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Old 08-25-2009, 11:51 AM
Location: Reston, VA
11 posts, read 25,795 times
Reputation: 14


Hi all, I just returned from a weeks trip to the SF area and am considering reloacting to the area for a job with my current employer. I would be relocating with my partner (both early 30s) and am looking for something suburban yet close to urban areas and SF in particular. We've decided we do not want to live in a downtown area mainly because I don't like high density and we have two dogs that need space (grass) to romp in.

For the first couple of years, we are looking to rent, then hopefully buy. Ideally we'd like to rent and then buy in the same community just as we did here in VA. My job is mainly based out of my home and in the field across the Bay Area, both SF and East Bay (nothing South Bay). I will need to report to the office a maximum of once per week; the office is out of San Rafael in Marin. So overall commute distance is not a big issue, but access to open space, a nice area, and good access to freeways are key.

We spent some time looking at rental communities last week in places along the peninsula but found nearly everything to be dated (20+ years old) or new in-fill development in very dense areas like off El Camino Real near SFO. We are open to renting a private house; our budget is up to 2500/month rent. I really like areas west along the 280 and Marin seems appealing as well but I didn't make it up there last week. Any tips on newer communities we might enjoy? A walkable community would be even better. For those familiar with metro Wash DC, something comprable to Clarendon in Arlington, Bethesda, MD or Reston, VA. Do newer walkable communities such as these exist along the peninsula or in Marin?

To this point, Palo Alto seemed nice and I've read some threads on here that make PA sound appealing. Any info on Corte Madera in Marin? From limited experience, I hear that 280 is a much easier, less hassle/less traffic corridor into SF compared to the 101 so I was looking for communities on the peninsula closer to the 280. Thoughts? Advice? Thank you in advance!

Last edited by xyv1027; 08-25-2009 at 12:25 PM.. Reason: Not done writing the first time
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Old 08-25-2009, 04:03 PM
Location: San Jose, CA
1,318 posts, read 3,419,379 times
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Well it is hard to find anything really comparable to what you're looking for in the Peninsula, the towns were originally settled around the time the railroad was built and the 30-40 years after, 1860 - 1900, so the downtown areas date to that era. Then it all started turning from small towns to suburbia in the post war period up until the late 70s when effectively most of the flat land had been built on, and somehow it was decided that they wouldn't build anymore on the hills. Everything built after that is either an old school that was shut down in the 80s and sold to developers, or a more recent conversion of commercial/office or light industrial space to residential, or and old apartment building getting torn down for a new (bigger) condo building.

Reston, VA was/is a master planned community where sometime in the 80s they decide to build Reston Town Center and have been continuously building it up as a dense core for the town ever since. It also has local community centers, but it is basically master planned from the ground up. Claredon is one of the areas around the DC Metro station that was placed in the Orange Line under Arlington's plan to concentrate dense development around the 3 stations under Wilson Blvd, before they build the line it was all supposedly low density commercial. Arlington got the line moved from the I-66 median to Wilson Blvd. The development is all much more recent than in the Peninsula.

In the Peninsula there are walkable areas near Broadway in Burlingame, downtown Burlingame, downtown San Mateo, downtown San Carlos, somewhat for downtown Redwood City, somewhat for downtown Menlo Park, downtown Palo Alto, and downtown Mountain View. I'm not familiar with Millbrae, San Bruno, or SSF myself. But all the places I named above are near the train stations, and constitute the old downtown areas. The closest thing I can think to something new that is walkable might be downtown Sunnyvale, but that's south bay, that I think might still be under construction.

You would probably have better luck in South Bay or East Bay, they have more land available over there for development and are generally newer, they are not as restricted to infill as in the Peninsula. In the Peninsula, you basically have to settle for older in terms of houses, or look at significantly more than $2500/mo.

I don't suppose you would be willing to settle for a condo near one of the peninsula cities' downtowns?
BTW for the most part the closer you get to the I-280, the less walkable it would be, as it is in the hills.

Good luck on your search, btw what section of Reston where you thinking of? Something drivable distance to Reston Town Center or walking distance or biking distance, or more of something closer to the community centers, or just anywhere in town?
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Old 08-26-2009, 06:50 AM
23 posts, read 72,913 times
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Have you considered Orinda, Lafayette or Walnut Creek? They are East Bay.
I'd also take a look at El Cerrito - easy commute to San Rafeal.
Parts of Oakland may also be good or Alameda.
Or what about San Rafeal itself? I looked at some rentals there recently. I think you can get something for $2500 that could suit you.
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Old 08-26-2009, 07:49 AM
Location: Reston, VA
11 posts, read 25,795 times
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Thanks for the insight guys. At the advice of a relative and friend who live on the Peninsula, I was steering away from East Bay, Oakland in particular they say, based on an inaccurate? generalization that East Bay is not as nice of an area. I've since read on here and heard about places such as El Cerrito, Berkeley (too pricey?), Albany and Walnut Creek that sound appealing.

Now that its been mentioned I think I've been to downtown Palo Alto (I liked) and downtown Mountain View (seemed to have less personality) in recent trips to the area. I'm not sure I've been to Sunnyvale. I have been to the Santana Row area in San Jose which seemed too upscale and dreamy to me - - plus its probably pricey?

Cardinal2007, thanks for the insight on recent urban history of the Bay Area... very interesting! I've lived in the DC metro area my entire life and find the urban history/development patterns here so interesting. Perhaps I wasn't clear but I live in Reston, VA at the moment and have lived here for 8 years... we're about 2-3 miles north of the urban town center core, i.e. biking or driving distance. I like to think I have the best of all worlds here: 30 mins to DC, 20 mins to semi-urban areas like Arlington, 5 mins to Reston Town Center but also 5 mins from the more rural, wide open expanses of parkland along the Potomac River in Great Falls. And so ideally we're looking for something similar to this in the Bay Area. I'm beginning to realize though that I probably can't get everything and I'm being a bit too discriminating. Above all, my highest priority is not living in a high density community with alot of traffic congestion - - since I can't "have it all", something thats not necessarily walkable but is in a lower density more suburban vibe community is probably what we're aiming for.

We are headed back to the Bay Area next month to explore further and this is what I'm thinking so far -

Walnut Creek. (+): seems very suburban (too suburban?) and nice. (-): A bit of a hike commute wise to field work in downtown San Fran and on the peninsula. What is a realistic driving time from WC to downtown SF NOT at rushhour? (I've heard the Bay Bridge is the worst bottleneck in the whole Bay Area.)

Berkeley/Albany/El Cerrito. I'm planning to visit. Any insight on specific areas in these communities to look at or areas to avoid? I know very little about East Bay.

Corte Madera/Larkspur. I'm planning to check out further. Of all areas so far I haven't visited, these seem most appealing. Are nice rental communities hard to find in southern Marin though? I know land is at a premium but I like the proximity to the Corte Madera Village and the outdoorsy spots along the coast and the bays in that area. What is the difference between say Corte Madera and Larkspur? We may also check out Sausalito and Mill Valley. Any thoughts on these 4 towns?

San Rafael. I'm planning to scope out further. What is the commute like from this far north to downtown SF and Oak? Is Novato also an option?

San Mateo/San Carlos/Belmont. Planning on checking out these areas too. From what I've heard and experienced, San Mateo seems very concrete and congested, close to the 101 and the 92. San Carlos (on a map at least) looks a bit further removed. Any insight on specific areas in these communities to look at or areas to avoid? Thanks for your insight.
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Old 08-26-2009, 01:38 PM
Location: San Jose, CA
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San Mateo is very large, you can go toward the SW areas of San Mateo and get away from the congestion, that's where the hills are.

I live in Belmont, it has no downtown to speak of, just a few shopping centers, one is at Carlmont Village, and the other near El Camino and Ralston. I usually go to downtown San Mateo, or downtown San Carlos to go to a walkable area with shopping. But at the same time, I'm only a 6 minute walk to the park, there are a lot of hiking/biking trails there, there is also hiking west of I-280. It sounds like you might be more interested in the hills area of San Mateo/San Carlos/Belmont. Now I should warn you the hills are more expensive in all these towns, and you might find something for $2500 as a house, but it would be probably built in the 50s/60s/70s, and small.

There are some nice parts of the East Bay, I think the main reasons I don't move there are because of the commute, and the weather, the parts past the hills can get quite hot in the summer.

Part of the reason I don't like to move to some parts of South Bay and East Bay are that some parts were built up in the 70s/80s and had no small town to build around so it is all suburbs, malls and strip malls, Fremont, Union City, large parts of San Jose, they seem like that.

Either way, you might want to check out the hills around San Mateo, Belmont and San Carlos.

The reason I asked about Reston was because I used to live somewhat near there in Springfield, VA. I used to work in Reston in 2000 for one summer before college, then I went to college, then grad school, and I took a break from grad school starting in 2006 and went back to Northern VA. One time I was to meet a friend in Reston Town Center, and I was surprised at how different it was from 2000. Two friends of mine live in Reston now, one of them lives about a 1/3 mile from Reston Town Center, close to the W&OD trail and uses it often. That trail is a lot like the Iron Horse trail in the East Bay in that they are both bike trails made from old abandoned railroad right of ways.
That trail goes from Concord, through Walnut Creek, Alamo, Danville, San Ramon, to Dublin/Pleasanton BART. There has been a lot of construction near the Dublin/Pleasanton BART, I don't know how it turned out, but it is supposed to be TOD development, with supposedly walkable shopping. You might also want to check out Walnut Creek.

Last edited by cardinal2007; 08-26-2009 at 02:12 PM..
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Old 08-26-2009, 08:38 PM
86 posts, read 232,454 times
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Not sure why you are focusing on the South Bay if your job is headquartered in San Rafael and your territory is North Bay/SF/East Bay. Commuting from the South Bay to the North Bay would require driving across SF (no freeway only congested city streets) and the Golden Gate Bridge $6 toll to get to Marin.

Corte Madera/Larkspur are known as the twin cities, shared police, high school etc. and are both very nice areas with good weather, not as much morning fog as Sausalito and Mill Valley but almost as pricey. All of Marin is very close to lots of open space for hiking, with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, state and local parks and the vast watershed. Speaking of water, it is very precious here so you won't see many yards with expansive lawns for your dog that you are used to on the East coast.
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Old 08-27-2009, 05:10 AM
Location: Bella Vista, Ark
77,800 posts, read 98,095,060 times
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I agree about the east bay, I think, for what you seem to want you would be happier in SFO or possibly even Marin County, but 2 things hit me, 1-your price range and 2-you seem to like new and most of what you are going to find is on the more seasoned side. SFO, the pennisula and Marin County were developed many, many years ago, but still are nice. I love all of Marin Co, especially the southern part for your life style. If you were a family with kids I would suggest the northern section.

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Old 08-28-2009, 12:20 PM
Location: Reston, VA
11 posts, read 25,795 times
Reputation: 14
The reason we were mentioning the South Bay was because someone commented that South (and East) Bay seemed to be a little newer and had more available land. Also, my relatives live down towards South Bay (Los Altos) so I'm a bit more familiar with that area. With that said, South Bay is definitely not convenient to where I need to be for work: SF, Oak, North Bay, Peninsula as far south as San Mateo.

Thanks for all the insight guys. I do plan to focus my search on the peninsula and Southern Marin, we may also head over towards Albany and Berkeley. I'm avoiding Northern Marin since it sounds like traffic headaches headed south towards my field work will get worse the further north I go (as far as AM commute times go). I'm also thinking to be realistic, I'll need to compromise a bit on age of homes in order to get the ideal location I'd like. Our home now in VA was built in '97 so I'm "use to new". I checked out some older rental communities when I was in the area last week and, unfortunately, the stereotype that older communities are not as nice seemed to be true. (Based on my week or so of research, the level deemed "luxury" as far as apartments go in CA is not up to par with how "luxury" rentals are loosely seen in the DC area.) At least a couple "luxury" apartment communities we visisted just seemed incredibly outdated and the *model* units had this musty smell which I can not stand! With that said, I know there are great older communities in any city.

Any tips on peninsula cities that would have nice condos near their downtown areas? I'm not opposed to a condo in a low rise or mid rise buildiing. I'd probably look at renting one before buying. Or does CA see a lot of rent to own properties? (Rent to Own seems more and more popular here in the Wash DC area.)
Can you give me some major street names towards the hills in Belmont, San Carlos and San Mateo that may be good to check out as far as communities surrouding them? When we're just driving around, I tend to get knotted up in these commerical areas too often, when we're looking for residential communities. Thanks!

Cardinal2007, When you get a moment and get back to Reston Town Center again you wouldn't believe the most recent phase of construction just completed earlier this year. The size and scope of the development as far as residental, office space and commercial space is amazing. I'm enjoying the Apple Store and the J. Crew that just opened, plus there are some outlets of CA-based restaurants that have opened, including The Counter Burger (awesome custom burgers) and Il Fornaio (reasonably good Italian food).
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Old 08-28-2009, 12:36 PM
Location: Mesa, Az
21,144 posts, read 40,306,549 times
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San Mateo:

Take a drive down Alameda de las Pulgas--------it bears an eerie resemblence to Williamsburg Blvd in Arlington.

I am a Wash DC native who left there 31 years for California.

And I agree with the other posters; if at all possible, staying on the Peninsula side of SF Bay.
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Old 08-31-2009, 10:43 AM
Location: Reston, VA
11 posts, read 25,795 times
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Thanks Arizona. We are headed back to the Bay Area Sept 24th and will certainly check it out.
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