Moving from London to East Bay with toddler - where to?

Hello all!  We are a family with an 18 month old and a hyperactive dog and will move to the East Bay from London, UK.  We had initially planned on spending time scouting where to live but due to covid we had to change our plans and will now have to arrive and settle.  We have been looking at North Berkeley, Westbrae and Albany areas so far.  We are looking for somewhere walkable, with parks and a sense of community.  Any suggestions on these areas - and perhaps others?  Thanks so much in advance!

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We moved our family of four from Oxford to Berkeley last year. (Although I am from SF, my husband is British.) We are in southeast Berkeley, near Oakland, and it's great. Easy and safe to walk to places; we walked A LOT with the kids during shelter-in-place. Lots of parks and playgrounds- we regularly go to five playgrounds. 

The main things are that the SF Bay Area, the east bay in particular, is not as busy and crowded as London and it does not have the same level of public transport. I would never contemplate running a car in London (and in fact, we didn't in Oxford after a while) but it's pretty much expected here. 

We are transplants from Manhattan this year and love Piedmont.  It is a safe place with the main parks being Piedmont Park and Dracena Park.  To get a sense of community, you can read the Piedmont Post.  From what we can tell, Piedmont is mostly families.  Perhaps Berkeley has more students, single people.  The main avenue has a good grocer, but there are also bigger markets nearby.  Berkeley and Rockridge have very good food shops so I often drive 12-15 min to get something specific.

Hello! I lived/worked in London right before locating to Berkeley last March (our main home was in NYC, but we've since fully relocated to Berkeley). I second the comment about public transport – you need a car. Although technically doable, this is not a walking city. It is possible to be a one car family (as we are) and supplement with a bike or electric scooter as you can get to everything in about a 1.5/2mile radius. 

North Berkeley, Westbrae, and Albany would also be my top picks. I'd add Elmwood to the list as they do have a great, walkable main st as well as a nearby Whole Foods. Avoid the Berkeley Hills, too many fire issues and it takes some time to drive down the windy roads.

Best of luck!

Welcome to the Bay Area! You will be surprised when you move here how spread out everything is. So you need to figure out where you are working before you pick a neighborhood, to avoid a crazy 3 hour commute (after covid is over and people stop working from home). Consider renting for a while to get a feel for the area before buying. I would even consider a short term rental so you can scope out the rentals. As for walkable...nothing in the Bay Area is walkable, not as compared to cities like London or even New York. But you should at least look for places with sidewalks where you can walk to parks and perhaps a local shop. Believe it or not not every street has a side walk, as people drive everywhere. Check out Alameda, which is cute and people actually do ride their bikes and walk to get around. 

We're in North Berkeley and it has all those attributes. Great community and neighborhood with families, individuals, older folks, single family homes and apartments. You can walk to some stores, restaurants, and playgrounds. Sidewalks are usable and traffic is low, when your kid gets old enough to ride a scooter then you can take them straight down the sidewalk.

Hi there--I lived in North Berkeley (just south of Westbrae village) until about 3 years ago. There is much that is quite lovely about it--it's a leafy residential neighborhood with not very busy streets and lots of families, yet there's lots of shopping and dining within walking distance, between Westbrae, Northbrae, University Ave and the 4th Street district. One particularly lovely feature is the off-street bike path that runs for miles along the BART route, starting around University Ave and going all the way up to Richmond. Plus of course proximity to BART is very convenient and Berkeley schools are pretty good across the board.

The one thing I would caution you of, especially if you are light sleepers: There is a train track that runs all along the length of Berkeley, Albany and well beyond in both directions, just West of 4th Street. Trains are required by law to honk their horns at 90+ decibels for several seconds before they come to a street-level crossings, of which there are 5 in Berkeley (the North Berkeley ones are at Virginia St. and Gillman St.). Trains are frequent (>20/day, lots of freight from the Port of Oakland) and they run all night. It really depends on you, but for light sleepers, I would think hard about moving West of San Pablo Ave. (I even lived a few blocks East and had trouble sleeping, but I'll admit I am a very light sleeper.)There's been a lot of debate about it, the city of Berkeley did an engineering study some years ago to research alternative crossing types but plans were shelved. (Google it to find out more.) Hope that's helpful, and hope you have a safe trip State-side!

Albany and North Berkeley before you get to the hilly parts are walkable. Albany is prob the most walkable or bikeable. Good parks throughout, esp regional parks. But you need a car.

Hi there, I used to live in Oxford and regularly traveled to London and loved not needing a car.  I live in Albany currently and rarely use my car. I'm walking distance to the Solano Avenue shopping district, there are regular busses to downtown Berkeley and it is walking distance to the BART station for light rail to Oakland, San Francisco, the airports and other neighborhoods in the East Bay.  It will still not feel as convenient as London --- American public transportation is well behind --- but in terms of parks, community feel and access to public transit I think Albany is a good choice.  As previous commenters said, you will still need a car and it is very, very wise to rent first and get a sense of how far the commute to work will be once we are all vaccinated and can return to work because the commutes here are generally diabolical and many are not easily done by public transport.  Pre-pandemic, the trains and busses were getting packed like in Tokyo and the commutes that require cars can be a special version of hell.  Welcome to California!

There are definitely walkable neighborhoods in the East Bay! Until recently, we lived close to Piedmont Avenue (which is in North Oakland), a wonderful neighborhood with great independent grocery store, a movie theater, lots of shops and cafes, good restaurants, one of the best preschools (Ducks Nest 41st street campus) and then the big Safeway shopping plaza up on Pleasant Valley. It definitely has a good little community vibe. We are a one-car family and while my husband had it at work, I did just fine with a stroller w/ a big basket (three cheers for UppaBaby). Or you could look at Rockridge (all the same attributes as Piedmont Ave, basically, just a little further North), Elmwood, or yes, North Berkeley (like the Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood, centered near Shattuck & Vine). Good luck!

I think you are spot on for some of the most walkable neighborhoods in the east bay. I concur that Elmwood should also be on your short list. If public schools aren't important then put Rockridge at the top of the list. Piedmont has a strong community but is NOT in the same walkability league compared to your target neighborhoods. Lower and Baja Piedmont are marginably walkable to stores, restaurants, etc... One wild card I'll suggest is the neighborhood adjacent (South of) downtown Lafayette. Yeah, you heard me.

Random comments: My rule of thumb for the east bay is that in 20 minutes, I can drive to a comparable set of services that I could walk to in ten minutes in San Francisco. Your target neighborhoods are some of the most expensive in the East Bay but will be cheap compared to much of London. Westbrea and Albany will be noisy because of BART as well as the freight trains. These neighborhoods are small. When we were house hunting I think maybe one appropriate house might come on the market in Elmwood every other month. Northbrea was even worse. Not sure about the rental market in those neighborhoods.

Thanks so much to all for your advice!  It is daunting to move without really knowing the area but seems from your posts the East Bay is full of friendly people and good areas to explore!  I'm not very happy about needing a car but realize this is something we have to do - we will try a single car plus an electric bike at the beginning.  Very good information from parks to train noise to commute (I work from home permanently).

Again thanks for the comments, really appreciate it!

While I agree that our public transit has nothing on London, I think some of the previous posters have made the East Bay walking situation sound worse than it actually is! When looking for a home, my husband and I also wanted a walkable neighborhood. We ultimately settled in the Grand Lake area of Oakland and haven't regretted it. Here's what we can EASILY walk to (admittedly some of these business are shut right now because of Covid):

- Trader Joe's (grocery store), small produce market, health food store, large Whole Foods (a bit farther)
- Weekly Farmers Market (thankfully still open even with Covid)
- A plethora of bars and restaurants
- Post Office (admittedly not my favorite branch!) and places to drop of FedEx and UPS packages
- Grand Lake movie theater (please reopen soon!)
- SF fitness gym plus other workout classes, yoga classes, etc
- Dry cleaners and a couple of tailors
- A kids' clothing, shoe and toy store plus other gifty stores on Lakeshore
- Kids' activities such as Gymboree (when reopened!), Martial arts, ballet, etc
- Library with Kids' storytime
- Reasonable commute transit options to San Francisco (should you ever need them)
- A couple of doctor/urgent care options -- Carbon health and One Medical (though that one requires a subscription)
- a good pediatric dentist

In short, we can accomplish a lot of errands without a car and have places to gather for food and drinks with friends nearby (once that's allowed again). Pre-covid my husband walked to work in downtown Oakland and I worked from home. We did still drive our eldest to school daily since it's a bit far to walk and a difficult bike ride. So I'm not saying you'll never want a car -- just saying there are options.

Feel free to message me for more information or just to say hello. I love London and have spent a lot of time there over the years. You will likely miss many things (the theater scene would be biggest for me) but I bet you'll enjoy the weather here. And that helps the walk factor too!

- Lucy