Where to Live for a Job in San Francisco

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi there, I lived in the Bay Area between 2003-2009 and loved it but moved back to NYC to be closer to my parents. We’ve all had enough of the winter and I can transfer my job to San Francisco so we’re moving back in the next year. We’re trying to decide between living in Berkeley (something like the hills) or San Francisco (Potrero Hill, Bernal Heights, Noe Valley). We have a 2.5 year old daughter and would like to try public school in the hopes it would work out but if necessary could do private. Any advice on the pros and cons? These are my thoughts—

    east Bay weather is far better, but maybe the neighborhoods we’re looking at have decent microclimates? And all will be better weather than NYC by far (we absolutely hate the cold)

    husband surfs so not bad to be close to Ocean Beach, although he swears the water is too cold (I think he’d do it sometimes)

    real estate seems similar (which seems crazy given how different it used to be)

    schools - can’t figure out where is better. I understand that SF will move to a zoned system (rather than city-wide lottery) in a couple years, anything more on this would be helpful 

    commute - much better from SF but I work off the embarcadero Bart stop and only need to go 2-3 days/week so maybe not the decision maker 

    relaxed pace of Berkeley means we don’t feel too overwhelmed / need to get away 

    that said, we love Brooklyn because we can walk places and I’d probably miss that, especially because I’m a terrible driver! 

    Any insights from parents who know both would be greatly appreciated. 

    PS I know prices are high, but they are currently much better than NYC. 

    An East Coast transplant here. I used to live in SF and moved to Oakland, so I may be a bit biased but here are my two cents. 

    * Weather -- East Bay is much better but micro-climate is real. Bernal Heights is nice and warm and some parts of Berkeley is foggy and cooler. 

    * Surfing -- Water is cold. You need a wet suit. Better surfing is in North Bay (Stinson beach) or a bit more south (Pacifica, San Mateo) or even closer to Santa Cruz and below. Residential areas near Ocean Beach are cold and foggy, if sunny conditions are important to you.

    * Real Estate -- prices are high everywhere but I feel that you get more space and nature in East Bay than SF. Many buildings in SF are attached to the neighbors, which we don't like. Although there is only a 5 ft gap between us and our neighbor, not having walls attached with neighbors can be an important consideration. 

    * Schools -- hands-down Berkeley public schools are overall better. SF has some great public schools but it's a lottery system and there are handful of schools that underperform. Most of my friends whose kids didn't get into the desired public schools all go to private schools. Because SF is bigger than Berkeley and the school choice isn't based on proximity to home, you could have a great school in your neighborhood but be assigned to a school on the other side of the city with a 45 min. commute to school! Berkeley uses zone systems and it's a smaller city. There really aren't "bad" schools in Berkeley. When SF moves to a zoned system, maybe it'll be better but I imagine that home prices within the desired school zone may be incredibly high. If you end up doing private school, it seems that SF private school prices are a bit higher than East Bay private school prices. 

    * Commute -- If you work near Embarcadero Bart station, living in SF does not guarantee a shorter commute. I work near Montgomery Bart station, and my colleagues who live near Ocean Beach have a longer commute than I who live in North Oakland. Bart ride for me is 18 min. My coworker's muni ride is 40 min. 

    * Relaxed -- There are parts of SF that offer "relaxed" residential feel / proximity to nature, but overall we feel that East Bay has more parks, forests, and relaxed feel. You don't have to sacrifice walkability. SF and parts of Berkeley are walkable. 

    Also consider Alameda which is a short and relaxing 20 min. ferry ride to embarcadero in SF. Public schools are good, and the entire island is walkable/bikable. It has great parks, restaurants, and the water is warm -- you can actually swim in the ocean and the beach is nice.  Piedmont is another great option in East Bay with the best rated public schools out of all the locations mentioned here. 

    I assume you're not interested in Oakland for reasons you haven't mentioned. Welcome and good luck!

    If you like the walkability of NYC, you won’t like the Berkeley hills. Many of those neighborhoods don’t even have sidewalks. The flats are much more walkable. I live in a VERY walkable neighborhood about a mile west from Cal. The weather can suck, especially in the summer. Fog comes directly across the golden gate. Sometimes the window for sunshine is only 1pm-4pm. 

    It’s a zoned lottery system here too. Public schools in Berkeley are much better than SF. 

    I’m an East Bay native and there is NO WAY I would swim or surf at Ocean Beach. Too cold and the ripe tide can be intense. 

    Seems like your best bet would be Berkeley- but not the hills.  In the flats you will have better weather, walkability, easier commute to SF, good schools etc.  You might get less space than the hills but it will likely be more or comparable to SF.  I grew up in NYC. Everyone I know who is used to a walkable city has a hard time with the EB hills. It doesn't feel like a city when you need to drive everywhere.  If you live in the flats near BART or the highway (depending on your planned commute) I think you will meet most of your wants.  

    Thank you! That is very helpful. I’m open to Oakland too (lived there for four years). Is there anywhere that is walkable, has a view, and accessible to BART by bike or scooter? That would hit all boxes. I don’t really care about sharing walls, although a yard I enjoy would be nice! 

    I don't have a lot to add but I do think Berkeley is very walkable and easy to minimize driving- except if you live in the hills. if you don't like driving and are considering berkeley I would look at north berkeley to be close to bart and for walkability 

    Welcome back! 
    we love Albany because of what you described, weather is nicer that SF (more days with sun), it’s semi-urban (can run all my errands by foot, Solano Ave has all you need!), schools are highly rated (that’s the main reason we moved to Albany), and it’s just a short walk / bike ride / drive to North Berkeley Bart which takes 25ish minutes to Embarcadero, there is also the SF Transbay bus stopping on Solano which is very convenient (also to Embarcadero). 

    Berkeley Hills are really not walkable. I grew up in the hills and now love living in the flats of El Cerrito. I agree with the previous poster that getting to Embarcadero by BART is much faster and more reliable than Muni, I looked into moving to San Francisco when I worked there are decided it was much faster from El Cerrito BART. For East Bay walkability, look into Central Berkeley, Elmwood, Rockridge, Albany, El Cerrito. Public schools in those areas would be fine as well. For surfing, San Mateo or Santa Cruz would be warmer for surfing. If you live along a Cal Train line, you will not be too far from the beautiful San Mateo open spaces and the ocean, and have easy public transportation access to San Francisco. I personally don't know too much about San Mateo County, maybe look into San Carlos or Belmont.

    SF public schools are a disaster in multiple ways.  My kids had a number of classmates whose families moved to Albany specifically in order to escape the SF school system, and that was before all the recent political mess with the school board getting recalled.  The people I know with kids in the Berkeley public schools, on the other hand, have been generally satisfied. 

    Given the various factors you list, I'd suggest looking at a more walkable neighborhood in the East Bay, rather than in the hills - North Berkeley, Albany, Alameda - or even in Marin where you'd get better surfing access, though a worse commute to Embarcadero.  And I agree with the previous responder about a commute across SF often being worse than a commute across the Bay!

    Albany!  Great schools, the whole town is one square mile so everyone can walk everywhere. Your kids will be able to walk to their friends’ houses. We live near Solano Avenue and never need to use our car to get to restaurants because there are so many great options in walking distance. It’s not Brooklyn. Everything closes early, for one thing. But it’s very walkable. 

    Chiming in with a vote for East Bay! Consider Berkeley, Kensington, Albany, El Cerrito, Orinda, Rockridge. I think North Berkeley or Temescal might be a good vibe for you. If you are near a BART in the East Bay, you will have a relatively easy commute to Embarcadero BART, which will not necessarily be true of some of the SF neighborhoods you are mentioning. I don’t know if this is something you would consider, but I wonder if renting for a year or so before buying might be a good option. Your daughter is young enough that you would still have time to make a move to the school district you want for her. I also hate to drive and I live in El Cerrito near a BART station, which is relatively central and very easy to navigate by foot or public transit, to get to the city and other fun spots. Lesser known area but worth considering. 

    We live in the Berkeley flats (near San Pablo Park) and love it for many reasons (weather, walking/biking, etc.). BUSD is a wonderful lottery-based school system; the curriculum is basically the same at all schools so it's hard to go wrong with any of them. With the lottery system, you may not end up at the school closest to you, but you would qualify for the bus if the school is at least 1.5 miles from your home. If you're considering the Berkeley Hills, you may want to think about potential fire danger and how expensive fire insurance will likely be. 

    My favorite Oakland neighborhood (that I think fits all your boxes) is the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood in North Oakland - which is VERY walkable (we were a 1-car family for 8 years there and I could do everything w/ my kids in an Ergo/Stroller, including groceries), does have a bit of a view (especially if you walk up in the Mountain View Cemetery, which is a GEM of a place), and it's accessible to BART - MacArthur station. I used to get dropped off there daily or walk (it's a little less than a mile from the top of Piedmont). I have the fondest memories of living in that neighborhood w/ little kids. Also, the microclimate is excellent - don't underestimate the value of warm sunny Oakland days, when SF and Berkeley are in the fog. "The finger" of fog comes right in from the GGB and sits on North Berkeley... those folks don't know how good it is just a few miles south. And Albany! Whew- the foggiest and coldest. Good luck! 

    We live right in between Thousand Oaks and the Berkeley Hills (near Great Stone Face Park) and I love it! We have views of the city and the golden gate bridge, can run to Tilden park, see deer frequently, and overall it's pretty quiet. We can also walk (albeit there's some hill on the way back) to Solano, the shops on Arlington towards Kensington, or to Colusa Circle - there are even nice paths like Indian Rock path and still sidewalks everywhere. 

    Adding my two cents: I lived in SF for 20 years and loved it, but we moved to Berkeley 5 years ago for better weather, better housing (more for your money), and better schools (kids were 6 and 8 at the time). The further south you go in the East Bay, the better/warmer the weather. We live in south Berkeley very near border with Oakland and we have better summer weather than north Berkeley, which gets the fog rolling in the Golden Gate. Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond all get it, too (Carl, the fog, that is). We picked the area for that reason and are pretty close to Ashby BART, which is how my husband commutes to work. If you want a view, you could look up toward the Claremont hotel, though the area is mostly large fancy homes. You'd do better looking in upper Rockridge, but then you're looking at schools in OUSD which is a mixed bag, particularly for middle and high school. This being the Bay Area, it is extremely hard to find a place that checks all the boxes, but you're sure to find somewhere that checks most of them! Good luck to you!

    Manhattanite, grew up in Hell's Kitchen. It's been 23 years since I've lived here (with breaks in other cities both east and west coast). 

    We have ended up in Oakland north of Lake Merritt and find it really walkable. Most Berkeley neighborhoods, and really all Bay Area (E Bay) neighborhoods have pockets of commerce/resources, but then dead zones between neighborhoods. Lakeshore with its farmers' market and other amenity shops (pharmacy, bakery, clothing, coffee, bank) works well for us. Plus, we can take transbay express buses into the city, which usually are more reliable than BART!

    Welcome back to California! If you're looking for walkable, good schools, relaxed pace, and easy commute into the Embarcadero, I would consider Alameda. We lived in Berkeley for 10 years before moving to Alameda and really wish we had done it sooner. Kids can walk/bike to school, the whole island is flat with lots of bike paths and there are lots of water activities (lots of opportunities to SUP, row, and kite surf in Alameda). You can easily get to fruitvale bart, transbay bus, or there are multiple stops going to the Embarcadero so the commute can be very reasonable. We still go into Berkeley, Oakland, and SF frequently but Alameda really has most everything we need.

    In terms of overall school district health, you are definitely safer with Berkeley or Albany, but if you are considering Oakland, Upper Rockridge is probably the only neighborhood that has what you added in terms of walkability, views, and accessibility to BART. When we moved here, we called it our "Venn Diagram House." We have the space and the view my husband wanted but we're close enough to College Ave and BART for me that I don't feel like we've moved to the suburbs. I can walk to College Ave in 20 minutes or 10 minutes the other direction to Lake Temescal Park in the trees. We're happy to be zoned to Hillcrest Elementary and excited to try Oak Tech for high school.

    You haven’t mentioned what your real estate budget is. If you wanted to consider Oakland and have a deep pocket and the lucky stars shining upon you, a section of Rockridge checks all the boxes. You can consult the Oakland catchment map but a portion of Rockridge is zoned for Hilcrest elementary and middle and Oakland Tech for high school and another portion of Rockridge is zoned for Chabot elementary, Claremont middle and Oakland Tech. These are some of the most highly coveted schools in Oakland. This area is mostly walkable, some houses have a beautiful view, close to BART and other Transportstion options, close to or right in a shopping district with cool restaurants, shops, library, and urban amenities as well as parks. Houses in this area are expensive but beautiful and the neighborhood is family friendly and residential with lots of trees while also being so close to the city living. 

    Lower Piedmont is walkable and Piedmont schools and police, fire department are excellent. There is a portion of lower Piedmont that borders Oakland near Piedmont Avenue — my personal favorite area with amazing cafes, restaurants and shops. Some have a nice view, it’s about 1.5 miles to Temescal BART (def. Bike or scooter distance) but Transbay bus is an exceptionally easy, fast, and clean option and right at your doorstep. 

    If I were a rich man, these are the two neighborhoods that I have always dreamed of buying a house and raising our family. Alas, they are out of reach for us common folks. But, perhaps you can make it. We have friends who are two doctor parents and startup tech people who played the startup lotto right and their houses are in one of the areas mentioned — close to BART, walkable, view of the bay, a big house and best schools in Oakland. Best of luck!

  • Hello… My husband has been offered a job in San Francisco- We are going to be faced with a very big decision here in regards to moving back to California from New Orleans, where we have raised our daughters up and to this point. They are soon to be three and six. Prior to our move, we lived in Roseville and before that, Southern California. Our girls are in private school here which is the norm, because the school system is extremely dysfunctional in New Orleans specifically. But a big plus is the potential of our girls going to public school if we move. We are in the middle of evaluations now but there’s a strong likelihood that my oldest is going to test as both gifted and having learning differences, so twice exceptional.  I expect she will be OK in a semi traditional learning environment, if that makes sense. I doubt special education alone will be necessary, but extra support and accommodations will be. So based on this, I would love any recommendations for schools/neighborhoods. I’m open to hearing about private as well.

    I should add we are open to about a 45 minute or less commute. Preferences for a neighborhood would be family oriented, safe, strong community with plenty to do, walkability and outdoor space whether it is public or a good yard!


    Welcome back to the bay area! Are you planning to buy or rent? What is your budget? Do you plan to take public transportation or drive into SF? What does walkability mean to you? (being able to walk to amenities or being able to take a lovely walk in the neighborhood)? What is a decent sized yard to you? What are things that you like to do? (hiking, going to restaurants / shows, sailing, etc.)?

    Parts of SF are family friendly, and SF as a whole is quite walkable. The public school system is very hit or miss, but nearly every family I know in SF (working professionals, wealthy and not so wealthy) attend private schools. The ones that don't attend private schools are at the highly coveted bilingual public school. Most of the families I know in SF live in the Sunset, Richmond, Glenpark, Forest Hill area. Except for Glen park, these areas all seem foggy and cold. 

    Public schools in CA are not great. Class sizes are large -- even in really nice school districts. If you have the resources, I recommend private schools. CA does not have a gifted program. Most school districts do a good job with special needs accommodation, if you get IEP or 504 plan. However, you can be denied special accommodation if the giftedness can compensate for learning differences and the child is not behind the grade level proficiency or having significant behavioral issues. This is based on our experience of going through the process with OUSD. I don't know if our child is gifted but she was evaluated to be advanced. The school psychologist and the teacher told us there was nothing they could do. We are very happy at our Oakland private school. 

    I can think of a few neighborhoods that meet the requirement of 45 min. or less commute to SF. Marin county has nice schools, beautiful homes, nature, beaches, hiking, nice weather, etc. Burlingame is also wonderful but I think the peninsula is extraordinarily overpriced due to its proximity to South Bay and SF. I live in Oakland and I'm partial to east bay -- better weather, more space for the money, community, nature, etc. Alameda is wonderful - walkable, beach, good schools, nice flat yards, safe. Piedmont is also very nice -- probably the best school district in this area and a better functioning police and fire department than Oakland. I think Berkeley and Albany would fit your requirements as well. Homes in Albany are generally smaller with small yards. Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda area are more suburban but popular among young families. 

    I live in Grand Lake / Lakeshore area of Oakland on the border of Piedmont. I find this area to be diverse yet family friendly, a strong community feel with definitely a lot of things to do -- we have the lake, the largest farmer's market, the iconic Grand Lake theater, rose garden, many parks nearby, a short drive to the beach, 3 - 4 hour drive to the snow, and many wonderful public and private schools nearby. Is it safe? There are a lot of crimes all over the bay area but I do not fear for our lives when taking a walk in the neighborhood and I feel comfortable going to our neighborhood Starbucks with my 10 year old. But, I am also aware of my surroundings and don't leave anything in the car. 

    Wow, thank you so much for this response. You are the second person I’ve talked to you who recommends the east bay, specifically piedmont and surrounding areas. I am just taking this information in but I’m quite sure I will have a few more questions soon, if you don’t mind. In the meantime, I truly appreciate what you have shared.

    As the other poster notes, the biggest question is budget and living situation (re: renting or buying). I also recommend the East Bay; we live in Lower Piedmont, which is walkable to both the Grand Lake and Piedmont Ave business districts, and also walkable to several of our nice parks, including Dracena Park, Piedmont park, and the play fields at Beach School. Our child is too young to attend school yet, but without hesitation will attend public schools here in Piedmont, given their strong reputation, parental involvement, and sense of community. To buy is unfortunately exceedingly expensive at this time, and rentals are often few and far between, but worthy of a close look if you can find something. Easy access to 580 if driving to the city, or many use the AC Bus #33 to BART, or even better, Transbay P line to SF. 

    Just because as I’m sure you know, the Bay Area is it’s own animal with regards to housing costs and competition for housing: Without knowing your budget this is a very hard question to answer. Your last paragraph unfortunately narrows it down to probably the most expensive areas of the Bay Area with features everyone is looking for. Which may or may not be an issue for you?

    I think you'll probably want to include some more information to get better responses. Budget is a HUGE factor- are you planning to spend $2000/month on housing or $20,000 (remember to factor in the higher cost of living, bridge tolls if you're looking at east bay or Marin, etc )? Buying or renting? Is this 45 minute commute via car or public transportation?

    The Bay Area is huge and full of many micro-neighborhoods, and a "job in SF" could be anywhere in the city even down to San Jose (it depends how loosely you define "SF"), so it might help if your question was more specific. Where your husband's office is also determines whether he has to drive or if he has to take public transportation, and that will also determine how far out your 45 minute radius extends. Since you're going to need housing, I would contact a real estate agent who is willing to drive you around. Visit a few neighborhoods, see what you can afford (!!), and then ask around about the schools within each neighborhood. Good luck!

  • Help! Relocating from London to Bay Area

    (21 replies)

    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!

    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! https://www.7x7.com/classy-ferry-oakland-to-san-francisco-2640585255.html )  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: ​https://www.parkdayschool.org/

    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:


  • Hi, I’m planning to move from San Francisco to Berkeley or Oakland. I’d appreciate any advice on safe neighborhoods near Bart or other easy public transportation. My budget is $3500/month to rent a 1-2 BR. Thank you 

    Rockridge is probably one of the safest neighborhoods near BART and I think in your price range. There's also lots of AC Transit options.

    North Berkeley (north end of Shattuck Avenue) is relatively safe and only a 10-15 minute walk to downtown Berkeley Bart.

    I cannot speak to the rental market around here but my family and I moved from san francisco to  North Berkeley close to the bart here, and it's been wonderful.

  • We just found out my husband will doing his fellowship in San Francisco. His hospital will be in downtown San Francisco. I'm looking for advice on where would be best for a family of four. Kids will be 2 and 4. We would either need to live close enough to downtown (but I envision this isn't family friendly) or we would need a fairly easy commute for him. I just want to make sure we have some great options for pre-schools and a safe neighborhood. Looking for any advice or guidance! Thanks in advance!

    [Moderator note] See also past advice "Where to Live for a Job in San Francisco"

    Perhaps you could let us know which hospital, or generally what you mean by "downtown SF"? "Downtown" isn't a common SF designation. Several hospitals could be described as central, but they're in different districts with different kinds of transport access, so recommendations could be different. The UCSF system, for instance, offers shuttles between its locations, and that could make a big difference to what's realistic for you.

    Albany or El Cerrito would be good, family friendly and close to BART.

    What is your budget? SF is insanely expensive and you don't want to live downtown with kids. By downtown, I assume you mean the financial district or somewhere on Market Street. I would suggest that he plan to take BART or an express bus to work and that you live outside the city. But then the tricky part is figuring out which direction and how far you should be from the city. A huge percentage of people on this forum are in the Berkeley/Oakland area, so you will probably get a lot of votes for that area. The commute from there, assuming you live close to a BART line, is quite reasonable, but if your budget can't handle that area, you'll need to look further and further away from the city (we refer to SF as the city). Prices drop in places like Pleasant Hill and Hercules, and drop more if you go out to Antioch and Brentwood, but then the commute goes way up.

    If his fellowship is through UCSF, you should look into their family housing. The apartments are located at Mission Bay and Parnassus campuses, and as someone mentioned, there are shuttles across the campuses if he needs to rotate between hospitals. 

    Do you want to stay in the city of SF or be in a more suburban area? If you stay in SF finding a preschool with openings now will be hard, although I am sure there are some. If you move out to the East Bay area (Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, etc) the commute into SF will be about 45min-1hr via BART. Moving out to the North Bay or Peninsula will be a 1 hour + commute since there isn't much public transportation. All areas have good school options (although some better as kids get older) and safe neighborhoods. I would suggest reading about each area on BPN and going from there.  Good luck. 

    I’m trying to think of a hospital that’s truly downtown.   Not trying to nitpick the terminology, but “downtown” means a specific area of SF (financial district, Union Square & immediately surrounding area) and exactly where he’ll be working it affects the transit situation a lot.  St Francis, Zuckerberg, UCSF are not downtown, for example, and all would involve secondary transit from BART of differing degrees of difficulty.  Albany and El Cerrito are good ideas if the job is reasonably close to BART.  If not, think through getting from BART to the hospital.

    Neighborhoods within easy walking distance to BART will make commuting to SF doable and even sane. We live in North Berkeley and the weekday commute to downtown SF is about 40 mins door to door. There are good preschools, playgrounds (Totland!), tennis courts, swimming pool, markets, restaurants/cafes/coffee shops, museums, theaters all within walking distance in our neighborhood. There's even a farm and great hiking trails within a 10 min drive. The hitch? Finding affordable housing. Welcome to the Bay Area! It's really a wonderful place to raise a family if you can find a suitable home. Best of luck! 

    You might want to listen to a podcast called "Bay Curious".  https://www.npr.org/podcasts/500557090/bay-curious  Specifically the episode "Where have all the Kids in San Francisco gone?"  Downtown if far from family friendly and San Francisco has become so expensive families with young kids are moving out.   Oakland, (can be okay to really bad) so that leaves Piedmont, Berkeley, Orinda, San Leandro, Richmond, Pacifica, Marin and the question of can you afford it?  Depending on where you live it will take your husband well over an hour just to get to downtown San Francisco by public transit and even longer by car.

    Hope this helps; best of luck.

    Since most (all) of the responses you have gotten recommend living outside SF, I thought I would put in a vote for living in the city. (Disclosure: We live in Berkeley, within walking distance of a BART station, which is great, but I grew up in SF, in the outer Richmond.) I think you can find something affordable (in Bay Area-adjusted terms) in the western part of the city: Sunset, Richmond, etc. It will ease your husband's commute to not have to cross the Bay to get to work (I think that is also a psychological advantage). There are simply more things to do in SF for families from museums to beaches; the great outdoors (Marin, San Mateo coast, East Bay hills) are just a short drive away. Many of the playgrounds in SF are new and fantastic, while in Berkeley we have hardly any. If you are only planning on living in the Bay Area temporarily, I think you will get more out of your time to live in SF rather than a suburb, which might not be too different from where you are coming from. My two cents.

    Re the downtown hospital, which as others reported is confusing as there isn't one, at least that I know, maybe you mean St Francis in Nob Hill - regardless - the thing I wanted to caution you on is that although it may appear only a short walk from "downtown" (ie the bart stops at Union Square or the Financial district) it is up a very big hill so unless your husband likes to walk that, he'll need to transfer from bart to a bus. Which is fine, just keep it in mind that when looking at SF maps, the distances are misleading due to the hills. 

    Here are a few SF neighborhoods to consider -

    1. Potrero Hill - easy access to downtown areas and you see lots of kids and families walking around- which is unusual in many neighborhoods in SF

    2. South Beach - I love this neighbor and it would work great if you have toddlers but not sure once kids become school age.

    3. The Marina is also family friendly.

    I am sure there are other areas out in the avenues that are more family (the sunset or richmond). As everyone says, these are very expensive.  You could consider Alameda and have him commute by ferry. Alameda is definitely kid friendly and somewhat more affordable than some other places.

    Wish you the best of luck!


    Bernal heights, Glen Park, Daly City areas are very family friendly. There is a sweet preschool, Room to Grow, in Bernal Heights. UCSF area is also very family friendly. Note that Daly City and Richmond/Sunset neighborhoods are colder and foggier than bernal heights, which has a nice sunnier weather. 

  • I'd love some opinions/advice, since we're moving to the Bay Area with two grade school-age kids and I've never been there before. We are relocating from overseas in June/July, for a job that's in Dogpatch. We missed the San Francisco school lottery, and since we don't know anything about the area it looks like the simplest thing would be to try to rent somewhere on the Caltrain with good public schools, like maybe San Mateo/Burlingame/Belmont. Does that sound right? And should we be looking at Lamorinda/Oakland/Albany too, or would commutes to Dogpatch be terrible? Should we write off the North Bay? Many thanks for any advice you might have on what areas we should check out, especially since we'd be moving at the end of the school year and trying to get school slots last-minute. Obviously, we're clueless, and I'm finding this forum so helpful...

    I think your first instinct is a good one since the 22nd Street Caltrain station is located in Dogpatch.  It would minimize the amount of time you spend getting from the station to your work.

    If you took BART in from the East Bay, you'd then have to get to Dogpatch, probably from the Embarcadero BART station, either on a Muni train (about 25 min), biking (15-20 min) or walking (hourish).  One thought is to drive and pick up people with Casual Carpool (google if you don't know what it is) to use the carpool lane.  After dropping your passengers off, drive to Dogpatch.  I don't know the parking situation and the drive home could be tough.

    Similarly if you took the bus or ferry from Marin, you'd see similar times getting to Dogpatch from the Transbay and Ferry terminal.  I'm not sure I'd consider driving in from Marin unless you can avoid commute times.

    If you have the money, definety try to find a place in the city to rent.  Commuting really eats up so much time and is pretty awful.  We moved from SF to El Cerrito and are really regretting it.  Avoid all contra costa schools and Oakland is very bad too.  Berkeley is supposed to be better, but SF schools are great.  Even if you missed the lottery your kids still can go to the nearest public school with an opening.  We once moved into the city mid year and were given several good choices for school placement.  Good luck, be careful as east bay schools are really frustrating!  South Bay might be better and north bay schools tend to be very good.

    You may still want to consider Albany and Berkeley. Both Albany and Berkeley publics schools  are very good, and there is AC Transbay bus that takes you directly to San Francisco Transbay terminal. 

    I'd beg to differ with the previous poster's opinion that El Cerrito schools are bad. El Cerrito schools are totally fine, elementary, middle and high school.

    Anyway, Dogpatch is easiest to get to by Caltrain, so looking along the Caltrain route as you mentioned would be a good idea. Finding housing might be your biggest issue, so I would focus on that first, and have trust and confidence in your kids that they will be able to succeed at any school.

  • I am relocating from NY to SF for work. I have 3 children going to 2nd, 6th and 8th grade for next school year 18/19. I want to move to a neighborhood that is 30 mins from work by public transport (Bart, bus or ferry) because I don't drive. And a public or charter school that will preferably offer K-8 grade so all three can be dropped off  and picked up at the same location or walking distance.  Does such a school exist or am I asking for the impossible?

    I spoke with SFUSD counselor and was told that we will be assigned leftover schools when the kids move to SF and it's almost impossible to have all three of them in the same school or even in the same district. So, I decided to look at East Bay which seems like there's a higher chance of getting into a school in the area you live in.

    I am open to any neighborhood that meets these criteria; however, I was told that the enrollment process can only start if I am already living in the area, not the other way round.  I am moving to SF in May and my children in July after they finish school in NY, but, by then we would have passed all enrollment deadline and my children may or may not get into a school of choice depending if the school has any spots left.

    How do I ensure they get into the school then find housing in the area so that the home will be walking distance to the school? I plan to rent so I am flexible in terms of location.

    Any advice?

    Move to Albany, where there are only five schools (three elementary, one middle, one high) and all are strong, so you will wind up at one not too far away. Your commute will be farther than 30 minutes, but not by much. Look for housing close to El Cerrito Plaza BART station (but on the Albany side). This also assumes you have a relatively large budget for rent, but hopefully you are already aware of and prepared for the high housing cost here. Good luck and welcome!

    I live in Albany (East Bay, between Berkeley and El Cerrito) and the town is small enough that all the schools are walking distance from wherever you live. There's 3 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 1 high school. It's an easy commute to downtown SF via the AC transit transbay bus (coach buses that only run during commute hours) or BART. It's truly a great place to live because it's a great mix of urban/suburban with great walkability. The only catch, is that it's really expensive and the homes are small. Good luck!

    Similar to what the previous poster said about Albany - also applies to Piedmont. Piedmont has only 3 elementary schools, one middle, and one high, and they are all excellent. So even if you  move in the summer, there is zero stress about your kids getting into school. The largest elementary school is also the one that is closest to the middle school (there is no K-8). From Piedmont you can either do the Trans-Bay bus straight to SF or the casual carpool in the mornings. Housing costs will be high but you get great K-12 walkable schools.

    Hi There!

    We did the same thing in 2010. Managing the lotteries in OUSD or BUSD will be impossible without an actual address. You could go private school for a year while you get settled and then start the lottery process in the fall once you have an actual address. We ended up in private school just for the reasons you addressed. You could also rent a house or apartment now, depending on your budget, so you have an address and go from there.

    Two towns in the East Bay, Piedmont and Albany, both have good schools. If you’re committed to public school, you could move to one of those two towns and goto public school there. They will both be challenging to live in without a car though. Albany is a bit easier without a car and the kids can walk/bike to school from almost anywhere in Albany. Depending on where you live, BART can be a 10/15 minute walk from Albany.

    Good luck!

    You may want to consider the west end of Alameda. It's a great place to live, a quick ferry ride to SF, and there are 3 charter schools (Academy of Alameda (K-8), NeaCLC (K-12), and ACLC (6-12)) only a block apart. Even if your kids ended up in 2 schools, it would be no big deal. Good luck!

    Hi, I'm in the same position - moving from Toronto and when I visited the schools in January I was told it is impossible to enrol before moving. You must prove residency with a utility bill etc. and likely will end up in one of the over flow schools outside your district (which means no walking). Enrolment is happening Feb/Mar so if you have flexibility, I advise you to move ASAP to at least get into the lineup.

    For this reason we are not taking a chance so instead of moving to our first choice neighbourhood, we are making a compromise and moving to our second choice and sending our son to private school. Then we may try again for the 2019 school year when we are actually there.

    Good luck to you! :)

    Our kiddos started out at Claire Lilienthal in SF, which is K-8 situated (K-2nd) at a smaller campus & (3-8th) at a larger campus.  Many students split between these campuses managed with carpools.

    SF has a lottery system to get into the schools. You would need to look at the K-8 schools & list them in the application & show that you reside in SF with something like a utility bill for public school. There are public charter schools, they are less stringent about where you reside but you would need to find one that is K-8.

    Good Luck!

    I live in the Montclair village neighborhood of Oakland, which is wonderfully family oriented . My neighbors all send their kids to Montclair elementary (which is terrific) and very close to homes in the neighborhood. For middle school they send them to Monterra middle school by city bus. It picks up next to the elementary school. I see a bench full of neighbor kids waiting together each morning. The school doesn’t look so good on paper, but a neighbor is the pta president and she and other parents vouch for positive experiences there. My husband takes a trans bay bus from the village into downtown San Francisco, so commuting is easy. Don’t see that many rentals here, but they do come up. 

    I would call or email the school district for accurate info about enrollment. 

    The only place I can think of where everyone can walk everywhere (school and Bart/bus), and where the kids will be guaranteed space in a school is Albany. It is a self-contained school district, with just three elementary, one middle and one high school, so they can't get spread all over the city or sent to another city. Albany has a walking/biking culture, it is small and flat, and close to Bart, with SF commute buses going through as well.

    I was in same situation last year. I came early, established residency. District would not register children until they had a year end transcript. We ended up not knowing where they were going to school until a few days before school started.

    I have seen little in the way of k-8 options, though I’m not familiar with sf, 

    Good luck. It’s not fun.

    I can't speak for SF or East Bay but can for the peninsula were I tried to do a similar thing. We were there for just one year so I wanted to rent an apartment within walking distance of the elementary school so I had picked out about 4 possible apartment complexes in different cities that were close to 4 elementary schools I thought were best in 3 cities (Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos.  I then tried to get the school district registration offices to give me info on how crowded my son's grade level was in each of these schools so that I could figure out which apartment complex was best.  Well.  That was almost impossible. From their point of view, their schools are over-crowded and you will just be lucky to be assigned whatever school you get even if it's on the other side of town - which I understand, I just wanted to find out which schools I might have the best chance with and get an apartment nearby. 

    They are very very resistant to this, no one wanted to give me that info even tho they can. They want you to go by their procedure which is get your place, provide your proof, they will try to assign you the closest school but be prepared to have to go anywhere. And this won't even be decided until the last week before school starts as that's when they have a better idea of who has left the district, who is on the waiting list and still might want to switch, then how many spaces there are if any, and then they will assign your spot. And these are the school districts that are supposedly well-run, but they are overwhelmed and unhelpful, really have a hardened attitude if you can't drive your kid across town every morning, too bad for you.

    By persistence I ended up finding out how full the classes were for 5th grade at various schools and what the waiting lists were (which does not mean that those on the waiting list will actually still want to switch over) and took a gamble that paid off as I got the school I wanted.  But to figure that out for all 3 kids sounds really stressful.  I like the advise of Albany - a smaller school district where all the choices are relatively close.  That might be your best bet. 

    One thing I haven't seen in the answers yet: Most school districts require proof of residency to enroll your child. That usually includes a utility bill or similar with one of the parents' names on it at the address where you reside.

    You'll need proof of residency before the schools will accept you. But what helps is to find a place that has neighborhood schools (i.e. NOT San Francisco, which uses a lottery system), and then call the district and ask if any of those schools have spaces next year. Try Alameda. Chances are one of our schools can accommodate all 3 of your children, and Alameda is so small it will be a short walk/drive to the next school over. Just be warned--many of our schools are great, but not all. So best to look up the schools first and ask around, then choose your first, second, and third choice.

    I'd caution you on Alameda.  Only one public school is k-8, Bay Farm.  So you'd probably have two stops for drop off and pick up.  One of the elementary schools, Lum, closed, resulting in the relocation of those students to the remaining elementary schools.  From my understanding only one or two elementary schools have openings this year.  Coming in after school selection will probably limit your choice of school and might place your kids in schools that are far apart.  But at least you should be able to get into a regular public school.  Unlike a charter, which will be full and doesn't have to accomodate you.  As several folks mentioned, Albany and Piedmont would be good options.  Both towns are far smaller than Alameda so your kids could walk to schools.  You could also think about towns farther out such as Orinda or Lafayette.  They are far more suburban but have good schools and BART stations in near their town centers.

  • Greetings!  I'm new here and looking for advice as we plan to purchase a house (find schools) in the bay area.  We are relocating from overseas after over 10 years.  I have been doing a lot of research into schools in the cities were we think we can afford a home.  We will have two high school aged children (would enter Freshmen and Junior years, respectively).  We continue to work through our understanding of the cities/neighborhoods.  As of now, based on schools and home prices, we are looking at Hercules, Martinez, Concord, Pleasant Hill, and Benicia.  The rising HS Junior is more a math/science kind of kid and the school system we will be coming from abroad is very strong.

    Our deciding factors include:  Strong/decent school (I've been looking a lot at greatschools.org as well as school websites and other measures I come across); possible community college nearby as the HS Junior might be taking college courses while finishing HS courses; in a neighborhood where my husband can get to public transport/drive or bus to BART or the ferry in Vallejo in order to reach city center as that's the most likely place he'll find a job in his field.  Yes, we know the commutes may be brutal.  

    So, can people help me by commenting on these combos and the pros/cons:

    Hercules in the neighborhood west of the 80 where husband can walk to a bus stop to transfer south to the BART then change BART in Walnut Creek to get into the city.  It's Hercules High School which as pretty strong test scores and AP offerings, a far more diverse student population (Asian/Pacific Islanders and Blacks more represented than at the other schools...).  My Concord realtor isn't big on Hercules.  To me, it looks like it's up and coming and has further plans to increase public transportation (even possibly a ferry in the future?).  But is the school growing stronger or wavering?  Know anything about the leadership?  We once bought in a place we thought was "up and coming" and it never arrived.  Not too interested in repeating that poor housing investment.

    College Park HS (Martinez/Pleasant Hill) is a very strong school, but it looks as though the commute from that school district area might be longer since we'd have to drive to the BART.  The realtor claims Hercules traffic is so terrible along the 80 that Concord/Martinez, even with a car commute to BART will be quicker overall.  Realtor thinks Concord/Benicia are much better areas and better investments.

    Almador HS and Alcanes HS do not have housing we can afford in their district (budget under 650K for at least a 3bed 2 bath house).

    Finally, Benicia HS looks good too.  Husband likes the idea of the ferry better than BART.  But, realistically, couldn't it be a 30 minute commute to the ferry?

    Very appreciative of any light/insight/input families can offer to help us understand how to hedge our bets toward a livable place.  Also, would love to hear actual commute times to city center for anyone living in these areas.

    Commute from Benicia to SF is a two-bridge commute. Long days, regardless of mode of travel. When I worked there, the people I knew who commuted to SF typically drove to Pleasant Hill BART, parked there, and took BART from there. I think Hercules High is pretty strong (that is my school district). People there either take the 80 express bus to SF, or drive to Del Norte BART, park there, and BART into SF from there. Not as familiar with the central county high schools. I would suggest one of you nail down your job first and pick the area to buy in second, because if you end up working in Oakland, that's a more reasonable commute from all those communities. Otherwise I personally would prefer not to be commuting to SF from Benicia or Martinez because of lack of transit options.

    Hi, there. I don't have any useful information to share on those particular schools, neighborhoods, or commutes. However, there is a very useful tool which you can check out on your own from where you are now: http://511.org/.  You can use it to map out actual commutes using public transportation from each of the places, and see what the estimates are on how long it would take. Be sure to try it out on several days at rush-hour to compare. Given that you can't be sure whether or not to take your realtor's word, this should help! Best of luck to you.

  • Hi - firstly thank you for this forum.  Secondly - apologies for the long post but it's a bit of a brain dump after googling and website stalking for about a month.

    I am a full time working mom to a 9 and a 6 year old and most likely going to accept a new position in SF.  I'm originally from the Midwest and spent quite a bit of time on the East Coast but moved to London in 2001 and to the Middle East (where I am now) in 2008 - so it's been almost 17 years since I lived in the US and never on the West Coast.

    My husband is British and a stay at home dad and our daughters are in a private British curriculum school with about 30 different nationalities - the 6 year old is a complete ham but the 9 year old is excruciatingly shy.  My current commute is about a 15 minute drive and our school run is less than 5 minutes.  Spoiled I know.  

    I'm really struggling to figure how about to go about deciding where to live.  I've only been to SF a handful of times and only to the City itself so have no direct knowledge of the surrounding areas  

    The most important factors are school, commute time and comfort for my husband. If I accept the job the office will be in the Financial District.  I will be working a lot. I'd like the girls to go to public school if possible.  I'd also like the option of driving as well as public transport for my commute to work.  I'd like my husband to not stick out like a sore thumb, as both a Brit and as a non-working dad (something very very uncommon in our current home).

    i don't think I want to live in SF proper.  I think I want to live in the East Bay - somewhere between Alameda and Walnut Creek?  But should I also look at the Peninsula?  If I want the commute to be 45 mins or less door to door how far out in the East Bay should I be looking - is Walnut Creek too far?  Are there places like San Carlos or Hillingdon that I should also look at?  Is public school realistic?  Is public school starting in January possible?  We are thinking we will initially rent given we know so little about anything - our budget is around $6500/7000 a month and we'd like at least 4 bedrooms. And I have a dog and 2 cats. 

    Any and all thoughts on any of the above would be greatly appreciated - but particularly ideas about how to narrow down our options of where to look for houses.  Thank you in advance. 

    Definitely Orinda! It has the best school system in the state, is an easy bart ride to down town and also a fairly easy commute. There are old, beautiful houses and neighborhoods, weather is perfect - check it out :)

    I would recommend the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.  It's got some diversity (not as much as other parts of Oakland, unfortunately), it has a semi-urban feel due to its lively retail corridor of College Avenue, and it's relatively cosmopolitan for a bedroom community.  The commute is probably the best from the east bay - it has BART, casual carpool, and easy freeway access to SF.  You're looking at about 25 minutes from the BART station to the financial district, maybe a tad more for casual carpool, not sure about driving alone during commute hours as I never do that (but I'd guess it's around 45 minutes).  No driving commute from the east bay is fun, but it's better from Rockridge than Berkeley or most anywhere else since you don't have to deal with Hwy. 80.  I don't think your husband would feel at all out of place - we live across from a park and there are as many dads there during the day as moms or nannies.  Our kids have gone to all the Rockridge neighborhood public schools and we've been very happy with all 3 (elementary, middle & high school).  Finally, the houses in this neighborhood are generally really nice, and your budget sounds realistic for Rockridge.  Check it out, and good luck!

    If you like the suburbs try Walnut Creek.

    I would go with Rockridge or Montclair in Oakland. Great communities,good schools, lots of fun activities, close to BART or carpool or busses to SF downtown

    Sounds like you have a good budget for the area. Enjoy coming to the West Coast!

    Hello! For context: I grew up in Walnut Creek/Lafayette, lived in Europe for 7 years (Hungary, France), got my MBA in North Carolina, and brought my stay-at-home dad/ French husband back to the Bay Area with me. My thoughts:

    - stay- at-home dads stand out everywhere, but there is certainly a community for them here that you don't find elsewhere. At least here, involved dads are very common.

    - we just bought a house in Oakland and love it. Walking distance to Rockridge Bart and a 15 min drive to Soma (after the financial district) at 6am. Drive home is much longer, but I usually BART (45 min door to door).

    - Oakland is very international. We bring our kids to Colby park and every time we meet families from different parts of the world (German dad, Japanese mom, Cuban mom, etc). Northern Oakland (Rockridge already very chic, Temescal/Bushrod upcoming- we are in Bushrod). 

    - i would not recommend WC. Commute is too far and less internationally diverse, though it is getting better. It was 1hr 15 min door to door for me when I lived in lafayette (one Bart stop quicker than WC).

    - peninsula is also very internationally diverse. I don't think it has as much character. Much more tech-focused, whereas you get a lot of people successful in different industries in oakland/ Berkeley. 

    - your rent should be sufficient. Check out Craigslist or redfin

    - public schools will be better in Lafayette, Orinda (quieter communities) and the peninsula. Oakland is a lottery, so we have potential to get into the top school (rated #1), but are prepared to go private and try the lottery the next year. Not sure about Berkeley. 

    Good luck! Let us know if you make it over. We would be happy to welcome you/ meet at the park.


    I live in Alameda.  There are many kinds of families here.  Same gender parents, stay at home dads, single parents, etc. There also are multiple nationalities and accents.  I know of three families with British parents without even thinking hard about it.   My kids would say that it's  exciting when a kid from another countryside  comes to school but it is never weird. I don't think your husband would feel like he stands out here.  Public schools are good.  If you may move again, however, you might consider private school so that you kids can stay in the same school. There also are IB schools and schools that tend to have more international families.  For folks who work in the financial district and live in alameda, many take the commuter bus or ferry. You certainly can drive but bus and ferry are so easy and quick that driving is usually last resort.  Good luck!

    Check out Piedmont. Easy commute, great schools. 

    Your husband will not feel out of place in the East Bay!  Men are still a distinct minority on the playgrounds during the weekdays, but SAHDs and WAHDs are not rare in my Albany neighborhood, and anywhere near UC Berkeley there are plenty of people from outside the US. And yes, there are many great public school districts here and your kids can start whenever you move into the district (though there's no guarantee that they'll be assigned to the specific school closest to home, especially when enrolling midyear). But a 4 bedroom house with good public schools and a short commute into SF is a challenging combination.

    You might find everything you want in Berkeley, in a house within short walking distance of the Ashby or North Berkeley BART stations.  (Driving into SF is miserable and parking costs a fortune; taking BART or a transbay bus, or CalTrain from the Peninsula, is a far more practical option - so my first "narrowing down" suggestion is to focus on neighborhoods close to a BART or CalTrain station!)  

    My commute from Albany to SF on BART is, door to door, just under an hour, which includes 10+ minutes for driving to/from the El Cerrito Plaza BART station; Albany has good public schools but homes with more than 3 bedrooms are rare.  

    The time frame from Alameda, where you can find larger houses, would be similar (drive to Fruitvale BART), but traffic is a larger factor when you have to cross a bridge.

    For the commute and the large home, the Rockridge neighborhood is perfect (I used to commute from Rockridge to Embarcadero and it was 30 minutes door to door), but the Oakland public schools have a poorer reputation than most in the area. 

    Yes, Walnut Creek is too far to get to the SF Financial District in under 45 minutes, although you can find good schools and larger houses out there; however, you can probably get close to 45 minutes in Orinda or Lafayette.

    I'm not as familiar with the neighborhoods on the Peninsula, but I'd think it worth investigating in your situation.  

    Another possibility you might consider is commuting by ferry from Larkspur; the trip itself is 30 minutes, so you'd be looking for housing close to the terminal, but most of Marin County has larger homes and good schools, with an upper-income suburban feel more similar to Orinda or Hillsborough.  Berkeley, Albany, and Alameda are denser and a little more diverse.  Oakland offers a lot of diversity of income level, race/ethnicity, and culture as well as a wide range of housing size and type depending on the specific neighborhood.  Welcome to the West Coast, and good luck!

    You could consider Mill Valley on that budget - 9 miles to SF and the drive to Financial District takes about 25 minutes, or 40 minutes on the bus. You can also take the ferry from Sausalito which takes 20 minutes. We lived overseas in London and Paris for 10+ years, then spent 10 years in SF proper with kids in private school, and just moved to Mill Valley. We've met people from all over and lots of Europeans. It's an expensive and not particularly economically or racially diverse town, but for your rent budget you could get a nice 4-bedroom house. It's super close to SF, making it easy to eat out there and do other activities without suffering the horrendous Bay Bridge traffic to the East Bay. The public schools are excellent - better than we expected after 10 years in a private French Lycee - and the kids walk everywhere, making life far less stressful than in SF where we had to drive them all about. Good luck!

    Welcome to the Bay Area! When I moved here more than a decade ago, it was also my first time living in the USA in several years (and I also grew up abroad, so it was a significant change). Based on what you are looking for, I think that parts of Oakland could work. I'd look in Montclair, Rockridge or Crocker Highlands neighborhoods where hopefully you'd have at least a good elementary school. You've got a relatively large rental budget, but I guess it will come down to what is available. Piedmont, Orinda, and Lafayette are also nice options with excellent public schools through high school. I wouldn't look anything further than Lafayette as that's already 30 minutes on BART and you'd still need commute time either side (so it would be at least 45 minutes in total). I've lived on the Peninsula, but it's much more expensive, and I think the East Bay is a better option. Kids can start school anytime of the year, but space could be an option. They will have to find a place for your children somewhere, but it might not be the best or closest school. Finding a place that will accept pets will likely be one of your biggest challenges, unfortunately. But it can be done. We moved a couple of times with one large dog, and our choices were fewer, but she's family, and she had to come with us! Good luck.

    Wow -- big step for you all. You will hear many opinions, but everyone will agree that living in SF proper with your family and pets will be incredibly expensive, with lousy public schools. You underestimate how cosmopolitan it is here -- stay -at -home dads are commonplace (many telecommute from home, are single parents, or take a turn at childcare) in the East Bay with multicultural families everywhere. Pick a place on the Bart line -- driving is getting exponentially worse by the month. Cut yourselves some slack, rent a random house in a commutable area for 6 months, and take a good look around. See what fits your family. There's a fairly large expat Brit crowd in Berkeley if he is into that, with a lot of free events, get togethers and good public schools.  Oakland could be a great fit for you too.  The peninsula is more expensive than the East Bay.People, especially parent people, around here are nice. They will advise you, and honestly. And yes -- you can show up at any time in the school year for public school and your child will be placed in the school assigned  to your neighborhood. Your kids are young enough to adjust quickly and tell hubbie there is cricket, rugby, shakespeare, some great pubs and a good take-away curry in many neighborhoods. ;-)


    I commute to the Financial District from Lafayette which is the town you pass by before getting to Walnut Creek.  A 45 minute commute is possible only by using public transit (BART).  Driving to San Francisco from anywhere during standard rush hour times is painful and I don't recommend it at all.  Keep in mind that unless you live within a reasonable walking distance of BART, you'll have to factor in driving time to BART and parking.  I'm not sure about your rental ranges. You can certainly get a house in that range but it may not be a 4-bedroom or allow pets. 

    With respect to the public schools, Lafayette and the town before it, Orinda, have excellent schools.  Walnut Creek is a little more challenging because there are three different school districts in play there and you'll want to know which one your address will be tied to.  Something more to research.  I will say that Orinda will be on the pricier side than Lafayette and that Walnut Creek has a larger housing stock, the pricing will likely vary on its proximity to schools and/or freeway access.

    As for your concerns about your husband being a stay-at-home father.  While they don't constitute a majority in this area, they're not unheard of.  Only the most ignorant people make comments about stay at home parents doing nothing and who has time for them.  There are also enough people around here who are from different countries, that his being British should be a non-issue.

    The Peninsula communities you mention (San Carlos and Hillsborough) along with Burlingame, San Mateo and Belmont all have good public schools but if I'm not wrong are all very expensive to live in particularly Hillsborough which is one of the most expensive places to live in the Bay Area.  Driving to San Francisco might be less problematic because there's no bridge to cross but it's hardly a fun thing to do every day.  Cal Train or SamTrans are the public transit options.

    I hope this helps.

    Good luck!

    Move to Alameda! Take the ferry to work! Great schools, great community here. We love it. Join the local pool association! I know 2 stay at home dads and a single dad here, plus lots of other families that don't look like the stereotypical nuclear family. I don't think you'd stick out too much. That budget should get you a very nice house here. Public schools here are very good, and in my opinion people are a bit more down to earth than the folks on the peninsula. ...

    I think Berkeley might be a good place to look. The public schools are good and a British stay at home dad doesn't seem much different than a lot of alternative families. The commute on The BART train is about a half hour or less. You could drive, but you would have to leave early in the morning to get in by 45 minutes and night time I couldn't say. It isn't a pretty commute by car. However, the Bart is relatively painless. The amt. you are planning will get you a big house, but the rental market is tight. I like the diversity of Berkeley. My daughter has had kids in her classes from, France, Spain, Turkey, etc. Good luck.

    I live in Alameda and totally love it. There are people of many different colors and nationalities here, and I've met many stay at home dads too. Alameda is very family friendly, pretty safe, and has a small town feel (people get around on bikes, etc.) Most of the public schools are great, and they are zoned by neighborhood. Do your homework to find out which schools are good, if they are full, before renting in the vicinity. My husband works in the financial district and he takes a convenient door to door public bus--the ride ranges from 50 min to 1 hr 15 min, but he doesn't mind as he sleeps or reads a book. You can also take the ferry, or BART, which is more complicated but can be faster. $5-7K for a 4 bedroom rental will get you a very nice house in a great neighborhood, but you might have to look hard to find someone who will take a dog and 2 cats. Good luck!

    Honestly I think living in Berkeley sounds like a good bet for your family. You could probably take the transbay bus or BART to the financial district without too much hassle. Our family has found the Berkeley public schools to be mostly excellent (we did try a highly acclaimed private school for a year for one child and concluded it wasn't worth it). Both the schools and the community are full of diversity of various kinds, partly because of the university (visiting profs/students bring their families who go to public schools -- my kids had classmates who enrolled just for a year from China, Turkey,etc) and also just because Berkeley tends to attract lots of quirky, typically liberal folks. A British stay-at-home dad would not raise any eyebrows in Berkeley (or probably most of the East Bay). It's definitely a good idea to rent first so you get a better sense of the neighborhoods. That budget should be ample to rent a 4 bedroom house in most of the East Bay.  I imagine most public schools could accommodate students starting in January. 

    Different parts of the East Bay really have a very different feel to them, so it may be worthwhile if it's possible to stay in an extended stay apt or Air Bnb for a month or so and drive around yourselves, talk to people, etc.  Good luck!

    I just wanted to say a quick thanks to all who have responded - I'm overwhelmed by the suggestions!!  

    Since my original post we've shifted our thinking to trying to buy rather than rent and with our budget I don't think we can afford Rockridge/Berkeley.  We had discounted Orinda/Lafayette because google earth makes everything seem so spread out but I am now having another look based on the posts.  Will definitely add Mill Valley to the (getting shorter but still quite long) list although there seems to be a wide wide wide range of house prices which I need to understand better.

    I've also started looking at Pleasanton/Dublin if there any views on that?

    I think I will need to adjust my commute expectations and I've all but given up on the idea of driving so now have the Bart map permanently open but slowly slowly we're narrowing things down. Thank you all again!

    Just a note that if you discounted Rockridge/Berkeley due to pricing then Orinda/Lafayette and Mill Valley will likely also be out of reach. For affordability and BART you are better off looking at Pleasanton/Dublin. Good luck!

    Pleasanton/Dublin are very suburban. It would be hard to walk to daily activities. In terms of activities for children as they get older you would be better off in Oakland/Berkeley/Albany or San Mateo. I think your original idea of renting for a year was a good one, so you could check out towns before making a commitment. I don't know what your purchasing budget is, but there is a trade-off between the size of the house, good infra-structure, walkability and other amenities.

  • What can you tell me about living in Burlingame? I know that housing is crazy expensive, but I also know it's a short commute to SF (where both my husband and I work) with top schools. And great weather! I was thinking we could rent an apartment or buy a condo to get access to the schools, but then I worry that we might not fit in if everyone else is living in a $2M+ home. We are solidly middle class and would love to find a great community on the Peninsula where we can raise our son, but I feel like we're being priced out of the Bay Area. Any tips or opinions welcome!

    I grew up in Burlingame but haven't lived there in 15 years so take my impression with a grain of salt. I still have many old friends from childhood that still live there and raise a family there so I am pretty familiar. Even when I was young it was a pretty desirable/expensive place to live but with the tech industry it has become insane. I don't (didn't growing up either) many families there that rent. There is a small area with condos/apartments that families could rent but in my experience it was where most divorced dads went to live after the divorce. My good friend lives in San Mateo and has found families to be much more diverse economically. Maybe take a look there. There are some great areas in San Mateo (Hayward Park, Beresford) that are more open. Also a word on the commute-my friend drives from San Mateo to SF daily and she says it takes an hour+ most days.  Good luck in your search!

    Hi Katiemalia,

    Here are a couple thoughts:  You might find this article in today's New York Times interesting.  There is an interactive graph that plots towns near some major metropolitan areas (incl. San Francisco) as a function of housing (price per sq. foot) and quality of schools, with color-coding by commute time.  It gives a big-picture view of where you might find more value-for-money school-wise.  The article is here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/30/upshot/good-schools-affor...

    That being said, the devil (as always) is in the details.  For example, I live in Redwood City whose schools overall aren't great.  However, the neighborhood elementary schools span a range (in terms of the various performance metrics), and there are some well-regarded specialized programs (e.g., Spanish immersion) and a magnet elementary school (for which there is an entrance exam).  The high school offers an International Baccalaureate program.  The real estate prices here are still lower than most of our neighboring towns, and (for better or worse, depending on whom you ask) there is currently a lot of growth (new companies moving in and new housing being built).  

    All that is to say that if you drill down a bit you may find good options in a number of towns that you might not expect.

    Good luck with your search!

    JCNRMom, I read that Burlingame is 51% renters, so I wonder if your school just didn't draw from that part of town. Looks like most of the apartments are along El Camino. I wish the East Bay wasn't such a bear to drive to and from during rush hour, since my job is not near BART. That's the main reason we're considering the Peninsula, because at least you can drive to SF fairly easily without going over a bridge. Thanks for the insight. Would love it if anyone else has other responses to add!

  • Hi! We are planning to move in the Bay Area next year (late Spring). We are looking for an LGBT family-friendly area with good schools. My wife will be working in SF Financial District. We want to stay in the city but our finances might not be able to afford it. We have two kids (11,8) ... so we are looking for a community with good schools, easy/fast/close commute to San Francisco and LGBT family-friendly. Any suggestions? Thank you!

    We moved to Albany, 8 years ago, from out of state, because, at the time, California was one of the few states with legal same sex marriage, and our son was about to start kindergarten. We wanted to live in a place where we would be accepted as a family. We chose Albany mostly for the schools and community. We are very close to a BART station, walking distance. Depending on where you're going in SF, it can take as little as 30 minutes to get there by public trans.  I believe Albany has about a 94 walkability score, which means you can pretty much walk to everything, which we love. It's only 1 square mile, and butts up against North Berkeley. We were looking at Berkeley originally, but had concerns about middle school, as we have a child of color, and I think Berkeley has a lottery system. We also didn't know how our son would do in Berkeley High School, which has over 5000 students, as opposed to Albany which has about 1500. [Editor note: Berkeley High has about 3,000 students]

    20-25% of my son's classmates in Albany come from 2-mom families. We've never had any issues regarding our acceptance as a family in our community. The schools score very high on the Great Schools site (all 9's I believe). That's the skinny on paper.

    The things we don't care for is that our Albany community is not as diverse as we thought it would be. It's predominantly white and Asian population, not many children of brown or black skin here. Not diverse socially either. And because of it's quaint small town appeal, it can many times, be too small-town for us (we moved here from a large city).

    Last warning, depending on where you're moving from, the cost of living is 30% higher than the city we moved from. And we bought a house in Albany, half the size. But we've adjusted just fine, and continue to maintain our Midwestern roots.

    I hear Alameda has good schools, Oakland, depending on the area, Berkeley does have great elementary schools. Hope that helps. Good luck!

    Alameda. Hands down. 

    San Leandro is a very LGBT family-friendly place. Quite a few LGBT families live in the neighborhood and attend the Roosevelt Elementary school for one. In fact, for many years the principal  there was openly gay with a family and a wife, but she has since moved on to another job in the school district.  SL is also very affordable and many of us are transplants from San Francisco who couldn't afford to live there. The commute is a breeze too...there is a San Leandro BART Station and also an AC Transit bus (that many commuters like better.) Its a great community for all families (the 580 side for sure.) One caveat is if you are looking for top notch schools, San Leandro schools are good, but not "top notch" like you would have out in more affluent suburbs. Not sure if they would be as LGBT friendly though, so its a trade off. Berkeley is another friendly place and easy access to SF,  but almost as expensive as SF.  No sure if you are looking to rent or buy, but an example of the difference in price is a couple thousands of dollars comparing Berkeley and SL. For a family of 4 in Berkeley in a decent neighborhood, except to spend $4,000-$5,000. In SL, about $2,500-$3,500.  (And $3,500 would be a pretty nice, big house.) Buying about the same difference in prices.

    Northern Marin (Novato, San Rafael, Santa Venetia) have good schools, lots of greenery, and lots of transit options to San Francisco. I don't know of a huge LGBT community, but people here are pretty tolerant of all kinds of diversity, very live-and-let-live.

    I recommend Berkeley. It's less expensive than SF and lots of LGBT pride. Welcome to town.

    Oakland has many lesbian and gay families--I think it's where San Francisco couples move when they start a family (I don't know if it's because they find SF not kid friendly or if it is just a matter of rental prices). The Lakeshore Area, in particular seems to have many LGBT families (we knew a half dozen or more at my daughter's preschool on Lakeshore). The areas zoned for Crocker Highlands or Glenview elementary schools and Edna Brewer middle school would be good choices. The commute to SF isn't bad by Bay Area standards, and there's also casual carpool available from the Grand-Lake area (drivers commuting to SF pick up passengers so that they can avail themselves of carpool lanes). I believe there's also a trans-bay bus that serves the area.

    First of all, do you know about Montclair?  It has been "ground zero" for Lesbian couples for a couple of decades now.  However, Montclair (a) is not well-situated for commuting to San Francisco (compared to the other areas suggested), and (b) I doubt whether it's very diverse.

    I'm mostly writing, however, to clear up some errors in the response to you by "anonymous" that starts "We moved to Albany...." She writes: "We were looking at Berkeley originally, but had concerns about middle school, as we have a child of color, and I think Berkeley has a lottery system."

    WRONG!  Berkeley does NOT have a lottery system for middle schools!  (The lottery system applies only to the "small schools" that exist -- not geographically, but only in terms of classroom and focus -- on Berkeley High campus.)

    "Anonymous" also wrote: "We also didn't know how our son would do in Berkeley High School, which has over 5000 students, as opposed to Albany which has about 1500." 

    WRONG AGAIN! To quote from their website: "Berkeley High School is a comprehensive four-year school serving approximately 3300 students. BHS is unique in that it is the only public high school in a community of over 100,000. Drawing from a diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic status, the student population embraces a broad spectrum of people and ideas."

    Finally she writes: "[O]ur Albany community is not as diverse as we thought it would be."

    RIGHT!  Albany is not nearly as diverse as Berkeley.  That's a well-known fact.  

    FYI, I have been volunteering at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School (in North Berkeley) for six years now, and you could not hope to find a more diverse student body.  The percentage of children of color at "King" (as it's called) is very high relative to the population of California as a whole. And the quality of the support staff is out of this world!  We adopted a child from out of State who recently attended King during 7th and 8th grades, and in my opinion the level of attention and support she received was commensurate with that of any private school, anywhere.

    As another "Anonymous" wrote, "Welcome to town!"

    P.S.  Back in the 80s, Berkeley was home to two fantastic Lesbian owned-and-operated businesses:  the Brick Hut Café and Vivoli's gelateria.  Sadly, both are gone, but that should give you some idea of Lesbian history in Berkeley.


    I also just want to add that if you are coming from anywhere except Boston or New York, you will likely be surprised by the sheer number of LGBT people in the Bay Area.  We are everywhere.  My partner and I live with our two kids in Lafayette, which is an East Bay suburb.  It's not very ethnically diverse or socioeconomically diverse, but we wanted a safe place for our kids and we wanted to be close to my aging parents.  We moved in expecting to perhaps encounter some homophobia, but instead discovered two other LGBT couples live within a handful of houses.  Our kids attend a preschool here that is extremely LGBT-positive and there are many kids there who have two moms or two dads (or other out-of-the-norm arrangements).  All of which is to say, the Bay Area is really a unique place in the sense of the sheer number of LGBT folks.  Of course, some areas are more liberal than others, and some areas have more LGBT people than others, but overall, I would say, look for the place you want to live for other reasons (location, traffic, finances, public transportation, etc) and you can generally expect that it will at least be reasonably LGBT-family-friendly.

  • Hi BPN! My kids are 8 and 4, and we are moving from Seattle to the bay area in the next couple of months. We are going to rent somewhere in the East Bay and are looking in Oakland, which seems ethnically and culturally diverse, relatively affordable, and well located for a commute to downtown SF. Can anyone recommend a family friendly neighborhood with a good elementary school?

    A school review website ranks Oakland elementary schools as either very bad or very good, with little in between. I'm wondering if it's missing something. Can a district with a school lottery have such wide educational disparity? If you live in a neighborhood with black & brown faces, a school you like/love, and that's kid friendly, please let me know. We will definitely visit first, but a few pointers would really help narrow down the field. Thanks in advance for your input.

    Welcome to the Bay Area! I know you asked about Oakland, but wanted to offer up north San Leandro (just off of I-580) as another option. There's a BART station downtown and express buses to SF. Two neighborhoods in particular -- Estudillo Estates and Broadmoor -- have charming houses that are more affordable than Oakland, nice community, and tremendous ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity (more so, in my opinion, than many parts of Oakland with the "good" schools). There are a couple of neighborhood schools that serve those neighborhoods: Roosevelt and Washington. Roosevelt is the better performing school (in terms of test scores, which of course aren't the whole story) and is very culturally and ethnically diverse, with fantastic parent involvement (PTA, Dad's Club, LGBTQ association, etc). I've also heard good things about Washington Elementary, though historically their test scores have been low, but this is due to the linguistic/ethnic diversity of the school (which is also one of its best assets, IMO). In terms of community, the neighborhood is generally walkable, with some restaurants nearby (though you'd definitely have to drive 10 mins to Oakland for more exciting fare) and a fantastic coffeehouse/neighborhood meeting spot, Zocalo. The SL library is awesome, and there are a lot of new/young families moving in who were priced out of SF/Berkeley. Alameda is also a nice option with good schools, but much pricier. Good luck on your move!

    Oakland is based on a neighborhood school model, meaning neighborhood children get priority for the local school, before the Options process kicks in. That's how you get the educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities present in Oakland schools. Everyone is competing for a limited number of available spots at the best performing schools.

    Since you are looking for a housing, you should definitely look at the boundary map for the school neighborhoods (http://mapstacker.ousd.k12.ca.us/). The schools in the Oakland hills have the best test scores, but also the highest housing cost and, I suspect, the fewest available rentals. Also the whitest of Oakland's neighborhoods, although even the whitest of Oakland's elementary schools is 34% other races (the least diversified schools in Oakland are either predominantly Hispanic or predominantly Asian, with north of 90% of one ethnicity). Some of Oakland's most diverse schools are located between Interstate 580 and Hwy 13, with Glenview and Sequoia elementaries having a particulary balanced mix of black, white, Asian, and Hispanic students. Crocker Highlands is also in that area--it's whiter and a bit more affluent, but a gorgeous neighborhood. My daughter went to Cleveland, which is on the other side of 580 (the "flatlands"). Great school, majority Asian but a healthy dose of every other ethnic group, and a less expensive neighborhood.

    You can get the school report cards for all the Oakland schools from the OUSD website (http://www.ousd.org/domain/56). They have test scores, ethnic breakdowns. class size, teacher credential info, suspensions, expulsions, etc., etc.

    Good luck!

    I loved loved loved!! Sequoia Elementary. We actually live in the Crocker Highlands district, which ostensibly is a "better" school--but it is more white, and more competitive in my humble opinion. So our son went to Sequoia. He has some learning challenges and was then just a couple of years out of cancer treatment--so he looked different, sounded different, etc. etc. but the kids were super nice to him. My son is now in 8th grade, Sequoia goes through fifth, so it is possible things have changed.. but please check out Sequoia if you are looking at OUSD. The neighborhood around it is full of families and they had a bunch of "walking buses" for kids to pick each other up on set walking routes to school. And there is a garden!


    Check out the Montclair, Redwood Heights, and Glenview neighborhoods in Oakland...they may have what you're looking for. Also look at the city of Alameda.

    KQED radio just did some interesting pieces about diversity and Oakland Unified that may be insightful, though not necessarily encouraging: 0https://ww2.kqed.org/news/tag/oakland-unified-school-district/

    Oh my gosh, you make me cry tears of joy with your suggestions and thoughts. I really, really appreciate it!  I'm coming to visit and now I have some good starting places. This is a HUGE relief. :)

    IMHO Oakland is only great for commuting to SF if you are within walking distance of a BART station, and those neighborhoods are increasingly unaffordable. San Leandro was a good suggestion; we looked there before buying in El Cerrito some years ago. EC has two BART stations that are very bikable/walkable from most of the city. The local public school my kids attend (Fairmont) is part of the West Contra Costa Unified district, a large urban district that is extremely diverse and offers lots of places for parents to plug in and participate in their child's education. My kids are white and in the minority in their classrooms and on campus and it is just fine.

  • My husband and I are considering moving to the Bay Area and my biggest concern is cost.  I would be working in SF and he would be working in Napa.  Anyone have any thoughts on best towns to buy a house that has good schools, is somewhere commutable for both of us, and is on affordable side?  We love nature - somewhere like Oakland Montclair or Lake Berryessa in Napa would be our dream but is way expensive.  Don't even want to know about cost of childcare there too!

    Wow, i don't even know where to begin with your post. First off, before you commit to the huge cost of moving and uprooting a family, spend the time to actually come here, stay in a place like Petaluma (which is still sort of affordable) or Vallejo (which is affordable but will be a God awful commute for both) and then try to either drive (a must to work in Napa) or drive or take the bus/ferry combo into SF a few days during the morning and evening commutes. As a Mom who until recently worked, I can honestly say that having both parents doing those two crazy opposite drives is completely unsustainable. What happens when a child is sick at school & a parent has to pick them up? When you have to work late? When a car breaks down? At the very least you both would have to stagger your schedules so that 1 parent left the house at 4 or 5 am, and drove back in time to get home by 3 or 4 pm. The other parent would have to start late and work late. At best, you are looking at least at 2 hours commuting to/from SF daily- if there are accidents, mass transit problems, etc. it could be closer to 4 hours per day. Also, your combined transit costs are going to be high- either transit or driving/parking daily. On top of all of this, you have the high cost of housing- plan on spending around $3,000 per month on a 2 bd apt. in the boonies. And, for instance, the public schools are often terrible in the boonies (ahem, Vallejo.) If you both still really want to move to the Bay area, honestly, you need a more well thought out plan. The stress and high cost of living here is very real as the population grows and resources become more scarce and all forms of transportation become more difficult. I wish you luck in your journey, but you need to be realistic, if only for your kids' sake.

    I would say your biggest concern should be your commutes. If I were in your position, one or both spouses should definitely try to get some flex arrangement so you don't have to be on site 5 days/week. The towns I would look at are Vallejo (the SF commuter takes the ferry, Napa drives), Benicia (driving to Napa, not so hot two-bridge commute to SF unless you drive to BART in Walnut Creek and take the train from there, or drive to ferry in Vallejo), or El Cerrito within walking distance of BART for the convenience of the SF commuter, 40ish minute drive for the Napa worker. Schools are hit and miss in Vallejo and Benicia (you can always go private) but you're okay in El Cerrito. Vallejo is the most affordable but does have its issues in parts. I would definitely rent for a while until you try out these commutes. Childcare is way cheaper in Vjo/Benicia than El Cerrito.

    Lake Berryessa would be too far for you to commute to San Francisco. Benicia has good schools and is commutable easily to both San Francisco and Napa. There is a ferry in Vallejo that goes to San Francisco. Homes are relatively affordable for the bay area. If you are interested I can recommend a realtor for you to work with. I have been living in Benicia since 2001 and would be happy to answer any more questions you might have. 

    Raising my hand to recommend Richmond in the East Bay, specifically my neighborhood, East Richmond Heights. We have a Bart stop (El Cerrito del Norte) into the city and a bridge (the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge) that goes straight up to Napa. In the nabe are loads of great elementary schools: Mira Vista is the public school, there is a cooperative elementary school called Crestmont, there is a Jewish day school called Tehiyah. And we are right on top of Wildcat Canyon. Technically, you could hike from there to Tilden Park in Oakland, though I've never done it; regardless, there are tons of great trails right here. Childcare is ... not cheap. When we finally got both kids into public school we wanted to take a bath in the money we suddenly were saving. Ah, bay area, you kooky place. 

    My thought is with a child, one parent needs to be close enough to home, as to avoid a 3 hour commute home, which is what it will be from SF during rush hour.  And on Fridays in the summer, Ive seen it take 4 hours.  So my recommendation is not to cause both parents to risk a congested commute.  Someone needs to get home to the child in a reasonable time.  

    Lake Berryessa is very affordable, but you can still find something small and affordable closer to town that is a short distance to the Vallefo Ferry.  Any safe neighborhood in Oakland will cost more anyway.  For SF, you can use BART but your husband will be in traffic getting out of the east bay and into Napa.  The drive from Napa to the Vallejo ferry is quick via a back way.  So do not consider driving to SF.  Ferry ride is only 1 hour and relaxing.  You can arrive home to your family in a sane condition.  Vallejo is also affordable and makes huge sense for commuting to both Napa and SF...but it is consistently rated an undesirable city due to crime.  Id actually consider Vallejo for myself, but not with a child.  

    If youre set on having one take BART west and one drive east, Id recommend El Cerrito or Pinole for a smaller town feel and potential affordability.  El Cerrito has a great BART station with parking.  

    I work in Napa and live in Berkeley.  Lake Beryessa is a real trek   Staying East of University is a big help with the commute (it's about an hour door to door-mostly against traffic).  I would look in Albany, El Cerrito and Berkeley.  You can bart in to SF and it keeps his commute doable. Nature is close by and the schools are good.  Good Luck!

  • Moving to Bay Area and clueless

    (12 replies)

    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 Francisco 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!

    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 preschools....my 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. 


    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:   http://sanfranciscobayferry.com/route/oakland/ssf 

    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:  http://bluemoonlc.com    

    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:  http://sanfranciscobayferry.com/route/alameda/ssf

    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.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


New job in SF - where's a sunny place to live?

Sept 2010

Hi- I have been a longtime reader of BPN and now that we are moving to the area I am pleased to join the community and ask your advice. We are moving here for my partner's work in downtown San Fran. It will be a big adjustment for us as we'll go from flex, working from home to long office hours and to a city where we know few people and have no family. We want to find a place to live (we'll rent at first) that is not longer than a 45 min commute. Not seeing Dad every morning, noon and night will be a huge change for the kids and adding more than an hour on to his workday seems too long for everyone yet is it realistic to find a less than 45 min commute?

I'm worried about the fog. Like a plant I need sun. Any thoughts on places that are more sunny? We care deeply about schools. Any leads on great schools? We'd like to find a real community where we can settle and stay put. We want to know our neigbors and walk places. We enjoy healthy, good food, we are eco-conscious, we like kids parks, biking, skating etc. We are liberal cultural Jews and former New Yorkers. I grew up near Madison, WI (which I LOVED) and I think there are some similarities in Berkeley. Yet, would we feel like a family in a sea of students if we lived near the Ashby Bart stop?

My older child will be changing schools mid year in K and any hints on how this works mid year are very welcome. Also any good private or charter school options if we can't navitate a midyear public move. Also leads on play based social emotional empahsis or Reg Emilio preschools apreciated too. I know it's lots of questions in one so thanks very much in advance! New BPN Mama

so....is your partner's work near BART? if so, you have a wide range of places you can live which are within 45 min. i only know east bay but i'm sure there is stuff on the peninsula. for sunny, hot you can go through the hills to Lafayette, Orinda, etc. i think those are more suburban. if you want more 'city'ish, consider Rockridge (i think some of the public schools are good) and North Berkeley BART area and Albany (el cerrito bart/north berkeley bart). bike trails etc all over. for schools, lots of good listings on bpn, maybe see which parents are excited about the things you care about. we are the academy which we like, i also hear great things about black pine circle, windrush, prospect sierra, it really depends upon your kids too, what motivates them. for public schools people often choose albany, but there are a variety of public schools that people like all over. it's more expensive to rent/buy in albany, i believe, because of the schools. i think near the ashby bart stop can be rough. welcome!

I live in Alameda. The commute to downtown SF can be less than 30 minutes (depending on exact downtown destination). My son attends a RE preschool on the island (Home Sweet Home). Alameda is sunny and walkable and I have great neighbors and... I love it. Best of luck with your relocation. your new neighbor?

I am sure you will get a ton of responses with everyone advocating for where they live but can personally recommend the Montclair area of Oakland - we are objectively warmer than most other Bay Area locals, 12 miles from Montclair Village to downtown SF (which translates to an average 30 minute drive or 40 minute BART with drive time to a nearby station), and currently a relatively affordable section of Oakland. Your children generally go to neighborhood schools in OUSD and for elementary most of the Hills schools are very good with strong parent communities and well rounded education (arts, music, computer, etc.). On foggy days because we are up high and the spacing of the canyons we are often either fog free (sitting above it) or we warm up faster - average Oakland temp today is 70 - we are 75+ There are a number of 'liberal' jewish communities in the area - we are members of a large reform synagogue with a great pre-school and educational program for older kids - there is a TON of amazing food in and around Oakland, and despite being up in the hills there are a lot of paths that get you around so I often walk to farmer's market on Sunday mornings - I also walk my son to school most days. Welcome to the Bay! Maggie

I would strongly recommend that you check out Alameda, CA -an island off the coast of Oakland-as a wonderful Bay area option for living. Our family moved here last summer and have been thrilled with the open and welcoming community we have found. The commute to SF is only 15-20 minutes (non-rush hour), and in rush hour about 30-35. However, there is a ferry (20 min), an hourly transbay bus (20 min), BART (from Oakland), and many carpool options, too. The community is full of beautiful victorian-era and craftsman-style homes and the city takes great pride in its historical character. The crime rate is low, and my kids (10 & 15) ride bikes and skateboard wherever they want to go, my husband & I walk and ride bikes, too. The schools are highly-rated (check greatschools.com), and very pro-active in the face of recent budget crunches, but there are also great charter schools available (ACLC & NEA). It is a rich, culturally-diverse community with great restaurants & stores, festivals, and beaches, plus it is the sunniest place in the Bay area. (Temps are typically 10 degrees warmer than SF. Since our arrival in July, we've had only 2 completely overcast days and no fog!) It was just selected as one of the 'Top Ten Suburbs' in Travel & Leisure magazine and one of the 'Top 100 Communities for Kids' by America's Promise Alliance. There is also a similar online parent network called 'Alameda Parents Network' which offers great friendliness and support. Plus, it is only a 10+ minute drive from Berkeley, so you can enjoy the benefits of Berkeley very easily as well! We love it! Bara Waters bara

Okay get out your bay area map and we'll color code it together. First North Bay: Tiburon, Sausalito, Belvedere, Mill Valley, they are all Blue Fairfax, San Enselmo, Larkspur Corte Madera, GreenBrae, Ross, San Rafael, these are Green. Novato and Petaluma, Purple

East Bay:

Piedmont, Berkeley Hills, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Danville, Alamo Blue. Oakland Hills (Montclair) Berkeley flats, Rockridge, all Green, San Leandro, Oakland above lake merrit, Albany, Hayward, Purple.

South Bay:

Hillsborough, San Mateo Blue. Pacifica and Millbrae, Green. Bellmont, San Carlos, Foster City Purple.

Blue is where everyone wants to be. Perfect weather, gigantic homes, good schools, every day is vacation. High percentage of stay home mothers. This will work if your combined income exceeds $200k. North Bay blue's tend to be fairly liberal and artsy, where the east bay Blues have some pockets of .... how do I say.... 'not very open minded'

Green, also VERY nice, great climate, generally more liberal folks, artists, athletes, writers. The schools are sometimes alot of work to ferret out, though it can be done. Everyone in green has a dog. This is more the $100 to $175K folks.

Purple is your classic, 'moving further out to get more for your buck', areas. Schools tend to be pretty good, but the culture is not quite as dynamic.

The farther east you go, the warmer the climate. Berkeley Oakland is ideal. Sausalito is absolute heaven, Pacifica is foggy. Soon as you get 'through the caldecot tunnel it gets hot; as far out as concord is deadly hot. North- Petaluma gets rather hot as well, but its really quaint.

The Bay Area really is the most beautiful place in the world wherever you land, but it can be expensive.

there are definately places to avoid: anywhere near an airport. East oakland, Richmond.... South San Fran.

You are going to be SO HAPPY. Welcome! Please email me with any further questions. I enjoy this Reenie

Welcome to the bay area! Based upon your background/interests, I think you'll like it here. If you are looking for more sun, the east bay is definitely the place to be. And yes, it is definitely possible to have a commute of less than 45 min each way if you live somewhat close to a BART station. We live in Temescal (6 blocks from MacArthur BART), and my husband commutes to downtown (Powell St. station) in about 30 minutes, door to door. His office is right above the station, so that helps.

Re: neighborhoods, you don't say how much rent you can afford, which would inform my recommendations. Don't shy away from Oakland--there are many wonderful neighborhoods here. In addition to Berkeley, you might check out Rockridge, Temescal, or Piedmont Ave. areas of Oakland. Of these, in general, Rockridge is probably the most upscale and Temescal the cheapest, but more up-and-coming/artsy/etc. They are all centrally located making commuting pretty easy--a simple walk or bike to BART. W. Berkeley is less expensive, Central Berkeley medium, N. Berkeley and Claremont area are more affluent--again, these are generalities. Can you visit here to see what neighborhoods you like before signing a lease? While the Ashby Bart area of Berkeley is not flooded with students (at all), you might find some of the aforementioned Oakland neighborhoods better. Berkeley is full of families, students are more around the campus and where Shattuck and Telegraph intersect with University.

Be aware that both Berkeley and SF have a lottery for public schools. Not sure how that works re: mid school-transfers. SF's is very intense and you could wind up in a school across town. Berkeley's is more manageable, though you are not guaranteed your neighhorhood school. The more affluent neighborhoods of Oakland have pretty decent public elementary schools and you are much more likely to get your local school, though sometimes they are oversubscribed. I would call to check about transferring in mid-year.

Re: play-based preschools. Yes, there are many, Regio and otherwise. Hopefully someone else will offer current recommendations. There are also many progressive, private schools in the east bay, too many to list! Google is your friend. good luck!

I only have a few mins so I can't get into the whole where to live but I can tell you we live in South Berkeley near the Ashby Bart - and it is not a student area at all - the students mostly live near campus. I work in the financial district and my door to door commute (walk, bart, walk) is 32 mins total so very manageable. We love Berkeley -it is the burbs but still lots of access to SF, theater etc if you still want that. So I'd say its fairly urban as suburbs go, particularly for the bay area. good luck with the move! Berkeley fan

I recommend Piedmont . Your husband can catch casual carpool and be on the highway in 1-2 quick minutes. Or go to nearby Rockridge or Oakland BART stations. Berkeley is much bigger with much more stop n go traffic. Piedmont is like a small town where you know your neighbors and can walk around the whole town. Berkeley is larger, more urban, and your neighbors kids go to different schools. Piedmont is surrounded by farmers markets and groceries as well as restaurants and other such things. The absolute best thing is being able to sign your kids up for recreation dept classes and a FREE van drives the kids around! Don't believe the image of Piedmont. There are so many great and caring families here! And of course the weather is great, less fog than the Berkeley hills (where I work.) K12

I would not live near Ashby BART with little kids. When I lived there a few years ago, there were muggings outside my window, and people would go to the door or tap on the window asking for handouts, etc. Plus, the walkable shops are not that close or that great. Some people will surely disagree, but it would not be my choice. If I were you, I would look near Rockridge in Oakland instead. It's a fun area, very kid-friendly, sounds like a good match to your self-description, and it is on the Pittsburgh/Bay Point BART line rather than the RIchmond line. There are more trains, and you never have to transfer, whereas on the Richmond line, you sometimes have to transfer (direct service from SF is intermittent), which would add time to your husband's trip. I found that my commute from downtown to Rockridge took half the time, or less, than it took me when I was in the avenues in the City itself. anon

Consider living in Rockridge ! It has many attributes...

--It's a wonderful walking neighborhood full of shops, restaurants, cafes, etc. (OK, Rockridge is oversupplied with places to get your brows waxed, but where else can you walk to the bay area's best butcher shop?) I walk EVERYWHERE - to get groceries, to the post office, to the playground with my kid, etc. I routinely park my car and then don't look at it for a week.
--There is access to GREAT food here - both restaurants and groceries and a great farmer's market on Sundays.
--It is so easy to commute from here. The BART gets you from Rockridge to SF in 20 minutes. And it's right on the freeway too.
--Rockridge is FULL of families w/ small children, and it feels like a village. I routinely see the same people when I am out with my daughter, and I have made friends at the park, the coffee shop, etc. Although it has all the fun and interesting stuff of an urban neighborhood, it *feels* small, and you see the same faces regularly.
--There are about six trillion preschools in Rockridge (maybe even more preschools than waxing salons). Take your pick.
--Rockridge is home to two of Oakland's best public elementary schools, Chabot and Peralta.
--Downside: Rockridge is an expensive place to buy a house (see above if you wonder why). But renting here is not that different than other nice neighborhoods in Berkeley/Oakland. I have been both a renter and a homeowner here, and, in my opinion, the location is so special and wonderful that it's worth maybe squeezing into a smaller space.

Best of luck on your move! Rockridge Mom

We live in Alameda and we highly recommend it. Alameda is a small island off of Oakland, and we are a small community with a small neighborhood feel. People like to describe us as a place stuck in the 50's--in a good way! Kids still ride their bikes to school and play on the streets, and there are tons of parks, lagoons and beaches where people exercise and walk their dogs. The schools here are also very good, from K-12 (some better than others, so be sure to check first). I hear the problem with Oakland schools is that even though your neighborhood elementary school might be good, some are admitted by the lottery system, and later on the middle schools/high schools are not that great, and we were told some parents then move or send their kids to private school. At least in Alameda I take comfort that we can settle here and send our kids to public school all the way to high school.

You can drive to downtown in 30 minutes (more with traffic), take BART (unfortunately you'll have to be driven to BART in Oakland), or take the ferry (very convenient). I hear some people carpool into the city from Alameda. A 45 minute commute seems like a lot when you are not from the Bay Area, but you will find that you have to drive at least 20-30 minutes just to get anywhere, so you might have to readjust your expectations. At least within Alameda, everything is just 5-10 minutes away. Oh, and did I mention the weather is good? It's never too hot, and we don't get the fog. Good luck with your move! --Vote for Alameda!

We recently moved to Oakland from Brooklyn (Park Slope). While I grew up in San Jose, it had been nearly 20 years since I left the Bay Area, so coming back feels very much like we are getting to know things from scratch.

We knew we did not want to be in the South Bay. Too far from work, not urban enough, or interesting enough. Before moving here, I was pretty set on Berkeley. I lived on BPN and real estate web sites and pretty much had a lay of the land before we even came to visit. However, spending time in Berkeley left me feeling a bit empty. The places in our budget didn't seem like communities I wanted to live in (we wanted to buy a 3-4 bedroom for 800K or less). I was really surprised by this, so I absolutely recommend you take a few trips out in advance to see the areas for yourself.

We ended up really liking many parts of Oakland-- Rockridge, Lake Merritt, Crocker Highlands, Montclair. There was an energy here I really appreciated. My parents-- after more than 30 years of listening to Oakland-bashing on the news--were surprised to see that Oakland was really an interesting and beautiful place.

We fell in love with a house in Montclair , and the zoned public school seemed excellent, by test score and because the parent community was hugely involved. We took a risk and bought it.

It's been 3 months since we moved and we really love living here. It is nowhere near as pedestrian-scale as Brooklyn, but there are other things we appreciate. Our street is so lovely--our neighbors are very friendly, our kids all go to the same school, they ride their bikes and scooters in the street (it is a dead end street, so little traffic), we have BBQs together... we feel so fortunate to have that and without it, we would likely feel lonely. The school is also terrific, though certain things about it have taken some adjustment (the parent involvement is enormous, and expected. as a working mother with 2 small children, I have found it overwhelming at times the extent to which I am asked to participate). The farmer's markets are amazing. The weather is incredible. My neighborhood is gorgeous. We love our house. The work-life balance is better here culturally than in NYC... my husband is home earlier despite a longer commute as people seem to put down their jobs and go off to pursue their own interests. He is not as stressed out. I have always worked from home, so it is no different for me. Culturally, it feels quite liberal, and the families I have met seem to share our values in education, healthy living, the arts, politics, etc.) I am sure there are varied opinions no matter where you go, but it does not feel conservative here.

The cons: We've put more miles on our car(s)--we need 2 now--in 3 months than we did our entire driving history in Brooklyn (we owned a car for 2 years there). My husband is driving to Brisbane temporarily for work, and the traffic is a bitch. He sometimes makes it in an hour, if he is lucky. He will normally go to SOMA, which should allow him to take BART. I miss the vast selection of great, independent coffee shops in Park Slope. I have yet to replace my beloved Grumpy's. I also miss the Park Slope Food Coop, which was a great place to buy inexpensive organic food. I love Berkeley Bowl, but it is not cheap. Same with Whole Foods. I miss fall and that snap in the air when you can pinpoint exactly when the season changes. Also, my daughter's school in Brooklyn was pretty economically and racially diverse, which I appreciated. Her school in Oakland is less so.

All in all, I think you will find something to love about your Bay Area experience, no matter where you end up. We ended up in a place we didn't expect and we love it. Just be open minded and embrace the change. Feel free to contact me if you would like to ask me anything else. Good luck! Wendy

well, i read the responses and i have to take issue w/ the post that said stay away from Richmond . i didn't see the original post, but there are plenty of great places to live in richmond and we have a lot of middle class families here. in addition, you will find cute, affordable houses, some good public schools--including a dual immersion school--and plenty of high quality private schools. plus the diversity here can't be beat. we have richmond art center, free music festivals, horse stables, and access to other cultural venues. it's 25 minutes to sf, 20 to san rafael, 45 to napa, 15 to oakland. neighborhoods to look at are richmond view, richmond annex, north & east (north of the 30s), point richmond and some of the newer areas near hilltop. the city has problems, no doubt about it. but so does berkeley, oakland and sf. it all depends what neighborhood you're in. the one thing i have to say that does suck about richmond-el cerrito is the summer weather, which is just like sf. but i'm an old beach bunny from l.a.. anyway, to whoever said stay away: you should come up here sometime. you might actually like it! in richmond 10 years

Job in SF but I must have sun

Feb 2010

I'd hate to have husband commute but I must have sun. Is it better to live in Berkeley, Sausalito, parts of SF or avoid SF complelety? Concerns about crime as well. I am Cal mom age 63.I hope to teach cooking to kids out of my home. Many thanks, C.

Go to sfgate.com, and search the entire archive for 'microclimates'. There is a story by Harold Gilliam with maps of SF microclimates, fog etc. A place that seems even sunnier is through the tunnel--- Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek , and they are directly on a BART line. We briefly lived in Marin and did seem less foggy than SF. Some of the commutes can be fast--for example if your husband works in Embarcadero Center, the ferry is fast. anon

have you looked at Noe Valley . It's a fabulous family friendly neighborhood. We used to live on 22nd st at Church. It was sunny most of the year. We watched the fog roll in to the right and left eventually meeting in Potrero and never quite make it to us. Ah, I miss those days. miss those sunny days

Noe Valley is relatively sunny for the city (as is the Mission, but you said you were concerned about safety - probably not the best area for you). Potrero Hill would be another option. Anything south of the city, too. (Just don't go west!)

In the East Bay, I wouldn't go north of Emeryville -- too much fog coming across through the golden gate. Oakland is pretty reliably sunny in all parts, I'd say. A Fan of the Fog

Oakland has much more sun than Berkeley and there are very nice neighborhoods there. Real sun is through the Caldecott Tunnel - Orinda, Moraga . Don't know about Sausalito. SAD sufferer in Berkeley

East Bay neighborhood that's commutable to SF, progressive, kid-friendly

April 2003

In a year or so my husband will be taking a job in San Francisco. We presently live in Hawaii where I am from. We are looking in the East Bay area for a place to live. We have three kids- 3 year old twin boys and a 4 month old baby boy. I know very little about the area and am very nervous about this move because this is a decision we are making for our whole! family. I have been trying to research areas from Berkeley all the way to Walnut Creek.

Here is a summary of my ''dream'' place: I would love to find an area that is progressive with natural living/organic living resources. An active community would be nice. I am looking for a place with easy access to outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, running, parks, playgrounds and open space to run loose. I want a place that is kid friendly and close to good schools- public and/or private. Other places (ie: children's museums etc... are a plus too). My husband will be commuting to San Francisco so it needs to be within a reasonable distance to the city (I hear BART is very easy). I realize that the cost of living is outrageous- even compared to Hawaii, so I am prepared for that, but are some areas more expensive than others? I guess that covers the aspects that I consider most important. I have seen the other postings on the website but I was hoping for more information about some of the specific qualities that I mentioned. Any input would be very appreciated! Thank you

If you are looking for a great East Bay neighborhood, I would pick our neighborhood -- Upper Rockridge between Broadway Terrace and Moraga Avenue. This is a very diverse neighborhood and is close to everything (nature and modern conveniences). It also has a terrific K-8 public elementary school, Hillcrest. (You may need to send your kids to private high school though.) We really love it here -- there are tons of kids on our street that are the same age as yours (my twins and baby are separated by the same time as yours are but are about a year older). As far as commuting to the city, my husband takes the bus from about a block away. It is an express bus and he is at his desk 35 minutes after walking out the door. Of course, BART is always an option but the bus is generally faster for him given the location of his office. The commute is a huge benefit to being here. Also, the weather is not nearly as hot as the cities further east. Shannon

you are describing berkeley and oakland. consider these neighborhoods: rockridge (upper and lower), montclair, crocker highlands, berkeley hills, elmwood, and north berkeley. a happy oakland resident

Hi Courtney, We've been really happy in Albany , and it has all the things you're looking for:
1) A small-town atmosphere with lots of families, walkable neighborhoods and easy access to natural groceries & pharmacies.
2) Several nice local parks, quick access to large parks like Tilden, easy access to a bayside beach and a quick hop across the bay to Marin County and Point Reyes
3) A great school system with motivated kids, good teachers and lots of parent involvement
4) Walking (or easy biking) access to BART
Yes, it's expensive. And the school budgets are getting slashed, just like most in California. But it works pretty well for us. Good luck! Jeff

Hi. Since you are from Hawaii, you should be aware that the Berkeley area, basically from North Oakland to north berkeley/albany/so. el cerrito gets A LOT of fog in the summer. I live in No. Berkeley. Our nicest time of year is the spring. Lots of blue sky. From June through August there is a lot of fog. Some times it's just in the morning, some times it lasts all day. Because this area is located directly across from the ''open'' area spanned by the Golden gate bridge, the coastal fog rolls through, across the bay in a tube, and sits nestled in the Berkeley hills. I love sun and still love this area despite this, but it CAN be a drag on summer days that are warm everywhere but here. The good thing is that even when we have hot days, eventually the fog rolls in and cools things off just aorund the time you are tired of the heat.

For summer hot weather, you'd need to live ''through the tunnel'' in Orinda, Concord, Walnut Creak, Pleasonton area.

For this side of the tunnel, the best public schools are found in Piedmont. You trade good schools (v. Berkeley) for a fairly conservative population.

Berkeley has tons of diversity, poor/mediocre public schools, great access to the outdoors (literally out your door, if you live high in the hills, adjacent to Tilden Park), tons of arts and restuarants...in fact, Berkeley is all about food, whether its the abundance of fresh everything at the markets or tons of choices for excellent dining out. Lots of theaters, movies, art shows, music. This is why we live here.

There is good access to Rockridge Bart station in North Oakland/Rockridge area, or at North Berkeley Bart, central Berkeley BART or even El Cerrito Bart. Berkeley distinguishes itself from other areas nearbye in that most of the houses are old and have a lot of architectural charm, and the neighborhoods have lots of trees.

There are tons of excellent private schools to choose from. Let me know if you have any specific questions. Dana

Alameda is a wonderful place to live! flat, so biking/stroller stuff is easy. easy bus ride to the city, 35-40 min. schools pretty good i think (we homeschool). lots of scouts, soccer, little league, churches, etc. trader joe's and a new marketplace (organic stuff, fish, bakery, niman ranch meat) in town. quick to get just about anywhere in the bay area from here. good luck! peggy

Hi Courtney. I currently live in Oakland, but if I had my choice (maybe in a couple of years) I would live in Orinda . It is exactly what you described in your message, and it is west of Walnut creek. Orinda also has a BART station so commuting to SF is a breeze. Actually, most towns around Walnut Creek are pretty nice, but I have heard that Walnut Creek schools are not as nice as they used to be. You could look at Lafayette and Pleasant Hill, both between Orinda and Walnut Creek. Other towns out that direction will just put you even farther from SF. Best advice though is come take a look, and maybe rent for a year before putting down roots. The real estate prices will really make you gasp.

Also, be sure to find directions and drive by Orinda Public Library. It is huge and new, beautifully set next to new community center and very large playground/public tennis courts. I have three kids (3yr, 6yr, 11 yr.) and we will go spend 3 hours or so doing various activities around the library & playground.

Good Luck! Tiffany

You didn't mention whether you would be buying or renting a home when you arrive, but either way you can get a good sense of the cost of housing in the various East Bay cities by going to www.realtyadvocates.com. Just click on Home Search (East Bay), then select the different cities you are looking at, and conduct a search with broad parameters (2+ bedrooms, 200,000-800,000 dollars...). This will give you a pretty good sense of how much most homes are going for in that area.

Most of your desires can be met in most of the communities in the Berkeley-Oakland area. As far as schools go, some districts are better than others, but California's budget is in a shambles and our schools are taking the brunt of the blow. All the districts, even the ''good'' ones, are scrambling to maintain decent class size and enrichment programs in the coming years.

Good luck to you,

I took an interest in your request b/c I too am from Hawaii (Honolulu), and I understand what your leaving behind to move to the Bay Area.

My husband also commutes to the city on BART and we've lived in different East Bay neighborhoods over the past 10+ years. I've found the following to be really nice, kid friendly, good parks, easy commute to city etc.: Piedmont, Rockridge(Oakland), Elmwood (Berkeley), West Brae neighborhood near the N Berkeley BART station/Monteray Mkt all to be great. Living on the Berkeley/Oakland side of the East Bay puts you within easy access of great restaurants, food shopping at farmer's markets, Berkeley Bowl/Monteray Mkt, museums both in the East Bay and the City and close to the neighborhood parks and regional parks (Tilden).

I've also heard that living in Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga can be very nice too! So many choices, good luck! Maya

We live in and really like Castro Valley . It's family friendly, there are community groups, I hear (my child is only 2 1/2) that the schools are good, it's small-ish but with all the essentials, well situated for either a BART or car commute to SF, also well situated for access to other cities such as Hayward/Union City, Oakland and Dublin/Pleasanton (I work in Oakland and my husband works in Dublin). Lake Chabot, which has hiking, biking, horseback riding, picnicing and fishing, is just minutes from downtown. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions I might be able to answer. We're also relocating this coming June, but it has nothing to do with Castro Valley! Jennifer

I have been looking into buying a house in the east bay (mainly oakland). And unless you are willing to pay exta ordinarily expensive prices for your home I would NOT look in piedmont, rockridge (oakland), and most places through the tunnell (orinda, lafayette). Although I'm sure these are great places to live they come with great big price tags, and are somewhat exclusive.

Although berkeley is a great place to live, my only complaint is that many parts of it are a pain to get out of, because there is only one freeway 80, and it is often congested. (also the property taxes are more than oakland). But still there are MANY nice neighborhoods in berkeley, & some good schools, and lots of parks/family oriented stuff. But I do not know berkeley as well as oakland.

Some neighborhoods in oakland that have good schools, and nice family neighborhoods are: oakmore, montclair, trestle glen, & crocker highlands, to name a few.

If you are interested in getting a general idea of the price/location of homes check out www.Realtor.com

Oakland school district finder http://mapstacker.ousd.k12.ca.us For school ratings (bear in mind that it is always best to get opinions of parents/and even better teachers on how a school is, also this does not list the correct school districts in oakland, that is why you have to use the other school finder) www.greatschools.net

some general info on oakland http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/RemoteRefFiles/form/current_info_bayarea.html

Also besides this site (impressive you found it!)For local jobs, etc. www.craigslist.org

Also, Alameda has really started to grow on me. It is has a small town feel, but is close to oakland/berkeley, and not to hard to get to san francisco. I love the old victorians (it is also slightly less expensive than oakland & berkeley). Also though coming from hawaii it will surley be a huge dissapointment, there is a beach there (with a nice view of S.F.- Hey you can't get that in Hawaii). But some of it is land fill, and Bay farm (part of alameda) which has great schools I believe is all Landfill, and it has a gated community feel which I personally do not like (and it's farther out).

Hope this helps, the bay area is a great place to live, it's just everyone seems to want to live here, so housing is out of control, and so is traffic during commute hours. But once you adjust to the few negatives you will fall in love with the diversity,& open mindedness of the residents, and the beauty of the surrounding reginal parks.
signed: an oakland resident for 13 years

I was just reading the last set of recommendations and was taken aback by the description of Berkeley for the family from Hawaii seeking a nice neighborhood in the East Bay. ''Berkeley has tons of diversity, poor/mediocre public schools..'' There it is, casually tossed out as if a given, ''poor/mediocre public schools.'' Excuse me? Says who? I have had four children in the Berkeley Public Schools. Currently my oldest is teaching at Berkeley High School and my youngest is a sophomore there. My children attended Cragmont, Columbus (now Rosa Parks), Franklin, King and the high school. They had wonderful teachers. They learned to read and write, to help others and enjoy life. They went on field trips to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Ano Nuevo, Pt. Reyes, and Monterey. They had chicks in the classroom, visits from the Bat lady, music lessons in the fourth grade. They worked on the Award-Winning Berkeley High Jacket, played lacrosse, field hockey, water polo. They took AP Chemistry, AP Biology, French, Latin, and Calculus BC (not offered at many schools.) The three that graduated went on to Ivy League schools. But the best part is they made wonderful friends--kids who were resilient, caring, and thoughtful. And I have been lucky enough to make friends with their parents--people who work hard at supporting public education in their community.

It is NOT a given that the Berkeley schools are either poor or mediocre. Janet

I second the recommendation that Castro Valley is a nice place to live. I've lived in the Bay Area all my life, and as an adult bought my 1st and 2nd house in Castro Valley. CV is a smaller community and has a small town feel which is something I like. I understand public schools here are excellent. (Our CV renter tells us the CV public schools aren't affected by the budget cuts as much as other schools because CV is considered a Distinguished school. Someone correct me if this is wrong). Also, I've been told there is afterschool daycare/activities at the CV schools. There is a BART station in CV, and also close by in San Leandro where parking isn't a problem until about 9am (?). There are many hiking + bike trails and parks, such as at Lake Chabot. Horse stables are nearby too, and campsites at Lake Chabot. CV is centrally located to the freeways. If you are considering buying a house, you get more for your money in CV than say Albany or Berkeley. Same with renting. Feel free to email me if you have questions. hana