Updated: Mar 14
The Bay Area's settlement patterns are shifting dramatically in 2020. San Francisco's surrounding cities and suburbs are becoming more desirable as one-time city folk look to the suburbs for more outdoor space and an extra room to work from home. These East Bay cities are gems in their own right, but there's no time like the present to consider trading city life for a bit more space and comfort.
From the lively and vibrant downtowns of Berkeley and Oakland to the tree-lined suburbs set along the rolling hills and gorgeous open spaces, the East Bay has a wide variety of neighborhoods to offer anyone considering a move to the Bay Area. My own memories of growing up in the East Bay include exploring the oak-shaded trails, swimming in backyard pools, and biking downtown with friends in our friendly little town just 20 miles east of San Francisco. And while most people who relocate to the Bay will likely tour San Francisco first, they may end up falling in love with East Bay’s more laid back vibe, exceptional international cuisine, outdoor space at home, and warmer weather - all within easy reach of SF but without the higher housing cost. This region appeals to anyone looking for a (more) affordable place to settle down and raise a family within a decent commute distance to The City. Read on to learn more about some of East Bay’s most desirable places to live and see which community might fit your budget, commute, and lifestyle.
What is the East Bay?
In addition to the Peninsula, South Bay, Marin (and the greater North Bay), the East Bay is one of the subregions that surround San Francisco and make up the Bay Area.
As its name suggests, the East Bay includes cities that border the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay from the water’s edge to the nearly 40 miles inland. With over 2.5 million people, the East Bay is the most populous subregion in the Bay Area. It is anchored by Oakland - a city beaming with local pride - and reaches as far north as Concord and as south as Fremont.
Why move to the East Bay? More living space, weather, maybe a backyard pool, and proximity to San Francisco.
When thinking about raising a family and when outdoor space, a larger home, and predictably high-quality public schools begin to take precedence over nightlife, San Francisco residents often start to look to the east. The “Urban-Suburban” centers of Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley offer proximity to the City, high walk scores as well as diverse dining and entertainment options. The suburbs “through the tunnel” further East offer more space for the dollar, renowned schools, backyard pools, and warmer weather. The East Bay has a thriving international food scene that rivals the big city as San Francisco chefs have migrated east to set up their own restaurants in these more affordable East Bay cities. Art, music, seasonal festivals, and cultural celebrations weave into the fabric of the daily life of east bay residents who enjoy life within a 30-minute commute of San Francisco.
One big appeal of East Bay life is that most communities are within reach of BART’s rail system. Living near one of the East Bay’s 34 stations means you can generally reach SF’s Financial District within 30 minutes to an hour during commute hours. BART serves most cities here with 120 miles of track, 48 stations, and 5 major lines that take riders throughout the East Bay and into San Francisco daily (and just recently opened their first San Jose station). Train service begins at 6:00 am and the last train operates until shortly after midnight and offers riders a frequency of trains that other Bay Area agencies such as CalTrain don’t offer so it’s easy to understand why the chance to live in close proximity to a BART station makes east bay housing more and more desirable each year. If you miss your BART train, you’ll wait 15 minutes. In comparison, if you miss your CalTrain, you have to wait nearly an hour.
Aside from the everyday commute, the East Bay is considered to be very centrally located to most weekend outings in and around the Bay; whether it’s the coastal towns of Marin County, the wineries in Napa Valley, the beach vibes of Santa Cruz, or the beauty of Lake Tahoe, the East Bay is usually only an hour to two away from these popular weekend getaways.
If you love the outdoors and moderate predictable weather, the East Bay is for you! Biking and hiking trails, water recreation, jogging, mountains, grasslands…it’s all here. East Bay Regional Park District operates and maintains a network of regional parks with over 120,000 acres, 65 parks, and over 1,200 miles of trails. The Bay Trail is a picturesque “500-mile walking and cycling path around the entire San Francisco Bay”, easily accessible to East Bay residents. A favorite local hike even takes you through a large grove of redwoods right in Oakland’s backyard.
The Bay Area is famous for widely varying climates from city to city and the East Bay has at least three distinct microclimates so the weather is as Bay Area as you can get! Alameda County surrounds the San Francisco Bay so the temperature is relatively mild and consistent, with low to mid-’60s almost year-round. The climate shifts as you pass through the Caldecott Tunnel, east of the Oakland Hills and into the suburban communities of “LaMorinda” (Lafayette Orinda and Moraga combined) and Walnut Creek. In these eastern suburbs, it is generally 15-20 degrees warmer in the summer and 10-15 degrees colder in the winter.
Within a 20-minute drive of the quieter East Bay suburbs with tree-lined streets and backyard decks, you can be in the heart of Oakland, a city smaller than SF that still has an active nightlife and cosmopolitan feel. The new suburbia that towns across the country are trying to emulate has been a part of the East Bay’s vibe for decades. Unlike the Peninsula and Marin, the East Bay has always distinguished itself through extremely diverse options on the food scene, huge cultural events like First Fridays in downtown Oakland, annual art, music, wine, and food festivals, museums, and architecturally amazing music venues that attract the nation’s best touring musicians.
Now that you’ve got the gist of the general East Bay area, here’s a look at a few of the cities, including average monthly rents.
Oakland is one of the most desirable cities in the entire Bay Area, and professionals with careers based in San Francisco are flocking here for more than just cheaper rent. “The Town” is full of local art, culturally diverse cuisine, and has the perfect mix of that urban city-life and calm suburbia. As Oakland Museums curator Drew John said, "it is a classic story of the second city”, (or Oakland is the classic second city) which has been overshadowed for years by San Francisco's fame and glamour. This second city has welcomed growth with open arms over the past fifteen years and now offers an appealing mix of brand new housing options and charming single family homes in walkable neighborhoods with access to BART and rents at double-digit discounts to San Francisco prices. The burgeoning restaurant scene, numerous BART stations, annual cultural festivals, music venues, and local pride just add to Oakland’s growing appeal. Below are some recommended neighborhoods if Oakland is on your list of East Bay cities of interest. Each neighborhood has its own local restaurant scene, demographics and vibe, much like San Francisco neighborhoods but with a lower price point.
Oakland > Lake Merritt/Adams Point
Adams Point is situated just East of Uptown Oakland and North of Lake Merritt. This neighborhood offers all of the conveniences and walkability of living in Downtown but is more family-friendly with great access to locally-owned cafes, restaurants, Oakland's parks playgrounds, and BART. The area is convenient and just trendy enough to make working parents still feel like they have a bit of an edge. Despite its reputation as a hipster neighborhood, there are lots of young families here meeting up with their kids at parks and community events and parks in the area. Three playgrounds, including the newly renovated Snow Park, are within a 20 minute walk; and Lake Merritt, the “crown jewel” of Oakland, provides Adams Point residents with three-plus miles of continuous waterfront access.
Other amenities in the area include the Lakeview Library, the Junior Center for Art and Science with drop-in hours throughout the week, the newly renovated Rotary Nature Center, the beautiful, serene and free botanical garden and Lake Merritt’s landmark, Fairyland. The nearby YMCA offers swim lessons and childcare while parents work out and just a 7-minute drive away is the amazing Oakland Museum of California, enjoyed by locals for the food trucks and half-off admission on Friday nights. Rents are generally lower than Downtown Oakland but are a little higher than residential neighborhoods further east due to its walkability and proximity to Downtown. This area appeals to most urban dwelling walks of life and offers a mix of tall Art Deco apartments, Craftsman and Edwardian houses, and Mission-style buildings. The school situation in Oakland requires care and attention no matter what the neighborhood. Part of Adams Point is assigned to Lincoln Elementary in Chinatown, which is highly-rated with great parental reviews. The other part of Adams Point is assigned to Piedmont Elementary and, while not as highly-rated, it tends to get good reports from parents. The assigned high school is Oakland Tech and, with a wide range of programs, is considered to be the best high school in Oakland.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2300 - $2700 Average rent for 2 BR: $2900 - $3300
Average rent for 3 BR: $3700 - $4100
Oakland > Temescal
Situated just north of downtown Oakland near MacArthur BART Station, Temescal is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the City. You’ll find great restaurants located down Temescals main drag, Telegraph Ave. but don’t forget to stop off in Temescal Alley where you can find an eclectic mix of shops - local clothing boutiques, plant shops, and a classic walk-in-only barbershop.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2200 - $2600 Average rent for 2 BR: $2700 - $3100 Average rent for 3 BR: $3800 - $4200
Oakland > Uptown/Downtown
Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood has changed dramatically over the past decade. Oakland has taken a pro-development stance and multiple new high-rise builds now mix in with renovated warehouse lofts, indie boutiques, beer gardens, and treasured Art Deco event venues (Fox and Broadway Theaters) conveniently located within a ten-minute walk of the 19th Street BART station. These newer pet-friendly, amenity-laden residences and nearby condos appeal to young professionals, couples, athletes, and student-artists interested in Downtown living, with lower-than-SF-rental prices. The Uptown is a mural-enhanced arts, entertainment, and foodie hub that’s only a 15-minute BART ride to SF’s FiDi and a 15-minute walk to Lake Merritt, Oakland’s recreational jewel. Both the Uptown and Downtown neighborhoods in Oakland are among the few Bay Area neighborhoods where residents may easily live without a car. The 12th Street BART Station and the 12-block “City Center” are at the heart of Downtown Oakland.
Downtown Oakland is where business and culture intersect and you will find the conference center, hotels, government offices as well as condo buildings, and some up-and-coming newer builds. Although less popular than Uptown for developers, the Downtown has seen an influx of new office buildings that have changed the skyline alongside locally-owned restaurants and homegrown retail success stories (Oaklandish) in the past five years that bring new life and pride to this part of town. This part of Oakland is rooted in activism and local pride. Politics, culture, and business intersect here and that makes for a unique vibe found nowhere else in the country.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2300 - $2700 Average rent for 2 BR: $3300 - $3700 Average rent for 3 BR: $3800 - $4200
Oakland > Rockridge
Bordering Berkeley, Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood is conveniently centered around Rockridge BART Station and College Avenue, the district’s popular commercial thoroughfare. Rockridge blends the lively charm and foodie vibe of Berkeley with the funkiness and diversity of Oakland. Once a sleepy collection of cottage style homes and bungalows with residents who preferred the quiet life, Rockridge has evolved into one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Oakland for a variety of reasons. It’s a prime example of an urban-suburban mix that offers fine dining options, a walkable environment of cafes, groceries, and local bookstores. College Avenue is peppered with homey cafes for locals and university students alike, specialty shoe stores, vintage clothing jewelry, and home decor boutiques. It also boasts several options for grocery shopping easily accessible to residents. You'll see established, tree-lined streets with Californian craftsman-style bungalows and pre-war homes with vintage details and backyard gardens. These homes are a mix of owner-occupied dwellings that have been restored to original specs and single-family rental homes or larger homes that have been divided into duplexes and triplexes. The neighborhood is also popular with families for its highly-regarded school options and easy access to the Claremont Country Club, Lake Temescal, and hiking in Oakland’s amazing regional parks.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2200 - $2600 Average rent for 2 BR: $3300 - $3700 Average rent for 3 BR: $4700 - $5100
Alameda is an island situated just off the shore south of Oakland that is accessible by bridge, tunnel, and ferry, with the same family-friendly feel as parts of Oakland, but not as expensive. This island-city attracts many young families for its small-town vibe, affordable housing, small beach areas (yes, beaches!), dog-friendly parks along the shore, good quality schools, and a safe and charming downtown. Many professionals choose to live here and commute to SF via ferry, express bus, BART (via a bus transfer), or car. Any way you travel, you can usually get to the City within 25 minutes. Alameda is also popular for its sweeping views of the SF skyline from the shoreline areas. There are two charming commercial districts on either side of the island with locally-owned restaurants, a weekend farmer’s market, and celebrated local breweries and distilleries from repurposed military warehouses. If Alameda sounds interesting to you, look closely at transit to work, housing availability, schools, and the unique opportunities as well as challenges of living on an island.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2100 - $2500 Average rent for 2 BR: $2600 - $3000 Average rent for 3 BR: $3600 - $4000
Berkeley is one of the most eclectic cities in all of the Bay Area. This medium-sized city is home to a large and diverse population of students, university staff and professors, families, and young professionals. Berkeley has a deep love of the arts and an intellectual, political, foodie, and an environmentalism character supported by multiple farmers' markets, a great network of libraries, and resources available to the community. Berkeley’s rich architectural tradition includes U.C. Berkeley and renowned architect Julia Morgan’s hand in many of the unique historic buildings important to civic life in Berkeley. In Berkeley, you'll find a dense collection of apartments, townhomes, small-lot family homes, and college housing in “the flats” and larger, single-family homes in “the hills”, and although Berkeley is one of the most economically- and racially-diverse cities in the Bay Area, the hills have a very different atmosphere from the flats. Still, Berkeley’s housing options reflect the diversity of its residents and Berkeley has strict rent control. Despite this, Berkeley is somewhat of a "slow-growth" city that limits development, so housing is scarce. Access to public transit in Berkeley is easy, including three BART Stations within city limits, a robust bus system served by AC Transit, and shuttles. And with a relatively flat topography the city central, Berkeley has an extremely bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly street network.
And lest we forget, Berkeley is famous for its eclectic mix of organic, farm-to-table restaurants. North Berkeley's Chez Panisse, founded by nationally-recognized activist and chef Alice Waters, has been influencing the Bay's slow cooking and dining scene for decades. Waters created the Edible Schoolyard Project throughout Berkeley educating students on organic gardening and food - just another perk of living in this city. Beyond California cuisine, Berkeley has an incredibly diverse restaurant scene with pan-Asian cuisines on the southside, and locally-owned eateries Downtown. Families looking to move here should know that Berkeley has a public school lottery system, focused on creating an equitable distribution of resources. So finding a home based on schools is not as straight-forward as other towns. And, as with other densely-populated cities, there are pockets of petty and property crime. 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.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2200 - $2700 Average rent for 2 BR: $3100 - $3500 Average rent for 3 BR: $4400 - $4800
Pro tip: If you’re looking on this side of the East Bay, check out Albany! Just north of Berkeley, Albany is a quaint city with a population of fewer than 20,000 residents and is home to some of the Bay Area’s finest mom-n-pop restaurants and shops.
Lafayette and Orinda are popular towns located through the Caldecott Tunnel, just east of Oakland. This area is renowned for its excellent schools, rolling hills, and quiet, peaceful residential neighborhoods. These towns have their own unique set of characteristics, school districts, and housing options but offer similar lifestyles and qualities of life. Orinda's town center has two sides bisected by Highway 24 and the Orinda BART Station. On one side, you’ll find a small commercial district, a community large park, golf course, access to the San Pablo reservoir, and a recreation center. On the other side, you’ll find a cinema, local shops, restaurants, and cafes that anchor Orinda’s community. Lafayette is also served by a BART Station, but unlike Orinda, Lafayette has had better success over the years developing housing around BART. This makes Lafayette popular for families and young professionals (those who wish to work in SF but like the slower pace of life) alike. Lafayette has a sizable, picturesque downtown with plenty of shopping, dining, and grocery stores centered along Mt. Diablo Blvd. Residents also enjoy access to the new Lafayette Library and the beloved Lafayette Reservoir, which features a children's park and pet-friendly walking trails. The weather in both towns is typically 10 to 20 degrees warmer than San Francisco in the summer and it is common for residents to belong to a neighborhood pool with a swim team for kids. Parents are very active in schools here and value the arts through year-round fundraising efforts, which support consistent high-quality music and arts education from elementary through to high school. The BART commute from Lafayette and Orinda is a quick 30-minute ride to San Francisco’s Financial District, and housing near BART is among the most highly desired.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2000 - $2400 Average rent for 2 BR: $2900 - $3300 Average rent for 3 BR: $4300 - $4700
Nestled in the rolling foothills of beautiful Mt. Diablo, Walnut Creek is a bustling regional hub in the greater East Bay, making it a great option for those who work in San Francisco but want the quiet comfort and space of a suburban center. This idyllic yet large city is centrally located and offers extensive highway and two BART connections to Oakland and San Francisco to the west and the Dublin/San Ramon employment center to the south. Walnut Creek is known around the region for its active downtown, shopping, and dining, but the city is beloved by its residents for its quaint neighborhoods, access to parks and open space, and high-quality schools. Walnut Creek is just east of Lafayette and people throughout the Bay Area choose to shop Broadway Plaza, the luxurious large and well-planned outdoor shopping, dining, and cultural center of the city rather than taking the long trip to Downtown San Francisco. In the older part of downtown beloved by its residents, you’ll find an extensive farmers market on the weekends and impromptu bands playing music outside coffee shops. The 35-minute train ride to San Francisco, combined with more affordable housing than communities further west, add to the city's appeal. Walnut Creek is pro-growth and the housing market here is more diverse than neighboring Lafayette or Orinda. It has something for everyone: single-family homes with backyard pools, newer townhomes, condos, apartment communities, and corporate housing options. For the younger generation of students and young professionals, modern apartment options and an ever-evolving selection of bars and restaurants downtown add to the appeal.
Residents enjoy easy access to a brand new library, the Iron Horse Regional Trail (a 27-mile trail connecting 12 cities!), performing arts and movie theaters, preschools, and Heather Farm Park - an amazing 100-acre recreation area comprising a swimming complex, dog park, sports fields, and a skate park. With easy access to highways, commuter buses, and two accessible BART stations, Walnut Creek provides a good mix of activities, commuting options, and reputable schools making this big little city a great option for new arrivals to the Bay Area who like a suburban feel but access to amenities found in larger urban areas. 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.
Average rent for 1 BR: $2000 - $2400 Average rent for 2 BR: $2900 - $3300 Average rent for 3 BR: $4300 - $4700
Pro tip: Pleasant Hill is a great option if you like the perks of Walnut Creek, but want a little more of a quieter vibe, cheaper rents, and the same great access to trails and hikes.
Piedmont is an incredibly desirable city with mature tree-lined streets, large luxury homes, and the local distinction for being surrounded in all directions by Oakland. With Oakland's historic Grand Lake District to the southwest, the Montclair District to the northeast, and the Crocker Highlands and Glenview Districts to the south, Piedmont is an almost entirely residential city with a very small commercial area and precious few multi-family dwellings. Once dubbed “the City of Millionaires,” Piedmont’s early 20th century mansions still stand among larger, architecturally unique, and pricier homes that draw executives looking for luxury, prestige, and high-quality education for their children. These top-rated public schools have a private school feel and are located on spacious and idyllic grounds. Parents willing to pay a bit more to live in Piedmont enjoy a quick commute to work into Downtown Oakland and San Francisco, and rest assured that their kids attend some of the highest-rated public schools in the Bay Area. Limited housing availability, the distinguished k-12 schools, and proximity to SF influence real estate prices so expect to pay top dollar to buy or rent a home in Piedmont.
Average rent for 3 BR: $4,700-5200 Average rent for 4 BR: $5500-7000 Average rent for 5 BR: $8000-11,000+ Average rent for 6 BR: $10,000+
Fremont is the fourth most populous city in the Bay and provides the easiest access by car to Silicon Valley. It also boasts a BART line and two stations (with a third on the way) into San Francisco. Fremont is so south in the East Bay that some consider it a part of Silicon Valley, and is a multicultural community rich in history and taking pride in its diversity and contributions to the Bay Area scene. Tesla and Kaiser have campuses here employing thousands of Bay Area residents. This also drives up real estate prices through the creation of high-paying local jobs. Still, savvy professionals in a two-person household or roommate situation know that they can live in Fremont where one commutes to SF and one works in Silicon Valley, and pay significantly less rent than living on the Peninsula. Fremont is separated into distinct neighborhoods that offer quite different lifestyles, price points, and housing options: from the Mission Valley, Warm Springs, and Weibel Mission Hills neighborhoods to the flatter parts of the city located near the Dumbarton bridge, so it is good to have a guide when looking for homes here. Home to more than 230,000, Fremont offers a wide array of housing options from corporate apartments to custom luxury homes and has access to outdoor space for hiking, biking, and recreation areas for enjoying the warm weather. On top of its diversity, Fremont’s multiple daycares and preschool options are a draw for families looking for top-rated elementary and high schools (Mission Jose High School ranks #52 in California.)
Fremont’s population is almost 60% Asian and the city also has one of the largest Afghan-American populations in the U.S. These thriving communities have fostered some great restaurant choices for busy families who want delicious and affordable everyday food representative of the city’s diverse population. The tried-and-true restaurants in Fremont offer kebabs, dim sum, chana bhatura, dumplings, curry pizza, green onion pancakes, falafel, and lots more.
Average rent for 1 BR: $1900 - $2300 Average rent for 2 BR: $2400 - $2800 Average rent for 3 BR: $3200 - $3600
Bottom line: Researching the area before you move is extremely important, but all the research in the world can’t replace the experience of actually visiting the area and personally viewing homes. Move Bay Area’s expert local guide will escort you through these varied East Bay cities and create a property tour so that you can get a complete picture of your potential lifestyle in each city. Diligent research, a local resource, and an orientation tour will give you all the information you need positioning you to make the comparisons that narrow the options efficiently find the right East Bay home to fit your ideal lifestyle. It may even be a bit fun! Contact Move Bay Area for more information.