Housing in Berkeley (El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville)
This guide is addressed primarily to graduate students and postdocs relocating to the Berkeley area. It is a collection of notes I've assembled together with friends over the years to help colleagues making the move to UC Berkeley EECS. YMMV, and happy apartment searching!
Many graduate students choose to locate north of Hearst Avenue either in the Berkeley Hills or in the blocks east and west of Shattuck Avenue. The North Shattuck corridor (also known as the Gourmet Ghetto) is filled with great coffee shops and restaurants, as well as grocery stores and other essential services (post office, etc.). It's also a very safe area, with low levels of violent crimes (assault, robbery, etc.). Students often choose to have one or more roommates, as rents are more expensive in this area. Typically, two bedroom apartments are available in the area just north of campus and along Shattuck, and expansive shared single family homes, often hosting 4-5 graduate students, are available in the Hills. Bus options include the 18 (along Shattuck) and 65, but many students live within walking distance of campus.
Southside/Downtown Berkeley and University-owned Housing
University housing (located in Downtown and Southside) is another option. Jackson is a convenient option for first year grads given its proximity to campus and the Telegraph area. Southside, roughly from Piedmont (E) to Shattuck (W) and Bancroft (N) to Ashby (S), is the one part of Berkeley with plenty of late night food options (of questionable quality). However, it is mainly an undergrad area, and so the streets can be quite noisy. Crime and vandalism is somewhat more of a concern in the area, but it is very lively and there are always lots of people around.
As for Manville, it is centrally located in Downtown Berkeley, so there are many great restaurants nearby and not as much of the undergrad party scene walking around outside late at night. Manville is somewhat small for the price and far from the engineering buildings, but it is quite convenient for other parts of campus.
The Elmwood and Claremont areas (past Dwight and along College and Claremont Avenues) are quite nice, and host a number of attractions, such as the Ici ice cream shop and Rialto Cinemas. They are accessible to campus by the 51B and 49 bus lines.
Bottom line: I personally avoided Southside because of the noise and crime, but many people point out that Southside offers the “authentic” Berkeley experience. Downtown (immediately west of campus) is preferable (again, subject to debate), and you might find something nice outside of the University-owned apartments, but rents will generally be close to the prices of North Berkeley. Elmwood and Claremont are additional options with more of a residential feel than Downtown.
Albany is a town located just to the northwest of Berkeley (about 3 miles away from campus). The 52 bus line connects the UC Village family/married student housing in Albany with UC Berkeley, with stops through Northwest Berkeley. Line 18 travels through Solano Avenue, the commercial heart of Albany filled with restaurants, shops, and grocery stores, and goes to downtown Berkeley. It is about a 15 minute walk to Cory from the Downtown Berkeley stops, or one can transfer to the 52, 65, or F lines, or the Bear Transit Perimeter Line. For those wishing to go to Southside (or Boalt Hall), 51B is another option.
In the drier months, it's an easy 20 minute bike ride (slight uphill climb) to get to Cory Hall. The area is very walkable and bikeable with several shops, restaurants, and grocery stores close by, including one of California's best fish markets (Tokyo Fish Market) and produce markets (Monterey). It's safe, quiet, and family oriented. You can also get a nice one or two bedrooom apartment for much less than what you'd pay in North Berkeley.
Caveats: Albany doesn't have its own BART station, but most places are within a 15-25 minute walk of either North Berkeley BART or El Cerrito Plaza BART. Another factor: most graduate students I know who live in Albany own a car. You certainly don't need one, but given the distance to campus, it can be convenient late at night and on weekends when the bus service is less frequent. Also something to think about: most places (cafes, restaurants) in Albany close by 8 or 9, and it can definitely be tough to get a bite to eat after 10 without traveling some distance (there are a few late night spots and bars along the San Pablo corridor).
West Berkeley, South Berkeley, and North Oakland
Going west along University gets you into a residential area with lower rents. There are good bus connections and bike-friendly streets to get you to campus. Southwest Berkeley (roughly south of Dwight and west of Sacramento) is somewhat dicier at night, but if you stay along University, particularly north of it, you'll find some nice places in West Berkeley that are rather inexpensive in large part only because they are a little bit farther from campus. The 51B, 52, and biking are all excellent options to get to campus. There's also a BART station at Delaware and Sacramento, which is quite convenient for West Berkeley. West of San Pablo can be a bit sketchy, but at the waterfront you've got the 4th Street commercial district, which has many great cafes and shops. South Berkeley also is home to the famous Berkeley Bowl and Berkeley Bowl West markets, two of the best groceries in the Bay Area. The streets near San Pablo and University host a mini South Asian/Indian/Pakistani district, with many small restaurants and shops.
Most of North Oakland is pretty nice, including Temescal (East of CA-24 and north of I-580), Rockridge (along College Avenue), and Piedmont Avenue (east of Broadway and north of I-580). North Oakland is a more hip/urban area given that it is part of the Bay's third largest city, and there are several outstanding food choices (Geta, Dopo, Ohgane, Gregoire, Commis, and many more) that are open late as well as bars. Depending where you are, the 1/1R, 12, 51B, and MacArthur and Rockridge BART stations are convenient options for commuting to Berkeley, or it's about 20 minutes by bike. A person new to the area might want to avoid living west of MLK, though, due to it being a primarily residential area and having safety concerns at night, particularly south of Alcatraz. One might also prefer to avoid living around the South Berkeley and North Oakland border south of Ashby and north of 55th as it's somewhat inconvenient (very residential) and not as safe as other areas.
Bottom line: if you want to save money, you could look into any of these three (exception: Rockridge is quite expensive), as long as you avoid the less safe areas.
El Cerrito, Oakland, and Emeryville
Here are some other options compiled from my list. The only place I might recommend for someone just moving is the area by El Cerrito Plaza BART station. It's two stops to Berkeley, close to shopping (including Trader Joe's and 99 Ranch), and has rents that are considerably cheaper than areas around campus for the size and quality of the apartments.
Crime statistics resources: