There’s some practical stuff you’ll need to figure out when planning to stay for 1-3 months in the Bay area. Most importantly: Where will you live? How will you get around? (And why are you here?, but that’s for another blog post.)
Where to stay, long-term
It’s expensive to stay in the Bay area. Hotels are way too expensive for most entrepreneurs, especially for an extended stay. The best option is to search AirBnb! There you’ll find a range of different housing options, and it’s easy to find something that fits your need. It will still be expensive, you might pay as much for a single room as you would if renting an apartment, but it’s still way cheaper than hotels.
Traveling alone, I didn’t need a full house, and besides an apartment for myself would be too expensive. I decided that I wanted to live in a shared apartment, but needed a private room. Next, I wanted to live in the city. For families I would recommend Berkeley, Palo Alto or even Santa Cruz. Silicon Valley is a great place for business and family, and a lot of people enjoy living there. Being just one person, I think it’s better to live where there’s a bit more stuff happening after work.
Another criteria was that I wanted to feel safe in my neighborhood. Up front, I read way too much about crime in SF, and started picturing it as an apocalyptic wasteland*. Crime maps‘ intention might be to help you, but for me it only made me nervous. After doing some research on the different areas (avoid Tenderloin in SF and East-South Oakland) I ended up with Alamo Square and Mission as the best options. They are both safe, on the cheaper side, have a lot of restaurants and bars, and good public transportation. Next was to find the actual place I would live.
* The Bay area in general is very safe. Some places might be less nice than others, and some might even be dangerous. But, they are easy to avoid. Try to not spent too much time in Tenderloin, and the area between 7th and 10th street. Avoid East-South of Oakland. Pay attention when in Richmond. I haven’t had a single episode happen to me here, and I haven’t seen any violence. There are a lot of homeless people, some with mental problems, and drug problems. They might be a bit scary, but they are 99% harmless. Pay attention to your surroundings, and leave if you feel unsafe. You’ll most likely not find yourself in the worst areas, like East Oakland, unless you intentionally try to get there. If lost, ask for directions or just order an Uber. Generally, people here are very helpful.
One thing that’s really great with AirBnb is the reviews from previous tenants. It was pretty easy to filter out the not-so-nice places based on the review. The place I went for required one month minimum stay. It had 5 or 6 bedrooms, occupied by people relocating, interns, and foreigners like myself. There was a shared kitchen, bath, two toilets, no living-room. It was in a quiet neighborhood next to Alamo Square, close to lots of restaurants and bars. It also had a bus stop outside with a bus line (no 5) that would take me all the way to the financial district. Most importantly, the reviews were great.
How to get around
Car: Having a car in SF is expensive, and it’s difficult to find parking. For work, you really don’t need it, but it’s great if you want to explore the area outside of the Bay. I don’t even have a drivers license, so no car for me.
MUNI: I would use the no 5 bus to get to Financial district. Buses are an ok way to get around inside the city. I didn’t take any other bus than the no5, so don’t have much insight to offer here. One thing you’ll notice with public transportation is that everybody gives up their seat to old people, disabled people etc.
Uber: Uber is great to fill the gaps in public transportation, and for late at night transportation. I mostly used it to get home from CalTrain late at night, and to get from CalTrain stations in Silicon Valley to where I had meetings. If you’re 2-3 people, it’s almost as cheap as using public transportation. If you’re exploring SF, and don’t like taking public transportation, Uber is a rather affordable alternative – and better than trying to drive around SF yourself. Taxies are OK as well, but lack the convenience of Uber.
BART: This is the subway that connects the East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley,++) with the city. It’s great if you need to travel from the city to East bay. It will also take you from the city to SFO and Oakland airport. You can use it within the city, but the price is pretty high, and the only connection is between Financial district and Mission. The trains aren’t marked with their destination, so you’ll have to look at the signs above the platform. They will show the end station for the train coming. Some stations, like McArtur and Oakland 19th street have timed transfer. Timed transfer is set up so you can just stroll over the platform form one train to another, making the travel super easy when you need to change trains. They’ll announce next stations and transfers over the speakers in the train, but it might be difficult to hear. There are maps inside all train cars, so it’s easy to navigate and get off at the right stop. It takes app. 10 minutes from Berkeley to Oakland, and 15 minutes from Oakland into the city. From the city to SFO it’s app. 35 minutes, and from the city to Milbrae* 30 minutes. NB! There are often small delays, so make sure you add a buffer if you’re going to the airport, or have an important meeting. The price is from $2 to $5 one way. I would recommend downloading this BART App.
CalTrain: The train will take you from the city through Silicon Valley, all the way to San Jose. If you have meeting in any of the towns, like Mountain View or Palo Alto, the train will take you there. Then, take an Uber to get to your destination if it’s not within walking distance. In the mornings and evenings they have several departures per hour, but notice that some of them are express and might not stop at your station. Mid-day the CalTrain leaves once an hour, and usually stops at all stations. Going to Palo Alto takes 50 minutes from SF, 34 minutes from Milbrae*. Mountain View is 1 hour from SF, 46 minutes from Milbrae. San Jose 1 hour and 25 minutes from the city, 1 hour and 10 minutes from Milbrae. CalTrain tickets are from around $5 to $10 one way. CalTrain app.
CalTrain and BART connects at Milbrae, between the city and Silicon Valley.
ClipperCard: I would recommend getting a ClipperCard. You can buy this on their website, but it’s easier to just get one from a CVS store. You can use a ClipperCard on the bus, CalTrain and BART. I got mine the second day here. It doesn’t give you any discounts, but it makes your life easier. BART don’t have a monthly pass or other discounts, but MUNI and CalTrain does.
For Norwegians, there’s no need to worry about visa as long as you 1) stay for less than three months and 2) don’t do any real, moneymaking business that you couldn’t have done from your home country. Apply for your Esta, and off you go for up to three months. Approval time for Esta is normally less than 48 hours.
– Setting up office, networking, meetings and events.
– Food, phone, stores, practical survival.
– Life outside of work, quality of life