Living in Sonoma County

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Advice about Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, etc. Related Pages

2014 - 2015 Recommendations

Sebastopol vs Petaluma - schools etc

Dec 2014

Looking for curent feedback on the schools and community in Sebastapol and Petaluma. 1st grader and 4th so looking to hear about all levels. Looking also to learn about community - swim team? Kids sports? Afterschool activities? Local pool? Biking? Schools - class size in elementry, middle and high? Parent involvement? How open to transplants - new comers? Our budget is less than $700k (for many I realize this is a huge budget) and we would be looking for space around us vs house size. Finally, if you know - how long to the Oakland airport at off commute hours (to the extent those exist). If you moved there recently did anything surprise you? Thank you for taking the time to reply! Exploring

Hi there,

I can't speak to Petaluma, but we moved from Berkeley to Sebastopol about a year and a half ago. We have 4 kids - ages 8, 6, 4, and 2.

Regarding schools, Sebastopol has a few school districts, which is kind of crazy because it's a pretty small town. We live in the Twin Hills School District and send our 8 and 6 year old to the in-district elementary school, Apple Blossom. Our boys LOVE the school, which is great, especially since our eldest, who is sensitive, had a bit of hard time at the Berkeley elementary school he was enrolled at before we moved here.

In my opinion, the kids here are more innocent/less jaded and don't grow up as fast as they do in Berkeley. Our eldest had only a couple of buddies in the Berkeley school... here in Sebastopol, he plays with a whole passel of kids every day and has many friends, which is a big change.

Academically-speaking, when I compare Apple Blossom to the Berkeley public school, I would have to say that Berkeley does have the edge. But then, Berkeley schools are really excellent, so it's a high bar.

I do think Apple Blossom does a good job preparing the kids for the upper grades, because Twin Hills, the middle school it feeds into, is very highly regarded, with high API scores and a good social environment. Twin Hills, in turn, is known to prepare its students very well for the intellectual rigors of Analy High School, which is one of the best high schools in the region.

One downside to Apple Blossom is that there is not as much parental involvement as there was at our Berkeley public school. A few of us are trying to change the culture in that regard, though. Sonoma County natives seem to be a lot more relaxed when it comes to that sort of thing... many of the more involved parents seem to be transplants from the Bay Area. (And there are quite a few of us!)

Sebastopol also has 2 highly-regarded K-8 Waldorf charter schools, 2 other regular K-5 elementary schools, a K-8 school, and 2 other charter schools that offer a lot of 'extras' (overnight field trips, tons of music and art, etc).

One thing to note is that the charter schools usually ask for a monthly donation to help cover costs - the average amount is between $200-$250 a month. This *is* a donation, and not required... not everyone pays it, and some people pay more.

Another FYI is that all the schools here accept transfers, and do so with regularity. So if you are slated to go to one school but don't think it's a good fit, you can always choose to go to another one; most people, as far as I can tell, are able to go to the school of their choice.

To your other questions: Yes, there is a local pool (Ives, close to downtown Sebastopol) and swim team (Sebastopol Sea Serpents). Our 2 eldest almost joined the team last summer, but it conflicted with their Aikido class.

There are also many choices for after school activities. For example, besides the aforementioned Aikido, my kids have also done yoga, gymnastics, art, Lego classes, chess, and basketball. There's also stuff like soccer, scouts, softball, Little League, and 4-H.

Biking is a bit trickier when you live out in the country, but people do do it. Although I would say that people who live in the downtown neighborhoods tend to bike more.

People are definitely open to transplants here in Sebastopol. We have not had any issues in that regard. Fun fact: Sonoma County is the only rural county in California that consistently votes Democratic. However, there is more of a diversity of opinion here than in say, Berkeley; not everyone is a liberal, for sure. Driving around town after we moved here, we were surprised to see quite a few 'monster trucks' (pick-up trucks on bigger tires) alongside all the Priuses and Leafs.

People *are* very tolerant of others' beliefs here, though... way more so than in any other place I've lived. On our country lane, for instance, our neighbors include a gay couple from San Francisco, a conservative religious family from Ireland, and a moneyed couple from Australia. Everyone gets along well, which is refreshing.

We live in a 2300 sq ft house on an acre of land. I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to have so much space, both inside and out! However, country living did have some surprises. For example, the cost of propane is quite high. (Propane is what you heat your house with, unless you have solar panels.) Because of this, we usually only heat our house with our wood- burning fireplace and pellet stove, and during the colder months our kids sleep in warm PJs under down duvets. If you live in the country you will also have to take care of a well... not too big a deal, but we did have an issue with ours and had to shell out some cash. We also have a septic system, which so far has been pretty much a non-issue, except for the fact that I had to switch to using all-natural cleansers. (I make my own, for the most part.)

So there are definitely some hidden expenses, but for us, the peacefulness of the country, and having land for our kids to run around on, more than makes up for it. Also, prices are way cheaper here... we paid in the low 700Ks for our place about a year and a half ago.

I will be honest and say that I do sometimes miss living in the more central Bay Area... mainly having such direct access to all the cultural happenings that the Bay Area offers. We do go to the City every couple of months, but it takes awhile - from where we live in Sebastopol, driving into SF takes a little less than an hour and a half. During commute times (my husband works from home for the most part, but does go into San Francisco 2x a month), it's 2 hours.

What I will leave you with is despite sometimes missing the Bay Area, and also dealing with the surprises of country living, my husband and I are still so glad we moved out here, and our kids love it - they get to spend a ton of time outside climbing trees, helping in the garden (we had a pumpkin patch this summer!), and just generally hanging out and exploring. I'm now of the opinion that most children really thrive living out in the country. At least, our kids do.

Anyway, hope this helps with your decision. Monica

Just wanted add to the previous poster who (beautifully) described country living in Sebastopol. My sister has raised her 2 kids in Sebastopol and lives in a townhouse close to the downtown area. The homes in town are generally gas heated and have municipal water lines (not propane heating or well water). They bike EVERYWHERE. My sister bikes to work in Graton on the bike trail which runs along vineyards and fields from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol. There is definitely a strong community vibe, people know their neighbors and kids play outside together. They've had an excellent experience with the public schools all the way through high school. It's really a special little place, but you have to be ok with its 'smallness'. As mentioned before it's an hour from the Bay (which may be the only drawback in my opinion) Happy hunting
April 2014

Re: Moving from Marin to Where?

Check out Sebastopol if you're looking for a friendly,open minded, down to earth, (somewhat) culturally diverse small town not too far from Marin. Seems like a great place to raise kids and put down roots. I have family that lives there and their home is always full of kind friends and neighbors. They have block parties, kids play outside, people know their neighbors and there just seems to be a very strong sense of community and people looking out for one another. TC

2010 - 2013 Recommendations

June 2013

Re: Moving 2-3hrs outside the Bay Area
Have you checked out Sebastopol? It's a wonderful little town and only an hour from the Bay Area, close to the Russian River and not too far from the ocean. I think it meets all of your criteria. Not too sure about housing costs but I'm sure it's cheaper than Berkeley. There's a great sense of community, some cultural diversity, safe neighborhoods, Farmers Markets, good schools,open spaces, vineyards, apple orchards, festivals for every season, beautiful old farm houses... the list goes on. I have family that live there and it's really a lovely place. I'd move there if I could

Where Progressives Should Move in Sonoma County

June 2013

We are looking to move to Sonoma County because we have two small kids and want to escape the crime and can't afford a house in the safer areas of the East Bay. My dream town would be a sleepy, small town version of Berkeley, like Petaluma maybe, or even smaller, but we are just not that familiar with Sonoma County. This has come up before on BPN, but it has been a while & a lot has changed since it was last discussed. Also it seems everyone that talks about SC is very SF-centric & wants to be near the city. We are the opposite. Done with the city life & can't get far enough from the manic pace of SF. Although we would rather not be too far from Berkeley. Can anyone suggest SC towns that are small and sleepy, but progressive, gay-friendly and safe? Does that exist? Does Sonoma (the town) have lefties? What about Cotati or Rohnert Park? Maybe even Novato or other less popular (less expensive) parts of Marin? Also, Santa Rosa is our last resort, but I can't get a sense of the culture there and a lot of the info on it doesn't get specific about where the best areas are, other than to say Roseland is bad. Thanks!

Nicasio is great, fits all of your requirements. But maybe TOO sleepy for some people. Sebastopol almost fits all your requirements. Super liberal, very family friendly, adorable town square, great restaurants. It's not sleepy anymore, but it's still a dramatic change from SF area. Town of Sonoma is great. Glen Ellen is also really great.

Old part of Petaluma is beautiful and charming, but the other half (or maybe 3/4 by now) is poor, has a fair amount of crime. There is a class divide that reminds me of how Palo Alto feels. Really uncomfortable whichever side you live in.

Rohnert Park and Cotati are really unattractive (from my point of view). No town center, no city planning, just sprawl and strip malls. Same for Novato. Santa Rosa, though it has grown a lot in the last 10 years, is still at heart a cow town (conservative, in other words.)

Hope this helps! Former Sonoma County Resident

Should we move to Petaluma?

Jan 2013

We live and rent in Berkeley with our two small kiddos. We love it here, and yet periodically we're driven bonkers by the callousness and carelessness that come with living in such a populated area (the reckless driving, the crime, navigating schools, etc) and we're frustrated by the housing market (we want to buy, but we'd spend so much for so little). We're entertaining the idea of a move to Petaluma as we don't have jobs that require regular access to the city. It seems like a pretty great town, but we don't know it well, and we've been city-dwellers our entire adult lives, so we're using our (perhaps too rosy) imaginations to fill in the blanks. Has anyone else made this move? Have any thoughts about schools (we're public, whether in Berkeley or Petaluma), cultural issues/limitations/contrasts (the potential narrowness in perspectives is a concern)? Thanks for any info! Anon

I think that most of Sonoma County has a much higher quality of life than we do here in the East Bay. I personally love Petaluma and I also love Santa Rosa. First of all, Sonoma County is more diverse than everyone thinks, depending on where you live anyway, Santa Rosa definitely has an African American community that a lot of people do not know about. Petaluma has a small town feel definitely, but geographically it is not that far from Marin County and is quite accessible. Lots of people from Petaluma and Sonoma Co. in general commute to San Francisco because Golden Gate transit works so well for that. (it's a thousand times better than AC transit!) Sonoma Co. boasts one of the best community colleges in the State, Santa Rosa JC, with a campus in Petaluma too now. Also, Sonoma State U. is there, with that fabulous new music entertainment venue. I won't say traffic is a lot less because 101 can get very congested. The schools can't be any WORSE than the bay area, if not better, and it's just easier to get outdoors and be active. former Sonoma Co. resident
Be careful not to over-idealize Petaluma. I often see posts about how wonderful to live in a small town, etc. I grew up there - there is (and was) still drugs, violence, and everything else that happens in the Bay Area. The schools are possibly worse, definitely not better (graduate of PHS and my mom still works there). People from the Bay Area often have this feeling that everything in Petaluma is idyllic and I don't know why but it is just like any other place, if worse public transit and slightly more boring. petaluma native

Moving to North Bay with two teens

Aug 2012

Hi I'm a mom with two teen boys. We're moving to the north bay area in couple of months. My hubby will be working in vallejo. We are very excited. This will be a big change for us. We are from a small city in south florida. Im looking for input on areas that have nice high schools(safe). I want to live where the boys can have a little freedom with stuff to do but not in a big city. We are looking in Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa or Fairfield/Vacaville, Concord areas. Not sure which area would be best. Also fairly close to a Macys without having to get on any major highways. I work for Macys and am scared to death to drive out there (foolish I Know) . We will be renting. Our budget is around $2200 a month. I appreciate any info/input you have. A commute of around 45 min from Valejo is ok. Also can you reccomend any good rental agents? Thanks again I really appreciate it.

Petaluma! No offense to folks in Novato, SR, Concord, Napa or Fairfield/Vacaville... but Petaluma is the nicest of all those towns... and definitely the best for teens. Petaluma has charm - nice old houses, cute new developments, a great downtown area, beautiful country areas, good restaurants, farmer's markets... and it's pretty fun. Not a boring suburban town - lots of art, music, and theater.

I would look along the 116 corridor - it's easy for Vallejo and has some great farmhouses and some pretty developments (Adobe Creek if you like golf, near Casa Grande High School). Petaluma Fan

[Editor: Benicia was also recommended

2007 - 2009 Recommendations

Santa Rosa, Windor or Petaluma?

Sept 2009

We may have to relocate to the No. Bay for job reasons. We're looking to downsize and have a ''simpler'' life too... Tired of trying to keep up here in the Bay Area. Which town is a family-friend, open-minded/intelligent minded?, good schools area? Thanks. anon

Petaluma is an amazing town and I would move there in a heartbeat. I call myself a Petaluma ''wanna be''. I live in Novato and part of my job entails Petaluma. I do alot of networking and socializing and its a very welcoming community. Real community. Beautiful old historic downtown. Lots of event. Check out aqus cafe and their website/online newsletter and it will give you a tast of all happenings. The West side of town is older, more historic (built along river) and more expensive. East side is new and more like a typical subdivision. But you will feel embraced. Carol
All the cities you mentioned are great, but different. I might also add to the list Cotati and Sebastopol. (Forestville and Graton are nice too, but much smaller). Being born and raised in Sebastopol, I definitely have a soft spot for Sonoma County, my family may move up there in the next few years as well. I haven't lived there in over 10 years, but my sister and parents still do, so I'm up that way a lot. Here's my experience with your options:

Petaluma- Super cute, on the river, great downtown, very family oriented with annual festivals, farmers markets, etc. I personally prefer West Petaluma (West of hwy 101) as it has older construction, is close to downtown, and less strip malls. Used to be a farming community, but now the Marin vibe has seeped into the culture, so it is kind of Mill Valley meet Hicktown.

Santa Rosa - Much larger of the three, so the city changes dramatically neighborhood to neighborhood. There are some great areas and some not great areas, you really have to find a local to show you the different areas. Our favorite area is near Annadelle the largest park with in city limits in the entire US.

Windsor - This used to be a pretty lame tract home community, but recently it has had a new awakening. The Healdsburg wine country has infiltrated and given Windsor a face lift. My best friend from HS lives there with her husband and son, and they love it. The schools are pretty good, there is now a cute downtown with good restaurants, and it appears a young family vibe.

If you have any other specific questions feel free to e-mail me. Good Luck as

Moving to Petaluma

April 2008

Does anyone have any recent info about living in Petaluma? We are considering a move from Oakland to Petaluma with our small kids. The east side looks nice to us but we really know nothing about it except through cruising around. Housing cost and pace of living are very appealing. Any thoughts about moving from the east bay to Petaluma? Schools? Diversity? Etc. Hmmmm

We moved up to Petaluma in 2003 after 7 years in Berkeley, we love it here. There is so much that I can help you with, and no, I'm not a realtor! There are lots of SF and East Bay 'refugees' up here so I'd be happy to help you out in making the dicision. m.
I lived in San Francisco before I got married, moved north to Rohnert Park before we finally ended up in the East Bay. Sonoma County is a great place to live, and we actually spent a lot of time looking for a home in Petaluma before moving back to the Bay Area. My best friend moved from LA to Petaluma a few years ago and loves it. The east side is the ''newer'' side, west side has a lot of beautiful historic homes. Petaluma is small town living with all the advantages of being near a big city. Great restaurants, cafes, shopping, and they now have a movie theater. You have easy access to the wine country or coast, all kinds of festivals and fairs. You don't have to venture far for fresh eggs, milk, produce, no air polution... Good schools, lots of activities for the kids. Wish we could live there but the commute is too far for my husband and I. Only downside I can think of is the traffic on 101, but if you are not commuting every day, it is not really a problem. Maybe we will move back
May 2007

We're moving back to the bay area and would love to be in the Albany/Berkeley area but are intimidated with the ever pricey homes. We are starting to think about Petaluma as a lower cost alternative. Anyone out there who has moved there from the East Bay? I'd also love to hear from anyone with advice on the area. We have two small children so schools are an issue. We're coming from a 2 year stint in a small town with a pretty conservative feel and are more than ready for a change! Wondering if Petaluma leans too far in that direction. Thanks in advance for any input. Jackie

Hi Jackie YES! to the Petaluma move!...we lived in Berkeley for 7 years and happily moved to Petaluma 3 1/2 years ago. we have a 4 year old and a 1 year old. We love it! The local school system ROCKS! Contrary to popular East Bay is NOT totally overrun with right wing extremists! the split is about 80/20 to with the 80% going to the LEFT! We have a lot of SF & East Bay ''refugees'' and it's great! Although maybe not as less expensive as you may hope!!? moniz
Have you ever consider Benicia? It's affortable and close to Easy Bay. It's 20 plus minutes to the Bay Bridge and 10 mins or so to Walnut Creek so it's not a bad commute and there is a ferry service into the city. If there is anything else you like to know please email me. A great and safe community with a lots of parks. Amy
We just moved from Petaluma to Albany and I am happy to share with you my personal experiences and information about schools etc... Without knowing your circumstances and what exactly you are looking for, it is hard to say if it would work for you or not. It is a growing community with a great deal to offer, but it really depends on what you are looking for. There is a liberal community within Petaluma, but there is also a conservative one. They don't have a parents network, but a 'mothers club' - you can check it out at: Rachella

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Considering a move to Sonoma County

July 2004

Does anyone have any experience (first hand or through friends/family) about living in Sonoma County? We live in Rockridge and are considering a move to that area for several reasons (cost of living, commute, etc) but really know nothing about it. Areas of interest are Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sebastopol. On first glance, I would think that it might be too much of a shock to our systems to move (lack of diversity, services, restaurants??) but I really have no knowledge of the areas at all. All info appreciated.

I am originally from Sonoma County (the outskirts of Santa Rosa up in the country) and love it there! I would move back there but our work situation keeps us here. While it isn't Berkeley/Oakland (nothing is!), the area has a ton to offer. There are many, many liberals and progressives there (especially in parts of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and other smaller communities), some great health food stores and co-op markets, restaurants of every imaginable cuisine, great parks, great schools (my mother taught school out there for 20 years and I went to school there as well), parent groups, outdoor activities, fairs, etc. It really is a wonderful community. My familiy is multi-cultural (Mexian, Italian and American) and we feel right at home when we visit. It has a laid-back feel. I could just go on about the area. If you would like to chat more about the area, feel free to email me. SR native
Okay, the first McDonalds didn't come to Sonoma County until 1976, but they have been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the Jones since then... :-)

Seriously, if your concerns re: Sonoma county are of diversity, services & restaurants then you don't need to worry too much. I grew up in Sonoma County and even back then, before everyone figured out that it was a great place to escape from the financial pressures of the close-in Bay Area, it had a good amount of diversity (1/4 of my graduating class was from or had family from Mexico/Central or South America...I realize that is not diversity from the world over, but it is a pretty good start). Great wine and great food go together. I know that The Wine Spectator lists at least one restaurant in Sonoma County among its top ten in the Bay Area.

In many parts of Sonoma County, East-Bay politics look VERY CONSERVATIVE (Guerneville, Occidental, Monte Rio...basically, anything out toward the Russian River), so if you like Berkeley politics, then you will find many like-minded individuals. That said, there are many more republicans residing within the SonCo borders than you would find in the Berkeley.

Santa Rosa has good cultural offerings, but San Fran is only an hour away if you need the opera.

That said, while growing up there, I couldn't wait to escape. The hippy/rednecks (they are weird breed and exist within the same person if that can be believed...picture people on their front porches shooting at rabbits while smoking pot and talking about recycling) drove me nuts. Also, there is a large 'love of track homes in gated communities, hang out at the mall' population' ala East of the tunnel.

If I were to move back (which is on a short list of possibilities, even though none of my family still lives there), I would look at the Healdsburg or Sebastopol. Sebastopol is a very hip small town. Healdsburg is becoming that as well. Both towns have lots of 'in town' homes and great food/shopping.

Hope that helps. El Molino class of ;86