Before Millbrae was a city, most of it was the country estate of gold rush speculator-turned-Bank of California founder Darius Ogden Mills. A native New Yorker of Scottish descent, Mills purchased 1,500 acres of the former Rancho Buri Buri in the mid-1860s, built himself a 44,000 square-foot mansion and called the spread “Mill-Brae,” “brae” being the Scottish term for “hillside.” Over time, Mills’ estate was sold off in chunks. In 1948 those subdivisions incorporated as the city of Millbrae.
One of Millbrae Highland’s selling points is that it’s within walking distance of downtown and the Millbrae BART and CalTrain station. The 2003 opening of the “Millbrae Intermodal Terminal,” as the station is formally known, signaled a shift in Millbrae’s planning strategy. After having spent some 60 years establishing itself as a classic California suburb, with residential streets curving into the hills away from downtown, Millbrae has spent the past 10 shifting its attention toward the growth and improvement of its downtown.
Downtown is already a destination spot every Labor Day weekend, when the Millbrae Art and Wine Festival takes over several blocks of Broadway. In 2014 the Festival, one of the largest street fairs in the Bay Area, celebrated its 44th anniversary with two days of live music, entertainment, food and of course, art and wine. But there’s more to Millbrae than art and wine, and downtown and its growing bond with the BART and CalTrain station, is again becoming a prominent part of this city of 22,000.
No matter how important downtown becomes, though, Millbrae’s reputation will probably always be based on its family-friendly residential neighborhoods, highly-rated public schools, commute-friendly location 20 minutes from San Francisco and 30 minutes from Silicon Valley and its fantastic local network of parks and protected open space, including the Spur Trail. Once scheduled to be a freeway that would’ve cut Millbrae in half, the Spur Trail came to life when local opposition stopped the project and had the land declared open space. Today the Spur Trail runs from Taylor Middle School to the BART station, passing residential neighborhoods, Mills High School and the Millbrae YMCA skatepark.