According to many publications, 2016 is shaping up as a banner year in the rebirth of Oakland. The often-overshadowed East Bay city is bursting at the seams with new restaurants, shops and night spots, and last winter real estate site Zillow chose Oakland for all five of its “hottest neighborhoods of 2016.” The reason for Oakland’s renaissance (Oaklassance?), the story goes, is simple: people are priced out of San Francisco but still want to live in a city, so they came east and found one.
The East Bay is vast and diverse, however, and there are more reasons to cross the Bay Bridge than to find an inexpensive house. There is another town, in the hills and surrounded by Oakland proper on all sides, whose reputation is built not on affordability but on its unique character, safe streets, excellent schools and sometimes awe-inspiring single-family homes; that place is Piedmont.
With a population of only 11,000, Piedmont has been called a “West Coast Mayberry” by the San Francisco Chronicle, but it’s not the kind of place where the locals laze away the day on the front porch. It’s the kind of place where the median home price for May topped $2 million, where the high school was ranked #25 in the nation by Newsweek, where platinum-selling rock star Billie Joe Armstrong coaches little league.
Incorporated in 1907, the one-time home of Jack London was already known as the “city of millionaires” by the 1920s. Indeed, streets like Sea View Avenue are lined with period mansions whose scale and grandeur are almost without rival. But affluence, while part of Piedmont living, is not the foundation upon which this close-knit, quiet community is built.
Instead, Piedmont’s calling card is its devotion to families. 71 percent of residents are married and almost 50 percent have elementary school-age children. The town’s big events are school fundraisers like the yearly Spring Fling and Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, and the annual July 4th Classic Car Parade, which last year featured seven bag pipe bands. There is a tree lighting each December and the local schools, which include Piedmont High, Piedmont Middle School and three elementary schools — Frank C. Havens, Beach and Wildwood — has a 10 out of 10 rating on GreatSchools.net.
Piedmont’s small downtown area includes three banks, two gas stations, civic buildings, the Piedmont Center for the Arts and Mulberry’s Market, which, with its deli and coffee shop, has become a popular meeting place for Piedmont locals since opening in 2009. What the town lacks in commerce, though, it makes up for in green space. There are 44 acres of parks within the 1.7 square miles that make up Piedmont. 15-acre Piedmont Park, one-time home of the historic Piedmont Hotel, is the geographic and spiritual heart of Piedmont. Piedmonters looking for nearby restaurants, shops and nightlife can find them on Oakland’s Grand and Piedmont Avenues. Both are a 10-minute walk from the center of town.
Not exactly a “hidden gem,” Piedmont is a gem, nonetheless. Quiet, serene, friendly, convenient to San Francisco via BART or auto and almost exclusively populated by gorgeous period homes from the early 1900s to the mid-century era, it possesses a popularity that doesn’t wax or wane.