Moving to the East Bay - Lamorinda? San Ramon? Berkeley?

We are moving to the East Bay this summer and are trying to figure out where to go! My husband went to Miramonte (20 years ago) and I went to college in the East Bay. Neither of us have been around the areas much, except for quick visits. In our heads, we want to live in Berkeley. But, with three kids, ages 2, 5 and 7, and for the long term, we are finally ready to settle down, well, mostly.

For the past 5 months, we've been going between the East Bay and Portland. Before that, we lived in a small town in The South (for 2 years); before that Denver (2 years)  and NYC/Brooklyn for 8 years. Brooklyn is our favorite, but after spending this past winter schlepping kids around in the wet snow and ice, we don't think it's for us. After being home bound in Portland because of the rain, the East Bay is it. We are in a position where we are a few years into launching our own businesses. Commuting to and from an office will not be part of our day (for now, at least). Then comes the "starting business" part; I know we aren't going to save money by living in the East Bay. We want to rent for two years (I know, I know...probably more expensive than purchasing). Ultimately, we want to end up in Lamorinda. But rentals are scant and on par with NYC.

The question:

1. Is Lamorinda still as great as it used to be (I used to work at OCC during my summers and throughout the school year and the families were awesome)? A mix of personalities? Interests? Family and people-oriented?

2. In the five years I've lived there, I set foot in San Ramon two times and Pleasanton once. I hardly remember either but friends keep recommending them. Are they worth checking out? Our kids have been attending Waldorf schools (we know this may no longer be a reality) but we are very big supporters of public education.

Any direction or insight would be so helpful. We really thought Brooklyn was it, but I think the outdoors and education are our top priorities.

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Lamorinda, San Ramon and Berkeley are all very different and really depends on what you are looking for. Each have different things going for them:

Lamorinda - Mostly very affluent and white, but good schools. Almost no walkability except if you are close to downtown Lafayette.

San Ramon - diverse on paper but communities tend to keep to themselves. Whites are more conservative and republican and less enthusiastic about diversity. Schools, houses, parks are all new and shiny. Almost no walkability.

Berkeley - Lot of diversity, great walkability (most neighborhoods) but public schools are bit disappointing

Without knowing what your budget is, it is hard to give you advice. The same amount of money results in extremely varied living situations in different areas of the East Bay. 

Lamorinda has wonderful schools, is generally safe, is not very diverse and is very expensive.  Lamorinda is family oriented and about 15 minutes away from Oakland.

San Ramon has wonderful schools, is generally safe, is not expensive in comparison to Lamorinda.   The community is diverse, the public schools are fantastic, it is safe and a family oriented community.  San Ramon has apartments but they also have very affordable townhouses and free standing homes.  The town houses are much less expensive than the free standing homes.   San Ramon is only 25 minutes from Oakland.  San Ramon has lots of neighborhood parks and Las Trampas East Bay RegionalPark.  San Ramon is building a new outdoor shopping/walking around plaza which will feature a combination of living space upstairs (rental units) and shopping and a luxury eat-in movie theater 10-plex downstairs. Here is some information regarding the new plaza called City Center in San Ramon  There are also a lot of small businesses in San Ramon.

Pleasanton has good schools, is less expensive than Lamorinda but slightly more expensive than San Ramon.  It is as safe as San Ramon but not as diverse.  It is a family oriented community.  It is also about 25 minutes from Oakland. Pleasanton has lots of neighborhood parks. Pleasanton has some rentals and lots of houses.  Pleasanton has a really cute downtown with nice restaurants.  There are a number of companies in Pleasanton.

I know this is not the part of the county you're asking about, but I wanted to put in a plug for west Contra Costa :)

We have lived in the western half of the county (Pinole) for 3 1/2 years and LOVE it. It is definitely an "up-and-coming" area (there are open houses in our development literally every weekend), lots of young families moving in. The houses are not cheap, but you could definitely get more house for your money than you'd find in Lamorinda or Berkeley. There are tons of hiking trails within an easy walk from our house; neighbors have chickens, goats, and even horses. Before my daughter was born last year, I regularly rode my bike downtown to write at East Bay Coffee Company; now I walk w/her to the playground around the corner from our house almost every day, and have met several very kind mamas and babies there. My husband commutes to Berkeley, and while 80 is sometimes challenging, there are back roads and workarounds that can spare you most of the traffic.

Public schools here are OK-and-on-track-to-get-better (one of the few up sides of gentrification), and we are 15 minutes from the East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante.

Happy to talk more about pros and cons if it's helpful. Good luck!