Inside the most expensive zip code in America, where tech moguls like Eric Schmidt and Paul Allen have their mansions

Most homes in Atherton, California, have gates or hedges that prevent prying eyes from looking in.

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Most homes in Atherton, California, have gates or hedges that prevent prying eyes from looking in.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

From the looks of it, Atherton could be any ritzy suburb in America.

But it isn’t anywhere. Atherton is an idyllic town located on the San Francisco Peninsula, where even modest homes go for millions of dollars. With a median list price over $9.6 million, it is the most expensive zip code in America, according to a new ranking by Forbes.

“Atherton is the epicenter of Silicon Valley money and it only has ultra-high end properties,” said Michael Simonsen, CEO of Altos Research (which partnered with Forbes on the ranking).

It’s no surprise that tech billionaires – including Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, former HP CEO Meg Whitman, and Google chairman Eric Schmidt – come home to Atherton’s 94027. The town’s prestige, privacy, and proximity to major tech companies draw ultra-rich homebuyers, who often pay all cash and bid hundreds of thousands of dollars above asking price.

Here’s what it’s like inside Atherton.


Atherton is a small, mostly residential town located about 45 minutes south of San Francisco and less than 20 minutes from the headquarters of Facebook, Google, and Tesla.

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Google Maps screenshot

Mega-mansions line nearly every block. Many homes have fences or landscaping that prevent prying eyes from looking in. Each lot feels like its own gated community.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The median sale price in Atherton was $5.42 million in 2016, four times higher than that of San Francisco. That figure is highly conservative, according to local realtor Tom LeMieux.

Forbes’ ranking looks at the list price, rather than the sale price, and probably does not take into account off-market sales – which made up one-third of home sales in Atherton in 2015, LeMieux told The Almanac. Those deals are transacted through real-estate agents but are not publicly advertised.


Despite their walls, Atherton estates still have an imposing presence from the street.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Few people living outside of Atherton have reason to go in. There are no shops or restaurants. Sidewalks are sparse, which ensures the privacy of residents.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Notable residents over the years include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, brokerage magnate Charles Schwab, and tech investors Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen.

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Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, is a former resident of Atherton.
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Krista Kennell / Shutterstock

Meg Whitman, who recently left HP, was once the owner of this white-clapboard colonial home in Atherton. The five-bedroom, four-bath manor sold for $6.6 million in April.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Zillow


When protesters with the Occupy movement rallied outside Whitman’s home in 2012, they remarked on the modesty of her home. “Her house isn’t very big,” one was heard saying.

Most homes in Atherton, California, have gates or hedges that prevent prying eyes from looking in.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: InMenlo


Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen scooped up a massive estate in Atherton for $27 million in 2013. A yard worker opened up the gate, giving us a glimpse of the driveway.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


But we couldn’t make out much else. The home sits on two acres and reportedly has six bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a movie theater, a spa, a pool, and seven fireplaces.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider and Zillow


Google chairman Eric Schmidt has quite the impressive real-estate portfolio, but his primary residence is a five-bedroom home at the top of a cul-de-sac in Atherton.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The incredible real-estate portfolio of Google billionaire Eric Schmidt »


He purchased the sprawling estate for $2 million in 1990, but it’s worth about $5.5 million today, according to estimates by Zillow. The mansion spans 4,800 square feet.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Zillow


When residents want to get out of Atherton, they take a quick drive to downtown Menlo Park, a larger town that has shopping, fine-dining restaurants, parks, and museums.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

I stopped for lunch in Refuge, a restaurant that’s popular for lunch meetings because of its proximity to the Valley. A cardboard cutout of Guy Fieri greets customers at the door.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

A waiter told me that I should try the pastrami, which Fieri ate on an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” The reuben comes with pink, chopped pastrami, sauerkraut, melted swiss, and a spicy Russian dressing. A half-sandwich costs $9.50 and a full runs $17.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

I lived in New York City for two years, and this sandwich beat any I’ve eaten at Katz Deli.


The downtown area is small, but quaint. I picked up some organic biscuits at the pet store and browsed the furniture made from California trees at retailer Menlo Hardwoods.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

My search for “things to do” in Atherton turned up Menlo Circus Club. Founded in 1923, the private social club hosts horse shows, polo matches, and gala parties for the wealthy.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Members pay an initiation fee ($250,000 as of 2013) and annual dues, which started at $4,500 in 2010. The club’s main draw is a beautiful equestrian center, where members can ride their horses and train.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Menlo Circus Club did not immediately respond to a request for updated membership fees.

Source: Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard


Atherton has one public recreation area, according to the city’s website. Holbrook-Palmer Park features a ball field, tennis courts, and walking trails stretched across 22 acres.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: City of Atherton


Considering the exorbitant taxes residents must pay, I was surprised Holbrook-Palmer Park wasn’t more lush. Piles of mulch and gravel covered huge swaths of the park.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

At the end of my adventures in Atherton, I decided to check out some local homes for sale. Unfortunately, most mansions were barricaded by shrubbery that reached over my head.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

1 Ridge View Drive seemed to be the epitome of luxury. A 12,740-square-foot Tudor-style home sits among lush gardens and includes a gym, a wine cellar, and a five-car garage.

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The property has its own website, which includes gorgeous photography of the home.
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Pacific Union International and Jacob Elliott Photography

The property is listed for $16.5 million, the San Francisco Business Times reported.


In March, early Tesla investor Alan Salzman listed his 9,000-square-foot Atherton manor for a whopping $39.75 million, which is up 300% from what he paid in 2001.

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Alain Pinel Realtors

One of the most expensive listings in Atherton boasts six bedrooms, nine baths, antique wood and Frenchstone floors, and centuries-old interior doors, according to the property’s website.


Demand for housing in Atherton is so high that even a tear-down property like this old ranch, which looked vacant and had a “no trespassing” sign, sells for up to $5 million.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

If I won the lottery, I’m not sure I would call up the next available realtor in Atherton. The houses were gorgeous, but Atherton felt like a private development for the 1%.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Atherton has prestige, privacy, and proximity to the Valley — but not much else.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider