From the looks of it, Atherton could be any ritzy suburb in America.
But it isn’t anywhere. Atherton is an idyllic town located on the San Francisco Peninsula, where even modest homes go for millions of dollars. It is the third priciest zip code in the US and the most expensive in Silicon Valley, according to Forbes.
It’s no surprise that tech billionaires — including Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, HP CEO Meg Whitman, and Google chairman Eric Schmidt — come home to Atherton’s 94027. The town’s prestige, privacy, and proximity to major tech companies draw ultra-rich homebuyers, who often pay all cash and bid hundreds of thousands of dollars above asking price.
Here’s what it’s like inside Atherton.
Atherton is a small, mostly residential town located about 45 minutes south of San Francisco and less than 20 minutes from the headquarters of Facebook, Google, and Tesla.
Mega-mansions line nearly every block. Many homes have fences or landscaping that prevent prying eyes from looking in. Each lot feels like its own gated community.
The ranking by Forbes probably did not take off-market sales into account, which made up one-third of home sales in Atherton in 2015, LeMieux told The Almanac. Those exclusive deals are transacted through real-estate agents but are not publicly advertised.
Few people living outside of Atherton have reason to go in. There are no shops or restaurants. Footpaths are sparse, which ensures the privacy of residents.
Notable residents over the years include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, brokerage magnate Charles Schwab, and tech investors Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen.
Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was once the owner of this white-clapboard colonial home in Atherton. The five-bedroom, four-bath manor sold for $6.6 million in April.
When protesters with the Occupy movement rallied outside Whitman's home in 2012, they remarked on the modesty of her home. 'Her house isn't very big,' one was heard saying.
Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen scooped up a massive estate in Atherton for $27 million in 2013. A yard worker opened up the gate, giving a glimpse of the driveway.
But I couldn't make out much else. The home sits on two acres and reportedly has six bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a movie theatre, a spa, a pool, and seven fireplaces.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt has quite the impressive real-estate portfolio, but his primary residence is a five-bedroom home at the top of a cul-de-sac in Atherton.
He purchased the sprawling estate for $2 million in 1990, but it's worth about $5.5 million today, according to estimates by Zillow. The mansion spans 4,800 square feet.
When residents want to get out of Atherton, they take a quick drive to downtown Menlo Park, a larger town that has shopping, fine-dining restaurants, parks, and museums.
I stopped for lunch in Refuge, a restaurant that's popular for lunch meetings because of its proximity to the Valley. A cardboard cutout of Guy Fieri greets customers at the door.
A waiter told me that I should try the pastrami, which Fieri ate on an episode of 'Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.' The reuben comes with pink, chopped pastrami, sauerkraut, melted swiss, and a spicy Russian dressing. A half-sandwich costs $9.50 and a full runs $17.
I lived in New York City for two years, and this sandwich beat any I've eaten at Katz Deli.
The downtown area is small, but quaint. I picked up some organic biscuits at the pet store and browsed the furniture made from California trees at retailer Menlo Hardwoods.
My search for 'things to do' in Atherton turned up Menlo Circus Club. Founded in 1923, the private social club hosts horse shows, polo matches, and gala parties for the wealthy.
Members pay an initiation fee ($250,000 as of 2013) and annual dues, which started at $4,500 in 2010. The club's main draw is a beautiful equestrian center, where members can ride their horses and train.
Atherton has one public recreation area, according to the city's website. Holbrook-Palmer Park features a ball field, tennis courts, and walking trails stretched across 22 acres.
Considering the exorbitant taxes residents must pay, I was surprised Holbrook-Palmer Park wasn't more lush. Piles of mulch and gravel covered huge swaths of the park.
At the end of my adventures in Atherton, I decided to check out some local homes for sale. Unfortunately, most mansions were barricaded by shrubbery that reached over my head.
1 Ridge View Drive seemed to be the epitome of luxury. A 12,740-square-foot Tudor-style home sits among lush gardens and includes a gym, a wine cellar, and a five-car garage.
The property is listed for $US16.5 million, the San Francisco Business Times reported.
In March, early Tesla investor Alan Salzman listed his 9,000-square-foot Atherton manor for a whopping $39.75 million, which is up 300% from what he paid in 2001.
The most expensive listing in Atherton boasts six bedrooms, nine baths, antique wood and Frenchstone floors, and centuries-old interior doors, according to the property's website.
Demand for housing in Atherton is so high that even a tear-down property like this old ranch, which looked vacant and had a 'no trespassing' sign, sells for up to $5 million.
The houses were gorgeous, but Atherton felt like a large-scale private development for the 1%.
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