5 Bay Area Towns that Blur the Urban/Suburban Line

Sep 15, 2023

Ready for the ‘burbs – but can’t imagine giving up city life? We’ve got you covered. 

Searching for a suburb that has a decidedly urban vibe – and the perks of suburban life? It’s possible, especially in the Bay Area. We’ve rounded up five amazing towns that offer amazing arts, culture, food, and entertainment without the hustle and bustle of the big city – the perfect balance for people looking for the best of both worlds. 

#1. Walnut Creek

At the base of Mt. Diablo, Walnut Creek is a classic California suburb with plenty of city-inspired activities and amenities. Walnut Creek’s vibrant downtown is lined with popular independent boutiques, tons of upscale stores including Lululemon, Athleta, and Evereve, and an eclectic mix of restaurants and cafes. Want a really cool way to explore Walnut Creek’s food scene? Sign up for the Walnut Creek Cocktail Trail and sip your way through some of the best bars and restaurants in town (literally). 

If you love seeing live performances then definitely hit up the Lesher Center for the Arts.  Every year the Center presents over 900 productions and events featuring talented singers, dancers, actors and comedians from the local area and around the globe. Summer Sounds is a free family-friendly concert series offered throughout the summer. 

But alongside all these urban-style amenities, Walnut Creek offers more open space per capita than any other community in the state of California. Outdoor enthusiasts in the family? Check out the 30-mile long Iron Horse Regional Trail, a scenic route for walkers, joggers, and bikers. Additionally, the Walnut Creek Arts & Rec Center is a mecca for youth sports, offering intramural and competitive volleyball and swim teams,  an 18-hole golf course and tennis and pickleball courts. 

#2. Oakland

For easy access to San Francisco – but without the city price tag – head across the Bay to Oakland. The sprawling city attracts a mix of young families, singles, and more, all drawn to the unparalleled access, entertainment, food, and more. 

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On the foodie front, Oakland is second to none. Here, you’ll find everything from Michelin-star restaurants and inventive Cali-French cuisine to amazing tacos and some of the best soul food in the country (Lois the Pie Queen, our locals say). Big box stores and national retailers also abound, but when you’re in the mood for unique, boutique-style shopping hit up Temescal Alley, a series of pedestrian alleys lined with a carefully-curated selection of locally-owned shops.

If walkability is a priority Oakland can’t be beat, check out Rockridge, Grand Lake, Lake Shore and Adams Point neighborhoods, where you can do most of your errands on foot. And there’s lots of public transportation options — ferries, buses, and BART routes that can get you all over the Bay area, plus LimeBike scooters to rent and a public bike-sharing program.

#3. Palo Alto

Palo Alto is known for Stanford University and as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, but this sought-after city is home to so much more than college kids and tech titans. In Downtown Palo Alto, you’ll find tons of shops, from the independent Books Inc. and Scoop Microcreamery (local tip: try the Brown Sugar Banana) to Leafy — a one-stop-shop for plants, pots, and all things plant-related – and an outpost of Blue Bin Vintage, where you can search for one-of-a-kind vintage finds.

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And don’t forget Palo Alto’s restaurant scene. Expect to find everything from five-star dining to Greek, Middle Eastern and Pakistani cuisine. Local foodies are eagerly anticipating the opening of Zaytinya, a Mediterranean restaurant owned by world-renowned chef and humanitarian, José Andrés. On Saturdays, head to the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market where vendors sell a selection of fresh fruits and veggies, raw milk and cheeses, and other specialty foods that rival any market you’ll find in San Francisco. And unlike city living, parks and green space are around every corner in Palo Alto: there are 36 parks, 39 playgrounds, five community and youth centers, 41 miles of walking and biking trails, five libraries, and a zoo to keep even the most active families busy and entertained.

Many families move to Palo Alto for the schools – and with good reason. In 2023, Niche Rankings recognized the Palo Alto Unified School District as the #1 ranked school district in California. It ranked #9 overall in America for school districts with a minimum of 7,000 students. 

#4. Mill Valley

Love the urban art scene? Add Mill Valley to your list because this small suburb packs a lot of culture into its 4.8 square miles.

Start at the Sweetwater Music Hall, where you can grab a bite and catch a rock, indie, or folk music show, or Throckmorton Theatre, where you can take in a lavish Broadway-style musical, stand up show, and more.

Gallery hopping more your speed? Stop by Solstice Gallery or join the annual Art Walks and Outdoor Art Club Garden Tours. And there’s more than just culture to make this town appealing to city dwellers: set amid rolling green hills, Mill Valley is one of the most walkable towns in Marin County with a Walk Score of 92.

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Hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts have tons of scenic and challenging trails to choose from at Mount Tamelpais State Park and nearby Tennessee Valley. The Tennessee Valley trail is approximately 1.75 miles long and leads to the Tennessee Valley beach so perhaps pack a picnic and some sunscreen. 

Mill Valley also has amazing schools. In fact, Niche Rankings gave all of the public high schools in the area an A+ rating – just one other reason to put Mill Valley on your consideration list. 

#5. Burlingame

Dreaming of a suburb with a charming downtown? Burlingame has not one but two downtown shopping areas, each with a distinct feel and offerings. Broadway, the north-side shopping district, is the old school downtown lined with quaint “mom and pop” shops, grocery stores and pharmacies.

While you’re here, treat yourself to the best burger in town at Broadway Grill or satisfy your sweet tooth at Preston’s, a Burlingame institution that’s been dishing up ice cream and candy for more than 60 years. Head south to Burlingame Avenue — known as “the Ave.” — where you’ll find trendy high-end shops including Arhaus, Madewell and Kate Spade.  This area is also packed with restaurants including favorites like Copenhagen Bakery, Crepevine, and Bay Area Bagels

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If you’re looking to keep your kids busy, Burlingame has a lot to offer. Soak in some amazing views at Cuernavaca Park while the kids hit the playground. Or, check out Shorebird Sanctuary, and see if you can spot the 10-15 species of migratory birds that call this marshland home.  Village Park is a neighborhood park located on the north end of town is home to the City’s popular Village Park Preschool program and a great spot for meeting other young families. 

And all of this is just a 30-minute train ride to downtown San Francisco via Caltrain.

Want to live in a town where the city meets the suburbs? We’ve got you covered. Schedule your FREE Suburbs Strategy Session today to get started.

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