Commuting from the East Bay to Davis/Sacramento

Parent Q&A

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  • I am currently interviewing for jobs in Sacramento and will hopefully get something by this winter. The idea is to eventually move our whole family to Sacramento to improve our overall work/life balance. My husband's job is based in Berkeley but he plans to work remotely and just come in to the Berkeley office occasionally. My biggest concern is that I currently have a 3 year old (preschool) and 7 year old (2nd grader in Berkeley USD), and I am starting to panic about the idea of moving during the middle of a school year, particularly about the impact it would have on the 2nd grader. I started to talk to the schools in Sacramento and it is not 100% certain whether my 2nd grader would be able to go to her neighborhood school if we started mid-year. I would rather commute from Berkeley to Sacramento for six months than make her transition to TWO different schools within a year, so we would likely only move during this school year if she could start at the same neighborhood school that she would be at next year. I'm optimistic that we will be able to get her a space and move mid-year, but now I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't just commute for six months regardless, and make the transition during the summer. I'm just afraid that doing that commute for six months will be miserable and will defeat the purpose of moving for a better quality of life and to have more time with my kids. But is it really hard on kids to move mid-school year? Either academically or socially? I am actually less concerned about her ability to adjust socially. She makes a new friend every time we go to a restaurant or park, but I'm more concerned about her academic success, because she has had a lot of difficulty with reading and is just now (after a lot of outside tutoring) getting to the point where she can keep up with her peers. She likes her BUSD class, school and teacher and is learning a lot. Though I have talked to her about moving to Sacramento to be closer to her grandparents and she is really excited about the prospect, so that's a plus. If anyone has advice or experience regarding moving mid-school year, please let me know.

    Having moved my then preschool and third grade kids to Hong Kong mid-school year several years ago, I can assure kids can handle mid-year moves. Anywhere. I worried about so many things, not least of all this very thing, but as my therapist at the time said, "You and your husband are the faces of this move. If you embrace it, they will too."  She was right. 

    We moved 3 times -- twice in between years, and once during the year. In my experience, if you move mid-year, you're "the new kid," and that spotlight can be a little intense but also fun. If you move in between years, then you're just the random person who doesn't know anyone, which feels a bit more lonely. Also, if you move mid-summer, then on the "pro" side, she has the summer to adjust to the house and neighborhood, but on the "con" side, she won't have her friends to play with so it could be really boring.

    Whether commuting is sustainable will really depend on what your employer will allow and whether you want to drive or take the train. The train is very comfortable and a nice way to commute. But because it comes once an hour, it depends on whether it works for your schedule. Most likely, taking the train means leaving the house around 6:25 AM and getting back around 7:45 PM (if you take a lunch break) or 6:45 PM (if you don't, or if you can make up your lunch by working on the train). Driving gives you some flexibility and shortens the day a bit further, but it is more dangerous and takes away a huge number of hours that you could spend on the train working, doing your taxes, writing your holiday cards, etc. etc. If you can work from home a few days / week, then commuting for six months really starts to be viable. Good luck! 

  • My husband works in Sacramento, and we want to move a bit closer to his work.  We are very attached to living within the Bay Area, hence we would love to get your recommendation. Thanks.

    I suggest that you try looking at Davis. Then spend time in the bay area on weekends.

    My friend who lives in Benicia says she would not make that decision again. Prices were lower there, but she believes the  air quality from the refinery has affected their health and that of others she knows in the community. She developed asthma after moving there.  

    I worked in Benicia for 5 years (commuting from Berkeley), and spent time in Vallejo for work purposes during that job. They both have advantages of amazing views from many neighborhoods. However, each is still a "good" 45 minute drive w/o traffic to Sacramento (I had to go to Sac many times from Benicia), and a solid 30-minutes (off commute) to Berkeley, and each one has its own "feel". I'd suggest spending a full day in each. Vallejo has a bad rap about crime; Benicia has a large oil refinery in town, with the environmental concerns that entails; you'd want to research each of those issues extensively, as well as your school options, before committing.

    Although I have never lived there, I have visited Davis a lot, and suspect that on a daily basis, it's more like Berkeley/Oakland/Albany than either Benicia or Vallejo. My husband and I were starting to plan a move there at one point when we thought he'd be working in Sacramento; alas, that didn't come to fruition, but we were geared up and excited for Davis - you might want to check it out. We also have friends in Roseville who absolutely love its family-friendliness and easy light rail commute into downtown Sac. Needless to say, the houses cost a lot less in Roseville!

    Good luck!

    Thank you so much for your replies, we will explore Davis and also Napa .  If you have advice on Napa, please post !

    Davis makes the most sense. Fantastic schools, a good community, and much more affordable than the Bay Area. It's also fairly diverse (each person has their own definition of diverse, but as one point of evidence there are 35 different languages spoken at my child's public elementary school in Davis). The Davis Farmers' Market has been named the best in the country, and for good reason. Sacramento is underrated as a city---it's really on the upswing as people migrate their to escape the prices in the Bay. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Commuting on Amtrak

Dec 2012

Re: Oakland/Piedmont to Santa Clara Commute?
I commute on Amtrak between Davis and Berkeley. It is true that a single ride ticket is expensive, but I get 10-ride tickets that are much less ($13.40 vs. $22) and there are monthly passes that are even less if you go in every day. (I don't, so the 10-ride is best for me.)

Look on the Amtrak website for ''multi-ride tickets'' and it will quote you the prices for 10-ride tickets and monthly passes. Not sure which stations exactly your husband will be using, but Oakland Coliseum to Santa Clara is $98 for a 10-ride ticket and $256 for a monthly pass.

I have to say, I love commuting on the train. They have wireless so I can work or I can just read and relax. And I bring my bike on the train to make commuting on either end easier.

One more thing: you can get two transfers for every train ride (just ask when the conductor takes your ticket), so if he needs to take a bus on either end, he can use those. Or sometimes I just save them and take my 4-year old to ride the bus. Love Amtrak!

Commuting from Oakland to Davis for PhD program

Feb 2012

My family lives in Oakland. My partner has been accepted at into a PhD program at UC Davis. We own a house, I work in Berkeley, and we are planning to send our child to the local public school for K in the fall so relocating the whole family is not really an option.

I am looking for advice from other parents about experience of parenting and/or commuting while in grad school. I am older than my partner and I was single/childless when I was in school and I lived near campus. Has anyone else done something like this?

It is a long commute from our home to Davis but if she takes public transit she expects to work on the train. Our child is used to me being around the most as she often works late and has been a student and/or teacher with evening classes before.

Should she plan to commute every day and get a hotel room when needed? see if she can rent a room 2-3 nights a week? have an apartment there? Other ideas? supportive partner trying to problem solve

That commute will be tough. I am in Davis now, where I followed my husband for his five-year PhD program at UCD. He is in chemistry and is expected to put in a 60-hour work week in his lab (it is a research degree). Commuting was not an option.

I know another PhD chemistry student who tried to commute from Berkeley daily, and I believe he gave up and took a cheap room for the weekdays, going home on weekends. The train is $44 round trip, so the math and the exhaustion factor pushed him into staying up here weeknights.

Maybe your partner's program will not be as demanding. Maybe it will work for her to use her train time. Maybe she doesn't need to come to Davis 5-7 days/week like my husband would have.

It is too bad you can't move up here--the schools are some of the best in the state, and the cost of living is much lower.

Overall, it has been difficult during my husband's program. It's very demanding and there are many days he doesn't see our son at all. We are 1.5 years into it. For us, it's worth it. I have enjoyed living in Davis, and my husband's degree will help him earn a lot more when he graduates than he was in his previous profession. But make no mistake, this is an all-family effort. counting down

The commute is entirely do-able, but it requires a great deal of organization, planning, and on-the-ground support back in Berkeley. I am a UCD faculty member who lives in Berkeley, owns a home here, and commutes to Davis several times a week. I am also a parent of a 3.5 year old, so I think my experience may be a good match for your partner's situation. The first thing is that it depends a lot on what field your partner is in. If s/he is in the social sciences or the humanities, then it can work fine. If s/he is in the sciences, I don't think it would work because the scientists are in their labs all the time. There are many faculty members who live in the East Bay and commute to Davis (of my own department, between 1/4 and 1/3 of a faculty of about 35 live in East Bay), and a goodly number of grad students who do it too, but it tends to be those of us who do our work in libraries or home offices. I don't know any lab-type scientists at UCD who don't live in Davis. For the nuts and bolts of commuting as a parent with a small child, there's too much to say to write it all out. Fee free to contact me by email and we can arrange to talk. Katie

Congrats on your partner getting accepted at UCD! Commuting to Davis is definitely do-able. I commute there from the Walnut Creek area. The first couple of years involved a lot more commuting (up to 4 days a week at one point) due to coursework and TAships. Once I finished coursework, I only had to commute twice a week to T.A. and I would schedule meetings with my advisors on the days I planned to be in Davis. I'm also lucky because people are willing to do lab meetings, etc. by Skype.

Things to keep in mind are that your partner may miss out on the social aspect of a Ph.D. program. I do sometimes feel like I'm in my own little bubble while it seems like everyone in Davis sees one another on a regular basis, checking in, supporting one another with their writing, etc. I definitely have to be proactive in reaching out by phone and email to give and get that support.

Also, there are MANY times when there is something happening on campus that I would love to attend (workshops, talks, etc.) and I just can't do it because of the long commute and because I only have childcare for certain days of the week. This may not be as big a problem for your partner if s/he is not the primary source of childcare.

At first, I considered getting a hotel room in Davis like you mentioned, but to be honest, I always felt like I'd rather be at home, despite the long drive. Plus, there aren't really cheap options for hotels in Davis. (I never found rates for less than $100/night when I wanted to stay overnight.)

It's not impossible to commute to Davis, although it's a very different experience from living near campus. I wish there was a way to give you my email address without making it public because I'd be happy to answer any other questions you have. If you're allowed to get it from the moderator, feel free to contact me! PhD Candidate Mom

I commuted an hour each way throughout grad school. It is much more manageable than commuting for work. Probably your partner can arrange classes for just 2-3 days/week, and after a couple years, even less. I never rented a room, but for one semester when I was pregnant and took an evening class, my friends let me sleep at their place once/week. My only regret is that I didn't go to more ''optional'' things, like dept colloquia, etc. If it wasn't a day that I was scheduled to be on campus, it was always--wow, is it worth two hours of driving to go to that? But those events are very important for forming ties with faculty, establishing oneself, and hearing about what is going on in the field. So I suggest your partner find out when those events are usually scheduled and plan to take classes on the same day. Or, decide to take classes twice/week and go once/week for events/office hrs/coffee with fellow students, etc. Best wishes

I was in a very similar circumstance. I myself commuted to Sacramento from Alameda for 3 yrs while I was in a grad school like program (fellowship). The good thing was that it was a reverse commute. I came back every evening--got home by 7:30 pm usually, left home at 6 am or 6:30 to get to work by 8am. Some nights I had a late class and would be home at 10pm, but even on those days, I wanted to come home, to sleep in my own bed. It is definitely doable, ESP if it's for a finite period of time. I listened to lots of books on tape (now it can be iPod stuff) and caught up on the phone with lots of people. Be prepared though for your partner not to be able to do much in the way of chores around the house if they do this commute. From Davis it was even shorter than into Sac so their commute might not be as bad in the am. In the pm, rush hour in 2 places-- 80 interchange near Berkeley and across the causeway from sac to Davis. 680 is much better for the commute, in my opinion if that works at all. Good luck and congrats to your partner! Used to be Long distance commuter

My partner has commuted two days a week to Davis for years now. It makes for long days, but it's manageable. We know the days that I'll be solo with the kids till 6 or 7 and just plan for it. I've known people to commute from Oakland to UCD on the train - it's good focused work time and classes are often two days/week at most, so you can probably get away with two long days/week, perhaps three at the peak, with some useful time (and a nice ride) getting there and back. work that commute

Commuting to Davis

May 2005

My sister is going to be working in Davis next fall and is thinking of living in the east bay. where would good places to live be that are easy to commute on train or by car at least three times a week? does anyone make this commute that can tell me about your experience. thanks!

If your sister is a UC affiliate, there is a bus that runs between the two campuses. I think there is one in the morning and one in the afternoon. See

Hi, I grew up in Davis, and my husband's mom and my parents still live there. We live in West Berkeley, and grandparents from both sides take the train up to see their grandson weekly. They get off at the Berkeley station (which is not much of a station although improvements are underway) and just walk 10 minutes to our house in West Berkeley. Since it's always daylight when they do it it's fine, I probably wouldn't make that walk at dark. If I had to get off at night by myself I would probably go to the Emeryville station and have my car there. Overall the train is quite reliable and on-time, although if I absolutely had to be at work at a particular time (for example, if I were a teacher and had a classroom waiting for me) I might be hesitant, or might take an early train to make sure. For example, several times in the last 2 years since the grandparents have been doing this, someone has thrown themselves on the tracks (so sad) and the train gets really delayed (like 2+ hours). Ick. The big plus is that they can read, watch the beautiful scenery, work, or even socialize (my mother-in-law knits with a group of commuters regularly). There are lots of bike commuters, which would be perfect for Davis. I suppose one could even chain a beater bike up at the Davis station if you didn't want to have to deal with a bike when you got to the East Bay. anon

I commuted to Davis every day for 2 years. I live in Crockett, and worked on campus. I carpooled, so some of the time I would drive, some of the time drive to someone else's house and then ride with them. . A surprisingly large number of people communte from the East Bay to Davis! so, tell your sister to contact Bay Area Rideshare - they will hook her up.

I did try Amtrak, but it was quite expensive and the times did not really work with my job. There is a bus that runs from Davis to UCBerkeley, but I believe you have to be a student or faculty member to ride it (I was neither), so I never really looked into it. But really, I found carpooling to be fun, fast, and friendly - I met great people, and it really was just as convenient as driving alone. Emma