Welcome in advance to Palo Alto. I think you could describe all of the neighborhoods in Palo Alto as family friendly, as we enjoy an abundance of parks, community activities and excellent neighborhood schools here. Eric has provided some excellent links to school information, so I won't repeat that here.
Actually, your first step should be to contact Eric or another mortgage professional regarding your budget, as the house you describe can run from $1.2M to well over $2M, depending on the location, age, relative yard size, etc. Eric has helped a number of my clients, and his bank is very well known within the Palo Alto real estate community.
An excellent resource for learning about Palo Alto's neighborhoods from afar is The Palo Alto Weekly's neighborhood guide: http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=10982
I specialize in assisting executives with relocation to the area, so if you would like more information, or to discuss your move further, please feel free to contact me.
I recommend the Home Scouting Report because it's password protected access to the MLS without your information being sold or accessed by third party advertisers.
Dave Tapper with Cashin Company in Burlingame knows that program extremely well and is very good with helping buyers in the education phase of their homebuying experience.
My general opinion is that if someone is new to an area, it is a good idea to rent first, so that you can become familar with the different neighborhoods. So, I would lean towards renting over purchasing. The previous answers contain excellent information and resources.
My husband was born and raised in Menlo Park, and we lived in Palo Alto for 20 years, and then moved to nearby Los Altos Hills. Great area, and the schools are wonderful.
As far as rental resource, I would contact one of the agents that have provided answers to your question on this forum. All of them have excellent reputations and their answers have been excellent, and a real estate agent can help make your move to a new city less stressful. And sometimes they have access to short term rentals that may not be advertised on Craigslist. (Of course, Craigslist is a great place to find a rental.)
I went to Paly, my husband went to Gunn. My husband's family still lives walking distance to Gunn, and that is a pretty nice area as far as the parks and the places to walk and bike. You can also get to Stanford (lots of walks and stuff to do) easily. I grew up on Addison, walking distance from University Avenue, and I liked that better when I was in my teens than I think it mattered as a child.
I believe that with your square footage and remodeling and price point desires, you're going to find a small scattering of homes that fit. So I would focus home by home vs. in a quadrant of the city. For intance, right now there is a home available that may fit "on paper" near Gunn but it is on Los Robles. That's not as nice of a street as you can get for your dollar. It is in a great neighborhood, but the street itself is kind of busy and not as nice for after dinner walks as some of the smaller streets (like Cereza, where my family lives).
So, take your time and look home by home. However, when you do find "it" offer right away and with aggressively kind terms. Make your contingency days short and your attitude (through your agent) be perceived as VERY easy to work with. The sellers on homes that fit your parameters have a seller's market going on.
You may have an advantage just by being a young family. Be sure to include a cover letter with your offer that talks about your family. When a seller has to choose between lots of offers, you never know what might work for the seller. Sellers usually say it is the "money" and then when they see a family that they can help, who will love their home, that family may win just because it feels good. Don't assume you can't get a house just because there are lots of offers. Maybe there are 25 low offers. Be thoughtful and when you can, connect directly with the seller eye to eye and find out what they really need/want. It does make a difference.
If you stay east of Alma you can get to University Ave in 15 or minutes or less. If you go to Baron Park or the Gunn neighborhood it will take 15-20 minutes to get to University Ave. You can also get homes that feed into Palo Alto High School that are closer to University Ave. Paly is a great high school also so you might want to spend a little time learning about some of the unique features about Paly. For example they have one of the best literary magazines in the country, better sports teams than Gunn, as well as excellent teachers and all the fund raising for the schools is shared equally district wide.
As far as renting goes, you might want to think about staying in one of the complexes that allows short term rentals such as Oakwood Apartments across the street from Stanford or Southwood Aparments on Middlefield in Midtown to give yourself a chance to get a feel for the area and give yourself flexibility for buying a home. There are definatley homes in your price range that should fit your needs.
I won't echo all of the great information you've received from my colleagues, although I'll add that I'm honored to be part of such an excellent professional community.
Any one of the people who have responded, or, in fact, myself, will be more than happy to take you on a tour of the different areas and discuss the features of each with you to help you choose what is best for you.
Being a Certified Relocation Specialist, I can assure you that this is a critical part of your experience.
The most commonly used reantal resources are Zilpy.com and Craigslist.com, but it's probably worth your time to check out the options for purchase first, especially since pricing is fairly attractive.
Best wishes for your move!
This web site has detailed neighborhood profiles for Palo Alto, and I've found it an excellent resource for Q's like yours. A good local real estate agent will give you the same info, but this is here in case you want to do some advance reading on your onw.
Would you advise rent before buying as we are not familiar with the area? If so, do you have a rental resource?
Welcome to Palo Alto, the greatest little city in the country, in my opinion. Of course I am biased since I live here. There are some great neighborhoods for you to look at that feed into Gunn High School. Midtown, south of Loma Verde is a good place to start. It is close to the midtown shopping area and there are 2 great parks near by, Hoover and Mitchel. If you are east of Middlefield going towards 101 the homes are less expensive, but most of the area is in the flood zone so you will need flood insurance. South of Meadow are the circles, which is a neighborhood of homes built by Eichler, a deciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. South of the circles there is Greenmeadow which is also an Eichler neighborhood but the homes are generally larger than the circles and there is a swim club for the neighborhood. If you go west of El Camino there is Baron Park which has both small homes, and some larger and newer homes, with Bol Park and its resident donkeys. One of the 2 donkeys was the inspiration for the donkey in Shrek. Then there are the neighborhoods near Gunn High School with more uniform sized homes. So as you can see there are plenty of choices, depending on your budget. To get 1800 square feet you will need to spend anywhere from $1,100,000 and up. If you would be ok with a townhome there are several complexes where you could get what you want starting at about $700,000.
You can search for homes on my website http://www.marcymoyer.com Just click on the link search for properties and you can look without having to register.
Please let me know if you ahve any other questions.
The Palo Alto Unified School District website has a wealth of information, including boundry maps... Here's a good link to start with:
Since you have a toddler now, the boundry map for the elementary school may be of interest to you and is located here:
Gunn is located in the southern portion of Palo Alto, and here is a map of Palo Alto neighborhoods to give you an idea of where to look:
A local, experienced real estate professional will be your best resource in determining what's best for you here. Feel free to call me at 650.543.8001 for a couple of referrals.
Absolute Mortgage Banking