Moving to the Sierra Foothills Area

Parent Q&A

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  • I so appreciate all the wonderful information people share here. We are feeling priced out of the Bay Area (hoping to buy at some point) and over the traffic/congestion/noise/stress. We would like to move to a less crowded, more rural area with easier access to outdoor activities and more affordable home prices. We would also ideally like to be within a 3 (4 hour max) drive of the Bay Area as we have family here and my husband could keep his job and do a long distance commute down here for a few days every week or two. 

    We're thinking about Grass Valley or Placerville and surrounding areas but open to other ideas. We would love to be within a few minutes of a town of some size (not super rural) and in an area where there are other families. Our budget would probably be around 400k (max) and we would love to afford some property or at the very least have a yard where we can garden. 

    Does anyone have recommendations for other places/towns to look that might fit the bill, or things to consider as we dream about this possibility? I am aware that culturally it will be a big transition. What other considerations should we be thinking about? Does anyone have friends or family who live or have moved to these areas and have insights? One question I have would be about fire insurance and how that affects home prices + affordability, especially with fires getting worse every year. We would even be interested in realtor recommendations so we could potentially start a conversation with someone. Thanks so much. 

    I think wildfire risk period is a big consideration for the sierra suburbs, including smoke, panic traffic, etc. I would also think very carefully about access to high quality medical care, ability to age in place or in the community at large, higher education and career paths for your children's generation, political climate (especially at the County Board of Supervisors and town council levels), and racial/class diversity.

    Do yourself a favor and do a drive through Murphys, Angels Camp, and down to Sonora.    Well worth the day trip to look at that community.  

    I grew up in/near Placerville.  It's a great place to raise kids!  Schools are great- there is a great downtown with good restaurants, coffee, shopping to some of the best Bay Area neighborhoods.  On off hours, the drive is easily 2.5 hours.  EASY access to amazing outdoor activities.  Weather is great!!  It's def a different political scene than the Bay Area and less diverse but you can compensate for those things in other ways!  My family that still lives in the area hasn't had issues with insurance based on fire risk- even with recently purchased properties.  If you are living close to town, the risk is probably equal to many parts of the Bay Area/North Bay.  Also, easy access to very good healthcare- locally and reasonably close to UC Davis for specialty care. Happy to answer any other questions.  

    Grass Valley and Placerville are great communities; I've never lived in either but have spent time there and know people who've loved living there. From what I understand they are both close-knit and friendly towns with their own character and also with a regular influx of visitors from northern California's larger metro areas. Fire risk is very real, as it is in the North Bay. However, the cost of living as you've noted is much lower and you have proximity to the Sacramento area, which has a lot to offer, as well as tremendous outdoor opportunities. Small-town living has its ups and downs and can be a wonderful environment in which to grow up. The only real downside I'll mention is that is gets hot - really hot - in the foothills, but that may be fine for you. Good luck.

    Chico.  A River Runs Through It

    My son moved his family to Chico about two years ago. He says it is like the Berkeley he grew up in in the nineteen sicties. Chido is 180 miles, about 2 1/2 hour drive. I take 89, to 505, toHwy 5, and shoot across the Central Valley at Willows. Chico is a college town and a business center of the North Valley. Chico has North State Public Radio, a viable downtown near the university, and shopping malls on the outskirts. Schools are good, summers are HOT, but winters are mild.  On hot summer afternoons few people are out; they are indoors with air conditioning, at the mall with air conditioning, or at the river.

    People are friendly. There is the BEST civic park in the world-Bidwell Park, along the river which runs through the center of town. Good hospitals and doctors. Enroe Medical Center is in the center of town.

    My grandtwins live there, so I visit at least once a month. Write if you have any specific questions.

    Fire insurance is absolutely something you'd want to consider.  Call up big insurers like State Farm or AAA and get quotes for some of the addresses of places you see for-sale that you'd consider.  I have a friend whose mother cannot get fire insurance except through the state and the cost is astronomical - over $25K/year - way beyond Bay Area property taxes.

    Climate/culture is another, and what keeps us in the area vs. further out.  We both grew up in the rural midwest.  My family was well-educated and liberal in a closed-minded, conservative place.  It was very hard to be at friends' homes and hear their parents disparage those who did not speak English, blame immigrants and people of color for "ruining" the country, inappropriate comments about welfare mothers, etc.  These comments tend to be rooted in fear for their own existence, safe norms, and disappearing jobs rather than true malice, but it's harmful none the less.  My sister and I moved far away for college and never came back.  I would also question the quality of education you'll get.  I never got a quality math education, my husband never got a quality education in writing, grammar, etc.  The teachers' salaries and school budgets tend to be low, private schools are essentially non-existent, and enrichment programs beyond sports are scant.  If your kids take music lessons, are highly engaged in sports outside the big ones, or you enjoy the cultural elements of life here (ability to get other types of cuisine at the grocery), you may not be able to find it there. 

    I spend part of each year in Grass Valley/Nevada City. It's a beautiful and friendly place but it's true that it's different culturally. There are many Bay Area residents who own vacation homes there and there is also a very large permanent population of hard-working blue-collar residents who don't particularly love seeing all the Teslas in their local Safeway parking lot. The two different groups get along on the surface but I can always feel the underlying tension. 

    Don't know about fire insurance but I do know homes turn over all year long so people must be getting fire insurance from somewhere. I'm sure your realtor can help you with that.

    There are GREAT schools there, both public and private. And it's a small enough place that the teenagers (and even younger kids) are free to run around town without getting into trouble. Also, the river, skiing, mountain biking: I don't know any kids who don't love living there.

    It's an easy two hour drive from the Bay Area if you leave at 6am. Later than that on a weekday and you're going to run into the Sacramento commute which will add another 30-60 minutes.

    Also, fyi—if you have asthma or similar problems, you should be aware that the area has some air quality problems. Most homes burn wood all winter for heat (or ambience) and almost everyone just outside city limits burns their yard debris on every single legal burn day. Its smells smoky ALL the time regardless of forest fires.

    Hi- My sister lives in the Nevada City/Grass Valley area and I just helped her sell her home. We had a super realtor--Mimi Simmons--she's 5th generation in the area and knows everything/everyone. I believe you could find a house for $400K in the area, though likely not walking distance to either Nevada City or Grass Valley, but probably within a couple of miles. Both towns are quite charming and have a decent number of restaurants and services. I don't know about schools, but I do think you'd find it a quieter life, easy to get outside and I think a nice community. That said, the area attracts a lot of hippies/quirky birds so sometimes things feel a bit more 'half-baked' / less buttoned up than I'm used to. There are also a lot of marijuana growers/some meth issues, so that's something to be aware of, especially when purchasing a home. Realistically the drive is about 3-3.5 hours from the eastbay w/o traffic. Fire is a huge issue and fire insurance options extremely limited. Most of the private insurers have left the area and you have to go with Cal Fire. My sisters insurance jumped from $2200 to $3600 last year, and this is only for fire coverage, not liability or other coverage. If you'd like to discuss more the moderator is welcome to share my contact. Good luck!

     I am moving to a new cohousing community for the same reasons. We chose this for long term sustainability, not in the middle of fire zones, and great neighbors.
    Fair Oaks EcoHousing has one home left, a 2-story 2+ bedroom townhome. Features include: Energy-efficient design, with eco-friendly construction and high-quality fixtures and finishes.Large windows, allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the home and make rooms feel light and spacious. Open design for living and dining area.Modern kitchen with ample storage and counter space, Upstairs deck above front porch, Two upstairs bedrooms, a Plus" room, ideal for a home office, craft room, or playroomUpstairs and downstairs bathrooms, A pedestrian-friendly village for residents of all ages with a centrally-located multi room clubhouse, some meal sharing, pool, spa, and garden close to Fair Oaks Village and the American River Parkway, with nearby dining and entertainment options, plus easy access to the freeway. Waldorf school and college is up the street. Contact Marty at mmaskall [at] or 916-967-2472


    Have you considered splitting the difference and living around Sacramento? The price and amenities seem right for what you've listed. 

    On a different note, I have a friend who grew up in Meyers, south of Lake Tahoe and seemed to have a pretty good life growing up there. So many beautiful trails and lakes so close! Not far from Reno if you need an airport closer than SFO. 

    Good luck!

    I've looked into moving to Nevada City, which I really love. One issue that came to my attention was air quality. Apparently smog gets blown up from lower altitudes and settles in the valley there.

    Do you like Yosemite. I worked with a guy who lives in Groveland and commuted to the Bay Area.  Another area you might want to take a look at would be around Jackson, Pioneer and Volcano.  You could easily buy a house for under $400k with a lot of land.  If you want to be a little closer to the Bay Area you might want to take a look in the Delta.  I have 3 co-worker who live out that way. Towns like Rio Vista, Isleton, Walnut, Bethel Island, etc.  Another place you might want to check out is Mariposa, Sonora and Twain Harte. We have friends and co-workers who have all moved to several of those areas.

    I don't blame you for wanting to do this.  Something I've been considering as well for the same reasons you've given. 

    We left the Bay Area last November and have never been happier.  There is nothing we miss about Oakland.  We lie when we people ask.  We say we miss things like Berkeley Bowl to protect their feelings.  Some of our friends feel like they can't leave and I don't see the point in making them feel worse.   But the truth is the upside to getting out of the pressure cooker is indescribable.  Clean air, no more stress, peace.  We were like you - wanted to raise our children outdoors.   We looked at Grass Valley, Redding, Auburn and Nevada City.  They all have wonderful places to ride bikes which is our top concern.  I don't want to say where we ended up, but we left California for good.   I feel like I'm living in a postcard.  We have our own well.  Our living expenses were cut 60% and now we can easily afford to have one parent SAH.  Quarantine life is a breeze because it's not much different than normal day-to-day.

    One thing to beware of (or not, depending on your political affiliation) is that many of the communities listed above are situated outside the liberal political bubble of the Bay Area, i.e., you're going to be dealing with a lot of Trump voters. Nevada City and Grass Valley, the towns, are reasonably liberal, but the minute you get into the outlying communities you could see, I kid you not, Confederate flags on the backs of trucks.

    I would have a number of conversations on bar stools with locals before you make a move. If you hear things that freeze your blood, look elsewhere!