Please help us avoid living in a box.
August 7, 2008 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Where to live in the Bay Area? Difficulty: one of us needs to commute to SF, the other (potentially) to Santa Clara. We also need a cat-friendly apartment.

I just accepted a job in SF. Boyfriend has some promising leads in the city, but his most appealing prospect is in Santa Clara. Our current leases are up on the 31st, and we need to find a place in the middle before that.

We applied for an apartment in San Leandro, but my gut reaction was that the owner was shady, unlikely to return our deposit, and desperate for a tenant (he reduced a $1200 pet deposit, complaining about the cost of replacing the carpet, pad, and floorboards, when I told him it was way too high). Googling the complex and owner confirmed my suspicions. San Leandro doesn't appeal to us anyway.

We've been searching all summer and have checked out places in Alameda, Castro Valley, and Hayward, but those places also seem depressingly suburban. The peninsula would be ideal, but we can't afford the rent prices (yet). I'm a former Berkeley resident and would love to live there or in north Oakland, but the commute to Santa Clara would be hellish. So, Bay Area MeFites, I'm turning to you: do you have any suggestions? Are there any affordable, interesting (or at least fairly walkable, and reasonably safe neighborhoods we're overlooking? Are we being too picky? Do you have suggestions anyway, even if they don't match all our preferences?

(I've already read this thread about Oakland apartments and this one about Oakland neighborhoods, but our housing search is a bit more broad. )
posted by kiripin to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All of the valley is depressingly suburban. Try checking the downtown areas of Mountain View, Redwood City, and the like. Los Gatos is great, but it's almost as expensive as the city. You could always look into Half Moon Bay. The commute would be a bit of a pain, but it's an interesting town at least. Best advice is to cast your net far and wide. Try to be the first ones to look at an apartment so that you can put in an offer first. It takes a long time to find a good place.
posted by idiotfactory at 1:49 AM on August 7, 2008

Could Boyfriend reverse commute from SF on Caltrain and a bike/bus? And could you do a one-bedroom with one parking spot? This would reduce the number of cars you'd need to own and the amount of gasoline and car insurance you'd need to buy, which could be a huge savings over time, especially if the sale of one car goes to pay for part of the higher cost of living at the outset.
posted by mdonley at 2:10 AM on August 7, 2008

Also: I have two friends who are living on the border between Potrero Hill and Dogpatch in SF, by the way, and they really like it. It's sunnier than most places in SF, well-connected to transit for their commutes, relatively safe, and close enough to the Bay Bridge and freeways and to the Financial District and SoMa that getting places on the weekends isn't an issue.
posted by mdonley at 2:16 AM on August 7, 2008

I'm going to second looking for a place in the City itself; particularly the southeastern part: Mission, Potrero, Soma, Dogpatch. Your job is in the City, so that would make your commute easy, and it is relatively easy for the boyfriend to get anywhere east or south, either by car or train/BART.
posted by trip and a half at 3:07 AM on August 7, 2008

Are there any affordable, interesting...

Unfortunately, in the SF Bay Area, "affordable" and "interesting" (in the good way) are fairly mutually exclusive. I think what the previous posters are trying to point out is:
1) Thanks to a lot of families/engineers who actually prefer the suburbs, its about as expensive to live in the "depressingly suburban" areas as it is to live in the City. Its an odd paradox most newcomers dont understand.
2) Given that everywhere in the SF Bay Area that you might consider living in will be expensive, choose where you'd prefer to live.
3) Make compromises on other things (car, size of the apt, etc)
posted by vacapinta at 3:34 AM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thirding the city, esp. Potrero (I'm here now, in fact). Especially with Caltrain's bullet trains, the commute south isn't bad.

Plus that way you can make a living location decision now before you know for sure about his job.
posted by nat at 7:49 AM on August 7, 2008

How close is the Amtrak to the Santa Clara location? It's about a 1 hour commute (I'm not aware of what Caltrain times are) from the Jack London stop to the Santa Clara stop.

I live in Jack London with my girlfriend and our (small) dog, and we love it. Jack London is dog-friendly, so cats should be absolutely no problem. It's a 30-40 minute door to door commute (from Lake Merritt BART) to New Montgomery. It's worth noting some of my co-workers in the city have a longer commute than I do to work (thanks to the crappy N line).

Cost-wise, I'd say we're probably paying $1000 less than an equivalent place in an 'equivalent' Sf neighborhood (as far as 1) walkability, 2) proximity to bart, and 3) safety -- you're not going to compare culturally) . Also, super-easy to have a car here.

If you're in your mid-twenties or so, though, I wouldn't consider anywhere but SF. Oakland's like a retirement home, comparatively. SOMA or Mission would probably be 'cheapest' and closest to your commute points. Mission is, I understand, starting to get so crowded that the phrase "Outer Mission" was coined a couple years ago.

If your bf is in tech, he can definitely find a job in the city -- just needs to keep looking.

Could Boyfriend reverse commute from SF on Caltrain and a bike/bus?
Reverse commute? I was under the impression that SF to points south was the commute. Am I wrong?

posted by fishfucker at 7:54 AM on August 7, 2008

Fourthing the city. There are some decent new condo developments in Mission Bay, an easy walk from Fourth and King Caltrain. If I were just arriving, I'd look there or in Dogpatch.
posted by rdc at 9:33 AM on August 7, 2008

It's really, really hard to find an apartment in the City these days. Expect to show up for open houses and have 50 people there already. The alternative that comes remotely close to being as cool to live in and easy to get to SF is Oakland. However, any East Bay commute is going to be super sucky for your boyfriend. Living on the Peninsula is a drag if you like to go out to anything culturally significant. It's totally fine if your favorite things to do are ride bikes and cook at home, though the best places to live aren't much cheaper than SF. Castro Valley and Alameda are definitely not places I would live unless one or both of you enjoys long commutes- Alameda has a ferry to SF, but otherwise just adds an extra public transit leg or bridge to drive over. San Leandro/Hayward... hmm. BART for you, a little closer to the Dumbarton Bridge for him. Might be OK if you're OK with lack of fun things to do (like the Peninsula). San Leandro has some lovely neighborhoods that are generally cheap, but other than that I don't know much about it.

The 511 trip planner gives your boyfriend a 2.5 hour commute on public transit from Jack London Square to Santa Clara. I can say from personal experience driving from Oakland to San Jose that sometimes driving can be as little as 50 minutes, as much as 2 hours. I would try to get a place in the City (expensive, difficult), possibly look into downtown San Jose (which gives you the long commute instead), or hope that he finds a really fantastic job in SF, and look in Oakland or Berkeley. Everywhere else is going to be quite suburban.

If you're in your mid-twenties or so, though, I wouldn't consider anywhere but SF. Oakland's like a retirement home, comparatively.

However, if you're in your early 20's, there's a thriving art/warehouse scene and plenty of social life. There is still lots of good eating and drinking in Oakland, and cool cultural events; they're just fewer and farther between than the bounty that is the City. Everything would be just dandy if BART ran til closing time on the weekends.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2008

San Bruno/Millbrae, near the BART or CalTrain station. It's sleepy, but you can be in the city in ten minutes on BART and can take CalTrain from Millbrae down to Santa Clara.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:27 PM on August 7, 2008

Agreed that the East Bay would be difficult. Further north (Berkeley, North Oakland) is nice, but would be a hellish commute for your boyfriend. I have a friend who lives in El Cerrito and commutes to Sunnyvale, and it's 2 hours each way at non-peak times. Further south (San Leandro, Hayward) is mostly boring suburbia, and still an annoying commute.

Southeastern SF (Potrero, Mission, Bernal Heights) is great if you can afford it - sunny, lots to do, very walkable, and close to mass transit down to the peninsula. The commute for your BF will still be at least an hour or more, though.

I'm told there's pretty cheap housing out on Treasure Island as well - not much going on there at night (although the city is very close) and you're on a manmade island in the middle of the bay, though.

I'd also suggest looking at either San Bruno, Brisbane or Pacifica. They're bedroom communities, but you're very close to the city (and the ocean in the case of Pacifica) and they're cheaper than further down on the peninsula. Pacifica has a rep for being foggy all the time, but it really depends on the area - further south towards Linda Mar is sunny. No mass transit, though - you'll need two cars.

As you get further down towards Palo Alto, Stanford, and Mountain View, things get very expensive - on par with San Francisco. Lots of wealthy folks down there who want to live close to their jobs.
posted by chbrooks at 1:09 PM on August 7, 2008

However, if you're in your early 20's, there's a thriving art/warehouse scene and plenty of social life.

This is a good point. My comment came off as being somewhat anti-Oakland, which is not my position at all (I blame it on having to rush out the door to work). Oakland is absolutely awesome, and I think more people should consider it when choosing housing. I guess my overall point is that while I used to love the Mission a few years ago, now it just makes me feel old and fat and cynical. So if you too are 'old' (at heart), you might enjoy the somewhat slower pace of life out here on the other side of the bay.
posted by fishfucker at 9:47 AM on August 9, 2008

Unfortunately, in the SF Bay Area, "affordable" and "interesting" (in the good way) are fairly mutually exclusive.

Yeah, I was afraid of that, but I was hoping I'd overlooked some awesome, undiscovered neighborhood. We were already prepared to compromise on something, so we can deal with that. We'll probably sacrifice cultural offerings, since we'll be spending a lot of time visiting friends in other parts of the bay, anyway. And going to MeFi meetups, perhaps!

while I used to love the Mission a few years ago, now it just makes me feel old and fat and cynical

We're 25 and 30 and have many "get off the lawn" moments, so that's helpful to know! I think Oakland will work well for us, so we're focusing our search on Lake Merritt now. The commute should be manageable for both of us, especially if he takes the SF offer (it's mostly a matter of which job he'll find most interesting and career-advancing). Thanks for all your responses!
posted by kiripin at 3:59 PM on August 9, 2008

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