Home to 8 million people, the Bay Area is a diverse collection of communities, each with their own unique character. Differences in weather, amenities, schools, recreation, and rental markets exist between communities just a few miles apart. Read this guide to get a general sense of popular Bay Area communities. We'll work with you closely to determine the community most suitable for you.
Called “The City” or “SF” by locals, San Francisco is a world class city with a vibrant arts and music scene, amazing food, lovely parks, breathtaking views, and unique neighborhoods. San Francisco is a relatively small city, but has a faster paced atmosphere than the surrounding areas. The City varies quite a bit from block to block but this, along with the steep hills, architecture, skyline, and views, are what make this unique city so special. If you are considering living in SF, we will spend some time exploring the commute times to and from work, public transit options, the school climate (there is a complex public school choice system), and pricing unique to each neighborhood.
Oakland has transformed itself in the past 10 years into one of the most desirable places to live in the Bay Area, and professionals with SF-based jobs are now choosing to live in Oakland for many reasons. Artists and musicians live and work side-by-side with tech commuters downtown, and the Oakland hills afford family housing and spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline. Oakland has a burgeoning restaurant scene, BART stations, annual cultural festivals, music venues, and is known for its local pride. Oakland does vary tremendously from neighborhood to neighborhood, and schools are a concern, so we would be considering the neighborhoods most suitable to you as well as commute options if you are considering making Oakland your home.
Berkeley is possibly one of the most eclectic cities in the Bay Area, with a large and diverse population of students, university staff and professors, families, and young professionals. Berkeley has an intellectual, political, and environmental character supported by multiple farmers markets, a great network of libraries, and many resources for the community. Berkeley has three BART train stations, a public school lottery system, a great food scene, and is a university town. For these reasons, finding a home in Berkeley can be as challenging as navigating the city's many one-way streets, so it is good to have a guide. Together, we would look at housing options and find a good strategy for finding the right home in the right neighborhood should you consider making Berkeley your home.
Just north of Berkeley, the Cities of El Cerrito and Albany are family-friendly, casual communities that offer some relief from the tight housing market in Berkeley. Local families have historically moved to Albany when their kids reach elementary age for its highly rated schools. El Cerrito houses many young families starting out as its housing stock is considerably less expensive than both Albany and Berkeley. Students as well have begun commuting to UC Berkeley from El Cerrito’s more modern apartment options conveniently located near BART.
The island of Alameda is accessible by bridge, tunnel, and ferry, and is just south of Oakland. Many young families consider Alameda for it’s charming downtown, relatively affordable housing, small beach areas, dog friendly parks along the shore, good quality schools, and small town vibe. Many professionals choose to live in Alameda and commute via ferry to San Francisco (a 25 minute ride to downtown SF or South San Francisco). If Alameda sounds interesting to you, we would look closely at transit to work, housing availability, schools, and the unique challenges and benefits of living on an island.
Emeryville is a good landing spot for recent arrivals to the Bay Area, with more modern furnished housing options with flexible lease terms. However, many enjoy living long-term in Emeryville for its relatively less expensive housing, convenient and close proximity to San Francisco, a large outdoor pedestrian mall for shopping, dining, and entertainment, and good public transit options. Emeryville has embraced development and a more industrial look. Home to the (beloved) IKEA and some bigger box stores, Emeryville has less single-family homes and residential neighborhoods than other cities, so it is mostly young professionals and recent arrivals that make Emeryville their home.
Through the (Caldecott) tunnel, at the base of Mt. Diablo, the “LaMorinda” area is renowned for its excellent schools, rolling hills, and quiet, peaceful residential neighborhoods. Locals refer to the Cities of Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga collectively as LaMorinda, but each town has its own unique set of characteristics, school districts, and housing options. The weather is usually 15-20 degrees warmer than SF and Berkeley in the summer, there are two BART stations for commuting into San Francisco, and downtown areas with a small town feel provide a truly local shopping and dining experience. If you are considering Lafayette, Orinda or Moraga, we would discuss the fast paced, competitive housing market, school boundaries and districts, downtown areas, and commute times.
People throughout the Bay Area visit Walnut Creek to enjoy sunny California weather and stroll Broadway Plaza, the well-planned shopping, dining, and cultural center of the City. Situated at the intersection of Highway 680 to San Jose and Highway 24 to San Francisco, with two accessible BART stations, Walnut Creek provides a good mix of activities, commuting options, and reputable schools. The housing market in Walnut Creek is more diverse than neighboring LaMorinda and contains a larger supply of single-family homes, newer townhomes, condos, apartment communities, and corporate housing options. However, Walnut Creek is a part of two different school districts and it is helpful to have a guide in navigating the boundaries of the districts in the search for a home in Walnut Creek.
Locals call the area between San Francisco and Silicon Valley "The Peninsula." Most of The Peninsula is comprised of communities intersected by El Camino Real on either side of Highways 280 and 101. People live The Peninsula and typically commute via Caltrain, tech shuttle, BART, or car to either Silicon Valley or San Francisco proper. Some lucky commuters live near work and commute to a nearby office park in South San Francisco or Redwood Shores to work for companies such as Oracle or Genentech. A few cities share a school district and school quality can vary from city to city. Often, maps cannot accurately predict commute times. Let Move Bay Area guide you to the right home in the right city, keeping in mind the infamous local traffic between the two large economic hubs of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
South Bay/Silicon Valley
The South Bay, more recently dubbed "Silicon Valley", is a central economic force in the Bay Area, drawing thousands of new arrivals to live and work here each year. Real estate prices reflect the appeal of living close to job-creating companies such as Google and Apple, located in Mountain View and Cupertino, respectively. San Jose is the largest city in the South Bay, with highly-variable neighborhoods and schooling options. It has a developed downtown, light-rail system, and a major university.
The Tri-Valley is made up of the Cities of Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon, and Danville. Many commuters working in Silicon Valley and San Francisco have migrated here for the lower housing costs and good schools. Livermore has a recently renovated, attractive downtown, a brand new outlet shopping center, and is known for its wineries. In Danville and San Ramon, families will find excellent schools and newer housing in the hills surrounding Highway 680. Dublin has a BART station, highly-rated schools, and a large supply of new housing stock giving commuters both temporary and permanent options. Both Pleasanton and Danville have high-ranking school districts and quaint downtown areas that appeal to families.
Mill Valley, located just north of San Francisco, is a community that has it all: abundant outdoor activities, beach and wine country access, the beauty of Mount Tamalpais, Redwood groves, some of the highest-rated public schools in the Bay Area, and a 15-mile commute to San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. You will see cyclists and mountain bikers alike tackling the many bike trails throughout town and on “Mt. Tam”, the birthplace of mountain biking. Such convenience and natural beauty comes at a price and Mill Valley has one of the more competitive and pricey housing markets in the Bay Area, with limited housing stock and few temporary housing options. If you are set on making Mill Valley your home, it is good to have a guide who has navigated the process successfully keeping budget, commute, and your families’ needs in mind.
Tiburon and Belvedere are small, prestigious communities east of Mill Valley on a peninsula overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Elegant hillside homes afford some of the most breathtaking views in the entire Bay Area. A beautiful biking and walking trail runs along Tiburon Boulevard leading to the ferry landing. Residents, commuters, and tourists alike make use of the SF ferry at the tip of the penninsula. Many enjoy the lunch or dinner on the waterfront followed by a stroll along the bay. Quite a few San Francisco executives have have found Tiburon/Belvedere to offer the right mixture of reputable schooling, a convenient commute, and luxurious housing options. When considering Tiburon/Belvedere, we'll discuss the challenges and negotiations involved in the high-end housing market and make comparisons between Tiburon and the surrounding communities to find the right match.
Larkspur is a picturesque town located just north of San Francisco in Marin County, blending upscale modernity with historic charm. Larkspur Landing and temporary housing are located east of Highway 101 while downtown’s Magnolia Avenue, officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, anchors the west end. The beautiful Larkspur Landing Ferry shuttles both commuters and visitors between Marin County and San Francisco. Visit on Sundays for Off-the-Grid at Marin Country Mart, a food truck extravaganza with live music set against the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Tamalpais and spectacular bay views. Known for striking sunsets, Larkspur is convenient for commuters to San Francisco by ferry or across the Golden Gate Bridge, and would be good to include as an option for any family or professional considering Marin County.
Corte Madera, just north of Mill Valley and 12 miles north of San Francisco, is home to a few of the best family-friendly spots in Marin County. Corte Madera is a relatively small town with great shopping, hiking, parks, scenic vistas, and some of the best weather in the Bay Area. A typical Saturday may include lunch and a stroll through Town Center, the pleasant open air shopping area, followed by a trip to the 20 acre Town Park, a kid’s paradise with soccer fields, tennis courts, a small lake, and a great playground. In Corte Madera, parking is easy, people are friendly, and the housing market is competitive so having a good guide with you throughout the process will help you find the right home.
Novato is a family-friendly town that has also has become an attractive option for relocating professionals in recent years with less expensive housing stock than cities further south in Marin County. Despite a longer commute to SF, Novato boasts solid public schools, a uniquely attractive downtown area, parks, bike trails, and open space for outdoor enthusiasts. If you were to consider Novato as an option we would look closely at the commute, the housing availability and compare Novato to nearby communities of Petaluma, San Rafael, and Mill Valley to see if it is the right fit for your needs.