Best place outside SF to live in the Bay Area?
June 26, 2006 11:53 AM   Subscribe

If you worked in San Francisco but didn't want to live in San Francisco, where would you live?

Some factors you might consider: ease of commuting, cost of real estate, quality of schools for children, access to "quality of life" stuff like coffeeshops, movie theaters, libraries, etc.
posted by jjg to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And let's not forget weather.
posted by jjg at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2006

Why do you not want to live in SF--it might offer some guidance--cost, parking, schools,etc?
posted by rmhsinc at 12:02 PM on June 26, 2006

Can you afford to live wherever you want? There are nice areas in the Bay, but all of them have astronomical housing markets. Pal Alto and Sunnyvale are nice areas with a small town feel but close enough to commute downtown. Pleasanton is nice but a bit father out. I grew up in a small suburb south of Sacramento callled Elk Grove about 1 1/2 to 2 hour commute from San Francisco. My parents still live there and have people on their street that work in San Francisco and commute 2 hours every day because housing is so much cheaper in the valley.
posted by skrike at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2006

Where do you work? Proximate to a BART station or Caltrain station? Driving to SF sucks in general. A BART-only or Caltrain-only commute isn't so bad, but having to then transfer to MUNI gets much worse.

There are lots of nice communities near BART stations. None of them are cheap. Albany in particular (not far from the El Cerrito Plaza) is famed for great schools, and has commensurately high real estate prices.

What's your tolerance for how long your commute takes, what means it involves, and how many different means? How far from San Francisco are you willing to get, provided you're reasonably close to somewhere else with "quality of life"?
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2006

posted by hazelshade at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2006

San Mateo is an option, though it's just as expensive, as is Berkeley. I wouldn't get too far from BART, which rules out (for now) the south bay - plus Sunnyvale is a desolate wasteland of suburbia. I'd stick to Mountain View / Palo Alto if you're looking that way. 3/2 dumps start at 800k right now.
posted by kcm at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2006

Yeah, Berkeley was where I grew up. Sure, the whole place has turned upside down and back around and sometimes it feels like a mall and I can't stand hippies and it's way too expensive, but in all my fantasies about growing old and checking out, they include returning to the city of my youth.

So yeah, Berkeley. That's my choice. If for no other reason than I'll be jealous of you, or maybe live vicariously through you, or probably both.
posted by incessant at 12:13 PM on June 26, 2006

How about living in the more remote sections of the city, like West Portal? You'd still have good access to Muni but it doesn't feel as citylike. If one of your concerns is schools, San Francisco may indeed not be the place for you.

I'm in San Bruno, ten minutes south of San Francisco on BART. Great schools and a quieter life, but not much in the way of excitement. Unless you count a really great sushi restaurant, and proximity to parks and hiking trails. I'd also mention that San Bruno and Pacifica are almost affordable. You can buy a house in my neighborhood for between 6 and 7.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2006

Berkeley is looking less and less like a mall as Emeryville (which looks entirely like a mall) continues to suck every last bit of retail from it at the same time Berkeley's NIMBYists work tirelessly to oppose any proposed new business or development.

There are fewer hippies every year. On balance, I count this as a bad thing.

Housing is, indeed, crazy expensive (but at least that's sort of working for me since I finally bought a house.)

And, yeah, for all its drawbacks, I still can't figure out any place I'd rather live. But, given jjg's cost-of-real-estate priority, I felt hard-pressed to recommend it. The ad for a house in my neighborhood in south Berkeley, in which there have been a couple of drive-by shootings in recent months, boasts "nearly a thousand square feet" and the asking price is, IIRC, $689,000.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2006

It depends how much money you want to spend, and what the cost-benefit tradeoffs are. I personally find commuting so stressful that it's worth it on that basis alone to live in San Francisco, for me (btw, we have 2 kids doing great in public schools). We also live in one of those outer neighborhoods (around City College - Glen Park area), where it was *somewhat* affordable.

Way back when, we contemplated living in Marin - the Birdland section of Mill Valley wasn't too awful for housing back in those days. I don't know what it's like there. Also we looked at San Rafael. Mill Valley had great schools, San Rafael was so-so in terms of schools back then.

Parts of Oakland can be great (North Oakland, Lake Merrit area) - plus, in the east bay you have Bart as a commute option.
posted by jasper411 at 12:35 PM on June 26, 2006

I used to live in the Outer Sunset (way outer - La Playa street) and it was like being out of the city while still being in it. And right next to the handy N-Judah, and renting is cheaper out there. The weather can be a bit foggy sometimes, but you're getting up and getting out of the house anyway, right?

It depends why you don't want to live in the city, as others have mentioned.
posted by mikepop at 12:41 PM on June 26, 2006

Alameda is the last super-secret Bay Area refuge.
Everybody forgets about living there, because it seems to be 1) too remote, and 2) too suburban. These are true more or less to some degree, but they definitely shouldn't stop you from considering living there.

ease of commuting: the Fruitvale BART station is right across the bridge -- I walked there today (45 minutes), and usually I bike there (15 minutes -- and they have free bike valet parking). You're about 5 minutes from the 880, and if traffic is clear it's a straight shot across the bay bridge without having to deal with that stupid 580 split over by Ikea. Alameda also has an easily accessible ferry terminal, but I've never taken it.

cost of real estate: I can't verify actual *costs*, but I believe they are much lower than equally "nice"* neighborhoods in nearby Oakland and Berkeley. Rents are *definitely* much lower than SF, Oakland and Berkeley.

quality of schools for children: again, unsure, but it looks like a great place to raise kids -- the speed limit is pretty much 25 mph island-wide, it's very walk-able/bike-able, there's not a lot of sketchy areas.
There are several schools and they look well-kept.

access to "quality of life" stuff like coffeeshops, movie theaters, libraries, etc.: Alameda has a great "small-town" feel. This also means it's a little lacking in the sort of "culture" you'd expect in the larger bay area cities like Berkeley and Oakland. There *was* a big ol' movie theater there (which looks beautiful), but they're now in the process of replacing it (potentially with a mega-plex, which is kinda sad). There is also a tiny movie theater in an old converted church that usually runs family oriented fairs. There is a small theatre company there, but I've never heard of any productions it's put on (then again, I'm not big into drama). There are *tons* of restaurants that are pretty darned good, but don't expect the sort of gourmet restaurants that you'll find in larger bay area cities. They are currently building a new library which looks fantastic, there's a beach and a really nice dog park. There's an awesome gym out by where the Navy base used to be (Bladium), and they also have car shows and antique fairs out there regularly. There's a trader joe's and a safeway in the same shopping center, which also shares a Wells Fargo, B Of A, and Wa Mu to cover your banking needs. You can probably bike across Alameda in less than an hour. You can bike to Jack London square in about 15 minutes. You can find street parking everywhere, and meters pretty much only exist on Webster and Park st.

I really like Alameda, and the commute to the city isn't terrible, but it's not really the place to live if you want to go to the city frequently for nightlife (really, anywhere outside of SF makes city nightlife kinda a pain). Other than that, I'd say it's perfect. It also has a huge contingent of aging hipsters -- totally the SF retirement home. It's worth looking into.
posted by fishfucker at 1:04 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised noone has mentioned Petaluma. I found it very liveable.
posted by zaebiz at 1:10 PM on June 26, 2006

Yeah but the commute is brutal, zaebiz.

My vote's for Berkeley, because of BART.
posted by Rash at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2006

I also grew up in Berkeley and home to return someday, even though I doubt I, a normal working human being, will ever be able to afford a home there.

That said: look at Albany and El Cerrito - there are some wonderful neighborhoods in those two towns, you are still near all the conveniences of Solano and San Pablo Avenues, BART, etc. The public schools in both Berkeley and Albany are excellent (I can personally vouch for several of them).
posted by luriete at 1:24 PM on June 26, 2006

Millbrae has an intermodal transit station with both BART and CalTrain access. It's quiet and small-townish. There's lots of good Chinese food. I don't know about the real-estate market, but rents are reasonable.
posted by murphy slaw at 1:32 PM on June 26, 2006

Oh, and Millbrae seems to be just south of the point where the fog that constantly covers Daly City stops, so it's usually sunnier than the towns north of it.
posted by murphy slaw at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2006

I never had to travel to Petaluma during peak times so I won't question the commute brutality, although during other times I found it quite a pleasant drive.

So if the commute is bad and your wife has any say in this, you might want to keep Petaluma off the table, because mine loved it. As I understand it, due to some geophysical anomaly, Petaluma was the only part of the area that wasn't destroyed by the 1906 quake so it still has most of its lovely Victorian architecture.
posted by zaebiz at 1:51 PM on June 26, 2006

San Bruno/Millbrae is also home to SFO, which has another set of ups and downs. Daly City has the best dim sum in the area, though..
posted by kcm at 3:04 PM on June 26, 2006

Oakland, especially off the 24 or 13 - much faster commute than Berkeley. The Montclair area is gorgeous. The area around Telegraph & 55th is also really nice - great restaurants & just off the freeway.
posted by judith at 4:14 PM on June 26, 2006

Apparently Marin county doesn't exist.

There's a ferry that'll take you to BART. The weather is the best in the bay (far better than SF, Berkeley and most of Oakland), although that's more true of north Marin (Larkspur, San Rafael, Novato).

If I had my choice (which I do), I'd live in San Rafael (which I do). I'd put Larksur/Greenbrae as the best option if you're going to take the ferry, San Rafael if you'll take the bus. all have great schools (Redwood in Larkspur is better than SR, but grade/middle schools are about equal).
posted by Four Flavors at 4:41 PM on June 26, 2006

I think the biggest factors to consider are: Do you have a car? Do you like to be stuck in traffic? Can you tolerate BART or Caltrain?

Caltrain is actually nice. The Baby Bullet gets you to SF in just under an hour (unless the train whacks someone, which happens on occasion) Perhaps you'd like it down here in Mountain View. Or Sunnyvale.

Schools down here are good, there are plenty of coffee shops besides Starbucks (I can think of almost a dozen "local" coffee shops down here) and real estate is cheaper than it is in San Francisco (overpriced).
We have plenty of nice movie theatres and libraries. Plus, it's pretty quiet down here on the weekend, whereas SF can still be a bloody zoo.

I like the Silicon Valley.
posted by drstein at 4:57 PM on June 26, 2006

I live in Berkeley and work in san francisco, and it works out great. Anywhere in Berkeley that's not in the hills is within 5 minutes of bart if you have a bike. There's also the casual carpool that leaves from north berkeley bart.

Living in Oakland, as has been said, makes your bart commute even shorter.
posted by ORthey at 5:53 PM on June 26, 2006

Marin. Ross. Assuming $ is not an issue. Commute to town via ferry in Larkspur. San Rafael is nice as is Kentfield and San Anselmo in parts.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:03 PM on June 26, 2006

I think that you cant really go wrong with the Oakland-Rockridge area. Theres great food, great shopping, nice people and a cleanish Bart station. I call that a 10.
posted by Meemer at 7:25 PM on June 26, 2006

I would look at Marin south of San Rafael as the worst of the 101 commute ends there and it's usually reasonable over the Golden Gate That assumes you have roughly a billion dollars to buy a family sized home. Alameda is another good option, a friend just moved there and loves but but it's not close to as much cool stuff as Marin.
posted by fshgrl at 7:48 PM on June 26, 2006

Oakland (Rockridge/Temescal), Oakland (Lake Merritt), Oakland (Trestle Glen/Glenview/Montclair). Or if you like Oakland but don't want to live in Oakland, try Piedmont.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:57 PM on June 26, 2006

Oakland/Berkely and south marin have terrible fog/clouds that blow in from the gate. Essentially, you get SF weather imported from the same source. If you like cooler days, then by all means, those are great spots. I've lived/worked in all of them and I found the cloud cover depressing especially when I had to travel from one of those places into a sunnier area.

If you go high enough up the hill in Oakland you can get out of the clouds. There are even a few spots that are still walking distance to Rockridge BART. If you'd like hotter, then anywhere on the other side of the Caldecott tunnel (hwy 24) will give you that, with still a reasonable BART commute of ~30 minutes.
posted by Four Flavors at 9:43 AM on June 27, 2006

But be cognizant if you cross the Caldecott that you could end up (like a friend of mine) in a town like Lafayette, with a Trader Joe's but no laundromat.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:01 PM on June 27, 2006

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