Mountain View, CA - is it livable?
April 13, 2004 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Mountain View Mountain View Mountain View. 'Might be moving there for a summer. Is it livable? [more inside]

I've got a chance to intern out in Mountain View for the summer. Living arrangements are taken care of for me, so I'm not so much worried about rental price stickershock. But the apartmen is *in Mountain View* and thus, I can't live in San Francisco (I've never been there, but I hear great things of course).

1. What's to do in Mountain View?
2. What's to eat in Mountain View?
3. What is accessible without a car? (I'll be by the Moffet Air Field) Is there any city in Mountain View or is it one huge suburb?
4. Can I get into San Fran easily on Caltrain. Does the train run late?
5. Should I get a bike? I hear the biking is great in and around San Fran. Should I get a surf board? I'm not good, but hey, the cold pacific is calling my name.
6. Anything else (you beautiful) people can tell me?
posted by zpousman to Travel & Transportation around Mountain View, CA (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. Eat at chain restaurants; visit gas stations; drive to San Francisco.
2. Jack in the Box, Dennys, and I think they have an Applebee's now.
3. The rest of the block you will be living on.
4. You might be asking the wrong website.
5. Everyone should always get a bike. You will be living about a 2 hour drive away from the ocean, though (in good traffic), so skip the surfboard.
6. The Bay Area is so incredibly cool that even Mountain View is bearable.
posted by profwhat at 6:55 PM on April 13, 2004

Best answer: From the perspective of someone born and raised in San Francisco (and an incorrigible location snob), Mountain View sucks. It's a suburb, and crappy like all the other suburbs in the country. As such, I can only offer a handful of the answers you're looking for:

Living anywhere outside of SF itself without a car is possible but very, very difficult. Nothing is nearby, and accomodation of pedestrians is limited to the densest commercial districts. Getting from one part of town to the other is often difficult, occasionally requiring walking or riding on busy freeway overpasses.

Caltrain tends to be more or less on time, though when there's something wrong, because there are only two tracks the delays can be spectacular. But from Mountain View you're looking at better than an hour on the train, not counting however long you had to wait for the thing. Caltrain is very, very slow, barely getting into 50MPH at peak speed. And the last trains out of town are pretty early -- so depending on Caltrain for your night life is a pretty bad idea.

A bike is always a good idea to have if you live in the Bay Area. You might find a few nice places to eat/things to do that are a little too far to be considered walking distance, but are only 10 or 15 minutes away by bike.

Biking around San Francisco itself takes some getting used to -- you really need to know your geography to avoid having to chuff straight up nasty hills all the time -- and is pretty dangerous, but rewarding. You can get from anywhere to anywhere interesting in San Francisco in about a 45 minute ride, and you'd spend damn near that long looking for parking if you drove.
posted by majick at 7:01 PM on April 13, 2004

Ick. I really hate the place. Office parks, condos, and strip malls. Whee! Mountain View is sunny, I will say that much, and it's well-located regionally (which means there are other good places to go nearby, like Santa Cruz and San Francisco). But it's very much considered Silicon Valley, not the San Francisco Bay Area, and about 3x closer to San Jose than San Francisco. You should be able to organize CalTrain jaunts into SF easily, but you'll also need to do some research on how to get around in SF. The Caltrain station there is way south in the City, on Townshend St., and this isn't walkable to many of the places you'll likely want to visit.

Surfing will be better in Santa Cruz than San Francisco, as is the hiking, beach life, and probably mountain biking too. For trails and such in the area, check out BAHiker
posted by scarabic at 7:11 PM on April 13, 2004

Oh, one more thing - from what I understand, the best Indian food anywhere in Northern CA is to be found in the area around Mountain View. Apparently, there's a huge Indian population around there, and the family-style joints are many and marvelous.
posted by scarabic at 7:13 PM on April 13, 2004

Best answer: Mountain View isn't THAT bad.

1. Hang out in the cafes, go clubbing/drinking at Molly McGee's or St. Stephen's Green, see something at the Mountain View Arts Center, catch a concert at the Shoreline, see some movies at Century 16, check out the very nice Mountain View Library.

2. Castro street has a wide variety of good restaurants, all types of food.

3. Bay Area sucks for mass transit. Get a car if you can.

4. See above. BART is preferred for commuting, but the closest station is in Fremont.

5. Yes, get a bike. California law requires everyone to have a bike, a cell phone, and a convertible.

6. Santa Cruz (1.5 hours away) used to be the place to go surfing.

There is tons of neat stuff in the Bay Area — recommend Half Moon Bay. I (mis?)quote the Sunscreen song: "Everyone should live in California once; but leave, before it makes you soft."

posted by brool at 7:22 PM on April 13, 2004

Geez. You'd think Mountain View is the armpit of California listening to the above comments. Again, everything's relative, but for me, coming from Kansas, anything in the Bay Area is great.

Yes, it's a suburb. Similar to many other burbs in the US. But it has a nice 5 block downtown main street, with lots of restaraunts and decent bookstores. I like it.

It's not 3x closer to SJ than SF--it's probably 40 minutes to SF by car, 25 minutes to San Jose. Having a car is very helpful, yes (see your last thread), but not required if you have a bike. CalTrain is also being upgraded (supposed to be finished this summer), and will be running new "Baby Bullets," which are supposed to cut the SF commute time in half, from what I've read.
posted by gramcracker at 7:26 PM on April 13, 2004

If you're in Mountain View for the summer, I recommend visiting Kepler's Books in Menlo Park and a Palo Alto old-school double feature: dinner at The Peninsula Fountain & Grill and a classic movie at the Stanford Theater.

Also note that the two VTA light rail lines connect Mountain View to other parts of the south bay.
posted by JDC8 at 7:40 PM on April 13, 2004

If you have to live in the valley, Mountain View is probably one of the better places. There are some restaurants and bookstores on Castro. It's not Palo Alto or Los Altos (which are yuppified outter circles of hell). As one my friends put it. If you like suburbs, then Mountain View is one of the best. If you want someplace livable it's either Santa Cruz, Saratoga, or S.F. like others have written. San Jose has got some nice little sections too.

Biking in S.F. may be sketchy but Mountain View and the south bay are very bicycle friendly.

Surfing in summer sucks in either San Francisco or Santa Cruz. No waves, too many people, and maybe a few frustrated, pissed off locals mixed in. However if you are a beginner, Cowells is one of the best breaks to learn at. Even if you're not ignore my griping, grab a board and have fun. If you get up early enough or stay out long enough eventually the crowds disappear. There still won't be any waves but at least you'll be out there.

Greasy burgers and fries are superb at Saint John's in Santa Clara.
posted by rdr at 7:46 PM on April 13, 2004

Response by poster: I *heart* askMeFi.

[note to profwhat: I'm sorry I didn't check the Caltrain website, but I really wanted the "doesn't run late, and because SF does, you'll be screwed" and the "train drops you off on the wrong side of town" stuff. Thanks guys!]
posted by zpousman at 7:51 PM on April 13, 2004

Mtn View is definitely a suburb but I think it's actually the nicest of the affordable towns between SF and SJ along 101. Sorry for all the qualifiers.

When they say biking is great around SF, they probably mean that Marin, the hills in the Peninsula, and the East Bay hills are bike heaven, and they are. There are lots of good route maps. You might consider using CalTrain to improve your reach into Marin, unless you dig double-centuries.

You won't use BART unless you're traveling between Millbrae and the East Bay -- it's a nonentity in the South Bay, and Mtn View is definitely South Bay. To go to SF, you'd take CalTrain. In terms of access elsewhere in SF, CalTrain connects with the N train, which goes pretty much straight through the middle of SF, from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach.

There is tons of great hiking in the area, and the Sierra Club has two local chapters -- San Francisco Bay (fun) and Loma Prieta (hard core) -- that do weekly hikes.
posted by caitlinb at 8:04 PM on April 13, 2004

Mountain View isn't that bad. I like Castro street, there are some great indian restuarants down there. There's also some good pho noodle places and a bubble tea place that's good. The weather is sunny and warm all summer without any of San Francisco's fog. It's only about a 45min-1hr drive to SF, which makes for fun weekends.
posted by mathowie at 8:25 PM on April 13, 2004

I was fortunate to be stationed at Moffett Field (Onizuka Air Force station) in Mountain View from '94-97. It is an incredible community.

From a brief summary of my stay in MV that I wrote several years ago: "The Bay Area is one of the most beautiful places that I've ever lived in...surrounded by the Santa Cruz mountains, 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, restaurants of every imaginable type with walking distance on Castro Blvd, cultural attractions of every type, just around the corner from Netscape, Silicon Graphics, Sun, and Apple, and San Francisco just 35 minutes to the north...truly incredible. And the weather...well, it was so perfect that it actually got rather boring..."

Don't forget to visit some of the communities just to your west - Half Moon Bay, for instance.

What I miss most about living in Mountain View, strangely enough: The Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show, on KFJC radio every Saturday morning, and stuffing my face with shmear-laden Noah's Bagels. Sesame, please.

Enjoy your stay - I am reasonably certain that you will enjoy it.
posted by davidmsc at 8:33 PM on April 13, 2004

I dunno what part of mountain view profwhat has been to, but if nothing else the food is not so bad as he describes.
posted by juv3nal at 9:06 PM on April 13, 2004

CalTrain dumps you off right next to the San Francisco Giant's stadium and I think they run extra trains on game nights too, so make sure you check that out.
posted by falconred at 9:15 PM on April 13, 2004

I'd also like to mention that I've lived in the Bay Area for 14 years without a car. I've been able to get around pretty well. If you do decide to use a car while you're here, check out City Carshare. If not, you might find the Palo Alto Bikestation useful.

Mountain View also has one of the two Krispy Kremes in the entire Bay Area, Lee's Comics, Books Inc. and a decent Tower Records.

Also, for South Bay entertainment and culture listings, check out the free weekly paper Metro. For San Francisco and the upper Bay Area, there are the Guardian and the SF Weekly.
posted by JDC8 at 9:23 PM on April 13, 2004

I can't believe that no one has mentioned the In-N-Out Burger on Rengstorff, just a couple exits up 101 from Moffet Field (across the street from the aforementioned Krispy Kreme). Jack in the Box? Denny's? Applebee's??? You must have lost your damn mind. In-N-Out is better/faster/cheaper than any of those, and if you want a real sit down meal, hit up any of the restaurants "downtown." My personal fave is Yakko, for some damn good sushi.
posted by rorycberger at 10:19 PM on April 13, 2004

I just got back from a movie about a guy who was born in Mountain View. Maybe go see the film and then go search out his childhood home.
posted by gluechunk at 10:43 PM on April 13, 2004

" of the two Krispy Kremes in the entire Bay Area..."

There's one in Union City which was the first to open here I believe, one in Daly City right off of 280 (right next to an In-n-Out), another one up in Pinole just past Hilltop on 80 (not only next to an In-n-Out but across the street from the ever-tempting Best Buy!).

Speaking of In-n-Out, there's one on Jackson on Fisherman's Wharf, in the city. It's continually mobbed, though, as it's the only one in town.

I'm wandering off topic, but I wanted to keep things clear.
posted by majick at 11:49 PM on April 13, 2004

Enjoy it. I did my college years in the Bay Area (Palo Alto is certainly not a circle of hell... yuppie, of course), and while Missouri is immensely cool its not quite the same (sigh). Get up to the city often if you can, that's one thing I regret not doing enough.

The bubble tea on Castro that mathowie spoke of is some of the best in the area according to those "in-the know", although we always called it pearl milk tea.

You'll also be very close to the Mercado movie theater, if you want to go for flick on a Friday night. Fun movie + Krispy Kreme run at 1 am = good times.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:18 AM on April 14, 2004

Random local tips -

The Caltrain doesn't operate on weekends because of track maintenance. The last train from San Francisco leaves early but there's a "sam-trans" bus that will take you to San Jose. During the day, you can use the Sam-Trans bus to go all over the San Jose area although it's not too efficient.

There's an In-n-Out and a Krispy Kreme on Rangstorf. Each bay area suburb seems to have a downtown street. Mountain View's is called "Castro St." (a.k.a Moffett Ave) and Palo Alto's is "University Ave." There are lots of ethnic restaurants on Castro St. Verde (off Castro) is the best for pearl milk tea. University Ave. has some upscale restaurants if that's your thing.

During the fall, Stanford gives its students an "Unofficial Guide to the Bay Area." Maybe you can find a copy from last year.. it'll tell you how to get around with just a bike, give you restaurant evaluations, and creative things to do on a weekend.

I think it's hard to have fun without a car, especially on your own.
posted by alex3005 at 12:38 AM on April 14, 2004

Good call, alex3005. The Unofficial Guide to Stanford is available online. Unrelated, its kind of sad to see one's former project completely overhauled in such a blah way.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2004

The two year CalTrain weekend hiatus is coming to an end in June, so should not affect you. In fact, it might make things easier for you since once the weekend service resumes, the express trains to SF begin and between MV to SF that means only two stops.

I can't believe the MV haters above. I've lived here for 7 years and a month and have been extremely happy. There are a ton of good restaurants, and not one but two In'n'Outs with the second one at the corner of El Camino and Grant Road/237. In fact there is another one just over the border in Santa Clara at the far end of the parking lot from the AMC Mercado mentioned by shinynewnick.

A car would be seriously useful although you can bike all around MV, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale in not unreasonable amounts of time. And besides light rail and CalTrain there is also VTA bus service which goes all over the South Bay.

Plus we have a Wal*Mart!!!
posted by billsaysthis at 2:54 PM on April 14, 2004

I lived in Mountain View for about 6 years between 1992 and 1998. Old Mountain View, which is more or less south-east of Castro street has some nice neighborhoods and is a great area to walk around as it has older growth shade trees. First I lived in an apartment complex on Escuela, which was moldy, expensive, provided a clear listening experience to the neighbors, and anything from the upstairs disposal came up through my tub drain every other month. Later I lived in a run-down-overpriced apartment complex on Centre St. that had kind apartment managers who let me put in vegetables by the pool. The pool was routinely a place for rats to commit suicide. The apartment baked in the summer and with the windows open, you could hear route 237 traffic 24/7. In the winter the single heating unit which faced the living room, completely failed to provide sufficient warmth, accented by the total lack of insulation. Downtown was an easy walk away from there. I routinely biked to do my shopping and broke away from supermarkets because I found I could get much better seafood at Castro Street Market, much better dairy products at the Milk Pail, much better meats at Dittmers, and much better produce at local farmer's markets.

The area near Moffet is not so terrific. Sorry. Although, you'll be relatively close to La Costena which is an OK market with a very nice burrito shop in the back. You'll also be pretty close to Shoreline amphitheater, which has a lot of concerts in the summer, and Shoreline itself which is a decent-ish park. The library is quite comfortable, but the Sunnyvale library has a better collection. There used to be a pool hall on Castro called Pockets that did a ladies night on Tuesdays. If there was a woman in your party, table rentals were very cheap.

Nicer places to eat (if they're still around): there was a decent vegetarian Chinese restaurant near the Baskin Robbins on El Camino. There was a good Mex place at the far end of Villa east of Castro. Tony and Alba's makes terrific pizza. Sushi abounds.

That said, I fled Silicon Valley because I loathed the crowding, the traffic, the geekier-than-thou attitude, and the impossible standard of living. It galled me that if I wanted to shed the money sink that is rental property, I would be stuck with a house that I couldn't stand, on a lot that's too small, in a tract neighborhood with lousy urban planning.

Mountain View was one of the better areas for me in Silicon Valley and it was still barely tolerable.
posted by plinth at 6:31 PM on April 14, 2004

zpousman, if you do end up coming here I would be glad to get together, give you a little BillToursMountainView if you like.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:14 PM on April 14, 2004

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