Living in Rural San Mateo County


So you want to move up here 

My clients always have several questions when they are looking to move away from the "burbs" and into the rural parts of the county.  Everything form "What are the people like" to "who picks up my garbage."  I have tried to compile and address some of the more common ones.


Who lives up here?

Everyone always asks me what type of people live up here, and I never have a good answer simply because, from my observation, there isn't a type.  People in this area vary, there are Tradesmen (electricians, contractors), Professionals (Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers), Executives, Loggers and Ranchers.  The one thing I have found that everyone has in common is that they are almost all very helpful and friendly.  Being in a rural area you rely on your neighbors a little more.  Everyone knows this and is willing to help out with whatever you may need, knowing that their turn could be next.  The communities are typically tight-knit and very involved in the community schools and volunteer fire departments.  


As an example, my wife and I moved up here from the suburbs some time ago.  When we first moved to the ‘burbs, we didn't meet a neighbor for a month or two; when we finally moved out, we knew a total of two.  The first night my wife and I moved up here, as the moving truck was pulling out at 11pm, one of our new neighbors came over and gave us his phone and a bottle of wine, and said "bring the phone back when you get yours hooked up."  (cell services was not available at the time), That sums up the type of people up here.



Who maintains these roads?

Not all the roads are maintained by the county.  If it isn’t maintained by the county, chances are it’s maintained by your community.  Keep in mind that on some of the private roads, you and your neighbor may be the community.   There are dozens of communities up here that aren't formal home owners’ associations, but rather road associations.  This can mean that every year you throw in a couple of hundred dollars to help maintain the road.  You may also have a neighbor that is a contractor with a tractor that may take care of the road for you when he's bored. If the property you want to buy is located on the other side of a bridge, it is important that in buying the property, you also purchase rights to traverse the bridge, if not, you may need to acquire these separately. These things are usually not a problem, but must be kept in mind when considering a purchase in the area.  As always, We will help you with this.



Where do I get water?

There are several ways people get water up here.  On Skyline Boulevard, there are a couple small water companies.  A little further west on La Honda road there is another water company, and in La Honda, Loma Mar and Pescadero  there are two or three more.  Some water companies are run by the county, but most are run by the local communities, all regulated by the state.  When you are interested in a particular location, I will tell you what I know about each of these, but the most important thing to do is read the property disclosures, which will give you an indication of how these companies work and if there are any major upgrades that need to occur  

If you aren't on a community water system, you are likely on a well or a spring.  The main concern about a well/spring is the quality and quantity of water.  Living on a well isn't a whole lot different than living on city water, except you there is more equipment and your water can have more minerals in it that the property owner must deal with.  With a well, you almost always have a filtration system, pressure tank, and a storage take from 5000 to 20000+ gallons.  When you find the place you like, I will help you get the appropriate professional to confirm that the well is in proper working order. 


Your Garden..

Not exactly... it's the deer's garden, the birds’ garden, the raccoons’ garden, but certainly not your garden.  Good fences can do wonders for a garden, but you still may have the mountain "soil" to deal with.   If gardening is one of your top priorities, you may want to look in areas such as San Gregorio and Pescadero.  In these places, where the mountains give way to the ocean, as well as next to creeks, the soil is usually pretty good.  La Honda has a lot of clay, so you will have to work a little harder to make your garden there, but there are certainly some beautiful ones in the area.  Skyline has some great gardens, but those, too, require a lot of work and bringing in a lot of soil unless you grow grapes....Alpine road and South skyline have fantastic soil for growing pinot noir grapes, some of the vineyards up here are world renound.  No matter what you do, if you don't have a good fence, you will be sharing your garden with the deer, and the neighbor’s dog.  There's help though... see My Deer Garden  (to help you to keep deer out of your plantings).


Are there wolves and mountain lions up here?

Yes, we have mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, as well as endless other interesting wildlife.  You'll marvel at the owls, the howls of the coyotes, and the huge hawks and falcons. The coyotes, foxes and bobcats are rarely seen, the mountain lions hardley ever, but they're always out there. Raccoons are abundant, and they like nothing better than to figure out how to steal your garbage, or your pet's food especially in the communites like La Honda.  If you go outside in the morning and your dog bowl has dirt in it, the raccoons have been using it to wash their hands.  In the larger ranch properties you won't see them much, the garbage density per acre is lower...


Driving and Deer

And while we're talking wildlife, keep in mind the issue of deer in the road. Deer can destroy your vehicle and even injure you when you hit them at high speed. You must drive with extra care at night, especially during August through November. Keep your speed down and your eyes open for those deer that often decide to cross the road right in your headlights. They usually come in pairs; so if you see one, look for the other.  Being alert and careful on the roads in the area is imperative.   



 Can I find a smaller piece of land that's next to a park?

Depending on what you want to do, land adjacent to Open Space or a Park can be coveted.  If you ride a mountain bike or a horse and are next to the right park, there are hundreds of miles of trails to ride or hike out your back door.  Some parks allow mountain bikes and horses, some don’t so let me know if this is important and we can find the right place for you.   If you are a hiker, make sure the park or Open Space area is open; there are a couple thousand acres up here that are not accessible to the public.   


Remember, if you can walk on it, so can others, so you may see people walking past your property.  Dogs are not allowed on many open space and park lands, if that is a concern keep it in mind when as you look for your home.  



Who picks up my trash?

You'll pay just about the same for trash pickup here as you will anywhere else.  Recycling is available in some areas, not in others.  If you live on a private road, you may have to bring your trash up to the start of the road in order to have it picked up.


Can get cable TV and high-speed Internet access?

Cable TV is widely available up and down Skyline Boulevard.  It is also available in La Honda and Pescadero.  Other than that, if you want to watch TV you will need a satellite dish.  Typically satellite dishes need a reasonably unobstructed view of the south sky and won't work if hills or trees obstruct them. 


You can get high-speed cable Internet access on Skyline Boulevard,  in La Honda and Pescadero which Comcast.  You can also get wireless Broadband in some parts of South Skyline and La Honda.  If you are out of these areas and want high-speed Internet access you will have to get it via satellite.  All of access methods work rather well, satellite just has a bit more latency.  


Will my cell phone work?

Usually.  Cell reception is strong in the towns, its spotty on Skyline and Alpine, pretty much non existant on the upper parts of Page Mill and most of Pescadero Road.


 When its dark, its really dark

There aren't a lot of streetlights up here, and it is amazing how much of a difference this makes.  Many of the homes have exterior lights that are on timers or motion sensors.  The upside is, even with a thin marine layer, you can see an amazing number of stars.  If you are off of Skyline Boulevard, you will have pretty clear views of the night sky – an astronomer’s delight.  In fact, I have had at least one client in the area looking for a small piece of land on which to put his telescope. There is a private observatory above La Honda, although I'm not sure it is still in use.



Looking for a property


Now that you have decided to move forward, what things should you look for and in what areas? I have put together answers to some of the most frequent questions I get when people begin their property search.



The schools in the area range from good to fantastic.  I won't get into the particulars of each one, as I know someone will read this and send me an e-mail saying I am wrong, but there is a link to the  test scores (how the state grades schools) on the home page of our website.  Generally, children in the Skyline Boulevard around the four-corner area (Skyline Blvd and La Honda Road junction at Alice's) go to Portola Valley Elementary and middle school, then Woodside High.  In the La Honda area, children go to La Honda Elementary, then Pescadero for Middle and High School.  Children in the Kings Mountain Area go to Kings Mountain Middle School and then to Half Moon Bay Middle and High Schools.  That being said, there are always exceptions.  School districts can become somewhat convoluted on South Skyline.  Sometimes your neighbors’ children will go to a different school than your children will.  If you buy a place on Skyline and you are in the La Honda School district, you may have to drive your kids to school, since at the current time, no buses run up to Skyline.  If you work "over the hill" this can add around 20 minutes to your commute.  


 Redwoods or Sun?

As you are looking for a home, what type of setting are you after?  Do you want to be in the deep redwoods?  On a sunny knoll? A little of both?  There are advantages to both, it all depends on your taste.  The redwoods protect you from the wind, and it will be a little cooler.  Sunny areas are great as well – you get the sun – but you may also get more wind. By identifying what your preference is, we can work together to find the right place for you.


Micro Climates

Someone is going to say I am wrong, so let me state that GENERALLY the climate working North to South on Skyline is something like this.   Highway 92 tends to be a bit more windy and foggy; Kings Mountain is less windy, but retains the fog.   Going South toward Highway 84, the fog and wind decrease, but pick up again about 5 miles south of Highway 84.   La Honda is pretty sunny, but has night and morning fog, though not much wind.  San Gregorio gets the marine layer of fog, particularly in summer mornings and evenings.  HOWEVER, and this is a big one, there are so many micro climates that you could be in the sun and all your neighbors could be in the fog, or vice versa.  Working together we can find the place and the climate that suits your needs.


Getting a view

Generally, if you want an Ocean or Bay view, buy a place with one.  It can be a real challenge to make one.  San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties have very strict ordinances on what you can and can't do to trees.  There is a link on my site that has the San Mateo tree ordinances for heritage and significant trees.  If you go to the home page and click on the local and building info tab  you will see link to the ordinances.   You do have some leeway when it comes to trimming, which may help open up your view, but cutting down trees can be a difficult process.



How far do you want to drive

Everyone always comes up here and says they have been driving forever.  I always ask them to time it on the way back.  It takes about 10 minutes to get from Skyline and La Honda road to Highway 280 and about 20 min from La Honda to Woodside.    You just have to stay alert when coming up here because of the curves, so it seems longer.  In time this passes and it doesn't seem long at all, ya just have to get use to turning the steering wheel.


If you are commuting to San Francisco you may want to look at the North Skyline Area.  If San Jose, perhaps down by Highway 9 would be a good solution.  Keep in mind that a commute from this area is very different from one where you are stuck in traffic on 101.  Most people that live up here utilize Highway 280, which seems to get less traffic and can speed up your commute. Typically there is rarely much traffic on Skyline or Highway 84, which makes for a beautiful and pleasant drive.  A benefit is that a large part of your commute will be through beautiful redwoods with great views of the bay or ocean.  I can think of worse ways to get to work.  Would you rather spend 30 minutes in a traffic jam on 101, or would you rather spend 45 minutes and flow smoothly on 280 then have the last 10 minutes of your drive be through redwoods?  


 My wife works in Menlo Park and always comments that as soon as she starts up the hill she can feel herself relax. 




Living in rural San Mateo county is an amazing experience, it is such a pleasure to be 20 minutes from the activity of the Bay Area, yet in a rural setting.  I have tried to address some of the differences in this brief article, and hope it has been helpful.  When you decide to make the move away from the "burbs" you will need a realtor that knows the area, knows the people, and can make sure your dream becomes a reality with no surprises, so give us a call or send me an e-mail we would be happy to share our knowledge.




Scott Hayes and Karin Bird


2930 Woodside Road
Woodside, CA  94062