There are long lists of both pros and cons to living in any large city, San Francisco included. While our hometown is filled with amazing local businesses and countless things to do, it can also be crowded and expensive. While many people think the pros outweigh the cons, we’re not limited to big city living here in the Bay Area and you certainly don’t have to live in the heart of San Francisco to take advantage of all it offers.
For this round-up, we considered factors like housing market stability and home value, unemployment rate and per capita income, crime rate, graduation rate and overall public school quality, as well as entertainment opportunities and local businesses.
Below, listed in no particular order, you’ll find 11 of the best San Francisco suburbs and what we love most about each, the best places to eat in the area, and what to do when you’re there!
If you’re looking for more options in the Bay Area, be sure to check out our other blog post The Most Affordable Neighborhoods Outside San Francisco.
Distance from San Francisco: 35 minutes | Search for homes in Mill Valley
Mill Valley is one of Marin County’s major cities. Boasting a population of nearly 14,000 at the 2010 census, the community is nestled on the eastern slopes of Mount Tamalpais and offers areas of flat coastal land, marshlands, wooded canyons and even second-growth redwoods. Just outside the city limits, you’ll find Muir Woods National Monument, Inside, you’ll find a selection of the best restaurants and attractions in the entire county.
In March 2018, Mill Valley had an unemployment rate of 1.2% making it the lowest rate in Marin County which is home to the second-lowest rate among counties in California. Schools rank high thanks to the excellent Mill Valley School District — which offers five elementary schools and one middle school — and the high school in town is in the Tamalpais Union High School District.
The 2018 median home sale price sits just under $1.7 million placing it in the middle ground of home prices in Marin County.
Local attractions include Throckmorton Theatre and Sweetwater Music Hall for culture and entertainment, Piazza D’Angelo, Boo Koo and Sol Food for outstanding local eats, and Mill Valley Beerworks for seasonal eats paired with house-brewed beer.
Distance from San Francisco: 50 minutes | Search for homes in Los Altos Hills
Los Altos Hills is a prestigious community in Silicon Valley nestled between Los Altos and Mountain View to the east and beautiful open space preserves to the west.
Unemployment is under 2% in town and income per capita is 370% higher than the national average. As such, you’ll find a market filled with luxurious homes and a median sale price of just over $3.8 million based on data from 2017.
Overlapping into Los Altos, the public school system scores very high and the community also offers several private school options.
Because Los Altos Hills is located between one of the Peninsula’s most popular cities — Mountain View — and some of the region’s most stunning open spaces, residents find both outdoor opportunities and urban amenities. For more on the attractions offered in Mountain View, keep reading!
Distance from San Francisco: 60 minutes | Search for homes in Mountain View
Home to the Googleplex and Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View is one of Silicon Valley’s most popular communities and boasts a population of just over 80,000. And thanks to its low crime rate, the city is also considered one of the safest cities to live in California!
Thanks to its diversity and size, Mountain View offers a range of both public and private schools; the top-ranked among them are Frank L. Huff Elementary School, Stevenson Elementary School and Isaac Newton Graham Middle School.
In 2017, the median home price was just under $2 million and the housing market is predicted to continue its steady rise in valuation.
When you’re looking for something to do in Mountain View, you certainly won’t have a hard time. In addition to the Googleplex and amphitheater, you’ll find the Computer History Museum for tech education. And in Old Mountain View, you’ll find some of the city’s most popular local hangouts, including Cascal, Steins Beer Garden, Scratch and Clarke’s.
Distance from San Francisco: 50 minutes | Search for homes in Palo Alto
Perhaps the most storied of all Silicon Valley communities, Palo Alto has been the hub for techies, startups and entrepreneurs for years. Famously, the city is home to Stanford University which provides culture, education, entertainment and employment for residents in Palo Alto and the rest of the Peninsula.
In March 2018, the unemployment rate was about 2.2% and the city also boasts a high income per capita at over $78,000. These excellent employment statistics are paired with equally impressive education statistics. Overall, the community offers a high graduation rate and a student to teacher ratio of 18 to 1. The highest ranking school, Palo Alto High School, is also one of the best in the Bay Area with a ratio of 15 students to every one teacher.
The median home price in 2017 was just under $3 million, but the stable market in Palo Alto offers a range of housing suitable for both individuals and families.
When on the hunt for food, we recommend swinging through downtown Palo Alto, home to some of the best restaurants in Silicon Valley. These include Bird Dog, Il Fornaio, Reposado and Oren’s Hummus.
Distance from San Francisco: 35 minutes | Search for homes in Hillsborough
The primarily residential community of Hillsborough is located just west of San Mateo and is nestled to the east of Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir and Rancho Corral de Tierra, San Mateo County’s 7,766-acre open space.
The prestigious community offers high graduation rates, a low crime rate, an unemployment rate at about 3%, and a high income per capita at around $115,000.
The median home sale price was $3.7 million in 2017, and public schools — which include elementary, middle and high — score at the top of the GreatSchools system with nines and tens across the board.
The community itself is quiet and serene. Within the town limits, you’ll find Burlingame Country Club and, just outside, you’ll find the countless restaurants, events, entertainment and attractions of San Mateo.
Distance from San Francisco: 60 minutes | Search for homes in San Ramon
Located in Contra Costa County, San Ramon is a wonderful community in the East Bay that is spotted with community parks, golf courses and local restaurants.
With a $1.1 million average home sale price in 2017, San Ramon is one of the Bay Area’s most affordable communities, especially amongst current residents thanks to the high per capita income of over $53,000 and low unemployment rate of 2.8%.
Additional bonuses in San Ramon include high graduation rates, low crime rates, a stable housing market, and six public schools that score a 10, according to GreatSchools.
When you want to get outside in San Ramon, we recommend hitting the green at The Bridge Golf Course or Crow Canyon Country Club, enjoying the sun at Diablo Vista Park, or exploring Bishop Ranch Regional Preserve. After the fun outdoors, refuel at one of the community’s favorite restaurants which include Canyon Lakes Golf Course & Brewery, Firehouse No. 37, Shish Grill and Primavera Ristorante.
Distance from San Francisco: 30 minutes | Search for homes in Albany
Situated just north of the University of California, Albany is a hidden gem when it comes to living, working, eating and playing on the East Bay waterfront. Traveling down San Pablo Avenue or Solano Avenue will take you past some of the community’s best eateries, including Mangia Mangia, Sam’s Log Cabin, Rivoli and Potala Organic Café.
But food and close proximity to Berkeley and Golden Gate Fields are not the only reasons we love Albany. The city also boasts a high graduation rate and excellent schools, a high income per capita at about $43,000, and a crime rate 6% lower than the California average.
Median home price in Albany is just over $1 million, making it affordable as well as safe, valuable and entertaining.
Distance from San Francisco: 40 minutes | Search for homes in Tiburon
Located on its own little peninsula in Marin County, Tiburon is filled with history, landmarks, outdoor spaces, award-winning schools, water views and great annual festivals like the Tiburon Wine Festival and Tiburon International Film Festival.
This waterfront town also boasts high graduation rates, a low crime rate, a stable housing market, an unemployment rate of 2.5% and one of the region’s highest dollar amounts for income per capita (about $112,000).
The average home sale price in 2017 was nearly $2.7 million which puts this town — though prestigious — in the mid-range of Bay Area home prices.
And when it comes to local eats, the name of the game is waterfront dining. A few of the community’s favorite spots include Tiburon Tavern, Don Antonio Trattoria, Salt & Pepper Restaurant and Luna Blu.
Distance from San Francisco: 35 minutes | Search for homes in Corte Madera
A favorite for those looking to put down roots and raise a family, Corte Madera offers a variety of youth-centered activities and an impressive selection of distinguished public schools, many of which have earned the distinction of National Blue Ribbon School. Located alongside Mill Valley and Tiburon, Corte Madera is just ten minutes from San Rafael and about 35 minutes from San Francisco.
Other bonuses include a low crime rate that has decreased in the last year, high graduation rates, a stable housing market, a high income per capita of about $67,253, an unemployment rate of 3.1% and a median home sale price just under $1.5 million in 2017.
And though proximity to bustling Marin County communities means there are plenty of restaurants, attractions and events to see nearby, Corte Madera offers a community of local spots right in town. Highlights include The Lighthouse Bar & Grill, Burmatown, Cafe Verde and Marin Joe’s. Continuing just a few minutes down Magnolia Avenue will bring you to the delights of downtown Larkspur.
Distance from San Francisco: 45 minutes | Search for homes in Walnut Creek
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. And that’s not even considering the community’s high graduation rates, stable and affordable housing market, high income per capita of over $53,000 and low unemployment rate of 3.8%.
A median home sale price of $1.1 million in 2017 makes it one of the Bay Area’s most affordable housing markets, too.
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 just 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.
Distance from San Francisco: 30 minutes | Search for homes in Piedmont
Though completely surrounded by the City of Oakland, Piedmont has its own mayor, city council, fire department, police department, school district and unique identity. And it has for over a century! The city is home to over 11,000 residents who are drawn to its tree-lined streets, top-rated schools, small-town atmosphere and close proximity to both Oakland and downtown San Francisco.
In recent years, the greatest draw for new residents to Piedmont has been its excellent school district. Consisting of three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and an alternative high school, the district ranks tenth out of California’s 756 districts.
And with high graduation rates, an income per capita of just over $98,000, a stable housing market, a median home sale price of just over $2 million and an unemployment rate of 2.4%, Piedmont is one of the most impressive communities on our list.
Though primarily zoned for residential areas, Piedmont is bordered by Oakland’s charming Piedmont Avenue and Montclair shopping districts which puts residents within walking distance of Fentons Creamery, Cato’s Ale House, La Farine and The Wolf.
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