REDWOOD CITY: You can call Redwood City a suburb of San Francisco. You can do that, but you’d be wrong. Redwood City is a real city, with 80,000 residents and its own thriving downtown with unique shops, restaurants and a year-long slate of concerts, farmers markets and festivals. It has historic neighborhoods, urban neighborhoods, suburban neighborhoods and neighborhoods that seem miles from the nearest freeway.

Redwood City has 30 parks, including massive Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, a skatepark, a dog park and even two lakes, Upper and Lower Emerald Lake. Homeowners surrounding 1.75-acre Lower Emerald Lake enjoy access to one of the area’s oldest private associations, the Emerald Lake Country Club, Only 50 families can call themselves active members, but summer memberships can be purchased.

The Emerald Lake Country Club was founded in 1926, back when Emerald Hills, the unincorporated neighborhood surrounding the lakes, was mostly empty except for a few rustic weekend cabins owned by San Franciscans. Today, with its large lots, rolling hills and fantastic views, it’s the 22nd-wealthiest place in California, according to recent census data.

There are so many ways to live in Redwood City: in a stately pre-war Edgewood Drive mansion, a Mount Carmel Craftsman, a post-war tract house near Sequoia High School, a contemporary or neo-Colonial near the Atherton border. Soon there will be another way to live in Redwood City: in a hip downtown condo.

Redwood City has been working on its historic downtown for 20 years, turning a place that had seen better days into a working, thriving urban hub. The next steps of the Redwood City Downtown Specific Plan call for mixed-use, transit-oriented development – apartments, condos, shops and restaurants, all located within walking distance of El Camino Real the downtown Caltrain station, and schools, including Sequoia High School, an impressive campus whose grounds feature a Japanese Tea Garden and at least 18 notable trees.

They’ll also be within walking distance of Courthouse Square, the plaza in front of the restored San Mateo County Courthouse, where Redwood City holds a year-round slate of music, arts and community events. Cultural events at Courthouse Square, now the San Mateo County History Museum, include Friday night “Music on the Square,” a weekly classical music series, the Police Athletic League Blues, Arts and Barbecue Festival, and the September 27 Salsa Festival.

On Broadway, which runs alongside Courthouse Square, you’ll find the 76th annual Independence Day Parade and Festival, and then more fireworks on the first Saturday in December, when the Downtown Business Group hosts its annual Children’s Festival and Fireworks Show, followed in January by Bluegrass on Broadway.

On Saturdays between April and November, the city hosts a Farmer’s Market near the downtown train station. This gives locals a chance to take a break from Redwood City’s vibrant downtown restaurant scene. They know that San Francisco isn’t the only place to find a great meal. Downtown restaurants like John Bentley’s, Vesta and Aly’s on Main lead a full slate of eateries serving a diverse variety of cuisine.

Unlike some of its Peninsula neighbors, Redwood City has been up and running for over 150 years. It was founded by in the 1850s by loggers using Redwood Creek to float redwood trees from Woodside to San Francisco Bay. Its quirky slogan, “Climate Best by Government Test” was the result of a 1925 Chamber of Commerce contest. The winner, Wilber Doxsee, pocketed a $10 prize.

The test, held during World War I, did actually determine that Redwood City, along with the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean Coast of North Africa, had the best climate in the world. That, along with a location halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, a great variety of neighborhoods, houses, parks and schools and an always growing and improving historic downtown, has kept Redwood City popular for well over a century.