In many ways, Millbrae is the embodiment today’s ever-changing Peninsula city. A small town facing perpetual growth, Millbrae grapples with issues relating to transportation, housing, education and a constantly evolving demographic makeup. So far, this town of 21,000 has met each challenge head-on, packaging a state-of-the-art BART and Caltrain station with increased downtown residential building, upgrading and expanding its downtown core and demonstrating to the world that this little town is more than a simple “suburb.” Millbrae grows; Millbrae thrives.
Millbrae occupies a market segment just below that of southern neighbor Burlingame and above that of San Bruno, with whom it shares a boundary to the north. Its residential neighborhoods include the tree-lined, pre-war streets of Millbrae Highlands and the sleek, jet-age homes with views of Mills Estates. It also has a number of entry-level neighborhoods made up of simple, neat ranch homes on 5,000 square-foot lots. It has its aforementioned downtown, its increasingly urban condominium and apartment market, and a large eastern quadrant bisected by El Camino Real and bordered by San Francisco International Airport. It offers superior transportation options, proximity to San Francisco and a close relationship with the airport originally known as “Mills Field.” In fact, the airport has been responsible for much of Millbrae’s post-war growth.
Millbrae’s modern roots should be familiar to anyone who’s studied San Mateo County. They begin in 1821, when the Mexican government granted Rancho Buri Buri to Jose Antonio Sanchez. In 1860, banker Darius Ogden Mills purchased 1,000 acres of Rancho Buri Buri. He called his new estate “Millbrae,” a combination of his last name and the Scottish word for “rolling hills.”
Eventually, most of Mills’ land was subdivided and became the city of Millbrae. Mills Field, for example, was originally built on 150 acres of Mills’ land. Mills’ original 42-room home lasted until 1954, when it burned to the ground.
Like a number of Peninsula cities, Millbrae’s greatest sustained period of growth came after World War II – in part driven by the growth of the nearby airport. Because of this, the city’s housing inventory – especially the part located at the city’s western edge — includes a large percentage of newer homes. Millbrae real estate runs the gamut, price-wise, ranging from entry level to sprawling properties that fetch nearly $2 million on the open market. Residents tout Millbrae’s friendly, small-town atmosphere and – not insignificantly – its well-regarded public schools, when speaking of their city. The city’s annual all-community events, like the Millbrae Art and Wine Festival, are also a point of pride for locals.
It is where residents care about their home town, be they tech industry newcomers, recently-arrived immigrants or old-timers whose stores date back to the days when Millbrae’s east side was full of flower fields and nurseries. This is only one of the many reasons Millbrae is the Peninsula everytown.