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Where to live in the continental US?
July 1, 2010 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Another 'Tell me where to live thread', United States based.

I'm looking for specific cities and towns that I haven't thought of yet and more information on the ones that I have already been considering. What neighborhoods in these cities might I like? Is there a dog park in particular that I'd love? What's your favorite restaurant / swimming hole / hiking path that I should check out?

Requirements:
- mild summers (otherwise, i'd just move back to austin.)
- actual seasons, preferably with snow (cold > hot)
- decent access to broadband (as much as i love vermont, the lack of cell access and high speed internet is a frustration for me.)
- medium to low cost of living (i'd like to buy a house with an acre or five for sheep and chickens and a garden.)
- a non-frozen state budget (i'll be looking for jobs as a high school teacher with social studies, spanish and theatre endorsements.)
- politically tolerant of things like my 'marxist' vanity plates. (i'm from texas though, so i'm pretty easily able to deal with nutty right-wingers as long as they don't key my car)

Things I'd like, but aren't dealbreakers:
- dog parks
- farmers' markets
- mountains
- lakes
- a good microbrew culture (bars and brewpubs)
- decent cheap food

Things I don't really care about:
- theatre / film / art stuff
- high end restaurants
- beaches
- sports teams

Cities that I'm considering:
- Portland, OR
- Eugene, OR
- Olympia, WA
- Portland, ME
- Burlington, VT
- Asheville, NC
- Northampton, MA
- Minneapolis, MN
- Providence, RI
- Cumberland, MD
- Eureka, CA (or in the general area)

I've already done the find your spot thing and have read countless threads on the topic here, but I feel like some of these cities haven't really been explored in directions that I'm looking for. I'm planning on doing this move in the next couple of years if that's relevant and will be taking small trips to visit the top contenders in the meantime.
posted by youcancallmeal to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Minneapolis - Hot and humid summer, amazingly cold winters. Four distinct seasons. Lots of dog parks and more lakes than any major city in the US. No mountains though. Medium cost of living, frozen state budget, good broadband and pretty liberal.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:42 PM on July 1, 2010


Seconding Minneapolis.
posted by sanka at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2010


Madison, WI or Minneapolis.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:45 PM on July 1, 2010


BTW - If you'd like to recommend a city, PLEASE DEAR GOD tell me why. :)
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:45 PM on July 1, 2010


Did you rule out Colorado? E.g., Fort Collins: cheaper cost of living, mountains, hot but not suuuper hot, cold in winter... Uh, what were your other criteria? Marxist? It meets most of them, but state budget I don't know.
posted by salvia at 7:53 PM on July 1, 2010


You're looking for Bend, OR. Multiple good breweries, mountains and mountain lakes to spare, seasons, very low humidity (i.e. cold weather feels less biting, and hot weather feels less stifling), good cheap food, cheap property (right now; it fell off a cliff in the last couple years), cable, DSL, and wireless broadband at least--I've been away too long to know about fiber.
It's a very dog-friendly town, and there's a good, if small, farmers' market.
Good luck getting a job, though. You're not the only one who wants to live there.
posted by willpie at 7:53 PM on July 1, 2010


Are there any states without frozen budgets these days?

Anyway, I nth Minneapolis.
- Hot but short summers
- lots of snow in the winter
- awesome liberal people
- municipal high speed internet
- so many parks (I don't know specifically about dog parks, but it has more green space than almost any other city in the country, and some of those must be dog parks!)
- the best farmer's market I've ever seen
- obviously lots of lakes
- no mountains, sadly, but lots of hills
- GREAT cheap food: Vietnamese, Somali, Mexican, locavore.
- Very reasonably priced real estate.

Northampton could be great, too, but it has a notoriously tough job market. All those highly educated people who never wanted to leave.
posted by lunasol at 7:57 PM on July 1, 2010


In general, if you want mild(er) summers, four seasons, winter with snow, and a low cost of living, you should add rust belt cities/areas to your list. I know it's deeply unsexy to think about moving to Cleveland or Milwaukee or, God help you, western NY relative to the list of tourist destinations you had or your current locale, but the rust belt does cheap real good.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:57 PM on July 1, 2010


Oh, yes. Add Ithaca, NY to the list of places I've been considering. Ithaca's so pretty.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:58 PM on July 1, 2010


I'm moving my family to Portland, ME in a few weeks. The city itself isn't the sort of place for acreage, but it's very close to inexpensive areas. We are urbanites so will be living on the peninsula and commuting to the country, but I suppose you could do the opposite. All I can really say is that I've lived in Denver and Boulder, CO, Chicago, Edinburgh, Scotland, rural ND, northern CA, and loads of places in between, and I fell in love with Portland, ME. It feels like the best place for a Denverite who can't stay in Denver. Great food, lots of outdoor opportunities. It's also coastal but not beachy, which we love. Not too crowded and not too much traffic.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:59 PM on July 1, 2010


The only bad thing I can say about Minneapolis would be the five months of winter.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:01 PM on July 1, 2010


I *love* Minneapolis, but: you're not going to be able to afford an acre of land, and the job market for teachers is extremely tight (with quite a few teacher's colleges, teachers are one of our biggest exports, and our state government is more or less bankrupt).

For the jobs reason alone, I'd suggest Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City...Not as cool as Minneapolis but more prosperous state governments right now.
posted by miyabo at 8:03 PM on July 1, 2010


Madison, WI has...

- a great farmer's market by the Capitol
- lakes
- 4 seasons
- milder summers than Austin
- "decent cheap food" (plenty on State St.)
- a far-left political culture (I saw more Nader signs than Bush or Gore combined in 2000)
- dog parks
- brewpubs
- plenty of cell phone and wireless access
- medium to low cost of living
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:05 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd recommend somewhere on the front range of colorado (it's all 1 big city from wyoming on down). Boulder/ft. fun are cool, progressive (albeit pricey) cities with lots to offer in terms of tech jobs. Denver's a big city where you can find anything you basically want. Colorado springs is kind of like the bastard child of the two. Cheaper, a little more working class and more military, and then there's focus on the family and lots of churches, but a huge outdoor scene so you hardly notice it if you stay out of church parking lots. I don't think the local government's doing quite as well though. Oh, and anything you want to do outdoors any time of the year from biking to hiking to climbing and skiing all within an hour or 2 of anywhere you live on the front range.

I like asheville, amazing in the fall and spring, but gets hot in the summers. Also ALOT of hippies/granola types, as in you walk downtown to pac place smelling B.O. and patchouli (not my cup of tea, but hey, to each his/her own).
posted by TheBones at 8:08 PM on July 1, 2010


Minneapolis is the best Midwestern city there is. I'd take it over Chicago any day. There are pockets of crime, but overall, my impression of Minneapolis is that it's a very clean and safe city with lots of nice parks. Lots of great restaurants, and more diversity than you'd expect in the Midwest. It has a great music scene and a unique local culture. There's farmers markets and the Iron Range mountains are a couple hours away north of Duluth. Lakes? It's the land of 10,000 lakes up there. Take a serious look at it. If I wasn't moving out of the Midwest, I'd be moving there now.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:09 PM on July 1, 2010


You say "city" but an acre or five on a teachers salary does not say city to me, it says small town and so do some of your choices of places to live. I've lived in a few of the places on your list and will try to give you some input.

Eureka, CA is a town not a city and definitely doesn't meet the non-frozen state budget item on your list. It is also hard to find work there,and the cost of living is relatively high for the amount of work available, though not completely out of reach. It is a pretty town, on the water with more things to do than you'd think and great access to outdoor activities. It does have excellent brew pubs! Also lots of homeless kids, crime, meth and rain. Humboldt is a pretty unique place, people tend to love or hate it and it's hard to tell without visiting. If that is not your cup of tea, you're considering CA and beaches do not matter I'd also look at some of the small Sierra foothill towns like June Lake or Grass Valley area where real estate prices have dropped a lot recently and semi-rural living is possible on your expected salary. Also consider if you travel a lot; Eureka is 5 hours + from a decent airport, so are many other places in CA.

Cumberland MD was pretty much a decrepit ex-industrial "closed down old mill" kind of place when I was there 10 years ago and had little to recommend it to the college educated in terms of work, though it is in a pretty area, is very cheap and on the border of three states which is good news for a teacher I'd think. Cumberland is small, smaller than most of the places you mention and feels smaller still. Nearby Frostville is tiny but was much more appealing imho what with the college and all.

Providence is a pretty nice place though I remember it being quite expensive. Work is hard to come by as in all college towns. It was a very walkable city with a pretty good bus service, and it is more of a "city" than the others; decent music scene, art, small festivals, markets etc. It also had more and bigger rats than i have ever seen anywhere in my life, including NYC, they were amazing.

Asheville is awesome but not cheap. I really loved it and could see living there very happily, it's a small city in a beautiful setting with a liberal and artsy vibe if that's your kind of thing. No idea on the economy because I was only there on and off for work. It is really close to skiing (on ice but skiing none the less).
posted by fshgrl at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2010


Yeah, I'm using the term city pretty liberally. I've lived in NYC, Baltimore, Austin and Dallas for most of the past decade and downsizing a little would be a plus.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:15 PM on July 1, 2010


Yeah, another vote to consider the Colorado front range, though I can't attest to it being affordable enough to buy five acres anymore (it certainly was back when I grew up there in the '70s and '80s, but that was before the boom of the '90s). I'd say you'd want to avoid Colorado Springs from the political standpoint, though, if you don't want to get your car keyed for the Marxist vanity plates. So basically, the general Ft. Collins/Boulder/Denver triangle.
posted by scody at 8:21 PM on July 1, 2010


Since you added Ithaca, here are a few thoughts, as someone who's spent 20-ish years in Madison and 3 years in Ithaca.

Neither one is my favorite city. But I think Madison hits it out of the park as far as what you're looking for (contingent on the teachers' job market). Ithaca less so.

I believe the cost of living is a bit higher than Madison. There's one bar with a bunch of interesting beers, but you'd be happier with the bar scene in Madison. Ithaca does have a farmers' market, though I haven't been there. It has at least one dog park.

Ithaca's fairly liberal, but it's far more moderate than Madison. Ithaca is like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to Madison's Ralph Nader or Howard Zinn. I cannot overemphasize how far left Madison is.

I could strain to think of a few places with arguably "good cheap food" in Ithaca (the overall restaurant scene is notoriously weak, and many of the more memorable places are on the pricey/swanky side). Whereas in Madison, again, "good cheap food" -- both exotic/ethnic and relatively standard/American -- is all over the long pedestrian heaven that is State St.

Your interest in lakes and farmers' markets really, really says Madison. Believe me, I'm not one to plug Madison at any opportunity: I think it's generally overrated. But I think you (more than I) would love it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:25 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd take Oregon off your list if you are looking to move and find a job this fall. Funding for schools here is terrible, plus there were cuts last year, plus the state just announced another massive hit. Portland Public Schools are looking at shortening the school year or laying off all the PE teachers plus others. Also, Portland doesn't really get regular snow in the winter, maybe just for a day or two (though snowy mountains are within easy reach). Also, in-town living has you on less than a quarter-acre lot. One acre lots? I really have no idea how far out you'd have to go. I do love Portland, but it doesn't really match your criteria.

Asheville is a lovely town, but extraordinarily popular--lots of young folks move there to find jobs, and end up working in service. The local economy is tourism-based. Also, it's the most expensive housing market in NC.

Basically, you're looking for college town/city amenities (microbrews, broadband, dog parks, farmers markets) with country lot sizes and prices. So what are you willing to compromise?

If you do want a smaller town, you might look into some of the areas of southwestern North Carolina. I'm thinking of Bryson City, Sylva, and Waynesville. These are small Appalachian towns with enough tourist and recreation traffic to have significant non-local communities. There is a microbrew scene for sure. And you wouldn't need dog parks because there are forests all around you. I don't know what's going on with regards to school funding, but usually folks can find jobs there because it's rural enough.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:30 PM on July 1, 2010


This sounds like you're looking for Western Mass/Northampton area to me.

-There are bazillions of farmer's markets, small farms, and support for homesteaders (see the CISA organization).
-Housing with land is fairly inexpensive, as long as you are willing to live outside of the major towns of Amherst, Hadley and Northampton.
-The seasons are beautiful, and summers seem to be pretty mild. I have only been here are year, but this summer has been fantastic. Cool and sunny, with only an occasional hot or humid day.
-There are all kinds of outdoorsy things to do, from kayaking and hiking in the summer, to skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. I'm from California, so what these yankees call mountains are hills to me, but they are still lovely.
-There are at least 5 microbreweries within an hour drive, plus lots of liquor stores and bars with fantastic beer selections.
-It's pretty lefty around here.
posted by apricot at 8:32 PM on July 1, 2010


Lawrence, KS? Have not visited. Just going through "liberal towns in lower cost of living states." It is hot in summer, however, and no mountains.
posted by salvia at 8:34 PM on July 1, 2010


I might be biased, but I was coming in here to suggest Lawrence, KS. Farmer's Markets, lakes, seasons galore, good microbrew culture, no mountains but nice rolling green hills, foodie restaurants (e.g., the place that cures all of its own meats, the place that only uses local food, etc etc), liberal hippies all over the place, and not to mention cheap property, surrounded by even cheaper land. I think there's a good market for teachers, and you're even (midwest) close to the Rockies. I moved here after living in LA, Boston, Chicago, and DC, and Lawrence is by far my favourite.
posted by girl scientist at 9:17 PM on July 1, 2010


Salt Lake City, Utah.

* Summers are somewhat hot, but the lake moderates things, and it is, as they say, a dry heat.
* It has four real seasons, the winter is snowy, but not bitter cold.
* I think you'll have no trouble getting broadband or decent cell reception
* I think home prices are reasonable, in some areas, an acre or five though might require living fairly far out, by local standards.
* Last I heard, state finances were in better shape than most.
* Not sure how your car will fare, but I'd guess better than it would in TX.

Plus, there are mountains, various lakes and reservoirs, various brewpubs, some of my favorite inexpensive restaurants. I'm not sure about the farmers markets or dog parks, but I'm guessing yes on both.

I grew up there. I could almost imagine living there again, almost.
posted by Good Brain at 9:25 PM on July 1, 2010


Eugene Oregon does all the right stuff except broken state budgets. No humidity, no tornadoes.
posted by nogero at 9:26 PM on July 1, 2010


I live in Lawrence, KS; it meets most of your criteria: I moved here from California (after a brief stop in NYC) in 2004 and haven't looked back. It's a fantastic town, with a great vibe, and it's just a really pleasant, nice place to live.

I would be happy to answer any questions you have about my town, either here or in MeMail. If it wasn't obvious, I love to talk this place up.
posted by jacobian at 9:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


You should also consider the Blacksburg/Roanoke area of SW Virginia. Blue Ridge Mountains, available land, excellent broadband service (at least in the Blacksburg/Christiansburg area). Your politics will be tolerated (tho imho VA state govt is a bit fascist). Not many lakes, but the rivers are good fun. Cost of living is reasonable, and the weather fits your preference exactly!
posted by TDIpod at 10:01 PM on July 1, 2010


Seconding not Eureka/North Coast unless you want to partake of the um, underground, economy; it's really hard to find *any* sort of work up there. Humboldt State is only 10 minutes away. Students want jobs, and when I went to HSU as an education major, most TA's had full teaching credentials and were waiting for current teachers to retire/move away/die in order to get their positions. It's a rural county. CA's education budgets have been cut into the marrow, and are likely to stay that way due to the statewide property tax law known as Prop 13. Lots of tenured teachers got laid off in larger, wealthier districts.

That general area is a great place to visit for awesome camping and kayaking though!
posted by smirkette at 10:02 PM on July 1, 2010


I go to college in the Berkshires, and I think you could find a lot of what you're looking for there. It has a lot in common with the Northampton area, but is cheaper and more rural (good for your land buying goals), has more mountains and is less filled with the highly educated who never want to leave someone mentioned above. Of course, that has its downsides in terms of culture and opportunities to meet people, but Vermont and Northampton aren't very far away (depending on where you live).
posted by MadamM at 10:03 PM on July 1, 2010


I feel as if you should add Corvallis OR to your list of candidates. But it's been 30 years since I visited there, so my information about the place may well be badly out of date. Anyway, here goes:

Corvallis is the home to Oregon's other land-grant college. Eugene is University of Oregon; Corvallis is Oregon State. Both universities cover all subjects, but U of O concentrates more on the liberal arts. OSU concentrates more on Agriculture, Forestry, Science and Engineering. (OSU has a world-class Oceanography department.) So Corvallis isn't quite as hippy-dippy liberal as Eugene, but all college towns these days are pretty liberal, even cow colleges like OSU.

I call it a "town" but the official population is 51,000, which isn't exactly small. About half of that is the University, though, which has about 21,000 students.

OSU is half the economy of the town, all told. So it's got all the kinds of things that college students love, and I have no doubt that includes microbreweries. It's also the local shopping and banking center for nearby farmers, and there's an HP assembly plant there.

The big advantage is that small farm lots like you describe exist within just a couple of miles of the center of town. And if you really feel the need to visit a metropolis for some reason, all of Eugene, Salem, and Portland are within reasonable driving distance. (Portland is about 75 miles away, right up I-5.)

And if you are so inclined, there's a highway west that goes to Newport on the coast. If you're inclined to ski, you drive east to Mt. Bachelor.

Anyone got info about Corvallis that's fresher than my 30-year-old data?

If you'd like an even smaller college town, there's Monmouth. It's north of Corvallis and west of Salem and is home of Western Oregon University, which used to be known as Oregon College of Education.

As to climate, the whole Willamette valley is about the same. It definitely is mild in the summer. It's pretty mild in winter, too. You can't really say it has "four distinct seasons", though; they kind of mush together and the transitions are really quite gradual. And you won't see a lot of snow in winter -- a few days a year, if even that. A typical winter day is 45, overcast, and drizzly. A typical summer day is dry with scattered clouds and about 80. All of that is because of ocean effect: the Pacific Ocean acts as a temperature buffer, keeping things somewhat warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

It's like that along a strip maybe 80 miles wide running right up the west coast from the Bay area all the way to British Columbia. Almost nothing in that entire strip has distinct seasons; it's all quite temperate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:06 PM on July 1, 2010


Re: willpie's suggestion of Bend: Yes, it's lovely and has much of what you're looking for. But unless you have a job lined up, I seriously do not recommend moving there. While real estate prices have fallen a lot in the past few years, it's still (one of, if not the) highest priced market in the state. There are no jobs, or at least, none that aren't service industry/seasonal stuff like working at the mountain as a lift operator.

I grew up there and I love it, but I won't be moving back until I retire (or win the lottery). However, if you are independently wealthy (and most of the teachers I know aren't!), go for it.
posted by girlalex at 10:16 PM on July 1, 2010


Well, you've been to Asheville and yeah, it's great and we have everything on your list, but you're not going to be able to buy a house on a teacher's salary even if you can find a job teaching here, which I wouldn't count on. I love my town but the salaries are the lowest and the cost of living the highest in all of NC and right now the job market is DIRE. I wish it was not so but it is.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:38 AM on July 2, 2010


I live in Burlington and I love it, but the cost of living vs. earning potential for most people is way outta whack. My friends that are teachers all struggle to live around here. The large, transient student population has driven the rental market outta control.

That being said, if you've got a good job, it's a great place to live. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're making $80K +, though. Otherwise you'll be walking home (the public transportation kinda sucks too) cursing all of the college brats driving daddy's BMW under your breath.
posted by brand-gnu at 7:55 AM on July 2, 2010


Pittsburgh hits most of the marks on your list. Frick Park has two excellent off leash dog areas. The cost of living is very cheap. Sharps Edge has all the beer you ever want. Pretty mild summers, snowy winters. Lots of mountains. More Rivers than Lakes. Not sure about the state budget issue.
posted by swizzlepants at 7:59 AM on July 2, 2010


- a non-frozen state budget (i'll be looking for jobs as a high school teacher with social studies, spanish and theatre endorsements.)

As some have mentioned above, it's this one that's the potential deal-breaker in relation to the choices you've listed. Pretty much all of them are either a) destination places that attract a lot of outsiders (like you) with advanced training and/or b) college towns with a cool cultural mix and an endless supply of young folks with teaching credentials, etc. Working with teacher-ed candidates, it's hard to convey to them just how bad things are in most places these days (and probably for a while to come). From the economics side of the equation, I just don't see any of the options on your list as viable at the moment.

Having said that, I would check out the few places where state budgets haven't completely tanked. One option might be Wyoming, of all places, where revenue from mineral wealth has provided a buffer against the recent downturn. Several other places I've been told about, but am not sure of, are North Dakota and Alaska. Some of these might also work with your quality-of-life factors as well (at least a few of them, anyway).
posted by 5Q7 at 8:04 AM on July 2, 2010


Only downside to Minneapolis might be housing costs--not wildly expensive overall, but cheap and nice might not overlap for you. You'll have to judge for yourself. The metro is fairly sprawling, too: getting a place that's rural enough to potentially have sheep may put you a long distance from the other amenities you'd like.

Duluth, MN has been mentioned in these threads before, it would meet some of your criteria, as well as being close enough to drive to the Twin Cities occasionally. My expectation is that you could get more house for less in that area. Very mild summers. Potential for unimaginable cold in the winter. North Shore of Lake Superior isn't 'mountainous' by Alpine standards, but hilly and north-woodsy enough to enjoy.

State budget here stinks, but I'm assuming it does everywhere. Relative to other states, we're probably in the middle somewhere.
posted by gimonca at 8:07 AM on July 2, 2010


Depending on piorities, I would say check out the Dakotas and Wyoming, cheap land, four seasons, good state budget. You will be living in the boonies though and politically not what most people would call liberal, but it isn't in the bible belt either. Oregon is awesome but not four seasons anywhere you can get a job, and five acres of land worth having is not cheap.
posted by bartonlong at 8:30 AM on July 2, 2010


Some of my favorite towns that meet most of your criteria. I'm a bit West-centric.

Missoula, Montana
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Juneau, Alaska
Fort Collins, Colorado
Flagstaff, Arizona
Bend, Oregon
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 9:59 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm from Western Mass and Northampton is great. A lot of fun, and when it gets too small for you there's always Boston. Western Mass is not a bad area to be a teacher -- my teacher friends tell me central CT is better, however. (I would consider it a much worse palce to live.) I will +1 to Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins, which really sounds up your alley. Particularly the weather.
posted by zvs at 2:22 PM on July 2, 2010


Morgantown, WV! It's a college town, has seasons (summer, snow) but not super-extreme ones, fantastic fall foliage, a farmers market, a local brewing company, and a dog park. The economy is still pretty good, property prices/rent are affordable, and there are mountains nearby. Did I mention the dog park?
posted by media_itoku at 2:43 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


- actual seasons, preferably with snow (cold > hot)
- medium to low cost of living (i'd like to buy a house with an acre or five for sheep and chickens and a garden.)
- a non-frozen state budget (i'll be looking for jobs as a high school teacher with social studies, spanish and theatre endorsements.)


I think western Oregon is totally off your list, then. Very little snow, but a big yes! to ice storms.

Land in the Willamette Valley is crazy-expensive because the soil is so rich.

State budget is sinking fast. Public employees are on mandatory furloughs to save money, teachers are being jettisoned, and school years are being cut in length.

Sorry. (Sob.) I just thank goodness I'm still employed.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:15 PM on July 2, 2010


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