Job Offers / Moving from SoCal: San Francisco or Boston
August 22, 2007 12:17 AM   Subscribe

HELP! I will be moving soon after 6 years in Southern California - 3 in LA and 3 in Orange County. I have two job offers at prestigious companies in my field - one in San Francisco, the other in Massachusetts (about 40 miles West of Boston.) I'm looking for some insight about life in these cities to help me make my choice. Important details inside...

Both jobs are in my primary area of interest and are challenging and mentally engaging. The job descriptions are slightly different, but the teams that I will be working with are great and the lateral and upward mobility paths are very promising in both companies. The salaries are similar, taking into account the cost of living differences.

And therefore, it seems that a lot depends on non-work-specific considerations. That is a good thing because life outside of work is very important to me.

QUESTIONS: (finally)

I am looking for some advice on relative merits and demerits to both these regions.

The ones that I have thought about are:

1. Weather: SF is fantastic. Boston's weather is harsh for about half the year, but I can learn to deal with it.

2. Cultural: Both seem to have a great cultural scene. I am particularly interested in live music and photography. I might be able to take in more in SF because I would work in the heart of the city, whereas I would be living/working outside Boston proper.

Other than these and work-specific details, what important factors should I be considering and what can you tell me about them?

Thanks a lot for reading and I look forward to your replies!
posted by hellhammer to Work & Money (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what important factors should I be considering and what can you tell me about them?

Assuming your salary will rise or fall to meet a standard of living that suits you ... more than any other factor, your time in either of these two cities will be shaped by transportation concerns. For example, both of these cities have subway systems, but nightmare car traffic. I would detail out the "how do I expect to get around" question first and foremost.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:47 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: Background info:
I grew up in SF but moved to SoCal when I was 18. I lived and worked in LA for about a year but have also visited extensively when not living there. I've visited Boston once.

My views of SF: I love my hometown. The rolling hills, the fog followed by crisp sunshine, the park and downtown within a Muni ride away. It is so culturally diverse, and if you're a foodie, you can't get much better than SF. There's a lot of pockets of SF that you can explore to find your niche. The marina is very different from sunset and again different from pac heights. Can't say much for photography other than it has fantastic scope for it, but the music scene also reflects the diversity of the city and you are bound to find something to your taste on a regular basis.

I have very limited views about Boston but my impressions were: Boston proper had a smaller feel, although the greater surrounding area was sprawling. I couldn't discern a "downtown Boston" but again, as a visitor I probably never got a chance. When I went in May it was really muggy and I had to take a couple of showers a day. My friend lived in Boston for one month in February and she swore she would never live there (she's from Anaheim) because of the cold. In Boston the city I got a big "studenty" feel about it, but again, could just have been that spot I was in.

I think both SF and Boston are expensive to live in terms of property and parking sucks in both cities as well. I have tried public transportation in both places and I think I like SF's muni system better, although you can travel a greater distance with Boston's system (if you don't count BART).

Also if you have acquired a lot of friends in LA, it will be easier to convince them for a visit in SF and you can always meet up in Vegas. :)

Some information from you that could also help: What do you like about LA? What do you hate about LA?
posted by like_neon at 12:58 AM on August 22, 2007

Skipping 1 and 2 and going straight for other.

I grew up in New England and spent many years in the Boston area before moving to SF.

The big difference is cultural - this dwarfs everything else. Very broadly speaking, you are more likely to find an open group of interesting people in the SF Bay Area than in New England.

Not to say there aren't interesting people in New England - it's just harder to get to know them without effort. In SF, if I meet a geek I like, I start talking to them, and we follow up in email. In New England, I start talking to them, and when the conversation is over, that's that unless there's some sort of shared activity that brings us together over a long enough period (several monthsthat we can become friends.

My theory about this (dons smoking jacket, lights pipe) is that since so many people in SF are from elsewhere, we are forced to make friends quickly, and so culturally, the area is aligned with the idea that it should be easy to meet and connect.

In New England, most people who you will meet grew up there, have never lived elsewhere, and have rarely had to meld with a new group.

New Englanders for the most part already have strong friendships and local family ties, so haven't had to develop the skills to rapidly connect to a network.
posted by zippy at 12:58 AM on August 22, 2007

/me Shakes fist at the preview button.
posted by zippy at 1:01 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Lexington MA. What town are you talking about in Massachusetts? I tried to look up how far away 40 miles is but my skills are limited.

Growing up in the suburbs I got almost no impression of Boston, but the few times I've tried to go out in the city as an adult I had very disappointing experiences. My opinion: a bunch of jocks sitting around in sports bars. I do not fathom how the city can have so many great universities and yet have a night-life so impervious to their influence, so sheltered in its good-old-boy blandness. But: I never lived in Boston proper, so my opinion might be off. The suburbs of Boston like Lexington, Lincoln, Concord etc. are very woodsy and great places to raise children with excellent public schooling -- absolutely top-notch -- full of university professors and generally smart people; but, the public life is very provincial, and these people with their rich intelletual interests pursue these interests in their own homes. There is no thrilling public scene of any kind. And this was my impression of Boston as well.

If you drive into Boston along Mass Ave you can park in Cambridge a little outside of Harvard Square, it's usually not a problem if you're willing to walk a bit. You can also park in the Alewife station and take the "T", but I think it closes at some dreary hour like 11:30.

I also spent 4 years near SF and it is the best city I have ever seen in America. It is expensive but you can get around easy, it is beautiful and full of culture....except for the cost of living, I can't think of a single drawback.
posted by creasy boy at 1:33 AM on August 22, 2007

40 miles is a long way to go for culture, especially on weeknights. Sometimes you feel like going to a good restaurant on a weeknight, or maybe a band you want to see is only in town on Tuesday, etc. And even on weekends, if you're drinking, public transportation means you don't need a designated driver/long sobering-up period/40-mile taxi ride.

I've only visited both places, but I'd take SF over Boston anyday (for the same reasons as everyone above), and SF vs. 40-miles-from-Boston isn't even a contest.
posted by equalpants at 1:45 AM on August 22, 2007

And btw regarding the music scene: when I was back home a few months ago I looked up my old guitar teacher, who plays solo jazz guitar. He was complaining about how terrible it is in Boston with no music scene and how he would like nothing more than to move to San Francisco.
posted by creasy boy at 1:45 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: "40 miles outside of Boston" is much different than living in Boston. Where is the job? Do you plan to live in Boston and commute to your job? That will make a big difference to the advice you'll get about living around here.
posted by Flakypastry at 2:18 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: Also, are you single, or will you be moving with a partner? Do you have/plan to have children? Are you liberal/progressive/conservative? Do you like the outdoors? What kind of outdoor stuff?
posted by Flakypastry at 2:27 AM on August 22, 2007

Boston, although I think you'll be hearing more votes for SF.

I lived in Boston (well technically Marblehead, Central Square in Cambridge, and Newton) from my mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I thought it was fantastic. I loved all four seasons. Public transport was better than I'd experienced anywhere else in the US. The music scene excellent for my tastes, singer/songwriter folk. In fact I ran sound once a month at one of the regional coffee houses for five years.

I have traveled to San Francisco many times over the years for business and to visit friends. I always thought I would like the place, but sadly no. It is a beautiful place but at the end of the day, still a large western US city.

Also, and this is definitely personal preference, I prefer developing friendships over a longer time and have always been slightly uncomfortable in classic open American settings.
posted by michswiss at 3:12 AM on August 22, 2007

I have lived in more Boston neighborhoods than I can shake a stick at and worked 40 miles outside of Boston, and I've been to SF once. I'd pick SF.

As flakypastry says, which town 40 miles outside of Boston makes a huge difference. That 40 miles covers the kinda-hip, the suburban, the rural, the wooded, the coast, and the economically-depressed. And I think the effort needed to get into Boston or Cambridge to see some music or an exhibit will seem superhuman once the weather gets bad and it gets dark early. (That said, I think you're exaggerating the weather in each locale in your description).
posted by cocoagirl at 3:54 AM on August 22, 2007

Boston is small, confusing, frustrating, expensive, and the bars close at 1:00. But the T stops running at 12:30! That sums up Boston for me. (Hard to believe you think it's a great public transit system, michswiss.)

Regardless, if you're living 40 miles west of the city, that's a long long way.

I'd go for SF. Better neighborhoods, better transit, better food.

Although with all the grey in SF, I'd say Boston has better weather. It gets cold, yes, but the sun shines a lot, and the passage of the seasons is beautiful.
posted by miss tea at 4:45 AM on August 22, 2007

After having lived in urban areas for so long, I do not think you would be happy forty miles west of Boston. I am familiar with all the areas you mentioned, and it is remote and dowdy compared.
posted by letahl at 5:28 AM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all very much for your replies! I'll address some specific points below:

1. ~40 miles West of Boston, in this case, is Framingham. I was there for the day of my interview and in the area for a couple of days after - seeing a bit of Boston for a day, and in Grafton for another. Framingham struck me as a quiet, yet unremarkable, place to live in but I did not get much of a chance to really explore.

2. On the other hand, my familiarity with SF is much greater and I love the energy and the feel of that city.

3. The rents in SF are kinda crazy but I am willing to pay a little extra to be able to live close to work or commute into/out of the city using BART. From what I've seen and heard of Framingham, I should be able to find a nice place close to work without a problem.

4. Also, are you single, or will you be moving with a partner? Do you have/plan to have children? Are you liberal/progressive/conservative? Do you like the outdoors? What kind of outdoor stuff? - posted by Flakypastry

I'm single. I do not plan to have kids. I'm closest to 'libertarian'. Good produce and food are important to me. Photography is my principal passion. I like to hike. I'm not an "outdoors sports" kinda guy.

Thank you all sincerely for your help! (And I would certainly like to hear more opinions too.) The choice between SF and Framingham seems to be quite clear to me personally but I wanted to get some perspectives other than my own.

After having spent 3 years in an OC suburb, I really want to get back to living in a Big City (as I have the rest of my life.)

One niggling job-related issue has my MA job slightly ahead of the SF job and that is really what is making the decision very hard :(

Please feel free to share your thoughts about this and point out anything that you feel I might not be considering.
posted by hellhammer at 5:36 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: Okay, that helps. Framingham is a skip to the Mass Pike, so if you live there and want to go into Boston, that will be your route. The Pike can be pretty scary traffic-wise on many days.

But, you're single. And don't plan to have kids. Framingham, and most of the suburbs around it, are really family towns - not great for singles. Given your interests and that you're single, I'd vote for checking out living in the Newton/Brookline area. It's close to Boston by MBTA, has beautiful neighborhoods, and you can hop on the Pike to get to work. Home/apartment prices will be scary, but not compared to SF. There's good food, and neighborhood joints. If you decide to take a photography course, you can hop on the T and get into Boston/Cambridge. I much prefer Cambridge to Boston for what you like to do.

As for the weather thing: The passage of the seasons is so beautiful in New England. Plus, you can get in the car and drive to a ski area and back in one day. Or, go to the ocean and have some fried clams in one day. On the other hand, you can feel really isolated in the winter if you don't make an effort.

Personally, if I were single, didn't plan to have kids, and had your interests, I'd go for SF. I think you'll need to expend less effort to have a good life and pursue your interests there.

(On a side note, if you're strongly Libertarian, then New Hampshire is the place for you. You would be very comfortable here - Live Free or Die and all that. Fiscally conservative but socially progressive. Bad commute to Framingham, though)
posted by Flakypastry at 5:52 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: Well, I can promise you that Framingham will remain thoroughly unremarkable -- except for when the leaves turn. This is truly a spectacle. But otherwise I would predict a typical New England life in a woodsy, quiet, provincial neighborhood with lots of nice hikes in the area, really nice bike-riding terrain and a lot of time spent driving to the Super Stop & Shops and the local mall. Probably very little live music to speak of and you will quickly get tired of trying to amuse yourself by driving in to Boston. It would be a very idyllic environment in which to raise children, in an alternate universe in which you planned to have children. And I would remind you that from San Francisco you can make week-end trips to enormous fucking mountains, whereas in Boston in the winter you may have to go looking for your extension cord as soon as you wake up so you can apply the hair-dryer to the car door-lock for 5 minutes so you can get in so you can turn on the engine and crank up the heating so that the ice on the windshield melts slightly while you have breakfast and shower so that afterwards it is easier to hack it away with the hacking implement you bought at the mall.
posted by creasy boy at 6:01 AM on August 22, 2007

I and many other people I know have done a reverse commute to Framingham (which, BTW, is more like 20 miles from Boston proper) from points east, including one guy who commuted there from East Boston. Going against the flow on the Mass Pike is among the easier commutes in the Boston area.

(FWIW, I've known a few people who have done the New Hampshire to Framingham commute. All have claimed it's not too bad as long as you avoid peak-peak times, but....)

I would take a look at rental options in Waltham (full disclosure: I live there), Newton, and Watertown near the Pike. All three have decent-to-good T options into the city while also being a not-too-expensive taxi ride if you miss the last train/bus. There's a glut of condos in the area now, so rental prices are a bit depressed. My experience is that you pay through the nose for the "big city" experience, but you should probably also do an apples-to-apples comparison of what the rents you would pay in SF would get you in Back Bay or the financial district.
posted by backupjesus at 6:03 AM on August 22, 2007

If you're going to live and work in Framingham, I have to say: San Francisco.

Good produce? SF. Hiking? Bay Area (not that MA, and NH, and VT etc. don't have good hiking). Big city? SF. (I don't care what Framingham says - 66K-ish people is not a "big city".)
posted by rtha at 6:08 AM on August 22, 2007

For the love of all that is holy or not... SF.

I'm a fairly friendly and often engaging person. Living in Boston is killing me slowly.

People who live outside of Boston proper rarely get into Boston proper. I live, literally, right next door and I don't make it in there but maybe once a week.

After living in Chicago most of my life and New Mexico for six years this is a no brainer to me. San Fran, hands down. Good luck.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:31 AM on August 22, 2007

If you're going to live and work in Framingham, I have to say: San Francisco.


Framingham is a mall-and-office-park-infested blight on the surface of the Earth. Make no mistake, you will not be living IN Boston by living in Framingham. It will be an occasional visit, usually avoided because of the traffic involved in getting to and from. The residential area of Framingham is decent enough from a suburban lifestyle point, but it has to contend with the problems of encroaching urbanization (and not the nice kind).

There are many good aspects to living in the Boston suburbs, particularly if you are getting into your 30s and thinking about having kids more than going to bars. Having the city nearby can be entirely satisfactory. But I get the sense that you are looking for the hip urban scene, and that's not what you get once you get beyond Boston and its most intimate neighbors like Cambridge and Brookline.
posted by briank at 6:49 AM on August 22, 2007

zippy wrote In New England, most people who you will meet grew up there, have never lived elsewhere, and have rarely had to meld with a new group..

I think it depends on where you live and who you hang out with. I grew up here (Watertown), but have lived as a grown up mostly in Cambridge and work in Somerville. I'm the only local amongst all of the friends I've made since I moved out of my home town. Also at work, I'm only one of a handful of locals. Folks always act surprised when I tell them where I'm from.

So I think if you're in a city (Boston/Cambridge/Somerville) most of the folks you meet will be from elsewhere.

It's a hard choice: SF vs. Boston. SF vs. Framingham, on the other hand would be SF hands down. I love Boston--I posted some of why in a previous question that may be useful. Good luck, I honestly don't think you'll be disappointed with either city.
posted by jdl at 6:51 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: On the photography and hiking thing, in addition to being a cool city, SF is heaven for photographers. You want urban decay pictures? We've got killer urban decay. You want picturesque redwoods and fog rolling through trees? You can easily get to that. Beaches, check. Weird cultural oddities. Check. ad naseum.

There are a ton of people into photography and lots of diverse things to capture.

Hikingwise, you've got everything from paved nature trails along gorgeous lakes along 280 to serious Mt. Diablo-style action just a little bit a way.
posted by Gucky at 7:49 AM on August 22, 2007

Nthing the pick SF crowd. I've lived in MA my entire life, mostly in the metro west / suburbs just outside Boston. I am very familiar with both Framingham and the Boston area. Framingham is NOT close to Boston, no matter what the company woo-ing you says. As others have mentioned, Framingham is chock full of office parks, car dealerships and malls, malls, malls. Sure, you can get into Boston on the Pike easily enough, but I doubt you would regularly. I currently live just outside Boston, and I consider Framingham a hike to get out to.

On the other hand, I had a chance to spend a week in SF last fall, and fell in love with it immediately. The city feels a bit like downtown boston, but ten times better. The only negative I noticed was how ridiculously expensive the parking meters were downtown. Everything else was a amazing.

I love Boston, don't get me wrong, but if I were you I would move to SF. Jobs are jobs. What good is one extra perk or spiffy title on your resume if you're miserable where you live? Go with SF, you'll be happier.
posted by sarahmelah at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer: I grew up in MA and lived in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville after college. I love MA and will always consider it home. IMO, it is beautiful, interesting, full of smart people (if you stay away from the frat bars), good food, unpretentious, and a generally nice place to live. It has a pretty good music scene, but I'm not sure how it compares to SF. Cambridge/Somerville comprise one of the most livable urban areas I've been to. (I am biased, though, and I know a lot of people who disagree.)

That said....I'm not sure you're a good candidate for MA. Most West Coasters that I know who have moved there didn't like it--they found us cold and unfriendly. I don't think we're particularly unfriendly, but I grew up there and tend to be more on the reserved side, especially with strangers. It just takes me longer to warm up to people, and I definitely think that is a trait I have from growing up there. And the weather might be a lot harder to adjust to than you think; I find it hard and I've lived in the Northeast my whole life, and most Californians I know had to leave eventually.

And, if I was picking Framingham vs. SF, I'd definitely go SF, and not just because I'm not sure I can bear another winter of freezing my toes off. Framingham is boring. It is not a big city. If you do move to Boston, live closer into the city! I don't drive, though, so I can't advise you on which area would make a reasonable commute.

good luck! It's pretty cool that you have two great options to chose from.
posted by min at 8:00 AM on August 22, 2007

Best answer:
40 miles West of Boston, in this case, is Framingham [...] After having spent 3 years in an OC suburb, I really want to get back to living in a Big City (as I have the rest of my life.)

Then your decision is not Boston vs. SF. It's unremarkable Boston suburb vs. SF. Why is this even a difficult decision?

For the love of Pete, don't move to Framingham -- at least not until you want 3 kids, a dog, and a lawn within 10 minutes of 10 strip malls.
posted by toxic at 9:53 AM on August 22, 2007

The passage of the seasons is so beautiful in New England. Plus, you can get in the car and drive to a ski area and back in one day

From SF, you can be at Squaw Fucking Valley, one of the best ski areas in the country, in 3 and a half hours on a (well plowed) I-80. People do it as a day trip all the time.
posted by toxic at 10:01 AM on August 22, 2007

There are plenty of ski places within two to four hours from Boston.

But even I, who love Boston, would pick SF over Framingham.
posted by canine epigram at 11:20 AM on August 22, 2007

SF is the most amazing city this country. It's clean (compared with many other big cities, e.g., NY and LA), you're close to lots of outdoorsy shit, the food is killer, the people are snobby but can be nice when you get to know them, the diversity is amazing, fresh seafood, and the city is just beautiful. Since you're looking to be an urbanite and enjoy city life, plunk down the extra cash and choose SF.

One good thing about living on the East Coast is the proximity to lots of great cities. I love road trips, so that would be a draw for me.
I'd still choose SF, though.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:50 PM on August 22, 2007

Also, speaking as Mr. East Bay Broken Record: if you're concerned about the cost of living in SF, living in Oakland or Berkeley can cost as little as half as much as The City and are great places in their own right. Commute time to downtown on public transit: 15-20 minutes.
posted by kittyprecious at 2:56 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help! I have decided to move to SF and your input has helped a great deal in my arriving at this decision.
posted by hellhammer at 12:04 AM on August 24, 2007

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