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

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atherton silicon valley housing 8899 Melia Robinson/Business Insider Most homes in Atherton, California, have gates or hedges that prevent prying eyes from looking in.

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. It is the third priciest zip code in the US and the most expensive in Silicon Valley, according to Forbes .

It's no surprise that tech billionaires - including Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, 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.

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

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

If I won the lottery, I'm not sure I would call up the next available realtor in Atherton.

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 large-scale private development for the 1%.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The most expensive listing in Atherton boasts six bedrooms, nine baths, antique wood and Frenchstone floors, and centuries-old interior doors, according to the property's website.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: City of Atherton

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.

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.

Source: Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: 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.

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.

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

But I 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.

But I 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.

Source: Business Insider and Zillow

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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.

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.

Source: InMenlo

Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, 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.

Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, 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.

Source: Zillow

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

The ranking by Forbes probably did not take off-market sales into account, which made up one-third of home sales in Atherton in 2015, LeMieux told The Almanac. Those exclusive deals are transacted through real-estate agents but are not publicly advertised.

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.

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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