Beckwith Building in downtown Los Gatos, California

The beautiful Beckwith Building in downtown Los Gatos, California

I have been fortunate to have made 5 trips to Europe, one of them lasting 9 months, and will be returning again before the end of 2013 (this time to Belgium).  It is so diverse, beautiful and compelling! Having experienced a little culture shock myself (when living in Florence, Italy, for one year of university), I’m very sympathetic about how hard an international move can be, and I understand that for Europeans moving to Silicon Valley, there can be an acute culture shock, particularly for those coming from more rural areas.

The bulk of Silicon Valley is located in Santa Clara County, which is at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay.  In this county, there are approximately 1.8 million people, almost a million of them in the city of San Jose.  Some areas, or districts, of San Jose have a distinctive character and are almost like towns or small cities themselves.  So in this article I’ll mention both cities and towns, but also areas or districts of San Jose, which might appeal to our European transplants.   Most of my comments will reference Santa Clara County or “south bay” locations, but I will also mention others on the San Francisco Peninsula and SF Bay Area too.

Architecture, Urban Centers and Charm

It is an unfortunate negative in Silicon Valley that much of our housing consists of ranch style tract homes, and truthfully, they are not exactly a work of art.  New or newer homes tend to be on very tiny parcels of land (or “lots”) and for many people may simply feel too congested or crowded. But there are beautiful residential neighborhoods – you just need to know where to look!  In many ways, the areas with higher charm can make our global home buyers feel more comfortable than if they were faced with only track, ranch neighborhoods.

Do you value unique, older architecture with Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor or other home styles? Then check out these areas:

  • Within San Jose: the Japantown, Vendome, and Naglee Park areas of downtown San Jose. Also in central San Jose are the Rosegarden, Shasta Hanchett and Burbank neighborhoods which all boast some lovely older homes.  Or, if you love classic Spanish Revival style homes with views, consider the old Alum Rock area of San Jose near the country club (golf course).  The Willow Glen area of SJ (zip code 95120) is full of lovely old established neighborhoods with historic homes and tree lined streets.  If your job takes you to downtown San Jose, all of these areas will be fairly close.
  • If you want a rural, eclectic atmosphere, check out the “New Almaden” area of San Jose.  This is actually a county pocket with a San Jose mailing address.
  • Other towns or cities with older, more interesting architecture include the “downtown” ares of Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Mountain View, Saratoga and Menlo Park (in San Mateo County, just north of Palo Alto).
  • If work will be on The Peninsula, there are many areas nearby that may work.  San Mateo has some fantastic neighborhoods!  Also San Francisco, which is tiny but full of beautiful areas, may be a strong draw (I do not sell there – it’s too far for me).   Warning: the weather in San Francisco is very often COLD in summer!
  • Across the bay, Berkeley has some great Victorian and other homes and several really interesting pockets, as does parts of Oakland.  (I do not work these areas either as they are too far for me, but I did live in Berkeley in graduate school and can connect you with a great agent there.)
If what you want is a “walk to town“, urban experience, many of the areas above will work for you.  Additionally, there are a couple of more recently built areas that might appeal to you – Santana Row in San Jose (along the Santa Clara border) or the Rivermark area of Santa Clara off of highway 237, close to the bay.
For many of my European clients, the architecture or neighborhood don’t have to be exciting or urban, but they need something of beauty to be incorporated into their home purchase goals.  For them, as well as for many Americans, a good compromise is to let go of home style and focus on natural beauty.  Because we are in a valley, there are many places in which views of the hills, the valley, or in some cases water, can be appreciated from the home. I wrote an article on this on one of my other blogs, the Valley of Hearts Delight blog: Finding scenic places in which to live in Silicon Valley.

Languages spoken in Silicon Valley

Because this northern California regions attracts people from all over, there is tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity here.  The main languages spoken in Santa Clara County, in order, are of course (American) English, Spanish (Latin or Mexican, a bit different from Spain), Chinese and Vietnamese.  There are pockets where you will hear many other languages too, including Russian and Italian, among others.  Due to U.S. Fair Housing Laws, we real estate professionals are forbidden to tell consumers where this or that population may have clusters of ex-pats living in close proximity to one another.  But if you are interested in locating an area with, for instance, a higher French or Portuguese speaking population, you can check the Modern Language Association site (link above will let you check by county, city or zip code).  Additionally, the site includes a wonderful MLA Language Map.

The European population is this county is not huge, but it does exist!  For instance, over the years, I’ve had three different clients or client couples who are French, and several Russian, plus folks who are British, Portuguese, Austrian, Finnish, Irish, Romanian and many other places in & around Europe. I have also had the pleasure to work with people moving here from Israel, India, China, Japan, Brazil, Uruguay, Canada and many, many other places.  If you are accustomed to international living, the rich diversity in Silicon Valley will be familiar and comfortable for you.

Welcome to Silicon Valley!  Please let me know if I can be of any help in buying a home here (or selling one). Unfortunately, real estate agents here seldom do rentals but if you contact me I may be able to assist you in finding a courtesy rental or at least pointing you in the direction of helpful resources.  Or check this related post:
How to find a rental home in Silicon Valley.


 For more reading:

Relocating to Silicon Valley? How to Decide Where to Live!

Rebuilding “Little Italy” in San Jose – La Piccola L’Italia

Beautiful Spanish Style Homes for Sale in Silicon Valley

Browse Homes for Sale in Los Gatos (downtown is near Main Street and N Santa Cruz Avenues, not far from Hwy 17)