Advice about Living in Berkeley
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.
Lamorinda, San Ramon and Berkeley are all very different and really depends on what you are looking for. Each have different things going for them:
Lamorinda - Mostly very affluent and white, but good schools. Almost no walkability except if you are close to downtown Lafayette.
San Ramon - diverse on paper but communities tend to keep to themselves. Whites are more conservative and republican and less enthusiastic about diversity. Schools, houses, parks are all new and shiny. Almost no walkability.
Berkeley - Lot of diversity, great walkability (most neighborhoods) but public schools are bit disappointing
First of all, do you know about Montclair? It has been "ground zero" for Lesbian couples for a couple of decades now. However, Montclair (a) is not well-situated for commuting to San Francisco (compared to the other areas suggested), and (b) I doubt whether it's very diverse.
I'm mostly writing, however, to clear up some errors in the response to you by "anonymous" that starts "We moved to Albany...." She writes: "We were looking at Berkeley originally, but had concerns about middle school, as we have a child of color, and I think Berkeley has a lottery system."
WRONG! Berkeley does NOT have a lottery system for middle schools! (The lottery system applies only to the "small schools" that exist -- not geographically, but only in terms of classroom and focus -- on Berkeley High campus.)
"Anonymous" also wrote: "We also didn't know how our son would do in Berkeley High School, which has over 5000 students, as opposed to Albany which has about 1500."
WRONG AGAIN! To quote from their website: "Berkeley High School is a comprehensive four-year school serving approximately 3300 students. BHS is unique in that it is the only public high school in a community of over 100,000. Drawing from a diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic status, the student population embraces a broad spectrum of people and ideas."
Finally she writes: "[O]ur Albany community is not as diverse as we thought it would be."
RIGHT! Albany is not nearly as diverse as Berkeley. That's a well-known fact.
FYI, I have been volunteering at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School (in North Berkeley) for six years now, and you could not hope to find a more diverse student body. The percentage of children of color at "King" (as it's called) is very high relative to the population of California as a whole. And the quality of the support staff is out of this world! We adopted a child from out of State who recently attended King during 7th and 8th grades, and in my opinion the level of attention and support she received was commensurate with that of any private school, anywhere.
As another "Anonymous" wrote, "Welcome to town!"
P.S. Back in the 80s, Berkeley was home to two fantastic Lesbian owned-and-operated businesses: the Brick Hut Café and Vivoli's gelateria. Sadly, both are gone, but that should give you some idea of Lesbian history in Berkeley.
I'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!
I recommend Berkeley. It's less expensive than SF and lots of LGBT pride. Welcome to town.
Parts of South Berkeley are considered "historically" African-American and now have are quite a mixture. However, as the Save Black Berkeley (http://www.saveblackberkeley.org/) 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Berkeley or Marin for SF job - concerned about crime
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.)
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
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?
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.
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 at...it'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 PCH...so 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
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
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.
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
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
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!
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 www.cohousing.org? local gal
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!
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.
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
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