Relocating to a city that you don't know intimately is always difficult. With Oakland, a big part of the problem lies with choosing a neighborhood or area. This can be particularly true if you've never visited the area and all you have are the negative stereotypes and media images of the city.
Oakland is unusual in that its various neighborhoods are distinctly, often dramatically, different from each other.
Rockridge and East Oakland, for example, feel like they're completely different cities. The well-off neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills couldn't be more different from the industrial neighborhoods of West Oakland.
These contrasts mean that choosing the right neighborhood is an important factor when planning a move here. Of course, the best method would be to spend a significant amount of time here before your move. If that isn't possible, you can still find a suitable home in your ideal neighborhood. Here's how.
Make a list of your top choice neighborhoods based on the factors that are most important to you.
- If schools are a concern, consider living right on the other side of the hills, in the “Lamorinda” (Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda) area. While some of Oakland's schools are very good, many of the schools in Lamorinda are excellent.
- Dog-friendly neighborhoods and areas include Rockridge, Piedmont, and Elmwood.
- Low rents are often available in East Oakland (the neighborhood, not the geographic region; see this article for an explanation) and West Oakland. However, these neighborhoods can be pretty rough. If possible, move to another area and check out these neighborhoods in person before committing to living there.
- Neighborhoods in the hills (Montclair, Forestland, and Claremont Hills, for example) tend to be more expensive. However, they also tend to be safer and have a completely different feel thanks to the greenery and nearby parks.
- Downtown Oakland offers more of a city feel than many other neighborhoods. If that's important to you, consider moving to this area.
- If access to public transportation is important, either Rockridge or downtown Oakland would be a great choice. These areas have BART stations, meaning you can easily commute to “the City” (San Francisco) or other parts of the Bay Area.
Next, make a list of your deal-breaker neighborhoods.
- Check out the crime level in each neighborhood, and decide how much is too much for you. List any unsatisfactory neighborhoods clearly so that you will remember not to move there. The Oakland Crimespotting map is a fantastic resource to help you with this.
- Consider noise levels. There are several freeways that run through Oakland, and living near them can be uncomfortably loud. The same goes for living near the exposed parts of the BART tracks.
- Think about how car-dependent you want to be. Some neighborhoods have easy and extensive public transit, but others more-or-less require that you have a car to get around.
As you work on your lists, remember that parts of Oakland often have multiple names. For example, East Oakland is a term for a part of Oakland. Seminary, Melrose Heights, and Fairfax (among many others) are neighborhoods within East Oakland. Similarly, the Oakland Hills area contains Montclair, Forestland, Crestmont, and several other neighborhoods.
Tools that can help you in your search include:
- The aforementioned wonderful Oakland Crimespotting map.
- The Oakland Police Department's Crimewatch site.
- Gene Anderson's detailed map of Oakland neighborhoods on the “Our Oakland” blog
- The Oakland neighborhood pages on city-data.com. These pages can give you a good understanding of each neighborhood's demographics.
If you have any questions, doubts, or second thoughts, don't hesitate to ask anyone you know who lives in the area.
If you don't know anyone who lives in or around Oakland, or if you just want other perspectives, please feel free to post any questions you have in the forum.