Beach view from Sunny Cove in Santa Cruz, CASometimes people relocating to Silicon Valley tell me that they’d like to move to a waterfront home, something with a view of the Pacific Ocean or the San Francisco Bay. Most of Silicon Valley is inland, though, separated from the ocean by the coastal mountains.

Ocean View Homes

For those truly set on having a view of the Pacific, home can be found in the Santa Cruz area with lovely ocean and Monterey Bay views. The compromise will likely be a long, winding commute over Highway 17’s mountain pass.

Similarly, ocean lovers may settle close to Half Moon Bay or Pescadero, but will have to slog over the coastal hills on Hwy 35 each day to get to the Peninsula. (Some lucky souls may find employment in Scotts Valley or along the coast, but most of the jobs are not in these places.) If faraway ocean view will work, a home in the Santa Cruz Mountains may be the ideal fit.

Silicon Valley Waterfront Homes

If you want to live along the waterfront within Silicon Valley and not these neighoring communities, there really are not a lot of neighborhoods from which to choose.  Most water-view homes involve the San Francisco Bay.  There are a few rivers, creeks, ponds (mostly man-made or percolation), lakes, and reservoirs to be found as well, but enjoying lovely water views up close is not the easiest criteria to fill and each come with their own concerns. Waterfront bay views often come down to Foster City and Redwood Shores, which we’ll discuss next.

Foster City, Redwood Shores (part of Redwood City), east San Mateo

East of Highway 101 on the San Francisco Peninsula (San Mateo County), Foster City, Redwood Shores, and part of San Mateo juts into or sits alongside the San Francisco Bay.

Redwood Shores and Foster City are probably the best known and most sought after areas along the water or with easy boating access to the bay.

Redwood Shores is part of Redwood City and at one time contained a dump. Beginning in 1968, it was home to Marine World, later called Marine World Africa USA, which in 1986 moved to Vallejo (and eventually changed its name so much that it is unrecognizable as being related to the original theme park).  There are some older houses, but many younger ones, in Redwood Shores, and recently it got its own elementary school, making life much easier for residents and kids.

Both Redwood Shores and Foster City are communities with primarily newer construction (on smaller lots) relative to the age of most neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Many home buyers are drawn to the area because they are very open, clean, and the water of course makes them scenic, too.  There are several nice parks. Schools serving Redwood Shores are highly regarded.

Both areas are built on landfill over the bay mud and are, of course, at a very low elevation. Some home buyers are concerned about homes sinking either over time or in the event of a significant earthquake.  Others worry about rising bay waters.

Similarly, the part of San Mateo which is east of Highway 101 seems to be built on landfill.

One significant area to watch for is moisture under the home due to the high water table.  When there’s a lot of moisture, there’s a risk of the reinforcing bars in the foundation rusting and in turn cracking the foundation.  This can be a very expensive problem to fix.  When considering these areas, hire excellent inspectors and look closely at the foundation and water issues for any property that you may want to buy.  If your property inspector suggests a drainage and foundation inspection, heed that advice.

Most of the bayside areas are in liquefaction zones, which means that they will experience more severity of shaking with nearby quakes. The possibility exists of the ground liquifying, too. Liquefaction zones are impacted by sea level rise as the wetter the soils get, the more easily they can liquify. The USGS put out a really interesting study on this. Please check out the USGS paper on liquefaction zones and sea level rise here.

Another really interesting and helpful study is provided by San Mateo County. It shows maps with the possible or probable liquefaction risks based on which earthquake fault shakes.

Much of the peninsula does afford views of the bay from a distance.  The gentle hills in Belmont and San Carlos and the Emerald Hills area of Redwood City each have areas with wonderful vistas (not exclusively these areas, of course), but you’ll have to find them on a case by case basis.

The South Bay

In the South Bay, or Santa Clara County, the bay moves toward the land via a number of tidal marshes.

Alviso, once a busy busy port and marina, has lost much of its appeal as the channels are no longer dredged and most of the marina is now overgrown with reeds or rushes. It is a wonderful place to visit, especially for lunch and then to enjoy a walk along the boardwalk to see the ghost town of a marina or go birdwatching.  Below, is a photo that I took looking inland – those vertical posts are part of the old dock! In many cases, the boats are now landlocked in the marshy growth and it would be a challenge to remove them at this point.


Alviso - Public Shore sign, marina overgrown with reeds. Waterfront Homes in San Jose


Like the Peninsula, with a little elevation there can again be sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay in the distance. You might find these in San Jose’s east foothills and pockets along the west valley among other areas. In some of the pastoral sections of the east foothills, there are some lakes and ponds, fed by streams which are often seasonal and in some cases year round. (In one area, there are even eagles found in winter!)

In Los Gatos, a few homes have a prized view of beautiful Lake Vasona. Just into the Santa Cruz Mountains, some lucky home owners enjoy a vista of Lexington Reservoir.

Along the same vein, Campbell is home to many percolation ponds. Although many perc ponds do not have recreational use (no bike paths or boating), they can be a pleasant sight too. There are some between the Almaden and Cambrian areas of San Jose also (along Coleman Road and behind the old Almaden Winery neighborhood – some of those houses were built to enjoy great waterfront views.

Some communities have purpose-built decorative ponds and water features, like Rinconada Hills in Los Gatos, or golf course communities like the Ranch on Silver Creek in San Jose’s Evergreen district.

The Silicon Valley area has many small creeks and a few rivers, and there are, in many areas, homes built near them.

What are the concerns with riverfront or creek front properties in Silicon Valley?

Perhaps most obviously, where there’s water there will be more wildlife: hawks and other birds, frogs, possum, skunks, raccoons, bats, snakes, rats, mice, mosquitos and all kinds of things – including deer, coyote, mountain lions and feral pigs in more rural areas. Creeks and other bodies of water can be a passageway for human traffic as well as natural.

In some cases, there may be protected wildlife and in the area and therefore restrictions on landscaping, fencing etc. due to the habitat sensitivity issues.  Normally these are not big problems for the home owner.  For example, landscaping may need to be native plants, pesticides may be restricted, and fencing might need to be wrought iron in cases such as the habitat for the California red legged frog which is protected here.

Some rivers in San Jose are polluted with mercury which is naturally occurring from the mines in the Almaden area (95120), mostly.  Those waterways are posted with signs advising not to fish there, nor drink the water etc.

You may be allowed to boat and fish in reservoirs with clean water, but swimming is generally prohibited as many of these are caches of drinking water.

Additionally, the areas where the bay used to be – the low-lying areas – as well as the creeks and rivers tend to be liquefaction zones and may be at higher risk of flooding and shifting soils.

Living on or near a dam can come with it’s own risks, including the risk of dam failure. Recently CBS Bay Area published and aired a story on problems faced by some neighbors of the Anderson Reservoir in Morgan Hill. That reservoir and the Anderson dam have been a safety concern, undergoing extensive, ongoing retrofitting in recent years.

As mentioned before, water itself can be a risk to homes, especial at the crawlspace or foundation. If you live near a body of saltwater, salt can also degrade parts of your home, your car’s paint, and affect what plants you can grow in your garden, among other things.

Lastly, if you are new to our dry climate remember that many water views will come and go throughout the year. That running stream may very well turn into a dry creek in summer, and the placid reservoir might be empty in August.

Please also see:
Finding scenic places in which to live in Silicon Valley
How to choose where to live in Silicon Valley or Santa Clara County