Living in Berkeley: Elmwood District
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Where to live - Elmwood or Rockridge?April 2012
We are moving from SF to the East Bay and trying to determine whether Elmwood, Berkeley or Rockridge, Oakland will be better for for our family. We have two kids -- 2 and 1 -- and we are planning on having one or maybe two more. We are 30ish professionals, but I am currently a SAHM while I reconsider my career options. We are Middle Eastern, and we value diversity quite a bit. Other priorities include great neighborhood, strong community feel, walkability, good schools, and a hip but not too hip vibe. We are NYC transplants, and though we LOVE the Bay Area, we definitely miss that NYC/Brooklyn edge at times. The key thing for us is that we want a home and a neighborhood in which we can raise our children and grow old. Therefore, we are looking for a stable community that offers us a mix of cultures and age groups while maintaining a bit of an edge. Also, cost isn't a huge factor, as our income can support a home in either places. Any suggestions and insights are welcome! Thank!! Soon to be new in town
One factor to consider, since you have kids, is the schools. I know it's hard to think so far down the road, but it is another factor that will sooner, rather than later become an issue in your life. In the Elmwood you have access to Berkeley Public Schools, in Rockridge you have Oakland schools. So, you might want to do some research on the California Department of Education website about API scores etc...and on BPN about school experiences, as you begin house hunting.
I live in Oakland in a fantastic house, in an up and coming area, but we weren't thinking about these things when we bought, didn't even have a kid then So currently we're homeschooling and looking at private schools for the future... Food for Thought and Grounds for Further Research
I'd go with Elmwood. Rockridge is the Oakland school system, and while the local elementary is fine, my understanding is that the high school that Rockridge kids go to is not so great. While Berkeley schools can be frustrating, overall they're pretty good all the way through high school. Piedmont is supposed to be the best for schools, though, if you can afford it.
I've lived in both Elmwood and Rockridge for 20+ years - I now live in Berkeley in the Claremont district just a few blocks from Elmwood. Elmwood and Rockridge are very similar, and so close to each other that, depending on where you live, you can easily live in one and walk to places in the other. It's about a 15 minute walk from my house to either Elmwood or Rockridge, so I shop on foot in both neighborhoods.
One obvious difference is they are in two different school districts. In Oakland, you will know ahead of time which school your kids will be assigned to - it depends on where your house is. In Berkeley, you will be assigned to one of four schools, very possibly to one that is too far to walk to. There are Rockridge schools that have better 'numbers' than Berkeley schools, again depending on where you live in Oakland, and which school you are assigned to in Berkeley. So I wouldn't necessarily let the school district be your determining factor. I think that houses are cheaper in Rockridge because of the perceived school district difference.
I actually enjoyed life in Rockridge better in terms of getting to work and shopping for food. There's a BART station in Rockridge, more restaurants, more markets. Elmwood has a selection of restaurants, but not as many. Elmwood does have a movie theater and a nice library (as does Rockridge) but if you live in Elmwood you can't really run out on foot for a piece of fish and fresh veggies for dinner. In the Elmwood, for a last minute dinner, you are looking at either a restaurant or high end takeout like Summer Kitchen. In Rockridge you have Safeway, Ver Brugge, and Yasai Market all clustered together, and of course Market Hall a little further down. This is so convenient, on the way home from work, or while you're out for a stroll with the baby.
I would say that Elmwood is more upscale than Rockridge, and with an older demographic than Rockridge. I do see plenty of people pushing strollers in both places, but more in Rockridge. If you really want a more hip neighborhood, though, you want Temescal! a mom
I would definitely stick to Berkeley if your intention is to send your kids to public schools. Berkeley has good schools K-12, and in Oakland the middle and high schools can be rougher and sketchier... I prefer North Berkeley, as it is safe, clean, yet still has cool and funky shopping and dining areas. I'd look north of University and east of San Pablo. The hills are nice, but not walkable to most places in town. Happy mom of 3 in N. Berkeley
Both Rockridge and Elmwood are beautiful, safe, fun and hip neighborhoods with gorgeous houses. Both neighborhoods are VERY predominantly white. We would choose Elmwood for these reasons: Berkeley schools are much better and Rockridge is closer to the freeway (we would not want our family breathing CO all the time). To us, Elmwood also just has this amazing charm. In Elmwood, I would be careful to check about neighbors, if there are houses rented to college students nearby (noise). But there really is no edge in Elmwood (I'm a New Yorker, so I know what you mean) as far as I can tell. I recommend walking around these neighborhoods and see how they feel to you. The stores on College are overpriced and esp in Rockridge, overly quaint. You can look up ethnic or racial make-up on the web (not sure where) for different neighborhoods. Berkeley west of Telegraph or the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland will give you more diversity and more edge. There are some gorgeous craftsman houses in those areas too. Good luck.
I'm a Brooklyn transplant too, and we moved from SF to the Elmwood nine years ago. Elmwood's proximity to Cal gives this neighborhood the real feel of a college town, with all its pluses and minuses. You can't beat the diversity of wandering toward campus with your kid like we did this morning, and stumbling upon the Indian Student Association's Holi festival and getting pelted with fragrant colored powder. There's great theater downtown; undeveloped hills with owls and coyotes are just a few blocks east; a nice park or two for the little ones, and decent eats are all nearby (better eats farther afield); a variety of churches, synagogues, and Berkeley's only mosque are right in the neighborhood.
Rockridge is a fun shopping and dining district, with proximity to Temescal and Uptown which of course are hipster neighborhoods par excellence. Oakland is pretty much the Brooklyn of the Bay Area, very diverse, past its golden era of working-class pride but bubbling with artisan/locavore/indie energy. With BART and the highway right there, it's also faster getting to other parts of town than from the Elmwood, which gets clogged at rush hours.
The public schools are where you'll find the biggest difference. Berkeley has very high taxes to offset California's lousy school funding, and also buses its students, so all of its elementary schools are similarly (very) diverse racially and economically. There's really not a bad school in town. Oakland schools are zoned by neighborhood for the most part. In the Rockridge area, there are some excellent public schools with mostly affluent families whose PTAs raise $250K or more a year--but of all the white families in Oakland I know, not a single one has stayed in OUSD all the way through high school. glad 2 B in Elmwood
Editor Note: this discussion also appears on the page about Rockridge
New to Elmwood/Rockridge - activities with baby & toddler?April 2011
We are from England and next week we are moving to Elmwood/Rockridge for a year with our 2 year old and 3 month old girls. I'll be at home with the kids no car, and my husband will be commuting to Livermore so working long days so i'm in need of advice as quite scared about being so far from friends and family!!! I'm looking for things to do with my toddler, ideally I would like to get her into some kind of childcare (pre-school/nanny-share) 2 or 3 mornings per week but would also like to know about any singing groups, parks, music, libraries, drop ins or other activities which i can walk or bus to and hopefully meet other parents. Also are there any toy libraries? It seems silly to bring lots of toys and baby kit out or buy them all again! Finally any advice on how/ where to buy a second hand car? thanks and sorry for all the questions!! cathy
Welcome! I can speak more about Elmwood and South Berkeley than Rockridge -- you will surely get some great suggestions from both areas. A good place to meet other moms of babies is at the Alta Bates new mothers support groups, which are drop-in: http://www.absmcparented.org/class_detail.php
Berkeley Public Libraries have some toddler-friendly activities, though the Claremont Branch (Elmwood) is closing for renovations very soon. http://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/children/programs-and-events/
I highly recommend purchasing a membership to Habitot in downtown Berkeley. For $140 for one year, you have access to play at Habitot with your children, and borrow from their toy lending library and library of parenting books, and I it appears that you may even have reciprocal access to Lawrence Hall of Science, which your 3 year old may enjoy. It is a wonderful place!!
Note: suggestions were also received for Rockridge
Re: Kid friendly neighborhoods in the East Bay My daughter is in a nanny share in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley. The homes and yards are beautiful, lots of Craftsman and shingle style homes, tree-lined streets, etc. The home is on a dead-end street with lots of kids, an easy walk from Bateman Tot Park (near Alta Bates Hospital)and Willard Park. Elmwood and Rockridge shops and restaurants are in walking distance. FWIW, they live on Lewiston between Woolsey and Alcatraz, and I think there is at least one home expected to come up for sale soon. I'd live there if I could afford it. Carrie