Living in El Cerrito, CA
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Living in El Cerrito, CA
El Cerrito vs. Oakland home values & schools
My husband and I hope to buy our first home in the 650-700K range--a three
bedroom 2 bath with yard. We have a one year old and hope to land in a good
school district, at least through elementary. We have bid on five properties
focusing on North/Central Berkeley and Albany and we're now realizing we prob
can't afford these primo neighborhoods in what is quickly becoming a very
My question is how to extend our home search to other neighborhoods,
specifically comparing North Oakland vs. El Cerrito, focusing on home values
and school quality. We want to live in a walkable neighborhood, ideally close
to Bart or easy public transportation to SF, so the El Cerrito hills are not
an option (this also rules out Kensington). Which school districts in North
Oakland are worth considering? How are the El Cerrito elementary schools? (All
the reviews on BPN are older). How do these districts compare? We're both
public school grads and hope to use public schools, but we've heard terrible
things about the middle and high schools in both El C and Oakland, so we'd
want to preserve our exit strategy and be able to sell our house in 10 years
and move to a better district by the time our son is middle school age if need
be. Comparing El C and Oakland, which neighborhoods would be most likely to
retain their value?
Our final concern is safety. We hate the idea of spending so much on our home
and ending up in a dicey neighborhood. Any and all advice is appreciated.
Discouraged by Bay Area home prices
I can't comment on the schools in Oakland but both our kids attend EC public
schools and we have been pretty happy overall. We are college-educated parents who
decided to do public schooling instead of paying for private or parochial schools.
This has worked for our family. At the elementary school (Harding), the middle
school and the high school, there are a few ineffective teachers but most are
dedicated and very good at their jobs. The high school has a gorgeous facility and
the middle school is slated for a re-build so the kids are at a smaller temporary
site during construction.
At Portola, there are strong electives (drama and band are popular), opportunities
to participate in after school sports through the after school program, a good
leadership program (the advisor is a popular teacher), and lots of parent
At El Cerrito High School, the sports program is thriving, the electives are
plentiful, there are a variety of activity groups and student-run clubs, and the
selection of AP classes is impressive. I have met with the school counselor to
discuss the required academic classes for college admission and found this
individual to be very helpful. I particularly like the brand new gym and
cardio/weight room that students use for P.E.
Neither school is perfect and given the budget challenges all CA schools are
facing, you can expect some classes to be pretty large and a few cuts to electives
but both schools have good parent support which really helps. Our kids are
socially confident and have never indicated they felt unsafe at school. We are
grateful they can take advantage of a free K-12 public education in a community as
diverse as El Cerrito. It allows us to save more for college.
public school mom
Moderator note: reviews were also received for Oakland
Moving to El Cerrito from Albany
I have been living in Albany for the past several
years--wanted my kids to be in the Albany schools.
However...they have both graduated from high school and I am
contemplating a move as I would like to lower my payments. I
want to stay in the general area and am thinking of moving
to El Cerrito. My question is this: if you live in El
Cerrito (esp the hills) please tell me what you think about
it. Do you like it? Do you mind having to drive everywhere?
do you feel safe? any other thoughts about El Cerrito as it
might compare to Albany? thanks... possibly moving
Dear possibly moving -
We live in El Cerrito and are considering a move to Albany
for the next 5 years so that our children can go to Albany
High School. Our house is about half way up the hill. If you
are at all interested in considering a 'trade' we should
talk. We will need a fairly large house (minimum 3 bedrooms)
with a fenced yard. A tall order in Albany!
Hello there! I read your post and realized I was in the
exact OPPOSITE position, I have 2 young children and would
love to be able to afford a move to Albany for the schools.
I live in Richmond Annex and LOVE the neighborhood (the side
between Carlson & San Pablo.) Some parts are a little
hilly, but from almost every street corner you see gorgeous
views of the golden gate bridge! Housing prices are very
reasonable (cause it is Richmond) but I love how walkable
you are to everything, as compared to having to drive if you
live in El Cerrito Hills. I've only lived here for a year
(currently renting) but feel very safe here, and I know my
neighbors. There is a diverse mix of families with children
and elderly folks, etc. I think the houses are on the small
side, but some of them have gorgeous views of bay and
bridges. If it weren't for the school district, I'd buy
here in a heartbeat! El Cerrito housing prices seem a bit
inflated, but I think the Annex is a great deal. Wish I
were in your shoes
We (family with 2 kids under 5) moved here from SF in 2007
and love it. We looked in Berkeley and Albany, but
honestly, we got more house for the buck in El Cerrito. We
live in the hills and were sold by the views. We miss
walking to coffee shops and commerce, but we do walk around
the hills to parks (there are 3 walkable from our house) and
just around for general exercise. We do drive but not very
far because so much of what we need is close by (El Cerrito
Natural, TJs, etc). We also feel like we can go to SF via
BART and elsewhere very easily. Good luck! scoles
Thinking about selling Berkeley home and moving to El Cerrito
My husband and I are thinking about selling our home in N.
Berkeley flats and then renting for awhile while we look for
a less expensive home in the area. We really love Berkeley,
but we find the costs are too high, we have been frustrated
with work we have done on our home in terms of dealing with
the permit process in Berkeley, and so on. We have never
been able to finish the updates our home needs due to not
having enough money to do it. We are considering looking at
El Cerrito near the Colusa Circle. We don't need the
Berkeley school system anymore due to ages of our kids. Our
needs are: be close to a grocery store i.e walking distance,
be able to walk safely in the area, be near public transit
(buses are fine). Right now we live near Monterey Market
etc. and it is really convenient.
Has anyone made this kind of transition, and any regrets?
Is El Cerrito any better? Is this just a silly idea?
Housing costs in our zip seem to have remained pretty
stable, surprisingly, though I have not spoken to a real
estate agent. Time for a change?
I don't think this is a silly idea at all! My family just
did this exact thing, moving from Albany Hill to the El
Cerrito hills a couple weeks ago and we are very excited
about our decision. We wanted to be in your current
neighborhood because that is where I grew up and my Dad is
still there but we couldn't afford anything big enough for
our family and I was also turned off by the permitting
process in Berkeley (so I couldn't buy something with the
plans of fixing it up). As I thought about it more and
spoke to our agent, Berkeley just didn't seem like a good
value. We have been here less than a month but I feel it is
way better here and I dont have even a twinge of remorse. We
could afford a huge, newly renovated home here vs a run down
tiny place in Westbrae. We were not in a multi-bid
situation which made the purchase process smooth as can be.
Its quiet and the neighbors are neighborly. I am still
close to grocery, restaurants, etc. Regarding your plans, I
think Colusa Circle area is technically Kensigton which
would not be as cheap as El Cerrito proper but I could be
mistaken or maybe that will be the price range you are
looking for. Its probably still better than Berkeley.
Make the move!!!
We moved to El Cerrito from Albany a few months ago and are
very very pleased. We found the neighborhood to be
friendly, unpretentious, very organized and welcoming. We
lived a block away from Solano so were quite worried about
moving to what seemed to be far away from civilization, we
found out that it wasn't the case at all! we are as far from
BART as we were in Albany, walking distance from a park, a
pool and a cafe' and a short 2 minute drive (or a longer
bike ride) from the Natural Grocery on San Pablo. We have an
amazing view and a much quieter neighborhood to stroll
around in. I work in downtown Berkeley so by car it takes me
15 minutes to get to my office and by BART- a 10 minute walk
+ 7 minutes train ride. Property tax much lower, grass
greener, fog thicker.. I would say you should seriously
consider it! New In El Cerrito
Hi. I didn't see your previous post, but I thought I would
respond anyway. I've lived in El Cerrito for 16 years and
feel it's been a great place to raise my kid. He went to
Madera Elementary (very diverse and highest test scores in
West Contra Costa) and has gone to City of El Cerrito Rec
camps every summer (Swim Camp Rocks!). We've enjoyed the
Recycling Center, getting pizza and a movie at the Cerrito
Theater, Down Home Music, Fat Apples, Ichiban Kan, the
Exclusive Button store, the El Cerrito pool and rec sports,
the Natural Grocery Store, being close to Point Isabel (for
the dog) and hiking in the hills. BUT, we just moved to
Berkeley in the spring so my son can go to a better middle
school. Now we're really grooving on being in a bigger city!
We're renting out our EC home and living in a very small
Berkeley apartment that costs more than we were paying for a
3 bedroom house! I love being closer to cafes, good
restaurants, a great public library, parks and shopping. I
hope we'll still want to move back when he's done with
middle school! Just left EC
Re: Schools, commutable,urban under $500k?
El Cerrito near EC Plaza BART. Occasionally you get 3/2
houses in the 400K-500K range.
Berkeley expat happily settled north of Berkeley
I'm looking to purchase a house in Albany but it's really out of our
price range. I was wondering if anyone has more detailed info on
the different neighborhoods in El Cerrito. I've looked up info on
the different elementary schools already. But am not sure what the
neighborhood itself is like in terms of crime, diversity, vicinity
to shops, transportation, safe to walk around at night, etc.
I know about St Jerome. BUt we can't quite afford places too close
to Albany. So we've been looking north of Fairmont. The houses
west of San Pablo, especially between the two freeways have really
dropped in price, and I wonder if there is a reason for that. What
are the neighborhoods south of Moeser, Manila, Potrero like? Are
there any difference the more north you go?
I love El Cerrito. We ended up because we too couldn't afford Albany and I now
that I know about El Cerrito I am so happy we moved here. I live at Potrero
and Elm and absolutely love it. We can walk everywhere (BART, Safeway, great
corner market) and have a nice park two blocks away. And the nearby Ohlone
trail is great for bike riding, walking (the plaza is a 20 minute walk from my
house)Our neighborhood is very friendly and I feel like its that kind of place
that many of us are looking for where there are plenty of kids around, and you
know your neighbors. I feel very safe here - I never had a qualm walking the
dog or baby very late at night. Our house is small but I don't want to move
just because I love the neighborhood so much!
Hi, I've been living on the El Cerrito/Richmond border for about eight years,
just off of Barrett Street, several blocks east of San Pablo. My home, and
others in the neighborhood, were built in the 30's and 40s, and have a lot of
architectural interest; mine was built in a Tudor style. There are others that
are larger and resemble what you might see in the Elmwood district, built for
Chevron execs way back when. If you drive up Barrett(from San Pablo) or down
Barrett from the Arlington, and zig-zag back and forth, you'll see what I
mean. I grew up in Berkeley, and I think this is a great neighborhood! Much
cheaper than Albany. (I can't speak to the public schools, sorry.) Christie
Re: Cheaper but "safe enough" neighborhoods
What about El Cerrito? Some of the houses there (esp in the
hills) are just as expensive. But the ones on the flatlands aren't
as bad as Berkeley. You didn't mention just how low you'd go.
It's still pricy, but not as pricy as Berkeley.
Re: Living in El Sobrante or El Cerrito
We used to live on the east side of the hills, and moved back because
we spent ALL our time driving back to do social things. We wound up in
El Cerrito, which wasn't our first choice, but we were able to get an
''affordable'' house. We are so happy here!!! More than I even
expected! I worry about the schools-they have a mixed record but ours
has a very active PTA. I know people everywhere I go, and while the
Cerrito Theater may be the coolest thing here, I have found that almost
everyone is here because it was affordable and on the west side of the
east bay. We are much closer to all the kid things we do. It is diverse
and our neighbors are interesting and not ridiculously wealthy.
I can't speak to El Sobrante--we really wanted something on Bart--but
we really like it and would encourage you to check it out. I grew up
with ''regular people'' and didn't want my kids pressured to feel
entitled to things I think they are lucky to have. People thought we
were nuts to move here, but it just fits us better!
Happy in El Cerrito
We live in EC and love it! You mention EC in the title, but nothing
about it, so thinking you may lean more towards ES...not sure. I moved
here from Oakland approx. 3 yrs ago to move in w/my now husband and
love it's sort of small town feel(I haven't really missed Oakland's
vibe at all). I worked in your part of the county for 3 yrs (the
24/680 Corridor) and could never live there for some of the very
reasons you mention. We live near the EC Bart station, the plaza and a
20 min. walk to Solano Ave among other easy to get to destinations. I
am a SAHM and the ability to be w/in walking from all sorts of things
is something I love. The houses in our neighborhood are smaller than
in the hills, but the convenience & more sustainable approach to living
makes it worth it to us. Some other things I love about EC: the new
EC Theater (like the Parkway in Oakland), a pretty diverse population
who lean towards progressive minded politics, & the temperate weather.
The one big downside to EC is living in the West CCC school system. It is in no way
like Central Co (Lafayette, Danville, Alamo, etc), but as the
population shifts to more younger families moving in, this may improve.
Personally, I wouldn't want to live in ES because I like living near
public transpo. and you are much more removed from it up there, but the
open space may be the draw for you. Whichever you choose, good luck in
We live in El Cerrito and love it. Admittedly our neighborhood
is mostly older folks who've lived in their homes their entire
life but the new folks are also younger families with young
kids, so the demographics is slowly starting to change. We
love that everyone knows everybody and they are not snoopy. We
do semi annual neighborhood parties and keep watch of each
other's houses. In El Cerrito, you have a wide selection of
schools, private and public. Our children attend in El
Sobrante, though, where you can still get a house and feel like
you're in the country. My kids attend East Bay Waldorf School
and we all love it. You should schedule a tour there in the
Fall and get to meet parents and teachers. Then drive around
El Sobrante (make sure you visit the hills) and El Cerrito to
see if you like it. Where we live, we are close to BART and
bus but do have to drive to places like Trader Joe's and El
Cerrito Natural. El Sobrante is the same. Our neighborhoods
are pretty diverse, too.
el cerrito family
I can't comment on El Sobrante but we have lived in El Cerrito for over
fifteen years and there are some great things and not so great things.
-close to everything: there are 2 BART stations and some neighborhoods are
very walkable with flat, kid-oriented streets. Solano Ave. is 5 minutes away
from where I live with more restaurants than you could possibly sample in a
-urban amenities but a small-town feel: a beautiful movie theater with a
good mix of first-run movies, grocery stores, restaurants (especially if you
love Asian food), and a fantastic hardware store.
-good public schools: our kids are in one of the brand new elementary
schools with a long waiting list to get in. The new high school should be
finished by 2009. A new middle school is slated for construction to replace
the current facility which is badly in need of a re-build.
-the people: most folks are progressive, care about the environment, and
there is a lot of diversity in the community--especially in the public
-recreation: a gorgeous public pool, nice parks, tennis courts, lots of
kid-oriented summer day camps and activities while school is in
session--tennis lessons, swim team, EC Soccer team, etc.
-the weather: the fog rolls in and it can be brutally cold during the
summers--especially at the pool.
-lack of affordable housing: prices are dropping but buying a house is still
a very expensive proposition. Rents are high too compared with El Sobrante,
Hercules, and some of the communities further up I 80.
-the schools: while some of the schools are good, the district faces
significant budget challenges because several decades ago they promised very
generous benefits to retirees so a huge chunk of the budget is going toward
this. Per union rules, hiring teachers is based on seniority and it's hard
to fire ineffective teachers. Salaries are low compared to other districts
so it's sometimes difficult to retain highly effective teachers and talented
principals. Also, if the parcel tax isn't renewed in November, the schools
will be hurting. Having said that, we love the diversity and are huge
supporters of public schools so have found ways to work around these
deficits by being involved and supplementing--music lessons, after school
enrichment, team sports. However, parents looking for a more sheltered
environment who don't want to worry about the ups and downs of public school
financing should opt for private instead.
Re: Safe, family--oriented neighborhood?
We live in El Cerrito
and both of our elementary school age children attend the
local public school.
It's not perfect because we are a resource-poor district but it's worked out great
for our kids. The parents are very involved (volunteering in the school) and they
raise funds to provide the students with a good education. The PTA provides art,
music, and science programs to supplement what the district provides.
At last count, there were at least 8 elementary school children on our block--all
living within 5 houses of each other. At night they run in and out of each others'
back yards and play in the front yards. Some parents in El Cerrito opt to go to
private schools but I think the local elementary school is just fine. We are also
planning to go to the local public middle school when my son is ready. Most of El
Cerrito is very safe and family-friendly. There are great parks and a terrific
Unfortunately, I don't think it's that affordable for first-time home buyers but
houses are slightly less expensive than Albany, Lafayette or Orinda. Consequently,
there is more diversity in the local public schools.
El Cerrito! It has become my favorite east bay city. Close enough to freeways so
you can get anywhere. Easy shopping at the E.C. plaza and E.C. Natural Grocery.
There are lots of new families moving here, it is relatively safe and has good
schools. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is actually more diverse
than our old neighborhood in SF. Our block has lots of different kinds of families
- different ethnicities and family structures. There is crime everywhere and E.C.
is no exception but we have not experienced anywhere near what we did in SF or what
some of our friends in Oakland have. I think it is in part because even though El
Cerrito is a part of the larger bay area community it still has a small town feel.
Our neighbors here have been friendlier than anywhere I have lived and about 1/3 of
the houses in our immediate neighborhood has kids.
Re: Seeking a friendly neighborhood w/kids
Hi. In response to your message about finding a friendly
neighborhood with children - we live near Poinsette Park, off
Barnett in El Cerrito. Our block on Mono Ave. in particular is
very close knit - most of the neighbors know each other and we
have holiday parties (Halloween, Christmas, and progressive
dinner parties). It's a true gift. I've never lived anywhere
like it, and it easily is one of the best things about our home
(which we love). There are several families with small children
on our block, and I see lots of children when I drive through
the neighborhood, and when we go to Poinsett Park (on Poinsette
St. or Dr. - up the hill from Home Depot and the San Pablo
Safeway). Hope you find something comparable. Best wishes.
As a young family, we are planning to buy our first house and we have been looking at the
Albany/El Cerrito area. We currently rent and have lived in SF for 10 years but have decided
it is time to move across the bridge. We have looked around Albany and really liked it but
it seems like it can be hard to find a house for the price range we want to spend. We have
also looked in the El Cerrito Hills and seen some really nice houses. Is there anywhere in
these areas where you wouldnt recommend to buy? Is there any ''shady'' neighborhoods? We
have a 17mth old child.
St. Jerome's neighborhood in El Cerrito is a good one. St.
Jerome's is on Albany's north border, and it also borders Kensington and Berkeley. It's close to Solano
Ave.(with lots of good eateries), the El Cerrito shopping center (where Trader Joe's is), BART, and bus
lines. The character of the neighborhood is family friendly, modest, safe, and quiet. My family lived
there for years and loved it. Current real estate prices may be down, at least that's the buzz. One caveat:
the public schools being what they are, we opted out for our kids, and that was a big deal, financially.
Hi - There are no bad neighborhoods in Albany, although the streets a block off San Pablo Ave. are a bit
noisier and the farther east you go the better. El Cerrito has generally good neighborhoods, bad ones are
maybe near San Pablo Ave. again or it's obvious. The farther south and east you go, the better.
There's also the Richmond Annex, west of S.Pab., nice older homes some with views, near EC and Albany but
not really pedestrian. Lots of families live there. Better deals in the last 2, but you don't get the
Albany school district then, which has a good reputation. You didn't give a price range, but I'm not sure
what you can get under $500K barring busier streets or condos, even with the softening market. Hope that
Previous to moving to El Cerrito, we lived in a high crime neighborhood in Oakland for many years so, by
contrast, almost everywhere in El Cerrito feels very safe to me. Both of our children attend the local
public schools which are not as highly rated as Albany but have worked just fine for us.
I'm not a big fan of the hills because my kids like level streets where they can ride their scooters or
their bikes to the park or the pool. However, there are many lovely hillside homes with spectacular views
of the Golden Gate Bridge. Some of the homes near Colusa are still within walking distance of things you
might want to walk to (FatApples Bakery) but anything South of Stockton gets very steep and not every block
The most desirable neighborhoods are those near St. Jerome's (on
Fairmount) because they are close to Solano Ave. plus you can walk to the El Cerrito Plaza which has a
Farmer's Market, Trader Joe's, and Starbucks. In general, if you want something that feels like a really
quiet safe neighorhood near urban amenities, I would recommend the neighborhoods South of Moeser and East
of Elm Street.
I know a great local realtor, Mykah Larkins, who sells homes in El Cerrito and Albany. I'm sure she could
give you more details on both of these communities. To give you some idea of what home prices are going
for, check out the most recently sold homes on her web page:
Best of luck with your housing search!
Our family is considering moving to Kensington or El Cerrito.
Can anyone tell us more about these cities? Are they LGBT
friendly? Good places for children? How are the schools? Thanks
in advance. (Also, can you recommend any realtors?)
-- Need advice
Re Living in Kensington or El Cerrito --- looking for realtor -- Let me
highly recommend Rayne Palmer, of Keller Williams --- she's an EXCELLENT
realtor, for buyers OR sellers. Rayne Palmer 510-502-2063 -- feel free to
tell her Christie sent you.
Since you asked about whether El Cerrito/Kensington is LGBT
friendly, I will share my experience living here and raising
kids. We are a 2-mom family and have lived here for over ten
years and attend the neighborhood public school (Harding) which
is within walking distance of our home. So far, I have been
impressed with the quality of education there. There is an active
parent community and the teachers we have had are top notch.
I have also had good experiences on the local soccer team and
both my partner and I have been encouraged to take an active role
in the school. The families we have met at school and in our
neighborhood seem to be unfazed by the fact that our kids have 2
moms. I have noticed rainbow flags on several of the curches in
the area so I know there are some welcoming/inclusive church
communities here too.
It seems like many folks are reluctant to move to El Cerrito
because of the schools but most of our babysitters attend Portola
or El Cerrito High School and are college-bound so I think it is
entirely possible to get a good education in the local public
schools, particularly if you are willing to get involved and
support your child.
If you can overcome ''Albany envy'' and manage to afford a home
here, it's a great place to raise kids.
I love El Cerrito. I have lived in berkeley, Kensington and El Cerrito
and prefer EC the best. I am also a Realtor with Marvin Gardens on
Fairmount. We have 5 gay and lesbian realtors in our office so EC is
pretty open minded. I have helped several lesbian couples and for me it
does not make a difference. Good luck, Catherine
Please come live in Kensington-- we need some diversity! I gotta say I
love living in Kensington--moved here three years ago from El Cerrito
because we wanted to feel comfortable sending our kids to public schools
without the stress of lotteries like in Berkeley and didn't feel El
Cerrito elementary schools were up to the standards we wanted. Parts of
El Cerrito are okay (personally I don't like the ''no tree'' look of El
Cerrito) but there is more of a community feel to Kensington, I think.
But like I alluded to in the beginning, boy, is it white up here! As far
as realtors go, friends of mine have bought in El Cerrito using Ann Plant
and were happy with her. Good luck in your search.
I've lived in El Cerrito for almost six years and really enjoy it. My
neighbors are just friendly enough. The neighborhood where I live has
been changing on the surface as the homes turn over from in some cases
their original owners but we are the newest arrivals on my block. When I
go for a walk the folks we meet on the street say hello, and sometimes if
we're working in our yards a neighbor will stop to introduce themselves.
I have two young children and all of the local parks have been upgraded
in the past couple of years. Crime is higher than some east bay locals,
and seems to me to be concentrated in certain areas in the evenings or
early mornings. http://www.el-cerrito.org/police/weekly_060417.html. I can't imagine any discrimation
of LGBTs but I have to admit I've never met a LGBT couple here.
Schools are mixed, with a couple of good elementary schools, and I've had
long discussions with friends and people I've met at the park about
whether the middle school and high school are ok.
http://www.greatschools.net/ gives test scores but you'll notice the
connection between parents' education levels and scores. While El Cerrito
residents have generally high education levels according to census data,
it has been an aging community until recently and I don't think there are
a lot of kids from El Cerrito in those schools. Not sure whether the next
generation of parents will send their kids there or not.
We worked with a great real estate agent Melissa Eizenberg. She was
really enjoyable to spend time with, knows the area well, and was able to
give us a few referrals for the work we had done on our house.
Happy in El Cerrito
We're moving to the Bay Area in a few months, and have been checking out real
estate in the Oakland area. Unfortunately, we want what everyone else wants - good
schools, access to transportation, and some green space for less than a fortune. For
obvious reasons, we're starting to consider areas outside of Oakland. Can anyone
tell me about El Cerrito? Is it socially/culturally similar to Oakland, or is it much
more suburban? (We're from Boston, so if these references make sense to you, I'm
asking is it more like Brookline or Newton?) Thanks so much for any input!
El Cerrito is a great place to live - lots of people go there for
the same reasons you are. It doesn't feel suburban to me - well,
maybe parts of it are, but most of it feels a lot like Oakland or
Berkeley. It's definitely socially/culturally similar and diverse.
It will be interesting to see what others say about
this--perceptions sort of depend on how long you've lived in El
Cerrito and where you work. I've lived here for six years and
El Cerrito isn't really like Brookline or Newton (I used to live
in Somerville), but it's hard to compare the east bay with the
Boston area. El Cerrito is a city in transition, with lots of new
people moving into town, particularly on the southern end of
town. There are differences between different parts of town, even
though it's very small, with the southern half being more urban
and the northern half more suburban in its orientation. People
who live near the Plaza shopping center tend to be more ''urban,''
and many of them are trying to live close to Berkeley and San
Francisco, and public transit. People who live in the north tend
to be more oriented to Contra Costa County and Richmond. There's
also a hills-flats difference. The cost of housing is much higher
on the hills and there's more crime in the flats, as you get
closer to San Pablo Avenue. Access to public transit is great
throughout town, though you may have to drive to a BART station
if you're in the hills. There is an effort to revitalize the
commercial areas. Hope this helps.
Happy in El Cerrito
We rented in Oakland for 8 years and bought in El Cerrito because
we knew we wanted to start a family one day and were attracted to
the affordable housing (at least more so than Berkeley and
Albany). Sadly, many of our friends who rent are being priced out
of El Cerrito so ''afffordable'' is very relative.
If you want to get a feel for the community, I would suggest a
visit to the El Cerrito Pool on a weekend or shopping at the
Trader Joe's in the Plaza. El Cerrito is not quite as urban as
Oakland but it is socially/culturally similar in many ways.
My older child attends the local public elementary school
(Harding) which is within walking distance of our home. This was
very important to me as I wanted him to have local playmates. I
have found it to be astoundingly diverse. One of his friends is
spending part of the summer in Spain, another will be in Mexico,
and another in Asia. At last count, we had students from almost
every continent at the school.
Most of our friends are choosing to send their kids through the
public schools and so far, I'm hearing that students who graduate
from ECHS, at least a good portion of them, go on to four-year
universities. If you want a mellow, laid back, down to earth,
family-friendly community with a lot of diversity and you can
afford to buy here, I think you'll enjoy El Cerrito.
I haven't lived in Boston, but I lived in the heart of the
gourmet ghetto in Berkeley before buying a house in El Cerrito in
the mid-nineties. I thought I would hate living in El Cerrito,
it seemed far and ugly to me then, but I realized the ''pros''
right after we moved in:
- It's much quieter here; we can hear birds singing.
- We have had to call the police only twice in nine years,
whereas in Berkeley we called an average of once monthly (lots of
petty theft, car break-ins, even in our ''nice'' area).
- It's slower here and the local politics (and politicians) are
- The local pool is fabulous, never crowded, and the parks are
- You can park your car easily and for free pretty much anywhere
you need to go.
- Highway access is easy.
Of course, we live near Kensington in an area with more trees and
distance from the BART track than most of El Cerrito, so that
probably colors my perspective. We are also within the
Kensington Hilltop elementary school zone. On the ''con'' side:
- Most of El Cerrito is pretty ugly. A lot of the housing stock
is 50s and 70s yuck and there are far fewer trees than in
Berkeley and Kensington (and a lot of local hostility toward them).
- I can no longer walk to a wide variety of shops and
restaurants. However, we are only 3 miles from where we lived
before and I don't at all feel as if I'm out in the boonies.
Berkeley is an easy bike ride and I still shop there (another con:)
- Except for Costco, Trader Joe's and the Natural Grocer,
shopping here is distinctly LOW END.
- There is probably more cronism in the local politics and people
seem somewhat less progressive.
Hope this helps.
El Cerrito resident
Hi Nerissa, good luck on your move here. I grew up in MA, went
to college in Boston and worked in the area for a couple of
years before moving here, so though I was not raising kids in
MA, I can assure you El Cerrito is no Newton. It could
possibly be seen as a bit more like Brookline, but really I'd
say it's like neither. We bought our first house in El
Cerrito, but then because of the schools ended up moving ''up
the hill'' to Kensington which is more like Newton (the good
things like schools, the bad like no diversity). But living in
Berkeley, ALbany, Kensington, El Cerrito-- all these place are
a mile away from each other so it's easy to reach out and find
diversity quickly. My impression of El Cerrito is that there
are still a lot of aging baby boomers that live in 50's era
houses and as they pass on, young families are moving in, but
it's not exactly a vibrant community (they just redid a great
public pool though!). The only real warning I'd have, is
coming from MA where public schools are in the top five in the
country, it is more than a shock to see what parents and kids
have to put up with in CA as far as school standards/offerings,
etc..-- we (CA) are in the bottom five in the country for what
we spend per kid in public schools, so looking for a good
public school is a heartbreaking experience. Good luck again.
hi, we (husband, toddler son and I) are going to move from
atlanta to the berkeley area, and are thinking of renting a
house in el cerrito. it is on elm, close to the bart line. I was
just wondering if it is a safe neighborhood and a good place for
hi shobhana - i currently live in north oakland, but grew up in
el cerrito. my parents still live there and i would say it's
pretty safe. elm street is a fairly long street that runs
close to bart, so it really depends on what the cross street
is. but i'd still say most of el cerrito is pretty safe.
granted any place nowadays has it's fair share of crime, no
matter how ''safe'' it is...good luck!
I'm not sure what section of Elm Street you're considering
(closer to Solano Avenue or Potrero Avenue?), but I live on Elm
Street in El Cerrito near Potrero Avenue with my husband and two
year old. It's a relatively safe neighborhood. Our house and
cars have never been burglarized or vandalized in the 4.5 years
of living here. However, there have been some incidences along
the Ohlone Greenbelt/path that runs beneath the BART tracks
(these occured near the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station.)
While the schools in the area are sub-par, it's a great place
with plenty to do if you have toddlers. Just recently, the city
completed significant rennovations and upgrades to Castro Park
(on Norvell and Gladys) and the El Cerrito community pool.
Castro Park has three modern playgrounds (one with a
state-of-the-art climbing wall), a nice grassy ball field, and
two tennis courts. Also, there's a Gymboree play center in the
new El Cerrito Shopping Plaza. Target is in walking distance, as
is Giovanni's, the small, neighborhood grocery store on Potrero
As a bonus, there are four convenient modes of public
transportation to take you into San Francisco (in 30-40 minutes
travel time): two AC transit bus lines (the L and G lines), the
BART train, and casual carpool, the informal car pool system that
forms when drivers and passengers meet at designated locations.
(read here for more info on this free, safe, and convenient
commuting alternative: http://www.ridenow.org/carpool/what.htm)
I would definitely recommend El Cerrito as a place to live with
children. There are plenty of young families and it's relatively
There are many families with young childen moving into El Cerrito
these days, and it can be a great place for kids. The swim
center has just been renovated, and all the parks are being
modernized. There are some very good public schools here, and
most of them are undergoing re-construction, so facilities will
be much improved. There are several excellent private schools
here, too. There are also a number of interesting civic projects
in the works (e.g., the renovation of the 1937 art deco Cerrito
Theater, and creek restoration efforts) which will add to our
charms. Let me know where on Elm your rental house is, and I'll
tell you more about that specific neighborhood, and answer any
other questions you might have about El Cerrito. Good luck with
Yes, it is. I had a friend who lived on Elm just south of
Moeser, and it was a great neighborhood for kids. Not much
traffic, not much crime, pretty area, schools nearby seem nice.
I lived for two years in a rented house at 1440 Elm Street in El
Cerrito, and my brother rented the house for four years after
that. The walk from BART and the neighborhood always felt safe
to us. Elm Street is a few blocks up from San Pablo Avenue, so
it doesn't have a lot of ''flatland'' problems (generally in the
East Bay the closer you get to the Bay, the worse the
neighborhood). We had no kids ourselves, but the nearby parks
and schools were welcoming and safe. Our house was broken into
one time (by middle schoolers!), but that was just random. El
Cerrito is a nice place, slightly shabby but lovable, and a lot
more affordable than Berkeley. Feel free to ask if you'd like to
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