Misconceptions about Albany?

san francisco to albany

San Francisco to Albany

Matthew S emails:

I'm contemplating a move to Albany from San Francisco this summer to start a graduate program. I was wondering if there are any common misconceptions that people from outside the area hold when they move to the Albany area and how they lose 'em.
Also, what are some good resources for transplants to get to know their community? What should I be looking out for?

Hmm, where to start.

While it's not a misconception exactly, one thing that kind of bugs us about the way people describe this area is the "It's so close to other stuff!" line (Boston, NYC, Montreal). It's a true statement, but leading with that implies that you have to leave this place to do anything interesting (not a true statement).

One way to get the know the community: get a dog. It's hard to not meet people when you're out walking the neighborhood all the time.

We're guessing you have a bunch of thoughts for Matthew. Please share.

Earlier on AOA: Adjusting to Upstate (thanks, AP)

Golden Gate photo: Flickr user Rodefeld


The dog idea is great; we've met a lot of cool people (and dogs!) in the area that we wouldn't never have gotten to know because of it.

Another idea is to sample as many pubs in your area as possible. Find the one you like the best and keep going there: eventually you will become another 'regular' and some friendships will develop. I know this may not be for everyone, but it worked well for me when I was in my early to mid-twenties. It's also how I met my husband.

Read the Metroland every week to find out what's going on in the area: it's a terrific resource. Get involved with a local charity or sports team.

Read AOA. :)

Get involved with politics! Or volunteer at the Co-op.

as far as getting to know the the community: follow AOA of course! (really, theyre an excellent resource for anything capital region, be it upcoming events, goings-on, interesting people or places, etc.) i follow AOA on twitter and have all updates sent to my RSS feed. i also have times union (one of our big papers) and WNYT (our local NBC station) updates sent to my RSS feed as well. that way, every time i check my e-mail, i can see whats up in the news, and what kinds of events are going on, etc. i dont find it to be nearly as active a resource but the various albany websites help too (i.e. the albany ny website, the city of albany website, etc.). also, as you become more aware of the activities and organizations out there, definitely search twitter and facebook for pages--i feel many local restaurants, clubs, bars, services, etc. advertise that way and its another great way to know whats going on (i.e. alive @ 5 is a big summer concert series here, and i follow their facebook page to find out who is playing when).

as far as non-technological ways: just get out there! and where you live will determine how easy it is. if you live in center square or hudson park, you can meet many people at lark streets various restaurants and bars, or in washington park where--when its nice out--almost everybody is out enjoying the weather with friends, family, pets--you name it. if youre going to ualbany for grad school and find yourself living in pine hills, it has a bit more of a college vibe but--its certain alive.

as a fellow graduate student--definitely get involved in any graduate club or organization you can. groups like that are always doing activities, going out and doing things like hiking, camping, day-trips. etc.

as far as misconceptions, i think the one mentioned in the post is a biggie. expanding on that, people always give me a hard time when i say i live in a city. i grew up across from a farm, so albany is a city to me, but most of my pals say NYC is a city, and that albany is not. i disagree. it isnt monstrous and home to millions of people, but it is still a city, it still has a diverse population and assortment of restaurants and public services--and so if urban living is your thing, then i think albany can provide for you.

good luck!

Virtually every nice neighborhood in the city is bordered by at least one not nice neighborhood. Sometimes just crossing the street is enough to take you from funzo to dunzo. Gentrification is a just a fancy word. I guess it lends the city some color, but be careful where you're walking that dog.

A common perception that's 100% correct is that the city is entirely dependent on state money and has been de facto a one party polis for almost all living memory. Coming from SF, that's probably par for the course. Since 1941(!), the city has had only 3 mayors... That means that politicians are effectively elected for life and the status quo is here and here to stay.

Other entirely correct perceptions include that its a mess of well-intentioned but ultimately pointless and damaging public works projects. This stems largely from the fact, mentioned above, that the city is entirely dependent on state activity, and that government thinks it can fix urban poverty through the powers of pavement. See the mass of swooping arterials that cut the city off from the waterfront and would be absurd overkill for a city twice the size, and the horrifying, inhuman empire state plaza.

I definitely agree with the pub idea. I moved out here a couple of months ago, and being in the downtown area, Lark St. is the place to be, especially during legislative days when all the politicians are in town. As was said, find the one you like and stick with it. Some good places to try on Lark are Hollywood, Elda's and Bombers.

There's a great local music and art scene with tons of bands, collectives, and artists who all seem to know each other. There's plenty of good food to be had, from traditional pub fare, to authentic Asian, Latino, Caribbean, and beyond. Albany is a small city compared to NYC or SF, but there's plenty to do if you know where to look.

One thing you always hear about the West Coast but never about Albany is how active and outdoorsy the people are. I think that this area has some of the most active sports groups for adults of anywhere I've lived. There's dodgeball, ultimate frisbee, kickball, Volleyball, Soccer, Softball, Rowing, Rugby, Running, Biking, Hiking, and Ski Clubs - and those are just the ones I can think of because my friends are involved in them!

Another misconception about New York in general is that the weather is always bad. You need to be prepared to deal with some heavy snow, but our summers are great, and fall and spring are nice too.

Here's my best advice: Be open-minded. That sounds a little trite, but here's what I mean.

Maybe you aren't sure you will like that documentary on plastic usage showing at the Linda. Or maybe you'll decide rock n' roll burlesque or trivia just isn't your bag. Or maybe you're skeptical about checking out a local band you've never heard. But do it anyway. Be willing to try new things and go to events that you might not have considered previously. The thing is about this area is that there really is a lot of stuff going on, you just have to be willing to look a little. And sometimes, the search process is pretty fun.

As far as the pubs go, my favorites are Hollywood, DeJohn's and Susie's.

I forgot to mention a misconception in my earlier post, and that's sort of the point of this, isn't it? Anyway, the misconception that annoys me the most is that there's nothing to do here. I'm so sick of hearing jaded college students, transplants or even residents whining about the city sucking or being boring. Anyone who has a clue what's going on knows that the city is anything but. There's always stuff to do if you bother to look, especially in the warmer months. And while we definitely have our "less than desirable" neighborhoods, the city is not dumpy. We have some great old architecture and historic buildings. If you're into that sort of thing, it's like a treasure hunt out here.

It seems to me that people who have lived in a big city and aren't comfortable here in Albany or Troy miss the street culture, downtown shopping, and other amenities of high-density living. We just don't have that. (But we also don't live in such tiny spaces so far off the ground that we feel compelled to get down to the street all the time.) Between AOA and Nippertown, I'm constantly being reminded of the hundreds of things going on every week that I just don't have time to go and see - the arts scene has really picked up over the past few years, especially. The secret of Albany is that the quality of life is just fantastic. The cost of living is low (New York's taxes notwithstanding), and we don't spend hours a day stuck in traffic.

I think the biggest transition from a big metropolis is that public transit is just very limited here. You will be getting around on your own much more than in SF.

One common misconception, I seem to hear this one in my travels a lot, si that we have pterodatcyls. In fact, no we don't, but we are working on it.

Everything mentioned above is good advice. It's especially true that Albany has a vibrant music and arts scene, especially for a city its size. Events roll al year long and especially in the summer it's a rare weekend that some festival, parade, community action, whatever-or-another isn't going down. get out there, smile and say hi, and you'll have plenty of acquaintences in no time.

A hobby or two is a good thing to have. Social circles in Albany are small and large; small in the sense that just about everyone within one paradigm will know everyone else, but large in the sense that most people have many connections within circles too. Give everyone some yarn with instructions to link up with people they know and we'd make a nice spiderweb. Or cobweb. Or giant ball of yarn. But, if you have some hobbies or interests, meetup.com has tons of local groups that are fairly active. Yes, drinking is considered an interest, this is Albany, come on.

Another important point is that Albany is a college city, so there are a few areas that are completely different when school is in session. It's helpful to figure out which ones these are really quick, but a good rule is that when classes are in session, if you see a pizza joint, a bar, and a police cruiser within thirty yeards of each other, turn around.

There was a post last year where people shared good ideas of things to do: http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2009/03/02/adjusting-to-upstate

I came to Albany for grad school knowing only one person in the area. I left knowing sooo many more-- and all quality people at that. You'll meet a ton of people in school, and everyone will inevitably want to get out and do something to bond within the program. I had the most fun and met the most people by accepting every invitation I got. Keep a "never say no" attitude with your activities and you'll have a list a mile long of your favorite places to go in no time.

This is probably less mainstream. But for someone coming from SF (I lived there for 2 years myself) you might want to get into cycling and jogging. I do both, especially since I have no car. I've discovered tons of odd things and neat restaurants using my two feet. There are things in the towns surrounding Albany metro proper and if it's your thing, the New England feel of things is quite nice.

The biggest problem for 'bigger city transplants' is the idea that Albany is tiny and there's nothing to do. If you come with that attitude (your note does NOT suggest that you do), it just won't work. You will stay for as long as you have to, get by, and complain there is nothing to do. I have seen many come and go that just don't really give Albany a chance.

I came from a small city, expecting to stay maybe a year or two, and totally fell in love with it. Yes, we can get to NYC in two and a half hours, but there is so much going on here, I don't often feel the need to run away. We've got culture, nature, and tasty cocktails under $10. What else do you need?

These comments are gratifying since I appreciate and frequently extol the quality of life in Albany. I second some of the misconceptions noted by others (too small, too provincial, unsophisticated, not enough going on). I want to add one I find annoying--people who consider Albany schools a dealbreaker. In reality, Albany offers many school options and children can get a superb education. (I realize this may not be salient for Matt unless he is bringing a family--which I am guessing he would have mentioned-- but schools are usually considered a relevant indicator of community vitality.)

As far as other positives--there is a lot of altruism and community spirit. This shows up in visible ways like the response to the Lark fire and the level of participation in various walks, runs, and other charitable events. Moreover, at least in my experience, there is a grass roots level of civility. In my Pine Hills neighborhood it is not unusual for people to hold a door, pause to let another driver turn left, etc. Finally, there are a number of interesting and completely harmless neighborhood eccentrics.

Don't forget the great outdoors - the Adirondack Park is some of the most fantastic wilderness in the country, and it's 90 minutes away. That's local. Kayak, canoe, hike in some amazing landscapes. Embrace the winter, because there is downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and a hardy and hearty bunch of people doing it. The Helderbergs and Catskills, the Shawungunks for climbing. Not to mention the mighty Hudson, river of commerce and tidal, very unusual. You see where I'm going.

Misconception: Albany is all chain restaurants! No it isn't, Wolf Road is!

I've had plenty of great food around here. All at independent restaurants. I haven't eaten at a chain in years. Matt, make sure to read Table Hopping!

I think one of the misconceptions I sometimes get is that Albany has no culture. I dated a young man recently who grew up a little up north and could not wait to jet ASAP. Admittedly we do not have the Met or the Natural History museum. However, there is never a night in which there isn't a wide variety of things I'd like to do. Maybe it's avant garde and will end up being not my thing, but it's there and it's waiting for people to show up to.

What I love about Albany is about how genuinely nice people are. They want to help each other out. I've walked through "bad" neighborhoods at night and haven't had a problem. (I was giving a co-worker a ride home, and helped her bring some bags into her apartment in Arbor Hill. We had to park a few blocks away.) When a tire blew out on me in Troy, several families offered to help me swap my tires out. There are groups to join with that help the community, and the leaders of these organizations are some of the nicest and kindest you'll ever meet.

The biggest misconception is that Albany doesn't have decent cuisine or an existent social scene.

"Small-bany" is just a nickname. There's a ton of culture and entertainment in the Capital District. Go to a show at Revolution Hall or Northern Lights or Valentine's. Dine at Jack's or Jack's Diner or Jumpin' Jack's. Check out a film at the Madison or the Spectrum. And don't be afraid to say hi.

This isn't a misconception so much as advice...

If you want to make friends and have a social life, make sure to get out there and make it happen! Albany is filled with fun places and nice people, but they're not going to just find you. I moved to Albany from a smaller city several years ago and spent the first two years thinking it sucked. Then I decided to get off my ass and do things and I suddenly had more friends and more to do than I could imagine. I'm moving back in a few months and am finding myself a little sad about leaving Albany now.

There is plenty to do here. You won't be bored unless you want to be.

Hopefully this won't get lost in all of the great feedback already given... Go to meetup.com and find groups about things you're interested in and join. Ex there are photography groups, kayaking groups... Sports, hobbies, you name it.

Listen to the radio!
WEXT 97.7fm www.exit977.org
WRPI 91.5fm www.wrpi.org
WAMC 90.3fm www.wamc.org
WCDB 90.9fm www.wcdbfm.com
WVCR 88.3fm www.wvcr.com

You can stream most of these stations from your home in SF!

Some good resources for keeping your finger on the proverbial pulse of the Capital District are this very website, of course; the Metroland; the Times Union local section, entertainment section and some of the blogs on their web site (like Tablehopping, by Steve Barnes); radio stations like 97.7, 102.7, 91.5, 90.9, 90.3, etc.; and web sites for venues/museums in the immediate area - like the Egg, Proctors Theatre, the Palace Theatre, the Linda, Capital Repertory Theater, Home Made Theater, the Albany Institute of History and Art, the New York State Museum, etc. - as well as web sites for places outside of the immediate area, but within easy driving distance - like MASS MoCA, Dia: Beacon, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Storm King Art Center, Omi, the Vanderbilt Mansion and the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt national historic sites, etc.

Albany is a city that rewards effort. If you're looking for a place that lays out all it has to offer in a lavish buffet, eagerly awaiting your consumption, then you and Albany might not work out. If, however, you enjoy the thrill of discovery and take it upon yourself to scratch Albany's surface, you'll probably like it here. The quality of life is good, the cultural opportunities are plentiful, the cost of living is reasonable, and the lack of killer traffic is remarkable.

@Elizabeth: well put.

One misconception that still bothers is that Albany is unsafe. It's no Clifton Park, but it's not the death trap a lot of people in the suburb seems to think it is. I know a fair amount of people who are genuinely afraid of going to the Wine Bar on Lark (for example) because they can't park within a block. I live there, it is really not that bad, and if you are really that concerned, this is nothing that can't be solved with a little bit of car-pooling or have your date escort you in and out. Many people live in Center Square, and many others enjoy what it has to offer, without getting shot (too often). I wouldn't trade my spot for an apartment in Saratoga "zzzZZZzz" Springs...

I lived in the Bay Area for twelve years and I moved out here three years ago for my wife's job.

The first year was the hardest. But it gets easier.

Abandon all hope of finding a good cappuccino. And I'm not even talking Blue Bottle good. We don't have anything here that competes with Pete's - not even close.

There are good things here, but you have to search for them, and they are spread out all over the region. Having a car would be advantageous.

Honestly I've been surprised by all the local boosterism. It's almost as if everyone is on the payroll of the convention and visitor's bureau. Albany is a small town. Not geographically, but socially. This has pros and cons. There is plenty to do, and plenty to see, even without driving the three hours in either direction.

Don't listen to people when they tell you Bomber's has burritos. They don't. I can't quite tell you exactly what that thing is they sell wrapped up in a flour tortilla. But a burrito it is not.

Get yourself a really warm jacket from L.L. Bean, some good gloves, and plenty of moisturizer. And drop me a line if you need any specific recommendations or further advice.

I have some friends who have left Albany for "hipper" locales-- places oozing with hipsters and music and trendy restaurants and crunchiness and the like. I came back to Albany after being in a place like that. Those places are fun, I love them- but there is an authenticity missing.

This place- it's real. It's not a utopia, it's diverse and there are groups that have to work to get along and the stuff that happens here is gritty and real. It's not a kumbaya community, but it is a community that rises to the occasion, that supports one another, that has a history.

The restaurants are built for the people that live here, not for tourists or recent arrivals (although they are welcome)- and as such there are restaurants that have been here for generations. I love going to Lombardos because I can feel the ghosts of my Italian family that settled in Albany in the 40s. Albany is full of places like that, places that have witnessed the city for decades and decades - the Fountain, the Orchard, Justins, Lark Tavern, Mahars, Bongiorno's, Jack's, on and on and on.

There is amazing stuff happening here. There are people giving back to a community that needs them. There are loads of 20- and 30-somethings buying homes in the city of Albany because of all that it is and can be. There are ethnic restaurants and stores that are there because the community is there - not to be the latest cool thing.

Albany is authentic.
Maybe that comes off as uncool or boring or dangerous sometimes- but really, it's just the thing that so many places are missing.

Daniel B has a singular perspective since he made the same move that Matthew is contemplating. But shared geography does not necessarily guarantee shared priorities or values. I wonder if Daniel's grudging acknowledgment of the few things in this region he finds up to his standards say more about his overall approach to life than about the region.

If you're going west, you'll find lots of Albany-area transplants in San Francisco, some of them members of my family. You'd be surprised how many of them come back. For many, the economics of life in the city proper, and the (for many) less desirable characteristics of other Bay Area locales, combined with the West Coast mindset, make it just simpler to head back East to a brisker pace and a more engaged approach to life.
If you've headed east, for whatever reason, embrace what the area has to offer and lose the snobby-assed bad attitude of the Daniel Bs of the world. It ain't perfect, but neither was the left coast for all but the wealthy. It's perfectly fine to talk about what's wrong with Albany, but balance it with the occasional nod to what's right. There's plenty of it if you take time off from pitying yourself from being stuck here to do a little looking.
Get a dog. Walk your dog. Great way to meet people anywhere. I walk a dog in Duboce Park in San Francisco when I visit there and see people to say "hi" to that I haven't seen in a year. Works exactly the same way here. Cool. Observe the leash laws and scoop the poop. Life is good everywhere if you let it be.

I certainly don't need to be on the "payroll of the convention and visitor's bureau" to express a love for my city, because it's genuine.

I moved back here 5 years ago.... and have had luck with the Meetup.com groups. Sometimes, it can be like a blind date with a bunch of people. I have to say, though, I have made quite a few fantastic long-term friends (including Sebastien who provides us great AOA photos).

One misconception I despise is that some say we are all country bumpkins. Really? A) there is nothing wrong with rural areas and B) I don't really think the city of Albany counts as rural. I have seen some funny things on Lark Street, but never a cow or a goat. Maybe Spiderman, though.

As a recent transplant, I would strongly recommend staying put right there in SF. I moved here from Bloomington, IN-- a small, progressive college town. Since moving to Albany, I have not ceased to be amazed by the utter lack of environmental and community stewardship. People here seem to be content living in squalor (OF COURSE this does not apply to every square inch of Albany, but is true of the majority of the tri-city area).

Yes, Albany is technically a democratic city-- but it's an archaic political machine sort of democratic-- not at all progressive.

Also, I have encountered more overt racism here than in any of my previous adventures.

When I first moved here I thought that I would get involved and help turn things around. I very quickly become overwhelmed by the denial that plagues the city's residents.

That said, if you do make the mistake of moving away from one of the coolest cities in the world and find yourself living here, your keys to survival will be: reading AOA, getting involved at the co-op (Honest Weight), enjoying Washington Park, learning about the area's history-- it's really fascinating-- and DO (inspite of previous posts...) take advantage of the close proximity to NYC, Boston, and beautiful mountains.

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