Walkable and Bike-Friendly Bay Area Neighborhoods

Archived Responses: 


Oakland or Berkeley For Schools and Walkability?

Feb 2012

I can't seem to unwind my way through this dilemma: i love both Oakland and berkeley my son starts K next year (pretty typical child with no apparent learning needs). We rent in montclair so he can attend Montclair elementary school which seems really great. However I quite dislike living in the hills. I yearn for vibrant areas with flat streets and sidewalks and people out in the open. I know we could move elsewhere in Oakland but then my son would be less a part of the neighborhood. Moving to Peraltas zone for example just opens up huge doubt about the local middle school which unfortunately hasnt improved much yet OUSD middle and high school choices get iffy. We would probably have to live in these darn hills to get into montera and when i envision a life of play dates up windy roads i cringe! (sorry Hills lovers! I wish I was one). It seems like BUSD is pretty consistent K-12 although the elementary schools might not be as amazing as a highly supported school like Montclair. PLEASE advise: Should We move to Berkeley or stay in Oakland, move down the hill, and just not worry about post elementary school (which is almost impossible not to do!) Thank you so much!! Losing sleep about OUSD vs BUSD

We're in 'downtown' Montclair and we love it. We walk to Montclair Elementary School. We never get in the car to go to the grocery store, drug store. Restaurants nearby. We walk to the park. There's a walking trail behind our house. Love it. Best of both worlds. happy Montclairian

If the main thing you are looking for is your child being able to walk to school, don't move to Berkeley. Berkeley doesn't have neighborhood elementary schools. You might move to a nice walkable neighborhood in the Berkeley flats, only to find that your child has been assigned to a school in the hills that you need to drive to every day. Even if he does luck out and get assigned to the school in your neighborhood, most of his friends at school will not live in the neighborhood. so you'll be driving him around for playdates. Maybe move someplace closer to Montclair Village? There are lots of other nice walkable neighborhoods in Oakland too! Check out the neighborhood reviews on BPN. Berkeley mom

I am surprised no one has mentioned Albany for a lovely, walkable neighborhood with great schools. Nearly everyone I know walks to school, and because all three elementary schools are so great people simply choose the closest one. Solano offers many things in walking distance, including restaurants, doctors, dentists and banks. We only have one car and hardly use it, and we know many others who also walk or bike everywhere. Big fan of Albany

Moving back from Europe, want to live car-free

Feb 2008

My family and I (two adults, one 16-month-old) are moving back to the Bay Area after a few years in a bike-friendly European city. Believe it or not, we don't own a car. Sure, there are some logistical issues to work out, but it works! The questions: Are there car-free families in the Bay Area? Is there a ''good'' city for living car-free? Are there particularly ''bike-friendly'' cities? Many thanks! Otto

I can recommend Albany (where I live), El Cerrito, and Berkeley as relatively bike-friendly cities with the possibility of living car-free. There is one principal bike path that runs underneath the BART tracks from El Cerrito del Norte to North Berkeley BART, and then there are streets dedicated to bike use (better in Berkeley than the other towns). A number of people I know augment their biking with membership in one of the car-sharing organizations such as City CarShare or Zip Cars, because there are some trips that are difficult to make on public transportation. But if you choose your neighborhood carefully (within walking or biking distance of shopping and schools, etc.), you can get away without a car by using the extensive public transport or biking.

Cautionary notes -- cars can be merciless to bikes, and significant caution has to be exercised on roads busy with cars. I have been honked at, nudged to the side, and nearly hit by a car that didn't stop at a four-way stop. Because almost everyone around you has a car, assumptions will be made about your ability to get places (sport practices, afterschool care, etc.) in a car-travel length of time. I have been in situations where I had to drive because a ball practice was scheduled way up in the Berkeley hills a half-hour after my work hours. People are not all that understanding of a decision to go carless in my experience, so you have to work at it. Finally, if you do decide to go carless, could I make a polite plea that you not lean too much on people with cars? I have some ''green'' friends who go carless and then want me to cart their kids around, which is not a fair ecological position to my mind. I just had to say that, though I'm in basic sympathy with your project. bikes when able

Yes, you can be car-free in the Bay Area! San Francisco would be the obvious choice for car-free living - if you like living in the city - because it has the best public transit system in the area. Nothing compared to Europe, I'm afraid, but still very useful. However, I think the East Bay, especially Berkeley and Albany, are more bike-friendly. If you're comfortable biking around with your toddler, and with groceries, the flatter parts of Berkeley and Albany would be great choices. Having lived car-free in both Europe and the Bay Area, though, I would like to mention that there is one big difference between the two. In Europe you can literally get everywhere by public transit - you can take a train or bus to other cities and to trailheads, for instance. Here, however, while you can get around without a car within the city, you'll need a car to get out, and to enjoy the many parks around here. Of course, you can do that by occasionally renting or joining a carshare organization. Welcome back to the Bay Area!

I know plenty of car-free people in the Bay area, but I don't think I know any car-free families with kids. Seems like it wouldn't be too hard though. You could check out CityCarShare (or Zipcar)--car sharing might be an ideal solution for you guys for the occasional times you need a car. Also, Berkeley is really bike-friendly (and walk-friendly). Before my company moved to Hayward my husband and I hardly ever drove. We're in S. Berkeley, right by Ashby BART & Berkeley Bowl grocery store & a park & tool-lending library & farmer's market...and walking distance to downtown Berkeley & Rockridge. It's great. Good luck with your move! Jenny

Alameda is a small island with bike lanes on many streets and cars are only allowed to go 25mph. We generally only ride our bikes or drive an electric plugin car (GemCar) on the island. Lots of stuff for kids to do and no reason to cross the bridge over to the mainland unless you have to work off the island or make a costco run. I use to live in Denmark where most of us road bikes. Very comparable in nature. Island Living

Neighborhoods for car-free life with a toddler?

January 2007

We're thinking of moving to Berkeley (from SF Mission district), but our knowledge of Berkeley neighborhoods is somewhat dated. We would really like to be in a neighborhood where we can do all our daily stuff without a car. We have one car, but we don't use it, and think we will get rid of it soon.

We do enjoy living in an environment with urban density, activity, and diversity... but neighborhood safety is also a concern for us, now that we have a little one. We need good access to public transportation (probably need walking distance to BART) and we'd also like to have walkable grocery shopping, playgrounds and parks, rainy-day play places, library, bookstores, schools, and just generally nice neighborhood walks.

Finally, we can only consider lower budget areas like Ashby area, central Berkeley, or cheaper areas of north Berkeley... Are we asking for too much? Any advice? Pedestrian Mama

It's not as easy to get around as SF but I'd say anywhere in Berkeley besides the hills is do-able without a car. I live in N. berkeley off Gilman and was thrilled to discover the number 9 bus runs along Gilman right into downtown berkeley. I'm also 10 mins from BART. I can walk to do all my grocery shopping (Monterey Market) and to our local library. About the only time I ''need'' the car is to get up to Tilden. Even then there is a bus, but I haven't figured it out yet. When I lived in south berkeley near the Berkeley Bowl it was not quite so easy (not so many parks to walk to, felt less safe walking around alone) but still very do-able. If you manage to find somewhere in Central Berkeley, the Ohlone Park/Totland area seems ideal to me; completely walkable, tons of families and very safe. If you ride a bike and have a seat/trailer for your little one I think you will find berkeley without a car very manageable.
walking in berkeley

Well, this isn't Berkeley but I would like to make a plug for the Richmond District in San Francisco. We're car free with a toddler and we love it here. There are tons of toddlers and it is very safe. The 38 Geary Limited can get you to a BART station in 20 minutes. This neighborhood has everything you are looking for except for being in Berkeley. bikermom

Check out Central Berkeley slightly east or west of MLK Ave, perhaps between Rose and Allston. Also check out Albany and El Cerrito, the area along Key Route/Ashbury/Central. Both of these areas have reasonablly priced rentals and you can walk to BART, shopping, parks, libraries.
-- Berkeley native living in El Cerrito for cleaner streets and lower rent

I think as long as you are north of Dwight, you are OK. I live near the Sacramento St./University Ave. intersection and we can walk to Andronico's, the stores all along University down to San Pablo (post office, library, Mexican market, etc.) and up to Cal, downtown (with post office, restaurants, shops, YMCA, etc.), several parks (Ohlone, Charlie Dorr, totland, etc.), the north Berkeley BART station, etc. I really like it here. I know people who live south of Dwight and it's more dangerous (drive-by shootings, etc.).
My two cents

We used to live in Central Berkeley (nr. Allston and McGee) and found it very walkable and toddler-friendly. Downtown is 10 minutes away, also Andronico's, and the Berkeley Bowl perhaps 20 mins. There is a nice little tot-lot on Roosevelt, one in the UC Development at Allston & California, Ohlone park on Hearst, and of course, Totland on McGee. We found the neighborhood safe, although there are high school students traveling Allston and the occasional homeless. Good luck, Anne

I recommend you concentrate on the neighborhoods around the North Berkeley BART station and the El Cerrito Plaza BART station. Going completely carless is relatively unusual but you CAN definitely walk to all the basics (groceries, playgrounds) in either location, and readily take BART or bus for longer distance trips. These areas are less expensive than, say, Rockridge or ''upper'' Albany, but are just as pleasant and safe, and offer the same kind of family-friendly semi-urban density.

The Ashby area I would say is somewhat less pedestrian-friendly, although you might find it would work okay for you. And you could consider the Central Berkeley area just west of downtown. I know families who live in both places and like it, but the ''feel'' is different -- more students and non-traditional- family households, and more economic diversity -- which has its pros and cons
Likes Walking Too in Albany

I have a three year old and live in Berkeley close to Ashby and Telegraph. It's a great neighborhood for living a car-free existence with a kid. While we own a car, it is completely unnecessary that we use it. We are four blocks to Ashby BART, one block to Whole Foods, four blocks to Bateman Park (great for toddlers), and also close to Willard Park and the playground at LeConte Elementary School. A short walk east is Elmwood, with a great range of restaurants, shops, cafes, and a theater and bank. I would highly recommend the area bordered by Telegraph and Shattuck, and by Alcatraz to a several blocks north of Ashby for a totally walkable, accessible, toddler-in-tow life. Avoid the Alcatraz/Shattuck corner of the area I described.

i would highly recommend our neighborhood...north berkeley flats. we live on cedar st. (a little too busy for me, but we are buying our home :)) just by the park on the corner of chestnut and cedar. i can walk to several different shopping places (berkeley natural grocery, monterey market, gourmet ghetto and fourth st) we can also walk to over 6 different parks, two different libraries and the ohlone bike path runs through the park by our house. in addition, the bart station is only about three blocks away. we love living here, and using our car minimally. my husband even walks to work, on university which is about 7 blocks away. good luck with your search!!! anon

We moved from the Mission to Albany last year -- it's not strictly Berkeley but it's right ''next door'' and so far it's working out great for us. My husband BARTs to work (El Cerrito Plaza station is a couple blocks away). I don't even have a driver's license so I walk to everything. Great schools are just blocks away, and most everything you need is also close by -- either on Solano Ave, which is crammed with cafes, two movies theaters, shops, restaurants, bookstores, bakeries, etc., or at El Cerrito Plaza, a new-ish mall with a Barnes n' Noble, Trader Joe's, Pier One, Petco, Albertsons, more restaurants, video rentals, etc. Other nearby stuff: Starbucks and Pete's coffee, parks, tons of afterschool programs for kids at the rec center (everything from karate to carpentry to dance, music and more), a nice library, and the new El Cerrito Speakeasy -- a pizza n' movies theater opened by the same folks who own the Parkway. I'm not sure how ''low budget'' the housing is -- we bought a major fixer at a great price and have been noodling away on it ever since and we know other families here who are *far* from wealthy. It's a really swell place to be -- quiet, super friendly, diverse. Might be worth checking out!
Pedestrian Mom

Though not as urban as Berkeley, you may want to consider Alameda - it's a really great place to live with a toddler. I have an almost 3 year old, and rarely drive anywhere. We walk to several grocery stores, downtown cafes / restaurants, a great bookstore, the library, parks, preschool, tumbling, music, etc. The neighborhoods are quite safe, and public schools are good. The parks & recreation department runs ''Wee Play'' two mornings a week for the 0-3 set, and good preschools (2, 3 or 5 days / week) in almost every park for ages 3-5. Both are very affordable. Housing costs seem comparable to Berkeley. We can't easily walk to BART, but my kid loves buses (including Trans-Bay), and the ferry. BART is only a few miles away.
Good luck! - a former Berkeley resident

You didn't mention whether you were renting or owning. For safety though, if you wish to stay in the city there's some good places to be found in the Russian Hill/Pacific Heights/Marina neighborhoods. The child density depends on the neighborhood/building. We're few blocks west of Van Ness, which is safe but not outrageously priced and importantly, we never use our car. We bus/BART to work in the East Bay, walk to get groceries, there's tons of parks around, libraries, Post Offices, anything you need. The East Bay is great too. Regardless of your choice, I would walk around the neighborhood of the place you're considering at various times of day, afternoon, and night before deciding, to see how it feels for you. Different streets can feel different, depending on high school traffic, proximity to shelters etc., as you know, moreover different people have a differing sense of what's safe. Good luck! anon

It won't be as easy to live with one, or zero, cars in Berkeley as in the Mission, but it can reasonably be done. My family of two working adults and an elementary school child have had one car for 10 years in Berkeley, near North Berkeley BART station.

San Francisco's transit system and widespread retail districts allow you to live almost anywhere in San Francisco with few or no cars. In Berkeley, you need to pick your spots more. I certainly wouldn't want to do it in the Hills or over west of 7th St. The areas around the 3 BART stations Ashby, Downtown Berkeley, North Berkeley are best. Within a 1/2 mile (about 10 minutes' walk) radius of each station there is at least one supermarket, drug store, library, post office, park, cafes and restaurants. Some of these facilities are a little further away from North Berkeley BART, they're over by San Pablo & University (a junction of two relatively frequent bus lines) about 2/3 of a mile away. The BART stations are also all served by a number of bus lines, especially Downtown Berkeley. Away from the BART stations, the only real good areas for low car living in terms of stores and transit are along University Ave. and along Shattuck Avenue.

I think moving your child(ren) around is likely to be the tough part, especially if you have no car. I'm able to walk my daughter to school in the morning about 1/3 of a mile but in the Berkeley public schools children don't necessarily attend their neighborhood school. Although we have a couple of different arrangements for different days of the week, the most frequent is that we pick her up by car at her after school care site in the North Shattuck area. I have walked home with her from there, but it's a bit of a stretch, about a mile and a quarter. Sometimes we've been able to do this by bus, but east-west bus service for a trip like that is much more limited than north-south bus service, the only frequent east-west lines are on University and Solano.

I'm not a big cyclist, but Berkeley certainly looks like a good town for cycling in the flatlands, lots of people do it, there are defined Bike Boulevards which cross the city but are away from the major streets. One could presumably handle a lot of the running around town for errands trips, that I tend to drive for, on a bike.

Welcome to Berkeley - the more people here who aren't car-oriented, the better.