- Atherton, California is the most expensive town in the US for the third year in a row.
- The town is within commuting distance of Palo Alto and San Francisco, and has been home to tech execs like Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt.
- Here’s an inside look at the wealthy suburban town.
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. And, with an average household income over $US450,000, it is the wealthiest town in America for the third year in a row, according to the Bloomberg Richest Places index.
“Atherton is the epicentre of Silicon Valley money and it only has ultra-high-end properties,” said Michael Simonsen, CEO of Altos Research (which partnered with Forbes on a 2017 ranking).
It’s no surprise that tech billionaires – including the late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, former HP CEO Meg Whitman, and Google chairman Eric Schmidt – have all called Atherton’s 94027 home. 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.
Source: Google Maps
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.
As of late 2018, the median home sale price in Atherton was $US6.7 million – a 35% increase from 2017.
Despite their walls, Atherton estates still have an imposing presence from the street.
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 have included Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, brokerage magnate Charles Schwab, and tech investors Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen.
Meg Whitman, formerly president and CEO of HP, was once the owner of this white-clapboard colonial home in Atherton. The five-bedroom, four-bath manor sold for $US6.6 million in April 2017.
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.
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 $US2 million in 1990, but it’s worth about $US7.1 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 $US9.50 and a full runs $US17.
I lived in New York City for two years, and this sandwich beat any I’ve eaten at Katz Deli.
The downtown area is small, but quaint. I picked up some organic biscuits at the pet store and browsed the furniture made from California trees at retailer Menlo Hardwoods.
My search for “things to do” in Atherton turned up Menlo Circus Club. Founded in 1923, the private social club hosts horse shows, polo matches, and gala parties for the wealthy.
Members pay an initiation fee ($US250,000 as of 2013) and annual dues, which started at $US4,500 in 2010. The club’s main draw is a beautiful equestrian center, where members can ride their horses and train.
Menlo Circus Club did not immediately respond to a request for updated membership fees.
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.
Source: City of Atherton
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 was listed for $US16.5 million in 2017, the San Francisco Business Times reported.
In March 2017, early Tesla investor Alan Salzman listed his 9,000-square-foot Atherton manor for a whopping $US39.75 million, which is up 300% from what he paid in 2001.
One of the most expensive listings 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 $US5 million.
If I won the lottery, I’m not sure I would call up the next available realtor in Atherton. The houses were gorgeous, but Atherton felt like a private development for the 1%.
Atherton has prestige, privacy, and proximity to the Valley — but not much else.
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