The land of high expectations.
July 17, 2006 4:38 PM   Subscribe

What is it like to live and/or work in the Silicon Valley?

I am a student in computer science who is building up a pretty decent resume lately. Of course I know about this mystical, magical place called Silicon Valley.

What I want to know is this: What are the good and bad things about living/working in the SV, from your perspective? I am asking this in a modern sense, so replies about living there 20 years ago are likely to be severely outdated.

What do you do with your free time? Do you do outdoor activities like hiking, camping, biking, swimming, etc. Are you an amateur athlete, and how does that go? Do you like the nightlife in the SV or do you go to SF for that? Do you live in SF because it's better, for that matter?

How does the SV compare to the places you have previously lived, in terms of not just cost but quality of life? Are there good book stores and coffee shops, or is it a desolate wasteland if you don't want to be working 16 hours a day?

Answers to any and all of these questions will be appreciated, and please don't exclude something because I didn't explicity ask about it.
posted by zhivota to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And are you still comparing it to rural Ohio about a hundred miles northeast of Cleveland?

I was going to say "it's hard to get around without a car," and "you'll do most of your shopping at malls and big-box retail (like Bed, Bath, & Beyond)." But if I read the map right, you're probably used to both of those things.
posted by salvia at 5:09 PM on July 17, 2006

Where, specifically, in the area are you thinking about living?

Palo Alto certainly has some night life, and it isn't all college-centric. Mountain View's Castro Street has some night life. So does downtown San Jose.

There is a ton of nearby outdoor activity, really anything you can think of is available to you, either on your doorstep or within a couple of hours. There are amateur sports leagues up the yin-yang, and other formal and informal activity groups too.

There are excellent independent bookstores, non-chain restaurants of every stripe and price point, and probably even coffee shops that aren't Peet's or Starbucks.

It costs as much to live down here as it does to live up in the city, but nobody shits on your front steps here.

We live near Palo Alto, and probably go up to SF a few times a month, but not necessarily because we need things we can't get down here--we just like the city, we have friends who live there, and it's not all that far away.
posted by padraigin at 5:10 PM on July 17, 2006

It is not a desolate wasteland - there are quite a number of things to do. However I really enjoyed just sitting in coffee shops - the place has a real buzz about it and there are lots of smart interesting ambitious people around.

Physically, it really is not a very attractive place at all. It is a bunch of (sometimes crappy) little villages connected together by a large ugly highway. They do have nice main centers but there is a lot of depressing housing too (or was when I was there about 5 years ago).

I didn't do much with my spare time. I was consumed with the place and the possibilities. However there would certainly be lots of people there to show you the recreational activities available as many of them are from out-of-town as well.

I lived in San Francisco and can recommend it provided you're ok with the commute to where you want to be.
posted by zaebiz at 5:17 PM on July 17, 2006

SiliconValley covers a huge area so there isnt a short, pat answer to your question.

This previous thread has some good info in it.

I work in Silicon Valley (by the way, few people here call it that. Instead they specifically say - Mountain View or Palo Alto or Redwood city etc. - or, "The Peninsula") but live in San Francisco. Its a common option - the Caltrain can be very efficient.

For me, most anything else would be too suburban but then, I love cities - the good and the bad. I really need the nightlife, the greater choice of restaurants, activities (independent theater, dance, music, orgs etc), non-chainstore places to shop etc.
posted by vacapinta at 5:18 PM on July 17, 2006

We lived in Santa Cruz, just over the hill via the 17, until three years ago. Tons of outdoor activities, independent movie theater, bookstore, coffee shops, a good museum and of course the beaches, Boardwalk and marina -- the locals are strongly anti-corporation -- and beautiful scenery while still in range of SV. The downside is the commute: it can take 20 minutes to drive from SC to San Jose in the middle of the day, but upwards of an hour during peak traffic times. We avoided San Jose unless we had something specific to buy, usually from Frys or one of the smaller independent computer stores. There are some decent malls although I've since been to the East Coast and it seems like Silicon Valley's malls pale in comparison.

If I had lived in Silicon Valley proper I would have liked to be in Palo Alto or Mountainview, or maybe Los Gatos, which is at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Los Gatos is supposed to be even more expensive than most other towns around there, though.
posted by tracicle at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2006

I'm pretty much in vacapinta's boat -- living in the city, working on the peninsula. I drive at the moment, partly out of laziness and partly because I live far from the Caltrain stop. The commute sucks, sucks, sucks. 45 minutes each way -- my office is right on the 101, but I usually pop over to the 280 because it's so much nicer. If you do live in the city, try to persuade your bosses that you are getting work done on the train and take off an hour of office time. You will not be the first employee to suggest this.

Of course, this kind of presumes that you'd live in the city. I personally love city life, and would not live in one of the peninsula towns any time soon. Sure there's "a nightlife" in PA, but you have so many more options in SF. And you can go out to the bar without having to argue about who's going to drive home.

It sounds like you're more into outdoor activities, though, and for that you're all set. As others have pointed out, no one here thinks of "Silicon Valley" as a particularly distinct region -- it's part of the bay area, and so you'd be just as likely to go up to Marin or over to east bay if there was some hiking you wanted to try. You can even just drive up and down the 1 (well... once you could) and find zillions of little tide-pools/county parks where you can park and swim in the ocean.

Basically, it's way way better than almost all of the midwest (I'm from Michigan) in almost every way. Unless you have a special attachment to some family members there, or your fiance is in school there or something, just pull the trigger and move out here.
posted by rkent at 5:30 PM on July 17, 2006

Best answer: I've been living and working on the Peninsula since 1998, and moved here from Washington, DC.

A basic summary of my experience is that it is exceedingly easy to get sucked into a work-centric lifestyle such that you might as well be living in Cleveland. That is, to wind up commuting almost 2 hours a day, and letting your work become such a major part of your life that you spend your weekends recovering from your workweek instead of reveling in what the area has to offer. Public transit in this area is a disgrace: it is barely practical for daily commuting, and for social engagements I've found it to be a nonstarter. If you live on the Peninsula, you will need wheels: at the very least, a motorcycle, but more than likely a car.

In San Francisco, you can get by without a car. Not so down here.

This area is extremely work-focused, and that hasn't changed since I got here. From what I understand, it's been that way for decades. My wife puts it succinctly: when people aren't working, they're talking about their jobs, worrying about their jobs, commuting to or from their jobs, or socializing with people from their jobs.

You must make a serious effort to divorce work and play, and the greatest deficiency of this area is that that notion is anathema. Work is the apex predator in this area: I'm not saying it's right, I'm not saying it's good, and I'm not saying everyone's in the same situation. What I am saying is that it's pervasive. When you combine that with the fact that cultural activities are criminally underprioritized on the Peninsula, there's frankly not much to do unless you like running around up on the ridges.

Don't be misled by people talking about the natural resources close by: in relative terms, the Sierras and the ocean are "close", but you will have to get to them, which involves (for the Sierras) a minimum of 2-3 hours on Bay Area highways, and going over the ridge for the ocean (1-2 hours). It is not a case, as it is in Boulder (for example) of walking out your back door into the mountains. You have to get out of the area to get away from the area, and sprawl has now made that a nontrivially difficult challenge.

The other thing of which you need to be aware is that there is a world of difference between San Francisco and the Peninsula. The Peninsula is suburban. They roll the sidewalks up at 10 in most places, nightlife is sparse at best, and it's largely a concentration of people who watch television at night and catch up on the laundry.

San Francisco has a relatively vibrant cultural life, but that's not what we're discussing. My advice to you is that if you are young and single and want to have a work-life balance that's more on the "life" side of the sheet, live in San Francisco. The Peninsula is more suited to families with more prosaic concerns, or people who have sated their jones for excitement and now use the Peninsula as a base for adventuring outside the Bay Area.

Finally, take what I write with a grain of salt: we are nearing the end of our time here, and my wife and I are both getting a 7-year itch to move on and do something new. You should solicit feedback from someone who finds this vibrant and exciting, because I'm frankly pretty tired of the flaws.
posted by scrump at 5:50 PM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think that the bay area is a great place to begin your career. You'll find more interesting work more easily around here than anywhere else in the country, and hopefully you can springboard that into a decent career wherever you decide to live. If you have a car it might make sense to plan on living in the south bay initially. Rent is lower and the lifestyle is more car-focused. Once you have a job you can decide if you'd like to move and if public transit makes sense for you. Relying on public transit can seriously limit your job options and how much of the bay area you can see.

I'm 5 months from moving out of the area. I've been here 8 years, but it just doesn't feel like a place to settle down to me. I am completely uncomfortable tying myself to a 700k mortgage in an earthquake zone. I am, however, leaving with tons of great experiences and work experience I'd never have been able to have anywhere else.
posted by joelr at 6:05 PM on July 17, 2006

What scrump said.

I've been in the Bay Area since 1998, living in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, San Francsico, and San Jose during my years here. I too am getting ready to pull up roots and move out of here (I've signed a lease in Raleigh, NC).

Everything scrump said is absolutely accurate.
posted by u2604ab at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2006

Lived and worked in SV for many years -- up til 2000. If you can afford it, it's a very exciting place to be. Lots of incredible hiking and sightseeing and events/festivals/education opptys. going on all the time.

Traffic is always worse in SV than less dense areas, and of course if you're raising a family, you have to consider the high cost of living compared w/alternatives.

If you're single, you can't go wrong in SV.
posted by pallen123 at 7:22 PM on July 17, 2006

Best answer: I lived in Silicon Valley from 1990 to 1999. I left because I found the quality of life and cost of living wanting.

There are a number of things in the general area that are just fabulous and worth doing again and again: Monterey beach and aquarium, Pacific Grove monarch butterflies, Gilroy garlic festival, local farmer's markets, redwood forests, PCH, Santa Cruz boardwalk, fruit picking at Gizdich ranch and so on.

I despised that even earning 6 figures and living with someone who was making high 5's, we couldn't afford to buy a house that we would be willing to live in within a reasonable drive. The last place we rented from cost way too much per month for a post-war tract home with a flat roof that only leaked when it rained. An identical home a block away sold for nearly half a million dollars while we were there. My internal price for that place was 75K. I got tired of living in places that were built like crap by people who never insulated or used double pane glass because, while it never really gets cold there, it does get very hot and insulation saves a lot in power for cooling as well as for heating.

I missed the sense of time passing that you get by having seasons.

There are a number of fun geeky things to do and a number of fun outdoorsy things. If you like geeks, you'll be in heaven, but I found myself in far too many geekier-than-thou dick-sizing conversations. If you've ever read "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" by George Alec Effinger, you'll know exactly what I mean.

I spent too much time in bumper-to-bumper traffic and found myself continually frustrated at a drive that should take 20 minutes taking more than an hour because of the time of day.
posted by plinth at 7:27 PM on July 17, 2006

I live in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, and I do, literally, walk out of my backyard onto a mountain, and with less than an hour's walk up said mountain can see the Pacific, the San Francisco Bay, the city itself, and the peninsula all the way down to Stanford/Moffett Field (30 miles or so) on a clear day -- or, if I walk the other way, it's twenty minutes to the beach. There's an amazing amount of outdoorsy stuff really close by in the Bay Area -- I do love running around up on the ridges, there's an almost unlimited number of things to discover on them, from wine tasting in the Santa Cruz mountains, to hang-gliding up near SF on the coast, to plain old hiking, to horse-back riding and canoeing/kayaking, sailing and discovering history.

Culturally speaking, there's more than you could probably ever do -- dozens, if not hundreds of museums ranging from the bizarre (the Musée Mécanique in SF, or the Winchester Mystery House) to the very small (house museums and historical societies) to the science-oriented (the Exploratorium and the Tech), cultural museums (the museum of the Chinese Holocaust and the Museum of the African Diaspora, as well as the Jewish Museum, and more) and of course art (the San Jose Museum of Art, the de Saisset at Santa Clara University, the Triton, the Cantor Center at Stanford, the Oakland Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco... I could go on and on and on, as I work in an art museum here myself :) San Francisco has a decent amount of live music, theater, dance, performing arts -- amateur, avant-garde, traditional, whatever; and if you end up not wanting to go that far north, Stanford's Lively Arts season is always worth the money.

There's no night life to speak of here in Pacifica -- I used to live in Palo Alto and it was no better, nor was Mountain View/Redwood City/the rest of the mid-peninsula. There's a list somewhere online of peninsula restaurants open "late," i.e. past 10pm -- it fits on one page and is mostly fast food. There is a club scene in San Jose and one in SF, and I have friends who cross the bay to hang out in Fremont, etc., for nightlife, but it's not New York City by any stretch (which is where I came from). Then again, you're not coming from NYC.

I work in San Francisco, on the west side, and I'll confirm that public transportation may as well not exist, particularly away from downtown. My driving commute is 25 minutes of ocean view, with little traffic -- but I'm almost certainly (given the lack of traffic) in the minority of Bay Area residents in this respect. Driving on 280 is passable -- driving on 101 is something I only do in life-or-death situations. Unfortunately for you, practically everything silicon-related is on the butt-ugly, nightmarish 101 corridor.

I guess that's started my list of downsides. The other biggie is that it is expensive -- not only can you probably not afford to buy a home anytime soon, it's one of the few markets in the country that people are actually saying you *shouldn't* buy in, because the market is so ridiculous. However, I've also found people who are happy to explain to me how, even in this market, there's a way to make money buying a house -- everyone who has suggested this to me makes a boatload more money than I do because they work in the tech industry, so maybe their theories actually apply to you.

The workaholic problem is something I've managed to avoid -- but again, I suspect it's very industry-specific, so you might want to take that warning quite seriously. You probably have to be fairly proactive about meeting other people if that turns out to be an issue in your workplace -- but the good news is that there are a lot of ways to do that out here.

I've lived in the UK, New York, Texas, and California, and so far the Bay Area wins hands-down. As with any place, YMMV.

On preview, plinth listed a whole bunch more things that I love and that are maybe more techie-appropriate (but hey, maybe you're an art-and-culture-loving CS major). Unfortunately that post also makes me wonder if the Bay Area is only awesome if you don't work in its major industry... I will say again how much driving on 101 sucks so much more than I ever expected a road could suck. Plinth also brings up one of my pet peeves, though -- which is that there are definitely seasons in the Bay Area. They aren't the same as east-coast seasons, but part of the fun of living in a new climate is learning how the land and weather work differently. Mindfulness can bring you much closer to understanding the seasonality of this place. Then again, the concrete bunker that constitutes the south/eastern half of the peninsula pretty well disfigures and disguises nature's thoughts and opinions. Finally, and then I swear I'll stop -- the market has rationalized a little bit since 1999 -- actually, since the bubble burst. Housing prices haven't actually gone down, but the rental market is much more reasonable than it was five years ago. I assume that straight out of college, you'd hardly be in a position to purchase a home in any case.
posted by obliquicity at 7:40 PM on July 17, 2006

Hrm. Seems a lot of y'all moved here around the dot-com time.

I was born in Walnut Creek and spent the majority of my life in the East Bay & Silicon Valley. This place has grown up a LOT.
The others that say the natural resources are a 1-2 hour drive are absolutely correct. You'll also have to fight through crowds of people to do anything, though. The parks are crowded, the bike & hiking trails are crowded, and geocaching around here has been ruined by the "family crowd."
Many of the streets really do seem to roll up around 10pm. San Jose has a little bit of a nightlife, but it's not much and mainly consists of clubs. Actually, that's about all I've seen in San Francisco too. We've found that there's more nightlife outside of California than there is in it.
I now work & live in the Silicon Valley. We're moving from a $1,000/mo 1br apartment to a $1,600/mo 1br apartment with a loft AND air conditioning. It's getting more and more crowded down here. My Chinese neighbor seems to have herself and 3 other people living in a 1 bedroom place, and the Indian folks next door have at least 4 people living in their apartment. Neither neighbor is friendly, despite the fact that I always wave and say "Hello" to them. Parking around here is a pain in the ass. Traffic on the highways is miserable during the commute times. Local public transportation, while readily available, is fucking worthless. It would take me nearly 70 minutes to commute to work on public transportation. It's a 10 minute drive, and less than the $3.00/day it'd cost me anyway. Our roads are often in very bad shape. Potholes & cracks galore.
There's lots of random food places. Yes, we have a wide variety of cusines down here, but many of the places suck. You'll find your favourite restaurants from various cusines and will frequent them. Most of the local mags glow about places near Santana Row, which is nice, but costly and usually very crowded. It's not uncommon to find yourself waiting 45 minutes for a table at a restaurant.
On the weekends, it's usually pretty quiet down here. Many many businesses are closed on Sunday, which is annoying. But there's a lot less traffic and people, which is nice.
We get the cold Bay Fog sometimes. Which burns off pretty fast, leaving you to wonder if wearing jeans was such a good idea.

Both the fiancee and I are planning on moving out of here within the next 18 months or so. On preview, I see that others are feeling the same way. I've lived in Japan, Seattle, up in the Fairfield/Suisun area, Sacramento, and like I said, I was born in the East Bay area of Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek. I am not pleased with the way things have grown up around here. For example, there was an article in the SF Gate today about my home town of Walnut Creek. Pretty much every historical building in the area has been torn down and replaced with some modern crap. Like a fucking Pottery Barn and a Tiffany's. It's pretty sad to me. Pleasant Hill never had a downtown, so they tore up a bunch of land and built "downtown." And filled it up with the same boring strip mall type shops you'll find anywhere else. A 'country clutter' store, movie theatre, Cold Stone Creamery, Peet's Coffee, a few wireless stores, a Blockbuster, and some overpriced furniture store. It has a sterile personality, to say the least. We're seeing the same stuff down here. Several nice new Best Buy & Petsmart locations have popped up. Just in case we can't find the mall.
Meh. Maybe I'm kind of sad because we just got back from a 9 day/9 state road trip. We were both feeling pretty sad when we got back down here.
posted by drstein at 9:52 PM on July 17, 2006

Best answer: It is not a case, as it is in Boulder (for example) of walking out your back door into the mountains.

i think this depends to some extent on where you live. when i was living in menlo park it was but a short drive up to skyline road, which runs up and down the ridge of the peninsula and is bounded on either side by beautiful outdoors. not as rugged as the sierra to be sure, but still beautiful and a lot of fun. there's boatloads of outdoors activity available nearby, and it's a cyclist's heaven.

i really like the area between mountain view and redwood city (inclusive). gorgeous weather, lush trees, lots of smart people. however, a lot of what people call "silicon valley" also includes areas like milpitas, sunnyvale and the northern strip of san jose that runs along highway 237. that area is essentially a god-awful miserable wasteland of industrial parks, shitty strip malls and townhomes. so, really depending where you are (both geographically and in life), you can end up in a spirit-stifling shithole or a sunny tree-lined heaven.

i lived in a large house about 10 minutes from the stanford campus, that i shared with 9 other people, mostly young professionals and stanford students. (sharing housing is what most young people do there; rents were just too much to swing your own place, and besides, it's fun!)

i had a good job with fixed hours and work that i didn't have to take home, and in my spare time i hiked a lot up and down the peninsula, drove over to santa cruz for surfing, lazed around the pool at our house, joined some sports clubs at stanford, read and drank a lot of coffee in various spots around palo alto, went out to bars with friends, lots of biking, etc. in other words i hardly worked the typical 16-hr workday and had a great time there.

nightlife - as was mentioned, it is the suburbs and except for a few OK places scattered about, it doesn't really compare with san francisco. i briefly thought about living in the city but had enough friends who commuted down to work and did the (beautiful, but long) drive along 280 enough times to know that i didn't want to do it every day. and it was just as good, because life around there was a little slower, a little cleaner, more idyllic and pleasant than san francisco. i know it's the suburbs but it's not like the box-stores-and-subdivisions suburbs of most of the rest of the country. it's a lot nicer.

it certainly costs more to live there than other parts of the country, but if you discount housing costs, it's not that much more, and if you look hard you can find some truly excellent places to live for cheap. also, be aware that you will be one of literally millions of programmers, computer scientists and engineers. you may find this to be a good thing or not. it most certainly means that you are not a special flower that everyone will want to hire. keep that in mind.

i lived in foster city when i was a kid, went away for a while and then came back and lived in menlo park, and now i've gone away again. i've left for various reasons, but i'm pretty sure i'll be back eventually. i think now is actually a good time to go - the last few years all the dot-commers are finally going away (see above) and life should generally get better. do email if you want more specific information. anyway, good luck and all that!
posted by sergeant sandwich at 11:07 PM on July 17, 2006

Moved here from Australia in 2000 (yes, catching the tail end of the dot-com boom); now we're moving back. It's partly the newly en-familied nature of my life, thoughts of schools that don't require belonging to the correct gangs or having the right clothes to fit in; but it's also partially a desire to get out of this rat race and find some space to actually enjoy the life we're building.

SV is a great place to start up, while you're young and gung-ho, and have heaps of competitiveness and will never grow old or want to actually have a place that you can feel is solidly, definitely yours (I'm talking both metaphorically and physically here, since we do live in earthquake country).

If I didn't have the option to move to Australia now, I'd be looking perhaps at Oregon, or Canada -- because while this place has a whole lot of fun, life, joy and wild crazy shit just *happening*, it's also kind of like a speed freak at 7am. And that ain't pretty.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 11:20 PM on July 17, 2006

Since I love technology and all things geeky, living in Silicon Valley satisfies something in my soul. I call rural Ohio my childhood home, too, and happily transplanted myself from a tiny farming town to the San Jose area almost 17 years ago. All those years back I began my career in high-tech, working practically for peanuts, slowly improving my skills and learning new things, watching the Internet be born and take over the economy -- either starving or feeding all my previous (and current) employers -- all the while I've had a total blast doing what I like to do most: basically getting paid to play with computers and cool electronics 'n stuff. You won't hear me complain about the night-life activities (or lack thereof), because almost my entire life revolves around my work. And that's the way I like it. If your interests include sporting events, outdoor rock concerts, world-wide cuisine, clubbing, hang-gliding, scuba diving, mountain biking, coffee shop poetry, or wine tasting mixed with jazz concerts -- well, I can't comment on most of those things because I don't often/ever do them.
posted by fuzzy_wuzzy at 12:00 AM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the quality responses. I got a lot of the information I was looking for here, really.

In case you're wondering, it will most likely be the case that I won't move to SV (yes, locals don't call it SV, but I'm not a local). Some other places that I'm looking at include Boulder, San Diego, and as of yet undetermined places in the Pacific NW... oh, and Australia.

Probably the most valuable thing to me is having nature very close, and while google maps shows that there are mountains and an ocean very close, I can tell from what everyone says that they actually aren't close at all, in terms of effort and spirit. But that's not the only thing that is important to me.
posted by zhivota at 8:45 AM on July 18, 2006

You should really base your impression on a visit, in addition to what they're saying here. I live next to a park with a bike path along a shady creek -- hardly desolate suburbia. I've lived in California (both North and South) for almost twenty years.

Note that rkent is using the local nomenclature: by "the city" he means San Francisco.

I take issue with scrump's "Public transit in this area is a disgrace" -- I find it more than adequate (I'm also from DC, and like there, use it rarely -- but I do use it, so know whereof I speak, and VTA buses, like those in LA, are way above the Metrobus in terms of a comfortable ride). I can get by without a car, using combinations of the light rail, the bus, BART and CalTrain -- but it's still California, ya gotta have a car.

(I work with folks who commute from the City, and I pity their soul-deadening commute -- it's too long, not worth it. I live a couple miles from my job and have no commute issues. In fact, I ride my bike, at least once a week.)

I rarely have the urge to buy property, so am quite content with my low ($800) rent. It's not a palace, of course.

You'll hear lots of rants like drstein's from California 'Old Timers': used to be great, now it's gone to shit. I engourage his sort to move away -- please. Everywhere is built up now, and not what it was. But the bar was higher here to begin with, something natives don't realize.

If you're single, you can't go wrong in SV.

I'd say, if you're a single woman. The ratio here is horrible.

I missed the sense of time passing that you get by having seasons.

A common lament from immigrants. I love the California seasons: Spring, when the trees blossom (especially the lavendar Jacaranadas, unknown back east), Summer (heat without humidty... but the season I like least), Fall (there are trees up here which have leaves that change) and especially Winter -- rain, lots of rain, the only time it rains, but it never freezes.

As for night life, my needs are met by a wide variety of movie theaters.
posted by Rash at 9:59 AM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks Rash... you're certainly right about the visit being important. Luckily I plan to take a trip to SF, and will definitely attempt to tour the peninsula, etc.

Unfortunately though these kinds of decisions have to ultimately be made from imperfect/incomplete information. I wish I had the resources to really invest the required time and money to see what each place was truly like, but instead I have to rely on the accounts of others and whatever I can read about a place.
posted by zhivota at 10:36 AM on July 18, 2006

zhivota: Have you considered Austin,TX?

Extremely techie, SXSW is there, lots to do outdoors (Lakes, ocean < 3 hours, nice people, extremely cheap cost-of-living).
posted by jimmy0x52 at 11:39 AM on July 18, 2006

zhivota, if you're really into getting outside, you can make it happen. There's a whole set of people who (during winter) go to the Sierras and ski/snowboard every weekend. They just deal with driving from 4-8 pm every Friday and Sunday. (And the traffic of all the other people driving, too.) Somebody else I know went surfing 2-3 times a week -- they just drove to Bolinas from 5-7 pm every day, surfed till 9 (when the tides were right), then drove back till 11. From the South Bay surfing might even be easier; San Mateo to Half Moon Bay is probably only an hour.

The advantage the Bay Area has over Boulder is that it's way more diverse -- economically, racially, socially. And Boulder is much smaller.
posted by salvia at 1:07 PM on July 18, 2006

"however, a lot of what people call "silicon valley" also includes areas like milpitas, sunnyvale and the northern strip of san jose that runs along highway 237. "

but.. that *IS* the Silicon Valley. Many people claim that San Francisco is in the Silicon Valley, but they are wrong.

"Silicon Valley encompasses the northern part of Santa Clara Valley and adjacent communities in the southern parts of the San Francisco Peninsula and East Bay. It reaches approximately from Menlo Park (on the Peninsula) and the Fremont/Newark area in the East Bay down through San Jose, centered roughly on Sunnyvale. The Highway 17 corridor through the Santa Cruz Mountains into Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz County is sometimes considered a part of Silicon Valley."

Just wanted to clarify that a bit. Sunnyvale is considered the center of the Silicon Valley in many circles.
posted by drstein at 1:36 PM on July 18, 2006

"You'll hear lots of rants like drstein's from California 'Old Timers': used to be great, now it's gone to shit. I engourage his sort to move away -- please. Everywhere is built up now, and not what it was."

Oh, I'm trying to. Which I mentioned. And clearly you didn't read into what I was saying, which is sad. Not everything here has gone to shit and I never said that it did. But a lot of it has, and the entitlement mentality of many of the folks flooding into this area isn't helping things out at all.
I wouldn't say that everywhere is built up. If you're referring to everywhere in the Valley, then yeah, you might be close. There are a few places that have retained pieces of their history but they're few & far between.

and zhivota: the Pacific Northwest? You might absolutely love Portland or Seattle.

Hit up the Valley, and then take a look at the other places.
posted by drstein at 1:45 PM on July 18, 2006

If you're referring to everywhere in the Valley

Not at all -- I mean everywhere in the world.
posted by Rash at 1:52 PM on July 18, 2006

I ended up here because all my options sucked in some significant way, but at least I'd always have a job here.

Here is a list of cities with high tech jobs (I'm not sure how good the list is, but it's the best I could find, and it seems accurate enough). Most of them are not that great; other than SV, personally, only Boston and Austin pass the sniff test for me.

Washington, DC is great if you want to work for a defense contractor.

I'd recommend joining a startup or two here, and if that doesn't work out, move somewhere else where you can afford to buy a house.
posted by jewzilla at 7:03 PM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: My experience dovetails a little better with what sergeant sandwich and Rash describe. I live and work in one of the very nicest parts of the area, where Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Los Altos intersect. There are tall trees, including lots of aromatic cedars and eucalyptus. I can easily bike to work through neighborhood streets and I generally manage to spend time up in the city and outside. I've spent most of my life in real cities; I never thought I'd be able to handle living in a suburb, and I don't intend to do so forever. But my job's down here and I hate commuting, so I live here, and it's been much better than I expected.

Redwood City's arch says CLIMATE BEST BY GOVERNMENT TEST for a reason. The climate really is almost impossibly benign. The seasons are subtle, but they exist. It's funny when the dusty golden brown summer gives way to fall; November is time for tippy new growth and things start to turn green and lush again.

A lot probably depends on how you define your effective range. I tend to be my own southern boundary, heading up the peninsula rather than southward. If my stomping grounds faced down toward San Jose, I'd probably be driving to malls a lot and I'd probably be pretty unhappy.

Speaking of driving: sure, 101 is hideous, but (recent exceptions aside) the people driving on it are significantly more relaxed, courteous, and sensible than I've seen zooming around comparably busy roads on other parts of the landmass. Caltrain can get you to work if you're going to and from places near stations; otherwise it's awkward.

The "entitlement mentality" drstein mentions does exist, and it can be exasperating as hell if you let it; but if you look around you can find people who aren't like that. If you're willing to let real estate prices play their silly games without you, and you're prepared to talk to all kinds of people, this can be a very pleasant and easygoing place to live.
posted by tangerine at 12:34 AM on July 19, 2006

If I'm allowed to weigh in after reading other responses, I'd like to offer a more measured perspective than my earlier comments. I gave a lot of what I saw as drawbacks in the earlier post, so I'll use this one to extoll the virtues.

First off, you control your lifestyle out here, to a really startling extent. It is, fundamentally, what you make of it. Sure, you can wind up sitting in front of your television. But you can also wind up hiking, walking, mountainbiking or running in one of the Open Spaces. Yes, the nightlife isn't fantastic, but it's not Mayberry, either: make your own fun with some friends.

In the current political climate, I can't think of anywhere I'd feel safer living, given my basically left-wing views. In fact, living out here makes me feel quaintly conservative at times, a feeling that I relish when I talk to my family that live in Central Pennsylvania. I may get pilloried for saying this, but this area is one of the strongest bastions of free thought I've encountered, and it's a great place to get politically involved at a grassroots level.

The food is amazing. I can do all of our grocery shopping from local merchants, supporting local farms and ranches, and get an incredible variety of food. The produce is fantastic and inexpensive. The cultural mashup means that there are hundreds of unusual cuisines to be had, and all of the groceries carry neat stuff from those cultures.

We live in Mountain View, just over the Los Altos line, probably in the same confluence as tangerine, and it's really damn nice. I think of us as tagging along on the services offered by the rich while still living on the side of the line we can afford.

We have one of the world's greatest marine sanctuaries within a 1-2 hour drive. We have at least three of the world's great national parks/forests (Yosemite, King's Canyon, Sequoia, Inyo) within a 3-4 hour drive. You can go from snowshoeing in the Sierras to sitting on the beach with a 4-hour drive.
posted by scrump at 1:01 PM on July 19, 2006

Best answer: scrump: I also live in Mountain View (currently) - and you're right, it's pretty nice around here.

Perhaps I'm a bit jaded because I just got back from a road trip out to the midwest and back, and I think that lot of folks here are really missing out when they say stuff like "I'll never visit those backwards flyover states." They forget stuff like the fact that Kerry won Minnesota, and the midwest isn't as "red" as they'd like to believe. I'm talking about states like North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, and Minnesota. I have family from Nebraska too. Now *there* is where you get fresh produce. You can literally walk over to your neighbors place and pick fresh veggies. Beef comes right from the local farms. So does milk. And you can hop on a bike and ride miles in any direction and not have to worry about being run over by some turkey speeding along in his GMC Denali with 22" rims. The "sierras to the beach" is possible - if you don't run into the 50,000 other people that are thinking they can do the exact same thing. ;-)
And lest we forget, the city that was voted "the most diverse city in America?" No, it wasn't Berkeley. San Francisco wasn't even on the list.
It was Sacramento, CA. Yes, Sacramento.

I have good things to say too. Out here you have:
* Food & beverages. Lots of restaurants from many cultures.
* Coffee. Not just Starbucks, although we lack Dunkin Donuts and Caribou Coffee.
* Mountains to the east and west. The Santa Cruz mountain range is one of the most geographically diverse ranges in the country.
* Ocean to the west. Lakes pretty much every direction.
* Skiing to the east and west. Most people flock to Tahoe and overcrowd it. Skip the crowds, and go up north to Mt. Shasta. It's beautiful up there and well outside the crowded valley areas. And it's usually cheaper than Tahoe!
* Fairly mild weather, although it's 105f in my apartment right now.
* They're repaving Hwy 101! woot!

But scrump is absolutely right - you control your lifestyle. What you do is up to you, and that's the most important thing to remember.
posted by drstein at 5:09 PM on July 21, 2006

In the event that anyone's still watching this thread, Silicon Valley MeFites are gathering on Friday, December 1st. Everyone welcome!
posted by scrump at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2006

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