The Outerlands: Leaving Noe Valley for Balboa Terrace


After failed attempts to live bridge-and-tunnel, a family of four trades bustling Noe Valley for a single-family home complete with front lawn.

I wouldn’t mind it if we lived somewhere a little more mellow.” When Thor and Amy Muller’s then-7-year-old son Quinn relayed this tidbit to his mother, she knew it was time for a lifestyle change. The family’s Noe Valley cottage was starting to feel cramped. The downstairs was a cave. But the couple had twice attempted suburban living—once in Marin and once in Napa—and found it to be a “failed experiment.” So this time they were eager to stay in the city. “San Francisco neighborhoods are cities unto themselves,” explains Thor. “To think of moving out of the Mission/Dolores/Noe sector seemed weird to us.”

Their desires felt daunting. They wanted a bucolic setting and enough space for a family of four, but there were practical implications to consider. For instance, they needed to be close to a Muni line to make it easy to commute to SoMa, where the Internet company they founded, Get Satisfaction, is located. And they wanted a mix of shops and restaurants within walking distance, plus nearby parks and playgrounds for the kids. In February, they found what they were looking for in Balboa Terrace. “It’s the suburbs before car culture happened,” Thor says of his new neighborhood. “Balboa Terrace was built when there was still a notion of craftsmanship. I’m almost hesitant to talk about it. It feels unspoiled by hipsters.”

Their new place is a one-and-a-half block walk to a K Ingleside Muni stop on Ocean Avenue and is close enough to dining and recreation to keep everyone happy. They take the kids to shop at Just Awesome! Board Games (a shop that, like them, relocated from Noe), or to play at the Aptos Playground. “It has all the things we’re attracted to in a city,” brags Amy, “and we’re getting the benefits of the suburbs without having to live there.”


What to Do in Balboa Terrace

Balboa Terrace is a small, verdant western neighborhood between Junipero Serra Boulevard, Monterey Boulevard and Ocean Avenue. It’s close to the ocean, public transit and great parks. While the interior is all single-family homes, the commercial centers of Ocean Avenue and West Portal lie just beyond its bounds, and it’s a quick trip to the Stonestown Galleria. But the main attraction is the architecture. Built in the 1920s:

The neighborhood is filled with quaint Tudor cottages and Spanish colonial-style homes under red-tile roofs. Tucked away behind Aptos Middle School.

Aptos Playground 105 Aptos Ave. makes for a lazy afternoon, with a baseball diamond, basketball and tennis courts. The major greenway attraction, though, is nearby

Stern Grove 2750 19th Ave. Home to the city’s favorite outdoor concert series, it may be even more delightful when there isn’t a festival crowd. On the southern side of Balboa Terrace, you’ll find one of the city’s best after-dinner spots,

Zanze’s Cheesecake 2405 Ocean Ave., 415-334-2264 and One of SF’s most beloved comic book stores (thanks largely to a friendly, knowledgeable staff), Comic Outpost.


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