A Move To Atherton Brings Exclusivity & History

Atherton Caltrain Station by Tumbenhaur via CC BY-SA 3.0

Atherton Caltrain Station by Tumbenhaur via CC BY-SA 3.0

A beautiful, tree-lined town in Northern California’s San Mateo County, Atherton is a small, affluent and strictly residential community. It is one of the United States’ wealthiest zip codes (94027) and neighborhoods include West Atherton, Lindenwood, West of Alameda, Atherton Oaks and Lloyden Park. The town is about six square miles and reaches across El Camino Real from the Alameda de las Pulgas to beyond Middlefield Road. Made up of lavish estates (situated far from the roads, down long driveways and behind high fences), Atherton is centrally located and within easy distance to highly-rated restaurants and shopping in nearby Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City.  Atherton is also in the heart of Silicon Valley, so it is perfect for work opportunities.                                                      

Atherton By The Numbers                                                                         

Seal of Atherton by town of Atherton CA via Wikimedia Commons
Seal of Atherton by town of Atherton, CA via Wikimedia Commons      
  • Population is 6,914 for 2017/2018.
  • Unemployment rate is 3.3%. (US average is 5.2%).
  • The average resident income is $144,197 a year (US average is $28,555 a year).
  • The median household income of a Atherton resident is $250,001 a year.
  • The job market has increased by 3.8% over the last year, predicted to increase to 44.3% in the next ten years (higher than the US average of 38.0%).
  • Sales tax rate is 9.0% (US average is 6.0%).
  • Income tax rate is 8.0% (US average is 4.6%).
  • The average home value was about $6.8 million as of May 2018.

History Of Atherton

The town’s namesake is entrepreneur Faxon Dean Atherton. A successful lumber and land investor, his fortune increased significantly with the California Gold Rush. In 1860, he moved his family to San Francisco, and then eventually further south to a 640-acre country estate near Menlo Park. Mr. Atherton is credited as the first to establish a country home on the Peninsula. The custom was soon followed by other prominent San Franciscan families (such as the Selbys and Stanfords).

Main Street Atherton CA 1949 by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
Main Street Atherton, CA, 1949 by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons

Originally the area was called Fair Oaks (after a nearby railroad station that still stands). When property owners (who desired to maintain the strictly residential nature of their community) filed for incorporation in 1923, it was discovered that there was already a Sacramento suburb named Fair Oaks. The decision was then made to honor the first settler in the south peninsula and name the town Atherton.

For a more thorough history, dig into a copy of Under The Oaks – Two Hundred Years in Atherton by Pamela Gullard and Nancy Lund.

Places of Interest in Atherton

Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton CA by LPS.1 via CC0
Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton, CA           by LPS.1 via CC0

Holbrook-Palmer Park is 22 tree-covered acres and the only park in Atherton. Left to the town by Olive Holbrook-Palmer in 1958, historic buildings on the grounds include the Main House, Jennings Pavilion, and Carriage House, all of which can be rented out for private events. Walking paths wind around beautiful garden areas. There is a par course, ball fields and tennis courts. Recreational programs are also provided.

The Atherton Train Station is a short walk away from Holbrook-Palmer Park and right next door to Atherton Police Department. Only open on weekends, it serves (32) Saturday and (28) Sunday local Caltrains (but not the Baby Bullet trains).

For Frank Lloyd Wright fans, there is the Arthur F. Mathews House (although privately owned and no tours are available). Surrounded by oak trees and well-hidden from street view, it was designed in 1950 in the red brick and wood Usonian-style. Per blueprints sold at a 2013 auction, it was constructed in a diamond-shape layout, with two separate but parallel wings connected at an angle by a central dining area and workspace which are walled by windows that overlook a large terrace. Philippine mahogany built-ins were installed in the home. It is one of only two Wright houses in San Mateo County (the other is the Sidney Bazett House in Hillsborough).

Watkins-Cartan House Atherton CA by Sanfranman59 via CC BY-SA 3.0
Watkins-Cartan House in Atherton CA by Sanfranman59 via CC BY-SA 3.0

The Watkins-Cartan House is another historical building and an interpretation of Gothic Revival architecture. Built in 1866 for Commodore James Thomas Watkins, captain of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, it is the only remaining example of homes established by San Francisco elite who then commuted via the newly built railroad. The vast grounds were landscaped by the Cartan family who acquired the house in 1945.

There are also several tracts of contemporary Joseph Eichler homes to boast about, mostly in the Lindenwood neighborhood of northeastern Atherton.

Community Organizations To Join After Moving To Atherton

The Holbrook-Palmer Recreation Park Foundation is a non-profit organization formed in 1968 to host activities, along with other charitable and educational programs, to encourage community awareness and use of the park. Friends Of The Holbrook-Palmer Park Foundation (formerly the Atherton Dames) is the fundraising arm of the Holbrook-Palmer Park Foundation.

The Atherton Arts Foundation, a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation, was formed in 2009 to originally support the activities of the Atherton Arts Committee. As of 2013, the Arts Foundation became the sole organization responsible for the acquisition and display of art within Atherton. Art shows, musical events and educational programs are sponsored by the Art Foundation. Local artists are also supported; they are provided with space for shows/ classes in its Holbrook-Palmer Park facility.

Historical archives are organized and stored by the Atherton Heritage Association, which also provides historical information to the town council.

The Atherton Tree Committee is a volunteer, non-profit, community-based organization formed in 1989 with the goal to preserve the trees of Atherton –  native live oaks, white oaks, cedars, redwoods, pines, and bays, to name a few. The Committee educates residents on tree care and replacement, provides landscaping guidance of public lands, and encourages overall appreciation and protection of its urban forest.

The Atherton Civic Interest League is a community-based, non-profit organization founded by civic leaders in 1946. Its mission is to improve the quality of life in Atherton. Many prominent Atherton residents have served on the ACIL’s Board of Directors.

Atherton Library via ci.atherton.ca.us
Atherton Library via ci.atherton.ca.us

Friends of the Atherton Community Library meets monthly and holds fundraisers to support the Atherton Library, which opened in 1967. It is a small, cozy one-room library that offers books, magazines, ebooks, CDs, DVDs, and WiFi.

The Menlo Circus Club is a private club with tennis, swimming, stables and a riding ring.

The Menlo Polo Club, whose fields are covered with Bermuda grass, was founded in Atherton in 1923. Affiliated with the United States Polo Association, the club also organizes and hosts events and philanthropic fundraisers.


Overall, moving to Atherton is for those who want to live a high-end, yet strictly residential locale surrounded by beautiful landscapes, and well worth the short drive to neighboring towns for groceries, restaurants and/or nightlife.


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Have you recently moved to Atherton? What helped you to adapt and feel at home? We’d love to hear about your experience. Share your tips on moving to Atherton below.