Lots of students arrive at Cal with preconceived notions about Oakland. Hell, let's be honest: People are flat-out scared of what locals call The Town. Either students or their parents have read stories in the San Francisco Chronicle or watched TV news about how dangerous Oakland is. But don't believe it. Oakland is a fun, crazy, beautiful city. In fact, if you decide to live there, there's a good chance you'll stay a long time.
Here are some pro tips:
North Oakland is a great place to live in part because it's really, really close to Berkeley; you can easily get to campus by walking, biking, or by taking an AC Transit bus. Plus, many North Oakland neighborhoods have cheaper rents than Berkeley. And there's more housing to choose from — lots more.
But why limit yourself? There are great neighborhoods throughout Oakland, including Uptown, Downtown, Adams Point, Piedmont Avenue, Grand-Lake, Fruitvale, Dimond, and Laurel. And that list is by no means comprehensive. For a fuller rundown, check out our neighborhood guide in this issue. And believe us when we say there are lots more apartments available in Oakland than in Berkeley, where housing is excruciatingly difficult to find.
But besides being easier to score a place to live, Oakland has a lot more fun things to do. It has better bars and nightclubs, and a much more vibrant music scene. And once you've been here for a while, you can't consider yourself cool unless you've checked out Oakland's burgeoning underground music scene. These warehouse/house parties have grown rapidly in recent years, and feature some great music. Plus, you don't have to be 21 to get into many of them.
The Town also has a lot more places to eat. Oakland, in fact, is one of the most diverse cities in the nation, which means you'll have immediate access to basically any cuisine you desire. But if nothing else, you must go to the city's Fruitvale district as often as you can. You simply haven't had real Mexican food until you've sampled the numerous restaurants and taco trucks there.
Did we mention how great Oakland's parks are? If you like hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, you name it, you'll have plenty of choices: Joaquin Miller Park, Lake Temescal, Redwood Regional Park, Lake Merritt. The list goes on and on.
By now you may be asking yourself, if Oakland is so great, why do people think it's so scary? Blame these five words: "If it bleeds, it leads." It's the dirty little secret of the news media: crime sells. It sells daily newspapers and it drives TV news ratings. As a result, people whose only exposure to Oakland is through what they've read in the newspaper or watched on TV have a skewed notion of what it's like.
That's not to say, however, that crime isn't bad in some areas, because it is. So if you're really worried about crime, then we suggest checking out the Oakland Police Department's website to decide for yourself which neighborhoods you want to avoid. Hint: Many of those areas are a long way from the Cal campus, and thus require a longer commute than you may want.
Nonetheless, don't be fooled into thinking that if you land your dream spot in Berkeley, it'll be crime-free. It probably won't be. Although there's less violent crime in Berkeley, it has long been plagued with property crime issues. Car break-ins and stolen bikes are fairly common, and burglaries are by no means rare. Also, don't be surprised if someone tries to swipe your laptop or smartphone while you're sipping a cappuccino at a cafe near campus. In short, no matter where you are in the East Bay, be aware of your surroundings, and lock your shit up.