Bay Area-Bound for College? An Insider's Guide

If you're heading to San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley for college, here's what you need to know.

Parents, put down the pamphlet on empty nest syndrome. Students, take a break from googling San Francisco hot spots.

If the Bay Area is beckoning you or your teen for college (as it does for so many Poway Unified School District graduates), we have some advice for you.

Whether it’s UC Berkeley, Mills College, San Francisco State University, or the University of San Francisco that soon will be called home (at least until Thanksgiving), check out this list of insider tips for making a smooth transition:

  • Know how to get around—Many schools discourage freshmen from bringing vehicles to school, and most won’t issue parking passes to underclassmen. Unless the distance from an off-campus apartment warrants a car, getting to know the local transportation agencies is vital. BART, San Francisco MUNI and AC Transit are the major modes of public transit. Most smartphones app stores have digital guides to make it easier to navigate the Bay Area’s major cities. No iPhone or smartphone? Call the agency directly for information, or pick up maps and schedules from the nearest transit hub.
  • Quarters are your new best friend—Wash and fold laundromats don’t thrive in suburban sprawl. The Bay Area is chock-full of them, and many dorms have coin-operated machines on each floor. The smartest students cling to every quarter jingling in their pockets and backpacks. Do invest in an odor-trapping laundry bag (your roommates will thank you) and a moderately-sized shopping cart, which folds and fits snugly in a closet or underneath a futon. During midterms and finals, paying a little extra for drop-off wash and fold service is worth its weight in uninterrupted study time. The cost of this service varies, but is generally $2 to $4 per pound of laundry. Advice: Anything with special instructions, wash yourself.
  • You won't need Top Ramen—The Bay Area likely has as many award-winning dining establishments per capita as Hollywood has Academy Award-winning actors. Put simply, the Bay is a place to eat well, even for poor college students. Avoid the sodium-laced, preservative-filled Ramen meals. Pick up a used copy of The Joy of Cooking and hit one of the Bay’s great supermarkets: Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, The Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley and Housewives Market in Oakland. Amazing things can be done with $20 of fresh produce. For those in dorms, it’s smart to make friends with kitchen-abled students. The food blog Eater SF is a good source on Bay Area eats, no matter which side of the Bay Bridge students live on.

Getting around, wearing clean clothing, and knowing how to eat properly are the basics. Here are a few more quick tips:

  • Pack sweaters, a jacket and an umbrella—You may rarely need them in San Diego, but the Bay Area can be a chilly and rainy place. San Francisco experiences its highest average temperatures in September, according to the National Weather Service. Even on those rare warm days, nighttime activities often require a jacket.
  • Visit the campus’ student services—There are many things that can’t be learned about the Bay Area during freshman orientation. Student services staffs, however, are the best authority on the campus community. Use them as a resource, and save time walking around campus looking for a fax machine (a what?) to send off that late scholarship application.
  • Join the community—Take a local art class. Join a dojo. Volunteer at the local food pantry. Tutor kids at a rec center. There’s nothing Bay Area natives dislike more than transplants who can’t be bothered to know their neighbors. Often times, the bonds made there are lifelong.
  • Know where, when to party–At some point, San Francisco's nightlife will beckon to freshmen from libraries and dorms across the Bay. The artsy Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the historically LGBT Castro district, the culturally diverse Mission district and areas of downtown are good places to start. Downtown Berkeley and Oakland also offer a few suitable options. Those without a car may have to play Cinderella and return to most public transit before midnight. Service will stop or becomes infrequent overnight.

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H. E. Christian (Chris) Peeples August 23, 2011 at 12:40 AM
Its true that "Service will stop or becomes infrequent overnight," but AC Transit runs service across the Bay from San Francisco all night. Also, UC Berkeley and Mills students get AC Transit service as part of their reg. fees. Berkeley students need to get a sticker for their reg. cards. Mills students can get an RFID card ("Clipper" card). -- Chris Peeples -- H. E. Christian (Chris) Peeples At-Large Director Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District
Shauntel Lowe August 23, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Thanks for the additional information!


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