Help! Relocating from London to Bay Area

Hello!  Advice much appreciated!  Currently in SF visiting areas as will be moving here from London UK in Feb next year.  Have 6 year old and 18 month old.  Rather overwhelmed & confused with school lottery system/areas/transport etc!! As I understand Oakland is now also lottery selection system? Have been looking north of rockridge BART/Elmwood.  Are we missing a gem of a nice neighbourhood area (in Oakland or Berkeley) with amenities/cafes, good schools and transport close by?  We liked the vibe of temescal (currently live in East London).  I will be commuting to Mission Bay.  Does nobody risk the lottery system? Thanks in advance!

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We live in Grand Lake/Lakeshore neighborhood in Oakland and commute to SF everyday.  First, I'd like to give a shout out to our neighborhood which has a landmark historic theater, little cafes, restaurants, shops, parks for kids, library, the oldest bookstore in Oakland, and one of the most vibrant farmers' markets around and of course, Lake Merritt. It's also quite a bit more affordable than Rockridge and I feel a bit safer than Temescal. 

Oakland does have an options process for schools but you get preference for your catchment (the neighborhood zone for your area school). Rockridge area has some of the more popular schools (Chabot/Peralta/Hilcrest) and the area middle school and high school are also well regarded. The neighborhood school for Temescal is Emerson which is not ranked high but is well regarded and beloved by families who attend the school. Chabot is a larger school and out of catchment kids do get into Chabot. We like our neighborhood school (Cleveland), which is a hidden gem. In addition to BART, there are transbay buses that get you to downtown SF as well as casual carpool. I have lived in different neighborhoods in Oakland and have commuted to different parts of SF. You don't have to limit yourself to being able to walk to BART to have a pretty easy commute. If being able to walk to BART is really important and you want to stay on the west side of the Caldecott Tunnel, the "safetest" family friendly neighborhoods with BART within walking distance and commercial amenities would be Rockridge BART, North Berkeley BART, El Cerrito BART areas (El Cerrito BART area feels more suburban than hip urban neighborhood). Parts of residential areas near downtown Berkeley BART can also be nice. Piedmont Ave. neighorhood is also very nice and it's one of my favorite places we have lived. Commute to SF is quite easy from Piedmont Ave. area. The neighborhood school is not highly ranked and many famlies in that area send their kids to Chabot or Cleveland which are close or private schools. Berkeley and SF both have blind lottery system, so you could end up in a school that is not close to your house. Oakland gives preference to neighbhood kids and siblings of current students and if there is any room left, they run a lottery for the rest. 

You generally get assigned to your neighborhood school in Oakland, so the lottery is more for people who don't want to go to their neighborhood school and thus are in a lottery for their out-of-neighborhood desired school. We live in Rockridge and love it because it has BART, easy access to the freeway (and no need to battle Hwy. 80 to Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, etc), and is just a lovely walkable neighborhood with shopping, restaurants etc nearby. It's true that housing is more expensive than some areas. Temescal is a bit cheaper and is also awesome. Lake Merritt has a slightly more urban feel because there are more apartment buildings; it also has the lake and great shopping districts, and in some ways feels like the "heart" of Oakland because it's so diverse and draws people from all over town, so it's a great choice too. Our neighborhood elementary school is Peralta, which is much sought after and beloved; Chabot is the other elementary school in Rockridge and is bigger but much the same. Good luck!

If you are still around, Berkeley USD schools are offering free school tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings. It would help you to make your own mind. Contact individual schools to sign up for the tours. On Saturday, December 7th 10-1, there is Berkeley USD school fair in Sylvia Mendez school. Each school will have a table and you can talk to people

If you are working in Mission Bay, you may seriously want to consider living in the city, particularly in neighborhoods like Dog Patch, Potrero Hill or the Mission. The issue with commuting to Mission Bay from Berkeley or Oakland is that BART or Transbay Bus will drop you off either at Market Street or the bus terminal, both of which are some distance from Mission Bay. You'd have to then get on a Muni bus or train or scooter or have a longish walk. Your door to door commute will probably be about an hour and a half. Those neighborhoods are also similarly gritty like Temescal if that's your cup of tea. If the East Bay is where you have to live, another option is to buy or lease an electric vehicle which will allow you use of the carpool lane on the Bay Bridge and will be the fastest way to work. Yet another option is Casual Carpool, which you'll be dropped off just off the highway exit in SOMA. This would slice a third to half the distance to get to Mission Bay compared to Market Street. Plus it's free. You'd have to return to Market Street or the bus terminal to return to the East Bay. If you happen to live near Jack London or Alameda, you could also take a ferry to The Ferry Building in the city, then take a Muni train to Mission Bay. Depending on how close you are to the ferry terminal it might be the "best" way to commute.

Hi! I just moved here (August 2019) with my two daughters (7 years and 2 years) from Germany. We live close to Rockridge Bart/Elmwood and it is a very nice neighbourhood (also, on the pricey side). But I can highly recommend it! We have our 7 year old daughter in a public school (Kaiser Elementary) because we could not get into the ones closer to our home (Peralta/Chabot). We are very happy with Kaiser and I can highly recommend it. This school is going to merge though with Sankofa Academy in 2020/21 which will make it easier to reach (right now it is in the Oakland Hills) but I cannot say anything about the merged school. It might be worth checking out though, especially as it will be close to Temescal which is a very nice neighbourhood too!  If you are currently in the area I would like to give you one advice that I wish someone gave me before we moved here: It is impossible to handle school affairs via email from Europe, so I highly recommend that you visit the OUSD or the different schools in person if you want to make arrangements for the school!!! Being used to german bureaucracy it took some time for me to learn that here it is very often the best choice to visit in person and not use email or phone (especially with the OUSD/BUSD). Also, I do not think that Oakland is using the lottery system next year, I think they rely on the neighbourhood school system. Be aware though that you are not guaranteed a spot in your neighbourhood school. If it is full you will be assigned to a school that still has space (that happened to us). The most important date is February 7th (end of registration for schoolyear 202/21). You can still apply later but that will make it more difficult to get into your desired school. Unfortunately there are not school buses in Oakland (Berkeley has it because they are distributing the children all over the city).

If you want to get into contact with me to share experiences moving from Europe to the Bay Area feel free to contact me! 

Good luck!

I’ve lived in Albany since 1996, right at the North Berkeley border. We’ve raised our four now-young adult children here, 2 in the Albany public schools and 2 in the Berkeley public schools. We can walk to North Berkeley BART or El Cerritto BART and catch lots of buses on nearby Solano Avenue which is lined with cafes, shops, etc. It’s a fabulous little town right alongside big city amenities with lots of kids and a devoted community. I highly recommend it to any parent!!

Alameda is that hidden gem that you are looking for. It's a nice city on an island near Berkeley, and the schools are not lottery based, although some can be over-enrolled. As for asking for help--when I relocated here a few years ago, the best advice I got about anything from schools to commuting to neighborhoods was from a great real estate agent. Since you probably need a place to live, find the best, friendliest real estate agent, preferably one who has kids in the public school system, and go from there.

Chiming in as an El Cerrito resident (living walking distance from Plaza BART). Agreed that El Cerrito itself is not hip, but it’s definitely in close proximity to hipness and its schools are supposed to be good. There is a strong community vibe and the hipness of Berkeley is a very short drive/BART ride away (without the crazy price tag). I think it will come down to what you can afford. We looked for houses in Berkeley and hip areas of Oakland for almost a year (putting in tons of effort and unsuccessful bids) before ending up in El Cerrito. and we have been happy. I for one think being able to walk to BART makes commuting dramatically easier and would put a lot of emphasis on that in my search. 

I don’t think El Cerrito is necessarily a place you’d visit and immediately be enchanted by, but it’s been a nice place to live for our family of four. Best of luck! 

I commute to Mission Bay every day from the broader Rockridge area.  The commute is a nightmare.  Our company's attrition has spiked since our move to the area from SoMa, and the company shuttles from the Transbay/BART do not alleviate the struggle.  Between CalTrain running at grade blocking access in/out of the area regularly at commute hours, and minimal ways in/out (only 3 points out of the neighborhood at 16th street, 3rd street and 4th street), it's a congested mess.   It takes me 25+ minutes just to get back to our old office area in SoMa and then another 35 minutes to drive home.  Yes...I drive, because it was the only sane way to get to/from, but now I waste a half hour every day lining up my carpool to get in on Waze and picking up strangers and trying to find people closer to my home/work to get through in the carpool lane.  I haven't quit only because my manager allows me to work from home 2-3 days/week.

Long and short is that you should SERIOUSLY consider living in SF if there's any way you can afford it.  Your quality of life will be much better vs. spending 3+ hours per day commuting by public transit, or 1.5-2 hrs by car.  Many colleagues have happily bought condos in Mission Bay, or rent in Mission Bay and the nearby Portrero Hill which is an uber family-friendly and great neighborhood.  Bernal Heights and Glen Park further south are also both quite nice.  A few colleagues live in the Sunset which is great for families, but also a trek, just through the city, and definitely driving.  

I will flag that your timing is not ideal.  Most of the lotteries register this winter or in January, and you can't lock-in until you move in, so you may find yourself in a tough spot re: getting a spot in a neighborhood school in Oakland if you're in a popular area (some schools like Peralta don't have enough room for their neighborhood kids, let alone extra kids from the lottery).  In SF, it's a crapshoot what you'll get, as the other poster mentioned.  Many folks seriously consider private schools or charters.  In North Oakland many I know are happy with Yu Ming (Chinese Immersion) or North Oakland Community Charter which are both free, public charter schools.

If I were you, I'd call district offices at your preferred schools and have frank conversations if they have open seats in the elementary schools where you'd want your 6-year-old to attend.  That may determine where you choose to live!  In Oakland top choices that are commutable to SF would be Peralta, Chabot, Kaiser (near Rockridge), Glenview, Crocker Highlands (near Grand Lake up uphill). You may also want to consider Alameda.  The public schools are excellent on the island, and you can ride the ferry to SF (tideline runs a new ferry direct to mission bay! )  Good luck!!

Consider Alameda! Great schools, and you can take the ferry to the city. We love it here! Alameda itself is walkable, with good cafes, an independent movie theater, and great neighborhood schools. (no lottery!) 

We also live in the Lakeshore area (just north of Grand/Lake). Like the last poster said -- it's a great neighborhood. We have lived in SF, moved to North Oakland (west of but not far from Temescal), then moved over here, and we love it here. When we moved to N Oakland from SF, we also prioritized BART, but the truth is except for my husband's commute, we didn't take it much. It's a limited public transit system (I grew up in NYC, so…I have higher expectations for what a rapid transit system could be). Don't conflate your London expectations with SF ones. It's hard to find truly walkable neighborhoods in the East Bay. Rockridge has it, but it's very expensive for pretty limited housing stock. The Grand/Lake area, pretty much near the lake and north really offers that. Plus the Saturday farmer's market is fantastic. My only complaint is the relative lack of playgrounds north of the Lakeshore district. Everyone has a yard, so there doesn't seem to be an investment in public play spaces. 

SF is a beautiful and lovely city, and we miss it, but Oakland has been a great city to have kids in even though I am not someone who dreamed of a yard and a car and my own private house (I grew up in a multi-unit building). I still wonder if I'd be happier in a flat in the city with nearly no driving required. But I also know we are very fortunate. 

Regarding the schools, my sense is SF is much more complicated. People don't always get their first choices of schools, but you rank them in Oakland and can select places nearer to your home. If you transfer when your kid is in (what we call) first grade, you may have an easier time getting a spot in a school (maybe). Your younger child might then get a preferred spot at your older child's school. 

good luck! We've done cross country moves but not international ones. It's hard and wearing and just know it's going to take 6 mos-1 year to recover from all the logistical and emotional changes. Be patient with yourself!

The Temescal neighborhood is fabulous-- served by BART and multiple bus lines (both local and transbay), and is very walkable. You can easily walk to Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue, and Telegraph Avenue has a number of amenities (and more coming with a few new developments in the neighborhood). It is south of Rockridge/Elmwood (I'm noting this only because you mentioned you were looking north of RR/Elmwood). To get to Mission Bay, you can BART to Embarcadero and then catch the Mission Bay shuttle, or take a Transbay AC Transit bus to the new Salesforce Transbay Terminal and get a Mission Bay shuttle. Mission Bay shuttle is a free last-mile shuttle. If you are working at UCSF, there are additional shuttle options that they provide from various transit hubs in SF.

Oakland's lottery system is focused on August admissions. You should contact the school district to find out about mid-year admissions for your 6-year old.

Consider Park Day School in the Temescal neighborhood. It's a wonderful school. It's a private school, so separate from the public school system and lottery-- there is a school-specific application and process. They may also have mid-year openings. The school is Kindergarten through 8th grade. Park Day has small classes, terrific teachers and specialists, and a beautiful campus. The school follows a progressive education program with tons of hands-on learning, and a maker and social justice curriculum. There is also a very warm and inclusive community of families. It's also in walking distance of BART (I drop my kid and then walk to BART), which would make it convenient for your commute to San Francisco.

Here's a link to the school's website: ​

Feel free to contact me directly with any questions. Best of luck with your move!

Several have recommended Alameda on account of the ferry.  I will second those in favor.  I used to commute from Alameda to China Basin (essentially next to the CalTrain station/across from the ballpark but near Mission Bay).  I took the ferry, brought my bike on, and then rode down Embarcadero (where you are allowed to ride on the sidewalks but need to navigate pedestrians, dog walkers, etc.).  Oddly, my commute was the highlight of my day.  There were frustrations - navigating crowds on game days, I missed the boat sometimes, riding in the rain, cheap bike spokes rusted and broke from saltwater exposure - but you really cannot beat that commute if you need to get across the Bay.  I do also agree with those who suggest living in SF.  It is hard on parents to waste time commuting - it is time away from family.    

We are living in Albany (south bay area) and love it. The city is small, but has great school district. There will be no lottery system because all schools are great from elementary to high school. My husband is working in SF. It takes him approximately one hour to commute everyday. You can bike to bart station, ride a bart and walk to your work in SF.

Hi! I wanted to add my 2 cents given that I did this move 11 years ago albeit from Manchester but with kids exactly the same age as you. We originally rented in Oakland  to get a feel of the neighborhoods around us and where we might want to live and understand the school system. We eventually bought in orinda that is more suburban than Rockridge but the next Bart stop along and have loved it. We have been so happy here and my kids are now 17 and 13. Orinda has amazing public schools, parks, sports, cinema. Interestingly two neighbors moved in either side of us last year are both British too so I guess you’re in good company! My husband barts to south San Francisco’s each day which is a 45 min commute. To drive can be 1-1.5 hours. The pain with Bart is finding parking but he got a moped which allows for free and easy parking each day. Good luck with the move - it’ll be great and you’ll love it here!

Hi! I live in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood (so just South of Rockridge and just East of Temescal) and it's infinitely walkable and lovely in SO many ways. BUT, I also just saw a few responses about your commute to Mission Bay and had to weigh in. I work at UCSF in Mission Bay and the commute is HARD. All the people advocating for BART or the Transbay bus must not actually do the commute. My commute consists of a 1-mile walk, ride, or Uber to BART, then into the city - either to Embarcadero where I get on the Muni "T" streetcar, or to 16th/Mission where I can wait for a UCSF shuttle, then another 20-minute leg to the hospital. Neither is ideal. Those neighborhood "Mission Bay" free shuttles are crowded and not very dependable. This "last mile" problem is significant. I'd be happy with my commute if I didn't have so much trouble getting from BART (or the Transbay bus terminal) to Mission Bay. My commute (even when perfect and streamlined) is at least 1 hr 15 min each way. I also occasionally get carpools straight to work via a matching app called "Scoop" but it's inconsistent. If living in SF is at all appealing to you, that is 100% the way to go. Before we moved to Oakland, we lived in SF for 12 years, and I'd move back in a heartbeat! But now we have kids, and schools, and my husband works in Berkeley so... you know how it goes. Best of luck! feel free to contact me if you want to hash it out! :)

My husband did the commute to near Mission Bay from Berkeley for two years. It did not work for our family. We ended up move to SF until his job would let him relocate.

Also, we moved mid year and we did not get into a school we liked. We pulled out kids out and did homeschool until we found a school we really liked, which ended up being a private school. The Bay has a lot of traffic so I will say, be prepared for that. As much as I didn’t want to ever do homeschool, we rearranged my work schedule, hired a tutor for a fraction of the cost of private school and it gave our family more time together cutting out school (my husband got one hour per night with us before bed...which was late because of his commute). 

I have to chime in because I used to work in Mission Bay and live in Oakland. I live in North Oakland, my closest BART station is MacAruthur station. I didn't use public transit because it would take me 1.5 hours each way for the commute. As another poster mentioned, the last part of the commute, getting from Embarcadero BART to Mission Bay is the most frustrating and slow part of the commute. I drove to work and picked up casual carpoolers in the morning, which gets me to work in 30-45 minutes. Getting home in the evening is another story, that's usually 40-50 minutes. The traffic is only getting worse with the new Warriors stadium. I finally had it with the commute and quit my job in Mission Bay. I highly recommend living in SF if possible. I grew up in the Richmond neighborhood in SF, it's quiet and family friendly, with good public schools. It's also close to the beach and  next-door to Golden Gate park.  

Another personal view in case it helps: We moved from E2 to North Berkeley with a then 2 year old three years ago. We live in North Berkeley, off Solano Avenue, which is a lovely main street lined with cafes, two supermarkets, as others have described, so a very similar way of life to London, doing your grocery shop on foot etc. I commute twice a week to Daly City. It takes me just over an hour (walk, BART, bus) but I haven't had any serious issues so far. It has felt like a breeze in comparison to trying to get yourself on a Central Line train at 8.30 am. I wouldn't want to move to SF after living in London. We enjoy having our own house (although on the pricey side as in Rockridge) surrounded by trees, walking up to the view of the hills, our front and back yard, our drive way, the park across the street: there is no comparison to city life. Tilden Park and the outdoors is a 10 minute drive. I wouldn't want to go back to living in a city flat. Another difference with living in bustling hipstery East London is also that you are a part of a community of all ages here. Temescal seemed to me more like Broadway Market road on Saturdays but I love seeing the same gang of retired people enjoying their morning coffee at the local cafe. I have been touring elementary schools these days in the northwestern zone and I have to say that I found them are all very impressive. It doesn't really make a difference which one you end up to. It would be worth if you have the resources to spend some time in the East Bay area too or as others have done, rent in the beginning until you find the right place for you and your family. We airbnbed all around Berkeley when we first arrived.   

Hi Mrs A!

So exciting that you are moving to Oakland from London! I hope you love it!

My daughter goes to school at Park Day School which is in Temescal and she absolutely loves it.  I also work in the area so I can attest to it being a very lively and fun area.  Park Day School is one of the most socially conscious and progressive schools in Oakland.  Our daughter is sensitive and so we were looking for a school with a social emotional component, which Park Day definitely has.  The school is active in taking the children to volunteer for environmental issues as well as helping homeless.  For example, during the Greta Thunberg climate strike, all the students walked around the neighborhood with protest signs.  This type of involvement in global issues made Park Day our top choice and we absolutely love the school.  Feel free to message me with any questions and best of luck with your search and your move!! Very exciting!


Another option no one has mentioned is living on the peninsula and taking a Caltrain commuter train north to San Francisco. The last two stations are much closer to Mission Bay than the BART stations, ferry building and bus station. 

I also want to add that there is a ferry from Berkeley to Mission Bay. It’s limited but here is more info: