Living in the hills with teens

Hi Parents

We are looking to perhaps move and I have a question about the Berkeley and Oakland hills.

If you live in the hills, how do your teens get around? I have fantasies of sending my children once they're in middle school to run errands. I think they would really love the freedom and I would appreciate it. Also once they're in High School am I supposed to drive them everywhere? How do you make this work in the hills? Do your children get the chance to travel around alone?

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I grew up in the high up Berkeley hills and was not a fan. I used AC Transit by myself starting at age 7. It was a huge inconvenience to not be able to get around conveniently by myself. In middle school I would walk down the hill to Solano/Shattuck/King Middle School, and take AC Transit back up. The bus is only twice per hour and stopped running all the way up Grizzly Peak at 6:45 pm, so I would have to walk from Spruce if I missed that last bus. Even in high school getting a car didn't help that much because there was still the effort of not being in a walkable area, and having to worry about gas and parking everywhere I went. I have made it a point to live in more walkable areas my whole adult life.

Hi there - I am not sure where "in the Hills" you live, but we live in Upper Rockridge and it is very hilly ... My 13 year old and his friends ride their bikes to Montclair and to Village Market, and occasionally to College Ave, which will prob happen more when he's older. Kids we know who attend BOD or SM take buses or carpool. There's a decent bus system in Oakland and they can learn (with you) to get around. By mid teens I'd also be fine with him taking BART - he already understands the system well thanks to Urban Adventure camps, which I highly recommend. However, to me, bikes or other wheeled transport are the best options, as long as they 1) get crystal clear on the rules of the road and practice, with you, on riding busy streets and anticipating what drivers will do, 2) practice riding hills so they don't weave as they ride up some of our steep inclines. If they can ride bikes well, like European kids they'll have freedom anywhere they go, anywhere in the world! 

I have a 16-year-old in the hills who happily travels far and wide on AC Transit.  We have two lines near us.  It really depends on where in the hills you end up.  Check AC Transit maps to see if there are buses in the neighborhoods you are considering.  Many of the bus lines link up to BART.

In the N Berkeley hills buses 65 and 67 are pretty good but only go downtown (i.e. if you want to go to the closest shopping street, Solano ave, it's no good) and are only reliable in the morning on the way down the hill, it gets worse coming back up later in the day and the schedule app doesn't work well as there's no live updating. We have 2 e-bikes our middle schoolers use to get to school and nearby outings, but in the rainy season it's tough, and after dark it isn't safe (though because there are no bike lanes it's not that great anyway - fortunately drivers seem on the whole pretty respectful). So yes, we are basically a taxi service most of the time and reluctantly bought a second car recently. On the other hand you'd have to live in a pretty specifically useful place in Berkeley or Oakland to have it better, distances are pretty large given destinations for teens are far apart - downtown Oakland, downtown Berkeley, Telegraph Ave, Rockridge, Bay street in Emerville, 4th Street in Berkeley, Solano ave, etc.

A lot of kids take the bus or uber/lyft. I know quite a few kids who walk too.  Many teens drive once they get their license but I also know some who ride their bikes (even electric bikes). When my kids were in middle school, they loved taking AC transit with their friends. If you live close to a major artery, the buses are quite frequent and there are some small towns up in the hills (like in Kensington) where young kids can walk to the store, etc.

I do not recommend living in the hills with teenagers. I was already there when I had my kids, and haven't moved, and regret it. My friend is renting in Albany, even though she could afford a house somewhere else, but it works so well for her family with two teens.  They can walk anywhere on their own.  There are parks they can go to nearby, classes they take after school blocks away, and their school friends all live in the neighborhood.  It is a real community.  I live behind the Claremont Hotel, where there are no sidewalks on many of the streets, and it's going up the hill on the way back home. After the fire, not so many families with kids rebuilt/moved there, so there are not as many kids of any age in that area, and the ones that are there all go to various private schools as they avoid public schools for various reasons (that's another topic which deserves its own post).  My son in his senior year of high school, and I regret that he has never had a chance to be on his own.  He's been driven from activity to activity, went on playdates that had to be organized by us and is just starting to learn how to figure things out on his own.

Long story short, go somewhere where there's a community where people live, work, go to school and socialize, all in their neighborhood.  There's no such a thing in the hills.

Good luck!

My daughter is 14 and in ninth grade at Berkeley high. We live pretty high up in the hills but she walks everywhere on foot including the 1.5 miles each way to King for middle school.  We happen to be on one of the bus routes which is a huge plus. My daughter takes  AC transit to and from Berkeley high and uses it to get down the hill on the weekends to hang out with friends. I suspect we will let her start using Uber during the day time as she wants to start doing some volunteering which is not convenient for her to get to you on the bus lines. I think living walking distance to the public bus really increases your kids independence.

I raised 3 kids in the hills, the youngest of whom is now 14.  Yes, I drove them everywhere, and no, they can't run any errands for me, except to a neighbor's for a cup of flour or something...  As they've become older we have realized how wonderful it is to be a few steps from a bus stop.  There are limited city buses that run through the hills; I'd recommend being close to one if you're considering moving up there with teens.  My kids take the bus a LOT, now that they're older.  They sometimes use Lyft too, but the cost is prohibitive.  The buses in the hills are the key for teens to gain independence, get to school and see friends on their own.  

Our kids are babies so I can't say anything about having teens, but having grown up in the suburbs of the Lamorinda area and now living in the Oakland hills, I would say that there are so many factors in play that I don't see how you can recommend for or against an entire geography. Many people move to the other side of the tunnel for better schools; Orinda/Moraga/Lafayette are even less walkable/have fewer transit options yet teens survive there. We would love to live somewhere more walkable; so does everyone else and home prices in Rockridge, Elmwood, etc. reflect that. After living in dense urban places like Manhattan, the reality is that a car makes things much easier in most of the bay area, except in a few locations that have extremely limited and expensive housing stock. The ride sharing services already open up many more options that didn't exist before. We have wonderful neighbors and family and friends who visit us almost every weekend, and we take the kids to all kinds of different places and activities, so I don't feel socially limited at all. If anything, I will be glad not to have to run into the same people all the time whom you may or may not actually get along with!

We lived in the hills, but moved to the flats of Berkeley and my teenaged son has all the freedom in the world. He can walk, bike, or bart to BHS/downtown and since he has friends in Oakland and the hills has learned how to bart/bus/walk wherever he needs to go, something we are both proud of. We walk or bike to the many local markets, libraries, and downtown locations frequently and value the walking culture in this town. Though I do miss proximity to Tilden, we've gained more than we've lost with the move. It's even sunnier down here which I was told, but wouldn't believe for awhile. One downside? The teenager has little motivation to learn driving skills! It's not a highly valued skill and few of his friends bother at this age. Very different from my upbringing in SoCal suburbs where cars were necessities and everyone took their driving test on their birthdays! His friends in the hills mainly use Lyft to get around and are driven to school.