Waltham made its name in the watch business. Also in the brass automobile business when car (called motocycles then) fittings were still old fashioned (like the big bug-eyed lamps used as headlights). Motocycles are long gone, but Waltham is still home to bug-eyed incoming freshman of Brandeis and Bentley – and a city that has seen a massive transformation as a dining and cultural escape – even for nearby Bostonians.
With its roots deeply set in the industrial revolution, Waltham developed as an urban center outside the metropolitan Boston area. This history can be seen today in Waltham’s exceptionally diverse population with a multi-pronged urban feel, particularly in the downtown area. A high-tech relocation boom has been partly responsible for Waltham's current demographics.
For one, you will never get bored with Waltham dining. Moroccan Monday, Thai Tuesday and Welsh Wednesday (Shepard's Pie, Welsh Rarebit) will keep your palate interested in all that the city has to offer. If Sunday dropped the S, you could even enjoy a Ugandan feast every Unday. Of course, as Waltham is a bit of a college town, there's plenty of passable pizza options for those feeling like they've had there fill of Matooke (Ugandan plantain dish). Additionally, Waltham’s downtown is thriving and walkable, with lots of shops, bars, and nightlife.
As mentioned, Waltham is home to Brandeis University (editor's alma mater – Roll Deis Roll) and Bentley College, both of which keep the city enriched with cultural events and a youthful population. Though Waltham is less family-oriented than other Metro West area cities, settling in certain neighborhoods will keep away from the hustle and bustle of the single student life – although both colleges are considered small – around 4,000 undergraduates each. Additionally, the downtown Riverwalk and several of the city’s parks will provide plenty of outdoor recreation for you and your family.
Downtown Waltham is sui generis among college towns. With some of the area’s best options for dining and nightlife – including some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in New England – pretty tough competition, downtown manages a kind of Aspen like vibe appreciated by a working class and academia equally. Moody Street in downtown, or “Restaurant Row,” says it all. This is some feat considering 20 years ago Moody Street was aptly named – it put everyone in a bad mood.
Downtown is a densely packed urban area, thus possessing some drawbacks associated with lots of people in a small space – no, not bunkbeds. Safety and space may be a concern in this area. Generally, the most desirable and safest rentals downtown are found in the new developments along the Riverwalk. Riverwalk apartments are costly, with two bedrooms around $2500.
Bentley and Brandeis are located on opposite sides of the downtown, with Brandeis nestled in the southwest and Bentley in the northeast. These large college campuses dominate the rental market in the surrounding neighborhoods. However, each of these universities has their own distinct feel.
Generally, most Waltham residents will tell you that Brandeis has more of a party culture than Bentley. Though both areas have instances of noise and petty theft, Bentley is a bit quieter than its southwestern counterpart. The area surrounding Brandeis, however, does have a lot of single-family homes that have been divided into apartments, some located on quieter streets. Two bedrooms in the Brandies and Bentley areas go for $1600-$1800.
North Waltham and the Tech Belt
In a densely packed city with two college campuses, it may seem difficult to locate a quiet suburban complex to your liking. This part of the city developed alongside the technology companies setting up home offices in north Waltham in the late 1980s. Because of this, several rental complexes and nice, suburban homes were also developed.
In the Tech Belt, you’ll find new rentals with tons of amenities like gyms and swimming pools, along with a quieter lifestyle and a more family-friendly vibe. This region has the added benefit of being close to community centers like the Waltham YMCA. Additionally, you’ll have access to more large commercial shopping centers and chain stores. Two bedrooms in this area generally fall between $1800-2000.
If you want newer, upscale developments along the Riverwalk or in the Tech Belt, your best bet is to go directly through the management companies that rent the properties.
Outside of newer developments, there are a plethora of rentals available via online apartment searches (hey-ohhh). Additionally, the Bentley and Brandeis campuses have a lot of rentals and room shares with flexible or no lease options.
Be prepared to spend up to $50 for background and credit checks to secure your preferred apartment. Deposits in Waltham are generally equivalent to one-month rent. If you’re a student, with lack of discernible earnings or credit history, you may need a co-signer for many of the campus-area apartment, but many landlords are used to this – some like the idea of more solvent mom & dad on the hook for the rent when you blow it all on funnels and Pink Floyd posters.
While the commute from Waltham into Boston isn’t necessarily the most pleasant during rush hour, with drive time on this 10-mile stretch sometimes taking as much as 40 minutes, the city has some advantages over other Metro West suburbs. For instance, the city is located right on I-95 and the Massachusetts Pike, which means you won’t need to drive far to get to Boston’s main artery.
Waltham is also home to two MBTA rapid-transit stops—the Waltham stop downtown and the Brandeis/Roberts stop on campus. Many farther flung and larger apartment complexes frequently offer residents free shuttle service to one of these stations. Both stations have park-and-ride lots, though parking is generally easier and more plentiful at the Brandeis stop. There are also several local and express buses operating into Boston and neighboring Metro West cities.
Welcome to Waltham – a place that once considered ethnic dining ordering a pizza with an Orangina. Now, the pizza has arugula, crème fraiche, and butter-poached monkfish and the Orangina – well, that's still Orangina because it is delicious.