These San Francisco suburbs are amazing for families, and well worth the commute to the city.
BY AMY GOLDSTEIN
Don’t let the headlines about Silicon Valley companies shuttling employees from San Francisco down the peninsula fool you. Commuting in the Bay Area happens in the opposite direction, too, with an increasing number of professionals leaving the city in search of more space, a slower pace and a change of scenery.
In fact, since 2000, 93% of Bay Area population growth has occurred in the suburbs. As a result of this trend, the suburbs have never been more attractive. The towns encircling San Francisco are quickly modernizing to serve their growing communities of urban transplants.
Ready to explore the suburbs but don’t know where to start? Check out these four vibrant San Francisco suburbs, all a reasonable commute from the city’s commercial center.
Marin County, 36 miles to downtown San Francisco
Downtown San Rafael is surprisingly hip. If you stroll down Fourth Street, you’ll pass four microbreweries, a local bookstore and an independent movie theater. Young entrepreneurs are relocating to the city to open design-centric businesses and restaurants, blending new cultural offerings with local favorites like a monthly art walk and PorchFest, an annual front porch music festival.
“Of all the places in Marin, San Rafael still has grit,” says Nakiesha, a product marketing manager and new mom. “It’s a city in development. The vibe is still to be determined.”
San Rafael may have an edge, but it also has everything you would expect from a North Bay suburb. Good public schools and libraries, easy access to breathtaking nature, and a walking path with views of the bay that goes alongside Target and Home Depot. Commuters can choose between driving, taking the WiFi-enabled Golden Gate Transit bus, or riding the Larkspur Ferry.
San Mateo County, 31 miles to downtown San Francisco
Whereas San Rafael is hip and gritty, Burlingame is elegant and trendy. According to the Burlingame Chamber of Commerce, the town was settled in the late 19th century by wealthy San Franciscans looking for a better climate. More than a century later, it’s retained its reputation as an upscale bedroom community thanks to its coveted location in the middle of the San Francisco Peninsula and sky-high eucalyptus trees along El Camino Real.
With a family-friendly community that values education, safety and the finer things in life, the City of Trees has excellent public schools, a high-end outdoor shopping district, and one of the best trick-or-treating spots in the Bay Area. Commuters to San Francisco, the South Bay or the airport are well connected via the highway or Caltrain rail service. Many residents also drive north to Millbrae and take BART.
San Mateo County, 34 miles to downtown San Francisco
Directly south of Burlingame is San Mateo. While the adjacent cities share much in common – excellent public schools, enviable weather, residential neighborhoods, highway and Caltrain access to the Bay Area’s main commercial centers – they’re far from identical. San Mateo also has a very accessible, inclusive, and casual vibe, and lots to offer when it comes to a fun night out.
San Mateo’s walkable historic downtown has become an award-winning dining destination where you can find multiple Michelin-starred sushi restaurants, two standout bakeries, Antoine’s Cookies and Backhaus, and a daily “spritz hour” at local favorite Pausa Bar & Cookery. San Mateo is also home to the Hillsdale Shopping Center, the unique kids’ museum CuriOdyssey, and a public library system that has repeatedly ranked as one of the best in the nation.
Alameda County, 12 miles to downtown San Francisco
With over 400,000 residents, two professional sports teams (at the time of writing), and outstanding restaurants, museums and concert halls, calling Oakland a suburb is a bit of a stretch. So why are we including it on this list? Oakland has become an increasingly appealing alternative to San Francisco thanks to its unique blend of big-city culture and small-town community.
Despite its rising popularity, Oakland still has half the population density of San Francisco. There’s space to spread out and more cost-effective housing in tree-lined residential neighborhoods. Not to mention a recent diversity study by WalletHub ranked Oakland 34 overall out of 501 major cities (compared to San Francisco at 76) across five different categories.
“Oakland feels cozier to me,” says Leah, a digital communications strategist and mother of one. “It’s so ripe for meeting other young families. If you go around Lake Merritt with a stroller, you’re going to pass 50 other moms with strollers.” For other great places to see the community in action, check out Oakland First Fridays or Friday nights at OCMA.
Traffic on the Bay Bridge can be tough but not unmanageable, especially if you time your commute right or find a carpool buddy. If you prefer public transit, popular neighborhoods such as Lake Merritt, Temescal and Rockridge all have bus (AC Transit) and train (BART) access.
Don’t just take our word for it. If you have your eye on one of these neighborhoods, schedule a brunch date or live like a local, at least for a weekend, so you can experience your new hometown for yourself. Get in touch to schedule your Suburbs Strategy session now.