Walkability + Safety?

We are moving to the East Bay this summer from Central Austin (TX), where we can walk to everything, but still live in a quiet, safe neighborhood. We have the occasional car break-in, but that's about it. We'd like a walkable, bikeable neighborhood in the East Bay...be able to walk to get a coffee and that sort of thing. We don't want the more "gritty" parts of city living (have lived in NYC and Boston and am kind of over that "real" city living..). I just don't know enough about the East Bay to know what I'm overlooking! We are thinking Berkeley, we've heard a lot of mixed things about Oakland. How are Crocker Highlands and Piedmont in terms of safety? I have heard they are safe, heard they aren't safe... I want to be able to walk around, I want my teen girls to be able to walk around without me worrying about serious crime...and I don't want to live where it's likely our house will be broken into. An occasional car break-in on the street? Fine, I can live w/that, but not much more than that...

What about Lafayette or Orinda? Do they have downtowns? Are they more suburban with little kids kind of places? Our kids are high school so we don't need the quiet cul de sac...we are more thinking about where would be good now of course but moreso what would still be good once we are empty nesters, easy to meet people etc. We love to hike, run, etc. I'm not sure if that would feel super suburban which we don't really want but if there's a downtown and some diversity maybe they would work? I don't know!

I know this question is kind of all over the place but any help appreciated!

We are doing private school so don't need to worry about schools. In terms of cost our budget is fairly generous so that's probably not too much of a limiting factor.  Thank you!

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RE: Walkability + Safety? ()

How luck to be able to say no issue with budget :) I envy you!

If money were no object, the following neighborhoods are lovely in my opinion.

* Alameda - Park St. [All of Alamdea is bike friendly. Park St. is very cute with many restaurants and shops. Alameda has a beach where you can actually swim and not freeze.]

* Close to College Ave. (Rockridge in Oakland / Elmwood in Berkeley) -- It's busy and crime exists. But it's pedestrian friendly and public transit is easy, too. The area close to Claremont Hotel in Berkeley is very nice, too. 

* Near North Berkeley Bart / Groumet Ghetto area in Berkeley

* Piedmont Ave. -- especially on the side closer to PIedmont is nicer and feels safer than the side that's closer to Broadway. If you're doing private school, paying premium for a house in Piedmont doesn't make sense. You can go 2 blocks away from Piedmont and pay less just because you're in Oakland, although not cheap by any means because it's close to Piedmont. This is my dream neighborhood (2 - 4 blocks away from Piedmont Ave.) so that you can walk there.

* Very hard to find but if you snag a house that is on a flat part of Montclair village and walkable to the village, I think it's a cute area. 

* Lakeshore/Grand Lake area is walkable and nice, but a bit grittier / more urban than the abovementioned areas.

* Glenview area -- not as cool and the shopping option is more limited. But, it's flat mostly and has nice houses and is a very cute and friendly area. 

RE: Walkability + Safety? ()

As long as you aren’t in the hills, Berkeley, Albany, and several neighborhoods in Oakland are walkable and reasonably safe. We lived in Oakland a while back and currently live in Berkeley. Schools are an issue for us, but setting aside that, I actually prefer Oakland - near Lake Merritt / Lakeshore Ave, near Piedmont Ave, in Temescal, or in lower Rockridge near College Ave. All of those areas are reasonably safe, but there’s definitely property crime. Car break ins are common and home break ins are less common but definitely happen. Teenagers in these cities can be pretty independent walking, biking or taking transit to school and to meet up with friends. None of the teens we know in Berkeley or Oakland drives - but that might just reflect the circles that we’re in.

I don’t know much about Crocker Highlands, but Lafayette, Orinda and the City of Piedmont are very different places. They are all far more suburban. Homes are larger, lots are much bigger, and crime is far lower in these cities. They are all pretty car dependent and while you might find a place that is walkable to a cafe or a few shops, the vast majority of people drive. I don’t know anyone with teenagers in Piedmont, but in Lafayette and Orinda many of the teens drive because there’s no way for them to get around to all the places they want to go without a car. 
 

If you’re looking for something in between — safer than Berkeley / Oakland, but less suburban than Lafayette / Orinda — take a look at Alameda. It’s an island off of Oakland. They have cute shopping areas along Park Street and many people on the island walk and bike to local destinations. The big disadvantage to living there is commuting off the island, but if that’s not an issue for you, it might be a good option. 

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Alameda! Flat and bike friendly, safe, with a few cute neighborhood shopping areas and also a Target and Trader Joe's. Everyone knows each other on the island and there is a great sense of community - much more so that Berkeley or Oakland. Schools are great. And the commute to the city on the ferry cannot be beat! 

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Lafayette has a cute “downtown” that has many grocery stores, restaurants, salons etc. And a centrally located BART station. If you can find a place walkable to those things that may fit the bill as not only do you have walkability, but with BART you can get to many other places in the Bay without a car. That being said, to be truly walkable to these things in Lafayette it is mostly condos. The truly walkable to downtown single family homes that occasionally come up get snapped up quickly. But, if your budget is really no object maybe you can make that work. That being said, it is more suburban and less diverse. Also, most of your kid’s friends and your friends will likely not live within a walkable distance to you so some level of driving will be needed to be social, although I would argue that is likely true to some extent for Berkeley and Oakland too.

My comments above pretty much exactly apply to Orinda as well, although I don’t find Orinda’s downtown quite as robust as Lafayette’s, and it seems to me there are fewer housing options truly walkable to downtown Orinda.

Honestly for crime, different people have different tolerances for what they are willing to put up with for the trade off of living in a more urban environment and it sounds like you are on the low end of tolerance for that. For some of the Oakland and Berkeley areas that are mentioned, there should be public information/maps that will show recent crimes (when, generally what happened, etc.). For each neighborhood you are recommended and looking at, I would check those out in detail. Only you can decide if it’s a level you are comfortable with or makes it worth it to you to be somewhere more urban etc.

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I have lived in Berkeley/El Cerrito for over 20 years and crime seems to be increasing, although I have not confirmed the statistics. Albany is very walkable, in fact is a walking culture, and seems safer than Berkeley, Oakland, El Cerrito, which according to the weekly police notices have muggings, car and house break ins. For Berkeley and Oakland, Elmwood, Rockridge, Solano, Montclair Village, as well as central El Cerrito are so walkable and seem good for teens and coffee drinkers.

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I live in Piedmont and feel quite comfortable walking around at night.  I also feel comfortable letting my tween girl walk to school, the park, etc. But Piedmont is boring, and you have a much longer walk (depending on where you are in Piedmont), to shops, restaurants.  But the nice thing is that you are very close to all that Oakland has to offer.  Piedmont has a non-zero amount of car break-ins, and some house break-ins, but crime overall is very low and it has its own very good PD.  Crocker also seems safe but is closer to where car break-ins become more common.  And Oakland PD has a lot on its plate so may not be as responsive for property crime.

Orinda is super safe and has a small downtown.  Same with Lafayette, but it has a larger downtown (which is quite nice).  Orinda and Lafayette have much more of the classic "suburb" feel, and are obviously farther from SF, if you are commuting.   

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I'm from TX and lived in the Rosedale section of Austin for many years while doing my graduate work at UT. Now my family and I live in North Berkeley (Thousand Oaks) near Solano Ave. I love it. We have really great neighbors and we can walk to coffee, ice cream, terrific restaurants and a great park for the kids. Our kids walk unsupervised down to Solano for ice cream or burritos and they take them to Thousand Oaks park to eat.  They also like to take walks to the various rock parks in the neighborhood to practice rock-climbing or play hide and seek with other neighborhood kids.  We are also within walking distance of Kensington, (just over the Contra Costa county line), where there are a couple of restaurants, a café, a small food market and a really fun Sunday farmers' market w/ live music. You might also consider Albany, which is a few blocks down the hill. Lower Solano Ave. on the Albany side is really thriving and definitely has a lot to offer in terms of restaurants, cafés and and an old movie theater. We often walk down to  Albany for dinner. In terms of crime, we do have car break-ins but not much more than that in our neighborhood. 

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I'd guess Albany or Piedmont would offer the closest feeling of safety you're describing. I've lived in several neighborhoods in Oakland near Piedmont (off Piedmont Ave, which is technically Oakland) and most recently, two places in Berkeley (Central Berkeley and currently West Berkeley) where I feel like I'm constantly watching my back even though they're really nice neighborhoods. I love where I live and don't want to leave but crime has definitely increased here this year. Feels like the crime can show up in really random places/random times of the day, so perhaps that's why I'm on edge. Have you tried looking at the site Crime Mapping? That might give you more specifics neighborhood to neighborhood here. 

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I'd recommend the mid-Berkeley flats/North Berkeley. Very walkable, and two BART stations. Given that your kids will be in high school, access to transportation could be important. (Ours took classes in SF, and on the UC Campus.) That also gives you the option of sending them to Berkeley High. The College Avenue area is also walkable though the transit isn't quite as good. If you know you are going to send them to private school, then Piedmont Avenue, or Rockridge could be good choices. (High school choices in Oakland are more complex, though there are some good options.) Moving to the hills or Lamorinda isn't ideal with teens because you would have to drive them everywhere, and there are less interesting options for activities other than sports.

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Orinda and Moraga do not have a downtown.  Lafayette and Walnut Creek have very nice downtowns with Walnut Creek having larger one.  Oakland is a mix and expect to be a victim of car break-in and violent crime.  Murders this year in Oakland are double what they were last year at this time.  There are good areas in Oakland, Montclair, Piedmont Ave, but expect crime. Berkeley is a mix, there are a couple of nice areas, College Ave, and North Side.  Downtown Berkeley is a bit gritty.  Sounds like you would like Sausalito. From what you have described Sausalito or Walnut Creek is where you might want to start looking.

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Piedmont is very safe, and some areas are walkable - especially near Piedmont Avenue. I also recommend checking out Montclair and Rockridge areas of Oakland. Lafayette is very safe, and does have a small but lovely downtown. 

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Solano Ave. in Albany is cute. Cool enough for teens and easy to walk, run, bike around. I really like Alameda near Park St. and often wish that we had bought a house there. The commute into SF would have been too difficult for us with a little one and our crazy work hours, but if that's not an issue, Alameda is a sweet little gem with many parks, the beach, shops, and restaurants. Trestle Glen / Crocker Highlands area has very nice houses and being able to walk to Lakeshore/Grand shops, Lake Merritt, and the Rose Garden is nice. We recently moved to this area, and I think this is a very Oakland place -- the historic Grand Lake theater, Walden Pond Bookstore, really awesome unique whiskey/spirits shop, an amazing farmer's market at the lake,  etc.  Lakeshore shopping district feels more urban and less cute because the road is so wide. We have seen increase in property crimes around here lately, but I think crimes are up across the bay area due to the pandemic. I think proximity to the freeway is a pro and a con. Piedmont Ave. and College Ave. are both nice walkable areas with cute shops. The small tree lined roads make this area feel more neighborhoody than urban. Lamorinda is suburban and not as diverse, but I think there's less crime. Piedmont is not diverse either and isn't immune to crimes because it's basically in Oakland. But Piedmont police is more responsive than OPD.  Both areas are mostly white with a fair number of Asian but very little Latinx and African American population. In terms of diversity, Lakeshore / Grand area wins. Temescal is another popular area but it's too young, hip, and urban for my own liking and to me, it still feels like an up and coming neighborhood as opposed to an established one. 

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If you're looking for a nice, safe area, Piedmont, Orinda and Lafayette Orinda would be safer than Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda. Orinda and Lafayette definitely have a more suburban feel. Orinda has a downtown area where I've seen kids as young as 10 walking in groups to the downtown area by themselves. But compared to Berkeley and Oakland, the downtown area is not as extensive. Albany might also be something to consider. If I were you, I'd personally make a visit and check out the different places. You'll definitely get a certain vibe that is different from each location and you can go with your gut. Good luck!

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You are looking for Alameda - the island city! You can walk/bike to everything, great schools, super safe and an awesome place to live. Happy moving!

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You say you are doing private school so don't need to worry about schools--but where that private school is located relative to where you live is actually a HUGE factor in your quality of life! If you're moving this summer, I assume your kids are already enrolled in a school (and if not, that should be first on your list since there is very limited space at most private schools for next year). Where is their new school located? Alameda, for instance, is great--but not if your kids are going to school in Lafayette or Danville. If the school is in Oakland, some of the suggested Oakland neighborhoods should bump up your list. Where the school is located will also reflect where other families are likely to live, so will influence where your kids will need to go to meet up with friends. I would only consider Alameda if the school is in Oakland or Alameda. If it's in Berkeley or Oakland, look in either of those two cities. (Families criss-cross back and forth for schools from both.) If it's in Berkeley, you could consider Albany or parts of El Cerrito near Solano Avenue as well. The majority of high-school aged kids in Piedmont go to Piedmont High, so that may not be ideal, especially given that you'll pay a premium for schools you don't need. The walkable/bikeable part of Piedmont is also very near Oakland neighborhoods that look and feel much the same but cost much less. I'd also be sure you have benchmarked your budget against Bay Area prices (using sold prices, not list prices). Good luck with the move!

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Hi! I moved two months ago with my family, from London where you walk everywhere so we wanted something close. 
we are in the border between Albany and North Berkeley and it is fantastic! Parks, restaurants, coffee shops etc are easily accessible.