Living in Benicia
Have you looked at Benicia? Although not Napa or Sonoma, this is a historic town surrounded by the bay with a small-town feel and very family oriented. The cost of housing is "cheaper " compared to some bay area locations. And the school are highly rated.
It's a great location; pretty much 30-40 mins from Oakland, SF, Napa... And with the "new" bridge, only 20 mins to downtown Walnut Creek.
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.
I can highly recommend Pinole. I have heard very good things about the Cameron School, in El Cerrito, which offers speech therapy and preschool style classes for students who qualify in WCCUSD. If you choose the back part of Pinole Valley, you get to send your daughter to Ellerhorst, which is a very good school. I think you are priced out of El Cerrito if you want to keep it under $700k, but should be able to get something nice in Pinole if you move quickly when you see a house you like. Pinole Valley is safe, family-friendly, and diverse. You can walk to the local park, but everything else is about 1.5 miles away. We have a Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Peet's etc. plus a bunch of chains and a handful of mom and pops.
I know some folks who live in Benicia and have spent a good bit of time there. I like it a lot and it is definitely walkable and has a lot of charming small businesses on 1st street. It doesn't feel very diverse and it doesn't really feel like it's part of the Bay Area proper. Most of the people we know here in Pinole go into the city or Oakland/Berkeley pretty regularly, whereas most of the people we know in Benicia don't really seem to like to cross the bridge.
I really feel like Pinole is one of the "best kept secrets" here in the Bay, and my husband and I joke that it must have a cloaking device on it or something. We feel close to everything but also far away, if that makes any sense. It also feels much less crowded here than it does everywhere else. Good luck with your search!
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Have you considered Benicia? I recently moved from Berkeley to Benicia because, like you, we needed more space and couldn't afford more space in Berkeley. We were looking for a family friendly community with good schools in the area and we stumbled upon Benicia. Benicia is a small town on the carquinez strait bordering Vallejo. I have 2 young sons and we absolutely love it here! A lot of people don't even know Benicia exists, but it was the state capital in the 1850's so has some interesting history. We have a cute little downtown with a great library and community pool, awesome parks and playgrounds, good schools, a great Farmers market every Thursday on the main drag, a neat artist community, and wonderful people in general. Our initial concern about this town is that there is a refinery , but it hasn't bothered us at all since we've been here (about 6 months). One thing I do miss about Berkeley/Oakland/Albany are the amazing restaurants, but my kids are little so we rarely go out anyway. Come to our farmers market and check out the town- every Thursday from 4-8. There's even a bounce house for the kids! Benicia fan
I'm moving to either Benicia or Pinole
My 'husband' and I want to move to either Benicia or Pinole. We currently live in LA and are pre-retirement. I not ready to drop off the vine yet, but I want a lifestyle change. My goal is to be part of a pretty active community in a walkable charming old seaport town. My husband is a professional musician (piano player) who makes his living playing for famous(and not so famous) singers. He arranges charts, rehearses and plays shows(mostly Cabaret and standards).
Benicia seems to have a condensed downtown with a nice mix of businesses, Pinole is closer to the city and looks to have its downtown more spread out, but also a very cultural, thriving community.
I would love feedback. thank you
Hmm. I have worked for both cities but not lived in either. Benicia is by far more attractive with a larger historic district downtown and more view corridors of the bay. However, it is very much an island mentality, insular/small community, and you have to cross a bridge at $5/pop to get to the Bay Area. Pinole has easy access to the rest of the Bay Area but much more limited bay access. Benicia has a refinery and on occasion you can smell it. Pinole is not too far from the Rodeo refinery although I don't recall ever smelling it. Pinole has a Peet's, In n Out, and a Trader Joe's. Benicia's schools are arguably better. Property values in both places took a major dive during the recession. Both cities are relatively well-run, as these things go; I'd give Pinole the administrative edge. Personally, I would not want to live in so isolated a place as Benicia, but I know plenty of people who love it. It's much more of a state of mind than Pinole!
We considered buying in Benicia around this time last year. I think the town has more of what you're looking for. The downtown is indeed walkable and quite charming, and right by the water. They also have a thriving and vibrant small- town arts scene.
Since you don't need to deal with the commute into SF (which can be horrendous, from what I've heard), the only downside I can think of is that you can see the oil refinery 'stacks' from some parts of the town (the neighborhoods above the freeway), and that kind of mars some of the scenery. But if you lived walking distance to downtown you would not see them. In regards to smells or whatever from the oil refinery, we were probably there about a half dozen times for several hours each time, and we never smelled anything. But it could be different on some days; I'm not sure.
If you're looking for a broker, the woman we worked with, Brenda Turner-Adams, was awesome. She treated us super well and drove us around to give us a feel of the entire town. She's lived in Benicia for over 30 years, I think, so she is really knowledgeable about the area, and she never, ever pressured us.
P.S. Pinole is OK. I spent some time there when we lived in the East Bay because there's a Chuck E. Cheese there that my kids liked, plus there was a Catholic shop downtown that I frequented on occasion. The core downtown area is kinda cute, but Benicia's got it beat by a landslide. Also, I am not aware of any arts scene in Pinole, though of course I could be wrong. I think you would be much happier in Benicia; from what I know of Pinole, it is not what you seem to be looking for.
Hope this helps! Feel free to contact me if you have more questions. Monica
Living in Martinez, Benicia, Concord
My family is hoping to buy a home soon. We have two children under 2. It seems we can afford Benicia, Martinez and parts of Concord. We really like the look of homes in downtown Martinez and our commute to Richmond on the 4. Our main worries are the refinery, convicts and sound from the Amtrak/freight trains. Does anyone have any negative or positive experiences with the above, especially the refinery. Thank you! Kelly
Hmm, well, I worked in Benicia for many years and was never seriously tempted to live there. There is an 'island mentality' I noticed; 'crossing the bridge' to the rest of the Bay Area just feels like a big deal to a Benician. While there is a progressive faction in town, there is also a strong... uh... less progressive group. Solano County overall is less liberal than the rest of the Bay Area. Also occasionally you can smell the refinery - some people are bothered by this, some are not. Overall, Valero is the economic engine of town - largest employer, taxpayer, etc. Again, some people are bothered by this and some are not. Benicians consider that Martinez is somewhat similar in a lot of ways to Benicia (although my understanding is that their refinery has much less capacity); Concord obviously is a much larger town (really a small city) and harder to generalize, but don't underestimate the value of proximity to BART. 2c
Re: Moving to a cheaper area now that kids are gone
Our (only) son went off to OSU (Oregon)3 years ago. We live in Benicia, and moved here for the great schools. I find, though, that it is a great place for us empty nesters, too. It's definitely cheaper than Berkeley, safe, quiet, but with a great ''old town'' downtown.
The community often has little events that are great for meeting new people. We just made new friends sitting on the sidewalk, sipping an adult beverage with our dogs at our feet. (Great Pyrenees and Newfoundland; excellent conversation starters in their own right)
Benicia has lots of open space, a state park on the water, and plenty of places to hike.
Get some big dogs and move to Benicia! happy empty nesters
Moving to North Bay with two teens
Hi I'm a mom with two teen boys. We're moving to the north bay area in couple of months. My hubby will be working in vallejo. We are very excited. This will be a big change for us. We are from a small city in south florida. Im looking for input on areas that have nice high schools(safe). I want to live where the boys can have a little freedom with stuff to do but not in a big city. We are looking in Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa or Fairfield/Vacaville, Concord areas. Not sure which area would be best. Also fairly close to a Macys without having to get on any major highways. I work for Macys and am scared to death to drive out there (foolish I Know) . We will be renting. Our budget is around $2200 a month. I appreciate any info/input you have. A commute of around 45 min from Valejo is ok. Also can you reccomend any good rental agents? Thanks again I really appreciate it.
Hi! My husband & I moved to Benicia with our 13-year-old son more than 33 years ago. (Yikes!!) We absolutely love this community!! We have three grandsons (ages 12, 14, and 16) who are currently attending the Benicia schools and they are all doing well and the quality of their education is excellent. Our oldest grandson (who is 20 years old) graduated from Benicia High School and is doing extremely well in college. Benicia is no more than 10 minutes from Vallejo. The price of most rentals is very reasonable and the houses are very nice. If your teens are at all interested in sports, Benicia would be a great place for them! Benicia is a small, family-friendly town and we have lots of fun downtown activities for families and teens.
There are two Macy's stores near Benicia - one in Concord (about 15 miles away) and the other in Fairfield (also about 15 miles away.) You can get to the Fairfield store from Benicia without getting on busy highways.
The North Bay is really a great place to live. Santa Rosa is at least an hour's drive from Vallejo. Fairfield is probably 20 minutes away and Vacaville is about 30 minutes away. Good luck on your move! Kathy
[Editor: Petaluma was also recommended
Re: considering a move to Sacramento
Have you ever consider Benicia??? I grew up in Sacramento actaully Elk Grove before all those houses were built. Antioch reminds me of Elk Grove now. I am sure things have changes since I left permanently in 1996 but Sacramento has so many suburbs so there maybe a neighborhood that is similar to Berkeley? I love the East Bay especially Berkeley. We actaully have a daughter who goes to a school in North Berkeley so I drive down everyday. Benicia is a very sleepy town with a little bid of Santa Cruz feel to it. If I need Berkeley or SF fix, we just drive down and can be on the Bay Bridge in 20mins with no traffic. We are also less than 20mins away from Napa. You may want to check it out. If you have any question, you can email me as well. Happy in Benicia
We are considering a move to Benicia with our two small children. We are looking for any feedback, both positive and/or negative, in regards to the community, schools, neighborhoods, and refinery. Any information would be greatly appreciated! JL
We lived in Benicia for 10 yrs and we made the big mistake of moving away from it. It's a fantastic place to raise your kids! It has wonderful parks, a great community, very good public schools and the town itself is just a gem. I never felt the need to join a mom's club, or something, 'cause I met so many people just by walking downtown, going to the parks or doing my groceries. People are very interested in each other and generally extremely friendly. The town puts on wonderful holiday celebrations and the entire town comes out to celebrate. Fourth of July is one such day. Everyone gathers at the green field at the end of 1st Street and watches the fire works. It is very safe and family oriented. Another really fun event is the Tree Lighting Ceremony. First Street is completely blocked off and it is filled with people in the holiday spirit. See, I can't say enough good things about it.
I can't really think of anything negative. Don't drive 29 miles/hr in a 25 mile zone, 'cause the cops will ticket you immediately. The town is very laid back, so the police officers seem to jump on any violation where they can. But since there are many children in that town I never minded that they were agressive.
The refineries are all ''down wind'' and don't really have any impact on your quality of life. With the new Benicia Bridge that opened late last year the commute to Contra Costa County is a breeze.
The town gets two big thumbs up from me!!! JOJ
We live in Benicia and really like it. It is a family oriented community with many kid-friendly events (family movie night in the park once a month in summer, children's art festival in the park, street fairs, parades, farmer's market on thursday nights, swimming pool, classes and camps through the parks and recreation department, good library events). The schools are well-rated. There is a very active moms club with about 130 members. Feel free to email me! Carrie
We moved to Benicia 2 1/2 years ago from Los Angeles. It is a wonderful small town.Good schools. Great parks. Friendly people. Low crime. A wonderful place to raise a family! I don't think I could ever find a more lovely town. Well, maybe Nevada City! we love it here!
Benicia is a nice little town, and the Carquinez Strait is really lovely. We live next to Benicia, but technically are zip coded as Vallejo. I have friends in Benicia who say the schools are good, but I have not checked that out as a fact. There is a nice little downtown area, and a lot of activities sponsored by the park and recreation (you can check out their brochure on-line). I take my daughter to a lot of activities in Benicia. I think it is considered a ''safe'' town, and it is convenient to the Vallejo Ferry or casual carpool for commuting into the city. The BART is a little bit of a hike, but doable. That being said, Benicia has O.K. but not great in my opinion restaurants, and there are only local stores such as Raley's or Safeway. You have to drive to Concord or Fairfield for a Trader Joes, and the closest Whole Foods is in Napa or Walnut Creek. Costco is close by, and plenty of Starbucks. There is a local park that the locals are hoping the state does not close. We looked at a lot of houses in Benicia. I would crack up when the ''water view'' was looking at the refinery, but there are plenty of houses that do have a real water view. If you are checking out out the area, don't skip Glen Cove, which is next to Benicia. All the advantages of Benicia at Vallejo housing prices. Chose Glen Cove over Benicia
Re: Safe, family--oriented neighborhood?
Have you ever consider Benicia? It's affortable and close to Easy Bay. It's 20 plus minutes to the Bay Bridge and 10 mins or so to Walnut Creek so it's not a bad commute and there is a ferry service into the city. If there is anything else you like to know please email me at aware1967 [at] yahoo.com. A great and safe community with a lots of parks. Amy
Re: Kid friendly neighborhoods in the East Bay Benicia may be a bit too far North for you, but it is an amazing little treasure. The community is warm and friendly, the schools are very good, there are many (!) beautiful parks and the social activities in town are always wonderful. The downtown area is pretty flat, so it is perfect for strolling around or bicycling. We lived there for 10 years and I actually miss it tremendously. JOJ
Re: affordable housing
I highly recommend Benicia. We just moved there from Oakland in February and absolutely love it! It has excellent schools - all but one are California Distinguished Schools and are actually in the top nationwide. It is very much a small town. If you live downtown, you can walk to everything without a car. There are tons of community events, it is very safe, has that small-town feeling and is still affordable. Benicia is very family oriented with lots of parks and a weekly farmers market that has a petting zoo with pony rides. There is a wonderful library and community pool and lots more. An added bonus is that the town is located right on the water so you can see the ships go by, etc. Dylyn