Living in El Sobrante

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi, I'm a mom of a trans girl who just finished kindergarten.  We are moving out of Oakland, and are eyeing El Sobrante, Pinole and Hercules as our next place to live.  So far our experience with having a trans kid has been great, in her OUSD school everyone has been accepting and affirming!  Can anyone give me insight into how trans friendly El Sob, Pinole and Hercules are?  She's such a sweet little girl who doesn't even know that anyone would hate her for being her authentic self.  I want to make sure that she's protected from bullying, and that she'll have adults on her side looking out for her.  Also, suggestions on towns or public schools to avoid would be very helpful, in case we have to expand our search area.

    (For data points, we're looking for a 3b/2ba house under $900k.  We work remotely, so we don't have to worry about commute.  We'd like to stay close-ish to Oakland in order to maintain our friendships there, but are generally priced out of Oakland, Alameda, Emeryville & Berkeley.)

    I don't have experience living in those areas, but my child just interviewed at The Berkeley School which is a private school in Berkeley, and they appear to have an equitable sliding scale pricing model. So maybe that is something to consider if you end up living close enough. 

    Have you thought about El Cerrito? Our trans teen came out in middle school and had a great experience at Prospect Sierra. In the two decades we've lived in our house an adult came out on the block and another teen. Acceptance from all the neighbors. 

    I'm the mom of a trans teen and though your daughter is younger, I wanted to let you know we had a wonderful experience at Summit K2 in El Cerrito. It's not a perfect place (fair amount of teacher turnover) but the teachers are smart and caring, the community is diverse, and the local school leadership has always worked hard to make it an inclusive community for all groups including trans children. Something to think about for when your child is older. Given your price range, I suggest you look into Richmond Annex -- cute neighborhood that's very walkable, good community vibe, more affordable than Kensington or Albany, and easier to get to Oakland than El Sob, Pinole, or Hercules. Good luck with your move! 

  • living in el sobrante?

    (5 replies)

    Last post about El Sobrante is from 3 years ago - would love to hear current thought on moving there full time. We are a family of three, with a two year old, moving from NYC but I was born and raised in North Berkeley and we spend summers there with my parents. I'm interested in the East Bay Waldorf School. I'm curious if there is a RIE community there (I saw that classes are held at EBWS and if there is any kind of Body-Mind Centering community. The last two are obscure references I'm not sure anyone will relate to :) In general, would love to hear thoughts on El Sobrante for a young family interested in local foods & outdoors & like minded progressive community. 


    We live in El Sobrante (technically the Richmond incorporated section of May Valley) and are a “toasted” RIE family with a toddler. It’s definitely an interesting little pocket of the Bay Area! We love it with some reservations. Pros: we could afford to buy out here (barely), it’s close to tons of nature and trails (like we hear coyotes howling and get foxes playing in our yard. Very safe, and friendly, diverse neighbors (we aren’t the only LGBT family in the neighborhood and it’s ethnically and economically quite diverse), parents like the elementary schools and the waldorf school is beautiful if a little run down. Cons: There are very very limited restaurants and shopping options (the main commercial strip of San Pablo Damn Rd looks like it was transplanted from a ghost town in the rural Midwest but Pinole has limited but acceptable restaurants) with traffic it’s pretty far from everything (but close to Orinda if you go get back way) and El Sobrante proper is extremely run down and junky but it also has a weird charm in that you’ll see goats and horses and chickens in peoples yards. If possible I’d move to the incorporated Richmond section- you’ll get more services and have sidewalks. Overall we’ve learned to love this quirky place, May Valley is very suburban with a rural twist and absolutely gorgeous views and rolling hills. Will definitely be an adjustment coming from NYC, it’ll feel more like the jersey suburbs (I’m from Philly). 

    Hi Lina,

    We have lived in El Sobrante for over 7 years now, and my son attends EBWS. We are very happy. El Sobrante is nicely located, a rural type feel with lots of nearby regional parks and open spaces, while being not too far away from the more *happening* areas like Oakland and Berkeley. Under normal circumstances the traffic on the I-80 between Berkeley and El Sobrante can get very bogged down. (Westbound in the morning and Eastbound in the afternoon). Obviously traffic is cleared these days given the quarantine. I imagine that pattern will return once the state opens back up but who really knows for sure? Getting over to Oakland you can just take San Pablo Dam Road through Orinda to get to the 24, or to go to Walnut Creek. The Dam road as we call it does have commute traffic patterns as well. Pinole is nearby, where there is a Trader Joe's and Sprouts, and a cute little downtown area with bakeries, coffee places, restaurants, and a farmer's market. I was also born and raised in North Berkeley, where my folks still live. While there is a lovely community at the school itself, in my experience EBWS is kind of it's own little bubble in the immediate vicinity of El Sobrante. The types of businesses located in El Sobrante itself are pretty much along the lines of functional: gas stations, auto repair, self storage, restaurants, veterinary, hair/nail places, pharmacy, grocery, etc. We have a lovely and popular swim school called Canyon Swim School. If you're looking for places such as the nearest yoga studio would be around Orinda or El Cerrito. Wildcat Canyon and Kennedy Grove regional parks are lovely, and we like the drive to Tilden from here as well. I hope I'm getting to the gist of your questions. We really love living here in El Sobrante.



    EBWS RIE family here (3.5-year-old and 8-month-old, live in Pinole) -- we relate! :)

    I can tell you that at least in the Early Childhood part of the school (through kindergarten), there are plenty of people who "speak RIE." We started attending parent-child classes when our first child was 7 months old and have been involved with the school continuously ever since. Our plan right now (COVID-19 lockdowns permitting of course!) is for Big Kid to enter her second year of 3-day preschool in the fall, Little Kid to continue parent-child classes, and our family to continue being EBWS community members for many years to come.

    We love, love, love the school. The parent community is fantastic; while we didn't do a lot of playdates w/other families during the parent-child years for whatever reason, as soon as we entered the preschool we found ourselves welcomed into a great community. We now (ordinarily) hang out with other EBWS families all the time, and have made many "parent friends" right alongside our kid's friends. The preschool teachers (and all the teachers, as far as I can tell!) are wonderful, lovely and warm. The campus is gorgeous; the kids get literally hours of outdoor time every week (even the older kids); and there's a fantastic new administrator who really works hard to communicate with parents, reach out to the greater community, and make sure the school has a strong foundation to be around for another 40 years.

    The parent-child teacher is RIE-certified and widely regarded as nothing short of a miracle worker :) in her "older toddlers" class, which I think is where your child would start if they're currently 2, she regularly gets 6 toddlers sitting quietly at a child-sized table eating oatmeal. On a rug. Where they can get up and walk away at any time. After I'd seen it a few times I would always look forward to seeing new parents witness the fantastic work she does -- it's really a great place to "fill up" on RIE principles and methods so that you can strive to be more aligned with your kid for the rest of the week.

    I can't speak to life in El Sobrante specifically, but I can tell you that we love living in Pinole (we're in Pinole Valley, a 10-minute drive from school). There are tons of nearby hiking trails, a weekly farmers' market, a local pick-your-own organic farm, several great local nurseries. Depending on the size of your lot, you can have chickens, bees, and potentially even small livestock (you'd need an unusually big lot to do that last one in Pinole, but I think El Sobrante rules might be a LITTLE looser). There's not a lot in terms of "organized" family activities yet (speaking as someone who spent the first few months of the year developing the West Contra Costa County Family Nature Club :)) but I think there are a lot of outdoorsy young families who are interested in the same things you are. And as far as community/EBWS connections go, I know that something like 2/3 of the student body lives in West Contra Costa (between El Cerrito and the Carquinez Bridge).

    Happy to answer more questions -- about anything -- if you have them. We love our school and our community.

    Hi I bought our family home in El Sobrante 11 years ago - and we still super happy here ! It’s green easy connect to Tilden, little Farm - and my son went to EBWS which we loved ! There’s a awesome community of parents and teachers there. I think your family will like it here ! 

    Hi Lina, 

    We live in East Richmond Heights and are also interested in the East Bay Waldorf School (we are a family of 3, and our our daughter is 10 months). We really enjoy living here, having moved here 1.5 years ago from North Berkeley. One of our favorite aspects of living here is the proximity to Wildcat Canyon, a regional park that is a 7 minute walk from us. :) In terms of local foods and like-minded families we're still seeking out ways to connect with those resources and families here. I'm less familiar with El Sobrante but as others have said here there isn't a distinct downtown in Richmond and just a few coffee shops / community gathering places. We imagine (and hope!) that once our daughter is in school that we'll give us a chance to connect with more like-minded families. Feel free to reach out to me directly with any additional questions you might have! 


  • Good Realtor in El Sobrante area?

    (3 replies)

    Hello fellow parents!  Does anyone know a really good realtor in the El Sobrante area that they can recommend? Someone who has worked there and perhaps lived there for a long time? And someone who is very good at getting offers accepted of course! I would greatly appreciate any help anyone can give!

    Many thanks! 

    Maddox Realtors im Pinole.  Jason or Jamie are the best. We have sold 2 houses and bought one  thru them and they are awesome. Lived in the area all their lives. Extremely knowledgeable, knows the area and takes the stress out of buying a home.   Check out their reviews. 

    Declan Spring from Red Oak Realty on Solano helped us get our home in Pinole in 2013; he was fantastic. He really knows the area and gave us a realistic sense of what we could afford with our budget, what we should expect in terms of the condition our house was likely to be in, and even a sense of local restaurants and parks :) We are hoping to stay in our home for many more years, but if we find ourselves in the market again we will definitely seek out his help.

    I recommend Pamela Oettel, who knows that area quite well.  We worked with her 2 years ago.  My parents used to live in El Sobrante, and you do want someone who knows the area personally.  Hardworking, honest, great personality, a pleasure to work with.

  • Like most of the previous questions, we’re considering a move to El Sobrante from N. Berkeley. We moved to the Bay Area a little less than 2 years ago from New York and so far love it. We’re a small family of 3, with a 3 year old. We have been looking to stop renting and buy a home for a few months but it’s been a struggle. Albany has great schools but is a very small footprint with high demand and high prices. Pushing north, El Cerrito seemed like a great possibility but so far hasn’t been much better. Kensington is wonderful, but as off limits as Berkeley. Next up is Richmond and, it’s just too close to environmental hazards for our comfort. Overall we’ve been very turned off by the quality of the houses that start at what we consider a doable asking price that then is raised significantly by high offers. El Sobrante has come up a few times, and we’re not too familiar with the area other than it’s proximity to outdoor recreation—which is a high value for us. As is fresh organic food (which we’d love to grow some ourselves), progressive minded people, and a rich fabric of people from diverse backgrounds. Logistically it seems a little tricky: Our daughter is starting preschool in Berkeley soon. My husband works in San Francisco and currently commutes via the Transbay Bus. Any recent thoughts on living in El Sobrante? Any commuters to the city?

    We live next door, in Pinole.  Some parts of El Sobrante are really lovely and some parts are downright weird since it is unincorporated.  A few years ago when we moved it wasn't unheard of to see someone riding their horse to the local liquor store.  Lots of people have big gardens and raise chickens, we know one family there that also has sheep and goats.  The neighborhoods near Kennedy Grove are lovely and get a highly regarded elementary school, Olinda.  Pinole is close by, and has a Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Peet's, etc. and a bunch of other big chain names.  People seem to flow easily between El Sobrante, Pinole, and Hercules.  Pinole also has a decent weekly Farmer's Market with at least a few organic vendors.  This whole area is very diverse and we've met a lot of progressively minded people here, although we've also met a few older folks who definitely were not.  I get the feeling this used to be a very conservative area but that a lot of the old guard is aging out/moving on and younger, more progressive families are moving in.  

    If we ever win the lottery we will move to Northbrae in Berkeley, but in the meantime we just feel fortunate to have found a section of the Bay Area that is still affordable and nice.  We love being here, and the outdoor recreation availability has been more amazing than we first thought.  It's awesome to be able to walk out your front door and access the Ridge Trail.   Logistically: There is a truly excellent play based preschool in El Sobrante called Sunshine Playschool that I would highly recommend over driving to Berkeley.  Your husband can take the Lynx bus from the park and ride in Hercules to the Transbay Terminal in downtown SF.

    Consider Hercules. Great community. Family friendly and safe. Very diverse.

    We live in Carriage Hills which is small community out in the valley between El Sobrante and Pinole. (It is officially considered unincorporated Richmond with an El Sobrante zip) It is an awesome neighborhood with lots of space. The commute into the city is about an hour(my husband casual carpools into the city from Orinda or El Cerrito.) The commute into Berkeley is anout 30 min taking side streets when there is traffic. There are other parts of El Sobrante that are nice but not all areas. Pinole is another consideration for families. Hope this helps. I love living out in the valley even though we have to drive in to the city. It's always nice coming home to a quiet family friendly. neighborhood.(and the weather is always nicer in the valley)

    We bought a house next door in Pinole in 2013 and love it here. We have friends who commute to the city -- there is an express bus to downtown SF that picks up from Richmond Parkway Transit Center, and my husband works in Berkeley and gets there by either car (San Pablo Dam Rd to 24 to avoid 80) or commuter bus (picks up right downtown, a 5-minute drive from our house, and goes to Del Norte BART). Pinole has a farmer's market and CSA subscription options; there's a small pick-your-own farm in El Sobrante. We have neighbors from a wide range of racial/ethnic backgrounds, and another friend, a former Lutheran minister, pointed out that El Sobrante has just about every house of worship you can name in one small parcel of land :)

    If you have specific questions, feel free to contact me directly. I would also highly recommend the realtor we worked with, Declan Spring from Red Oak Realty; he knows West County very well and is good at meeting people where they're at and giving them a realistic sense of their options.

    El Sobrante is a quaint little town but depending on where you live in El Sobrante, it could be less than ideal.  Stay far from San Pablo Dam Road because it's busy and a bit dirty but getting something in the hills would be ideal.  There is also three of us in my family, my husband and I commute to SF daily and we use the Orinda BART.  It's closest to our home and not to mention the ease of commuting on San Pablo Dam Road from Orinda is peaceful, serene and just better than the alternative.  I'm  also from New York (Brooklyn).  

    If you're looking for quiet, family oriented and kind of a hippie vibe- then come on over.   We actually live at the border of Richmond and El Sobrante.  If you google map my address El Sobrante comes up instead of Richmond. We're situated in the regional park and not far from the entrance to the El Sobrante Ridge.  There are lots of hiking and space for your family to enjoy.  I can't say I love the school options but there is always "district transfer" to get your kid in a good school.  Overall, great neighborhood, lots of land for your money if you could get something in Carriage's a little known secret neighborhood and it's splendid..we love it.  

    El Sobrante is relatively a nice little town that is in need of a makeover. It doesn't really have anything other than residential homes.  We pretty much shop for everything we need outside of it.  Whether it be in Orinda on one end or Pinole on the other end. 

    We bought our home four years ago and the price has gone up 200K.  I would say if you could get something in Carriage Hills North or South, take it because the price is steadily rising. We consider ourselves very, very lucky to have been in the position at the right time to purchase.  Good luck and if you want to talk more or come see the place, contact me and I'll happy to show you around a bit.

    My parents lived in El Sobrante until 2010, so my information is a little out of date, but it doesn't seem to have changed much.

    The main shopping area has a really good grocery store (Raley's) and great hardware store (Olivers) and a pretty good thrift store.  Otherwise it's unremarkable and looks like a small town in the middle of nowhere; the main movie theater has been converted to a church.  However, Hilltop Mall is pretty close for alternative shopping.  El Sobrante is unincorporated, so you have county services (sheriff, etc.), not city services.  So you'll need to be especially vigilant about house inspections, drainage, etc., because there are no city codes.  Contact the school district to find out where and how students are assigned to schools. I believe the nearest hospital has closed, so you will want to investigate the nearest emergency room.  Census data indicates people tend overall to earn less money and be less well educated than Berkeley/Albany area, and it's fairly diverse racially.  When my parents lived there, neighbors were cordial but didn't socialize much, and no one was particularly progressive (or regressive).  (As housing prices have skyrocketed, that may have changed.)  There is a significant Sikh minority population because of the Gudwara Sahib building on Hillcrest.  You'll have to drive a ways to get to the Richmond or El Cerrito BART stations. I don't now about Transbay bus service there, so check transit options carefully. There's a ferry to SF from Vallejo, but that's not an easy or cheap commute.

    The major problem I know of is that Highway 80 northbound is very congested and there are frequent traffic jams and closures around the two main off-ramps to El Sobrante.  I've heard rumors of gang-related shootings around there, but those are often exaggerated in the media. Do check the crime statistics with the CHP and the West County Contra Costa Sheriff's office. From what I've seen, you'll get more space for your money in ES, but house conditions and neighborhoods vary widely.

    You might also take a look at Pinole and see if that appeals to you.

    Good luck!

    Have you looked in the Richmond Marina or maybe Point Richmond? The houses are newer and prices are not as crazy as El Cerrito or Berkeley. 

    I commute into SF everyday but I drive. When I don't I park at El Cerrito Del Norte Bart station it's easy and fast. 

    Good luck! 

    I may be in a rut, but regularly when people talk about going north to find housing, I mention the Richmond Annex. Right across the street from El Cerrito, literally. Our daughter and son in law moved there a couple of years ago, and are happy they didn't get a place in Albany or Berkeley. As our son in law says, "El Cerrito living at Richmond prices". Actually more removed from environmental hazards than most of El Cerrito, which is further north and closer to the refinery. Richmond Annex has even rather quaint family values, like stork flag embroidered with names of local children born in the neighborhood, almost a throwback to a kinder gentler past.

    Feel free to message me.  My family lived in El Sobrante the first 14 years of my child's life. Rebecca 

    I would consider Pinole and Hercules too.

Parent Reviews

We just moved to the El sobrante section of Richmond and love it so far! Our 12m old will likely attend Valley View elementary which parents seem to like. The neighborhood is diverse but a little light on the LGBT families as far as we have seen so far but we are queer and recruiting;)

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Moving to Carriage Hills

Oct 2012

We've been house-hunting in the El Sobrante and Richmond area for the past couple of months. Initially I was put off from Carriage Hills because I don't like HOAs, but am now reconsidering. I like the idea of easy access to hiking and biking trails. What's it like to live there? Safe and friendly? And how intrusive is the HOA? For example, is is permitted to have a veggie garden and compost heap in the back yard? Julia

I don't live in Carriage Hills, so I can't speak to the HOA specifically, but I live in another nearby neighborhood in the Richmond/El Sobrante area-- I think it's a great place to live. We have so much more space/land/access to nature than we could possibly get in many other parts of the East Bay, it's a really diverse community, there are some great elementary schools in the area (carriage hills is zoned for Olinda, I think, which was named a distinguished school this year). Carriage Hills is a little more remote than some other parts of El Sobrante/Richmond, but even still you can get places pretty quickly-- either via the I-80 in Pinole, or take San Pablo Dam Rd either to Tilden (over the hill to Berkeley) or into Orinda where there's the 24. Other areas around here to consider are the Sherwood Forest area (very cute, tons of families), or May Valley (older houses than carriage hills, but less expensive too and no HOA). As you probably know, about half of the houses in El Sobrante are unincorporated, and half are part of Richmond-- the unincorporated parts tend to be funkier, which is cool, though the Richmond part (where I live) tends to have advantages like sidewalks, more police availability, access to Richmond city services, etc. But both are fine, I think. --Richmond-El Sobrante-ite

Buying in Pinole/San Pablo/El Sobrante?

May 2012

We are looking into buying in the Pinole/San Pablo/El Sobrante area and would love some input from everyone since the previous posts are a bit old. Is it safe for small children? How are the schools? Are there things to do for a SAHM? We are looking to buy, but would also like to know how easy a house would be to rent. Any recommendations on good areas are also appreciated. What has been your experience in the area? Thanks Helen

I live nearby Pinole in the El Sobrante area of Richmond, and I think the Pinole/El Sobrante area makes a really nice community. It's very diverse, in terms of race/ethnicity and economics/class, there are a lot of people raising families out here, a lot of SAHM (and also working moms). Many of the elementary schools are quite good, the middle and high schools are a bit uneven, but there are good programs/niches within them. One complaint about the area is that it's very car oriented, you have to drive everywhere, lots of chain stores/restaurants, and you have to drive to either Berkeley/Oakland area or Walnut Creek/Concord area to go to most kid type places (other than parks which we have tons of). But on the upside we are so close to beautiful countryside, the bay, the woods, etc. So, I think it's a fair trade-off. Would I live somewhere else if I had the money to buy an $800,000 house or something? Possibly. But given that I really don't, this is not a bad place to raise a family. --west county mom

I can offer some perspective on El Sobrante. We bought a house in the May Valley area in 2008 and are very happy. The neighborhood is very quiet overall and seems relatively safe. Our house was broken into last year unfortunately, but I do think that happens in many neighborhoods/cities including wealthier ones. There are 2 very good elementary schools in the area, Olinda and Valley View. The schools after that are not quite as good (although they are completely rebuilding DeAnza), so we will need to cross that bridge in several years (we have a 26 month old son).

We have a very nice group of diverse neighbors, and it seems like I am seeing more and more small children in the neighborhood. I do know there have been a few houses for rent on our surrounding streets, but it would also be a great time to buy (houses have come down significantly in price, to your benefit, but unfortunately not ours). anon

Moving to Whitecliff area in El Sobrante

June 2011

Hello! We are looking to move to the Whitecliff area in El Sobrante. We have 2 kids and want to know if it is a nice family oriented area and if it is a safe place for us...I have very little info. and need your help! Thank you!

We live in El Sobrante [technically Richmond], just a few blocks from the area your real estate agent likely describes as the Whitecliff area, on the other side of May road (I don't know anyone besides real estate agents who use this label though). We've found it to be a wonderful, family friendly area. There are more and more young families moving to El Sobrante and Pinole due to affordable housing and the ability to have larger plots, access to nature, etc. We don't have the abundance of resources of some other parts of the east bay (whether that be Berkeley/Oakland, or Walnut Creek/Concord/etc.)and you will find yourself having to head out onto the freeway for some things (my biggest complaint). The neighborhood is walkable and friendly, but you can't really walk to stores, etc. (okay, my other complaint) But at the same time, we do have our own local gems (of restaraunts, etc.) There's really a small town feel here, which is lovely. The school situation in WCCSD isn't great, but I think most public school systems in CA are hurting right now and a number of the elementary schools in the neighborhood are quite good. --el sobrante mama

Living in El Sobrante

June 2008

We currently live in Lafayette. I know this is supposed to be the ultimate desireable place to live, but I'm miserable. The values here are achievement and materially -oriented, aspiritual and apolitical. Everyone looks the same. The schools get high test scores, but it's because there is so much homework the kids are all sleep-deprived.

I am looking to relocate to a community which is progressive to alternative and artsy, and values creativity, questioning, and genuine intellectual activity versus an MBA degree from a name college. We are middle income (which translates to struggling in the Bay Area!) and also, of course, want some place safe for our kids to play and attend public schools. I also value the natural world very, very highly.

I am interested in El Sobrante. There is so much land there and Open Space, and it is affordable.

Is there a community of progressive people in El Sobrante? Is it safe? Can anyone recommend neighborhoods of artsy/hippie/progressive folks raising kids? Are there neighborhoods to avoid (safety)?

Sorry I'm sounding so negative but I'm just having a low moment over here today! Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. Jasmine

Sorry to hear about your experience with Lafayette but I understand you completely. My inlaws leave there and I call it ''lala'' land. My husband, 2 kids and I live in El Cerrito and love it. Schools are not bad though I am not fond of the middle and high school. Bad rep. El Sobrante has some great areas and I think you would enjoy the area before Carriage hills off of Hillside drive. I just sold a house there and the neighbors were all there because they wanted to have their little community. It has an entrance to Kennedy Grove Park as well. Very few homes come on the market there. Otherwise the area off of May Road has some nice homes and Valley View Elementary school which is considered a good school. good luck. Catherine

El Sobrante has some lovely areas with larger lots, more reasonable prices, and a semi-rural atmosphere. It is slowly evolving into a more sophisticated area, but retains a great deal of its ''redneck'' tradition (said in a positive sense). It is reasonably safe (there are a few areas where several meth labs have been raided), and it is in close proximity to recreational areas such as San Pablo Reservoir and the Briones and Kennedy Grove areas. It is also close to Tilden Park.

The ''downside'' is the school system. It is part of the West Contra Costa Unified School District (formerly Richmond Unified) and, while the elementary schools are reasonably good in El Sobrante proper, the middle and high schools, IMO, leave much to be desired. If I had young kids, and wanted to stay in El Sobrante (where I now live), I would seriously consider private school.

Public transit is also less-than-favorable. The Orinda BART is relatively close, but involves a bus ride on The County Connection or a 10 to 15 minute car drive (with parking charges) to the BART station, but the BART connections are good (the line is the one which goes to San Francisco and SFO Airport directly. Robert

Hi Jasmine,

I live in El Sobrante, in one of the developments off of Castro Ranch Rd. We certainly have lots and lots of open land around us. Makes for quiet nights (unless the cows are mooing!), beautiful scenery, and gorgeous bicycle riding right outside your door.

The huge downside, of course, is the current state of the school district. I would seriously ponder what you want from your institutionalized schooling services (unless you intend on pursing alternative routes such as charters, homeschools, etc.) before you move. In general, the stressors here revolve around lack of resources, whereas the stressors there seem to revolve around diminishing returns and the perceived need to be ''on top.''

I don't know of specific artsy/hippie/progressive neighborhoods. Carriage Hills has been pretty safe but we've had our share of vandelism, car theft, etc. Coming from Lafayette, crime might seem higher just by relative perspective.

So, you are looking for a spiritual, political, less status driven mention progressive, alternative, artsy, creative and intellectually the cuff, it sounds pretty Berkeley to me.

Aside from the location of your house, and I could be wrong, but I don't think you'll find all of these things as a factor of where you live but rather, who you cultivate friendships with. We live amongst attorneys, MBA'ers, entrepreneurs, blue-collars, pink collars, rednecks, etc. It is quite a mix of demographics....much like the housing structures. good luck with your search!

There is certainly a progressive community in El Sobrante interested in environmental conservation, electoral issues and Barack Obama, the Waldorf School (progressive education). Our supermarket, Raley's, has a great natural foods section. My own interests are in the arts and particularly animal husbandry and environmental conservation of land. I was successful in obtaining a clean up grant for a local riding stable to aid in conserving the integrity of our local creek, and teach horseback riding with a strong eye toward loving integrity of land and horses and people. Kari

Editor Note: Reviews were also received for El Cerrito because the heading on the original question was Living in El Sobrante or El Cerrito.

2004 - 2007 Reviews

May 2007

Re: Safe, family--oriented neighborhood?
We love El Sobrante. We moved to El Sobrante from Albany in order to purchase a larger home. El Sobrante is somewhat rural (there are horses and goats in our neighborhood), diverse and family friendly. It is also very safe. There is an active neighborhood association which just oversaw the installation of a brand new toddler/kid park. Olinda and Valley View are wonderful schools. I have heard great things about them from parents who have children there. There is a beautiful creek, library, boys and girls club, dance studio, soccer league, and some great restaurants (peruvian, salvadoran, chinese, italian, mexican, indian as well as local breakfast places). The Lakeridge Athletic Club is also in El Sobrante and offers swim, tennis and other aerobic classes and camps. We also have Canyon Swim school which is quite popular for children's swim lessons. One of my favorite places is Central Foods on Appian which just changed owners and has lots of organic and natural products, produce and meats. Another wonderful place is Eco Village Farm which is a community learning project for sustainable farming. The weather is great, just outside the fog belt. My husband works at UC Berkeley which is a 20 minute ride. He can also drive the back way through Tilden to avoid traffic. We are very happy here. Come check it out! Loving El Sobrante

Is El Sobrante queer-friendly?

March 2005

I'm growing weary of our small, old North Berkeley home. It's in the best location in the universe, near totland, gourmet ghetto, BART, all the wonderful things Berkeley has to offer BUT a) we're too close to our neighbors and b) to be the house we want it to be, we'd have to sink another $100k into it and c) we can't afford all those gourmet ghetto restaurants and stores anyway! We have an infant and are planning another baby. We're a lesbian couple. So here's what I want to know: I've heard some great things about El Sobrante -- chiefly that you're so close to the regional park and you get so much more house and land for your money. But I'd love to hear from some lesbian/gay couples: is El Sobrante queer-friendly? And I'd love to hear from anyone who has kids who's moved from Berkeley/Oakland: do you miss the city environment? Is there enough for your kids to do? What age do you think does best in El Sobrante v. in a more urban area like Berkeley? And is El Sobrante still a great deal comparatively? eyes on El Sobrante

We are a lesbian couple with a 3 year old and a newborn. We moved from Oakland to El Sobrante last summer and we love it. I left Oakland kicking and screaming, not wanting to leave. My partner stays home with our kids and she wanted to move and we could no longer afford Oakland. I relented because she's the one who has to really deal with where we live, i.e shopping, the neighbors, getting from point A to point B so I said okay. And I have to say I LOVE THE BURBS!!!!! Oh my god, with the Pinole shopping center right near our house, what used to take days to do with errands takes 1-2 hours, our nieghbors are so nice, the man next door mows our lawn, it's so quiet it really feels like we don't live around 5 million people, we live on 1/4 acre and i've met so many people who have just moved here because thay are being priced out from berkeley/oakland area that i think in a few years it will be an extension of that area. If you own your home in N Berk (sound like you do) you could buy a mansion here with a view. We have never felt anything remotely homophobic, there is so much more i could tell you, feel free to write to us and we can give you more insight into the area out here. We love it and I think it's one of the last overlooked areas in the BA. Of course I'd love to see more queers here so perhaps I'm biased but it rocks. erin

2003 & Earlier

Thinking of moving to El Sobrante

June 2003

My husband and I are thinking of moving to El Sobrante. We are looking for a more relaxed setting but not to far away from the city. I work in Berkeley and my husband works downtown San Francisco. We have a two year old son and we would like to know what peoples experience has been in moving to El Sobrante. We are looking to develop a group of friends who also work as we do, with kids that we can share time with on the weekends. What have your experiences been in moving there. What are the upsides to it and the downsides? Thanks, any thoughts are welcome. Chris

We moved to the El Sobrante area in 2001 from El Cerrito where we then found an affordable home and we love it! It has now appreciated well over $100,000. It is a beautiful, little known area with views of the Wildcat Canyon hills (hiking only minutes away), very peaceful and the weather is perfect, we're right on the edge of the fog line. It is an area with mostly 50'sh ranchers with a lot of old time residents, although that is changing with people moving in from the Berkeley area. It is remarkable that this area hasn't really ''caught on'' yet, it is very close to El cerrito/Berkeley/Orinda (about a 15-20 minute drive, usually) but yet totally isolated from that culture, almost like a time warp going back to the 50's. The down side: there is really no ''center'' to go to or much culture. The best restaurant is Uncle Sam's (Chinese buffet, incredibly good) in a defunct shopping center, no book stores or theaters. But hey, the Berkeley area is right around the corner. Valley View elmentary school is pretty decent, Waldorf is also in the neighborhood. Murphy and Sheldon schools are not so good. If living in an unpretentious, peaceful, friendly, spacious area without all the hype, this would be for you. It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to drive to either the EC Del Norte or Orinda Bart station around 7:00AM. Great place to raise kids! SF/Brkly/EC transplant.

Chris, My husband and I bought a house in El Sobrante nearly 4 years ago and really enjoy living in that area. The reason many people move there is the low cost of living. We were able to buy a newer, larger home than we could have afforded in Berkeley. In addition, it is quiet and peaceful. It is ethnically diverse and has the basic shops nearby (market, drug store, drycleaner, bank). There is an entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park off of Clark Street and Kennedy Park near the dam has a play ground and a huge openspace for little ones to run. The biggest downside for parents is the school system. The elementary schools are ok, but the high school performs very poorly in the annual testing. In addition, downtown El Sobrante is also not very attractive or well planned and can get quite busy with weekend traffic. Give me a holler if you have other questions or concerns. Cheers! Cindy

Hello Chris, We have lived in El Sobrante for five years. We moved here from central San Rafael. As you noted, there are pros and cons to living in El Sobrante, but then, there are pros and cons to living just about anywhere. I really like El Sobrante. I am active in a neighborhood mom's group, and it's great to have other families with young children near us. Some neighborhoods may be different, but our neighborhood has many families with young children and babies. We are close enough to SF to get there in 25 minutes on a Saturday morning (sans trafic), yet so far, we still have less local traffic than many other bay area towns. My favorite part of living here is watching the fog roll off the hills into the sunshine, it's beautiful. And our weather is great - when the fog rolls over the hills, it will be sunny here, while foggy in El Cerito. It's only hot a few weeks out of the year, and our winters are mild (compared to my mom's house in Union City). It does take a while to find the parks, fun library events, and events at Kennedy Grove that suit you and your family, but there are many things going on locally. There are several local hiking spots, horses, and fun farm vehicles for kids to see. Please feel free to email me when you move! grace

Is El Sobrante a nice place to live and raise a family?

July 2002

Does anyone know anything about El Sobrante? Is it a nice place to live and raise a family? Anna I moved to El Sobrante over a year ago from Montclair. I highly recommend the area....especially for raising a family. If you are planning on using the public school system and buy into the API ratings, you'll see that Valley View, Olinda and Ellerhorst all score between 8-10 (out of 10). You can ask your agent to show you houses that fall within the boundaries of these schools. Be careful, though, as the other local schools vary and some score very low on that same API scale.

Also check Pinole out. It is very pretty there and also out of the hubub. To get a good feel for the area I suggest you take a drive on the following roads and check the houses/developments on them: San Pablo Dam Rd (before Castro Ranch Rd), Castro Ranch Rd., Wright ave (off of Pinole Valley Rd), etc....

The only thing I *really* miss out here are independent stores for books, for groceries, for restaurant food, etc. ...but all is within a 1/2 hourish drive...... good luck, ---lucia

I lived in El Sobrante for 6 years. I think it's getting better every year as more development happens. It has pleasant weather, and easy access to the freeway. I have siblings who attend Pinole Valley High, and it is not a very good school. There are lots of kids who are not into academics there and who are a bad influence on others (according to my step-mom), though I'm sure that can be anywhere. My sister went to two different private Christian schools, and both were not very academic either. a.m.

Regarding El Sobrante-- it's like so many places in the Bay Area--a lot depends on your individual neighborhood and neighbors. We've lived here for 2 years and bought here because we had a need for more space than what we could have purchased in Berkeley for the same money. The town is unincorporated, so can have an ''unzoned'' look about it, and there is no well-defined downtown and no ''cute'' shopping areas. There is easy shopping for necessities, though, at the huge strip mall complex on Fitzgerald (Target, Mervyn's, etc.) There is a good supermarket, Raley's, on San Pablo Dam Road. A big drawback is that we are not able to walk many places from our home, although our neighborhood is quiet, hilly, and multi-ethnic--all bonuses in my view. The schools are apparently a very mixed bag, but my child is not school age yet so I have no experience there. My biggest advice is to talk to the neighbors and try to figure out if they, and the neighborhood itself, are a good fit for you. Cheri

El Sobrante is quiet, has beautiful views of the Wildcat Canyon hills, good school system, friendly, unpretentious people and is still (but not for long) ''affordable'', by the Bay Area standards. Weather's perfect, we still get the ''air conditioning'' effect from the coast. We bought here about 2 years ago after Berkeley/EC and never regretted it. It's a bit of an unknown, tucked away area, probably the reason why it hasn't been that popular. We still visit Albany/Berkeley frequently, it's only about a 15 minute drive to Solano. My commute to SF is about 45 minutes using public transportation (you can take the trans- bay bus or drive to EC Del Norte). Drawback: the town doesn't really have a ''center'' or much culture but very easy access on the freeway to whatever your interests are. Super nice place to raise kids!

Can't afford Berkeley - how is El Sobrante?

Feb 2000

Does anyone live in El Sobrante? We love Berkeley but cannot afford to buy so may consider moving further north. Was wondering what the community is like, how the schools are rated, is it convenient for shopping etc. Robert

Really the best people for this sort of info are realtors. Drop Ira Serkes a line (Realtor at and ask his advice. Tell him I sent you. Ira's area is N. Berkeley, but he does know a lot of people and he'll point you in the right direction. He should be able to tell you who to talk to, at the very least.

After realizing that Berkeley and Oakland were out of our league for home buying (we did not want a fixer upper that needed a min. of $60K just on foundation work alone!), we looked out in El Sobrante to rent on some recommendations of friend. We had initially thought we would look for a home to RENT, especially since the homes were incredibly reasonable in comparison to what we had been looking at in Oakland (Montclair, Adam's Pt., Crocker, lower Piedmont). [Note: Let me add that we were expecting our 2nd child and had been living comfortably crowded with a 2 yro in a LARGE 1 Bedroom apt (930 sq ft). We realized it was necessary to find larger quarters before the due date of March 1998.]

After doing the math over and over again, we realized it might be cheaper to buy in this area than to rent and it sure was! Low and behold we were charmed by the ultra quiet and country-like feeling of the unincorporated community of El Sobrante. We went from looking to rent to actually OWNING a no-fixer-upper! Considering we never thought we would own w/o an inheritance in our pocket, it was really an amazing feeling when we found our house. It feels like we are zillions of miles away from the hustle and bustle of the crowded cities, w/o being far away at all. We have a FABULOUS yard for the trikes, playhouse, kiddie pool, general running around that little ones need. The daily park outings in the city were beginning to cramp my style. The weather is great (we have a TRUE summer), the commute is reasonable, shopping is readily available locally as well as in many different directions (WC, Orinda, Lafayette, Pinole, El Cerrito), and my neighborhood school did relatively well in the recent rankings (it scored a 7) and is a serious consideration this year for my soon-to-be kindergartner. My neighborhood is incredibly diverse (UCB Faculty, state employees, educators, contractors, nurses, teamsters, name we got it!). I could go on and on.

We live in El Sobrante because we could not afford a house in Berkeley or Albany or El Cerrito or ... Besides, my husband hates samll rooms with short ceiling and damp, mold-smelling rooms (characteristic of houses in the price range we could afford in Berkeley and Albany.) Our house in El Sobrante is relatively new and relatively spacious with a nice yard and nice diverse neighbors (though not a very intereactive neighborhood). The elementary schools are even better than those of Berkeley and sorrounding areas, but high schools are terrible and many residents opt for private schools. I still shop at Berekley Bowl because WebVan does not deliver to the area yet! I go through Camino Ranch Rd and Orinda Village and 24 and 13 to get to the campus. It takes 30-40 minutes, but is not as tiring as freeway. It is GEORGEOUS every morning to watch the dam and its green sorrounding. good luck.

The East Bay Waldorf School is in El Sobrante, on Clark Road just three or four blocks off of San Pablo Dam Road. It is a thriving private school, with three kindergartens, the grades, and starting next fall, a high school. Prices are in the middle range compared to other private schools. The school is attracting more families from nearby communities each year since the move from Emeryville several years ago, and also has two bus routes serving Berkeley, Oakland, Orinda. The school is strong on languages, the visual arts, theatre, and music. We have built a unique woodworking and gardening building on the upper 5 acres. (My oldest daughter was in the founding kindergarten.)

Carriage Hills area of El Sobrante/Richmond

July 1999

Does anybody live in the Carriage Hills area of El Sobrante/Richmond. If so, do you like it? Is it family/kid friendly? Are there moms groups there? Do you have to come to Berkeley/Oakland for playgroups, music classes, habitot, everything? Is the commute long? Is it safe? Would you recommend it to your friends?

I do not recommend living in Carriage Hill just because it is built on landfill. We live in El Sobrante, next to it, and we enjoy having beautiful parks around us and we go on short hikes very often. we first considered Carriage Hill for living, but in an earthquake area living on landfill is not very desirable. (July 1999)

Although I do not actually live in this area, I have a number of friends that live in the El Sobrante area and speak highly of Carriage Hills. It is probably one of the most affluent areas of El Sobrante with *newer* tract home developments. These homes feed into the best of the West Contra Costa schools (although I don't personally think too highly of this school district - I would recommend checking into the test scores of these schools - if you're seriously thinking of moving to this area.) It's a relatively safe area of the bay area to live in (not really urban but not truly suburban living either). It's about a 30 minute commute to the university.

While I can't speak to the Carriage Hill area specifically, I have found El Sobrante and West Contra Costa County not to be very child friendly. You certainly don't get the same kind of strong family/strong community/small own feel like you do in Berkeley, Albany or places like Benicia. The parks and library facilities are mediocre, O.K. at best. While youth sports programs, special park and rec programs, daycare and preschool programs exist - it has been my experience that you really have to seek them out. These programs are not highly advertised or promoted. If you are looking for a special kids programs you'll probably have to drive to places like Orinda, Walnut Creek, Berkeley or Albany.

There are two well established play groups in the West Contra Costa area. Moms, Dads and Munchkins meets at West Contra Costa parks on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. For more information contact, Pierrette Johnston (510) 222-8557. Family Fun Connection meets in the El Sobrante/Pinole area every couple of weeks.

I do not recommend living in Carriage Hill just because it is built on landfill. We live in El Sobrante, next to it, and we enjoy having beautiful parks around us and we go on short hikes very often. we first considered Carriage Hill for living, but in an earthquake area living on landfill is not very desirable.

Although I do not actually live in this area, I have a number of friends that live in the El Sobrante area and speak highly of Carriage Hills. It is probably one of the most affluent areas of El Sobrante with *newer* tract home developments. These homes feed into the best of the West Contra Costa schools (although I don't personally think too highly of this school district - I would recommend checking into the test scores of these schools - if you're seriously thinking of moving to this area.) It's a relatively safe area of the bay area to live in (not really urban but not truly suburban living either). It's about a 30 minute commute to the university.

While I can't speak to the Carriage Hill area specifically, I have found El Sobrante and West Contra Costa County not to be very child friendly. You certainly don't get the same kind of strong family/strong community/small own feel like you do in Berkeley, Albany or places like Benicia. The parks and library facilities are mediocre, O.K. at best. While youth sports programs, special park and rec programs, daycare and preschool programs exist - it has been my experience that you really have to seek them out. These programs are not highly advertised or promoted. If you are looking for a special kids programs you'll probably have to drive to places like Orinda, Walnut Creek, Berkeley or Albany.

There are two well established play groups in the West Contra Costa area. Moms, Dads and Munchkins meets at West Contra Costa parks on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. Family Fun Connection meets in the El Sobrante/Pinole area every couple of weeks.