Friday, March 18, 2011

Where to live in the San Francisco Bay Area

I love living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  There are so many things to do in this area and the culture and activities available is fairly impressive for an area this size.  You can easily be smack in the middle of the wine country just by driving a hour north, or along the coast in beautiful Monterey and Carmel driving along highway 101 and 1 for a hour south.

Where you should live in SF really is dependent on both your lifestyle as well as how much you earn.  If I was a young single individual, I would definitely recommend living in Cow Hollow (Union Street) or the Marina (Chestnut Street).  There are a lot of young, attractive professionals who live there that loves to party and have fun, often with no commitments.  Russian Hill tends to be more bohemian, and more run down in terms of the feel of the neighborhood.

For young couples, possibly with a dog, I would highly recommend downtown Burlingame.  Burlingame Ave. is very similar to downtown Palo Alto, but at a much more reasonable entry point.  You can easily find a house or a duplex for rent that has a back yard for your pet.  There's actually two distinct downtowns in the city of Burlingame.  Keep in mind you want to do your best to avoid Broadway Ave and try to find a location closer to Burlingame Ave.  The best way to describe the difference between Broadway Ave and Burlingame Ave. is Burlingame Ave is definitely more upscale.  This is the downtown area where all the rich Hillsborough "Trophy Wives" come to shop.  Burlingame Ave has a lot of boutique stores, restaurants, as well as large mainstream stores such as Pottery Barn, GAP, Apple Store, and Banana Republic. There used to be this awesome wine bar located in downtown Burlingame, but because of the recession, the wine bar has since closed.  Burlingame is also located a reasonable 20-minute highway drive (without traffic) to San Francisco.  This is a good compromise for individuals who want to live somewhere more suburban but still want to be within easy reach of the city.

If I'm a newly married couple getting ready to have kids, I would highly recommend Palo Alto.  Palo Alto has a stellar school system as well as city amenities.  Palo Alto grew up and developed alongside Stanford University, and the two are closely intertwined.  In addition, because of the high value of properties located in Palo Alto, the city generates much more revenue from property taxes vs. any other comparable city in the area.  Because of the age of Palo Alto, the city has developed its own city specific sanitary department, utilities, school, fire and police department.

For example, a typical city in the Santa Clara county may have several elementary schools, a couple middle schools, and a high school.  This is paired with one city specific library along with a Police Department and a dedicated Fire Station.  Palo Alto has at least five (5) city specific libraries for their residents, four (4) separate fire departments that I know of, numerous elementary schools, two (2) junior high schools, and several top ranked high schools.

In addition, there is a resident only park called Foothill Park in the Santa Cruz mountains.  This park offers a stocked trout pond for fishing and numerous hiking trails.  And yes, this park is only open to Palo Alto residents, and you will often need to provide proof of our residence in order to enter.

In some ways, Palo Alto is separated into two different regions, North Palo Alto (Old Palo Alto/ Crescent Park/ Professorville) and South Palo Alto (Midtown and on to San Antonio Road).  These two regions feed to two separate middle schools and high schools.  Although North Palo Alto is much more affluent, the South Palo Alto high school (Gunn High School) and middle school (JLS Middle School) are higher ranked. Part of this is a self fulfilling prophecy.  Families who highly value education would do their best to move into the area, and many of these families can only afford the more reasonably priced regions of Palo Alto.  Nevertheless, they are very diligent about supporting their children to excel in school, and therefore driving up the scores.

There are some families that are concerned about the affect of students from East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto (EPA) being bussed daily to the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD).  I can say there was little affect of this integration, and they account for a very small percentage of the aggregate study body.  In fact, this policy isn't specific to Palo Alto.  Many students from those less affluent areas are also bussed to Menlo Atherton High School as well as other areas.

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