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Top 5 Upscale Real Estate Locations in Northern California

Northern California is the site of some of the most iconic sights in the U.S. — from the redwood forests and Lake Tahoe to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Thanks to Silicon Valley, athletes, and tech giants, the Bay Area is also home to the country’s most expensive real estate. The median housing cost in California is about 234% higher than the U.S. median, but the most expensive place on our list comes in at 2,424% above the U.S. median housing cost. 

Whether you’re looking to join the ranks of the elite or just window shop and drool over California’s priciest mansions, let’s countdown the five most expensive real estate hubs in Northern California. 

5. Ross

As the smallest place on our list, Ross is more aptly described as a residential community, but it plays in the big leagues when it comes to upscale real estate. Situated just north of San Francisco in Marin County, Ross residents enjoy a quieter pace of life with wide open spaces — their quaint downtown is just the cherry on top. 

Due to their top-rated schools, Ross is home to many families, but it’s also a sought-after area for retirees. The town seems to be the picture of humble-yet-wealthy living, attracting more old-money types. Over the years, people like Huey Lewis, Julia Child, Phil Lesh, and Sean Penn have called Ross home. 

Population: 2,290

Median home price: $3.8 million

4. Los Altos

Los Altos began as an agricultural town — summer cottages and apricot orchards abound. Now serving as a more wealthy city that commuters call home, Los Altos is in a prime location between San Francisco and San Jose. It doesn’t hurt that Google headquarters is basically right next door in Mountain View.

Offering a more suburban experience, Los Altos has more than just elegant houses — the city has a picturesque downtown and commercial district with plenty of restaurants and coffee shops. This suburb has been home to familiar names like Steve Jobs, Shirley Temple, director Jon M. Chu, and Barry Bonds. Tech giants also flock to Los Altos, including Google founder Sergey Brin, Russian billionaire and tech investor Yuri Milner, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Population: 30,504

Median home price: $3.8 million

3. Woodside

The small town of Woodside is a retreat for Silicon Valley inhabitants or retirees who prefer a quieter lifestyle. Its proximity to the great outdoors — a relatively short distance from metropolitan hubs — makes it a coveted location for real estate as well.

Because of its rural vibes, Woodside is home to a predictably small-business district, but it’s also home to a thriving local art scene, as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant. Despite its seeming exclusivity, hikers and cyclists flock to the area to make use of Woodside’s many trails and routes. Notable residents, past and present, include Michelle Pfeiffer, former CEO of Apple Mike Markkula, mega-investor Charles R. Schwab, Neil Young, and Russian prince Vasili Alexandrovich.

Population: 5,542

Median home price: $5.5 million

2. Portola Valley

Another small town with high-end taste and a relaxed atmosphere, Portola Valley is settled in the green hills of San Mateo County. Just a 40-minute drive to San Francisco, Portola Valley is a popular area that the big wigs of Silicon Valley call home.

A greener alternative to more populated cities, Portola Valley is also known for its sprawling parks and hiking trails, making the area feel more rural than suburban. Countless CEOs and founders call Portola Valley home, including NikeCEO  John Donahoe and the co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman.

Population: 4,592

Median home price: $7.1M

1. Atherton

Nestled in what’s probably the most convenient location in Silicon Valley, Atherton is not only the most expensive place on this list, but it’s the most expensive place to live in the entire United States. Just a short distance from Stanford, Facebook, and Tesla, it’s no wonder this area is such a hotspot for the top millionaires and billionaires of the country. 

With the town’s average annual household income sitting around $525,000, Atherton is expectedly chock-full of lavish mansions and ritzy neighborhoods — and not much else. Atherton is primarily a residential area with grandiose mansions and no shops or restaurants. To protect residents’ privacy, there are also few sidewalks. Of course, it’s only a quick jaunt to nearby Menlo Park if residents want to get out in the world to shop, eat out, or visit a museum. The Who’s Who of Atherton is a mile long and includes everyone from Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and NBA superstar Steph Curry to the infamous Elizabeth Holmes and baseball legend Willie Mays.

Population: 7,168

Median home price: $11.3 million