Living in Montclair in Oakland, CA
Berkeley Parents Network >
Housing, Neighborhoods, & Moving >
Living in Montclair in Oakland, CA
Moving to Montclair with a newborn, need community
We just saw a house in Piedmont Pines (near Montclair) and
are interested in moving there from SF, I'm due in July. I
tried to find some parks where we could meet other moms,
community centers and such but to no avail. I would love to
connect to other Mom's who live in this area and to find out
ways in which we can build a community. The house is on a
slope with no accessible walking areas or backyard so it's
vital for me to meet other Moms in the area somehow. Thanks
so much for your time and attention. Sincerely, Devon
I have older children so can't give you specific groups to
join but there are a ton of families with babies and young
kids in the area. Montclair Park at the bottom of the hill,
in the village, is huge with lots of people with babies, the
rec center attached to the park has all kinds of
classes/groups for people with babies, Montclair Community
Play Center on Thornhill is a co-op play based pre-school
and probably has resources, as well as searching for or
connecting with area mom's groups through BPN... welcome to
the neighborhood! Maggie
Re: Moving to Oakland with small children
I live in Montclair myself - it has a slightly
more rural feel than Rockridge and the 2 public elementary
schools here are excellent (middle school is improving
steadily); because of the hills some parts are more walkable
than others, but you have easy access to large and beautiful
regional parks for hiking, etc.
If you stay in the areas
of Montclair that are close to the business district, it is
also very walkable, but not so much in the hills. All three
are well established, good neighborhoods.
Re: Best neighborhood for commute to south bay
I suppose it depends on your tolerance for sitting in
traffic every day! I live in Montclair and have worked in
tech in the south bay for five years -- four in Belmont, and
the last year in Mountain View. Montclair is a family-
friendly neighborhood with good schools and easy access to
Highway 13, which can take you to 580 and then on to 880, or
to 24 and then 880 (this route tends to get bigger backups
than going on 13 south). My commute to Belmont was 40-60
minutes, with most of the backup occurring at the
interchange of 92 and 101 South in the mornings, and 92/880
in the evenings.
At best, my current drive to Mountain View is 50 minutes,
but that's at very early or late times of day (leaving well
before 6:30 a.m. and after 7:30 p.m.). Otherwise it's
anywhere from 60 - 120 minutes, but most frequently about
85-90 minutes to get home. I try to leave work by 4:15 most
days to avoid the worst of it and finish up my work at home.
The most congested portion is 880 South in the morning,
North in the evening.
Frankly, I'm sick of the drive and would love to find a job
in SF or the East Bay. But some people do it for years and
don't mind it. I'd consider a very fuel-efficient car if
you're going to knowingly sign up for a commute like this,
unless you like filling your tank a lot. I estimate it costs
me about $20 a day in gas and tolls to commute with a Subaru
Forester. Or join a car pool, or get a job for a company
that provides shuttles to work (Google and Genentech both
have this). But know that the shuttle doesn't always save
time; you can work on the bus which is nice, but you're
still sitting on the highway in traffic for about 3 hours a
day, and usually have to drive to the shuttle pick-up spots.
Commute aside, I love living in Montclair, and to me it's
worth it to stay somewhere with nature and a farmer's market
rather than moving further south to the more 'suburban'
towns. You could also think about Alameda, but I'm not sure
it'd improve the East Bay portion of the commute that much.
The schools there are great though.
Aiming for a company in the peninsula (Belmont, Redwood
City, San Mateo) rather than further south (Mtn View, Menlo
Park, Cupertino, etc) -- with easy access to 101 -- might
shave a nice chunk of time off. Or consider some of the
tech companies in Fremont. Good luck! worn-out ultra
The sunny side of Montclair
We are thinking about moving to Montclair for the schools.
However, we are big sun people, and it seems like Montclair
is pretty shady due to the trees. Are there specific areas
in Montclair that we should look at that would maximize our
sun? Or does that not exist?
Hi - We've lived in Montclair for almost 15 years and love
it here. I have 2 suggestions: 1) the areas that burned 20
years ago have a lot less tree coverage - I don't know what
schools they're zoned for, though; 2) the houses on the
'Piedmont side' of Montclair (off La Salle and Estates
across Hwy 13 from the Village, especially near the top of
the hill) seem to get more sun than the houses up under the
trees on the Village side. Anything up off Shepherd Canyon
seems particularly shady to me. But really it can vary from
street to street or even house to house - come visit some
sunny day and have a look around, and you'll get the best
idea of if it's sunny enough for you. JP
Skyline is nice and sunny.
Hi There, I grew up in Montclair; first in the hills above
Thornhill and then on the Piedmont side of Montclair. The
Piedmont side of Montclair is way sunnier (this is on the
other side of hwy 13 from the village). If you are looking
for even more heat, I recommend the Redwood Heights
district. It's in the sunbelt of Oakland. Good elementary
school too. Oakland Townie
There are plenty of sunny houses in Montclair but its really
not an area thing. As the streets curve some houses will be
perched on a canyon high up and get lots of sun while others
will be lower or in the woods and get none. We found a
house that is on a downslope lot at the end of a small
canyon and get tons of sun, especially in our upstairs. I'd
suggest finding a realtor who really knows Montclair. We
used Jackie Care at Pacific Union and she was great about
figuring out what we were looking for and then finding the
right things to show us. 510.339.6460
We wanted the same thing, and found it on Rincon Drive off
of Snake Road. You might try checking in and around our
street (others nearby are Drake, Zinn, Gaspar and Magellan
-- but aim for the portion of Magellan northwest of Snake).
It's not sunny everywhere in this area; it can vary from
house to house; but we liked the combination of semi-flat
parcels (well, flatter than a lot of places in the hills)
and wide expanses of sky. Our house faces west, and we're
up high enough to see the SF skyline and the bay, but we
also still have a small, flat yard out back and an elevated
deck that gets a lot of sun. The houses around us are
mostly mid-century and the big picture windows from that era
let the sun in really well. Unfortunately we also have a
view of super ugly telephone wires. You can't have it all, I
Good luck -- we looked for a long time to find a sunny
Montclair spot, and it has totally been worth the extra
effort. out of the woods and loving it
I'm not sure where you've looked in Montclair but we get
plenty of sun. My family and I live in the north end of the
neighborhood on Broadway Terrace just above Mountain Blvd
and get plenty of sunshine. Yes, it can be foggy but it
burns off pretty quickly sometimes even before it does in
the flats. Enjoying the sun in Montclair
If you get an upslope house that is West facing, you will
have PLENTY of warmth, as long as it isn't a wooded site. We
lived on Cabot Drive pretty close to Mountain Blvd. Our
house was on an upslope, facing West. Because of the
Piedmont Hills, some of the fog would actually blow over our
house. It was like a mini banana belt.
In other words, plenty of sun in Montclair, but I think it
really varies and is lot-specific.
We are between the village and piedmont border and it's very
sunny in many places. We too moved hear for Montclair
elementary which is supposedly wonderful. However I must say
people don't seem nearly as friendly and easy to meet as in
more vibrant areas like the lake and rockridge/tenescal.
Missing the flat lands
Re: New job in SF - where's a sunny place to live?
I am sure you will get a ton of responses with everyone
advocating for where they live but can personally recommend
the Montclair area of Oakland - we are objectively warmer
than most other Bay Area locals, 12 miles from Montclair
Village to downtown SF (which translates to an average 30
minute drive or 40 minute BART with drive time to a nearby
station), and currently a relatively affordable section of
Oakland. Your children generally go to neighborhood schools
in OUSD and for elementary most of the Hills schools are
very good with strong parent communities and well rounded
education (arts, music, computer, etc.). On foggy days
because we are up high and the spacing of the canyons we are
often either fog free (sitting above it) or we warm up
faster - average Oakland temp today is 70 - we are 75+ There
are a number of 'liberal' jewish communities in the area -
we are members of a large reform synagogue with a great
pre-school and educational program for older kids - there is
a TON of amazing food in and around Oakland, and despite
being up in the hills there are a lot of paths that get you
around so I often walk to farmer's market on Sunday mornings
- I also walk my son to school most days.
Welcome to the Bay!
We recently moved to Oakland from Brooklyn (Park Slope).
While I grew up in San Jose, it had been nearly 20 years
since I left the Bay Area, so coming back feels very much
like we are getting to know things from scratch.
We knew we did not want to be in the South Bay. Too far from
work, not urban enough, or interesting enough. Before moving
here, I was pretty set on Berkeley. I lived on BPN and real
estate web sites and pretty much had a lay of the land
before we even came to visit. However, spending time in
Berkeley left me feeling a bit empty. The places in our
budget didn't seem like communities I wanted to live in (we
wanted to buy a 3-4 bedroom for 800K or less). I was really
surprised by this, so I absolutely recommend you take a few
trips out in advance to see the areas for yourself.
We ended up really liking many parts of Oakland--
Rockridge, Lake Merritt, Crocker Highlands, Montclair.
There was an energy here I really appreciated. My parents--
after more than 30 years of listening to Oakland-bashing
on the news--were surprised to see that Oakland was really
an interesting and beautiful place.
We fell in love with a house in Montclair, and the zoned
public school seemed excellent, by test score and because
the parent community was hugely involved. We took a risk and
It's been 3 months since we moved and we really love living
here. It is nowhere near as pedestrian-scale as Brooklyn,
but there are other things we appreciate. Our street is so
lovely--our neighbors are very friendly, our kids all go to
the same school, they ride their bikes and scooters in the
street (it is a dead end street, so little traffic), we have
BBQs together... we feel so fortunate to have that and
without it, we would likely feel lonely. The school is also
terrific, though certain things about it have taken some
adjustment (the parent involvement is enormous, and
expected. as a working mother with 2 small children, I have
found it overwhelming at times the extent to which I am
asked to participate). The farmer's markets are amazing. The
weather is incredible. My neighborhood is gorgeous. We love
our house. The work-life balance is better here culturally
than in NYC... my husband is home earlier despite a longer
commute as people seem to put down their jobs and go off to
pursue their own interests. He is not as stressed out. I
have always worked from home, so it is no different for me.
Culturally, it feels quite liberal, and the families I have
met seem to share our values in education, healthy living,
the arts, politics, etc.) I am sure there are varied
opinions no matter where you go, but it does not feel
The cons: We've put more miles on our car(s)--we need 2
now--in 3 months than we did our entire driving history in
Brooklyn (we owned a car for 2 years there). My husband is
driving to Brisbane temporarily for work, and the traffic is
a bitch. He sometimes makes it in an hour, if he is lucky.
He will normally go to SOMA, which should allow him to take
BART. I miss the vast selection of great, independent coffee
shops in Park Slope. I have yet to replace my beloved
Grumpy's. I also miss the Park Slope Food Coop, which was a
great place to buy inexpensive organic food. I love Berkeley
Bowl, but it is not cheap. Same with Whole Foods. I miss
fall and that snap in the air when you can pinpoint exactly
when the season changes. Also, my daughter's school in
Brooklyn was pretty economically and racially diverse, which
I appreciated. Her school in Oakland is less so.
All in all, I think you will find something to love about
your Bay Area experience, no matter where you end up. We
ended up in a place we didn't expect and we love it. Just be
open minded and embrace the change. Feel free to contact me
if you would like to ask me anything else.
Montclair time warp?
Can someone out there please shed some light on the history of
the Montclair food and business scene? I have lived in the Bay
Area for my entire life, but my family recently moved to
Montclair. I have been baffled by the complete lack of decent
groceries and restaurants. We have virtually no natural foods,
no gourmet market, no decent produce (Albertson's and a small
Safeway are IT--this is worse than the Midwest), and no
high-quality restaurants. It seems to me that the demographic is
not that different than Rockridge or Berkeley. Why are we unable
to support high quality grocery stores and restaurants? I have to
believe that residents of Piedmont and the greater Montclair area
would go nuts for a great restaurant like Pizzaiolo or Cesar, or
any of the dozens of great restaurants in pockets throughout
Oakland. And is it true that Save-Maxx is going in to
Albertson's? How do we stop this and get some decent food and a
good restaurant scene??? Does anyone else feel this way????
Baffled in Montclair
I know exactly what you mean! I lived in Montclair for a couple of years and hated it for
reason. I now live near Piedmont Ave, which isn't geographically far away--just go down
Broadway Terrace to
Broadway & turn left onto 51st/Pleasant Valley--but is light years ahead in terms of life
--Come on down!
Yes!! We've lived in Montclair for 11 years and felt the same way when we moved here, and still
feel the same
way. Unfortunately I'm baffled too, though I imagine some of it has to do with the slightly
(most of our neighbors have grown
children.) The establishments here are thriving and have for years, so there is still a
I'm not quite understanding. Despite that, we do enjoy this Oakland ''suburb''
and it's stability, and we still end up driving to Rockridge and North Berkeley quite a lot
I counldn't agree more!!! I moved here in April from West Oakland, where we were eating better
because of our
proximity to downtown. I am also nervous about what is going in the albertsons spot -what a
for a higher quality grocery!
We LOVE the taqueria in town and Flippers will do for a sandwich, but the eating stops there.
What is going
on here? We are ready for a food revolution!
I grew up in Montclair. Over the past 30 years things people have tired to improve what was in
what they use to be. Where TopDog and UPS Shipping store are use to be a market much like
Sad to see it go. But Montclair could not support 3 large markets, Safeway, Luckyís (and I
think it was)
Rockyís. Safeyway clobbered them. People wanted Safeway over Berkeley Bowl.
There were more resturants in Montclair, Equinox, (now Noahís
bagels) and the Seafood resturant (by Safeway) and a couple of others. I think the problem is
set up for small shops, not resturants. I remember when Cesarís opened, it use to be Don and
Annís. I think
Cesar was very lucky to have suceeded. As a kid I remember Don and Annís was packed every
night as was
The upscale market that like Andronicos (I think it was Foxes) that was once in Montclair
didnít last long at
all. (Itís now Pet Smart or Pet Co. and WellsFargoBank.) I think the lack of parking had a
lot to do with
I think what really doomed Montclair was when they took out the huge parking lot to build
then you had all those real estate offices proliferating also added to the demise.
I completely avoid Montclair due to all the traffic and lack of parking. I find it easier to
Lafayette or College Avenue for resturants and shopping. I think when Save-Maxx moves in
things in Montclair
will degrade things even more.
For things to beging to improve they need to bring the parking lots back.
I've lived in Montclair since 1992, and yeah, it's mysterious!
Some history and perspectives.
La Taza de Cafe, a Cuban tapas joint, moved into the restaurant space on Thornhill a few years
ago, and was
successful enough to expand to Grand Avenue. There's now an Italian place in that spot,
although we haven't
tried it yet. I've heard good things about the Montclair Bistro (not sure if I have the name
right, next to
the Egg Shop), but haven't tried that either. I love, love, love the taqueria that's over near
Compadres isn't right, but it's something like that), and I noticed that a new Mexican
restaurant is opening
just up the street from that. I also like the sushi place on La Salle -- it's not gourmet, but
basic and not
I like the farmers market, and the wine store. Montclair has a number of nice coffee places,
which is a plus.
There used to be a nice grocery in the spot above the 76 station (near Park Avenue, where the
Pet Food Express
is, but at the other end near Colors). I don't know why they left.
There used to be a nice produce and organic stuff place (but
tiny) on Thornhill near the Thornhill Coffee Shop. It went out of business at least 5 years
ago. I notice
that in that same strip, a few doors down from the coffee shop, a new small produce place is
hopeful about that!
I subscribe to a CSA (Full Belly Farms) and get the bulk of my other groceries from Trader
Joes. When I do go
to Albertsons, it meets my needs. I also occasionally venture to Berkeley Bowl, Cheese Board,
etc. I hate the
Safeway. There's a nice (but very
pricey!) grocery on Broadway Terrace called the Village Market.
You might check that out. Nice cheeses, deli stuff, etc.
When we want to go to a restaurant, we usually go to College Ave or Piedmont Ave. We can't
easily walk to the
village, so having to go a little further in the car doesn't seem like a big deal, frankly. I
do wish we had
a good pub, and Crogans does not fill that void.
I like the old timey hoakeyness of the village and appreciate the fact that it has not been
socio-economically sanitized, but a wholesome grocery store and another decent restaurant or
two would be a
great boon to this neighborhood. Is the Save Maxx thing a done deal? What would the alternative
be, maybe a
Farmer Joes or something? I think there is a Montclair Business Assoc, maybe a community
meeting with the
leadership of that council would help improve the quality of some of the grocery options. If
you were able to
come up with some reasonable recommendations maybe a petition would show neighborhood support.
Restaurants are trickier, but grocery stores should serve the communities they are in and
options. I for one have been disgusted with Albertson's and the over-processed,
artificial-ingredient-filled products they sell.
Also In Favor of a Healthier Grocery
I don't have an answer for you, but I do feel your pain. We've lived in Montclair 10 years and
our big pet
peeve is that even though we live walking distance from the Village, we end up driving over to
our old haunts
in Elmwood/Rockridge just to find a coffee place open past 6pm. During the day the Village is
pedestrians and shoppers, but at night it just shuts down.
There's a wonderful, crowded farmers market, and the ''upscale''
food businesses that are here (wine shop, AG Ferrari, XOX
truffles) do ok....I wish I could explain why there aren't more options. Trading Albertsons
(which was trying
to be a nice grocery, unlike the Safeway which I won't set foot in) for Save- Mart seems like a
step in the
wrong direction. If there's anything to be done, working through the Montclair Safety &
(www.montclairsic.org) or the Montclair Village Association (www.montclairvillage.com) is
probably the way to
start, since they're already plugged into the community, city councilwoman, etc.
Try writing to your city council member and the local office of the chamber of commerce. Say
you want a
quality shop in Montclair. Why the lack of such places? Here is an anecdote: My wife and I were
invited to an
event at a home in Montclair. We mentioned to the owners some of the places we eat at and shop.
The homeowners told us they were so busy they never went shopping or eating in this area.
However, when they
did go out or shop, it was on a weekend or extended vacation, usually at a bed and breakfast or
That's part of Montclair's charm. The minute it becomes more like Rockridge and Berkeley with
wonderful produce shops and restaurants is when Montclair also gets the congestion and
tourists. The way it
is now, Montclair has much more of a community/neighborhood feel to it than those other places.
We have lived
in the Montclair and Piedmont area for 10 years and like Montclair just the way it is. Berkeley
aren't far away when we want other places to shop and eat Happy with Montclair
p.s. I came across this community forum for Montclair, I believe the Save Mart discussion is
already in the
Regarding the lack of good food choices in Montclair - I agree! I 've never been able to
figure out why some
enterprising foody doesn't recognize an opportunity. I've talked about this with other friends
in the area as
well. We've lived in Glenview for almost 20 years and shop and eat in Montclair only because
it's close. We
usually migrate to Rockridge - to Market Hall and the many restaurants on College. For
Bowl is still the best. Now that Farmer Joe's is in the Fruitvale neighborhood, I go there as
there's not much else down there either. I'd love to see a tapas/wine bar (Cesar's anyone?) in
even just someplace that is a casual place for basic food with flair. I hope someone that has
connections reads the responses to your question and gets some inspiration!
As far as groceries, I'm with you a hundred percent. I live walking distance to town, but get
in my car and
drive to the Laurel District to shop at Farmer Joe's. How silly is that?
Just think how Montclair would be improved with something like Farmer Joe's (or Trader Joes, or
grocery) here...and it would draw in the business of a lot of people outside Montclair too.
getting a Save Mart or some such thing (can't remember the name, but yes, you're correct,
leaving and the replacement is a step down). I will not buy meat that is not organic and
humanely raised, so
I'm forced to continue driving for food despite being a short walk from town.
I can't explain the ''time warp'', but I feel your pain.
As far as restaurants, however, I think you're mistaken because there are two quite exellent
ones: the Bistro
and Il Porcellino.
The other restaurants, while fairly ordinary, I value because of their extreme child
friendliness. Colors and
Crogans are both wonderful for last-minute family dinners--they both have full bars and are
of kids at all hours, and do not generally require reservations.
Somebody, PLEASE open a natural grocery here!!!!
I was surprised by your post. You (negatively)compared Montclair Village to other areas in
Oakland that are
much bigger. Montclair Village is a small area - just a few blocks, really - and, given it's
size, there are
many places to eat and shop; you can find almost anything you need there. Also, it is so close
bigger areas (Piedmont Ave., Grand Ave./Lakeshore, College Ave.), that there is no reason to
wheel and make it a totally comprehensive shopping/eating area when other areas are so close.
There are many good places to eat in Montclair - Taqueria Las Comadres has great burritos,
Pagarung Thai has
good thai, Flippers has good burgers (curly fries and a salad come with your order), Rustica,
Crogan's, etc. No, there are no organic/natural food stores in the area, but there is a huge
tiny Safeway (when you want to just run in and go), and a Farmer's Market on the weekends. I
think, given its
size, it has a lot to offer and if you don't find what you want, you can drive 5 or 10 minutes
to get the
give Montclair another chance
In response to the specific dismay about a Save Mart replacing an Albertsons, I think you'll be
pleasantly surprised. Save Mart is the big grocery chain of the central valley that has been
successful enough to buy many Albertson's locations. (No small feat in the super-competitive
grocery industry where profits can be less than $1 a bag.)
I visited my mom in Visalia over the holidays. When I went to shop for meal preparation, she
recommended the shiny new Albertsons - you know, a big one with a Starbucks in it - woo hoo!!
I couldn't find what I was looking for (cake flour! they've stopped carrying it at Albertsons
according to the manager) so I went back to Save Mart, where I've always gone when visiting the
valley. They had it, along with much better produce and a general higher quality level of
I'm not going to say it's a Berkeley Bowl, or even an Andronico's, but Albertsons has nothing
I'm hopeful, because the Montclair Albertsons is where I shop too!
My husband and I(we also have a 3 month old) are thinking about
buying in Montclair in the next year or so..I am looking for
recommendations and opinions about the area..We may buy a
condo/apt in a duplex and or tri plex before a home as my
husband is a general contractor and has the ability to flip it
cheaper than some..Home or a less expensive condo will based on
our situation at the time we move..Either way I'd like to be
happy with either for long term as we have a little baby and
could be in a place long enough for him to start
preschool/school. Does anyone know of any online sites (besides
craigs list) where I can browse places available? Any advice is
appreciated..I've heard great things about Montclair so far and
am excited to move to a place that I think will suit our growing
family..We currently live in Novato and while our place is
nice,and I know some people just love it here, the general
feeling of the area is not me. Thanks!
We've lived in Montclair for 10 years and like it a lot - it has
a real small-town/community feel to it. Walking in the Village,
we almost always run into people we know from our 2yo's music
class or from Little League, or our neighbors, etc. Lots of
people here seem to have young kids. Both public elementary
schools (Montclair and Thornhill) are decent. The local ''Safety
& Improvement Council'' has been doing good things lately like
starting a farmers market, improving parks, etc.
To get started in your search,
http://www.eastbayrealestatedirectory.com/ lets you search the
MLS with lots of parameters - type of property, # of bedrooms,
min/max price, zip code, etc. And the folks at the local
Coldwell Banker office
(http://www.californiamoves.com/agentoffice/officedetail.aspx?office=241) have always been knowledgeable and helpful.
We have lived in Montclair for over 4 years, renting up at the
top of Broadway Terrace and then buying a duplex on Mountain
Blvd a few years back. I really love the area, and it has 2 of
the best public schools in Oakland. There are a few great
preschools and family daycare centers, too. It is great if you
can live close enough to the Village to stroller/walk there and
play in the park and stroll through town. Although it is more
quiet, when we lived up the hill I felt more isolated and bummed
that we always had to drive everywhere as I did not want to bike
these hills with a small child on the back. There is a real
neighborhood feel where we live, and there are neighborhood
block parties each year, lots of kids, families, etc. The one
drawback is that it is really hilly, so, for instance, we don't
have a usable backyard to play in, and there are no sidewalks
anywhere so I am always on guard whenever I walk or stroll with
my toddler- as usual, cars tend to speed through family
neighborhoods. Given all that, I am glad that we are here.
However, if we had enough money to send our kids to private
school, I would live in Rockridge (we rented a house there for
many years and loved it!) But since public school is our only
option, this is the second best place to be. If your husband
really can flip a place, and you figure on moving before your
child is 5 years old, you would probably make a better return on
buying a wreck in the Temescal or Lower Rockridge district.
Those are both up and coming neighborhoods, they are slowly
being gentrified but still fairly affordable. Our friends just
cleared over $400,000 by fixing up a place off 61st and
Telegraph. The locations are both near Rockridge, and have homes
with good bones but badly in need of repair. Start looking at
places every weekend, you can really get an idea of what is
available. But beware, anything under $600,000 is like a meat
market- hundreds of potential buyers lining up. And duplexes, as
we were looking for this very thing, usually start around
$700,000 for really junky places and go up from there. We ended
up buying a 2-story home for around $760,000 and putting another
$80,000 into it, doing most of the work ourselves, to create a
downstairs kitchen and bathroom to turn it into a duplex. This
is really difficult with a toddler, just to let you know, and
took us nearly a year to complete as Oakland is very slow
issuing permits. But if you guys are serious, get out there and
start looking. You are lucky that your husband is so skilled! It
is truly an adventure, and it doesn't ever seem to be over. We
are now just fixing old wiring throughout the place and starting
some mini remodeling. Sometimes, I really do miss just renting a
place and calling the landlord to come fix the broken toilet!
Best of wishes with your home quest!
a Montclair mom
We are house hunting and saw a nice place in Montclair, off
Thornhill. We have so far not been looking in the hills
because we love being able to walk places -- coffee, parks,
restaurants, etc. But we haven't been coming up with many
houses that have enough space in an area we want to live
in that we can afford (Albany, Berkeley, etc.) It seems
ironically that you can get more space for the $$ in the hills,
even though the hills are perceived as being the ritzy part of
town. One concern we have is not just the lack of a cafe /
park / market in walking distance, but the ability to go for a
walk at all. How do families with young children manage?
Do you drive everywhere? Do you go for walks with a stroller
on the narrow, windy and sidewalk-less streets? Is the feel
''neighborhoody'' or is everyone in their isolated mountain
retreat? We love the quiet and the big trees, but would love
to hear how other young families who enjoy the urban
lifestyle like living in the hills.
Looking into the hills
I live in Montclair off of Thornhill, and just love it there. I
do a lot of walking with my dog, and see a lot of parents
walking with kids -- in backpacks, in strollers, and in tow --
on my street. I remember when I first moved to Montclair, I
thought that the streets were extra small and windy, but now
they seem like normal streets.
I feel particularly blessed to have some really wonderful
neighbors, not just the ones right around me, but in general.
Folks have planned neighborhood get-togethers and safety
meetings for the few streets around me, and these are always a
good way to get to know people around you.
Ny nine year old step daughter loves coming to stay with us; she
rides her bike on the street in front of the house (and around
the hood with us in general -- she's getting very strong
legs!). She made friends with some of the kids who live nearby
and has been generally satisfied with our country living. One
nice bonus is that our yard is not fenced, which means that she
can roam the hillside as she pleases, and visit the creek that
runs next to the house. This is something I could never have
done in the house that I grew up in, on a standard lot with a
big fence around the tiny yard.
It's true that you have to drive or walk QUITE a ways to get to
get to shops, etc., but I've been pretty happy with what's in
the village (except there's no good pub -- anyone want to open a
pub in Montclair?). There's a good coffee shop right on
Thornhill, and the family who owns it knows everyone -- another
good place to meet people.
Feel free to get in touch if you have particular questions.
Similarly, our debate was do we leave the hills (also off
Thornhill) or do we head to the grassy, flat yards... we
decided to add-on to our home to make room for kids (now 2 and
one on the way). It does require a bit of energy and extra
effort but we spend a good portion of our weekends and summer
evenings walking those narrow streets down to the school on
Thornhill for the playground, the Montclair park, the video
store, the village for shopping and eating, and for the Bay
views (not to mention the great exercise involved in getting
back up to the top of the hill). During the winter months, it
is too dark to walk during the weeknights so we do drive down to
the village and walk around there. We happen to live on a road
that many others walk on so it does have a much more neighborly
feel than some of the other streets may. There are at least 5
other families on our block with children under 5 that often
chat with one another when out and about and many of the other
neighbors are often out walking and visiting with one another.
We also enjoy the feel of being away from the fast-pace of work
with deer in the backyard and the quiet, slower feel of the
hills while being only minutes away from it all.
It sounds like the place you found off Thornhill is not so far
off from Montclair village, which is an excellent place to grab
a bite to eat or hang out with the kids. As for safe walking,
there are several areas nearby. There are two large park
systems in the Oakland Hills: Joaquin Miller and Roberts
Regional, both with a vast number and miles of trails through
beautiful redwoods. There is also a smaller path (off-road)
that runs behind Montclair Village (there is an entrance behind
the parking garage on Medau Place) and a wonderful park off
Moraga next to the Albertson's market. As a city girl, who
loves to be able to walk to EVERYTHING from her front door - I
completely empathize with you. But, it has been really
wonderful living in this area for me as well.
If you turn up Snake off of Mountain, and go through the first
stop sign, you find yourself on Shepherd Canyon. Where
Shelterwood turns off Shepherd Canyon, on the opposite side of
the street, there is a path that goes down to Montclair Village.
It is wide and smooth enough for our two daughters to ride their
bikes, and we try to walk/bike down to the village at least once
a week when the weather is nice. We live on Westover, so the
last part of the walk home is practically straight up hill --
not an easy walk, but what a workout!
So, yes, there are places to walk, and there is definitely a
neighborly feel, if you get to know your neighbors. The folks on
Banning (off of Shepherd Canyon, just past Shelterwood) had a
block party last fall that was great, and if your children
attend the neighborhood schools you get to know a lot of people
that way. (The schools up here are terrific, by the way. Ours is
Joaquin Miller and the community, teachers and principal are
wonderful. Plus, nestled in the redhoods, it doesn't feel like
an urban school at all.)
Sometimes we regret not having a yard (but you can find houses
with level yards), and I miss streets with sidewalks, but I love
the peaceful feeling of living up here, and yes, the safety. Our
old neighborhood down in the flatlands was lovely, and our
craftsman bungalow charming, but I don't miss the drive-by
shootings, neighborhood drug dealers and street people ringing
Off of Skyline, by the way, there are regional parks that offer
great walking and hiking, too.
So, as in most areas, you give up some things, and you get some
things. We moved up here for the schools, and for us, it was
Happy in the hills
I've lived in several places in and around Montclair over the
past 10 years with children and here is my perspective: we
first rented on Skyline Blvd. - a windy road that runs along the
top of the hills. There are no sidewalks and few yards, so we
felt pretty isolated. We then moved closer to the village (off
Thornhill). This time we had a yard, but again the lack of
sidewalks meant that neighbors didn't come out and socialize
much; again, we felt isolated. When we bought our house, we
moved to the other side of Montclair (close to the Morman Temple
on the east side of Hwy 13). This area, known as Westminster
and Joaquin Miller is very child friendly. There are some
streets with sidewalks, kids riding bikes, and the area has
recently become very popular with young families. Our street
has tons of kids! Although you would probably have to drive to
Montclair Village, you would at least be able to get a house
with a decent yard and friendly neighbors! There are a couple
of restaurants, a small market and a cafe on Woodminster at the
intersection of Joaquin Miller Road and Mountain Blvd. Joaquin
Miller Park is within easy walking distance (even with young
kids in a stroller or backpack), and a new play structure is
being built close to the cascades this summer. We are also
fortunate enough to be in the catchment area for Joaquin Miller
Elem. School, with which we are very happy (despite the OUSD
budget cuts). Good luck with your search!
happy (just south of) Montclair Mom
We (my seventh month old and I) go for stroller walks all the
time with our friend who lives up at the top of Montclair down
to the Village shopping area. We take the curvy streets (which
are fine because you can hear cars coming) until we get to
Shepard Canyon and Saroni and then there is a beautiful flat
paved trail that ends up right in the village. The trail is
quite lovely and it is not shared with cars.
enjoys walking through montclair
We moved from N.Oakland (near Alcatraz and MLK) to Montclair 7
years ago. This was after looking in Rockridge for the reasons
you mention, plus we like older houses (older than 1930) and
then almost as a second thought looked at our current house, a
''contemporary'' with lots of windows. It was a rainy day and it
was lovely up here, misty, woodsy and soooo quiet. We also knew
the schools were pretty good. So here we are. But yes, we have
to drive everywhere, which I hate, and walking is sometimes
treacherous, though we do it often. We also now live less than a
mile from all of our favorite E.Bay parks ridge trails. There
aren't as many young families here as in Rockridge, but we do
know many of our neighbors (everyone is always out walking) and
there is a lot of interesting history about this area. Montclair
Village has the services we need, though I still head ''down'' to
Rockridge, Elmwood and Berkeley often!
In the Hills Now
We LOVE living in Montclair. We found the same as you with
regard to cost-- we got more bang for the buck here, than in
Rockridge or Albany, places we were originally considering.
We've got a 2 year-old, and are planning on having more and
staying in the area. It's super kid-friendly (just come to the
village in front of Peet's or Noah's on a Saturday am!), and
there are lots of trails to walk (neighbors will point them out
to you). There are lots of great activities for kids at the
Montclair Rec Center, and MCPC has great toddler programs, if
your kids are that age. Thornhill is a great, friendly
neighborhood, and the elementary school is excellent! Good luck
with your move.
happy in Montclair
It IS ironic that streets in the Montclair hills--quiet, wooded,
pretty, and therefore perfect for a relaxing walk--have no
sidewalks! Or even shoulders! We're at the top of Broadway
Terrace and sometimes feel like we're risking life and limb
to go for a stroll. Instead, I drive my toddler to the awesome
playground at Montclair Park or to the climbing structure at
Thornhill Elementary (after school hours). Lake Temescal is
also close and has plenty of room for walking a dog, triking,
playing in the sand, or lolling on the beach. For a more
secluded walk, try Sibley Volcanic off of Skyline.
I moved to Montclair from Rockridge, and had a new baby in each
house. Yes, Rockridge was great 'stroller country'. I have to say, tho, I
love living in Montclair with a baby (and an older child - 6 to be
exact). Yes, we stroller walk our windy streets. You have to be careful,
but we're certainly not alone in doing so. I have neighbors that walk to
the village, but I've never toughed out the hills myself; I tend to stay
in our neighborhood, especially when handling the stroller.
I've also found our particular street to have even more of a neighborhood
feel than our old house in Rockridge, although I might just have an
unusually terrific set of neighbors. It sounds like you might be looking
near us; just so you know we also love our local elementary school,
Best of luck in your search; you're welcome to contact me if you have more
Montclair is a fabulous place for a young family. Despite the
lack of sidewalks, you will find many other friendly families
with lots in common with you. And you *can* walk, even if it
seems like the distances are far at first. For example, we
first lived in a small house up Merriewood Drive off of
Thornhill. There, we could walk a short distance uphill to see
fabulous views of the Bay and enjoy the walk along the way among
the trees and the wide variety of house styles. You can choose
which windy roads are less travelled to get to your
destination. Lots of people walk their dogs and their kids with
bikes. Of course, you have to be careful, and it can be steep,
but our now 23-month old does great. Also, depending on how far
up Thornhill you are, it may only be a 30-minute or shorter walk
to get coffee at the coffeehouse near the small Thornhill
businesses or even to get to the ''downtown'' village, which has a
wonderful small town feel. In the car as you drive around
looking at houses, it may seem far, but it's really not (note
that walking long past dark without a sidewalk is probably not a
good idea, so this is different from, say, Rockridge, or Solano
Ave. We usually drive after dark but frequently go on twilight
walks to watch the sunset). Although we looked at houses all
over the East Bay when we needed a bigger house, Montclair
remained our first choice, in part for the quiet and beautiful
scenery, in part for the close amenities in the village,
proximity to regional parks and the Montclair city park. Now we
live off Shepherd Canyon Road. While, again, it SEEMED like it
was a long way from Montclair Village and that there was
absolutely no safe or simple way to walk there, we learned from
our neighbors that by taking a safe and flat bike path that does
not follow the main roads (so you can't see it from the road),
you can walk to town in 20-30 minutes without having to go up
and down hills like the road does). On this path, which drops
you right down into the Village, I've met lots of other families
with babies in strollers and toddlers running along side on the
safe bike path. By going uphill from our house a short distance
(0.3 miles), we can now also easily walk to Redwood Park, where
there are great family-friendly hiking trails. Also, the
Montclair Park (parallel to Moraga and Mountain between
Thornhill and the Albertson's) is a wonderful place to take your
kids and to meet other parents. There are also Halloween
parades there, etc. So, overall, Montclair is a great place for
kids and their families. While occasionally I do miss having a
yard (rather than a slope -- but, hey, I don't have a yard to
have to take care of so have more time to spend with my son and
we do have terrific outside deck space for play !) and sometimes
yearn for a flat sidewalk (mostly after my C-section), the
pluses of living in Montclair far outweigh for us not having a
yard or a sidewalk. It's friendly, oh-so-quiet but not
isolated, beautiful, surprisingly easy to walk, and very easy to
meet other parents of young kids. Another plus is that both
Thornhill and Montclair elementary schools are very good schools
judged by any number of metrics, including happy parents (see
past advice/recommendations for these schools).
When we were looking for a house around eight years ago, the
Oakland Hills Firestorm was still fresh in our mind. We worried
that with the very narrow, twisty streets it would be very, very
hard to get out of Montclair Hills. I realize we may be especially
neurotic, so this may not be a concern for you.
We actually ended up moving to Redwood Heights, which at the time
was an exceptionally good value. I think housing prices have
risen in the neighborhood considerably, but it's been a great
fit for us.
I have lived in Montclair since 1995, and I like it here more than
anywhere else I have ever lived. It is peaceful here, as you mention --
one thing I like best is the lack of noise.
It's true that I would like having some businesses within walking
distance of my home, but the Village is very close; one can take a quick
two-minute drive, park the car, and do all of one's errands in a single
trip; works great with a toddler, as all of the businesses here are very
toddler friendly. Also, this is actually more convenient and requires less
driving than anywhere else I've lived (Orinda, El Cerrito, Hayward...),
because there are almost all the businesses you'd need for a typical set of
errands in a three-block range; as a bonus, there's a nice park in the same
About walks. I go for walks by myself all the time on the narrow windy
streets. Depending on where you are, it can work to take kids along
(some of the streets are wider, many of them are not very busy, most are
posted about the presence of kids, and MOST drivers do drive
carefully...). Also, there are at least three wonderful regional parks
within a couple of miles of Thornhill. Again, a quick 2-minute drive and
all the walking you could wish; works beautifully with a jogging stroller,
and I used to take my baby along for a walk in his baby sling.
Also, the feeling here is more neighborly than anyplace else I've been in
the Bay Area. Our first two encounters with people here were a
neighbor informing us (very enthusiastically) of the birth of twin fawns,
and another neighbor asking us over for cocktails. Compare that with El
Cerrito, where I never really encountered our neighbors at all, or Orinda,
where our first encounter was someone asking us to keep our car in the
garage, as it wasn't very attractive.
Anyway, my vote is that this is a great place for families.
Last year we were in a situation similar to yours- the hills
offered more space at a better price but we were wary of being
isolated. After a year of living 1/2way up Broadway Terrace, we
love it here. Yes, you do have to drive a little more and not
having immediate access to BART is annoying. But, the buses
aren't bad, and there really is a neighborhood feel. Some
streets are closer knit than others. Taurus has a block party
every year, other streets have neighbors that throw parties and
barbecues, and we have met some great people. We walk our dog
twice a day along the winding, back roads and the people are
very friendly that we have gotten to know on our ''routes.'' Plus,
its a pretty good workout. As far as coffee shops go, if you are
close to Thornhill there is a nice neighborhood cafe within
walking distance. A longer walk would take you to the Village,
which is really nice to hang out in on weekends and has
everything that you need in terms of food, coffee, hardware,
groceries, movie rentals, etc. There are plenty of kids in the
neighborhood and the nearby Montclair and Temescal Parks offer
lots of space and playground equipment for kids. Getting to
Berkeley and Oakland is very convenient, and if you know the
back route to Piedmont that is also easy to get to. We go there
quite a bit. I agree with you: it's ironic that housing values
are better in Montclair- I am glad that we took the chance and
moved up here.
We live in Montclair, off of Thornhill, although just a few
blocks off, so we're in easy walking distance to the school and
the great coffee house on Thornhill. That has been a favorite
destination for our family. I'd say living up here has its
pluses and minuses. It's quiet. We have nice neighbors whom we
really like, on all sides. But ever since our children were
small I have bemoaned our lack of a yard. I feel like they've
played too much inside and haven't used their imaginations as
they might if they could hang out outdoors. We have a big porch
over a steeply sloped hillside which was too dangerous when they
were small, and just kind of not kid-friendly. We kept talking
about landscaping and terracing but never did.
When they were small, we'd walk in the hills a lot using a
backpack. When they got too big for that, we would take very
short walks, or drive to a better place to walk. But at the very
least we could walk down to the coffee shop for a hot chocolate,
or to the Late Night Video place or even to 7-11 for a Slurpeee.
Now my oldest daughter is 12 and she enjoys walking to Montclair
Village with her friends.
Another downside is that we have no garage and the kids have
never learned to ride a bicycle. There's no storage for it, and
it just isn't practical. It seems utterly pointless to put a
bike in a car and DRIVE somewhere in order to ride it. So that
feels like a weird loss.
On the other hand. It's beautiful. It's restful. We're happy
with our neighborhood. Every neighborhood has its ups and downs.
And remember, this time of strollers is VERY brief so that
shouldn't be a really huge consideration.
this page was last updated: Apr 20, 2014
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website during
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network