The Bay Area is expensive, period. But there are plenty of places to search at virtually every price point.
This past March, home prices in the Bay Area declined for the first time in more than seven years. Many experts and would-be homebuyers hoped this indicated a slight cooling in the market—and, if trends continued, this downward trend could potentially open up San Francisco and the Bay Area suburbs to more buyers.
While the jury’s still out, there’s no question the Bay Area is a HOT market and, hands down, the most expensive in the U.S., if not the world. Here, a four-bedroom home sells for, on average, about $2.5 million. That said, for many families, that price tag is still out of their reach, at least for their first suburban home.
The good news? There are spots where the “cooling” is being felt more than others—or spots where the skyrocketing prices hit but were a bit slower than in other communities. If you’re ready to make a move but want to stick with something more “affordable,” consider adding these towns to your must-see list.
If your budget is in the $1.3 million range, consider…
San Rafael, CA (North Bay)
A hub for the entertainment industry just 18 miles north of San Francisco, homes in San Rafael average $950,000, with four-bedrooms averaging $1.25 million. Schools here, too, are a win, with many of the elementary and middle schools scoring a coveted “A” rating. Other perks? A minor league baseball team, perfect for weekends at the ball field, plus high marks for happy, healthy residents. And—fun fact—George Lucas’ LucasFilms got its start in San Rafael.
Other perks? If your family is outdoorsy, there are tons for you to do in San Rafael. This Bay Area suburb has access to tons of hiking trails and other outdoor pursuits, plus plenty of amazing beaches in nearby Marin County. e
Alameda, CA (East Bay)
Coming in with an average price tag of $952,500, homes in Alameda are a (relative) steal. But it’s not just home prices that draw city families—Alameda is a hub for millennials and, in 2019, ranked #19 on Niche’s Best Suburbs for Young Professionals in California list. Between the commute, the schools and the nightlife, it’s easy to see why families love living in this affordable San Francisco suburb.
On the weekends, expect to find families stand-up paddleboarding and indulging in other fun water sports in the Alameda beaches. Also fun: the Hangar 1 Vodka and Faction Brewing on the Piers.
Walnut Creek, CA (East Bay)
Sixteen miles east of Oakland and 25 northeast of San Francisco, Walnut Creek is a great choice for families that want easy access to any city, as well as A+ public schools. And that’s not to mention the $825,000 median home value—it’s easier to score a property in the $1.3 million range than in most Bay Area hotspots which, naturally, is drawing more and more young families—bonus!
Also drawing younger families? The easy BART access and enviable shopping—here, you’ll have a simple commute plus some of the best shopping in the Bay Area.
Danville, CA (East Bay)
Exceptional schools, an average home cost of $1.3 million and a charming location in the San Ramon Valley—think bustling farmers’ markets and world-class state parks—make Danville a go-to option.
If your family, though, craves a small-town vibe and tons of outdoorsy options, this town should be a must on your Bay Area suburban search list. Community is central to life in Danville, and you’ll feel that from the first visit—think amazing youth sports, tons of community activities for all ages and one of the cutest downtowns around.
Pleasanton, CA (East Bay)
One of Forbes ’“Americans’ Top Hometown Spots,” Pleasanton houses the headquarters of Safeway, Ellie Mae, Blackhawk Network and other major employers—and a median price tag of $1.1 million. Top-rated schools and attractions such as the county fair make Pleasanton a great place to work, live and play.
Families are also drawn to the easy commuting options—Pleasanton is on the BART. The school district also has major appeal, with a Spanish immersion program many families rave about. All of this combined with a cute downtown, tons of activities and, even, a popular summer concert series in the park makes Plesanton a must-see for families.
Oakland, CA (East Bay)
The county seat of Alameda County has much to offer families in the way of history, nature and art, plus first-class theaters, restaurants and galleries. A home here averages about $702,000—though keep in mind prices can swing considerably from neighborhood to neighborhood, with many topping the million-dollar mark for a two- to three-bedroom.
Live in Oakland and you’ll be just 12 miles to San Francisco, making this a great Bay Area suburb option for many. But, chances are, once you’re home you’ll stay home—Oakland has it all, including pro sports, Michelin-ranked restaurants and tons to do right here in the community.
Pacifica, CA (The Peninsula)
Looking for a beachy suburb? Start here. Pacifica is home to a top-notch surfing destination and amazing beaches—but that’s just the beginning. Here, you’ll get the great outdoors—think beautiful rolling hills, tons of parks and playgrounds, and loads of green spaces—all just 15 miles south of San Francisco. And, better still, homes average $995,000.
San Bruno, CA (The Peninsula)
Close to all the action, San Bruno is situated in the beautiful lowlands of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just 12 miles south of downtown. If you’re looking for an easy commute, lots of fun things to see and do and a median home cost of $920,000, San Bruno is a must-see. Another perk? If you’re reluctant to give up city living, you’ll easily find lots of amenities and nightlife in San Bruno.
If your budget is in the sub-$1 million range, consider…
Petaluma, CA (North Bay)
Touted as the #4 Best Place to Live in Sonoma County, Petaluma has great schools, access to some of the state’s best vineyards and a competitive average housing price around $680,000—think of all the wine you can buy with those savings! And besides the vino-based perks, schools here are top-tier, earning an “A” from Niche.
Pleasant Hill, CA (East Bay)
Homebuyers have some serious purchasing power in this suburb 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, where the average home goes for about $740,000. But that’s just the beginning—stunning scenery, good public schools and ample eateries and bars make Pleasant Hill a highly desirable place to put down roots. Another perk? Pleasant Hill is on the BART.
Martinez, CA (East Bay)
The county seat of Contra Costa County, Martinez has a small-town feel plus a charming downtown lined with antique stores and historic buildings. Even better, it’s nestled on the beautiful shores of the Carquinez Strait—and home prices average $562,000, making this an excellent, affordable Bay Area suburb option.
Dublin, CA (East Bay)
Dublin’s name comes as no accident—the population once heavily skewed towards Irish families who spent generations in the community. Now, Dublin is a go-to for young city families—in 2018, Dublin ranked among the fastest-growing cities in the state thanks to its highly ranked public schools and average home prices hovering around $890,000. Kids also love the local water park and aquatics facility, perfect for cooling off on hot summer days in this Bay Area suburb.
San Francisco, CA Peninsula
We Can Help You
There are hundreds of towns to choose from. How do you figure it all out? You simply don’t, without getting a Suburban Jungle Strategist to help you through it all. Schedule here for your strategy session with our innovative suburbs strategy team. All services are completely free.