Moving to Grass Valley & Nevada City

Parent Reviews

Hi- My sister lives in the Nevada City/Grass Valley area and I just helped her sell her home. We had a super realtor--Mimi Simmons--she's 5th generation in the area and knows everything/everyone. I believe you could find a house for $400K in the area, though likely not walking distance to either Nevada City or Grass Valley, but probably within a couple of miles. Both towns are quite charming and have a decent number of restaurants and services. I don't know about schools, but I do think you'd find it a quieter life, easy to get outside and I think a nice community. That said, the area attracts a lot of hippies/quirky birds so sometimes things feel a bit more 'half-baked' / less buttoned up than I'm used to. There are also a lot of marijuana growers/some meth issues, so that's something to be aware of, especially when purchasing a home. Realistically the drive is about 3-3.5 hours from the eastbay w/o traffic. Fire is a huge issue and fire insurance options extremely limited. Most of the private insurers have left the area and you have to go with Cal Fire. My sisters insurance jumped from $2200 to $3600 last year, and this is only for fire coverage, not liability or other coverage. If you'd like to discuss more the moderator is welcome to share my contact. Good luck!

I spend part of each year in Grass Valley/Nevada City. It's a beautiful and friendly place but it's true that it's different culturally. There are many Bay Area residents who own vacation homes there and there is also a very large permanent population of hard-working blue-collar residents who don't particularly love seeing all the Teslas in their local Safeway parking lot. The two different groups get along on the surface but I can always feel the underlying tension. 

Don't know about fire insurance but I do know homes turn over all year long so people must be getting fire insurance from somewhere. I'm sure your realtor can help you with that.

There are GREAT schools there, both public and private. And it's a small enough place that the teenagers (and even younger kids) are free to run around town without getting into trouble. Also, the river, skiing, mountain biking: I don't know any kids who don't love living there.

It's an easy two hour drive from the Bay Area if you leave at 6am. Later than that on a weekday and you're going to run into the Sacramento commute which will add another 30-60 minutes.

Also, fyi—if you have asthma or similar problems, you should be aware that the area has some air quality problems. Most homes burn wood all winter for heat (or ambience) and almost everyone just outside city limits burns their yard debris on every single legal burn day. Its smells smoky ALL the time regardless of forest fires.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Aug 2014

RE: Leaving the Bay Area for Auburn area


Bay Area native here, who moved up to the Sierra Foothills for over 10 years and loved it! I love Auburn, love the river, the food, many people, etc. Having said that, in my opinion, the place that will feel fantastic to you is Grass Valley. The Grass Valley/Nevada City area is unusual in terms of culture, especially for raising children. While the number of things to do there is limited, there is a way that it is easier to actually DO those things. In addition, after a few years, I knew I could show up at any event of my taste and run into friends or acquaintances to say hello to during the breaks.

GV has lots of music. Joan Baez was there last week or so, on one end of the age/style spectrum and young musicians make use of open mic opportunities in cafes, etc. 'The Ridge' area attracts many artists, though it is so far from town that I couldn't see living there. Utah Phillips did live there. He was friends with so many artists, such as Annie de Franco, John McCutcheon and Alistair Fraser and others, some of whom still live in the area, many of whom just visit. The World Music Festival is amazing. The Celtic Festival is amazing. And the local public radio station just gets better and better. (reminds me of kqed radio very early on)

GV also has several charter schools that have incredible reputations. When I lived in Santa Cruz and was on my way up to the GV area, teachers told me Grass Valley was known as the little Santa Cruz of the mountains and encouraged me to enroll my kids in the Nevada City School of the Arts public charter elementary/middle school. (Someone later told me that it was also known as the little Berkeley of the mountains.) It was great for my kids who were lucky enough to get in. Forest Charter is a homeschool/class hybrid that is also great for alternative public education. There is an early college high school that is also fantastic for kids into that. The regular schools are good too, so its hard to go wrong. (living close to the schools is good, since most kids get involved in the activities)

The outdoor space is amazing, the local co-op, Briarpatch, has great food and feels like a cross between the old local small store/neighbors everywhere co-op and whole foods.

Diversity is only just beginning to make its way there, but the area is about 50/50 right wing/left wing, politically, which means your neighbors may share common city ground under your feet but not in ideas. This was helpful to me. There are many intelligent, good people I disagree with. Living in close proximity keeps one another human. I keep hoping the area will grow more diverse in other respects as well.

Okay, off my soapbox....Can you tell how much I miss it!? The only thing I don't miss is the summer heat! I took my kids and dogs to the Yuba river almost daily in the bad weeks, so we have fond memories even of the summer heat, but that was the main downer in the area. (the architecture lacks in most areas too, but the prices of houses are a good trade-off on that one!)

Best of luck! Kate M

March 2008

I am looking for feedback or insight on relocating to the Grass Valley/ Nevada City area from Berkeley. The reason I have narrowed it down to the Gold Country area is it is still affordable, you can actually get a decent sized house with acreage and its within a couple hours of SF (where my husband will need to commute two days a week) I just found out I am pregnant with #2 and have been contemplating relocating to a more affordable, rural area outside of the earthquake zone. I lived in North Lake Tahoe for a number of years so I am not afraid of snow or small towns. Has anyone had any experience with living in Nevada City/Grass Valley or any of the surrounding areas? Any feedback on the schools or life in the gold country that they would like to share? Thanks for your help. Seeking Advice

I was born and raised in Nevada City! I absolutely loved growing up there- great schools, amazing river, awesome community...... (similar to Berkeley in many ways).

This Summer my husband and my 15 month old daughter are moving back to the foothills, for many of the same reasons you are..... If you have any questions, send me an e-mail. Athena

My husband lived in the Grass Valley area from 1998-2001, so my info may not reflect the Grass Valley/Nevada City of today. We moved so that we could buy a house, which we were able to do cheaply, but that's not necessarily the case anymore. It's cheaper than the Bay Area, but so many people have moved there from the Bay Area that prices have gotten pretty high.

What we liked: It's a beautiful area!! If you like outdoor activities, you'll love it. You can hike, swim in the river, boat, fish, etc. There were 4 natural health stores when we lived there, including the outlet for the Mountain People's Warehouse (one of the largest distributers of natural food). The town centers of both cities are great, with lots of cool shops. There were 4 movie theaters and a few live theaters. Lots of cool bands play at the bars. People are very nice. Families can afford to have one parent stay home wit the kids and not go broke. The public schools are really good, and you even have charter school choices (like Waldorf). There was a great resource for parents called Sierra Madres and Padres, which was like a small BPN. Our friends loved to have parties, potlucks, picnics, etc. Because of the elevation, there was often the situation where Grass Valley was dry, while Nevada City was covered in snow. Sometimes, we'd get a good snowfall in GV, too, which was fun. Our neighborhood, which was in town, was THE place to go on Halloween; people really get into it! The expensive restaurants were great! Things we didn't like: Most of the affordable restaurants were mediocre, at best, except for the breakfast places. Jobs are hard to come by, so a lot of people commute to Sacramento, which is an hour drive away. At the time, my husband and I didn't drink, have children, or go to church, so it was hard to meet people. I was working as a nanny at the time (the only one in town!), so all of my friends were Moms from the Sierra Madres playgroups. They're all great people, but it was hard to find someone to go to a movie or to see a band with. There was very little diversity in race, religion, and sexual orientation. There were no Mosques or Synagogues, but if you're a Christian, you'll be set. Grass Valley is overwhelmingly Christian. There is one of those phony pregnancy clinics where they bully women into not having abortions, and a LOT of the doctors in town are pro-lifers who donate their time to this ''clinic''. I was part of a group that was bringing a small Planned Parenthood Clinic to town (for pregnancy/disease testing and birth control only), and we had to meet in secrecy because we were getting threatened. Letters in the local newspaper were along the lines of ''we don't want anyone teaching our teenagers about birth control''. During the campaign to ''Save Marriage'', there were anti-gay marriage signs on MANY lawns and businesses. There is a liberal faction there, too, with 2 Ashrams in the area, but they were a very small minority.

When my husband and I decided that we wanted to start a family, we dicided to leave Grass Valley. For us, we wanted to raise a child where he/she didn't feel pressured to be Christian and straight. We needed to be closer to employment opportunities. We missed being able to eat out at decent restaurants. We miss the beautiful outdoors, but have never regretted our decision.

Remember, this was only our experience. Most of our friends that we met there are still loving it. I guess I'm just a lefty city girl at heart! dawn

I've lived in both Grass Valley and Nevada City when I was a new teacher. It's a fantastic area to live in. Feel free to contact me directly and hopefully I can help answer your questions. j9

We have good family friends who live in Nevada City. They relocated from the Bay Area (marin county) about 6 yrs ago and I know they love it there. I can provide you with their contact information if you would like to hear specifics. I am sure they would be happy to tell you all about their experience there. Gretchen

I lived there from 7th grade until I left for college, my mom still lives in Grass Valley, and my step-mom (my dad died a few years ago) still lives in Nevada City. I went to middle school at Magnolia and High School at Bear River, which by far I thought were better than Nevada Union High School (a much larger school), and all my friends from school are up there too. But, my comparisons came from a private school in Hawaii (where we had moved from). It will be a tough commute on your husband, but at two days a week, it's doable. It will be harder on you alone with 2 kids! Do it if you can! We'd love to move there (closer to family & friends), but a 5 day commute just isn't reality for my husband. You can contact me by e-mail if you want more, but pleased be warned I do not get to e-mail frequently. kukana

My parents relocated to GV/NC a few years ago and love it. It's very pleasant and more affordable than the bay area. They say that the schools have a great reputation, but I don't know first hand. My experience in the area is visiting every month or so, and feel that there are lots of interesting things to do and see. The politics seem a bit quirky, but you'll be used to that from Berkeley. :) Lori

March 2005

Does anyone have experience or information about what it would be like to live in the Grass Valley area for a family of four transplanted from Oakland? Just beginning to think about it

I have family in GV and go there pretty frequently. First, just be aware that there is very little diversity and this is a place where there is a street called ''Christian Life Way.'' Still, not everyone is small minded and the place is beautiful. There's been a huge amount of development and the price of homes and land is going up fast. Temperatures are in the 80s and 90s -- and hits 100 too -- all summer - that can be from April to Nov 1st. So you should love heat. The traffic between towns is really bad during rush hour because of the increased population. Downtown GV still has sweet little streets built 100 years ago - pretty, but hard for two way traffic.

Go there and spend a couple weeks in July, see the parade. You'll get a feel for it. My sister says the schools are good. Good luck!

My husband and I lived in Grass Valley for 2 years (1999-2001), so I can tell you a lot about it(and Nevada City, which is right next door).

Positives: affordable house prices, beautiful country, family- friendly, theaters (movie and live), hiking, swimming, boating, friendly people, great schools, cute Main St. area, close to snow,health food stores, yoga retreats, lots of parks & playgrounds. In the summer, the Main Streets are closed off for festivals every Friday night. On Halloween, there are haunted houses everywhere, and all the kids from the outskirts of town come into town to trick-or-treat. If you are Christian, you have many choices for a church. There are some good bookstores and lots of cute shops. The teenagers are really nice. It's quiet at night, and you can see many stars.

Negatives(These are specific to us, of course): very, very conservative! There is a small, but vocal, presence of liberal/ environmental/progressive types, but you're pretty much defined by that. The local paper is full of editorials that quote the Bible as if there were no separation of Church and State. I was part of a pro-choice group that was bringing a women's clinic to town, and we were threatened so much that we had to meet in secrecy. That was the last straw for me. There's also not much of a presence of non-whites or non-Christians. There are some gay couples there, but they're not as ''out'' as they seem to be here.

The main reason that we left was because we noticed that the people who grew up there either left as soon as they could or stayed and never explored anything beyond the immediate area. The population, as a whole, was not as accepting of differences as I would have liked.

We were also very disappointed with the restaurants. There's not much variety.

It is a small town, so you also have to consider that there's a limit to what you can do for a living. Lots of folks commute to Sacramento.

The weather, of course, is different that it is here. It's incredibly hot in the summer and incredibly cold in the winter.

On the other side of this....a lot of families from the Bay Area have moved there in the last 6 years. There are many stay-at- home Moms and organized playgroups/parents' groups. All of our friends were left-leaning Bay Area transplants like me, but they all love it there. So, I guess it all depends on what's important to you and your family.

If you move there and have K-8 age kids, for building community I recommend School of the Arts charter school or Yuba River Charter School. Yuba River is Waldorff, which is not for everyone, so unless you're already a Waldorff enthusiast, look into their approach before picking it. Both schools have lots and lots of great parents and being part of one is a great way to get to know what's going on in Grass Valley. jenny