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The Ultimate Guide to Living in the East Bay, CA

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San Francisco is arguably the most famous city in the Bay Area, but it’s hardly the most populous. That trophy actually goes to the East Bay, which encompasses two giant counties in Northern California — Alameda and Contra Costa — with cities like Oakland, Berkeley, Vallejo, Fairfield and Concord peppering the inland regions around the San Pablo and Suisun Bays. Locals are familiar with the East Bay’s diverse communities (represented beautifully by the abundance of food from cultures around the world), more humanely priced housing compared to similar properties across the bridge, and miles upon miles of hiking trails, parks, and suburban charm. Here, we’ll walk you through the best places to live, eat and see in the East Bay, whether you’re planning your next move or flying in for a week-long trip.

In This Article:
  1. Living in the East Bay: An Overview
  2. What’s the Cost of Living in the East Bay?
  3. The Best Neighborhoods in the East Bay
  4. What Are the Best High Schools in the East Bay?
  5. The Job Market in the East Bay
  6. The Best Things to Do in the East Bay
  7. Planning Your Move

1. Living in the East Bay: An Overview

The East Bay is one of the subregions that surround San Francisco, along with the Peninsula, North Bay and South Bay. It’s known for cities like Berkeley and Oakland that offer close proximity to the City (as locals call San Francisco) while proudly touting their own thriving food, art, culture and nightlife scenes. Farther east are suburban sprawls such as Walnut Creek and Concord where families settle for more affordable housing, excellent schools and warmer inland weather — all threaded together by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the light-rail system. Here are some basic facts about the East Bay.

  • Population: 2,824,855 (both counties)
    • Population (Alameda County): 1,671,329
    • Diversity (Alameda County): 49.3 percent white, 11 percent Black or African American, 32.3 percent Asian, 22.3 percent Hispanic or Latino
    • Median age (Alameda County): 38
    • Population (Contra Costa County): 1,153,526
    • Diversity (Contra Costa County): 65.1 percent white, 9.5 percent Black or African American, 18.3 percent Asian, 26 percent Hispanic or Latino
    • Median age (Contra Costa County): 40
  • Weather: mild year-round with rainy winters
    • Best time to visit: late June to early October to experience the best temperatures and least amount of rain (the Bay Area in general is known to have “Indian Summers,” with peak warmth in August and September)
    • Cool season: November to May
    • January is the coldest month; September is the hottest month

Population

Of the 7,150,000 residents in the Bay Area’s 10 counties, the East Bay makes up about 35.8 percent of the total count, at 2,824,855 people (1,671,329 for Alameda County and 1,154,526 for Contra Costa County, as of the 2019 census). East Bay residents are some of the most diverse in the country — in fact, Alameda County is the fourth most diverse county in the nation, with more than 45 percent of people speaking a language other than English at home. (The most common are English, Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog.) Similarly, Contra Costa County residents speak more than 40 different languages, with more than 35 percent speaking a non-English language at home. In the past year, the East Bay’s median age has remained relatively stable, with Alameda County at 38 and Contra Costa County at 40

Weather

San Francisco is known for bouts of fog (dubbed Karl back in 2010), but the East Bay lacks the same marine layer and often features warmer, sunnier summers and crisp, rainy winters. In many ways, it’s the ideal California weather, more temperate than Los Angeles and other Southern California cities, yet warm enough to enjoy year-round outdoor activities. June to October are the best months to visit or explore the scenic trails and vistas, with temperatures in Alameda averaging in the low-to-mid 70s, while December and January are the coldest months, with temperatures in the 50s. Meanwhile, Contra Costa County experiences a similar seasonal arc, though its summers can reach as high as the mid-80s (its winters are also in the 50s).

2. What’s the Cost of Living in the East Bay?

The Bay Area as a whole is expensive. But venturing out of the North Bay (San Francisco and Marin) and into the East Bay will open up a new world of housing that gives you much more bang for your buck. The median property value in 2019 was $784,500 ($882,100 in Alameda County and $687,600 in Contra Costa County), which was about 3.69 percent higher than the median property value in 2018. (The East Bay’s median property value in 2013 was about $450,000.) Compared to the national median home value in 2020 — which was $336,900, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — the East Bay’s prices are more than twice as high.

  • Housing: $882,100 (Alameda), $687,600 (Contra Costa)
  • Rent (one-bedroom): $1,693 per month (both counties)
  • Utilities: 6.9 percent cheaper than the national average (Alameda), 1.4 percent cheaper than the national average (Contra Costa)
  • Groceries: 12.5 percent more expensive than the national average (Alameda), 11.2 percent more expensive than the national average (Contra Costa)
  • Gas: $3.77 per gallon (Alameda), $3.87 per gallon (Contra Costa)
  • Transportation: 24.4 percent more expensive than the national average (Alameda), 34.2 percent more expensive than the national average (Contra Costa)
  • Storage Rental: $61+

How Expensive Is Renting in the East Bay?

With increasing housing prices and minimum property taxes of $3,000, many residents in the East Bay are opting to rent instead of own. In fact, about 59 percent of residents actually own their houses, and the number is on a slight decline. Compared to SF’s average $2,255 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, the East Bay’s significantly more affordable $1,693 seems like a breath of fresh air. Yet this figure is still higher than the California average of $1,050 per month, and the Golden State already has the fifth-highest rent in the country. If you’re a young professional who needs to commute to San Francisco for work but doesn’t want to spend a significant chunk of your paychecks on the roof over your head, consider living in Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont or another Alameda County city that’s just a few BART stops away from the City.

 

 

3. The Best Neighborhoods in the East Bay

While SF is a compact seven-by-seven “square,” the East Bay sprawls over 1455 square miles, with plenty of cultural diversity, topographical variation and things to do baked into each city or town within it. Whether you’re a young professional or artist looking to post up in a hip part of Oakland with great food, bars and nightlife; a family looking for a quiet residential suburb with good schools; or a student looking to find cheaper off-campus housing, we’ll walk you through a few of our favorite East Bay haunts.

  • Berkeley
  • Piedmont
  • Pleasanton
  • Lamorinda
  • Walnut Creek

Berkeley

This university town has it all — it’s a wonderland for food lovers, nature enthusiasts, intellectuals, artists and commuters alike, with a progressive, lively atmosphere and plenty of commercial areas that are teeming with retail, dining and entertainment opportunities open at all hours of the day. Though college students rotate in and out of the neighborhood, Berkeley is full of families and long-time residents as well who represent a diverse spectrum of ethnicities and economic backgrounds.

  • Population: 121,485
  • Median household income: $85,583
  • Cost of living: $1M median house price, $1,722 median rent
  • Places to check out: Chez Panisse (the famous restaurant from Alice Waters that made farm-to-table cuisine a movement in America), Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Telegraph Avenue, Tilden Park, Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley Farmers Market

Piedmont

Piedmont is a tiny 1.7-square-mile city in Alameda County, with a quaint small-town feel and beautiful tree-lined streets. Its large single-family homes are luxurious and expensive, but its exclusive pricing doesn’t isolate it from the surrounding city. In fact, with barely any commercial district at all, Piedmont residents tap into their convenient access to Oakland and San Francisco. If you’re looking for some of the East Bay’s finest schools for your kids, as well as a beautiful home in a quiet, tucked-away neighborhood, Piedmont can be a great fit.

  • Population: 11,317
  • Median household income: $224,659
  • Cost of living: $2M median house price, $3,229 median rent
  • Places to check out: Landmark’s Piedmont Theatre, Mountain View Cemetery (for the architectural walking tours and famous burials), Chapel of the Chimes, Belotti Bottega, Fentons Creamery (birth of the rocky road flavor, and featured in the Pixar movie “Up”), Cato’s Ale House

Pleasanton

This safe and family-friendly city is the epitome of suburbia, with fantastic schools; lush, clean expanses of grass; tennis courts; a massive aquatic center; and a downtown business district that houses the headquarters of corporate giants such as Safeway, Kaiser and Oracle as well as offers plenty of shopping and eating experiences for residents. Plus, it’s one of the Bay Area’s most bike-friendly cities and features some of the state’s best parks.

  • Population: 81,717
  • Median household income: $156,400
  • Cost of living: $986,800 median house price, $2,396 median rent
  • Places to check out: Pleasanton Farmers Market, Ruby Hill Winery, Stoneridge Shopping Center, Pleasanton Old Town, Firehouse Arts Center, Nonni’s Bistro, Oasis Restaurant & Wine Lounge

Lamorinda

A portmanteau of Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda, Lamorinda has a mix of everything — a warm and quaint downtown, excellent schools, and proximity to SF and Oakland — but comes with a hefty price tag. Located through the Caldecott Tunnel east of Oakland, Lamorinda features family-friendly sites such as a children’s park and pet-friendly trails at the Lafayette Reservoir as well as a downtown commercial area that would pique the interest of even a young college grad. If you’re looking to escape SF prices, opt for another neighborhood — Lamorinda is quite expensive, with a fairly high median household income.

  • Population: 63,490
  • Median household income: $181,967
  • Cost of living: $1.36M median house price, $2,379 median rent
  • Places to check out: California Shakespeare Theater, Briones Park, Redwood Valley Railway, Brookwood Park, Lafayette Reservoir

Walnut Creek

Walnut Creek is an idyllic and bustling city tucked in the foothills of Mount Diablo. Its residents are a diverse mix of young professionals who flock here for the easy public transit access to the urban hubs of the Bay and the explosive growth in housing, bars, and restaurants, as well as families and older couples who enjoy the open space and quiet suburban feel. A mere 35 minutes from San Francisco by train and proximate to the Dublin employment hub in the south, Walnut Creek is the perfect quiet home base for those who want to retreat from the city after a long day at work.

  • Population: 69,567
  • Median household income: $105,948
  • Cost of living: $793,100 median house price, $2,095 median rent
  • Places to check out: Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Broadway Plaza, Borges Ranch, Va de Vi Bistro & Wine Bar, Burma 2, Bierhaus Walnut Creek

4. What Are the Best High Schools in the East Bay?

If you have a family and are wondering what the public schools are like in the East Bay, don’t fret — both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have fantastic options for your child, with four school districts (Pleasanton USD, Fremont USD, Acalanes USD and Piedmont USD) in the top 20 school districts in the entire state of California. At the top schools in the East Bay, graduation rates are high and many students move on to the top UCs. Here are some of the best public high schools in the East Bay, in no particular order:

  1. Amador Valley High School (Pleasanton, Alameda County, CA)
    1. Average graduation rate = 98 percent
    2. Average SAT = 1360
    3. Average ACT = 31
    4. AP Enrollment = 42 percent
    5. Student-to-Teacher Ratio = 24:1
  2. Piedmont High School (Piedmont, Alameda County, CA)
    1. Average graduation rate = 99 percent
    2. Average SAT = 1340
    3. Average ACT = 31
    4. AP Enrollment = 49 percent
    5. Student-to-Teacher Ratio = 19:1
  3. Dublin High School (Dublin, Alameda County, CA)
    1. Average graduation rate = 97 percent
    2. Average SAT = 1330
    3. Average ACT = 30
    4. AP Enrollment = 29 percent
    5. Student-to-Teacher Ratio = 25:1
  4. Campolindo High School (Moraga, Contra Costa County, CA)
    1. Average graduation rate = 99 percent
    2. Average SAT = 1320
    3. Average ACT = 30
    4. AP Enrollment = 57 percent
    5. Student-to-Teacher Ratio = 21:1
  5. Monte Vista High School (Danville, Contra Costa County, CA)
    1. Average graduation rate = 98 percent
    2. Average SAT = 1300
    3. Average ACT = 30
    4. AP Enrollment = 43 percent
    5. Student-to-Teacher Ratio = 24:1
  6. California High School (San Ramon, Contra Costa County, CA)
    1. Average graduation rate = 99 percent
    2. Average SAT = 1310
    3. Average ACT = 29
    4. AP Enrollment = 39 percent
    5. Student-to-Teacher Ratio = 24:1

 

 

5. The Job Market in the East Bay

The Bay Area is known as being the technological hub of the country, epitomized by the term “Silicon Valley” that has spawned everything from a TV show to offshoots in other cities (such as “Silicon Beach” in LA). Indeed, the Bay Area is only second to New York when it comes to Fortune 500 companies, and residents, including much of the East Bay, are highly educated individuals predominantly in professional, scientific and technical services, health care, retail and manufacturing, according to the last Bay Area Regional Economic Assessment. Here are some of the typical salaries by industry in both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties: 

  • Management = $124,884
  • Business & Financial Operations = $77,220
  • Computer & Mathematical = $109,313
  • Architecture & Engineering = $98,990
  • Life, Physical & Social Sciences = $85,138
  • Legal = $105,763
  • Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, & Media = $62,764
  • Healthcare Practitioners = $95,921

Here are some places you can find open positions in the East Bay

 

 

6. The Best Things to Do in the East Bay

Even if you rarely venture across the Bay Bridge for some of the Bay’s more nationally iconic things to do, you’ll never run out of eateries, museums, hiking trails and more to explore in the East Bay.

Outdoor Activities

  • Lake Merritt. Known as the “jewel of Oakland,” this tidal lagoon stretches for three miles of shoreline in the heart of the city, just east of Downtown. Surrounded by parkland and neighborhoods, it’s the perfect place for a weekend stroll, picnic or date, especially in the late summer months. Lake Merritt is actually the largest body of water in an urban area, containing both freshwater and saltwater, and is teeming with wildlife you can spot on your walks.
  • Oakland Zoo. Home to more than 850 native and exotic animals, the Oakland Zoo is the perfect way to be transported from the East Bay to the tropical rainforest, Australian wilderness or African savanna. If you have kids, look into their ZooCamps and family activities (which include creek clean-ups, an annual Halloween “Boo at the Zoo,” brunch, concerts and more.
  • Jack London Square. Situated right along the estuary, Jack London Square is a longstanding symbol of Oakland’s history as a seaport. Now, it’s a mixed-use waterfront and marina area with a vibrant array of entertainment, eateries and special events. There’s a weekly farmers market on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to grab fresh produce as well as restaurants and bars where you can enjoy a meal before catching a waterfront (or indoor) flick.
  • University of California Botanical Garden. The UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley is a 34-acre landscape with more than 10,000 plants organized by geography. Rooted in its mission to maintain a diverse living collection of plants as well as support teaching, research and conversation, the garden is a must-see to experience some of the best and most rare of California’s (and the world’s) flora in one beautiful location.
  • Todos Santos Plaza. This gathering spot in Diablo Valley’s downtown area is a hub of activities year-round, with plenty of food options including authentic Mexican food, sushi and a weekly Monday afternoon mobile gourmet food market. In the summers, check out live music in the park, and visit the annual tree-lighting ceremony with choir performances and a visit from Santa during the holidays.

Parks & Attractions

  • Blackhawk Museum. This famous Danville museum is actually a group of museums that most notably showcases classic, rare and one-of-a-kind cars as well as offers educational galleries called The Classic Car Collection, The Spirit of the Old West, Into China, Art of Africa and World of Nature. Sign up for a group tour to get the most enriching experience.
  • Berkeley Bowl. Berkeley Bowl was opened in the 1970s by Glenn and Diane Yasuda in a former bowling alley, and now it’s a beloved East Bay grocery hub that’s a wonderland for foodies, home cooks, chefs and more. With rows of gleaming bulk bins and pyramids of fresh organic produce, Berkeley Bowl is such an iconic Bay Area institution that it demands a visit, even if you’re just passing through to grab a coffee and snack. 
  • Mount Diablo State Park. Mount Diablo State Park, located just east of Walnut Creek, is a 20,000-plus-acre park with varying elevations that stretch up as much as 3,849 feet. From the summit, you can see for hundreds of miles in a panorama of the rolling suburbs and hills. Whether you’re a hiker, horseback rider, camper or cyclist, you’ll have plenty to explore at Mount Diablo with its 79 trails, rich wildlife and breathtaking views.
  • Temescal Alley/Temescal District. Telegraph and Ashby are famous East Bay avenues, but in recent years Temescal has become more known as a hip (and gentrified) area where charming boutiques and eateries have thrived. Featuring in The East Bay Times as “one of the coolest streets” in the Bay, Temescal Alley is definitely worth a visit for eateries like The Hog’s Apothecary, Curbside Creamery, Baggu and Homestead Apothecary.
  • The Fox Theater. Located on the bustling Telegraph Avenue, the Fox is perhaps the best-known live music venue in the East Bay, with an art school, bar, restaurant and courtyard within its walls. Originally a movie palace constructed in the 1920s, it closed down for more than 40 years before reopening its doors and becoming a timeless treasure of Uptown Oakland.

Best Places to Eat

  • Nyum Bai (@nyumbai). Nyum Bai rose to fame when Bon Appetit named it one of America’s Best New Restaurants in 2018. Soon there were profiles in Thrillest, Eater, Michelin and The New York Times. The restaurant brings to life the flavors of Cambodian street food with the freshest California produce, with plenty of gluten-free options. Try the fried chicken with Kampot peppercorn; simmered pork belly in coconut milk, prahok and Khmer curry paste; and the famous Kuy Teav Phnom Penh, a quintessential noodle soup.
  • Belotti Ristorante e Bottega (@belottirb). With two locations — one in Rockridge and one in Piedmont — Belotti is the place to go for comforting pastas and drinks. Try their meat-stuffed agnolotti in a silky beef reduction or egg pasta stuffed with polenta and rabbit sugo. Vegetarian and gluten-free options available! Book a reservation early — tables are notoriously hard to snag.
  • Rudy’s Can’t Fail (@rudyscantfail). Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe still operates its flagship location in Emeryville (the Oakland spot closed down in 2019). Named after the Clash song of the same name, it’s won back-to-back awards for best diner in the East Bay from 2004-2010, with a famous macaroni and cheese, all-day-and-night breakfast combos and specials for every diet, whim and appetite.
  • Rico Rico Taco (@rico.rico.taco). This Oakland delight serves some of the best tacos in the East Bay, with the perfect handmade corn tortillas and true al pastor meat on a trompo. Located by Lake Merritt, it’s the ideal spot to grab a crispy carnitas taco, thick fried sopes and agua frescas before walking around the water and enjoying the sunset — does it really get better than that?
  • Kendejah (@kendejah_ca). Dougie Uso started Kendejah, the Bay Area’s first Liberian restaurant, in 2017, and it’s become an acclaimed portal into an underrated cuisine bursting with flavor and history. In addition to jollof rice, attieke and palm stew, the menu contains cassava leaf dishes, oxtail and more.

7. Planning Your Move

Planning your move to the East Bay can involve a lot of coordination and stress, but we’ve made it easy for you to check things off your list and get your packing, moving and storage needs all in place. Check out our helpful guides to moving out of your current home:

Be sure to download our checklists, too:

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