This post was updated on January 30, 2019 to include up-to-date information and recommendations.
It’s no secret: San Francisco is an expensive city to live whether you’re renting an apartment or buying a home. The real estate market is hot, homes sell quickly and many of them are selling above listing price. This creates a fantastic market for sellers, but it can be tough to get your foot in the door owning a home. In fact, San Francisco and San Jose are ranked first and second on Zillow’s list of the best markets for sellers which can make the entire Bay Area a difficult and intimidating market to navigate. Luckily for us, San Francisco is the number one city on the Wallethub 2018’s Best Places to Be a Real Estate Agent, and we have a great team here at McGuire Real Estate (you can meet that team here).
This housing market is making many families search outside the city for both renting and home buying. And while you may worry about missing the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s best places to live, the culture, food and parks we love in San Francisco are alive and well in neighborhoods throughout the Bay Area.
If you’re considering relocation, take a few minutes to learn more about some of our favorite communities outside San Francisco. Compiled based on average home prices, affordability and quality of life, this list includes some of the best and most fun neighborhoods in the Bay Area as well as a few highlights and things to do when you arrive.
Jump ahead to communities in:
East Bay | Peninsula | Marin County | Wine Country
Driving distance to San Francisco: 30 minutes | Search for homes in Oakland
Photo courtesy of Temescal Brewing
Temescal was hipster before being hipster was cool and it has been for generations. With a similar attitude as the Mission in San Francisco, it’s a multicultural mash-up which results in some of the trendiest and tastiest destinations in East Bay. You’ll find a drive-thru mac and cheese restaurant, Homeroom, one of the Bay Area’s best breweries, Temescal Brewing, and one of the best cocktail spots in the Bay Area, BAR 41.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 30 minutes | Search for homes in West Oakland
In a word, Jack London Square is eclectic. Essentially West Oakland, the square was originally developed in the ‘70s as a tourist attraction but has grown into a trendy and entertaining neighborhood. The mix of ’50s coffee shops, turn-of-the-century warehouses and modern architecture offers a bit of everything—from packed bars to quiet lounges and outdoor opportunities. Located right on the waterfront, the neighborhood offers easy access to both downtown Oakland and downtown San Francisco as well as its own BART station and a quick route to the Oakland airport. Ferries from the Square go to downtown SF, PIER 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and, during the summer, Angel Island. In the square, stop by the famous Heinold’s First and Last Chance, the upscale Lungomare and the pizza joint The Forge.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 20 minutes | Search for homes in Emeryville
Sandwiched between Oakland and Berkeley, Emeryville is one of the Bay Area’s most impressive Cinderella stories. Once coined the “rottenest city on the Pacific Coast” thanks to its large population of speakeasies and racetracks, the community has been transformed in recent decades into an eclectic and trendy East Bay locale.
Because of its location on the waterfront at the base of the Bay Bridge, residents enjoy water views as well as the attractions of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco just minutes away. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find plenty of Emeryville businesses to frequent. Hotspots include Honor Kitchen & Cocktails, The Bureau 510, 612one and Townhouse Bar & Grill which is set in one of Emeryville’s infamous old speakeasies.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 35 minutes | Search for homes in El Cerrito
Incorporated in 1917 as a village with 1,500 residents, El Cerrito is nestled between Richmond and Berkeley with Point Isabel Regional Shoreline to the east and Tilden Nature Area to the west. As of 2010, the population is well over 20,000 and the community has developed a character all its own. Dotted with parks and home to Berkeley Country Club, residents enjoy easy access to outdoor spaces, and can also frequent local businesses like Los Moles Beer Garden, El Mono and Red Onion for classic burgers in a mom and pop atmosphere.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour | Search for homes in Walnut Creek
Photo courtesy of Broadway Plaza and Swan Entertainment
Award-winning schools, easy commuter access, and one million excuses to get outside all make Walnut Creek one of the Bay Area’s most desirable places to settle down. In fact, it was ranked on our other neighborhood guide, The 11 Best Bay Area Suburbs to Live. And, at nearly 70,000 residents in 2016, it’s one of the East Bay’s largest communities outside of Oakland and Berkeley, which are located about 30 minutes west.
Many of the city’s favorite dining and entertainment spots can be found between North Broadway and North California Boulevard, including Benvenuti Ristorante, Walnut Creek Yacht Club, Stanford’s and Havana. For more things to do in Walnut Creek, check out Explore the East Bay’s Hidden Gems in 24 Hours.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour | Search for homes in Pleasant Hill
Directly north of Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill has become a popular destination for homeowners moving out of the larger city. The community is home to College Park High School, Diablo Valley College, John F Kennedy University, the Pleasant Hill Library and administration offices for the Contra Costa County Library system, as well as the Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District.
When you’re looking for things to do in town, we recommend heading to Downtown Pleasant Hill. The shopping district was renovated in 1991 and is now the main shopping and eating destination in the area. You can also head to landmark places like Caspers Famous Hot Dogs, DeVino’s Pizza & Pasta and Wence’s Restaurant.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour | Search for homes in Dublin
Dublin is a suburban East Bay city known for its cozy, family atmosphere and its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. But even more significant for homeowners and families, the city boasts a median household income 101% higher than the California average, a low crime rate and a high school graduation rate that is 14% higher than California’s.
Because the median home price is under $1.1 million in 2018, Dublin offers one of the Bay Area’s most affordable housing markets and its steady growth and appreciation are both expected to continue.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour | Search for homes in San Ramon
San Ramon is a wonderful community in Contra Costa County that is spotted with parks, golf courses and local restaurants. Highlighted in our guide, The 11 Best Bay Area Suburbs to Live, it snags a spot on this list thanks to its affordability, strong housing market, high per capita income, high graduation rates, low crime rates, and an unemployment rate 1.5% lower than the state average.
Its East Bay location puts it just 15 minutes from Walnut Creek and 30 minutes from Oakland. But the community itself offers attractions like The Bridge Golf Course and Crow Canyon Country Club, Diablo Vista Park, Bishop Ranch Regional Preserve and local businesses like Canyon Lakes Golf Course & Brewery, Firehouse No. 37, Shish Grill and Primavera Ristorante.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 30 minutes | Search for homes in Millbrae
Photo courtesy of Miramar Events
The best word to describe Millbrae is commuter-friendly. The town is named for the estate of Darius Ogden Mills and from the word “brae” which is Scottish for “rolling hills” or “hill slope.” Today, the estate is long gone, but the rolling hills remain and continue to serve as a magnet for families looking to put down roots. It offers a small-town feel, classic residential neighborhoods, highly acclaimed public schools and easy commutes to the surrounding Bay Area via BART, SamTrans, Caltrain and the freeways. After you move in, mark your calendars for the Millbrae Art & Wine Festival (pictured above) which is often held around Labor Day.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 10 minutes | Search for homes in Daly City
Located immediately south of San Francisco, Daly City is the largest city in San Mateo County and is considered a regional center for healthcare and retail development. As the gateway to the Peninsula, it’s perfectly situated for adventures in the city and in other Bay Area communities like Half Moon Bay and San Mateo.
But if you’re staying in the city, you’ll find plenty to do! Its location along the western shore means residents and visitors have access to oceanfront hiking, picnicking and more. Thornton State Beach and Mussel Rock Park are two of the most popular spots for outdoor adventures. And local business Mar Vista Stables offers those ocean views on horseback!
Driving distance to San Francisco: 50 minutes | Search for homes in Half Moon Bay
If you’re looking to live amongst the most laid-back Bay Area stereotypes—early morning fog and surfing, beachfront lounging and low-key seafood alongside brewery masterpieces—make Half Moon Bay your new home. With a similar character as Richmond in San Francisco, it has a little less bustle and a lot more chowder. We’re referring, of course, to the famous Sam’s Chowder House. When you don’t feel like eating seafood, stop by Dad’s Luncheonette for a beachside burger or Half Moon Bay Brewing for a pint of craft beer.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 20 minutes | Search for homes in Pacifica
Pacifica is the Bay Area’s best-kept secret. The dramatic coastline boasts some of the Bay Area’s best surfing and paragliding, a close-up view of the gray whales’ migration route, and its rugged terrain hosts more than 3,000 acres of park space for walking, biking, picnicking, bird watching and wildlife viewing.
Though famous for being the home of the only Taco Bell restaurant located directly on a beach, you’ll also find local places like Nick’s Rockaway for seaside seafood, Uoyakutei Japanese Restaurant, Gorilla Barbecue, and Camelot Fish and Chips. And because Pacifica is just 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco and the San Francisco International Airport, you’ll have access to countless other culinary, recreational and local adventures.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 20 minutes | Search for homes in San Bruno
Culturally diverse San Bruno is located just 12 miles from San Francisco and directly adjacent to the San Francisco International Airport. Because it’s situated along Highways 101 and 280, the community offers residents easy access to all the recreational, cultural and educational opportunities of the city, the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. While preserving its friendly, small-town atmosphere, San Bruno is home to many hidden treasures. That list includes Skyline Community College, National Archives Sierra Pacific Region, the famous Artichoke Joe’s Casino, and a quaint downtown district. The premier site among the more than 20 parks that make up the city’s recreational network is City Park where residents can enjoy a gym, walking paths, tennis courts, swimming pools, a teen center and sports facilities.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 40 minutes | Search for homes in Redwood City
Through the decades, Redwood City has transitioned from a classic port city to a hub for some of the largest names in the tech industry. So, whether you’re looking for work, excellent schools or just a bustling town with an irresistible climate and a breath-taking waterfront, consider Redwood City. It’s one of the most populated urban centers of San Mateo County. Remember, “climate best by government test” became the city’s motto for a reason! The Marina-style atmosphere may even convince you to skip your commute into the city and opt for a wood-fired pizza at Vesta or a craft cocktail and meal at Martin’s West Gastropub.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 45 minutes | Search for homes in San Rafael
With more than 25 neighborhoods and about 55,000 residents, the city of San Rafael is the largest in Marin County. The community combines its revitalized downtown district, college atmosphere, film and technology sector, artistic culture and outdoor activities to create a sort of “one-stop shop” atmosphere. When you’re not eating multi-cultural cuisine, shopping downtown or recreating in a park, you’ll have monthly and annual events to look forward to, including the 2nd Friday Art Walk hosted by Art Works Downtown, Downtown Trick or Treat, Parade of Lights & Winter Wonderland, and the Mill Valley Film Festival.
For more things to love about San Rafael, check out Reasons San Rafael is One of the Best Places to Live in the Bay Area.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour | Search for homes in Novato
The second most popular of Marin County cities, Novato has been a leader in growth and development for decades. With views of San Pablo Bay and gorgeous homes, the city is also home to the county’s largest employer, Firemen’s Fund, in addition to a cluster of high-tech, biotech and software firms. And you’ll have plenty of places to grab dinner after work! Scratch the surface of the Novato food scene at Hilltop 1892, Wildfox Restaurant, Grazie Restaurant or HopMonk Tavern.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 45 minutes | Search for homes in Fairfax
Located just west of San Anselmo, Fairfax is a charming and lively community known for its smalltown spirit, long-established local restaurants and friendly atmosphere. Both attractive and rustic, the city offers a relaxed setting punctuated by recreational amenities like riding stables, tennis courts and golf clubs. Developed around some of Marin County’s most beautiful parks and open spaces, you’ll find plenty to do outdoors, including the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve and even the Marin Museum of Bicycling! After your adventures, be sure to head to The Hummingbird for a beignet, Sorella Caffe for dinner and Fairfax Theater for a movie. In fact, if you just explore Broadway, you’re sure to find a place to eat, a place to shop and a place to play!
Driving distance to San Francisco: 40 minutes | Search for homes in San Anselmo
Just 15 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, residents love San Anselmo because of its bustling community and town center, outdoor lifestyle, moderate climate, award-winning public schools and its close proximity to San Francisco. Just 1.5 miles west of San Rafael and 20 miles north of San Francisco, San Anselmo offers close proximity to some of the region’s most bustling cities while maintaining its own Marin County charm. In town, you’ll find several parks as well as local businesses like Marinitas, Comforts, Marin Coffee Roasters and Flour Craft Bakery, Marin County’s first gluten-free bakery.
San Anselmo’s most prominent resident is legendary Film Producer and Director George Lucas, and be sure to visit the Robert Berger House built by Frank Lloyd Wright!
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour, 20 minutes | Search for homes in Santa Rosa
Especially known for its wineries and destination restaurants, Santa Rosa is one of Sonoma County’s most exciting communities. In addition to must-visit places like DeLoach Vineyards, HANNA Winery, Flower + Bone and The Spinster Sisters, you’ll find plenty attractions in town that are outside of the culinary world. That list includes the Charles M. Schulz Museum, a center dedicated to the famed Peanuts cartoonist, and hands-on exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County. When you’re looking for music, head to the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, and when you’re looking for outdoor adventure, head east to Trione-Annadel State Park.
Driving distance to San Francisco: 1 hour | Search for homes in Petaluma
Driven by an agricultural history, Petaluma is known as a foodie haven in Sonoma County. The city offers dining options that include a mix of ethnic cuisines and awarding-winning restaurants using the best locally grown and produced products. And at the heart of many of the town’s best dining, shopping and entertainment events and destinations, you’ll find Downtown Petaluma. If you’re looking for things to do—like eating at Petaluma Pie Company, shopping at Flourish or attending the annual Butter & Egg Days Parade & Festival—they’re your resource.
Looking for more?
We’ve compiled several other neighborhood guides to provide insight into living in the Bay Area. Check out 10 of the Best Places to Live in The East Bay, The 11 Best Bay Area Suburbs to Live, 15 Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area, The 10 Hottest Bay Area Neighborhoods for Young Professionals.