… with a focus on the mid-peninsula.
There are a number of general websites which cover the bay area including Yahoo Bay Area, SFGate (Chronicle & Examiner), San Jose Mercury News, CitySearch SF, Yelp and Craigslist. This post is mostly about living in the SF bay area. I have a separate post about visiting Northern California as a tourist.
Mid Peninsula Neighborhoods: The best public schools in the middle peninsula seem to be Cupertino (especially the magnet schools), Palo Alto, and the Mission District in Fremont. Mountain View and Los Altos metrics aren’t as good at Palo Alto High School, but the kids are a lot less stressed. I think they hit an ideal balance of encouraging kids to excel without weighing them down with too much. Girl’s Middle School, located in Palo Alto, is an excellent private school. See the California School Dashboard for school performance numbers… but remember that these numbers are more an indication of the social-economic status of the kids than the raw quality of the education. The more investment parents make, the better the kids experience.
Weather: The weather in Mountain View is great! It’s normally sunny with comfortable temperatures. I joke that we don’t have weather, we have climate. Every now an then it will get below freezing in the middle of a winter night. The temperature crosses 90F several times a year. It rains periodically between Nov-Apr… but the sun will often come out on the same day. Most of the year you can plan outdoor activities without concern that the weather is going to spoil your plans. If the weather in Mountain View is too boring, cool off 10-20 degrees on the coast by Half Moon Bay, head to Pacifica for some fog, or go inland and get baked in the central valley. If you need snow, head up to Lake Tahoe.
Events: Any given day the question is not if there is an interesting event, but do I have time for one or two. Movies (mid peninsula), Shoreline Amphitheatre, Stanford Lively Arts, Palo Alto Weekly, SF Arts Monthly, MetroActive, SF weekly, BestofBerkeley, Los Altos Online, Cuportino Parks and Recreation, American Conservatory Theater (ACT), Berkeley Rep Theater, BayArea Concerts. You could also check zvents and upcoming for various events. Kid friend events are covered at chatterblock
Museums: Our family really enjoys the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and you have Fine Arts Museums of SF right around the corner. SF Modern Art is excellent. The Exploratorium is one of the best science museums in the world. Adults as well as kids will have a great time. Where else would you find The Tech Museum and the Computer History Museum but in silicon valley. Younger children will enjoy the Children’s Discovery Museum (San Jose) and the Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito). The Coyote Point Museum has good exhibits about ecology, a tiny zoo, in the midst of a very nice park. Palo Alto Junior Museum is a grear place for the under five set with a few exhibits which change periodically and a small collection of animals. The Canter Museum at Stanford is small but often has interesting exhibits.
Outdoors: There are a lot of good hiking which is covered at Bay Area Hiker, Gurmeet.net Hiking and Kevin’s Hiking Page. Our favorite local parks are Wunderlich County Park (close by, mostly shaded hiking with food stop .5 miles off trail at Alice’s Restaurant), Henry Cowell State Park (redwood and path by San Lorenzo River), Muir Woods (great redwoods), Sam MacDonald County Park, Memorial Grove County Park (closest redwoods – off Alpine, near Sam MacDonald), and Natural Bridges State Beach (old link) in Santa Cruz for the butterflies, tidal pools, and the interesting geology. Of course there many other state parks & beaches which are fun to visit. There are a number of excellent Meetup.com groups and local Sierra Club chapters that sponsor group hikes. Some other resources can be found at Bay Area Backcountry, Ridgetrail, and Midpeninsula Open Space. It can be fun to mix geocaching. into some hikes. Trail runners should check out the site trailstompers. Check out doing miles if you are looking for longer day hikes. The book Camping and Backpacking the San Francisco Bay Area by Matt Heid provides complete list of places you can camp in the Bay Area. There are a number of local zoos: Happy Hollow in San Jose (good for small children – rides included in admission), SF Zoo (our favorite… lemurs exhibit is really great), the Oakland Zoo, and Deer Hollow Farm (farm animals) located at Rancho San Antonio County Park. We also like outdoor ice skating Oct-Apr at Winter Lodge in Palo Alto. Webb Ranch off Alpine Road is a great place to learn how to ride horses. Alcatraz is always interesting and Filoli Gardens is a beautiful site to visit.
Food: [This section is outdated. Some more recent notes on my great meals page.] tend to agree with reviews found in Zagat SF. Michael Bauer maintains the SF Chronicle Top 100 restaurant list. Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Lark Creek Inn, Pearl’s Cafe (Fremont), Eos (SF), Cafe Kati (SF), Banana Leaf (Milpitas), 369 Shanghai Restaurant (San Jose), Darda (Milpitas), Restaurant Gary Danko (SF), Zuni Cafe (SF), Aqua (SF), Isa (SF).
Transportation: I try to use mass transit when possible, so when I head up to SF I use Caltrain. I don’t have daily exposure to commute traffic since I walk or bike to work, but I understand traffic is pretty awful these days, especially 85 north in the morning, and 85 south in the afternoon. Google Maps is likely the best way to see how traffic is moving. The San Jose Airport (SJC) is more convenient than SFO when I can get flights there. SJC – AirportMonitor lets you watch flights in real-time. When we fly out of San Francisco Airport (SFO), we often use SkyPark Airport Parking. Sometimes fares out of Oakland Airport are cheaper than SJC or SFO. If you mostly use mass transit but need a car periodically check out Zipcars, Getaround, and Turo.
Churches & Service: There are a number of good churches in the SF bay area. In the central peninsula I would recommend checking out Peninsula Bible Church, PBC Cupertino, Menlo, Abundant Life Christian Fellowship and spark. Further a field, I would check out Calvary Church in Los Gatos, and Los Gatos Christian Church, Peninsula Covenant in Redwood City, and First Baptist of San Francisco. Western Seminary has an extension programs in this area. Wellspring offers retreats and seminars on topics related to spiritual formation. Volunteer Info Center has links to most of the organizations which operate in the bay area.
Higher Education: Colleges in the area include Stanford (Campus Map), UC Berkeley (UCB Extension Continuing Ed), Foothill/DeAnza, San Jose State, Santa Clara University, and UC Santa Cruz (UCSC Extension Continuing Ed)
Do You Want to Live Here?: If you are thinking about moving to the bay area, the McCormack’s Relocation Guides and/or Relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley could be useful books. The SFBay is a vibrant, multi-cultural area filled with interesting people who have come from all parts of the world, an active art and music scene, lots of great restaurants, and countless outdoors activities. Within a few hours drive in a car are wondrous destinations: wine country, Lake Tahoe (skiing, hiking, etc), rugged ocean coastline and beaches, and incredible parks like Yosemite. There is nowhere else on the planet that can match the SFBay area for high tech opportunities: a combination of world class universities, a critical mass of high tech companies, a culture of collaboration, and 70% of the world’s VC money. There is a dark side: the area’s materialism exemplified by the pursuit of wealth, and the busyness of people which make forming authentic communities difficult. On the other hand, I have noticed the materialism and pace of life which has characterized the SFBay has been spreading throughout the USA, even into the mid-west where there are not as many opportunities, and companies haven’t figured out that an accelerated life means companies need to be flexible. The cost of living in the SFbay is very high… mostly because of the high cost of housing though redfin might drop realtor fees. Some people have raised an alarm over price of homes, suggesting that housing is a bubble which is about to pop. Right now monthly rents are significantly cheaper than what mortgage payments would be for a similar home. My personal belief is that unless someone already owns a home in an expensive market, purchasing a house in the bay area does not make good financial sense at this time… but I could easily be wrong since I still can’t believe how much people are paying today. Pay in the bay area is a bit higher than other areas, see salary.com, payscale.com, salaryscout.com, or indeed.com for real data, but this doesn’t cover the added cost of housing. [Unless you are moving into the area from a location with equally high priced housing, you are going to be renting.] People from small cities or towns complain that buildings are packed to close together, there are too many people, and that house lots are measured in feet, not acres. People from large cities complain that the area is too spread out without adequate mass transit. The Bay area is very secularized, with less than 5% of the populate attending religious services each week. We are hopefully done with rolling blackout and liquification during earthquakes for awhile. For another take, a survey of people about best things about the bay area.