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The Best Cities in the Bay Area

From Alameda to Yountville, a thought-provoking—and argument-inducing—ranking of every city in the Bay Area, from 1 to 101.

The other Sunday, through a chain of circumstances too complicated to explain but that involved a driving lesson and an obsession with finding out how long San Pablo Avenue really is (answer: unbelievably long), we found ourselves in the city (not the street) of San Pablo. We passed a pleasant hour watching a softball game in a leafy park, having a latte in a pretty hip coffee shop, and wandering around a tiny, old-school downtown. San Pablo may not be the most happening place in the world, but it wasn’t half bad.

As you peruse San Francisco’s inaugural ranking of the Bay Area’s 101 cities, keep that pleasant Sunday afternoon in mind. Because San Pablo, according to our closely guarded, semi-scientific algorithm, is the 85th-ranked city in the Bay Area. If one of the supposedly worst cities in the whole region still ends up being a nice place to while away part of an afternoon, you, gentle emptors, should be prepared to do a whole lot of caveating. The fact is, even the lowest-rated cities on our list have many great qualities—and on a personal level, lots of the people who live in those places enjoy living there just as much as residents of the highest-ranked cities enjoy living where they live. We intend no disrespect to the cities that came in last—Antioch, Rio Vista, Pittsburg, the middle of which is a sleepy Delta town whose weird, game trophy–filled Foster’s Bighorn bar alone makes life there more than bearable. And we make no claim that Albany, Berkeley, and Palo Alto, the university-centric burgs that grabbed the top spots, are paragons of every urban excellence. The truth is that Best Of lists are really mostly fun thought experiments, and this one should be taken as such.

Having said that, we did try hard to come up with some reasonable criteria (for an explanation, see below). Using data from places like the U.S. Census Bureau and the state’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, we ranked each city across seven areas (1 being the best, 101 the worst): education, diversity, health, transit, affordability, public safety, and culture. Then, because numbers can’t express everything, we added the subjective opinions of our own team of editors and contributors.

Is the list perfect? Of course not. Is it good enough to start a spirited bar debate—perhaps at Foster’s Bighorn? We think so. See you around. —The editors

1. Albany
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 22
Diversity: 38
Health: 64
Transit: 12
Affordability: 68
Public Safety: 69
Culture: 21
Editors’ Rank: 4

The Case for Albany

Albany’s origin story is almost too on-the-nose. In 1908, tired of Berkeley using their tiny, unincorporated community as a literal dump, a group of shotgun-armed women took to the corner of San Pablo and Buchanan and told the operators of the horse-drawn trash wagons exactly where they could put their garbage.

A century later, the Bay Area City Most Likely to Confuse East Coasters still gets dumped on—figuratively now—by its more famous neighbor to the south. But those of us who know Albany’s small-town charms don’t mind. We’re too busy playing the ponies on Dollar Day Sundays at Golden Gate Fields and enjoying the dog-friendly, public art–filled waterfront park known as the Bulb. If you were here in the ’90s, you may have caught shows there when it was just “the landfill.” On paper, people move to this 1.8-square-mile hamlet for its enviable public schools, walkable neighborhoods, and overall safety. But there’s more than that to Albany. Look beyond the yuppified restaurants on Solano Avenue and you’ll find that the place has proudly blue-collar roots. It’s not uncommon to meet fourth-generation Albanians. Next time you do, ask if their grandparents hung out at the nearly 70-year-old Albany Bowl, which served as a welcoming hub for Japanese American bowling leagues in the wake of World War II.

This is a small town, no doubt: Who needs a high school reunion when a good chunk of your class can be found at the Mallard every Saturday night? But the big cities are only a moment away—via BART, Oakland’s 10 minutes, San Francisco’s 30, and Berkeley (scoff!) is 5. In any case, the gang will all be at the Hotsy Totsy when you decide, inevitably, to come back home to the best city in the Bay Area. —Emma Silvers

2. Berkeley
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 41
Diversity: 48
Health: 74
Transit: 2
Affordability: 75
Public Safety: 61
Culture: 4
Editors’ Rank: 3
We all know about Berkeley’s politics and its world-class university. But another thing that makes this a great place to live is the eclecticism of its houses. From stunning Maybecks and Julia Morgans to Mediterranean villas and Craftsman masterpieces, it’s a veritable “City of Homes.”

3. Palo Alto
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 19
Diversity: 64
Health: 47
Transit: 4
Affordability: 98
Public Safety: 25
Culture: 11
Editors’ Rank: 37

4. Fairfax
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 12
Diversity: 82
Health: 7
Transit: 25
Affordability: 37
Public Safety: 17
Culture: 6
Editors’ Rank: 46

5. Mill Valley
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 19
Diversity: 93
Health: 2
Transit: 61
Affordability: 66
Public Safety: 13
Culture: 2
Editors’ Rank: 6

6. Emeryville
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 67
Diversity: 28
Health: 82
Transit: 9
Affordability: 41
Public Safety: 38
Culture: 8
Editors’ Rank: 14

7. San Anselmo
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 16
Diversity: 90
Health: 38
Transit: 5
Affordability: 72
Public Safety: 14
Culture: 5
Editors’ Rank: 34
The Marin Coffee Roasters on San Anselmo Avenue serves iced soy lattes to die for, along with ancho burritos and a strong sense of pride in the small community.

8. St. Helena
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 49
Diversity: 22
Health: 18
Transit: 24
Affordability: 35
Public Safety: 41
Culture: 34
Editors’ Rank: 24

9. San Rafael
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 59
Diversity: 1
Health: 97
Transit: 51
Affordability: 12
Public Safety: 52
Culture: 20
Editors’ Rank: 9

10. Oakland
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 90
Diversity: 40
Health: 94
Transit: 14
Affordability: 33
Public Safety: 57
Culture: 24
Editors’ Rank: 1
“In Oakland, the revolutionary pilot light is always on,” the New York Times observed, and Oaktown has a long history of radicalism. The birthplace of the Black Panther Party is home to Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza and filmmaker Boots Riley, and is the site of frequent protests and demonstrations.

11. Portola Valley
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 25
Diversity: 99
Health: 3
Transit: 2
Affordability: 46
Public Safety: 9
Culture: 57
Editors’ Rank: 30
Portola Valley is one of the wealthiest cities not just in the Bay Area but in the entire country.

12. Corte Madera
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 11
Diversity: 77
Health: 9
Transit: 37
Affordability: 66
Public Safety: 28
Culture: 47
Editors’ Rank: 29

13. Menlo Park
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 32
Diversity: 63
Health: 24
Transit: 10
Affordability: 99
Public Safety: 18
Culture: 31
Editors’ Rank: 39

14. San Carlos
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 29
Diversity: 27
Health: 33
Transit: 43
Affordability: 47
Public Safety: 72
Culture: 18
Editors’ Rank: 67

15. Tiburon
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 10
Diversity: 96
Health: 15
Transit: 39
Affordability: 82
Public Safety: 8
Culture: 39
Editors’ Rank: 31

16. Ross
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 3
Diversity: 92
Health: 1
Transit: 13
Affordability: 101
Public Safety: 2
Culture: 32
Editors’ Rank: 25
This 1.6-square-mile city is named for wholesale liquor distributor James Ross, who bought the land in 1857 for $50,000—just $1.4 million in today’s dollars.

17. Sausalito
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 6
Diversity: 66
Health: 21
Transit: 88
Affordability: 93
Public Safety: 46
Culture: 2
Editors’ Rank: 26

The Case for Sausalito

Bay Areans love tourist bashing, and we’ll dismiss any town or neighborhood that has found its way into too many guidebooks. I think that’s our loss. What kind of decent human doesn’t like eating crab cakes right on the bay, taking in postcard-­perfect views, and drinking white wine at 2 p.m.? See, I used to be a tourist myself, and it was a scene just like that—the irresistible siren song of a big city–adjacent coastal town—that persuaded me to move across the country and live my California dream. Sausalito is West Coast PR at its most effective, and it would improve every Bay Arean’s relationship with our home state to allow it to get gussied up and show us a good, no-strings-attached time every once in a while. Plus, Sausalito isn’t just art galleries and ice cream shops. Follow the main road out of the town center and get your seafood and water views at a gem like Le Garage Bistro, Fish, or Bar Bocce. Keep going and you’ll find the iconic Heath Ceramics factory and an artists’ commune consisting of a cluster of ramshackle houseboats. Just don’t forget to snap a selfie with a sea lion. —Erin Feher

18. Colma
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 74
Diversity: 5
Health: 9
Transit: 27
Affordability: 53
Public Safety: 38
Culture: 18
Editors’ Rank: 41
Colma: You’ll end up here eventually, so why not move in now? The little town of Colma has 1,509 living residents, according to data from 2016. Another 1.5 million are buried in its 17 cemeteries, which means the dead outnumber the living almost 1,000 to 1. This disproportion is responsible for the city’s informal motto, “It’s great to be alive in Colma.” That’s especially true at Molloy’s, the town’s wondrous old Irish tavern.

19. Larkspur
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 22
Diversity: 95
Health: 5
Transit: 16
Affordability: 71
Public Safety: 28
Culture: 15
Editors’ Rank: 27

20. Healdsburg
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 79
Diversity: 70
Health: 72
Transit: 5
Affordability: 20
Public Safety: 10
Culture: 17
Editors’ Rank: 36

21. Piedmont
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 3
Diversity: 74
Health: 48
Transit: 41
Affordability: 96
Public Safety: 15
Culture: 40
Editors’ Rank: 20

22. Pacifica
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 55
Diversity: 42
Health: 11
Transit: 69
Affordability: 61
Public Safety: 54
Culture: 29
Editors’ Rank: 15

23. San Francisco
(West Bay, Big)
Education: 47
Diversity: 69
Health: 18
Transit: 56
Affordability: 51
Public Safety: 99
Culture: 19
Editors’ Rank: 2

The Case for San Francisco

I know, I know. You have to make $200,000 a year to live in a Tuff Shed next to a homeless encampment; civic unity is diminished by the fact that most of your fellow citizens perform jobs that neither you nor anyone else (including said professionals) can describe; and the 21 Club is closed forever. That all sucks. But San Francisco is still one of the greatest cities in the world. Its intoxicating physical beauty is eternal. Great neighborhoods like North Beach and Bernal Heights still evince the right mixture of insularity and openness. And incredible new civic amenities like the gorgeous Salesforce Park keep popping up (and, um, cracking). If you’re fortunate enough to be grandfathered into this moated city, savor it. For better and for worse—but mostly better—there’s nowhere else like it. —Gary Kamiya

24. Belmont
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 29
Diversity: 59
Health: 15
Transit: 45

Affordability: 58
Public Safety: 22
Culture: 62
Editors’ Rank: 73

25. Foster City
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 32
Diversity: 29
Health: 20
Transit: 76
Affordability: 77
Public Safety: 20
Culture: 55
Editors’ Rank: 52
Although rapper Keak da Sneak was raised in Oakland, he reportedly filmed the music video for his hit “Super Hyphy” in a middle school in Foster City. That says a lot about us—though we may rep the big cities, we somehow end up in the small suburbs.

26. Atherton
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 19
Diversity: 89
Health: 5
Transit: 44
Affordability: 100
Public Safety: 4
Culture: 83
Editors’ Rank: 87

27. Saratoga
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 12
Diversity: 48
Health: 90
Transit: 42
Affordability: 20
Public Safety: 46
Culture: 42
Editors’ Rank: 43

28. San Jose
(South Bay, Big)
Education: 61
Diversity: 57
Health: 59
Transit: 1
Affordability: 85
Public Safety: 42
Culture: 67
Editors’ Rank: 11

The Case for San Jose

Hey now, San Jose, you’re an all-star—to me anyway. Despite a population boom that has transformed the center of the South Bay, San Jose still holds a dear place in my heart. The city has had rapid economic growth in recent years, making it a popular destination for many immigrant families like mine. Unsurprisingly, it has a restaurant scene that matches its spectacular ethnic diversity, home to both the Falafel Drive-In that Guy Fieri went to and the best damn bowl of pho that you can get outside Vietnam, a fact vouched for by my Vietnamese former roommate.

This sprawling city remains a spectacular place to grow up, even without the old weekend fruit-picking excursions it was once famous for. It still has a building with a giant duck on it (the Children’s Discovery Museum), an orange cube full of space stuff (the Tech Museum of Innovation), and a haunted mansion built by a gun heiress (the Winchester Mystery House). It also has the region’s most consistently winning sports team. (Go Sharks!) Not to mention easy access to green spaces and hiking trails for those canine kids of yours. Oh, and San Jose gave the world Smash Mouth. No need to thank us. —Ahalya Srikant

29. Moraga
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 6
Diversity: 68
Health: 38
Transit: 37
Affordability: 63
Public Safety: 46
Culture: 9
Editors’ Rank: 44

The Case for Moraga

Having spent the better part of my childhood knocking around Moraga’s backyard pools, the Fudge Alley candy shop (RIP), the 1957-vintage theater, the dog parade on the Fourth of July, the pear festival in the fall, and the secret blackberry patches that line the roads, I can attest to this: Moraga is a freaking phenomenal place to grow up. The city of 17,000 east of the hills attracts helicopter parents by the dozens with its first-rate schools, bucolic setting, and—let’s not kid ourselves—exclusionary zoning.

Recent news: In June, the Rheem Theatre reopened, after a closure in January. Even better: The John Muir Land Trust just announced a campaign to save 84 acres of open space that lie between Moraga and Lafayette, which include an outcropping of painted rocks frequently decorated by spray can–­wielding students. (We call them, creatively, the Painted Rocks.)

Here’s to you, suburb of high expectations and low walkability. Now if only your children (me) could afford to live there. —Scott Lucas

30. Sebastopol
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 58
Diversity: 96
Health: 14
Transit: 20
Affordability: 93
Public Safety: 31
Culture: 10
Editors’ Rank: 8
Gravenstein apples. The “junk art” on Florence Avenue. The restaurants and shops at the Barlow. Forget the numbers—Sebastopol might be the best place in the world.

31. Sunnyvale
(South Bay, Big)
Education: 47
Diversity: 21
Health: 58
Transit: 33
Affordability: 84
Public Safety: 11
Culture: 71
Editors’ Rank: 54

32. Yountville
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 56
Diversity: 100
Health: 22
Transit: 18
Affordability: 53
Public Safety: 32
Culture: 1
Editors’ Rank: 62

33. Belvedere
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 17
Diversity: 100
Health: 25
Transit: 40
Affordability: 89
Public Safety: 1
Culture: 101
Editors’ Rank: 47

34. Brisbane
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 64
Diversity: 58
Health: 23
Transit: 15
Affordability: 97
Public Safety: 21
Culture: 44
Editors’ Rank: 57
Brisbane: Not in My Mountain’s Backyard! This charming small city (population 4,700) has a unique location, nestled into the folds of and below the steep north face of mighty San Bruno Mountain. But the tranquil atmosphere of its winding streets and hill-perched houses, with their trademark holiday stars, contrasts with the political Sturm und Drang over the fate of the flatlands below. The city has repeatedly rejected a proposed development that would add more than 4,000 units of housing, making it the poster child for critics of NIMBYism—although a city vote on 2,200 units is coming this month.

35. Cupertino
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 12
Diversity: 25
Health: 27
Transit: 60
Affordability: 92
Public Safety: 79
Culture: 46
Editors’ Rank: 81
After years of agony, the city council of Cupertino, one of the Bay Area’s least-affordable cities, approved a plan to redevelop an abandoned shopping mall near the Apple headquarters into a project that will include 2,402 new housing units.

36. Danville
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 1
Diversity: 73
Health: 30
Transit: 81
Affordability: 62
Public Safety: 32
Culture: 38
Editors’ Rank: 71

37. Los Altos
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 24
Diversity: 74
Health: 35
Transit: 32
Affordability: 89
Public Safety: 30
Culture: 27
Editors’ Rank: 79

38. Burlingame
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 26
Diversity: 64
Health: 54
Transit: 22
Affordability: 87
Public Safety: 58
Culture: 15
Editors’ Rank: 77
Author Shirley Jackson based her 1948 novel The Road Through the Wall on the citizens of her small hometown of Burlingame, who she described as thinking “of their invulnerability as justice.” Fair enough—like many of the Bay Area’s suburban communities, Burlingame can feel walled off. On the other hand, inside the walls it is awfully nice.

39. Alameda
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 39
Diversity: 52
Health: 81
Transit: 27
Affordability: 64
Public Safety: 86
Culture: 24
Editors’ Rank: 12
Alameda: When is an island not an island? Alameda’s slogan is “The Island City,” but this community rests on both Alameda Island and Bay Farm Island, the latter of which is really part of the mainland. One of the bridges connecting the two is the sole pedestrian-and-bicycle-only drawbridge in the United States. In addition to its exceptional collection of Victorians, Alameda is home to a high number of distilleries, wineries, and breweries. In 2007, St. George Spirits produced the first American-made absinthe since Toulouse-Lautrec’s beloved green fairy was banned in 1912.

40. Mountain View
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 38
Diversity: 41
Health: 73
Transit: 21
Affordability: 95
Public Safety: 58
Culture: 26
Editors’ Rank: 35

41. Monte Sereno
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 3
Diversity: 90
Health: 45
Transit: 69
Affordability: 41
Public Safety: 5
Culture: 66
Editors’ Rank: 60

42. Daly City
(South Bay, Big)
Education: 70
Diversity: 11
Health: 34
Transit: 19
Affordability: 60
Public Safety: 54
Culture: 85
Editors’ Rank: 16

43. Los Gatos
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 6
Diversity: 80
Health: 50
Transit: 68
Affordability: 78
Public Safety: 24
Culture: 36
Editors’ Rank: 49

44. Orinda
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 12
Diversity: 87
Health: 36
Transit: 67
Affordability: 68
Public Safety: 44
Culture: 29
Editors’ Rank: 17

45. Hillsborough
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 29
Diversity: 76
Health: 28
Transit: 75
Affordability: 88
Public Safety: 3
Culture: 55
Editors’ Rank: 66

46. Pleasanton
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 18
Diversity: 45
Health: 32
Transit: 78
Affordability: 48
Public Safety: 68

Culture: 58
Editors’ Rank: 71

47. Lafayette
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 2
Diversity: 84
Health: 46
Transit: 66
Affordability: 72
Public Safety: 64
Culture: 34
Editors’ Rank: 3

48. Redwood City
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 51
Diversity: 46
Health: 42
Transit: 27
Affordability: 91
Public Safety: 54
Culture: 43
Editors’ Rank: 65
Those of a certain generation may remember that parts of 1971’s Harold and Maude were filmed here. Their kids might remember that parts of 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire were too.

49. Sonoma
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 76
Diversity: 86
Health: 69
Transit: 8
Affordability: 23
Public Safety: 15
Culture: 7
Editors’ Rank: 13

50. El Cerrito
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 68
Diversity: 54
Health: 95
Transit: 30
Affordability: 41
Public Safety: 66
Culture: 12
Editors’ Rank: 5

51. Dublin
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 32
Diversity: 15
Health: 30
Transit: 93
Affordability: 53
Public Safety: 72
Culture: 47
Editors’ Rank: 62

52. Woodside
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 26
Diversity: 98
Health: 8
Transit: 48
Affordability: 74
Public Safety: 27
Culture: 60
Editors’ Rank: 64

53. Petaluma
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 60
Diversity: 61
Health: 53
Transit: 56
Affordability: 29
Public Safety: 70
Culture: 33
Editors’ Rank: 7

54. Santa Clara
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 52
Diversity: 19
Health: 38
Transit: 95
Affordability: 51
Public Safety: 35
Culture: 40
Editors’ Rank: 55

55. San Mateo
(South Bay, Big)
Education: 43
Diversity: 33
Health: 93
Transit: 34
Affordability: 14
Public Safety: 94
Culture: 63
Editors’ Rank: 10

56. Richmond
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 93
Diversity: 23
Health: 100
Transit: 52
Affordability: 18
Public Safety: 46
Culture: 27
Editors’ Rank: 21

The Case for Richmond

Let others fearmonger about the crime. Those of us who live in Richmond love the city for its diversity and small-town feel, for weather that’s idyllic even by East Bay standards, and for the waterfront parks with wide boardwalks and sweeping bay views—as perfect for romantic strolls as they are for a kid learning how to ride a bike. (Our 32 miles of shoreline are the most that any city in the Bay can claim.) We Richmond­ites eat cheaply and well, as we have the 99 Ranch Market and the dozens of top-notch taquerias that line 23rd Street, also home to the Bay Area’s swaggiest Cinco de Mayo parade. At a time when it feels like the entire Bay Area is defined by community-obliterating change, there are wide swaths of Richmond where time seems to have stood still: at the old-fashioned diners and burger shacks and the recently renovated 92-year-old natatorium, known by locals simply as the Plunge, one of the sweetest public swimming pools around. Sure, changes are coming—among other things, there’s a new ferry terminal on the way. One can only hope that future generations of gentrifiers will understand what I learned when I moved here: Richmond is, and always has been, good enough already. —Luke Tsai

57. Millbrae
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 39
Diversity: 51
Health: 25
Transit: 35
Affordability: 76
Public Safety: 98
Culture: 51
Editors’ Rank: 42

58. Half Moon Bay
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 74
Diversity: 80
Health: 12
Transit: 36
Affordability: 56
Public Safety: 81
Culture: 14
Editors’ Rank: 51
The Half Moon Bay Review newspaper has been printed continuously since 1898 and is owned, as of 2018, by members of the community. Great idea!

59. Fremont
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 26
Diversity: 6
Health: 56
Transit: 79
Affordability: 44
Public Safety: 86
Culture: 69
Editors’ Rank: 59

60. San Ramon
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 6
Diversity: 71
Health: 38
Transit: 26
Affordability: 80
Public Safety: 91
Culture: 69
Editors’ Rank: 58

61. Santa Rosa
(North Bay, Big)
Education: 88
Diversity: 11
Health: 75
Transit: 31
Affordability: 82
Public Safety: 34
Culture: 47
Editors’ Rank: 19

The Case for Santa Rosa

Just last fall, the devastating Tubbs Fire tore through Santa Rosa, leaving 5 percent of the city’s homes in ashes. But a year later, it feels as vibrant as ever. In fact, there are as many if not more reasons to love this North Bay city of 175,000. To start with, its charming downtown is walkable and packed with things to do. In 2017, the city completed a renovation of the courthouse square, now host to a farmers’ market, movie nights, and holiday festivities. Downtown is also home to the acclaimed Russian River Brewery, part of the reason Santa Rosa is arguably the microbrew capital of the country.

Then there’s the transportation. While the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train system hasn’t yet fulfilled commuters’ wildest dreams, it does make three stops in Santa Rosa, including at the airport (which, by the way, has direct flights across the West, and cheap parking, and great sushi). Just outside downtown, the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, a 1,600-seat performance space, draws headliners; the Charles M. Schulz Museum showcases the work of the Peanuts creator; and you can glamp with African game animals at Safari West. —Lindsey J. Smith

62. Cloverdale
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 96
Diversity: 38
Health: 50
Transit: 46
Affordability: 1
Public Safety: 6
Culture: 99
Editors’ Rank: 67

63. Calistoga
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 81
Diversity: 77
Health: 49
Transit: 5
Affordability: 6
Public Safety: 6
Culture: 98
Editors’ Rank: 50

64. Novato
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 53
Diversity: 77
Health: 17
Transit: 84
Affordability: 40
Public Safety: 35
Culture: 52
Editors’ Rank: 38

65. San Bruno
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 43
Diversity: 88
Health: 4
Transit: 79
Affordability: 30
Public Safety: 64
Culture: 80
Editors’ Rank: 28

66. Walnut Creek
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 41
Diversity: 83
Health: 76
Transit: 54
Affordability: 35
Public Safety: 61
Culture: 22
Editors’ Rank: 48

67. Pleasant Hill
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 45
Diversity: 55
Health: 71
Transit: 53
Affordability: 37
Public Safety: 86
Culture: 22
Editors’ Rank: 89
We’re not saying it’s a sign of the apocalypse, but in August, a 350-year-old oak tree—complete with a historical plaque from the city—fell, smashing seven cars on a bucolic residential street here. Scary.

68. Milpitas
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 45
Diversity: 3
Health: 57
Transit: 56
Affordability: 80
Public Safety: 84
Culture: 73
Editors’ Rank: 87

69. Union City
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 36
Diversity: 4
Health: 65
Transit: 73
Affordability: 37
Public Safety: 92
Culture: 92
Editors’ Rank: 60

70. Cotati
(North Bay, Small)
Education: 73
Diversity: 56
Health: 61
Transit: 50
Affordability: 15
Public Safety: 12
Culture: 74
Editors’ Rank: 75

71. Benicia
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 54
Diversity: 61
Health: 82
Transit: 93
Affordability: 5
Public Safety: 23
Culture: 44
Editors’ Rank: 53

72. Livermore
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 56
Diversity: 43
Health: 43
Transit: 87
Affordability: 19
Public Safety: 70
Culture: 47
Editors’ Rank: 69
Livermorium (atomic number 116), an extremely radioactive element observed only in experimental settings, was named for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2000. After Berkelium, it’s the second element named (indirectly) for a Bay Area city.

73. East Palo Alto
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 68
Diversity: 8
Health: 60
Transit: 17
Affordability: 56
Public Safety: 74
Culture: 82
Editors’ Rank: 99

74. Rohnert Park
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 85
Diversity: 33
Health: 76
Transit: 64
Affordability: 27
Public Safety: 26
Culture: 60
Editors’ Rank: 85

75. Napa
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 81
Diversity: 52
Health: 61
Transit: 47
Affordability: 17
Public Safety: 76
Culture: 58
Editors’ Rank: 40

76. Los Altos Hills
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 32
Diversity: 85
Health: 12
Transit: 61
Affordability: 86
Public Safety: 38
Culture: 75
Editors’ Rank: 78

77. Clayton
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 37
Diversity: 60
Health: 29
Transit: 83
Affordability: 34
Public Safety: 46
Culture: 77
Editors’ Rank: 101

78. Newark
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 76
Diversity: 13
Health: 68
Transit: 71
Affordability: 31
Public Safety: 53
Culture: 71
Editors’ Rank: 83

79. Martinez
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 65
Diversity: 67
Health: 61
Transit: 73
Affordability: 3
Public Safety: 96
Culture: 36
Editors’ Rank: 45

80. Hayward
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 93
Diversity: 13
Health: 89
Transit: 63
Affordability: 25
Public Safety: 45
Culture: 80
Editors’ Rank: 43

81. South San Francisco
(South Bay, Small)
Education: 65
Diversity: 94
Health: 65
Transit: 11
Affordability: 48
Public Safety: 51
Culture: 84
Editors’ Rank: 21

The Case for South San Francisco

Step into the Garden Club, that decidedly unlovely restaurant and bar on Mission Road in South City, after work some evening, and you’ll understand the charm of this quiet burb of 67,000. On one side of the joint, you’ll find a Village People–esque lineup of patrons bellied up at the bar: hard-hatted construction workers pulling on Buds, loose-tied business dudes with their G and Ts, and blue-haired retirees having their premeal martinis. On the other side, Irish and Filipino and Chinese families sit in a sea of red-and-white-checked tablecloths, ladling out family-style Italian. If the Bay Area is a global melting pot, perhaps nowhere better represents it than South City. While San Franciscans and Oaklanders bemoan the loss of ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity, South San Francisco continues to stay largely below the radar of mass gentrification. The Industrial City moniker may no longer fit what’s become the global center of biotech, but pockets of the city still retain their working-class feel and a peculiar kind of old-fashioned enchantment. South City has what so many of us claim to want in a hometown: a priceless sense of authenticity. —Ian A. Stewart

82. Campbell
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 49
Diversity: 44
Health: 76
Transit: 48
Affordability: 65
Public Safety: 76
Culture: 64
Editors’ Rank: 100

83. Concord
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 70
Diversity: 35
Health: 95
Transit: 65
Affordability: 22
Public Safety: 90
Culture: 54
Editors’ Rank: 76
Concord’s decommissioned Naval Weapons Station once shipped weapons to wars in Vietnam and Nicaragua. Today it’s a test site for self-driving cars.

84. Vacaville
(North Bay, Big)
Education: 84
Diversity: 32
Health: 44
Transit: 84
Affordability: 8
Public Safety: 61
Culture: 92
Editors’ Rank: 96

85. San Pablo
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 99
Diversity: 50
Health: 65
Transit: 22
Affordability: 78
Public Safety: 66
Culture: 89
Editors’ Rank: 90

86. Hercules
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 61
Diversity: 7
Health: 87
Transit: 91
Affordability: 3
Public Safety: 74
Culture: 91
Editors’ Rank: 73

87. Pinole
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 81
Diversity: 29
Health: 85
Transit: 71
Affordability: 11
Public Safety: 79
Culture: 76
Editors’ Rank: 80

88. San Leandro
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 87
Diversity: 29
Health: 82
Transit: 56
Affordability: 68
Public Safety: 94
Culture: 64
Editors’ Rank: 32

89. Windsor
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 85
Diversity: 37
Health: 70
Transit: 76
Affordability: 7
Public Safety: 58
Culture: 85
Editors’ Rank: 93

90. American Canyon
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 76
Diversity: 19
Health: 36
Transit: 99
Affordability: 27
Public Safety: 84
Culture: 90
Editors’ Rank: 84

91. Morgan Hill
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 61
Diversity: 46
Health: 52
Transit: 95
Affordability: 58
Public Safety: 35
Culture: 68
Editors’ Rank: 90

92. Vallejo
(North Bay, Big)
Education: 96
Diversity: 26
Health: 101
Transit: 89
Affordability: 16
Public Safety: 100
Culture: 79
Editors’ Rank: 68

Vallejo: From whipping boy to hottest market. Our 11th-largest city (population 120,000) epitomizes the region’s contradictions. For years, Vallejo has been buffeted by one dire event after another: Its notorious 2008 bankruptcy was followed in 2011 by Forbes ranking it No. 9 on its list of Most Miserable Cities and Newsweek naming it in its Dying Cities list. And while some of that bashing felt gratuitous, it does have a high crime rate and bad schools. Even still, Vallejo was the hottest real estate market in the country in 2016, according to Realtor.com. The reasons: affordability (the median listing price that year was just $345,000) and access to San Francisco (a ferry ride gets you there in an hour). Throw in a big waterfront and plenty of historic buildings, and you have all the ingredients for a 180-degree turnaround.

93. Gilroy
(South Bay, Medium)
Education: 80
Diversity: 24
Health: 79
Transit: 86
Affordability: 44
Public Safety: 81
Culture: 95
Editors’ Rank: 86

94. Brentwood
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 72
Diversity: 35
Health: 54
Transit: 100
Affordability: 48
Public Safety: 76
Culture: 85
Editors’ Rank: 97

95. Fairfield
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 88
Diversity: 18
Health: 86
Transit: 90
Affordability: 12
Public Safety: 83
Culture: 78
Editors’ Rank: 94

96. Oakley
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 101
Diversity: 9
Health: 87
Transit: 101

Affordability: 9
Public Safety: 38
Culture: 96
Editors’ Rank: 95

97. Dixon
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 93
Diversity: 16
Health: 99
Transit: 54
Affordability: 9
Public Safety: 89
Culture: 94
Editors’ Rank: 98
After Dixon vice mayor Ted Hickman filled a newspaper column with antigay slurs and called for a “Straight Pride American Month,” the city council voted to “disapprove” of his comments.

98. Suisun City
(North Bay, Medium)
Education: 90
Diversity: 2
Health: 91
Transit: 98
Affordability: 31
Public Safety: 97
Culture: 100
Editors’ Rank: 82

99. Pittsburg
(East Bay, Medium)
Education: 100
Diversity: 9
Health: 92
Transit: 91
Affordability: 26
Public Safety: 93
Culture: 88
Editors’ Rank: 92

100. Rio Vista
(East Bay, Small)
Education: 90
Diversity: 71
Health: 98
Transit: 81
Affordability: 2
Public Safety: 19
Culture: 97
Editors’ Rank: 18

101. Antioch
(East Bay, Big)
Education: 98
Diversity: 17
Health: 80
Transit: 97
Affordability: 23
Public Safety: 100
Culture: 83
Editors’ Rank: 87


How We Calculated the Numbers

What makes a city good to live in? It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer, even before you start looking for ways to quantify it. We spent hours batting the topic back and forth. Good schools? Sure. Accessible mass transit? Of course. Low crime? Naturally. But that’s just the start. Racial and economic diversity matter. So does a flourishing cultural scene. In the end, we graded the cities in each of eight categories: education, diversity, public health, transit, affordability, public safety, culture, and our own highly subjective impression of the place. For Education, we combined the cities’ high school pass rate on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test and the percent of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degrees. Diversity: The portion of the population who are nonwhite, the city’s median age, and its score on the GINI index, which measures income inequality. Health: Physicians per capita, air quality scores, and the percent of residents without health insurance. Transit: Average commute time, walkability score, and the percent of commuters who drive to work. Affordability: Poverty rates, median home prices, and median rents. Public safety: Crime rate and full-time police per capita. Culture: Artistic venues per capita, the number of residents who list their full-time occupation as artist, and liquor licenses per capita. After adding in our editors’ subjective scores, we ranked all 101 cities within each category, then averaged those figures to create a final list. (Some cities tied.) Is it a perfect measure? Of course not. Good enough to start a conversation? You bet.

 

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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