The second I walked into my current apartment, I not-so-silently vowed to keep every moving box folded in the back of the extra closet. Contextually, I moved from out-of-state, I never set food in Berkeley prior to my arrival, and I needed to secure a place to live before I showed up with all of my possessions.
I am writing this blog post because I when I moved here from New Mexico, I wished there was some sort of neighborhood breakdown and guidance for newbies. The Berkeley Parent Network provides a plethora of information, however the short-side is that the information is primarily geared for parents and not people in their mid-twenties.
Apartment hunting in Berkeley and Rockridge can be a horrific experience, especially if you have a pet and standards. I have successfully signed a lease on a beautiful new apartment in the neighborhoods below downtown Berkeley, so in 19 days and counting I will have a much more personal account for this neighborhood. Regardless, before you start to hunt for an apartment in Berkeley, it is important to narrow down the location. Berkeley is very similar to San Francisco in the sense that the town has many micro-cultures that in many ways dictate your experience.
South Berkeley: I call south Berkeley Under-Grad land. While College avenue is so quant and cute, if you commute to UC Berkeley, be prepared to share the streets with students. If you are looking to live in South Berkeley, I would recommend living in the neighborhoods between MLK and College.
The upside: lots of coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques, 20 minute walk to UC and downtown Berkeley.
The downside: far from BART, living below your 6 undergraduate neighbors packed into a two bedroom apartment… with a dog.
The restaurant: One of my favorite nooks in South Berkley is Fillipos, an Italian restaurant with unlimited wine for 6 bucks and a family style menu. The atmosphere is really fun and the food is one step above the olive garden.
South of Ashby Bart: I currently live in this neighborhood. Ashby Bart is quite the eclectic experience. One day a harpist will be playing a smooth song, the next religion pamphlets are thrown in your face and almost every Friday there is some sort of drug bust. Also, every weekend there is an epic street fair with a drum corps! North of Ashby Bart is pretty chill and a lot safer.
In my opinion, the main downside to living South of Ashby Bart is as a woman, it is really not very safe to walk home alone after dark. There is a huge street community here, and for the most part they are very cordial. Although I have never been followed, I have been harassed by both men and women. That being said, I am pretty careful and avoid walking alone in my neighborhood past 8:30 at night.
The upside: If you want culture and an up and coming neighborhood, this is for you! Also, the rent here tends to be dirt cheap and it is in walking distance to Berkeley bowl, sweet adeline’s bakeshop and BART! Also, easy access to Emeryville where all things consumer go down.
The downside: Safety, especially for women. If you are a single woman, I really would not recommend this area. If you hit the bus right it only takes 30 minutes to get to campus, however the bus is flakey and sometimes the commute takes upward of an hour.
The restaurant: Vault Cafe. I am going to dearly miss going to Vault on our semi-monthly breakfast runs; the quirky wait staff, the simple yet delicious breakfast food, and no wait. Additionally, there is actually a vault in the restaurant.
Rockridge: Rockridge is the ideal commuter location. BART runs every 10 minutes to the city and only takes about 20 minutes. This super cute, family oriented neighborhood has easy access to College Ave with a plethora of breakfast nooks, coffee shops and a Trader Joe’s. There are also a couple great bars in the area.
The upside: Commuter friendly, nice location, primarily nicer homes that aren’t as shady as other parts of Berkeley.
The downside: So expensive! Rent in Rockridge for a 2 bedroom starts at 2500.00, for this price you could land a nice (albeit smaller) spot in the city. Also, the market is super competitive.
The restaurant: I’m a fan of Crepevine for lunch. Great sandwiches that you can split.
North Berkeley: There are really two main areas in North Berkeley. There is the Gourmet Ghetto area which is north of downtown around Shattuck, and then there is the area near the North Berkeley Bart. In all honesty, I haven’t spent very much time in these areas. I do know that many graduate students tend to live in the north side, which translates in more affordable but nicer housing.
The upside: quieter, but still close to bars and young people. In some locations, it can be close to BART and you can walk to UC Berkeley.
The downside: If you live on certain parts of Shattuck, you will experience the inconvenience of city living without an actual city. Some areas in the Gourmet Ghetto are quite a jaunt to BART and once you get there, it is a slightly longer commute to the city that Ashby and Rockridge.
The restaurant: Oh my, where to begin? Cheeseboard is fantastic for a cheap meal. This area is famous for their restaurants, be willing to spend a pretty penny and you will have a delicious meal.
In summary, where ever you decide to live in Berkeley, you will eat well. I didn’t cover many neighborhoods so please let me know if you have questions!