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Hello, Ioreoea. Thanks so much for your post (from another thread). Good timing. I have not moved, yet. My husband and I will be moving either this fall or by Christmas 2012, if all goes well. He is thinking of taking business trips out there to check it out. I am still pretty serious about Mill Valley or Sebastopol. I have begun to check out schools as well. I am finishing up my Masters in Education, so now I am incredibly concerned about the quality of schools. I am in the middle of my thesis/research project, so I haven't had much time to do my searches, in regard to schools. I have a 5 year old who will be in first grade next fall. I have had to switch schools, here, where I live, because she is "bored" at her kindergarten and I can't keep her busy enough!
Someone above made a solid suggestion in saying rent and explore the greater area before you lock yourself in.
Also consider that it is way too hard to define a 'place' in just words and labels. Take Santa Rosa... there are some things to like about it, and possibly many things to dislike (IMO). And what I do not like, others may love. (I'm biased and opinionated on one thing there, I won't drive up that way on Friday/payday). If you think you might like the SR/Sebast area, a local RE agent could best point out the neighborhoods/schools, give you tours, and help characterize the town. BTW, the local newspaper is the press-democrat.
Sebastopol has its charm. It is not a short drive to San Francisco if you have to do it as part of a am/pm commute. Parking in SF is pricey. Hasting law school is near Civic Center. At best/shortest drive times: 10-12 minutes to GG bridge. +30 min. to Novato. +30 min. to Santa Rosa/Sebastopol.
Rant 'on': There is supposed to be a Smart train project soon. It will take you from north of Santa Rosa southward to its end-of-line on the north edge of San Rafael (Santa Venetia area). From there you can walk (not!) or bus or drive the next 5 miles to the ferry station in Larkspur. Ferry runs approx hourly to SF, IFRC. People and bikes, no cars like Seattle. Golden Gate Ferry Rant-off.
There is basically only one major highway from SF to Santa Rosa. Due to the beautiful hills of this area, the secondary roads are not very practical as alternate routes -- they will take too much time, and they are generally fragmented (ie, not many continuous stretches of road until you get north/west of Novato)
Someone mentioned Novato... generally right. I can't speak for the schools, but the town is not the kind of community that I would like to live in. There are some quite nice neighborhoods however, and many decent but expensive-ish homes in the hills. Also, Hamilton AFB closed years ago and new homes went up there. Bel Marin area (of homes) stinks. Literally.
San Rafael. Defies description. It has so many facets. There are surrounding small towns (corte madera and such), but like a lot of California small towns near other small towns -- 'downtown', if it exists, may lack character and not be a place people gather or walk. Take my last comments with a grain of salt... it is hard to put in words.
One place I can suggest may fit your aims is Lafayette. It is not north/west of SF. It is in the East Bay. Now I personally do not like much of the East Bay -- so much industrial, certain spots with higher crime rate, truck traffic out of the port, blah blah... and microclimates. But Lafayette is a little further out from Oakland, has a nice feel to it, is warm, can be rural, and has a BART station. I forget the exact timing but I want to say it's a 40 minute ride into SF, and stay on another 5 min. and you're at Civic Center. (I just checked... it's less than that). BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit
You've done Google maps and street view no doubt. A bit time-consuming but gives you some flavor for the locales. I will bet you find the search even more daunting in-person when you start looking with a real-estate person. That's when you really start to take-in the nuances and trade-offs. Do ask people about their local weather through the year.
Thanks, Contourer, for your detailed information. I appreciate the time you took to write. Very informative! I just spent a couple weeks in SF Bay area and I completely concur with what you have written. It was a very informative and entlightening visit, which I will write more about, when I have more time. I think what surprised me most was the fact that the Mill Valley and some San Rafael houses were built on such steep hills. For some reason, the maps on the real estate sites didn't ever capture that. It was amazing. We wound up and around those hills for hours, sometimes having to back up to allow other cars to pass. It was also interesting to see million dollar cabin-like houses in some of the areas. It is an interesting lifestyle, to say the least. I come from open plains and lots of space, so I found it interesting and quaint, but I also had to wonder if I would mind driving my kid to school every day, if I were living on the top of one of those hills! Yikes! I agree that it would be wise to rent for awhile.
The problem with Lafayette, Concord, Orinda, Moraga and the homes out there is the traffic and the Caldicott tube flow restrictor. The problem is that homes in the EastBay. (My wife and I were born in Oakland, Murder Capitol of California)
and sooner or later you are going to have to travel thru Oakland or Richmond. If your car breaks down or you have a flat tire in those areas, your life could be in jeopardy. At night you are in double jeopardy. Why take the risk. We moved our family OUT of the East Bay and to Sonoma County near Sebastopol. It is nice to be able to sleep the night thru and not be awakened by gunshots.
Crime is moving out to the Suburbs now, because inner city people know that is where Big $ is. The people that I know in Sonoma County, wouldn't even visit the east bay. It was like a combat zone to them and should be avoided at all costs.
Check out the crime rates and the crime trends in the areas you are considering.
It has been a long time since I've been on my thread. It's time to add some info. Somebody asked me if I've moved yet. I won't go into as much detail as I would like, today, as I have a research project that I am working on, but I will respond as much as I can, right now.
I haven't moved. My family and I are working on this, still, for several reasons. 1) Our business is growing and we need more time to work on our business versus work on a huge move to the Bay area. 2) my mother is dying and we live together to take care of her and moving her would be very difficult at this time for many reasons. It would be very expensive to have a special, large room for her on a single floor. (Wheelchair issues.) My father is also with us and he would need an office. And, my mother has many visitors. That means an extra room for them as well. Squeezing everybody into a tiny house isn't a good option for us, right now! 3) I am still working on my Masters in Education! It would be easier to stay and finish it here! 4) I am having my daughter tested for giftedness, which is going to take some time. This may determine what kind of school she needs and where we go. I have to work on this before we make a move. 5) We want to send my husband out to the Bay Area to test the area, prior to make a huge financial decision.
You probably didn't want all of that personal information, but it helps to understand where we will move and why, I feel. So, with that in mind, I think we are honestly leaning towards Mill Valley. If it were just me (and not my husband and daughter), I'd probably lean towards Sebastopol. I like the serenity and the space (larger homes and property). I could have room for a garden and animals. I don't need a lot of ammenities. I like to keep to myself. I think I would mesh with the people there. I like the idea of living with down-to-earth artsy, liberal types. I honestly haven't explored much of Sebastopol, though, so I don't quite understand where the different neighborhoods are. I don't want to offend anybody, as I don't know Sebastapol enough, perhaps to even mention this, but after all of the hype about Sebastopol, I almost expected a perfect looking town...sort of the way you see it in the movies, like a sea-side type town (although not next to the sea) with cute, perfect little shops down the main street. I honestly just drove around a couple of times, only, on 2 separate visits. I believe that I drove down the main street, but I don't really know. I think so! It isn't really perfect and super cute. I thought it would be a bit more ...(how can I explain?)...a bit more prepared for visitors. A bit more upscale? But, then again, I guess that is why it is a nice town...not over commercialized. I imagine that the community and the people are as nice as everybody says they are. I loved the area, though. I can feel the peace. In fact, I really liked the Occidental area, which is even more secluded and amongst the trees. The only other interesting issue is that....(and again, should I even mention this, for fear of getting hate mail!?)....just for kicks, I checked out severy upscale houses that were listed in Sebastopol. More than once, I saw a 1.5 million dollar house with up to 5 beautiful acres, but it was always next to the house that had the junk yard in the front yard! I really don't mean to be snooty, but I had to laugh. One spends that kind of money and then you've got to deal with the seemingly lack of continuity in the neighborhood. It could be a potential problem, I think, in many ways, depending on one's expectations. I think it is as people mentioned...Sebastopol has quite a mix of people, which makes it down-to-earth and endearing. There are farmers, artists, the wealthy and everything in-between. If you don't like living next to the chickens, in your multi-million dollar house, then don't live there, right?! Now, to be fair, I haven't asked a real estate agent about this. I haven't asked about all of the different neighborhoods in the area. A real estate agent could clarify, I'm certain. Honestly, I would probably, personally, buy an older, smaller house with some nice property. I would fix up the house and be a happy camper. Not certain if my husband could take that, though. To be honest, he's a little more upscale and likes things "just-so", so I am not certain that he could take an older fixer-upper. On another note...there is also a law school nearby, where I could attend, but it isn't approved, so I would have to seriously consider that issue, but I would consider it, just to live in Sebastopol. The area would probably suit me and I think I'd be happy. But, my daughter and my husband are with me, so that is a different story. Honestly, I would be worried that both my husband and daughter may not be stimulated enough in Sebastopol. It is a smaller, peaceful area. I think that they both may benefit from the diversity that San Francisco has to offer. My 6.5 year old daughter actually asked, yesterday, to go to San Francisco for her birthday. I asked if she would prefer to go to Disneyland. She had to think about it for a few minutes, but finally responded, "No, if I had to choose, I think I'd prefer San Francisco". I asked why and she said that she "liked all of the things to see". And, I agree. She does. She loved Chinatown. She loved the ocean, tea tasting, the trolley, the aquarium, Coit tower, the crooked streets, the awesome food, etc. She couldn't get enough and she was honestly thrilled. My husband is the same way, I feel. So...that brings me to Mill Valley.
It's a completely different town than Sebastopol. In my opinion, it feels and looks wealthier, no doubt. With money, comes advantages and disadvantages, of course. No doubt...it is a heck of a lot more expensive to live in MV versus Sebastopol. In Sebastopol, you can live in a shack and nobody cares or asks (I feel). There aren't any shacks in MV. Well, there are, but they are million dollar shacks! If you want to live in MV, you will pay the price. I was surprised to see that there were some nice sized houses (3,000 square feet) with some decent sized property (even up to .5 acres, sometimes), but these are in the 2 million dollar range and up. There were nice, smaller houses with a yard, in the million dollar range. And, then, there's teeny, tiny places under a million. You will sacrifice the space when you live in MV versus Sebastopol. I think the thing that struck me most was that it is very hilly. The streets are narrow, in some areas. Often, we had to move over and stop to let other cars pass. It dawned on me that it could take me up to 15 minutes just to get through the hilly streets from downtown MV! So, one would have to choose one's house wisely, depending on how much time you want to take to get out of your neighborhood. On the other hand, I LOVED the windy, hilly streets. They were very quaint. I loved the houses on the hills, in the redwoods. I didn't mind the darkness that the redwoods may bring. I didn't mind the dampness either (it rained when I was visiting). I loved the houses, built like birdhouses in the redwoods. I did have to wonder what might happen in an earthquake, though! Anyway, the houses are small and compact, built next to each other on the hills. It is very different than Sebastopol, where it is very flat and plain-like. Now, one has to realize that I was just a visitor, so I am certain that a real estate agent could tell you a lot more. This is just an outsider's perception, although I am finding that it is hard to get a good description from people who live there because they live in it. They don't see the interesting things that outsiders notice. Sometimes a quick judgment isn't so bad. Which brings me to the following observations about Mill Valley. We noticed that the downtown is very quaint and neat. The people looked mostly white. It was interesting....I was mistaken for "the nanny" a couple of times, as I have a darker complexion and my husband is older and white. But, the people didn't ask me. They just wondered. We politely clarified, with conversation, although it really didn't matter to us, personally. People weren't rude. They were just friendly and curious. Most people were seemingly happy and friendly, but I wouldn't call them super snooty. We had coffee and lunch at 2 different places. It was a pleasant afternoon. My general feel of the city is that it is wealthy and pleasant. Mostly white and professional. One must feel comfortable with this to live here. I felt that I would have to dress up a bit more, but people aren't over-dressed here. In Sebastopol, I felt that I could go out in my overalls and I would be fine. In Mill Valley, I wouldn't feel 100% comfortable doing so, but I don't feel that I would be judged tremendously. And, of course, the people are liberal, which I am very comfortable with. MV is definately a different feel than Sebastopol. More upscale is the best way to describe it. I feel comfortable in either MV or Sebastopol. My husband admitted that he felt more comfortable in Mill Valley, but could live in Sebastopol. I agree.
Now, my daughter. She's 6.5 years and heading into 1st grade. In the last couple of years, we have discovered that she is fairly bright and fairly athletic. Without much prodding, she has excelled in gymnastics and ballet. She also has done very well in piano and cello. I will have her tested in the next year for giftedness. I can't keep up with her. Since I have to deal with this, I have become concerned about her education. We checked out the one gifted school in San Rafael. If she needs this school, we may have to consider living in that area. I have to find excellent schools for her. I have considered living in Mill Valley, simply for the excellent schools and frankly, the wealth of the area will bring more advantages to the schools, etc. If we have the money, then I have considered placing her in Mill Valley's public school in combination with private tutoring. This may be a good option for her. I will also have to supplement her education with outside activities, which will come from me. If we live close to San Francisco, I can take her to many activities that will stimulate her. I also am very concerned that we have access to gymnastics and ballet. Also, I would like her to learn about herself via different routes, which may include Tai Chi, meditation, or via other similar means. When I searched, it seemed that Mill Valley, San Rafael and San Francisco had what we needed. Sebastopol had some of these things, but our choices were limited, even with Santa Rosa nearby. I didn't want to limit our options. So, with all of this in mind, I think that Mill Valley is our city, if we can afford it. We will have to sacrifice space for the advantages I described. My daughter's education, stimulation, activities, etc are pushing us in this direction. My husband's living and social preferences is also pushing me in this direction. I am flexible. But, a pro for me is that the ABA approved law schools are in San Francisco and I would be fairly close, if I lived in Mill Valley. Driving from Sebastopol to San Francisco, 3-4x per week just isn't an option. It is too far.
Oh...and here's a strange thing, but it is a factor in my decisions. I love the green. I love rain and coolness. I really hate dry weather. I am thinking that I should stay in the Mill Valley or even Sebastopol area for this reason. I think it is hot and drier, if I go in the Walnut Creek (east) areas.
By the way, I did check out down-town San Rafael, which I also liked. I honestly haven't checked out living in San Rafael, but it is an option. Any info that people can give me about that area, is appreciated. Thanks to somebody's suggestion (on this thread), I also checked out Fairfax, which I also really liked. But, it is further west of San Rafael and if we need to take my daughter to her activities, etc, it could take a bit of time to get out of Fairfax and onto the main highway to San Francisco or the surrounding area.
So, my husband will likely test the MV / San Rafael area out, this year. He'll visit and work there, off and on, without us. When we move, we'll likely rent, as the houses are pricey and we wouldn't want to commit to an area without testing it first. We would like to know more about the different neighborhoods of Mill Valley and possibly San Rafael. I have tons more to write, and I will follow up later. If anybody has any other interesting questions or tidbits to write about the areas, feel free to add to this thread. Thanks!
Thanks. Yes, I've heard mixed things about San Rafael. I think one definately has to be careful where in San Rafael one lives, I've heard. I think most of Mill Valley is pretty safe, but I haven't really checked into this, much, yet.
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