Tips for Travel: How to Get Around San Francisco Like a Pro

Moving to San Francisco and worried about the costs? You’re not alone. Living in the country’s most expensive city for renters is no walk in the park, but luckily there are a few places where you can actually cut costs. SF’s network of public transportation, cycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets mean you can totally get around without a car. (Plus, those notorious hills make life a lot more…interesting.) If you’re new to the city, here are some tips from the locals on navigating SF like a pro.

San Francisco Public Transportation

For the nearly 33 percent of San Franciscans who use public transportation to commute, the Muni, Caltrain, and Bart are the life and blood of their everyday travels. Depending on where you frequent, you may want to invest some time researching which will work best for you.

Muni Transit

Run by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Muni has an extensive network of public transportation including city buses, cable cars, and the historic streetcars and trolleys. Whether you’re traveling across town or just down the street, hopping on and off one of Muni’s modes of transportation offers plenty of options for cheap — just be prepared for the occasional delay or cancellation (or unexpected sight), warn locals.

“When we have friends visit from out of town, we give them one simple piece of advice with regards to Muni,” says SF resident and wine entrepreneur Mark Aselstine.

“Pretty much stay off it, unless you’re riding the streetcars. Really, when you use BART and the cable car network, along with an occasional Uber ride, you can get around the city with less stress than a Muni bus is going to give you.”

BART and Caltrain

BART, or Bay Area Transit, is another popular public transit option run by SFMTA. As the country’s fifth busiest heavy rail rapid transit system, the BART connects the heart of SF with numerous cities in the East Bay and suburbs in the south. Nearly half a million passengers commute using BART on weekdays, so it’s no surprise SFMTA has plans to update the trains to be cooler, more comfortable and less noisy, beginning in Fall 2016. Just remember: The locals have an unspoken code of conduct for BART riders — something you should definitely familiarize yourself with before you become that rider.

Finally, Caltrain is a another commuter train similar to BART, perfect for traveling between San Francisco and San Mateo and Santa Clara. This is your best bet if you’re trying to get to Silicon Valley from SF (whereas you might want to take the BART if you’re just going to Oakland). Fares for Caltrain vary depending on the zone you’re traveling between and the number of rides you need, so it’s a good idea to check before hopping on-board.

Other Options for Getting Around

And perhaps the best news about getting around is SF is you can reasonably forgo all modes of modern transportation if you want. With 3.4 percent of the city’s population who bike to work, San Francisco has among the highest percentage of cycling commuters in the country, according to the Census Bureau. Additionally, about 10 percent simply choose to walk to work. San Francisco has an extensive system of bicycle paths and lanes, some of which are parallel to traffic and shared with pedestrians — some that are completely separate from both.

With all the transportation options, it’s promising to know there’s at least one place where residents can cut costs, say locals.

“Test out this ‘multimodal’ lifestyle before committing to car ownership,” says Earl Kaing, a transportation consultant in SF. “It’s worked pretty well for me, and saved me a ton of money (that unfortunately over the years has gone to paying exploding San Francisco rents!).

“I’m all about using the right tool for the right job, so I take transit mostly for trips to and from work, when transit service is the most frequent and reliable. For all other trips, especially those that would require a transfer, I usually just take a cab, Uber, or Lyft.

By getting creative with the many modes of transportation in SF, Kaing says he’s come up with the perfect system for getting around swiftly and saving cash.

“If it weren’t for the robustness of car services in San Francisco, I would’ve probably bought a car a long time ago. With the money I’ve saved by not going that route, though, I’ve been able to cover my rising rents. Plus I never have to worry about looking for parking everywhere I go.”

Kaing points out that cities are built around roads, and while railcars and cable cars have their place, they work better in tandem with taxis. So, pick your fancy, folks!

What tips do you have for getting around SF like a pro? Drop ’em below!

DIY it Together: Wall Stencil Wallpaper

Whether it’s over Netflix and wine or it’s a night out on the town, bonding with your roommate can create a positive atmosphere in any apartment for the years to come. But as exciting as it may be gossiping over bottomless mimosas at brunch or visiting that new creperie down the street, there’s a better way to strengthen a relationship while adding some pizzazz to your home as well: DIY decor. After all, what better way to spend a weekend than turning your shared space into something out of a magazine — on a budget, that is — while strengthening your friendship? To inspire your roommate bonding, we’ve got you covered with these DIYs from roommates who put in the time for a unique bonding experience.

The Project: DIY Wall Stencil Wallpaper

Accent walls can make for a great conversation starter, but they also help engage strangers who just moved in together. And since painting a wall can be tricky and a bit tedious, doing so with a helping hand can turn this DIY project into a fun experience for all.

For Layla O’Kane and her roommates, Jessica, Shannon and Monica, creating wall stencil wallpaper was three hours of quality bonding time when they moved into their new apartment together.

“Our painting day was actually the first time that I met one of my roommates [Jessica],” O’Kane says. “It created a comfortable environment for us to get to know each other better, and I think that creating something together for our house made us all feel more ownership of the apartment.”

diy wall stencil

Photo Credit: Nathalie Spina

Likewise, New York residents Nathalie Spina and Krysta Camp used the DIY as a way to introduce themselves to one another. With several coats of paint and hours of conversation, they were able to learn more about each other’s interests while building communication skills as well, according to Spina. While she said Camp was more attentive to detail, Spina’s height put her in charge of reaching the top half of the wall.

“Once we realized this would be a timely process, we started to use the time painting as an icebreaker and really opened up to conversation as we worked,” Spina said. “Having some glasses of wine and fun music blasting while we worked really helped too.”

Not only is the wall complete and a beautiful accent to their living room, but Spina said it also finally makes the space feel more personalized.

“Now when we get back from any crazy day in the city it feels like we are really arriving home,” Spina said. “Something as simple as a decorated wall can really add more comfort and feeling of home to any apartment.”

The Supplies

  1. Interior paint
  2. Paintbrushes
  3. Paint rollers
  4. Stencils of your choice
  5. Sponges
  6. Painters tape
  7. Tarp (optional)

Photo Credit: Layle O' Kane

 

The Process

  1. Lay out the tarp where you plan on painting.
  2. Decide on your design layout, and position your stencil on the wall as a starting place. Tape the sides with painters tape.
  3. Dip your paintbrush or paint roller in paint, making sure to remove any excess paint. Stippling with a paintbrush is a good idea to avoid paint leaking under the stencil and to ensure an even coat. (You can also use the sponges/paint roller if you prefer.)
  4. Use a leveler or a ruler to mark the points of the stencil before moving it.
  5. Tape again with painters tape and repeat.

If you decide not to use the painters tape, O’Kane advises rotating through roommates during the process as holding up the stencil can be tiring in and of itself. Additionally, Spina warns that you should always clean the stencil after use because cleaning off dried paint is nearly impossible and can block up some of the design.

5 Myths You Probably Believe About Living in Texas

Texas has a reputation for many things: namely for being big, cheap and friendly. In fact, these widely-held beliefs are, in part, the reason why Texas’s major metros are the fastest growing cities in the U.S. The Lone Star State is one of the few places where the financial crisis of 2008 seemed to graze over, so it’s hardly surprising that young professionals are flocking south. Not to mention the cost of living in a Texan city like Dallas puts other major cities to shame. (Have you seen the gorgeous townhomes for rent in Dallas and their insanely low rents?) But is Texas currently flooding with young families, as the Internet would have us believe? And precisely how cheap is “cheap”? The answers might surprise you. Here are five myths about living in Texas you probably believe.

Myth #1: Texas is cheap.

This one is a bit of a double-edged sword because while true in many senses, it’s Texas’s famed “more bang for your buck” lifestyle that could ultimately be driving up prices. Let’s walk through the specifics.

Cost of Living

To put this into perspective, the cost of living in Austin is 51 percent cheaper than in San Francisco, and 40 percent cheaper than in New York City, aka the country’s two most expensive housing markets. And while dinner won’t cost you an arm and a leg, residents say other areas are taking a hit.

“Anecdotal experience and cost of living data will show that this price increase is almost exclusively in rent,” says Luke Orlando, a lifelong Texan, and a senior at The University of Texas at Austin majoring in finance and government.

Taxes

You might start packing your bags immediately after you hear this: Texas is one of seven states that don’t charge an income tax. Depending on where you stand in your tax brackets, it could be putting a lot of extra pennies in your pocket. Sounds amazing, right? Well, not so fast. It turns out that Texas’s property taxes are pretty hefty. In fact, Texas comes in sixth place for the highest property tax in the country. For renters (a growing population, according to a recent report), who often shoulder their landlord’s burdens, this means higher rent. Which brings us to the main point:

Rising Rents

Wondering just how fast rents are rising in Texas? Enough to land both Austin and Houston on the list of top 10 metropolitan areas that had the highest rent increases last year. Not too far down the list of cities with rising rents: San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth. And at least for the capital city, experts suspect residents will suffer through another spike in 2016, by as much as 5 to 6 percent. It’s unsurprisingly unsettling for both new and current residents.

“Relative to the rest of the U.S., Texas is still fairly cheap to live in,” says longtime Texan and Austinite Emily Ergas. “But rent in Austin is rising significantly every year, and many of my friends have had to move once their leases were up due to a rise in prices. And gentrification is clearly happening in parts of town [contributing to the higher cost of living].”

In summary: Texas is “cheap” comparatively, but the recent influx of newcomers is creating a demand for more housing. Still, there’s one thing that Texas offers many young professionals that cities like NYC and SF simply don’t, points out Orlando.

“People moving here have driven up the cost of rent, making it comparable to other large cities, but the opportunities for savings absolutely still exist in Texas metros and will for the foreseeable future.”

Myth #2: It’s a place to “settle down.”

Texas is currently leading the nation in population growth, so it’s clear those looking for greener pastures (maybe literally) are headed down south. And while the big open spaces slower paced lifestyles are a draw for families and baby boomers, they’re not the only ones with the Texas Bug. San Antonio saw the largest growth in millennial population among America’s largest metros, with a 9.2 increase between 2010 and 2013. Houston’s millennial population grew by 6.2 percent during this time; Dallas-Fort Worth’s by 4.7 percent; and Austin’s by 4.2 percent. All four metros were in the top 25 of the list. Texas, you could say, is very much “in.”

“The mild winters and robust job markets are huge draws for Austin,” says Orlando. “I love our lack of congestion, incredible food options, and the palpable sense of Texan exceptionalism.”

Myth #3: Texas is old-fashioned and politically monochromatic.

There’s a reason why some are calling Austin the new San Francisco. The recent swell of tech startups in Texas’s capital have contributed immensely to the city’s well known love for diversity. (Are you really surprised when the city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird”?) It’s particularly the mix of old and new, Texans say, that make life here so great.

“You’re just as likely to find a chic new coffee shop or tech startup as you are a taco truck or panaderia even in lower-income areas in east Austin,” says Orlando.

And the Southern stereotypes don’t fit every Texan any more than they fit every Southerner. So while it may be a largely red state, not every Texan is made the same.

“I lived abroad in Chile and Spain for two years, and the most common questions were: ‘Do you ride a horse to school? Do you own a gun? Do you love George Bush?’ No on all accounts actually,” says Ergas, exasperated.

And the newcomers can be just as bad, she adds.

“They expect Southern accents, guns, cowboys and Republicans, so people are generally surprised when they don’t find that. People eventually realize that the major cities in Texas are fairly liberal, and that accents and cowboys aren’t the norm.”

Myth #4: Texas is big.

Alright, so this isn’t a myth, but “big” doesn’t cut it, so it bears explaining. Texas is massive. Like, huge. Big enough to have once been a country (something Texans still celebrate today, by the way).

“People from other states and countries always underestimate the size of Texas,” Ergos says. “It still shocks people that I attended a university in-state, but it was a five-hour drive home.”

Why is this important for renters? There’s plenty of room to grow for everyone flocking here, of course. According to Orlando, the urban sprawl is one of the things newcomers have to get used to.

“Chicago is about 234 sq. miles and has several hundred thousand more people than Houston, which is 600 sq. miles,” he points out.

Very recently there has been some controversy on this subject, as residents chafe about the recent increase in housing development and the push to build on smaller lots.

Myth #5: Texans ride a horse to school.

No. Just….no. Please, for the sake of every Texan out there, don’t ask anyone if this is true! It’s not.

So get while the gettin’s good.

There you have it. While rent might be increasing in Texas, the cost certainly beats out many other major cities; there’s plenty of room to spread out, and with the boom in jobs in the state, it’s the perfect place for young professionals to start their careers. So what are you waiting for?

Why Baltimore Roommates Should Plan a Staycation in Charm City

When moving to a new city, you take into consideration things like potential job opportunities, affordable housing, and the social scene. While working your dream job may be your top priority, finding ways to enjoy your time off comes in as a tight second. While you may assume you need to jump on a plane and fly across the world to explore, don’t forget about the endless adventures to be had in your backyard. And who better to experience them with than your co-living partner in crime? Baltimore roommates are among the lucky ones, who won’t have to leave town just to get away. Here’s just a short list of how you and your roommate can enjoy an awesome staycation in Charm City.

A Staycation for Baltimore Roommates

In the simplest terms, a staycation refers to a vacation that doesn’t involve traveling — but rather spending time close to home and enjoying local attractions in your own city. It’s the perfect way to embrace a new city or neighborhood or discover the unknown in a place you’ve been in for a while. The charming city of Baltimore has something for friends, lovers, and families to enjoy year-round, all in its very own Inner Harbor.

For the Animal Lovers

The Inner Harbor is known to most as a port of call for cruise ships. But the Harbor is also a landmark for the city of Baltimore and a major tourist attraction just waiting for locals to enjoy. One of the most popular attractions at the harbor is the National Aquarium. With over 20,000 aquatic animals, there’s surely a creature or two you’ve never seen before. Baltimore roommates will love the aquarium’s newest exhibit, the Living Seashore, which has become the hot spot for guests, says Kate Rowe, Director of Media Relations at The National Aquarium.

“This exhibit showcases a mid-Atlantic seashore habitat and features two large touch pools where guests can actually walk up and touch the animals (with proper guidance from our team),” explains Rowe.

Some of the animals in this exhibit include Atlantic stingrays, sea stars, horseshoe crabs, and moon jellies. The staff works hard to create engaging experiences that are inspiring for all guests.

“From tactile learning in our new touch pool exhibit and fully immersive experiences in our rain forest and Australia exhibits, to our close to 40 daily talks with animal care staff…there’s something for everyone at the Aquarium! It’s a place to build and make connections,” she adds.

They also offer great deals. Head over any Friday night after 5 p.m. and get the full aquarium experience for half price. That’s right, bring along your roommate and that’s a two-for-one special you can enjoy together. You can even make it a double date! The more the merrier, right? If you’re bringing along miniature roommates, kids eat free Monday through Thursday at The Hard Rock Cafe. Check out the aquarium’s website for a number of year-round discounts including military, parking and other promotions.

For the Foodies

If you’re a foodie (especially a seafood lover), you’ve picked one of the coolest cities to settle — and dig — into. Baltimore Ravens Defensive Back Nick Perry says that eating is for sure one of his favorite things to do in Charm City, and there’s rarely a dull moment.

“There’s always something to do. Baltimore is known for its seafood. Their crab cakes are out of this world!” he tells us.

Surprised? Don’t be. Baltimore’s foodie reputation is often overlooked. In fact, Thrillist named it one of the seven most underrated American food cities in 2015, saying Baltimore is a kind of “petri-dish” left to its own instrument.

“It sits there just out of the spotlight until you take off the lid and realize all of the crazy stuff happening inside. The art, music, and food scenes are filled with thriving communities that not only don’t frown on experimentation, but expect it,” Dan Gentile, the article’s author, writes.

Even better? There’s a plethora of farms within a 15-minute drive of downtown and weekly farmer’s markets to assist the farm-to-table advocates and vegan roommates in stocking the fridge.

For the Art and History Buffs

For Baltimore roommates who are feeling artsy or are in the mood to learn about history or culture, the city has enough museums to keep you busy and learning for weeks on end. Just for starters, there’s the Baltimore Museum of Art, the largest museum in Maryland. The BMA has over 90,000 works of art available to you for free, every day. The Matisse collection is especially perfect for modern and contemporary art lovers and includes a state-of-the art lighting showcase.

The Walter’s Art Museum, which celebrates 55 centuries of art from around the world ranging from the Millenium B.C. to the early 20th century, is ideal for the Balitmore roommates more into classic art.  Once you’ve roamed the museum and fueled up on inspiration, Walter’s also gives you a chance to make some art of your own on the weekends with their Drop-In Art events. Hey, consider it the perfect opportunity to spruce up the DIY decor for your apartment.