Obviously, Marin County isn’t a shabby place to live. But for Project Utopia we had very specific criteria in mind—in particular, relative affordability, ease of public transportation, developing commerce and amenities, and cultural diversity. We tried to—we wanted to—find communities in Marin that fit the bill, but again and again, we were thwarted. Here, the top three stumbling blocks.
1. IT'S A PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION BLACK HOLE
Marin has staunchly opposed mass transit efforts for decades, despite being in one of the most congested regions in the United States. The car-happy county saw Highway 101 expand in Novato in 2012. And although $596 million is going into a SMART commuter rail designed to eventually roll between Larkspur and Cloverdale, the seriously limited route has been branded “the train to nowhere.”
2. IT'S TOUGH ON THE MIDDLE CLASS
Marin’s lack of affordability is prompting even lifelong residents to flock north. Kaity Galvez and her husband, who recently moved from San Rafael to Petaluma with their four-year-old, are just one example: “Marin is beautiful but overpriced, and it’s become stale,” says Galvez. “For $500,000, we could buy our own home in Petaluma, but in Marin we couldn’t even find a condo for that.” By comparison, Galvez says, Petaluma has excellent schools, “plus there are even great restaurants opening, like Social Club [from the team behind Circa].”
3. IT'S NOT MUCH FUN AFTER SUNSET
Other than a few rogue openings like Tiburon Tavern and Lincoln Park wine bar, Marin hasn’t seen much restaurant growth. Why? Aspiring business owners may be reluctant to enter the land of the millionaire NIMBY. Marin neighbors are notorious for making grand to-dos about almost everything. Take the epic 2011 battle over Pizza Orgasmica’s “too yellow” paint job—“A slippery slope toward urban squalor,” cried one opponent—and the Mill Valley Beerworks saga, which ended when the brewery was forced to cut business hours, hire a night doorman, and install new soundproofing. No wonder Delfina is expanding to Burlingame instead.
Read More: The Bay Area's top 10 neighborhoods
Ocean Beach: For a reminder that this is a beach town
Polk Gulch: For bustling nightlife (just don't call it the next Valencia)
Richmond Annex: For the no-strings-attached white picket fence
NoPa: Because it's the Mission 10 years ago
Uptown Oakland: For a nonstop art orgy
North Beach East: For Little Italy charm without the tourist kitsch
Mission Creek: Because it's the new locavore mecca
Hayes Valley: For a livable MoMA
Dogpatch: Because it's an urban laboratory
Burlingame Terrace: Because maybe Pleasantville isn't lame after all
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of San Francisco.