Clayton Modern old building.jpg

In 2011, the City of Clayton was included in CNN Money's list of the 100 Best Places to Live.   Clayton, with a population of around 11,000, offers a nice blend of small town feeling, upscale amenities, and superior housing.  Clayton is known for its good schools, abundant recreation, Oakhurst Country Club, and an excellent quality of life.   Clayton has been an independent city since 1964 with its own police and civic services.  This community distinguishes itself from other nearby communities by emphasizing its values of rural tradition and limited commercial focus.

Clayton is considered a safe residential community, partly due to its somewhat isolated location.  The City values civic partnership with business leaders, community leaders, and neighboring communities.  Clayton is all about family life and the moderate isolation and limited egress provide a sense of separation and security.  

However, this location presents challenges for commuters and even BART stations are a healthy drive from the town borders.   Clayton is built in a large canyon bordered by tall hills, with Mount Diablo State Park to the south and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve to the north.  There are only two routes to Clayton: to the west into Concord on Clayton Road or Concord Blvd or going east on Marsh Creek Road which will branch to the Delta or Livermore.  While scenic, the trip to the east is long and winding and few people make this a daily commute.

The City is proactive in providing a sense of community and identity.   Claytonians turn out in high numbers to celebrate the annual family-friendly festivities such as the Art and Wine Festival, the 4th of July Parade, the Oktoberfest celebration, the “Clayton Counts Down” New Year’s Eve Celebration and the popular Concerts in The Grove series in the Downtown Park.

Both the positives and the negatives are reflected in Clayton real estate values.   Clayton home values are buoyed by the security and this has encouraged developers to build larger homes here than what is typical in neighboring Concord.  But value would be higher if the location was more convenient.   While Clayton’s schools are considered good, they are not all excellent.  That being said, Clayton residents have been very active, almost revolutionary, in pressing the educational behemoth, Mt. Diablo School District, to improve schools in Clayton.  As education improves, so do property values.

Though primarily a community of detached single family homes, about one in seven home sales in Clayton are attached housing mostly configured as townhomes.  On average the townhomes are newer than most homes in Clayton and typically nicer than townhomes available in Concord or Walnut Creek.  Most of the homes in Clayton have been built in the last thirty years, with only few being over fifty years old.



In 1857, the town of Clayton was laid out and founded by three brothers named Clayton who emigrated to the United States in 1837 from England.  After moving around the country for years the Clayton brothers settled at the foot of Mt. Diablo, where the family prospered during the coal mining boom in eastern Contra Costa County.

There were several mining towns between present Clayton and Pittsburg, including Nortonville, Somerville, Stewartville, and a few other smaller company towns.   The coal produced was of a low grade, but for a time in the 19th century it was the only readily accessible and economical source in California.  Clayton, on the western edge of the coal fields, was poised to supply the mines and miners.

The Claytons planned for a plaza with a court house to be located on Court Street.  They sold house lots along Main Street to the settlers and miners who flocked to this area. A general store, several residences, an inn, a livery stable and other buildings were quickly built.  In 1857 a tavern opened at the corner of Main and Center Streets. Many families made the inn their home while building a permanent residence.  The inn became known as the Clayton Hotel.  The Post Office opened in 1861.

In the winter of 1864, disaster struck the budding town. Following an unprecedented drought in the winter of 1863-1864 the fire spread quickly from the Clayton Hotel in high winds, destroying most of the business district.  This calamity tapped the financial reserves of the community and slowed growth, some business was permanently lost to Pittsburg, then known as New York of the West.

During the 1890s, the Clayton area experienced an economic slump due to the demise of local coal mining and a drop in wheat production.   Four million tons of coal were extracted during the brief history of coal mining in the Black Diamond Region.  But the soft coal was of low quality, and by 1902, the mining costs, competition from superior Pacific Northwest coal and the advent of oil drove most of the mines to close.  Many miners departed for Washington and Oregon.  The company towns became “ghost towns” and Clayton reverted to being a quiet wheat-growing and ranching community.  Many of the people drawn to potential wealth in the coal fields stayed and became farmers, ranchers and merchants.

In 1922, silica sand mining began in Nortonville and at the site of the old Pittsburg Mine in Somersville. The sand was used in the making of glass at the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company in Oakland and by the Columbia Steel Company in Pittsburg for steel production.  Mining operations in what had been the biggest coal mining operation in California closed down for good in 1949.   But by this time most industrial supplies and employee housing was supplied by Pittsburg and the Delta communities. 

Through most of the twentieth century Clayton remained rural with an agricultural emphasis.  The post WWII residential building boom touched on western Clayton mostly as extensions of Concord developments.   As Concord evolved and matured, the areas bordering Clayton were among the most desirable for the quality of construction and schools.   This is partly because Concord expanded slowly in this direction, and later designs and improved oversight on these newer homes evolved into a better product after the initial post war boom.   

With strong schools already in place and proactive local oversight on development, in general Clayton has excellent housing.   More than half of the homes that sell in Clayton were built after 1990, and few were built in the 1960s and before.   While there are some well-preserved historical gems that come on the market from time to time, this is a rare opportunity.

Along with the recent housing boom, the downtown has modernized, but is still reminiscent of its rural and historic past.  Clayton’s government has been careful to control aesthetics and has avoided State pressures to provide housing inconsistent with local culture.


CVHS emblem.png

Clayton shares some schools with neighboring Concord, and all public schools are part of the huge Mt. Diablo School District.  Sadly the district has fallen on hard times, and in general education has suffered as a result of bureaucracy and financial setbacks.   However Claytonians and nearby Concord residents have rebelled against the behemoth and taken control of local Clayton Valley High School, turning it into a charter school over the aggressive opposition by the school district.   The district is forced to provide funding and is a conduit for federal, state, and county resources.  So far the test scores are improving. 

The elementary and middle schools physically located in Clayton have high API test scores, with Mt. Diablo Elementary firmly in the top tier of California schools.  The schools shared with Concord neighborhoods are on a lower tier (western Clayton neighborhoods), but still far above the average in Concord.

School Rankings

Clayton Valley Charter High School – API 836

Diablo View Middle School - 894

Pine Hollow Middle School - 807

Mt. Diablo Elementary School - 923

Highlands Elementary School - 876

High Schools Map - Shows State API Score by Location

(Above 900 is excellent - Under 700 is scary)

Mt. Diablo School Finder

High Schools Map - Shows State API Score by Location

(Above 900 is excellent - Under 700 is scary)

API Reports by School

Great Schools - Clayton