Should we live in El Cerrito or San Leandro?

We are looking to buy our first house and are hoping to find a 3 bedroom/2 bath with some yard space. With our budget, that means we're looking mainly at San Leandro or El Cerrito. In San Leandro we would like to be in Estudillo Estates or Broadmoor, and in El Cerrito we've found some nice options near the Richmond border (zoned for Mira Vista Elementary). We are leaning towards San Leandro - we love how flat it is, and the strong sense of community there - but the market is limited - there are so few places for sale, especially in the neighborhoods we are considering. I would love to hear thoughts on how El Cerrito measures up in terms of sense of community - especially in the hillier areas. We are concerned that the hills make it harder for people to be out and about with their kids. We have a 2.5 year old who loves to ride his bike and run around. We really want to let him play outside and get to know our neighbors. Thoughts on how likely this is in the hills?

Commute is less important to us than neighborhood, sense of community, and outdoor space, but it's not irrelevant. We commute to the Cal campus, and Jack London Sq - so any thoughts on the commute to/from each of these options would also be appreciated.

I'd also love to hear thoughts about whether there are other neighborhoods/areas we should be exploring, considering our priorities. 

Thanks for your advice and tips!

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We are in the Mira Vista area and have two young children. It's a nice sense of community---- El Cerrito is not a big town and we feel like we have gotten to know a lot of families. Everybody goes to the city recreational activities (pool, gymnastics, summer camps) or the local sports program so my kids are always running into friends. We are walking distance or a very short drive to many nice parks and outdoor areas. The public schools all have really active PTAs and parent communities, and many young families have been moving into the area and the demographics are tilting younger.

I will say that it is not a great area for bike riding due to both the hills and the rather rugged sidewalks, I think that to really bike you would have to go down to the flats. Most of the houses don't have huge flat yards either, so you may have to compromise there. However we like the community, it is very friendly and quite diverse, and the commute options to many parts of the Bay Area are great! For the Berkeley campus it is maybe a ten minutes to Bart ride from Del Norte Bart to Downtown Berkeley, or the AC Transit 7 bus runs up Barrett and goes through the hills straight to campus. I'm not sure about the commute to Jack London as the 80 can be a real mess. 

We've been in the hilly part of El Cerrito del Norte for about 2 months now. My wife and I have a 6 month old. Yes, it’s probably a bit harder to ride a bike around, but that’s the only drawback I can see about it. In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve met a ton of parents in the neighborhood; sometimes in person, but also through Next Door. We’ve already had our nearby neighbors and their baby over to our house, we’ve met up with many parents and their babies in the park multiple times, and we’ve met some of the long time families that have been here for decades. I did not expect such openness and community, but it is very much here. The parks are fantastic and seem to be a big part of the community, perhaps in part because the streets are hilly. We go to the park near us multiple times a week. Another reason we moved here is to know which schools our child will go to, instead of having a lottery system (although there is still a lottery for the charters), and we like the clean 1960s architecture in the area. It's also very diverse (middle school is 6th most diverse in the country), lower crime, and family oriented. I personally think that not being in Alameda County is a plus as well. Inventory in El Cerrito is limited too, but I don’t know how it compares to San Leandro, maybe it's not as limited.

If I were to do it all again, I would definitely consider Richmond Heights (zoned for Mira Vista) or Richmond Annex (zoned for Fairmont) - El Cerrito lifestyle at Richmond prices, ha ha. EC has higher property taxes, and it's aggravating to me that people paying less in property taxes get essentially all the benefits of well-maintained roads and good schools that I, as an EC homeowner, am paying for. Oh well, that's California and its wacky tax revenue structure for ya. I also like San Leandro and the house styles of Estudillo Estates, we looked there too when we were home shopping (2009). I am not familiar with the current state of the schools or local politics there although it may tilt a bit more conservative. I have a friend near me in the Plaza area commuting to Jack London Square and I hear it can be tough, but he drives alone; maybe it's better if you take transit. The commute to Cal is a snap from EC via BART, bus, or I even know some folks who ride their bikes.

I'm just going to throw out a 3rd option: Pinole! It's farther from Berkeley than El Cerrito, but closer than San Leandro.  We walk around and ride bikes around our neighborhood all the time with our 5 and 3 year old, and we are always running into other families out doing the same thing.  It's a really family friendly town, our local school has an extremely active PTA and we've made more friends living here than we ever did after living a decade in Oakland.  This summer they're doing live music and movie nights in the park, and families bring picnics and chill.  My husband commutes to Berkeley during normal commute times and it takes him about half an hour.  If you look at the back part of Pinole Valley, the part that gets Ellerhorst Elementary, you should be able to get a house in your size with a great backyard for between $600-650.  We live there and are able to walk to the local park, which has playgrounds, soccer fields, and a baseball diamond.  Pinole has excellent nature, a handful of decent restaurants, a great Farmer's Market etc.  Take a look!