Many guests want to know, what the South Berkeley- North Oakland-Emeryville area is like, or what the inner San Francisco Bay Area is like, and whether they will feel safe walking around.
Depending on where you are from and what the culture and pace of life is like in your home area, you might find the Bay Area to be similar, or quite different. It is like many urban areas in the nation and world in that there's a lot of diversity -- ethnic diversity, socioeconomic diversity -- and there are many cultures and artistic and cultural events in the Bay Area. Many are the musical and theatre events here, the art galleries and art classes. Foodies absolutely love the Bay Area, and Berkeley and Oakland boast their share of many unique restaurants and opportunities for a wide variety of ethnic cuisine. The Bay Area is also one of the best places in the world to do spiritual questing, since there are so many different kinds of workshops and retreats and classes you can attend in this area, from Jewish Meditation, to Buddhist retreat centers, Yoga centers and retreats, Hindu temples, Ashrams, Mosques,African Traditional Religions, Pagan gatherings, and specific traditions like the Diamond Heart school. If there's a spiritual group in existence anywhere in the world, you are likely to find some of its adherents in the Bay Area!
San Francisco tends to feel more urban and fast-paced than the East Bay. It feels more crowded and busy in San Francisco, and youthful -- particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods like the Mission District, it can sometimes seem like over 90% of the people walking around on the streets are under 30. The East Bay feels slower paced and --though I'm opinionated since I live here -- more friendly and down to earth. There are "bad areas" in the East Bay, places with a lot of run-down homes and trash on the street, where you probably would notice you feel uncomfortable even just driving through. And there are posh, exclusive neighborhoods like the Elmwood, Uplands or Grizzly Peak drive neighborhoods in Berkeley, or Piedmont, or Rockridge in Oakand, which feature $5-15 million homes and true mansions. (Some of the East Bay walking tours can take you to historic homes in such areas).
"Will I feel safe in the area?"
A lot of guests want to know if they will feel safe, or how safe is my neighborhood. Keep in mind that no area is completely safe -- not even small towns and rural areas -- as we are unfortunately finding out not only in the US but around the world with child abductions, mass shootings, terrorist attacks and random violent crimes. Also, a sense of safety is often subjective rather than objective. However, a few things can be said about my neighborhood and the region in general.
On the "main" streets, like Shattuck and Telegraph, and in the downtown area, you will see beggars and homeless people. This can be disturbing for those not used to such people, but they are mostly completely harmless. They are not a danger -- they are just more of an annoyance as they beg for change, and a depressing sight as many of them are clearly mentally ill. Also, some guests have said that it seems to them that there are more "crazy" people in Berkeley than other places they have visited. This is quite possible, as Berkeley has long been known as a tolerant and accepting city, and the marginalized and misunderstood of the world tend to flock here. -- which includes many mentally ill and homeless. Speaking of homeless -- homelessness is becoming an ever greater problem in large cities in California, and you will likely see a few tents set up in street medians, surrounded by piles of junk. This is mostly occurring in the downtown commerical area and under the highway in the western part of the city. The problem is worst in quasi-industrial/commerical areas in West, East and downtown Oakland, where large "tent cities" full of trash pose a challenge to a city government trying hard to balance compassion with the needs of neighborhoods.
The main "danger" in the city, for pedestrians and those walking around, is from armed robbery. This is somewhat rare, but it can and does happen almost anywhere in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, including the nicest and most exclusive neighborhoods. The only way to totally avoid this danger is not to walk anywhere, which is not a realistic solution. However there are ways you can minimize your likelihood of being targeted by being "street smart" and I can talk to you about this when you arrive. This involves things like -- not walking down the street talking on an expensive phone, not openly carrying valuables, watching your surroundings and avoiding people who look like they are up to no good or don't fit in the neighborhood.
I have lived in Berkeley and/or Oakland for nearly 40 years, and I have never been robbed, and at the present time, no one who's ever been a guest or renter in my house has been robbed. So it's not as if this occurs very frequently. However it does happen and really the best way to prevent it is to be aware of your surroundings and have no hesitation to change your route if you notice people up ahead who you don't feel comfortable walking by.
Auto break ins are a lot more common than armed robbery, yet this type of crime too can be prevented by keeping no valuables in your car or at least making sure they are not visible.
Bicycle theft is very common, and though I have never had a bicycle stolen in the years I've lived in the Bay Area, that is because I dont' leave my bike locked up on the street for more than a few minutes. I bring my bike inside with me, to places I go. If you plan to commute by bike it helps to have a bike that is a "beater bike" by which I mean, one that is obviously not of much value and so is less likely to be a target for thieves. Do NOT lock up an expensive bike on the street! Thieves can and will break almost any lock to get a very expensive bike.