Which Bay Area Neighborhood to Live In?

Parent Q&A

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  • My husband and I relocated to Nashville in 2014 after over a decade in Berkeley. We now have two sons, ages 6 and 4, and are soon listing our house for sell with the intention of moving back to the Bay Area. But to where? I'm hoping you can help!

    We are lucky to live in a wonderfully progressive community in East Nashville where we know our neighbors and all of our children know each other. We bike to school and trick or treat together, have playground meetups and porch cocktails while the children play in the yard. It's truly wonderful, except: there is really no outdoor activity here, the weather stinks, and we're very stuck on this tiny blue island with nowhere interesting to explore. 

    We want public schools that are both racially and socioeconomically diverse. Some walkability is preferred. Community vibe. 

    So far in consideration are North Berkeley or the hills, Forest Knolls / Lagunitas, other communities along Sir Francis Drake (Fairfax?)... 

    Any place we should be looking? 

    Thank you!

    Where did you live in the bay area before? El cerrito will likely have more diversity then Berkeley.  If some walkability is preferred I probably wouldn't recommend the Berkeley hills as it's not particularly close to restaurants/shops.  Pretty much anywhere else in berkeley is walkable.  Albany could be an option as well.  My understanding is the weather will be slightly warmer in Marin(fairfax, san anselmo, lagunitas) but the farther out you go from the water, the more scenic it becomes.  Are you looking to buy or rent a home?  I'd encourage you to tour a few homes/apartments before making your decision.  My wife and I looked at places in south berkeley, temescal neighborhood of Oakland, emeryville, Lafayette, Orinda, and Walnut Creek.  We ultimately decided on south berkeley because it was the best house available for our needs at the time.

    Piedmont - https://patch.com/california/across-ca/cas-top-100-high-schools-ranked-u....  Outstanding community, fire and police (rarely more than 4-minute response time).   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piedmont,_California

    Be sure to check out the real estate (rental and buyer) prices. It's insane!

    Nowhere in the hills will you find racial and socioeconomic diversity. If you truly mean to find this, then the flatlands in Oakland.

    None of the communities you mention will have diverse schools except Berkeley, and even then I find Berkeley schools to be pretty segregated (my kids go to BHS). The hills are definitely not walkable. I would look in Oakland, maybe San Rafael or Novato if you want Marin County. 

    I will just say, I recommend you think long and hard about this decision. Spend more time here and talk to people with kids. We left the Bay Area 25 years ago and lived for 12 super fun years in Washington DC. Then we had kids and decided to move back to be near friends, family, and to raise children in the cool place that we'd loved for so many years. We did that, and slowly realized over time that it may not have been the best decision. First, even moving from one major urban area to another, our expenses here almost doubled. Those cost comparison widgets online are all wrong. It's insanely expensive here, and not just housing - but that is crazy. We moved from a huge, historic house in an amazing area to a tiny bungalow in the Oakland Hills. We enjoy our house and hood, but it was a big step down. Second, nothing was the same ... WE were not the same. Everything we valued in the Bay Area as young professionals in our 20s and 30s, we experienced very differently as parents of young children. We love the nature - the ocean, the sierras, all of it. But the Bay Area of our youth - all the cool stuff we took advantage of - wasn't as important to us anymore in this new life phase. Third, the Bay Area has itself has changed a TON. The traffic and stress is insane. Moms flip you off in traffic. Fires, drought, insurance issues - people are stressed. It's WAY worse than DC, for example, and we really were not prepared for this at all. It's not just the expense, this area attracts very high intensity people - overachieving, ambitious parents and just a huge added layer of competitiveness and stress for our children and our family. You can choose your own path and refuse to get drawn into it - but your kids will notice what their friends are doing and what is "lacking" for them. We have found a lovely community of friends, but you cannot avoid the Bay Area stress. Close pals of ours have left and landed in mutiple places around the US - Wisconsin, Colorado, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and even France and Canada - and ALL are living a way more balanced life in communities that are better for raising children. The skiing here is awesome, the camping, every ocean sport, and much more - but in my opinion it is not worth the lack of balance, the commutes, the millions of extracurricular activities and wierd values that intense parents have, the lifestyle compromises that you will make just to afford a house, the weak school systems, etc etc.  I have told my siblings (who live elsewhere) not to move back, much as I'd love to have them near. It is no longer the Bay Area of our childhood and youth.

    My suggestion would be to edit your post to include your budget, whether you are renting or buying, house/yard requirements, and any commuting/job locations. I would also think more about whether proximity to nature or walking proximity to services is most important to you. There are a lot of great places to live in the Bay Area, but your budget, your location needs, and your desire for space vs convenience will dictate how much of a fit any suggestions would be. For example, Berkeley schools will be somewhat racially and socieconomically diverse, however, if you want to be somewhere flat and bikeable/walkable, with proximity to bart, and are hoping for a 3/2 with a yard in good shape, you would likely need to be in the 1.5-2 million budget range. Lagunitas is great if you want land and a more rural feel, but I would definitely not describe it as walkable in the sense of walkable to services. I also imagine the commute would be hard on someone needing to go into the city a few times a week. 

    Try the Grand Lake area in Oakland. The Lakeshore commercial district is lovely, you are close to the lake and parks. Crocker Highlands Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, and Edna Brewer Middle School are all good. None of Oakland's high schools are all that great, though I think Grand-Lake is mostly zoned for Oakland Tech was rated highest when we were choosing for my daughter 4 years ago (my daughter goes to Oakland High, which has not been terrible but has presented some frustrations on the academic front).

    Marin is much more suburban than Berkeley, either flats or hills. North Berkeley is walkable, and communities form around the schools. In the hills most of your neighbors would be older people (as in Marin.) You might want to rent for six months when you return to the Bay Area so you can get a better sense of the communities.

    Depends on your budget but we love West Contra Costa: we live in Hercules. The Hercules/Pinole area is super friendly, diverse and beautiful. Prices have gone up in the last 5 years but it is still one of the most affordable areas in the Bay Area. 
    Martinez also seems very cute but a lot less diverse. 

    Budget will dictate where you can live. Housing cost and cost for everything in the Bay Area are astronomical compared to TN. When we go to Nashville where we have family, we are always reminded that everything costs almost 50% less except Avocado and wine. Gas is insanely expensive in CA. TN has better public schools than CA — sad but true. We still love the Bay Area and can’t imagine moving back to TN although we would be close to family. Being a political and racial minority in TN is no fun. Ocean and skiing are so far away.

    We live in Grand Lake neighborhood which is diverse but feels a bit transient. We keep seeing people moving in and out. It feels unstable and poor kids keep losing friends but gain new friends, so maybe it’s good for social skills. Luckily we have made a small group of friends who are deeply rooted in the Bay Area.  We are zoned for a great and diverse elementary school (CLeveland) and the best high school in Oakland (Oakland Tech). We plan to do private, magnet or charter school for middle school. We bought a house here partially due to schools and proximity to urban amenities (shops, restaurant, lake Merritt, theater, parks, etc.) Also, we liked the neighbors as the hood seemed kid friendly but all of those families with kids moved away, and we now have a bunch of childless young couples in the hood, but I think it’s our block and not the general neighborhood. (New neighbors who don’t have kids never come outside and don’t seem friendly. But maybe it’s the pandemic. I see people gathering and being more friendly on other blocks in the hood.) 

    If money is not an issue, Piedmont is amazing but not diverse. I think Alameda is really great — diverse, friendly, small town feel with urban amenities, flat, beach, good schools, mild weather. I wish we had bought in Alameda instead of Grand Lake which is walkable on the map but quite hilly in many parts. Berkeley schools are also great and diverse. I am not too fond of weather in most parts of Berkeley as it gets fog from the Pacific Ocean. Lamorinda or Marin for great schools and lovely homes but both lack diversity. If you will rent, we are seeing our friends pay $4000 - $5500 per month to rent a house with a yard and 3 br or more in a desirable neighborhoods. Zillow estimates our 3 bedroom (1600 sq ft) 100 yr old house to be about $1.7 -$1.8 mil. We refinanced a few weeks ago and received $1.58 mil valuation. Just sharing a data point to aid your search. Good luck! (Oh, one minor thing. We can’t find self rising cornmeal easily here in the Bay Area. We make apple butter and share with friends who think it’s so exotic. Hah!)

    We have kids a few years older than yours and live in Berkeley. I wouldn’t recommend it. I would love to have a community like you describe in East Nashville, but that really doesn’t exist here - at least not for us. And it’s a real bummer.

    Regarding socioeconomic diversity - I would say the way it plays out here is not great - there’s super rich and super poor. The families in the “middle” work their butts off just to scrape by. Meanwhile we have a homelessness crisis and people paying $2 million for a tiny bungalow. It’s crazy.

    People say the schools here are great and diverse, but that hasn’t been our experience at all. Yeah, there’s a lot of diversity, but the achievement gap is embarrassing - just terrible. And the schools aren’t really great either. One of our kids does fine in the public school (not excelling, but fine), but our other kid was doing poorly and having mental health issues and the district wouldn’t do anything at all to help. We ended up moving that child to private school ($$$) to get the needed support - and found out in the process that a lot of families end up doing this for their kids rather than fight with the school district.

    In any event, I agree with the earlier poster that you should think long and hard about the move. It is very expensive here, and I don’t think you’ll find a community like the one you have here. At least not in Berkeley. The outdoor activities are great, but I don’t think they’re worth the trade off for the other quality of life issues out here.

    Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful responses. I'm sorry to see them only now...I guess I'm not quite sure how to use this message board!

    I agree that it is definitely easy to idealize the appeal of a place where you lived while childless! 

    To answer some of your questions: we lived in Berkeley together and my husband spent several years in Alameda, we would likely buy with a budget of ~1.5 million but renting for a bit is not a bad idea, we don't need a huge space, and we both work remotely from home so access to BART isn't necessary.

    And, yes, we have so many people moving to our neighborhood from California and New York! 

    Sorry to seem a downer, but I would agree with some of the other posters about thinking long and hard about moving to the Bay Area with kids. We moved back to the Bay Area when our kids were small, from a very manageable expat life in Paris, because our family is here. My two kids are now finishing high school and in college and I often wish I hadn't raised them here. It is crushingly expensive, from housing to childcare to camps to groceries, and we would have saved literally hundreds of thousands of dollars if we hadn't lived here. We lived in SF for a long time, fought it out until middle school, but now live in Marin. It's not diverse, but it's beautiful with the trees and walks, but our house (which took us six soul-crushing overbids to find) is old and has many issues that will cost $$$ to fix, IF we can even find people to do the work. (Think calling 25 contractors and getting mabye two to call back to give bids of $10K to tile a small backsplash.) And the end result? One of my kids goes to UC Berkeley and we stayed partly for the UC system. But Cal is crowded, underfunded, and had the craziest pandemic response you could ever imagine (think locking kids in dorms with cops outside and outlawing outdoor solo exercise), just like the public K-12 schools. Our friends who raised kids in less expensive places now send their kids to great private colleges because a) it's much easier to get into said colleges when you aren't form the hyper-competitive Bay Area, and b.) they have saved so.much.more.money by not living here. Both of my kids want no part of living here as grownups..they are burnt on the odd self-congratulatory smugness, constant grinding competition (think peers who do "medical research" in 10th grade and play two travel sports in hopes of getting into Stanford), traffic, wildfires, power outages, and just general stress of this area. They're considering settling in cheaper cities with more cultural life such when they're older such as London, DC, Boston, or NYC.

    If home prices are not an issue, then Piedmont has a great community vibe.  The small population makes it possible to know and be known by others.  Neighborhoods within a 1/2 mile of schools will have kids hanging out of the trees, block parties, and walking groups.  Join any youth group or team, go to school, or join in a community event and your photo will probably make it into the local news within a few months of your arrival.  It's nice to see familiar faces at school, in scouting at soccer practice, and at community events.  Piedmont could be more diverse racially, but if you take a look at the current school board members, you can see that the city as a whole desires to move in a positive direction and we have some strong leaders who might make it happen.  We used to be at a public school elsewhere that was incredibly diverse (Jewish, Japanese, Korean, Hispanic, Caucasian, other Asian) but there was a lot of self-segregation among the student population that school leadership was either unable or uninterested in overcoming.  Based on what I've seen this balkanization is less along cultural lines and more along socioeconomic lines.  Schools generally seem unable to break down socioeconomic barriers and the inequities in student progress by subgroups is further evidence.  Piedmont is also intensely progressive these days.  Very high voter turnout.  Very high census returns.  93% of kids ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated and 95% of school teachers/staff are vaccinated.

    In San Francisco, the Glen Park neighborhood has that close knit and progressive vibe especially the closer you are to Chenery. Walkable. Mission Terrace nbrhd too. (Of the two nbrhds, Glen Park is less diverse but probably still more diverse than the areas you mentioned.) SF has public schools that are racially and socioeconomically diverse, you can rank those schools at the top of your list. (Not all schools are equally diverse but it’s easy to check.) 

    I'm going to echo others who say to get a realistic idea of cost of living before taking the leap to move. I'm also going to add to consider commute time, for both work and activities, before making your decision. As a parent who left the Bay Area 2 years ago with an 11 year old, it is absolutely astonishing the difference between the Bay Area and everywhere else. Going from a 1-1.5 hour commute (one way) to 6 minutes is life changing, as would be the reverse. The cost of housing and cost of living in general is much higher than you'd expect and online estimators aren't accurate. When we moved, our family income dropped to 1/3 of what it was before, but our standard of living and economic security, not to mention access to great schools, home ownership, safe communities, and kid activities we could only dream about in CA, is SO much higher. We do miss the diversity and food, but that's about it. Honestly, we wouldn't even entertain a thought of moving to the Bay area unless our income was at least 5x higher there and we were able to find good jobs in a safe community with decent schools within a few miles of home. And that's tricky.

    Like someone else said, if you can update with a price range (either monthly housing budget for rental or ownership, or your salary range), you can get a better idea of what is reasonable for your situation. Also, job locations will make a difference, so if you have that info, it can provide more direction.

    Responding to the original poster’s second post, which included the house budget of $1.5 million. I hate to say it, but you are priced out of Berkeley with that budget. You might consider communities North of Berkeley like Hercules, Pinole, Martinez, or South like Castro Valley or San Leandro. I’m not as familiar with the housing markets in those cities but $1.5 million is unfortunately not going to get you anything for a four-person family in Berkeley. You might see listings for less than that but they are under-priced to drive bids. Houses sell for so much over asking it’s absurd - cash only. 

    There are many pockets that are neighborly. Some streets /blocks have regular or even weekly happy hours. Kids come out and play all the time in some parts. But, it’s hard to know what your neighbors are like until you start living there. Pleasant Hill is less expensive with decent schools and really family friendly. It’s getting more diverse. I think Alameda is lovely for families. We live in Oakland but end up driving to Alameda a lot for family amenities. We were focused on good public schools when we were house shopping. After spending 3 years in Oakland public schools, we realized that even the best public school here is still a CA public school. We were at one of the highly coveted Oakland public schools and were disappointed with the experience. Kids had no play equipment for 2 years and finally I ended up buying and donating hundreds of hula hoops and balls because it was such a low priority that PTA had no budget for it. This was a school where PTA raises a lot of money and we donated $2000-$3000/year. We ended up switching to a private school ($30k/year). Good schools help with the property value but I would not count on your child thriving in public school. If public school works for your kid, fantastic! If not, you want to have the resources to switch to private. We have friends who moved to Albany, Piedmont, San Ramon, parts of Oakland (hills, rockridge) and ended up in private schools. 

    Piedmont has a community vibe but 1.5 mil will get you a small 2 or 3 bedroom house with a tiny yard. Our friends live in such a house in the lower Piedmont and often joke that they are the paupers of Piedmont. (They are not poor and are both lawyers who make 6 figure salaries). 

    San Leandro is also popular with families these days. We looked at a few lovely houses there. Estudllo area has a good public elementary school. We couldn’t stomach the commute but with remote working possible, we would consider SL. 

    Hi! We’ve moved to Albany on the Berkeley border 6 months ago, from London. 
    Let me say, it’s just ok. I miss too many things a big city offers but at the same time family life here (with a toddler) is fine. We have walkability near Solano Ave and it is practical for day to day needs. 
    We rented a 3/2 with mini backyard for 4200/month and if you want to buy we’ve discovered that hitting the 2mln mark, quite unfortunately, is needed. Be ready for a bidding war. 
    In terms of community, I honestly don’t know if there’s such a thing or if folks are still quite respectful of covid and thus keep away (which shows in a way respect to the community and is appreciated). 
    Everything here is ridiculously expensive and not easy, for example getting a veterinarian appointment takes a month’s lead time. 
    Think long and hard if you have a good community with good schools. Romanticizing memories might not help when making life changing decisions. 

  • Piedmont or Palo Alto?

    (5 replies)

    Hi -- We live in SF currently, but know we want to move to the suburbs next year for all the typical reasons (good public schools, strong local community, more space, and the slightly warmer weather is a bonus!). We're debating between Piedmont and Palo Alto. We currently have 2 young kids under the age of 3. I really like both Piedmont and Palo Alto, and fortunately commute / budget are not driving the decision, it really comes down to lifestyle.

    Are there folks that have lived in both Piedmont and Palo Alto and can share more on your experience (both the positives and negatives) of living in each place?

    I would definitely choose Piedmont, especially if you are used to SF. We live on the Oakland/Piedmont border, and there are so many beautiful parks for kids in Piedmont that we go to all the time. Our son is still too young for school, but the Piedmont schools are supposed to be excellent, and they attract students from the surrounding Oakland neighborhoods. The demograhic in Piedmont tends to be older, but there are also younger families around. Plus, you would be so much closer to SF and urban life in Oakland and Berkeley, if you're hoping to retain some of that while still getting the benefits of leaving the city. 

    I've lived in both. Palo Alto wins by far. Sure, you get less house for your money there but the spaciousness of the town itself and the lifestyle is worth it. Here are the pros of PA over Piedmont, in my opinion: excellent bikability. We biked everywhere, enjoying the hills and bay shore very much. Excellent amenities, children's parks (including donkeys), bike streets, and city cleanliness. Attitudes. Specifically: people there are wealthy. They are the kind of wealthy where there ain't no sweating - everything is nice, easy breezy, and stress is transient (I find the east bay in general to be very stressed out by people getting rich or trying to stay rich; this difference made for a more laid back neighborhood - in my experience only). The school district is amazing. AMAZING. elementary school in PAUSD is incredible. The principals, teachers, special Ed professionals, tech support. Never a delay in helpful responses and services. We left piedmont after kindergarten and I didn't realize how chaotic and frenetic that energy was until I'd left. 

    However, drawbacks: the older your kids get in the hypercompetitive school system, the more freaked out they'll become. You've got to center the easy-breeziness in order to help them not become overwhelmed with anxiety. Also, if you're not wealthy-wealthy, it's a daunting place to be. I am a non-wealthy, single mom and was in a tiny apartment in Palo alto, but benefitted from everyone else's great wealth. I've since moved from Palo Alto but it was a great place to live with my kids. 

    Piedmont has a larger population of senior citizens compared to Palo Alto, if you are looking for younger crowd of parents. If you like suburban life, move to Palo Alto, but if you want to enjoy a bit of urban flare (and the headaches it brings), then choose Piedmont (because of its proximity to Oakland). Assuming that you work in SF, commuting from Piedmont may be easier. 

    I'd choose Piedmont, particularly lower Piedmont, if you don't want to feel like you live in a hyper wealthy suburb.  Don't get me wrong, Piedmont is very wealthy, but its small and dwarfed by Oakland, which I find gives it a very different vibe than Palo Alto. Parts of Piedmont are super walkable to schools, stores (in Oakland) and culture (again, Oakland).  The community is really nice, the schools are excellent (we've had a great experience with our elementary aged kid who is in special ed), the town is beautiful.  There are plenty of families with young kids around us, nice parks, etc. Also can't beat the good food of the East Bay, which Palo Alto is sorely lacking in.

    I'm going to put in a vote for Piedmont over Palo Alto, but it really depends on what lifestyle you want and what you are into.  I come from a more humble background and so while I love Palo Alto, I feel more at home in Piedmont, though both are very nice places. 


    Pros: basically in Oakland and all that has to offer, very easily commutable to SF, public school system great, super safe, really nice community feel -- it really is a community --, lots of young families, amazing views, super responsive public services, warmer than SF but not boiling

    Cons: People judge you for living there, since it is a weird island in Oakland. Like, you'll be talking to someone who just bought a $multi-M house in Rockridge and they'll be like, "oohh, Piedmont, lah-dee-dah."  Piedmont itself has nothing going on in terms of shops, restaurants, so you have to go to Oakland establishments-- which are great, but very different in feel from Palo Alto establishments because the economic situation of the surrounding area is totally different. 

    Palo Alto:

    Pros: awesome downtown area with really nice restaurants and shops, superb school system, best of the best live there

    Cons: School is a total pressure cooker at the upper levels (you can read about it), and it is all tech, all the time, like an episode of Silicon Valley.

    [I want to correct the impression that Upper Piedmont has the old wealthy people whereas lower piedmont has the "cool" people. The reality is that the influx of cool young families in lower Piedmont has rendered it more expensive per square foot, so there are plenty of cool young families in Upper Piedmont too because there are now better deals to be had.] 

  • Best Area to Raise Children

    (6 replies)


    We are a family of 4 with two young children (3.5 yrs and 6 yrs old). I’m a stay at home mom and I’m looking for the best neighborhood/ area in the east bay to raise children. I am looking for a safe neighborhood where neighbors know each other and kids play together in the neighborhood. Possibly an area with other stay at home moms but that’s not a must.  

    We are currently in Berkeley but thinking of moving to Lamorinda for the schools but are open to other areas as well. Any recommendations on best neighborhoods to raise your kids? 

    Nearly everyday I wish I had bought a house in Lamorinda, Pleasant Hill or Walnut Creek instead of our small 100 year old dilapidated house on a meager sloped lot in what is considered one of the best neighborhoods in Oakland. I am afraid to take a walk due to rise in crime. For the same price point at the time of purchase, we could have had a larger house on a much larger flat lot with a swimming pool in a neighborhood with other kids. Young families are fleeing in droves from our hood to the other side of the tunnel. Within the past 15 months, we have had 3 friends move to Pleasant Hill, 1 to Moraga, 1 to Benicia, 1 to Orinda, 1 to Walnut Creek. (Several other friends to Sacramento area and out of state or country)… *sigh*

    Commute to SF was our first priority in home purchase. It make no economics sense for us to move and we can’t afford the house we want now that the price has gone up so much. But we are very envious of people being able to move.

    Pleasant Hill seems like less snooty, very family friendly and a bit more diverse than Lamorinda. We dream of a 4br/2ba house with a large yard in Pleasant Hill where neighborhood kids come out and play. (All 3 friends who moved to PH live on this type of street)

    This is going to depend a LOT on your pricepoint, and somewhat on your 'style'. We live in the North Berkeley flatlands with our almost 4 and almost 6 year olds and absolutely love the neighborhood. We have become very close with our neighbors, even those with older kiddos or babies, and see little 'packs' of kids riding and running around. It's a little mecca as far as I'm concerned, with proximity to schools, restaurants, bars, parks, libraries, etc. We are fortunate to have a lovely yard as well, though I know it's not all that common in Berkeley. We prioritized being able to walk/bike places, and didn't want to be in the hills. The heat on the other side of the tunnel was also a factor for our family.

    We just moved to Walnut Creek from Oakland last year, during the pandemic, didn't plan it that way but it worked out perfectly. More space, good schools, safe neighborhoods. There are a lot of new families in the area who left SF and Oakland to come across the tunnel. We are in the North Gate area of Walnut Creek and the schools are well rated. A friend in Emeryville is moving to the Parkmead neighborhood of WC, good schools, safe, and close to downtown. Another friend who used to live in Montclair hills moved to Campolindo neighborhood in Moraga last summer for a house with a pool, yard, good schools, and a neighborhood with sidewalks. I don't think you can go wrong with either Lamorinda or WC. 

    Pretty sure Alameda fits the bill on all counts. Safe streets, kids play together, lots of SAHM's and great schools, stores, dining, plus it's an island! How cool is that? Happy hunting!

    What does “best” mean to you because it means different things to different people. People saying Oakland is not safe or not the best area to raise a kid haven’t experienced all of Oakland. There is a lot of crime of course because it’s a major urban city. Obviously there is less crime in suburbs but you lose a tremendous amount in regard to diversity and culture. It’s about what you’re looking for. While I’m certainly weary of the crime in Oakland, I love living here because my kid is exposed to many races, ethnicities, genders, socioeconomics, you name it. My kid is surrounded by working class kids and not a bunch of privileged wealthy kids who will make her feel bad. I love going to parks and finding a multicultural group of kids to play with rather than the all white kids you’ll find in these “safe” suburbs. I’ll take the diversity over a perceived perception of safety any day. 

    Alameda or North Berkeley/Albany seem like good fits, especially if you're not looking for a large yard or country club lifestyle. Walnut Creek or Danville would be worth considering as well.

  • Buying in Oakland or Berkeley near BART

    (4 replies)

    Hi. We lived in Oakland (temescal/emeryville)for 8 years then moved to the South Bay for work. Now that WFH will continue to be more flexible we’d like to settle permanently in Berkeley or Oakland. We now have kids 2 and 4 so we’re looking for a good elementary school district. Also, my husband can’t drive due to disability so we need something BART/ bus accessible. What neighborhoods would you recommend?

    If your budget allows, I'd try Rockridge. It's very easy to be car-free and if you stay in the Peralta or Chabot school zones, you can walk to both elementary and middle schools fairly easily (assuming your husband may sometimes need to do dropoff or pickup). Berkeley uses a weighted lottery to assign schools, so there's no guarantee that you'll be assigned to a school walkable from home. You may also want to explore North Oakland, which is zoned to the new Sankofa United for elementary. Friends at the new school have been really happy with how things are going there so far and housing is (slightly!) more affordable in that area while still being close to BART and bus lines.

    Hi there. Family with two kids, and a disabled (non-driving) parent here. We love living in the lower Rockridge neighborhood and utilize Ashby BART, the Telegraph and College Ave bus lines for everything - including taking our kids all around the area for parks and play dates. Peralta Elementary is fantastic, but over-enrolled (because of many socioeconomic and school/neighborhood/society injustice issues - for more information research "A Tale of Two Schools"), so if you end up at Sankofa it is also a great school. I would say that if cost isn't an issue for you, and you can live comfortably in this neighborhood, definitely donate to the OUSD Equity fund. College Ave shops within walking distance, and friendly neighbors all huge plusses. Bushrod community center has amazing kids programming and affordable day camp. The downsides were the starkly widening inequality - gentrification in visible action, housing insecurity of our neighbors, watching Peralta whiten while less affluent neighbors are forced out of the community. There is also a sort of constant criminal activity - burglaries, package theft, etc. Our motto is: if someone is robbing you, give them whatever they want so you can walk away. Like anywhere, there's wonderful things and not-so-wonderful things. It's a beautiful neighborhood, and we love being part of the community. 

    We have similarly aged children and love where we are in North Berkeley. We are near the bart station and bus stops and love the flatlands for riding and walking around. 

    Hi. Really depends on your budget. Obviously in the most "desirable" BART locations (Rockridge, North Berkeley, Berkeley), prices and rents are sky-high (and really don't seem to have been affected by the pandemic). One interesting area to consider that's still a little more affordable (relatively speaking!)  is Bushrod: It's sort of between Rockridge and the Berkeley border. Depending on where in Bushrod, it's walkable to either Ashby or Rockridge BART. Part of it is in the Peralta Elementary zone (universally raved about by parents like few other schools I've seen) or Sankofa United. I just moved to an area where Peralta is the neighborhood school (and that was a big reason for choosing that location). I don't know too much about Sankofa except that it recently merged with Kaiser Elementary, so it will be interesting to see what the combined school experience will turn out to be. You probably already know this, but in Oakland, while there is a lottery system for school assignments, your location is one of the top criteria, so you are highly likely to get your "neighborhood school" if that's what you want. That's why I refer to school zones above, but it's not guaranteed.

  • Moving to East Bay location advice

    (3 replies)

    We live in the peninsula and hoping to upgrade to a larger home.  Both of our jobs moved to remote work-from-home with only the expectation of occasional office visit for meetings (not to exceed once a week) after the pandemic is over, so we are seriously considering moving to the east bay to be able to upgrade and purchase a much larger home than our current one for a lower purchase price.  Even though commuting to the peninsula will be painful, a once a week at most commute seems doable and worth it to get more space.  But picking a city has been overwhelming.  We have elementary aged kids and so a high rated public school that is strongly focused on academics is a top priority for us (since that's what we have now).  We would love if the schools have after care centers in them or walking distance from them, but can work around it since we will be working from home most days.  We are hoping for a place that is close to walking trails and/or state parks so there is place to take a walk and get exercise, a place where the kids can play and ride bikes in the community, a place with low crime rate that feels safe, and one that would be good to raise kids in.  Something that feels like San Carlos but with a lower price range.  Reasonable commute to peninsula or SF will be nice, but we already know the commute will be hard and are willing to put up with it once a week to get our kids a larger backyard and more comfortable home.  So far we have considered Walnut Creek and Danville areas, but not sure if there are other good places to raise kids in the East Bay that we should be looking at. 

    Berkeley has every element you're looking for! Good schools with high educated and motivated teachers, a real feeling of community, high on the enrichment, diversity, and walk scale, too!

    Every Ivy League school sends its recruiters to Berkeley High.

    Most neighborhoods are very safe.

    Don't know if it's cheaper than San Carlos, though.

    Walnut Creek and Danville are good choices and you are close to hiking trails.  But if your top priority is schools in order you will want Orinda followed by Moraga and Lafayette.  All three have low crime rates and are considered they best most desirable neighborhoods in the Easy Bay,  Orinda is surrounded by parks with hiking trails as is Moraga.  Downtown Lafayette and Walnut Creek have many nice restaurants and shops.  Not sure if you are going to like the commute.  Pre-covid you are looking at a travel time of 2 hrs each way.  You might want to take a look at Alamo and Diablo.  Much more desirable than Walnut Creek or Danville.  And you might want to take a look at Pleasanton.

    Alameda! Super walkable community with great schools and easy commute to SF via the ferry. Much more like San Carlos than further out in the East Bay, but not sure Alameda is really all that much cheaper than San Carlos.

  • Hi, I’m planning to move from San Francisco to Berkeley or Oakland. I’d appreciate any advice on safe neighborhoods near Bart or other easy public transportation. My budget is $3500/month to rent a 1-2 BR. Thank you 

    Rockridge is probably one of the safest neighborhoods near BART and I think in your price range. There's also lots of AC Transit options.

    North Berkeley (north end of Shattuck Avenue) is relatively safe and only a 10-15 minute walk to downtown Berkeley Bart.

    I cannot speak to the rental market around here but my family and I moved from san francisco to  North Berkeley close to the bart here, and it's been wonderful.

  • We are moving to the East Bay this summer and are trying to figure out where to go! My husband went to Miramonte (20 years ago) and I went to college in the East Bay. Neither of us have been around the areas much, except for quick visits. In our heads, we want to live in Berkeley. But, with three kids, ages 2, 5 and 7, and for the long term, we are finally ready to settle down, well, mostly.

    For the past 5 months, we've been going between the East Bay and Portland. Before that, we lived in a small town in The South (for 2 years); before that Denver (2 years)  and NYC/Brooklyn for 8 years. Brooklyn is our favorite, but after spending this past winter schlepping kids around in the wet snow and ice, we don't think it's for us. After being home bound in Portland because of the rain, the East Bay is it. We are in a position where we are a few years into launching our own businesses. Commuting to and from an office will not be part of our day (for now, at least). Then comes the "starting business" part; I know we aren't going to save money by living in the East Bay. We want to rent for two years (I know, I know...probably more expensive than purchasing). Ultimately, we want to end up in Lamorinda. But rentals are scant and on par with NYC.

    The question:

    1. Is Lamorinda still as great as it used to be (I used to work at OCC during my summers and throughout the school year and the families were awesome)? A mix of personalities? Interests? Family and people-oriented?

    2. In the five years I've lived there, I set foot in San Ramon two times and Pleasanton once. I hardly remember either but friends keep recommending them. Are they worth checking out? Our kids have been attending Waldorf schools (we know this may no longer be a reality) but we are very big supporters of public education.

    Any direction or insight would be so helpful. We really thought Brooklyn was it, but I think the outdoors and education are our top priorities.

    Lamorinda, San Ramon and Berkeley are all very different and really depends on what you are looking for. Each have different things going for them:

    Lamorinda - Mostly very affluent and white, but good schools. Almost no walkability except if you are close to downtown Lafayette.

    San Ramon - diverse on paper but communities tend to keep to themselves. Whites are more conservative and republican and less enthusiastic about diversity. Schools, houses, parks are all new and shiny. Almost no walkability.

    Berkeley - Lot of diversity, great walkability (most neighborhoods) but public schools are bit disappointing

    Without knowing what your budget is, it is hard to give you advice. The same amount of money results in extremely varied living situations in different areas of the East Bay. 

    Lamorinda has wonderful schools, is generally safe, is not very diverse and is very expensive.  Lamorinda is family oriented and about 15 minutes away from Oakland.

    San Ramon has wonderful schools, is generally safe, is not expensive in comparison to Lamorinda.   The community is diverse, the public schools are fantastic, it is safe and a family oriented community.  San Ramon has apartments but they also have very affordable townhouses and free standing homes.  The town houses are much less expensive than the free standing homes.   San Ramon is only 25 minutes from Oakland.  San Ramon has lots of neighborhood parks and Las Trampas East Bay RegionalPark.  San Ramon is building a new outdoor shopping/walking around plaza which will feature a combination of living space upstairs (rental units) and shopping and a luxury eat-in movie theater 10-plex downstairs. Here is some information regarding the new plaza called City Center in San Ramon http://www.citycenterbishopranch.com/.  There are also a lot of small businesses in San Ramon.

    Pleasanton has good schools, is less expensive than Lamorinda but slightly more expensive than San Ramon.  It is as safe as San Ramon but not as diverse.  It is a family oriented community.  It is also about 25 minutes from Oakland. Pleasanton has lots of neighborhood parks. Pleasanton has some rentals and lots of houses.  Pleasanton has a really cute downtown with nice restaurants.  There are a number of companies in Pleasanton.

    I know this is not the part of the county you're asking about, but I wanted to put in a plug for west Contra Costa :)

    We have lived in the western half of the county (Pinole) for 3 1/2 years and LOVE it. It is definitely an "up-and-coming" area (there are open houses in our development literally every weekend), lots of young families moving in. The houses are not cheap, but you could definitely get more house for your money than you'd find in Lamorinda or Berkeley. There are tons of hiking trails within an easy walk from our house; neighbors have chickens, goats, and even horses. Before my daughter was born last year, I regularly rode my bike downtown to write at East Bay Coffee Company; now I walk w/her to the playground around the corner from our house almost every day, and have met several very kind mamas and babies there. My husband commutes to Berkeley, and while 80 is sometimes challenging, there are back roads and workarounds that can spare you most of the traffic.

    Public schools here are OK-and-on-track-to-get-better (one of the few up sides of gentrification), and we are 15 minutes from the East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante.

    Happy to talk more about pros and cons if it's helpful. Good luck!

  • Struggling to find community in the East Bay

    (19 replies)

    My family of four has lived in the East Bay for 13 years, first in El Cerrito and now in Albany. (I'm from the East Coast and my husband is from LA.) While we love many things about it, and chose this part of the Bay Area very purposefully when we bought our home, we're feeling a bit disenchanted recently. I'm wondering if our complaints are unique to us, unique to the East Bay (or Bay Area) or simply a product of the changing social landscape we're all living with these days. We have some good friends here, people we like and socialize with somewhat regularly as a family or just as a couple. That said, we've still struggled to find a true sense of community, or a group of friends/couples/families who all know each other and with whom we truly connect-- the automatic casual Friday night dinner crowd. We frequently entertain and are surprised by the number of couples/families whom we've hosted numerous times and have never reciprocated. We're always the family that gives rides to sports practices/games, hosts play dates and snacks and dinners for our daughters' friends. In several instances these efforts are simply never returned. We're starting to feel like we're beating our heads against the wall, making no progress at establishing strong friendships as a result of our many efforts. In short, we feel like we are very much more invested in sustaining relationships and creating a sense of community than most of the people we know. 

    When I talk to my friends on the East Coast it feels to me like there is a marked difference in expectations and experiences with friendships, social engagements and traditions. My question to this group is whether you've experienced any of these same issues and dilemmas, what you have done about it, whether you've considered moving from the East Bay as a result or if you have found another solution. Is it us? Are our expectations out of line? Is it a sign of the times, where everyone is stretched thin and doesn't have the energy or time to foster deeper connections? Does the Bay Area (perhaps specifically the East Bay) self-select toward people who prefer spending time outdoors (camping, skiiing) or alone as a family to socializing? Are we somehow just unlucky in our specific neighborhood or school community? We truly feel like we've tried everything to connect, put down roots and build a life here, but keep feeling disappointed in how our efforts are received. We’re starting to wonder if we’d be happier in another area where people might put more of a premium on community. I'd appreciate hearing from those of you for whom my post rings true, and what if anything you were able to do about it. Thanks.

    Your post rings true. I don't have any particular solution, but some thoughts about the context. I think that the relocation, by itself, is a big part of what you're still dealing with. For example, if you were from the East Bay and had relocated to where you came from on the East Coast, I can't help but think that you'd be telling a similar or even more dismal story. 

    One exercise I'd suggest is to think about your social connections on the East Coast before you left, and analyze how they came about. I realize that they'd be different now, if you'd stayed. But still, how did they come about? If they were connections of long-standing, from grade school on, and so on, that points to the absence of such a foothold here. If you think that they had more (then) contemporary origins, then that might provide some guidance for you now.

    I know exactly what you mean.  I have lived in several other places, and the Bay Area is not the same as the rest of the US.  People here are generally nice, but they are very flakey and self-absorbed, too.  I have friends, but they arent the same depth of friendships I have made elsewhere.  It's not just you....


    You're definitely not alone. We relocated over 7 years ago from the East Coast (the southeast) and found that it is very hard to establish community here. I think it's a combination of people being very busy and not really interested in making new friends. I also think it is a cultural difference - I was raised to believe that when you invite someone or do something for someone they reciprocate but that doesn't seem to be the norm in this area. I hosted crazy inclusive birthday parties and playdates for my kids when they were young and many of the attendees didn't reciprocate. It was very very frustrating.

    I've kind of had to accept that this is the way it is here, but am also happy to report that we have found friends that we like. We have also lost some along the way, which is fine. I also think when you're a parent it's tough because your social life is kind of dictated by who your kids hang out with, which can be challenging. My advice is to do activities that interest you (yoga, community service, whatever) so that you can find people that you connect to and it's not about your kids. That way you will be more likely to find people on your wavelength. It definitely takes time but I'm sure you will find your people. Good luck! - Been there

    I am from the East Coast and I could have written your post verbatim.   I don't know what it is about it here. I find even basic social norms, such as "hello" to be an all too frequent absence.

    What have I done about it?  Lament it. Complain about it on BPN from time to time. That's about it.  

    But, I'm raising my children to be different.

    I too have found a lot of what you say to be true.  I also am from the East Coast and yes the reports i get from family and friends I left behind are quite different from what I experience here.  As to causes, I think it's an "all of the above" answer.  I have been here 20 years and it took me about 10 to get comfortable with the startling cultural differences between the coasts. I think I see this most in the lack of attention to reciprocity on play dates, dinners, etc.   We are friendly with school families but not in a way that translates to socializing outside of the kids' activities where the parents are lined up as spectators.  They all seem nice, but .....  Part of it too is that my kid is behind socially and quite awkward and I don't see the other parents encouraging their kids to notice this and be inclusive.  And so, because my kid has trouble making friends, our whole family is kind of left out of the social scene in spite of volunteering, being socially adept, bringing food by to someone who has experienced a birth or a death.  All that said, we found, as agnostics, a non-denominational progressive faith community that has met these needs for us and we have had a very soft landing there.  The disadvantage is that it's not in town, but the wonderful advantage is a large cohort of like minded people, intentionally social and kind and inclusive, with whom to share our day to day lives, and all the joy and the sorrow.  It's taken care of a bit of the longing I have for my family back East.  I know a faith community isn't for everyone, but for us it worked. 

    I can't help with your situation. With that said, we've lived in Albany for 8 years, and feel as you do. I am a Midwesterner, and, like you, love many things about California, have not established anything more than superficial relationships. Not sure if it's a east side/west side of the Mississippi. But I just wanted you to know that we are in the same boat. I'm extremely active in my community, and lead an active lifestyle. So we are not wallflower folks, yet, here we are. I also have lived in various places and have never been faced with this lack of relationships of depth. anyway, glad to feel that someone else feels the same, but still sad to feel disenchanted also. "Just keep swimming..."

    You are not alone! When we lived in Oakland, I found it hard to form a larger social group. We had several good friends that we'd see individually, but could never quite get a group together in spite of some effort! When my kids were younger, I hosted neighborhood-wide mom/kid groups. When my kids started school, I was organizing fun family outings (water parks, shows, museums, family camping trips etc) so we could all get to know each other. It was a big effort to bring people together but I too wanted to have a sense of community and a group of families that enjoyed each other. Reflecting back, but I came to these conclusions: 1. the area where we lived had a lot of two parent working families who simply weren't as available or committed to building social bonds; 2. often the families didn't quite "line up." My first born befriended a lot of kids who were the second or third child, and the families were "out of sync" in that way. Or I'd like the moms, but my husband didn't have anything in common with the husbands. 3. Organized sports and other activities meant people were already busy.

    A couple of years ago we moved to Lamorinda. Here the situation is different, and overall, I've found it easier to meet people. I may not quite have that tight social circle of families, but I do have 3-4 different groups of friends who know each other. I find that I'm often the one who organizes things like BBQs at the pool, dinner parties or family outings, but I'm not the only one who plans and hosts. One thing that I've learned here is that there are a lot of folks who grew up in Orinda or Lafayette and they are now back here raising their families. Usually, those moms are less available and more likely to have a tight circle already. I worked on getting to know other "new people," and that's made a big difference. Hang in there! You didn't say how old your kids are, but when mine turned about 10 or so, they didn't always want to hang out with "the family friends."

    Not all of us are lucky enough to have that tight group, but it is possible to have tight connections with smaller groups of people. Also, groups may flex and change as kids get older too. Best of luck.

    We've had the same experience. It's so depressing. I've given up on having a close community by my house. I think that you can contact me through my user name. I'd love to hang out!

    I also wish that I had a larger circle of folks in our family's social circle, but alas, there is just not enough time in the week!  From your description, you are putting in a lot of time to form social connections.  I imagine that other families would also like to reciprocate but simply do not have the time.  I know that in our family, with both parents commuting to work and kids in afterschool care and/or activities, we have very limited time during the week.  Play dates are not happening on weekdays.  Friday nights are not great for our kids, as they are usually worn out and frankly, not super fun to be around.  My husband works very long hours, so the weekend is when he recharges and gets to spend a lot of uninterrupted time with our kids. He is somewhat introverted so he is not inclined to invite other families over on the weekends.  Our family schedules some get-togethers with other families, but probably only about 4 times per year.  In addition to time limitations, it has been difficult to find other families where both the parents and the kids get along.  Over the last few years, we have found--through our kids' schools and sports teams--a couple of other families who are good "matches" for our family.  Those families all have limited time as well, however, so coordinating schedules is still challenging.  It is not unusual for us to need to schedule an informal joint family dinner 6 weeks out into the future.  I say all of this to explain that perhaps some of the families who haven't reciprocated to your generous invitations would also like to create "a sense of community," but simply do not have the bandwidth to do so. This may not be encouraging to you, but a realistic viewpoint from someone who also probably owes other people for countless playdates, rides and dinners.

    Before you romanticize the lives of your friends on the East Coast , I would stop to think whether it is an "apples to apples" comparison. Do your East Coast friends live in urban areas?  When I talk to my friends who lives in the DC suburbs, their lives sound just as hectic and stressed as ours do in the East Bay.  In fact, we frequently commiserate about how hard it is to spend time with existing friends, never mind developing new relationships.  Life is likely slowed paced in many smaller towns outside of urban areas, whatever region of the country.  

    I advise that you continue to reach out to families.  Eventually you should find the winning combination with a family with which you connect and that also has enough time to establish a deeper relationship.

    I feel the exact same way. My son is 7. Feel free to message me.

    Oh, we can so relate - when we lived in Berkeley, we felt like we were not making much headway socially and like you, we were very much the ones hosting and offering social events and not receiving anything back. I don't know if it's just the location, or the people we were trying to connect with, or what. We attended a church and people there did not make any effort to connect, either (I always thought church was a great place to connect with people of all walks of life). 

    What helped was moving to San Leandro - our neighbors are friendly, our realtor who we love introduced us to some people in the neighborhood and we've met other neighbors and although everyone is busy, we find the time to socialize and invite each other over. I don't know if it's the town itself that is laid back and down to earth or  we got lucky or we just started meeting more people like us who were looking for friendly connections. 

    Just so you know: friendly people are out there! (And my sister had a similar experience in Spokane and they gave up on it because of that). Look for people who will reciprocate and spend less effort on those who don't. Good luck. 

    As an east coaster (my wife and I are both, relocated to the Bay Area almost 8 years ago, been in east bay about 6), we struggled with similar feelings with even our close friends on the east coast. And to some extent, on the west coast, too. But we are able to see a small cadre of friends more regularly here than we did when Boston winters and habits set in (people hibernated). I do think people are spread more thinly, for sure. Friendships grow more slowly, and it takes more to maintain and nurture close friendships. But we have become more patient and view things over a longer arc. But yes, it can take a while to see reciprocation and develop that "urban tribe". I found joining a nonprofit board and pitching in on a common purpose and shared experiences as a way of really deepening some new friendships. But I think you really raised a thoughtful and important question. Thanks for that! 

    I could have written your post, except my family has only been here two years! Like you, I had a strong community back on the east coast, and socializing was natural and easy -- people dropped by regularly; we got together in parks and playgrounds every weekend, had regular outings, drinks, etc. When I was home with my baby and toddler, I had friends I saw almost every day! I have also found here (Oakland and Berkeley) that people just don't seem to need the same degree of socializing. I don't know why that is, but it does seem to be the case. I've met some great folks and feel like we genuinely connect, but they seem to be content to get together maybe once every couple of months, and I also feel like I'm usually the one putting forth the effort (a bit hard not to take it personally!). I'm beginning to resign myself to the fact that this may be the trade-off: beautiful place and high quality of life instead of a more social community of friends. We haven't been here that long so I still feel like I'm trying, but I too feel a little perplexed by the lack of engagement. As a side note, I'd be happy to meet up with you, though it sounds like our kids are at different stages (mine are 3 and 5).

    All I can say is that I consider myself to have several close friends and a wide circle of friends, and yet I have nothing close to an automatic casual Friday night dinner crowd. I rarely host anything. I never go on double dates. I feel like my friends and I are often just tired by the end of the week. We try to see each other when we can, but there's an understanding that yes, everyone is busy. This is perhaps the busiest time of our lives - raising young kids, working, dealing with aging parents. Long commutes with increasingly bad traffic. And yes, economic conditions in the Bay Area in general probably make it worse for many people. I have lived in the East Bay for 25 years and some of my friends are from the early days. It is possible that the people you are seeking friendships with already have other long-established friendships. I feel like my advice to you is the same as the advice for finding a partner: do activities you enjoy, and you will find likeminded people. And try not to judge other people if they can't reciprocate by having you over.

    Having lived in lots of different parts of the East Bay I can tell you that there are huge differences in the sense of community between Albany/Berkeley and the towns through the tunnel (Orinda, Lafayette, etc.) or further South like San Leandro. But there can also be huge difference within Berkeley just from one block to another. My experience has been that the neighborhoods or blocks that have a majority of stay-at-home moms or dads tend to have a lot more closeness. The kids are out on the street playing with each other, the neighbors are in and out of each others houses all weekend and there are lots and lots of parties. The blocks that have mostly two parents working outside the home have their kids in after-school care and so don't even get home until 5 or 6. There is very little time in those houses for get-togethers on weekdays and even on weekends many of those parents are working or are out-of-town on business or are trying to catch up on a rare bit of family time when they are all together in the same place. 

    So it's not necessarily that you're in the wrong town, but maybe you are on the wrong block for the kind of community you are hoping to find. 

    I think the issue is both the context of living in the Bay Area intersecting with the developmental stage of the families iwith which you are trying to build community. Seems like you are looking for the "whole package" in one group of people. Probably impossible. I break it down into thre categories: community, social support, and friendship. Community is the group you identify with 'parent at X school" "Warriiors fan" " practicing Wiccan"-allows you to come together to reaffirm that aspect of your identity. Then there's social support-concrete help needed at various times. Flat tire, need a ride or pick up, new baby and meals arrive or whatever pops up and you have a way of getting help. Then there is friendship, those you can call on, confide in, share feelings, exchange advice, etc..  There are different groups and people I rely on and provide for that fill those needs. Yes, there is overlap, but there are people I  provide social support and vice versa (gay couple across the street), but I do not confide or bear witness to their innermost thoughts, feelings and dreams,  nor am I part of the gay community. But we are part of the community of neighbors and enjoy and rely on each other. Same with church. We have a wondeful sense of community and belongingness and we celebrate that, and if we needed it would provide concrete help.not many friends there, as most are much older, have lived different lives but still liike and respect each other immensely. School revolves around the kids, and nobody has the time or bandwith to support each other concretely or emotionally for the most part. Yes, there are parents I like, but the burdens of family are real, and make it hard to reciprocate, especially if they live over 3 miles away (literally) and if the kids aren't close or husbands don't click.  My friends are a handful of farflung people, some single, some with kids, some living far away, that I get to see infrequently but can talk to, write to, reach out to and get/give emotional support. These folks are not the ones who are generally available for concrete support, but we are close and are true friends. If I want to hang out and share food, there are generally a few neighbors who will come over, but I do not pressure school parents or elders of my church to socialize. They would likely not be able to reciprocate, and I would not want to put them in that bind. Those people are busy, tired, have their own stuff to deal with. Quit putting your expectations on any one group of people and cobble it together with various groups. It's OK to have community without getting/giving social support and/or building close friendships with them. As long as you have access to getting those needs met, then you are good. Branch out, develop interests and hold those who are friends near and dear in your heart. Don't expect any one group to provide it all.

    I am with you on this one, as I know that being part of a community can make you feel connected, a support system, and companionship.  I grew up in a small town in the Rockies, and by it's nature of being small, it felt like there was more community. I moved away from home and out of state for college at age 17 and never really went back.  My husband is from the Boston area, and when I visited out there with him, it definitely felt like there was more community there, with extended family and long time friends in the area, and many more of them staying nearby to live their lives and be near extended family.  Many people in the Bay Area are from other places, and before we had kids, we had a very strong community through work, activities, and common interests.  As a single person in my early 20's I joined many organizations with weekly "show up events" and had lots of fun and through that developed a close set of friends.  I met my husband through these groups and activities, and over time we naturally coalesced into a tight group that we saw on weekends and evenings. Then we had children and our community changed.  We naturally stopped spending time with friends who chose not to have kids, partly because the activities we done with them were not compatible with doing with kids in tow.  It was a loss, but we cultivated a new community through the kids elementary school and sports activities.  Then as the elementary school friends went to different middle and high schools, the community and friend landscape changed.  You didn't say how old your children are, but relationships do change, and sometimes it is hard to accept.  We had several dear friends with kids the same age as children as ours but the kids didn't really "hit it off", so we spent less time with those friends.  Now that we have one kid in college and one entering high school next year, we are struggling again with re-cultivating the community.  I don't think your expectations are out of line but I do agree that it is a sign of the times.  I agree that many people are stretched very thin in the Bay Area because of the stress of work, commutes, traffic, and the demands of kids school and activities. Finding the community can be based on finding those people who have the same interests and values as you do developing a relationship.  Some people find through their church, temple, book club, kids school, sports team or activities, hobbies, volunteer work, etc.  Sounds like you have tried to foster the connections but haven't quite found it yet.  I feel the same way and recognize it might be a stage of life and that I need to keep working on finding the community, doing what I enjoy and hoping there will be others there who I can be with, and suggesting and hosting get togethers whenever possible, or even just coffee with a potential "mom friend".  Good luck to you! 

    This question seems to come up a lot, so I wanted to respond. A few years ago my husband and I moved to the East Coast (for job reasons). We had a really hard time establishing community there. We became close friends with one family, and we still keep in touch with them, but no one else really clicked. We eventually moved back to the Bay Area, where we have friends and community from long ago. My sense is not that people here are not friendly or polite, but rather that we are all overwhelmed - at least those of us from two-working-parents families. I have met several families that I really liked and wished I had time to connect with, but between work, kids and (now) a sick parent, there's simply no time left over. So it's not that I don't want to be your friend, but that I don't have the mental energy or time to do it. I think a lot of us feel this way. 

    With that said, we have made a few new good friends over the years, mostly through the kids' school, and mostly through their friendships, when the friends' parents happen to be like-minded people. 

    So... my suggestion, if you have the resources/energy to have people over, then do. If you can join a faith based community (if that appeals), then do. If you like some of your kids' friends' parents, hang out before or after or during playdates. Have patience. As our kids get older, we have (just a tiny bit) more room to breathe. 

    I wanted to offer a different perspective on the Bay Area.  I'm from Oakland, and still live here, yet have experienced a lot of the things you have - people not reciprocating, seeming flakey and not so interested in a group of friends.  Interestingly, the vast majority of people we meet are NOT from the Bay Area - they're from somewhere else.  And that kind of goes to what a lot of people have commented about lack of connections.  There are a lot of transplants here from all over, many people don't have extended family or lifelong friends.  It does create a different energy.  I think people's responses about families with 2 working parents is correct, many of us just have less time for developing friendships.  Also whether your families "line up" (i.e., kids the same age) is important, and I agree that it can be a block-by-block thing.  Someone mentioned taking the long view, and that is what worked for us (our kids are now 9 and 13).  We tried many different combinations of families over the years, looking for that perfect foursome that would all camp and go to the snow together, but what worked was just continuing to invite groups of friends over and eventually a bunch of them became friends with each other, and now we have our foursome.  But it took about 8 years.  And we still don't have the "automatic casual Friday night crowd," probably because we're on the wrong block.  ;)  Maybe just keep trying to play matchmaker with your various friends; hopefully some of them will click and you can all do more things together.  Good luck, I totally feel for you.

  • Moving to Bay Area and clueless

    (12 replies)

    Hi, we are moving to the Bay area in a month and I feel pretty clueless about much of the things there! I have a 4 and a 2 year old and would love advice on a number of things. My husband will be working in south San Fran and I think I like the idea of living on the east bay (Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Albany...maybe a bit further out to Lafayette but not as far as Walnut Creek). What kind of commute should we expect? Also are there any family-friendly neighbourhoods you'd recommend? I am keen on sending them to the local public school (when they are of age) and thus want to be near a good elementary (at least). Since they are not yet school age I am also keen to learn more about preschools and daycares. Our kids are bilingual (French/English) and I know there are a few French preschool around the are - any experience with them (pros/cons)? Any well recommended non-bilingual preschools?

    When we first arrive we will be living in Mission Bay - anything I should know about the area? Also, any good preschools/daycares I should consider putting my kids in around there (since I hear it could take a few months to buy a home)?

    Any advice is helpful.

    Thanks in advance!

    How far away is your husband's office from BART? If he can walk from BART to the office living in the east bay is a good idea. But if he has to drive into the office, I would recommend looking for a place on the peninsula instead where there's no bridge between your house and the office. Commuting from the east bay to SSF by car can be soul crushing. If you do choose the east bay, I would investigate how easy it is to park by the BART station. Places like Rockridge are brutal, El Cerrito is a lot easier. When we moved from SF to the east bay, one of my nonnegotiables was that we live within walking distance from BART in a neighborhood where it would be safe for me to walk home after dark. I never regretted that decision.

    Welcome to the bay area and to the east bay. I've been commutting to SSF from Piedmont/Oakland for the last 10 years. Not easy but something in use to so I am somewhat bias because I would not be able to cope with the additional time to commute  to/from Albany/Berkeley or the other side of the tunnel. Lots of companies in SSF have shuttles that would enable using BART or ferry which will help with the commute and allow more housing options. We sacrifice to buy into piedmont to access their good public school system from K-12. Alameda also has excellent school system.  Parts of Oakland also has great elementary schools. Good luck. 

    If you decide to leave Mission Bay, I would highly recommend living in San Mateo, since your husband will be working in South San Francisco.  San Mateo is a nice community, with a lovely sunny and warm climate (unlike the communities further north on the Peninsula), and has great schools.  I personally would not recommend your living in the East Bay and making your husband commute to SSF.  We have done both (lived in San Mateo while working in SSF, and then commuting by car from Berkeley to SSF).  Particularly if you have young children, it will be a lot easier for your husband to get home in time to see your kids during the week, if you live AND work on the Peninsula.  And that will be a lot better for your marriage and your kids.  Just my .02, based on my own experiences.


    I can answer a few of your questions.....if you want to be near good public schools don't move to Oakland. You would have to pay for private schools if you lived there. Oakland has some of the worst public schools in the Bay Area. The commute from the East Bay to South SF will be long because either way you will have to cross bridges (two possible ways...over the Bay Bridge Oakland to SF or the San Mateo Bridge). If you want a French/American school, I believe Berkeley has one (I know San Francisco definitely does). Berkeley is a wonderful place to live, but getting into the right public school can be hit or miss as well. You are not necessarily assigned to your local school, its often done on a lottery basis (I believe, double check on that. I have several friends who live there and they seemed to have always stressed about public school issues, like which one their kids would get into.) But many Berkeley public schools are fantastic. Mission Bay is a very nice (but very downtown) upscale part of SF. Your husbands commute would be a breeze comparatively. But it seems you are looking for suburban life and not city life. Lafayette is pretty far out from South SF (you need to know, South SF is not "SF" at all. Its pretty much a whole other town that is south of SF and not really a part of SF) Lafayette is very upscale and not a lot of diversity compared to Berkeley or Alameda (Alameda is really nice too and would be a shorter commute than Lafayette). I don't want to insult anyone here from Lafayette, but its very white. A lot of people teasingly call the Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, the "White Corridor" of the Bay Area. (Oh and the commute from Albany would be awful....the highway that runs from Albany to the Bay Bridge is awful.)

    Hope this helps. Sorry I don't know a lot about preschools....my boys are now 10 and 13. I live in San Leandro (next to Oakland. Love our community here in SL, but if I had more money, Id take Berkeley or Alameda over SL for sure. We moved to SL for affordability but ended up liking it just fine. We are former SF people BTW)

    The East Bay is great, I highly recommend it. South San Fran will be a bit more of a hike for the East Bay, though: ~1h maybe (it takes 35-45 minutes for me to get to downtown via public transit).

    For family-friendly neighborhoods, pretty much anything in Albany, Berkeley, or Piedmont are great. Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda (Lamorinda), and Walnut Creek are also good, but it's going to add a bit more to your commute (and less transit-accessible, if you care about that). For other cities in the East Bay, it becomes a bit more area-specific. I know families happy in El Cerrito. In Oakland, the schools can be a bit touch-and-go, so basically expensive neighborhoods tend to be the ones with better schools (Rockridge especially), though you can find gems throughout. Though from my understanding, even if you get a great elementary school, Oakland school quality in middle and high school tend to suffer (and from what I hear contributes to people near Berkeley trying to get their kids into the Berkeley system at that age).

    I just google mapped the commute from Albany to South San Francisco - at 10 pm at night with no traffic it is 90 minutes by car or public transit. Bart from Lafayette to South San Francisco is an hour.  I can't even fathom doing that commute during rush hour. Nevertheless I know a couple of people that do it, and they make it work by doing as much work as they can on Bart but it takes a toll on family time.  The tech boom in the Bay Area has greatly impacted traffic in the area and public transportation has not caught up. 

    Have you considered communities on the South San Francisco side of the Bay? We have friends that live in Redwood City, San Carlos and Woodside; they are all nice communities with good schools and nice housing stock. 


    A lot of people move to Albany for the schools. It is a city that is about a square mile and has three elementary schools, a middle and a high school. There are apartments in case you don't want to or can't buy. The apartments are kind of small and not the most modern. But the city is family-friendly. There is also Kensington, which is inbetween Berkeley and El Cerrito. A report from the El Cerrito Patch just came out saying that Kensington is the #5 safest city in the all of California! The problem with Kensington is that it is expensive and I don't know have many rentals there. There is a good elementary school and a recently rebuilt middle school in El Cerrito called Fred Kodamatsu (sp?). El Cerrito High is the neighborhood school, which is fairly new but is mixed, in terms of academics. Also El Cerrito is known to have an excellent band and football team. Albany is good in track, volleyball and wrestling. 

    Somehow many parents in Kensington manage to get their kids into Berkeley High (I don't know how they do this). I have one child who went to Albany High (we used to live there) and one who graduated from El Cerrito High this year. I think Albany was better overall but very hard to get into if you don't live there.

    Academically Albany was better overall. It seemed safer too. But Albany is crowded and my older daughter felt it was very competitive. I've heard that Berkeley High is good because the kids can earn some kind of degree (?) and there are multiple schools within the school. I've heard that its easier to get into UC Berkeley from Berkeley High because a certain number of spots are reserved for the local public school. I can't confirm that but its worth looking into.

    I don't know about day care because its been so long since my kids were in daycare.

    Also I know people who love the French school in Berkeley.

    Good luck and hope that helps a little.


    The first question is whether your husband's commute is possible on BART. Driving during commute hours is stressful and takes forever. If his commute is possible on BART, then looking for house near BART in the East Bay makes sense. We live in Berkeley, and there are many resources for children -- preschools, libraries, playgrounds, etc. For older children, it is even better, because it is an easy place to help your children pursue their interests in sports, music, the arts, science, etc. Some of the towns in Lamorinda aren't great for older children whose interests aren't mainstream. However, if your husband needs to commute by car, your family would be much better off on the Peninsula, or possibly in the Southern part of SF.

    Hi Mint - 

    There is weekday ferry service that goes from Oakland (Jack London Square) and Alameda (Main) to South San Francisco.  This might be a good option if you choose to live near either of the ferry terminals.  Here is the schedule:   http://sanfranciscobayferry.com/route/oakland/ssf 

    There are a number of neighborhoods that you could live in Oakland that wouldn't be too far from Jack London.  You might want to try to pick neighborhoods based on schools and proximity to Jack London, such as Cleveland Elementary or Crocker Highlands Elementary.  If your husband is comfortable biking in an urban environment, riding to the ferry is a great option.

    Alameda public schools are generally well regarded but more traditional and less innovative compared to Berkeley or Oakland.  There is a place called Blue Moon learning center that teaches French to pre-schoolers.  Here is the website:  http://bluemoonlc.com    

    Oh gosh, I only just got around to reading all your comments. Thanks so much! It is really helpful...basically, we should definitely reconsider a move to the east bay!  

    There are fewer Alameda voices on here so thought I would throw in my 2 cents...

    If your husband's work is near the South San Francisco ferry terminal (or if his company has a shuttle that picks up there, or if you are comfortable leaving your car there overnight during the week) there really is no better commute than the ferry.  We live in Alameda, ride our bikes across the island, and take the ferry for work.  Honestly, our commute is one the best parts of our day (or at least our working days)!  Here is the South San Francisco schedule from Alameda:  http://sanfranciscobayferry.com/route/alameda/ssf

    Our child also attends EB in Berkeley and we are very, very pleased so far.  

    Alameda also has some great public elementary schools...they start to wane a bit for middle school and high school.  Alameda is also very family friendly and a great place for young families.  Check out Alameda's Gold Coast and East End.  Parks, bikes, beach, a growing restaurant scene, wineries, breweries, and lots and lots of kids...  

    Regardless of where you end up, I highly suggest that you do not choose a place that requires any driving for your commute.  There are just too many people in the Bay Area now and it is not worth the time, stress, or money... 

    Apologies if it's against BPN policy to respond to other posts, but I wanted to note that you wouldn't "have to pay for private schools" if you lived in Oakland, despite what one post says below. Lots of parents who love their kids and want the best for them send them to OUSD schools, including me. It's a choice to send your kid to private school, not a requirement (not even a requirement if you want your kid to get an excellent education!).

    But yeah, for your husband's sanity, I think you should be looking on the Peninsula rather than the East Bay.

    Just keeping it real for us happy public school folks.

  • Hello Everyone!

    I am in the final stages of interviews for a position at UCB and I trying to get a head start on possible neighborhoods that are safe, affordable and relatively child friendly.  It seems as though Bay Area rents will blow my NYC housing expenses out of the water.  I am bit anxious since we'll be living on my salary until my husband finds a job out there.     Any recommendations for places that are at most about 30-45 minutes away from UCB that are friendly for a toddler and has a somewhat neighborhood vibe where one doesn't need a car to get around?  Any info on pricing would also be great.  It seems as though it's impossible to get a 2 bedroom for less than 3k.   Maybe I'm looking for a unicorn.  While I have loved my visits to the Bay Area, I fear we may be priced out!

    Hi, sorry to hear about your situation. I think you've discovered the reality of housing in the Bay Area, especially close to either San Francisco, or to Berkeley. There aren't other places like them, and housing prices reflect that. As you go farther out, the need for a car only increases. The surrounding communities largely "grew up" when living "in the city" could seem a more frightening prospect (for a variety of reasons); cars become necessary (although, schools are sometimes excellent). It used to be more affordable, but "boring", to go "over the hill" and commute (think: Lafayette, mortgage, Orinda , even concord, Danville...). Housing prices in a couple of those areas may be lower, but again you'd need a car, and spend a lot of time commuting. (Not sure about "boring" but don't want to venture a guess!)

    What folks suggest these days is usually Richmond, as far as relative proximity and possibly better housing prices  specifically, the Richmond Annex, or Pt. Richmond  again you'd need a car unless you were right on the BART tracks.  And Richmond schools are known to be rather poor.

    as a public service employer we've had candidates turn down jobs due to housing prices  I hope that doesn't happen for you.  Housing around / in Berkeley is easily $3K - $5K for a 2-3 bedroom.  Good luck.

    Congrats!!! And welcome to Bay Area.

    You can stay in Albany for sure, or in North Berkeley or El Cerrito, Kensington.

    you can rent 2 bed for under 3K depends on the property status.

    You might want to check out Emeryville. It's a 10-15 drive to UCB and there's a few buses that go that way. The apartment I'm at, Avenue 64, has 2 bedrooms around or just below the 3K range. There's a pool, workout room, and the apartments are pretty big. The neighborhood is pretty nice, there's quite a few things within walking distance, restaurants, a trader joes, a few shopping malls, even IKEA. Good luck!

    You can't beat El Cerrito for affordable housing, great views, friendly people, lots of parks, and great public transportation (two BART stations and buses that run right to UCB.

    El Cerrito would be good. BART from El Cerrito Plaza to Downtown Berkeley is only about 6 minutes. You should be able to find a 2-bedroom for less than 3K within walking distance of a BART station (El Cerrito has two BART stations). The flat part of El Cerrito is very walkable, with parks, pool, library, Well Grounded and other food/beverage options....The public schools are just fine and there are several private pre-school options as well. Albany is just as good as far as walkability but is not as affordable and not as close to BART.

    We live in El Cerrito and I work at UCB. I usually bike to work, which takes 35-45 minutes and is an awesome bike ride, and usually the fastest way to get to campus, door-to-door from where I live (1.5 miles to BART) and where I work (1 mile from BART). Our neighborhood has become very kid friendly in the last few years. We have a 2.5 and 5 year old, and many neighbors have kids similar in age and younger. There are two BART stations in El Cerrito, but I think rents are higher the closer you are to the stations, and frankly, the city is not as old and charming as most parts of Berkeley and Oakland, and not quite as walkable (it has a more suburban feel with very few street trees). Still, we and plenty of families in our neighborhood, do quite well without a car. We have a car, but we really only use it on weekends to get out of town. El Cerrito is a very safe and well-run city making massive investments in parks, public infrastructure, and smart growth.

    I would certainly try to get as close to UCB as you can.

    One thing we discovered was that it was much easier to find a place when you are already living here, and you might consider a sublet (look on Sabbatical Homes) -- sometimes when the right tenant doesn't pop up during the right time frame the owners are willing to cut a deal. Then, once you have a base of operations, you can be aggressively looking for something permanent, get there first, etc.

    This is what we did. We also found that by making friends with our neighbors and putting the word out, we got a rental house that never even made it to the market!

    I would personally pick a transitional part of Berkeley before I'd go way out in the sticks. The public trans here is fab and there's so much for kids, plus SF is near. You might find something in Point Richmond or Albany. Montclair, a bit dull but safe and walkable, is very central and seems to have lower rents than the more hip parts of Oakland. Lafayette, a bit further out, is not without charm and is on a BART line. I personally couldn't bear San Leandro -- it doesn't feel enough like the Bay Area, and the whole point of moving here will have been kind of ruined.

    I personally feel like Berkeley is paradise, and you happen to have gotten a job at the epicenter. Before you assume that you're going to have to settle for some 'burb, try your hardest to find something closer in.

    I love San Leandro! It is just south of Oakland on the Bay. I'm 17 miles door to door from my job in North Berkeley, and if I needed to, I can easily do BART and a bus to work. It's probably one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area. 

    If you try padmapper.com, you can see that there are houses for rent under your $3000 per month budget and some rather cute ones (I just checked, saw a couple cute 2 and 3 bedroom houses in nice neighborhoods).

    Our neighborhood is very kid friendly, and I find our neighbors are friendly, engaging, and welcoming. I told realtors when I interviewed them that I wanted to find a neighborhood where I felt safe pushing a stroller around on a walk. I definitely feel that here. We have some really nice parks and cafes and restaurants. 

    Depending on when you commute, and where you are going, you will likely be in the 30-45 minute range, but we think it's worth it. 

    It's ok to contact me if you'd like a friendly tour of our town. 

    Try San Leandro or Castro Valley

    Thanks Everyone for the responses!  I've already started to look at a couple of those neighborhoods and will do some more digging.  Just thinking about the moving has left us both anxious.   We have a car now (my husband needs it for work), and we've talked about getting another one, but I don't drive often so I'm not that comfortable driving.  

    I live in El Cerrito and many of my neighbors commute to Cal, most of them by BART (2 stops) or bike. Our public school (Fairmont) serves parts of EC and Richmond Annex; it is a fine option. You can rent a 2 bd for around $2000 in the Annex, and a 3 bd should be under $3000 in EC/Annex area. With a toddler, you're looking for preschool and it can be hard in Berkeley/Albany to find one with space midyear. Some ppl recommended Point Richmond, I don't feel like that's a great option since there is no BART access to the rest of the Bay Area plus it's hilly which is hard with a stroller. It is true that San Leandro is much more suburban in flavor than Berkeley/Oakland but who knows, maybe you're fine with that. As somebody suggested, I think it's a great idea to look for a short term rental first and then explore the East Bay more.

    There are some great suggestions here already. I wanted to add that it's a good idea to check with the local rent board (Berkeley has a good one) before signing your lease. That way you know if the place is rent controlled, i.e. if your rent will basically stay the same or go way up. Good luck with the transition, and congratulations on your new job.

  • I am a single mom who got a job at STHelena Hospital and my daughter will attend UC Berklety from this fall. I want to rent somewhere in between UC Berkley and St Helena so the commute for both is doable (as I want to stay with her and cannot afford dorm also). I want your insight in a possible area which can fulfill my requirements 

    You could try Vallejo, Richmond, Crockett or Martinez.  But I suspect the commute to/from UC Berkeley for your daughter will be unbearably long as in 1 to 2 hours each way and interfere with her valuable study time.  If the dorms are too expensive, try the COOPs, an apartment or shared room in a house.

    You should be proud of your daughter for getting into Berkeley.  As a parent I can understand wanting to save money but as a UC Berkeley graduate having her live so far away from campus and wasting so much of her time in driving and it traffic will set her up for failure.  I would think the cost of gas, wear and tear on the car, insurance and parking would cost far more than having her live close to campus.  Not saying it can’t be done, but I just don’t think it’s realistic.

    What about somewhere near the Richmond BART station?  Then your daughter can get BART to campus, and you can hop on the freeway and head to St. Helena.  Will she have a car? I'm not sure about the parking situation at Richmond BART, but assuming it's not too hard to get a spot, you could rent something further north of Richmond and she could drive to the BART station.  I would try to be within walking or biking distance of a BART station for her, because if she must drive, she will be stuck in commuter traffic, and she will pay big bucks for a parking permit on campus (there is literally no place to park near campus.)  Not sure about other public transportation options - go to google maps and get directions from St. Helena to UC Berkeley and then try out some of the points in between, using the public transportation option.

    Good luck!

    Dear Mom- Congratulations on your daughter attending UCB> Affordable housing - even mid-range housing is next to impossible sometimes. My youngest son who attends Dominican University in San Rafael recently moved to Hercules.  There's a large stock of rental condos in the area...rent for a 1,000 ft two bedroom condo with pool is about $2,000 a month which is a lot cheaper than here in Berkeley. You get a nicer place with a better commute for you to St. Helena. The weather can get hot there, but it is a SAFE community with lots of friendly people. OK-no fancy downtown with chic dining, but open areas all around. Everyone goes out for an after dinner walk and there's a lovely community park. It is one of those places where you have to be ready to grab the rental as soon as it comes up, but it's worth it.

    El Cerrito would be a good choice!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Moving to the Bay Area from Chicago for a job in Oakland

Nov 2014

Hello, My husband and I are moving to the Bay area with our three girls, 5, 3 and 1. He will be working in downtown Oakland and I will be in SF most likely.

We are moving from the city -Chicago. Where is a good place to live, with good schools and easy commutes for both of us. We are spoiled now and both of our commutes are less than 20 minutes. We love living int he city and being able to walk and go to parks etc. Our max rental is 6k a month. People have recommended Layfayette and Orinda but I am afraid that will be a long commute and very suburban.

However the SF school system is so complicated I am not sure about navigating that.

Thanks for your help! Elizabeth

From your posting, I think Piedmont sounds like an excellent fit for your needs. Much easier commute to downtown Oakland and SF than the towns you mentioned and outstanding schools all the way from K to 12. Feels much less suburban than the communities in Contra Costa (I grew up in one of the towns you mentioned, so I know both areas really well). Piedmont is really close to all the shops, restaurants and cultural events that Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have to offer. There are not a lot of rental houses in town, but there are some. You might try calling the Grubb Company, Pacific Union and Highland Partners - those are the 3 dominant real estate companies in Piedmont and they do handle some rental properties. Good luck with your move and welcome to the Bay Area! longtime Piedmont mom

Welcome to the Bay Area! I think you would like Piedmont from what you are saying. Its a safe small city in the Oakland hills with an excellent school district and a few preschools, your commute time would be shorter than from Lafayette or Orinda, and its not as suburban as you fear Lafayette or Orinda to be.

Adam Betta would be great at helping you. He is a realtor in Piedmont, and raised their kids there. He and his wife Debbi (they work as a team), are relocation experts. Adam helped us buy our house in Rockridge, and the experience was fantastic. Adam's cell phone is 510-414-1250.

Best of luck! Julia

Hi there, I would recommend Rockridge, especially if you can afford up to 6K/month rental which would hopefully be able to get you a decent 2-3 bedroom bungalow (I think, though the rental market is insanely competitive right now). Rockridge is a very walkable neighborhood with several great preschools/daycares/nanny shares around and the public elementary schools are very good for K-5 (Peralta or Chabot). The area would be close to downtown Oakland for your spouse by bus or a short drive and the Rockridge Bart or casual carpool are right there for your commute into SF. Lots of restaurants, cafes, nail shops, dry cleaning, parks, etc within a walk or very short drive. Many folks either moving from San Francisco or quite a few from Chicago, NYC, etc. I think you will love your first winter out here! cs

Check out Alameda. It's a tube or a bridge away from Oakland and has ferry service to San Francisco. If the ferry wouldn't work for location of the SF job, there are busses, casual carpool, and a couple shuttles to BART if you didn't drive yourself. Park St and Webster St are the two main economic areas with lots of restaurants and shops as well as a movie theatre off Park St. It's a great place to walk or bike around. love it here

Looking for a good neighborhood for a job at UC Berkeley

June 2014

I am planning to accept a position at UC Berkeley and trying to sort out where I should be looking to live with my wife and 9 year old daughter. We will be moving long distance to the bay area. I have some must haves, and some nice to haves and I'm hoping someone can help me understand the tradeoffs for different areas and which I should not consider at all.

Must Haves: Safe neighborhood Good School Less than 45 minute commute to campus via car At least 2 bedrooms Sub $2500 rent

Nice to Haves: Less than 30 minute commute to campus via car 3+ bedrooms Sub $2000 rent Townhouse or Single Family Home

I know I can't have all the nice to haves, but is it possible to have any of them given my must haves? I have been reading the other recommendations, some appear to be a little older. But I am thinking that Walnut Creek, Emeryville or San Leandro might be good places to look, but I'm not entirely sure about commute times. Thanks very much for having us in this community and for any advice you can offer.

I live in Lafayette and I love it here! It's only a short drive through the caldacot tunnel to Berkeley and we have some of the best schools in California! For $2500 you could rent a small two bedroom home, it's more like $3000 for a three bedroom. It's very safe here and friendly and is well worth the expense.

If you're looking in Walnut Creek it's a little further out from Berkeley, maybe 30-40 minutes commute with traffic. Only 15 minute commute without. Make sure you look at the Walnut Creek school district area, not Mt Diablo school district which is also in walnut creek but is a much larger school district. There are a few elementary schools in Walnut Creek school district that are great such as Buena Vista Elementary and Parkmead Elem. You should look at greatschools.com to read the reviews on the school that your considering putting your child in before renting a home there. Best of luck! Alicia

A lot of my answer to your question will depend on how you define 'safe.' Do you mean generally safe, but with a fair amount of crime (most of Emeryville) or downright safe, like you can walk around at night without a concern (most of Walnut Creek)? A commute from Walnut Creek to UCB (depending of course, on how far you are from the freeway in WCR) will take about 30 minutes without traffic. Good luck with your search

You could consider Moraga or Lafayette. Moraga is semi-rural. Lafayette is more happening. If you are willing to do a 2BR townhouse you might be able to get one for $2500 or less and the best place to see if that is true at this point in time is to check craigslist. The schools are very good, and closer commute to Berkeley than Walnut Creek. anon

Hi I recommend you look hard at Albany. The houses are small and pricey for the size because the schools are good. Plus the community has a lot available. The Albany YMCA runs a headstart program and after school care for school age kids. They also run a full summer camp schedule, a youth in government program and model UN for high school aged kids. The community is civic minded, the school district is good and well run. Albany is safer than many other areas close by. No one is truly 'safe' from crime in the Eastbay. We are too close to areas of high unemployment. It's common to have your car stolen. your bicycles stolen, and your house broken into. Join a neighborhood association when you move. Your neighbors can help you figure things out. You are safe on the street, walking to school or the library. Its a wonderful place to live - it's just an urban area with all the good (theater, diversity, restaurants, culture) and the bad that implies. long time resident

Try Lamorinda . The small towns of Lafayette, Orinda, and Moraga (Lamorinda) are beautiful, safe and have excellent schools. Walnut Creek is also safe and has great schools. WC is larger and is a little farther from Berkeley. You can check school ratings on the greatschools website.

Depending on the time of day, the commute can be long or short. Commuters have to drive though a tunnel which is stop-and-go traffic at peak times. Alternately, you can take BART from these towns to UC Berkeley.

Moraga has many rentals, and it is definitely possible to find a 2+ bedroom rental between $2k - $2.5k per month. Craigslist is a great way to find a rental. Good luck!

You should check out El Cerrito . Much closer to UC than Walnut Creek and San Leandro, and safer and cheaper than Emeryville. Don't know much about the schools in those areas but I think El Cerrito schools are pretty good- some better than others, of course (Madera is considered to be a great school, Harding and Fairmont both have good reputations, and parts of El Cerrito go to the adjacent town of Kensington, which I hear is excellent). We rent a 3 bdrm house with a great yard for less than $1800 (this is probably a little lower than the norm but I know of several others who also rent great houses for less than $2k). It's about 20min to UC driving through town. It's safe and very family friendly and has a small town feeling, which is cool. Main drawback is there are very few good restaurants around here! (It's the only thing I miss from our old neighborhood in N. Oakland.) anon

Definitely look into Alameda. It's a nice, safe, family-oriented city. Rentals are hard to come by, but it wouldn't hurt to look.

Since you'll be working at Berkeley, you should check out Cal Rentals. They actually have people you can talk to about finding places/communities to live: http://calrentals.housing.berkeley.edu

I work on campus and live in El Cerrito , and it's a very family-friendly community (good schools*, great community center/pool) and a 20-25 minute surface street commute (plus there are two BART stations and buses) to campus, and you could probably rent a house for your budget. It can get a little boring here, but it's not too far from Berkeley and San Francisco. We have a few good restaurants, a farmer's market, an off- the-grid night, a movie theater that serves pizza and beer and first-run movies, and the best damn hardware store (Pastime).

(*All the k-6 schools are good, and your kid will be assigned to your neighborhood school; whatever Bay Area community you decide on, visit the school district website to check out the boundary maps. You can also check all California school statistics here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ap/.) Good luck on your move

I read all the responses about areas with good neighborhoods and a reasonable commute to Berkeley. Lots of people commented on the safety and nice neighborhoods in Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga. I can't add anything to that-- they are all excellent areas, have absolutely beautiful hillsides, hiking only minutes away, top schools, safe neighborhoods, etc. Both my kids got excellent educations and got into elite universities coming from the local public school system.

People commented on the commute to Berkeley from various towns in the east bay. I have been commuting from Lafayette to Berkeley for work for 15+ years. Here's what I want to add that I didn't see in any comments: the commute from Lafayette to Berkeley is 22 minutes door to door for me and is an absolutely breath-taking drive and one that I look forward to. On more than one occasion I have pulled over to take a photo of the views with my iPhone. I have a very short drive via highway from Lafayette to Fish Ranch Road. Then I either go Grizzly Peak or Fish Ranch road over the hill into Berkeley. Driving from El Cerrito to Berkeley through stop lights and traffic may take the same amount of time, but wouldn't be the same type of commute. The commute rarely takes me more than 25 minutes, no matter what the time of day. barbara

Moving from Santa Fe to El Cerrito area?

May 2014

My partner and I and our 19 month old daughter currently live in Santa Fe, NM (moved here from Brooklyn for my partner's job/love of the desert) and we're thinking ahead to schooling for our daughter - we can't stay here for her school years, NM schools are the worst in the country. Also I really really miss the city. We recently visited Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito and absolutely fell in love with it for our daughter, so we're thinking about whether it will be feasible for us to move to the Bay Area when she's ready for kindergarten or pre-k (we would probably have to stay here until then because it's so much cheaper, but we might also want to move much sooner because there are no tolerable jobs here.)

The questions we have are, what neighborhoods should we look into - easy access to el cerrito (I'm a new driver and not so great at lots of city driving), good (jewish? queer? neither? whatever) community of people with kids, safe for running/letting kids play in evenigns/mornings, decent public schools in case we are not able to afford tehiyah at some point - and is it realistic for us to live in the Bay Are and send our kid to a private school? My partner is a physician assistant and I''m a social worker (LMSW - I'll probably have to start some or all of my ''internship'' hours over again due to strict rules in CA). A wild guess is our combined incomes would be $120-130k but its hard to get a sense of what salaries are over there. We would need at least 2 bedrooms. We would rent cause I can't imagine we'd ever be able to afford to buy but maybe I'm wrong? Also is there somewhere besides craigslist that people post places for rent because what i'm seeing there is so prohibitively expensive but I''m not sure where I should be looking. Thank you so much for your advice just trying to get an idea of whether this could work for us and we should plan on it and what it would look like. Hope to join you guys in a few years, or sooner Stephanie

I wanted to respond to your question because my husband and I were in a similar situation as you. We were able to save enough to put 10% down and buy a small house in El Cerrito. I think it would be difficult to afford a mortgage on a house and private school at that income, but if you are open to public schools, both Madera Elementary and Kensington Elementary are highly rated. The other two EC schools are good as well. I want to make a pitch for public schools, because you get out of them what you put into them. If parents are involved and donate their resources to their local public school, public schools can be great.

But back to housing. A little more affordable and very close to El Cerrito is Richmond Annex and Richmond Heights. Renting a house can be expensive, but if you are OK with renting an apartment I think the area is definitely affordable. Besides the internet, I see rental listings posted outside of apartment buildings, posted on local bulletin boards, etc. Buying a condo is also a bit cheaper than buying a house. If you are set on private school you could look at places like Marina Bay, which has more affordable condos. If you decide buying a house is right for you, my suggestion for the EC area would be to buy a fixer. If the house looks fantastic and everything is already upgraded and the house is staged nicely, you are going to pay a HUGE premium for that. If you are willing to buy a place in need of cosmetic work and some repairs, that will save you a lot of money. I think the key to buying a house here is to either be very wealthy, or be willing to make a lot of compromises. Good luck with everything! Katie

I think you will find it very expensive to live in the Bay Area. Santa Fe is on the expensive side for a small town, due to the prices driven up by tourists and the mountain nature of the town. BUT it is far, far more affordable that the Bay Area. Craigslist is the place to look, and unfortunately, due to the tech boom, rents really are that expensive. Also, in Santa Fe, if you have a more or less clean credit check and less than 4 dogs/cats/chickens and enough cash for the security deposit/last month's rent, you will have your pickings for rental properties. Here, securing a rental even with no pets and great credit and good income and referrals is VERY difficult and competitive. Like people showing up with checkbooks for deposit and prepayment of rent for 3 months crazy.

Also, the public transit is decent but not excellent so there are some things you'd really want to have a car for, and Bay Area driving sucks - little parking, LOTS of traffic, etc. If you have difficulty driving in Santa Fe, you will HATE driving here. Unlike places like Brooklyn with subways that run every few minutes and very late into the night, the BART service here isn't nearly as complete - stops are far apart and trains don't run often outside of peak times. You can make it work without a car - plenty do so - but be prepared for bad driving.

I spent a lot of time in Santa Fe as a kid, and it has been a long time since then, but in the 1980s we were allowed to roam around the neighborhood and the surrounding open space in a way that I don't think is possible in the East Bay.

If you are considering private school, I think your choices are more limited in Santa Fe but it would be more feasible with your income given how expensive rents are around here.

The Bay Area is vibrant and cosmopolitan is a way that cities that Santa Fe will never be, but the cost of living here is a huge drawback. I would consider living in Santa Fe myself if it weren't for the poor job prospects. I love the East Bay but for the expense!

There's no reason not to live in El Cerrito off Barrett Ave or Richmond View, right around Tehiyah / Tassajara Park / Mira Vista (public) Elementary. Just map those locations and possible rentals close by. Mira Vista, like Tehiyah, is K-8, and most of Richmond View is zoned for El Cerrito High School. You can also try the flats of El Cerrito / Richmond Annex, which is a lot more walkable but not quite as scenic. Public schools in Berkeley, Albany, Alameda, North Oakland, and El Cerrito (including Richmond Annex, Richmond View and Pt. Richmond) are totally fine. Best to You and Yours!

Moving from Oakland to somewhere with good schools & lots of trees

Nov 2013

We need more TREES! Our family is looking to relocate within the next 1-2 years. We currently live in Oakland and our kids attend a wonderful Oakland public school. However, we're not convinced that any of the OUSD middle schools and HS are the right fit for us. We want to relocate somewhere that our kids can attend both middle and HS, and we'd like more nature and TREES around us. Ideally, we'd love to live somewhere that is safe, has more nature and neighborhood feeling to it, hopefully some diversity, and GOOD schools! We'd also love it if the area wasn't too conservative. I know, we're asking for a lot. Here's the issue - rent is out of control right now, so our options are even more limited. Can anyone tell me about their experiences in Petaluma, Walnut Creek, Castro Valley, Lafayette (maybe too expensive), and Santa Cruz? Am I missing anywhere??? Wants more nature for my kids!

I was in a similar situation and picked Lafayette as our new city. We lived in Rockridge and I loooved it - diversity, could walk to anything, blocks from BART for commuting into the city. The downsides for me were crime, cost (our 1200 sqft house was big when it was 2 of us, 2 kids later it was tight and we couldn't afford a bigger place in Rockridge) and schools (elementary was good but that's where it ended).

Lafayette is suburban - no way around that. And no where near as diverse as Oakland of course. It is super green - we ended up on the far west side of Lafayette and are surrounded by trees (I'm getting in shape with all the leaf raking I'm doing). We frequently have deer in the yard and love the easy access to Briones and Tilden for hikes. The schools are amazing - I truly could not be any happier and feel very lucky. Crime does exist in Lafayette but it's mostly property crime. Lafayette is not cheap but we were able to buy a 4/3 in Lafayette for what we sold our 2/1 in Rockridge for. Not in the downtown neighborhood of Lafayette, though, which has the draw of walkability. We are on the west side and can not walk to anything but other houses - it's a 2 1/2 miles bike ride into town.

Good luck - it's a hard decision. Check out redfin for houses (I used that a ton in our research) and spend time in the cities that are options; will help you get a feel for what is a good fit. nowalafayettemom

I know the PERFECT spot for you. The San Lorenzo Valley USD in the Santa Cruz Mountains (Felton, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek) is FABULOUS!! My daughter and I lived there for a number of years and it just can't be beat. I'm a credentialed teacher and have taught in Santa Clara County as well as in Santa Cruz County and SLV beats any of the districts I've known by many miles.

The truly excellent MS and HS are on the same campus (Outstanding Elementary adjacent). The community is tight, the sports program super strong, and the people are mellow, kind and good mountain folk. PLUS you are surrounded by state parks and redwoods, while just 10-20 mins from the beach and downtown Santa Cruz. Definitely check it out!

You will likely miss the diversity that abounds in these parts, an the winters can be rough, especially if you must commute Hwy 17. And making a living locally is pretty tough. But all so worth the sacrifices if you can make it work. As a bonus, rents are a bit cheaper than in SC proper, but sunlight is a factor. The last place I lived there had mushrooms growing out of the carpet! The right rental may take some hunting, but you just can't beat that special community. Miss Feltontown

One of the first things I noticed about San Leandro was when we were driving on 580 towards Berkeley, the view of the city was beautiful because it had so many trees. When my husband and I were looking for a new town to live in, we really loved the neighborhoods and trees and the feel of San Leandro. We bought a house here in 2012 and still LOVE it here. The city is great - we took a great city class on how to do a seismic retrofit project on our house, and just dealing with the city to get the permit and pre-inspection and borrowing the tools (a great perk!) has been remarkably easy. Who ever heard of a permit office being friendly and helpful?? But that's how city employees are here. Talking to neighbors about the schools has been very encouraging. We have a lot of diversity in our city, which may be a factor in schools' test scores, but the new city passed bill to fund schools should show some improvement. (I've never thought a test score really told about the quality of education anyway - tests never indicated my intelligence or ability as a kid). It's also got a Great small town feel while being very centrally located in the Bay Area. People are friendly here. We did have neighbors stop by as we moved in, and we've developed great friendships with them and love our neighborhood (Farrelly Pond). And check out the fabulous library - it's got an excellent collection, has great open hours that beat most libraries in the bay area, and has a lot of fun programs for kids and adults. And cost of living is great. The funny thing is that people think San Leandro is so far away - it's just 15 miles from our house to my husband's job in South Berkeley. Happy San Leandro couple

We (myself and 2 kids) lived in Walnut Creek for several years and loved it. There are many nice neighborhoods, tons of trees and lots of activities geared toward kids and families. It felt more laid back than the Berkeley/Oakland area and it was easier to get around like finding parking, signing up for activities, etc. I expected WC to be mostly white, older, and conservative but I was wrong. There are many liberals, maybe just not as outspoken as the liberals you find in Berkeley and Oakland. WC is mostly made up of professionals and the diversity you will find mostly comes in the form of immigrants; lots from India and Southeast Asia. You will find even more diversity in the Concord area but the schools are not as highly rated there. You didn't mention where you work so you will have to factor in the commute and what your tolerance level can handle. Overall, we enjoyed and miss the area. Best of luck in your search for TREES~ anon

Family friendly East Bay neighborhoods w/ great schools

Oct 2013

Hi there. Our family is relocating to the Bay Area from Rocklin, and I'm hoping to get some advice on schools and neighborhoods. We have some flexibility regarding which community we live in, long as we're living in the East Bay. We have three children (ages 6, 8 and 10), and finding fantastic elementary and middle schools are our primary concern. Our current school has wonderful teachers, a very involved principal and a great sense of community. We'd love to find something similar. We're also concerned about class sizes and finding a school that has a good balance between strong academics and nurturing the ''whole'' child. We are primarily looking in Castro Valley, San Ramon, Danville and maybe Alamo and Lafayette. If anyone can make recommendations about specific schools in those areas, we would be very thankful. We would also love to find a family friendly neighborhood; somewhere that's safe, with lots of kids. Again, any recommendations on this front would be appreciated as well. Anxious about our move

If you haven't considered Alameda in your search it is definitely worth doing! Super family friendly neighborhoods where kids can safely play, ride bikes, etc, high quality neighborhood public schools from K through 12 with high parental and community involvement, and additional school choices in the form of respected charter schools and private schools (at elementary, middle, and high school levels). Alameda is a fantastic community for families! Karie

You might also consider Orinda or Moraga as having great schools and being family friendly probably around the same cost as Lafayette. Good luck with your move! anon

Moving to rural horse-friendly area for job in Oakland?

Aug 2013

Hello. My husband just interviewed for a position in Oakland last week and the position begins in Sept. We currently live in a rural town in Ohio but are from Oregon originally. We have a small 15 acre farm here. I ride horses and reining is my discipline. I also teach riding lessons. Are there any towns that have a rural/in the country feel where you can rent a small farm or some acreage but are close to great schools? We have 15 year old and 8 year old daughters who are both involved in horses, drama, dance and music. Thank you.

Martinez is not that far from Oakland and has a rural area that there are horse stables and such. You can try there. Good Luck Bobbie Jo

I think your location is going to be heavily influenced by your budget and commute length tolerance and how much land you really want.

If one hour is acceptable and money is no object, and you don't need a ton of land, Marin and surrounding areas definitely have barns and good schools.

Next tier down, and only 20-30 minutes commuting to Oakland (and can be done by BART) is Orinda, but it will be expensive still in comparison with Ohio and still isn't all thaat rural.

Then Lafayette, Martinez, and Pinole, but I don't know about the schools there, you'll want to check city by city.

Same with San Ramon, Danville, and Dublin. There's both Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national labs near Dublin, so there might be a more intellectual base there to influence schools, and plenty of surrounding rural area there too.

The Bay Area has a lot of Western and English horse people, and the East Bay has horse-appropriate trails, but the cost of living is going to be an adjustment.

Good luck. horse person

You might be surprised to find that there are stables in the Oakland hills. On the other side of the hill, in Moraga, there are riding arenas and stables. Schools are excellent in Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga area. Also look at the Briones Park stables. These might work for you, if you want to be closer to Oakland and can't find the acreage you want. Out further in Walnut Creek, closer to Clayton, there are houses on more acreage. Same with El Sobrante, but I'm not sure how good the schools are there.

Glad to hear that more horse people are moving to our area!

The good news is that Oakland has a rich history of equestrian life, and there are many fine horse properties here.

The bad news is that the public schools suck beyond K-5 grades. Sorry to say! Up to grade 5 you will do very well with Thornhill, Montclair, Redwood Heights, Joaquin Miller Schools. Check the online Academic Performance Index.

Those of us who love Oakland and continue to live here often end up sending our kids to private school for middle and high school. If you do the math, it is cheaper to live in upscale Piedmont, pay a lot for your house, send your kids to the public school,and board your horse at Skyline Ranch, Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center, Redwood Ranch, or Piedmont Stables.

In Oakland, there are horse properties along SKyline Boulevard, Joaquin Miller Road, andin the Chabot Park Highlands neighborhoods where you can keep your horses at home on an acre or so. A few folks will share backyard boarding. There are lots of excellent horse vets and a feed and tack store.

And some of the other towns around here - Martinez, El Sobrante - have affordable horse properties and boarding stables, but the schools are in the West Contra Costa school district, which also leaves much to be desired.

Some of the farther suburbs (Walnut Creek - Heather Creek Farm, North Gate area of Mt. Diablo State Park) have good schools and horse neighborhoods, but you might get sticker shock at the housing prices. Same goes for Briones and Alhambra Valley.

If you can afford Marin County, there are many horse properties, the public schools are excellent, and the commute from Oakland to Novato (say) is about one hour, reverse of most of the traffic.

One affordable option might be the Hayward Hills (few horse properties, no major public boarding barns) or Castro Valley (many equestrian centers, some good schools, half an hour from Oakland). Amelia

We have friends with a terrific large stable in Brentwood. They board about 60 horses. Places are still pretty inexpensive out there. I also have co-workers who commute to Richmond every day from Antioch and Brentwood so it is do-able if you can get up early enough to beat the traffic. There are also smaller places where you can keep horses in Orinda (check with their riding shop there), Lafayette, Walnut Creek out near Castle Rock Arabians against Mt. Diablo, and next to Briones park in Martinez or Pleasant Hill. You could ask the owners at Bottomley Farm, a local riding school in that area. Best wishes for your search.

Bay area spot w/ great biking/schools/lots of kids

April 2013

We are looking for a great place to land with a 5 and 8 year old. We want to bike or walk to school, have lots of kids around us, friendly neighbors, quiet area, big yard, neighborhood pool and great schools (reasonable class sizes, great parent community, solid principals). We can not afford Lamorinda. We love the areas near Parkmead school but prices are soaring. We are wondering what folks who are in the good Mt Diablo Elementry schools (Strandwood, Valle Vista...) are planning for middle and high? Private? And what about the area with Walnut Acres/Foothill/Northgate? I hear terrible things about the district but the bike paths and neighborhoods seem great. What about areas that feed Strandwood? We need to be within reasonable commuting distance to the Oakland airport. We will consider Marin - and have even talked about going as far as Davis or even the foothills near Sacramento but its far. We are considering parts of west San Ramon as well. Neighbors keeping chickens and bees, lots of cummunity spirit....your thoughts? Are we crazy to hope for it all and spend less than $800? $700? Moving on

Read the responses to the above question on Alameda and the BPN archives. Your list of things you want in a community so perfectly describes this town it's almost comical. Our only weak spot on your list is that a large yard may be hard to find -- they're out there, but you might not be able to find one right away. In every other way you're describing Alameda to a T. Schools are solid all the way through, great sense of community, walkable and bikeable, swimming pools at Lincoln and Franklin park (membership costs $380/year), and lots and lots and lots of kids. We even have an annual back yard chicken coop bicycling tour! And we're closer to the Oakland airport than most of Oakland. Depending how much house/yard you want, it should be in your price range. lovin' it

You just described Alameda and the reasons we just bought a house there. Great school district along with a good choice of charters and parochial schools. VERY family friendly. The streets are flat and you can bike from one end of the island to the other. Beach! Safe. Neighborhood pools (free swim classes during the school year to any kindergartener). Close to east bay and SF. We are very excited to be moving in a few weeks. Not cheap but less competition than Albany. East end and and Gold Coast areas are nice. New alamedans

Since you mentioned rather outlying areas, why not think of something closer but has all you need? We moved to San Leandro last year and absolutely love it here. Neighbor kids stop by to say hi, we know all of our friendly, down to earth neighbors, and all of the parents I have talked to who have kids at the neighborhood school really like it. Schools arent earning stellar 10s, but some score pretty well and there's a lot of cultural diversity in the schools and town. I would feel very comfortable sending my children to school here (we are not yet parents but considered good schools an important thing to research before choosing a town). One family on our street has kids at the local Catholic school and they love it. Since cost of housing here is really good (homes are in high demand now, however), to us private school might be worth it especially in middle school and high school, if needed.

It's what we were looking for: people smiling and saying hi when you walk by and sometimes striking up a friendly conversation. It is easy to get our errands done in town (we spend far less time running errands than we did when we lived in Berkeley), good commute to work, affordable homes, beautiful neighborhoods, and more. Median home prices are now $335,500. It might be a bit harder to find larger homes in San Leandro, though.

It's a town that is thinking ahead to the future and working hard to attract tech jobs thanks to Lit San Leandro (http://litsanleandro.com/) a fiber optic loop throughout the city for service providers to get ultra high speed internet connections. And the city really works to make this a great place to live. We just attended the Seismic Retrofit class the city offers and it was excellent.

I feel comfortable walking and biking in town - streets have sidewalks, there are good bike paths, and generally flat roads and easy and pretty neighborhoods to ride through to get downtown. Lots of trees here (I noticed San Leandro because we were driving through on 580 and I saw so many trees). Oakland airport is close by and easy to get to without freeways. The library is excellent (I'm graduating with my Master in Library and Information Science), and is open great hours, has a big parking lot, and is well loved in town. You don't have to go so far as Davis or Marin County, there are some great towns much closer by. We also considered Pinole, Crockett, and El Sobrante. We read a lot of reviews on bpn and did a ton of research to find the town that suited us. Good luck on your search. K M

We were in the same dilemma 10 years ago and looked throughout Walnut Creek and Lafayette. My realtor insisted we look at a Concord neighborhood, and we ended up here! Our neighborhood attends Foothill Middle School and Northgate High School, and the homes are a fraction of the cost of those other areas. We live on a cul-de-sac, have a green belt with walking paths, pools, swim team, tennis courts, preschool, dog park, and playgrounds. We live at the base of Mt. Diablo, so hiking trails are minutes away. Our neighborhood is diverse, there are a ton of kids, and we really couldn't be happier. The homes were built in the 70's, the yards are mostly on the small side, but my kids ride their bikes in the front and in the green belt instead. You can check out the neighborhood at www.walnutcountry.com. Happy mama

Outgrown our Albany condo - but where to?

May 2011

Hi All: We are quickly realizing that with Baby Girl here we have grown out of our Albany condo and are hoping to move. The question is, where to?

Given the dynamic and turbulent nature of the California budget situation and local politics and that our daughter is still a baby we have decided NOT to use schools as a factor in our decision (by the time it really matters, things will very different than they are today.) We are starting to research so we can narrow down neighborhoods and what home features are most important.

The place where I need advice is to compile a list of factors that we should consider in looking at specific homes and neighborhoods. Please no endorsements of why your neighborhood is so great. What I really need are the specific things you more experienced parents think are important. Here are a couple of examples that I already have on my list so you can see what I mean: 1) It would be nice if kitchen had window to backyard so kids can play there while I make dinner 2) Living in a hilly area makes stroller walks difficult 3) Bedrooms are better above main living space than below so parents dont keep kids up if they are walking around after kids go to bed.

If any of you have ideas for things to add to our list based on your experiences, we would greatly appreciate it! Thanks! House Hunter

Fellow house hunter, we're looking for a new place to call home as well, and so I'll share what I've discovered after thinking about all of this for over one year. Personally, the idea of a ranch with a longer backyard for play is very appealing. Usually the bedrooms are located at one end of the house, away from the main living area and kitchen, so there is never the problem we currently have of worrying about banging around in the kitchen while our son sleeps in the room above (or worrying about downstairs noise in the living room, while dad works in the office upstairs). Our friends who live in ranch style homes have such spacious backyards that the children can run and explore to their hearts delight. No running in circles due to lack of space!

Depending upon what is important to you, check out the walkability of your new digs on walkscore.com. I would also drive around the neighborhoods you are interested in at various times of day - try it early in the morning during commute, and late at night. Park your car and take notes. You can also source neighborhood crime reports. Personally, I feel that schools are something to consider because due to unforeseen circumstances and simply how fast time seems to fly once kids enter the picture, we sometimes get 'stuck' in a living situation longer than we anticipate - and considering that preschool and kindergarten happen before you know it (plan on the application process one year out from school entry), schools can definitely be a factor. If allergies are an issue, consider what's hanging around your neighborhood (I live on the other side of the hills now and allergies are worse); consider your proximity to your support network of friends and family, and your medical crew, your savings (or not) with car and house/rental insurance (we saved a bundle from our last place), any increase or decrease in your utilities budget (this can vary widely) and most of all any work commutes. If you or your partner have to extend your commute, that could negatively affect family time. You might not feel it right away, but when your baby girl is older, it may become an issue. I would also consider where you see yourself down the line because it takes time to get grounded in a community. Lastly, I check the shake maps at USGS, look around for cell towers and the like, and consider where you could potentially be if a major quake happened (are you separated from your partner by bridges, tunnels, etc. I know this could potentially be seen as catastrophic thinking, but we do live in a major earthquake zone). Oh, and sap from pine trees will totally destroy the paint job on your car if you don't happen to have a carport or garage, and regular car-washing expertise. just another house hunter

What an interesting question! The thing is, a lot depends on just how you want to live your life; some people will prefer a more urban environment and others a more rural or suburban lifestyle, whether they have kids or not. And many details flow from that. Also, of course, especially when it comes to the specific size and features of a house, the price you can pay determines a lot.

But I will tell you what mattered to us, OTHER than the schools, in choosing a neighborhood and a house in which to raise our family (my kids are now 10 and almost 7, and we've lived in the same house since before the older one was born):

- Pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, where it is easy and pleasant to walk or bike to schools, parks, restaurants and grocery stores, and the houses are close enough together that kids can walk next door or around the block to visit friends. This excluded the hills, as well as the more car-oriented suburban areas.

- Area with a community feel, people working in their yards on weekends, someone organizing block parties and that sort of thing. A place where my kids would HAVE neighborhood friends to visit on a casual basis, and I could send them next door to borrow a cup of sugar.

- Enough private, fenced-in yard space for a young kid to run around and play with little or no supervision. With a large enough lawn for things like a climber, playhouse, croquet game or what-have-you. I wouldn't care whether there's a kitchen window overlooking the yard, as long as the yard itself is reasonably safe and I can HEAR what's going on in the back yard, from inside the house. (I also wanted good access from the 'public' areas of the house to the back yard, and did not like the houses where the only door to the back deck was from the master bedroom or the view from the living room toward the back of the house was of a bathroom. But I think this has more to do with our entertaining habits than with parenting per se.)

- We couldn't afford as large a house as we knew we would ultimately want, so we looked for one that it would be relatively easy to add onto. The configuration of bedrooms, bathrooms, and spaces for work, play, crafting, etc., is so individual that it's hard to generalize. Your own family's sleeping arrangements and habits will determine what makes sense; for us, I like having the bedrooms close together and also within earshot of the kitchen and living room, as it seems safer when the kids are very young. Only now as they get older do I sometimes think a bit more separation might be nice.

- Lots of storage space! We are not exactly minimalists to start with, and the accumulation of STUFF as our family grew and the kids get older is kind of astounding. Yes, we do give away or sell many things that they have outgrown, but it is still a challenge to manage everything. And I'm not talking just closets, but also attic/garage/garden shed/whatever.

- A laundry room. Kids generate a ridiculous amount of laundry! I did not want the washer & dryer to be in the kitchen or in a grimy basement or outdoors, but in a separate space inside. Happy househunting! Albany mom

Your list is a good start. I'd add that a hilly area also is harder for kids to learn to ride a bike, etc. It is nice to have a neighborhood park, a place where there are not train tracks, airplane traffic, busy street (especially w/trucks). For us, we prefer a neighborhood that has some land between the homes (rather than stacked on upon the other) as there is more privacy as well as yard space for the kids. We chose a neighborhood that the houses have larger front yards too so the houses aren't right ontop of the street. If you like to be out in the yard a lot, an area that has less wind and warmer days (not a lot of days that are fogged in). It's nice to have easy access to good food stores, etc. Another thing to check out when looking at an area is to go at different times during the day through the neighborhoods as well as the stores in the neighborhoods for it will give you a feel for the area. If it's a new city you'll be moving to, you'll want to see if they have programs for kids (and parents/kids) to help you meet people in your new area w/children around the same age as your child. Good luck. anon

New job in SF - where's a sunny place to live?

Sept 2010

Hi- I have been a longtime reader of BPN and now that we are moving to the area I am pleased to join the community and ask your advice. We are moving here for my partner's work in downtown San Fran. It will be a big adjustment for us as we'll go from flex, working from home to long office hours and to a city where we know few people and have no family. We want to find a place to live (we'll rent at first) that is not longer than a 45 min commute. Not seeing Dad every morning, noon and night will be a huge change for the kids and adding more than an hour on to his workday seems too long for everyone yet is it realistic to find a less than 45 min commute?

I'm worried about the fog. Like a plant I need sun. Any thoughts on places that are more sunny? We care deeply about schools. Any leads on great schools? We'd like to find a real community where we can settle and stay put. We want to know our neigbors and walk places. We enjoy healthy, good food, we are eco-conscious, we like kids parks, biking, skating etc. We are liberal cultural Jews and former New Yorkers. I grew up near Madison, WI (which I LOVED) and I think there are some similarities in Berkeley. Yet, would we feel like a family in a sea of students if we lived near the Ashby Bart stop?

My older child will be changing schools mid year in K and any hints on how this works mid year are very welcome. Also any good private or charter school options if we can't navitate a midyear public move. Also leads on play based social emotional empahsis or Reg Emilio preschools apreciated too. I know it's lots of questions in one so thanks very much in advance! New BPN Mama

so....is your partner's work near BART? if so, you have a wide range of places you can live which are within 45 min. i only know east bay but i'm sure there is stuff on the peninsula. for sunny, hot you can go through the hills to Lafayette, Orinda, etc. i think those are more suburban. if you want more 'city'ish, consider Rockridge (i think some of the public schools are good) and North Berkeley BART area and Albany (el cerrito bart/north berkeley bart). bike trails etc all over. for schools, lots of good listings on bpn, maybe see which parents are excited about the things you care about. we are the academy which we like, i also hear great things about black pine circle, windrush, prospect sierra, it really depends upon your kids too, what motivates them. for public schools people often choose albany, but there are a variety of public schools that people like all over. it's more expensive to rent/buy in albany, i believe, because of the schools. i think near the ashby bart stop can be rough. welcome!

I live in Alameda. The commute to downtown SF can be less than 30 minutes (depending on exact downtown destination). My son attends a RE preschool on the island (Home Sweet Home). Alameda is sunny and walkable and I have great neighbors and... I love it. Best of luck with your relocation. your new neighbor?

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

I would strongly recommend that you check out Alameda, CA -an island off the coast of Oakland-as a wonderful Bay area option for living. Our family moved here last summer and have been thrilled with the open and welcoming community we have found. The commute to SF is only 15-20 minutes (non-rush hour), and in rush hour about 30-35. However, there is a ferry (20 min), an hourly transbay bus (20 min), BART (from Oakland), and many carpool options, too. The community is full of beautiful victorian-era and craftsman-style homes and the city takes great pride in its historical character. The crime rate is low, and my kids (10 & 15) ride bikes and skateboard wherever they want to go, my husband & I walk and ride bikes, too. The schools are highly-rated (check greatschools.com), and very pro-active in the face of recent budget crunches, but there are also great charter schools available (ACLC & NEA). It is a rich, culturally-diverse community with great restaurants & stores, festivals, and beaches, plus it is the sunniest place in the Bay area. (Temps are typically 10 degrees warmer than SF. Since our arrival in July, we've had only 2 completely overcast days and no fog!) It was just selected as one of the 'Top Ten Suburbs' in Travel & Leisure magazine and one of the 'Top 100 Communities for Kids' by America's Promise Alliance. There is also a similar online parent network called 'Alameda Parents Network' which offers great friendliness and support. Plus, it is only a 10+ minute drive from Berkeley, so you can enjoy the benefits of Berkeley very easily as well! We love it! Bara Waters bara

Okay get out your bay area map and we'll color code it together. First North Bay: Tiburon, Sausalito, Belvedere, Mill Valley, they are all Blue Fairfax, San Enselmo, Larkspur Corte Madera, GreenBrae, Ross, San Rafael, these are Green. Novato and Petaluma, Purple

East Bay:

Piedmont, Berkeley Hills, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Danville, Alamo Blue. Oakland Hills (Montclair) Berkeley flats, Rockridge, all Green, San Leandro, Oakland above lake merrit, Albany, Hayward, Purple.

South Bay:

Hillsborough, San Mateo Blue. Pacifica and Millbrae, Green. Bellmont, San Carlos, Foster City Purple.

Blue is where everyone wants to be. Perfect weather, gigantic homes, good schools, every day is vacation. High percentage of stay home mothers. This will work if your combined income exceeds $200k. North Bay blue's tend to be fairly liberal and artsy, where the east bay Blues have some pockets of .... how do I say.... 'not very open minded'

Green, also VERY nice, great climate, generally more liberal folks, artists, athletes, writers. The schools are sometimes alot of work to ferret out, though it can be done. Everyone in green has a dog. This is more the $100 to $175K folks.

Purple is your classic, 'moving further out to get more for your buck', areas. Schools tend to be pretty good, but the culture is not quite as dynamic.

The farther east you go, the warmer the climate. Berkeley Oakland is ideal. Sausalito is absolute heaven, Pacifica is foggy. Soon as you get 'through the caldecot tunnel it gets hot; as far out as concord is deadly hot. North- Petaluma gets rather hot as well, but its really quaint.

The Bay Area really is the most beautiful place in the world wherever you land, but it can be expensive.

there are definately places to avoid: anywhere near an airport. East oakland, Richmond.... South San Fran.

You are going to be SO HAPPY. Welcome! Please email me with any further questions. I enjoy this Reenie

Welcome to the bay area! Based upon your background/interests, I think you'll like it here. If you are looking for more sun, the east bay is definitely the place to be. And yes, it is definitely possible to have a commute of less than 45 min each way if you live somewhat close to a BART station. We live in Temescal (6 blocks from MacArthur BART), and my husband commutes to downtown (Powell St. station) in about 30 minutes, door to door. His office is right above the station, so that helps.

Re: neighborhoods, you don't say how much rent you can afford, which would inform my recommendations. Don't shy away from Oakland--there are many wonderful neighborhoods here. In addition to Berkeley, you might check out Rockridge, Temescal, or Piedmont Ave. areas of Oakland. Of these, in general, Rockridge is probably the most upscale and Temescal the cheapest, but more up-and-coming/artsy/etc. They are all centrally located making commuting pretty easy--a simple walk or bike to BART. W. Berkeley is less expensive, Central Berkeley medium, N. Berkeley and Claremont area are more affluent--again, these are generalities. Can you visit here to see what neighborhoods you like before signing a lease? While the Ashby Bart area of Berkeley is not flooded with students (at all), you might find some of the aforementioned Oakland neighborhoods better. Berkeley is full of families, students are more around the campus and where Shattuck and Telegraph intersect with University.

Be aware that both Berkeley and SF have a lottery for public schools. Not sure how that works re: mid school-transfers. SF's is very intense and you could wind up in a school across town. Berkeley's is more manageable, though you are not guaranteed your neighhorhood school. The more affluent neighborhoods of Oakland have pretty decent public elementary schools and you are much more likely to get your local school, though sometimes they are oversubscribed. I would call to check about transferring in mid-year.

Re: play-based preschools. Yes, there are many, Regio and otherwise. Hopefully someone else will offer current recommendations. There are also many progressive, private schools in the east bay, too many to list! Google is your friend. good luck!

I only have a few mins so I can't get into the whole where to live but I can tell you we live in South Berkeley near the Ashby Bart - and it is not a student area at all - the students mostly live near campus. I work in the financial district and my door to door commute (walk, bart, walk) is 32 mins total so very manageable. We love Berkeley -it is the burbs but still lots of access to SF, theater etc if you still want that. So I'd say its fairly urban as suburbs go, particularly for the bay area. good luck with the move! Berkeley fan

I recommend Piedmont . Your husband can catch casual carpool and be on the highway in 1-2 quick minutes. Or go to nearby Rockridge or Oakland BART stations. Berkeley is much bigger with much more stop n go traffic. Piedmont is like a small town where you know your neighbors and can walk around the whole town. Berkeley is larger, more urban, and your neighbors kids go to different schools. Piedmont is surrounded by farmers markets and groceries as well as restaurants and other such things. The absolute best thing is being able to sign your kids up for recreation dept classes and a FREE van drives the kids around! Don't believe the image of Piedmont. There are so many great and caring families here! And of course the weather is great, less fog than the Berkeley hills (where I work.) K12

I would not live near Ashby BART with little kids. When I lived there a few years ago, there were muggings outside my window, and people would go to the door or tap on the window asking for handouts, etc. Plus, the walkable shops are not that close or that great. Some people will surely disagree, but it would not be my choice. If I were you, I would look near Rockridge in Oakland instead. It's a fun area, very kid-friendly, sounds like a good match to your self-description, and it is on the Pittsburgh/Bay Point BART line rather than the RIchmond line. There are more trains, and you never have to transfer, whereas on the Richmond line, you sometimes have to transfer (direct service from SF is intermittent), which would add time to your husband's trip. I found that my commute from downtown to Rockridge took half the time, or less, than it took me when I was in the avenues in the City itself. anon

Consider living in Rockridge ! It has many attributes...

--It's a wonderful walking neighborhood full of shops, restaurants, cafes, etc. (OK, Rockridge is oversupplied with places to get your brows waxed, but where else can you walk to the bay area's best butcher shop?) I walk EVERYWHERE - to get groceries, to the post office, to the playground with my kid, etc. I routinely park my car and then don't look at it for a week.
--There is access to GREAT food here - both restaurants and groceries and a great farmer's market on Sundays.
--It is so easy to commute from here. The BART gets you from Rockridge to SF in 20 minutes. And it's right on the freeway too.
--Rockridge is FULL of families w/ small children, and it feels like a village. I routinely see the same people when I am out with my daughter, and I have made friends at the park, the coffee shop, etc. Although it has all the fun and interesting stuff of an urban neighborhood, it *feels* small, and you see the same faces regularly.
--There are about six trillion preschools in Rockridge (maybe even more preschools than waxing salons). Take your pick.
--Rockridge is home to two of Oakland's best public elementary schools, Chabot and Peralta.
--Downside: Rockridge is an expensive place to buy a house (see above if you wonder why). But renting here is not that different than other nice neighborhoods in Berkeley/Oakland. I have been both a renter and a homeowner here, and, in my opinion, the location is so special and wonderful that it's worth maybe squeezing into a smaller space.

Best of luck on your move! Rockridge Mom

We live in Alameda and we highly recommend it. Alameda is a small island off of Oakland, and we are a small community with a small neighborhood feel. People like to describe us as a place stuck in the 50's--in a good way! Kids still ride their bikes to school and play on the streets, and there are tons of parks, lagoons and beaches where people exercise and walk their dogs. The schools here are also very good, from K-12 (some better than others, so be sure to check first). I hear the problem with Oakland schools is that even though your neighborhood elementary school might be good, some are admitted by the lottery system, and later on the middle schools/high schools are not that great, and we were told some parents then move or send their kids to private school. At least in Alameda I take comfort that we can settle here and send our kids to public school all the way to high school.

You can drive to downtown in 30 minutes (more with traffic), take BART (unfortunately you'll have to be driven to BART in Oakland), or take the ferry (very convenient). I hear some people carpool into the city from Alameda. A 45 minute commute seems like a lot when you are not from the Bay Area, but you will find that you have to drive at least 20-30 minutes just to get anywhere, so you might have to readjust your expectations. At least within Alameda, everything is just 5-10 minutes away. Oh, and did I mention the weather is good? It's never too hot, and we don't get the fog. Good luck with your move! --Vote for Alameda!

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

well, i read the responses and i have to take issue w/ the post that said stay away from Richmond . i didn't see the original post, but there are plenty of great places to live in richmond and we have a lot of middle class families here. in addition, you will find cute, affordable houses, some good public schools--including a dual immersion school--and plenty of high quality private schools. plus the diversity here can't be beat. we have richmond art center, free music festivals, horse stables, and access to other cultural venues. it's 25 minutes to sf, 20 to san rafael, 45 to napa, 15 to oakland. neighborhoods to look at are richmond view, richmond annex, north & east (north of the 30s), point richmond and some of the newer areas near hilltop. the city has problems, no doubt about it. but so does berkeley, oakland and sf. it all depends what neighborhood you're in. the one thing i have to say that does suck about richmond-el cerrito is the summer weather, which is just like sf. but i'm an old beach bunny from l.a.. anyway, to whoever said stay away: you should come up here sometime. you might actually like it! in richmond 10 years

Job in SF but I must have sun

Feb 2010

I'd hate to have husband commute but I must have sun. Is it better to live in Berkeley, Sausalito, parts of SF or avoid SF complelety? Concerns about crime as well. I am Cal mom age 63.I hope to teach cooking to kids out of my home. Many thanks, C.

Go to sfgate.com, and search the entire archive for 'microclimates'. There is a story by Harold Gilliam with maps of SF microclimates, fog etc. A place that seems even sunnier is through the tunnel--- Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek , and they are directly on a BART line. We briefly lived in Marin and did seem less foggy than SF. Some of the commutes can be fast--for example if your husband works in Embarcadero Center, the ferry is fast. anon

have you looked at Noe Valley . It's a fabulous family friendly neighborhood. We used to live on 22nd st at Church. It was sunny most of the year. We watched the fog roll in to the right and left eventually meeting in Potrero and never quite make it to us. Ah, I miss those days. miss those sunny days

Noe Valley is relatively sunny for the city (as is the Mission, but you said you were concerned about safety - probably not the best area for you). Potrero Hill would be another option. Anything south of the city, too. (Just don't go west!)

In the East Bay, I wouldn't go north of Emeryville -- too much fog coming across through the golden gate. Oakland is pretty reliably sunny in all parts, I'd say. A Fan of the Fog

Oakland has much more sun than Berkeley and there are very nice neighborhoods there. Real sun is through the Caldecott Tunnel - Orinda, Moraga . Don't know about Sausalito. SAD sufferer in Berkeley

Friendly, Rural East Bay Neighborhood?

June 2008

My partner and I are the parents of 2 toddlers and live in Oakland. We are sick of the increase in crime, poor-performing schools, and our lack of a cohesive, safe neighborhood where kids can play together outside. I was raised in a more rural setting and long for that, but for many reasons, we need to stay in the East Bay. Is there a neighborhood or area that has a more rural feel to it, with kid-friendly neighborhoods? I want our kids to be able to run around outside and play with other kids in a place that does not seem so urban. We also want a decent public school near us. Is there anything in Oakland that meets these criteria? Anywhere else in the East Bay that is not prohibitively expensive (we are middle class). Thanks! Looking for a better place

While it's not rural, Alameda has a lot to offer: nice parks and neighborhoods, low crime, good schools and friendly residents. Come check it out! Jessica

We moved to Moraga a few years ago, after spending the previous couple of decades in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco. We enjoy it here very much. Many areas have a rural vibe, especially the neighborhoods that back up onto cow pastures! In our area (off of Camino Pablo) we are surrounded by hills on three sides. When we sleep with our window open, we often hear owls at night and cows in the morning. The schools are good and not all the houses are totally expensive. I found the prices to be in line with Oakland's Montclair and Rockridge districts, but with better schools and lots of open space, trails, and such.

My kids play in the street, ride their bikes to their friends' houses, walk to and from school, etc. I ride my bike to the farmer's market and pilates (AWESOME pilates studio in Moraga...a real hidden gem).

No, it isn't Berkeley or Oakland hip. But it has a lot to offer, especially if you are looking for a something rural and close in. Moraga Momma

Leaving Oakland, seeking a safe, family--oriented neighborhood

May 2007

We currently live in the Dimond/Laurel area of Oakland with our young children. Unfortunately, there has been a recent increase in crime in our neighborhood, to the point where we no longer feel all that comfortable living here. We are interested in living elsewhere in the East Bay, somewhere that is safe and very kid-friendly where the neighbors really know and look out for each other, close access to nature, and in a good school district. Oh yes-and affordable. Don't know if this is too much to ask? We have thought about living through the tunnel in Moraga, Lafayette, etc., but I do like the progressiveness and diversity of Oakland/Berkeley. Are there some neighborhoods we aren't aware of? Rockridge is great but there is no way we could afford it. I don't know if it is too much to ask to live in a place where the kids can run around in the neighborhood after dark-or is that something from the past that we were able to do in different times? Or is it possible still to do that somewhere like Lafayette/Moraga? I would love any suggestions. We are planning to send our kids to public school, by the way, so we would like to live in a neighborhood that has a good elementary school. Thanks. Looking for safer pastures

We live in El Cerrito and both of our elementary school age children attend the local public school.

It's not perfect because we are a resource-poor district but it's worked out great for our kids. The parents are very involved (volunteering in the school) and they raise funds to provide the students with a good education. The PTA provides art, music, and science programs to supplement what the district provides.

At last count, there were at least 8 elementary school children on our block--all living within 5 houses of each other. At night they run in and out of each others' back yards and play in the front yards. Some parents in El Cerrito opt to go to private schools but I think the local elementary school is just fine. We are also planning to go to the local public middle school when my son is ready. Most of El Cerrito is very safe and family-friendly. There are great parks and a terrific public pool.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's that affordable for first-time home buyers but houses are slightly less expensive than Albany, Lafayette or Orinda. Consequently, there is more diversity in the local public schools.

You're in luck - such a place does exist! We were looking for a similar place as you describe, and we found it in Alameda . It's a very neighborly, friendly place, where most people will say hi to you as you pass on the street, kids play together outside and the ice cream truck stops on the corner in the summer. The schools are good - some have better reputations than others, and I cannot attest to that as my kids are not yet in elementary school, but you can check out the basic stats on www.greatschools.net.

We love that we can walk to the park or to dinner, and there is a good mix of people (ages and ethnicities) and young families. Holidays are fun here - the whole town is out for the 4th of July parade, Halloween is so fun and tons of kids abound, and over the holidays we love going to ''Christmas tree lane'' to see the lights.

Lots of changes/improvements are in store over the next year or two - the historic theater downtown is getting renovated, the mall is undergoing a revitalization and will have more restaurants and shops, including Borders books, and plans to develop the old military base on the west end are in the works. I think it's a good time to get in the market here.

Prices vary, with the gold coast neighborhood and the east end being the most expensive - gold coast due to the concentration of large mansions there, and the east end due to the good reputation elementary schools and proximity to shopping on Park Street.

Come on down and take a drive through the town - you won't be disappointed. I would recommend it over Lamorinda - you can actually walk to school/grocery store/restaurants here and there is more diversity. Good luck! at home in Alameda

We were in your boat four years ago and we found near-nirvana in San Leandro ! The neighborhoods around Dutton (right off 580) are just what you're describing: kids play on our street day and night, neighbors know each other, and the local cafe (Zocalo) makes for a friendly, progressive community center. While San Leandro was known in the 70s as one of the whitest towns in the East Bay, it is now very diverse, which we see reflected on our street and in our school. Our son is in the local public elementary school (Roosevelt) and we love it; he's learning a lot, gets great attention, and it's a wonderful community of involved parents. Plus we all love that we can just walk there. (We understand the middle school is only so-so and high school is worse -- we hope to be part of making them better by the time he gets there, or we'll look at other options.) I'd recommend that you look at real estate in the Broadmoor (north of Dutton), Estudillo Estates (between Dutton and Estudillo, on both sides of the creek), and Sheffield Village (east of 580, officially in Oakland but part of the S.L school district) neighborhoods. Most houses are cute and well- maintained, and we found prices to be about 10-15% cheaper than for similar homes in Berkeley/Oakland when we were looking (not sure if that's still true). San Leandro isn't perfect -- we especially wish for more good restaurants! -- but Berkeley and Oakland are just up 580 and/or 13, and the joy of feeling part of a safe, caring community outweigh the drawbacks by far. Good luck to you! Happy in suburbia

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 lived in Oakland for a long time and now live in Moraga . It is ridiculously family friendly. All the kids in the neighborhood are in and out of each others houses after school and on weekends. The other parents in the neighborhood are extremely kind and helpful. Yes, my kids can walk or bike to school, walk or bike to the farmer's market, and play outside after dark. When I moved here, I was braced for feeling like a fish out of water, but I have been surprised and humbled at my generalization that all people out here would be conservative and narrow minded. I was wrong.

It is very white, but that is changing, slowly but surely. I have seen a slight demographic shift in the couple of years that I've been here.

When you compare a place like Moraga to the safer neighborhoods of Oakland (Rockridge, Montclair, Redwood Heights), I think you get a little more for your money out here. The lots are bigger, the streets are conducive to kids playing in them, and the schools are among the best in the state. The property taxes are expensive though, which is the downside. You'll have to do your math and decide the best solution for you based on your income, number of children, commute, and so on.

For us, it has been one of the best changes we ever made. There is so little stress now: no serious crime, no worries over school quality and safety, no constant scheduling of and driving to/from playdates. My kids are happier than they've ever been.

We LOVE living in what has recently been dubbed ''Piedmont Pines'' - the hills in Oakland just above Joaquin Miller Elementary School. Our backyard is the trailhead to Joaquin Miller & Redwood Regional Parks, we have great neighbors, many with children, and living on a cul-de-sac allows us to let our children (with supervision) to run around in a safe environment, where we all look out for each other. Cost is an issue. When we moved in, things were not so bad, but we've been looking at housing prices skyrocket since. If you own your home though, I'm sure you'll get a good price when you sell and could find a place in our neighborhood to make it work for you. Hope we meet your family soon

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

El Cerrito ! It has become my favorite east bay city. Close enough to freeways so you can get anywhere. Easy shopping at the E.C. plaza and E.C. Natural Grocery. There are lots of new families moving here, it is relatively safe and has good schools. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is actually more diverse than our old neighborhood in SF. Our block has lots of different kinds of families - different ethnicities and family structures. There is crime everywhere and E.C. is no exception but we have not experienced anywhere near what we did in SF or what some of our friends in Oakland have. I think it is in part because even though El Cerrito is a part of the larger bay area community it still has a small town feel. Our neighbors here have been friendlier than anywhere I have lived and about 1/3 of the houses in our immediate neighborhood has kids. anon

Moving from Kensington - seeking kid friendly EB neighborhoods

October 2006

My husband, 9 month old daughter and I live in a small house in Kensington at the top of the hill. We're looking for a larger home in the East Bay in a kid friendly neighborhood. We long for walks in the stroller, parks, playmates for our daughter and a lovely home. Our income (thankfully) allows for great flexibility in where we live. What we'd like to know from parents is which neighborhoods most fit this criteria? Where do people LOVE living with children? Any advise about neighborhoods, things to look for as a parent and home owner would be greatly appreciated! Many thanks! Leigh

Benicia may be a bit too far North for you, but it is an amazing little treasure. The community is warm and friendly, the schools are very good, there are many (!) beautiful parks and the social activities in town are always wonderful. The downtown area is pretty flat, so it is perfect for strolling around or bicycling. We lived there for 10 years and I actually miss it tremendously. JOJ

Alameda! I don't think there is a more family friendly community in the East Bay. Great victorians and craftsman homes as well as new cookie-cutter homes available in Bayport as well. Great parks and a beach. Need I say more? EA

Consider the North area (Broadmoor and Estudillo Estates) of San Leandro. Beautiful houses, lots of people pushing strollers, an amazing community center/cafe (Zocalo Coffeehouse) and a real sense of community. San Leandro also has one of the most amazing children's libraries and children's programs in the Bay Area (all thanks to our children's librarian, Ms. Penney). Check us out. And if you want to find out how people living here, go to Zocalo any morning and talk to other moms & dads Marga

As I was reading your post asking for a recommendation for a kid-friendly neighborhood in the East Bay, I could not wait to reply!! My husband and I have a 9 month old as well and we LOVE our neighborhood. We live in Pleasanton, which I believe is about 40 min. away from you. I can't tell you enough good things about it. The neighborhood is filled with families with children, there are tons of great parks and green areas and the schools are top notch. I love living in Pleasanton because you have easy access to the freeway, and traffic is not a problem. There is a beautiful downtown that is great for a Sunday walk, cute stores and great little restaurants and cafes; it has its own farmer's market every Saturday with lots of goodies. You always see families with their strollers and kids. The only thing is housing costs are higher than other areas, but since you mentioned that thankfully your income allows for flexibility, I really encourage you to check out the neighborhood. http://www.ci.pleasanton.ca.us/ Feel free to email me directly for more info or if you have questions. maria.esther

We recently purchased our first home after living in a few different parts of east bay over the last 3 years. I don't claim to be an expert on east bay neighborhoods, but we live in Alameda and I am very pleased with our decision. It has a small town atmosphere, yet is so close to San Francisco and Oakland/Berkeley geographically. We live within walking distance of Park street and there are many lovely shops and restaurants there. I have greatly enjoyed strolling around our neighborhood and looking at the great variety of architecture (many victorians, craftsmans...) and overall the island has a nice ambiance. There seem to be a lot of children around, the parks are nice, schools are very good, and I just can't say enough about how nice it is to call Alameda home. Good luck with your search.
happy homeowner

My daughter is in a nanny share in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley. The homes and yards are beautiful, lots of Craftsman and shingle style homes, tree-lined streets, etc. The home is on a dead-end street with lots of kids, an easy walk from Bateman Tot Park (near Alta Bates Hospital)and Willard Park. Elmwood and Rockridge shops and restaurants are in walking distance. FWIW, they live on Lewiston between Woolsey and Alcatraz, and I think there is at least one home expected to come up for sale soon. I'd live there if I could afford it. Carrie

I live in the ''Totland district'' of North Berkeley, it runs between Sacramento and MLK; University and up to Hopkins, I think. I'm 2 blocks from North Berkeley BART, 2 blocks from Totland, about a mile from the ''gourmet ghetto'' on Shattuck. There are kids and dogs and families everywhere you look, I absolutely love this neighborhood and highly recommend it for what you're wanting!! Jill

HI, I would like to recommend Alameda for kid friendly neighborhoods. I live in the East end of the island and in my 2 block radius, we have 11 three years! This is great since I myself have 3 year old twins. The sidewalks are flat so walking and riding bikes with the kids is easy. Downtown Alameda is about 3/4 mile away so morning walks to breakfaast or Starbucks or Petes has become our Sat. ritual. It is also a very friendly family neighborhood, we have block parties twice a year where we block the streets and get jumpy houses for the kids and barbque all day. If you live in Kensington, you'll think alameda is very affordable! I'd be happy to give you more info on specific neighborhoods that are kid friendly karie

Alameda! We just moved to the Gold Coast neighborhood and absolutely love it. The neighborhood elementary (Franklin School) is excellent, and we are walking distance from several parks, including Crown State Beach and Crab Cove and two wonderful playgrounds.

Since Alameda is very flat, it couldn't be more stroller friendly. The city parks and rec department has lots of activities for kids and families, including a program offering free swim lessons for all kindergarteners.

Park Street has lots of fun shops, good food and coffee, much like Solano or College Avenues.

The housing stock in the Gold Coast neighborhood is older, with lots of turn of the century Victorians. In our house-shopping, we found that homes in this neighborhood were pretty well- maintained, and the prices weren't completely insane (at least by bay-area standards).

For shopping, there's a Trader Joes and new Safeway in the Alameda Towne Center. Target is also interested in building a new store there, but they're getting a lot of opposition. Near the Park Street bridge, The Marketplace is like a mini Rockridge Market Hall.

Happy Alameda Mom

We love our neighborhood, Redwood Heights in the Oakland foothills. It's crawling with kids; has a real community feel; lovely '20s- through '50s-era homes; a great neighborhood elementary school (Redwood Heights Elementary); a well-used Rec Center with lots of interesting kid and adult programs; a wonderful park and playground; friendly, involved residents; well-tended gardens; mostly flat streets with sidewalks for bike riding and scootering; etc.

(In fact, when we outgrew our small starter house last year, we purchased a larger house just a few blocks away so that we could stay in the neighborhood, where our kids have lots of friends and where we really feel like a part of the community.)

Demographically, it's somewhat ethnically diverse, with mostly middle- and upper-middle class residents (it's definitely been skewing more upper-middle class as home prices have tripled in the last 8 years or so; most houses now sell in the high $600K to low $800K range). Among the newer residents with kids (who are quickly replacing older residents who moved in decades ago and stayed), I'd say that most are white-collar professionals, with scientists, medical professionals, and educators making up pretty significant subgroups, plus a smattering of writers and artists. A lot of people here are Cal alumni.

There's an active neighborhood organization with a softball team, a baby-todder mom's group, block emergency captains, etc., and a really involved community at the elementary school as well.

This being Oakland, it's fairly progressive politically and socially. There are lots of two-mom families, a fair number of MoveOn members and Green-party voters, etc. There is the occasional property crime (car break-ins and home burglaries every once in awhile) -- as there is everywhere -- but all in all the neighborhood is extremely safe. It's just a comfortable, open, and welcoming place to live -- maybe a bit suburban in feel but also close to all the urban stuff that Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco (you can be in downtown SF in 20 minutes, barring rush hours) have to offer.

Anyway, come on over and check it out! Leah

I noticed that noone from Berkeley responded to your question and wanted to chime in. In Berkeley (also Albany) there are a number of wonderful kid-friendly neighborhoods. Our family (w/ 2 girls) looked for houses within walking distance to parks & shops. We just bought a house in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood (where I grew up) and loved living in Westbrae neighborhood (for 13 years). There are jewel-like parks all over the city - and a bay trail that is great for kite flying, bicycling, walking, biking & dog walking. Left up to me, I would avoid areas near campus just because they tend to be heavily studented and parking is difficult - so the vibe is different.

Another thing that I think should be noted when looking at cities - Berkeley has historically and consistently been a big booster of schools & libraries. Contra Costa voters recently failed to pass bond measures for schools - but Berkeley voters tend to pass library & school measures. I profoundly hope we pass Measure A and continue this trend.

As recent home buyers/ home-sellers, we can attest that the prices seem to be lower than we've seen recently so this might be a good time to get in. Berkeley booster

East Bay neighborhood that's commutable to SF, progressive, kid-friendly

April 2003

In a year or so my husband will be taking a job in San Francisco. We presently live in Hawaii where I am from. We are looking in the East Bay area for a place to live. We have three kids- 3 year old twin boys and a 4 month old baby boy. I know very little about the area and am very nervous about this move because this is a decision we are making for our whole! family. I have been trying to research areas from Berkeley all the way to Walnut Creek.

Here is a summary of my ''dream'' place: I would love to find an area that is progressive with natural living/organic living resources. An active community would be nice. I am looking for a place with easy access to outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, running, parks, playgrounds and open space to run loose. I want a place that is kid friendly and close to good schools- public and/or private. Other places (ie: children's museums etc... are a plus too). My husband will be commuting to San Francisco so it needs to be within a reasonable distance to the city (I hear BART is very easy). I realize that the cost of living is outrageous- even compared to Hawaii, so I am prepared for that, but are some areas more expensive than others? I guess that covers the aspects that I consider most important. I have seen the other postings on the website but I was hoping for more information about some of the specific qualities that I mentioned. Any input would be very appreciated! Thank you

If you are looking for a great East Bay neighborhood, I would pick our neighborhood -- Upper Rockridge between Broadway Terrace and Moraga Avenue. This is a very diverse neighborhood and is close to everything (nature and modern conveniences). It also has a terrific K-8 public elementary school, Hillcrest. (You may need to send your kids to private high school though.) We really love it here -- there are tons of kids on our street that are the same age as yours (my twins and baby are separated by the same time as yours are but are about a year older). As far as commuting to the city, my husband takes the bus from about a block away. It is an express bus and he is at his desk 35 minutes after walking out the door. Of course, BART is always an option but the bus is generally faster for him given the location of his office. The commute is a huge benefit to being here. Also, the weather is not nearly as hot as the cities further east. Shannon

you are describing berkeley and oakland. consider these neighborhoods: rockridge (upper and lower), montclair, crocker highlands, berkeley hills, elmwood, and north berkeley. a happy oakland resident

Hi Courtney, We've been really happy in Albany , and it has all the things you're looking for:
1) A small-town atmosphere with lots of families, walkable neighborhoods and easy access to natural groceries & pharmacies.
2) Several nice local parks, quick access to large parks like Tilden, easy access to a bayside beach and a quick hop across the bay to Marin County and Point Reyes
3) A great school system with motivated kids, good teachers and lots of parent involvement
4) Walking (or easy biking) access to BART
Yes, it's expensive. And the school budgets are getting slashed, just like most in California. But it works pretty well for us. Good luck! Jeff

Hi. Since you are from Hawaii, you should be aware that the Berkeley area, basically from North Oakland to north berkeley/albany/so. el cerrito gets A LOT of fog in the summer. I live in No. Berkeley. Our nicest time of year is the spring. Lots of blue sky. From June through August there is a lot of fog. Some times it's just in the morning, some times it lasts all day. Because this area is located directly across from the ''open'' area spanned by the Golden gate bridge, the coastal fog rolls through, across the bay in a tube, and sits nestled in the Berkeley hills. I love sun and still love this area despite this, but it CAN be a drag on summer days that are warm everywhere but here. The good thing is that even when we have hot days, eventually the fog rolls in and cools things off just aorund the time you are tired of the heat.

For summer hot weather, you'd need to live ''through the tunnel'' in Orinda, Concord, Walnut Creak, Pleasonton area.

For this side of the tunnel, the best public schools are found in Piedmont. You trade good schools (v. Berkeley) for a fairly conservative population.

Berkeley has tons of diversity, poor/mediocre public schools, great access to the outdoors (literally out your door, if you live high in the hills, adjacent to Tilden Park), tons of arts and restuarants...in fact, Berkeley is all about food, whether its the abundance of fresh everything at the markets or tons of choices for excellent dining out. Lots of theaters, movies, art shows, music. This is why we live here.

There is good access to Rockridge Bart station in North Oakland/Rockridge area, or at North Berkeley Bart, central Berkeley BART or even El Cerrito Bart. Berkeley distinguishes itself from other areas nearbye in that most of the houses are old and have a lot of architectural charm, and the neighborhoods have lots of trees.

There are tons of excellent private schools to choose from. Let me know if you have any specific questions. Dana

Alameda is a wonderful place to live! flat, so biking/stroller stuff is easy. easy bus ride to the city, 35-40 min. schools pretty good i think (we homeschool). lots of scouts, soccer, little league, churches, etc. trader joe's and a new marketplace (organic stuff, fish, bakery, niman ranch meat) in town. quick to get just about anywhere in the bay area from here. good luck! peggy

Hi Courtney. I currently live in Oakland, but if I had my choice (maybe in a couple of years) I would live in Orinda . It is exactly what you described in your message, and it is west of Walnut creek. Orinda also has a BART station so commuting to SF is a breeze. Actually, most towns around Walnut Creek are pretty nice, but I have heard that Walnut Creek schools are not as nice as they used to be. You could look at Lafayette and Pleasant Hill, both between Orinda and Walnut Creek. Other towns out that direction will just put you even farther from SF. Best advice though is come take a look, and maybe rent for a year before putting down roots. The real estate prices will really make you gasp.

Also, be sure to find directions and drive by Orinda Public Library. It is huge and new, beautifully set next to new community center and very large playground/public tennis courts. I have three kids (3yr, 6yr, 11 yr.) and we will go spend 3 hours or so doing various activities around the library & playground.

Good Luck! Tiffany

You didn't mention whether you would be buying or renting a home when you arrive, but either way you can get a good sense of the cost of housing in the various East Bay cities by going to www.realtyadvocates.com. Just click on Home Search (East Bay), then select the different cities you are looking at, and conduct a search with broad parameters (2+ bedrooms, 200,000-800,000 dollars...). This will give you a pretty good sense of how much most homes are going for in that area.

Most of your desires can be met in most of the communities in the Berkeley-Oakland area. As far as schools go, some districts are better than others, but California's budget is in a shambles and our schools are taking the brunt of the blow. All the districts, even the ''good'' ones, are scrambling to maintain decent class size and enrichment programs in the coming years.

Good luck to you,

I took an interest in your request b/c I too am from Hawaii (Honolulu), and I understand what your leaving behind to move to the Bay Area.

My husband also commutes to the city on BART and we've lived in different East Bay neighborhoods over the past 10+ years. I've found the following to be really nice, kid friendly, good parks, easy commute to city etc.: Piedmont, Rockridge(Oakland), Elmwood (Berkeley), West Brae neighborhood near the N Berkeley BART station/Monteray Mkt all to be great. Living on the Berkeley/Oakland side of the East Bay puts you within easy access of great restaurants, food shopping at farmer's markets, Berkeley Bowl/Monteray Mkt, museums both in the East Bay and the City and close to the neighborhood parks and regional parks (Tilden).

I've also heard that living in Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga can be very nice too! So many choices, good luck! Maya

We live in and really like Castro Valley . It's family friendly, there are community groups, I hear (my child is only 2 1/2) that the schools are good, it's small-ish but with all the essentials, well situated for either a BART or car commute to SF, also well situated for access to other cities such as Hayward/Union City, Oakland and Dublin/Pleasanton (I work in Oakland and my husband works in Dublin). Lake Chabot, which has hiking, biking, horseback riding, picnicing and fishing, is just minutes from downtown. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions I might be able to answer. We're also relocating this coming June, but it has nothing to do with Castro Valley! Jennifer

I have been looking into buying a house in the east bay (mainly oakland). And unless you are willing to pay exta ordinarily expensive prices for your home I would NOT look in piedmont, rockridge (oakland), and most places through the tunnell (orinda, lafayette). Although I'm sure these are great places to live they come with great big price tags, and are somewhat exclusive.

Although berkeley is a great place to live, my only complaint is that many parts of it are a pain to get out of, because there is only one freeway 80, and it is often congested. (also the property taxes are more than oakland). But still there are MANY nice neighborhoods in berkeley, & some good schools, and lots of parks/family oriented stuff. But I do not know berkeley as well as oakland.

Some neighborhoods in oakland that have good schools, and nice family neighborhoods are: oakmore, montclair, trestle glen, & crocker highlands, to name a few.

If you are interested in getting a general idea of the price/location of homes check out www.Realtor.com

Oakland school district finder http://mapstacker.ousd.k12.ca.us For school ratings (bear in mind that it is always best to get opinions of parents/and even better teachers on how a school is, also this does not list the correct school districts in oakland, that is why you have to use the other school finder) www.greatschools.net

some general info on oakland http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/RemoteRefFiles/form/current_info_bayarea.html

Also besides this site (impressive you found it!)For local jobs, etc. www.craigslist.org

Also, Alameda has really started to grow on me. It is has a small town feel, but is close to oakland/berkeley, and not to hard to get to san francisco. I love the old victorians (it is also slightly less expensive than oakland & berkeley). Also though coming from hawaii it will surley be a huge dissapointment, there is a beach there (with a nice view of S.F.- Hey you can't get that in Hawaii). But some of it is land fill, and Bay farm (part of alameda) which has great schools I believe is all Landfill, and it has a gated community feel which I personally do not like (and it's farther out).

Hope this helps, the bay area is a great place to live, it's just everyone seems to want to live here, so housing is out of control, and so is traffic during commute hours. But once you adjust to the few negatives you will fall in love with the diversity,& open mindedness of the residents, and the beauty of the surrounding reginal parks.
signed: an oakland resident for 13 years

I was just reading the last set of recommendations and was taken aback by the description of Berkeley for the family from Hawaii seeking a nice neighborhood in the East Bay. ''Berkeley has tons of diversity, poor/mediocre public schools..'' There it is, casually tossed out as if a given, ''poor/mediocre public schools.'' Excuse me? Says who? I have had four children in the Berkeley Public Schools. Currently my oldest is teaching at Berkeley High School and my youngest is a sophomore there. My children attended Cragmont, Columbus (now Rosa Parks), Franklin, King and the high school. They had wonderful teachers. They learned to read and write, to help others and enjoy life. They went on field trips to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Ano Nuevo, Pt. Reyes, and Monterey. They had chicks in the classroom, visits from the Bat lady, music lessons in the fourth grade. They worked on the Award-Winning Berkeley High Jacket, played lacrosse, field hockey, water polo. They took AP Chemistry, AP Biology, French, Latin, and Calculus BC (not offered at many schools.) The three that graduated went on to Ivy League schools. But the best part is they made wonderful friends--kids who were resilient, caring, and thoughtful. And I have been lucky enough to make friends with their parents--people who work hard at supporting public education in their community.

It is NOT a given that the Berkeley schools are either poor or mediocre. Janet

I second the recommendation that Castro Valley is a nice place to live. I've lived in the Bay Area all my life, and as an adult bought my 1st and 2nd house in Castro Valley. CV is a smaller community and has a small town feel which is something I like. I understand public schools here are excellent. (Our CV renter tells us the CV public schools aren't affected by the budget cuts as much as other schools because CV is considered a Distinguished school. Someone correct me if this is wrong). Also, I've been told there is afterschool daycare/activities at the CV schools. There is a BART station in CV, and also close by in San Leandro where parking isn't a problem until about 9am (?). There are many hiking + bike trails and parks, such as at Lake Chabot. Horse stables are nearby too, and campsites at Lake Chabot. CV is centrally located to the freeways. If you are considering buying a house, you get more for your money in CV than say Albany or Berkeley. Same with renting. Feel free to email me if you have questions. hana

Moving from Oakland, seeking a friendly neighborhood w/kids

Feb 2003

We are going to move soon and would love to find housing in a neighborhood that has other small children and is community- oriented. We would consider cohousing but we can't afford that right now as we are renters. The next best thing would be to live in a neighborhood where people know each other and there are other small children. These days it seems that most neighborhoods are somewhat anonymous, but I have heard that there are some special ones out there that have a communal atmostphere. I haven't lived in one myself, though.

We could go almost anywhere in the East Bay, if we found the right place (we live in Oakland right now and my husband works in Concord). If you know of or live in such a neighborhood, could you drop me a line or post a response to let me know about it? You don't have to know of any rentals available there. I am just wanting to find out where such neighborhoods might be in order to guide our search for housing and to give me hope for the future. (When I say neighborhood, by the way, I mean a small area within a town. Towns can vary a lot depending on what block you live on, in my experience.)


We have been living in the Glenview area of Oakland for 3 years now and really love it. There are lots of small children around us for our 3-year old daughter to play with, and for the first time in my life, I can say that I know and am friendly with all my immediate neighbors. There is a very strong sense of community in Glenview.

Within walking distance, we have a great park(Dimond) with activities for kids and a pool, as well as a small commerce area (Park Blvd.) which has a neighborhood market, a cafe, and couple of restaurants. I sometimes see rentals available in the neighborhood. For more info on the area, you can check out the Glenview Neighborhood's Association website at http://www.glenviewneighborhood.org Angelica

You can't beat Albany for what you're looking for -- the good schools mean there are a lot of families with kids here. Our neighborhood (the area behind the Mallard bar) is full of kids. On our block there are 11 kids on our side of the street, and 6 on the other. Granted there are neighbors I've never met, but those with kids all know each other, our kids play together, when someone needs a hand we take care of each others kids, and when I'm short an egg when baking a cake I can always run over to my neighbor. When we were interested in buying our house we talked to the neighbors and asked about the ages of kids in the neighborhood, and we drove by at different times of day and saw all the kids in the area. Good luck in your search. anon

Hi, We live in the San Pablo Park area of Berkeley on Carleton Street (the 1200 block). We find the neighborhood to be very kid friendly and in the 3 years that we have lived here we have gotten to know pretty much all the families with kids around the ages of ours (2 and 4). The neighborhood is no paradise mind you, but it has a lot of very nice qualities. There is a very nice and active park near by (San Pablo Park). The area is pretty diverse ethnically (primarily a mix of African-American and Caucasion families). And it is very centrally located (perhaps too much so) close to freeways and major streets. There are a number of rentals in the area, though our street (which I am most familiar with) is mostly owner occupied. One more note, neighborhoods in this area are really different, street by street, so check them out pretty thoroughly. Good luck, Cherene

Hi. In response to your message about finding a friendly neighborhood with children - we live near Poinsette Park, off Barnett in El Cerrito. Our block on Mono Ave. in particular is very close knit - most of the neighbors know each other and we have holiday parties (Halloween, Christmas, and progressive dinner parties). It's a true gift. I've never lived anywhere like it, and it easily is one of the best things about our home (which we love). There are several families with small children on our block, and I see lots of children when I drive through the neighborhood, and when we go to Poinsett Park (on Poinsette St. or Dr. - up the hill from Home Depot and the San Pablo Safeway). Hope you find something comparable. Best wishes. debora

We recently moved to Alameda, because we wanted to be in a neighborhood that's good for raising children. In our neighborhood at the East End of Alameda, there are lots and lots of children, friendly families who all know one another, quiet pretty streets with kids playing on the sidewalks, lots of kid activities and parks, relatively less crime than most other parts of the bay area, good public schools, several nearby at- home daycare places that are less expensive than those in Berkeley or Oakland, good preschools nearby. It's a nice place to be raising our children, and is very convenient to many other parts of the Bay Area (10-20 minutes to many parts of Oakland or Berkeley; not too bad a commute to San Francisco or other places east or south of here). There are lots of rentals as well as owner-occupied houses, and when I was looking for a house I found prices for both to be somewhat less than in Berkeley, Albany, or Oakland. I think most of Alameda is very family oriented. It feels like a small town hidden in the Bay Area. Alexandra

My sister lives in the Glenview area of Oakland and her street (Randolph Ave) is very neighborhoody - in fact, I take my son over there almost every weekend as he has so much fun with all the kids playing outside. I have noticed this on some other blocks in the area, so you might want to check it out. anon