Orinda or Lafayette for tight-knit, family-friendly community and excellent schools?

Asked by Marin_moving, Orinda, CA Tue Mar 5, 2013

I need HONEST input on whether Orinda or Lafayette would be better for us. Our top priorities are (1) tight-knit, family-friendly community where kids play with neighbors and grow up with each other (I grew up in Piedmont and my best friends are still my HS friends); (2) excellent schools with high parent involvement, strong funding for continued programs and low student/teacher ratios, motivated kids, and top offerings in terms of AP classes and extracurriculars (drama, arts, science, sports, etc.). Is there a list of colleges attended by recent graduates from these schools?
Our price range is $1.8-$2.5 (we are open to fixer uppers at this point).

I would really appreciate any insight into the differences between Orinda and Lafayette (versus just "you can't go wrong with either" :-) as well as specific neighborhoods that would be best.


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Bernard Gibbons’ answer
Bernard Gibb…, Agent, Danville, CA
Wed Mar 6, 2013
If I had to choose between the two, I would probably go for Lafayette. Schools are pretty equal and so are the neighborhoods but Lafayette has a much wider variety of neighborhoods and I have always sensed a stronger "neighborhood" influence there than in Orinda. I haven't checked the demographics lately but I suspect that the median age is lower in Lafayette and more families.
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Michele McKay, Agent, Orinda, CA
Tue Mar 5, 2013
You made an excellent choice in selecting Lafayette and Orinda as possible places to move. I was born and raised in Lafayette and now living Orinda, so I believe can give you an honest and straight answer. I can speak for myself in saying that I grew up in a family of five - all attending grammar through high school in Lafayette, and we all still live here. So our 16 (combined) kids all are going to or have gone to school in Lafayette. It would be hard to choose between Lafayette and Orinda schools - both are consistently highly ranked. And the high schools are all in the same High School District (Acalanes) - each with a number of Honors and AP courses.

In many ways, Orinda and Lafayette feel very similar. But geographically, perhaps, Orinda is more “Hills” and Lafayette is more “Valleys”. For instance: The Country Club area Orinda is hilly, has some great views and an eclectic mix of homes (age, size and architectural style); The Happy Valley area has larger, flatter lots (approx. 1 acre), with original & updated Ranch style homes. This is a very “broad brush” generalization as neither Orinda nor Lafayette is “cookie-cutter”.

I hope that answers some of your questions. I would be happy to speak with you in greater detail, and address any further questions you may have. Don't hesitate to ask .

All the best!
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Thanks, Michele! I'm just wondering why you chose to live in Orinda now after having grown up in Lafayette. Does that mean you prefer Orinda, I assume?
Flag Tue Mar 5, 2013
Michelle Sap…, Agent, Orinda, CA
Tue Mar 5, 2013
Hello! There are subtle differences between the two communities. First, let me say, I live in Orinda, and my daughter has attended orinda schools since the 3rd grade. I grew up in Lafayette and attended Acalanes High School. So...I'm talking from first hand experience as a student (many moons ago) and as a parent (currently involved in the school/know parents, students, etc). My father also grew up here, in Sleepy Hollow and attended Miramonte. So we go WAY back...

Both Orinda and Lafayette schools have very high scores. Both have active parents. Orinda has a (oh god, cannot believe I'm going to say it here) "snobbier" attitude about wealth, who lives where, who has what, what volunteering you do...etc. However, there are parts of Lafayette that can hold their own candle to the Orinda peeps. I do know my neighbors, and my daughter walks to her firends houses all the time. She has developed some very good friendships at school, even though some of those girls do not live within walking distance.

It is a personal choice...in Orinda, Sleepy Hollow is considered "old money" and the houses are very nice, with large lots. the streets are narrow but not as windy if you are near the country club. IN the country club, you find much grander homes, large lots. Less "walkable" or where you might find kids playing in the street together. The Orinda Downs are also very large, grand homes with decent sized lots, wider streets. In both Sleepy Hollow and the Downs you will see lemonade stands and kids walking with each other to the park or between each other's houses.

Upper Happy Valley in Lafayette has the biggest and more grand houses - but the streets are busy (main short cut to the freeway and downtown from Orinda) so you won't find kids walking too often. The smaller neighorhoods in Lafayette do have more of the down home feel.

All the schools (I'm in particular most familiar with Miramonte as that is where mine is headed this fall) offer AP classes, drama, art, science, sports...these programs are supported by parent donations which are ample. Depending on what your true particulars are, your price range is definately doable.
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Hi again, I just read your response to my husband. Although we think Sleepy Hollow is very pretty with its trees and the country club, we haven't really seen very many "very nice houses with large lots." In the year+ we have been looking we've seen mostly older ranch houses that didn't impress us as being very nice. We did see two homes on Miner Road that were pretty nice although one needed major updating. So I guess I'm wondering what we're missing..?
Flag Tue Mar 5, 2013
Thanks so much for your detailed response, Michelle. Since you grew up in Lafayette but now live in Orinda, can I assume that you prefer Orinda? May I ask why? Also, may I ask what you mean by our price range being "doable?" It seems there are many homes for sale below our range (more so than in our range it seems). Do you believe it will be hard to find a nice house in our price range? Thanks!
Flag Tue Mar 5, 2013
Barbara Wils…, Agent, Danville, CA
Tue Mar 5, 2013
What are you looking for in a lot, in the age of the house, and in style? How old are your children if you have any now? And have you eliminated Moraga? if so, for what reasons? What activities do you participate in; what activites do your kids participate in? With this information, I can formulate a better answer for you. Sorry for not answering immediately, but I sense that you are a person of action, and want just the facts. But rather than try to explain why one area is good for one thing and another good for another, this info from you will help me recommend one over another. These things may not seem important, but they end up being so. I hope you trust my experience. I lived in Piedmont too, so I understand what people love about that, and if you were happy there, I have an opinion on which city is better suited to you, but answers to these other questions will help solidify it. Thanks.
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Barbara, thanks for taking the time for a thoughtful response! I prefer a traditional-style home (like many in Piedmont; could be Cape Cod, Craftsman, Colonial, etc.) but I think I am open to other styles such as a nicely renovated ranch house (or renovating it myself). The few ranch houses I've been in are too box-shaped, too informal (no entry way, etc.) and do not have large enough rooms for my taste. I do not like overly contemporary homes. I want a flat yard with nice grounds on pretty street with nicely-maintained homes and yards. I have two children: 1.5 and 4yrs old. I have ruled out Moraga because I don't want to feel too far out in the burbs and I heard that there are very few homes in our price range (true?) (and we don't want to be the most expensive home on the block).
So...do you still think the same neighborhood will suit me? Which is it?? Thanks!
Flag Tue Mar 5, 2013
Bob Wegener, Agent, Moraga, CA
Tue Mar 5, 2013
Both are excellent. You can take comfort in knowing that whichever city you find your dream house, you will have a community that is kids first. All of the "Lamorinda" (Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda) schools are top notch.

Below is a link that you can use to compare the two markets. I hope you find it helpful.


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