Moving from Europe to the Bay Area

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello all!  We are a family with an 18 month old and a hyperactive dog and will move to the East Bay from London, UK.  We had initially planned on spending time scouting where to live but due to covid we had to change our plans and will now have to arrive and settle.  We have been looking at North Berkeley, Westbrae and Albany areas so far.  We are looking for somewhere walkable, with parks and a sense of community.  Any suggestions on these areas - and perhaps others?  Thanks so much in advance!

    We moved our family of four from Oxford to Berkeley last year. (Although I am from SF, my husband is British.) We are in southeast Berkeley, near Oakland, and it's great. Easy and safe to walk to places; we walked A LOT with the kids during shelter-in-place. Lots of parks and playgrounds- we regularly go to five playgrounds. 

    The main things are that the SF Bay Area, the east bay in particular, is not as busy and crowded as London and it does not have the same level of public transport. I would never contemplate running a car in London (and in fact, we didn't in Oxford after a while) but it's pretty much expected here. 

    We are transplants from Manhattan this year and love Piedmont.  It is a safe place with the main parks being Piedmont Park and Dracena Park.  To get a sense of community, you can read the Piedmont Post.  From what we can tell, Piedmont is mostly families.  Perhaps Berkeley has more students, single people.  The main avenue has a good grocer, but there are also bigger markets nearby.  Berkeley and Rockridge have very good food shops so I often drive 12-15 min to get something specific.

    Hello! I lived/worked in London right before locating to Berkeley last March (our main home was in NYC, but we've since fully relocated to Berkeley). I second the comment about public transport – you need a car. Although technically doable, this is not a walking city. It is possible to be a one car family (as we are) and supplement with a bike or electric scooter as you can get to everything in about a 1.5/2mile radius. 

    North Berkeley, Westbrae, and Albany would also be my top picks. I'd add Elmwood to the list as they do have a great, walkable main st as well as a nearby Whole Foods. Avoid the Berkeley Hills, too many fire issues and it takes some time to drive down the windy roads.

    Best of luck!

    Welcome to the Bay Area! You will be surprised when you move here how spread out everything is. So you need to figure out where you are working before you pick a neighborhood, to avoid a crazy 3 hour commute (after covid is over and people stop working from home). Consider renting for a while to get a feel for the area before buying. I would even consider a short term rental so you can scope out the rentals. As for walkable...nothing in the Bay Area is walkable, not as compared to cities like London or even New York. But you should at least look for places with sidewalks where you can walk to parks and perhaps a local shop. Believe it or not not every street has a side walk, as people drive everywhere. Check out Alameda, which is cute and people actually do ride their bikes and walk to get around. 

    We're in North Berkeley and it has all those attributes. Great community and neighborhood with families, individuals, older folks, single family homes and apartments. You can walk to some stores, restaurants, and playgrounds. Sidewalks are usable and traffic is low, when your kid gets old enough to ride a scooter then you can take them straight down the sidewalk.

    Hi there--I lived in North Berkeley (just south of Westbrae village) until about 3 years ago. There is much that is quite lovely about it--it's a leafy residential neighborhood with not very busy streets and lots of families, yet there's lots of shopping and dining within walking distance, between Westbrae, Northbrae, University Ave and the 4th Street district. One particularly lovely feature is the off-street bike path that runs for miles along the BART route, starting around University Ave and going all the way up to Richmond. Plus of course proximity to BART is very convenient and Berkeley schools are pretty good across the board.

    The one thing I would caution you of, especially if you are light sleepers: There is a train track that runs all along the length of Berkeley, Albany and well beyond in both directions, just West of 4th Street. Trains are required by law to honk their horns at 90+ decibels for several seconds before they come to a street-level crossings, of which there are 5 in Berkeley (the North Berkeley ones are at Virginia St. and Gillman St.). Trains are frequent (>20/day, lots of freight from the Port of Oakland) and they run all night. It really depends on you, but for light sleepers, I would think hard about moving West of San Pablo Ave. (I even lived a few blocks East and had trouble sleeping, but I'll admit I am a very light sleeper.)There's been a lot of debate about it, the city of Berkeley did an engineering study some years ago to research alternative crossing types but plans were shelved. (Google it to find out more.) Hope that's helpful, and hope you have a safe trip State-side!

    Albany and North Berkeley before you get to the hilly parts are walkable. Albany is prob the most walkable or bikeable. Good parks throughout, esp regional parks. But you need a car.

    Hi there, I used to live in Oxford and regularly traveled to London and loved not needing a car.  I live in Albany currently and rarely use my car. I'm walking distance to the Solano Avenue shopping district, there are regular busses to downtown Berkeley and it is walking distance to the BART station for light rail to Oakland, San Francisco, the airports and other neighborhoods in the East Bay.  It will still not feel as convenient as London --- American public transportation is well behind --- but in terms of parks, community feel and access to public transit I think Albany is a good choice.  As previous commenters said, you will still need a car and it is very, very wise to rent first and get a sense of how far the commute to work will be once we are all vaccinated and can return to work because the commutes here are generally diabolical and many are not easily done by public transport.  Pre-pandemic, the trains and busses were getting packed like in Tokyo and the commutes that require cars can be a special version of hell.  Welcome to California!

    There are definitely walkable neighborhoods in the East Bay! Until recently, we lived close to Piedmont Avenue (which is in North Oakland), a wonderful neighborhood with great independent grocery store, a movie theater, lots of shops and cafes, good restaurants, one of the best preschools (Ducks Nest 41st street campus) and then the big Safeway shopping plaza up on Pleasant Valley. It definitely has a good little community vibe. We are a one-car family and while my husband had it at work, I did just fine with a stroller w/ a big basket (three cheers for UppaBaby). Or you could look at Rockridge (all the same attributes as Piedmont Ave, basically, just a little further North), Elmwood, or yes, North Berkeley (like the Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood, centered near Shattuck & Vine). Good luck!

    I think you are spot on for some of the most walkable neighborhoods in the east bay. I concur that Elmwood should also be on your short list. If public schools aren't important then put Rockridge at the top of the list. Piedmont has a strong community but is NOT in the same walkability league compared to your target neighborhoods. Lower and Baja Piedmont are marginably walkable to stores, restaurants, etc... One wild card I'll suggest is the neighborhood adjacent (South of) downtown Lafayette. Yeah, you heard me.

    Random comments: My rule of thumb for the east bay is that in 20 minutes, I can drive to a comparable set of services that I could walk to in ten minutes in San Francisco. Your target neighborhoods are some of the most expensive in the East Bay but will be cheap compared to much of London. Westbrea and Albany will be noisy because of BART as well as the freight trains. These neighborhoods are small. When we were house hunting I think maybe one appropriate house might come on the market in Elmwood every other month. Northbrea was even worse. Not sure about the rental market in those neighborhoods.

    Thanks so much to all for your advice!  It is daunting to move without really knowing the area but seems from your posts the East Bay is full of friendly people and good areas to explore!  I'm not very happy about needing a car but realize this is something we have to do - we will try a single car plus an electric bike at the beginning.  Very good information from parks to train noise to commute (I work from home permanently).

    Again thanks for the comments, really appreciate it!

    While I agree that our public transit has nothing on London, I think some of the previous posters have made the East Bay walking situation sound worse than it actually is! When looking for a home, my husband and I also wanted a walkable neighborhood. We ultimately settled in the Grand Lake area of Oakland and haven't regretted it. Here's what we can EASILY walk to (admittedly some of these business are shut right now because of Covid):

    - Trader Joe's (grocery store), small produce market, health food store, large Whole Foods (a bit farther)
    - Weekly Farmers Market (thankfully still open even with Covid)
    - A plethora of bars and restaurants
    - Post Office (admittedly not my favorite branch!) and places to drop of FedEx and UPS packages
    - Grand Lake movie theater (please reopen soon!)
    - SF fitness gym plus other workout classes, yoga classes, etc
    - Dry cleaners and a couple of tailors
    - A kids' clothing, shoe and toy store plus other gifty stores on Lakeshore
    - Kids' activities such as Gymboree (when reopened!), Martial arts, ballet, etc
    - Library with Kids' storytime
    - Reasonable commute transit options to San Francisco (should you ever need them)
    - A couple of doctor/urgent care options -- Carbon health and One Medical (though that one requires a subscription)
    - a good pediatric dentist

    In short, we can accomplish a lot of errands without a car and have places to gather for food and drinks with friends nearby (once that's allowed again). Pre-covid my husband walked to work in downtown Oakland and I worked from home. We did still drive our eldest to school daily since it's a bit far to walk and a difficult bike ride. So I'm not saying you'll never want a car -- just saying there are options.

    Feel free to message me for more information or just to say hello. I love London and have spent a lot of time there over the years. You will likely miss many things (the theater scene would be biggest for me) but I bet you'll enjoy the weather here. And that helps the walk factor too!

    - Lucy

  • Good morning, everyone

    A gentle check in to ask for some local input, if I may.  I am moving to North Berkeley from County Clare next month with the rest of my clan. I am breaking into a cold sweat thinking about flying long haul with our one year old daughter. 

    We would be very grateful if anyone could direct us towards a safe park to play in nearby; a good family physician; the best place to shop for toddler clothes, equipment and toys; suggest what to do or where we can go for Halloween to allow our little lady a chance to interact with other toddlers; advise whether families are still trick-or-treating; make suggestions regards day care/ playgroups; have any ideas of must pack essentials for life in Berkeley! A tall order, I apologise! 

    My husband was recently awarded the Harkness Fellowship Award and will be researching and working in Oakland, and I have put my career ambitions aside to embrace this new family adventure, but admittedly am anxious about social isolation.  I imagine it is going to be hard to meet people during this pandemic.

    Thanks in advance. Warmly, Sarah 

    Hi Sarah,

    The good news is that you will be totally fine! North Berkeley is a safe, family friendly place. When you arrive, put on your mask and go and introduce yourself to your neighbors. Give them your email address. Spread the word that you are new, and looking for connections. This is not uncommon in a college town. We have lovely parks here - Codornices Park, Live Oak Park and the Rose garden area -- all within walking distance no matter where you live in North Berkeley. When you have a residential address sign up to Nextdoor which is a wealth of recommendations, connections, services and ideas in your particular neighborhood. This is where you will find all the things you are asking for above including many baby items that people are wanting to get rid of, often for free. N Berkeleyans respond warmly to a wave, a smile and a friendly attitude. You will quickly make friends - there are plenty of families with young children at the parks. Hope to meet you in the neighborhood!

    HI Sarah,  I love Clare. I have a good friend in Liscannor. I don't know the answer to all these questions, but I just wanted to reassure you that you don't need to either right now. You're going to be just fine. You'll figure it all out when you get here. This country is in a really weird place right now. We are basically fighting for our democracy, dealing with this pandemic, grappling with our system racism, and we have been having some horrific wildfires (that season should be ending hopefully around the time you get here, fingers crossed).

    Despite all that, Californians are a friendly bunch, even with our masks on, there are lots of parents that you can connect with through social groups (and this platform), and everyone loves an Irish accent. I hope you have a great adventure and good luck getting over here. 

    Agree with previous poster. Putting a note in local mailboxes with your email/number and a brief intro really worked for me to meet folks in my neighborhood. So many great parks to choose from, use Google maps to identify a few and plan to explore them all to get to know the area. You can also sign up for Nextdoor but beware, I find a lot of online "trolls" in that community. Welcome - I hope you have a smooth adjustment!

    Hi Sarah

    I don't have many helpful recommendations yet but we moved here in August from London, just for the academic year as my partner is lecturing here for the year. Our little one is only a week old so not helpful in terms of play for your one year old, but if you need anything when you get here or want to meet up with someone else new to the area please don't hesitate to reach out! West coast Ireland is our favourite and we'd normally be making our annual trip to the south west this month, can't wait to take the little one when we get back on other side of pond! 

    Kat 

    Hi, Sarah - welcome! In addition to the parks the other parent recommended, come up into the hills and check out Tilden Park if you want more of a hike or forest vibe. There's a large open lawn in front of the Brazil Building in the park (with a parking lot) where you can have a picnic and let your toddler run. Once it's open again (I believe most parks and playgrounds are technically still closed though that may be changing soon), Totland is a magical little park for small ones.

    Solano Ave is a bit outside the North Berkeley area, but two of my favorite places to shop for kid stuff are there: Chloe's Closet (clothing, shoes, and some toys/gear/books) and Toy Go Round. Both are secondhand shops with high standards, and I've found many treasures!

    Our pediatrician is Dr. Karin Schiffman and she is just lovely, I really like her and her small family practice. https://www.yelp.com/biz/karin-schiffman-md-berkeley

    Most fall/Halloween festivals have been cancelled as far as I know, and I don't think I'd recommend trick or treating, unfortunately. Specific neighborhoods may be doing things differently, but it seems an unnecessary risk at the moment. Once you are settled, join your neighborhood on the NextDoor app so you can connect with other parents nearby. You may be able to join a pod with a few other families so you and your little one can make friends. I also recommend joining the Facebook groups "Berkeley Moms" and "Main Street Mamas: East Bay".

    Your question of what to pack reminds me of what my husband told me when I moved to the Bay Area 3 years ago: always have a jacket with you, no matter the weather! Pack layers. :)

    Best wishes for a smooth journey!

    -Carrie

    I think you'll find lots of resources right here on BPN for many of the questions you posed so good job finding this resource!

    You may want to look for a pod to join as covid has turned so many things on their heads. Again, BPN would be my first stop for this.

    Not sure what folks are doing for Halloween- we aren't planning on doing anything outside of my son's preschool and a family pumpkin patch trip and decorating at home. Youll find folks celebrate differently in different neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods didn't do trick or treating even in pre-covid times. Many people will go to neighborhoods known for trick or treating, but again, I doubt that's happening this year.

    I've long loved Totland Park amd the Rose Garden in Berkeley, both jewels in pre-covid times, but I have no idea what it's like now. I've been at Dracena Quarry Park and Temescal Regional Park a lot more recently as they have bigger open spaces. When I was on marernity leave with my first I started putting in "parks near me" in a google search and just started exploring all the parks in a 10+ mile radius...you'll get a feel for different neighborhoods this way too.

    Toddler clothes can be found on BPN, at Target, Bay area Facebook groups, cute boutiques thay sell new and used items like Valentine's on Piedmont Ave Kelly's Corner MacArthur.

    You'll want a good hoodie or fleece, walking shoes, water bottle; if you have a bike then a good lock. Berkeley is a comfy town so you wont need anything too glamorous. Lots cotton, fleece, linen, Danscos, and Tevas around here. Everyone will tell you to dress in layers; sometimes it feels like a 20 degree difference between the sun and the shade.

    Lots of luck and welcome!!

    Good luck with your move! You will make it through the challenges and have a great experience. There are lots of parks in N Berkeley (I'm in Oakland) which you can easily find. A fun, larger one for kids is down near Berkeley Aquatic Park. We also love the playgrounds at Piedmont's Dracena Park and the one near Lake Merritt in Oakland called Snow Park.  Family physician depends on your insurance, we are with Kaiser and love Dr. Fischoff. For Halloween, there is always a party in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood, but that may be shut down this. year due to Covid concerns. Feel free to reach out when you arrive if you want to have a coffee with another mom! All the best.

    Hey Sarah,

    I second whatever the Goosemama already said. Also, there is Tilden park. Once the pandemic is under control, the Tilden Little Farm (FREE) will re-open buy a lot of celery and lettuce and head there to feed goats, cows, sheep, nearby is also a carousel ($). There is also a steam train on the other side of Tilden-also a delight to kids. In San Francisco, there is California Academy of sciences (https://www.calacademy.org) with many activities for kids. Oakland Zoo (https://www.oaklandzoo.org) and San Francisco Zoo (http://www.sfzoo.org) are already open and operational. Unlike Europe, everything cost money, a lot of money. Once here, you can join your local public library (https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org) and they sometimes check out guest passes to the venues listed above. Another option might be to buy an annual pass...Toy shop-5 little monkeys (https://www.5littlemonkeys.com) it is local and located on Solano ave. There is a big store, Target. Depending on where in North Berkeley you are planning to live, keep in mind the altitude. It is easy to hike down from home to the stores, less so in reverse...car helps....

    Right now, socialization is tough. We are all under Shelter-in-place order, so stuck in the wild or at home...schools and playgrounds have been closed since March...you CAN walk around parks and streets.

    Welcome to California and North Berkeley! I can get you started on a few things:

    1. Great parks: Live Oak Park and Cordornices Park. There are also some great parks in Albany, just five minutes north of North Berkeley: Jewel's Terrace Park and Memorial Park. Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley is also a great place to play and because schools are remote, it is open and available during the day. Lastly, Tilden Park is a large regional park with hiking trails and fun stuff like the Steam Trains, the Little Farm, a botanical garden, and a nature center. Everything is closed now during the pandemic, but you can still hike and visit the botanical garden by appointment. Cesar Chavez Park by the bay has beautiful views of San Francisco (but no playground--just a path for walking and biking). The UC Berkeley campus is also a great place to walk around and explore. There are grassy fields, a creek, etc. My kids love riding bikes and exploring there. And the UC Berkeley botanical garden (open by appointment) is beautiful.

    2. Berkeley Pediatrics is a great medical office with great doctors in North Berkeley. 

    3. For used toys and clothes, I recommend Toy Go Round and Chloe's Closet, both on Solano Ave. in Albany. Target has toddler clothes and all the equipment/supplies you need. There is a location in Albany that's a 10 minute drive from North Berkeley. And Primary.com has wonderful toddler clothes, very well made and long-lasting.

    4. I don't think many people are going to be trick or treating and the city of Berkeley is advising against it. (You can sign up for email health alerts from the Berkeley Department of Public Health.) Parks and playgrounds are probably the best places to meet people.

    Good luck!!

    If your children like to choose their own clothes then the convenient place to shop is Target due to their many locations, non-label prices, and savvy purchasing dept. If the parents like to dress up the kids then online shopping will save you time unless you like to wander shopping malls. I prefer more durable clothes, but after a certain age, very little can withstand the abuse of active girls much less active boys! Safe Halloween fun can be had at the many family farms within an hour's drive if you pick off peak days/hours. We just went to one in Lathrop (pumpkinmaze.com) and a couple hours in the evening darkness was great fun for our kids' age range. I can see how some people would be able to spend the whole day there if one is not simply passing through the area.

    Welcome!

    I grew up in North Berkeley and I'm now raising my baby here too. Please feel free to contact me directly for park and general area info.

    Regarding essentials:
    1. Always have clothing layers because the weather can change throughout the day.
    2. I'm sure you've heard of the fires in our state. Once you move, if you are going to live here between June - November make sure your home has a good quality air purifier.

    Congratulations to your husband on the fellowship and I hope the whole family enjoys living here.

    I live in north Berkeley and love it. My husband hails from an Irish background. I can answer your questions via email! 

    berkeleypediatrics.com   We see Dr. Annemary Franks, but there are great doctors there, you can see them on your website..  Very long standing practice (since the 1970's at least), and very organized.  We flew home with an 8-month old (2 long-haul flights, with stops in Minneapolis and Amsterdam), and the airline then (Northwest I think) had limited amounts of seats (2 seats in the entire airplane I think, you have to request ahead) where you could have a bassinet attached to the seat ahead of you.  Very helpful.  I'm not sure if your 1-year old would fit, or if they still have them (12 years ago).  Best of luck!

    Please reach out, would love to welcome you to N. Berkeley in a socially distanced setting! I've got a 2 year old and am happy to chat, Katherine

  • We are about to move from Denmark to the Bay Area (most likely close to Berkeley) and I am looking for advice regarding the choice of preschool (& kindergarten).

    I have started to look for accommodation, but I guess that we will make final decisions in May. So far we only know where I will work (at Haas Business School).

    We have two kids (5yo daughter and 3yo son), so in principle, we need two places, but based on what I have been reading I should make sure to enroll in preschool already now (otherwise we may get into the risk of not getting a place at all). I would like my son to start between July and September. He has been 'institutionalized' since he was 7 months old and currently attends preschool in Denmark. He is fluent in Danish and Polish but does not know English.

    I have noticed that in comparison to Denmark, where we have two local preschools (within the closest proximity to home) in Berkeley and surrounding the choice seems to be enormous and I have a hard time comparing different options. Could you recommend any webpages where one could read about preschools/ kindergarten rankings? 

    So far it seems that we will need a full-time preschool, with some potential afterschool activities (if these things are available). I noticed that the average price is 1700 $ a month, which is very expensive, so if there would be any cheaper options I would gladly look into them. I have heard about some potential activities that kids can join while in preschool and obviously it would be lovely to continue with playing violin (or piano), swimming classes and be in touch with Danish/Norwegian or Polish, but I am afraid that it would be way too much to hope for. Montessori preschool would be nice too, but I have heard that these are even more expensive. I have no idea what the preschool in America is like and following Danish principles, I would like my son to like it and feel good there (despite not knowing English). However, so far he has been adapting very quickly to the new environment, so I guess that he will accept whatever gets offered to him. I am wondering what did you take into consideration while choosing a preschool for your kids?

    I am also wondering about the way how kids get recruited to pre-school. I have heard about long waiting lists and the need to apply in January to make sure that one gets place during summer. Is this really the case around Berkeley? What is the typical enrolment strategy? Should I apply for a place in multiple places and hope to get one of them or it is enough to apply for just one where I know that I would like the kid to go?

    I know that some of my questions may sound weird but in Denmark, we have a central system with an officer responsible for preschool allocation in every municipality. I can give him/her a call and get to know exactly where the municipality will offer places in my desired time span. In my current municipality newcomers had a priority to choose whatever place they liked and the municipality offers place guarantee if they get a notification at least 2 months before the earliest possible starting date. It is really simple and price is exactly the same everywhere (regardless of choosing public or private kindergarten) and on average it constitutes no more than 10% of one parents' gross income. There are no (financial) switching costs.

    Thank you in advance for all the recommendations (all PMs are very welcome too)!

    Hi! 

    With a 5 year old and a 3 year old, and the costs of preschool and living being what they are, it might be best to send the 5 year old to a public K or TK, depending on age. As you likely already know, in addition to Berkeley, there can be decent public elementary schools in the surrounding communities of Alameda and Albany and in some parts of Oakland. And of course a little further away, in Orina, Lafayette, and the like. I don't know in what capacity you will join Haas, but UC Berkeley offers some subsidized housing to faculty and students, so this might be a good way to reduce costs and meet new people, some of whom will also have just arrived.

    For the 3 year old, there are long waitlists at many "institutional" preschools and daycares, and there are also home-based options. $1700 per month unfortunately is not a crazy estimate. It's probably a good idea to be on multiple lists, including perhaps the UC Berkeley ECEP list - which is not inexpensive or excellent - but is a decent option with many facilities and thus lots of openings - so it could work as a backup. 

    Finally, on language - it is amazing how quickly 3 year olds pick up on a new language, especially 3 year olds that are already bilingual. Yes, the first couple of months will be hard and frustrating, but after that miracles seem to happen.  

    I find that people who are from Europe (or elsewhere in the US even!) often underestimate how spread out the Bay Area is. People routinely commute over an hour to get to work, and even within Berkeley it takes forever to drive from one side of Berkeley to another. So I would actually recommend firming up where you are going to live before you start applying for schools. You don't want to have to drive an hour out of your way just to drop off a child to preschool. Also if your older child is in Kindergarten, the enrollment period for public and private Kindergarten has already passed, so I would actually work on that first. But again, you'd want to know where you are actually living. Just because you work at Berkeley doesn't mean you have to live in Berkeley, and if you want to go to public school, there are neighborhoods around Berkeley that have better (or worse!) public schools. Alas, there is no central place to get ratings, I think the best one is this one. I'm sure Haas has an office that can advise you better. good luck!

  • Help! Relocating from London to Bay Area

    (21 replies)

    Hello!  Advice much appreciated!  Currently in SF visiting areas as will be moving here from London UK in Feb next year.  Have 6 year old and 18 month old.  Rather overwhelmed & confused with school lottery system/areas/transport etc!! As I understand Oakland is now also lottery selection system? Have been looking north of rockridge BART/Elmwood.  Are we missing a gem of a nice neighbourhood area (in Oakland or Berkeley) with amenities/cafes, good schools and transport close by?  We liked the vibe of temescal (currently live in East London).  I will be commuting to Mission Bay.  Does nobody risk the lottery system? Thanks in advance!

    We live in Grand Lake/Lakeshore neighborhood in Oakland and commute to SF everyday.  First, I'd like to give a shout out to our neighborhood which has a landmark historic theater, little cafes, restaurants, shops, parks for kids, library, the oldest bookstore in Oakland, and one of the most vibrant farmers' markets around and of course, Lake Merritt. It's also quite a bit more affordable than Rockridge and I feel a bit safer than Temescal. 

    Oakland does have an options process for schools but you get preference for your catchment (the neighborhood zone for your area school). Rockridge area has some of the more popular schools (Chabot/Peralta/Hilcrest) and the area middle school and high school are also well regarded. The neighborhood school for Temescal is Emerson which is not ranked high but is well regarded and beloved by families who attend the school. Chabot is a larger school and out of catchment kids do get into Chabot. We like our neighborhood school (Cleveland), which is a hidden gem. In addition to BART, there are transbay buses that get you to downtown SF as well as casual carpool. I have lived in different neighborhoods in Oakland and have commuted to different parts of SF. You don't have to limit yourself to being able to walk to BART to have a pretty easy commute. If being able to walk to BART is really important and you want to stay on the west side of the Caldecott Tunnel, the "safetest" family friendly neighborhoods with BART within walking distance and commercial amenities would be Rockridge BART, North Berkeley BART, El Cerrito BART areas (El Cerrito BART area feels more suburban than hip urban neighborhood). Parts of residential areas near downtown Berkeley BART can also be nice. Piedmont Ave. neighorhood is also very nice and it's one of my favorite places we have lived. Commute to SF is quite easy from Piedmont Ave. area. The neighborhood school is not highly ranked and many famlies in that area send their kids to Chabot or Cleveland which are close or private schools. Berkeley and SF both have blind lottery system, so you could end up in a school that is not close to your house. Oakland gives preference to neighbhood kids and siblings of current students and if there is any room left, they run a lottery for the rest. 

    You generally get assigned to your neighborhood school in Oakland, so the lottery is more for people who don't want to go to their neighborhood school and thus are in a lottery for their out-of-neighborhood desired school. We live in Rockridge and love it because it has BART, easy access to the freeway (and no need to battle Hwy. 80 to Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, etc), and is just a lovely walkable neighborhood with shopping, restaurants etc nearby. It's true that housing is more expensive than some areas. Temescal is a bit cheaper and is also awesome. Lake Merritt has a slightly more urban feel because there are more apartment buildings; it also has the lake and great shopping districts, and in some ways feels like the "heart" of Oakland because it's so diverse and draws people from all over town, so it's a great choice too. Our neighborhood elementary school is Peralta, which is much sought after and beloved; Chabot is the other elementary school in Rockridge and is bigger but much the same. Good luck!

    If you are still around, Berkeley USD schools are offering free school tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings. It would help you to make your own mind. Contact individual schools to sign up for the tours. On Saturday, December 7th 10-1, there is Berkeley USD school fair in Sylvia Mendez school. Each school will have a table and you can talk to people

    If you are working in Mission Bay, you may seriously want to consider living in the city, particularly in neighborhoods like Dog Patch, Potrero Hill or the Mission. The issue with commuting to Mission Bay from Berkeley or Oakland is that BART or Transbay Bus will drop you off either at Market Street or the bus terminal, both of which are some distance from Mission Bay. You'd have to then get on a Muni bus or train or scooter or have a longish walk. Your door to door commute will probably be about an hour and a half. Those neighborhoods are also similarly gritty like Temescal if that's your cup of tea. If the East Bay is where you have to live, another option is to buy or lease an electric vehicle which will allow you use of the carpool lane on the Bay Bridge and will be the fastest way to work. Yet another option is Casual Carpool, which you'll be dropped off just off the highway exit in SOMA. This would slice a third to half the distance to get to Mission Bay compared to Market Street. Plus it's free. You'd have to return to Market Street or the bus terminal to return to the East Bay. If you happen to live near Jack London or Alameda, you could also take a ferry to The Ferry Building in the city, then take a Muni train to Mission Bay. Depending on how close you are to the ferry terminal it might be the "best" way to commute.

    Hi! I just moved here (August 2019) with my two daughters (7 years and 2 years) from Germany. We live close to Rockridge Bart/Elmwood and it is a very nice neighbourhood (also, on the pricey side). But I can highly recommend it! We have our 7 year old daughter in a public school (Kaiser Elementary) because we could not get into the ones closer to our home (Peralta/Chabot). We are very happy with Kaiser and I can highly recommend it. This school is going to merge though with Sankofa Academy in 2020/21 which will make it easier to reach (right now it is in the Oakland Hills) but I cannot say anything about the merged school. It might be worth checking out though, especially as it will be close to Temescal which is a very nice neighbourhood too!  If you are currently in the area I would like to give you one advice that I wish someone gave me before we moved here: It is impossible to handle school affairs via email from Europe, so I highly recommend that you visit the OUSD or the different schools in person if you want to make arrangements for the school!!! Being used to german bureaucracy it took some time for me to learn that here it is very often the best choice to visit in person and not use email or phone (especially with the OUSD/BUSD). Also, I do not think that Oakland is using the lottery system next year, I think they rely on the neighbourhood school system. Be aware though that you are not guaranteed a spot in your neighbourhood school. If it is full you will be assigned to a school that still has space (that happened to us). The most important date is February 7th (end of registration for schoolyear 202/21). You can still apply later but that will make it more difficult to get into your desired school. Unfortunately there are not school buses in Oakland (Berkeley has it because they are distributing the children all over the city).

    If you want to get into contact with me to share experiences moving from Europe to the Bay Area feel free to contact me! 

    Good luck!

    I’ve lived in Albany since 1996, right at the North Berkeley border. We’ve raised our four now-young adult children here, 2 in the Albany public schools and 2 in the Berkeley public schools. We can walk to North Berkeley BART or El Cerritto BART and catch lots of buses on nearby Solano Avenue which is lined with cafes, shops, etc. It’s a fabulous little town right alongside big city amenities with lots of kids and a devoted community. I highly recommend it to any parent!!

    Alameda is that hidden gem that you are looking for. It's a nice city on an island near Berkeley, and the schools are not lottery based, although some can be over-enrolled. As for asking for help--when I relocated here a few years ago, the best advice I got about anything from schools to commuting to neighborhoods was from a great real estate agent. Since you probably need a place to live, find the best, friendliest real estate agent, preferably one who has kids in the public school system, and go from there.

    Chiming in as an El Cerrito resident (living walking distance from Plaza BART). Agreed that El Cerrito itself is not hip, but it’s definitely in close proximity to hipness and its schools are supposed to be good. There is a strong community vibe and the hipness of Berkeley is a very short drive/BART ride away (without the crazy price tag). I think it will come down to what you can afford. We looked for houses in Berkeley and hip areas of Oakland for almost a year (putting in tons of effort and unsuccessful bids) before ending up in El Cerrito. and we have been happy. I for one think being able to walk to BART makes commuting dramatically easier and would put a lot of emphasis on that in my search. 

    I don’t think El Cerrito is necessarily a place you’d visit and immediately be enchanted by, but it’s been a nice place to live for our family of four. Best of luck! 

    I commute to Mission Bay every day from the broader Rockridge area.  The commute is a nightmare.  Our company's attrition has spiked since our move to the area from SoMa, and the company shuttles from the Transbay/BART do not alleviate the struggle.  Between CalTrain running at grade blocking access in/out of the area regularly at commute hours, and minimal ways in/out (only 3 points out of the neighborhood at 16th street, 3rd street and 4th street), it's a congested mess.   It takes me 25+ minutes just to get back to our old office area in SoMa and then another 35 minutes to drive home.  Yes...I drive, because it was the only sane way to get to/from, but now I waste a half hour every day lining up my carpool to get in on Waze and picking up strangers and trying to find people closer to my home/work to get through in the carpool lane.  I haven't quit only because my manager allows me to work from home 2-3 days/week.

    Long and short is that you should SERIOUSLY consider living in SF if there's any way you can afford it.  Your quality of life will be much better vs. spending 3+ hours per day commuting by public transit, or 1.5-2 hrs by car.  Many colleagues have happily bought condos in Mission Bay, or rent in Mission Bay and the nearby Portrero Hill which is an uber family-friendly and great neighborhood.  Bernal Heights and Glen Park further south are also both quite nice.  A few colleagues live in the Sunset which is great for families, but also a trek, just through the city, and definitely driving.  

    I will flag that your timing is not ideal.  Most of the lotteries register this winter or in January, and you can't lock-in until you move in, so you may find yourself in a tough spot re: getting a spot in a neighborhood school in Oakland if you're in a popular area (some schools like Peralta don't have enough room for their neighborhood kids, let alone extra kids from the lottery).  In SF, it's a crapshoot what you'll get, as the other poster mentioned.  Many folks seriously consider private schools or charters.  In North Oakland many I know are happy with Yu Ming (Chinese Immersion) or North Oakland Community Charter which are both free, public charter schools.

    If I were you, I'd call district offices at your preferred schools and have frank conversations if they have open seats in the elementary schools where you'd want your 6-year-old to attend.  That may determine where you choose to live!  In Oakland top choices that are commutable to SF would be Peralta, Chabot, Kaiser (near Rockridge), Glenview, Crocker Highlands (near Grand Lake up uphill). You may also want to consider Alameda.  The public schools are excellent on the island, and you can ride the ferry to SF (tideline runs a new ferry direct to mission bay! https://www.7x7.com/classy-ferry-oakland-to-san-francisco-2640585255.html )  Good luck!!

    Consider Alameda! Great schools, and you can take the ferry to the city. We love it here! Alameda itself is walkable, with good cafes, an independent movie theater, and great neighborhood schools. (no lottery!) 

    We also live in the Lakeshore area (just north of Grand/Lake). Like the last poster said -- it's a great neighborhood. We have lived in SF, moved to North Oakland (west of but not far from Temescal), then moved over here, and we love it here. When we moved to N Oakland from SF, we also prioritized BART, but the truth is except for my husband's commute, we didn't take it much. It's a limited public transit system (I grew up in NYC, so…I have higher expectations for what a rapid transit system could be). Don't conflate your London expectations with SF ones. It's hard to find truly walkable neighborhoods in the East Bay. Rockridge has it, but it's very expensive for pretty limited housing stock. The Grand/Lake area, pretty much near the lake and north really offers that. Plus the Saturday farmer's market is fantastic. My only complaint is the relative lack of playgrounds north of the Lakeshore district. Everyone has a yard, so there doesn't seem to be an investment in public play spaces. 
     

    SF is a beautiful and lovely city, and we miss it, but Oakland has been a great city to have kids in even though I am not someone who dreamed of a yard and a car and my own private house (I grew up in a multi-unit building). I still wonder if I'd be happier in a flat in the city with nearly no driving required. But I also know we are very fortunate. 

    Regarding the schools, my sense is SF is much more complicated. People don't always get their first choices of schools, but you rank them in Oakland and can select places nearer to your home. If you transfer when your kid is in (what we call) first grade, you may have an easier time getting a spot in a school (maybe). Your younger child might then get a preferred spot at your older child's school. 
     

    good luck! We've done cross country moves but not international ones. It's hard and wearing and just know it's going to take 6 mos-1 year to recover from all the logistical and emotional changes. Be patient with yourself!

    The Temescal neighborhood is fabulous-- served by BART and multiple bus lines (both local and transbay), and is very walkable. You can easily walk to Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue, and Telegraph Avenue has a number of amenities (and more coming with a few new developments in the neighborhood). It is south of Rockridge/Elmwood (I'm noting this only because you mentioned you were looking north of RR/Elmwood). To get to Mission Bay, you can BART to Embarcadero and then catch the Mission Bay shuttle, or take a Transbay AC Transit bus to the new Salesforce Transbay Terminal and get a Mission Bay shuttle. Mission Bay shuttle is a free last-mile shuttle. If you are working at UCSF, there are additional shuttle options that they provide from various transit hubs in SF.

    Oakland's lottery system is focused on August admissions. You should contact the school district to find out about mid-year admissions for your 6-year old.

    Consider Park Day School in the Temescal neighborhood. It's a wonderful school. It's a private school, so separate from the public school system and lottery-- there is a school-specific application and process. They may also have mid-year openings. The school is Kindergarten through 8th grade. Park Day has small classes, terrific teachers and specialists, and a beautiful campus. The school follows a progressive education program with tons of hands-on learning, and a maker and social justice curriculum. There is also a very warm and inclusive community of families. It's also in walking distance of BART (I drop my kid and then walk to BART), which would make it convenient for your commute to San Francisco.

    Here's a link to the school's website: ​https://www.parkdayschool.org/

    Feel free to contact me directly with any questions. Best of luck with your move!

    Several have recommended Alameda on account of the ferry.  I will second those in favor.  I used to commute from Alameda to China Basin (essentially next to the CalTrain station/across from the ballpark but near Mission Bay).  I took the ferry, brought my bike on, and then rode down Embarcadero (where you are allowed to ride on the sidewalks but need to navigate pedestrians, dog walkers, etc.).  Oddly, my commute was the highlight of my day.  There were frustrations - navigating crowds on game days, I missed the boat sometimes, riding in the rain, cheap bike spokes rusted and broke from saltwater exposure - but you really cannot beat that commute if you need to get across the Bay.  I do also agree with those who suggest living in SF.  It is hard on parents to waste time commuting - it is time away from family.    

    We are living in Albany (south bay area) and love it. The city is small, but has great school district. There will be no lottery system because all schools are great from elementary to high school. My husband is working in SF. It takes him approximately one hour to commute everyday. You can bike to bart station, ride a bart and walk to your work in SF.

    Hi! I wanted to add my 2 cents given that I did this move 11 years ago albeit from Manchester but with kids exactly the same age as you. We originally rented in Oakland  to get a feel of the neighborhoods around us and where we might want to live and understand the school system. We eventually bought in orinda that is more suburban than Rockridge but the next Bart stop along and have loved it. We have been so happy here and my kids are now 17 and 13. Orinda has amazing public schools, parks, sports, cinema. Interestingly two neighbors moved in either side of us last year are both British too so I guess you’re in good company! My husband barts to south San Francisco’s each day which is a 45 min commute. To drive can be 1-1.5 hours. The pain with Bart is finding parking but he got a moped which allows for free and easy parking each day. Good luck with the move - it’ll be great and you’ll love it here!

    Hi! I live in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood (so just South of Rockridge and just East of Temescal) and it's infinitely walkable and lovely in SO many ways. BUT, I also just saw a few responses about your commute to Mission Bay and had to weigh in. I work at UCSF in Mission Bay and the commute is HARD. All the people advocating for BART or the Transbay bus must not actually do the commute. My commute consists of a 1-mile walk, ride, or Uber to BART, then into the city - either to Embarcadero where I get on the Muni "T" streetcar, or to 16th/Mission where I can wait for a UCSF shuttle, then another 20-minute leg to the hospital. Neither is ideal. Those neighborhood "Mission Bay" free shuttles are crowded and not very dependable. This "last mile" problem is significant. I'd be happy with my commute if I didn't have so much trouble getting from BART (or the Transbay bus terminal) to Mission Bay. My commute (even when perfect and streamlined) is at least 1 hr 15 min each way. I also occasionally get carpools straight to work via a matching app called "Scoop" but it's inconsistent. If living in SF is at all appealing to you, that is 100% the way to go. Before we moved to Oakland, we lived in SF for 12 years, and I'd move back in a heartbeat! But now we have kids, and schools, and my husband works in Berkeley so... you know how it goes. Best of luck! feel free to contact me if you want to hash it out! :)

    My husband did the commute to near Mission Bay from Berkeley for two years. It did not work for our family. We ended up move to SF until his job would let him relocate.

    Also, we moved mid year and we did not get into a school we liked. We pulled out kids out and did homeschool until we found a school we really liked, which ended up being a private school. The Bay has a lot of traffic so I will say, be prepared for that. As much as I didn’t want to ever do homeschool, we rearranged my work schedule, hired a tutor for a fraction of the cost of private school and it gave our family more time together cutting out school (my husband got one hour per night with us before bed...which was late because of his commute). 

    I have to chime in because I used to work in Mission Bay and live in Oakland. I live in North Oakland, my closest BART station is MacAruthur station. I didn't use public transit because it would take me 1.5 hours each way for the commute. As another poster mentioned, the last part of the commute, getting from Embarcadero BART to Mission Bay is the most frustrating and slow part of the commute. I drove to work and picked up casual carpoolers in the morning, which gets me to work in 30-45 minutes. Getting home in the evening is another story, that's usually 40-50 minutes. The traffic is only getting worse with the new Warriors stadium. I finally had it with the commute and quit my job in Mission Bay. I highly recommend living in SF if possible. I grew up in the Richmond neighborhood in SF, it's quiet and family friendly, with good public schools. It's also close to the beach and  next-door to Golden Gate park.  

    Another personal view in case it helps: We moved from E2 to North Berkeley with a then 2 year old three years ago. We live in North Berkeley, off Solano Avenue, which is a lovely main street lined with cafes, two supermarkets, as others have described, so a very similar way of life to London, doing your grocery shop on foot etc. I commute twice a week to Daly City. It takes me just over an hour (walk, BART, bus) but I haven't had any serious issues so far. It has felt like a breeze in comparison to trying to get yourself on a Central Line train at 8.30 am. I wouldn't want to move to SF after living in London. We enjoy having our own house (although on the pricey side as in Rockridge) surrounded by trees, walking up to the view of the hills, our front and back yard, our drive way, the park across the street: there is no comparison to city life. Tilden Park and the outdoors is a 10 minute drive. I wouldn't want to go back to living in a city flat. Another difference with living in bustling hipstery East London is also that you are a part of a community of all ages here. Temescal seemed to me more like Broadway Market road on Saturdays but I love seeing the same gang of retired people enjoying their morning coffee at the local cafe. I have been touring elementary schools these days in the northwestern zone and I have to say that I found them are all very impressive. It doesn't really make a difference which one you end up to. It would be worth if you have the resources to spend some time in the East Bay area too or as others have done, rent in the beginning until you find the right place for you and your family. We airbnbed all around Berkeley when we first arrived.   

    Hi Mrs A!

    So exciting that you are moving to Oakland from London! I hope you love it!

    My daughter goes to school at Park Day School which is in Temescal and she absolutely loves it.  I also work in the area so I can attest to it being a very lively and fun area.  Park Day School is one of the most socially conscious and progressive schools in Oakland.  Our daughter is sensitive and so we were looking for a school with a social emotional component, which Park Day definitely has.  The school is active in taking the children to volunteer for environmental issues as well as helping homeless.  For example, during the Greta Thunberg climate strike, all the students walked around the neighborhood with protest signs.  This type of involvement in global issues made Park Day our top choice and we absolutely love the school.  Feel free to message me with any questions and best of luck with your search and your move!! Very exciting!

    Mary

    Another option no one has mentioned is living on the peninsula and taking a Caltrain commuter train north to San Francisco. The last two stations are much closer to Mission Bay than the BART stations, ferry building and bus station. 
     

    I also want to add that there is a ferry from Berkeley to Mission Bay. It’s limited but here is more info:

    https://www.tidelinetickets.com/commute

  • Hello,

    We are new to the Bay Area but are a West Coast family relocating from Paris, France.

    My children have been in the French school system the past 3 years. My 7 year old is bilingual and reads well in French. Reading in English has been more of a challenge. So this summer, we sent her to live with her grandparents in Seattle while we packed everything up. She's been receiving extensive professional tutoring in English reading there. After 6 weeks, we have to make a decision to enroll her in 2nd grade (which would be normal for her 2010 YOB), or 1st to catch-her up. The tutor feels that by current US standards she is reading at a late kindergarten level.

    She's strong in other areas like math (here in France anyway). What advice would you Bay Area parents give us as we make this decision. Is there a lot of support in Belmont schools for students with our particular language situation?

    Thanks so much in advance!

    Any public school should have a program for English learners, though it is more comprehensive at some schools than others. One thing I would be cognizant of is that math for second graders in California is quite dependent on word problems and reading, so her reading level may affect other subject areas as well. The fact that she reads well in her native language suggests that reading itself is not a problem, though, so she should catch up in English with added support. I'd talk directly with the principal of her new school to gauge which grade is the best fit for her (and hopefully they can move her if you choose one and the other seems better after a few weeks). Also be aware that the age cutoff in California is now September 1st, so there are many 2010-born kids who will turn seven this fall in first grade, plus some who turned seven in July or August who will also be in first grade because their parents waited to start them. Depending on when she turned seven, she may not be the oldest by much (or at all) if you do opt to do first grade. Welcome!

    I would go ahead and put her in 2nd grade. All children come to school with different levels of abilities, and the teachers are good at accommodating this. In both school districts I've been in (not Belmont, but still in the Bay Area), reading instruction is highly differentiated. She will catch up on her reading; you don't want her to not be challenged in other areas because she's repeating first grade. I think that schools in the Bay Area are very used to English language learners as well. Good luck!

    40% of California public school students do not speak English at home and many have some need of English language development. The school districts and the State of California are ready for this. Your children should enroll based in grades based on their age.

    Here is the state document on English-learner students: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/el/er/documents/nov2013impplanfinal.pdf

    Here is are the educational services contacts for Belmont in case you want to check in with them: https://www.brssd.org/educational-services/

    If kiddo is a good reader in French, I'd enroll in 2nd.  If reading was a challenge in French, I'd consider 1st... but if kiddo is doing great in all other subjects, there's likely to be boredom.

    Hello

    I reviewed your post and while this may not be an option for you, you could consider a French-American school for this year, where she could get support in English while taking advantage of her strengths in French. My children went to the Ecole Bilingue in Berkeley and we have seen many children coming from France who were able to get in at the regular French grade level and got special support in English to catch up. What I have observed is that by the following year, they are very comfortable in both languages.  good luck

    I am also part of a French/American family, and a teacher. I would recommend enrolling your child in the grade that is appropriate to her age for several reasons. Since your child is already reading well in French, these skills will transfer as she gains more fluency in English. California, and the Bay Area in particular, has a large population of English Learners and teachers are experienced in differentiating instruction and supporting these students. Also, your school should have some type of support in place for English Language Learners. I would ask the principal about what resources are available and what your child may qualify for. Also, since you mention that you child is strong in other academic areas, she would likely be bored by content in lower grades. There is also the social aspect of wanting her to be with peers. Depending on your child's birthday, she may end up being much older than some of her classmates if you decide to retain her. From what I understand, compared with France, we are much less likely to have students repeat or skip grades. Overall, the trend in thinking is that it is more beneficial for the child to be with their peer group. Best of luck, and welcome to the Bay Area!

  • Hi,
    my familiy and I will be moving to the Berkeley area for one year due to my research stay at LBNL from Feb. 2017 until Feb 2018. I have 2 kids in elemantary school age (8 and 6) and one in kindergarten age (4). Their first language is German (as we live in Austria), their second language is Spanish (as I am from there).

    Since we will only be here for one year and my kids speak no English so far, we are looking for public schools which have Spanish/English bilingual programmes. We are still open on the neighboorhood or even area we will be living in (as long as it is in an commutable distance to Berkeley). I have asked already at the Berkeley Unified School District, but their Bilingual/Two-Way-Immersion classes have a waiting list.

    I would appreciate any advice or recommendations on schools (and their respective neighboorhoods) that seem suitable.

    Thanks in advance,

    Gabriel

    Have you looked at the German School of Silicon Valley? They have a Berkeley campus. It's a private school but it looks like they have finical aid; not sure if that's something you could do at this late a date, but may be worth looking into.... here is their website: www.gissv.org

    Hi Gabriel,

    We have a wonderful Spanish-English immersion charter school in Napa - the Napa Valley Language Academy - if you are willing to make the 45-minute commute by car from Napa to Berkeley. 

    You say that you are looking for public schools, but it is worth mentioning Escuela Bilingue Internacional, which is a private school on the Berkeley/Oakland border.  They have an elementary school and a preschool.   There also is a private bilingual German English school.

    I know you wrote you want to live in Berkeley, which is understandable since you will be at LBNL. However, there is an excellent public bilingual "dual immersion" Spanish-English public K-8 school in Oakland near Mills College called Melrose Leadership Academy. The commute would be long-ish, but not impossible, and the neighborhoods near Melrose are nice - you could probably afford to rent a whole house down this way (my neighborhood) for much less than in Berkeley. You could take Bus or BART to Berkeley, and there is also a shuttle between Mills College and UC Berkeley, though I don't know it's frequency or limitations. The school website is http://melroseleadership.ousd.k12.ca.us/   Berkeley Parent Network discussion of MLA is at: https://www.berkeleyparentsnetwork.org/recommend/schools/oakland/melrose

    Oakland neighborhoods near Melrose Academy include : Laurel District, Maxwell Park, Millsmont, Steinway Terrace/Jefferson, Brookdale Park, Allendale, and Redwood Heights. This sounds like a lot, huh? the neighborhood boundaries are quite small and a neighborhood may be only 4-6 square blocks. For example, my neighborhood (Steinway/Jefferson) is only 4 x 3 city blocks. But these are names to use when looking at real estate maps when looking for a rental. This general area of Oakland is about 30 min by car from North Berkeley, depending on traffic and the route you take. The closest BART station is Fruitvale, which has dedicated bike parking and a bike service station. We have friends up the street who commuted to LBL for several years on a (electric assist) bike.  

    I'd recommend moving to El Cerrito or the Richmond-area that is closest to El Cerrito (Richmond Annex or Richmond View). Housing is generally less expensive than Berkeley and it is still an easy commute to LBNL either by Bart or driving to the back gate. The public schools will also have other students who speak Spanish at home. The West Contra Costa school district has a comprehensive master plan for English-learner students at this link http://www.wccusd.net/Page/5238

    Bienvenidos - willkommen to the Bay Area!

    While this might not help a ton for your youngest child in K, my impression is that the upper classes (2nd grade & on) in the two-way immersion programs at BUSD might have some space occasionally due to attrition (people moving away), and might be amenable to having kids with appropriate language levels (yours are near-fluent in family Spanish, I would assume?) join. Although the administration might not confirm until very close to their start date, it might be worth pursuing.

    Viel Glueck - buena suerte!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

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


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