Living in San Francisco vs. the East Bay

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!

  • Husband wants "City Life" with Kids

    (33 replies)

    Hi there - my husband and I moved from DC a year ago with our 2 kids (ages 4 and 2) to the Bay Area (where I am from), and although I am really happy to be living in Berkeley, my husband is hating "suburban" life and desperately wants to move to SF (though he potentially wants our kids to continue to go to school in the East Bay).  His job is in downtown SF (he prefers to work from the office), and he can easily BART into the city.  My job is also in downtown SF, but I can work remotely on most days.  My husband misses the "good ol' days" in DC, where he walked to work.  My husband is unfamiliar with the area, so I keep trying to tell him that living in SF isn't kid-friendly really (or at least, not as much as Berkeley).  He really likes Mission Bay.  He thinks it's possible for us to commute out of SF to drop off our kids and then commute back into the city (I told him that this would almost double our commuting time).  I told him if he genuinely needs to live the "city life" to be happy, then he needs to look for really good schools within SF - but again, I don't think he realizes the difficulty of commuting WITHIN SF.  My husband is of the mind that we shouldn't change our lives because of our kids; I on the other hand thoroughly enjoy having kids and being a "mom" and I love living here and doing activities that are centered around the kids.  

    In DC, city life is super easy because the city is very small - but I didn't know a single person with two kids (that were over 5) living in DC.  Most people moved to Virginia and Maryland.  In fact, in all my years in DC, I don't think I ever saw an middle-schooler or high schooler.  I have repeatedly tried to tell my husband that this is simply another stage in life he should try to accept.

    My questions are -- (1) does anyone else have a husband that just doesn't want suburban life, and if so, what happened, did it get better?, and (2) is it practical to live in the city with two kids?  (3) And is it practical if you want your kids to go to school in the East Bay?

    This is a very interesting post… parts of SF that are family friendly feel no more urban than Oakland/Berkeley and some parts of SF have much less amenities. I have friends who live in the sunset, Richmond, Bernal heights, lower pac heights, twin peaks, etc. and I (living near lake Merritt) have easier access to amenities and equal or shorter commute to SF. I drive to SF and most days my commute is 35 minute door to door.  I have some friends who live in north beach who really do have an urban life — apartment living but a stone’s throw from parks, restaurants and walk to their work in downtown. Their apartment is not tiny (3 bed/2bath — 1600 sq ft or 2 bed/2bath —1300+ square ft.). They don’t have a yard but they live literally across the street from a gorgeous park. Almost all of my friends in SF send their kids to a private school except for 3 families whose children are enrolled in the highly coveted language immersion public school and Lowell high school. 

    We are the opposite and feel that Oakland /Berkeley is too urban… (I have lived in NYC, Boston, SF, so I know what ultra urban looks like.)
     

    As we know many happy families with 1, 2 or even 3 kids in SF, I don’t agree with this notion that SF isn’t for families. There are a lot of family friendly things to do, cool camps, etc. But, mission bay attracts singles and young techies, although I do know one family with two kids who live in mission bay. 

    If you both work in SF, it would be crazy to send kids to school in east bay unless your child has unique needs and the only school that addresses those needs happen to be in east bay. SF has numerous language immersion and progressive private schools if that’s what you are looking for. 

    Would your husband be happier in a more urban neighborhood of Oakland/Berkeley? Living off of College Ave. or Piedmont Ave.is so much cooler than many parts of SF.  I wonder if you are in Berkeley Hills?

    My husband and I lived in SF for 12 years before moving to Berkeley 3 years ago. Our daughters are 4 and 6, and we find Berkeley to be the 'just right' in between the city and the burbs. We can walk/bike everywhere, it's flat and accessible with everything we need! There are definitely pros to SF and there are a lot of people who make it work...but the idea of living in SF to drive your kids out to the east bay for school would be a complete deal breaker for me. Plenty of kid-friendly communities in SF but most of the folks i know with more than one live in the west side or south/west. There are babies and even preschoolers all over the city but that narrows once the kids go to school - people leave, manage through the public school system or end up in private schools.

    Where in Berkeley do you live? Is it possible to move to a more "urban" part of town, where you could walk to restaurants and stuff? There are plenty of families with kids in SF (and in DC too, I know several). After all there are middle schools and high schools, public and private, full of kids who live in SF. I think it's gotten more family friendly than it used to be. But commuting to school drop off in the east bay - and school pickup? No way I would do that. Absolute deal breaker, it would make our lives so miserable. 

    There are plenty of people with kids in SF. They are changing the way people are assigned to public school, but the current system is wild. However, living in SF with kids seems doable but of course more difficult than living in a non-city. Especially if you have the income to buy/live in a decent sized home/apt/condo with parking and some outdoor space then living with kids in SF seems even more reasonable. 

    I cannot imagine a situation where you would want to commute to East Bay to send your kids to school. That seems completely unreasonable. The only reason I could see doing this is if you had absolutely no choice (e.g. you had a deaf child and wanted them to go to the CA School for the Deaf in Fremont because there is no school for the deaf in SF). 

    I don't think taking your kids to the East Bay for school makes much sense at all. And if you're talking about Berkeley public schools, you would most likely not get an inter-district transfer. Our schools are pretty full. If you'd be doing private schools, just do private in SF. There's more to choose from. I think your husband is falling into the trap of new transplants who think SF is just amazing. I'm an East Bay native and have lived in SF. I would stay in Berkeley, mainly for the good public schools, but also for the culture. SF has lost its way, IMO. 

    Hi-just wanted to send a note to say, I feel this struggle! My husband and I moved from DC to Oakland several years ago, and the transition was very difficult for me. I was new to the Bay Area and Oakland felt so different from DC-and this was all before COVID, before full time telecommuting and more at-home life.

    Agree with the other posters-I can't imagine living in SF and commuting to the East Bay for schools and back to SF for work. 

    Not sure where you live in Berkeley-we currently live in Rockridge, and I wonder if somewhere like this, close to BART and walkable, might provide your husband with the city feel he is missing?

    As far as the suburban-urban conundrum, I think this is something a lot of people struggle with. The practicality of needing more space with children, with the desire to be somewhere more vibrant and lively. Something ends up giving, but I've struggled with accepting it! Good luck with your decision.

    Well, I can tell you we used to live in SF, where our son was born. I wanted to move to the East Bay but my husband was worried about losing the city feeling. We moved to where Rockridge meets Elmwood and our life feels more citified than it did when we were living in Bernal Heights! I think that commuting both ways to take your kids to school in the East Bay is a pipe dream. That would suck. Mission Bay doesn't seem super family friendly and not sure you'll find it all that walkable. 

    Could he be convinced to look at a more "urban" area of the East Bay? Rockridge/Elmwood/Lakeshore are all great areas to live and have that urban energy.

    You don't say where you live, but if I lived in the hills, I'd probably be missing that urban energy, too!

    Also, more pluses for the East Bay: trees. SF is so lacking in trees. It's a huge reason I wanted to leave. Also, if your husband misses the diversity of people in an urban setting, you probably won't find that in Mission Bay. 

    Perhaps a trial run of one week in an AirBnB in the neighborhood he's interested in living in? Not cheap, but certainly less expensive than a move! I'd have him do the kid drop-off in East Bay at least three of those five weekdays to see how it is.

    1. Commuting from SF to East Bay back to SF for school drop-off is insane. If your husband hates commuting and values having leisure time to walk, this makes no sense. 

    2. Yes there are families that leave SF, but there are also plenty of happy families with two kids in SF! Most I know are on the western or southern side of the city. SF has amazing public parks, museums and beaches that are great for kids. In comparing schools in SF to the East Bay, there are many more public language immersion schools offered there than what we could find in Oakland. 

    Lastly, I'd recommend if possible "trying out" life in SF... enroll your 4yo in some summer or holiday camps there, rent an AirBnb in some of the more residential neighborhoods for a week or so for a "staycation" and just see what it's like. We did this when moving up from LA (though I am a Bay Area native) to test out commutes, neighborhood vibe etc. and it helped immensely. We had some pre-conceived notions of certain areas that were put to the test, and it definitely helped rule out some areas.

    Oh boy.

    Just to answer your direct questions:

    2) I do know a few families with older kids in SF that are making it work. In almost all cases, just to be frank, the families are fairly well off (although it’s not like living in Berkeley is cheap either, so maybe that’s not such a differentiator anymore). In almost all cases they also go to expensive private schools starting in K that can be competitive to get in to (there are plenty of people in Berkeley that do that too, but arguably it can feel more necessary in SF given the wider lottery school system you should make sure you brush up on if you seriously consider this). BUT, to your husband’s point, they do have much easier commutes to their SF offices, and I do think there is something to city life and all that comes with it and exposing your kids to it (although as I’m sure you know, that can be good and bad). 
     

    3) IMHO to live in SF and send your kids to school in the East Bay would be bonkers, unless there was some crazy historical reason like you moved when they were in 10th grade and wanted to not disrupt them or something. I won’t get into the logistic issues as I’m sure you will get that from others, but I think you would be severely handicapping your kid’s social development and sense of community. As a mom of East Bay elementary school kids, I don’t mean to be rude, but there is zero chance I’m shuttling them back and forth for play dates with a kid that lives in SF. Life is too much already. And while your kids might meet other SF kids outside of school, those SF kids will also likely be concentrating on their own nearby school friends.

    Good luck.

    I live in Berkeley and LOVE IT because it's not suburban. Sure, there's issues about too many single-family housing and low-rise construction in this part of the East Bay, but Berkeley is very walkable/bike-able.

    In case he's never visited other parts of the Bay, go for a day drive down to San Leandro and further south, down in San Jose, and up the Peninsula, and even over the hill to the Tri-Valley and Walnut Creek-Concord areas. He'll find places that are MUCH more suburban, areas my wife and have no desire to live because of how suburban and car-necessary they are. 

    I don't know him, but your husband sounds a bit narrow-minded and selfish in this situation. He's crazy thinking you can commute across the Bay twice/day and not drive yourselves crazy. I hope you two can work this out and he can learn to drop is SF dream. It's a great city, but better to visit than live if you're already over in the Easy Bay,

    My thought is would he be happy with living in a walkable part of Berkeley near a BART station so he would have an easier commute? There are people living in SF with children, but they send their children to school there. We have a relative in SF whose daughter is in pre-K in Glen Park. She had planned to move to the East Bay but it is helpful to live near her mother. 

    I'd get more curious about what he is really missing from "city life". Does he want more date nights out in the City for a bit more of that city vibrancy nightlight? Would spending more time there with the kids on the weekends help scratch that itch? (visit the various kid-friendly museums, hang out on Crissy Field, ride bikes across the bridge, etc etc). He's essentially asking for less space for more money and a slightly less kid-friendly vibe ... and Mission Bay, while continuing to get built up, is so...industrial, and far from a lot of the great things SF has to offer. I bet there are easier ways to replicate that parts of city life he is missing, but he needs to better define what that is. Replicating the "good ole days" isn't really possible, no matter what one's goal! 

    You asked this question: does anyone else have a husband that just doesn't want suburban life, and if so, what happened, did it get better? My husband was similar. It got better when I told him I wasn't moving and it was no longer up for discussion. 

    His idea is that he wants to walk to work while kids spend lots of time in the car commuting back and forth? Really? How does that make sense? What is the next crazy idea he is going to come up with? You may want to try family meetings.  I have found that family meetings where you sit down (with or without kids) to discuss things  can be very helpful is that when this type of disagreement arises. You have a time, place and rules for discussion. I learned about them here on Berkeley Parents Network, and I am forever grateful. 

    The city can be great for kids!  Lots of families raise their kids there.  If you prefer the city for your own life and can afford private school, then there's really no reason not to live there with kids. Mission Bay is a bit of an odd choice but maybe there are more families there now? 

    But it would be insane to bring your kids to the East Bay for school.  If you move, move schools. There are lots of good ones...in fact, more independent schools to choose from than in the East Bay.

    I lived in SF a long time but I much prefer the East Bay for the extra space, better weather, and all the hiking and easy biking and general vibes. Just so happens that my kids are getting raised here for that reason.  It sounds like maybe you just don't want to move to SF for similar reasons?  In which case, the conversation really isn't about whether SF is for families (which it can be), but about whether it's for your family.  

    Just wanted to chime in as a couple who lived in DC too and loved (REALLY loved) the DC city life. We moved to Berkeley for grad school years ago and actually loved it so much we haven't felt the need to move to SF. We are now in Oakland and now have a baby, and we miss Berkeley so much, that we are hoping to be able to buy there at some point down the road.

    I have friends in SF with kids who make it work, that said they are in the "burby" parts of SF, like Inner Richmond or West Portal, and my understanding is those actually also have a commute to get to downtown SF. Don't underestimate the challenge of getting around SF!

    I would also NOT under any circumstances live in SF and have kids go to school in the East Bay. The Bay Bridge traffic / BART commute is no joke.

    Can you explore more of Berkeley that is closer to the more happening parts? We love the area around College, Rockridge, North Berkeley, etc. There is so much to love about Berkeley! Culture, access to nature, little shops. And everything is so bikeable and truly family friendly.

    My family with 9 and 4 years old has lived in SF, North Bernal and is moving to East Bay. We wanted to move a couple of years ago but couldn't. I too agree that parts of SF can be kids or family friendly. There are so many awesome playgrounds new and old and also events for kids every weekend before pandemic. We chose East Bay to move to mainly for space, safer/quieter neighborhoods, and schools. While raising kids in the city, we were hit by the reality that our desire to go out for bar hopping or dining at restaurants has drastically gone down, not because of the pandemic but just the lifestyle we got ourselves into with kids. If we no longer value these amenities city offers as much as before, what's the point of sticking around in the city, we started wondering. I was hit by this realization earlier than my husband, and there was a time period my husband went out to watch movies and hang out with his buddies after kids were asleep while I stayed home, which was totally fine as I got to get out to have my me time elsewhere. 

    Also, if your kids continue to go to school in East Bay and you live and work in SF, you will have to cross the bay bridge FOUR TIMES a day, 5 days a week! That's a lot of time in a car most often stuck in traffic and toll fees, let alone traffic WITHIN the city, like you said. I'd have to say not practical at all. There can be school related gatherings after school or birthday parties on weekends in East Bay. Communities of school friends will be all in East Bay when your house is in SF. 

    It sounds like your husband wishes to recreate a lifestyle he had in DC and misses it dearly. It may be helpful to rationally prioritize his wants and needs and figure out what can work and what not. Do this on a happy day that he spends with you and the kids in East Bay! ; )

    Yes, we were in the same boat. My husband does not drive and does not want to learn, so did not want to live in the suburbs. We stayed in SF through middle school with our kids, living in a two-bedroom rental all that time. There are plenty of people who raise kids in SF, but many are wealthy and pay for private school. We paid for private school K-8 in SF and now sort of regret it...it was hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can play the school lottery in SF, and the elementary schools are OK, but things fall down in middle and high school. SFUSD is pretty disfunctional. Anyway, we moved to Marin when my oldest hit high school. Compared to our private school, public school here is just OK, they teach to the lowest common denominator and there is no special attention. However, we are so happy to not have had to compete to get into, and then pay $50K per year for high school in SF! My husband insisted on a walkable neighborhood and being "super close to SF" so we landed in Mill Valley, but we had to bid on 7 properties to find a walkable house we could afford (a fixer that has been both blessing/curse). He still complains about "how boring it is in Mill Valley" but I just laugh. It's a privilege to live in such a nice town and it's no more boring than SF was to be honest. SF is not that exciting; it's a suburban-feeling city and most parents drive everywhere. (My son's best friend has never taken MUNI and he was born in SF and is 17!) When the kids are little, Golden Gate Park is nice, but you get sick of it like anything else. Mostly, I did tons of driving (much more than I do in Marin). I was either driving to Trader Joes, driving  carpool, or driving the kids all over place for activities (one to soccer out at 44th and Wawona, and then the other to chorus at Civic Center, birthday parties in Noe, then a soccer game at the Marina, etc.) The traffic is horrendous and it takes so long to cross the city, and then there is the circling, circling to look for parking and the $120 parking tickets. Even in Mission Bay, I think you'll still need a car with kids, since there are no schools around there (SFUSD says they will open a Mission Bay elementary but it's still in the early stages and the district is pretty broke) and you will likely want them to participate in activities and attend playdates/parties. I wish we had just done the burbs sooner, it seems much easier with stuff close by and kids walking everywhere on their own. Good luck!

    The practical questions you've posed could certainly be addressed by the BPN community, but it sounds like there are questions under your questions that a couple's therapist could help answer. If you are also wondering how to problem solve this mismatched perspective and find a compromise both of you could live with then a neutral third party that both of you trust with qualified experience in these situations might really help.

    I lived in SF for 10 years and loved city life, but moved to the east bay a couple days years ago for a more family friendly lifestyle. While I miss living in SF, overall I’m much happier here. It’s less stressful with kids, easier to get around, and there are so many family friendly activities. We have more space and a backyard, and can walk to schools. Plus, it’s still easy to drive into SF and visit our favorite spots. 
     

    Living in SF and commuting to the East Bay for schools would be very difficult. Even living in SF and battling traffic to get to school or work within SF can be hard. 

    I agree with your husband! I, too, found the East Bay too suburban and didn't like the everyday reliance on cars. I have found SF to be very family friendly. Schools in the avenues (the Sunset and the Richmond) are excellent; it is safe and we are within easy walking distance to the park, the ocean, libraries, stores and restaurants. The downside: summers are gloomy, so plan a vacation around August and remember that it's at least 10 degrees warmer when you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. 

    I think a lot of this comes down to money—living in SF with kids can be great if you can afford to live where and how you want and send your kids to a school you and they are happy with. It’s only 7x7 after all and the public transit is mostly good. There are neighborhoods that are quiet and have a lot of families. I fall into this exceedingly lucky category—and I have to assume you do too if you’re even considering this? I only have one kid, but nearly all her peers have siblings…so we’re in a big community of families with more than one child, and—it’s great. Many neighborhoods have lots of things within walking distance and there are a TON of family friendly communities and activities. It’s one of the things I love about SF in fact—gg park, ocean beach, botanical gardens, science museum, art museums, a thousand great playgrounds, many small neighborhood art and music studios, camps/programs etc.—there is no shortage of cool activities and places to visit and some of them are even free. 

    I agree however with prior responders that commuting out of SF to east bay for school is absolute madness. Choosing to cross the bridge and back every single day—omg, no no no. 
     

    maybe find some parent meetups in sf and also explore neighborhoods/playgrounds and see what you find? You might discover an area over here that appeals to both you and your husband. 

    It's funny because my husband is definitely a city person, but he was the one who instigated our move from SF to Berkeley 4 years ago. We felt Berkeley was a nice compromise between city and suburban, plus the schools and weather are better. At the time, our kids were 8 and 6, and frankly, I wish we moved sooner because you make a lot of connections with other parents when the kids are young and it's been hard for us to make the same friendships we have with folks who are still in SF.

    As for #2, it is definitely possible to live in SF with two kids and I know many, many families who do. Most of them live in the suburbs of SF -- outer Sunset, Noe Valley, Glen Park, Excelsior, Ingleside, etc. When we decided it was time to get a bigger house (we were on Glen Park/Noe Valley border at the time), what we could afford was in the out areas which felt a lot more suburban than Berkeley does. So we moved. Yes, at times I miss having easier access to the museums, cultural offerings, restaurants, and cool things to do and definitely envisioned raising our kids in that kind of environment... but SF is really not far, so all those things are within reach. 

    Also, I know it sounds frivolous, but to us, the weather really does make a difference. If you are in SF, expect your summer to be non-existent -- fog and frigid wind every single afternoon. There is no wearing cute sandals out to dinner in the summer. Whenever we go there, the temp is at least 5-10 degrees cooler (all year), and that wind! Don't miss it. There are beautiful parts of SF, but lots of it is dirty and lacking greenery. When we moved to Berkeley, I felt so much more relaxed because I look out on living green things, not buildings, roads, and wires.

    #3 I think is a total deal breaker. Getting to the East Bay in the morning will be a breeze, but getting back in SF will be a nightmare. And then to have to do it in reverse in the afternoon? You will be spending so much of your time commuting it will drag you down. Plus, what would happen if your child gets sick and there is an accident on the bridge? Or there is some other emergency. If you do decide to move, definitely enroll them in schools in SF. There are a lot of wonderful (public) options. 

    Best of luck to you!

    Here's a story that might help. We know two families who moved to the East Bay from New York.

    Couple 1: Husband loves Berkeley, wife worried about missing New York. They moved to husband's dream location high in the Berkeley Hills. Wife was miserable. Six months later they were back in New York.

    Couple 2: Husband loves Berkeley, wife worried about missing New York. They moved to Rockridge, right off College. Both happy and still in the East Bay. 

    So try moving to the least suburban area out here and see how that feels. 

    Oh, I thought of two more points in favor of the east bay:

    1. Your kids are young now, but in a few years when they are elementary and middle school-aged, you aren't going to want them to walk around by themselves in Mission Bay. Berkeley is very walkable and safe -- even as young as 6, we let our son walk to neighborhood friends' houses and a couple of years later, roam the neighborhood on epic nerf battles. Our middle schooler regularly walks to boba with friends.

    2. Oakland is a rich and diverse urban experience. Whenever we have a date night, we hop in a Lyft and 10 minutes later, we're eating at a cool restaurant, or meeting friends at a hip bar. If you are in Mission Bay, you'd have to take a Lyft to get to most places like that anyway. Plus, Oakland is kid-friendly -- OMCA is a great family destination, as is Lake Merritt and Fairyland.

    When we moved to the Bay Area from Manhattan my husband chose San Mateo for us. I hated it as it was way too suburban for me and I wasn’t happy until we moved to the city. Part of it was that I felt like I didn’t get to choose where we landed. I wonder if that is part of it for your husband? Does he need more agency in this decision? 
     

    We moved to South Beach in SF in 2005 and just loved it. This is very close to Mission Bay. We had a child in 2011 and stayed in the area. It has been great. The part I didn’t expect was the real sense of community we have in our building with other kids and families. Play dates by the pool, Halloween parties in the building, everyone got a dog around the same time etc and the kids have grown up really knowing their neighborhood friends. 
     

    The thing I love about SF is that we walk or muni everywhere. My husband and I both walk to work.  I rarely drive. 
     

    the downside as others have pointed out is that you will probably want to choose private schools for your kids and that can be very expensive. Driving to Berkeley for school wouldn’t work. 
     

    having been on the side of “not wanting the suburbs” I would put it back to your husband to explore and come up with something that could work for your family and see what he comes up with but let him drive it. 

    I lived in DC for 10 years and find it strange that you never encountered children…this tells me you likely never lived near any of the minority majority communities in that city, which heavily populate the public school system. The wealthy Virginia and Maryland suburbs are generally populated by many who choose to remove their children from a majority minority “urban” or “city life” environment.

    I find it fascinating that many in answering this post cite the most gentrified areas of Berkeley as “urban” areas your husband should try.

    It might also help to define what “urban” or “city life”means to him versus “suburban” and what it means to you. 

    Does “urban” mean raising children in racially and economically diverse areas where they are exposed to different cultures and cultural events? If that’s his definition he won’t find that in Mission Bay and it may be easier to find in the East Bay. 

    Or….Does “urban” mean access to high-end venues and exciting entertainment for him to more easily enjoy as an adult without kids along?

    On a related note- maybe your husband is just tired of Covid-19 life and the strict world it’s created with less to do when your kids are still unvaccinated. Moving to SF won’t change that. 

    This is an interesting post because you have some specific questions but I don't think those answers are necessarily what will help! I think a lot of couples have probably been in the position where you start to want different things for your lifestyle, especially when kids come into the picture. I'll just share briefly what our experience was like and what did and did not help us come to a compromise. Before my son was born, I think my husband and I were both pretty happy with our low maintenance condo near Piedmont Avenue in walking distance to bars/restaurants/stores/libraries/transit etc. After he was born, my husband started growing frustrated with being in a multi-family building and talked about wanting to move. I knew we would probably want to do so eventually, but I still enjoyed being in such a walkable area and was noticing how many playground and preschools we were close to, things I hadn't noticed before. My husband started applying the "stage of life" argument you're alluding to argue for moving to true suburbs on the other side of the tunnel and I'll let you know that did NOT work for me. Lots of people decide that a larger home in a more suburban environment is where they want to live but I'm a unique individual, as are you and your husband, and that wasn't what I wanted. Honestly, it made me want to stay put even more. Once he stopped trying to convince me that what I wanted was wrong (and I stopped feeling pressured) we both were able to discuss more honestly what was most important to us. When we were finally both ready to move, we looked at small houses right off Piedmont and College Ave, we looked at giant houses a 15 minute drive from anything, and that prepared us to find the Venn Diagram houses in Oakland neighborhoods where we could afford slightly larger homes that are "walkable" to coffee and a bagel if I'm willing to walk a mile. It probably took us a good 6 months to come a compromise and we each considered sacrificing our preference for the other just to get it over with. I'm really glad we didn't do that because someone would be living with resentment. 

    Especially since you're husband is new here and you haven't lived here in a while, I would investigate a lot of different neighborhoods in both SF and the East Bay and try to identify what you like and where your preferences intersect. Of course, this is the Bay Area, so unless your funds are unlimited, budget will probably play into this as well. My husband and I would both be happy to live in Noe Valley, but our bank account disagrees ;-)

    I missed my more walkable life when we moved to our current house, but now I use my in-office SF days to enjoy a more urban experience (just take a walk, meet an SF friend for a drink, stop by the Ferry building etc). Maybe you could encourage your husband to do the same. I find that the more urban time I get, the more I appreciate the space, views, and quiet waiting for me on the other side of the bridge.

    You've gotten a lot of responses but I'll add mine anyway.  I was the one who didn't want to live in the suburb - born and raised in San Francisco,  I was completely closed minded about living anywhere else and predicted doom and gloom about living a dynamic city etc. Then reality hit: couldn't afford to live where I wanted in San Francisco, my husband was depressed with the fog, wanted a yard - and the mounting financial cost of private school tuition was too much.  It really hit home when my husband remarked "it isn't just about you anymore".  We moved to the suburbs when my son was a baby and guess what? I survived.  In fact, I ended up liking our town much more than my husband did. So I definitely get that living in the suburbs can seem boring and stale but it's just not true.  Also, it's pretty unfair to stereotype a whole community. There are good and bad people everywhere.

    If you do decide to move to San Francisco, do realize that it is impractical to commute over the bridge or even the Peninsula to send your children to school.  Whoever is in charge of pick up/drop off is going to become mighty resentful. And as you pointed out,  getting across San Francisco with any mode of transportation can be a challenge.  Sometimes, driving is the only practical option for taking young kids to school.  Once they're older, taking MUNI will be an option but sounds like you're a ways from that.  Berkeley and Oakland both have plenty of walkable neighborhoods. He should explore those before he declares the East Bay as too suburban.

    Good luck!

    You're obviously right, but your husband is obviously unhappy.

    You're right: First, it would be ridiculous to live in SF and bring kids to school in Berkeley, unless it were for a short period of time (less than a year) and for a specific reason (like a special program, or only 4 months until kindergarten). Second, most people I know who had kids in SF tried to move out of SF. I do know two people who've had school-aged kids in SF so it is doable, but neither of them live near downtown or "hip" neighborhoods. 

    Your husband is unhappy: From your post, your husband's wants sound muddled (e.g., he misses walking to work but he wants to spend hours schlepping kids back and forth?). What is clear is that he's not happy. And while you're right on the practicalities, it's probably more important to address what's making your husband so unhappy. Is it postpartum depression, homesickness, the disparity of feeling like a fish out of water while you are thriving in the new location? Maybe you could do some active listening, like where you listen and can only ask clarifying questions (super hard) to truly understand where he is coming from. Or you could try each making lists of everything you like about your current situation, and everything you don't like about your current situation, and then really talk about the list results and what to do about them as a couple. 

    Additional thought: If he's having trouble with parent-lifestyle, maybe a frequent babysitter and he gets to plan the date to be what he likes (or you do separate activities sometimes).

    Best of luck to you. 

    Former New Yorker here, husband from DC. I totally get it. But your husband's plan is ridiculous. Live in SF, or live in the East Bay. SF is plenty kid friendly, not AS much but sure, it is. Not in Mission Bay though - if you want kid friendly SF life, look at Bernal, the Richmond, the Sunset, Glen Park, Balboa...clearly for your needs you want the BART or easy Muni access so I'd look more at Glen Park or Balboa than the others although parts of Bernal are walkable to 24th Street Bart.

    There are 5 kids from SF who have a shared vanpool to our Oakland school but it's only because there is nothing comparable for them in the city (it's a modern orthodox Jewish day school.) If you're not looking for something very specific like that, I don't know why you couldn't find a great school in SF. I miss SF ALL THE TIME but suck it up and deal with Berkeley because I like the weather and the relative amount of space I have.

    1. My husband abhors suburban life. We lived in London for years, minor Midwestern cities for a couple and now Oakland. I question your husband gravitating to mission bay and calling it city living. It is an antiseptic developer dreamland. 
     

    2. what makes our existence feel “city” is a non reliance on cars and ease of participating in civic life. Oh, and we’ve seen a few rats in the neighborhood. 

    I currently have the opposite problem - I live in SF (Bernal Heights) but husband wants to move out to somewhere a lot more sleepy/suburban! Which is ultimately ok with me, but I'm holding the line at "can walk to a store" and "at least SOME diversity please." 

    I work in civic tech (read: doesn't pay as much as a FAANG) and have colleagues who live in SF and have multiple kids. Some go to SFUSD schools, others go to private schools. I have one coworker who's homeschooling his kids. It runs the gamut. It's certainly possible. There are kid-friendly neighborhoods in SF, and Bernal Heights is one of them. I see babies and kids EVERYWHERE here. Mission Bay is pretty close (I go to the Kaiser there) but I wouldn't consider it a kid-friendly neighborhood.

    Commuting out of SF just to drop your kids off at school in the East Bay is impossible. Forget it. Post-pandemic it might be better, but it would be at least half an hour one-way. Pre-COVID we used to commute from Oakland to downtown SF every morning...it would take us an average of AN HOUR. ONE WAY. It was awful. There were two epic days in a row where it took us TWO AND A HALF HOURS. ONE WAY. We seriously showed up to our respective offices at 11am.

    The only reason why we haven't moved out of SF and down the peninsula or to the East Bay ASAP is because of my job downtown. I'm mostly working from home, but may need to go to the office once or twice a week. The commute isn't worth moving for, even if my husband doesn't like living in SF.

  • I lived in San Francisco for almost two decades before marrying and having kids. I loved living in the city. I was was living the dream. Then we moved to the east bay to be closer to family and to let the kids walk to neighborhood schools with friends who live around them. In about 10 years or so the last kid should graduate from high school and the plan is to move back to San Francisco. But I’ll be old, and roots are being put down, friends are being made and this is home for our kids. My question is to anyone who did move back to SF after living elsewhere for a long time, can you go home again and what do you think you should have done to make the move back easier if it was harder than expected?

    My parents lived in SF in the 60s and 70s. Then they moved to LA and had me. They moved back to SF in the early 00s about the time I graduated from college (I had no idea that my mom had been pining to return throughout my childhood). They worked in SF for a decade and then retired--they love being in SF as retirees. I live in the East Bay and also love that my kids can have sleep-overs at their house and benefit from all the city has to offer. The one thing I'm worried about is when they can no longer live safely in their house (SF = steep stairs), and that's a conversation that I'm trying to begin now instead of being forced to have it down the road.

    My parents certainly make the later-in-life move look easy--they had to time the market a bit with real estate but really benefited from 10 years of SF executive salaries (significantly more than they were making in LA). If you want it, you can do it.

    Hi. I could have written your post. I lived in San Francisco for 17 years and moved to the East Bay when my oldest was 11 and my youngest 6. I left SF begrudgingly; I loved it there, loved my community, etc. Now, after 12 years here I am happy to be living here. You say you're thinking 10 years down the line. That's a long time. Things change. And to be honest, the city has also changed in the last 12 years. Why not see where you are when that last chick has fled the nest? The East Bay, it turns out, is a great place to live, with and without kids! Good luck to you.

    Are you truly missing San Francisco or are you missing being single or being childless? I would really evaluate what exactly you are missing. Would that really require relocating to the city? Or can't you do all the things you would like to do in the East Bay or by traveling into the city on occasion?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Living in Rockridge vs. San Francisco

Dec 2007

Of COURSE your situation is different than mine. BUT - your opinions: raising a family in the East Bay vs. San Francisco. Other things to consider: husband works in Cupertino, wife works in San Francisco, goes to school in Berkeley. Baby goes to day care in Berkeley. Surprisingly, the baby LOVES the commute. Time on the train and two twenty minute stroller rides a day - does it get any better? We don't own, are a one car family and would like to stay that way. We LOVE SF, have been there for 12+years. Probably wouldn't be able to afford private school, unless it's Catholic... (not sure how I feel about that, but that's another post). We're planning on having number two in about a year... What's your story? janine


We made the move from SF to Rockridge 2 years ago. We LOVE the neighborhood but miss the city. It is so much easier getting around out in Rockridge and is more kid friendly than the city. It's also a lot more fun and lively than through the tunnel. That being said, the jr. high and highschools need a lot of work (there are some great elementary schools). Hopefully by the time your kids are in jr high, the schools will be as good as the elementaries but, in case they are not, you may still have to pay for private schools out here. Hope that helps -- Anonymous


That was a very confusing question. When do you work in the city and when do you go to school in Berkeley? Do you take your child to Berkeley when you are working in the city? Are you going to be done with school? Where do you live in the city? You don't even mention where you live in the city or how much you are paying in rent. If you can pay the rent in Rockridge I guess it would be good to rent so close to Chabot School or whatever other good school there is that you would be virtually sure of getting in. Or even rent just over the line in Berkeley (Elmwood) for Berkeley schools. Do you have a yard in the city? I think that is nice to have (or be near a nice park) when the babies aren't so babyish anymore. anon


Moving from Berkeley to SF?

Nov 2007

Hi, I was hoping to get some perspective on this. My husband and I are seriously considering moving back to San Francisco from Berkeley. We have 2 children - 3 and 1. We currently own a 3 bedroom in N. Berkeley, and we could probably afford to buy a smaller 3 bedroom in an area in S.F. like Sunnyside (definitely can't afford more expensive areas like Noe Valley or Bernal Heights).

My question is: Is this idea feasible? I know very few people move from the 'burbs back to the city, and I believe I understand the reasons why (better schools in the suburbs, safer, more parking, just 'easier', etc).

However, my husband and I are city people. We lived in San Francisco for years before we had kids and loved pretty much every minute of it. When I got pregnant, though, we thought it made sense for us to move out to the East Bay.

And we do like it here. We like how walkable our neighborhood is. We like the beauty of the area. And we like that we're close to so many great parks for the kids.

However, we don't love it. We both miss SF, and while we make an effort to get out there every couple of weeks for date night, traffic is almost always a nightmare. And, of course, it's not the same as actually living there.

Also, my husband works in S.F., and by the time he walks to BART, takes BART, and walks home, at least an hour's gone by (sometimes 1-1/2 hrs). It's a longish commute for him.

So. I'm specifically hoping to hear from people like us, people who really love city life in general and S.F. in particular. Are you living in the City with kids and making it work? Or did you try it for awhile but felt you needed to move out to the East Bay, and are really glad you did? Any input would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance. Anon


I thought I'd offer some advice on your decision to move back to SF. We live in SF with two kids and are also city people (after over 10 years in Paris and London, we find SF to be small and not very urban!). It IS totally doable, but there are caveats.

First, the schools are misunderstood. The good SF schools actually score better than their Berkeley counterparts and are excellent. The problem is getting in, as the lottery is tough to crack. That said, we got our first choice K-5 school, and if you educate yourself about the process, it is surmountable. Many people are very happy with their K-5 elementary school assignments and those very lucky ones that get a K-8 school like Lilienthal, Rooftop or Lawton are ecstatic. If you don't get a K-8, you're back to the lottery for middle school and it's tougher. There are a couple of high-scoring middle schools, but they are very large (1400 kids). And if your kids are more than two years apart in school, you'll have to play the lottery separately for each one in middle school with no sibling priority. And then high school things really go down hill, with only Lowell and SOTA (both of which accept kids based on academic achievement) being very good, and the others are not great and huge.

The housing situation is tougher. Living somewhere like Sunnyside is a bit like living in the suburbs anyway, so you'd have to decide whether the negotiating/strategizing the school situation would be worth it. Many people do private school all along thinking they are going to have to do it anyway in middle school, and it is tough to get into a K-8 private school in 6th grade. Private high school is the norm, and you're looking at $20K a year right now for St. Ignatius, Urban or Drew, so likely $30K per kid a year in 12 years. That's the math and that's why we're thinking of leaving for Albany! We just don't want to live in Sunnyside or the Outer Sunset and have to plan on $30K a year for each kid in high school, as financially it would be tough for us. The last thing to consider is the sense of community and having your kids have school friends who live nearby. We've never had that small-town community feel, so I don't know if it exists in Berkeley, but here in SF it's not really like that. Most parents work full time and you have to plan play dates on the weekends. And many kids do not go to their neighborhood schools, due to the lottery system. (Though you will probably get Sunnyside school, which isn't bad, if you want it!) Anyway, I probably know way too much about the lottery and schools after going through it last year (and we ended up at private school despite ''winning the lottery''), so feel free to email me if you want more info. Good luck! SF Mom


When we moved to a nice neighborhood in Oakland with a new baby after living in S.F. for several years, we would go back to the city and I would feel like I was running into an ex-boyfriend I was still in love with. I, too, am a city person and I pined for S.F. I'm sure you will get responses reminding you of the finer points of Berkeley but I am sorry, moving back to S.F. was the best thing for us. I love the bustle and vitality of S.F. Yes, you do get less house for your money but utility bills are lower and you have an excuse not to accummulate quite so much clutter.

East Bay people can be very snotty and misinformed about S.F.'s public schools. I'd say the good schools far outnumber the bad schools. Try the Sunset and the Richmond districts for good API scores, dedicated and kind teachers, busy PTAs AND -- contrary to popular belief -- kids that virtually all live within two miles from the school. Good luck! Anon


We've been city people all our lives, born and raised, and we fully intended to raise Totally Urban Children -- but here we are in Berkeley! This was mostly my husband's idea, so I try not to go all ''Green Acres'' on him about it when I'm pining for the city. (''Darling I love you but give me Valencia Street!'')

What we miss: the ease of doing things in the city (we felt like it was okay to leave because we were going out less anyway post-parenthood, but now we REALLY go out less!); the vibrancy of the city itself (I miss street/youth culture -- it's very different in Berkeley); and stupid as it sounds, I think we both miss thinking of ourselves as city people, as hip urbanites, as San Franciscans. We've never entirely felt like we fit in out here, and there's always that sigh of relief when we're in the city, the ''Aaah'' that washes over us when we go back across the bridge.

That said, none of those things really exist in the areas we could have afforded in the city anyway. We have friends who live way out in the Sunset and they complain about all the same things we do and more! It actually takes them *longer* sometimes to get to the same SF destination as for us coming across the bridge. Parts of SF are more isolating, less vibrant and just generally more snooze-worthy than anything we're dealing with over here.

And then there's the pluses -- our kid loves it here; we walk to school; all his friends are walking distance (our friends in the city have a devil of a time scheduling playdates 'cause the lottery system scatters children all over the city without regard to community/neighbor building); we have waaaay more space than we ever could in the city, including a glorious deck and garden that is the envy of all our city friends. Do we miss the city? Absolutely. Are we moving back? Not yet. Maybe when we have an empty nest, but for now this seems to be working. We're happiest when we remember how easy it can be to get into the city, take advantage of that, and also appreciate what we've got out here. Ultimately we're glad we moved.

That said, most of our friends who stayed are equally happy -- everyone is making it work, even some of the folks who didn't get the school they thought they wanted in the lottery (turns out the schools they got weren't so bad after all). The few who really got pissed about their school assignments and failed at appeals left -- and they seemed to get so mad they left the Bay Area entirely!

Thoughts: What if you made date night *not* a high traffic night? Could you go out on a weeknight? We've gone to art openings in SF on a Thursday night and it's taken us 23 minutes to zoom into town, door to door, to the Mission! Trying to get in when everyone else is doing the same thing is a recipe for disaster until they figure out how to ease congestion at the toll plaza. Not much to suggest re: the commute time. Basically commuting sucks -- but at least with BART you can do other things, like read, write, snooze, listen to podcasts.

Good luck with whatever you choose, we sympathize!

Displaced Urbanites


Thinking of moving back to SF with 2 small children

Nov 1999

It may seem counter-intuitive, but my husband & I are thinking of moving back to SF with our two small children (2+ years, & 4 months). I realize it's more expensive, but presuming we can jump that hurdle does anybody have advice on the benefits? We both love urban living and lived in SF before the babies, but aren't current on family-specific issues such as schools, neighborhoods, and other conveniences/inconveniences we may encounter. Any city dwellers out there?


We have raised our two children, now 12 and 8, in SF. I find it to be an invigorating environment in which to raise a family. The range of urban activities and diversity of people and lifestyles has been a positive experience for our family. The schools are a challenge to navigate and research, but there are many good alternatives both public and private. I found the need to re-frame how I think about community. Regardless of the neighborhood in which you live, the children living near you will likely be attending several different schools across the city - and that goes for public or private. So they will have friends near and far. At the same time, you will connect with other families with children on your block or at a local playground recreation center, or church. Strong connections with other parents will make a big difference. There is so much negative press about SF. Yes it has problems, but the city, because it is SF, is living under constant scrutiny from within and without with the media continually focusing on what's wrong. It offers much, presents unique challenges and contains many hidden treasures.


I live in SF and commute to UC Berkeley. You don't say whether or not you're commuting- that has its own hassles, and you can write me to hear more on that subject if it applies.

I haven't raised kids in the east bay so can't directly compare but I can tell you a little about raising kids in SF. The neighborhoods vary, of course, in terms of access to parks, library branches, and schools - i imagine you already know to check this out before you move. There are very neighborhood-y neighborhoods that aren't so extremely urban (you don't say where in the east bay you live--urban or suburban. There aren't a lot of suburban open-space type neighborhoods in SF)

You want to think about schools - SF Unified is changing how it assigns students to schools, but you don't have to go to your neighborhood school. You can request schools, but of course everyone is trying to get into the same 6 top alternative schools so you can't count on getting in. There are OVER 70 elementary schools in SF, which is both good and bad--an overwhelming choice, a complicated and changing lottery system, and of course not all the schools are equal. On the other hand, there's a tremendous variety--immersion programs in spanish, chinese, japanese, korean; schools that focus on arts, sciences, community service, etc. (I think it may help to live in the neighborhood of the school you want--check www.sfusd.edu to see if they say--but at any rate you certainly want to consider transportation. some parents I know drive their kids a half hour one way to school)

There are lots of places for kids - the Academy of Sciences, zoo, golden gate park, libraries, Randall Museum, etc. etc. There's lots of public transit, though MUNI has many well-publicized problems.

As I write this it seems rather general and unsatisfactory, so perhaps I should just say that you should feel free to e-mail me if you have specific questions.