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United States, San Francisco, Berkeley, New York City, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Boston

SFO, LA, or NY to study and live for a year

Hi, I'm 36 years old and I planning to go to the USA to study for a year (2015). My budget is limited so I would like to spend US$1.300 (max) for the rent (I would like to have a studio just for me and not share an apartment)
I won't have a car, so I would like to use the public transportation.

My options are (in no particular order): 1) San Francisco (UC Berkeley): some of the classes will be at Berkeley but others will be in downtown San Francisco. I have heard that Berkeley is not a safe place to live. So I'm a little bit lost. Should I rent a place in SFO (what areas are safe and not to expensive?) a travel to Berkeley when needed or rent a place in Berkeley and travel to SFO (the classes will be 50% in SFO and 50% in Berkeley). It's a long distance between SFO and Berkeley? It's dangerous to travel between the 2 cities late at night? (10pm or 11pmfor example).

2) Los Angeles (UCLA): 100% of the classes will be at UCLA so I heard that would be better to rent a place near the university (Westwood, Santa Monica?). What about other areas near UCLA (cheaper)? If I won't have a car, it will be difficult to move around LA?, for example going out at night?

3) New York: it's my dream living in NY, but I've heard that the rents are very high. I have not decided where to study, but could be NYU or Columbia. What areas are safe and not so expensive?

4) Maybe Boston??. I would prefer to live in a city and in a safe place and to use public transportation. Safety is my priority. Regarding the weather, it´s not a problem if it's very cold in the winter. I hope you could please help me. I'm a little bit lost. Thanks a lot for your help.

23 Answers

top answer by
Alessio from Pisa, Italy

All the cities you mentioned are quite expensive to live in. San Francisco is probably the most expensive rent-wise. If you want to compare their cost of living, I recommend you use City Data.

Looking there will also help you understand that Berkeley is actually safer than many areas of San Francisco, and that traveling back and forth is generally safe. You will probably also discover that Los Angeles will give you the best quality of life, given the beach, the weather and the people. The Westwood Village is quite nice and has a lot of little shops/eateries. There you can find studios for your target rent.

I lived in New York City and I liked it there. You will have to live there for at least 2~3 months before starting to really appreciate it, but then it will happen. It's generally safe, unless you are in bad areas. With $1300 for a studio by yourself, I'm not sure you will go too far. Many part of Brooklyn are probably still affordable, but do you want to commute on the subway for 45 minutes back and forth every day? Winters are also very very cold and messy.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Berkeley (city)
  2. San Francisco (city)
  3. Los Angeles (city)
  4. Westwood Village (neighborhood)
  5. New York City (city)
  6. Brooklyn (neighborhood)
11 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Trevor from Los Angeles

That's exciting you'll be studying in America for a year!

Short answer: Boston.

Long Answer: I'll give you my opinion below. I can't answer all of your questions in detail, but hopefully with everyone's expertise combined you'll be able to make the best decision!

1) San Francisco: Someone else will be better suited to answer your questions on the safety and costs of neighborhoods in San Francisco and Berkeley. However, this option does sound like it'll have you spending a lot of time (and possibly money) commuting. If I had a year in America, I'd want to spend the least amount of time commuting. For that reason, I would personally not choose San Francisco

2) Los Angeles: I live in LA. UCLA is a great school with a beautiful campus. Westwood, Santa Monica and Brentwood are all nice places to live nearby and you should be able to find a studio at your max budget in certain parts of these neighborhoods. 

However, not having a car is a real inconvenience in LA, especially when it comes to taking public transit to go out at night. The city is so massive and spread out, it can take a long time (mostly on buses) to get where you want to go. Plus, there often aren't a lot of people at most public transit stops/stations at night which may make you feel unsafe. For that reason, I would personally not choose Los Angeles

3) New York: Suggesting a neighborhood would largely depend on which school you choose since NYU and Columbia are located in very different parts of this big city (New York University (NYU) is downtown and Columbia University is way uptown). Based on their locations, each school would have you experiencing a different side of NYC. Personally, if I could spend a year living in New York, I’d prefer to spend my time in NYU’s part of the city vs. Columbia’s (that’s just a matter of preference though). 

As a general note, and as you know, New York is very expensive and finding what you're looking for could be a challenge. If you want to live in a nice neighborhood located near either of these schools (so you don’t have to spend a lot of time commuting from further away/less expensive neighborhoods) you'll need to consider living with roommates in a two+ bedroom apartment, in which case you could definitely make your budget of $1,300 work. So, I would say New York is a yes/no. It depends on which school you choose and if you'd be willing to compromise on living alone

4) Boston: It's America's college town with tons of amazing universities and a large international student population. I lived and studied in Boston for four years and I can't say enough good things about the city -- it is incredible. It has a big city feel but it's small and very manageable (you won't feel overwhelmed here). You can walk almost anywhere in the city and public transportation (known as "the T") can take you everywhere you need to go. 

In terms of neighborhoods, that could depend on which school you choose, but Boston is so small you could really live anywhere in the city and easily get to any of the universities with a quick ride on the T (with the exception of Boston College which, although can be reached on the T, is actually located kind of far outside the city). 

I'm not entirely tuned in to current rent prices, but I think you could live alone for $1,300 in certain neighborhoods. If you were able to find something in your budget (or in a two bedroom apartment with a roommate), my top neighborhood recommendation would be the North End (also know as Boston's Little Italy). It's beautiful, full of history, has delicious restaurants, is located downtown in the center of it all, and it’s on the harbor (which is beautiful in the spring/summer). I lived in the North End and it always felt nice coming home to this part of the city (not to mention safe). There's also a lively young professional scene in the area on account of the nearby financial district, which you might enjoy. 

I could go on and on about Boston and suggest more neighborhoods for you to look into. If you decide to strongly consider or choose Boston, just post you're Boston questions here on Trippy and I'll share with you what I know. 

Good luck!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. New York University (NYU) (attraction)
  2. Columbia University (attraction)
  3. North End (neighborhood)
7 thankscomments (4)

answered by
Jon from Newport Beach, California

UCLA student here. $1300 can definitely get you a studio near or in Westwood. I live about 2-3 miles from campus and pay $1500 for a pretty nice, hardwood floor one bedroom apartment so I can't imagine that you can't find a studio for $200 less. Public transportation sucks and traffic is bad, but sometimes those problems are overstated. There are a number of bus lines that terminate at UCLA so getting there shouldn't be a problem. Traffic sucks but as long as you learn the patterns it can be avoided. I have a car and cannot imagine not having one. Having said that, I do know some people that don't have cars and they get a long fine.

To be honest, I like San Francisco and New York City more than LA, but both of those are considerably more expensive. LA seems like the only realistic option if you want to stay within budget. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. UCLA (attraction)
  2. San Francisco (city)
  3. New York City (city)
7 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Serena from San Francisco

Hi Bernardita,

I have to second what Alessio said - all of those cities are quite expensive, and unfortunately I'm not sure you will be able to find a studio in any of them for $1300 monthly. I live in San Francisco, and that is unheard of out here. However, you can likely get a 2-bedroom apartment and share it with someone and stay close to your budget.

I wouldn't worry about safety at all. There may be a few areas that are unsafe, but they are areas you wouldn't be hanging out in anyway. In general San Francisco and Berkeley are very safe, welcoming, and easily accessible without a car. They are both walking cities, which is a big plus.

If you pick Los Angeles, you would have to live close to UCLA if you don't have a car. LA traffic is impossible and their public transportation is not great.

I love NY, but I'm completely unfamiliar with it, so I'll let others chime in there.

Whatever you end up deciding, congrats and have a great time!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Berkeley (city)
  3. Los Angeles (city)
  4. UCLA (attraction)
6 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Julia from Brooklyn (New York)

1) Not sure where you heard that Berkeley isn't safe, it totally is! I lived there for four years, that was almost 20 years ago and it's only gotten even safer since then. You're pretty likely to be able to find a studio in Berkeley (or nearby Oakland) for $1,300 but in San Francisco that seems incredibly unlikely. It would take you about 20-30 minutes to get from the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland) to downtown SF by BART (the commuter train), which again is safe even at 11pm.

2) I've never lived in LA but the fairly universal agreement is that it's not a good place to be without a car. Additionally, exactly because it's not a pedestrian-friendly place, I've heard that it's the kind of city where you need to spend 1-2 years really settling in and finding your scene/friends so I feel like if you're only in the US for a year LA might not be your best bet.

3) $1300 for a studio in anywhere in Manhattan or most desirable parts of Brooklyn seems pretty ambitious--if you can reconcile yourself with having a roommate then NYC would seem to fit all of your other criteria though! Might even be better to have a roommate, as a foreigner in a new city--it's an automatic friendly face (hopefully) to come home to and maybe explore the city with. 

4) I feel very luke warm about Boston in general, but it's probably an ok option for you since it's safe and has decent public transportation. The other three cities you're considering are all much more interesting, in my humble opinion!

Up-shot--if I were you, I'd narrow it down to NYC vs Berkeley.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Berkeley (city)
  2. Oakland (city)
  3. San Francisco (city)
  4. Manhattan (region)
  5. Brooklyn (neighborhood)
  6. Boston (city)
4 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Merideth from Oakland

Hi Bernardita!

First, what an exciting adventure you have ahead! Congratulations! I hope I can help you narrow down your choices on where to go. You should know, though, that your 3 choices are probably the most expensive places in the U.S. So let’s begin:

  1. If you wont have a car, Los Angeles is out of the question. Public transportation there is terrible and it is impossible to manage the huge sprawl of it all without a vehicle. It’s the least like a cohesive city of the 3 places you listed.
  2. New York City. It’s awesome and expensive. Public transportation there is probably the best of your 3 chosen cities. I’ll leave it to a New Yorker to tell you more about NYC.
  3. The San Francisco Bay Area. This is where I live so it is obviously my choice. Even before I lived here it was my favorite City in the US. There is useful and flexible public transportation (many people don’t have cars). And there are reasonable rents to be found outside of San Francisco city.

So here are my answers to your questions about the SF Bay area.

First, Berkeley IS safe place to live. As a University town it has lots of students but it’s also home to single people, families, hippies, professionals … pretty much everyone. Like everywhere, it depends on the neighborhood you choose. It has beautiful, safe neighborhoods and surrounding areas. It’s nestled on the Bay and the homes that run up the hills have gorgeous view of the Bay, the bridges, and San Francisco. The communities in Berkeley are on the BART (subway/train) line to get you easily in to San Francisco and there is a good bus system as well as bike lanes and bike routes. There are several walkable neighborhoods including Albany (California), California, Elmwood District, Rockridge. (Also the weather is nicest in the East Bay.)

It will definitely be cheaper to live in one of the East Bay communities than in SF. As you would expect, the farther you get from Berkeley or the City (as San Francisco is called) in any direction the cheaper rents will be. Very few single people live alone as rents are so high so you might want to re-consider your plan to live alone in order to rent a nicer or more conveniently-located apartment. (Rents are higher in New York than they are here.)

San Francisco is a proper City. Each neighborhood has its own personality and is, in some ways, its own world. The older neighborhoods are the most walkable. The whole City is accessible by a combination of bus, BART, and light rail trains (and cabs and car services). Many people bike and walk. The outer neighborhoods (farthest from downtown and closest to the ocean) are the Sunset and the Richmond. They are safe and often have some of the most reasonable rents in the City though they tend to be foggier and colder than other areas. Definitely research the personalities of the SF neighborhoods to get a feel for which one might suit you.

If you would like to try other less expensive cities I would suggest Portland, Oregon. Portland is a wonderful small city in the Pacific Northwest with lots to do especially if you like the outdoors. It has a very friendly and social culture and residents take particular pride in their coffee and beer. (Some might also suggest Seattle to you but, while I love visiting Seattle, it is famous (notorious) as a place where it’s difficult to make friends. So that would probably not make for the happiest year.)

I hope this has been helpful. Good luck in your adventure!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Los Angeles (city)
  2. New York City (city)
  3. San Francisco (city)
  4. Berkeley (city)
  5. Albany (California), California (city)
  6. Portland (city)
  7. Seattle (city)
  8. Elmwood District (city)
  9. Rockridge (neighborhood)
4 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Thuy from San Francisco

Luckily I've lived in all the places and frequent Boston, since my sister lives there. So here are my comments. 

1. San Francisco-Berkeley

There are many students living in Berkeley so safe really means the area. If you stay around the university, it will be safer.  

Traveling back and forth from SF to Berkeley is easy by public transportation called the Bart. This is common.  You can get away without a car here. 

Living in Berkeley is going to be cheaper than SF. You'll be able to find a studio in Berkeley for $1300.

SF is the most expensive city in the US. Renting a studio in SF will cost around $2000+. You may find one at your rate but need to look very hard. Areas to look for is private homes, Outer Sunset...

2. Los Angeles

There is no buts here, you need a car to live in Los Angeles. UCLA is in the most expensive area in LA, so is Westwood and Santa Monica. Finding an inexpensive place there will be difficult.

To get around, you will need a car. 

There is another reputable college USC is a less expensive neighborhood. But you will still need a car.

Get the picture? 

3. New York City

NY is the place if you don't have a car. Everyone takes public transportation here, I've seen some CEO from big companies take the subway.

NYU is in the trendiest neighborhood in NY so this is safe but expensive.

Columbia has gotten to be a very desirable neighborhood, largely because of the students coming to study.  You can find a studio around here for $1300. I would vote here. 

4. Boston

Boston is a college town. A lot of universities and alot of students. You will have a good selection of schools in Boston.  Like SF,  there are public transportation that will help you get around. 

Boston is safe. The marathon bombing was in the nicest and safest place in Boston but that case is very very rare. Don't let  that make you think it is not safe. Boston is safe. 

Boston gets cold so does NY. LA gets hot, hot, hot. SF is somewhere in between. If you live in SF-Berkeley, it does get cool. If you live in San Jose, it gets hot. 

Hope this helps you. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Berkeley (city)
  3. Los Angeles (city)
  4. New York City (city)
  5. Boston (city)
4 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Eva from San Francisco

Hm... this is tricky.

San Francisco and New York City are actually on a par as far as expensive cities go––this never used to be the case, but rents in SF are now incredibly high, and climbing every year, due to exponential growth in demand and no meaningful growth in supply of housing.

Berkeley is quite safe to live in! No idea why you'd be told otherwise...Oakland, the neighboring city to Berkeley, has some less safe parts, but both are great alternatives to SF proper. Transportation is relatively easy between the three, so you could choose to live in SF and commute to Berkeley or vice versa without much problem (I myself live in SF and commute to Berkeley on public transit).

NYC simply has better public transit than any other city in the States because of its history and density. It is expensive to live in NYC, and there are more "bad" neighborhoods in New York than in San Francisco, but the transit and walkability are unbeatable and it's no longer more expensive than SF. It's also much safer in NYC now than it was a few decades ago.

Los Angeles is the most difficult of the three as far as transportation goes. The saying, "No one walks in LA" applies to the bus, too: very few people take public transit in LA, and therefore the system is not extensive. Most people drive, and the city is set up that way. So if you decide to go to LA, research the routes you'll have to travel most frequently (e.g., Brentwood to UCLA campus) and be certain you have a reliable way to get there!

One thing people comment on consistently is that the culture and attitudes in NYC, SF, and LA are different. SF is probably the friendliest of the three cities (I've spent considerable time in each, but I am a native San Franciscan, so I am biased). NYC is famously tougher... people generally won't go out of their way to help you or be very cheerful in a store, for example. Los Angeles is sort of between the two, but definitely less friendly than SF in my experience. HOWEVER, all three cities have their great points and you will undoubtedly make friends.

I think LA feels the most American and the least like any other major metropolis in the world...I've heard that from many non-Americans, and have found it to be the case myself. Whether you think that's a good or bad thing is your call!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. New York City (city)
  3. Berkeley (city)
  4. Oakland (city)
  5. Los Angeles (city)
4 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Barbara from Cambridge (Massachusetts)

Boston has many universities, a good, safe transportation system and rents to fit your budget. You could try Somerville, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Watertown for reasonable rents. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Boston (city)
  2. Somerville (city)
  3. Cambridge (Massachusetts) (city)
  4. Watertown (hotel)
3 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Egon from San Francisco

Info on San Francisco:

You can have any two of these three features in an apartment:

- cheap

- living alone

- safe

You won't find a studio for $1300 in SF. Even for other places, the competition is prepared to spend a couple of weeks looking for a place to stay at. I would suggest moving to the city and staying at a hostel for a couple of weeks while you find a place.

Berkeley is not dangerous. Oakland (near Berkeley) is dangerous. If you stay in Berkeley, you will be safe and have lower rent than SF. Commuting between the two cities via BART takes about 40 mins to an hour. BART stops running around midnight. It's a safe ride. Public transit is good in both cities, or you can buy a bike. Either way you don't need a car -- in fact cars are a hassle in the city.

Los Angeles: public transit is awful and everything is too far to bike to. A car is a must.

I don't know about New York. If I was to choose, I would live in Berkeley. It has a good combination of public transit + good weather + nice people.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Berkeley (city)
  3. Oakland (city)
  4. Los Angeles (city)
3 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Desiree from Kaohsiung

I currently live in East Harlem and pay $1500/month for a railroad apartment. I lived in Chelsea (New York) for six months last year and paid $1700/month for a furnished basement studio. I was unwilling to look in the outer boroughs and took the cheapest I could find in Manhattan. I used to find the studio in Chelsea and Craigslist to find my current apartment. To avoid agent fees (another month's rent) you should look for no fee apartments.

When looking for a place, definitely consider Queens and Bronx. I had a friend staying in Astoria in a studio and paying only $900/month. Brooklyn and Long Island City are basically as expensive as Manhattan but deals can still be found. Hoboken is also a place you should look.

The hardest part about living in NYC is finding a place. Once you do that, it's easy to live within any budget. Good luck!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Chelsea (New York) (neighborhood)
  2. Manhattan (region)
  3. Queens (neighborhood)
  4. Bronx (neighborhood)
  5. Astoria (metro area)
  6. Brooklyn (neighborhood)
  7. Long Island City (neighborhood)
  8. Hoboken (city)
  9. East Harlem (region)
3 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Debbie from San Francisco

How exciting, Bernardita!  I can speak from personal experience about San Francisco.  I took classes at both San Francisco State University (main campus, not downtown) and UC Berkeley while living part of the time in Albany (California), California, which is a little town right next to Berkeley.  I got to both schools just fine by riding BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, our subway system.

About rent -- San Francisco is insanely expensive.  The going rate for a one bedroom apartment is about $2500-$3000.  A studio is definitely above $2000.  If you hear anyone paying less than that, they've probably been living there for a really long time and are under rent control.  $1300 is doable, though, if you don't mind roommates.  Berkeley's a much better bet in that regards.

About safety -- San Francisco's just like any big city.  It's pretty safe, just stay alert.  Berkeley is super safe.  Even safe than San Francisco in most parts, and the people tend to be very nice.  This is one of the cities where San Franciscan move to start families without being too far away from the city.  I would also suggest looking into the cities of El Cerrito and Oakland, both of which will more likely have options in your price range.

If you do end up in the San Francisco Bay Area for school, and you don't plan on having a car, I suggest that you look for apartments that are close to a BART station.  The BART stations you should look around are El Cerrito Plaza BART Station (not to be mistaken with the El Cerrito Del Norte station), North Berkeley BART Station, and Downtown Berkeley BART Station are probably the safest.

In New York CityManhattan may be out of your price range, but look into Brooklyn for more affordable places.  There are subway stations everywhere.

Please let me know if you have any other questions! :)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. San Francisco State University (attraction)
  3. UC Berkeley (attraction)
  4. Albany (California), California (city)
  5. Berkeley (city)
  6. El Cerrito (city)
  7. Oakland (city)
  8. El Cerrito Plaza BART Station (attraction)
  9. North Berkeley BART Station (attraction)
  10. Downtown Berkeley BART Station (attraction)
  11. New York City (city)
  12. Manhattan (region)
  13. Brooklyn (neighborhood)
3 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Tasha from Russia

I can answer your question regarding UCLA, that entire area near the university and around is really safe. The housing right by the campus is a little more expensive but even if you venture off a little further like Culver City it is still safe. And UCLA has these blue line buses that are specifically for UCLA students and say UCLA on them. And as long as you live on the westside of LA you can always bike to the campus, the weather is nice and there are many places around the university to go shopping, to dine out or watch a movie. It is a young community and you would love it!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. UCLA (attraction)
  2. Culver City (city)
2 thankscomments (1)

answered by

Sounds like a fun year! I'm sure it will be a great experience, no matter where you end up.

I have lived in SF and NYC, and currently live in LA. In addition to the cost of living, you should consider the culture and weather. I don't want to describe the culture of each city, as no matter what I say, someone will be offended. ;) I loved living in all 3 cities, but they are have distinctly different cultures and attitudes.

1) There are parts of Berekely that are fine. To get from Berkeley to SF, you can take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which is like the SF subway/metro that goes through a tunnel under the bay. The bus system in SF is great, but it still takes a long time to get around because the city is so congested. (I cannot speak to Berkeley, as I have never used the public transit there.) There is no chance of finding a studio anywhere near BART in SF for $1300. It's hard to find a shared room in a large apartment for that rate, as SF is now more expensive than NYC. I'm not sure you can find a studio in Berkeley for that either... at least, not where you would want to live. The rents in the SF Bay Area (including Berkeley) are out of control right now, because of the tech boom. The weather is mild and cool year round. [Grew up in SF area. Lived in SF for 2011.]

2) UCLA is in a nice area of LA - West LA. All of the "West Side" is very nice. The problem with it being nice is that it is more expensive for housing. You can probably find a nice studio on a convenient bus line with utilities for $1300/month. However, getting around LA without a car will require patience and planning. There are many great bus lines all around UCLA, but the Metro does not yet come close to the area. People in LA do not ride the bus much, as they need a car to get to around to everywhere... and if you have a car, why take the bus? The attittude towards public transportation is changing though, and the Metro is slowly expanding. The weather is mild and warm almost year round, and you can ride a bike any time of the year. A bike could get you around West LA and UCLA. [Lived in Santa Monica, Miracle Mile and Pasadena over 5 years.]

3) NYC needs no definition, right? It's expensive, but because public transportation (subway) is so good, you could live in Brooklyn or another suburb and easily take the train into the city. I haven't lived there for over 10 years, but even back then it was hard to find a studio I would want to live in for $1300 in Brooklyn. The weather is much more extreme than your first 2 choices - very humid and hot in the summer, snow storms in the winter. You would not ride a bike here. [Lived on the Upper West Side for 2 years.]


It's a tough call with your criteria - SF & NYC are much more concentrated cities, while LA is a series of connected cities that go on forever. However, you can go a lot further on $1300 a month in LA.

You can look at apartments on craigslist for an idea of rents. 

Keep utilities in mind - electricity, gas, trash and water. Some places includes some of these, other do not include any. Ads should specify.

Internet access at home will run you from $20/month (slow) to $50/month (speedy).

I understand wanting to live alone - I can't imagine having roommates ever again (I'm a little older than you). However, you could consider sharing housing with other non-student ex-pats your age. That might give you a home away from home when you are dealing with the inevitable culture shock.

I would also recommend looking for Chilean ex-pat forums so you can ask about the culture of each city and try to determine where you will be the happiest.

If at all possible, try to visit before you choose a city. 

Of course, these are just my opinions. I hope others have more details to add. 

Best of luck to you!

2 thankscomments (1)

answered by

I lived in New York City for 10 years and still work there but live in the suburbs, so I still have a fairly good idea of prices etc.  I agree with others that at $1300/mth you will not get a studio or at least one you'd consider living in.  Your best bet is to find a roommate which I know is not the most appealing to you.

You can try By Brooklyn, and it's really a great "city" in and of itself, so you can find great restaurants, shops etc., but you will have a commute to school.

I'd be partial to NY or San Francisco.  LA is so spread out, you have to have a car, and there's no real sense of neighborhood or energy in my opinion.  Great place to visit for a week, but for your purposes, to gain a real city experience, I think you're better off elsewhere.

Good luck:)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. New York City (city)
  2. By Brooklyn (attraction)
  3. San Francisco (city)
2 thankscomments (1)

answered by
celia from San Francisco

Hello!  I can help with part 1 of your question regarding San Francisco and Berkeley- as I live in SF now and I am from the East Bay (which is where Berkeley is located).  I am afraid for $1300 you will not be able to find a studio in SF- as that is the standard rate to pay for a room in a shared apartment in SF- at least if you want to be in a safe area.  

As for Berkeley, it is a great area!  There are some areas that are not safe, but there are plenty that are very nice and totally fine and great to live in.  If you choose an area in the Berkeley hills or Claremont area, you will be just fine.  Also bordering Berkeley is Oakland, it has become the "Brooklyn" of San Francisco.  Also an amazing spot!  There are some awesome areas of Oakland and some not so great ones as well.  You could easily live in Rockridge Oakland, and get to the Berkeley campus from there... As for late nights to and from SF, the last train runs at about 1am, and depending on your stop it can be dangerous, but once again that all depends on where you live.  The nice thing is, Oakland has a great night life as well!  Living by Lake Merritt is a great area in Oakland! You are by a lake (obviously) close to the train to get you into the city, have a great farmers market every Sunday, and great grocery store, restaurant, and bars near by.  As well as the Fox Theatre which has awesome concerts!  Hope this helps! Cheers!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Berkeley (city)
  3. Oakland (city)
  4. Lake Merritt (attraction)
  5. Fox Theatre (attraction)
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answered by
Diana from Los Angeles

Hi! I live in Los Angeles and have lived in Boston. Rent is sooo expensive in Los Angeles. You wouldn't be able to get something in Santa Monica. Perhaps closer to downtown or mid city. But you do need a car. Public transportation isn't the best but they added an expo line and it's great. Boston is a great city because it's small. Fun. Beautiful. And public  transposition is great. NYC may be expensive if you want a safe area. But I can't speak since I never lived there. SF I hear is getting more expensive as well. Good luck :)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Santa Monica (city)
1 thanks

answered by
Paul from Billericay, Essex

If no car, do not do LA.  Public transport is limited and a nightmare.  Westwood is expensive and between the beach and more populated areas - again - car required.

1 thanks

answered by
Allison from Houston

I've never lived in any of these locals, but my best friend lives in Oakland near Lake Merritt. That might be a good option if you want to be near San Francisco.  I've stayed with her and the BART station is just a short walk away and there are bus stops everywhere. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Oakland (city)
  2. Lake Merritt (attraction)
  3. San Francisco (city)
1 thankscomments (1)

answered by

Go to Portland, Denver, or Austin ! ;)

3 great and growing american cities with a better quality of life than NY, SF or LA. More affordable, great outdoors, bike friendly, reasonable size, mid-size town feeling, welcoming and open-minded people.

As you will be here for one year as a student from abroad, you will find your place more easily than LA/SF/NY.

And you will save a bunch of money with housing. That will leave you money for activities and leisure. What's the point to live in a foreign city if you can not afford anything to do, except staying in your bedroom of 150 sqf ?

If you are still really up to NY/SF/LA, I would chose Boston ! ;)

NY :

Amazing city but crazy expansive. Ranked as the 4th most expensive city in the world, 1st of North America. 

The numbers :

Average rent for a studio : 1900USD + 102USD (utilities) = 2002 USD

Monthly public transportation plan : 117USD

Total for average studio+transport = 2119 USD/month (Good luck)

Comments :

If you go there, go to Georgetown, the Upper West Side is one of the best neighborhoods in NY. A perfect mix between a quiet neighborhood feeling and a "being in Manhattan feeling". And it's next to Central Park.

When I stay in Manhattan, I don't wanna be anywhere else. 

The subway goes everywhere but is not really efficient (super old, always delayed and it takes forever to go from point A to point B).

But in NY, everyone rushes all the time. So it's stressful. 

I love to go in NY... as much as I love to leave NY...

SF : 

Smaller than NY but crazy expensive as well. Ranked the 5th most expansive city in the world, 2nd in North America. 

The numbers :

Average rent for a studio : 2395USD + 75USD (utilities) = 2470 USD

Monthly public transportation plan : 89USD

TOTAL for average studio+transport = 2559 USD/month (Good luck too)

Comments :

For housing, it's even more expansive than NY. Why SF is just behind in the "overall cost of living" is because everything else is a little bit less pricey (transportation, leisure, food,..). But not that much.

No one can afford to live in SF anymore (except if you are the CEO of a unicorn tech company), so everyone lives outside, like in San Matteo, Oakland, etc...

And SF is now a weird mix of hi tech billionaires, homeless and hippies. Different worlds colliding...  

And many people living in SF are now a bit grumpy, because of that crazy increasing cost of living.

LA :

More affordable than NY and SF, but still pricey. Ranked as the 24th most expensive city in the world, 7th in the North america. 

The numbers :

Average rent for a studio : 1247USD + 96USD (utilities) = 1343 USD

Monthly public transportation plan : 100USD

TOTAL for average studio+transport =  1443 USD/month 

Comments :

LA is huge and widespread and the public transportation is terrible.

It means that if you live there, you choose carefully your neighborhood and you stick to it. Which, in your case, means close to your university. And close to your university equals a rental rate higher than the average one of LA, so I think you have to add min 200-300 USD to the housing bill that I mentionned (which was based on general-average stats for the entire city), It takes you to 1700-1800 USD/month for studio + transport.

LA is sunny all year round and if you are close to the beach, it helps ;)

Atmosphere there is also more laidback.

Boston :

Big city (ok not so big) but with a mid-size town feeling. Still pricey too.

Ranked as the 19th most expensive in the world, 5th in North America.

The numbers 

Average rent for a studio : 1567USD + 117USD (utilities) = 1684 USD

Monthly public transportation plan : 86 USD

Total for average studio+transport = 1770 USD/month

Comments :

The good news is that most of the universities / colleges are in Cambridge, a very nice "small town of its own" with a student community feeling and some beautiful, green and clean neighborhoods (which is not always the case in NY-SF-LA). And that the public transportation is effective and fast. So you can live in different parts of the city and get connected easily. For example, you can live in Northern Boston (Somerville, Davis Square,...), it's less expensive and you can go quite easily to Cambridge or Boston Midtown. 

People are friendly and educated and you will find your own place more easily than in the 3 other cities. 

The Logan Airport is really easy to go to (as an expat, it can be a good point) and NY is not far for some WE city trips ;)

And you are also close to upper New England, like Vermont or Maine, for some great outdoors escapades.

Now it's your choice, but don't forget that there could be a big difference in the cities you will love as a tourist and the cities you will love to live in permanently. 

And usually, these cities are not the same ones... 

answered by
Fritzi from San Francisco

If your dream is to live in NYC then by all means experience that. Decide if you will attend Columbia or NYU. If Columbia find a place uptown, and if NYU, downtown, Brooklyn or Queens. Be flexible about having your own place because rent is high. Bus and subway will allow you to explore all the interesting neighborhoods, museums, parks and free concerts. I was born on the west coast (LA) and have lived in the SF Bay Area for decades. I love the mild climate, laid back vibe and open spaces. But I grew up in NYC and it is an electric, 24/7 scene with endless free entertainment and fascinating street life. Creative people love it. Life is lived at a fast pace and many New Yorkers are type A achievers who plan to live their dreams. So why not join them for a year and live yours.

answered by
Scott from San Francisco

I lived in LA for a long time, and will tell you definitively to NOT live there for the year.  Of your 4 choices, LA has the least amount of culture and is horrible for social interaction unless you really know people, which takes time.  In short, unless you have a family or social network in place, you will likely be isolated and lonely there.  The physical layout of the city is such that it's really difficult to connect with friends and go do things - plus the traffic is just unbearable.  LA is NOT, repeat, NOT a walking city, nor is it a city where you can effectively take public transportation (despite the new systems they're putting in).  It's a big suburb with nice pockets of interest spread out far.  Go live in a real city. And by that I mean one where you can walk, and take public transportation. If you can do NYC, do it.  It's absolutely worth it (though admittedly painfully hot there in the summer too).  Living in New York is a once in a lifetime opportunity - a bucket list kind of thing.  The experience, the culture, the energy are all unparalleled so don't turn them away for a few dollars that won't mean a thing to you later in your life unless you absolutely have to.  NYC is the most walkable of the 3 options, and has the most extensive public transportation system of the 3.  San Francisco would be my 2nd choice - there is so much going on here socially and culturally it's just fantastic.  The weather in SF is better than NYC for sure, but NYC is probably going to feel safer to you.  Boston would be the third choice because it's relatively walkable and has a lot of colleges in the area.  But it's still a distant 3rd place.  

answered by
Scott from San Francisco

I lived in LA for a long time, and will tell you definitively to NOT live there for the year.  Of your 4 choices, LA has the least amount of culture and is horrible for social interaction unless you really know people, which takes time.  In short, unless you have a family or social network in place, you will likely be isolated and lonely there.  The physical layout of the city is such that it's really difficult to connect with friends and go do things - plus the traffic is just unbearable.  LA is NOT, repeat, NOT a walking city, nor is it a city where you can effectively take public transportation (despite the new systems they're putting in).  It's a big suburb with nice pockets of interest spread out far.  Go live in a real city. And by that I mean one where you can walk, and take public transportation. If you can do NYC, do it.  It's absolutely worth it (though admittedly painfully hot there in the summer too).  Living in New York is a once in a lifetime opportunity - a bucket list kind of thing.  The experience, the culture, the energy are all unparalleled so don't turn them away for a few dollars that won't mean a thing to you later in your life unless you absolutely have to.  NYC is the most walkable of the 3 options, and has the most extensive public transportation system of the 3.  San Francisco would be my 2nd choice - there is so much going on here socially and culturally it's just fantastic.  The weather in SF is better than NYC for sure, but NYC is probably going to feel safer to you.  Boston would be the third choice because it's relatively walkable and has a lot of colleges in the area.  But it's still a distant 3rd place.  

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