Whether you’re moving to San Francisco, or just heading over for a visit, you’ll want to know the best places to live in San Francisco.

There are some neighborhoods that are a real hit, they’re filled with beautiful parks, great scenery, and close to bustling restaurants and cafes.

But for all those great neighborhoods, there are almost as many that don’t have great amenities, that might feel a little dangerous, or just don’t offer the bang for your buck that you need when you’re living in a truly expensive city. 

Having lived in the Bay Area for almost five years now, I know quite a few of the ins and outs of San Francisco living. But let’s face it, you don’t really understand how to find the best neighborhoods in San Francisco unless you’ve lived each of them. 

So I enlisted the help of fellow Australian expats, to find out where they live, what they like about their new home, and what isn’t so great. Without their help, this San Francisco neighborhood guide wouldn’t be half as good as it is, so a big thank you to everyone who contributed. 

BEST PLACES TO LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO

The title of this post does read “best places to live in San Francisco”, but this guide goes further than the city limits.

We spoke to Australians and Americans from all over the place to give you the bigger picture of the best places to live in the Bay Area. Because, let’s be honest, not everyone wants to live in the centre of a bustling city. 


READ MORE: Moving to the US – Cost of Living


It’s nice to have a little more space (depending on where you live), and maybe even a sense of community with your neighbors. 

In case you haven’t done any research on San Francisco, it is the second most densely populated large city within the US. It is the most expensive US city to raise a family in (a family of four needs an estimated $148,440 a year), and has the highest population of “wealthy” people of any city in America. 

Put bluntly, things are expensive in San Francisco, so you may need to settle for living on the outskirts to be able to afford to live here. 

San Francisco City Neighborhoods

Let’s begin with the hot spot of art, culture, finance, and a million things to do. The city of San Francisco spans just 75 kilometres (46.9 miles), there are a myriad of neighborhoods that span the richest and poorest people in the Bay Area.

Not only that, but there are at least 44 neighborhoods to choose from in such a small space, so things can get seriously confusing.


RELATED: San Francisco itinerary for first timers


San Francisco is famous for its steep hills (don’t buy a manual car), the fog that rolls in around June and doesn’t leave again until early September, and its cool summers. It is home to the head offices of at least five major financial institutions, as well as fashion, technology, and social media companies. 

Castro 

Originally from Western Australia, Thomas Hood moved to the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco in 2019. If you’re not already jealous of the view from his studio apartment, you better read his views living in Castro.

With a view like this from Twin Peaks, I’d seriously consider never leaving home. Picture: Thomas Hood.

Neighborhood Overview
The Castro is located five minutes (3 stops) from the Civic Centre by MUNI or 12 minutes (6 stops) to Embarcadero. If you identify as gay then chances are you live here! Singles, couples, thruples and any other relationship dynamic are widely accepted here. It is considered the gayborhood for people living or visiting.

 

It has a rich historical significance as the Castro was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the US. If you’re interested in learning more there are some self-guided and guided walking tours around the Castro focusing on the history of the area. 

Renting
Given it’s proximity to the Downtown area and great parks like Dolores, historical significance, and great bars and cafes, rents are pretty high here. I’ve lived in SF for 12 months now. I started at a place in the Mission where I was renting an efficiency studio (read: a shoe box with no kitchen) which set me back $2200 for a month fully furnished.


Ed’s note: If you think a ‘no kitchen’ living space isn’t common, you’re wrong. It’s so common that I wrote about it, and other San Francisco rental oddities.

RELATED: For Rent: Comfy studio apartment in quiet neighborhood (no kitchen)


I then moved into Noe Valley (next suburb over to Castro) where I spent about 5 months in a shared house. I was living with the landlord who was renting out the three other bedrooms and shared a bathroom with one other tenant.  That set me back $1850 a month, fully furnished.

Castro historic home

There are lots of gorgeous historic homes dotted around Castro.

I now live in Twin Peaks, the suburb that overlooks Castro. I live underneath my landlord in a proper studio (full kitchen, ya know) which sets me back $2500 per month, unfurnished. I found this through word of mouth, I knew the guy that lived next door. I’ve never lived in a place that splits out utilities, it’s always been included. 

You will find the odd hidden gems usually through word of mouth. A good friend of mine lives in a rent controlled studio a few blocks from Castro and only pays around $900 per month. Most people will look for rentals on Craigslist or find one through a friend. 

Why Live Here
It’s convenient! I spend a lot of time in the Castro with my friends so being close by is important to me. Its also super close to Downtown, so work-wise, the business district is easy accessible by car, bike or MUNI. It has a community vibe, when I walk down Castro St it is always highly likely I’m going to run into someone I know. 

Castro Theatre in San Francisco | Best San Francisco places to live

The Castro Theatre was designated as a San Francisco Historic Landmark back in 1976.

Pros

  • Proximity to Dolores Park
  • Wholefoods on Market St
  • A great recovery(drugs/alcohol) community
  • Lots of places to eat, bars and coffee shops
  • Rich LGBT history in the veins of the Castro
  • Proximity to other cool neighborhoods like the Haight, Noe Valley, Cole Valley, and the Mission

Cons

  • Seems to be a number of homeless and mentally ill that congregate in the Castro.  Twin Peaks is a lot better for this! 
  • Everything is expensive – rent, coffee, food.

Nearby Attractions/Things to do

  • Did I mention Dolores Park?
  • Favourite breakfast place: Fable, it has a nice courtyard out the back which is not visible from the street.
  • Favourite coffee spot: Philz on Castro Str
  • Favourite workout spot: Barry’s Bootcamp on Market Str
  • Castro Theatre: Sing along’s, drag shows and movies. There’s pretty much something on every day of the year.
  • Mens Clothing: Rolo on Market Str
  • Best diner: Orphan Andy’s, the pancakes are awesome! 

Mission

Lauren Demarte moved from North Melbourne to San Francisco four years ago. She lives in the Mission District. 

Dolores Park in San Francisco on a sunny day

There’s almost no better place in San Francisco on a sunny day, than in Dolores Park with friends. Picture: Lauren Demarte.

Neighborhood Overview
The Mission, as it is affectionately known, is named for the Catholic mission built in 1776, which is the oldest standing building in San Francisco. It has a huge Latino food scene, and is dominated by street art and culture. It is populated by singles and couples, with a smattering of children and young families in the more residential areas.

 

Mission Street is the main thoroughfare and the centre of the action in the Mission. The area is often warmer and sunnier than other parts of San Francisco, thanks to the city’s famed micro climates. The northeastern section is ground-zero for Start Up businesses, bars and restaurants. The northwest is all about the Victorian mansions and beautiful Dolores Park. 

Renting

The area holds a combination of houses converted into apartments, which are typically rent-controlled, and newer apartments. Although it skews heavily towards houses converted into apartments. 

House in the Mission District of San Francisco

Many older homes in the Mission District, have been turned into apartments.

Most places are offered unfurnished but always with a fridge included, and almost always with some access to a washer-drier. In our current place the washer drier is a nice new set on the ground floor that all apartments share. In our Alamo Square place it was a coin-operated set down some dingy stairs in the creepy basement. We sent out laundry out when we lived there.

We hadn’t really intended on moving to the Mission specifically; we had a great place in Alamo Square and really liked it there. But the lack of storage space and a dishwasher was gradually breaking us, so we started causally looking at a few places all around the city. We were open to a lot of different areas, it was more about finding a place that had the space we needed.

On the day we found our new place it was pouring with rain and we’d been viewing an apartment on the other side of the city, in the Richmond District. We were late getting back to the Mission and the (super nasty) agent was about to leave. He begrudgingly let us in (breathless, soggy) and we were besotted with the place, which is an old steel workers union hall. Immediately after the viewing we went to the dive bar across the road and plotted how we could land this place. Spoiler alert: we got it!

Murals on the Women's Building in San Francisco's Mission District

The Mission is covered in murals and street art, and The Women’s Building is a great example of the art you’ll see in the area.

Our place in the Mission is quite big, about 1200 sq ft, is bright and sunny and has lovely high ceilings. Most older places (like the ones converted from houses to apartments) have downsides like dust, noise, drafts etc, but upsides often include high ceilings. Apartment size really varies; before we found our current place we looked at about six others, and this was largest by far.

It’s an adjustment using Craiglist instead of a real estate website, but you quickly realize it’s the way things are done here. Security deposits are common and can be significant, but that’s pretty much the same in Australia. The main strange call out is that cheques (checks) are used so frequently to pay rent and security deposit. I’d never used a check in my life before I moved here so that was an adjustment.

Pros

  • Proximity to downtown (it can be 20 minutes door-to-door on a good run), with options for Bart, Muni, F Line and buses all a short walk away.
  • So many awesome food options within 0.2 miles – all the best Mexican food, Burmese, Peruvian, El Salvadorian, Italian, sushi, vegan, ramen etc.
  • It’s flat and warm! Micro-climates abound in San Francisco, and the Mission is definitely a little warmer and sunnier than a lot of other areas. 

Cons

  • Noticeable homelessness and some petty crime like car break-ins. It’s not typically dangerous but it can take some getting used to.
  • As mentioned above, it can be on the louder side, and a little dusty. But not enough to cause us to want to move, we love the neighborhood and feel really at home here.

Nearby Attractions/Things to do

  • Dolores Park
  • Duboce Park
  • New Mission Alamo Drafthouse cinema
  • The Mission murals
  • Lots of teeny tiny gardens and parks
  • Wiggle bike track that leads you all the way to the ocean without having to really go uphill at all.
  • I could go on and on, there is no shortage of vibrant activity in the Mission.

Noe Valley

Valentina Grandi hails from Milan, Italy, but lived in Queensland and Sydney as an au pair before moving into marketing. Valentina moved to Noe Valley five years ago and is now a Marketing Director.

The view of San Francisco from Noe Valley

You already know that San Francisco is very hill, which means beautiful views like this are pretty common. Picture: Valentina Gandi.

Neighborhood Overview
Noe Valley is very family friendly, and it is a little community within the city. Although it is not as young and “up-and-coming” as other parts of San Francisco, it is perfect for young people, singles, and couples too.

 

There are plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, yoga studios, pubs, grocery stores (including a little Whole Foods, and a huge Safeway), and all the services needed to chose from. And the Mission and Castro are literally a short walk away. 


NOE VALLEY TIP: There’s a great bakery that sells Aussie-style Hot Cross Buns around Easter. Find out more here.


Apparently, the high concentration of young couples with children, earned this neighborhood the colloquial name of Stroller Town. You’ve been warned. Watch your toes.

Renting
Five years ago I got the opportunity to move to the Bay Area for work and love, as I met my now husband through work. I lived in the South Bay for three years (that’s where work was/is) but I could never get adjusted to the suburban lifestyle. Being a city girl, I missed all the perks of being in the city and so we decided to trade off convenience (little commute) for lifestyle. 

Sunset over Noe Valley, San Francisco

In the winter time especially, San Francisco sunsets can be spectacular. Picture: Valentina Grandi.

As we started to explore San Francisco we had the following criteria in mind. We had to be as close as  possible to highways 101 and 280, as we both work in the South Bay. The neighborhood needs to be clean; yes Sydney spoiled me a great deal. There had to be good weather, so we looked into the neighborhoods with as less “Karl” (Ed’s note: San Franciscans refer to the fog as Karl the Fog) as possible. It needed to have a community feel so that we’d have a “local” everything to enjoy in our everyday life. And lastly, we needed the beach since we both love to surf. Ocean Beach is a 13 minute drive away.

The property stock is made up of mostly single family homes and beautiful, colorful Victorian-style townhouses.

Pros

  • Local vibe
  • Clean and safe
  • Lots of everything you need
  • Super cute
  • Close to Ocean Beach, Dolores Park, and the Mission
  • Well connected via transport
  • Close to highways 101 and 280
  • Family friendly

Cons

  • Hilly (if you don’t enjoy a good workout on your way back home)
  • Nightlife (there isn’t much going on at night besides a couple of local pubs and bars)
  • Not the greatest shopping scene
  • No good swimming pool

Attractions/Things to do

  • Lots of coffee shops/good local restaurants
  • Local Whole Foods/Safeway
  • Lots of local wine/groceries shops
  • 10 mins to Dolores Park
  • 10 mins to the Mission
  • Public transport: BART (24th/Mission stop)/J on Church Street
  • Lots of activities for kids (libraries, music studios, acting school, etc.)

Richmond

Kaytlin is another former Melbournian (or is that Melbournite), who moved to the US. She’s been living in Richmond for a little over a year.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Richmond

San Francisco views don’t get much more iconic than this one! Picture: Kaytlin.

Neighborhood Overview
Not to be confused with the city of Richmond, which is northeast of San Francisco, the Richmond District is sandwiched between two beautiful parks – the Golden Gate Park and the Presidio of San Francisco. It also sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and as you can imagine, it has some great views. 

Richmond was built on a grid, making it easier to traverse than other sections of the city. One part of Richmond is known as the city’s second Chinatown, and the district as a whole, draws influence from Asian culture because of the many Chinese-Americans who live here.

 

In the early 1900s, an Australian immigrant named George Turner Marsh was a well known Japanese art dealer in the area. At the time the area was called the Presidio District, however, Marsh had built a house in the area (I believe on the corner of 8th and Clement) and he had named it The Richmond House (after our beloved Richmond in Melbourne).

His influence ended up catching on and people started to refer to the area as “The Richmond”. It wasn’t until 2009 that the name was officially changed on the books.

Renting

I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kinda gal, so there was no real rhyme or reason behind my choice. It was the first listing I saw on Craigslist, first house I saw, the women that lived there were great and the rest is history. 

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

Living close to Golden Gate Park and The Presidio, helps get over the fact that you don’t have a backyard. Picture: Kaytlin.

Inner Richmond is known as Little Vietnam (much like Richmond in Melbourne), whereas Central Richmond has more of a Chinese influence and Outer Richmond is known as Little Russia. There are lots of townhouses, with the typical San Francisco Victorian-era architecture that seem to be synonymous with San Francisco. But there is also a weird mix of Flintstones looking houses! 

What you need to know about Richmond, is that the rental properties are small. There is literally no space. I live in a “technically” one bedroom apartment with two other people. There is no living room, but the rooms are spacious enough. I don’t think it’s common to have a backyard, but we do have Golden Gate Park out the back.

Pros

  • Awesome food, good coffee, good bakeries (Devil’s Teeth Bakery opened in February 2020)
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Lands End
  • The Presidio
  • Legion of Honor
  • Easy bus lines

Cons

  • No Bart
  • Really foggy in the summertime 
  • A whole heap colder than the rest of San Francisco

Glen Park

Bryn Lowry moved from Melbourne to New York, before finally settling in the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco. 

Glen Canyon Park in Glen Park San Francisco

The main attraction of Glen Park, is Glen Canyon Park. Picture: Bryn Lowry.

Neighborhood Overview
Glen Park is a small neighborhood in San Francisco’s south, and is mostly residential, apart from the nearby Glen Canyon Park. It is nestled in San Francisco’s central hills, which means that the streets follow the contours of the hills. Prepare to get a taste of what San Francisco hill-dwelling is like. 

 

The neighborhood is home to mostly couples and young families, probably because of its residential feel. This isn’t the place to move to if you want to experience nightlife close to your front door. It has a village-like atmosphere, and its main shopping area is actually called “The Village”. 

Renting/Buying
We decided to move to Glen Park with our child for a few reasons. It is a great spot for young families since it is a quieter neighborhood, and has a great park and recreation center in Glen Canyon Park. The park is actually a really beautiful oasis of nature in the middle of San Francisco. It’s also close to Highways 101 and 280, which is very important as I work in the South Bay.

It has it’s own Bart stop and takes just 15-20 minutes door to door to get to downtown San Francisco, and we’re just one stop away from The Mission. We were also lucky enough to find a place with a small backyard.

The housing stock consists of mostly houses 2-3 unit buildings. There aren’t any real big apartment blocks, everything in Glen Park is low rise. We own our place, but having a backyard is more common here than in other neighborhoods close by.

Pros

  • Glen Canyon Park and Recreation Center (tennis courts, basketball court, playground , climbing wall).
  • Bart station – only one stop from Mission and four stops to Powell.
  • Near the 101 and 280, but quiet because of the hills.
  • Great if you work on the peninsula for driving.
  • Quieter, and safe, great for young families
  • Canyon Food Market is a great local grocery which has great fresh produce (similar to a Bi-Rite).

Cons

  • No good coffee!!
  • Two or three good restaurants, but otherwise you have to head into The Mission for more choice.
  • Some big hills!

North Beach

Hayden Bowler is another former Melbourne resident, who now resides in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.

Coit Tower in North Beach, San Francisco

Get used to views of Coit Tower, if you plan to live in North Beach.

Neighborhood Overview
The North Beach area of San Francisco spans the north (obviously) eastern side of the peninsula, and runs up the Embarcadero all the way to about Pier 40, and butts up against the financial district to its south, and Russian Hill to its west.

 

North Beach is a busy neighborhood, since it holds a fair few of San Francisco’s tourist attractions such as Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, a plethora of nightclubs and jazz clubs, and is home to the famous City Lights Bookstore.

Renting
I lived briefly in Noe Valley for three months while I was interviewing for my position. I spent a lot of time exploring different neighborhoods with my girlfriend and fell in love with North Beach. It’s very close to the city, has a great food scene, and coming from Melbourne I love the easy access to cool bars and great Italian food.

City Lights Book Sellers

If you’re a book lover, you can’t miss City Lights Bookstore.

 The general demographic would be singles, both young and old. There aren’t a lot of families, but that’s certainly common for the city. North Beach has a lot of older style tri-level, three bedroom apartments that are subject to rent-control, which is extremely appealing for singles.


HAYDEN’S TIP: Be careful of Craigslist scams, and make sure you are aware of tax implications of becoming a tax resident of USA. Search for rentals in Facebook Groups.


North Beach is one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco so rooms seem to be on the smaller side, and buildings are certainly older. I started in a furnished one bedroom and then later moved into a share house on Mason Street. Most apartments have rooftops, but almost never backyards.

Pros

  • Close to the city
  • Lots of great nightlife
  • Very close to the Italian and Chinese districts

Cons

  • Old buildings
  • No fitness studios or gyms
  • Not a lot of parking

Nearby Attractions/Things to do

Potrero Hill

Blake Manzo is originally from Sydney, and moved to Mountain View before finally settling in Potrero Hill.

Boats on the San Francisco Bay, at Dogpatch

Some don’t think Dogpatch is part of Potrero Hill, while others see it as one neighborhood on the SF Bay.

Neighborhood Overview
Potrero Hill is known as a family-friendly neighborhood that was mainly working class until it was gentrified in the 1990s. While it’s still family-centric, and is filled with young families and couples, it will cost you a pretty penny to live in Potrero Hill nowadays.

It’s also known as one of the sunniest spots in San Francisco (a blessing in the winter months), because of those micro-climates. It also doesn’t get any of the fog that most people talk about, and is on the brink of the San Francisco Bay. 

Potrero Hill takes in the Dogpatch area (although some argue that Dogpatch is its own neighborhood), which is built on top of landfill in parts. The area was an industrial zone, as the many docks will attest to. So it is common to see warehouses converted into lofts and condos. 

Renting
There are a few bigger apartment complexes (some newly built) but in general, Potrero Hill is largely made up of the classic San Francisco townhouse style of building.

The places are larger here compared to SOMA (South of Market), Dogpatch, Mission and Marina. Although there’s no specific attractions or things to do in Potrero, for me living here it is more about being a doorstep of the rest of San Francisco. 

The branded company-run apartment communities can be a little scammy. I nearly signed at Avalon, but the extra fees add up. For example they advertised at $4.2k for 2 bedroom, but by the time all the fees (parking, pet, electric, garbage, gas, water, sewer) were added on, it ended up closer to $5.5k per month. 

Pros

  • Sun
  • Within 15-30 minute walking distance to Mission, SOMA, and Dogpatch, and design district is on doorstep.
  • Close to 22nd Street Caltrain Station
  • Great to commute to South Bay
  • Anchor Brewing on my doorstep

Cons

  • Right on the edge of the city.
  • If you need to get to the other side (like Marina or Outer Richmond) it is not as easy.

SoMa

Haynes D’Souza moved to the United States from Melbourne and now lives in SoMa.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Apart from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, there are lots of museums in the SoMa neighborhood.

Neighborhood Overview

SoMa, is named for being geographically South of Market street in San Francisco. Market Street is the main street for shopping, and it runs through part of the financial district.

The sub-neighborhoods you’ll find within SoMa are South Beach, Yerba Buena, and Rincon Hill. It houses quite a few museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

 

Technology companies such as Foursquare, Cloudflare, GitHub, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Yelp all have offices in this section of San Francisco.

Because of this, SoMa is filled with young professionals, post graduate university students, and “techies”. Given that SoMa hosts AirBnB, Adobe, Pinterest, Zynga & Stripe, it mainly attracts the “working crowd” aged between 20s-40s.

Renting

Ultimately, my decision to move to SoMa over Potrero Hill came down to the fact that the apartment I found in SoMa had better amenities than any of the others I’d seen, and it was close to work, so it was a no brainer!

SoMa is almost exclusively apartments. Several years ago, SOMA used to be a sketchy area full of warehouses, homelessness and crime. However, it has been heavily gentrified in the last 10 years as Big Tech moves in and rents increased.

During my search, I prioritized three things:

  • Safety
  • proximity to work
  • cost of rent.

Whilst rent remains absurdly high, it’s close to work and perfectly safe. Most of the apartments come unfurnished and are usually managed by a real estate manager.


HAYNES’ TIP: There is a Caltrain station in the area, so beware that it may be loud if you live near it. Also consider whether your apartment has secure entry or has security – San Francisco has several interesting folks.


Due to the high rent, is very common for people to have housemates or subdivide the apartment to include additional housemates. Whilst apartment bedroom sizes aren’t as big as houses further away from the city, they are adequate for working professionals. 

 My advice for people looking to move into SoMa is to do your research on the apartment building you’ll be moving into. Whilst I’m very lucky to be living in a recently built building, there are some older apartments in SoMa that seem to age poorly.

Pros

  • Proximity to downtown San Francisco
  • Dedicated bike lanes and bike stations
  • Numerous clothing and food shops, and cafes in the area
  • Ambitious, young working professional techie vibe
  • Many bars/nightlife options in the area

Cons

  • Rent, rent, rent
  • Although it’s heavily gentrified, it is not uncommon to see the occasional homeless person 
  • Traffic during peak hours can be loud
  • It can feel vanilla at times (lack of a distinctive culture)
  • No green space: it’s a concrete jungle!


Attractions/Things to do

  • Numerous restaurants
  • Nordstrom Rack
  • Peet’s Coffee
  • Multiple bars
  • Trader Joe’s

North Bay Neighborhoods

Keep in mind that if you plan to live in the North Bay, and have to work on the Peninsula or the East Bay, you’ll be paying a toll to commute home every day. That is unless you’re catching public transport. 

Marin is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco City, and is most well known for its beautiful open spaces, hiking, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Point Reyes National Seashore. It is also a hop, skip, and a jump from the wine hotspots of Sonoma and Napa.


RELATED: Point Reyes National Seashore


Keep in mind that this part of the San Francisco Bay Area has been threatened by wildfires a couple of times in recent years.

Marin County

Courtney was born in Marin and has lived in Belvedere, Larkspur, Kentfield, and now lives in Mill Valley with her Australian Real Estate Advisor husband Jack Seymour. Jack is from Dubbo, NSW.

Marin County San Francisco view

Courtney and Jack know how to find a good view in Marin.

Neighborhood Overview
Marin is all about the outdoor lifestyle, just looking at a map will give you that impression. Back in the 1980s my (Courtney’s) parents moved to Marin from the Marina in San Francisco to escape the cold weather and the fog. They enjoyed the hiking, biking and beach trips that Marin has to offer. 

The couple met in Arizona and after stints living in Sydney and Marin, they decided to settle down in Marin to start their careers. 

 

“Many people that grew up here, never left, or grew up as I did, moved, and are now back,” Courtney said.

“You see some people that have lived in the same home for 50+ years or even the same home their parents lived in. That being said, there are MANY young families here and MANY more coming in search of a backyard and great schools. Young couples can move to Marin but still be close enough to commute and visit the city without the hassle of traffic that the east bay and south bay battle.”

Renting
Jack suggests not getting your hopes up in terms of living in huge spaces with lots of amenities thrown in.

“The majority of the housing in Marin are single family homes. There is a good supply of apartments/condos as well, but don’t envision massive, new apartment complexes with amenities and sprawling common areas. Most of the apartment buildings are 2-3 stories tall, built in the middle of the 20th century  and have very low vacancy rates,” he said.

“Marin County, like many Bay Area counties, is famously resistant to new development. Housing inventory is certainly a finite resource. As a general rule of thumb, housing prices tend to increase the closer you get to San Francisco. Southern Marin, and a few enclaves of Central Marin are pricier than their Northern neighbors up the (highway) 101. San Rafael and Novato provide the best bang for buck for families entering the market.”

Courtney suggests leveraging multiple approaches to searching for a place to live in Marin.

“Platforms such as Craigslist, Zumper, Zillow are a good start. Also, most apartment complexes are managed by just a handful of property management companies. I’d reach out directly to them with your search parameters and ask them for their current and upcoming availabilities. Also, be sure to let others know you are looking. Jump on the Aussies in San Francisco FB page and post there.”

Pros

  • Weather
  • Having the most amazing hiking and biking paths in our backyards
  • 20 min to the beach 
  • 30 min from world renowned wine county
  • Most amazing day trips – Tomales Bay, dozens of beaches, Half Moon Bay, Angel Island, Mt Tam, Santa Cruz, Big Sur Coastal drives
  • Access to the city – it takes me 7 min to get to the Golden Gate
  • The people. Most folks seem to share a similar passion for the outdoors, their families and a good time
  • The beauty… So many awesome vistas
  • Traffic is not as bad as other areas ( sf, south bay, east bay) as there are less people that live here
  • That Marin really has not changed and keeps its quaint / charm

Cons

  • Let’s face it… It’s expensive. Very expensive.
  • Public transit does not compare to the suburban areas of big Aussie cities.
  • If you work in the City, you’re going to commute 1-2 hours / day.
  • The micro-climates take some getting used to.

Attractions/Things to do

  • Mt Tamalpais
  • Tomales
  • Marin Headlands 
  • Rodeo Beach 
  • Alcatraz Tour
  • Cavallo Point 
  • Travis Bar in Sausalito 
  • Stinson Beach
  • Dillon Beach 
  • Paddle Boarding in Sausalito 
  • Kayaking in Sausalito and touring all the house boat neighborhoods 
  • Road trips to Napa, Sonoma 
  • Rams Gate Winery 
  • Sears Raceway 

Mid-Peninsula Neighborhoods

For the purposes of this article, we’ve classifying anything south of San Francisco city and north of Palo Alto, as being “mid-Peninsula). There’s a little bit of conjecture as to where Silicon Valley starts and where it ends, so anything south of Palo Alto will be classified as Silicon Valley.

The mid-Peninsula neighborhoods offer a kind of compromise. You’re still close enough to San Francisco that it’s not a real trek to get there after work or on the weekends, but you’re far enough away that the choice of properties available to buy or rent deepens a little bit. 

Belmont

School buses in Belmont, California

It’s not just a neighborhood of schools, but Belmont does have some great schools.

Neighborhood Overview
Nestled between San Mateo to its north, and San Carlos to its south, Belmont is a popular choice for families because it boasts a good school district. As such, the area is filled with young-ish families looking to get their children the best start money can buy.

 

A little fun fact about Belmont, is that it passed a smoking ordinance in 2009, which essential bans smoking in all businesses, and multi-storey apartments and condos. The area has a mixed demographic, with 30 percent made up of families with children under the age of 18, and almost 10 percent had someone over the age of 65 living there. 

Over half the properties in Belmont are owner-occupied, and 42 per cent are rented out. 

Renting
I was very lucky to find a one bedroom apartment in Belmont back in 2015.The housing stock is made up of single family homes with small backyards and garages, there are more townhouses springing up. The majority of rental stock comes in the form of condos and apartments. 

Apartments here are small – to the point where if you’re paying for a studio apartment, you’re lucky to fit your bed in it without it jutting into the kitchen area. It is common for houses to be sub divided into smaller living spaces and rented out that way.


TIP: Use Craigslist to start your search, and then verify listings on Zillow if you feel they might be shifty.


Most apartments are rented unfurnished apart from a stove and a fridge, and in apartment buildings, you’re likely to get one or two communal coin-operated washer/driers to share with your neighbors. Utilities like water and garbage pick up are usually included in the rent cost, but you will be on the hook for electricity/gas, and internet.

Share houses are also common in Belmont, and are more likely to come furnished with a bed at the very least. In these situations, your rent may depend on how big your room is, whether you have sole use of a bathroom, or if you need space in a garage. 

Pros

  • Quiet neighborhood (unless you live on the Caltrain corridor)
  • Close to grocery stores
  • Very safe
  • Almost equidistant to San Francisco and San Jose
  • Clean
  • Good schools
  • Lots of restaurants in San Carlos and San Mateo
  • Close to Caltrain and lots of buses
  • Close to highways 101, 92 and 280
  • Quite a few festivals (Chocolate, Greek, Polish, etc)
  • Good open spaces (Waterdog Park)

Cons

  • Not much nightlife
  • Lots of schools (that 3.30pm traffic)
  • Caltrain only stops here once an hour

Redwood City

Loren Dawes moved from Melbourne to Redwood City and has lived there for the past two years.

San Mateo County Museum building in Redwood City

The San Mateo County Museum is one of many beautiful buildings in Redwood City. Picture: Loren Dawes.

Neighborhood Overview
Redwood City boasts San Francisco’s only deepwater port, and has a population of around 76,000 people. Since there is a high Hispanic and Latino population in the area, you’ll find plenty of great family-run Mexican restaurants like Tacos Los Gemelos (Taco Twins).

There is a high proportion of couples living in Redwood City (48.8 per cent), and families with children under the age of 18 make up just 7 per cent of the population. The downtown area is packed with restaurants, shops, theatres, and a cinema.

 

Since Redwood City is the seat of San Mateo County, it also regularly hosts free community events,especially during the summer and autumn months.

Renting
My partner got a job offer in Seattle or Menlo Park. We decided the weather is better in California and it’s also a direct flight back to Melbourne. We concentrated our house hunting search within 5-10 miles of Menlo Park. We went to Redwood City initially to find Red Giant Coffee. We had a yummy coffee, liked the look of Broadway (the main street) and once we walked downtown, there was a free concert on at Courthouse Square. It was a warm day, nice atmosphere, plenty of dining options and lovely architecture. We just liked the vibe! 


LOREN’S TIP: If you’re moving as a couple or into a share house, make sure you put your name on the utility bills as proof of address. You often need 2 x proof of address documents when setting up a Social Security Number, DMV, bank accounts etc.


The downtown area is very condensed with newly constructed apartments. A lot of retail shops are being bulldozed to make way for apartment complexes, especially along El Camino Real. Older houses are making way for townhouses. Further south from downtown as you head into the hills, there are more larger, traditional family houses on large blocks. 

A lot of new apartments are available, large complexes with all the amenities; gym, pool, rooftop deck, pet salons etc. These come at a price, with one-bedrooms starting from $3,000 a month. We were prepared to get an older apartment with less bells and whistles. This was spacious enough.

The downside of older apartments are often multi-generations living in small apartments. Occupancy is pretty full with up to four adults and four cars on the property. Parking can be an issue around the complex, in the street and something to keep in mind if you’re sharing facilities like BBQ, washing machine and dryer.

It is very hard to find pet friendly rentals and we only have two cats, I imagine it’s harder with dogs. Furnished properties are typically short stay corporate accommodation. The larger houses with 3+ bedrooms will have spacious yards and are on large blocks. 

Pros

  • Plenty of restaurants and coffee shops offering outdoor seating, which is feasible all year round. 
  • Lots of free events; concerts, outdoor movie nights and attractions downtown. Redwood City Events do an amazing job. 
  • Handy commute to Facebook, Google, and Apple campuses, with staff shuttles servicing the area.  
  • Close to San Francisco International Airport.
  • Caltrain station for ease of commuting into San Francisco. 
  • Bicycle friendly roads close to downtown.
  • Has a DMV, Social Security office and a variety of banks for newcomers in town to get established.  This is a big plus for an expat getting started in the USA without a car.  

RELATED: Swapping your Australian Driver’s License for a California License


Cons

  • Cost of living.
  • Traffic congestion (everywhere in the Bay Area issue) .
  • Locals being resistant to gentrification and very anti Facebook, Google, Apple.

Attractions/Things to do

  • Courthouse Square always has events and attractions downtown. As mentioned before – Redwood City Events does an amazing job.  
  • Fox Theater and Dragon Theater.
  • Bair Island Ecological Reserve.
  • Edgewood Park (467 acres with walking trails, lots of flora and fauna).
  • Filoli Mansion and Gardens (650 acre estate with walking trails and a 16 acre garden accessible to the public for a fee). 
  • Pulgas Water Temple is very Instagramable. 
  • Redwood City has a campus of Stanford University.
  • Cañada Community College.
  • Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center, Kaiser Permanente and Sequoia Hospitals. 

Foster City

Eleanor Koe moved to Foster City with her husband and is originally from Sydney, Australia.

San Francisco Bay from Foster City

The San Francisco Bay is a big part of living in Foster City. Picture: Eleanor Koe.

Neighborhood Overview
Foster City is located within San Mateo County and as such, is close to both San Mateo and Belmont (mentioned above). Its big draw card is that it is one of the safest cities in the country – and averages one murder per decade.

 

Foster City was built in the 1960s on top of landfill and the marshes that line the San Francisco Bay. Back in 2009, Forbes ranked Foster City as number 10 in its list of the top 25 towns to live in. It is just 51 kilometres square (19.8 miles square), but includes many of the amenities you’ll need including a Costco, and shopping center. 

Renting
We chose Foster City because it is close to my husband’s work and it reminds me of Sydney because it is a pretty city surrounded by water. It is very safe and clean, plus there are lots of parks and green spaces.


ELEANOR’S TIP: Check the crime index before committing to a San Francisco neighborhood


Foster City is mostly home to families and singles who work at the tech companies located in or near Foster City. The housing stock consists of a mix of houses, townhouses, apartments and condos. Since we were looking for a long-term rental, we looked at townhomes here, and found a good selection in Foster City.

One of the most important aspects for me was the area’s safety, even late at night. I like being close to the Bay Walking Trail and the lagoon. It’s also very convenient to be close to grocery stories like Lucky, Safeway, Costco, two Asian grocery stores, and some restaurants. 

Pros

  • More residential and not congested
  • Heaps of park and active community center
  • Very safe, clean and with water views
  • Very convenient to shops
  • People are friendly
  • Good schools 

Cons

  • Access to BART, closest is Millbrae.
  • Closest Caltrain is Hillsdale which is 5 – 10 mins away by car.

SILICON VALLEY NEIGHBORHOODS

Depending on who you ask, Silicon Valley means different things to different people. It’s basically the blanket name given to the southern region of the San Francisco Peninsula that is home to tech giants and Start-Up businesses alike. 

You’ll find the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Tesla, Adobe, Intel and Microsoft in Silicon Valley. So we could hardly write a guide to the best places to live in San Francisco without including the neighborhoods that might end up being close to your workplace. 

The Visit Silicon Valley website lists the following neighborhoods as being part of the tech-soaked Silicon Valley area: Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga, and Sunnyvale.

Geographically south of San Francisco city, Silicon Valley is more likely to have a residential, suburban feel. It’s also a little friendlier to families, although property prices and rental rates are still sky-high here.


Despite the expense involved in living here, I think there are quite a few pros to living in Palo Alto. 

Palo Alto

Alison Youssef moved to the US from Melbourne. She lived in Mountain View before moving to Palo Alto.

Hoover Building at Stanford University in Palo Alto

Palo Alto may be best known as the home of Stanford University. It is a highly selective university with a great academic reputation.

Neighborhood Overview
Just because Palo Alto is home to Stanford University, does not automatically make it a traditional “college town” that you hear many Americans talk about. When school isn’t in session, Palo Alto doesn’t just empty out like other places that have a large university in their midst.

Palo Alto is very mixed. The majority of residents are families with older kids and empty-nesters, particularly around Old Palo Alto, Community Center and Duveneck. Young families tend to live in Middlefield, Palo Verde, St. Claire Gardens areas. Singles and young couples (most of who work in tech) live in Downtown North and along Middlefield Road.

 

There are plenty of things to do in Palo Alto, and the area does not want for amenities, however be warned that this is an expensive place to live (yes, even relative to the rest of San Francisco).

Renting
We previously lived in Mountain View and wanted to be closer to my husband’s workplace in Menlo Park. We found an apartment that had all the amenities we required and was close to places of interest. 

There is a mix of property stock in Palo Alto, however, the majority of properties seem to be houses. The apartments are all unfurnished, but most have great facilities and are walking distance to places of interest. I know a lot of people rent in Palo Alto because of the outstanding public schools (you need to live within the catchment area to enroll in public schools here). 


RELATED: Guide to the American school system


Pros

  • Close to the 101 and the Caltrain
  • People are friendly and it’s a welcoming community to live in
  • The public facilities are great. There are several outstanding libraries. There are also a good selection of shopping centers between Stanford SC, Downtown, University Ave and Middlefield.
  • Well-kept and well-appointed parks everywhere
  • Great restaurants, cafes and co-working spaces
  • Farmer’s market at University Ave every weekend
  • Public schools are top notch 
  • Feels like a safe place to live; there are very few violent crime incidents in Palo Alto
  • Great healthcare in the neighborhood, with Stanford Hospital, Palo Alto Medical Foundation and El Camino Hospital nearby
  • Many tech shuttles have routes through the city
  • There are many churches and several synagogues in the city

Cons

  • Because of Palo Alto’s reputation of being a wealthy city, petty crime is common, particularly car break-ins. This can be avoided with common sense.  

  • Rent can be high (currently upwards of $3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, upwards of $5,000 for a two bedroom apartment, and upwards of $6,000 for a house).

Attractions/Things to do

  • Lots of parks
  • Museum and zoo aimed at young children
  • Many, many restaurants
  • Stanford Theatre and other small independent theatres
  • Great shopping, particularly on University Ave and Stanford Shopping Center
  • Great cafes on University Ave
  • Close to hiking in the Palo Alto foothills

Menlo Park

James moved to San Francisco from Sydney’s Inner West. He has lived in Menlo Park and Sunnyvale.

Ariel view of Menlo Park, Bay Area

Menlo Park is the gateway to Silicon Valley from San Francisco.

Neighborhood Overview
Saying that Menlo Park is a very rich neighborhood feels like an understatement. It is one of the most educated cities in the US, with 70 per cent or residents over the age of 25 having a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. The downtown strip is full of Tesla’s, Porsches and other well known brands.



There is an almost even split of those who own their own home in Menlo Park, and those who are renting. During the 2010 census, there were 13,085 housing units within the neighborhood, and just 5.2 per cent were vacant and seeking renters. Menlo Park is family friendly, and during that same census, 22 per cent of adults had children under the age of 18 living with them. 

Renting
My work has always been down in South Bay, and we had been living in the city. The commute was just far too long, and we wanted to be within around a 30 minute commute. Palo Alto and nearby Menlo Park are quite nice, and have their own walkable downtown areas. There are also a number of parks, which worked out well for our recently-born daughter. 


JAMES’ TIP: Something I hadn’t taken into account is just how hot it can get in a top floor apartment. We were pleasantly surprised just how much cheaper it was than the city though.


Menlo Park is a mix of apartments and houses, though housing stock is mostly made up of houses. The streets are very wide and clean, with lots of greenery. Moving from the city, the apartments were generally larger than what we’d gotten used to. Almost all of them come with a car parking spot and some storage space. Most are unfurnished, but include a fridge and stove.

Pros

  • Lots of walkable shopping/eating areas (Menlo Park downtown, Palo Alto downtown, Stanford Mall).
  • Some nice parks
  • Wide, clean streets with lots of bike lanes
  • Some nice restaurants


Cons

  • Limited options without a car – even if you’re near Caltrain it’s just not that convenient.
  • Only a small handful of the food spots are really that great.
  • Rent is a bit more expensive than other suburbs on the Peninsula.

Sunnyvale

James, from Sydney’s Inner West, has also lived in Sunnyvale.

Sunnyvale Murphy Historic Avenue

The Sunnyvale Historic Murphy Avenue is lined with cafes and restaurants. Picture: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com

Neighborhood Overview
Sunnyvale is on the more affordable side of Silicon Valley neighborhoods, however, it is also one of the most populated. Sunnyvale is home to some of the most well known technology companies, including Apple, LinkedIn, and Juniper Networks.

 

It is close to the bigger city of San Jose, which has plenty of services and things for young families to do. Sunnyvale is mostly a residential area, despite the considerable commercial presence. 

Renting
We had been living in Menlo Park, but decided we wanted to be even closer to work. On top of that, we needed a second bedroom for our recently born daughter.

Combined with the fact that two bedroom apartments are actually cheaper in Sunnyvale than Menlo Park, meant that it was really an easy decision. As it turns out, the mid range of two bedroom apartments overlaps with that of small two bedroom houses, which is eventually what we ended up going for.


JAMES’ TIP: If you do decide to get a house rather than an apartment, do be aware that you may have to pay for the utilities yourself. This can add an extra ~$100 or more to your outlays per month.


Sunnyvale contains a real mix of sprawling single family homes, office towers, town homes and low-rise apartments. It is better value for money than some other suburbs, particularly those which are mid-Peninsula. A small house can be surprisingly affordable (relatively!!).

Pros

  •  Comparably cheaper housing stock
  • Close to many tech campuses
  • Safe, flat, and cycle friendly (to a degree)

Cons

  • Pretty small downtown
  • Very quiet… not a lot going on at all!
  • Getting to the city on the weekends will take a little longer compared to mid-Peninsula suburbs 


Mountain View

Aileen La Bouff is a real estate agent who moved from Australia to Mountain View in 2001.

Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View

The Shoreline Amphitheatre is one of the biggest draw cards of Mountain View. Picture: Uladzik Kryhin / Shutterstock.com

Neighborhood Overview
Mountain View is named for the vistas of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the area’s population burgeoned after World War II with the development of regional aerospace and, later, electronics industries. The city is home to the NASA Ames Research Center, which conducts research and develops aeronautics, and explores technology and science.

 

Most of the area is made up of residential space, and there are business parks in the North Shoreline area that houses Googleplex, the Shoreline Amphitheatre, and shopping.

Renting
My husband owned our home in Mountain View when I met him 20 years ago. I really had little idea what other areas were like, only that I’d been here to visit a handful of times before deciding to move.

Mountain View is very diverse. There are seniors living in homes occupied by the same family for a couple of generations, there are founders of big name tech companies, there are families from all over the world, and many who are here are employed in some form of engineering and/or tech position for the new big-name companies.

The housing stock is mixed, with neighborhoods of single family homes, and neighborhoods with medium-rise near-new apartments. More than half of the residences within the city boundaries are condos or town homes.

Pros

  • I can get anything I want on my doorstep within a few days.
  • Food/beverage/entertainment choices are more broad than I ever thought possible.
  • People are polite, thoughtful and community-minded.

Cons

  • It’s certainly more populous than anywhere I’ve ever lived.
  • There are roads/cars/noise/sirens/odors everywhere.
  • I’m used to a much quieter bush aspect. 

Attractions/Things to do

Downtown Mountain View is wonderful for restaurants, entertainment, art shows, music etc. Shoreline park and the Bay Trail are within a mile or two. Rancho San Antonio Preserve is fabulous and there are many, many trails, and a working farm. There is lots of wildlife too. 

Campbell

Kath Wright moved from Auckland, New Zealand, to Campbell with her husband.

Ariel view of Campbell, California

Campbell is part of Santa Clara County.

Neighborhood Overview
Campbell is on the pricier side of Silicon Valley neighborhoods. It has its own outdoor shopping centre that also houses a Federal Bureau of Investigation office, and the downtown area hosts a local farmer’s market each Sunday.

 

Campbell is a family friendly neighborhood – in the 2010 Census, 30 per cent of Campbell’s households had children under the age of 18, and almost 60 per cent identified as “families”. The major commuter roads include the State Routes 17 and 85, as well as Highway 280 and the San Tomas Expressway.

Renting
We moved to Campbell in early 2016, we brought our software company out here to Silicone Valley to establish it.  We didn’t want to live in San Francisco and we had friends of friends that lived in Campbell who told us about the area. My husband flew out a few months early to check it out and really liked it.


KATH’S TIP: If you have kids, check the schools out. Schools over here are run by District Unions, so contact the district union of the area you are looking in.


Campbell has a mixed demographic, but it is certainly family oriented, it’s quite expensive to rent here (we pay $4700 per month for a four-bedroom home) and we know of a few families who have moved away in order to be able to buy a house.

Campbell holds a mix of houses, with pockets of apartments, townhouses and condos. When we were looking in 2016 we only looked at houses, not apartments. With three kids we definitely wanted a back yard, and there were a couple of houses that were fully furnished and a few that weren’t. Two of them had a shared situation – with other people living in the same house or property but separated by doors within the house. 


COMMUTING:  Try to live reasonably close to your office.It’s not a good idea to live in Campbell and work in Palo Alto…the rush-hour commute is a killer.


The house that we are in now came furnished, we wanted some things but not all and landlord wouldn’t compromise so we took the house completely unfurnished. If you have a pool or a trampoline or anything else on your property that can result in an injury to other people, you might want to consider getting people to sign a waiver before they use the item. 

It sounds completely over the top from where we come from but the insurance companies over here will sue you to recover their costs and they don’t need your friends’ permission to do it.

Pros

  • An awesome Community Center, one of the best in the area.  It’s important because elementary schools don’t organize sports teams etc, you have to join public leagues and the Community Center offers a lot including a swimming pool, soccer fields, tennis court.
  • Downtown Campbell is a cool historical hub of restaurants and shops. They have many festivals, parades and other functions throughout the year.
  • Good schools, rated reasonably high on the Great Schools ranking.
  • Numerous parks for kids to play in, all well maintained.

Cons

  • It’s expensive to rent and/or buy.

Attractions/Things to do

  • Campbell Community Center
  • 10 minute drive to downtown San Jose (restaurants/theatres/businesses)
  • Downtown Campbell
  • Close to Santana Row (very upmarket restaurants and shopping)
  • Next to Los Gatos and Willow Glen:  Both have great community functions like Christmas in the Park.
  • On the Los Gatos trail, which is a 15.5km pedestrian and bike trail that runs through San Jose, Campbell and Los Gatos.
  • Close to Vasona Park – the Los Gatos trail takes you there. There are functions, parks, and a lake.
  • Highway 17 takes you through the Santa Cruz mountains that has many state parks and over into Santa Cruz in about 30 minutes with no traffic.  Many beaches, state parks, so many places to explore.

Santa Clara

Meagan Mujushi moved from the western suburbs of Melbourne to the US. She now lives in Santa Clara.

California's Great America

Santa Clara is home to the 100-acre amusement park, California’s Great America.

Neighborhood Overview
Santa Clara is a melting pot and boasts a mix of ages and races living in the neighborhood. Having said that, Santa Clara has changed a lot since Apple built their campus in the corner of Cupertino, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara.

 

A bunch of apartment buildings have gone up in the area, however, the thing I love most is that my neighbors are a reflection of Silicon Valley – a plumber, a start-up guy, teachers, IT, retired, new families, religious, not religious, multi-generations in one home, single people, new immigrants, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, white, black, Australian even. I love my neighbors.

We have raised three kids here and enjoy a place where everyone has dogs, cats and a quite a few of us keep chickens, walk the neighborhood and say “hello”. If you are looking for nightlife, it is in Vietnamese-style bars on El Camino Real or frat parties near Santa Clara University. Otherwise, everyone is home by 9pm.

Renting
We were living in Cupertino and looking for cheaper rent and found a duplex in Santa Clara – so it was by chance. Once here we discovered a community we felt comfortable in, and neighbors who wanted to connect (20 years later we are still friends despite multiple moves).

When we able to buy a house, we looked in many different areas but hoped for a house in Santa Clara because of our first experience. Where we live now reflects our original view – friendly neighbors, great park access, good local schools, walkable.

My immediate neighborhood has houses, townhouses, fourplex (old style) and apartments along the main roads. Most homes are smaller (1100 sq ft), but there are also larger ones mixed in.

Properties here have small backyards by Australian standards, but are perfectly adequate. Apartments tend to have balconies or small yards. There are real ‘bad’ areas in Santa Clara – some are less desirable, but overall it’s a safe suburb. 

Pros

  • Mix of people
  • Indian supermarkets close by (El Camino Real) have cheap “Australian” food – Milo, tea, Patak’s sauces, custard powder etc. 
  • Huge number of Korean restaurants
  • City has own electricity, which is a bit cheaper- about $100 cheaper than PG&E
  • Popular City Parks & Rec for classes (kids, adults)
  • City support for the suburb is strong – cultural committee, museum (Triton), ice-skating in the park in Winter, swimming pool (outdoor), street dances etc.
  • Operates like a small town in a big city
  • Santa Clara University livens up the edge of Santa Clara it is situated on, but does not affect the rest of the suburb
  • Bike trails are being used increasingly and the City is giving this attention
  • North – South bike trail takes you up to Facebook and Google campuses (10 miles)
  • Commuter buses (Big valley employers) almost all stop in Santa Clara
  • Climate is milder than SF and you always get a 4pm breeze from the bay during summer
  • Very central – not too far from Peninsula, SF, North Bay, Santa Cruz freeways
  • Close to Westfield Valley Fair Mall and Santana Row


Cons

  • Big Con: traffic that passes through during commute hours. Can be hard to get in/out/around.
  • Public transport can be hard to access depending on where you live. Caltrain access is a great thing if you live close enough to walk.
  • Nothing really exciting happens here – it feels very suburban.
  • Quite a bit of transition from no chain store policy (thriving independent ‘mom and pop’ stores) to chain/big-box stores. Can be frustrating when stores you rely on close and there is no immediate replacement.
  • The Silicon Valley impatience, fear of strangers, competitiveness is creeping into our suburb… making it less of a great place to escape the tech ‘hustle’.

Attractions/Things to do

  • Amazing City library!!
  • Korean Restaurants
  • Runnng/biking trail
  • Kaiser hospital – all doctors and specialists in one place
  • 4H club (raise farm animals)

East Bay Neighborhoods

The East Bay is where you’re going to find some of the most affordable places to live in the San Francisco Bay area. The East Bay  may not always have the best neighborhoods in San Francisco, but there are some great pockets to live in.

Keep in mind that this is all a trade-off. You’re trading proximity to work in some cases, and some of the more exciting cities, for cheaper accommodation and in some cases, a cheaper cost of living. That means you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time commuting in your car, or on public transport to work, or wherever else you want to go. 

If you’re happy with that trade-off, or you’re going to be working from home, the East Bay will be a dream come true for you.

Berkeley

Tegan Kursar grew up in Fremantle, Western Australia, and says there are similarities between her hometown and her new home of Berkeley.

View of Berkeley, in San Francisco

The beautiful view of Berkeley. Picture: Tegan Kursar.

Neighborhood Overview
If the name Berkeley is familiar to you, it’s probably because of the University of California campus in Berkeley. That’s right, Berkeley is a college town, so you’ll find lots of student accommodation.

Berkeley is named for the 18th Century Irish Bishop and Philosopher George Berkeley, so it’s obviously a great place for a university. I didn’t know much about Berkeley before moving to the US.

 

My partner started out in Berkeley after his startup was accepted into an accelerator program based there. Before moving, I visited and fell in love with Berkeley. It is the birthplace of the free speech movement and it still attracts nonconformists who want to make a difference. The food scene is amazing with an emphasis on local produce. 

It is a college town so there are a lot of young singles and couples in the area. Telegraph and Shattuck are pretty busy most nights of the week, which is comforting when I walk home alone at night. It does become a bit of a ghost town during the college breaks. 

Renting
I have lived in two places since moving to Berkeley. The first was an in-law unit attached to a large house in the North Berkeley Hills. The house had a gorgeous view overlooking the entire Bay. There were four bedrooms and the rent was $5,000 per month in total.

Once I landed a job it was time to move out of the startup house (a la HBO’s Silicon Valley) and get an apartment closer to public transport. There is a variety of housing options, majority are apartments in large complexes or character homes divided into units. For a studio or 1 bed the price range is $1,500 – $2,000. We decided on a quirky studio loft inside the roof of a beautiful big character home with a large gated yard. 


TEGAN’S TIPS: If you don’t have a car, it is much easier if you are situated near a train station and grocery store.
The upfront costs for renting property in the US are substantially more than in Australia. Landlords often ask for two months rent upfront for the deposit.


Most properties were furnished, that may be because of the college students coming and going. There is more space in Berkeley homes than city apartments, we have had a large yard at both places. There are public parks, tennis and basketball courts close by. We saw lots of unique properties on our search, in-laws, studios, granny flats, I enjoyed seeing the creative use of space in the area.

Pros

  • Proximity to regional parks for hiking. Being close to nature is a must for me and there are so many options in the East Bay. Examples are; Tilden Park and Claremont Canyon, less than a 10 minute drive from Downtown Berkeley.
  • Berkeley Bowl. If you love a good independent grocery store, Berkeley Bowl is for you. They always have cheese samples and kombucha tastings. Just go.
  • Peacefulness. It is generally quiet in the residential parts of Berkeley.
  • Plenty of bike boulevards.
  • Weather. It is generally sunnier. When you look over at the city from a view point and it is covered in fog we have blue skies in Berkeley.

Cons

  • Proximity to the city. If you have a commute to the city it is important to pick a property close to the Bart train stops. I am happy to make trips to the city for weekend exploring but some might prefer to be closer to San Francisco.
  • Crime and homelessness. This is prevalent in all of the Bay Area. Remember to lock up your bike properly!
  • Expensive. Again this applies to the entire Bay Area. Although it is slightly cheaper in East Bay compared to San Francisco and you get more space for the cost of rent, it is still a lot more expensive than Australia.

Attractions/Things to do

  • University of California, Berkeley. The campus is really beautiful. Go for a walk and check out the Bell Tower, Library and Memorial Glade.
  • BAMPHA. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is a great art museum right next to the campus. 
  • Film and Music theatres. There are 3 cinemas in Downtown Berkeley and a number of music venues. The UC Berkeley Greek Theatre is a beautiful outdoor amphitheater.
  • Breweries and tap rooms. Fieldworks, Triplerock and Jupiter just to name a few.
  • Restaurants. There are fantastic restaurants. The Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley is well-known for the food scene. Saul’s Delicatessen for a Pastrami Sandwich, Cheeseboard for a Pizza and Lush Gelato for gelato.
  • Telegraph Ave. There is a Summer of Love vibe on Telegraph. If you are into vinyl record collecting Amoeba is a must.

Livermore

Carolyn Nelson moved from Australia to Pleasanton, before settling in Livermore. 

The hills of Livermore

Neighborhood Overview
Livermore has a population of about 81,000 people, and according to the 2010 Census, it is the third wealthiest midsize city in the United States, with the median income being $96,000. If you’re commuting from Livermore to Palo Alto, you’re looking at a 52 minute drive, without traffic. That time blows out considerably during rush “hour” (which is more like four hours on each side of the day).

 

A large majority of homes in Livermore are occupied by their owners (70 per cent), but that’s not to say that there aren’t any rental properties up for grabs in the area. Livermore still has some vestiges of farming and wine growing on its outskirts, but it is mostly a suburban town in the Bay Area. 

Renting
We were living in Pleasanton but needed a bigger house with our growing family and Livermore was better value and still a beautiful place to live.

Livermore has a good mix of housing stock from houses to town homes to apartments.

Pros

  • Beautiful wineries
  • Pretty scenery 
  • Great downtown 

Cons

  • Not enough diversity (it is a very Caucasian place)
  • Very spread out
  • Brown hills in the summer (everywhere in California) 

Attractions/Things to do

  • Many beautiful wineries
  • Lots of great restaurants
  • Lots of nice hikes 

The ultimate guide to the best places to live in San Francisco. This guide breaks down each area of San Francisco, including the north bay, east bay, peninsula and silicon valley.

 

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