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Old 06-07-2020, 10:25 AM
 
5 posts, read 2,996 times
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Looking for opinions on community vibe and SF driving commute for Petaluma vs Walnut Creek.

For the kind of house we want and our budget of $1–1.2m, we will be priced out of our top choices—La/Mo/rinda, Berkeley, and Marin County.

I’ve combed real estate listings, and we’ve narrowed our options to Petaluma and Walnut Creek. Glad to hear about other towns that fit the criteria below, but mostly I’m looking for input on community vibe and commute (driving) realities between these two choices.

About us: my partner works from home. I commute by car 1–4x/month to Lake Merced in SF. I can usually schedule my drive outside of rush hour. In a pinch I will take public transportation, but I usually avoid it. Our kids are late elementary/middle school age, super sporty, incredibly friendly. We’ve lived in NYC, LA, and the Chicago area, so we value being in a metro area, but we don’t need to be around a city vibe regularly. A quieter life and proximity to wine country and Tahoe are just as appealing.

For reference, we originally moved to the Bay Area from Evanston (part of Chicagoland), which we absolutely loved (other than the weather). We have been renting in Pacifica, and it’s not for us. It’s beautiful, low crime, I have a 45-minute door-to-door rush hour commute, and the one decent coffee shop in town is super dog friendly. But that’s it for aspects we like.

We’re looking for a community with:
- Excellent schools and related programming (the top priority)
- Educated, liberal, health-conscious, friendly residents; artsy is a plus
- Walkability to non-chain, mid– high-end restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, town square, etc. (or a 5-minute drive to this kind of area)
- Ability for our kids to ride bikes in the neighborhood, go to parks, roam free a bit
- High-quality civic services (library, community center, summer camps, art center, etc.)
- Non-rush hour commute under an hour or so

Thanks in advance.

Last edited by mamabutterfly; 06-07-2020 at 11:42 AM..
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Old 06-07-2020, 11:33 AM
 
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I think Walnut Creek has more to offer, TBH. You can easily get to downtown SF in 40 min or so via BART along with a great downtown area and family friendly community.

Commuting from Sonoma County to SF is more complicated. Its a bit better with the SMART train but still have to transfer to ferry or bus. That alone would make it a lot longer to get to SF. I also don't think the community has nearly as much to offer.

I realize you're discussing going to Lake Merced (other side of SF) by car, but that's going to take you a long time to get across the city, whether you're coming from either location.

Personally, I wouldn't mind retiring in Sonoma County (Healdsburg area), but then I'd be looking for a quieter lifestyle and wouldn't be that focused on commuting.

On the other hand, who knows if regular commuting will even be an issue post-COVID? We're assuming we'll get back to the old way of life but many companies might be more comfortable with remote employees.
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Old 06-07-2020, 12:13 PM
 
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Not sure about Petaluma but all your desired qualities are covered by Walnut Creek. Great schools and depending on where you live in the city you'll probably be around 5-10 minutes from downtown.
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Old 06-07-2020, 04:04 PM
 
Location: Martinez, CA
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Walnut Creek is probably more of what you are looking for, but much pricier. Have you considered Pleasanton and Livermore as well?
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Old 06-07-2020, 05:15 PM
 
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Thanks all. We haven't considered Pleasanton/Livermore yet—they seemed farther out. We keep hearing that the driving commute across the Golden Gate is less intense than all the folks coming across from the East Bay. Is that not the case? It's so hard to tell at the moment, because fewer folks are driving in general.
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Old 06-07-2020, 05:28 PM
 
Location: Martinez, CA
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Petaluma is harder to drive to SF than Pleasanton, Livermore is about the same distance as Petaluma, plus Pleasanton has a bart station. The transit across the GG is better than the Bay Bridge, but the 101 is much more difficult than 580 or 880 usually.
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Old 06-07-2020, 05:30 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mamabutterfly View Post
Thanks all. We haven't considered Pleasanton/Livermore yet—they seemed farther out. We keep hearing that the driving commute across the Golden Gate is less intense than all the folks coming across from the East Bay. Is that not the case? It's so hard to tell at the moment, because fewer folks are driving in general.
Maybe the bridge itself, but I do think you'll get a longer stretch of backup going on 101 through Marin than you will on 24 on most days. However, the 580/880/80 interchange and the Bay Bridge are a mess.
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Old 06-07-2020, 05:35 PM
 
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Interesting. These are such valuable details; thanks folks. How's traffic going across SF once you're off the Bay Bridge? I need to end up over near Lake Merced, which is part of the reason the GG seemed easier.
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Old 06-07-2020, 09:06 PM
 
Location: Martinez, CA
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Alameda is another town to consider given your criteria.
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Old 06-08-2020, 01:20 PM
 
Location: Richmond, CA
875 posts, read 701,769 times
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Both towns should match your criteria, except for commute time. I recommend Walnut Creek over Petaluma. Petaluma is a nice town, but you really want to stay on the west side of the freeway. The east side of 101 is either bland or ugly, depending on which part. The west side is very charming. Walnut Creek is suburban but has more shops and restaurants than Petaluma, and there is more stuff in general nearby. Petaluma is by itself, with things you can't find in town requiring a drive all the way to Novato or Rohnert Park.

The drive across the GGB is better than the drive across the Bay Bridge, but the Novato Narrows is more taxing than the Caldecott Tunnel. Once you are in SF in the morning, the drive to Lake Merced is a little faster from Walnut Creek. In the afternoon/evening, it is easier/faster to get onto the GGB than the Bay Bridge. But overall, the drive from Walnut Creek will be a little faster during rush hour, maybe a little over an hour. Closer to an hour and a half from Petaluma.

All that being said, I encourage you to consider Alameda. I think it's a good match for your criteria, it's closer to work, and it's way more central to everything without feeling like you are in the middle of a big city. It's a good marriage of the charm of West Petaluma and the daily conveniences of Walnut Creek.
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