Offering up seven move-in-ready neighborhoods or cities in the Bay Area, a region in the throes of a housing crisis and widespread displacement, is ripe for ridicule. Neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Mission District or Oakland’s Uptown are poster children for gentrification gone awry. Areas like Hayes Valley or Divisadero, while studded with lovely boutiques and artisan fare, are inaccessible due to soaring costs. The Sunset District and literally anywhere in Marin County have failed to do their part in the housing crisis. And spots like Palo Alto or Duboce Triangle are now strictly for the Arc’Teryx vest-wearing set talking about startups or the intersection of art and technology. Oof.
Does that mean every inch of the Bay Area is inaccessible or insufferable? Not so. Curbed SF has selected a handful of neighborhoods (four in San Francisco, one in Oakland) and cities (two in the East Bay, one on the Peninsula) that have growth on the horizon, comparatively reasonable home prices, and a refreshing lack of tech industry bros.
These seven neighborhoods are just wonderful in their own right, and each has a multitude of reasons why you might consider moving there, pronto.
The draw: Centrally located; tons of public transit
Similar neighborhoods: Mission; Tenderloin
Transit: Make friends with buses like the 12-Folsom and the 27-Bryant
This neighborhood in downtown San Francisco is large—very large. It comes with a diversity of socioeconomic levels and racial makeup. And it’s home to the city’s dwindling queer leather scene. But best of all, South of Market (or SoMa, for short) still has some affordability left in its blood. Take, for example, this studio asking only $399,000. (The catch: It’s next to the city’s most troubled intersection, Sixth and Market.)
But the big draw is what’s in store for the neighborhood: The upcoming Central SoMa project will add up to 8,800 housing units and 32,000 jobs through a series of rezonings, height increases, affordable housing mandates, street and sidewalk redesigns, and even encouragement for new buildings to block out views of the nearby freeway.
The first stage of this overhaul is the $1 billion, four-acre 5M project—featuring a 400-unit condo tower, 630,000 square feet of new offices, and a 23,000-square-foot rooftop public park—which broke ground last year. And it’s still going, despite neighbors filing multiple lawsuits last year challenging the city plan on (you guessed it) environmental grounds.
Beyond big developments, SoMa is also noted for its solid nightlife, something the city as a whole has seen fade in recent years. Two of San Francisco’s most creative nightclubs, the Stud and Oasis, keep the crowds coming with inventive drag shows that go above and beyond VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race variety. And the dive bars, such as the Lone Star and Hole in the Wall, both noted for their lusty ways, keep the area’s grimy LGBTQ freak flag flying high.
The draw: In the thick of it all
Similar neighborhoods: SoMa; Tenderloin
Transit: Everything—Muni, BART, buses, streetcars, and micromobility
Yes, this San Francisco neighborhood is still dysfunctional. And dirty. And troubled. But Mid-Market remains one of the few SF neighborhoods with new dense high-rises—and more on the way—which makes it a draw. NEMA, the 754-unit residential tower across from Twitter headquarters, has units ranging from studios to two-bedrooms, with the smaller variety starting around $3,300 per month. And newer buildings, like Serif, which will offer 242 new homes, are currently under construction.
Although Twitter famously moved in to the neighborhood in 2014— after getting a huge tax break from City Hall—no amount of tech money or newfangled restaurants have managed to transform this slice of SF into a pristine area. (San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen coined the area “Le Grand Pissoir” due to many instances of urine and feces found here. This was in 1985.)
But the neighborhood does have a smattering of cultural offerings that could appeal to artsy types. In 2015, the American Conservatory Theater added a second building in Mid-Market to its repertory, bringing in acclaimed Tony Award-winning director Pam MacKinnon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Clybourne Park) as artistic director. It’s also home to one of the city’s most dramatic yet unknown public art pieces: Venus, a gleaming, 92-foot-tall statue that’s the centerpiece of the public plaza hidden inside Trinity Place.
Nob Hill/Lower Nob Hill
The draw: Studios above it all—literally
Similar neighborhoods: Downtown; Russian Hill
Transit: Muni buses; cable cars galore
Branded with the unfortunate sobriquet “Snob Hill,” this San Francisco neighborhood is anything but elitist. What with its historic institutions, affordable eateries, and socioeconomic diversity, It feels like one of the few neighborhoods untouched by the tech takeover. Nob Hill set a good example following the quake of 1906 by building numerous residential structures with multiple units. They range in prices from astronomical to comparatively affordable. Buildings on Sutter, Pine, or Bush, in particular, still offer studios for less than $2,000 per month—a bargain, sadly.
In addition, Nob Hill has one of the city’s best parks, Huntington Park, sitting between a handful of the San Francisco’s most glorious structures, like Grace Cathedral, the Pacific-Union Club, and Huntington Hotel. Beaux-Arts beauties can be found gracing the top of the neighborhood. And nightlife options run from expensive and over-the-top (see: the Tonga Room) to delightfully dive-y (the Hyde Out bar is a true neighborhood gem). While there isn’t any new construction happening in Nob Hill, it remains a San Francisco staple for anyone craving the classic city experience.
The draw: Nifty nascent neighborhood in the works
Similar neighborhoods: Mission Bay; Hunters Point
Transit: T-Third; 19-Polk; 44-O’Shaughnessy
After years of controversy and objections from environmental groups, San Francisco’s easternmost neighborhood will soon host more than 1,500 new homes. It’s been a long road—neighborhood and environmental groups raised objections on the grounds of public health, even enlisting the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to help with an appeal in 2018 (a common maneuver to stymie housing).
But the SF Board of Supervisors threw the objection out. Developer BUILD Incorporated is set to transform India Basin with 1,575 residential units, roughly 200,000 square feet of commercial space, and 15.5 acres of publicly accessible open space. It will also have up to 1,800 parking spaces, which is far too many for a neighborhood right on the T-Third Muni line. (The irony isn’t lost that groups like Greenaction continue to push city lawmakers to rescind these plans due to air pollution from “construction and operations,” but fail to mention the obscene allotment of parking spots.)
The small neighborhood—sandwiched between Bayview and Hunters Point, and noted for its views of the bay from India Basin Shoreline Park—isn’t a major residential hub. Not yet. In fact, it only has one home on the market right now: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo asking $850,000.
But unlike its neighboring areas (i.e., Hunters Point and Bayview), it’s not an area at risk of rampant gentrification—because there’s not much there right now. In addition to the aforementioned homes in the pipeline, a plan is in the works to transform India Basin Shoreline Park into a 10-acre waterfront park development. It will prove a nice respite from the hordes of tourists and Warriors fans just up Third Street at Oracle Arena.
The draw: Comparatively affordable homes, especially for families
Similar cities: Oakland; San Lorenzo
Transit: Despite a BART station, most residents drive the 680, 880, and 238 freeways
This East Bay city—on the border of Oakland and butting up against East Bay Regional Park—makes the list for its adorable yet affordable homes (well under seven figures!) built in the 1920s. It also has plenty of contemporary apartment stock (albeit of the low- to mid-rise variety), with many of them well under the $2,000-per-month mark. If you’re looking for value not too far from downtown SF, this is it.
In addition to its multicultural bent, San Leandro is also home to many middle-class families due in large part to the food processing (like Ghirardelli, breweries galore, and a Coca-Cola) plants here. Like most Bay Area cities, it too courts tech companies and all the amenities that come with it, but its vibe hasn’t (yet) been tarnished by boutique gyms and Patagonia vests.
The draw: A neighborhood that battled gentrification—and won
Similar neighborhoods: Downtown; Highland
Transit: Fruitvale BART station makes owning a car a pointless expense
Noted for its large Hispanic population, Fruitvale is home to the Fruitvale Transit Village (one of the most important Bay Area buildings of the decade), which has been cited for “best practice” in social equity and transportation design because it added housing stock sans gentrification.
Built on a lot adjacent to the Fruitvale BART Station, the circa-2003 complex comes with 47 housing units, a grocery store, a charter high school, a medical clinic, and a public library that supports the mostly Latino community. And there’s more to come: The neighborhood broke on the Village’s second phase of affordable housing, the 94-unit Casa Arabella, with an additional 181 mixed-income units scheduled for the future.
These projects have been touted as a national model for combating gentrification. As Citylab wrote, “Fruitvale’s transformation is unusual in one key way: It hasn’t gotten whiter.”
The neighborhood also has the aforementioned, convenient BART station and a glorious food scene. Nyum Bai, which serves homestyle Cambodian dishes, made headlines after being fawned over in Eater Young Guns and Bon Appetit. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there: Peña’s Bakery II, the unrivaled neighborhood favorite, and the Guadalajara Taco Truck deserve just as much gastronomic attention.
The draw: Beach town with a blanket of fog
Similar cities: Half Moon Bay; Moss Beach
Transit: Learn to love your car and commute
This long, stretched-out city ion the Peninsula consists of 11 coastal communities that form the small, seemingly hidden burg. Smack dab against the Pacific Ocean, Pacifica remains one of the Bay Area’s most alluring yet chilly prospects. The beach town’s views are gorgeous, especially after a rainstorm, but it’s also known for its perma-fog, making its temperature cooler than most other Bay Area cities. (The town even has an annual end-of-summer celebration called Fogfest.)
Years ago, people who couldn’t afford San Francisco prices could find a decent house in Pacifica, which no longer seems to be the case. Home prices and rentals have crept upward. Zillow notes a median single-family house price of $1,053,215. Ouch. But some places, like this three-bedroom condo, can be found for $729,000. Pacifica could do its part in the housing crisis by making residential development a top priority.
As a predominantly white town, Pacifica could also use an infusion of diversity. Public transit leaves much to be desired—SamTrans buses serve the city, but it’s primarily a private-car kind of town. Still, Pacifica isn’t overrun with well-to-do millennial tech drones, and residents rave about its quiet town feel and serene vibe. And while it’s a city that rolls up its sidewalks after 7 p.m., if you really want to get wild here, head to the beloved bowling alley or the world’s most architecturally stunning Taco Bell.