CITY PROFILE: Walnut Creek

Lesher Center - 400.jpg

Walnut Creek, population 66,000, was incorporated in 1914, becoming the eighth city in Contra Costa County.  Though not nearly the largest city in the area, it is one of the most influential.  If Central Contra Costa was considered one city, Walnut Creek would be the downtown core.  It serves as a hub for the neighboring cities, due in part to its location at the junction of the highways from Sacramento and San Jose and San Francisco/Oakland, as well as its accessibility by BART. 

The City also seems to be a bit of a cultural dividing line between the middle-class towns to the north and east and more affluent communities to the south and west.  Though this distinction is not absolute, neighborhoods within Walnut Creek tend to reflect the towns which they border, though some of the highest values are in eastern Walnut Creek in the Northgate Area, where the kids attend an excellent high school and the homes are on-average newer.

Twenty or more years ago, the newest neighborhoods commanded the highest value, but with the scarcity of land and increased traffic congestion, older neighborhoods closer to the freeway are being renovated and small homes on large lots are targets for radical remodel-expansion.  In the 1980s getting a home in the Northgate High School boundary was the in-thing, but now in a role reversal, Las Lomas (downtown) has become the academic all-star of the community.   These factors along with walk-ability are fueling value increases on the south and west side of town.

Not only are value dynamics shifting within the City, but Walnut Creek values in general are rising relative to the surrounding communities.   Younger buyers are being priced out of urban areas, but are looking for a little more excitement than is offered in the bedroom communities.   A more cosmopolitan generation is coming to Walnut Creek and liking what they find.


Walnut Creek is located on the sites of several Mexican ranchos, the largest of which was 18,000 acres.  The first roofed home in the valley was built by, a grandson of Juana Sanchez de Pacheco who originally owned the grant, in 1850.   The grandson named his home Rancho Arroyo de Las Nueces y Bolbones (translated Ranch of Walnut Creek), for the abundance of native walnut trees.

Old Borges Ranch - 400.jpg

A small settlement called “The Corners” was established where roads from Pacheco and Lafayette met.  In 1849, William Slusher built the first dwelling on the bank of Walnut Creek, then called “Nuts Creek” by the Americans.  The Walnut Creek House, built by Milo Hough of Lafayette in 1855, was the first hotel in The Corners.  The community soon expanded to include a blacksmith shop and general store.  In 1856, Hiram Penniman, owner of Shadelands Ranch, laid out the town site and realigned what is now Main Street.  The Post Office was established in 1862, and the community was renamed Walnut Creek.

The town grew with the arrival of the railroad in 1891.  A branch line of the Southern Pacific railroad operated through Walnut Creek until the late 1970s.  The East Bay Regional Park District's Iron Horse Trail, used by walkers, runners and bikers, is on the Southern Pacific right-of-way.   The mainline of the Sacramento Northern Railway passed through Walnut Creek. Both railroads had stations here.

The Broadway Shopping Center (now Broadway Plaza) and Las Lomas High School both opened in 1951.  The former being Central Contra Costa’s  first major retail center.  Development had been on a small scale until Joseph Eichler built a subdivision of over 300 homes in Ygnacio Valley in the mid 1950s and other large scale development followed.  Walnut Creek’s population more than tripled from 2,460 in 1950 to 9,903 in 1960, and with further development including the Rossmoor retirement community, the population quadrupled to nearly 40,000 by 1970.   Along with single family homes, a significant number of small and large multiunit buildings were built, with many of the large buildings focused on the south side of town; the Creekside area.

In the mid 1960s the freeways from Oakland and to San Jose were rebuilt with much greater capacity and then in 1973, BART service was established through Walnut Creek from Concord to San Francisco and cites along the Bay.    The freeway has been expanded several times since, and increasingly leading to Walnut Creek being the hub.  By 2000, the population of Walnut Creek had grown to 64,296 and has been fairly stable since.


Walnut Creek schools require a complex explanation because there are three school districts involved:  Walnut Creek Elementary District, Acalanes High School District, and Mt Diablo School District.

Northgate Pool.png

The Walnut Creek Elementary District, which provides K- 8 education, serves more than half the town geographically, and the kids who attend schools from this district attend the Acalanes Union High School District for 9 -12. 

In this part of town,  the southern and western areas, kids attend one of five neighborhood elementary schools from K - 5.  At 6th grade they progress to Walnut Creek Intermediate School which serves the entire district. See school map Walnut Creek Schools Map which reflects district postings as of June 2014.  Most of these kids attend Las Lomas High, though a few attend other high schools, depending on availability.   

A significant portion of the kids in the northern and eastern parts of town attend schools in the Mt. Diablo School District, where some of the schools are in common with Pleasant Hill and Concord.   While overall the Mt. Diablo School District has seen a decline and financial challenges, the most schools serving Walnut Creek children are among the best in that district.   However, if education is important in your purchase, there are a few areas of Walnut Creek that should be avoided; those where kids attend Ygnacio Valley High School and Oak Grove Middle School.  Mt. Diablo School Finder

Above 900 reflects excellence, and scores above that level tend to fluctuate from year to year. At that point the opportunities are there for dedicated students, and outside opportunities and influences may be individually more critical.

School Rankings

Walnut Creek School District

  • Buena Vista Elementary - API 886

  • Murwood Elementary - API 880

  • Parkmead Elementary - API 916

  • Walnut Heights Elementary - API 936

  • Indian Valley Elementary - API 916

  • Walnut Creek Intermediate - API 906

Acalanes High School District

  • Las Lomas High School - API 875

Mt Diablo School District

  • Bancroft Elementary - API 883

  • Eagle Peak Montessori - API 915

  • Pleasant Hill Elementary - API 887

  • Valle Verde Elementary - API 923

  • Walnut Acres Elementary - API 935

  • Foothill Middle School - API 889

  • Oak Grove Middle School - API 576

  • Pleasant Hill Middle School - API 813

  • College Park High School - API 817

  • Northgate High School - API 847

  • Ygnacio Valley High School - API 655

High Schools Map - Shows State API Score by Location

(Above 900 is excellent - Under 700 is scary)

API Reports by School

Great Schools - Walnut Creek