Moving to Lamorinda? See What the Locals Say About Living in Lafayette vs Moraga vs Orinda
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Are you considering Lamorinda area as your new home? Nothing can compare with getting real insights and experience shared by locals living in the neighborhood, hope you will find this blog useful.
You will feel where your home is - when you step into it. Go to the parks where your children will play. Which ones do you like? Each town in Lamorinda has it’s Micro-Communities (walkable neighborhoods vs hills with views etc). So the city doesn’t matter as much as what you want in a neighborhood...
Lamorinda [la-mor-rinda ]
Lamorinda is located in central Contra Costa County outside of Oakland, California. The name is a portmanteau from the names of the three cities that make up the region: Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda. Lamorinda sits east of the Berkeley Hills between the Caldecott Tunnel and Walnut Creek. It is also referred to the "Highway 24" corridor.
With a cluster of restaurants and generally high-end shops in its downtown, Lafayette is considered the retail hub of the region. Orinda is a family-oriented community with tree-studded hillsides and also home to the Orinda Theatre Square. Moraga is a valley, surrounded by rolling hills and home to Saint Mary’s College of California.
Lamorinda has a long history as a quiet farming village which can be dated back to 1847 when Elam Brown bought 3,329 acre where he built the first three homes in Lafayette. It is not until post-World War II when building boom and many new houses were built in the region. Today, you will still see fragment of the old farm village around town.
Before diving into feedbacks and comments from the locals, here are the neighborhood reports with statistics on housing, demographic, economic, and quality of life for each city:
1) Proximity (and Walkability) to Shopping/Restaurant, Grocery, Schools
All commenters agreed that Lafayette is more urban, especially if you live downtown and have most amenities within walking distance. Click here for the list of businesses located in Lafayette.
Lafayette has more of a commercial center which will continue to be developed into residential and commercial.
For us, easy walk or bike ride to town and BART as well as easy access to freeway are most important. Both Orinda and Lafayette have neighborhoods where this is possible, but more so in Lafayette. If you live in downtown Lafayette, it can be an easy 5 minute walk to schools k-8, BART, live theater, four grocery stores, boutique stores, doctors, library, gyms, and over 50 restaurants.
Lafayette is also a short drive to Berkeley/Oakland or Walnut Creek. North Lafayette is a close drive to Pleasant Hill and Concord with more diversity in ethnic restaurants, bigger malls and shopping centers.
Although Moraga feels far in, but once you're there, all your amenities - gas, dry cleaner, grocery store, cvs, farmers market, are all 5 min away or less in the two shopping centers, Rheem Valley Shopping Center and Moraga Shopping Center. Some deeper parts of Orinda and Lafayette are still a 10 minute drive to a store of any kind.
I vote Moraga too! The extra few minutes to Lafayette doesn't bother us. We can walk to my kids preschool, the grocery store, the park, some restaurants, coffee shop, yoga, and soon the kids dance class too. In the summer, local park has free concerts... great vibe. Music, food, etc.. The park also has a small splash pad so little ones can play in water while at the park.
From a commenter:
"We were only looking in Orinda/Lafayette and the one home we looked at in Moraga was a slam dunk. After being in Moraga for 9 yrs I’m glad we ended up in Moraga. Flat neighborhood, easy walking and cycling to schools being something we did not see in Orinda/Lafayette homes that we liked."
Posted by a resident:
"Orinda tends to be less urban, more quiet, and hillier. It is very lush and properties on the hills have better views, but can also feel remote to some buyers, especially those who are moving from bigger cities. Very few area in Orinda has sidewalks, not good for kids who bike ride. Many of the streets are narrow, curvy, and hilly -- difficult for folks to visit you and park."
I agree Lafayette downtown is more vibey, but it takes me about the same amount of time to get there as it does to downtown Orinda. It’s not like you can’t go there if you don’t live there! Agree with the poster above that some parts of Orinda are tricky. There are streets I would not live on for parking etc reasons. But there are plenty of nice ones too."
The most difficult transition for one commenter moving to Orinda is that she really missed going for a quick walk to get coffee, or spontaneously saying let’s walk to so-and-so for dinner or a night cap. They walked to school every morning on Glorietta Blvd in Orinda and it was scary for her. When her kids were old enough to ride their bikes to school she was on pins and needles until either the bell rang and she could assume they arrived safely or after school until they came through the front door. She said being a pedestrian in Orinda does not feel safe.
I've lived in Orinda since I was 12. It is closer to San Francisco. I love how the temperature is noticeably cooler in Orinda. I like the private and more rural feel that the hills provide, its quietness, less chain stores, with traditions like jazz and starlight players, 4th of July parade, the library, and Theater Square. However, I spend a fair amount of my time doing grocery shopping, going to medical appointments, and pre-Covid luncheon in Lafayette.
2) Traffic in and out of the area
Although Lafayette is known for its proximity to highways and BART station for easy in and out, one commenter shared a different experience living in the northern part of town.
"We live in Lafayette off Taylor Blvd which is an unincorporated area, that means although we pay taxes to the City, we can't actually vote on a lot of ballots that come out. It also means that if we have a problem and needed to call the police, we won't get a Lafayette cop but a Sheriff in the area - we've had one from Danville showed up in the past..... And, it also means that your kids are too far to bike or walk to school and traffic on Taylor Blvd and Reliez Valley Road is horrendous - it may seem great if you do a trial run now (during Covid19), but when schools are back or if there's a problem on the 680 - say goodbye to a 5 minute run down Taylor Blvd to Pleasant Hill Road, and expect upwards of 30 minutes or so drive to school while Waze reroutes all the commuters."
It depends on which part of Moraga. There are several neighborhoods located very close to Moraga Road and Campolindo High School and are about 5 minutes to downtown Lafayette and 7 minutes to the freeway. More in traffic. For example the Campolindo neighborhood, Countrystone (check out Natalie Drive on the map), Rheem, Donald Drive, Carroll Ranch are all going to be a fairly fast drive to highway and Bart. Once you get as far as the Moraga library and Moraga Commons, that's going to be another 5 minutes farther. It really helps to spend a couple of Sundays driving in the area.
We bought our home in Moraga when my son was almost 2. We sought Orinda or Lafayette for proximity to Bart. Well, it turned out I'm too scared to drive the hills of Orinda, twisty one lane roads. Lafayette has gorgeous homes but in Moraga we could get more space for our money.
Orinda is closer to the tunnel (if they drive). Residents can reliably get a parking spot at Orinda Bart up to 7:25 a.m. every day, and much later on Friday.
When I was commuting to SF, it felt like a sanctuary (and still does) to return home to Orinda but be close enough to SF, Oakland, Berkeley, Lafayette for action. I love the small old town feel.
However, many commenters warned about the traffic along Moraga Way during school/rush hours, and buyers should plan ahead.
In Orinda, the further you are located from Orinda Intermediate School (OIS) and Miramonte High School, the crazier the commute will be during school hours. Both schools are basically on Moraga's border. The traffic down Moraga Way in the morning for all of Orinda taking their older kids to school is horrific and a reason to carefully consider where in Orinda you live.
Also consider the topography. If you live in the hills where the roads are windy, you may have less of a neighborhood feel. One commenter live in a flat area and appreciate the fact that his kids can ride bikes to each others houses with people out and about in the neighborhood.
3) School Bus & Bell Schedule (elementary)
The bus system in Lamorinda is private and not paid for by county/ town. They do not service all areas and schools. You can check on Lamorinda school bus website for the areas they service, and also the routes and schedule etc to avoid surprises.
I live in Orinda but originally from the East Coast. Beware that some areas in Lamorinda are not served with school buses. I called to inquire and the Transportation Department said they don’t service our community and we are on our own. I asked if there is a way to eventually have a bus and they said budget was too tight. Being from the East Coast where every student gets on the bus this was shocking, given how high the taxes are. Crazy!
Happy Valley Elementary (Lafayette) that we attended temporarily does not have school bus. I thought I could survive the drive to and from school for both of my kids, without realizing that elementary schools in Lamorinda often have different bell schedule (early bird/late bird). Ended up I have to drive 4 times a day for pick up and drop off which quickly become unsustainable. So I agree with the commenter above, the school bus situation and bell schedule will be a shock factor to those who moved from out of state. Make sure to check both before locking in on your new home.
4) Schools & After Care
Some elementary schools are at capacity in certain grades, if your assigned school (base on your address) is impacted, then they will direct you to schools that have space. That means you are guaranteed a spot in the school district, but not necessarily the one closest to your home or the one your neighbors attend.
There is one high school in each city - and many kids transfer within the district to go to the school that best fits their needs - whether it's based on a class or a sport or other extracurricular activity. They are all in the top 100 statewide and offer amazing extracurricular programs (sports, theater, debate, etc).
Doesn’t Lafayette have a big problem with after care in its schools (whenever they reopen)? I’ve read so many threads on it. If I have a child who needed care after school I would choose Orinda or Moraga just for that.
Regarding after school programs, there are numerous posts complaining about Lafayette's after school programs and their lack of availability. Orinda and Moraga's after school programs are much more affordable and accessible in comparison.
All three Moraga elementary schools have before and after school clubs, which are pretty easy to get into, especially if you make permanent reservations (e.g., every Monday from 3-5pm), and they will keep that spot open for your kids for the entire school year. The after school clubs are also available on a last minute basis (i.e., can't be at regular pick up due to emergencies).
There are also before and after school classes offered through out the year, at an extra cost (cost varies on programs). They offer everything from performing arts, to LEGOs, foreign language, etc. My kids really love both the after school club and classes.
This really is HUGE. Assuming most (or at least, many) people move to Lamorinda for the schools, Orinda offers before and after care for ALL of its students. It’s affordable and charged in quarter-hour increments. It’s amazing. I’ve read so many threads about Lafayette parents stressed and scrambling for after care. This is a big selling point for Orinda.
These are feedbacks from residents living in Orinda:
"Orinda's schools have after school care! I actually did drop in at Del Rey as in anytime my son felt like staying and hanging out with his friends. That might be enough reason for some people to choose Orinda over Lafayette."
"This is what I came here to say. Orinda has after care for everybody! This is really huge and I had no idea when we were looking at houses (and ended up in Orinda one block from Lafayette)."
"We raised our three kids in the Ivy Drive neighborhood in Orinda and it was fabulous. We live within walking distance to all three schools and is 5 min from Safeway. We ventured to Moraga daily and Lafayette on weekends to eat out or shop. Del Rey is Elementary is where we made our lifelong friends and also CAPA where our girls danced from ages 3 to 18."
"The before and after school programs in Orinda are great. We have had 3 kids who go to Glorietta and have been very happy with the program they have. Moraga Way can get very busy but the bike lanes are heavily used and I have never heard of anyone having a problem biking or walking on Moraga Way. I speak experience having lived on Moraga Way for 20 years."
The plots of land in Lafayette are significantly better. If you want a yard you can actually play ball in, then you're going hard pressed to find that in Orinda... But those are generally smaller and cost a lot more.
Lafayette has become the most expensive of the three in Lamorinda. Orinda is very close behind. The comments regarding lack of flat lots in Orinda are true. Based on Lafayette's proximity to Highway 24, you are more likely to find a home with easy access to downtown/commute (but you will pay for it!
The downtown and Trails area in Lafayette are flat, very walkable, close to restaurants/shops and BART, extremely social, and very family friendly. In Lafayette, the Springhill and Happy Valley areas are hillier and more remote but you can get a bit more space for the money ($/sq ft and lot size). The Burton Valley area of Lafayette is flat, walkable to pools but not to restaurants/shops, and more of a drive to freeway and BART.
Neighborhoods in Orinda south of highway 24 are repeatedly recommended by numerous residents, that includes neighborhoods in the Glorietta, Del Rey, Ivy Drive area in Orinda and surrounds, because kids could potentially walk/bike to school K-12, which is a huge bonus and to avoid morning traffic.
My advice is to focus less on the city itself and more on the neighborhood and house. Our borders are so blurry and our topography is interwoven. Each city has their pros and cons and anything happening community wide can be well attended by anyone from the whole of Lamorinda (5k, parades, etc.). In the end we become a part of the community through kids’ school, sports, community service/volunteering, and business. They won’t be living their lives only in the one city they live in.
Look at homes in all cities in Lamorinda. When you find the right home - the city will be a fit!
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