Moving to Bay Area and clueless

Hi, we are moving to the Bay area in a month and I feel pretty clueless about much of the things there! I have a 4 and a 2 year old and would love advice on a number of things. My husband will be working in south San Fran and I think I like the idea of living on the east bay (Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Albany...maybe a bit further out to Lafayette but not as far as Walnut Creek). What kind of commute should we expect? Also are there any family-friendly neighbourhoods you'd recommend? I am keen on sending them to the local public school (when they are of age) and thus want to be near a good elementary (at least). Since they are not yet school age I am also keen to learn more about preschools and daycares. Our kids are bilingual (French/English) and I know there are a few French preschool around the are - any experience with them (pros/cons)? Any well recommended non-bilingual preschools?

When we first arrive we will be living in Mission Bay - anything I should know about the area? Also, any good preschools/daycares I should consider putting my kids in around there (since I hear it could take a few months to buy a home)?

Any advice is helpful.

Thanks in advance!

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How far away is your husband's office from BART? If he can walk from BART to the office living in the east bay is a good idea. But if he has to drive into the office, I would recommend looking for a place on the peninsula instead where there's no bridge between your house and the office. Commuting from the east bay to SSF by car can be soul crushing. If you do choose the east bay, I would investigate how easy it is to park by the BART station. Places like Rockridge are brutal, El Cerrito is a lot easier. When we moved from SF to the east bay, one of my nonnegotiables was that we live within walking distance from BART in a neighborhood where it would be safe for me to walk home after dark. I never regretted that decision.

Welcome to the bay area and to the east bay. I've been commutting to SSF from Piedmont/Oakland for the last 10 years. Not easy but something in use to so I am somewhat bias because I would not be able to cope with the additional time to commute  to/from Albany/Berkeley or the other side of the tunnel. Lots of companies in SSF have shuttles that would enable using BART or ferry which will help with the commute and allow more housing options. We sacrifice to buy into piedmont to access their good public school system from K-12. Alameda also has excellent school system.  Parts of Oakland also has great elementary schools. Good luck. 

If you decide to leave Mission Bay, I would highly recommend living in San Mateo, since your husband will be working in South San Francisco.  San Mateo is a nice community, with a lovely sunny and warm climate (unlike the communities further north on the Peninsula), and has great schools.  I personally would not recommend your living in the East Bay and making your husband commute to SSF.  We have done both (lived in San Mateo while working in SSF, and then commuting by car from Berkeley to SSF).  Particularly if you have young children, it will be a lot easier for your husband to get home in time to see your kids during the week, if you live AND work on the Peninsula.  And that will be a lot better for your marriage and your kids.  Just my .02, based on my own experiences.


I can answer a few of your questions.....if you want to be near good public schools don't move to Oakland. You would have to pay for private schools if you lived there. Oakland has some of the worst public schools in the Bay Area. The commute from the East Bay to South SF will be long because either way you will have to cross bridges (two possible ways...over the Bay Bridge Oakland to SF or the San Mateo Bridge). If you want a French/American school, I believe Berkeley has one (I know San Francisco definitely does). Berkeley is a wonderful place to live, but getting into the right public school can be hit or miss as well. You are not necessarily assigned to your local school, its often done on a lottery basis (I believe, double check on that. I have several friends who live there and they seemed to have always stressed about public school issues, like which one their kids would get into.) But many Berkeley public schools are fantastic. Mission Bay is a very nice (but very downtown) upscale part of SF. Your husbands commute would be a breeze comparatively. But it seems you are looking for suburban life and not city life. Lafayette is pretty far out from South SF (you need to know, South SF is not "SF" at all. Its pretty much a whole other town that is south of SF and not really a part of SF) Lafayette is very upscale and not a lot of diversity compared to Berkeley or Alameda (Alameda is really nice too and would be a shorter commute than Lafayette). I don't want to insult anyone here from Lafayette, but its very white. A lot of people teasingly call the Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, the "White Corridor" of the Bay Area. (Oh and the commute from Albany would be awful....the highway that runs from Albany to the Bay Bridge is awful.)

Hope this helps. Sorry I don't know a lot about boys are now 10 and 13. I live in San Leandro (next to Oakland. Love our community here in SL, but if I had more money, Id take Berkeley or Alameda over SL for sure. We moved to SL for affordability but ended up liking it just fine. We are former SF people BTW)

The East Bay is great, I highly recommend it. South San Fran will be a bit more of a hike for the East Bay, though: ~1h maybe (it takes 35-45 minutes for me to get to downtown via public transit).

For family-friendly neighborhoods, pretty much anything in Albany, Berkeley, or Piedmont are great. Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda (Lamorinda), and Walnut Creek are also good, but it's going to add a bit more to your commute (and less transit-accessible, if you care about that). For other cities in the East Bay, it becomes a bit more area-specific. I know families happy in El Cerrito. In Oakland, the schools can be a bit touch-and-go, so basically expensive neighborhoods tend to be the ones with better schools (Rockridge especially), though you can find gems throughout. Though from my understanding, even if you get a great elementary school, Oakland school quality in middle and high school tend to suffer (and from what I hear contributes to people near Berkeley trying to get their kids into the Berkeley system at that age).

I just google mapped the commute from Albany to South San Francisco - at 10 pm at night with no traffic it is 90 minutes by car or public transit. Bart from Lafayette to South San Francisco is an hour.  I can't even fathom doing that commute during rush hour. Nevertheless I know a couple of people that do it, and they make it work by doing as much work as they can on Bart but it takes a toll on family time.  The tech boom in the Bay Area has greatly impacted traffic in the area and public transportation has not caught up. 

Have you considered communities on the South San Francisco side of the Bay? We have friends that live in Redwood City, San Carlos and Woodside; they are all nice communities with good schools and nice housing stock. 

You might want to take a look at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley.

As for commutes East Bay to So San Francisco has got to be one of the worst.  I did it everyday for several years to just north of South San Francisco and the traffic has only gotten worse.  I tried public transpiration and biking but it would take over two hours each way.  That commute is so bad I have turned down jobs in that area just because of the commute. (I live next to Lafayette.)  One of the pluses of Lafayette/Moraga area are the schools.  Alameda is very nice, (don't think there are many French speakers) but there is a ferry from Alameda to South San Francisco.

Just to prepare you.  The East Bay to SF traffic become bumper to bumper around 6 am and stays that way until 11am.  They it starts up again at 2 and remains bumper to bumper until after 7.  It's never been this bad.  And more housing is being built with no new freeways so expect the commute to only get a lot worse.  Weekends are getting just as bad.

If the plan is to remain at the job is South San Francisco I wou;d consider living on that side of the Bay like in or around Brisbane.


A lot of people move to Albany for the schools. It is a city that is about a square mile and has three elementary schools, a middle and a high school. There are apartments in case you don't want to or can't buy. The apartments are kind of small and not the most modern. But the city is family-friendly. There is also Kensington, which is inbetween Berkeley and El Cerrito. A report from the El Cerrito Patch just came out saying that Kensington is the #5 safest city in the all of California! The problem with Kensington is that it is expensive and I don't know have many rentals there. There is a good elementary school and a recently rebuilt middle school in El Cerrito called Fred Kodamatsu (sp?). El Cerrito High is the neighborhood school, which is fairly new but is mixed, in terms of academics. Also El Cerrito is known to have an excellent band and football team. Albany is good in track, volleyball and wrestling. 

Somehow many parents in Kensington manage to get their kids into Berkeley High (I don't know how they do this). I have one child who went to Albany High (we used to live there) and one who graduated from El Cerrito High this year. I think Albany was better overall but very hard to get into if you don't live there.

Academically Albany was better overall. It seemed safer too. But Albany is crowded and my older daughter felt it was very competitive. I've heard that Berkeley High is good because the kids can earn some kind of degree (?) and there are multiple schools within the school. I've heard that its easier to get into UC Berkeley from Berkeley High because a certain number of spots are reserved for the local public school. I can't confirm that but its worth looking into.

I don't know about day care because its been so long since my kids were in daycare.

Also I know people who love the French school in Berkeley.

Good luck and hope that helps a little.


The first question is whether your husband's commute is possible on BART. Driving during commute hours is stressful and takes forever. If his commute is possible on BART, then looking for house near BART in the East Bay makes sense. We live in Berkeley, and there are many resources for children -- preschools, libraries, playgrounds, etc. For older children, it is even better, because it is an easy place to help your children pursue their interests in sports, music, the arts, science, etc. Some of the towns in Lamorinda aren't great for older children whose interests aren't mainstream. However, if your husband needs to commute by car, your family would be much better off on the Peninsula, or possibly in the Southern part of SF.

Hi Mint - 

There is weekday ferry service that goes from Oakland (Jack London Square) and Alameda (Main) to South San Francisco.  This might be a good option if you choose to live near either of the ferry terminals.  Here is the schedule: 

There are a number of neighborhoods that you could live in Oakland that wouldn't be too far from Jack London.  You might want to try to pick neighborhoods based on schools and proximity to Jack London, such as Cleveland Elementary or Crocker Highlands Elementary.  If your husband is comfortable biking in an urban environment, riding to the ferry is a great option.

Alameda public schools are generally well regarded but more traditional and less innovative compared to Berkeley or Oakland.  There is a place called Blue Moon learning center that teaches French to pre-schoolers.  Here is the website:    

Oh gosh, I only just got around to reading all your comments. Thanks so much! It is really helpful...basically, we should definitely reconsider a move to the east bay!  

There are fewer Alameda voices on here so thought I would throw in my 2 cents...

If your husband's work is near the South San Francisco ferry terminal (or if his company has a shuttle that picks up there, or if you are comfortable leaving your car there overnight during the week) there really is no better commute than the ferry.  We live in Alameda, ride our bikes across the island, and take the ferry for work.  Honestly, our commute is one the best parts of our day (or at least our working days)!  Here is the South San Francisco schedule from Alameda:

Our child also attends EB in Berkeley and we are very, very pleased so far.  

Alameda also has some great public elementary schools...they start to wane a bit for middle school and high school.  Alameda is also very family friendly and a great place for young families.  Check out Alameda's Gold Coast and East End.  Parks, bikes, beach, a growing restaurant scene, wineries, breweries, and lots and lots of kids...  

Regardless of where you end up, I highly suggest that you do not choose a place that requires any driving for your commute.  There are just too many people in the Bay Area now and it is not worth the time, stress, or money... 

Apologies if it's against BPN policy to respond to other posts, but I wanted to note that you wouldn't "have to pay for private schools" if you lived in Oakland, despite what one post says below. Lots of parents who love their kids and want the best for them send them to OUSD schools, including me. It's a choice to send your kid to private school, not a requirement (not even a requirement if you want your kid to get an excellent education!).

But yeah, for your husband's sanity, I think you should be looking on the Peninsula rather than the East Bay.

Just keeping it real for us happy public school folks.