Advice about Living in Berkeley

Parent Q&A

  • Moving for a job in the Financial District - need 45 min. commute or less

    (18 replies)

    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. 

    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.

    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!

    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!

    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 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!

    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.

    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 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!

    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. ;-)

    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.

    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!

    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!

    Check out Piedmont. Easy commute, great schools. 

    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!

    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.


    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!

    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!

    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 :)

  • Berkeley art print or poster to remind us of home?

    (8 replies)

    My family and I just had to move from Berkeley to the Central Valley for a job opportunity. We miss Berkeley so, so much. I'm looking for an art print or poster that will remind us of our home in Berkeley; something that really feels like Berkeley (the city, not the University). It could be a nice looking map that we could frame, a poster from a local Berkeley landmark or institution, a landscape painting, or possibly even a photograph. I've seen a few prints of Oakland maps that feature Oakland landmarks, but maybe there isn't as much of a market for Berkeley city pride paraphernalia, or maybe I'm just not using the right search terms. Any suggestions?



    Try the Framer's Workshop on Channing in Berkeley. They have Berkeley-esque prints, available online, and in-store, and their selections change periodically. And they do lovely framing services too (though you are welcome to DIY there too). And they could help you find something if you don't see what you like.

    Maybe a print by Elisa Kleven. Her work is beautiful.

    At the 75th anniversary of the Berkeley Rose Garden, from The Framer's Workshop, we bought a beautiful block print by Yamamoto of the roses on the pergola and the bay in the background in a rose wood frame. Love it.

    I agree with the David Lance Goines suggestion, but also, Peet's Coffee originated in Berkeley and they have some awesome posters (in a style not unlike Goines).  They always remind me of Berkeley.

    How about this Berkeley Food Pyramid poster?

    I was going to recommend Goines, too, but I see people beat me to it!  You can find Goines posters for everything from Northface to Chez Panisse on Ebay. There are also some nice Berkeley maps and art prints on Etsy - if this link doesn't work, search "berkeley" under Art & Collectibles:

    Almost anything by David Lance Goines! 

    Check out the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association.  They have a great David Goines poster you can buy for $35 (I have one!) and they also have some pretty watercolor notecards of Berkeley path scenes that you could frame. And a map of all the paths, too!  


  • Moving to Berkeley from Orange County with small children

    (6 replies)

    We are moving from suburb of orange county to east bay and really like Berkeley area. I pretty much read all (almost all) reviews related below two things but still have some concerns. Hope Berkeley locals can provide some insights.

    • Safety - What neighborhood is consider "safe" in Berkeley so I dont need to worry about 1. burglary, theft or even assault since my husband travels for work kids and I can go for a walk after dinner 3.when my kids get older they can play outside or walk/bike to schools by themselves. We heard Berkeley hills is the safest but we prefer flat area where we can walk to parks, shops and markets. 
    • Public Middle and High School - Our plan is to keep our kids at Berkeley public school from K to 12. I read many good reviews about Berkeley elementary schools but did not see any "recent" reviews about middle schools and Berkeley high school. Is King the only one good middle school in Berkeley? Is safety still an issue in Berkeley High School?

    Thank you

    Check out Albany! It's safe, walkable, BARTable, and it has good schools. Albany is north of Berkeley and is very family oriented.

    Did you also consider El Cerrito and/or Albany; Richmond Annex, Point, Marina Bay or View? These are also relatively safe, walkable and schools are fine. Most of these Richmond locations are zoned for El Cerrito middle and high schools.

    Middle school is also a good time to start organizing walk-to-schools groups in your immediate neighborhood, perhaps with a parent or two to start, and then the kids on their own. Grade 6 can be intimidating, and walking in a small group gives young ones a chance to feel secure and make some new friends.

    The flats are probably safer from the perspective of better sidewalks for walking, and being closer to destinations. My impression is that most children walk to middle school themselves, and a parent walks them to elementary school or they take the bus. Where we live in the Northwest flats, middle-school was also the age for walking other places like the stores or friend's house in the daytime.  The big problem is traffic. From Willard going west there are a number of busy streets (Telegraph, Shattuck, MLK) to cross, and from King going west there is Sacramento Street which could use another light or two. You would have to work with your children on using routes with lights and paying attention at intersections.

    At night, it doesn't seem like a great idea for a middle-schooler to be walking around alone. For a high-schooler on a bike it is fine, though most parents pick up students from their friends' houses.

    Berkeley High is safe assuming your student doesn't go looking for trouble.

    We are OC transplants also, if possible I'd suggest a trip up here first to explore all neighboring areas. A LOT of areas here are hilly w/out sidewalks and I find it offputting with kids. Depending on what part of OC you are from you may like the Lamorinda area as well. I know this doesn't directly answer your questions but for us, when we moved down here we knew immediately which areas were or were not for us.

    I grew up in Orange County, and most of my family still lives there.... and I have lived in Berkeley for 17 years now. I'm sure you know this, but Orange County suburbs and Berkeley are vastly different in so many ways. The safety that you might feel in Orange County is just not going to compare really to Berkeley. It's just so different geographically, sociologically, so much more urban.

    I appreciate so much about Berkeley and have loved raising my kids here. I am struck by the difference between the two places every time we visit Orange County. Now that my kids are older (10 and 13), they are too. They much prefer Berkeley and value the diversity they see here.

    That said, the feeling of safety is very different here. In terms of break-ins, that happens all over Berkeley. Don't think it matters that much whether you choose hills or flats. Take precautions. Get a dog or an alarm system. Lock your side gates when you leave for the day. Upside of the flats is that you are going to know your neighbors and there are more "eyes" on things. 

    I don't think I would enjoy living in the hills that much with kids. No sidewalks, nowhere to ride your bike, no cafes or restaurants or parks to just walk to quickly. But that's a lot like the Orange County suburbs! We love being able to walk and bike everywhere, from breakfast cafe to our favorite Thai restaurant, many parks, BART station.....

    You might enjoy neighborhoods between the hills and the flats where you can still walk to a lot but not quite as urban. 

    Real estate in Berkeley is insane right now. I'm sure you know that, but just take a close look. I'm blown away by the prices lately.

    I have a kid at King. It's definitely not the only good middle school in Berkeley. It's the prettiest and gets the most accolades, but the other two are just as good. And smaller and your kid will be "known" more. As for Berkeley High, its a very large urban public high school in the middle of a downtown area. Safety is a concern, but I don't think any more so than ever before.

    My nieces in Orange County are used to a very different educational approach than we have here in Berkeley, so be ready for that as well.

  • Airplane noise in Berkeley

    (11 replies)

    Visiting Berkeley while house hunting, I noticed a lot of plane noise, both commercial and small plane.  I did a bit of online research and read that the FAA implemented a new process a couple of years ago called NextGen, which has routed flights over many cities in the bay area, including Berkeley.  Is the additional noise impacting quality of life and are there particular places that are more heavily impacted? 

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    We live on the crest of the hill near the intersection of Euclid and Grizzly Peak, and, yes, it has gotten noisier of late.  It's not that noticeable except for the occasional early morning flight that makes you hope it's not going to crash into anything since it sounds so close. My understanding is that flight patterns have changed, and we're sharing the burden with folks who have had more flights going over them in the past.  Can't say that I feel unfairly treated.  We all get the benefits of airplanes, and the burdens need to be spread out as well. 

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    Commercial planes noise has never been much of a problem in Berkeley for as long as I can remember.  (I'm near the original Berkeley Bowl.).  The worst is all of the helicopter noise.  Seems like several times everyday there's that loud helicopter popping sound.  And when there are protests the helicopters (as in more than one) can hover around campus for hours.  Last spring/summer I news remember helicopters hovering over Berkeley.  It was so loud and disruptive it made the news.  Then there are the small planes.  They fly at a low altitude and that buzzing/whining noise can be almost as bad at the helicopters. 



    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    Funny. We lived in North Berkeley for 14 years, and I never really noticed airplane noise and considered it a rather peaceful neighborhood.  My in-laws used to visit from a bucolic little town on Long Island, my mother from a small college town in the South, and a brother from Minnesota, and each one of them used to say, "Man, how do you stand the airplane noise around here?  It sounds as if they are going to land on your house!" So, yeah......Scary what we humans can get used to.

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    I have a 21-month old who notices every single plane and drops everything to point at them, and I can say that the frequency or sound of the planes has never bothered me.

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    I've noticed more of a problem in the last month or so. I was assuming it was because of the rains/low cloud cover. I'm interested to see what other posters know. Overall it doesn't really impact our life, though I've been debating about whether I should close the bedroom window at night.

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    I'm sure you will get plenty of feedback on this from specific Berkeley neighbors but the answer is it depends.  Where is the house?  What is the elevation?  What is the weather (flight patterns shift in storms)?  And which airport is the troublemaker?  

    There is also the follow-up question: Where isn't there significant airplane noise now?

    Several East Bay communities have recently submitted (or are very close to submitting) formal requests to the FAA to review specific flight path changes proposed in light of the recent NextGen implementation in Northern California Metroplex (SFO, OAK, SJC, and SAC).  These recommendations are the product of much coordination between various community action groups (such as CLASS in Alameda) and city councils, as well as support from Rep. Lee.  Cities involved include Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, San Leandro, Hayward, and others.

    The FAA Regional Director has, from what I can gather, been open to suggestions on certain changes but the new flight paths impacting Oakland and Berkeley most will, unfortunately, be most difficult to alter.   

    Some reading on the various proposals can be found here but I'm not certain they are the latest and greatest:

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    I've lived in southeast Berkeley more than 30 years and have not ever noticed airplane noise. When I look up at the sky I sometimes see tiny silver airliners way, way up there, much too far away to hear.  Have never seen small planes over Berkeley.  I do hear helicopters occasionally. Many times over the years I've flown in and out of the Bay Area. Inbound planes to both Oakland and SFO approach from the south, not over the East Bay.  Outbound planes head west toward the Pacific first, and then circle back once they reach cruising heights.  So I'm not sure where your information is coming from. 

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    I've lived in Southwest Berkeley for almost two years now, and I've never noticed the plane noise as you've described. 

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    My understanding is that the planes are only routed over Berkeley when it is overcast and/ or raining. The noise has never been a problem for me personally,

    but I am definitely uncomfortable with the idea of jet fuel in the atmosphere and the possible environmental and health impact. I have been wondering if the Berkeley/ Kensington area residents have a say in this and if we could prevent the FAA from forcing this on us. I would be interested to hear what other people think. Thanks!

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    It is really only during rainy weather that airplane noise is a problem. During the rain, planes are routed over the Berkeley, Kensington, El Cerrito hills. Apparently this route is safer for the plane when there is low visibility due to cloud cover.

    RE: Airplane noise in Berkeley ()

    So far as I can tell, airplane noise isn't a big complaint in Berkeley. In normal weather, flights coming into the Oakland Airport approach from the south, which puts a major portion of their approach over the Bay. When it's stormy weather, flights approach from the north, which has them coming over Berkeley and Oakland.

  • Social worker wants to move back to Berkeley

    (3 replies)

    So, I lived in Berkeley about 15 years ago.  It is hard to believe it has been so long.  I left because I was a new graduate level social worker, wanted to adopt a child as a single parent, and couldn't afford to do it there.  Fast forward to now, I have lots of experience and am more marketable, have 2 children, live in Oregon, and really want to come back.  I know housing is extremely expensive to put it mildly.  However, I want to return so badly.  My kids are 10 and 13 and next school year would be heading to middle school and high school.

    Here are my questions.I am an LCSW in Oregon, and have an MSW.  Not sure if my licensure would transfer.  I am thinking for a decent paying job I should be looking at community colleges and hospitals.  Any other ideas?   How much do you think I would need to earn to pay for decent housing?  Where should I consider living so the kids would be able to attend decent schools.

    Sorry if I seem naive.  I know things are very expensive there, but I want to see if I can make something work out.

    Thank you so much!  Robyn

    I just wanted to respond and say, yes, Berkeley is the lottery and that can it work out.  The fact that your children are in middle and high school means they will be at different schools for a few years, and then your youngest child will end up in high school with his/her sibling (there's a sibling preference) and also only one high school!

    Hi Robyn,

    consider working for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland -- LinkedIn can show some openings.  Your MSW qualifies you for a level II position. You will need to register with the board of behavioral science in Sacramento. 

    Housing is tight and expensive. Consider sharing. Albany has the sweetest school district. Berkeley is lottery based so your kids can end up at different schools. 

    Good luck 

    Isn't Berkeley wonderful?  Here's what's happened  in Berkeley.  The tech-boom and ridiculous wages the tech companies are paying employees along with the high rents in San Francisco have these workers looking for housing in Berkeley.  I have property I Berkeley and just can't believe what people are asking and getting for rent.  In the past year rent have increased 25% and people are waiting in line for these places.  Not sure what your budget is but a run of the mill 1 bedroom apartment in Berkeley is going for $2,500. 

    As for working at the community colleges you could try.  There are 28 colleges in the Bay Area and only 4 or 5 you could commute to within an hour.  The hiring process takes about nine months to over a year, if they are hiring.  Because the economy is doing well college enrollment is way down and pay is on the very low side to live in the Bay Area.  Due to budge constraints t he colleges are usually offer employment for one quarter/semester and then have you sign-up for unemployment between semesters and over the summer.  It's a messed up.  Even though the economy is doing well wages have been frozen for 5-10 years depending on the district.  But you can try.  Things change.

    ​Most of the hospitals have been bought by Sutter.  So for hospital work it's either Sutter, Kaiser or UCSF. 


    You might be able to find a shared housing arrangement.  That's what a lot of people are doing in order to live here.  You might want to try looking on Craig's List for a shared housing arrangement or post in BPN.

    Hope this helps.



  • Moving to the Bay Area, seeking LGBT family-friendly area

    (8 replies)

    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!


    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.

    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.

    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.

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

    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.

    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.

    Alameda. Hands down. 

    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.

    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!

  • AA Peninsula Mom of 2 looking to move to the East Bay for cultural diversity

    (4 replies)


    My husband and I are an affluent African-american couple (Pharmacist and Googler) who currently own a home in the peninsula. We have a 1 and 2 year old toddler and do not wish to raise them here in the peninsula due to the lack of other affluent African- Americans in our community (and along the peninsula overall). We plan on staying here for the next 2 years before Kindergarten. Can anyone recommend any great neighborhoods for purchasing a home near or in Berkeley where my kids can walk to attend great public schools, and have a more diverse experience growing up and us not worry about crime, race, or meeting others like themselves? We are also looking for areas accessible to stores, shopping, and a great social scene if desired.

    I'm a white mom in Berkeley.  As noted by a previous poster, BUSD assign schools very differently than other districts.  The city is divided into 3 diagonal zones. You are assigned to a zone based on your address.  Within the zone, you declare a preference of elementary schools.  And 2/3's of families get their 1st or 2nd pick, which means 1/3 gets their 3rd pick or not even!  This does result in a bit of schlepping around town, but the upside is... all of the schools are good, and all of the schools are diverse!  And pretty darned similar.  If you visit some of the schools, they will start to all look alike to you. Middle schools are assigned based on address.  Apart from one "magnet" middle school, although so far I haven't figured out what it's a magnet for?  Technology maybe? There's only one HS, so everybody goes there.  The affluent African American families that I know mostly live in the hills (a typically somewhat affluent area), although I can think of one family that lives near San Pablo Park (a typically middle class area.)  Of course, you own a house on the peninsula, so you can probably afford to buy or rent a house in Berk, and you know that a middle class house in Berk would buy you a mansion in most of the rest of the country.  If I had to guess, the most diverse area of Berkeley including affluent and not-so affluent folks of all colors would be around Berkeley Bowl.  But no matter what elementary school you attend, I think you will find a community including some affluent black and brown folks.  I would guess a better sense of community here than on the Peninsula.  School tours are starting soon if you want to come take a look.  Some schools require you to sign up for the tour, but many allow you to just show up.  ps I would guess Albany is a little whiter in general than Berkeley, and El Cerrito less affluent in general.  Also, you can search for the city of Berkeley crime map.  Crime is predictably centered around commercial streets like University, Shattuck, San Pablo & College, and also near UCB.  A little more in South Berk, a little less in the north.  Probably more than on the peninsula in general.  Hope this helps!

    Hi there.  I would recommend El Cerrito and a few neighborhoods in Richmond.  Fairmont and Harding are both good schools and their cachement areas are very walkable and diverse. If you're worried about the test scores you can move to the hills and send your kids to Madera, but it's mostly white and Asian up there, also you'll need to drive.  Richmond Hills families go to Mira Vista, which is a sweet little K-8 school in the hills, incredibly diverse in every way, with a strong parent community.  Depending on where you live your kids can walk there.  They have a good library, computer lab, band and glee club, and teachers from Richmond Art Center. The numbers aren't as good as Madera but families in the district still transfer their kids to MV because it's a good school. My kid has friends from the neighborhood and I feel safe letting them tear around on their bikes together.  I have friends who live up in Hilltop in some of the developments.  There are a lot of professional class AA families there, although I don't think they send their kids to the local school.  If you want more info you could contact Mocha Moms of West Contra Costa.  They're online and a great group.

    Parts of South Berkeley are considered "historically" African-American and now have are quite a mixture. However, as the Save Black Berkeley ( movement can surely attest to, many in these communities are selling their homes and leaving. That said, there are definitely upper middle class African Americans in Berkeley neighborhoods from all points west of Sacramento and Alcatraz to University. 

    Before you make the move, you should research how Berkeley assigns public schools, because this may mean that walking to school is not possible. I know people that are not able to attend the schools closest to them, but love how diverse in a socioeconomic way this makes them. If Oakland is also on your radar, Crocker Highlands is a great neighborhood with a great elementary school, not as diverse as we would like, but still lovely in other ways. There certainly are families of all colors in the same ish tax bracket. Piedmont might also be more inclusive than certain Peninsula cities, but still very white. It is also a very small city, so there is a real sense of neighborly connection there for better or worse. I agree it's not for everyone. People who live there do walk to school and it is very child/family focused.

  • Renting in Berkeley

    (3 replies)

    Is it possible to rent in Berkeley, and if so what are the rents likely to be and what is the best way to find available housing? 

    RE: Renting in Berkeley ()

    Berkeley has lots of rentals  (It's a University town.)  Just look on Craig's list.

    RE: Renting in Berkeley ()

    Before signing anything, check with the Berkeley Rent Board to see if your tenancy would be under rent control.

    RE: Renting in Berkeley ()

    Yes, there are plenty of rentals in Berkeley. Check craigslist for pricing and availability. Provide a deposit only after seeing the interior and meeting the manager or landlady/landlord. 


  • HELP! Looking for gay-friendly, diverse, low crime, affordable area near Berkeley

    (15 replies)

    Me and my family are relocating to California, July of 2017. We are both business graduates, so we're looking to find work within three months of moving. We plan on buying a house (500k to 750k) and finding a wonderful charter school near Berkeley. We were told is Berkeley is gay friendly. We have been searching but several places that many be affordable, are showing high crime. We are also SERIOUSLY looking for diversity. Any suggestions??

     The neighborhood public school, Fairmont, is just fine. We go there; it is zoned for Richmond Annex and part of El Cerrito, very diverse demographics (and some gay families, since you note you are looking for gay-friendly). Fairmont is in fact the most racially diverse school in the West Contra Costa school district. And as other posters noted, Richmond Annex is a nice little neighborhood with some very cute houses.

    We live in West Contra Costa County (Pinole) and love it! While I don't know specifically about LGBT resources here, our area definitely meets your other criteria (diverse, low crime and affordable). We moved here 3 years ago and when we moved in, our neighbor across the street told my husband about how he and his wife had had their house broken into! 1975. A big change from where we were living in Oakland.

    We are a white family; our neighbors are white, black, Hispanic, East and South Asian. El Sobrante (the next municipality over) has a huge Punjabi-speaking community because it is the home of the only Sikh house of worship in the East Bay. The elementary school around the corner from our house is 40% white, 40% Hispanic, 10% Asian and 10% black. If I walk in one direction from the bottom of our street, I can get to the library, Trader Joe's and Peet's Coffee within a mile; in the other direction, I pass horses and cows.

    There isn't a whole lot of "culture" here yet, but that is changing rapidly (gentrification, for better and worse, as people get priced out of Berkeley/Oakland) -- and we are only 20 minutes from downtown Berkeley outside of rush hour. I'd definitely encourage you to look at West County -- am happy to give more info if you want to contact me directly.

    I'm reading the responses and seeing the one that says that you'll have to pay for private school if you buy in the Richmond Annex. That's not true. The Annex is zoned for WCCUSD schools, exactly the same schools as the kids in Kensington and the El Cerrito Hills go. Fairmont has a very strong parent community and the kids really like going there. Then all kids in the district go to Korematsu middle school and El Cerrito high school. I love the Annex. It's really walkable and friendly. I would definitely choose the part of the Annex that's on the east side of highway 80 though. The other side is much more sketchy with parking issues. Plus it's a lot harder to walk anywhere. My friend who lives in the Annex walks her kids to Fairmont in the morning and then walks to BART to go to work. She really likes it.

    Hi there!

    It's great you're posting here as hopefully you will learn more about the area to help you make your decision. From your question, you can tell you aren't very familiar yet with the Bay Area.

    First off, you can't buy a house in Berkeley for that price range. The cheapest house you could probably find in Berkeley right now is maybe $850k if you are lucky. And it would be a fixer. You can potentially find that price range as you move further out into certain suburbs (El Sobrante, San Pablo) but you won't really find what you are looking for in terms of the diversity of Berkeley or lower crime.

    Yes Berkeley is gay friendly and diverse. Crime is not high here although looking at crime maps could potentially freak you out if you don't know it I suppose. There is some crime but if you want little to no crime, you need to move to the whiter, wealthier suburbs of Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Danville, much of Marin, etc. Most of the Bay Area is gay friendly, you just might not get racial/ethnic diversity in those places. Personally, diversity is important to me as I would not raise my kids somewhere not diverse. For that reason, Berkeley and Oakland are the only places I would consider.

    Also, there are no charter schools in Berkeley. Berkeley public schools are great and the majority of people I know send their kids to them.

    Yep, I suggest Hayward. Diverse, welcoming, and cheap. 30 minutes from Berkeley if you live near 580. The crime rates might look bad on paper (I live here, but I don't look), but there are many safe neighborhoods, so you can get a better feel for that by asking neighbors when you househunt. Check us out!

    San Leandro! 

    Affordable, up and coming (new technology growth), centrally located, BART stations handy, great library, great city which really pays off if/when you need to get a permit or help (we took the awesome seismic retrofit class at the city and then retrofitted our home), gay friendly, diverse (, safe with a fabulous police force that is fast, responsive, and positive ( if/when you need them, quiet, friendly, and more. We were looking for a town where people smiled and said hello when you walk by, and found it in San Leandro. Loving it here. 

    You won't be able to find a house in Berkeley for under 750K. But Berkeley is definitely not the only gay-friendly city here.  The entire Bay Area is the most gay-friendly area in the country, maybe even the world. I think most cities within an hour's drive of Berkeley are going to be equally welcoming of same-sex parents. So you should expand your search beyond Berkeley.  Regarding diversity, it depends on what you mean. The Bay Area is very diverse with many different cultures and colors and languages, much more diverse than the rest of the US. There are suburbs here that are mostly white and there are neighborhoods in the bigger cities that have a majority of this culture or that one. But in general it's pretty diverse. Not sure why you are only interested in a charter school. Some cities like Berkeley and Albany have few or zero charter schools. Other cities like Oakland have a lot.   Some charter schools have a great reputation, some don't. There are quite a few good public schools in most all of the East Bay cities so you should keep your options open on that.

    HERCULES, CA, no question about it! I've lived in Hercules for over 25 years. My kids were born here and grew up here. Hercules is 10 minutes from Berkeley and very centrally located. About 24 miles from San Francisco and on the corner of Hwy 80 and Hwy 4 that leads to Hwy 680, so very close to Concord, Walnut Creek etc.

    Hercules is very diverse and family friendly. It's affordable with lots of young families moving in. There is no crime and a great community feel. I lived in Marin before and had never heard of Hercules. Once I checked it out, I've never left.


    You are going to be very hard pressed to find a house in your price range in the Berkeley/Oakland area with lower crime rates (condo options may exist however). Single family homes at those prices don't exist here. It's hard to tell from your post how big your family is, but if you have children and 2 working parents, want diversity (not sure if you mean cultural or economic), lowish crime rates (the perception of what "lowish" is varies by person), and can only afford a $500-$750K house (and you really want a house) you're going to have a hard time checking all those boxes in Berkeley or Oakland. Either start thinking condos (maybe you can get a 2BR condo for $750K) or consider other parts of the country. 

    Redwood Heights Neighborhood in Oakland is very LGBTQ friendly, although home prices are always going up.  Great elementary school and acceptable middle school.  

    If you want affordable, forget Berkeley. Take a look at East Richmond Heights, which is gay-friendly, has homes in your price range, and doesn't have high crime rates.

    I'm a little taken aback, however, that you are specifically and exclusively looking for charter schools, however. Our public schools are very, very good, and our district (West Contra County) as well as the districts in Oakland and Berkeley are suffering greatly from an influx of charter schools with poor oversight and no transparency. I would enthusiastically encourage you to look at the public schools in the area, taking tours and talking to parents, before writing them off. There is zero reason for you to reject the great schools we have for you.

    I recommend Alameda or San Leandro!  Alameda isn't exactly affordable, but it's very safe.  San Leandro is more affordable, diverse and lower crime in general than Berkeley and Oakland.  Feel free to contact me with any questions as I've lived in both places and I'm happy to share my experiences.

    Please consider checking out Alameda! The west end in particular is more affordable, and you will get a great neighborhood, low crime, and wonderful, diverse charter schools. We commute from the opposite end of Alameda to one of them - Nea. The school is great, the administration is great, and you will not find a more accepting community of kids and adults from as many backgrounds as you can think of. Good luck with your move!

    Hi there, when you are moving to such a highly populated area there is always going to be crime issues. While Oakland is known to be one of the worse cities for crime in the US, there are VERY nice areas of Oakland. We lived in El Cerrito and we loved it. "The hills" are really nice and the area is really safe. It gets looked over because it's close to Richmond but we never had any issues there. I suggest renting before buying so you can get an idea of the areas if you are completely new to SFBA.

    Diversity?  Absolutely NOT a problem. Housing for $500,00 - $750,000, not so much, especially in Berkeley. Housing near (above) the upper end of your price bracket will likely get you a house in a rather "meh" neighborhood, both crime and school-wise. The Richmond Annex just possibly, but you'd then have to be able to afford private school ($20,00 - $35,000 / year). Best of luck. 

  • Moving to Berkeley from LA - Interracial Family Friendly?

    (14 replies)


    There's a good chance my family and I will be moving to Berkeley (or surrounding places) for a dream job in Berkeley. My husband is African American and I am light-skinned Latina. We have a beautiful daughter, preschool age. I have three questions:

    1. What are some of the safest and friendliest places for us to consider moving to as an interracial family?

    2. What are some of the best, most diverse and affordable preschools around?

    3. We want to our girl to be bilingual in Spanish and English. Are there any dual immersion preschools (and elementary schools) that we should know about?

    Thank you in advance for your help. I went to UC Berkeley for my undergrad 20 years ago and LOVED it. I'm very fond of Berkeley and would happily move back. Since it's been so long, I wanted to hear what current parents have to say in respect to the above questions (and anything else!). 

    Sincerely Grateful,


    There are a lot of interracial families here in the East Bay.  We live in the incredibly diverse North and East neighborhood of Richmond.  There are bilingual preschools in some of the public schools, El Nuevo Mundo, a beautiful little state run preschool, a few home based ones and La Casita, a Montessori preschool up in Pinole.  There is a dual immersion program at Washington elementary (1-6) that continues into middle school. Richmond/San Pablo has a big AA and Latino community.  It's very friendly and the vibe has never been better. My kid rides his bike all over and plays at the local basketball court with a bunch of neighborhood boys. 

    (ps. just to clarify as far as school district areas, Rockridge is Oakland at border of South Berkeley (which for preschool is not an issue but maybe down the way...)


    Jealously happy for you.  :)  I'm a single mom of one Black/biracial teen daughter living the other side of the bay in an very homogenized, wealthy area. She has really hated the culture here since middle school. Berkeley High is such an inspiring contrast to our high schools, I would still like to move. When she was little we used to drive across the bay just to attend interracial family networks/play groups i-Pride and Our Colors... not sure where they went but neither seem to have an online presence anymore. 

    Our favorite neighborhood: Rockridge is really wonderful <3 with interracial families everywhere.

    Very best to you and hope you get some informative feedback from BPN local parents!


    Welcome back! If it's not too far for you, you should consider Hayward. It was recently ranked the third most diverse city in the US, and my son went to school with lots of biracial kids (he is half Latino, half white-Jewish). We have many public schools with bilingual programs that run TK-6th grade and I believe there is one dual immersion middle school. It's been a long time since I thought about preschool, but you should at least be able to find one with bilingual teachers. Hayward lacks many of the amenities and much of the charm that Berkeley and other parts of the Bay Area offer, but it's super real, very welcoming, and much more affordable. 

    When my kids were at Malcolm X in Berkeley I was always impressed by how many interracial families there were among their classmates.  I think the Berkeley public schools would be a great place to feel at home.  Berkeley is expensive and difficult to find housing in, but it might be a good fit for what you are seeking.  While safety varies block to block in the SW corner where homes are more affordable, I felt very comfortable there with small kids.  Berkeley schools also have a two way immersion program, but it can be hard to get into.


    As for housing for an interracial family, I suggest Berkeley. The North Berkeley neighborhood is nice. So is Kensington, just north of Berkeley. The problem is the houses are very expensive. There are burgalaries but its rare to hear about violent crime. The city of Albany is okay, the public schools are highly rated and there are rentals (unlike Kensington which doesn't have a lot of apartments). Albany has diversity but not so much African American diversity. I have found that for my kids to get the best support, that diverse schools with underrepresented minorities work best for me. You may have a different experience.

    Parts of Oakland are safe and many are multicultural-friendly, like the Oakland hills (off of highway 13). Oakland is a hot real estate market and is gentrifying. The cost of good apartments are going up. On the other hand, I have friends buy a home when they previously could't afford one.

    I am African American and my husband is biracial. I grew up in the north Berkeley Kensington area.

    I don't know whether you are buying a home or looking to rent. The rental market is terrible. Many people are moving within the East Bay to Antioch, Pittsburg, Vallejo and Richmond. People from SF are moving to the East Bay because there is a housing shortage in SF. It is driving up the rent prices. So people from the East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville,etc) are moving away because they can't find affordable apartments or rental properties. 

    In north Berkeley there is a dual emersion school called Thousand Oaks. I've heard its good but you probably want to look it up in the Berkeley school system.I know there are others. Sometimes I see ads for them in the "Parents Press", a free monthly newspaper with info for parents on schools, pediatricians, summer camps, etc.  I am sure it is online as well.

    Good luck. Hope that helps.

    Also you might want to look at El Cerrito or "Richmond Annex". 




    We have been a black-white interracial family in El Cerrito since 2000 and it has never been an issue. About half (seriously!) of our daughter's public elementary class was interracial of some form or another. Our daughter, now 16, has always felt that being black-white is a double bonus, rather than a double detriment, and identifies as an El Cerrito person, rather than a specific ethnicity. The only time she has mentioned feeling out of place in the Bay Area was at a boutique in Walnut Creek, and not for being black-white, but for clearly not being a Walnut Creek person. I do not know of a bilingual preschool in El Cerrito but the West Contra Costa dual immersion elementary school is Washington in Pt. Richmond, about which I have heard good things. My daughter has several really nice friends who went to Washington for elementary.


    I also did my undergrad at Berkeley, just before you did, although I never left the area. My daughter is also African American and just started kindergarten. I have lived in North Oakland since 1994. It is no longer very affordable, but it is a wonderful place for interracial families.

    Our daughter went to Monteverde Preschool, which is both affordable and diverse. We couldn't be happier. Although they have no formal language program, a number of the teachers are fluent in multiple languages and they do use them, both in group settings and directly with individual kids that know Spanish, Portuguese or Japanese.

    I also know folks that have been very happy with Mi Mundo preschool. And I've heard great things about Melrose Leadership Acadamy for Elementary.

    Good luck and welcome back.

    Sorry, I mistakenly did not include my username in case you need to respond " Heavenly" 

    I am the parent in an inter-racial family and have lived in Berkeley since before my first child was born. There is no place in Berkeley (or Albany or Oakland for that matter) that has ever made me or my family feel foreign, unwelcome, odd, etc.) It is only when we travel outside of Berkeley that I am confronted with the sort of unpleasant encounters that are the norm in much of the rest of the country. Even a drive up to Napa or through the tunnel to Walnut Creek reminds me what an oasis Berkeley is. If you haven't been here in 20 years you will see that it is much less diverse than it used to be but you still see every possible mix of family so frequently that it's just not a thing.

    Having said that—there are some places that are less safe than others. Living up in the hills is beautiful and very safe, but also very very white. For more diversity and marginally less safety, look in the flats in North Berkeley. 

    Congrats on your dream job!

    Albany is an excellent school district and many Wonderful preschools ( my personal fav is Albany Preschool but I have heard Dust Nest is also awesome). Albany is pretty safe, well    Diversified, and very family oriented. 

    For the most part,  with the only real crime lately is car break-ins and occasionally house breakins. Many of us keep  aware of crime or social events through a site known as "Nextdoor" ( I can send you a invite by your email if you like as it will connect you to your current location and when you move you just adjust your address). 

    In September Albany/ Berkely have "The Solono Stroll" which is a event that closes off Main Street (Solono Av)  is awesome and slot of fun. 

    Albany is very centrally located in the Bay Area so everything is within reach, shopping & BART. 

    You email me back if you have other questions.  Best of luck . Tammy

    I don't have specific answers for #2 and #3, but I think pretty much anywhere in Berkeley will be fine for an interracial family. I say this as a member of an interracial family who has friends who are also interracial families.

    I think some people might inadvertently try to steer you towards more "diverse" (i.e. less-white) areas, but I would ignore them (such steering is highly problematic and I think people may be oblivious to that at times). Instead I would just prioritize things you want out of a neighborhood (e.g. public transit, noise levels, nearby commercial streets, whatever) and focus on finding areas that match that instead. If you have general concerns about crime, my general sense is that south of campus you'll get more petty crime, and south/southwest areas closer to Oakland are a bit more touchy (unfortunately). Living in Berkeley I think the main problem to worry about, crime-wise, is property crime (e.g. car getting broken into) than personal/violent crime. Berkeley is also much, much, much safer than it was 20 years ago, so if you had no problems then than you'll have no problems now.

    I haven't looked into it specifically, but as a partial answer to #3 I believe Berkeley Unified's LeConte provides a district-wide dual-language (Spanish/English) immersion and is in the central school zone. I'm not sure if living in the central zone would help your kids get in since it's a district-wide program. Hopefully others will chime in with helpful info.

    Hi, we live in Albany and love it. It is a hidden gem between El Cerrito, Kensington and Berkeley with a great school system with easy access to the highway and proximity to Bart. We are an interracial couple with a 20 month old daughter and relocated from Los Angeles approximately four years ago. If you have an interest in getting coffee when you are up here, please don't hesitate to contact us. I can be reached at angel.cruzado [at]


    You should check out Escuela Bilingue Internacional.  It has preschool, elementary and middle school.

  • Kid-friendly suburbs - moving from San Francisco

    (9 replies)

    We live in San Francisco but are thinking of moving to the suburbs as our son gets older. We are really looking for a suburb where kids play on the streets and bike to each others houses. Does that still exist? Where are we most likely to find it? Money isn't really and issue. We are thinking perhaps Orinda in the east or Hillsborough on the peninsula. Either would work for our commute. We would love some advice. Thanks. 

    Albany is another good one, kids are pretty much free-range around Albany Memorial Park from the age of 9 or 10.

    My son goes to school in Danville, and the kids there have a ton of freedom (in a good way). Several of my friends have moved to Castro Valley recently, and have encountered the awesome environment you described, but if money is no object, you may not like it (it's cheaper and less charming than the areas you mentioned). Living on a cul-de-sac is key, wherever you choose.

    Orinda is a great community with wonderful schools and lots of families but I wouldn't describe it as somewhere kids bike and play in the streets.   Frankly the lots are too large and spaced out and the roads are not pedestrian or child friendly.  It is a very car-centric community.  In the LaMorinda area your best bets for that are in Lafayette (the ranch homes near downtown and perhaps Upper Happy Valley).  

    I have friends in Hillsborough and it is another great community with great schools and lots of families.  That's said the families are typically very wealthy and the community politics can get a little too Desperate Housewives for some.  Whether kids play in the streets or not likely depends on the specifics of your neighborhood but the few families I know there tend to stick to themselves and their yards.   

    Two neighborhoods you haven't mentioned:

    Piedmont - some parts, particularly near the parks, can give you this old time, family friendly vibe.  Also good public schools. 

    Alameda - people overlook this one.  I know we did when considering where to buy.  But the East End and Gold Coast fit this description to a tee.  Kids run in packs, roam free at the local parks, parents practice "free range" parenting without the worry someone will call CPS If your kid walks to the corner market alone, families bike together on the streets, to the beach, to the local wineries, etc.   Alameda is home to many ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds which is good for kids and was an important factor in our decision. The homes are more affordable, you can commute by ferry to SF and you are minutes from Oakland and Berkeley's great restaurant scene (also true of Piedmont).  

    Best of luck in your decision!


    We moved from San Francisco to Berkeley nine years ago when our children were 11 and 6. Maybe it's less of a suburb than you're thinking of, but my son shoots baskets on the street in front of our house and has been walking around the city and traveling by public bus since he started middle school. I was a reluctant transplant - loved the city - but life here is much more family oriented. Parents are very involved in the schools and there are lots of things for kids to do. 

    We don't have school-aged kids yet (first child due to arrive any day now :)), but we can speak quite highly of West Contra Costa County; we moved to Pinole almost 3 years ago and there seems to be quite a strong community of families here. We frequently see kids playing in each others' yards, and there are also a lot of public play spaces like parks and sports fields that are always well-used without being too crowded. For older kids, the city's pretty bikable although a bit hilly. The city's also very clearly putting in an effort to make itself more "community-friendly"; there is a winter holiday festival, a 4th of July parade and other activities that are increasingly well-attended. And both the houses and general cost of living are cheaper than you'd find in the eastern part of the county, and the temperature swings are not nearly as crazy either :)

    I know what you mean.  I grew up in Oakland hills and Berkeley and we played in the streets, rode bikes everywhere.  One of the "kids" I grew up with years ago just sent me a letter saying how much fun she had in those days.  In Oakland there would be 5  to 10 kids all playing together in the street.   I think times have changed and that's defiantly something that's rare in Orinda.  The streets are narrow, cars drive fast, lots of hills and few sidewalks.  Downtown is only 2 blocks long and it's filled with real estate offices.  Kids are too busy with organized sports, hanging out at the country club or  involved in  other activities.  There is an occasional lemonade stand on the corner.

    You might want to take a look in Santa Cruz.  I've been taking my daughters there for basketball and volleyball games for a couple of years and I see kids riding bikes and playing together in the yards and in the street. 

    Good luck finding a Disneyland Main Street USA in the US.

    We love living in Lafayette, and my kids play out front all the time. We live on a flat street with the cul-de-sac, and my son spends hours outside kicking a ball, shooting baskets, playing with the neighbors, riding bikes etc. I love this old-fashion childhood in the safe town. 

     When we were looking, we were considering both Orinda and Lafayette (Moraga is another good option, but my husband thought the commute was too far ). I found that Orinda didn't have many flat streets, as it has more hills. There are hilly part of Lafayette as well, but there are also many areas with flat streets and plenty of kids outside! We also live near the trail, which is very convenient. We can walk to school and to town. 

    I have friends who live all around the bay area, and many are envious of our neighborhood. I pinch myself every day and feel grateful to live in such a wonderful spot. 

    Good luck with your search, and moving to the suburbs can be a great decision. 

    I have friends in all types of neighborhoods. I see kids playing outside in Alameda and Pleasanton. Once you get into the more exclusive neighborhoods, you don't see the same freedom of movement.

    Orinda particularly the Ivy Drive and Glorietta neighborhoods.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Berkeley or Marin for SF job - concerned about crime

July 2014

Hello. My wife and I are planning on moving to the Bay Area w/ our 9 month old. I would be working in the Embarcadero in SF. We really got excited about the prospect of Berkeley because of its diversity, I could take public transport to work, and the vibrant downtown area. However, the more research I have done the more alarmed I have become at the crime, specifically robberies in broad daylight in Downtown. We are moving from a city that has considerable crime (Memphis, TN) but rarely do you see brazen crime downtown. Can someone give me insight? I don't want to be worried about my family's safety all day while I am away at work. Berkeley always makes it on the lists of places to live so I am surprised at the high crime. So, now we are looking to potentially live in Marin Co: Fairfax, San Anselmo, or San Rafael. These seem to be more affordable and laidback. Any advice here would be appreciated as well. Thanks in advance. SC

I lived in Memphis for almost 4 years before moving to the Bay Area. I've now lived in Berkeley for 4 years. I know this is purely anecdotal, but I've felt much safer here in Berkeley than I did in Memphis. My car was stolen twice in Memphis, so maybe that contributes. I walk around town a lot and have never had any negative experiences. Memphis has a crime rate of 1,583 per 100,000 residents. Berkeley's is more like 389 per 100,000 residents. I don't want to downplay that there is crime here, it definitely happens. It's just not scary - at least to me.

Fairfax, San Anselmo, or San Rafael are also lovely places to live, they are just more like East Memphis or Germantown. Berkeley is more like midtown Memphis. Mel

Welcome to the SF Bay Area! Wherever you choose to live, you will find many wonderful things about living here. You are sure to get responses similar to mine, and also differences of opinion. Berkeley is a great city, one of the most beautiful in the world, and of your choices, the most commutable to the Embarcadero, by way of BART. As for the downtown area: it is not a lovely downtown area and I rarely go there, except to the main library branch with my 8 year old, and we have never had a problem with crime. Like me, many families simply avoid the downtown area, not because of the crime, but because there are so many other nice shopping and strolling districts within Berkeley to frequent, like Solano Ave., North Shattuck (Gourmet Ghetto), Fourth Street, Monterey/Hopkins and College Avenue (the Elmwood and Rockridge districts). I have worked late at night for many years, on the UC Berkeley campus which borders downtown, and never been mugged or otherwise assaulted. With the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive opening up downtown, the whole area will be further improved. It will be more time consuming, and more expensive, for you to live in Marin or San Rafael. Happy Berkleyan

I lived right off Shattuck, just north of University Ave. in a second-floor apartment for five years and never had a problem. I have never lived in Marin, but I absolutely LOVED living in Berkeley. Good luck and welcome! anon

Hi, and welcome to the Bay Area. My family and I were in a similar situation as you fairly recently - two years ago we relocated here from abroad with our then 2-year old daughter. My partner's work is in the Presidio in SF and so we assumed that we would be moving to Marin primarily for the schools and proximity to his work (I didn't yet have a job at that time so didn't know where I'd be commuting to). We looked for months in Marin but ended up in Berkeley because it was a better fit for us.

There is no doubt that the East Bay has higher crime than Marin. It is much more urban here. However, although my family's safety is a high concern for me, the crime isn't so high in Berkeley that it makes us nervous or changes our day- to-day life. We aren't naive to think that it couldn't happen to us, but we take normal precautions and are loving our lives here.

What does Berkeley offer that (in my opinion, of course) we couldn't find in Marin? Diversity, vibrancy, an overabundance of culture and quirkiness. We like the various neighborhoods in Berkeley - the walkability and the ability to find anything to fit any interest. We meet people from all backgrounds at my daughter's school, from teachers to chemists to academics and everything in between. The communities we looked at in Marin (largely Mill Valley, Larkspur, Corte Madera) are surrounded by beautiful landscape, but what we didn't like was that the towns themselves feel to us like they could belong anywhere in America - hillside houses on streets without sidewalks, traffic choked arterial streets, strip malls and shopping centers at the expense of interesting and functional downtown/commercial streets. To us, the people felt much more status/class conscious which was a turn off.

And despite the surrounding beautiful landscapes in Marin, the East Bay has some absolutely amazing regional parks - a whole string of them lining the top of the Berkeley/Oakland Hills.

You had mentioned a desire to spend lots of time in downtown Berkeley. You might find, however, that as a family you might want to spend more time in other commercial areas of Berkeley. For example we live close to the Gourmet Ghetto area and Solano Avenue and find these areas to be family-friendly and very safe. Downtown Berkeley has some great attractions (library, an increasing number of great restaurants, good movie theatres), but much of the downtown area is geared towards the student population. So you might find other areas more suited to your interests and needs.

One more thing you should consider is your commute. Fairfax is a laid back quirky town, but the commute to the Embarcadero would be extreme, even if you chose to take the Larkspur Ferry. Fairfax and San Anselmo traffic is very bad, with only a few traffic choked roads leading to/from these towns.

Of course you'll have to see for yourself what feels like a good fit for you and your family by spending time in each city. But as for your initial crime question - I would not let the stats influence your decision by themselves.

(PS - have you considered Albany as an alternative to Berkeley? It's not as diverse, but right next door and with, I presume, lower crime.)

Good luck!

Discouraged about finding a house in Berkeley

Dec 2013

My wife sold her company and now has $2 million in cash and we still have a comfortable income. We want to use the money to buy a house in Berkeley. We have a great realtor and we have been looking for a house for about 4 months now. I know that isn't that long, but I am feeling discouraged. I am wondering if what we want is too rare. We want a 3-4 bedroom house with a flat yard where our (preschool aged) daughters can play. We prefer not to be in the hills because we like being able to walk to businesses, but we have been looking in the hills anyway. We like craftsmen style houses, but we are willing to consider other styles. The deal breaker on most of the houses we have considered has been the lack of a yard or being on too busy of a street. We also have looked in Albany, Kensington, Piedmont (a little) and Oakland, but Berkeley is our first choice. We are concerned about the problems with the police services being broken in Oakland. We like Berkeley because we love the public schools and the diversity here. We don't want to live in a bubble or live in a car dependent community. That being said, I am feeling tempted by what I see in Orinda and Lafayette. It seems like all the houses there have what we want (if I can ignore the fact that they are ranch style and mid-century modern -- not my favorite) but they have such lovely green spaces. My wife thinks moving there is selling out our ideals since we value diversity and walkability. I'd love to hear thoughts from those who have considered both sides of the tunnel, especially from those who've tried both and landed in one side or the other. I could also use a pep talk from those who spent a long time in search of their Berkeley house and found it to be worth the wait. Confused

Have you tried Central Berkeley and/or West Berkeley? There are some amazing old houses with big, flat yards. We looked in Berkeley with a lot less to spend than you mention, and ended up in El Cerrito in a house with a huge yard, super easy access to transportation, walkability to many things including the Cerrito Theater, and all the benefits of being on this side of the tunnel. And FWIW, my Berkeley/Oakland-bred sibling lives in Danville and hates it. --prefer the real East Bay

Oh ... you poor, poor thing. $2 million and unable to find something to buy. Assuming this was really a valid post (and I have my doubts), here's my take: you need a new realtor. What you want does not exist in the city of Berkeley. There may be a very few properties over in the Claremont district that come close, but you are NOT going to find a large (Lamorinda size) yard near any commercial district unless you buy two adjacent properties and tear one house down. Good luck with that. laughing until I cry

it is going to be very difficult to find what you are looking for on either side of the tunnel, because the things you want are wanted by most people who are looking for a house and have the money to spend that you do. that being said, we relocated from the east coast to berkeley and rented. we did not enjoy our experience. we felt that it was very judgmental, not as open-minded as we had hoped and the schools not as good as we wanted. we could walk to everything, which was wonderful, but never felt like we fit in. we bought a home in orinda that we love. we actually find people here a little more open- minded, the schools are better and we love our home and neighborhood. we have open space behind us, we can walk to all 12 years of school and after extensive remodelling, have the home we always wanted. i will say though, we have found the middle school to be lacking in offerings and we have opted to send to private school. out here, sports are way intense, there is a lot of tutoring and general competitiveness that we do not embrace. but we have found a really nice group of like-minded people, love our neighbors and our elementary school. real estate is crazy competitive on both sides of the tunnel and prices will be high. out here, things that are desirable go with multiple offers, some cash, for up to 300k over asking. my best advice is to drive around out here because there is a huge diversity between neighborhoods, though not within them. our kids are safe and have lots of good friends. they go to good schools and know every neighbor on our street. in many ways, it is ideal. the trade is the walking to things. i hope that helps. it is a very stressful decision and i wish you peace in sorting through it. east coaster in orinda

You would think for that kind of money that this would be easy! I can hear a gasp or two from folks reading your note. I'm a realtor and probably have a good idea of what you're hoping to find since I've had clients describing the same thing. With maybe a dozen or so homes a year that will meet your needs it can take a while, and since this is a high demand rarer commodity you'll be paying a premium. I'd stick with your guns and maybe settle for slightly less yard if you like the Berkeley life;kids get bigger in a hurry and they love walking to places and diversity too! See everything on the market even if it's not perfect, that way you'll know why you're paying the big bucks when you buy a place. And remember there is always a compromise, it doesn't matter how much you spend! jackie

I can't answer your specific question, but we have a small house in Berkeley with a big back yard on a fairly busy street, and it has been a great place to raise a child. In early childhood kids play in each others backyards. Later, there's more interest in going places and there are plenty of places to go. Aside from the individual yard, my own thought on Berkeley is it is nice to be close to one of the parks -- we spent many hours at the parks and nearby school playground up until about age 11. They were easy walks from our house. Another terrific thing about a Berkeley childhood is all the accessible enrichment activities. If you choose your location well, by middle school your child will be able to walk or bike to some of their activities. In middle school kids can take the bus up to Lawrence Hall of Science for classes, or to Cal for camps, or to Berkeley Rep. In the schools we found lots of other very bright students, and we loved the music program, and arts program in elementary scoool. (Your mileage may vary, but our student has done very well on all levels of standardized tests with what has been learned in school.) Also, Berkeley kids do end up being accepting of people of different backgrounds. If I had the money I would live in Thousand Oaks (near Solano and the Alameda), or close to North Shattuck (by Yolo/Hopkins.) I think obsessing about a yard/perfect house may prevent you from choosing other important things for your family's life. glad to be in Berkeley

On the one hand, Orinda and Lafayette would probably be fine for you. I haven't lived there but I visit friends there. There are lots of East Bay expats there, and the nice quiet green stuff can't be beat. Neighborhood pool, kids on bikes, weather, etc. is pretty good and I totally get why families want to live there.

On the other hand, if you really like Berkeley, which I do too, then you have to be patient. There is a very low vacancy rate in your price range because people just don't want to leave. There are houses like what you are looking for, but they are not on the market (yet?). You will have to wait and watch. In my opinion it is very worth it. But I can see how it would make you crazy if you are anxious to have a nice home.

These two options are not exactly terrible, it's just a matter of you both agreeing. If I were you I would keep looking at all the options, take your time, be prepared to wait. local mom

Well, you are in good company if you are frustrated in your efforts to buy a home in Berkeley. The inventory is low and the market is absolutely insane right now. I have to say you probably won't get much sympathy about the particulars of your situation; having 2 million dollars in cash is about as rare as seeing a unicorn, and all-cash purchases are part of the reason that buying a home is so difficult for most people in this area.

I think you should take your time and really get to know the various areas you are thinking of buying in. Mainly, though - and this is because we have also been looking at real estate in Berkeley for a long time - I think you are completely out of your mind if you buy right now. There is no way the current situation is sustainable, and I have started to actually feel sorry for the suckers who are laying down ~$ 1 million for tiny homes with crappy kitchens and foundations reminiscent of the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. Congratulations: you just bought a completely overpriced home, and earned the right to pay through the nose for property taxes, home insurance, and the myriad repairs that come with an older house. No, thank you.

I hate to sound snarky about this, because I understand the longing for home/community that you expressed in your posting. I too feel this way, and I am looking for the exact same home you are. So are LOTS of other people. But you are at a financial advantage, which is actually more dangerous, since you could lay your money down more easily right now for something that truly isn't worth it. This is just my two cents. Best of luck to you and your family! Waiting this ridiculous bubble out

There is the perfect house for you on Russell Street, one block up from College. I think the cross street is Cherry? I LOVE this house - we walk the dog up Russell every morning and I wish I could live here. It has 5 bedrooms, a big yard, is seconds away from the Elmwood so you can walk everywhere. It would be great for a family!! Ellen

I have lived in North Berkeley, and Albany where you can walk to everything. They were both wonderful in their own ways but I found lots of diversity and friendly people. I think it is important for you to remember, though, that you will most likely be in this house for years. Probably as long as the young kids are in school (so about 14 more years?) This means that planning for what you need NOW won't be what you need or want in the future. Case in point-my boyfriend picked out his house with a large, flat back yard for his four kids to play in etc. Guess what-after they were about 6 yrs old they preferred going to the park and now that they are teenagers no one EVER uses the back yard. So think ahead to your longer term plans. Good luck. I think that you should be patient until you find the right thing for you all-and I imagine if Berkeley is your main choice-you will find something in Berkeley. wise old woman

Thanks so much for giving me a chance to gloat about our purchase. It can take a long time, and it is worth it! In our case, we were okay with looking for years because we took that time to get our ducks in a row. By the time we started making offers, everything was in order.

You seem to be ready now, but part of the question is how comfortable are you where you are? If you are reasonably comfortable, you can take your time. Or, maybe you could find a nice place to rent while you look for something to buy.

In our case, I looked for maybe ten years. I got serious about it after the housing crash, when I thought I would be able to find a bargain. The housing market never really crashed in Berkeley, but I was able to buy before prices started climbing again, and I am very happy about that. So I probably spent about four years really hunting.

The house we got has the main things we wanted: open floor plan, nice backyard, walkablity. It is not perfect and I do have to put up with some serious flaws, which we hope to fix soon. It was definitely worth the wait and I am very happy with our home. Anon


Instead of waiting for your house to come to you, go get your house! Maybe your realtor is just showing you what is on the MLS. You need someone with a little creativity. Do you see something you like? Why don't you (or make your realtor) pursue it. Knock on the door and initiate a conversation with the owner. Thankfully, it seems like money is less of an issue to you and you can be creative. Maybe you need to buy two houses in your desired area and put them together. A pain? Yes. Impossible? No.

Here is my crazy story. My husband and I saw a house that I fell in love with. Head over heels in love. We could not afford it no way no how. We moved on. Every time I drove by it, I thought of writing a note and leaving it at the door. 'If you ever want to sell this house, call me.' Fast forward two years. We were graced with great jobs and lower interest rates. One Sunday on the way to the supermarket I saw an OPEN HOUSE sign for that same house. Well, we bought it. I always think about what would have been if I had been proactive and had left that note. They might have called me and we all would have avoided a lot of angst and real estate fees. This was an important life lesson to me. -Go After it!

Living in Berkeley vs. the Suburbs

Oct 2013

I am constantly torn by my feelings of absolutely wanting to live in Berkeley and absolutely wanting to get the heck out and I'm hoping to get some feedback from others who have felt the same way or have made a decision to stay or go. We bought a tiny home near the height of the market in a nice (not amazing, but not bad either) neighborhood, so we pay a lot for our mortgage and property taxes relative to our cramped space. The crime is really getting to me: burglars casing the neighborhood, recommendations from police to not use your phone in public since they are such hot items for stealing, not being able to leave things in our backyard because they will likely disappear. I'm also tired of being asked for money by panhandlers every time I leave the house. And then there's that fault line underneath us... On the positive side, I love that I can walk to most places and take BART to others. I love the weather here: not too hot, not too cold, not too much rain. I love having the Cal campus with frequent events suitable for kids and families. I love Berkeley Bowl. I also love the diversity, city amenities (like our library system), and all of the cultural events/activities available in the Bay Area. I love our police department. My experience is that they are very responsive, even to small concerns, because they want to nip things in the bud. I know that every place has its pros and cons. If I move to the suburbs or a smaller city, I get reduced crime and lower cost of living, but I also get reduced diversity, walk-ability, and cultural events. Should I just 'get over' the crime issue and accept it as part of city living? Or should I just accept that I'm going to have to give up big city amenities like great walkability and public services so that I can move to a smaller city or the suburbs and get a bigger house where I can walk down the street and safely pull out my cell phone to get directions? How do I come up with a decision to stay or go that I won't regret? Conflicted

We moved from Berkeley to Lafayette three months ago. I had some of the same misgivings and worries that you wrote about. For us, moving has been the right choice. We moved to a location not far from downtown, and I actually find that we walk MORE now than we did when we lived in Berkeley! In Berkeley, we lived near lots of great places, but I often opted for the car rather than worry about getting mugged with the kids with me. Now in Lafayette, I feel comfortable walking anywhere, at anytime, and so we walk a lot more. Also, in the summer, it is warmer later into the evenings, which makes an evening walk more enjoyable. Both Berkeley and the suburbs have a lot to offer -- and neither of them offer everything. You just need to decide which things are the top priorities for you, and then be willing to accept that you're letting other things go. Good luck with your decision

Where to live in the Berkeley Area?

Sept 2013

We are contemplating moving to the Berkeley area from our current home in Lafayette because of our strong interest in the Global Montessori International School to enable our 2 year old to attend Chinese Immersion program from 3 until 5th-6th grade. I am very lost about what neighborhoods to live in because I have heard a lot of safety concerns, air pollution, and overall lack of a good public school system in Berkeley (which is to my surprise). I really need some recommendations for specific neighborhoods. Budget is less of a problem, but what we want is not too far from the school, access to bart, a sense of community, walkable to parks, markets, restaurants, downtown. Definitely want a safe area. Please advise.

If you want to be near the school that you are interested in, I don't think that you're going to get the other things on your list. There are lots of great neighborhoods in Berkeley, but none will match everything on your list, so you'll need to prioritize which things are most important. Also, though you say that budget is less of a problem, the neighborhoods have VASTLY different price points, so you're going to need to be clearer on that. For example, Claremont is beautiful, but very expensive. There is more variability in pricing in North Berkeley and the Hills. The Elmwood neighborhood is fantastic in its walkability and access to restaurants, shopping, library, movie theater, and parks. It's far away from the parts of town with the bad air (near the freeway and industrial parks). You won't have access to downtown or BART from there, however. Thousand Oaks could give you access to the restaurants and shopping of Solano Ave., but you won't be near BART. If you are worried about safety and air, you're just not going to be able to live near the school.

'Choosing' to live in Berkeley

Oct 2012

This is sort of a strange question, but I think this community might have some answers for me.

Our family of four recently moved to the Bay Area from out of state for my husband's job, which is in the south end of the East Bay. We decided to rent in Berkeley for a few reasons: good schools, proximity to the city, proximity to BART, and (for us) nice weather. Happily, my kids are thriving in their public elementary and private preschool, and we have enjoyed much of what the community has to offer.

I am wondering, though, if we really 'fit in' here, and (partly) this is why: whenever we tell someone that we live in Berkeley, the assumption is that we are either from here or are somehow affiliated with Cal. We are neither, and in addition are not really 'crunchy' people, so most people we meet seem sort of bemused that we would choose to live here.

My impression - after being here a few months - is that people choose to live in Oakland because it is reasonably priced and 'cool'/arty/up-and-coming, or they live in Albany for the schools, or Piedmont for the schools/la-ti-da atmosphere, or Marin for schools/safety and wealth/proximity to outdoor rec, or Walnut Creek and Lamorinda for schools/access to BART/warmer weather.

But why do people choose to live in Berkeley? Are there people out there who make a conscious choice to come here despite the fact that they are not connected to the university? Is there a healthy population of people who like the public schools for what they are, and not just because they feel righteous about the way the schools redistribute and mix up kids from all kinds of backgrounds (which I really like, by the way)? Are there people out there like me who like living here, but aren't all that crazy about Berkeley Bowl and attachment parenting?

All you Berkeley transplants: what brought you here? Did you find it? If you embraced Berkeley, did it love you back? Wondering

Wow - great question! Made me think because I don't think 'I'm Berkeley' either. I moved here about 10 yrs ago and never left. When I moved here it was because I couldn't afford a home in SF and was working downtown FiDi so this was a close option. I've learned a lot in the last 10 yrs!

I have settled here and have two kids in BUSD. I also own a small business that thrives on the higher income base of people who live here/around here. I couldn't do what I do in a lower income area. But my main reason for not moving is the schools. My kids have special needs and BUSD is AMAZING in terms of the support I get. I have to say i do highly value the diversity. My kids are welcomed and accepted by their peers and I credit the school's focus on diversity and acceptance for allowing my children to fit right in and thrive.

I don't have an issue with the crunchy factor (i'm not crunchy). Live and let live. As long as no one judges me, I don't judge them. I find the community pretty accepting overall. Not a Typical Berkeley-ite

I can speak about Berkeley as a transplant, having moved there almost 10 yrs ago. Yes, there are a lot of folks in Berkeley who are affiliated with Cal, but that can be a good thing and there are just as many who are not. I found my neighbors (North Berkeley, off of Cedar and Shattuck) to be highly educated, and in general actively involved in making the planet, and especially our little corner of it, a sustainable place to live. I learned so much from them, I joke that it was as if I received a Masters in Living. On the other hand, to live it/see it/hear it everyday can be a bit overwhelming. I'm progressively oriented on many things, but I come from a background where we play it a little closer to the vest, not letting it all hang out with the attitude of love it or leave it. Plus the perma-fog was getting to me as well so I moved a little South and am loving it. So, I hope you find your own reasons to stay in Berkeley, and if not, you might want to check out Moraga, Lafayette or Montclair (excellent schools, more sun, less expensive than Orinda). Although keep in mind, Montclair is still part of Oakland, so police response times are significantly longer than for the Lamorinda area. Good luck! Darci A.

I'm a Berkeley transplant and don't particularly subscribe to attachment parenting though I respect those who choose that style. Berkeley Bowl is convenient and as someone who's conscious of what I buy and put in my and my family's body I do shop there. It can be expensive, and that sucks.

My guess is that folks assume you're somehow here by way of UC Berkeley because you're a recent transplant. As you can imagine, a lot of people move here to start undergrad or grad school at Berkeley or get jobs there.

I'm interested in reading other responses to your question as I wonder if they were as irritated reading it as I was. I don't think diversity in our schools is righteous. Many people come to the bay area for the diversity. I somehow don't think you did. And Berkeley and Oakland have extremely rich histories. I wonder which parts of Oakland you consider 'up-and-coming' - you might be witnessing gentrification. Good luck to you

'Are there people out there who make a conscious choice to come here despite the fact that they are not connected to the university?' Yes!

We choose to live in Berkeley (my husband is from the East Coast and I am from the UK) and we have no affiliation with Cal (both work in San Francisco). We love it here -- great community, good public schools, wonderful neighbors and a nice balance for us between the culture/walkability/city feel of San Francisco and the ability to live in a little house with a yard without feeling like we live in the 'burbs. Berkeley may not have schools considered as 'good' as Marin or Piedmont (whatever that means) or be as affordable as Oakland but I think it has the best balance. And yes, I appreciate Berkeley's diversity.

I'm not sure where in Berkeley you live -- perhaps if it is up near campus you feel more like everyone is part of Cal -- but in our 'hood (West Berkeley) folks come from all over and do all sorts of things. The thing I love most about my Berkeley neighborhood is how close I have become with my neighbors. We have regular block and back-yard parties. We hang out on our stoops. We watch each others' kids, pickup each others' mail, and water each others' yards if we're out of town. I have never felt that we don't belong because we're not from here or associated with the university -- explore Berkeley for yourself and nevermind the 'bemused' responses you're encountering. Happy Berkeley Transplant

Hi, we came to Berkeley for my husband's job, and have nothing to do with the university either. We're also not 'crunchy', we watch TV, eat some junk food, and are pretty mainstream. But yes, we have grown to love the public schools, the funky vibe, weird people, deer, raccoons, mountain lions, and cool walking paths. I love that so many different kinds of people from all over the world, with different appearances, beliefs, & habits live here in relative peace with each other. When we leave this area, and go back east each summer, I'm struck by the homogenousness and expectations of such, that I feel from the locals there. Weird people stick out and are stared's nice that 'different' is the norm here. I love that my kids think that's normal, and will be able to go anywhere in the world and be better acclimated to other cultures because of the mishmosh here. It's not perfect (homelessness & grafitti...), but it's very good. Happy Berkeleyite

We moved here from out-of-state, started out in Berkeley proper, but ended up moving/settling in N. Oakland. We still find ourselves strongly intertwined in the Berkeley community because of various activities, its proximity and other factors. It is my opinion that, in Berkeley, anything goes. You don't need to fit in any particular box -- no matter what you do, somebody in Berkeley either fully embraces it, sneers/passes judgment upon it or do not care one way or the other. I find people in both Berkeley and Oakland to be pretty friendly (especially compared to where we're from) and I find that as long as I am being whoever I really am, there are plenty of people to make friends with.

As far as why you're receiving so many questions about being from Berkeley or associated with Cal, I would imagine that either A) People are thinking of a Berkeley demographic if yester-year? Or B) People just talk and make assumptions, so the first thing that leaps into their minds is the university and fail to realize that Berkeley is now highly sought-after community in the bay area, whether you're employed there or not. So, people will be people and will ask their ill- informed questions, but this does not mean you're not welcome in Berkeley. I know several families who choose to live in Berkeley for its parks, neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, culture, overall vibe, etc. You would not be the first, nor the last.

I think once you've been living here a while and have met a wider variety of people, you'll see that it doesn't matter who you are when it comes to living in Berkeley. I'm technically in Oakland, but I love and embrace both cities. And I'm not crunchy. And I often feel like the only 'AP' parent in a 3-mile radius. It's diverse, so don't worry about it. don't sweat it

I'm a transplant from the Deep South and I've raised my 3 kids in Berkeley. I'm politically on the far left compared to most US citizens but in Berkeley I'm to the right of the center. I recycle and I joined antiwar protests, but I also used disposable diapers, vaccinated all my kids, and have never been to a chiropractor, homeopath, naturopath, or acupuncturist, and don't intend to. I love living in Berkeley though because I'm right in the middle of a community of people who mostly see things the way I do.

Before kids, we decided to move to the SF Bay Area for work, and we ended up in Berkeley only because the one person we knew on the West Coast happened to know about an apartment in Berkeley. We knew nothing about Berkeley before we came here, literally nothing. Here's why we chose to stay: For the first decade here, we were poor but we lived very well in Berkeley. Our first apartment was near Elmwood and I've lived in this area ever since. For not that much money we rented such a pretty flat in a neighborhood with so many beautiful flowers and trees, and it was lovely just walking around in the neighborhood. Telegraph Av was thriving then and just a quick walk to book stores and record stores. We had the Bowl, Magnani's, Ver Brugge, and the Nabalom right down the street for a Sunday morning danish, and Peets of course. Here and there lived an actual famous person that even our redneck cousins had heard of! We didn't have big heating bills in the winter, and we didn't need AC in the summer. So many free things to do with kids - Totland, Tilden, Willard Park, Russell St. on Halloween, exploring the pathways around Berkeley, and the UCB campus.

What I love about it now: I hate to drive and I don't have to do it much in Berkeley. I now work at UC Berkeley so I can walk to work. In 10-15 minutes, year-round, I can walk to a big grocery store or a mom and pop market, a wine store, a movie theater, BART, multiple cafes, multiple bakeries, multiple restaurants with incredible food, and any number of one-of-a-kind shops in Elmwood and Rockridge. Our dentist and doctors are near Alta Bates which is also walking distance. Berkeley is urban enough that world-famous performers come here, which I can walk to, and there are many cultural and literary events associated with the UCB campus that we can attend. If we need more Urban than Berkeley can provide, Oakland and SF are both easily accessible via BART. Berkeley also has a rural feel - the groves of trees, creeks, climbing rocks right in the middle of a neighborhood, and backyard chickens, even in the ritzy Claremont district.

I think my favorite thing about Berkeley is the architecture - all the houses and buildings that were intentionally built by artists and UC faculty to be beautiful and/or interesting, from the sprawling Julia Morgans and Maybecks to the tiny bungalows to the hobbit houses and fairy tale houses and the modern eco re-habs. All of the houses big and small with their roses and nasturtiums and trumpetvines and lavendar and jasmine - that's another thing: Berkeley smells good!

Well, there are a few reasons I love it here. And no, I don't love everything - I have plenty of complaints - but the pros far outweigh the cons.

My family of four also just relocated to Berkeley from out of state. Though my husband originally grew up in the East Bay, his family had since moved, and we aren't affiliated with Cal either. His job's in South San Francisco and we still chose Berkeley -for the very reasons you listed. In fact, we searched this coast for a place to call home and ended up here by default. It finally just felt like the right place. I think I could have been just as happy living in Albany or parts of Oakland. We're attracted to 'cool' and up-and-coming, but the schools in Oakland seemed hit or miss. One reason we didn't choose Albany over Berkeley, is because it seemed more reasonably priced than Albany. So after careful consideration, we chose Berkeley in anticipation of our oldest entering Kindergarten in the next few years. It's nice to hear your kids are thriving.

Somebody I spoke to said that people that aren't from Berkeley think they need to send their kids to Albany for school because they score well, when really the schools in Berkeley are as good -just have more diversity (which we also value), thus affecting the test scores. They also seem to have great, progressive programs, and smaller class sizes than even the private school I attended as a child. A good friend of mine here in Berkeley once said that this place is amazingly supportive of personal growth. For children and grown-ups alike. It took her awhile to 'go there'. When she did, she felt nurtured and supported, and never wanted to live any other place (well, besides Southern France). I'm excited to be here and feel lucky to have stumbled onto the place. Though, I appreciate Berkeley Bowl and already kinda like attachment parenting It takes a while to settle in to any community, to get acquainted and assimilated. You never know... Same time next year, you might be buying your food in bulk and fighting for front door parking at Berkeley Bowl Remember, you're adding to Berkeley's diversity by defying it's 'type' and being the person you are. 'Free Leonard!'

My husband and I have had this exact conversation: we have 'picked' Berkeley - we moved here recently from the East Coast - but we feel slightly fish-out-of-water here. Everyone we meet either came here for undergrad or grad school and never left, or grew up here or nearby. And everyone is an academic, not-for-profit employee, therapist or artist. For a family of four in which both parents are professionals (as we are, and perhaps you are) to uproot themselves and plant themselves here seems, well, arbitrary.

We have been through it many times ourselves: why Berkeley and not one of the adjacent neighborhoods? For a while we couldn't put our finger on it, and we figured it our little by little - we are not Lamorinda types. We like a little village-y and urban action. We like the nearby hum of Shattuck and all its offerings. We did want to be close to the city and have the quick commute when needed.

So why not Oakland or Albany? Here's where it gets a bit more abstract: Berkeley has this rich and quirky history: the university, the food, the architecture - we have not been here long but already we have given friends some 'tours' of our new favorite spots and there's this pride-of-place that feels specific to Berkeley. I like how it feels like a very very small town in some respects but one in which the locals are palpably tuned in to the bigger world. I guess that could be said of many college towns, but this one also has Tilden park, blazing sunsets, intense coffee, people from everywhere, insane culinary options, proximity to SF and wine country and to answer your question, we like Berkeley and yes, Berkeley has liked us back. I sometimes get the sense that people are confused by us (ie. 'remind me again why you moved here?'), but everyone has been friendly, open, and very neighborly. Happy to Be Here

Hi! We chose to live in Berkeley as a place to commute from and have no connection to Cal. We had visited previously. If you are not from here, I think the Bay Area (maybe CA, generally) is a huge adjustment. We chose Bkly for BART, its trees, walkability, schools. We've loved many aspects of it and feel lucky to be here for a while, enjoying the above (plus parks and libraries) and all the gorgeous foliage. I'm not sure that not being an 'attachment parent' is the reason you feel you might not 'fit in' -- the pace of life here is such that it takes a LONG time to find your 'people.' It takes a ton of time and effort to develop and maintain connections. In some cases, you find your 'people' and they move away, due to cost of living and cramped spaces. More and more, we think it won't be a permanent place for us. -tried not to write a book

So we live in Berkeley because I work downtown, and because the public schools here are great. But also, I do like living in a community that votes, over and over, to tax itself to pay for schools, libraries, parks, etc. This does seem to me to be a place that values civic infrastructure, to the benefit of folks that live here. (And speaking of the complex algorithms that go in to sorting kids into schools, I came from a district where schools were determined strictly by geography, and the inequity between neighborhood schools was appalling. It's annoying to have to bus my kid to school, but it's much preferable than the alternative).

I think Berkeley is sometimes a victim of its own press - certainly folks who don't live here have an odd view of the place. And it is easy to surround yourself with 'fellow travelers', should you choose to do so. Certainly I have experienced an unattractive 'we're different and that means better in Berkeley' vibe among a certain stripe of person, but those folks are easily identified and avoided. Most folks are just trying to get along. Not-so-crunchy mama

In our experience of the public schools in Berkeley, the 'crunchy' population is a very small minority. Maybe most crunchy families homeschool or find private schools? Everyone recycles, etc., but the vast majority are mainstream. The amazing thing about the Berkeley public schools is their diversity, it is a unusual experience for the kids to form friendships with kids from all over the world, and from almost every class and race background in the United States. Also, I know of no better combination of quality food and weather in the world than Berkeley. Berkeley fan

I live in Berkeley, my family has been here since the 1880's, and I am so over the whole 'Berkeley' thing. I will not move, I refuse to capitulate to all the people who still think the 1960's were the pinnacle of civilization. Schools here are okay, not great, and the only reason the public school enrollment has risen is because of the recession. Why do you think there are so many private schools here? My children can't even walk to their zone schools, what does that say? Schools should be neighborhood, facillitate friends within the neighborhood. If Berkeley wants to improve schools they should pour money into the lower performing ones and tell the parents at the 'better' schools to pony up. If Berkeley had two HS, as they should, a good 1/3 of the student body would disappear as the 'liberal' parents in this city never would send their children across town. And while you are thinking about moving to Berkeley, take a look at a property tax bill. Renters make up 60% of voters and they always vote to increase property taxes as due to RentControl, the cost is never passed to them. Check out the conditions of rental property, no landlord can afford the upkeep on the paltry rents the BRB approves. You'd be better off in EC, Mira Vista and Harding are popular, or use the difference in housing, tax, parking fees etc for private school. There are many great private and Catholic, ( although in Berkeley Catholic is a dirty word) schools you can check out. Good Luck p.s. I am sure most readers are wondering why I don't move but change only comes from within the system! Hoping to drag Berkeley out of the 60's and NO I won't move

Six years ago, when my husband and I were ready to move out of SF and buy a house, we chose to move to Berkeley. Neither of us had or currently have any connection to Cal. We looked at houses in Marin, Albany and El Cerrito before deciding on Berkeley. For us the selling points were the housing stock (unique architecture), ease of commute to SF via Bart, outdoor elements (lots of trees, neighborhood parks and Tilden) and highly regarded schools. Albany was a close second. Since moving here I have frequently patted ourselves on the back for making that decision. Particularly since having our 2 children, I see even more what a wonderful and vibrant community Berkeley is and I am excited for my kids to grow up here. I feel like it is a perfect mix of city and suburbia living. I love our north Berkeley hills neighborhood but can see many other neighborhoods in town in which I would be equally happy. I am someone who is very influenced by my physical environment and I love walking or driving down streets full of trees and beautifully tended gardens. With kids I really appreciate the sheer number and variety of parks. We haven't entered elementary school yet but when finding a preschool I was happy to find such a variety of high quality options. Of the people we have met, I would say that a majority of them are like us in having no connection to Cal and having picked Berkeley for all of the reasons that we did. We are not crunchy people other than recycling and buying some organic food. Yes I like Berkeley Bowl but since I feel like it is a close cousin of Whole Foods, I think that associating crunchiness with shopping at BB is a bit outdated. Unlike you, most people who I know (outside of Berkeley) understand why we moved here and have never seemed bemused about it. Maybe you are referring to people who only know the Berkeley stereotype? Couldn't be happier in Berkeley

I'm not sure if we qualify as 'crunchy' but I'm fine with the label if we do. We like to eat well (organic, local and we do love Berkeley Bowl!), are politically liberal, etc.; we are not affiliated with the University either (although I am a Cal alumni). Two years ago, we bought a house in South Berkeley. We chose Berkeley because it seemed to offer most of what we wanted. Coming from SF, we wanted less fog, a detached house, diverse population, a city feel, proximity to SF (and Bart) and guaranteed good public schools. Other cities had warmer weather, better schools, cheaper housing, etc., but Berkeley was the only city that pretty much met all our criteria. We're happy with our decision. If we didn't have kids, we probably would have chosen Oakland, but the schools seemed fairly hit and miss (really great schools and some pretty bad schools, similar to SF). I think people that are perplexed about Berkeley believe that it's either a crazy hippie place (if they're more conservative), or a small, boring suburb for academics (if they're young and/or from SF or a large urban city). It surprises me as well, but like anything, one's taste in cities is subjective. I, for one, feel Berkeley is home. Happy Berkeleyite

Sept 2012

Re: Relocating to Berkeley from Marin (Mill Valley)
Based on your observations and concerns about southern Marin, and your preferred environment, I'd say you would find many places in the East Bay to your liking.

If you're going the private school route you don't have the issue of school boundaries complicating the search either. Being a two mom family really is a non-issue, the East Bay seems very accepting of things that would be called 'alternative lifestyle choices' elsewhere.

I would start by looking at North Berkeley, Elmwood/Claremont in South Berkeley and Rockridge in North Oakland. The Oakland / Berkeley hills are nice, but you need to be prepared to spend time in your car - not everyone's idea of fun.

You won't entirely escape the tyranny of uber-moms in prestige SUV's, but from my experience of Mill Valley I'd say you'll find things a whole lot more amenable on the 'Right Side of the Bay'. Other things we have over here are lots of excellent restaurants, mild weather, culture (Cal Performances, Berkeley Rep etc.) and far, far fewer horribly bratty and entitled kids. There's wealth and affluence in the East Bay, but it's tempered by the much wider overall socio-economic spread than you'll find in southern Marin.

If you do find yourself missing the thrill of interacting with over-entitled sociopaths I can recommend a shopping trip to Berkeley Bowl - make sure it's busy for the full experience.

The pleasures of wild West Marin are a still available to you here, it's just a quick drive over the Richmond bridge.

Come on over - you'll like it here. Happy in the East Bay

We moved from Mill Valley to Berkeley several years ago for some of the same reasons mentioned in your post. I can't speak for the private schools here as our daughter is in public school, but there are plenty of diverse families here in the public schools. For us, Marin was just too rural, and getting in the car to go everywhere got old fast. Add to that the lack of good restaurants, very limited public transportation, and just a general feeling that we didn't fit in. As far as neighborhoods, you would need to sort that out based on priorities. North Berkeley is a nice mix of nature and city and a lot of nice families live here. I do miss the easy access to the beaches in Marin, and still regularly make the trek over to Stinson (1 hour drive - not so bad), but that's about all I miss. That said, I do know families that do just fine in Marin because they find their own tribe and just ignore the negative aspects. Good luck with whatever you decide! Like the East Bay Better

Thinking of moving from the Peninsula to Berkeley

April 2012

Our family currently lives in San Carlos on the Peninsula and while it's a nice small town that is great for kids, we're yearning for a more progressive environment and a larger city. We plan to start taking monthly trips over to Berkeley to explore and get acquainted with the different neighborhoods, parks, etc. We'd love to hear from you if you live in Berkeley. What neighborhoods do you like? What elementary schools have you had a positive experience with? What do you like to do with your children in the area? What do you consider to be the biggest benefits of living in Berkeley and what things are on the down side? We moved to CA in August 2010 from Seattle, and while we have some experience with the Bay Area, we're still unfamiliar with the nitty gritty details. Any info you can provide would be so helpful as we consider another major move with two little boys (4 and 7). E.

Berkeley is great but some parts of Berkeley are greater than others. In general, you want to be as close to the hills as you can afford. Also, you want North Berkeley as opposed to South Berkeley. The flats and south Berkeley can be sketchy. Don't consider going south of Ashby unless you're in the hills. Areas that look okay at first glance really aren't. We almost bought a house on Oregon Street and then found out that there was a notorious drug house on the block. In addition to the petty theft and crime that comes with drug houses, neighbors reported having used syringes thrown into their yards. Not so awesome. So, I like North Berkeley, Elmwood, and anything in the hills. Picky

Berkeley has a reputation for a reason. Businesses and landlords are hyper-regulated, many find the rent board and permit departments incredibly difficult to please. Berkeley is wildly liberal to progressive, as much as you can be while still being middle to way upper middle class and owning a house worth an average of $600K.

The public schools are great and kids get an amazing, diverse, vibrant, real life education. It is urban-lite. I would never consider the schools dangerous, but stuff gets stolen. Students are from all kinds of different kinds of families. We get Malcolm X Day as a holiday, and we have an elementary school named for him.

We have 2 BART stations and decent bus service to most places, except the hills. Tilden park has lots of fun stuff to do and explore. There are little parks and playgrounds all over the city.

Berkeley has small-town familiarity with a very slight urban/international edge. Not San Francisco, but not Danville, either. --Moved away but missed it and came back

Berkeley is a mixed bag. Some very pretty neighborhoods, and some good schools- but there is a big disparity between the flats and the hills. It's progressive, but there are so many rich people now living there, it feels privileged. Albany is a much nicer place to raise a family-it's right next to Berkeley, the schools are good, you have all the advantages of urban life, but it's a small community, your kids will have friends in their neighborhood, there's lots of family-oriented activities. Housing is not cheap, and the houses are small, but it's a very friendly, progressive, less pretentious place to live. The Berkeley Hills are very pretty, but I think there is less community feeling. The farmer's markets are great. North Berkeley is the nicest part. Crime is worse in Berkeley than Albany. Solano is the main street of Albany, and half of it is in Berkeley. loves albany

I own a home in South Berkeley , South of Ashby. It's interesting to read the pretentious comments about our neighborhood. I have a lot of great neighbors that have lived in their home for decades, even thirty years. There are many different kinds of people, young families, singles, senior citizens and everything in between. We are all colors of the rainbow. On my street in particular, two homes have been renovated by developers and have really improved the neighborhood character. It's getting better. I'm not in denial about the crime in Berkeley, and it's certainly not isolated to our neighborhood- but I live here happily, by choice, and have never found a syringe in my yard.

Living next to a walking path in Berkeley

Feb 2010

We are considering buying a home that is next to a public walking path in the Berkeley Hills. What is it like to live next to one? We were just curious to hear anyone else's experiences. Pros \\ cons. Thank you. Curious

We live next to a walking path. Pros - you get to know many people from the neighborhood. Cons - It can be noisy. People speak loudly and even yell down the path to their kids and dogs. People can also be nosy and actually peer into your windows! Sometimes people smoke on the path and the cigarette smell comes in our house. They occasionally even sit on the steps and smoke or talk on their cell phones.

Most people are courteous and respectful, but many are not. Hopefully, those who use the paths and are reading this will remember to be aware of the proximity of private homes to these paths and walk through quickly and quietly. :)

We have lived next to a very busy walk path for 10 years. We have had very little to complain about. Maybe one noise issue a year but mostly because the path is one of the access points to a park popular with high school kids. Biggest nuisance is the constant stream of deer that traipse across the path from property to property, snacking on our foliage as they go. Therefore, our impressions are: noise: not an issue; security: never been a problem for us or our neighbor across the path, privacy: while our bedroom is on the path, we have not had an issue. It depends on how your house is laid out. It does create a handy work out place, if anything. Honestly, we don't really think about it. Path resident

We live next to a walking path. It is mostly fine. Some considerations:

-- My usually sweet dog goes absolutely insane when people walk their dogs on the path. They must think we have Cujo chained up in our yard.

-- It is sometimes weird to be relaxing in our yard and suddenly hear people walking by and talking. Although, I don't think it is THAT different from having a neighbor on the other side of the fence.

-- We occasionally get young trouble-makers hanging out at night drinking and smoking. Once or twice, they have scribbled graffiti on the fence, which irks me. I do have to pick up a little bit of trash from time to time. Fortunately, we live in small town, so I sent an email to all our neighbors, asking if they have seen any kids drinking and smoking on our path (and leaving their empties!!). I did this having a pretty good idea of whose kids it was. It stopped. That's the beauty of living in a small town like Moraga...

-- Then there is the issue of who is responsible for keeping the path clean, non slippery, etc. My neighbor on the other side of the path just hired a gardener who cleans the path regularly, which is awesome. Before, we'd get out there and clean up the leaves and other detritus from time to time.

Those sound like BIG negatives, but in our case it isn't a big deal at all. We love having the cut through, which gives my kids a 2-block walk to school rather than a much longer one. If you're outgoing enough, you could knock on the neighbors' doors that border the path and ask them. Also, walk it and see if there is a ton trash, graffiti, etc.

I live on a very busy path in Berkeley and I like it a lot. I'd agree with the various pros and cons that others have noted. (Our dog could go nuts when dogs went by on the path.) I like the sociability of it, feeling a part of a walking town. Our block of the path is pretty open -- most of the trees are set back at least 5 feet from the path on either side. I'm not sure I'd want to be on a path that is really overgrown. I thought we'd have more night noise than we do.

You will want to know that the city has a 10' on center right-of-way on the path. Measure 5' from the center of the path into your property. It worth checking all of this before you build any fences, etc. within that 5'. Also, the city is responsible for the trees within that 10' right of way. Good luck, Rachel

2007 - 2009 Discussions

Moving to Berkeley -- which neighborhood?

Sept 2009

Hi all I am relocating to Berkeley from NY, with my 14 month old baby girl. I have friends in different neighborhoods but they don't have kids. So I'm hoping some of you who have or had toddlers in Berkeley can offer advice. Without a young child I'd want to live in the hills but I'm afraid of feeling isolated up there, esp as a single mom (and I don't want to have drive everywhere.) Thoughts on Elmwood and anything on North Berkeley would be helpful. Thanks much! Christine

You are going to get a lot of responses to this question, and probably most of the suggestions will be great. We moved to Berkeley when my son was a newborn, and it is a wonderful place to live with kids. We live in North Berkeley , and it's a terrific area. There are a lot of playgrounds, lots of families, and for the most part people are very kid-friendly here. I would suggest that you avoid the hills, since (you're right) you won't be able to walk anywhere. The streets along Hopkins Street and Solano Ave are wonderful and have all the resources you could want - shopping, parks, things to do, all walkable. See if you can find a place there. Also, west Berkeley is underrated but constantly improving - there is a beautiful new Berkeley Bowl down there, and there are also great playgrounds. It's much less expensive, too. Albany is also worth a look. It's very walkable and very kid-centric. Good luck! Mom in Berkeley

You'll have a lot of opinions on this one, I'm sure! But first of all, welcome to Berkeley. A great place to raise a family.

We moved to North Berkeley when I was pregnant with my first child. I didn't want to be too far into the hills, wanted to be able to walk to a park and to grocery shopping, so I set my eastern limit at Euclid Avenue and my northern limit as Eunice. It was a great decision for us - wonderful having Codornices Park and the Rose Garden to explore with young children and meet other families. However, my northern limit was really out of ignorance - I only knew the campus area from my days in college here, and wasn't aware of other great neighborhoods within walking distance of Solano Avenue, or close to the Monterey Market area. We were equally fortunate in finding a small, neighborly street, and know all of our neighbors! There are many great neighborhoods in north, central, west, south Berkeley - So I'd say, get out a compass and draw walking distance from good parks, grocery shopping (including farmer's markets) and transportation, and for bonus points, find yourself one of the smaller, shorter streets and you'll be as happy as we! Berkeley Mama

There are lots of great neighborhoods in Berkeley. If I could pick a house in the Flatlands I'd go near Monterey market (easy to walk to totland, Hopkins track and pool and tennis courts). Not far from the gourmet ghetto, solano, downtown. I lived off university ave for ten years and loved the accessibility. Some neighborhoods have fewer drifters and appear to be cleaner than others. I lived south of university avenue and it was safe, but just seemed dirtier due to more pedestrian and car traffic. However, I'm now a hill mom and it's not bad. Lots of parks up here in the Berkeley Hills (codornices is huge) and we take the bus and walk a lot. Don't write off the hills, but stick to lower neighborhoods unless you want strong legs! Strong leg mo

I think you'll hear a lot of opinions. I've found North Berkeley (Berkeley hills and the area near Solano) to feel safest. Of that, I think the area near Solano is ideal - you can easily walk to so many cafes, shops, and the grocery store. There's also a nice playground (by Thousand Oaks School).

I think either North Berkeley or the less expensive alternatives, Central or South Berkeley are all great for a single mom with a small child. There are parks and playgrounds all over and Berkeley is very walkable. The elementary schools work on a lottery system by zone (there are 3 zones, south, central, north, which go from the hills to the flats).

I lived in South Berkeley all through my daughter's elementary and middle schools years. For the most part I was very happy there, though there are some rough parts that I would avoid.

Out of necessity we moved to Central Berkeley around high school (there's only one, so it doesn't really matter at that point as far as schools go). I'm really happy in central Berkeley, about 4 blocks west of downtown. Lots of stuff is accessible on foot and the streets are pretty and quiet.

I would visit some of the neighborhoods with a friend when you visit next to see where you feel comfortable and where you can afford (if that's an issue). anon

I assume price is not a big concern given the two neighborhoods you mentioned. Elmwood is indeed a great neighborhood and the parts of North Berkeley that are walking distance from shopping and eating are also excellent. I grew up high in the hills so I am quite familiar with the trade offs of hill living. Pros are, quiet and great views. Cons are, everything is a drive, most lots are far from flat, kids can't ride bikes much, commutes are longer, prices are higher.

Due to the economics of buying a house in the Bay Area, one of the parts of Berkeley with a very high concentration of new families is South Berkeley . As recent as 10 years ago it wasn't considered an option for many people but most of it has transformed and there are a lot of benefits.

It's relatively affordable, it shaves off 20 to 30 minutes a day on commutes heading to most of the job centers nearby, kids can bike, plenty of parks, Berkeley Bowl West recently opened and is great, there are walking shops and restaurants (Dwight and San Pablo or Dwight and Sacramento are of note) Two of the nicest shopping areas are close (4th street and Emerybay) There are multiple high quality child care options in the neighborhood and nearby. Alex

I have a toddler and I think living in the hills is amazing! We go to so many beautiful parks up here (Cordonices, Glendale LaLoma, Dorothy Bolte)and you can't beat being so close to Tilden and all that it offers (Little Farm, Lake Anza, the carousel, the steam trains)as well as great hiking and picnic spots. We frequently meet friendly parents of young kids who are hoping to connect ''way up here''. There are a lot of young families moving into the hills, and this becomes very obvious once you go to the parks. I've never felt isolated. Sure, it takes me ten minutes to get down the hill -- doesn't seem like much when the drive is so lovely. anon

Moving from Seattle - favorite neighborhood in Berkeley?

May 2009

We are trying to figure out everyone's favorite neighborhood in Berkeley so that we can narrow our search. We have a 5 year old daughter so schools are of interest too. Thanks!

I'm a Seattle native who's lived in Berkeley for over ten years. Your question is kind of a tough one. The Bay Area doesn't quite have the same neighborhood set-up as Seattle and Portland do. For some reason I have much more nostalgia and warm & fuzzy feeling for the Seattle nabes of my youth than I do about the ones here. But that's just me, maybe!

Elmwood (centered around College and Ashby) is a great Berkeley neighborhood, especially if you want to be close to campus, but it is very expensive. And North Berkeley has two very good neighborhoods - Gourmet Ghetto (centered around Shattuck and Vine) and Thousand Oaks (centered around Solano and The Alameda). All of these are expensive, but are safe and have supermarkets and copious restaurants within walking distance. You didn't really say what your criteria were for a good neighborhood, but I'd assume such things would figure in.

As for schools, once you've settled on a hood, check out the Berkeley Unified School District website to figure out which zone you'd fall into. Each zone encompasses upper- and middle-class neighborhoods, so your kid(s) will likely end up being bused, but I've heard the majority of schools in all zones are good (probably better than the current state of the Seattle public schools). There's good school info on BPN, obviously!

If you give us more info on what you're looking for and what you like in Seattle, that would help. (But if you just loooove Mercer Island, I don't think I can help you!) Good luck with your search and move! The Thing I Miss Most About Seattle Is The Rain!

Any eco-villages close to Berkeley?

Oct 2007

Are there any eco-villages close to Berkeley? The nearest we've found is in Davis but I'm thinking there has to be something closer. We want something with houses that are very energy efficient, small plots of private property but far more common property, edible landscaping, etc. We are okay with some elements of co-housing like a weekly shared meal and a family job, but don't want to go full bore with shared finances and all meals in common. I realize we can do things to make our own home energy efficient or live in a condo complex and try to get efficiency projects off the ground, but we'd rather live with a group of people who are really trying to build a community with values we share. We want to live someplace kid-friendly, with good public schools nearby, within 15 miles of U.C. Berkeley, and in a quiet, safe area. Does such a place exist? Looking for a place to call home

Fresh from the Press

Berkeley, Calif. Ashby Lofts

Did you visit local gal

Can a single parent teacher afford to live in Berkeley?

Jan 2007

I was priced out of Berkeley when I bought my home four years ago. Now I am becoming a single mom and have less money than ever, but I REALLY want to move back. If I sell my house, can I find an affordable Berkeley/Albany 2 bedroom to buy on a schoolteacher's salary (NOT a fixer-upper -- I have enough on my plate right now), or a clean, well-maintained rental in a quiet neighborhood that the landlord is not likely to sell for many years? The only reason I even dare ask is that I have noticed some new condo construction and was hoping some of it might be reserved for ''affordable housing'' or that there might be some kind or program for cops, teachers, nurses, etc. out there. Thanks. Grateful for info

Have you checked out the co-housing option? It is really lively in the Oakland-Berkeley area. Or what about partnering with others and buying a duplex, triplex and fourplex? I wouldn't be so interested in Berkeley b/c of the hassles of bureaucracy, but there are some great areas in Oakland and Albany, even Richmond Annex or Point Richmond. If you've been away for awhile you'd be quite pleasantly surprised! Good luck!

General advice about Berkeley living

April 2008

Re: Best town in California to live?
My husband and I moved from Chicago 19 years ago, initially to San Francisco, then 6 years later, after we had 2 kids, to Berkeley, where we currently live. Just about anywhere in the Bay Area has a better connection to nature than Chicago. Based on your criteria, you should consider Berkeley--it is close to Tilden and other regional parks, the ocean, is a liberal community and has neighborhoods with walkable amenities.

2004 - 2006 Discussions

October 2006

Re: Kid friendly neighborhoods in the East Bay I noticed that noone from Berkeley responded to your question and wanted to chime in. In Berkeley (also Albany) there are a number of wonderful kid-friendly neighborhoods. Our family (w/ 2 girls) looked for houses within walking distance to parks & shops. We just bought a house in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood (where I grew up) and loved living in Westbrae neighborhood (for 13 years). There are jewel-like parks all over the city - and a bay trail that is great for kite flying, bicycling, walking, biking & dog walking. Left up to me, I would avoid areas near campus just because they tend to be heavily studented and parking is difficult - so the vibe is different.

Another thing that I think should be noted when looking at cities - Berkeley has historically and consistently been a big booster of schools & libraries. Contra Costa voters recently failed to pass bond measures for schools - but Berkeley voters tend to pass library & school measures. I profoundly hope we pass Measure A and continue this trend.

As recent home buyers/ home-sellers, we can attest that the prices seem to be lower than we've seen recently so this might be a good time to get in. Berkeley booster

Living in Berkeley - hard to make friends?

April 2006

Please give me your opinions (and if you know of good affordable housing, that too!). I grew up in and around Berkeley and went there as an undergrad. Loved it. We moved to a nearby university town, much more suburban (i.e. peaceful and boring). Now I am single and need to move back (school) with my 16 year old daughter. I know this sounds odd, but while I like some of the things and groups Berkeley has to offer, when I am there and read about the crime, it sort of unnerves me. I also have this odd concern that it will be difficult to make friends. I hope others who have moved there, or who are in meditation or music groups can give me some advice.. was it hard to make friends? Do you consider people generally friendly? How do/did you connect with others (in their 30's and 40's?). I guess I want reassurance it will be ok! HELP. And if you know of two rooms in a shared place, or a 2 bedroom apt not too expensive, please let me know :). Thanks. bg

Moving Back to Berkeley - YEAHHHH!I move a way for a year to a quiet suburb and couldn't wait to get back. Within 2 days of moving back, I knew more people on my block in Berkeley than I had met in a whole year in the burbs. In any case, Berkeley offers many things 1) a population of very talkative friendly people. Everyone has something to say about something. 2)Soooo many options of things to do that all you have to do is decide what interests you and get involved. Your childs school, classes, outdoor events through REI. If you go to S.F. for work, ride the bus - I've gotten to know some really great people that way. Block parties, Ashkenaz, yoga classes, swimming at Strawberry Canyon pool, Frieght & Salvage, La Pena, really, the possibilities are endless and if you just say hi, people here respond. It may take a bit of effort, but I've never lived any place with more interesting, friendly, people (except maybe London and Amsterdam on the interesting side). As for your daughter - she'll have just as many options and a busy teenager stays out of trouble (for the most part) - OH! Just in case you are wondering, I'm actually a pretty shy person myself and clearly love it here. Keley