Best child-friendly neighborhoods for commuting to UCB?

Hello Everyone!

I am in the final stages of interviews for a position at UCB and I trying to get a head start on possible neighborhoods that are safe, affordable and relatively child friendly.  It seems as though Bay Area rents will blow my NYC housing expenses out of the water.  I am bit anxious since we'll be living on my salary until my husband finds a job out there.     Any recommendations for places that are at most about 30-45 minutes away from UCB that are friendly for a toddler and has a somewhat neighborhood vibe where one doesn't need a car to get around?  Any info on pricing would also be great.  It seems as though it's impossible to get a 2 bedroom for less than 3k.   Maybe I'm looking for a unicorn.  While I have loved my visits to the Bay Area, I fear we may be priced out!

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Hi, sorry to hear about your situation. I think you've discovered the reality of housing in the Bay Area, especially close to either San Francisco, or to Berkeley. There aren't other places like them, and housing prices reflect that. As you go farther out, the need for a car only increases. The surrounding communities largely "grew up" when living "in the city" could seem a more frightening prospect (for a variety of reasons); cars become necessary (although, schools are sometimes excellent). It used to be more affordable, but "boring", to go "over the hill" and commute (think: Lafayette, mortgage, Orinda , even concord, Danville...). Housing prices in a couple of those areas may be lower, but again you'd need a car, and spend a lot of time commuting. (Not sure about "boring" but don't want to venture a guess!)

What folks suggest these days is usually Richmond, as far as relative proximity and possibly better housing prices  specifically, the Richmond Annex, or Pt. Richmond  again you'd need a car unless you were right on the BART tracks.  And Richmond schools are known to be rather poor.

as a public service employer we've had candidates turn down jobs due to housing prices  I hope that doesn't happen for you.  Housing around / in Berkeley is easily $3K - $5K for a 2-3 bedroom.  Good luck.

Congrats!!! And welcome to Bay Area.

You can stay in Albany for sure, or in North Berkeley or El Cerrito, Kensington.

you can rent 2 bed for under 3K depends on the property status.

You might want to check out Emeryville. It's a 10-15 drive to UCB and there's a few buses that go that way. The apartment I'm at, Avenue 64, has 2 bedrooms around or just below the 3K range. There's a pool, workout room, and the apartments are pretty big. The neighborhood is pretty nice, there's quite a few things within walking distance, restaurants, a trader joes, a few shopping malls, even IKEA. Good luck!

You can't beat El Cerrito for affordable housing, great views, friendly people, lots of parks, and great public transportation (two BART stations and buses that run right to UCB.

El Cerrito would be good. BART from El Cerrito Plaza to Downtown Berkeley is only about 6 minutes. You should be able to find a 2-bedroom for less than 3K within walking distance of a BART station (El Cerrito has two BART stations). The flat part of El Cerrito is very walkable, with parks, pool, library, Well Grounded and other food/beverage options....The public schools are just fine and there are several private pre-school options as well. Albany is just as good as far as walkability but is not as affordable and not as close to BART.

We live in El Cerrito and I work at UCB. I usually bike to work, which takes 35-45 minutes and is an awesome bike ride, and usually the fastest way to get to campus, door-to-door from where I live (1.5 miles to BART) and where I work (1 mile from BART). Our neighborhood has become very kid friendly in the last few years. We have a 2.5 and 5 year old, and many neighbors have kids similar in age and younger. There are two BART stations in El Cerrito, but I think rents are higher the closer you are to the stations, and frankly, the city is not as old and charming as most parts of Berkeley and Oakland, and not quite as walkable (it has a more suburban feel with very few street trees). Still, we and plenty of families in our neighborhood, do quite well without a car. We have a car, but we really only use it on weekends to get out of town. El Cerrito is a very safe and well-run city making massive investments in parks, public infrastructure, and smart growth.
 

I would certainly try to get as close to UCB as you can.

One thing we discovered was that it was much easier to find a place when you are already living here, and you might consider a sublet (look on Sabbatical Homes) -- sometimes when the right tenant doesn't pop up during the right time frame the owners are willing to cut a deal. Then, once you have a base of operations, you can be aggressively looking for something permanent, get there first, etc.

This is what we did. We also found that by making friends with our neighbors and putting the word out, we got a rental house that never even made it to the market!

I would personally pick a transitional part of Berkeley before I'd go way out in the sticks. The public trans here is fab and there's so much for kids, plus SF is near. You might find something in Point Richmond or Albany. Montclair, a bit dull but safe and walkable, is very central and seems to have lower rents than the more hip parts of Oakland. Lafayette, a bit further out, is not without charm and is on a BART line. I personally couldn't bear San Leandro -- it doesn't feel enough like the Bay Area, and the whole point of moving here will have been kind of ruined.

I personally feel like Berkeley is paradise, and you happen to have gotten a job at the epicenter. Before you assume that you're going to have to settle for some 'burb, try your hardest to find something closer in.

I love San Leandro! It is just south of Oakland on the Bay. I'm 17 miles door to door from my job in North Berkeley, and if I needed to, I can easily do BART and a bus to work. It's probably one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area. 

If you try padmapper.com, you can see that there are houses for rent under your $3000 per month budget and some rather cute ones (I just checked, saw a couple cute 2 and 3 bedroom houses in nice neighborhoods).

Our neighborhood is very kid friendly, and I find our neighbors are friendly, engaging, and welcoming. I told realtors when I interviewed them that I wanted to find a neighborhood where I felt safe pushing a stroller around on a walk. I definitely feel that here. We have some really nice parks and cafes and restaurants. 

Depending on when you commute, and where you are going, you will likely be in the 30-45 minute range, but we think it's worth it. 

It's ok to contact me if you'd like a friendly tour of our town. 

Congratulations - Guess no one has told you about Bay Area Traffic.  If you only want a 30-45 min commute you options are limited.  Commute hours are 6 am - 11am and 2pm to 7:30.

Berkeley has many kid friendly neighborhoods.  You should be able to find a something for $3k.  Most of Berkeley is very safe.  Depending on where you live you could get by without a car.
Oakland has lots of kid friendly neighborhoods, but has many bad areas too.  Many areas of Oakland are not safe, be careful.  Car needed.
Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Walnut Creek has many but it's pricy - Orinda will stretch your budget, you should be able to find something in Moraga or Lafayette.  All are very kid friendly and very safe.  Car is defiantly needed.
Albany is very desirable.  But the traffic on 80 is a nightmare.

It's not easy living in the Bay Area without a car.  Of for that matter with a car.  I can't imagine not having a car living anywhere in the Bay Area except maybe parts of San Francisco. 

The tech industry is hiring.

Welcome to California
 

Try San Leandro or Castro Valley

Thanks Everyone for the responses!  I've already started to look at a couple of those neighborhoods and will do some more digging.  Just thinking about the moving has left us both anxious.   We have a car now (my husband needs it for work), and we've talked about getting another one, but I don't drive often so I'm not that comfortable driving.  

I live in El Cerrito and many of my neighbors commute to Cal, most of them by BART (2 stops) or bike. Our public school (Fairmont) serves parts of EC and Richmond Annex; it is a fine option. You can rent a 2 bd for around $2000 in the Annex, and a 3 bd should be under $3000 in EC/Annex area. With a toddler, you're looking for preschool and it can be hard in Berkeley/Albany to find one with space midyear. Some ppl recommended Point Richmond, I don't feel like that's a great option since there is no BART access to the rest of the Bay Area plus it's hilly which is hard with a stroller. It is true that San Leandro is much more suburban in flavor than Berkeley/Oakland but who knows, maybe you're fine with that. As somebody suggested, I think it's a great idea to look for a short term rental first and then explore the East Bay more.

There are some great suggestions here already. I wanted to add that it's a good idea to check with the local rent board (Berkeley has a good one) before signing your lease. That way you know if the place is rent controlled, i.e. if your rent will basically stay the same or go way up. Good luck with the transition, and congratulations on your new job.