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Ask HN: Where to Live in San Francisco Bay Area?
5 points by iamanna on Oct 26, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments
Hi ,

I am from India and in 12 days from now I am moving to San Francisco. I would like to know where can I find apartment in quiet area ? I am married and my wife would travel with me. No kids. I have been to US in the past and lived in NC. In Raleigh we were renting 1 BR/1 BA for $950. This is first time we would live in Bay Area. We don't plan on staying too long in SF just one or two years. We both don't like in US but my company is pushing me a lot to go for couple of years.

I am looking for place that is available up to $1200 rent max. I am aware of fact that rents are extremely high in Bay Area but this may be rent we can afford.

We don't want to live in downtown or in SF for that matter. We are okay to live on east bay and travel to SF. My job will be in downtown. I am okay to travel as much as 25 miles one way.

I am basically looking for place with no drugs , no violence. Neither me or my wife drink. My wife won't work and will stay home.

I have done some research so far. Here are things I found - 1. Oakland is not so good area. There are some good neighborhoods but drugs and violence and loot is too large. 2. Some advised me to strictly avoid Tenderloin and Sacramento. 3. I don't know about Rockridge. Can anyone confirm if area is good / bad ? 4. Walnut creek is good but very very expensive. How about Concord ? Is Concord good area ? 5. What about Alameda ? Is it good ? Even if I have to pay $100 extra I am fine if its good area.

All other towns that are nice and quiet even though little far ?

Please comment any neighborhoods to strictly avoid.

Thank you very much for reading and helping us !

This is a very vague question with lots of facts not useful for a Bay Area person for giving you some inputs.

1.SF Bay Area is a very spread area. Just a quick Google will give a fair idea. (For example from San Pablo to San Jose span around 50 miles).

2. It will depend on where you will work. I believe initially you will prefer to a location close to your work place. If you have driven before in US and are willing to buy a car to make a long commute then it is possible to stay at a distant place with cheap rent from your work. But prepare to spend at least 1 hour each way on the road. Else you are going stay near a BART(Bay Area Rapid Transit) or Bus route.

3. In every part of Bay area there are some bad pockets/neighborhoods and good areas. You have to spend a bit more if you want to stay in a decent neighborhood. There is a good reason why those areas are pricey. But if you spend enough time looking around you may be able to find some good place at a reasonable price near to your work.

4. Before renting any place go to to Yelp, or apartment reviews sites and read other people's feedback. It is not always reliable. But if you are seeing an apartment or housing having several negative reviews in a row then you know there is something wrong with the place.

Hope this helps.

@All - Thanks everyone. I really don't know if $1200 did sound as a joke , although it might be if you are already in SF, but I would consider it as high rent. I added $$250 to what we were paying in NC. I could be terribly wrong. I could go up until $1500 but I can't grasp idea of paying $2k or $2.5k for 1 bd/ba. I don't care / mind what everyone is doing in their home but I just don't want to get robbed at gun point.

Many of you have provided very nice information which will help me narrow down the area.

Just one last question on living on Oakland after researching further. Is Oakland really runs that scary ? I am asking because even though I might rent in some good neighborhood I might have to pass through Oakland. Do people literally get robbed or shot in broad daylight or by 8pm / 9pm ?

Thanks very much again for helping me out and excellent info.

Tenderloin is a district inside of San Francisco. Urban and probably higher crime than what you want. Rockridge is essentially Oakland.

Concord is safe but hot. Good BART commute to the city, tho (one train). Same with Walnut Creek, but more expensive than Concord. Another city like Concord would be Pleasant Hill. Many parts of Alameda are nice, but you might be pushing your budget, and some parts are like Oakland (to be fair, the Oakland hills are beautiful, but likely outside your price range).

I'd look at Fremont, which is in the South East Bay Area, is cooler than Concord, and at the end of another BART line that goes directly to The City. Fremont also has strong Asian and South Asian communities. There are a wide variety of ethnic markets for those otherwise-hard-to-find foods, utensils, and spices and a wonderful selection of restaurants that have great food but aren't too fancy for weeknight dining.

Public transportation in the Bay Area is concentrated in the larger cities and along the BART line, tho. If you are more than a few blocks away from BART in the East Bay, you can expect to need a car, and are likely to need a car to go grocery shopping as well, due to the sprawl of suburban living that also makes it lower crime and quieter than The City. Many suburbs are large enough that it might be easy for a wife to become practically housebound without access to a car. Every place she might want to go might easily be too far to reasonably walk.

If you look at a map, Sacramento is way too far, though I have seen some people try to car commute from there.

Oh, and don't expect to drive into the city! Parking is a nightmare and very expensive. It's really easy to get towed or have your car damaged (or stolen) there as well. Best to expect to ride BART to a downtown SF job coming from the East Bay, and to use a car to get to BART, because the more suburban parts of the East Bay have unreliable bus service that tends to be ~ once an hour and not on time enough to use for work commute.

What you're asking for is most likely unrealistic...

Even tiny studios in bad neighborhoods tend to go for more than $1200 in majority of the bay area much less what you are asking for. The only way I can see you landing a place that meets your requirements is sharing a place with other renters or getting insanely lucky

I want to laugh too but I know you're probably stressed out by trying to find a new place to live.

You can't live in SF for that little. Just, no. It most likely won't be a good size or it'll be in a terrible neighborhood. Sacramento is absurd to commute from, same with the Tracy/Manteca/Stockton area (unless you're commuting to San Jose, in which case you can take the ACE train). Oakland is getting much better, but in exchange for gentrification, rents are rising quickly. So that's probably out for you.

I highly recommend you look into San Leandro, Castro Valley, Dublin/Pleasanton, Hayward, and Fremont. You've got a reasonable idea with Concord too. I might throw in like Daly City maybe, or the San Mateo/Millbrae/... area. A lot of areas in those neighborhoods will be more affordable, fairly quiet, not too bad in terms of drugs/violence, they're located right on a Caltrain, BART, or AC Transit Transbay bus line so you don't have to drive too much, and did I mention they're affordable? Just be careful when you look around for a place to rent - there are definitely some shitty areas in all those places too.

My parents live in San Leandro and have a nice 2br townhouse in a gated area+amenities for around $1500 while they're looking for a house to buy. It's pretty doable. The good places are all waitlisted though, so you have to get right on it if possible.

If you're from India, I even think you'll enjoy East Bay more than SF. I'm East Asian and I think ethnic food is way better east/south than in SF, where I live, where it's all full of fancy and Californian/Italian/French cuisine with a dash of sushi and Thai.

Be warned though, you will probably want to get a car if you live out east so budget for it. It's hard to travel without one - but don't travel into SF with it if you can since parking blows and bridge tolls add up. AC Transit is great and so is BART for long distance, not so much for nearby shopping/restaurants/personal needs.

Making gross generalizations about entire neighborhoods and cities is generally a bad idea. The bay area is extremely diverse, and neighborhoods themselves can feel quite different from block to block.

My suggestion is that you simply visit these neighborhoods (both during the day and at night) and see how you feel. It might be tempting to line up an apartment sight-unseen, but its really impossible to gauge a neighborhood's energy remotely.

The only cardinal rule is: stay reasonably close to the BART line if you expect to commute into SF from your home.

"The only cardinal rule is: stay reasonably close to the BART line if you expect to commute into SF from your home."

If your destination is reasonably close to Embarcadero, being on the NL line might also be doable. Still better to commute within SF or from SF or outside SF than into SF.

Vallejo has affordable housing and it's a nice city. This works well if the job is downtown. I used to take the ferry to downtown SF from Vallejo. Ferry runs about $300/mo. Ferry is comfortable and you can sit down and get work done with wifi.

You can find rentals in your budget: http://sfbay.craigslist.org/search/apa?query=vallejo

A $1200 rent for a one BR (or even a studio) in the Bay Area is impossible...or nearly so. Look at craigslist.com/apa and decide how far outside the city you are willing to live.


My wife and I are paying $1200 for a one BR in Oakland, pretty close to BART. I've no idea whether it's possible to find similar now - we're certainly grateful that our landlady hasn't raised the rent in the 3 years we've been here.

Alameda is nice and quiet and the commute is good to SF. Rockridge is a good choice too. Oakland is workable if you can stay near lake Merritt or downtown. Your budget is pretty low but look around. Concord is a trek but could work. Same with Dublin/Pleasanton. Sacromento is way too far.

"Alameda is nice and quiet and the commute is good to SF."

By what means? Just getting out of Alameda by public transit seemed hard on Google Maps when last I looked, and there's no way I would call driving into the city a "good commute". Is there an option I've missed?

Dublin/Pleasanton is going to feel safer than Concord; whether it will be safer depends on just what you're doing.

Sacramento is ridiculous if you're going to be in the office every day. I know people who've done it telecommuting 2 days a week, but I still think that's crazy. If you can telecommute 4 (or more) days a week, I can more reasonably see it being the best option with the right set of other constraints.

Yeah, you missed some options:

1) There is a bus the (0 or 0X I think) right to downtown SF from Alameda.

2) Yeah, the ferry is nice if you have your stuff together and can get there on time. (Did it for three years)

3) Drive to west Oakland BART and it is a very quick ride in. Nine bucks for parking is still a steal.

4) You will be in downtown SF in half the time it takes to get from my neighborhood in SF (inner richmond) via MUNI with most options.

Maybe the commute from Alameda by ferry? I don't know too much about it, but I have a friend who took the ferry often from Alameda to SF.

Oh, right! A bit spaced out (30-40 minute gaps, irregular, it seems) - but trip is only 20 minutes in the mornings. Not a bad option at all! Anyone know how crowded it is?

Rockridge is a "good neighborhood" in Oakland. There are others as well. I would highly recommend living in Oakland; I would weakly recommend against living in Oakland to work in SF - it's certainly possible but that's a crowded commute.

"No drugs" is unrealistic. Chances are, a lot of people around you will do drugs, but they're completely normal people with good careers and lives. You have to understand that to an extent.

Be aware of scams. If you find apartments listed at a price similar to this, it's likely a scam. Never pay deposit upfront without actually visiting the unit.

One thing to keep in mind is that people frequently underestimate the impact that a bad commute has on their day-to-day happiness.

Are you sure on the "no drugs" thing? Because you are on drugs if you think such an apartment exists.

Hello Iamanna,

You definitely have some parameters that will make this difficult, but as we Bay Area people can sometimes prove... some amazing things are achievable if we get creative or a little flexible. What I mean by that is: if you could do a share-rental, you'd find a lot more places would become in your price range. The downside of course is, you must live with more people than you'd like to. It can be a challenge, but if the house is large or you get your own wing, it could be pretty livable, at least for a set time period. The other thing you might do would be consult with a local real estate specialist who could do some quick leg-work for you here. (Sure, they will charge you, but maybe it won't be too much. :/ It's just meant as a possible idea for you.) Short of that, definitely look at Craigslist, but keep in mind, things could go (become rented) very, very fast. The $1200 limit is very tough to work with, because rents are shockingly high in the Bay Area. A small town you might find something in might be: Port Costa. Someone else mentioned Crockett (where I originally found your post referenced). If you look on a map, you'll see these two enclaves are close to each other. Crockett is known for being eccentric, artistic, having a huge sugar factory, and being located on the water (the Carquinez Straits). The houses are generally old, and some are sweet and interesting. You would feel like you were in a 'real' small town, but at the same time still not too terribly far from what you need, mileage-wise. Port Costa is just a little beyond Crockett, down a small road, off of Highway 4. It is also known for being an out-of-the-way artsy and eccentric place. I would say Port Costa is generally quite safe. You still will probably have trouble finding anything that is at your $1200 mark, but it will be only a few hundred over. (This might seem like too much still. I'm sorry!) I'm talking about HOMES — not apartments — so you may find cheaper for an apartment, specifically up there, but the towns are mostly comprised of homes (not apartments). I am sorry some people are laughing, but it's easy for us to forget how insane our pricing is here. We have endured it for so long! Please consider looking in to the share-rental idea. You can find things like that also on Craigslist! You also might try Martinez. It is the County Seat of Contra Costa County. No place will be completely free of crime or undesirable activity, but for your price range you'll do well to try these. I would be careful about apartments in Martinez, only because some buildings focus on 'low income' renters and (I'm not trying to disparage low-income people...)there can be 'a few bad apples' so to speak. I see someone else mentioned Concord. I would say the areas with a high concentration of apartments in {many parts of} Concord could have more undesirable incidences of activity you are trying to avoid. Best of luck to you, and let us all know what happens!


In the future, please add some line breaks...

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Awesome, thanks!

thanks for making this page insufferable to read.

Before I scrolled down and saw it I was pissed at the wrong people.

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