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Living in Marin County CA

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Considering leaving Berkeley for Marin

Feb 2013

Hi everyone, Thanks for all the insight and advice you have to offer. We are in turmoil since moving to Berkely from a great public school system on the East Coast. We love the diversity, the vibrant atmosphere, and the progressive attitude but we want to live in an old fashion neighborhood where kids go to public school and play in the neighborhood together.

We have been looking at areas of Marin and wonder if anyone has up to date information on which neighborhoods are warm and welcoming with excellent public schools and smaller class sizes. We really want a school that has a more progressive approach to education, provides differentiated learning and does not teach to the test. Places we are considering include: Dixie School district, Mill Valley, Tiburon, and Ross. Any input is very much appreciated. Seeking a wonderful place to call home

We love Marin, as well, and may move there over the summer if we can sell our house in Berkeley for the right price. The neighborhood we like best is Terra Linda in San Rafael (Dixie School district). We love the homes there (we're partial to Eichlers and Eichler-knock-offs - not everyone's cup of tea, though!), but more importantly the neighborhood itself seems friendly and family-oriented. We also like how close we would be to open space, and the weather is warmer during the summer, which we appreciate.

Re: Mill Valley - it's funny, Mill Valley was my dream town for many years (so incredibly beautiful!) until a friend moved there. The more I visited, the less I liked it. A sizeable portion of the population seemed (to me) to be pretty snobby and not very friendly.

I do not know much about Tiburon or Ross except that they are very expensive, but also extremely pretty areas. Tiburon is closer to SF, if that matters to you or your husband... Ross is further away so I assume it would be a much longer commute.

Another place to check out would be Fairfax, especially if you appreciate the progressive vibe of Berkeley. It's boho and beautiful and has a really cute downtown. Also, the people there are friendly, and the town itself has a real sense of community. And the schools (as far as I know) are excellent. Fairfax is also on our list, though Terra Linda is a bit more our style.

Anyway, I've lived in the Bay Area my whole life and the general stereotype about Marin County is that it's very snobby and homogeneous. Some of this is true: it is certainly less diverse than the East Bay, and in some areas people have a ton of money which can lead to snottiness.

However, we've spent the better part of a year hanging out in San Rafael, Fairfax, San Anselmo (another choice for you), and Novato (cheaper and still in beautiful Marin but the town itself is not as pretty) - going to parks with our kids, patronizing shops and restaurants, etc, and we've had nothing but good experiences. (By the way, I am Latina and my husband is 'white'.) People have been friendly and I actually enjoy the playground experience more in Marin than in Berkeley.

That said, the big reason why we're thinking of staying (and it would be a sacrifice - our home in Berkeley is small and a bigger house in our same neighborhood is out of our price range) is *because* of the schools! So I was surprised when you cited the public school system as a reason for moving.

BUSD is actually highly rated (check out for individual school scores), but more importantly, my husband and I see the work our son is doing in 1st grade and what he is learning and we have been beyond pleased. We also love the school itself (Berkeley Arts Magnet, or BAM) - it has a great sense of community and our sensitive boy is thriving there.

I should also say here that we were kind of skeptical of the school system in Berkeley at first - we are practicing Catholics and don't really fit the Berkeley mold in some ways, so we originally thought we'd send our children to Catholic schools - but we have been incredibly happy with our experience. One of the reasons we chose BUSD is because we have 4 kids and Catholic school would have been too pricey (ironic, eh?), but I have to say, at this point even if our parish offered us a full scholarship, we would still stick with the Berkeley public schools. That's how much we love BAM.

Also, if you are concerned about teaching to the test (I share that concern, as well), I don't see that happening. The kids do all sorts of creative-type learning... nothing seems dry or 'rote' at all.

And I do totally hear you on the neighborhood schools thing, although we are lucky in that BAM does happen to be the school closest to our house. I love being able to walk our son to school, I have to say. Believe it or not, I'd be giving this up if we moved to Terra Linda, as the neighborhood elementary school in that particular 'hood is actually too far a walk.

Anyway, hope this helps you with your decision. If you'd like to chat more, please feel free to email me, and best wishes! monica

Fairfax, Marin vs Berkeley

March 2010

I'm sure there are others who have struggled with this choice but am hoping for some fresh advice from those who know Fairfax. We are trying to make a choice between Berkeley (easier commute, established friends/community, bigger homes on average, personal history) and Fairfax, Marin Co (closer to nature, public schools, maybe closer-knit community?, less 'urban stress'). Boy, we can't do it! We are primarily thinking of the school system for our kids, one of whom gets easily overwhelmed and we have taken out of the local public and put in an independent school. The tuition is too much and we want to get our own house, hence the conundrum.

Anyone else out there make the choice to leave the East Bay for the schools in Fairfax? Was it the right choice for you? What did you miss? We have already thought about the diversity issue and all the great urban perks like food, movies, art shows, etc. However, the stress that can come with 'diversity' (I went to BHS) can also be an issue, particularly for a sensitive kid. What about the intellectual community in F? I'm attached to Cal and also love being close to the people I work with there. What about the high school in Fairfax (Drake)? BHS has some issues, but a lot of opportunity too. Is it safe but also 'vanilla'? Do they teach things akin to Howard Zinn in the HS?

Just trying to get a feel for what it is 'really' like before we make the mortgage-commitment. east bay folks

I grew up in Marin. Fairfax and most of West Marin had the reputation of being the 'Berkeley' of Marin. That being said....Marin County is very white and very rich. I lived there recently (not Fairfax) with my kids for one academic year and I was shocked at the money and attitudes. I think that Berkeley is much more diverse-and the schools you are comparing will reflect that. I have heard Drake High is a very good school and if you check test scores I imagine Drake will score higher due to the affluent population and all that it brings. Of course Marin is beautiful, clean, and safe. Good luck with your choice. anon

How to meet other Marin parents

March 2007

I moved to Marin (San Anselmo) almost 2 years ago, and my daughter started public kindergarten last fall. I am looking for some way to connect with other moms who have careers, and moms and dads who are interested in things like comtemporary art, books, politics, design, etc. People who like to get together and talk about ideas and images and culture, not just about what they are doing with all their money. It might be a bit early to be complaining, it takes time to get to know people, but I feel like a fish out of water there. I work full- time in a high pressure career (both because I enjoy it AND ALSO because we need my income to survive), so I am not able to be a room parent, organize all the class parties and field trips, etc. I do volunteer once a month (as does my husband) to be the class parent helper. Usually my husband drops off /picks up my daughter, so he sees all the other parents (mostly mothers) more than I do. But when I'm around, I make efforts to be friendly. Regardless, the mom clique usually just nods hello and then goes on talking amongst itself, not leaving much room for entree. It would be nice to have some kind of relationship with the parents of the kids my daughter spends her days with (hell, it would be nice to have a single name to put down for''emergency contact!''), but I get the feeling that I have little in common with these people. Judging by the talk I hear (and I'm sure there are some exceptions to be found), the mothers seem to do yoga and remodel their houses, and the fathers work ''in finance.'' On occasions when I have been around these moms in more social situations (always school- related), the conversations, when not about kids, are usually weighted toward how good someone already looks after just giving birth, who's wearing the cutest work-out clothes, and how frustrating contractors are. I find it hard to believe that these educated, successful people have nothing else going on, so I'd like to think that they just fall to the least common conversation denominator - stuff they feel they can all relate to, because it's easy an unlikely to offend. But how do I find out if there is more ''There'' there? How do I find a meaningful social life here? There is no BPN for Marin, which is such a drag! (If I had the time, I'd think about starting one!) I tried Craig's List, but the ''Women for women - looking for friendship'' posts seemed a bit creepy, and most were young girls looking for''new friends to party with!!'' I'm actually considering posting signs on bulletin boards - but where? I thought by now I'd have naturally created a group of friends. I've never had any trouble in the past. Any thoughts or advice much appreciated! anon

What if you started a book group and posted for members on a local bulletin board, perhaps at a book store? It could be a mom's book group so maybe you'd get some mothers with children around the age of your daughter. Or, what about a working moms mom's group?

I have found that getting to know other moms one on one works MUCH better than trying to break into a group. What if you scheduled a play date with a child that your daughter likes and then invited the mom to have tea/coffee when she dropped off or picked up?

You might want to try to figure out which moms work, whether part time or full time, and see if you feel more of a connection with them. Of course they won't be chatting in front of the school, they will be rushing off, or they have someone else bringing the kids to school.

I think it takes a long time to get settled into a new community. That being said, I think Marin would be a VERY hard place to settle into. I went to high school there (a long time ago) but whenever I'm there now I can feel how different it is than the East Bay. Your might have to work hard to find people with whom you can connect. anon.

Have you heard of Southern Marin Moms? -- I'm not a member but I've heard good things about it. Might be a good way to connect with other like-minded parents. Start a Marin moms' salon....

Speaking of Marin moms' salons, Book Passage in Corte Madera offers a class every Sunday for moms who write. Even if you're not a writer, it might be a fun, inspiring place to be, share ideas, meet people, etc.

Another thought: have a party, invite the school parents over? Maybe over a glass of wine, it'll be easier to connect with a few....

I find I meet people when I least expect it: in a cafe, at the dog park or playground. In fact, Coffee Roasters in San Anselmo on a Saturday morning is bustling with parents. It's our favorite cafe in Marin. My husband and I met a really nice father there the other day, someone we felt we connected with. good luck! amy

Hi, We live in Marin. We moved to Mill Valley from Berkeley about three years ago. I love living here but at first, like you, I was anxious about ''fitting in'' or finding like minded people. I think we all go through this when we move. I enjoyed Berkeley but there were reasons why we left. I needed to remind myself of those reasons during the first six months after our move.

ItUs true that the people here can be annoying but, frankly, I thought a lot of people in SF and Berkeley were annoying too while I was living there. ThereUs no doubt a lot of people in Marin have money but that doesnUt mean everyone here is superficial. I would tend to ignore those types people anyway. However, your post seemed to over generalize and continue that stereotype of the people who live in Marin. The majority of the people IUve met are incredibly nice, very smart, and hard working people who do not spend their days pondering how to burn through their money.

You asked about groups. There is a group that I joined called Southern Marin Mother's Club (SMMC). I believe there is a group for residents in your area called Ross Valley Mother's Club. Through the SMMC, I was able to make friends, find a job, and learn more about schools, businesses, and the community.

Almost every day I look around and feel so happy and fortunate that I could move here. Marin is an incredible place. Anon

I understand where you are coming from. I didn't grow up in Marin, but I've lived here for 10 years. I have found it to be a pretty tough place to make friends, and I finally feel like I have a group of people who I can relate to. Have you tried the San Rafael Mother's Club? I'm sure you could find a playgroup with down-to-earth people. they also have an email group: I'm not sure if your kids go to Wade Thomas or Brookside... I know 2 moms at Brookside who are down-to-earth and great, but both work! So they will drop their kids off, and pick them up, but not be the ones hanging around talking about remodeling! PS I'm always amazed when the IJ comes out with the average annual income for families in Marin. It's somewhere around $90,000 which means that not everyone has a bunch of extra money! regular marinite

Moving to Novato/Sonoma?

May 2005

My husband's company has asked him to accept a transfer to their office near Novato. As long-time Rockridge residents with a toddler, we just assumed we would stay here and he would just commute. We are now rethinking that and wondering if anyone can tell us about living in or near Novato (maybe Sonoma?) with small kids. Any neighborhoods that are particularly nice/family- friendly? How about schools, traffic, community, diversity??? Need Some Input

[no replies received]

Moving to Novato

May 2005

My husband and I are considering a move to the North Bay. We live in Oakland and are concerned about the public schools as well as crime and lack of greenery in our neighborhood. We would like our kids to live in a place where they can bike and play outside. We need somewhere close enough to my husband's job in Larkspur. We think we may be able to afford Novato. We have never spent any time there other than looking at open houses. We would appreciate any comments on living in Novato or other relatively cheap (for Marin) housing areas.

[no replies received]

Will we miss Oak/Berk if we move?

March 2005

Now that both of his parents have passed away, my husband (along with a sibling, who lives out of the area) has inherited his childhood home in Marin, and we find ourselves faced with a huge life decision: Whether to leave our beloved East Bay neighborhood and move across the Bay.

On the plus side: The Marin house and yard are much bigger than our current, relatively small home, and we could conceivably stay there for the long haul. We could also send our two elementary-aged children to public middle- and high school in Marin (which I really don't think is an option for us in our current locale; though we've been happy with their public elementary school here, I've done my research and do not feel good about the public-school options beyond fifth grade).

On the minus side: We'd be heartbroken to leave our very tight community here, the Marin house needs a TON of work, and we'd be stretching ourselves to our absolute financial limit to move into it (we're both chronically underemployed creative types).

I'm also worried about ''starting over'' socially there. We know a few people in Marin (mostly my husband's childhood friends who stayed -- none of whom I feel particularly close to, plus a few of my friends and acquaintances who don't live terribly near the area we'd be moving to). The neighborhood seems much quieter and more private (and thus more isolating?) than the kids-running-in-and-out-of-each-others'-houses, can't-walk-a-block-without-bumping-into-five-people-you-know, totally down-to-earth vibe we LOVE here. Also, Marin seems so changed to us now -- compared to the much more liberal and funky-seeming place where my husband grew up. Finally, I'm wary about all the expensive SUVs, perfect trophy wives, and general chichi vibe I sense there.

Of course, we've talked about selling the house and using the money to either move into a bigger home in a ''better'' school district on this side of the Bay (but with the way prices have gone up, I'm not sure we'd get something all that much different from our current abode), or staying put and using the money to help offset the cost of private schools (an option my mate isn't keen on -- he feels like it would be a better investment to put the cash into something that will appreciate in value; plus, our house is a tight squeeze now, so we can't quite see having teenagers here -- and if we were to expand, our only option would be to go ''up,'' which wouldn't increase the value of our home as much as it would cost). We've even talked about selling both houses and moving out of state, though both of us were raised in the Bay Area and can't quite imagine life anywhere else.

Does anyone out there have advice or insights to share? Anyone with personal knowledge of Marin who can tell us whether there's a real sense of community there? Or how much of an issue the whole ''status and money'' thing is, really -- both for kids and adults? Would a family of somewhat liberal, pretty laid-back, fairly disheveled, and relatively broke folks even begin to fit in there? (I realize, of course, that we're incredibly fortunate to be faced with such a dilemma at all.) Any advice, food for thought, etc. would be most appreciated! Thanks so much, East Bay mama

Hi there. I was raised in the California foothills by a wannabe hippie mom and my husband was raised by socialists in the Bronx. Regardless, we're of the silicon valley and we like money. We like freedom, we like stuff (although I'm very happy in junk shops, etc.), and we like to travel. When we sold our company in 1998, we looked and looked for a place to live. We ended up in Atherton, which is fairly ''chi chi'' -- just like you mention Marin feels.

Well, it pretty much sucks. It took about two years for anybody to talk with me (I was 8 months pregnant when we moved in) and, 4.5 years later, we have two friends in our neighborhood. One is a nice family from Fremont (Indian) in a McMansion across the street, and the other is a persian/russian islamic mix down the street. In short: NOT the little helmet- haired blonde women with the huge houses and no books. (sigh).

My caution to you? BE VERY CAREFUL. Your neighborhood sounds utterly wonderful. We are dealing with socialization issues with my poor kid, who is growing up not really having many people around. If we meet someone we like, it's hard to get their nanny to have time to bring the kid to play. sigh.

There is one child that we know who lives in our entire neighborhood and he's busy. In my opinion, the upper middle class people who live in the 3 mil - up houses have got to be some of the most unfriendly folks I've ever met in my life. ICK ICK ICK.

I hear that there is a nice sense of community in parts of Marin, and you might want to go over and hang out. On the other hand, we were at the Children's Discovery Museum in Sausalito yesterday where a young hippie-looking Marin mom was standing with a friend, talking. ''It has to be a great party,'' she said. ''I think I'll have the Counting Crows do it. What do you think?''

Seriously, vibes like that are toxic to kids. Good luck! ''from where the children have ''Princeton'' tattood on their foreheads at birth...'' bummed mom

That's a tough one and I don't have an answer for you but could you possibly live in the house in Marin and rent out your house in Oakland for a trial period and see if you like it? Then if the community really didn't work for your family you could come back. I think there are many of us experiencing variations of your dilemma I know my husband and I constantly discuss how we afford to stay in the East Bay with the expense of moving to a bigger home and the expense of school or lack of good schools....we haven't found a solution yet maybe someone else who answers will have one! good luck
Hello, We moved to Marin (Mill Valley) a little over a year ago from Montclair and absolutely love it. We are a two mommy family with a 3 year old and have found marin to be much more open and liberal and welcoming than the east bay. We love being close to the beaches and Mt. Tam. The schools are great (my sister is a teacher here) and there are great pockets of little ''main streets'' if you don't like to do mall type shopping. When we go back to the East Bay it feels stressful and very concrete to us now. Marin is so family friendly - great parks every where. We were on the fence but we decided to move for schools, safety and easier commute - now we wonder why we hadn't moved sooner. You can email me with any specific questions and I can tell you more about the specific area you are moving to - but for us it was a great move.
Before you pack up your bags and move to Marin, remember the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. If you have 2 school aged kids and you love that ''kids-running-in-and-out-of- each-others'-houses, can't-walk-a-block-without-bumping-into- five-people-you-know'' atmosphere, remember that you can't create that in a new neighborhood if it ain't there. I am so tired of having to be my kids' social secretary and drive across town for play dates, and honestly, if I needed to pop out a minute on an errand, I can't think of a single neighbor I'd feel okay to impose upon to ask if they could keep an eye on our kids. Don't take a good happy neighborhood for granted - it's worth a million! Wish we had that!

Which Marin neighborhood?

Oct 2003

We are thinking of moving to Marin to use the public schools ) and of course it is quite pricey. We are interested in finding out what the best school districts are and what neighborhoods would be appropriate. Yes, Kentfield and Tiburon are beautiful, but we are looking at affordable areas of San Rafael and Novato. Maybe affordable wasn't the word, but you see where I am heading. If someone from Marin was moving to the East bay I could give them quite an earful about neighborhoods, schools, etc...I need a marin counterpart! I am familiar with the test score sites, and, I need an editorial opinion of the situation over there: Like if we moved to Novato, would we always find ourselves driving south for kids stuff, restaurants, etc.. like how we drive to Berkeley, or Rockridge? I am looking for the real skinny! Thanks

My experience is limited, since I don't live in Marin, but I work there. My office is in downtown San Rafael, and there is a really nice neighborhood known as ''Gerstle Park'' just south of downtown. Moderately priced homes - for Marin, anyway! - nice parks, and easy access to the 4th Street restaurants, downtown branch library, etc. Lots of families with young kids. A walkable neighborhood kind of like Rockridge or Albany.

I have co-workers who are parents and live in San Anselmo and Fairfax, and they like it; there seems to be a lot available for kids and a lot of support of various kinds in the community for the schools. But the neighborhoods are a little more...remote. Traffic is an issue because of the hilly little roads in and out, and you have to drive more because there are fewer walkable areas. It's more like being in the Berkeley hills or Montclair.

Novato, as far as I can tell, is more like being in Antioch or Fremont. Newer, and therefore larger, houses in car-oriented tract developments. Big box shopping. But I don't really know anything about the schools or other kid-oriented activities and resources there.

The one person I know in Kentfield, by the way, sent his kids to private (Catholic) school! :-) Commutes over the Richmond bridge

Diversity and kid-friendly activities?

July 2003

I am wondering how people compare living in Marin County versus the east bay in terms of kid-friendly activities and diversity. We are a mixed race (asian/caucasian) family with a 2.5 year old. We like to do all kinds of activites(classes, museums,etc.) and meet friendly people at playgrounds who we can turn into friends. We find it pretty easy to do that in the east bay (mostly Berkeley and Oakland). We are thinking of moving to somewhere in Marin County, and are wondering what will change and what we might miss in terms of lifestyle. anon

I think the lack of racial/ethnic diversity is a problem in Marin. Although, the Asian community is the most represented in its under-representation. m
I'm not sure what the answer is to your question but thought I'd give you my view of the elephant on where to raise a child. We have lived in the east bay for 12 years with kids and moved about a year ago to Novato. My kids are older so the activities I know about are for older kids, but one contrast is that the kids have more freedom to walk or ride bikes to their friends' houses or to go to the park or downtown with friends. Something that never happened in Oakland. We drove the kids to playdates. There are lots of kids here and the schools are great. The parents are very active in the schools...almost intensely so compared to the public school in Oakland that my children went to. There is diversity's still California after all, but it tends to be a little more conservative on the face of things. The access to nature is wonderful and we still travel to SF and the East Bay for many things. It's not that far away. Also we are exploring Petaluma, which is a fun and funky town. I don't know much about living in other Marin towns and was initially interested in San Rafael since it is very similar to Berkeley, but it was more affordable to live in Novato. Also in the year that we have lived here we have met many families in the neighborhood and since it is a pretty small town we run into people we know at the farmer's market or the grocery store or the park all the time. Martha
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