“San Francisco is expensive so I’ll live in Oakland.”
I hear this all the time from bright young people who are offered a job in the Bay Area and are looking for more affordable accommodations. Yes and no…
First, Oakland is a big place in terms of both population and physical territory so there are many different parts of Oakland to choose from and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. I thought I’d do a series of posts highlighting a few of the more common spots that attract the overflow crowds from San Francisco. I’ll start with Rockridge. If you want a San Francisco kind of neighborhood at a slightly (and I do mean slightly) lower price point this is your best option and you can still get to San Francisco on BART in twenty one minutes. Rockridge is exceptionally well served by multiple forms of public transit that all function together to give you access to most everywhere you’ll need to go. Rockridge is also completely bicycle friendly. If you do happen to own a car you have the option of walking or biking to everything in the immediate neighborhood so you can use the vehicle just when you really need it. Since most jobs in the Bay Area are located in suburban office parks rather than downtown many people find themselves driving to work even if they don’t really want to. Rockridge is conveniently central to commuter freeway routes with access to those jobs.
Rockridge is a classic 1920’s streetcar suburb with a “Main Street” along College Ave. As the name suggests Rockridge is mighty close to the University of California Berkeley and its associated cultural opportunities. Small high quality local shops prosper. There are mom and pop shoe stores, bicycle shops, and independent merchants that sell everything from furniture to candy and toys. It’s possible to buy real bread and pastries, good meat and cheese, wine, and produce from neighborhood shops rather than big box chain retailers. And it’s all conveniently available on foot without having to wade through a two hundred acre parking lagoon on the side of a highway.
Walking around it’s obvious that Rockridge is a diverse and family-friendly neighborhood where children can wander freely and older folks can easily age in place. There are constant chance encounters with people on the street and in cafes and shops. The physical design of the place encourages casual interactions and helps keep the neighborhood safe. It’s a perfect example of Jane Jacob’s “eyes on the street” that naturally builds security since everyone instinctively notices when something isn’t quite right.
If you want to rent a modest apartment or even a rented room in a private home that’s certainly a possibility. But most people who migrate from San Francisco to Rockridge prefer a single family home with a patch of garden. Out in the distant suburbs people value very large homes and private amenities in the form of exclusive subdivisions with private security. Everything favors interior personal space at the expense of the public realm. In Rockridge the opposite is true since town itself is the primary draw with each home charmingly integrated into the larger community.
So what’s the catch you might ask… Well, Rockridge is not cheap. Rents may be a tiny bit more reasonable than in San Francisco, but you’re still looking at $2,000 a month for a small apartment – assuming you can find a vacancy. If you want to buy property a modest fixer upper will set you back at least $500K while a fully renovated home typically costs $1M. So… cheaper than San Francisco, but not what most people would call affordable.
Are you looking for something a bit more reasonably priced in Oakland? There are other options, but those come with some pretty serious trade offs. Keep checking back and I’ll highlight them in the weeks to come.