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Old 01-23-2012, 01:56 AM
 
9 posts, read 15,692 times
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We're packing up our 14-year-old daughter and two mid-sized dogs this summer and heading for the Greater Boston area. Primarily (and maybe predictably), we're fleeing the SF Bay Area's abysmal public school system(s) and seeking shelter in the superior high schools that the following towns have to offer:

Newton
Lexington
Needham
Natick
Belmont
Winchester
Hingham
Bedford

My wife lived in Cambridge during college, and we have friends nearby in Jamaica Plain, so we're fairly certain about what we're getting ourselves into, in terms of real estate, weather, cultural differences, etc.

We're really hoping to narrow down the list above based on the following: a reasonably short commute (30-45 min. max to South Station whether by train, T or car - or a combination of those), at least one lively, bustling downtown or main street area with a decent array of shops and restaurants that we can walk or bike to when we're not up to a trip into Boston, and last but not least, nearby bodies of water - ocean, ponds, lakes, creeks, whatever. Right now it feels like some of the places on our list are commuter towns with a strip mall and little else, which we want to really stay away from. We know Hingham seems a little sleepy but wonder if it's significantly more so than Lexington or Belmont, that sort of thing.

We love Jamaica Plain, Piedmont Ave & Rockridge in Oakland, and places like the Mission, Noe Valley, Glen Park and Potrero Hill in SF. It seems like Newton and Natick are our best bets, but we'd hate to rule any others out unfairly! Which is where some of you helpful folks will come in, we hope.

We're planning a visit in late March / early April to explore these areas in person, but we're hoping to drill that list down to a Top 3 (okay, maybe a Top 5).
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Old 01-23-2012, 10:14 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bonsey View Post
Newton
Lexington
Needham
Natick
Belmont
Winchester
Hingham
Bedford

We love Jamaica Plain, Piedmont Ave & Rockridge in Oakland, and places like the Mission, Noe Valley, Glen Park and Potrero Hill in SF. It seems like Newton and Natick are our best bets, but we'd hate to rule any others out unfairly! Which is where some of you helpful folks will come in, we hope.

We're planning a visit in late March / early April to explore these areas in person, but we're hoping to drill that list down to a Top 3 (okay, maybe a Top 5).
Since you want to get into South Station, you should target commuter rail points west and south of the city or communities along the red line subway. Like many major cities, rail competitors built their own hubs in Boston, but we are one of the very few that never connected them directly. If you're serious about having a 30-45 minute commute, this rules out most communities that funnel into North Station. Winchester and Belmont *might* come in around 45 minutes door to door with South Station. Natick goes to South Station but the train ride alone is 45 minutes. It also has a Walnut Creek type of vibe. On the same line, neighborhoods around the three Newton stops are good options, but they'll give the better Bay Area neighborhoods a run for the money in terms of cost. Needham is a nice place and it might work since it goes straight into South Station. It's also more affordable than Newton. However, it might tip you into the "too suburban" category.

Now if you're driving (especially outside of the 7-9am and 4-6pm hours), this opens up some places. Bedford will likely still be too far by car, depending on the time of day. Lexington gets you in a bit closer and you have the option of driving to the Red Line terminus at Alefwife. However, Lexington, like Winchester, has a similar vibe to Tiburon or even Palo Alto. I'm not sure if that's your thing. I know JP gets compared to Noe a lot, but I think parts of Arlington, especially around the Brackett Elementary School, are a closer match. The possible issue for you is that while Brackett is a top rated school, Arlington High doesn't quite match up. East Arlington is still worth a look since it's close to Alewife and Arlington High is better than what you typically find in the Bay Area.
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Old 01-23-2012, 12:19 PM
 
9 posts, read 15,692 times
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That's all really helpful! Since we appear to speak the same Bay Area language...

My wife is used to brutal driving commutes to Palo Alto from either SF or Oakland, so anything is an improvement on that, and she's looking for a commute in Boston that would be comparable to taking BART into SF from any Oakland station. Looks like it'll be trickier than we thought since we're anchored to the top public high schools (though we'll keep Arlington HS on standby).

Now, the Walnut Creek vibe wouldn't be so bad if Natick's got a similar, walkable downtown area. I wonder, though...if we survived our kid's elementary school years (as a minority lesbian couple) unscathed in Piedmont and Rockridge, we could probably hold our own in Lexington/Winchester, if we had to. What were the three stops in Newton?

This is so much more to think about and consider, and the tip about the hubs and funneling into North Station is a huge one. Thanks so, so much!

Side note: "Too suburban" for us brings to mind places like Daly City, Fremont, Hayward, San Leandro, and even San Jose.

Last edited by bonsey; 01-23-2012 at 12:31 PM..
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Old 01-23-2012, 01:11 PM
 
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FYI, commuter rail in Boston is like Caltrain. Fast but infrequent service. Light rail is more like BART (Green, Red, Blue, Orange lines). Have you considered Brookline? 30 minutes from South Station on the Green Line. Very active main street.
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Old 01-23-2012, 02:30 PM
 
1,039 posts, read 3,332,584 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bonsey View Post
My wife is used to brutal driving commutes to Palo Alto from either SF or Oakland, so anything is an improvement on that, and she's looking for a commute in Boston that would be comparable to taking BART into SF from any Oakland station. Looks like it'll be trickier than we thought since we're anchored to the top public high schools (though we'll keep Arlington HS on standby).

Now, the Walnut Creek vibe wouldn't be so bad if Natick's got a similar, walkable downtown area. I wonder, though...if we survived our kid's elementary school years (as a minority lesbian couple) unscathed in Piedmont and Rockridge, we could probably hold our own in Lexington/Winchester, if we had to. What were the three stops in Newton?

This is so much more to think about and consider, and the tip about the hubs and funneling into North Station is a huge one. Thanks so, so much!

Side note: "Too suburban" for us brings to mind places like Daly City, Fremont, Hayward, San Leandro, and even San Jose.
Actually, the Green Line is more like Muni. The Orange, Blue, and Red Lines are more like BART, but I would argue that only the Red Line is as extensive and convenient to popular destinations as BART. With the possible exception of the airport, the Orange and Blue Lines are largely used for the traditional in-and-out, residential to downtown commute.

The closest thing we have to urban node to urban node connection is Cambridge using the Red Line. However, like Oakland, you'll have some challenges in Cambridge with secondary education.

Newton is on the Green Line and will give you good schools, but it's S-L-O-W due to the distance and number of stops. It would be like riding MUNI from the Peninsula.

I think your best bet is near Alewife. You'd be near Spy Pond and Fresh Pond. If you want the walkable aspect, I think you should center your search around the Capitol Theater. Not only are you near the ponds (and Mystic Lake/River), but you have the Minuteman rail trail that takes you to Alewife (which then extends east to Davis Square as the Alewife Linear Park/Somerville Community Path). It's not Oakland or even Cambridge, but there are plenty of local retail establishments along that part of Mass Ave (and even more when you hit Arlington Center to the west and Cambridge to the east). Unless you're fixated on the absolute best high schools, which would then require a compromise somewhere else, I think Arlington High is more than good enough for what you want. If you are, another option is the pocket of Belmont between the ponds. You'll still be close to Alewife, but it's a bit suburban with no rail trail.

P.S. The closest Trader Joe's is at Fresh Pond.
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Old 01-23-2012, 07:31 PM
 
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Welcome. I think you'd be disappointed with what little Natick has to offer in terms of a town center. Needham and Newton would be high on the list. Also many of my clients who start out looking in Newton fall in love with Wellesley. My friends who live in Wellesley really enjoy that they can walk to everything - the train, boutiques, great restaurants, the library, trails, etc. Wellesley's downtown reminds me a bit of downtown Los Gatos. In town you can walk around the lake at Wellesley College and can canoe or run alongside the Charles River trails at Elm Bank, which has beautiful grounds & gardens.
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Old 01-24-2012, 03:58 PM
 
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vfrex: Good to know! For what we're paying, we've got our hearts set on a detached single family, and Brookline's definitely not in our budget. Thanks for your reply!

Cato: I think my wife is banking on taking the commuter rail more than the T or any buses, but still, all super good info. It's too bad about Cambridge and Somerville, I know we'd be right at home in both places! Hooray for Trader Joe's! We have one less than a mile from us out here, so we're spoiled. I think we'll just have to demote some of the further / less active places on our list, and officially rule them out once we've had the chance to visit in early April.

kmann-sherborn: Those two are high on our list, and Wellesley sounds great, but is probably at our max. budget (at best) for a detached single family home - we'll see, though!

Thanks so much, everyone!
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Old 01-26-2012, 10:36 AM
 
Location: Boston
1,082 posts, read 2,769,913 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bonsey View Post
We love Jamaica Plain, Piedmont Ave & Rockridge in Oakland, and places like the Mission, Noe Valley, Glen Park and Potrero Hill in SF. It seems like Newton and Natick are our best bets, but we'd hate to rule any others out unfairly! Which is where some of you helpful folks will come in, we hope.
I think you'll find Natick to be a bit on the far end for your commute desire, and it might not fit some of the other criteria that well either. Newton is definitely a good choice. Of the communities you listed, you might also want to take another look at Needham, which is fairly similar to Newton, but served by commuter rail rather than light rail.

Aside from those two, you should also consider expanding the search. Others have suggested Brookline, and I completely agree with that, assuming it's within your price range. Something else to consider is Boston, but this depends a bit on your daughter. Public education in Boston is a mixed bag. There are very good opportunities for the right student, but it takes some doing on your part to access them. If your daughter is an accelerated learner with strong study habits, she might be able to test in to one of the exam schools. If she so, she would be able to attend one of the best high schools in the country.
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Old 01-26-2012, 11:29 AM
 
7,738 posts, read 6,965,096 times
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The bay area has bad schools ?

I'd pay attention to any reforms that are going on now with the T. Some areas might have cuts and they are going to probably raise prices. Some cuts vary quite a bit. Lowering commuter rail on weekends isn't that big of an issue but the boats to Hingham are pretty significant if they are cut.

It's been well this season with the lack of snow. There's also a fair amount of conventions going on this spring so if you are looking for more businesses it can be an attractant.

To note most school system records here are pretty open for the test scores. I know test scores aren't 100% of the total quality of a school but it can be hard to judge other factors in the same way.
2011 MCAS Results - Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

On the side considering taxes for a moment since we do recognize marriage for all here it might be a good idea to get married :-D
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Old 01-26-2012, 03:52 PM
 
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We too are a small lesbian family moving to Boston (from Portland, OR, and S.F. before that) this summer and are seriously considering moving to the town of Winchester. My only concern has been the lack of good restaurant options like we have had in Portland and San Fran, but the commute downtown is quick, the homes are beautiful, the recreation activities many and the schools seem strong. However, our daughter is only 2 years old so we are less concerned with the secondary school options! Good luck!
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