Where do we live?
Population is a measurement of the number of residents that live in a given geographical area, be it a neighborhood, city, county or region.

Ranked by population, the Bay Area is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States. The 7.6 million people who call the nine-county, 7,000-square-mile region home reside in 101 cities and in various unincorporated communities, the size and density of which vary widely.

Regional Performance
The South Bay has risen to prominence as the region’s largest population center.

The most significant change by far to our region’s population pattern over the past 50 years has been the rise of the South Bay. Santa Clara County now claims 25 percent of Bay Area residents, compared to 18 percent in 1960. In that same period, the City of San Jose saw its population rocket from 200,000 people to more than 1 million, a surge that allowed this unofficial capital of Silicon Valley to claim the title of the region’s most populous city from San Francisco. Population gains in Contra Costa County, meanwhile, caused it to surpass the City and County of San Francisco in the late 1980s. In the North Bay, Marin County was eclipsed by both Solano County and Sonoma County in the late 1970s.

The declining share of the population in San Francisco during the past several decades has slowed to a stable 11 percent, as population and employment growth has returned to this historical strongholds. Indeed, the resurgence of San Francisco has been particularly strong; the City grew by nearly double the number of people in the six years from 2010 to 2016 as it did in the previous decade. This recent trend aligns with overall regional patterns, as population growth is increasingly located in cities closer to the Bay rather than suburban areas.

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Historical Trend for Population - Bay Area

Regional Distribution
Over the past decade, the distribution of Bay Area residents between center cities and suburban communities has stabilized.

The Bay Area of 1960 is starkly different than the Bay Area of 2016, especially in terms of where people live. Up until 1960, growth was somewhat concentrated in the ring of cities close to the San Francisco Bay. Since 1960, the share of residents living in inland, delta and coastal cities farther from the Bay increased from 7 percent in 1960 to 25 percent in 2016. Much of this growth occurred in Contra Costa, Alameda, Sonoma and Solano counties, where there was ample land to develop new neighborhoods and opportunities to annex adjacent unincorporated areas. Since 2007, though, the proportion of residents in inland areas has remained constant. This reflects the overall slowdown in population growth rate for those areas compared to historical norms, combined with accelerated population growth in select Bayside and Big Three cities.

Vital Signs categorizes these geographical jurisdictions based on their proximity to the Bay, with the three largest cities – San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland – grouped separately as the “Big Three.” Cities that ring the Bay are referred to as “Bayside” cities, while the cities beyond this core are classified descriptively as “Inland, Delta and Coastal.” The remainder of Bay Area lands – by far the largest segment in terms of acreage – is classified as “Unincorporated.”

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Historical Trend for Population Shares by Geographical Area


Local Focus
Some Priority Development Areas are already rapidly developing, while others have seen limited growth in recent decades.

Examining neighborhoods now identified as Priority Development Areas (PDAs), locally designated areas with frequent transit service, reveals historical population trends of our region’s diverse communities and allows us to track where growth is occurring. Communities such as Dublin’s Transit Center, Union City’s Intermodal Station District and San Francisco’s Mission Bay – all of which are PDAs – have seen robust population growth over the past 15 years. Other PDAs remain sparsely populated today – including locations like Fairfield-Vacaville’s Station Area, Livermore’s East Side and Mountain View’s North Bayshore – but are planned for future growth in decades to come. Although these communities have not changed much in recent years, they feature existing and proposed transit service, making them viable locations for future development.

2010 Population Density for Priority Development Areas

Click on a shape on the map for more information.
National Context
While recent population growth may seem rapid to residents, our region’s rate of growth nonetheless remains significantly slower than other booming metro areas.

The Bay Area has been the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area by population since the early 1980s. Sunbelt metros like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Miami have added population at faster rates. Since 2010, population growth in Houston and Dallas has occurred at twice the rate of the Bay Area – even as our region’s robust economy has produced jobs at a faster clip. If this current growth trend continues, it is possible that the populations of both these Texas regions may surpass that of the Bay Area within the next decade.

Metro Comparison for Population


U.S Census Bureau: Decennial Census

No link available (1960-1990)

California Department of Finance: Population and Housing Estimates

Table E-6: County Population Estimates (1961-1969)

Table E-4: Population Estimates for Counties and State (1971-1989)

Table E-8: Historical Population and Housing Estimates (2001-2009)

Table E-5: Population and Housing Estimates (2011-2016)

U.S. Census Bureau: Decennial Census - via Longitudinal Tract Database

Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences, Brown University

Population Estimates (1970 - 2010)

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

5-Year Population Estimates (2008-2014)

U.S. Census Bureau: Intercensal Estimates

Estimates of the Intercensal Population of Counties (1970-1979)

Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population (1980-1989)

Population Estimates (1990-1999)

Annual Estimates of the Population (2000-2009)

Annual Estimates of the Population (2010-2015)

No link available (1970-1989)

Image: Flickr (Creative Commons license), Photographer: ruimc77, 16477367668_fb597b188a_k.jpg

Methodology Notes: 

All legal boundaries and names for Census geography (metropolitan statistical area, county, city, and tract) are as of January 1, 2010, released beginning November 30, 2010, by the U.S. Census Bureau. A Priority Development Area (PDA) is a locally-designated area with frequent transit service, where a jurisdiction has decided to concentrate most of its housing and jobs growth for development in the foreseeable future. PDA boundaries are current as of July 2016. For more information on PDA designation see http://gis.abag.ca.gov/website/PDAShowcase/.

Population estimates for Bay Area counties and cities are from the California Department of Finance, which are as of January 1st of each year. Population estimates for non-Bay Area regions are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Decennial Census years reflect population as of April 1st of each year whereas population estimates for intercensal estimates are as of July 1st of each year. Population estimates for Bay Area tracts are from the decennial Census (1970 -2010) and the American Community Survey (2008-2012 5-year rolling average; 2010-2014 5-year rolling average). Estimates of population density for tracts use gross acres as the denominator. Population estimates for Bay Area PDAs are from the decennial Census (1970 - 2010) and the American Community Survey (2006-2010 5 year rolling average; 2010-2014 5-year rolling average). Population estimates for PDAs are derived from Census population counts at the tract level for 1970-1990 and at the block group level for 2000-2014. Population from either tracts or block groups are allocated to a PDA using an area ratio. For example, if a quarter of a Census block group lies with in a PDA, a quarter of its population will be allocated to that PDA. Tract-to-PDA and block group-to-PDA area ratios are calculated using gross acres. Estimates of population density for PDAs use gross acres as the denominator. Annual population estimates for metropolitan areas outside the Bay Area are from the Census and are benchmarked to each decennial Census. The annual estimates in the 1990s were not updated to match the 2000 benchmark.

The following is a list of cities and towns by geographical area:

Big Three: San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland

Bayside: Alameda, Albany, Atherton, Belmont, Belvedere, Berkeley, Brisbane, Burlingame, Campbell, Colma, Corte Madera, Cupertino, Daly City, East Palo Alto, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Fairfax, Foster City, Fremont, Hayward, Hercules, Hillsborough, Larkspur, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Mill Valley, Millbrae, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Mountain View, Newark, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Piedmont, Pinole, Portola Valley, Redwood City, Richmond, Ross, San Anselmo, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Leandro, San Mateo, San Pablo, San Rafael, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Sausalito, South San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Tiburon, Union City, Vallejo, Woodside

Inland, Delta and Coastal: American Canyon, Antioch, Benicia, Brentwood, Calistoga, Clayton, Cloverdale, Concord, Cotati, Danville, Dixon, Dublin, Fairfield, Gilroy, Half Moon Bay, Healdsburg, Lafayette, Livermore, Martinez, Moraga, Morgan Hill, Napa, Novato, Oakley, Orinda, Petaluma, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Rio Vista, Rohnert Park, San Ramon, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, St. Helena, Suisun City, Vacaville, Walnut Creek, Windsor, Yountville

Unincorporated: all unincorporated towns