. It does feel like a smaller city that is also not bounded on three sides by water, which many of the other places you have lived are, so the density is higher. In some ways, Oakland reminds me of, like, the Twin Cities. Or maybe it's like Tacoma will be in 10-15 years. But as someone has mentioned above, Oakland is also changing rapidly in density, demographics, cost of living.
posted by vunder at 3:54 PM on September 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

SF reminds me more of Brooklyn than Oakland, definitely, but my own neighborhood (Rockridge) has decent walkability (I'm a short walk from dozens of restaurants, lots of bars, two independent bookstores, BART, etc) and I live on a street with no parking restrictions. It's true that the East Bay is sometimes warmer than SF- generally during the day in the summer, I would say, during times that you may or may not be at work. After work, it gets chilly here pretty often. In terms of safe neighborhoods to wander around, I like North Berkeley best- it's green, with beautiful houses and lots of amazing public staircases and parks. But it's quiet and there's not necessarily a lot to do. It does feel semi-suburban, as does Rockridge.
posted by pinochiette at 3:56 PM on September 5, 2018

P.S. There are quite a few car share cars parked on the streets here (from a company called Gig), so that's an alternative to owning a car. You can park them anywhere within certain zones in the East Bay, I think, but can also use them for day trips farther away.

Also, it's significantly warmer in the summer further east (Orinda, Walnut Creek, etc), but also *very* suburban.

Last, I don't think you mentioned commuting- I usually work from home, but when I go to SF, BART is the worst. It wasn't always so crushingly crowded. It's truly horrible. There are alternatives, like casual carpool or buses, but it's something to consider.
posted by pinochiette at 4:14 PM on September 5, 2018

Dude, are you me? My husband and I (also early 30s with no kids) moved to pretty much the same area of the Mission as you two and a half years ago (from Boston) and found it really difficult and stressful, then moved to Jack London Square in Oakland almost a year ago and are *so* much happier here. Even though our old neighborhood was stunningly beautiful and had great food and everyone was jealous of our location, it just felt...tense, and we never enjoyed it as much as it seemed like we should have? (Although to be fair part of that was two of us and a dog living in a 400 square foot studio.)

For us, Oakland is totally a breath of fresh air and I feel safer here. There are definitely homeless people, but they seem to mostly just want to be left alone and aren't at all aggressive like the ones in the Mission. I guess JLS is a tad suburban, but it has some really great restaurants and bars and has more coming in, has a cute little waterfront, and has close proximity to the Lake Merritt BART station, a ferry stop, and an Amtrak station. It's also an easy walk to downtown Oakland, Chinatown, and Lake Merritt. Unfortunately I can second pinochiette about how hideously crowded the BART commute to SF is in the mornings, though, but Gig car is indeed a perk. We've also started hiking in Redwood Regional Park on weekends a lot, and while it isn't as awe-inspiring as Muir Woods or something having (dog-friendly!) hiking trails through a redwood forest a twenty minute drive away is just the best.

tl;dr It worked out for me! Feel free to memail me if you have any specific questions or want to visit the neighborhood and get a drink. :)
posted by LadyNibbler at 5:07 PM on September 5, 2018

I lived in San Francisco for 14 years and moved to Alameda in 2009. I think you'd prefer Oakland because it's got more of a Brooklyn/Seattle vibe than San Francisco does. (Alameda is great for couples with small kids, may be boring for others.)

For commuting into the city you could take the ferry, which is more expensive than BART but about a million times nicer. It'd be super easy if you lived in Jack London Square since the ferry stop is there, but Oakland is very bikable.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:23 PM on September 5, 2018

We made the move from SF to Oakland in 2012, because we wanted to buy a house and were thoroughly priced out of the SF market.

It’s definitely warmer and less foggy in the East Bay, but once the sun goes down you will still need a sweater. I’m from the East Coast originally and the kind of warm nights you’re talking about don’t exist here.

Oakland feels MUCH more suburban to us due to how spread out everything is. We drive almost everywhere. We don’t live near a BART station, so I’m sure that contributes to it; non-BART public transit options are unreliable at best. My husband doesn’t drive and finds it significantly more difficult to get around in the East Bay.

We would not be able to afford our home if it were on the market today, six years later. Houses in our neighborhood, which is not one of the hip places named above and is not especially convenient to them, routinely sell for $200-300K over the asking price. Oakland real estate can be just as insane as in SF if you want to live in premium neighborhoods like Rockridge or Temescal.

Oakland is statistically more dangerous than SF but I agree with others above that much of Oakland’s violent crime happens in neighborhoods that you’re unlikely to live in or travel through regularly. I have absolutely felt unsafe walking around downtown but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

Your SF friends will act like you’ve moved to outer space.
posted by jesourie at 5:43 PM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've lived in Oakland for nearly twenty years now. I suggest spending some time in various Air BNB's here and there in Oakland so you can get to know it.

It's normally warmer here but frankly it's been a horrible freezer summer, relatively speaking. Different neighborhoods are very different and I think it's entirely possible to get around without a car in most parts of the Town, even though it can be easier to have a car depending on where you live. I'm female and walk or bus nearly everywhere.

I hesitate these days to tell people to just move here though- there are many examples on NextDoor of people moving here in from the City and then expecting gentrification to happen and magically erase the people hanging out on corners, the loud daytime music from churches, people doing donuts in intersections. I'm not saying that's you; I'm just saying this isn't suburbia, even if housing density is low. Oakland has been a place that is full of all kinds of lovely people who are neighborly, and unfortunately many of our new neighbors aren't as friendly as the neighbors they've replaced. I would not suggest moving here unless you've fallen in love with a neighborhood and all it's quirks, because Oakland has as many faults as San Francisco, they're just different.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:54 PM on September 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

My concerns are that it will feel very suburban

Explore a bit, you're served by BART, and Oakland is a short ride away. Do a day trip on a Saturday morning, take BART to 19th, walk straight to Lake Merritt and then clockwise to the Grand Lake Theater. Have breakfast at the Lakeshore Cafe. See a movie at the Grand Lake Theater. Maybe get a drink at Room 389 on Grand Ave.

Or maybe instead take a lyft or scooter from 19th to the New Parkway Theater on 24th (between Telegraph and Broadway). See an indie or second run movie.

Or maybe instead get dim sum in Oakland's Chinatown.

I think you will find that Oakland doesn't feel suburban, and in many ways is more diverse than what The Mission has become.
posted by zippy at 5:59 PM on September 5, 2018

Take BART to Rockridge Station and wander around on College Avenue. It's remarkably like being in a previously unseen part of San Francisco but a bit nicer. It's not the suburbs.
posted by w0mbat at 7:42 PM on September 5, 2018

I lived in Oakland from 2014-2016 before moving over to SF to be closer to my office.

At the time I moved there rents were significantly cheaper in Oakland vs. San Francisco. Oakland is still less expensive but the difference isn't as great, especially in desirable neighborhoods with good BART access. You'll want to price out your total cost of living including things like transit costs for the different commute. If you've ever had the experience of viewing an apartment in SF with 20 other prospective renters there at once, rest assured, you can have that experience in Oakland too.

I keep an eye on real estate prices over there and they have gone up a LOT in the last couple of years.

Weather there is warmer and sunnier than SF, but for those sultry summer nights you'll often have to go further east and/or further south.

My neighborhood in SF is a transit desert so my public transit commute was actually more reliable and sometimes was even faster going Oakland <> SF than SF <> SF. However because it was still around an hour each way, it was hard to get back over to the East Bay for social activities after work hours. That felt isolating after a while. Also I might as well have lived on the moon for as often as my SF and Peninsula resident friends and family came to visit.

Everyone has to make their own assessment of personal safety but to me, Oakland just feels differently unsafe than San Francisco. Some parts do have very high crime rates but you are unlikely to wander into those neighborhoods by accident. That said, it's the only place I've ever lived where I had to check the riot forecast before catching BART home from work. In SF I have a good sense of what areas are consistently hazardous. In Oakland, crime leaks into areas that by all appearances are quite safe so as a result I felt I had to be overall more vigilant there. Law enforcement is notoriously corrupt and ineffective. I am also disheartened to see the massive homeless encampments that have developed in the last year or so, much worse than anything I observe in SF.

There is a lot I miss about living in Oakland. If I have to move out of my SF apartment for some reason I would absolutely consider living there again. There is some great architecture, really nice walkable neighborhoods, excellent food. I love the Fox and Paramount theaters. I wish a Berkeley Bowl outpost would magically appear over here in SF. Oakland feels generally more integrated, more open, and more laid back than SF. There are plenty of areas that don't feel suburban at all. It was much easier to get around with a car but my lifestyle was definitely not car-dependent. If I had a choice between living in a nice part of Oakland or the Mission I would take Oakland, no contest—and I like the Mission.
posted by 4rtemis at 10:41 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of changes happening in Oakland that you need to be aware of this. Like there’s always been racism, but in the past year we’ve seen “Barbecue Becky”; the jogger who threw a homeless guy’s belongings into Lake Merritt; and the lady who threatened to call ICE on a family for parking their car legally on her street. All of these happen to be white folks calling the cops or otherwise threatening people of color.
Oakland has always had homelessness, but in the past few years there have been literal tent cities that spill out into the streets. Come drive through West Oakland and see literally miles of tents. These are not just drug addicts, it’s entire families.
Meanwhile the mayor and city council are tonedeaf and corrupt, as usual. Oakland government spends money frivolously to the benefit of very few people. Did you know on average it takes 80 years for a road in Oakland to get repaved? I am telling you this before you saddle yourself with exorbitant property taxes that are siphoned into a black hole of uselessness.
Did you know calling 911 doesn’t work in Oakland? Calling 911 will direct you instead to CHP who will then direct your call. There is a separate OPD emergency line that one can save in their phone. Don’t expect the police to show up, on time, or at all. Also, the police are severely corrupt. Google Celeste Guap, or the Rough Riders.
If you have a moral dilemma carrying pepper spray or otherwise defending yourself, Oakland may not be for you. It is very easy for criminals to spot a newbie here. It is frankly absurd to leave SF for Oakland because you feel unsafe in SF.
Oaklanders take care of each other. This is the birthplace of the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter. There is a rich history of social progressive movements that continues to today. Honestly, it is upsetting that so many people move here without knowing about this history and without doing any real positive work for their community. If you move here, please learn about your new home and neighbors with a sense of humility and an open mind. This is not San Francisco Lite or a quiet bedroom community.
posted by shalom at 1:10 AM on September 6, 2018 [10 favorites]

I moved from NYC to Oakland thinking it might feel like Brooklyn and it 100% does not. It’s not walkable the same way. There are like 8 BART stops in Oakland vs I think 150 in Brooklyn. BART functions more as a commuter train. If you live in Rockridge or Adams Point you’ll have lots of stuff within a 10 minute walk, though. We didn’t have a car our first 6 months and it was doable if we felt like leaving a lot extra time to get around, but it wasn’t at all like living in NYC or Boston or Chicago.

It’s definitely warmer than SF without actually being warm. If you move, look for newer construction or you may find you live somewhere without insulation and are cold in your home 9 months of the year. Your temperature settings may be different from mine but I find it is not ever comfortable to wear shorts after sundown. For that you’d have to go through the tunnel. (I work in Pleasant Hill and it’s genuinely warm-hot sometimes which I love.)

The problem of homelessness is probably less often in your face in Oakland but not by a lot.

Grain of salt: I’ve never liked it here, so my responses are tinged negative.
posted by Smearcase at 2:17 PM on September 6, 2018

On the topic of 911 in Oakland, I think this is true everywhere in CA if you call 911 on a cellphone.
posted by vunder at 3:28 PM on September 6, 2018

First, what shalom said.

For perspective: I'm a 4th generation Bay Arean clinging by my fingernails to the edge of getting priced out of the "cheaper" areas of where I was born and grew up. (If we weren't in a rent-controlled apartment building... oof.) I've lived in Oakland for 25 years and am having trouble coming up with why it's worth my effort to try to make Oakland sound good to someone who moved to the Bay Area two years ago and thinks Oakland is "suburban".

At the same time, the reason I moved to Oakland 25 years ago is because I didn't like living in SF. Since then it's only gotten worse. Things are bad on both sides of the bay, and yet – speaking as someone who feels comfortable walking through downtown Oakland at midnight – I try to avoid spending time on Market Street even in broad daylight.

Should you move to Oakland? No. Is it better than San Francisco? Yes.
posted by Lexica at 5:30 PM on September 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

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