Money's Best > Best Places to Live
Best Places to Live
San Francisco, California
The road to Silicon Valley may be less crowded but the Bay Area is still costly.
November 19, 2002: 6:41 AM EST
By Ilana Polyak, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Rudyard Kipling once pointed out San Francisco's one drawback: "'Tis hard to leave." That's still true today, even after the Internet bust that hit the Northern California economy so hard.

Best places to live around San Francisco
Noe Valley
Sonoma County
City stats
San Francisco

The city's bustling culture, its picturesque, hill-climbing streets and those astonishing vistas of the bay and its bridges tether enough people to San Francisco to keep real estate prices among the highest in the nation. (And only Honolulu has a greater gap between home prices and incomes.) So if you're committed to living in San Francisco, it's important to be flexible. Don't just look for one great neighborhood; look for a great neighborhood with a few cheaper ones next door.

Noe Valley would certainly top many San Franciscans' list of great places to live. Its main drag, 24th Street, has all the bistros, brunch spots and boutiques you could ask for. Anne Flatte, 34, says she spends almost all of her time there -- taking yoga classes, enjoying the neighborhood playgrounds with her eight-month-old son or attending a local moms group.

Yet even though Noe Valley looks like a middle-class neighborhood when compared with Russian Hill or Pacific Heights, homes there can sell for close to $1 million. So Flatte has opted to live in the Mission, just to the east. "Most of my community is in Noe Valley, so we're in a good location," she says. Much of the sprawling Mission still rates as a tough, if lively, part of town, and its home prices rise as you get closer to Noe Valley. Another up-and-coming Noe neighbor is Bernal Heights, an enclave of little bungalows set on winding streets. Home prices average $500,000, a bargain in these parts.

If the San Francisco housing market is finally too trying but you still need city life, head over the Bay Bridge to Oakland, a diverse city of 400,000 where 81 languages are spoken. For outsiders, the name Oakland may conjure up images of urban blight or the superrich splendor atop the Oakland Hills. Yet middle-class pockets such as Montclair and Rockridge have long thrived here.

Montclair, in the lower Oakland Hills, is a neighborhood of attractive older homes -- it was largely spared in the 1991 wildfire farther uphill -- where houses can still be had for under $500,000. Rockridge is a similarly bucolic, tree-shaded area, but pricier because it straddles the border with Berkeley.

Sonoma County offers something different. It's become a haven for refugee San Franciscans looking for a little acreage. Less expensive than the rival Napa wine region, Sonoma's homes average about $375,000.

Despite the stream of newcomers, Sonoma still offers small-town charms. "We've sort of told the newcomers, 'You can't just enjoy this community without giving back,'" explains Bruce Campbell, owner of a gourmet lamb business who has lived in the town of Healdsburg all his life. He's encouraged new residents to support the local Boys and Girls Club and contribute to the hospital.  Top of page

  More on YOUR HOME
Your Home: Bracing for higher rates
Refinancing demand lags again
A rose is (not) a rose
5 things to know before the bell
Turkey announces huge tariffs on US cars and other products
Tesla: Should you buy, sell or short?

graphic graphic