Housing Survey on Neighborhoods
In the past, students have been surveyed regarding their housing accommodations. Surveys show that while students live all over the Bay Area, most prefer to live in Berkeley or nearby communities, such as Albany, El Cerrito, or Rockridge. For those who enjoy city living, San Francisco is a good option.
One key issue is safety. Respondents ranked safety on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very safe and 5 being unsafe. Where possible, we have included the students’ safety rankings at the end of each neighborhood description, below. Safety is usually of more concern in the evening, although certain areas are questionable even during the day. Since different people have different perceptions of safety, you should check these neighborhoods out for yourself before making your housing decision.
Rents vary widely even within single neighborhoods. Also, you will pay more per person for a studio or one-bedroom apartment than if you split a house with several people. You should check out any house/neighborhood before signing a lease and moving. This is by no means an exclusive list of areas. People choose neighborhoods for a number of reasons including cost, proximity to campus, lifestyle decisions, needs of a significant other, children, etc. Our students live all over the Bay Area, some as far away as Fremont and Mountain View to the south (over 60 minutes driving each way), to Napa Valley in the north, and Walnut Creek to the east. Also, there are many neighborhoods to choose from in Oakland other than Rockridge.
Click the colored shapes on the map to see neighborhood names and descriptions.
View Berkeley and Oakland Neighborhoods in a larger map
The following is a brief description of some of the closest neighborhoods.
Local neighborhoods have their own distinct characteristics. They include:
The Berkeley Hills
This is one of the nicest areas to live in if you like the outdoors. Due to the adjacency to the East Bay Regional Parks throughout the Berkeley/Oakland hills, mountain biking, hiking and jogging are examples of prime hobbies in this part of town. South of campus, the Berkeley Hills turn into the Oakland Hills, which are entirely residential. In either the Berkeley or Oakland hills, most of the housing are single-family dwellings so you would probably be renting a house, an “in-law” type of apartment, or a room in these areas. Many of these homes have Bay views. Your neighbors will include deer and other “wild” residents of the Parks. Prices can be expensive depending on the view and size and condition of the house. Rents range from the low $600s per person for a room rental to $1,000 and up for a studio. Since there is little in the way of nearby shopping, a car is almost a must, unless you are an athletic bicyclist and can handle steep streets. Depending on how far away you live expect a 10 to 15 minute drive to campus. If you walk or bike to campus, you will have strong legs and an even stronger cardiovascular system by the end of the semester! Survey respondents ranked this area as one of the safest parts of Berkeley.
This is a very popular area and is close to campus (within one mile). Both houses and apartments are available for rent. Services such as supermarkets, restaurants, bookstores, public transit and laundromats are usually within walking distance. The streets with services are Shattuck Avenue and Martin Luther King Blvd. Since University Avenue, the southern border of the this area, is a diverse, busy and commercial street, safety rankings of north Berkeley were influenced by proximity to the University Avenue area. Those who lived closer to University Avenue tended to rank their area as a (4), questionable. Those who lived farther north tended to rank their area as a (2), safe.
South Berkeley (Southside)
This is the area closest to campus, with many students having a 5-minute walk to school. Both apartments and houses are available for rent at relatively cheap prices, and all services are available. Lots of undergraduate students live in this area, so some graduate students may find the environment hectic and somewhat noisy, especially with the hustle and bustle of street vendors and panhandlers along Telegraph Avenue. However, for many the convenience of the proximity to campus and bookstores outweighs other factors. A bit farther south along College Avenue and adjacent streets is the popular “Elmwood” district. This is more upscale and tranquil than the immediate south campus area, although rents tend to be a bit higher. Cafes, shops and restaurants serve Elmwood residents, all within a fairly easy walk, bus or bike ride to campus. The urban environment of the immediate southside area received the lowest safety rankings in the survey, however, with a high of questionable (3) to a low of unsafe (5). The Elmwood district, although not ranked in the survey, is generally perceived as a safe to very safe neighborhood.
West Berkeley (“The Flats”)
This includes the downtown area a few blocks west of the campus near the BART station, and stretches all the way to the freeway (Interstate 80). Depending upon the neighborhood, you may or may not be close to services, although University Avenue is primarily commercial (restaurants, supermarkets, laundromats and other retail establishments). Both houses and apartments are available for rent. Commute times to campus may range from a brisk 25-minute walk to a 15-minute bike ride. Buses run up University Avenue to the campus as well and take about 10 to 15 minutes in traffic. The popular “Oceanview” district starts at the northwestern edge of this area along 4th street and University Avenue. Check out the many hip places to shop alongside decades-old establishments. A thriving collection of Indian restaurants and Indian-related businesses are in this area as well. This area had safety scores primarily in the average (3) to low (4) range with some streets ranked 4 or even 5. Check out your neighborhood before moving in.
Many students live in this town just north of Berkeley. Both apartments and houses are available for rent, and all services are available. Solano Avenue, with its plentiful and popular shops, restaurants, bookstores and movie theatres, runs east-west through Berkeley and into Albany. Plenty of graduate students live in Albany, including those who have University-operated apartments in the large complex of University Family Housing, known as University Village. Commute times vary. Figure 15 or 20 minutes by car, 30 minutes by bicycle, and 20 minutes by bus. (Although the nearest BART station is actually across the border in El Cerrito, much of Albany is sufficiently close to walk or bike ride to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station.) This area received an average (3) to high (1) safety rating.
This town is just north of Albany and is similar to it in terms of rent, services, and safety. You can add 5 or 10 minutes to all commute times from Albany. One advantage of living in El Cerrito is that it has two BART stations. A 10 minute BART ride from El Cerrito Plaza will drop you off at campus, just two BART stops away. A bit farther north is the Del Norte BART station, just three stops to campus. Housing tends to be less expensive in this area than in Berkeley or Albany simply due to the fact that it is just a little bit farther from campus. This area also received an average (3) to high (1) safety rating.
The Rockridge neighborhood begins along College Avenue where Berkeley’s Elmwood district meets the Oakland border. This area continues the upscale flavor of Elmwood, offering even more in the way of shops, restaurants and cafes. The Rockridge BART station is one of the major hubs to all lines in the East Bay Area and San Francisco. Due to its proximity to Berkeley and the campus (a short bus ride down College Avenue or a quick bicycle ride) and its pleasant, tree-lined side streets, rents tend to be more expensive here than some other parts of Oakland. This area also received average (3) to high (1) safety ratings.
Piedmont Avenue and the Lake Merritt Districts
Just south of the Rockridge neighborhood are the areas that form the Piedmont Avenue district and the area around Oakland’s Lake Merritt. These areas are worth exploring, particularly if you are househunting during a peak time, such as during August. Just four or, at the most, five miles to campus, these areas offer pleasant shopping and other urban amenities with a mixture of large apartment complexes and nearby residential areas featuring houses and duplexes. Since there is more urban density, housing is much more plentiful here and generally less expensive than areas closer to campus.
For those who enjoy city living, San Francisco is the place to be. Our survey respondents who live there all highly recommend it. Advantages include being close to cultural events, great public transportation, and the entire city experience. The major disadvantage is the commute, which ranges from 45-60 minutes by car, to 30-40 minutes by BART (the local subway). If you depend on BART, which closes around midnight, you may not want to stick around for late night study sessions or parties (a great loss!). Prices vary by neighborhood ranging from very inexpensive to out of sight.
Other Nearby Communities
Don’t overlook other communities within 3 miles of campus where students tend to live: Kensington, Emeryville, Piedmont and Richmond Annex are also areas to explore.