Which Bay Area Neighborhood to Live In?

Questions & Responses:
Help needed deciding where to live in Bay(1 response)
Advice on where to live!(19 responses)
Social worker wants to move back to Berkeley(3 responses)
Struggling to find community in the East Bay(19 responses)
Moving to Bay Area and clueless(13 responses)
Best child-friendly neighborhoods for commuting to UCB?(13 responses)
Kid-friendly suburbs(9 responses)
Archived Responses: 

2013 - 2014 Recommendations

Looking for a good neighborhood near 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 Montreal to the Bay Area, seeking urban feel

May 2014

We're moving at the end of June from Montreal to the Bay Area (the husband is being transferred to San Francisco). We're looking for a place that has an urban feel (in terms of diversity, resources,etc), has great schools and lots of after school activities for our children (ages 6 & 3)and that's close to Bart or any public transportation for hubby to go to work to SF. We're priced out of San Francisco proper, so are thinking of Berkeley or Walnut Creek (anywhere else seems too far/long of a commute). Any ideas or suggestions? Also, besides craigslist, is there any other site to find a rental home? - Thanks! Laura A.

Walnut Creek is a nice suburb but doesn't have an urban feel. You might want to look at Albany as well as Berkeley. Where will your husband be working? If it is in SF, then you could also look at the Penninsula (Brisbane, Millbrae) -- basically old railroad suburbs with appealing little downtowns. You could also look at the Richmond and the Sunset in SF -- they are more affordable. anon

If you are looking for a place with an 'urban feel' then I would caution against Walnut Creek, since that is where people go to get AWAY from urban areas. Despite what its defenders and loyalists will say, it is very white and bland compared to the real East Bay. Walnut Creek has many things to offer families, but IMHO diversity and culture are not among them. --Staying on this side of the tunnel

I'm sure everyone will say that their own neighborhood is the best, so I'm going to chime in to say ALAMEDA is the best! Alameda is an island off from Oakland, and it's a little oasis. The schools are good, the kids ride their bikes to school, and sometimes it seems like the entire (small) city is made up of families with young children. Alas, BART doesn't run here, but the ferry goes straight to the Ferry Building in SF. Definitely check it out. As for rentals, you could try a rental agency. Good luck!

Good schools and lots of trees and nature

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?

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

2010 - 2012 Recommendations

Moving from LA, In search of the perfect walkable East Bay neighborhood

Sept 2012

Young family with toddler and infant moving from LA to Bay Area for work (in SF/SOMA). Looking for an upwardly mobile, safe and clean, ethnically diverse, family friendly neighborhood in the East Bay with convenient proximity to good restaurants and nice shops. Nearby walkable downtown area would be nice. Thinking about Albany/Northbrae/North Berkeley or Upper Rockridge/Piedmont/Crocker Highlands. Am I on the right track? What are the differences between those neighborhoods? Is there an equivalent of Santa Monica or Culver City up there? Alternatively friom the East Bay should Palo Alto be a consideration or is it too far a commute (would like to keep in under an hour. 30 minutes ideally)? Is there a Palo Alto of the East Bay? Any advice welcome. Thanks. LA parent

I love Palo Alto but the commute to the city can be a total PITA. If your office is close to CalTrain then that is an option. CalTrain is a very clean, comfortable, fast way to commute. However, it is expensive, the trains don't run all that often and most skip stops so you are limited in what times you can go home at night. Also, I've had issues getting parking in the CalTrain lots (but I never got there too early).

There can also be issues with parking at BART stations in the east bay so I guess you pick your poison. The nice thing about BART is that it runs frequently and doesn't skip stops unless there is an emergency. There is a lot more flexibility commuting on BART. Now I ride the transbay bus from the east bay most of the time and it is fantastic. But the times that you can use it are limited to commute hours and some of the lines don't run very frequently. The nice thing about the east bay is that I can BART to work in the morning and the bus home at night. If I miss the bus, I can always take BART. Peninsula to East Bay Transplant

Your list of neighborhoods sounds about right. Piedmont is the Palo Alto of the East Bay, just know that some areas of Piedmont are less walkable than others.

If you're looking to buy, and use public schools, then I would avoid Rockridge. My understanding is that the local elementary school is good, but then you're in the larger Oakland High School, which has some real problems. The best schools in the East Bay (in general, of course) are Piedmont, Albany, Berkeley, in that order. L.

When our family was in a similar position, we chose Elmwood in Berkeley. It was a great place -- close to BART, restaurants, parks, etc. The reason I'm writing though, is to let you know that we found that my husband's commute from the East Bay to SF was much worse than what we had to deal with in LA. He did the casual carpool in the morning (which he enjoyed) and took BART home, but his location in the city was not particularly close to BART so that added some extra time. Door to door, he spent an hour each way. In retrospect, I really wish we had considered what ten hours per week of commuting would do to our family (I'd have to say that it's probably a large part of why we ended up moving). I'm sure that living in the city would have some big trade-offs, but the reality of the East Bay/SF commute is worth some consideration. Traffic weary in the Bay Area

Hi- Welcome to the Bay Area! I grew up in LA so I can tell you a bit about what I've learned. I've lived in the city and now in Kensington (which is adjacent to Berkeley). I'm not sure why you're looking in the East Bay as opposed to SF. If you want real walkability you'll find the best chances for that in SF, but areas of Albany that are off Solano Ave are super walkable too. I think Rockridge in Oakland is also, but I don't know that area well. North Berekely is also walkable off of Solano Ave. I don't think there is a real equivalent to Santa Monica or Culver City here. Perhaps Alameda reminds me a bit of SM, but not as upscale or trendy. Hope that helps! Former Angelino

Baja Piedmont is within walking distance of Piedmont Ave and Grand Ave (nice Farmer's market on Saturdays), and is a 20 minute bus ride into the Financial District. Schools are decent too! Anon

Moving to the East Bay from SF - where to live?

April 2012

I need to relocate from my current home in SF's mission district to someplace w/ more affordable homes (I would likely be renting, not buying) - presumably in the east bay, but not necessarily. I have a five year old son, a dog, and no car (could buy one, but prefer to not). My son is gets severely motion sick, so short easy commutes to school etc are necessary. I can't afford private school, so would want to live someplace w/ excellent public schools. I am a single mom, so a neighborhood with a good sense of community (and charm/character) is also highly desirable. Any suggestions would be so much appreciated - I am feeling completely overwhelmed by this move right now, and how to best give my little family what we all need & want! concerned mama

I highly recommend that you check out Lafayette . I am also a single mom with one child...it is lovely here...the public schools are excellent, there are apartments/rentals within walking distance of the school and downtown area which includes a Trader Joe's, Safeway, cafes, restaurants, parks, playgrounds, community activities, and the Lafayette Reservoir...BART is also centrally located in the downtown area. Good luck! fellow single mom

If commute issues are equal, I would go with Pleasanton (or San Ramon). As far as I know, the Tri-Valley area has little or no graffiti and no gang activity. In addition, they have top notch schools because the average income of the community is higher and families are highly encouraged to give $'s when registering for school each year which goes to support the schools (as well as fundraisers throughout the year). I grew up in Pleasanton many years ago and would move back to the area if my husband didn't work on the Pennisula. I would consider San Ramon as they also have top notch schools and you can get more house/yard for the money. anon

I highly recommend Lafayette . It has great public schools, a cute little downtown area with BART right there, lots of restaurants and some little shops, a Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joes AND another specialty market with stellar service (Diablo Foods), Plenty of very nice people (many of them are 'rich' and many of them are not, including me). The community is very welcoming, there's a new library, and a community center with lots of classes for preschoolers through senior adults (they share this with Moraga). Plus the weather is great. Not alot of fog, very hot in summer. love lafayette

Check out San Leandro ! My husband and I searched high and low for an affordable place to live that had a good commute to Berkeley and for a town that felt like home. We tried many different cities (Walnut Creek, Crockett, Pinole, Oakland, Albany, Alameda, etc) and what we were looking for was this: beautiful neighborhoods, a safe town, historical homes (pre 1950's), and an affordable cost of living. San Leandro fit all of our criteria so well. Great homes at really affordable prices, a quick and easy commute (our home is just 15 miles from my husband's work in Berkeley, 9 miles from my job in Oakland, and we both have 2 freeways we can use that rarely ever have a back up). We are so happy we just bought a house in San Leandro. It's sunny and warm enough to grow tomatoes in our garden, and people are laid back and friendly. We are especially looking forward to friendly neighbors. The town has a beautiful marina with a great jogging track along the bay with exercise stations and a huge park with great playgrounds. We've found a favorite cafe with excellent food, and downtown is a nice walk from our new home. We are excited to be learning more about our town and participating and contributing to our wonderful new community. Check out this often overlooked but wonderful little town. K M

You may want to try Alameda . From my home I can walk/bike to Trader Joe's, Safeway, multiple parks, and our great school (we live near Otis Elementary but there are many other fantastic schools.) If you don't have a car I would suggest living walking distance to Park Street which is the main commercial area, complete with fantastic movie theater, great bookstores, etc. Alameda is cheaper compared to nearby walkable cities. People have this idea that ALameda is so much father from SF compared to neighboring cities but that really just depends on where you live in Oakland/Berkeley. It takes us less time to get to SF now that we live in Alameda. I usually only end up driving once, if that, a day. Rockridge in Oakland is also doable w/out a car if you can find a place walking distance to Rockridge Bart. Good luck. Alameda Neighbor

Try Alameda ! We moved to Alameda for the great schools and active parent communities. There are a bunch of small elementary schools within each neighborhood so you can walk to school. It was a big factor in moving out here. We have been renting our house since late 2008. Most of the elementary schools are pretty good, even if some have lower test scores, parents who have their children there love their schools and are happy with the level of instruction. My kids went to the parks and rec preschool before attending Kindergarten and are now having a great school experience. Neighborhood schools means all the kids they know are within (mostly) walking distance. It's a lovely island city, flat for easy biking, the beach is great and I can't recommend it enough. Many families here have moved from San Francisco. The rents are a bit cheaper than Berkeley, a bit more than some areas of Oakland, but way lower than SF. Check out the AUSD website for a map of school zones, look into those before and than hone your search to school zones you would like to attend. There's also an alameda parents network on yahoo if you want more insight. It's not without it's issues (local politics, the newbies vs. the 3, 4 generationers), but I really really love it here. Alameda Lover

Moving from NYC with 13yo - need affordable and safe

April 2012

Hello! I realize this question has been posted many times, in one way or another, but most of the posts I could find were outdated and I figured it couldn't hurt to request some advice specific to my situation. I grew up in the Bay Area but moved to NY City in 91' when I was 13. I am now moving back to the Bay Area with my 13 year old son, our 2 cats and one dog. My husband will be coming out to join us in the near future. I have been researching towns, counties, neighborhoods and I am more confused now then when I began. I want to find an area that is 'safe' but I feel that what is considered safe varies greatly from person to person. For example, I feel perfectly safe in NY but many people do not. My main concern is gang presence, since I have a teenage son. 'Affordable' is another word that means different things to everyone. Basically, around $1500 for a 2 bedroom is the max for me. More for a 3 bedroom obviously, because I could get a roommate in that case. Good schools are very important to me as well. I don't mind communting to SF but I would love a town with a vibrant downtown so that mayve I can find a decent job. I work in Food and Bev, which is decent money in NY and SF, but not necessarily everywhere else. I've read some negative things about the schools in the East Bay and that snobby attitude of Marin. Any advice about these things would be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance!!! going back to Cali

Have you considered Santa Rosa ? Lots of food and beverage jobs around here since it's the Sonoma wine country and you can find decent housing in your price range especially in one of the historic neighborhoods near downtown. School quality varies so you should definitely examine that closely but there are some excellent public charter schools in addition to neighborhood schools. Santa Rosa's population is greater than 160K so while it's certainly much smaller than many cities, it's not a teeny tiny town either. Santa Rosan

Hi: I've also lived in NYC as a child and young adult, Marin as a teen, and more recently I've been in the Bay Area for 20+ years, in Oakland for 13 and Albany for 3 (whew!) I always felt safe in Manhattan, not as much in Brooklyn, but that was in the late 80's. So I get where you're coming from! I also have a 13 year old, who has begun to walk around with her friends and alone. (We now live in Albany). I think that if you want the urban amenities such as great food, great grocery stores, some degree of diversity and safety for kids who are out and about, Albany and North Berkeley are by far your best bets. Albany and Berkeley public schools are used by many people and are good (other than the Prop 13 issue but that's the case all over CA) IMHO, Elmwood and Rockridge are very pricy and do not offer as much for kids to do alone. Solano Ave and anywhere within walking distance is safe, there's lots of low cost food options for kids (pizza, burritos, coffee shops) and there's tons of kids out and about. If it were me, and you want urban life, I'd avoid the hills, but you're not going to find a rental there in your price range anyway. I have a friend who is raising her 13 year old girl twins in the Mission area of SF and she has a very similar life style, but her girls are more street smart than mine. Good luck with your decision! anonymous fellow traveler

Moving to Bay Area from Washington DC to work in SF, seeking suburbs

March 2012

My husband, 18 month old son and I are moving to the Bay area this summer from the Washington DC - Northern Virginia area. My husband will be working in downtown San Francisco but we are looking to rent somewhere in the 'suburbs'. Can anyone suggest neighborhoods on the outskirts that are family-friendly, safe and affordable but still commutable downtown? Easy access to grocery and big box stores and parks would be good. Don't need to be close to public transportation. Any great parts of Oakland that we should check out? What areas should we strike off the list that are too far out? Thanks very much! Jennifer

Alameda ! It's a great town -- and an island in San Francisco Bay with a gorgeous beach --family friendly, a few minutes to the city. Nice. Formerly from DC

For family-friendly, safe, and commutable, I'd say look in the Montclair and maybe Rockridge areas of Oakland. Public schools are decent in elementary, okay in middle and high school, depending on what schools you attend. Many people go private after elementary school. You child is only 18 months, so you'd have time to figure that out.

A little further out in the East Bay, Lafayette is great. It has pretty easy freeway access, a BART station, and good shopping/dining. The schools are excellent all the way through. Orinda is pretty and has good schools. It is quite hilly (as is Montclair), so many neighborhoods aren't the best for walking, bike riding, playing in the street, etc.

Moving from Spain - which neighborhood for city people?

Oct 2011

We will be moving from Barcelona, Spain to the Bay Area in June 2012. We are city people, we like the buzz and diversity of cities ( I grew up in Buenos Aires and my husband in Madrid). We have two kids, who will be ages 7 and 5. We were originally thinking of Noe Valley, but have heard such awful things about the public schools in SF and can't afford private school. We would like some advice on Berkeley. Is it urban enough? Are the public schools significantly better than the ones in SF? Which neighborhood should we look into? I would like somewhere where I don't have to drive all the time, and can walk to cafes, markets, etc. My husband will probably be working either in SF or somewhere in Sil Valley, so close to Bart would be important. Thanks for your advice, we are very much in need of it! Camila

I haven't lived in Barcelona or Buenos Aires, but grew up in Sydney and England -- and when I moved to the Bay Area it took some time to adjust to the sometimes 'pokey' feel of this region. You won't replicate the feeling of a major metropolis here (no matter what any native will say :)) and while many Bay Area communities are wonderfully walkable, there is nothing here like New York or the big European cities.

With that said, it's still a great place to live! If you like the sound of Berkeley and want to feel the constant buzz of people around most of the time, I would go for North Berkeley or Rockridge , an Oakland neighborhood adjoining Berkeley. I lived in Berkeley for five years and it not a particularly urban place, but because of the student population it feels fairly densely populated. The most urban shopping/strolling strips are Shattuck Ave, College Ave, San Pablo Ave, and University Ave but all are rather sleepy. Obviously the food scene in Berkeley and Oakland is really vibrant and that lends a buzz to both neighborhoods. There are two BART stations in Berkeley; Rockridge also has BART. Berkeley elementary schools are, my friends there tell me, generally great. Not sure about middle and high schools. It does seem a lot of Berkeley/Oakland families who can afford it send their kids private once middle school rolls around. Both areas have broad ethnic and economic diversity.

I also lived in Noe Valley and actually wouldn't recommend it for an urban feel. Better San Francisco neighborhoods would be North Beach, Eureka Valley (the larger neighborhood above and behind the Castro, adjoining Noe Valley) or Potrero Hill. I believe there are some good public elementary schools in North Beach; Potrero Hill's SFUSD schools are fine to iffy (at the moment; these things can change fast too); not sure about which schools are in Eureka Valley. Yes, public schools in San Francisco are not uniformly great, but neither are they all dreadful. We left the city because of the unpredictable school assignment system -- you don't get to go to the school closest to your home. This has been remedied somewhat but neighborhood schools are still not the rule there. Be aware that San Francisco is, sadly, a city of extremes: among families, there are many people at each extreme of very poor and very well-off. It also has one of the lowest percentages in the U.S. of households with children. San Francisco is no major metropolis, but it's going to have the most urban buzz of all the cities in the Bay Area.

Hopefully someone from the San Jose area will respond too. I don't know that area well, but San Jose is a large city with a great climate, and you can always commute up to Silicon Valley rather than down from the East Bay or San Francisco. There are a good number of strong public schools in Santa Clara County, too.

Don't move to the Peninsula (San Mateo County/heart of Silicon Valley.) It has fabulous weather and some very good public schools, but is a chain of sleepy-to-moderately lively towns strung along a major highway and a smaller, minor highway. Not urban. At all.

We ended up moving to Piedmont , a small town nested in Oakland. We are 15-20 minutes by foot from two BART stations and close to two major shopping/strolling streets. There is incredible family involvement in the public schools, which are excellent. Still, it's also not particularly urban here, e.g., we have a backyard; people have chickens, gardens, etc. Contrary to what you may hear, Piedmont is actually ethnically quite diverse; it is also for the most part a middle to upper middle class community.

I hope this helps! Miss the big, big city!

I hope you enjoy your move to the US, no matter where you end up. From your post seems like you are searching for urban vibe, good schools, and good public transport. You'll find some of that in many East Bay neighborhoods, definitely Berkeley , but I can't imagine that any urban vibe, even SF, will come close to the vibrancy of Barcelona. So as long as your expectations are that it will be a 'different' kind of urban feel, then you will find entertainment (plenty of music and theatre venues) within walking distance of most of Berkeley. Berkeley public schools are generally seen as good but you will find detractors-- most CA public schools are underfunded so you may want to do more research to see if curriculum and class size are what you want for your kids. Berkeley school system is like SF-- lottery system-- so even though you live in one part of Berkeley, your kids could end up going to school in another part of Berkeley-- meant to increase diversity and level the socioeconomic playing field, but not to everyone's liking. As for desirable neighborhoods, my preference is for North Berkeley area, but you'll soon see that most of Berkeley, except downtown, looks like a suburb, not an urban center. If you live anywhere in Berkeley, you will probably be near a BART station -- there are 3-4 to choose from, and if going to SF there are also trans-Bay buses. Good luck with your transition-- and I wish I could move to Barcelona! anon

New Yorkers relocating to the Bay Area, looking for a walkable neighborhood

Sept 2011

Hi All! My husband, two and a half year old daughter and I are relocating to the Bay Area this December, for my husband's job. We're New Yorkers who've spent the last two years in LA, and are really, really excited to move to such a seemingly wonderful, diverse, and WALKABLE place. Our biggest issue though, is getting our daughter into a preschool/ nursery school or even activity centered part time daycare, where she could begin in January.

We understand the process is long, as it would be in NY, and so far have scheduled tours, etc., for places where she would begin the following September. She's already beginning part time preschool here. I'd hate for her to miss out on nine months of school, friends, interaction, just because we need to move on such short notice. Does anyone know of any great places that might consider or be able to accommodate a new child mid-year?

We have a lot of freedom in what neighborhood we choose...although it can't be outrageous. For now what draws us most is the inner sunset/Richmond areas, bernal heights, Berkeley, and the safer but more citified parts of Oakland...we definitely don't want to be driving a lot. Other than that, we may very well plan where we live around where we can get her in school! thanks ahead of time for any suggestions! Sam

If you're relocating to the Bay Area, I hope you'll consider Alameda . It's less expensive than San Francisco, has a few destination restaurants, some nice shopping areas, a mall with a future despite past struggles. Alameda has a great climate, has an up-and-coming art scene, and the schools - despite admitted funding issues - are decent to excellent (as far as I'm concerned, the distance from ''decent'' to ''excellent'' is as wide as these three letters: ''P-T-A''.

Alameda was formerly a base town and has been something of a hidden treasure (some might say a backwater) but more and more young, progressive families are moving in. Most neighborhoods are walkable. There's a rather sparse but decent network of buses connected to AC Transit and BART, and on the West End there is now a bike commute shuttle through the ''Posey Tube'' connecting Alameda to Oakland, BART, etc.

In terms of preschools, talk to Fuzzy Caterpillar, Little Lions, Rising Star, KinderHuis, KinderCare and Child Unique Montessori - among many others.

Drawbacks (or benefits, depending on your POV)
- no big-box stores
- occasionally if a drawbridge is up over the estuary, it can be hard to leave town
- 25 MPH speed limit even when I'm in a hurry
- public beach isn't great for swimming, and public pool arrangement is lame
- very limited range of seasons: we get spring, we get something sort of like fall, no real winter, and summer has cool nights

Hi- You didn't say where your husband will be working but you did express some interest in the Sunset or Richmond area of San Francisco . If you are looking for a family friendly and walkable area in SF I highly recommend the Laurel Heights nieghborhood. It is flat and very walkable to everything you'll need and I do mean everything! The only issue is the public school situation. If you're kids are going to be in elementary school soon that is something to consider. Definitely research the SFUSD process to see if you can stomach dealing with the lottery. We just moved to the East Bay from Laurel Heights in SF because we didn't want to deal with the public school situation there. Other than that, it is heaven! Good luck with your move. Former city girl

We were in a similar situation last year at this time, when we moved to Berkeley too late to apply to preschools. We were lucky enough to find a very good preschool, The Model School , that does not have a college-like application process. They operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and new kids can enter when space becomes available. It is on Prince at Telegraph, in a very walkable neighborhood close to Elmwood, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Ashby BART. themodelschool.org Happy Model School Parent

We live in and love the Rockridge area of Oakland It's highly walkable and close to BART, good restaurants, etc. though as not as comprehensively useful as Piedmont Avenue. Admittedly it's not the cheapest place to buy a house.

We also adore our pre-school, Room to Grow . It's a reggio inspired program with really caring adults, who go the extra mile for the kids. You'd be amazed what kids can accomplish given adults who are open to seeing what they can do. The outdoor space is small, but they make the most of every inch. You get yoga, lots of art, great science exploration, cooking, and a gentle place that really understands kids.

It currently has openings. Our older child who is now in elementary went there for 2 years, and our youngest has been for six month. Happy Parent

If you are still looking for a preschool you should definitely be in touch with Betsy at Griffin Nursery School . I just saw on the website that she's still looking for girls in the morning program. We've been delighted by Griffin in the year that we've been there. The teachers at Griffin are warm and deeply experienced. I feel like I learn from them all the time (and I've spent a good chunk of my adulthood studying how kids learn!) When I share a behavior that I am trying to resolve with my son, their answers often surprise me (in a good way!), and help me think about the issue from his perspective in ways I could not have otherwise. It's such a safe and sweet setting, really very charming. We found it easily, since our close friends had sent their kids there and were very happy with it, but some of the parents of our son's Griffin-friends checked out many other preschools and at least two of them have emphasized to me how lucky we were to find our way to this special place. The big trick is that kids only go for half a day the first year, and in the second year you can add extra hours, but I think it's worth it to figure out other childcare for the rest of the time you need. And yes it's not the co-op I'd always hoped we'd join once we had kids (we're in South Berkeley and I didn't want to spend so much time commuting to preschool, but I can understand your interest!), and I don't know what being in a co-op is like, but I think this is as close as you are going to get outside of a co-op. Maminka

Planning to move 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

Moving into Bay Area from Brooklyn with 4-year-old

March 2011

Help! I just got a dream job with a wonderful SF company after having lived for over 25 years in NYC, 21 of them in Brooklyn. And while I'm definitely counting my blessings, I'm also grappling with my sense of loss (I developed an amazing network of friends during my 25 years and I love Brooklyn) as well as panic--we have about five weeks to find a place and get settled before I start my job. I'd like to get some recommendations from members about the best places to live--that are family friendly, ethnically diverse, have strong public schools and interesting communities (by which I mean, not exclusively the hedge-fund type). And the names of some good realtors as well (we'll be renting at first). Thank you! G.

I hope you'll check out Alameda . Buying is less expensive than San Francisco or Berkeley, although rents are probably higher than Berkeley's because Alameda doesn't have rent control.

We have at least 29 languages spoken in the public school district, which like all districts in California, struggles for funding and does a decent job considering everything.

There's a reasonable diversity of restaurants and small businesses. There are a couple of shopping districts with cute boutiques; there are several independent bookstores that kept a toehold while Borders came and went. We have a mall called 'Towne Centre' which unfortunately is nowhere near the center, often referred to by its old name, 'South Shore'. Towne Centre was recently purchased by a major developer and there are improvements in shopping choices in the works. Currently the mall is kind of low-rent. But there is a Trader Joe's with the best parking lot of any Trader Joe's I've ever shopped (usually they're a nightmare for some reason).

Alameda's flat (great for riding bikes and trikes), has many well-kept parks. Alameda has a low crime rate, 25-per-hour city-wide speed limit, and most neighborhoods have high walking index scores. There are many lovely views of San Francisco Bay. Housing options are diverse, all the way from hideous 70s era apartments to adorable bungalows to Victorian mansions and storybook cottages and beachfront condos, the occasional art deco or midcentury modern and... ok, no mud huts.

Note, I'm not a real estate agent or professional booster or anything, I just love this town - have lived here 10+ years and while it can be a little on the sedate side, it's getting more interesting every day. I hope you'll check it out. +++ happy in Alameda

What a great problem: dream job *and* in a great part of the country

I'm tooting my own horn here - my husband and I are great real estate agents! I hope you'll give us a call when you're sorting out whom to work with. I can honestly say my clients are a very satisfied bunch, and we can give references.

So: you have budget, schools, commute and community to sort out in your decision. You didn't say if your budget would allow you to live in San Francisco , closer to where you'll work. If budget and schools bring you across either the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate, there are many communities to choose from. I know you'll get many great opinions from the members here, and I'll add my vote for you to consider Albany , Berkeley and Montclair (in Oakland). I'm leaving out El Cerrito because you're coming from Brooklyn and my opinion is that you'll feel more at home in these areas, and many neighborhoods in SF.

Whichever neighborhood you choose, I'm sure you'll build another great network and community out here - welcome! Jessica

My main advice is to rent for a year or two before buying a house so you can spend time visiting neighborhoods. Berkeley is reasonably diverse, has decent public transit, good schools. Albany has most of the above advantages but is not as racially or economically as diverse as Berkeley. There are some towns on the Peninsula to consider as well -- San Mateo is less diverse, but has a nice downtown, ok transit to San Francisco (though not anywhere else) and good schools. I wasn't clear from your note how much money you have -- San Mateo is pricier than Berkeley, as is San Francisco. In San Francisco you might want to consider Noe Valley, Bernal Heights or the Inner Sunset or the Richmond. The school assignment process in San Francisco is complicated, so be sure to research that before choosing a long-term unit there. Noe Valley looks more like Brooklyn, but I think Berkeley is more like Brooklyn demographically -- depending on where in Brooklyn you were living before. Luckily with a four-year-old changing schools on your way to finding the best community is less of a problem than with an older child. anon

Congrats on the dream job and your move! You'll soon see, the Bay Area trumps NYC for raising kids- really! I have a 4 and 2 yr old. Having lived in NY for many years, as well as many other places around the world, here is the place we want to settle.

The East Bay, particularly Berkeley and Oakland , is the most like Brooklyn you will get. It's very diverse, a lot of stuff is walkable, more bike friendly here and there is TONS of stuff to do with kids. We live in Berkeley (we also love Rockridge in Oakland). Both have great elementary schools. For middle/high school you would probably have to move out of Oakland though or go to private as I understand it. (We only moved here in May so are still learning). Berkeley has great high schools. You could also consider Albany , just North of Berkeley. Same vibe, great elementaries, cute main street and accessible to everything as well. If you are commuting daily into SF (I do as well), all 3 are great options. My commute door to door is 35 min including a 10 min walk to the Bart in the morning. My commuting time far beats what I used to do in NY.

We're also a multicultural family so feel very at home here- we last lived in a place where we were one of the few intercultural couples we knew and it has been so refreshing to be around so many others families like us.

Starting over anywhere isn't easy and it takes a while to form the same awesome community you are leaving (we are in the process of that now) but I bet you will love it here. I would never want to live in NY again after life here!

Feel free to get in touch with any questions via the moderator (don't think it lists my email here but not sure). Also, I'm not sure what you meant by interesting community being not hedge-fund like. Are hedge funds ever interesting (I worked at one)? Stephanie

Montclair Village , Lafayette or Berkeley , unless you are unGodly wealthy, then Piedmont or Orinda . If you opt to live IN San Francisco , near Golden Gate park. Julie Gardner is your realtor http://juliegardner.com/ . If she's too busy, Aaron Brown, same office. You'll LOVE IT HERE!!!! Welcome! Now you can get a puppy! Reenie

Welcome to the west coast! I feel your pain about moving, but know that you are moving to a WONDERFUL and vibrant place - I HIGHLY recommend you look at living in Alameda , it has everything on your list and more! Alameda is a small island directly across the Bay from San Francsico, great commute, great weather, tons of families and great schools. You can rent through one of the many agencies in town. For sales I highly recommend Valerie Ruma with Alain Pinel Real Estate, (510. 579-3614 or vruma [at] apr.com) she's lived in ALameda for 20+ years and knows the town and the East Bay like the back of her hand - good luck! island mama

I highly recommend Alameda as a place to live with young children. Alameda is a small island off Oakland, and it has a small community feel. The public schools are generally considered good (although with widespread budget cuts all schools are suffering right now), the area is safe, and it is VERY child friendly. Kids still walk or bike home from school in Alameda, and there are lots of trails around the lagoons and the water for biking or walking. Alameda won't be as 'city' as Brooklyn, as it is a suburb, but it's more of a 'small town' suburb rather than a sprawling mega-suburb.

What might affect your decision will be where your office is. The Bay Area is a lot bigger than East Coasters imagine (I used to live on the East Coast), and you might want to figure out where your work is before you choose a neighborhood, to save yourself a 2 hour commute each way. Alameda is pretty close to San Francisco downtown btw. You can take the ferry there, or else get dropped off at the BART (commuter rail). Lots of people drive into the city but the traffic often gets bad. For realtors, I recommend the one who helped us buy our house: Catherine Bierwith, longtime Alameda resident who is very knowledgeable. (http://www.alamedafinehomes.com/) --Alameda Resident

It really depends on your budget, since housing it very expensive in the Bay Area and in certain communities in particular, but you're probably used to that from New York. I live in Alameda , and think it would meet your criteria very well. It's got good schools, is diverse, safe, and has a small-town, neighborhood feel that you're probably looking for. It's actually an island, right next to Oakland, so it's off of a lot of people's radars. The one drawback is that since it's an island, the best way to access it is by ferry, car, or bus. BART doesn't reach it, although you can take a bus to a BART station pretty easily.

Another good neighborhood is Piedmont , although it's pretty upper-crust and expensive. The schools are amazing, though. And Berkeley and Albany are both really great cities with great restaurants, good schools, and lots of little neighborhoods within them. I lived in Berkeley and Albany for a decade, and finally moved to Alameda because I was sick of fighting with all of the people who crowd those two towns for a parking space, restaurant reservation, daycare spot, etc. I find Alameda to be much more relaxed when it comes to those kinds of little things that make life so much easier, and I've been happy that I moved ever since. If you need specific Alameda location recommendations, feel free to email me. Cassie

In the East Bay, Berkeley and Albany have good public schools, and Oakland has some good elementary schools. Linda Elkin is a great Realtor (and also my sister). I recommended her to another family that is moving from Brooklyn (I used to live in Park Slope) to the East Bay and she is currently working with them. She helped them find a rental, and has been introducing them to different neighborhoods that fit their needs. She is a great resource for school information and life in the Bay Area. Linda Elkin Red Oak Realty 510-282-5666 linda [at] redoakrealty.com Loved Brooklyn and happy here too

Congratulations on your new job and move! I too moved from the east coast, and have really grown to love the bay area. I highly recommend checking out Alameda . It's close to the city (takes me 15 minutes to get to the financial district from my home in the west end; would be a little longer from the east end), it has great schools, restaurants, beaches, toy stores, book stores, yoga studios, and farmer's markets. Is crazy diverse (in the five houses that surround mine I have one black family, two gay couples, one Chinese woman, and one white couple) and it's a real biking/walking town. Everyone is always walking or biking to restaurants/beach/parks etc. And it is the strongest community I've ever lived (neighbors really get to know each other) in the east bay so far (having lived in Montclair, Elmwood, and Rockridge prior--which are all very nice, too). Last but definitely not least, it is kid heaven here. I honestly had no idea until I moved here how much freedom the kids can have and how much they really thrive in an environment like Alameda. If you're into some of the concepts of free-range kids, Alameda is the place. The schools are great and very neighborhood oriented so the kids develop a really strong network of friends from an early time. They all walk/bike to school together. Once they get old enough (usually 8 but depending on the maturity of each kid) they walk/bike to school on their own and go to friends house for playdates. Then later they start to bike everywhere around town (it's an island so they can't go too far) to the beach/parks, to the shops/restaurants on Park Street (main shopping district), to the movie theater/plays/etc. It's amazing--the kids just blossom here. They can have that sort of freedom because Alameda is really safe (both with crime and with having a speed limit that is 25mph on most of the island), and people really look out for each other. If needing advice and guidance, I would highly recommend checking out Gallagher & Lindsey. I used them to buy our house in Alameda and was really impressed with their knowledge and professionalism. They've been around a long time and they really know the neighborhoods and current market. Best of luck with your move! Alameda Mama

Where's the 'Park Slope' of Berkeley/Oakland?

March 2011

We live in SF now but I would love to get recommendations on which Berkeley-area neighborhoods to check out in case we decide on an East Bay move with our 2 year old for more space, better weather and more affordable private schools. I'm originally from NY and miss the density, buzz and foot traffic so ideally, I'd love to live in a neighborhood that has the best of both worlds in terms of being near a BART station with a walkable, urban shopping area and yet still have a yard, leafy streets and block parties.

I've only done a few drive bys but the area near the Rockridge BART and the North Berkeley area near that Totland Playground seem nice. My husband lived in Berkeley long long ago for grad school and seems to like the Hills area but I feel like we'd always be bound to have to drive then.

On schooling, I'm particularly interested in Mandarin immersion and know there is AIM, GMIS and Shu Ren in addition to the new Charter School.

In NYC, I'd probably be inclined to live in or near Park Slope, Brooklyn. In SF, my favorite area is probably the neighborhoods near Dolores Park. Considering all this, which neighborhood do you think would have the best vibe for me?

Thanks for any thoughts! Ponzu2

I am totally unfamiliar with Park Slope, but your description of what you're looking for is *exactly* what Rockridge is like.

I've also lived near the North Berkeley BART station, and it's a great neighborhood -- compared to Rockridge it's a little less affluent and a little more crunchy-hippie, with somewhat smaller homes on average and not quite so leafy, but the two areas are not wholly dissimilar, especially if you go a bit more east and north than the area right around the N Berk BART station. My husband and I moved from Rockridge to Albany because, among other reasons, we wanted to send our kids to public school -- but for you, planning on private school, probably Rockridge is better located for commuting too. The area has plenty of great private schools although I don't know anything about Mandarin immersion options specifically. We love Albany, and Solano Ave has a sort of similar vibe to College Ave in Rockridge, but I do sometimes miss being *so* close to a BART station! Holly

I suggest our area - the LeConte (sometimes called Lower Elmwood) area of Berkeley. Our borders are Telegraph & Shattuck, Ashby & Dwight. We are seriously in walking distance to everything - we haven't had a car in years. We walk to bart, our choice of well-stocked grocery store, Telegraph, Shattuck and Elmwood shopping districts, schools and parks on tree-lined streets with yards. Families, college students, aging hippies, a great mixture of friendly neighbors. We love the neighborhood! It's just the right mixture of urban and suburban. Love our spot

From everything you said, Rockridge sounds like the best match to what you are looking for. I think it resembles Park Slope the closest, although you will never get a perfect match. Walkable shopping areas, close proximity to BART, good public elementary schools, tree lined streets, and nice weather. M

We moved to Rockridge from Park Slope 8 years ago -- in fact, we call Rockridge 'Park Slope West.' We LOVE it here. Though not nearly as dense as Brooklyn, this part of Oakland has a similar feel with highly-educated, interesting people, nice housing, and an easy walk to shops, school, and transit, plus it's only 20 minutes to downtown SF on the train.

Coming from New York, you will find the pace slower, but it is also much easier to cope with daily life. You'll never have to haul a stroller up subway steps again. As in the slope, public schools are less certain after elementary, but our neighborhood middle school is getting better all the time and more neighborhood families are choosing it each year. Lastly, although the bay area is expensive compared to most of the country, we've got nothing on the most desirable parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan so you should be spared some sticker shock. Good luck in your choice!

Seeking safe area with diversity, culture, quality food

Jan 2011

My family and I want to move to the East Bay or Sonoma County. There is such a diversity of cities in that area that we're overwhelmed by the choices. We're actually just trying to figure out if any cities/towns/neighborhoods fit our wish list. We'll be moving from Los Angeles and would like to live in a safe area with diversity, culture, access to quality food and farmer's markets and restaurants and a good school system but we're ready to live without pollution and traffic and would love a city or town where we could walk or bike in order to run our daily errands. I just want a safe place for our son to grow up, thrive and be a part of his community. We'll both be working from home so commute is not a major factor but we'd love to be able to get to SF relatively easily. Any suggestions? Thank you for your time and Happy Holidays! Jen

Try the neighborhood around North Berkeley BART or between there and downtown berkeley BART. Farmers markets on on stuarydays downtown, on thursdays near shattuck and Rose and on Tuesdays on MLKing at Derby. The area is flat with bike routes on streets and along the Ohlone greenway. The public elementary, middle and high schools are good (although elementary schools are not by neighborhood). Many other neighborhoods are good, too. this is the one I know best, although I live in a less accessible area, myself. Berkeley Parent

I highly recommend Alameda . Alameda is a small island off Oakland, and many parts of it still have a small town, Leave it to Beaver vibe. I can ride my bike everywhere--to the supermarket, to the shopping district on Park Street, and since the speed limit on the whole island is 25mph, it's pretty safe. We see kids riding their bikes or walking by themselves to go home from school all the time. The food on the island is good but not great but San Francisco and Oakland are short drives away. The weather is also great--not as cold and foggy as San Francisco, but not as hot as the areas on the other side of the hills, like Walnut Creek or Dublin. There is a small community feel in Alameda that we like a lot.

When we moved to the Bay Area we drove through many of the neighborhoods to get a feel for all of them. I recommend that as it was educational to actually be on the streets, instead of just looking at real estate postings. --Loving Alameda

We recently moved and had the same list of criteria as you did and felt overwhelmed knowing the bay area really well! From your wish list it doesn't sound like sonata would be a good fit because it lacks diversity and is somewhat of a far drive to sf, especially in the type of traffic we have in the bay area although much more tolerable than la!

We found the east bay to really be a good fit in terms of diversity, being entrenched in good eats and local farming, and being close to sf. Oakland , Berkeley , and Albany were our top choices but ultimately we narrowed it down to Berkeley and Albany because of the good public schools in addition to all the other things we wanted and are very happy with our choice. We can walk to shops, hop on Bart and go to sf, and live in a community that is very diverse and feels like a good place to raise a chikd without going out to the suburbs! Good luck. Been there

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 her 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

Moving from London - I have no idea where to live

April 2010

we are moving into the area in august from london with 2 boys of 7 and 10 and have no idea where to live and where to send our kids to school. our 7 year is an average child and the 10 year super smart.we will both be working from home so can live anywhere any advice on where the good schools are and also a good neighbourhood. we can go private or to public. any advice gratefully received. we are thinking about marin county, and palo alto but i dont really know SF and surrounding areas at all. what are the differences between the 2 areas.we would also like to live in a place which has some soul and where people are open and are not totally money minded. we are finacially very comfortable so can look at reasonably expensive areas

Hello ... I'd consider Piedmont . . . nestled in the Oakland hills, close to Berkeley and San Francisco. Friendly, walkable community, great schools. I'd be happy to talk to you about it. jill

Hi- If you're looking for 'soul', I would avoid the Peninsula (eg Palo Alto area). We moved there from San Francisco for the school district and immediately realized that we had made a mistake. While the schools there rank very high in API scores, we felt that we were giving up diversity most definitely there. (I generally found that the majority of diversity could be found on the playgrounds where the nannies were taking care of the children...) Not to mention that the Peninsula is wealthy and folks seem to focus on that fair amount.

We made the decision to move to the East Bay and while there are challenges with the public school system here, we are trying to make it work. So far I love the feeling of community at our neighborhood school. A group of very dedicated parents who want the best for EVERYONE.

I know Orinda has very good schools. We decided against buying there as that would put a bridge and a tunnel in the way of getting to the city, although there is BART. Also, it was a bit too rural for us. Good luck! -Happy to be in the E Bay

If I could live anywhere in the Bay Area and money wasn't a concern - I think I would choose Marin, specifically Corte Madera or Mill Valley. I live in Oakland now, but grew up in Marin. Pros: weather - much more temperate and reliable; accessibility to variety - SF, beaches, mountains, etc. Gorgeous area. Lots of things to do, both outdoor and more cultural activities. Nice variety of architecture. Still places to live where you can walk to to most things. Cons: Traffic on 101 - even for non-commuters. Demographic variety is limited. General stereotype of Marinites: they're all rich, white and money-centric. Schools: Public schools tend to be better in more affluent areas - parents have time and money to give. It's the only way they can survive the crippling state and city budget cuts. Private schools - you can pick and choose what suits you. With any education system anywhere though - there are no guarantees - you can't predict the crap teacher, the bullies, the terrible principal, the peers you disapprove of... Choose based on what your family likes to do, preferred weather (Bay Area has dozens of microclimates), type of architecture, type of neighborhood. My 2 cents

First of all, congratulations on your move. Daunting I'm sure but exciting in so many ways. I have a 4 and 7 year old and can absolutely relate to your question about finding the right neighborhood and community to join, one that is right for you as well as for your kids. I would highly recommend the east bay and specifically Prospect Sierra School, a fantastic private school in El Cerrito. My 7 year old is a 1st grader this year and he is happy and thriving. We have families who come from all over the east bay but I believe most are from Berkeley, Albany or El Cerrito, all beautiful areas with great family friendly neighborhoods. While I know many families both in Marin and the Palo Alto area, my family has found the east bay to be the perfect fit for us. We have always found the east bay to be diverse, interesting and full of personality. With kids being exposed to so much, Prospect has been the perfect setting for them to explore, focus and really engage in all that they see and hear. Prospect is a very progressive school in which all ideas are not only accepted but welcomed and the stuff that the kids do just amaze me. My 1st grader's class is having a Poetry Cafe this week to share their works of poetry with family and friends. Each week, his class packs up fruits and vegetables from a local farm for school families who have purchased the farm box as they learn about farming and sustainability. My son also plays in the elementary orchestra and has learned to love reading, math and learning in general. With a science lab and an art studio, he has been able to learn from specialists who not only teach but truly share their passion. I just can't recommend Prospect enough and for me, the school has now become one of the reasons we stay in the east bay. Good luck with your move and decision on a school. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Kelly

I suggest that you consider the East Bay neighborhoods of North Berkeley, Kensington and El Cerrito. From the perspective of our inter-racial family, we feel blessed to reside here. These communities should provide your family a rich experience while living in the Bay Area. You can have it all. San Francisco is a short BART ride away. You can be in Marin County or the Wine Country in under an hour. UC Berkeley attracts diverse peoples to the area. Your neighbors will be a mix of professionals, social activists, elders, adventurers of all types, athletes and fun loving characters. We have chosen to send our boys to a wonderful school in El Cerrito named Prospect Sierra. I have pretty much described our school community above, so should your search bring you to the aforementioned neighborhoods check Prospect Sierra out. Our boys love the school and I suspect yours would as well. rich

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

2007 - 2009 Recommendations

East Bay neighborhoods like DC Metro

March 2009

Hi, We are moving to East Bay from DC Metro area for my husband's new job. He'll be working in Oakland and Pleasanton. We have a 1 year old boy. We love where we are currently living. We are 1/2 mile to 2 subway stations while only 1 and 1/2 mile to DC. When we have to drive, we can travel to anywhere in the area within 30-60 mins top(we are against the traffic during rush hours). Our neighborhood is diverse (in a mixing bowl, melting pot sense, not pressure cooker kind). Even though we tug away in a very safe/friendly neighborhood w/ very few cars pass by (we are behind a service road), within 1/2 mile, we have great restaurants, bars, shopping, 3 playgrounds, great public schools. We want to find a neighborhood that comparable to where we are. We can afford a home up to around low to mid'900k (but lesser we need to spend the better). Any advice is welcome. Our first thought is Berkeley b/c my husband lived there long long time ago, but any advice on any place is welcome. ! Thanks Moving to East Bay from DC Metro

I used to live in DC (Adam's Morgan area), and we now live in Berkeley with our 22 month old and love it. We live in North Berkeley , in the Westbrae neighborhood, and love the fact that we are a 10 minute drive from the city (with no traffic, 30 with traffic), less than 10 min. walk from BART, have several local bus lines that stop within a block of our house, and plenty of great shopping within walking distance (Monterey/Hopkins shopping district, as well as Solano Ave), and can walk to several really nice playgrounds and parks. We rarely need to use our car. I think this is an ideal neighborhood for someone used to diversity and convenience of urban living, but looking for a bit more quiet, child-friendly living environment with plenty of parking. You should definitely consider Berkeley for your relocation. Hillary

Oakland! My husband and I moved to Oakland 8 years ago from Hoboken (NYC Metro area), and both love Oakland. Many of the attributes you mention about DC we have here: close to transp (BART), parks, shopping, good food, etc., diversity, proximity to SF, Napa/Sonoma, Marin, Tahoe... Since you have a child, I'd recommend looking at the following areas of Oakland: Rockridge (closest to trans), Montclair or Crocker Highlands . I know a terrific realtor, who I can put you in touch with. If you're interested, please email me. Good luck with your move! Missy

We moved from DC to Oakland two years ago and like it SOOOOO much more. We lived in a variety of neighborhoods in and around DC (Adam's Morgan, Capitol Hill, Clarendon, Silver Spring) over the years always still felt cramped. The pace of the area just feels so different to me than here. For example, people here brake for pedestrians! At first, it drove me nuts -- I would get enraged at cars stopping in front of me to let someone cross the street when there wasn't even a light or stop sign. And then I realized, ''Wow, that's really nice. You don't have to risk your life to cross the street here.''

Anyway, on to your topic of interest. I think Oakland is terrific and has a ton to offer. In your price range, you could easily live in more upscale neighborhoods in Oakland and have a nice single-family home (which there are a lot more of in this area compared to cramped, apartment and row-house/townhouse crazy DC). For a neighborhood that has BART within walking distance plus shops and restaurants nearby, I'd look at Rockridge and maybe Temescal . I also really like the Dimond District. Grand Lake/Lake Merritt has some terrific shopsand restaurants and the North side of the lake is considered nicer, but there are mostly apartments right around the lake and then houses a few blocks out. Great houses with terrific walkability. Montclair and Broadway Terrace are really nice too but it's quite hilly and many houses aren't walking distance to the shops and restuarants or BART.

We live in Maxwell Park and really like it but we aren't as close to BART. But, it does have a very neighborhoody feel to it with mostly all single-family homes that have been here since the 1920s.

Working downtown in Oakland would be a quick BART ride away or like a 10 minute drive from most of the neighborhoods I've mentioned.

Depending upon the age of your kids and whether you plan to go public or private for schooling may influence your decision as well. We only have a baby so I can't speak to the quality of the schools from experience. I'm sure others can chime in on that.

Best of luck with your move! I'm sure your family will love your move to the Bay. :) Happy to be out of DC

Sounds like you would really like North Berkeley - specifically the neighborhood near the Monterey Market, because it has a wonderful urban community feel complete with daily farmer's market, deli, cheese shop, fish shop, pizza, wine store. And, a public pool, tennis, parks, library. Plus Bart for public transportation into the city (SF) close by. Also, decent public schools. Especially look into MLK middle school because it is famous for its Edible Schoolyard program started by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Your house budget will serve you well in almost any neighborhood in Berkeley. The nice thing about this one is it is between the hills and the flats and it has great housing stock with lots of character abound, and it's a very walkable part of town. You really don't need a car. Check out specific neighborhoods' walk score on several web sites. Love North 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

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Kid friendly neighborhoods in the East Bay

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

2003 & Earlier

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

April 2003

In a year or so my husband will be taking a job in San Fancisco. 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

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 comsider 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