Iwcgst, Home Buyer in San Francisco, CA

My family (wife and kids 10, 8 and 6) are interested in moving to the burbs for the schools

Asked by Iwcgst, San Francisco, CA Mon Jul 23, 2007

and lifestyle (weather, outdoors,etc). We're looking at Piedmont and Mill Valley. Can someone tell us about: (i) commutes into the City; (ii) schools; and (iii) community/culture. One other thing, we're an Asian American family, would we feel "comfortable" (as we're pretty used to the diversity of SF)?

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Forbes Magazine rated Marin County Education #1 in the United States as the best bang for your buck and
highest graduation rate. In addition, many Marin County cities/communities have convenient commutes to the City, great schools and culture.
What a great community in Mill Valley, backed up by the fact that it was rated in the top 10 places to live by 2005 CNN/ The commute is very convenient to the city without having to deal with the Bay Bridge commute and 80/880 traffic. There is also transit and the ferry from the Larkspur Ferry terminal.
Depending on what you are looking for in weather, the farther north you go the warmer it gets with less fog.
In addition, each community has it's own micro climate.
In regards to comfort in Marin, I know many Asian American families that are very comfortable and love Marin County and Mill Valley.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Mon Jul 23, 2007
As you see you've gotten a lot of personal opinion. Most folk who look at Piedmont also look at Montclair and perhaps other proximate communities/neighborhoods. Why not include Kensington, or North Berkeley? Most folks who look at Mill Valley also look at Tiburon. I point that out because as house hunters you'll likely want to begin investigation with all prospective homes that satisfy your requirements.

A superb tool for ongoing investigation is The maps, air photos, terrain maps, street views, directions and travel times, etc. returned can be manipulated for analysis of communities, neighborhoods and particular properties. The real estate postings are sketchy but since it's at hand, useful for casual analysis. is a superb real estate primer and reference that you'll use over and again - bookmark it.

There are fewer families of Asian roots in all upper middle class neighborhoods than in the city but I don't think you'll find a "comfort" issue anywhere. Far down the road, when you are about to decide on a particular home, walk the neighborhood and introduce yourself to your prospective neighbors as you secretly interview. Otherwise you'll decide based on other peoples opinions. There is a pretty large difference in landscapes and climate between the North Bay and East Bay and there is a greater variety of microclimates in Marin given the terrain, Marin is much more topographically convoluted so there is a broader range of terrains. Schools are superb just about everywhere you're interested in looking. Community/culture is very personal, more an issue of your participation than opportunity. All the communities mentioned have community organizations and opportunity to join recreational, political, religious or social groups actively seeking new folks. And the city is at hand wherever you settle for family, friends and culture.

I find the parklands and watersheds of Marin more interesting than the East Bay and favored them when I lived in the East Bay for over a decade. I prefer the flavor and variety of Marin communities. I find I travel to the East Bay from Marin far less than vice versa. But that is personal.

There is no reason, other than hassle, that you can't look in both areas at the same time. You should spend time investigating both markets. Spend some time getting to know the unique character of all the communitites/neighborhoods within your geographic and socio-economic range. Then if you feel compelled to dismiss one area from consideration you'll be much more comfortable. I posit that when all your requirements are considered the best opportunity(s) will emerge.

If I can help further...
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Feb 3, 2010
Piedmont has some of the highest regarded schools in the state. Check out for their ranking.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 31, 2010
One other thought have you thought about other communities besides Mill Valley? I find that many of my relocating from SF clients all know about Mill Valley, but often times after purchasing a house in MV, find that the weather can be similar to SF and decide to move north of Mill Valley. Towns like Corte Madera and Larkspur are only an exit further, but are a world away in terms of weather.

If you are looking to get out of the fog, be sure to check out other town too!

I think Marin is diversified and very open to diversity, but likely less so in Southern Marin as compared to more Northern Marin. You can look at demographic make-up of any particular neighborhood. Here is a great place to do so: It breaks down schools and includes demographic data also.

Commutes to SF are really quite easy. The Golden Gate bridge is NOTHING compared to the Bay Bridge. Best way to find out, make a test commute each morning and each afternoon to each town (Piedmont or Marin) and find out for yourself. The commute times differ of course on the time of the day, but especially now that the Freeway widening project in San Rafael has made a huge difference in our traffic.

I help many clients make the transition to Marin from other areas, especially from SF, if you don't have someone helping you yet here in Marin, I'd be happy to give you a town tour!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Aug 12, 2009
I would lean towards Mill Valley is you can stand the lack of diversity-- although I do not believe you will feel excluded in any way. People are generally very open minded in Mill Valley and the ones that aren't are working all the time and you'll almost never see them. The commuteto San Francisco varies depending on what time but generally is 35 minutes or less. Coming home during peak rush hour can take 45 minutes. Off peak hour commute time is short 15-25 minutes depending on where you are going. THe public and private schools are very good. Please go to my website,, click Mill Valley for general information, then click Neighborhood Info for data and other stats and at the bottom of that page see link to school score data. Please email me for an in depth PDF of Marin COunty Public and PRivate Schools.
Last, it will take you some time like any new place, but I think you will find Mill Valley a very pleasant place to live.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Aug 9, 2007

I am a Chinese Realtor in Marin, so I will answer your question about Mill Valley, but will not venture into Piedmont as I don't know much about the area.

The fact that you chose Marin, you must already know that Marin is one of the best places to live in the Bay Area, or for that matter, the country, from the stand point of living standard, schools, proximity to the city, green environments, open spaces, natural settings, culture activities, and much more.

First, statistics about Marin schools - We have great schools for the money according to Forbes magazine - see my BLOG at You can also see the Marin Schools API index

Explore my site, and you will find lots of resources on Marin – click on Marin County Resources; including links to schools, parks and recs, ..,etc..

Back to the schools, although API is not conclusive of how schools are, as there are many facet of a school, such as sports, performing arts (music, drama, .etc), and ex-curriculum programs (speech, debate, ..etc) that are integral to the school offerings. Due to the demographic and proximity Mill Valley, or Marin in general, is to the city, the schools tent to have diverse programs. In addition, you will find very supportive families and a lot of volunteer organizations and a lot of family oriented activities throughout the county.

Mill Valley has a rich history and has become one of the most desirable town to move to. The downtown is very quaint, has a variety of stores and restaurants, upscale or down to earth. Over on the flats, the weather is warmer and sunnier and you will see people walking or biking around town leisurely. However, up on the hills and around the famous one way road and underneath the redwoods, it can be foggy, damp and kind of chilly at times, not to mention difficult to park, but the view is to die for. There are a few visual arts and performing arts events such as the Mountain Play and Marin Theater Company. The list goes on and on.

Being within 10 miles of San Francisco, the commute is pretty much a breeze since most of the traffic jam farther north. This is also another reason why Mill Valley is attractive to people who works in the city, easy commute (o.k. everything is relative, so we have to qualify that) and close proximity to the City allow the town people to also enjoy the cultural and other events The City has to offer.

Weather wise, it can be foggy in the hills and under the redwoods, but is also quite sunny and warm in the flats. However, if you really want warm and sunny weather, you should explore a bit North. The farther north, the sunnier and warmer it gets. Novato, the north most town in Marin, is also the most sunny town.
As far as diversity, or being an Asian American, to fit in the area. I never feel that I am an outsider and I have absolutely no problem with fitting in and being part of the community. I think it all depends on how you feel about yourself and how you approach life. As long as you are involved, you will make great friends and be part of everything. The more you give, the more you receive, just the way it is. Other than this philosophical view, since I am Chinese, I also quite a few Chinese organizations here. But regardless of which country you are from, I am sure you will find yourself welcomed in Marin.

Best of luck, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further assistance – it will be my pleasure!

Sylvia Barry
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Aug 1, 2007
Sylvia Barry,…, Real Estate Pro in Novato, CA
Mill Valley and Piedmont are very similiar, but they are not San Francisco. I was raised in S.F. and attended all public schools until the ninth grade. From the ninth grade on, I attended Marin County High Schools. I live in Mill Valley, have raised both of my daughters in Mill Valley and highly recommend the community, schools, etc. Having a cultural difference is a plus! In saying that, I leave Mill Valley on a regular basis because I love filling my life with cultural flavor. Crossing the Bridges is no big deal - whether it be the Richmond/San Rafael or the Golden Gate. Marin's "culture" is unique. It sets the table for education and lifestyle. Marin is not perfect ,(most think it is) I am sure Piedmont is wonderful too. If given the choice all over again - I would be chosing between Mill Valley and San Francisco!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jul 26, 2007
We am in the similar situation to your family. We live in the fog bank of SF and have one 7 month old baby and want to make a move to warmer pastures and are looking into San Mateo Co., Santa Clara Co., Contra Costa Co., and Marin Co. We use our weekends to investigate these communities. We noticed that Marin is not overcrowded like some of the aforementioned counties but tends to have an older median age and fewer families with children. I agree with the previous poster in that Marin is a great bang for the buck. If you compare a 1 million dollar home+educational potentials with the other counties, Marin is a bargain and only 40 mins away from downtown. Marin seems to have less “negative influences” that will affect your children when they hit their teen years.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jul 23, 2007
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