Santa Clara County
A couple of days ago I made a quick trip to Spokane, Washington, on some family business. As I’m writing this in mid-December, just short of the winter solstice (shortest day of the year), I was struck by how early the sun set and then, the following morning, how late it rose again. It seemed like I’d “lost” an hour of daylight.
Upon returning home to the San Jose and Los Gatos area (Silicon Valley), I found an awesome site that charts sunrise and sunset (dawn and dusk) times for all of the world. The link below will take you to the page for San Jose, California, which is a good representation of Santa Clara County and the general Silicon Valley area.
I played with this site awhile, checking the hours of daylight for today going north and south of this area. It will be the same amount of daylight hours (or very close) during the shortest daylight day of the year, December 21st. So for people moving around on the west coast, here’s a comparative glimpse on the number of daylight hours during these shortest days of the year:
In summer, of course, it’s the opposite. The further north you go, the longer the days, while the closer to the equator, the shorter the days (and the smaller the swing between summer and winter).
During these “shortest days of the year“, a later sunrise and earlier sunset are really noticed. In Spokane (about the same as Seattle) the sun is coming up at 7:33 and setting at 3:59pm vs the San Jose area’s 7:16 sunrise and 4:52 sunset (8:26 hours of sun up north vs 9:36 in the south Bay Area – 1 hour, 10 minutes more sun here).
How does this compare to other major cities around the US? How many hours of sun are they all getting during these darkest days?
New York City 9:13
San Jose 9:36
Los Angeles 9:53
San Diego 10
Seeing the wide differences in sunlight hours alone, I can see why “snowbirds” would migrate south in winter!
Another factor to consider is how much sun you actually see during those hours of daylight! The San Jose area gets only about 20″ of rain during most years. Most of our rain comes between November and March or April, but even so, it’s unusual to get rain day after day for more than 3-5 days. Normally there are sunny and dry days inbetween patches of overcast, drizzle or rain. The weather will be drier in south county or in the east valley and wetter closer to the coastal foothills (Almaden Valley, Los Gatos, Los Altos). The Santa Cruz Mountains usually hold back the summer fog, leaving the inland areas sunnier and drier than the coast.
Sometimes the winter fog is “ground fog”, or fog from the Pacific which snakes its way inland through the Golden Gate and inches down the bay southward. When that happens, you can sometimes go to the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains and enjoy the sunshine while hiking the trails off Skyline Boulevard.
We have 300 sunny days per year in our mild, subtropical climate. Not bad! Even our winters are not so tough. As one of my Finnish clients said to me recently, “Mary, you don’t really have winter in San Jose!”
If you are coming to the Silicon Valley area from outside of California, you may not know what to make of our school scoring system. It’s actually pretty straightforward: the API scores (Academic Performance Index) are based on a 1 – 1,000 point system. The target number for “good schools” is 800 (that’s the goal for the county). Anything close to 800 is considered decent. Over 800 is good. Over 900 is rare and is the indicator of an excellent school. Here’s an example of a very strong elementary & middle school district:
Browse school districts by county in CA:
Santa Clara County Schools (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Palo Alto & most of Silicon Valley)
San Mateo County Schools (north of Palo Alto along “the peninsula” south of San Francisco, includes San Mateo, Burlingame, Hillsborough, Woodside, etc.)
Alameda County Schools (Fremont and cities & areas along the “east bay” near Santa Clara County)
Santa Cruz County Schools (Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and areas close to the northern part of the Monterey Bay)
I’m often asked: where are the very best schools in the San Jose area? The answer depends a lot on your expectations and possibly also the needs of your family. If you need special services, such as support for autism or learning disorders, you may want to investigate which schools or districts have the best support. If your child plays a musical instrument, you may want to seek out the schools with a strong band program. Or if you have a serious swimmer, you may be drawn to schools and districts with a great program there. Not everything is measured by the API scores and sometimes you may just have to do more research to find the very best “fit”.
A note about the various school levels and API scores: while in many areas the elementary schools can be extra strong, sometimes as you go on to middle school and high school those numbers will fall a bit. What seems to be happening is that unless all the elementary and middle schools are equally high scoring, the lower performing schools’ impact will be to pull the upper schools’ scores down.
In areas where all three sets of schools go into the 900s, home prices tend to be the highest and buyers face the most competition for real estate because so many families put a premium on education. For instance, in the city of Palo Alto (home to Stanford University), there are 18 schools in all levels. Of those, only 2 are under 900! One of those two is 896! Homes in Palo Alto are highly prized for many reasons, not the least of which are these outstanding scores. And they cost a fortune.
Sartoga has more than one school district, but if kids are enrolled in “Saratoga Schools”, they will enjoy schools in the 900s – only in the 900s – all the way from kindergarden through 12th grade. And again, these homes are very, very expensive (upwards of a million dollars for a very small house).
What is a middle class family to do? To get into a strong school district for under $650,000 is not easy in Santa Clara County, but it is possible if you can be flexible on your home’s size and condition. There are many 3 bedroom, 2 bath homes in the wonderful Union School District or Cambrian School District in the Cambrian Park area of San Jose. Kids in these areas get really fine schools, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, but the houses are in the 600s and 700s instead of over $1 million. If you happen to find a short sale or bank owned home, you might be able to get it in the 500s, depending upon condition. Most of these homes are on the small size, though, as in 1100 to 1400 square feet (smaller ranch style homes). Typically, homes in the upper 5s or mid 6s will require some updating – so being flexible on the condition is important if you want that tradeoff with the great schools.
There are other areas with high scoring elementary schools too, and some of them are more affordable than Cambrian. Have a look at the numbers – it can be a helpful starting point in figuring out where you may want to live.
If you are relocating to Silicon Valley and wish to choose an upscale or luxury neighborhood, where should you begin looking? Where are the very best areas in or near San Jose?
Here are some quick lists of areas in Silicon Valley areas which enjoy beautiful estate properties:
Luxury Home Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley’s west side
Most of the more expensive parts of Silicon Valley are along the “west valley” areas, and these all enjoy excellent public schools. If you were to look at a topographical map, they would be the cities, towns and neighborhoods close to the coastal foothills (also known as the Santa Cruz Mountains). Or if you looked at a road map, most of them would be on the west side of Highway 85. Unless otherwise noted, the districts, cities or towns are all in Santa Clara County.
These “west valley communities” are listed from southernmost to northernmost, extending from southwestern San Jose up into the San Francisco Peninsula.
Almaden Valley (part of San Jose)
Cupertino (foothills area in particular)
Los Altos Hills
Portola Valley (San Mateo County)
Woodside (San Mateo County)
Hillsborough (San Mateo County)
These are not the only places to find high end real estate in the South Bay area, though – it’s just that most of them are located along the west valley corridor.
More Luxury Home Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley
More communities which are “exclusive” can be found:
The Silver Creek area of San Jose (eastside, within the Evergreen district)
Part of the Alum Rock neighborhood near the old San Jose Country Club (also on the east side).
The Rosegarden area of central San Jose
The Naglee Park neighborhood near downtown San Jose
Willow Glen enjoys some beautiful old mansions (between downtown SJ and the west side)
Part of the Mission District of Fremont (Alameda County)
Eagle’s Ridge community in Gilroy (south part of Santa Clara County)
Something to be aware of is that many of these areas are served by more than one school district. In some cases, the different school districts can be very different in terms of school performance scores. In Saratoga, for instance, there are 3 different districts. Two have excellent scores and the third has good scores – but very different numbers! This can be a surprise to people who relocate to Silicon Valley: so be aware of this quirk if you move here! (Even if you are not interested in utilizing the schools, know that they are a prime driver in home values and pricing.)
Would you like to learn more about luxury real estate & homes in Silicon Valley? I have some other blogs with posts that you might find helpful
Related posts on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog:
The Silicon Valley Luxury Home Market (browse listings over $2 million in a few areas)
Related posts on the Live in Los Gatos blog:
Silicon Valley’s rush hour traffic can begin as early as 6:45 or 7 am and last until 9 or 9:30am most workdays. The evening commute begins to get congested around 3 or 3:30pm with a knot of traffic in place by 5pm and lasting until around 6:30 or 7pm on some roads.
Looking for a reverse commute? Many commuters do precisely that!
If you work in Scotts Valley (just “over the hill” in Santa Cruz County), living in Los Gatos, Campbell, Cambrian Park or West San Jose will be a reverse commute for you. You’ll be going against the flow of traffic and your commute will be immensely easier.
Ditto that if you work in the south San Jose or Edendale region and begin your commute in Almaden Valley. Once you get to 85, it will be a breeze!
Work in Gilroy? Living in Blossom Valley or Almaden, you can engineer a reverse commute on the back roads or take Santa Teresa Blvd going south.
Most employees and workers try to carpool, take light rail, or otherwise beat the rush by using tricks of timing or alternate routes to avoid spending twice as much time on the road as necessary. Many companies have flexible hours – it’s worth investigating to see if you can shorten the length of your time in the car!
Relocation to Silicon Valley can be a bit of a shock to people in terms of the traffic and commute times if they are not accostomed to suburban living (which is most of the valley). Typical commute times are about 30 minutes, though some people have longer or shorter commutes, of course.
Traffic moves toward downtown San Jose primarily along Highways 87, 680 and 280 and toward the Cupertino – Sunnyvale – Mountain View areas along Highway 85 (and 280). Bringing traffic in from the south county is 101. Other roads getting a lot of use too are 17 and 880 (same road, different stretches), San Tomas Expressway, Montague Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Santa Teresa Boulevard, Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, Stevens Creek Blvd. and Almaden Expressway.
People coming from out of the area to relocate to Silicon Valley might not know what to expect from the weather in the San Jose, Santa Clara County, or Silicon Valley Area. What’s it all about?
In a nutshell, this is a “sub tropical” area, or a place that enjoys a “mediterranean climate” that is most heavily influenced by the close proximity of the shoreline and the Pacific Ocean. Temps are mild, we get little rainfall compared to many parts of the country. More specifically, we usually get about 20 inches of rainfall a year and enjoy 300 sunny days a year. Winters seldom see many hard freezes (but they can happen).
A typical summer day has highs in the mid to upper eighties but very low humidity – so it feels much cooler. Heat waves and heat inversions can run the temps up to the low to mid 100s in the hottest parts of the valley. Luckily it doesn’t happen much, or stay for long! Most people do NOT have air conditioning here unless they are in a newer home or live in the warmer South County areas of Morgan Hill or Gilroy.
A January day might have a high in the 60s or 50s, depending. By February, though, the worst is usually over and it’s even possible to have freak warm days that hit 80 degrees!
Our weather varies from year to year. Some years we get drought conditions and may require water rationing (right now we have been asked for a voluntary cutback of 10%). Other years we get lots of wet weather from the Pacific – temps are warmer but there’s much too much rain: those are the El Nino years. Most often, though, winters aren’t that bad – evenings can be nippy as temps drop into the 20s on the worst nights in December or January.
Because we are on the Pacific, that ocean dominates our weather. Sometimes a freaky cold storm from Alaska barrels down the coast in winter. When that happens, it gets extremely cold. And once in a rare time – perhaps once a decade – it might even snow! When the white stuff does fall in Los Gatos, Saratoga or San Jose, though, it doesn’t usually stay for awhile. It is so rare that it simply feels like magic. Can you imagine the look of snowfall on a palm tree?
Warm weather – or mild, comfortable weather – is the norm from about spring (varies from Feb – April each year) through most of November. Really December and January tend to be the coolest months, but sometimes cold storms can make winter linger longer and forestall spring a bit.
And what of those palm trees? We have LOTS of types of palms here (Royal Palms, Fan Palms, Date Palms, etc.). They do well here when planted right and well nurtured, but they are not indigenous to northern CA. They are native to southern CA but not here. However, if handled well they usually do fine in our slightly cooler climate.
For me, the palm trees are a sign that the climate somewhere is “mild enough”. I often joke with folks, “if the palm trees can live there, so can I….”
If you’re moving to San Jose, Santa Clara or Silicon Valley from out of the area, there are a few items you may want to assemble in your “toolkit” as you are choosing a place to live. Some of these you can obtain for free, online or from me. Others you’ll need to purchase.
A Barclay’s Locaide will not only give you a detailed view of the area, but it will also outline earthquake faults, flood plains, and other natural hazard zones you might want to know about. You can buy one at most local bookstores or online for $59.95 (see link above)
A School District Map of the County with school district boundaies will be a big help to you here, as schools are the #1 thing that drive home values. You can buy one at bookstores or online for about $5
A Relocation Guide with community information for our various towns, cities, and neighborhoods will be immensely useful.
San Jose is a large city, almost 1 million in population, and within it there are many districts, such as Willow Glen, Almaden Valley, Cambrian Park, Evergreen, West San Jose, Japan Town, Naglee Park, Vendome, Rosegarden, Shasta-Hanchett, Blossom Valley, Santa Teresa, Berryessa, Happy Valley, and many, many more! Additionally, there are many other cities and towns and they have their own subdivisions etc. too. So a guide to community information is imperative. I can email you one on request. If you wish to purchase a book, a good one is the Moon Travel Handbook’s “Silicon Valley Handbook”
It is also helpful to have a knowledgeable Realtor as your resource! Please call me if you’d like assistance in your move to SIlicon Valley. I’d be happy to help you.