Living in Sebastopol
That whole area is lovely. I actually grew up in Sebastopol, and can attest to the quality of the schools. My high school (Analy High School) is consistently ranked quite highly in public school lists. While I'll admit that the town felt sort of "boring" when I was a teenager, I've realized since then that it was a really great place to grow up. My parents still live there, and it's a treat every time we get to visit. Close proximity to Santa Rosa for a bigger "city" experience is nice. Petaluma and Healdsburg are also both lovely places. All have thriving food/drink scenes, and are family-friendly. I will say that in Sebastopol, there are indeed places to bring kids like parks, etc., but you might have to drive to get a lot of places, unless you find a place to live within the city limits. Also, traffic in general in that part of Sonoma County can be tough. A few years ago, my apartment flooded and I went to live with my parents for a month, and commuted to and from Berkeley every day while I stayed there, and it wasn't easy. Petaluma would have been a little easier. A commute from Healdsburg to the East Bay would be even more difficult than from Sebastopol. Hope this helps!
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Sebastopol vs Petaluma - schools etc
Looking for curent feedback on the schools and community in Sebastapol and Petaluma. 1st grader and 4th so looking to hear about all levels. Looking also to learn about community - swim team? Kids sports? Afterschool activities? Local pool? Biking? Schools - class size in elementry, middle and high? Parent involvement? How open to transplants - new comers? Our budget is less than $700k (for many I realize this is a huge budget) and we would be looking for space around us vs house size. Finally, if you know - how long to the Oakland airport at off commute hours (to the extent those exist). If you moved there recently did anything surprise you? Thank you for taking the time to reply! Exploring
I can't speak to Petaluma, but we moved from Berkeley to Sebastopol about a year and a half ago. We have 4 kids - ages 8, 6, 4, and 2.
Regarding schools, Sebastopol has a few school districts, which is kind of crazy because it's a pretty small town. We live in the Twin Hills School District and send our 8 and 6 year old to the in-district elementary school, Apple Blossom. Our boys LOVE the school, which is great, especially since our eldest, who is sensitive, had a bit of hard time at the Berkeley elementary school he was enrolled at before we moved here.
In my opinion, the kids here are more innocent/less jaded and don't grow up as fast as they do in Berkeley. Our eldest had only a couple of buddies in the Berkeley school... here in Sebastopol, he plays with a whole passel of kids every day and has many friends, which is a big change.
Academically-speaking, when I compare Apple Blossom to the Berkeley public school, I would have to say that Berkeley does have the edge. But then, Berkeley schools are really excellent, so it's a high bar.
I do think Apple Blossom does a good job preparing the kids for the upper grades, because Twin Hills, the middle school it feeds into, is very highly regarded, with high API scores and a good social environment. Twin Hills, in turn, is known to prepare its students very well for the intellectual rigors of Analy High School, which is one of the best high schools in the region.
One downside to Apple Blossom is that there is not as much parental involvement as there was at our Berkeley public school. A few of us are trying to change the culture in that regard, though. Sonoma County natives seem to be a lot more relaxed when it comes to that sort of thing... many of the more involved parents seem to be transplants from the Bay Area. (And there are quite a few of us!)
Sebastopol also has 2 highly-regarded K-8 Waldorf charter schools, 2 other regular K-5 elementary schools, a K-8 school, and 2 other charter schools that offer a lot of 'extras' (overnight field trips, tons of music and art, etc).
One thing to note is that the charter schools usually ask for a monthly donation to help cover costs - the average amount is between $200-$250 a month. This *is* a donation, and not required... not everyone pays it, and some people pay more.
Another FYI is that all the schools here accept transfers, and do so with regularity. So if you are slated to go to one school but don't think it's a good fit, you can always choose to go to another one; most people, as far as I can tell, are able to go to the school of their choice.
To your other questions: Yes, there is a local pool (Ives, close to downtown Sebastopol) and swim team (Sebastopol Sea Serpents). Our 2 eldest almost joined the team last summer, but it conflicted with their Aikido class.
There are also many choices for after school activities. For example, besides the aforementioned Aikido, my kids have also done yoga, gymnastics, art, Lego classes, chess, and basketball. There's also stuff like soccer, scouts, softball, Little League, and 4-H.
Biking is a bit trickier when you live out in the country, but people do do it. Although I would say that people who live in the downtown neighborhoods tend to bike more.
People are definitely open to transplants here in Sebastopol. We have not had any issues in that regard. Fun fact: Sonoma County is the only rural county in California that consistently votes Democratic. However, there is more of a diversity of opinion here than in say, Berkeley; not everyone is a liberal, for sure. Driving around town after we moved here, we were surprised to see quite a few 'monster trucks' (pick-up trucks on bigger tires) alongside all the Priuses and Leafs.
People *are* very tolerant of others' beliefs here, though... way more so than in any other place I've lived. On our country lane, for instance, our neighbors include a gay couple from San Francisco, a conservative religious family from Ireland, and a moneyed couple from Australia. Everyone gets along well, which is refreshing.
We live in a 2300 sq ft house on an acre of land. I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to have so much space, both inside and out! However, country living did have some surprises. For example, the cost of propane is quite high. (Propane is what you heat your house with, unless you have solar panels.) Because of this, we usually only heat our house with our wood- burning fireplace and pellet stove, and during the colder months our kids sleep in warm PJs under down duvets. If you live in the country you will also have to take care of a well... not too big a deal, but we did have an issue with ours and had to shell out some cash. We also have a septic system, which so far has been pretty much a non-issue, except for the fact that I had to switch to using all-natural cleansers. (I make my own, for the most part.)
So there are definitely some hidden expenses, but for us, the peacefulness of the country, and having land for our kids to run around on, more than makes up for it. Also, prices are way cheaper here... we paid in the low 700Ks for our place about a year and a half ago.
I will be honest and say that I do sometimes miss living in the more central Bay Area... mainly having such direct access to all the cultural happenings that the Bay Area offers. We do go to the City every couple of months, but it takes awhile - from where we live in Sebastopol, driving into SF takes a little less than an hour and a half. During commute times (my husband works from home for the most part, but does go into San Francisco 2x a month), it's 2 hours.
What I will leave you with is despite sometimes missing the Bay Area, and also dealing with the surprises of country living, my husband and I are still so glad we moved out here, and our kids love it - they get to spend a ton of time outside climbing trees, helping in the garden (we had a pumpkin patch this summer!), and just generally hanging out and exploring. I'm now of the opinion that most children really thrive living out in the country. At least, our kids do.
Anyway, hope this helps with your decision. Monica
Just wanted add to the previous poster who (beautifully) described country living in Sebastopol. My sister has raised her 2 kids in Sebastopol and lives in a townhouse close to the downtown area. The homes in town are generally gas heated and have municipal water lines (not propane heating or well water). They bike EVERYWHERE. My sister bikes to work in Graton on the bike trail which runs along vineyards and fields from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol. There is definitely a strong community vibe, people know their neighbors and kids play outside together. They've had an excellent experience with the public schools all the way through high school. It's really a special little place, but you have to be ok with its 'smallness'. As mentioned before it's an hour from the Bay (which may be the only drawback in my opinion) Happy hunting
Check out Sebastopol if you're looking for a friendly,open minded, down to earth, (somewhat) culturally diverse small town not too far from Marin. Seems like a great place to raise kids and put down roots. I have family that lives there and their home is always full of kind friends and neighbors. They have block parties, kids play outside, people know their neighbors and there just seems to be a very strong sense of community and people looking out for one another. TC
Re: Moving 2-3hrs outside the Bay Area
Have you checked out Sebastopol? It's a wonderful little town and only an hour from the Bay Area, close to the Russian River and not too far from the ocean. I think it meets all of your criteria. Not too sure about housing costs but I'm sure it's cheaper than Berkeley. There's a great sense of community, some cultural diversity, safe neighborhoods, Farmers Markets, good schools,open spaces, vineyards, apple orchards, festivals for every season, beautiful old farm houses... the list goes on. I have family that live there and it's really a lovely place. I'd move there if I could