Living in Oakland: Montclair
We've been at Montclair Elementary for 7 years and now also have a child at Montera Middle School, and are happy with both. Montclair, Thornhill and Joaquin Miller are all highly regarded - good test scores, California Distinguished Schools, good academics and enrichment (paid for by the parents, of course). Because of that, there's been a huge influx of kids in the last few years - when we started you automatically got in if you lived in the zone, but I'm not sure that's still true. Montera has been steadily improving in recent years, and our experience there has been good so far. It's not a warm fuzzy cocoon like a private school, but it is a nice diverse cross-section of Oakland and offers sports, band, art, etc. options. Many but by no means all kids here go to private middle or high schools - in recent years more kids from Montclair/Thornhill/Joaquin Miller seem to be choosing Montera than before. The public high school, Skyline, has a lot of good points but also has a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges - I know people who are happy there, but we probably won't consider it. Oakland Tech is a good public option, but they don't have space for everyone who applies. All the elementary schools have after school programs which I think also offer care on some holidays. I know aftercare spots at Montclair fill up fast, but there are other options - the rec center in the park, JCC, etc.
We've lived in Montclair almost 20 years, about half of them with kids, and overall we've been very happy with the village and schools. There's an almost small-town feeling to the area - I always meet people I know while walking around town. It Takes a Village
We have lived in Montclair for 10+ years and have gone through OUSD starting when we first moved here. I believe that the elementary system works on a ranked lottery style - you are prioritized for your neighborhood school but you get moved if there is over enrollment. However, my experience with OUSD is that if you really want something that you don't get the first time if you persevere you will get it. The answer to the school question is that the elementary system is consistently good and then after that it is really dependent on your child and their experience. I know many many people who are in the middle schools and high schools and having good/great experiences. We left after middle with my older child and after elementary with my younger but did so because that was the right fit for them. Most of the kids my children were in elementary with stayed in the public system so by no means do you have to go private. Maggie
Moving to Montclair with a newborn, need community
Hi Parents! We just saw a house in Piedmont Pines (near Montclair) and are interested in moving there from SF, I'm due in July. I tried to find some parks where we could meet other moms, community centers and such but to no avail. I would love to connect to other Mom's who live in this area and to find out ways in which we can build a community. The house is on a slope with no accessible walking areas or backyard so it's vital for me to meet other Moms in the area somehow. Thanks so much for your time and attention. Sincerely, Devon
I have older children so can't give you specific groups to join but there are a ton of families with babies and young kids in the area. Montclair Park at the bottom of the hill, in the village, is huge with lots of people with babies, the rec center attached to the park has all kinds of classes/groups for people with babies, Montclair Community Play Center on Thornhill is a co-op play based pre-school and probably has resources, as well as searching for or connecting with area mom's groups through BPN... welcome to the neighborhood! Maggie
I live in Montclair myself - it has a slightly more rural feel than Rockridge and the 2 public elementary schools here are excellent (middle school is improving steadily); because of the hills some parts are more walkable than others, but you have easy access to large and beautiful regional parks for hiking, etc.
If you stay in the areas of Montclair that are close to the business district, it is also very walkable, but not so much in the hills. All three are well established, good neighborhoods.
Re: Best neighborhood for commute to south bay
I suppose it depends on your tolerance for sitting in traffic every day! I live in Montclair and have worked in tech in the south bay for five years -- four in Belmont, and the last year in Mountain View. Montclair is a family- friendly neighborhood with good schools and easy access to Highway 13, which can take you to 580 and then on to 880, or to 24 and then 880 (this route tends to get bigger backups than going on 13 south). My commute to Belmont was 40-60 minutes, with most of the backup occurring at the interchange of 92 and 101 South in the mornings, and 92/880 in the evenings.
At best, my current drive to Mountain View is 50 minutes, but that's at very early or late times of day (leaving well before 6:30 a.m. and after 7:30 p.m.). Otherwise it's anywhere from 60 - 120 minutes, but most frequently about 85-90 minutes to get home. I try to leave work by 4:15 most days to avoid the worst of it and finish up my work at home. The most congested portion is 880 South in the morning, North in the evening.
Frankly, I'm sick of the drive and would love to find a job in SF or the East Bay. But some people do it for years and don't mind it. I'd consider a very fuel-efficient car if you're going to knowingly sign up for a commute like this, unless you like filling your tank a lot. I estimate it costs me about $20 a day in gas and tolls to commute with a Subaru Forester. Or join a car pool, or get a job for a company that provides shuttles to work (Google and Genentech both have this). But know that the shuttle doesn't always save time; you can work on the bus which is nice, but you're still sitting on the highway in traffic for about 3 hours a day, and usually have to drive to the shuttle pick-up spots.
Commute aside, I love living in Montclair, and to me it's worth it to stay somewhere with nature and a farmer's market rather than moving further south to the more 'suburban' towns. You could also think about Alameda, but I'm not sure it'd improve the East Bay portion of the commute that much. The schools there are great though.
Aiming for a company in the peninsula (Belmont, Redwood City, San Mateo) rather than further south (Mtn View, Menlo Park, Cupertino, etc) -- with easy access to 101 -- might shave a nice chunk of time off. Or consider some of the tech companies in Fremont. Good luck! worn-out ultra commuter
The sunny side of Montclair
We are thinking about moving to Montclair for the schools. However, we are big sun people, and it seems like Montclair is pretty shady due to the trees. Are there specific areas in Montclair that we should look at that would maximize our sun? Or does that not exist?
Hi - We've lived in Montclair for almost 15 years and love it here. I have 2 suggestions: 1) the areas that burned 20 years ago have a lot less tree coverage - I don't know what schools they're zoned for, though; 2) the houses on the 'Piedmont side' of Montclair (off La Salle and Estates across Hwy 13 from the Village, especially near the top of the hill) seem to get more sun than the houses up under the trees on the Village side. Anything up off Shepherd Canyon seems particularly shady to me. But really it can vary from street to street or even house to house - come visit some sunny day and have a look around, and you'll get the best idea of if it's sunny enough for you. JP
Skyline is nice and sunny. Susan
Hi There, I grew up in Montclair; first in the hills above Thornhill and then on the Piedmont side of Montclair. The Piedmont side of Montclair is way sunnier (this is on the other side of hwy 13 from the village). If you are looking for even more heat, I recommend the Redwood Heights district. It's in the sunbelt of Oakland. Good elementary school too. Oakland Townie
There are plenty of sunny houses in Montclair but its really not an area thing. As the streets curve some houses will be perched on a canyon high up and get lots of sun while others will be lower or in the woods and get none. We found a house that is on a downslope lot at the end of a small canyon and get tons of sun, especially in our upstairs. I'd suggest finding a realtor who really knows Montclair. We used Jackie Care at Pacific Union and she was great about figuring out what we were looking for and then finding the right things to show us. 510.339.6460
We wanted the same thing, and found it on Rincon Drive off of Snake Road. You might try checking in and around our street (others nearby are Drake, Zinn, Gaspar and Magellan -- but aim for the portion of Magellan northwest of Snake). It's not sunny everywhere in this area; it can vary from house to house; but we liked the combination of semi-flat parcels (well, flatter than a lot of places in the hills) and wide expanses of sky. Our house faces west, and we're up high enough to see the SF skyline and the bay, but we also still have a small, flat yard out back and an elevated deck that gets a lot of sun. The houses around us are mostly mid-century and the big picture windows from that era let the sun in really well. Unfortunately we also have a view of super ugly telephone wires. You can't have it all, I guess.
Good luck -- we looked for a long time to find a sunny Montclair spot, and it has totally been worth the extra effort. out of the woods and loving it
I'm not sure where you've looked in Montclair but we get plenty of sun. My family and I live in the north end of the neighborhood on Broadway Terrace just above Mountain Blvd and get plenty of sunshine. Yes, it can be foggy but it burns off pretty quickly sometimes even before it does in the flats. Enjoying the sun in Montclair
If you get an upslope house that is West facing, you will have PLENTY of warmth, as long as it isn't a wooded site. We lived on Cabot Drive pretty close to Mountain Blvd. Our house was on an upslope, facing West. Because of the Piedmont Hills, some of the fog would actually blow over our house. It was like a mini banana belt. In other words, plenty of sun in Montclair, but I think it really varies and is lot-specific. Mary
We are between the village and piedmont border and it's very sunny in many places. We too moved hear for Montclair elementary which is supposedly wonderful. However I must say people don't seem nearly as friendly and easy to meet as in more vibrant areas like the lake and rockridge/tenescal. Missing the flat lands
I am sure you will get a ton of responses with everyone advocating for where they live but can personally recommend the Montclair area of Oakland - we are objectively warmer than most other Bay Area locals, 12 miles from Montclair Village to downtown SF (which translates to an average 30 minute drive or 40 minute BART with drive time to a nearby station), and currently a relatively affordable section of Oakland. Your children generally go to neighborhood schools in OUSD and for elementary most of the Hills schools are very good with strong parent communities and well rounded education (arts, music, computer, etc.). On foggy days because we are up high and the spacing of the canyons we are often either fog free (sitting above it) or we warm up faster - average Oakland temp today is 70 - we are 75+ There are a number of 'liberal' jewish communities in the area - we are members of a large reform synagogue with a great pre-school and educational program for older kids - there is a TON of amazing food in and around Oakland, and despite being up in the hills there are a lot of paths that get you around so I often walk to farmer's market on Sunday mornings - I also walk my son to school most days. Welcome to the Bay! Maggie
We recently moved to Oakland from Brooklyn (Park Slope). While I grew up in San Jose, it had been nearly 20 years since I left the Bay Area, so coming back feels very much like we are getting to know things from scratch.
We knew we did not want to be in the South Bay. Too far from work, not urban enough, or interesting enough. Before moving here, I was pretty set on Berkeley. I lived on BPN and real estate web sites and pretty much had a lay of the land before we even came to visit. However, spending time in Berkeley left me feeling a bit empty. The places in our budget didn't seem like communities I wanted to live in (we wanted to buy a 3-4 bedroom for 800K or less). I was really surprised by this, so I absolutely recommend you take a few trips out in advance to see the areas for yourself.
We ended up really liking many parts of Oakland-- Rockridge, Lake Merritt, Crocker Highlands, Montclair. There was an energy here I really appreciated. My parents-- after more than 30 years of listening to Oakland-bashing on the news--were surprised to see that Oakland was really an interesting and beautiful place.
We fell in love with a house in Montclair, and the zoned public school seemed excellent, by test score and because the parent community was hugely involved. We took a risk and bought it.
It's been 3 months since we moved and we really love living here. It is nowhere near as pedestrian-scale as Brooklyn, but there are other things we appreciate. Our street is so lovely--our neighbors are very friendly, our kids all go to the same school, they ride their bikes and scooters in the street (it is a dead end street, so little traffic), we have BBQs together... we feel so fortunate to have that and without it, we would likely feel lonely. The school is also terrific, though certain things about it have taken some adjustment (the parent involvement is enormous, and expected. as a working mother with 2 small children, I have found it overwhelming at times the extent to which I am asked to participate). The farmer's markets are amazing. The weather is incredible. My neighborhood is gorgeous. We love our house. The work-life balance is better here culturally than in NYC... my husband is home earlier despite a longer commute as people seem to put down their jobs and go off to pursue their own interests. He is not as stressed out. I have always worked from home, so it is no different for me. Culturally, it feels quite liberal, and the families I have met seem to share our values in education, healthy living, the arts, politics, etc.) I am sure there are varied opinions no matter where you go, but it does not feel conservative here.
The cons: We've put more miles on our car(s)--we need 2 now--in 3 months than we did our entire driving history in Brooklyn (we owned a car for 2 years there). My husband is driving to Brisbane temporarily for work, and the traffic is a bitch. He sometimes makes it in an hour, if he is lucky. He will normally go to SOMA, which should allow him to take BART. I miss the vast selection of great, independent coffee shops in Park Slope. I have yet to replace my beloved Grumpy's. I also miss the Park Slope Food Coop, which was a great place to buy inexpensive organic food. I love Berkeley Bowl, but it is not cheap. Same with Whole Foods. I miss fall and that snap in the air when you can pinpoint exactly when the season changes. Also, my daughter's school in Brooklyn was pretty economically and racially diverse, which I appreciated. Her school in Oakland is less so.
All in all, I think you will find something to love about your Bay Area experience, no matter where you end up. We ended up in a place we didn't expect and we love it. Just be open minded and embrace the change. Feel free to contact me if you would like to ask me anything else. Good luck! Wendy
Montclair time warp?
Can someone out there please shed some light on the history of the Montclair food and business scene? I have lived in the Bay Area for my entire life, but my family recently moved to Montclair. I have been baffled by the complete lack of decent groceries and restaurants. We have virtually no natural foods, no gourmet market, no decent produce (Albertson's and a small Safeway are IT--this is worse than the Midwest), and no high-quality restaurants. It seems to me that the demographic is not that different than Rockridge or Berkeley. Why are we unable to support high quality grocery stores and restaurants? I have to believe that residents of Piedmont and the greater Montclair area would go nuts for a great restaurant like Pizzaiolo or Cesar, or any of the dozens of great restaurants in pockets throughout Oakland. And is it true that Save-Maxx is going in to Albertson's? How do we stop this and get some decent food and a good restaurant scene??? Does anyone else feel this way????
Baffled in Montclair
I know exactly what you mean! I lived in Montclair for a couple of years and hated it for exactly that reason. I now live near Piedmont Ave, which isn't geographically far away--just go down Broadway Terrace to Broadway & turn left onto 51st/Pleasant Valley--but is light years ahead in terms of life quality. --Come on down!
Yes!! We've lived in Montclair for 11 years and felt the same way when we moved here, and still feel the same way. Unfortunately I'm baffled too, though I imagine some of it has to do with the slightly older demographic (most of our neighbors have grown children.) The establishments here are thriving and have for years, so there is still a demographic component I'm not quite understanding. Despite that, we do enjoy this Oakland ''suburb'' and it's stability, and we still end up driving to Rockridge and North Berkeley quite a lot Enjoying Montclair ''Suburbs''
I counldn't agree more!!! I moved here in April from West Oakland, where we were eating better because of our proximity to downtown. I am also nervous about what is going in the albertsons spot -what a great opportunity for a higher quality grocery! We LOVE the taqueria in town and Flippers will do for a sandwich, but the eating stops there. What is going on here? We are ready for a food revolution! mary
I grew up in Montclair. Over the past 30 years things people have tired to improve what was in Montclair from what they use to be. Where TopDog and UPS Shipping store are use to be a market much like Piedmont Market. Sad to see it go. But Montclair could not support 3 large markets, Safeway, Lucky\x92s (and I think it was) Rocky\x92s. Safeyway clobbered them. People wanted Safeway over Berkeley Bowl.
There were more resturants in Montclair, Equinox, (now Noah\x92s bagels) and the Seafood resturant (by Safeway) and a couple of others. I think the problem is Montclair was set up for small shops, not resturants. I remember when Cesar\x92s opened, it use to be Don and Ann\x92s. I think Cesar was very lucky to have suceeded. As a kid I remember Don and Ann\x92s was packed every night as was Cesear\x92s.
The upscale market that like Andronicos (I think it was Foxes) that was once in Montclair didn\x92t last long at all. (It\x92s now Pet Smart or Pet Co. and WellsFargoBank.) I think the lack of parking had a lot to do with it.
I think what really doomed Montclair was when they took out the huge parking lot to build Albertsons. And then you had all those real estate offices proliferating also added to the demise.
I completely avoid Montclair due to all the traffic and lack of parking. I find it easier to goto Orinda, Lafayette or College Avenue for resturants and shopping. I think when Save-Maxx moves in things in Montclair will degrade things even more.
For things to beging to improve they need to bring the parking lots back.
I've lived in Montclair since 1992, and yeah, it's mysterious! Some history and perspectives.
La Taza de Cafe, a Cuban tapas joint, moved into the restaurant space on Thornhill a few years ago, and was successful enough to expand to Grand Avenue. There's now an Italian place in that spot, although we haven't tried it yet. I've heard good things about the Montclair Bistro (not sure if I have the name right, next to the Egg Shop), but haven't tried that either. I love, love, love the taqueria that's over near Safeway (Los Compadres isn't right, but it's something like that), and I noticed that a new Mexican restaurant is opening just up the street from that. I also like the sushi place on La Salle -- it's not gourmet, but basic and not too expensive.
I like the farmers market, and the wine store. Montclair has a number of nice coffee places, which is a plus.
There used to be a nice grocery in the spot above the 76 station (near Park Avenue, where the Pet Food Express is, but at the other end near Colors). I don't know why they left.
There used to be a nice produce and organic stuff place (but tiny) on Thornhill near the Thornhill Coffee Shop. It went out of business at least 5 years ago. I notice that in that same strip, a few doors down from the coffee shop, a new small produce place is opening. I'm hopeful about that!
I subscribe to a CSA (Full Belly Farms) and get the bulk of my other groceries from Trader Joes. When I do go to Albertsons, it meets my needs. I also occasionally venture to Berkeley Bowl, Cheese Board, etc. I hate the Safeway. There's a nice (but very pricey!) grocery on Broadway Terrace called the Village Market. You might check that out. Nice cheeses, deli stuff, etc.
When we want to go to a restaurant, we usually go to College Ave or Piedmont Ave. We can't easily walk to the village, so having to go a little further in the car doesn't seem like a big deal, frankly. I do wish we had a good pub, and Crogans does not fill that void. Merrilee
I like the old timey hoakeyness of the village and appreciate the fact that it has not been completely socio-economically sanitized, but a wholesome grocery store and another decent restaurant or two would be a great boon to this neighborhood. Is the Save Maxx thing a done deal? What would the alternative be, maybe a Farmer Joes or something? I think there is a Montclair Business Assoc, maybe a community meeting with the leadership of that council would help improve the quality of some of the grocery options. If you were able to come up with some reasonable recommendations maybe a petition would show neighborhood support. Restaurants are trickier, but grocery stores should serve the communities they are in and provide healthy options. I for one have been disgusted with Albertson's and the over-processed, preservative-laden, artificial-ingredient-filled products they sell.
Also In Favor of a Healthier Grocery
I don't have an answer for you, but I do feel your pain. We've lived in Montclair 10 years and our big pet peeve is that even though we live walking distance from the Village, we end up driving over to our old haunts in Elmwood/Rockridge just to find a coffee place open past 6pm. During the day the Village is full of pedestrians and shoppers, but at night it just shuts down. There's a wonderful, crowded farmers market, and the ''upscale'' food businesses that are here (wine shop, AG Ferrari, XOX truffles) do ok....I wish I could explain why there aren't more options. Trading Albertsons (which was trying to be a nice grocery, unlike the Safeway which I won't set foot in) for Save- Mart seems like a step in the wrong direction. If there's anything to be done, working through the Montclair Safety & Improvement Council (www.montclairsic.org) or the Montclair Village Association (www.montclairvillage.com) is probably the way to start, since they're already plugged into the community, city councilwoman, etc. JP
Try writing to your city council member and the local office of the chamber of commerce. Say you want a quality shop in Montclair. Why the lack of such places? Here is an anecdote: My wife and I were invited to an event at a home in Montclair. We mentioned to the owners some of the places we eat at and shop. The homeowners told us they were so busy they never went shopping or eating in this area. However, when they did go out or shop, it was on a weekend or extended vacation, usually at a bed and breakfast or luxury resort Anon
That's part of Montclair's charm. The minute it becomes more like Rockridge and Berkeley with all the wonderful produce shops and restaurants is when Montclair also gets the congestion and tourists. The way it is now, Montclair has much more of a community/neighborhood feel to it than those other places. We have lived in the Montclair and Piedmont area for 10 years and like Montclair just the way it is. Berkeley and Rockridge aren't far away when we want other places to shop and eat Happy with Montclair
p.s. I came across this community forum for Montclair, I believe the Save Mart discussion is already in the works http://groups.yahoo.com/group/montclair_community_group/ Montclair Mommy
Regarding the lack of good food choices in Montclair - I agree! I 've never been able to figure out why some enterprising foody doesn't recognize an opportunity. I've talked about this with other friends in the area as well. We've lived in Glenview for almost 20 years and shop and eat in Montclair only because it's close. We usually migrate to Rockridge - to Market Hall and the many restaurants on College. For veggies, Berkeley Bowl is still the best. Now that Farmer Joe's is in the Fruitvale neighborhood, I go there as well but there's not much else down there either. I'd love to see a tapas/wine bar (Cesar's anyone?) in Montclair or even just someplace that is a casual place for basic food with flair. I hope someone that has food connections reads the responses to your question and gets some inspiration! Baffled, too
As far as groceries, I'm with you a hundred percent. I live walking distance to town, but get in my car and drive to the Laurel District to shop at Farmer Joe's. How silly is that? Just think how Montclair would be improved with something like Farmer Joe's (or Trader Joes, or ANY natural grocery) here...and it would draw in the business of a lot of people outside Montclair too. Instead, we're getting a Save Mart or some such thing (can't remember the name, but yes, you're correct, Albertsons is leaving and the replacement is a step down). I will not buy meat that is not organic and humanely raised, so I'm forced to continue driving for food despite being a short walk from town. I can't explain the ''time warp'', but I feel your pain.
As far as restaurants, however, I think you're mistaken because there are two quite exellent ones: the Bistro and Il Porcellino. The other restaurants, while fairly ordinary, I value because of their extreme child friendliness. Colors and Crogans are both wonderful for last-minute family dinners--they both have full bars and are very accommodating of kids at all hours, and do not generally require reservations. Somebody, PLEASE open a natural grocery here!!!!
I was surprised by your post. You (negatively)compared Montclair Village to other areas in Oakland that are much bigger. Montclair Village is a small area - just a few blocks, really - and, given it's size, there are many places to eat and shop; you can find almost anything you need there. Also, it is so close to other, bigger areas (Piedmont Ave., Grand Ave./Lakeshore, College Ave.), that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel and make it a totally comprehensive shopping/eating area when other areas are so close.
There are many good places to eat in Montclair - Taqueria Las Comadres has great burritos, Pagarung Thai has good thai, Flippers has good burgers (curly fries and a salad come with your order), Rustica, Il Porcellino, Crogan's, etc. No, there are no organic/natural food stores in the area, but there is a huge Albertson's, a tiny Safeway (when you want to just run in and go), and a Farmer's Market on the weekends. I think, given its size, it has a lot to offer and if you don't find what you want, you can drive 5 or 10 minutes to get the rest! give Montclair another chance
In response to the specific dismay about a Save Mart replacing an Albertsons, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Save Mart is the big grocery chain of the central valley that has been successful enough to buy many Albertson's locations. (No small feat in the super-competitive grocery industry where profits can be less than $1 a bag.)
I visited my mom in Visalia over the holidays. When I went to shop for meal preparation, she recommended the shiny new Albertsons - you know, a big one with a Starbucks in it - woo hoo!! I couldn't find what I was looking for (cake flour! they've stopped carrying it at Albertsons according to the manager) so I went back to Save Mart, where I've always gone when visiting the valley. They had it, along with much better produce and a general higher quality level of groceries.
I'm not going to say it's a Berkeley Bowl, or even an Andronico's, but Albertsons has nothing on Save Mart.
I'm hopeful, because the Montclair Albertsons is where I shop too! anon
My husband and I(we also have a 3 month old) are thinking about buying in Montclair in the next year or so..I am looking for recommendations and opinions about the area..We may buy a condo/apt in a duplex and or tri plex before a home as my husband is a general contractor and has the ability to flip it cheaper than some..Home or a less expensive condo will based on our situation at the time we move..Either way I'd like to be happy with either for long term as we have a little baby and could be in a place long enough for him to start preschool/school. Does anyone know of any online sites (besides craigs list) where I can browse places available? Any advice is appreciated..I've heard great things about Montclair so far and am excited to move to a place that I think will suit our growing family..We currently live in Novato and while our place is nice,and I know some people just love it here, the general feeling of the area is not me. Thanks! mimosagirl
We've lived in Montclair for 10 years and like it a lot - it has a real small-town/community feel to it. Walking in the Village, we almost always run into people we know from our 2yo's music class or from Little League, or our neighbors, etc. Lots of people here seem to have young kids. Both public elementary schools (Montclair and Thornhill) are decent. The local ''Safety & Improvement Council'' has been doing good things lately like starting a farmers market, improving parks, etc.
To get started in your search, http://www.eastbayrealestatedirectory.com/ lets you search the MLS with lots of parameters - type of property, # of bedrooms, min/max price, zip code, etc. And the folks at the local Coldwell Banker office (http://www.californiamoves.com/agentoffice/officedetail.aspx?office=241) have always been knowledgeable and helpful. JP
We have lived in Montclair for over 4 years, renting up at the top of Broadway Terrace and then buying a duplex on Mountain Blvd a few years back. I really love the area, and it has 2 of the best public schools in Oakland. There are a few great preschools and family daycare centers, too. It is great if you can live close enough to the Village to stroller/walk there and play in the park and stroll through town. Although it is more quiet, when we lived up the hill I felt more isolated and bummed that we always had to drive everywhere as I did not want to bike these hills with a small child on the back. There is a real neighborhood feel where we live, and there are neighborhood block parties each year, lots of kids, families, etc. The one drawback is that it is really hilly, so, for instance, we don't have a usable backyard to play in, and there are no sidewalks anywhere so I am always on guard whenever I walk or stroll with my toddler- as usual, cars tend to speed through family neighborhoods. Given all that, I am glad that we are here. However, if we had enough money to send our kids to private school, I would live in Rockridge (we rented a house there for many years and loved it!) But since public school is our only option, this is the second best place to be. If your husband really can flip a place, and you figure on moving before your child is 5 years old, you would probably make a better return on buying a wreck in the Temescal or Lower Rockridge district. Those are both up and coming neighborhoods, they are slowly being gentrified but still fairly affordable. Our friends just cleared over $400,000 by fixing up a place off 61st and Telegraph. The locations are both near Rockridge, and have homes with good bones but badly in need of repair. Start looking at places every weekend, you can really get an idea of what is available. But beware, anything under $600,000 is like a meat market- hundreds of potential buyers lining up. And duplexes, as we were looking for this very thing, usually start around $700,000 for really junky places and go up from there. We ended up buying a 2-story home for around $760,000 and putting another $80,000 into it, doing most of the work ourselves, to create a downstairs kitchen and bathroom to turn it into a duplex. This is really difficult with a toddler, just to let you know, and took us nearly a year to complete as Oakland is very slow issuing permits. But if you guys are serious, get out there and start looking. You are lucky that your husband is so skilled! It is truly an adventure, and it doesn't ever seem to be over. We are now just fixing old wiring throughout the place and starting some mini remodeling. Sometimes, I really do miss just renting a place and calling the landlord to come fix the broken toilet! Best of wishes with your home quest!
a Montclair mom
We are house hunting and saw a nice place in Montclair, off Thornhill. We have so far not been looking in the hills because we love being able to walk places -- coffee, parks, restaurants, etc. But we haven't been coming up with many houses that have enough space in an area we want to live in that we can afford (Albany, Berkeley, etc.) It seems ironically that you can get more space for the $$ in the hills, even though the hills are perceived as being the ritzy part of town. One concern we have is not just the lack of a cafe / park / market in walking distance, but the ability to go for a walk at all. How do families with young children manage? Do you drive everywhere? Do you go for walks with a stroller on the narrow, windy and sidewalk-less streets? Is the feel ''neighborhoody'' or is everyone in their isolated mountain retreat? We love the quiet and the big trees, but would love to hear how other young families who enjoy the urban lifestyle like living in the hills.
Looking into the hills
I live in Montclair off of Thornhill, and just love it there. I do a lot of walking with my dog, and see a lot of parents walking with kids -- in backpacks, in strollers, and in tow -- on my street. I remember when I first moved to Montclair, I thought that the streets were extra small and windy, but now they seem like normal streets.
I feel particularly blessed to have some really wonderful neighbors, not just the ones right around me, but in general. Folks have planned neighborhood get-togethers and safety meetings for the few streets around me, and these are always a good way to get to know people around you.
Ny nine year old step daughter loves coming to stay with us; she rides her bike on the street in front of the house (and around the hood with us in general -- she's getting very strong legs!). She made friends with some of the kids who live nearby and has been generally satisfied with our country living. One nice bonus is that our yard is not fenced, which means that she can roam the hillside as she pleases, and visit the creek that runs next to the house. This is something I could never have done in the house that I grew up in, on a standard lot with a big fence around the tiny yard.
It's true that you have to drive or walk QUITE a ways to get to get to shops, etc., but I've been pretty happy with what's in the village (except there's no good pub -- anyone want to open a pub in Montclair?). There's a good coffee shop right on Thornhill, and the family who owns it knows everyone -- another good place to meet people.
Feel free to get in touch if you have particular questions. Merrilee
Similarly, our debate was do we leave the hills (also off Thornhill) or do we head to the grassy, flat yards... we decided to add-on to our home to make room for kids (now 2 and one on the way). It does require a bit of energy and extra effort but we spend a good portion of our weekends and summer evenings walking those narrow streets down to the school on Thornhill for the playground, the Montclair park, the video store, the village for shopping and eating, and for the Bay views (not to mention the great exercise involved in getting back up to the top of the hill). During the winter months, it is too dark to walk during the weeknights so we do drive down to the village and walk around there. We happen to live on a road that many others walk on so it does have a much more neighborly feel than some of the other streets may. There are at least 5 other families on our block with children under 5 that often chat with one another when out and about and many of the other neighbors are often out walking and visiting with one another. We also enjoy the feel of being away from the fast-pace of work with deer in the backyard and the quiet, slower feel of the hills while being only minutes away from it all.
It sounds like the place you found off Thornhill is not so far off from Montclair village, which is an excellent place to grab a bite to eat or hang out with the kids. As for safe walking, there are several areas nearby. There are two large park systems in the Oakland Hills: Joaquin Miller and Roberts Regional, both with a vast number and miles of trails through beautiful redwoods. There is also a smaller path (off-road) that runs behind Montclair Village (there is an entrance behind the parking garage on Medau Place) and a wonderful park off Moraga next to the Albertson's market. As a city girl, who loves to be able to walk to EVERYTHING from her front door - I completely empathize with you. But, it has been really wonderful living in this area for me as well.
If you turn up Snake off of Mountain, and go through the first stop sign, you find yourself on Shepherd Canyon. Where Shelterwood turns off Shepherd Canyon, on the opposite side of the street, there is a path that goes down to Montclair Village. It is wide and smooth enough for our two daughters to ride their bikes, and we try to walk/bike down to the village at least once a week when the weather is nice. We live on Westover, so the last part of the walk home is practically straight up hill -- not an easy walk, but what a workout!
So, yes, there are places to walk, and there is definitely a neighborly feel, if you get to know your neighbors. The folks on Banning (off of Shepherd Canyon, just past Shelterwood) had a block party last fall that was great, and if your children attend the neighborhood schools you get to know a lot of people that way. (The schools up here are terrific, by the way. Ours is Joaquin Miller and the community, teachers and principal are wonderful. Plus, nestled in the redhoods, it doesn't feel like an urban school at all.)
Sometimes we regret not having a yard (but you can find houses with level yards), and I miss streets with sidewalks, but I love the peaceful feeling of living up here, and yes, the safety. Our old neighborhood down in the flatlands was lovely, and our craftsman bungalow charming, but I don't miss the drive-by shootings, neighborhood drug dealers and street people ringing my doorbell.
Off of Skyline, by the way, there are regional parks that offer great walking and hiking, too.
So, as in most areas, you give up some things, and you get some things. We moved up here for the schools, and for us, it was worth it. Happy in the hills
I've lived in several places in and around Montclair over the past 10 years with children and here is my perspective: we first rented on Skyline Blvd. - a windy road that runs along the top of the hills. There are no sidewalks and few yards, so we felt pretty isolated. We then moved closer to the village (off Thornhill). This time we had a yard, but again the lack of sidewalks meant that neighbors didn't come out and socialize much; again, we felt isolated. When we bought our house, we moved to the other side of Montclair (close to the Morman Temple on the east side of Hwy 13). This area, known as Westminster and Joaquin Miller is very child friendly. There are some streets with sidewalks, kids riding bikes, and the area has recently become very popular with young families. Our street has tons of kids! Although you would probably have to drive to Montclair Village, you would at least be able to get a house with a decent yard and friendly neighbors! There are a couple of restaurants, a small market and a cafe on Woodminster at the intersection of Joaquin Miller Road and Mountain Blvd. Joaquin Miller Park is within easy walking distance (even with young kids in a stroller or backpack), and a new play structure is being built close to the cascades this summer. We are also fortunate enough to be in the catchment area for Joaquin Miller Elem. School, with which we are very happy (despite the OUSD budget cuts). Good luck with your search! happy (just south of) Montclair Mom
We (my seventh month old and I) go for stroller walks all the time with our friend who lives up at the top of Montclair down to the Village shopping area. We take the curvy streets (which are fine because you can hear cars coming) until we get to Shepard Canyon and Saroni and then there is a beautiful flat paved trail that ends up right in the village. The trail is quite lovely and it is not shared with cars. enjoys walking through montclair
We moved from N.Oakland (near Alcatraz and MLK) to Montclair 7 years ago. This was after looking in Rockridge for the reasons you mention, plus we like older houses (older than 1930) and then almost as a second thought looked at our current house, a ''contemporary'' with lots of windows. It was a rainy day and it was lovely up here, misty, woodsy and soooo quiet. We also knew the schools were pretty good. So here we are. But yes, we have to drive everywhere, which I hate, and walking is sometimes treacherous, though we do it often. We also now live less than a mile from all of our favorite E.Bay parks ridge trails. There aren't as many young families here as in Rockridge, but we do know many of our neighbors (everyone is always out walking) and there is a lot of interesting history about this area. Montclair Village has the services we need, though I still head ''down'' to Rockridge, Elmwood and Berkeley often! In the Hills Now
We LOVE living in Montclair. We found the same as you with regard to cost-- we got more bang for the buck here, than in Rockridge or Albany, places we were originally considering. We've got a 2 year-old, and are planning on having more and staying in the area. It's super kid-friendly (just come to the village in front of Peet's or Noah's on a Saturday am!), and there are lots of trails to walk (neighbors will point them out to you). There are lots of great activities for kids at the Montclair Rec Center, and MCPC has great toddler programs, if your kids are that age. Thornhill is a great, friendly neighborhood, and the elementary school is excellent! Good luck with your move. happy in Montclair
It IS ironic that streets in the Montclair hills--quiet, wooded, pretty, and therefore perfect for a relaxing walk--have no sidewalks! Or even shoulders! We're at the top of Broadway Terrace and sometimes feel like we're risking life and limb to go for a stroll. Instead, I drive my toddler to the awesome playground at Montclair Park or to the climbing structure at Thornhill Elementary (after school hours). Lake Temescal is also close and has plenty of room for walking a dog, triking, playing in the sand, or lolling on the beach. For a more secluded walk, try Sibley Volcanic off of Skyline. Sarah
I moved to Montclair from Rockridge, and had a new baby in each house. Yes, Rockridge was great 'stroller country'. I have to say, tho, I love living in Montclair with a baby (and an older child - 6 to be exact). Yes, we stroller walk our windy streets. You have to be careful, but we're certainly not alone in doing so. I have neighbors that walk to the village, but I've never toughed out the hills myself; I tend to stay in our neighborhood, especially when handling the stroller.
I've also found our particular street to have even more of a neighborhood feel than our old house in Rockridge, although I might just have an unusually terrific set of neighbors. It sounds like you might be looking near us; just so you know we also love our local elementary school, Thornhill.
Best of luck in your search; you're welcome to contact me if you have more questions. Carrie
Montclair is a fabulous place for a young family. Despite the lack of sidewalks, you will find many other friendly families with lots in common with you. And you *can* walk, even if it seems like the distances are far at first. For example, we first lived in a small house up Merriewood Drive off of Thornhill. There, we could walk a short distance uphill to see fabulous views of the Bay and enjoy the walk along the way among the trees and the wide variety of house styles. You can choose which windy roads are less travelled to get to your destination. Lots of people walk their dogs and their kids with bikes. Of course, you have to be careful, and it can be steep, but our now 23-month old does great. Also, depending on how far up Thornhill you are, it may only be a 30-minute or shorter walk to get coffee at the coffeehouse near the small Thornhill businesses or even to get to the ''downtown'' village, which has a wonderful small town feel. In the car as you drive around looking at houses, it may seem far, but it's really not (note that walking long past dark without a sidewalk is probably not a good idea, so this is different from, say, Rockridge, or Solano Ave. We usually drive after dark but frequently go on twilight walks to watch the sunset). Although we looked at houses all over the East Bay when we needed a bigger house, Montclair remained our first choice, in part for the quiet and beautiful scenery, in part for the close amenities in the village, proximity to regional parks and the Montclair city park. Now we live off Shepherd Canyon Road. While, again, it SEEMED like it was a long way from Montclair Village and that there was absolutely no safe or simple way to walk there, we learned from our neighbors that by taking a safe and flat bike path that does not follow the main roads (so you can't see it from the road), you can walk to town in 20-30 minutes without having to go up and down hills like the road does). On this path, which drops you right down into the Village, I've met lots of other families with babies in strollers and toddlers running along side on the safe bike path. By going uphill from our house a short distance (0.3 miles), we can now also easily walk to Redwood Park, where there are great family-friendly hiking trails. Also, the Montclair Park (parallel to Moraga and Mountain between Thornhill and the Albertson's) is a wonderful place to take your kids and to meet other parents. There are also Halloween parades there, etc. So, overall, Montclair is a great place for kids and their families. While occasionally I do miss having a yard (rather than a slope -- but, hey, I don't have a yard to have to take care of so have more time to spend with my son and we do have terrific outside deck space for play !) and sometimes yearn for a flat sidewalk (mostly after my C-section), the pluses of living in Montclair far outweigh for us not having a yard or a sidewalk. It's friendly, oh-so-quiet but not isolated, beautiful, surprisingly easy to walk, and very easy to meet other parents of young kids. Another plus is that both Thornhill and Montclair elementary schools are very good schools judged by any number of metrics, including happy parents (see past advice/recommendations for these schools). KB
When we were looking for a house around eight years ago, the Oakland Hills Firestorm was still fresh in our mind. We worried that with the very narrow, twisty streets it would be very, very hard to get out of Montclair Hills. I realize we may be especially neurotic, so this may not be a concern for you. We actually ended up moving to Redwood Heights, which at the time was an exceptionally good value. I think housing prices have risen in the neighborhood considerably, but it's been a great fit for us. Good Luck. Jerome
I have lived in Montclair since 1995, and I like it here more than anywhere else I have ever lived. It is peaceful here, as you mention -- one thing I like best is the lack of noise. It's true that I would like having some businesses within walking distance of my home, but the Village is very close; one can take a quick two-minute drive, park the car, and do all of one's errands in a single trip; works great with a toddler, as all of the businesses here are very toddler friendly. Also, this is actually more convenient and requires less driving than anywhere else I've lived (Orinda, El Cerrito, Hayward...), because there are almost all the businesses you'd need for a typical set of errands in a three-block range; as a bonus, there's a nice park in the same area.
About walks. I go for walks by myself all the time on the narrow windy streets. Depending on where you are, it can work to take kids along (some of the streets are wider, many of them are not very busy, most are posted about the presence of kids, and MOST drivers do drive carefully...). Also, there are at least three wonderful regional parks within a couple of miles of Thornhill. Again, a quick 2-minute drive and all the walking you could wish; works beautifully with a jogging stroller, and I used to take my baby along for a walk in his baby sling. Also, the feeling here is more neighborly than anyplace else I've been in the Bay Area. Our first two encounters with people here were a neighbor informing us (very enthusiastically) of the birth of twin fawns, and another neighbor asking us over for cocktails. Compare that with El Cerrito, where I never really encountered our neighbors at all, or Orinda, where our first encounter was someone asking us to keep our car in the garage, as it wasn't very attractive. Anyway, my vote is that this is a great place for families. Karen
Last year we were in a situation similar to yours- the hills offered more space at a better price but we were wary of being isolated. After a year of living 1/2way up Broadway Terrace, we love it here. Yes, you do have to drive a little more and not having immediate access to BART is annoying. But, the buses aren't bad, and there really is a neighborhood feel. Some streets are closer knit than others. Taurus has a block party every year, other streets have neighbors that throw parties and barbecues, and we have met some great people. We walk our dog twice a day along the winding, back roads and the people are very friendly that we have gotten to know on our ''routes.'' Plus, its a pretty good workout. As far as coffee shops go, if you are close to Thornhill there is a nice neighborhood cafe within walking distance. A longer walk would take you to the Village, which is really nice to hang out in on weekends and has everything that you need in terms of food, coffee, hardware, groceries, movie rentals, etc. There are plenty of kids in the neighborhood and the nearby Montclair and Temescal Parks offer lots of space and playground equipment for kids. Getting to Berkeley and Oakland is very convenient, and if you know the back route to Piedmont that is also easy to get to. We go there quite a bit. I agree with you: it's ironic that housing values are better in Montclair- I am glad that we took the chance and moved up here. lou
We live in Montclair, off of Thornhill, although just a few blocks off, so we're in easy walking distance to the school and the great coffee house on Thornhill. That has been a favorite destination for our family. I'd say living up here has its pluses and minuses. It's quiet. We have nice neighbors whom we really like, on all sides. But ever since our children were small I have bemoaned our lack of a yard. I feel like they've played too much inside and haven't used their imaginations as they might if they could hang out outdoors. We have a big porch over a steeply sloped hillside which was too dangerous when they were small, and just kind of not kid-friendly. We kept talking about landscaping and terracing but never did.
When they were small, we'd walk in the hills a lot using a backpack. When they got too big for that, we would take very short walks, or drive to a better place to walk. But at the very least we could walk down to the coffee shop for a hot chocolate, or to the Late Night Video place or even to 7-11 for a Slurpeee. Now my oldest daughter is 12 and she enjoys walking to Montclair Village with her friends.
Another downside is that we have no garage and the kids have never learned to ride a bicycle. There's no storage for it, and it just isn't practical. It seems utterly pointless to put a bike in a car and DRIVE somewhere in order to ride it. So that feels like a weird loss.
On the other hand. It's beautiful. It's restful. We're happy with our neighborhood. Every neighborhood has its ups and downs. And remember, this time of strollers is VERY brief so that shouldn't be a really huge consideration. Montclair mom