Hercules vs. Concord for a commute to Berkeley

My wife and I will be starting new jobs in Berkeley later this summer, so the whole family (2 children + dog) will be making a cross-country move to the East Bay over the next few months. We will work from home approximately 2 days/week, and make the drive to Berkeley 3 days/week. We've been targeting Hercules as a nice, diverse, and affordable(ish) community in the East Bay with a reasonable commute time (average of 40 minutes; especially with HOV Lane vehicle). Unfortunately though, not many homes are popping up there.  

The more we've been looking, the more we are seeing attractive homes in Concord--which also looks nice, diverse, and affordable(ish) with even more things to do in the community/city itself. We're just a little concerned about the traffic on 24 to and from Berkeley. Though it's only 5 miles further of a commute than Hercules, we get the sense that the traffic might be much worse than the commute to and from the North Bay. Does anybody have experience with the Concord-Berkeley commute during peak hours? How much time might an electric vehicle save w/ the HOV Lane? Is this a commute that won't make us hate our new lives? 

Any experience/advice you can provide would be appreciated!

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Neither is a great commute. HOV lane is virtually a non-factor on 80 from Hercules because it is so congested and frequent accidents delay everyone. There is no HOV option on Hwy 24 from Concord. However, if you lived in Concord, you could potentially take BART to Berkeley (long ride). Where in Berkeley you will be working is another potential factor. If it's at the lab, say, I'd say look at Moraga or Montclair. If it's downtown, I'd think seriously about San Leandro within walking distance to BART. No matter what, remember jobs are "temporary" in the big scheme of things; think about where your kids are going to attend school and where you are going to be most likely to make friends. P.S. I don't know what you mean by the North Bay, are you looking in Marin too? Also terrible commute to Berkeley.

Concord gets very hot.I have friends who moved from there as surprisingly in the Bay Area the weather varies a lot.I would look at Hercules,Pinole and El Sobrante.I agree that looking at the schools is a big part of the decision.Richmond Annex used to be affordable but may be too much now

 I wouldn’t choose to live in Concord because MDUSD is a mess. The district is way too large and underfunded. I have been a parent at a decent school within MDUSD and I am moving away this summer.

Also traffic is a nightmare going towards SF/Berkeley in the morning. I would suggest looking at maybe El Cerrito?

Hercules would require a commute on Hwy 80, and when I was living in the Hilltop district in Richmond (just south of Hercules) my commute to the Oakland/Berkeley border was 1 full hour each way.  And that was on a good day with no accidents or incidents on the roadway.  So, getting to Hercules would add another 15-20 minutes to that commute.  I live in El Cerrito now, and it takes me 25 minutes each way.  Plus, there is a lovely bike path that runs along the BART train route that makes commuting to work by bicycle (40 minutes by bike) super safe and fun.  If you can look at El Cerrito, the commute would be much better than either Hercules or Concord. The community is very diverse and has restaurants, shops and a Natural Grocery Store.

There is no HOV lane on 24, and I'm not sure there are HOV lanes on that stretch of 680 to get to 24. The HOV lane on 80 coming from Hercules is pretty full. Lots of people here drive EVs, including myself. I think BART is a viable option if you live in Concord. Berkeley has 3 BART stops: one in north Berkeley, one in downtown, and one in south Berkeley, so it depends on where your jobs are. Transit options from Hercules are pretty limited. I live and work in Berkeley but if I had to choose out of those two options, I would probably pick Concord. 

I commute on Hwy 24 to Berkeley 3 days a week, from Walnut Creek to UC-Berkeley. Typically, I go on M,T,TH during rush hour. It takes me about 30 minutes on Mondays (morning and afternoon), and 45 mins on T & Th mornings, and about an hour going home on T & Th. There have been Tuesdays when it's longer going home, but generally an hour. There is no HOV lane on 24. 40 minutes from either of those places on a Tuesday seems a bit unrealistic, but is possible on Mondays- so it also depends which days you are going in.

You didn't say how old your kids are, but the schools vary. When we moved to Walnut Creek (from a nearby school district) we started with school districts and worried less about the commute, as my youngest is going to be in the district for 13 years. If you are doing private school and it doesn't matter about the public school district then look at Richmond Hills, or El Cerrito- it checks all your boxes of more affordable than Berkeley, diverse, nice, and things to do. We have lots of friends in those areas, and they are all doing private school or do not have school-aged kids. That is where I would live if my kids weren't in K-12.

The North Bay would be a terrible commute to Berkeley. I had two colleagues who did it, one said it sometimes took him two hours to get in, or longer, if there was an accident on the bridge. His regular daily commute was still over an hour, even in low traffic. The other one comes in late (after rush hour) and leaves late, and only 2 days a week.


The Bay Area traffic is pretty tough, and neither of those commutes is great, but if I had to choose I would go the Hercules route, or what the other poster said and consider San Leandro. 

Hercules has better schools than Concord, is closer proximity to Berkeley, Oakland, SF and Marin for weekend adventures, and there are lots of dog friendly parks close to Hercules. You can also drive from Hercules to El Cerrito BART and skip the worst of the traffic getting to and from Hercules to Berkeley. As the other poster mentioned though, location in Berkeley does count when considering a BART commute. BART will drop you off in the middle of town a short distance from campus, but if your work is in West Berkeley, you'll need a bike to get there from BART. If you work somewhere in the hills like the labs, you'll probably just want to drive.

There's a bit more going on in Concord and in Concord you can commute on BART and with a bicycle, which I would recommend over driving if you're not trying to spend 45 minutes in traffic for your commute. An EV will save you some time going to Hercules, but not a ton during the height of traffic, maybe 5 minutes. I don't believe there is an HOV lane on the 24 or the 680 on the stretch between Oakland and Concord, so it wouldn't necessarily save you any time on that route. 

Commute-wise both are pretty terrible. The Concord schools can be pretty rough. Hercules isn't in the greatest school district, but there's a wider range of families income/education-wise that live there. Both communities are diverse, so whatever your background that should be comfortable. Someone mentioned San Leandro which is on BART, so for most places in Berkeley that would be a better commute. Also a little more walkable, at least downtown, than the other choices.

Have you considered El Cerrito? I really enjoy this community. Agree with the other poster about considering options near BART stations if possible, as the commute can be tough.I think you could also consider renting temporarily and seeing how you feel before settling down.

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. This site is a fantastic source of knowledge! 

By North Bay, I mistakenly meant Hercules—but clearly I’m still getting the geography down. We’ve not spent much time in the Bay Area, but there were some job opportunities on campus that we couldn’t pass up. We also didn’t know that there’s no HOV lane on 24–that’s an important piece of info that probably rules out Concord for us. Thank you! 

We’ve looked into Moraga—a little too spendy for the size of home we need. We’ve also explored Montclair, which has the home size (and stellar views!), but it’s not especially great for older adults who love walks—my parents stay with us a for months at a time; and it seems a little isolated for the kids—we’re used to neighbor kids running around/biking from home to home, and Montclair doesn’t seem so conducive to that environment. 

We’ve keyed in on Hercules because it seems to have the size of home/yard we need, decent schools, walkable/bike friendly neighborhoods, and the diversity we seek, all in our price range. Hopefully more homes pop up on the mat and the commute is workable for a few days/week. Thanks again!

Having grown up in Hercules, I may be a bit biased towards there over Concord. I personally like being closer to the water and the cooler temps it provides. Hercules is also closer to San Francisco/Oakland/Marin/Napa if you want to head in any of those directions for day trips. I will agree that there’s not as much to do within Hercules itself, but it is a great jumping off point to explore other areas.

I will echo what another poster has said, the HOV lane from Hercules to Berkeley can be a non-factor. Some days it can be great. Other times it is so congested it can move at the same speed as the other lanes. It also depends on what time you leave the house and day of the week. Once 7 AM hits, it gets much more crowded on the road. Driving home from Berkeley to Hercules congestion starts at 3 PM and will stretch to 7 PM. Factor on a 30-50 minute drive home. A drive from Concord to Berkeley would be hands down worse however. 

To diversify your transportation options from Hercules, I would recommend taking the WestCAT JX bus (main stop at the Hercules Transit Center) to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and then ride BART in. It is about a 15-20 minute bus ride then a less than 10 minute BART ride to Downtown Berkeley. Of course this depends on where you are working in Berkeley and its proximity to BART or one of the free shuttle routes (Cal shuttle or West Berkeley shuttle). Driving in Berkeley near UC Berkeley while school is in session can be a pain.

You might consider looking in Richmond! We bought a house in East Richmond Heights a couple years ago and love it here. Lots of (“affordable”) houses pop up in Richmond North and East and sometimes in the hills. I work in Berkeley and avoid 80 at all costs - instead I take the residential route Arlington, which is pretty and peaceful (unless you get stuck behind a truck). There are also multiple other surface street ways to get to Berkeley and it takes me about 25 min. I also just started riding my bike to work on the Ohlone Greenway, which is a flat, protected bike path connecting Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany and Berkeley. Feel free to reach out if you’d like more specific location advice in Richmond. I’m also from the east coast although moved to SF over 20 years ago!