Living the California Dream

Object Theatre display at the Living the California Dream exhibit at the San Mateo County History Museum

Discover how the California dream of a suburban lifestyle has evolved.

Living the California Dream exhibit at the San Mateo County History Museum

Explore the changes in suburban life over time.

S an Mateo County developed as one of the premier suburban areas of the West Coast. San Francisco millionaires of the 1800s became the West Coast’s first railroad suburbanites as they established Great Estates on the Peninsula. In the early 1900s, changes in transportation and the development of towns made healthy living on the Peninsula possible for the middle-class. In the post-World War II era, large residential developments made the California dream of a suburban home a reality for many.

The Great Estates

Archival photo of Millbrae estate

Millbrae home of Darius Ogden and Jane Mills, c. 1870s.

Post-Gold Rush San Francisco became the metropolis of the West. Its leading families ran their businesses there and became the first rail suburbanites by establishing their country estates on the Peninsula. The establishment of the Burlingame Country Club, the first such club in the West, offered members opportunities to participate in the sporting activities of European aristocracy.

The Suburban Rise

1915 photo of a bungalow on Ninth Avenue in San Mateo

San Mateo bungalow, 1915. Photo by A.G.C. Hahn.

The population of the County grew after 1906. The San Francisco Earthquake encouraged many refugees to settle on the Peninsula. The new streetcar line helped them gain the opportunity to emulate the Great Estate owners. Modern mechanical conveniences allowed families more leisure time. The new Progressive suburbanites worked to create quality schools and cultural institutions for their families.

Cover of La Peninsula Portola and Foster Winter 2015

Large Residential Developments

Archival photo of house builders in Serramonte

Building a house in Serramonte.

After World War II, developers and builders created massive new residential projects that transformed the Peninsula. Automobiles and mass transit made it possible to commute to work and travel for leisure activities throughout the Bay Area. Suburban development transformed San Mateo County, the Bay Region and America.

Sunset Magazine

Display on Sunset Magazine in the Living the California Dream exhibit at the San Mateo County History Museum

Sunset Magazine promoted the California dream of suburban life.

Under the guidance of Bill and Mel Lane, Sunset Magazine began to serve as a guide to better suburban living for Westerners. It was the first magazine to promote Western architecture. With its year-round garden and kitchen for testing recipes, its Menlo Park headquarters became the “laboratory of Western living.”

History Museum Quiz

Take our quiz and test your knowledge on Living the California Dream.


For many of the train commuters of the late 1800s, their Peninsula mansions were:

Correct! Wrong!

Many of the wealthy train commuters had mansions in San Francisco in addition to their summer or weekend mansions on the Peninsula.

Founded in 1893, the Burlingame Country Club was known for:

Correct! Wrong!

The Burlingame Country Club was the first country club of the west. It was known for its sporting activities, especially polo. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Club when he came to San Francisco.

After the 1906 Earthquake and the construction of the streetcar line to San Mateo, what Peninsula city incorporated?

Correct! Wrong!

Burlingame incorporated in 1908. Redwood City and San Mateo were the only incorporated cities in the county before the earthquake.

Suburban homes built after World War II included what feature that wasn’t as common in earlier suburban homes?

Correct! Wrong!

Many residential developments post-war were not near train or streetcar tracks. The automobile was the major form of transportation, making carports and garages popular.

What Peninsula city was built on landfill?

Correct! Wrong!

A planned city, Foster City was developed on landfill in the early 1960s.

Living the California Dream Quiz
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