Living in the Berkeley Hills

Parent Q&A

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  • Is Claremont hills BUSD or OUSD?

    (3 replies)

    Hello all - I am planning to buy a home in Claremont hills with a Berkeley address but having a hard time finding out what schools are zoned for the neighborhood. I checked the BUSD website, but the street name there is not listed. Anyone here who lives in Claremont with elementary school age kids ? Also, my wife and I will both be commuting to SF. What’s the best transport option from there ? I have heard Transbay route E works best. Is that true ?

    Check Oakland Unified's site--there are a number of homes in the Claremont hills that are actually in Oakland and are served by Oakland schools despite having Berkeley addresses, so if the street does not appear on the BUSD site, you are probably looking at one of these. (You can also tell by looking at the Alameda County Assessor's website--you will see either Oakland or Berkeley taxes listed for the property, except in some really unusual situations with split parcels.) The Oakland schools that serve Claremont-area homes are generally well regarded, although it is worth following the situation with Kaiser Elementary, which may move (which would likely lead to changes in the school zone boundaries).

    Hi there,

    We recently moved to a neighborhood close to yours. You’ll be in the South Berkeley zone, so your kid will be eligible to go to John Muir, Malcolm X, Emerson, and Le Conte/Sylvia Mendez.

    Both of us work in the city but we’ve been using the Bart (we live mid way between Ashby and  Rockridge stations, so we’re able to get into the Richmond or Pittsburg/Antioch lines. I don’t have experience with the Transbay network.

    Hope this helps!

    Rini

    Call BUSD and OUSD registration.  Provide the exact address and ask about zoning.  The online maps can sometimes be misunderstood/incorrect.  I know two families that looked at the online maps, and they were pretty upset to find out that their house wasn’t zoned the way they expected.

    If possible, see if the school registrar can put your zoning in writing.  I called to confirm my zoning, but it took a few weeks to get straightened out when I registered my kids for school.  I didn’t think to try to get it in writing when I bought my house, but that would have saved me a bit of stress while things were getting sorted out.

  • Living in the hills with teens

    (10 replies)

    Hi Parents

    We are looking to perhaps move and I have a question about the Berkeley and Oakland hills.

    If you live in the hills, how do your teens get around? I have fantasies of sending my children once they're in middle school to run errands. I think they would really love the freedom and I would appreciate it. Also once they're in High School am I supposed to drive them everywhere? How do you make this work in the hills? Do your children get the chance to travel around alone?

    I grew up in the high up Berkeley hills and was not a fan. I used AC Transit by myself starting at age 7. It was a huge inconvenience to not be able to get around conveniently by myself. In middle school I would walk down the hill to Solano/Shattuck/King Middle School, and take AC Transit back up. The bus is only twice per hour and stopped running all the way up Grizzly Peak at 6:45 pm, so I would have to walk from Spruce if I missed that last bus. Even in high school getting a car didn't help that much because there was still the effort of not being in a walkable area, and having to worry about gas and parking everywhere I went. I have made it a point to live in more walkable areas my whole adult life.

    Hi there - I am not sure where "in the Hills" you live, but we live in Upper Rockridge and it is very hilly ... My 13 year old and his friends ride their bikes to Montclair and to Village Market, and occasionally to College Ave, which will prob happen more when he's older. Kids we know who attend BOD or SM take buses or carpool. There's a decent bus system in Oakland and they can learn (with you) to get around. By mid teens I'd also be fine with him taking BART - he already understands the system well thanks to Urban Adventure camps, which I highly recommend. However, to me, bikes or other wheeled transport are the best options, as long as they 1) get crystal clear on the rules of the road and practice, with you, on riding busy streets and anticipating what drivers will do, 2) practice riding hills so they don't weave as they ride up some of our steep inclines. If they can ride bikes well, like European kids they'll have freedom anywhere they go, anywhere in the world! 

    I have a 16-year-old in the hills who happily travels far and wide on AC Transit.  We have two lines near us.  It really depends on where in the hills you end up.  Check AC Transit maps to see if there are buses in the neighborhoods you are considering.  Many of the bus lines link up to BART.

    In the N Berkeley hills buses 65 and 67 are pretty good but only go downtown (i.e. if you want to go to the closest shopping street, Solano ave, it's no good) and are only reliable in the morning on the way down the hill, it gets worse coming back up later in the day and the schedule app doesn't work well as there's no live updating. We have 2 e-bikes our middle schoolers use to get to school and nearby outings, but in the rainy season it's tough, and after dark it isn't safe (though because there are no bike lanes it's not that great anyway - fortunately drivers seem on the whole pretty respectful). So yes, we are basically a taxi service most of the time and reluctantly bought a second car recently. On the other hand you'd have to live in a pretty specifically useful place in Berkeley or Oakland to have it better, distances are pretty large given destinations for teens are far apart - downtown Oakland, downtown Berkeley, Telegraph Ave, Rockridge, Bay street in Emerville, 4th Street in Berkeley, Solano ave, etc.

    A lot of kids take the bus or uber/lyft. I know quite a few kids who walk too.  Many teens drive once they get their license but I also know some who ride their bikes (even electric bikes). When my kids were in middle school, they loved taking AC transit with their friends. If you live close to a major artery, the buses are quite frequent and there are some small towns up in the hills (like in Kensington) where young kids can walk to the store, etc.

    I do not recommend living in the hills with teenagers. I was already there when I had my kids, and haven't moved, and regret it. My friend is renting in Albany, even though she could afford a house somewhere else, but it works so well for her family with two teens.  They can walk anywhere on their own.  There are parks they can go to nearby, classes they take after school blocks away, and their school friends all live in the neighborhood.  It is a real community.  I live behind the Claremont Hotel, where there are no sidewalks on many of the streets, and it's going up the hill on the way back home. After the fire, not so many families with kids rebuilt/moved there, so there are not as many kids of any age in that area, and the ones that are there all go to various private schools as they avoid public schools for various reasons (that's another topic which deserves its own post).  My son in his senior year of high school, and I regret that he has never had a chance to be on his own.  He's been driven from activity to activity, went on playdates that had to be organized by us and is just starting to learn how to figure things out on his own.

    Long story short, go somewhere where there's a community where people live, work, go to school and socialize, all in their neighborhood.  There's no such a thing in the hills.

    Good luck!

    My daughter is 14 and in ninth grade at Berkeley high. We live pretty high up in the hills but she walks everywhere on foot including the 1.5 miles each way to King for middle school.  We happen to be on one of the bus routes which is a huge plus. My daughter takes  AC transit to and from Berkeley high and uses it to get down the hill on the weekends to hang out with friends. I suspect we will let her start using Uber during the day time as she wants to start doing some volunteering which is not convenient for her to get to you on the bus lines. I think living walking distance to the public bus really increases your kids independence.

    I raised 3 kids in the hills, the youngest of whom is now 14.  Yes, I drove them everywhere, and no, they can't run any errands for me, except to a neighbor's for a cup of flour or something...  As they've become older we have realized how wonderful it is to be a few steps from a bus stop.  There are limited city buses that run through the hills; I'd recommend being close to one if you're considering moving up there with teens.  My kids take the bus a LOT, now that they're older.  They sometimes use Lyft too, but the cost is prohibitive.  The buses in the hills are the key for teens to gain independence, get to school and see friends on their own.  

    Our kids are babies so I can't say anything about having teens, but having grown up in the suburbs of the Lamorinda area and now living in the Oakland hills, I would say that there are so many factors in play that I don't see how you can recommend for or against an entire geography. Many people move to the other side of the tunnel for better schools; Orinda/Moraga/Lafayette are even less walkable/have fewer transit options yet teens survive there. We would love to live somewhere more walkable; so does everyone else and home prices in Rockridge, Elmwood, etc. reflect that. After living in dense urban places like Manhattan, the reality is that a car makes things much easier in most of the bay area, except in a few locations that have extremely limited and expensive housing stock. The ride sharing services already open up many more options that didn't exist before. We have wonderful neighbors and family and friends who visit us almost every weekend, and we take the kids to all kinds of different places and activities, so I don't feel socially limited at all. If anything, I will be glad not to have to run into the same people all the time whom you may or may not actually get along with!

    We lived in the hills, but moved to the flats of Berkeley and my teenaged son has all the freedom in the world. He can walk, bike, or bart to BHS/downtown and since he has friends in Oakland and the hills has learned how to bart/bus/walk wherever he needs to go, something we are both proud of. We walk or bike to the many local markets, libraries, and downtown locations frequently and value the walking culture in this town. Though I do miss proximity to Tilden, we've gained more than we've lost with the move. It's even sunnier down here which I was told, but wouldn't believe for awhile. One downside? The teenager has little motivation to learn driving skills! It's not a highly valued skill and few of his friends bother at this age. Very different from my upbringing in SoCal suburbs where cars were necessities and everyone took their driving test on their birthdays! His friends in the hills mainly use Lyft to get around and are driven to school.

  • Hi,

    We are moving the Berkeley in the fall, and in looking for a home, are finding most suitable opportunities in the hills - around Grizzly Peak Blvd in particular. We currently live in a walkable urban area in the east coast, and while we would prefer to live in the flats, we are just not finding as many nice houses. In your experience, is living the hills very isolating for single children? Are people willing to drive up for playdates? Do many families with kids live up there? We appreciate that it will be great for hikes and walks, but do kids socialize much up there with their neighbors, or is it rather isolating for kids?

    Would love to hear of your experiences living in the hills.

    Welcome to Berkeley!  To answer your question: Yes, absolutely, parents are willing to drive for play dates: it's how we roll in the Bay Area.  You have to drive to be with people you want to hang out with, you have to drive for kid-friendly activities, you have to drive to shop, dine and go to the theater and concert halls.  And in the Berkeley Hills, there are an abundance of playground parks -- big parks, small parks -- in every neighborhood.  Better yet: walk.  Quit your gym membership and embrace the natural fitness of walking in Berkeley, Albany, Kensington,, and El Cerrito.

    Of course there are kids in the hills...We have lived here for 10 years with our daughter, an only child, and she has always been very busy with tons of nearby playdates. There are many, many families in the hills and lots of wonderful parks (Codornices, La Loma, the Crescent, just to name a few) including Tilden with the carousel, Little Farm and the Steam Trains, all packed with kids every weekend. We met a lot of our friends at the parks when my daughter was younger. It may take a little more outreach at school as kids get older but the location would not be a problem. Not sure where you got the info that kids don’t live up here...it’s definitely not the case.

    We are having a great experience raising kids in the hills.  There are plenty of families with kids up here and several beautiful playgrounds.  Due to their more remote location, the parks and playgrounds don't tend to get very crowded.  Initially we had a hard time locating other kids. It wasn't until our kids started elementary school, in fact, that we realized that there were tons of potential playmates within a few blocks of our house.  Now that they have friends, they walk to and from each other's houses all of the time. At least in our immediate neighborhood, folks don't tend to hang out in their front yard so I'd suggest planning a meet up at a playground using NextDoor in order to find your local playmates.  We also have plenty of playdates with friends who live outside of a walking zone.  People are willing to drive and so am I.  All in all, I am happy that we made a tradeoff for a slightly more remote location for the views and close proximity to nature.

    We live in the hills and our daughter is the only child around. We have to drive her everywhere and there are no local kids for her to easily play with. Having said that, most people around here are in the same situation and we have plenty of play dates. While it would be nice to have kids closer to us, living in the hills is awesome and totally worth it.

    For us, living in the Berkeley Hills hasn't been an isolating experience.  It's true that we don't have many families with young kids that live near us.  So yes, it does take some driving to get my 9-year-old to playdates and it's harder to have spontaneous get-togethers, but it hasn't felt like a hassle.  Also, your child will get to socialize in activities outside of school.  Lots of kids here play baseball, soccer, etc.  There're also classes for just about any interest that a child might have.

    Alternatively, you could consider looking for a house in Kensington, an unincorporated town that borders the Berkeley Hills.  There're many more families with young children that live in Kensington, and families generally love Kensington Elementary School (the public school that serves the K-6 students in the area).  Kensington is a small area and is not nearly as diverse as Berkeley.

    Best wishes in your house search!

  • We live in a house on a steep hill and with young children and we're desiring a flatter house with some yard space. We love being close to Gourmet Ghetto and Downtown Berkeley, but its pricey to find a less vertical house that we can afford, let alone with some yard space. We are considering Kensington, but don't know much about the village/community. Does it feel more remote and hard to access freeways?  Also Hilltop K-6 school seems to have great reviews, but I've read families then go to private middle or high school as they feel El Cerrito schools aren't up to par. What schools are those and what are the costs? We bought our current house so we could be in the Berkeley school district so we are concerned to leave. What are the other things we'd be leaving or gaining if we moved from Berkeley to Kensington? Thank you for your thoughts! 

    Most of Kensington is just as hilly as Berkeley, if not more, and the streets seem more narrow. I grew up in the hilly part of Berkeley near Kensington and so disliked the remoteness and lack of places to walk/bike, that as an adult I moved to the flat part of El Cerrito. El Cerrito has been great, and the schools, elementary, middle, and high school, have been totally fine.

Parent Reviews

We had a hard time finding coverage for our Berkeley Hills home when we bought in 2019. I scoured a bunch of websites and found Geico and State Farm were the only majors willing to cover our address. I ended up working with Frank Bliss's office in Albany to get the whole kit-and-caboodle (Home, Earthquake, Car & Umbrella) including Fire insurance. My understanding is insurers manage their risk on a block-by-block basis so I think you'll either need an independent agent who can shop for you OR do what I did, and spend 1/2 a day calling around different insurers. Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions


Feeling isolated in the Berkeley Hills - walkable parks in other areas?

June 2012

We live in the Berkeley hills with two young boys (not yet in school) but feel kind of isolated. We see friends at the park, but are missing a more walkable community and a closer connection with our neighbors - many outings require we hop in the car first. Our neighbors seem the same way. There are a couple other young kids on our block, but they are mainly friends with their schoolmates. Starting a preliminary house-hunt, with a strong interest in good schools and wanted to get a feeling for other neighborhoods. Visiting parks and playgrounds seems like a good start. Can anyone recommend good parks or outings for pre-K kids in - Piedmont - Albany - Alameda - Marin

Thanks! wanting to be walking!


Dracena Park in Piedmont is fantastic - sand, water play, climbing, swings, slide, big grassy area to run around in. It seems to be a big neighborhood hangout - we don't live near it, but there are always families picnicking, playdates happening, nannies hanging out, etc. Park Hopper


Memorial Park in Albany is wonderful. There is a bigger play structure for older kids and a fenced-in tot lot for younger kids. There are always other kids to play with, but not so many that it is crowded or overrun. In addition to the play structures, there is a great lawn for picnicking and the brand new Albany Aquatic Center is right next door. Albany is a great place to raise school-aged kids and you can guarantee that elementary school, middle school, and high school are all within walking distance from anywhere in the city because it's so small. The Albany Bulb is a nice short hike along the water with interesting art pieces, right next to the horse track, which kids may enjoy as well. Crown Beach/Crab Cove in Alameda makes for a great family outing on a warm day, and we love Miller Knox Park as well (in Richmond just past Albany, an underutilized gem). Maya


I'm an Albany mom who loves walking to our neighborhood parks. They're more simple than spectacular, but they're definitely an important part of Albany's strong community feel and friendly neighborhoods. The playgrounds at Memorial Park and Terrace Park are favorites for young kids, plus the Tot Lot for the really little ones. There's a list of all of Albany's parks, with location/directions and a blurb about each, on the city's website, here: http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=473 Also, many Albany residents frequent Thousand Oaks Park and Adventure Playground in Berkeley. The former is within walking distance of much of Albany, and the latter, while a bit farther away (and best for grade school age kids), is special enough to be well worth the trip. Happy househunting! Holly


While I don't have specific playgrounds to try (except Totland--always a favorite of ours), I'd recommend the flats of Berkeley, too! Especially north Berkeley. The schools in Berkeley are really good, all the way from K to 12th. We, too, live in the hills, and often lament that despite losing the deer and having to deal with a bit more crime & traffic...we wish we lived down the hill. In Albany, the houses are smaller, closer together, and expensive, and the schools are good, if you have 'average' kids. Exceptional and underachieving kids do better in Berkeley, I've heard. Alameda is awesome, and does have some great parks... Piedmont has excellent schools but is very expensive. Ditto with Marin. Give Berkeley a chance!


General Reviews


Sept 2009

Re: Moving to Berkeley -- which neighborhood?
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 (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 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


Park Hills area near Grizzly Peak and Tilden Park

June 2006

My husband and I are expecting our first baby and trying to decide whether to buy a house in the Berkeley Hills, specifically the Park Hills area near Grizzly Peak and Tilden Park. We want to know whether there are many other families with young children up in that area, and how isolated we might feel living there. For example, how limiting will it be to have to drive down the hill to get to most toddler parks and to shop? Will our child have potential playmates nearby or feel alone? On the positive side, we can have a larger yard and more interior space in the hills than we find in houses nearer to commercial areas. Thank you for any feedback or advice! Rachel


My husband and I purchased a home in the Berkeley Hills about a year and a half ago, a unique fixer with a nice large yard with a view which was important to us. We are SF transplants so we were unsure how the ''quiet life'' would affect us. We are also expecting our first child in the next two weeks. The population is a bit older in the hills but there are still plenty of kids around, so I'm not worried about finding playmates. Driving down to shop hasn't been an issue since everything you need is at the foot of the hill, there is also a great organic farmer's market on Thursday afternoons in N Berkeley, great for homemade baby food! Driving back up to the solitude of the hills is very rewarding.
soon to be Berkeley Hills mom


We live in the Berkeley Hills in the area you mention, and have a toddler, as well. The advantages and disadvantages are exactly as you describe. I'll elaborate.

There's a great deal of natural beauty we've partaken of: hikes you can backpack a baby on, and the Little Farm, Steam Train and Merry-go-round for when your baby is a little older. On the other hand, there's no cafe or grocery store within walking distance though the row of shops on Monterey has a butcher, a grocery store, a cafe, a liquor store, a gourmet deli, the best pizza parlor ever (Gioia's), a bakery and more.

Dorothy Boalt park on Spruce Street is walking distance from the entrance to Tilden Park, and I have met other families there, though no one we've kept in touch with steadily.

There is another park at the top of Cedar (not really walking distance but close) that's usually fairly sparsely populated. Totland at Virginia and McGee, 3 blocks north of Sacramento, is a 10 1 drive. I find in general the distance is more psychological/energetic than actual.

The culture up here is a whole other ball game. There are some friendly folks to be sure, and there are also folks who are surprisingly uptight, circumspect and not so friendly. I say surprisingly because I had this stereotype that living in Berkeley folks would generally be more laid-back and open.

It's a mostly-white, pretty darn wealthy area, and MNSHO is that once folks sink this kind of money into a house, they want to protect their boundaries, privacy, etc., and focus on the nest is much higher priority than making connections with neighbors. Though when I lost my cat and posted flyers, I was heartwarmed at the outpouring of caring, so I know it's out there!

Also, I have noticed that parents of older kids who are around the same age tend to connect by default because their kids play together on their own initiative.

I think it wouldn't take much (posting a few signs, announcing it here, for example) to get together families in the area at Dorothy Boalt some weekend morning, I'll bet others are hungry for it just like we are.


Berkeley Hills vs. Oakland Hills

Feb 2005

Re: Living in Sequoyah Hills/Heights
I think that if you are considering moving to Sequoyah Hills/Heights, but fear you won't have anything enriching nearby (restaurants, cultural opportunities, parks, etc.), and you're worried about the schools, why don't you consider moving to the Berkeley Hills? I'm near Grizzly Peak and Marin Ave. and I love it! I'm minutes away from Tilden Park, fabulous Fourth Street, the wonderful shops and restaurants on Solano Avenue, and the public schools aren't bad. There are several private schools in Berkeley that may suit your needs if you don't care for the public ones. The closest elementary school to me is Cragmont, near the top of Marin Ave. The North Berkeley BART station is just an 8-minute drive down the hill from me. If you can afford to move to Sequoyah Hills, you can afford to move to the Berkeley Hills. 3-bedroom homes in this area range from $850,000 to $1.5 million. We have spectacular views of the bay. Something to consider. (Oh, and Sequoyah is spelled that way possibly because of a Native American tribe, not the tree.)
Happy Berkeley Hills resident