A Local’s Guide to the Best Bay Area Neighborhoods

A Local’s Guide to the Best Bay Area Neighborhoods

The Bay Area is one of the most popular places to live in the United States. It’s home to more than 7.7 million people. With its eclectic communities, rolling hills, outdoor access, tech giants, and outstanding public schools, it’s no wonder why. 

If you’re moving to the Bay Area, you have a lot of ground to cover when deciding where to live. Cities and neighborhoods can be dramatically different from each other and cater to vastly different kinds of lifestyles. 

With so many options, it’s hard to know where to start. 

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the best Bay Area neighborhoods. Read on to learn about our top picks for neighborhoods both inside San Francisco and in the larger Bay Area.  

Best Bay Area Neighborhoods: Inside San Francisco 

We can break up bay area neighborhoods based on whether they’re inside or outside of the city. San Francisco is a dense, diverse place with dozens of neighborhoods squeezed into just 47 square miles. 

If you’re planning on moving to the Bay Area, the first question to ask yourself is whether you want to live inside or outside of San Francisco. 

In general, living in the city is more expensive than living in one of the surrounding areas. But it also affords you access to some of the bay area’s best restaurants, clubs, bars, and shops. 

These are our top picks for the best neighborhoods in the Bay Area that are located inside San Francisco. 

Noe Valley 

Noe Valley is one of the most family-friendly neighborhoods in the city. Unlike the rest of San Francisco, you’ll regularly see kids playing in the streets and congregating on doorsteps. 

This neighborhood is quite hilly, but the streets are clean and safe to walk around at night. Streetcars give you easy access to downtown and the Mission. 

Noe Valley features a great farmer’s market and a tidy dog park where residents frequently congregate. The area is mostly residential, so you’ll have to leave the neighborhood to get some good food. 

The average cost of rent is $2,875, and the average price of a home is 1.9 million. If you plan on moving here, make sure you have the cash to back it up. 

Dolores Heights and Eureka Valley are two nearby neighborhoods that are quite similar to Noe Valley, with lots of quiet residential streets. They also have great access to outdoor spaces like Kite Hill Park and Billy Goat Hill. 

The Castro 

Located in the heart of the city, the Castro is one of the most fun and lively neighborhoods in San Francisco. It is historically the LGBTQ+ center of the city, well known for being a haven for queer people. 

The Castro is famous for its LGBTQ+ community, amazing nightlife, homey restaurants, and adult shops. Although it’s a very safe neighborhood, it’s not always the most family-friendly. 

The Castro has possibly the best nightlife in the city. Revelers spill out onto sidewalks outside of world-famous bars and clubs like Twin Peaks Tavern. It’s an incredible place for queer people to express themselves and connect with their community. 

Mission Dolores Park and Corona Heights Park are two lovely outdoor spaces in this neighborhood. It’s a flatter, more walkable community than some of San Francisco’s hillier neighborhoods. 

The GLBT Historical Society Museum and the bright rainbow crosswalks down Castro Street make this the perfect neighborhood to celebrate Pride all year long. 

The average cost of rent in the Castro is $2,700, and the average home costs $1.7 million.

The Sunset District

Just south of Golden Gate Park lies the Sunset District. Inner Sunset, Outer Sunset, and Parkside are somewhat more economical groups of family-friendly neighborhoods. 

Inner Sunset is home to some of the best food in the city. You’re always a short walk away from authentic dumplings, pho, or spicy Sichuan cuisine.

The average cost of rent here is $2,500, and the average cost of a home is $1 million. Many diverse families live in the neighborhood since the prices are a good bit lower than other places in the city. 

Outer Sunset is a primarily residential area. Most people who live out here have cars, as it’s hard to get to other parts of the city without one. This means that parking can sometimes be a struggle. 

Outer Sunset also boasts direct access to Ocean Beach. This makes it a great neighborhood for surfers, or people who love to have picnics by the ocean. The trade-off is that the Bay Area’s famous fog is very thick in these neighborhoods. 

The average cost of rent in Outer Sunset is $2,571, and the average cost of a home is $1.6 million. 

Best Bay Area Neighborhoods: Outside San Francisco 

Outside of the city, the main areas people live in are the North Bay, East Bay, and South Bay, also referred to as the Peninsula. Each area has a vastly different vibe. 

Some bay area neighborhoods have an energizing nightlife scene with dozens of live music venues, clubs, and bars. Others roll up the sidewalks at 6 pm. 

Some neighborhoods draw people who want easy access to the outdoors. Others can provide the big city feel of San Francisco with a lower price tag. 

Where you chose to call home will depend on where you work, how far you want to commute, whether you want to live in a house or apartment, your lifestyle, and many other factors. 

If you’re planning to move long distance to the Bay Area, make a numbered list of your priorities and find a neighborhood that meets as many of them as possible. 

The North Bay 

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge lies a nature lover’s paradise. The North Bay is the least populous and least urbanized part of the Bay Area. It is home to hundreds of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, as well as protected beaches and the world-famous Muir Woods. 

Unfortunately, this area also comes with the highest price tags in the entire Bay Area. Rent and home prices rival San Francisco itself. 

There’s also a distinct lack of public transit options, particularly because the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) doesn’t run to the North Bay. You’ll also have to pay a toll every time you want to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, which can make commuting a pain. 

If you want to live among the hills and redwoods and are prepared to shell out for a high cost of living, the North Bay could be for you. 

Sausalito 

Sausalito is the first neighborhood you’ll come to after crossing the Golden Gate bridge. This area is known for its Richardson Bay houseboat enclaves and stunning waterfront views. 

Sausalito is a great place for commuters who work within the city. Driving to San Francisco typically takes between 30 and 40 minutes depending on traffic.

The Sausalito Ferry is another commuting option for those who want to take the scenic route. The ferry takes travelers past Alcatraz Island and drops them off in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. 

The average rent in Sausalito is $3,632. The typical home value is $1.4 million. It’s a gorgeous area, but the price tag is high. 

Mill Valley 

Just north of Sausalito lies Mill Valley. This scenic community is nestled between rolling hills dotted with old-growth redwood trees. 

This neighborhood is an incredible destination for hikers and cyclists alike. Muir Woods lies to the southwest, and Mount Tamalpais to the north boasts sweeping views of the entire Bay Area. Travel west to Stinson beach to enjoy miles of protected coastline. 

Mill Valley is one of the best bay area neighborhoods for families. Schools here routinely score A and A+ grades on Niche. The community is also very family-oriented but doesn’t boast a particularly exciting nightlife. 

Mill Valley is home to very few apartment complexes. Most of the community consists of single-family houses and very expensive ones at that. 

The average rent in Mill Valley is $2,500. The average home value is $1.6 million. 

San Rafel 

Further north is San Rafel, a somewhat more affordable community next to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. It boasts a mix of single-family homes and apartment complexes that are generally more affordable than what you’ll find in Mill Valley or Sausalito. 

This neighborhood has a more middle-class vibe than its fancy neighbors to the south. San Rafel is known for its family-friendly farmer’s market with vendors and live music every Thursday. 

The neighborhood’s 4th Avenue is lined with local breweries, coffee shops, and ethnic restaurants. China Camp State Park to the east is home to excellent hiking and bicycling trails. 

San Rafel isn’t the most ideal neighborhood for people commuting into the city. It takes 45 minutes by car and a full hour by bus. 

The average rent in San Rafel is $2,700. The average home value is $1.1 million. 

The East Bay 

Some say that the most authentic San Francisco experiences are actually found in the East Bay. Gentrification and the rising cost of living have pushed a lot of the Bay Area’s artists, musicians, creatives, young professionals, and working-class people out of the city. 

A large portion of the bay’s younger crowd is making the more authentic and affordable neighborhoods in the East Bay their home. It is an eclectic, artsy, vibrant mix of cool neighborhoods, many of which are extremely walkable. 

The BART runs throughout the East Bay, which makes getting into San Francisco a breeze. Oakland and Alameda residents can also use the ferry system for a peaceful commute across the bay. 

The East Bay also offers easy access to hiking and biking trails in dozens of nearby parks. Reinhart Redwood Regional Park, Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, and Tilden Regional Park are all popular destinations. 

Oakland 

If you’re on the hunt for a big city vibe without the exorbitant San Francisco price tag, Oakland is for you. This hip neighborhood is home to incredible and authentic cuisine, award-winning theaters, and vibrant nightlife. 

Some parts of Oakland are safer than others. But there are many wonderful areas for both singles and families. 

Lake Merritt is a bustling area home to high-rise apartment buildings and a paved 3-mile path around the lake itself. This neighborhood offers easy access to Grand Avenue, which is lined with coffee shops, outdoor patios, and the historic Grand Lake Theater. 

This is one of the best Bay Area neighborhoods for singles. You get to live right in the middle of the hustle and bustle at a much more affordable rate than what’s offered in San Francisco.

To the north lies Rockridge, a quieter neighborhood lined with gorgeous craftsman homes. You’ll be close to College Avenue, which is packed with excellent restaurants and shopping options. 

Further west across Highway 13 lies Montclair, Piedmont Pines, and Glen Highlands. These hilly neighborhoods are mostly residential and close to some of the gorgeous protected nature areas nearby. Many homes offer stunning views of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. 

Commuting to the city takes only 15 to 30 minutes via the BART, 30 minutes via the ferry, and 30-60 minutes by car. This makes Oakland one of the best Bay Area neighborhoods for young professionals. 

The average rent in Oakland is $2,700 and the average home value is $800,000. This is a bit more affordable than what we’ve seen in the North Bay but still well above the state average

Berkeley 

The centerpiece of this neighborhood is the University of California, Berkley. As such, the community is made up of a lot of college-age students and recent graduates. It’s a great neighborhood for young people looking to make friends. 

The vibrant collegiate culture of Berkley can be found most on University Avenue and Shattuck Avenue. North Berkeley is home to incredible eateries like Chez Panisse and the Cheese Board. 

The community prides itself on its tree-lined streets and walkability. There is BART access in North and Downtown Berkely, which can put commuters in the heart of San Francisco in 30 to 40 minutes. Driving will take 35 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. 

Berkeley also boasts lots of outdoor access. It’s bordered by Tilden Regional Park to the east. The neighborhood is also home to Indian Rock Park and the Berkeley Rose Garden. 

The average rent in Berkeley is $3,038 and the average home value is $1.3 million. These prices are much higher than in Oakland and are comparable to those in the North Bay. 

Alameda 

Off the southern coast of Oakland is the island of Alameda. This community and family-oriented neighborhood is made up of tree-lined streets, craftsman homes, and a bustling downtown corridor. 

The beaches in Alameda provide residents with access to the bay and gorgeous views of San Francisco. The community also has several quiet parks that are perfect for walking your dog or going on a family outing. 

The western tip of the island is home to breweries, distilleries, and a monthly antique fair. It’s a fun afternoon spot, but Alameda doesn’t have the vibrant nightlife of Oakland or Berkeley. This quiet neighborhood is more suited to families and established professionals. 

The BART doesn’t run to Alameda, but you can take the ferry into San Francisco. The average ferry ride takes only 20 minutes, making it the shortest ferry commute on our list. Driving takes 35 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic. 

The average rent in Alameda is $2,591 and the average home value is $1 million. This rent price is lower than most of the neighborhoods on our list, but keep in mind that there are fewer apartment complexes in Alameda than there are in other East Bay neighborhoods. 

The South Bay 

The South Bay, also known as the Peninsula, is home to the headquarters of tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook. It is also the location of the prestigious Stanford University. 

If you’re looking for places that are more affordable than the heart of San Francisco, these neighborhoods are not it. Atherton, in San Mateo County, is the most expensive place to live in the entire United States. The average home price in this neighborhood easily tops $7 million. 

Despite this, there are still affordable places to live in the Peninsula. You just have to know where to look. 

The South Bay is home to luxury shopping centers, fine dining, and upscale hotels. Most of the neighborhoods in this area have a quieter, more laid-back feel than San Francisco, which makes them perfect for families. 

La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve, Redwood Park, and Kings Mountain border South Bay neighborhoods to the east. This gives residents plenty of access to hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. 

San Mateo 

San Mateo is ranked as the 29th best place to live in the U.S. The climate is sunny, the vibes are casual, and the public schools are phenomenal. 

The downtown corridor has plenty of restaurants and bars. They’re not as authentic as the ones you’ll find in the East Bay, but the food and drinks are phenomenal nonetheless. 

Coyote Point to the north is an excellent place for a picnic or walk with your family. San Mateo has easy access to the waters of the bay. If you’re craving a visit to the ocean, the Pacific coastline is less than an hour’s drive away. 

This neighborhood doesn’t have BART access, but the city is only 30 minutes away by car, 45 in heavy traffic. Most of the Peninsula is serviced by Caltrain, which can get you into San Francisco in about 40 minutes. 

Many people who live in this area are employed by Facebook, Google, or another Silicon Valley tech giant. The headquarters for these companies are just a 20-minute drive away, making it a great neighborhood for commuters. 

San Mateo is made up mostly of single-family homes with occasional townhouses and apartment complexes here and there. The average rent in this neighborhood is $3,202 and the average home value is $1.4 million. 

Palo Alto 

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is an upscale community home to Stanford University. The community is safe and vibrant, with gorgeous tree-lined streets and excellent walkability. 

This walkability contributes to a real sense of community among residents. It’s one of the safest places in the Bay Area, making it a great neighborhood for families. 

Palo Alto is located near the Santa Cruz Mountains, which block a lot of rain from hitting this area. As such, the neighborhood has 261 sunny days per year, which is great for people looking to dodge San Francisco’s famous fog. 

Palo Alto is also uniquely bike-accessible. There are bike lanes on almost every street and people know how to drive respectfully around cyclists. If you’re looking to commute by bike to work, this is a great community for it. 

Residents also have easy access to the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, the Foothills Nature Preserve, and the Los Trancos Woods. All of these parks have plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, another thing that makes Palo Alto perfect for cyclists. 

This neighborhood is only a ten-minute drive to Google and Facebook headquarters. It takes about 40 to 60 minutes to get into San Francisco by car, or you can hop on the Caltrain for an hour-long ride that will help you avoid traffic. 

Palo Alto is another extremely expensive neighborhood. The average rent is $3,799 and the average home value is $3.1 million. 

San Jose 

San Jose is located at the southernmost point of San Francisco Bay. It offers a nice mix of urban and suburban living, which makes it perfect for both singles and families alike. 

This neighborhood has a whopping 300 sunny days per year. The year-round sunshine plus its close proximity to the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Diablo Range, and Castle Rock State Park draw in tons of nature lovers. 

Google’s headquarters are only a 20-minute drive from downtown San Jose. Facebook’s headquarters are 25 minutes away. 

San Francisco is an hour to an hour and a half long drive away from this neighborhood, which makes it less than ideal for people commuting up into the city. On Caltrain, it’s a full 90 minutes. 

But, this distance from San Francisco propper does make the housing and cost of living in San Jose a bit more affordable than its other Peninsula neighbors. 

The average rent in San Jose is $2,985 and the average home value is $1 million. Although the prices are still high, this neighborhood is much more viable for young professionals than San Mateo and Palo Alto. 

Choosing Your Bay Area Neighborhood 

The Bay Area is a wonderful place to live. Whether you’re looking for a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood or one with exciting nightlife, there’s a neighborhood out there for you. 

Once you’ve settled on a few of the best Bay Area neighborhoods that sound nice, start researching more about them. Think about what your priorities are and hunt for places that cater to your desired lifestyle. 

Ready to get moving out to the Bay Area? Check out our services today

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