Commute times, South Bay (Northern California)
July 14, 2020 11:59 AM   Subscribe

We are planning to relocate to Northern CA towards the end of the year. While I realize most everything in the Bay Area is still locked down and traffic might not be a significant issue, I am trying to ascertain commute times between locations, with my boyfriend working in Palo Alto and my own work in Cupertino.

For the purposes of this question, please assume pre-COVID-19 rush hour traffic. My boyfriend and I and our son currently live in LA and we're used to long commutes, but we'd strongly like to avoid a commute longer than 30 minutes door to door, ideally including school drop-off (though we'd add 15-20 minutes for that if necessary.) Our other consideration is that it be an excellent elementary (for now) school district. With that in mind:

-What are the commute times from Palo Alto to Cupertino and vice versa? Which way is against traffic?

-Given that both Palo Alto and Cupertino are hideously expensive, is there any other neighborhood that may serve our needs? I'd prefer not to have to do school lottery if that's even an option, and we'd manage those neighborhoods if there were no other options - but I'm curious to know if we're missing potential neighborhoods that meet our criteria. We've ruled out Mountain View for elementary schools, as they seem typically not great.

-We were looking at Menlo Park, or Santa Clara - how are those commutes?

I'd like to avoid discussions on what defines an excellent school district and how rankings are misleading - for the purpose of this question please assume a conventional 'good' school district. We are B/POC and very aware of the relative homogeneity of where we will be working, but until we move up there and familiarize ourselves with the area and with our new jobs, we'd like to live close to work.
posted by Everydayville to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco Bay Area, CA (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in Palo Alto (~20 years ago) and my dad worked in Cupertino for a while.

Palo Alto -> Cupertino (in the morning) is against traffic. It's an easy commute, not much traffic, 20min if both ends are close to the highway. I imagine commuting from Menlo Park would be similar since it's just north of Palo Alto.
posted by mekily at 12:05 PM on July 14

Hi, I am a bay area commuter and have lived all over the South Bay and Peninsula, worked all over, too. About 3 years ago I worked in Palo Alto and lived in San Jose. my commute on a weekday was fine in the morning, but it regularly took 60-90 minutes to get home. I have a member of my household still working in PA and he says it hadn't changed pre-COVID--60-90 minutes to get home. I would say 45 minutes home to Cupertino.

Palo Alto to Cupertino would be reverse commute and much better. Menlo Park to Palo Alto is reverse commute and not a big deal at all, even at commute times--that's your 20-30 minute commute. Santa Clara to Palo Alto will be a nightmare (that's more or less my old commute). Basically, if you can be north of Cupertino, your commute will be less likely to be awful than your BFs will be if you're south of it. But commuting here is tough either way, there are no real "good" commutes if you're going more than 10 miles.
posted by assenav at 12:11 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure why you characterize Mountain View elementary schools as not great - on the "Great Schools" rankings (noting, as you do, all the problems inherent in that ranking process), four MV elementary schools have a 10, one has an 8, two have a 7, and one has a 4. When I lived in South Bay ~15 years ago (for high school), Mountain View High School was considered top notch, and my friends there had no complaints about their earlier schooling. In general, ruling out MV puts you in a bit of difficult spot, since the cities between Palo Alto and the east side of Cupertino are basically just Los Altos, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale.

There's no great commute in the South Bay, but, like the other posters, I'd recommend sticking closer to Palo Alto and commuting down to Cupertino, rather than the reverse. I'd recommend thinking about any work shuttles that might be an option to facilitate the commute (assuming that these would be safe choices if going back in the office is a safe choice), and bike commuting. South Bay is GREAT to bike around, and you can get places almost as quickly on an electric bike as you can in a car at the peak of the commute hours.
posted by Jaclyn at 12:42 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]

And, having reread your question a bit closer, I'd put Menlo Park over Santa Clara in terms of just commute times.
posted by Jaclyn at 12:45 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]

What you want to NOT do is have to get on 101 going north in the morning.

If you live south of PA, and commuting north, then you need to pay attention to what side of town you're going to. If you're going to the south side, taking 280, then it's still not great but less of a big deal.

Going south to Cupertino is easier in general.

Mountain View or Los Altos are good bets geographically. Los Altos schools are excellent. Some of Mountain View is actually gerrymandered into the Los Altos school district, so look at those maps.

And most Mountain View schools are good. In general the towns you are looking at are places where the demographic is such that there is a lot of family support for kids' education. So even schools like those in the Cupertino district, which is horrendously underfunded, still show excellent test scores etc because the kids there belong to families that support their learning (to a degree that can be problematic. There was a spate of pressure-suicides in the Palo Alto high schools a few years back.) And FYI every public school expects families to contribute financially. When I had a kid in the Los Altos district, the minimum contribution was not really optional.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:10 PM on July 14 [4 favorites]

My Cupertino commute was always from/to San Jose, but I’m not sure how “reverse” Palo Alto to Cupertino is these days. My corkers who drive in from San Mateo have about a 45 min commute to Infinite Loop, so Palo Alto would be something like 35 mins depending how close to 280 you would be.

That said, is someone working for Apple? If so, taking advantage of the shuttles would open up a lot of opportunities.
posted by sideshow at 3:18 PM on July 14

I'm not sure you'll find a *great* commute, though I'd generally agree that going south/southeastish in the morning tends to work out better, at least up until you reach the outskirts of San Jose. Mountain View, especially near 101, has a lot of Google traffic going into it in the morning (and out of it in the evenings), so if you're wanting to commute from Menlo Park or Palo Alto, I'd take into consideration how much of that stretch of 101 you can avoid. (That said, in a post-Covid world, I'm curious to see whether remote work stays more of a norm than an exception among tech companies.)
posted by Aleyn at 4:35 PM on July 14

+1 to everyone saying that north to south is the "best" commute direction. If I were you I would live in Mountain View or Los Altos, because that's close enough to Palo Alto that you can take local roads going north. Splitting the commute by going any further south is not a great idea unless both office locations are close enough to 280 that you can avoid 101 or 85 entirely. It also depends on which part of Palo Alto you're going to; the Foothill Expy side is a very different commute from the downtown side. PM me if you'd like more specific thoughts; I used to live in Mountain View and am currently in Palo Alto.
posted by serelliya at 1:14 PM on July 21

I live next to Cupertino in West San Jose. Living in Palo Alto, commuting to Cupertino would not be a big deal. It is as "reverse commute" as you get around here. Unless you're commuting to Apple in which case all roads around Apple campuses are always slow at commute times. I'm not sure why you'd trade living in Cupertino if you're going to work here for living in just-as-if-not-more-expensive Palo Alto. Cupertino schools are just as good as Palo Alto.

You could also live in West San Jose which is this weird little pocket of San Jose surrounded by Cupertino, Santa Clara, Campbell, and Saratoga. It uses the Campbell, Saratoga, and Cupertino school districts (the 'lesser' of the schools but still good as far as I can tell).
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 3:50 PM on July 30

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