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Named in 2012 by Forbes magazine as the 2nd friendliest town in America, Orinda is a small suburban community of about 18,000 people.  It is bordered by Lafayette to the east,  Moraga to the south,  Berkeley to the west, and significant open space and parkland to the north.   Orinda is one of the three small cities that comprise the unofficial Lamorinda region, along with Moraga and Lafayette.   The combined population is approximately 50,000 people.

The Lamorinda designation is becoming fairly recognized, and reflects a relative homogeneity among the three towns.  However, there are distinctions.  Orinda has the highest median family income ($193k for 2000 census), highest property values, and highest median age in Lamorinda.  Due to the high cost of living here, some residents have coined the term, Mor-in-dette.   Orinda schools typically have a bit higher state API ratings as well.

Orinda stretches in two directions, west to east along Highway 24, and north to south along Camino Pablo and Moraga Way. There is very little land in the city on which to build new homes, so generally, people who want modern amenities renovate homes which were built during the 1920's through the early 1960's.

Orinda benefits from a high proportion of open space, excellent schools, easy access to rapid transit (BART), exceptional freeway egress, larger than average homes with generous lot sizes, homogeneous neighborhoods, and a strong sense of community. Orinda suffers from moderate traffic congestion, traffic noise from highway 24, and has modest retail and entertainment opportunities.  However, there are many retail and entertainment venues over the hills and close by in Walnut Creek and Lafayette.  Orinda is one of the most sought-after communities in the east Bay Area.


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Originally located within four Mexican land grants, Orinda began as a quiet country crossroad named for a 17th Century Welsh poet.  Sparse Native American populations lived and hunted in the area when Spaniards first controlled the Bay Area.   Little changed in this isolated area during Spanish rule and the Mission Period, but with the secularization of mission lands in 1835, ownership passed to four Mexican land grants which touched in Orinda.

The Moraga Adobe was built in 1841 by Don Joaquin Moraga, grandson of the early Spanish explorer Jose Joaquin Moraga.   This simple home is preserved today just northwest of Miramonte High School, but is little more than a shack, illustrating that the early European settlers here were not wealthy.   Prior to roads over the hills, Orinda was about as far as one could get from early settlements in Martinez and San Jose.  Land was plentiful to the east in Lafayette and Alamo, near where the wagon road from Martinez to San Jose met the lumber road from the redwood forests above Moraga.

In 1858, work began on the telegraph line that linked the west and east coasts.  Lines were strung through Orinda and Claremont Canyon.  The canyon became the main "highway" for horse and wagon traffic east from Oakland.   In the early 1860s, Pony Express riders carried mail along this route.   Development of this road enhanced Orinda’s importance and practicality for settlement.

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In late 1875 the wealthy County Sheriff, William Walker Cameron and his wife Alice Marsh Cameron (daughter of Contra Costa pioneer Dr. John Marsh), bought 3,000 acres on the east slope of the Berkeley Hills.  They named their estate Orinda Park, after the famous 17th century poet Katherine Philips, whose nom de plume was “The Matchless Orinda”

Cameron began selling parcels in 1876.  By 1882, Cameron had sold all but two parcels, one of which was acquired by the United States Surveyor General for California, Theodore Wagner.  He founded the over 300 acre Wagner Ranch, and spent $140,000 to create an exquisite ranch estate.  Wagner built a blacksmith shop, brick-kiln, and installed Orinda’s first phone.  Today, the homesite provides an historical setting for experiential educational programs introducing programs focused on plant science, archaeology, wildlife and fish biology, along with ecology.

In the late 1800s traffic over the Berkeley Hills went up Harwood Canyon, behind the current site of the Claremont Hotel, and past the Summit House, an inn and stage coach stop atop the ridge.  The road down to Orinda was, and remains, Fish Ranch Road.

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The California and Nevada Railroad line was established in Emeryville in 1884, with plans to run through the El Sobrante Valley, into Orinda and beyond.  In 1890, construction reached Orinda.  This tied Orinda directly to the Bay, and made Orinda a more important crossroad.   The railroad never progressed further and terminated at Bryant Station, which is now preserved in downtown Orinda.  For several years narrow-gauge engines pulled passengers, freight, and produce, in wooden cars, between Emeryville and Orinda.  The scenic route along the banks of San Pablo Creek was popular with tourists, but traffic was sparse, generally limited to weekend excursions.  Service ceased in 1904 and the line was abandoned.

The original Orinda Park Post Office was opened in 1888, then the town name was shortened to Orinda in 1895.  At the turn of the century, the area remained rural, mainly known for ranching and summer cabins.   In 1903 the Kennedy Tunnel opened above the present Caldecott Tunnel. This tunnel was approached by new road "Tunnel Road" from the canyon south of the old Harwood Canyon Road.  The tunnel was very narrow and arched, such that two tall buggies could not pass each other.  The tunnel height was increased in 1915 by 3 feet to accommodate larger vehicles and light motor traffic. 

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Despite being primitive by modern standards, the Kennedy Tunnel (image left) enhanced the practicality and appeal of Orinda.  After surviving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake Edward Ignacio de Laveaga (E.I), moved to Orinda and officially established the town site in 1920.   In 1921, on land his father purchased from the Camerons in1887,  E.I started the development which would become the Orinda Country Club.  Recognizing a need for water in his Haciendas del Orinda subdivision, E.I. established the People’s Water Company and built present day Lake Cascade.   E.I. then built a firehouse on Orinda Way and established the Village to provider supplies and services for the families moving to the new area. 

Convinced by his partner, E.I. hired the designer of Olympic Club and Mira Vista golf courses to design a country club in the middle of Haciendas del Orinda.  The Club was designed to accommodate a variety of activities for the families including golf, swimming, fishing and boating on the lake, and trails for horseback riding.   In 1924 they built the magnificent Clubhouse overlooking San Pablo Creek and the Valley.  With its carved beam ceilings, ornate mahogany balconies and contemporary furnishing, the Clubhouse has a reputation of being one of the West Coast’s finest venues for entertaining. 

Around 1925 -1926 the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) constructed an aqueduct through the Berkeley Hills from Orinda to transport water from the San Pablo Reservoir to Rockridge, from where it is sent to various reservoirs.   Easements were obtained through subdivisions on the west side of what is now Camino Pablo, and the nine-foot-wide Claremont Water Tunnel was built 40 feet and more below the up-sloping land.

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In the late 1930’s, the Orinda Theater was built by local resident Donald Rheem.   Though a child of wealth and privilege, Rheem became a self-made millionaire from his boiler and heating business, and during WWII as a ship builder he became among the wealthiest men in California.   On land known as The Crossroads, Rheem spent nearly $400,000 building one of the finest Art Deco theatres in California, almost in the middle of nowhere, though it stood across from a popular roadhouse known as Casa Orinda.  Both are still popular local draws, with the latter regionally famous for fried chicken and prime rib.

The completion of the Caldecott Tunnel in 1937 contributed to the growth of Orinda as a year-round residence for families leaving Oakland and San Francisco for a more relaxed environment.  The community grew rapidly to accommodate the influx of families and their need for housing, schools, and shopping.   With larger lots, many view settings, and an easy commute, developers in Orinda built higher-end homes and set the tone for an evolution toward being today’s premier community.

A postwar exodus from the urban areas fired tremendous growth in the 1950's.   Along with simplified GI Bill financing and upgrades to the freeways and tunnel, Orinda and Lafayette became a geographical extension of the affluent Oakland/Berkeley Hills area. Lower income (smaller) housing evolved farther east from the tunnel in the Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Concord areas.

The Usonian Home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was built for the Buehler Family in 1948.  Most of the 4,000 sf home is steel framed with redwood siding on a concrete block foundation.   The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in December of 2006.

In 1956, local Orinda residents raised funds for the first official library.  What had started as a small collection in the local schoolhouse in 1914 now had a dedicated building.  In the 1990s, The Friends of the Orinda Library raised over $5 million to build the current library.  The Friends of the Orinda Library own the building; the land is owned by the City.   The Friends continue their fund raising efforts to support the Library and its many programs.


Founded in 1973, the Emeryville Shakespeare Company began as a collective artistic endeavor providing innovative productions of Shakespearean works in various churches around the East Bay.  After numerous productions, the Company was able to settle in Hinkel Park as the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival.  By 1991, the popularity of the Company had increased enough to require a larger venue.  The Company decided on the Bruns Memorial Ampitheater located in the hills between Berkeley and Orinda.

In 1985 Orinda was incorporated as a City, and began supplying police and other civic services under local control, this was consistent with nearby communities of Lafayette and Moraga. 


Children in Orinda attend schools in the Orinda Union School District from K-8, then they attend the Acalanes High School District from 9-12.  Both of these districts are among the highest rated in the Bay Area and the State.  The Orinda Union School District achieved a 2013 API rating of 959.

Most kids attend Miramonte High School (image right), where the 2013 API rating is 932.   Community involvement in the schools is key to the high achievement of Orinda students.   A citywide parcel tax on real estate provides extra funding, the use of which is monitored by an oversight committee.

School Rankings

  • Miramonte High School - API 932

  • Orinda Intermediate School - API 954

  • Glorietta Elementary - API 953

  • Sleepy Hollow Elementary - API 981

  • Wagner Ranch Elementary - API 960

Orinda District School Finder

Acalanes District 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 - Orinda