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February 1, 2012 7:43 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I will be leaving our current town in about a year and a half, and we’re starting to think about where we might like to go next. We have several requirements (explained inside), and I’ll probably be posting questions about this more than once! We are thinking about taking a couple of weeks to explore some cities in California this spring or summer, and I’m hoping some of you can suggest some California towns that might be a good fit for us so we can start planning the exploratory trip.

First of all, we are in our 30s and have no kids. We currently live in a small college town in rural Mississippi, where we are both attending art school. Career-wise, my husband has a background in web development. My professional background is in holistic nutrition, culinary arts, and teaching. However, we are not really looking for a professional situation to dictate where we move. We have some freedom to go where we would like to be (within financial limits) and are fine with cobbling together part-time jobs and freelance work, etc., to make our lives happen the way we want. So in general, don’t worry too much about where we will work when making suggestions.

For background: We have previously lived in Washington, D.C., NYC, Austin, and various parts of Maryland. We aren’t really interested in going back to any of those places (maybe NYC, but it’s not ideal for us weather-wise and money-wise). I can explain more about what we didn’t like about our previous homes if needed.

We have a few non-negotiable requirements:
1. We hate the cold. Ideally we would prefer a temperature range (year-round) of around 50-80 degrees. However, we can deal with like 40ish-100ish. No snow or ice, please, and preferably lots of sunshine as I get the SAD.

2. We desperately need availability of excellent, high-quality food, including produce and animal foods. (This is something we have really missed in our current food desert situation.) Our first choice would be a really good well-stocked co-op or independent natural market with a good butchery department.

3. We would really like to be within one hour’s driving distance (preferably less) to a major airport. Bonus if the airport has Southwest Airlines.

4. We do NOT enjoy suburbs (at all); we like more of an urban area or a smaller town with an authentic downtown (not a faux “downtown” created by a huge development company that’s full of chain restaurants), older neighborhoods (as opposed to new developments full of townhouses), etc. However, we don’t want to be in a situation where we can’t park at our own house. Available parking is a must! Walkable stuff would be awesomely awesome.

Other things we really would like to have (not make or break items, but we would like them if possible):
* Friendly artist community
* University/learning center of some kind nearby
* Beach – we aren’t really swimmers but we enjoy walking on/looking at a beach
* Smoke free town/restaurants
* Politically progressive (anywhere will be an improvement on where we are in this department, but we would really like readily available like-minded people as we are both very progressive)
* High-quality alternative healthcare options (integrative doctors, acupuncture, etc.)
* Container Store and/or Ikea

I expect as we branch out into other regions, I may ask this question again for those areas… for now we’re thinking about California and trying to investigate options there, but if you read my list and know of some other place we would love, please post or memail me, by all means!!

PS - I know it's a big state, but please feel free to suggest towns anywhere in Cali and we can figure out what we want to check out.
posted by hansbrough to Travel & Transportation around California, CA (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Money may be the biggest obstacle with these suggestions, but Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, San Luis Obispo, San Diego all would meet most of your requirements, but they meet the requirements of a lot of people hence the higher cost of living.
posted by cecic at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2012


I'd suggest you look at the towns in Sonoma County.
Don't know which town your budget will allow.
posted by artdrectr at 7:53 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was obsessed with finding towns just like this a few years ago, and looked all over the western US, including California. Towns I found particularly interesting were San Luis Obispo, Eureka, Santa Rosa, and Davis. None of them match perfectly, though--either too far away from a major airport (SLO, Eureka), no beach in the area (Davis--can also get hot), no phenomenal downtown or university (Santa Rosa), but each has elements of what you like, I think.

(If you're interested in towns that aren't in California, you look into Bellingham, WA, Eugene, OR, Missoula, MT (a little cold), or Grand Junction, CO).
posted by MoonOrb at 8:03 PM on February 1, 2012


Santa Cruz or Berkeley hit every bullet point. Santa Cruz is ~45 minutes from San Jose airport, which is mostly domestic and Mexico; if you want a serious international airport then you need to be closer to SFO; Berkeley is ~45 minutes drive from there. Santa Cruz is a beach town; Berkeley is on the bay, but the nearest real beach is in San Francisco across the bridge.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was going to say San Luis Obispo as well. Santa Cruz hits a lot of the requirements and is a lot closer to big airports.
posted by Long Way To Go at 8:18 PM on February 1, 2012


Sierra Madre, California might suit you.
posted by Scram at 8:22 PM on February 1, 2012


Coastal towns all up and down lower half of CA might do you well. Quite a few college towns. However, coastal areas tend to be priciest. And can be surprisingly conservative. Ventura country is nice. L.A. County's coastal towns can be pretty nice and are close to all the amenities, very urban. I've lived in the Venice/Santa Monica area (pretty closely fits your description) for years and love it. San Pedro has lots of charm IMO. San Diego has several older neighborhoods/towns that offer lots of character. Weather along the coast south of Ventura County is extremely mild.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:29 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nthing Santa Cruz. Southwest flies out of both SJC and SFO.
posted by ewiar at 8:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


You will be perfectly, delightfully content in Santa Cruz. The quality of life there is simply amazing. Food leans pretty veggie, but Shopper's Corner will cover your "independent grocery with excellent butchery dept" need.
posted by apparently at 8:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hi hansbrough! I live in Sebastopol California and given the things your looking for, I suggest you check it out.

1. "We hate the cold." Except for one or two frosts overnight, during the month of december the temperature was 50-60 every day. This afternoon I was walking around in a tee shirt, and the early flowers are just starting to bud. Its february!

2. "We desperately need availability of excellent, high-quality food" During the spring and summer there is a biweekly farmers market that takes over the town square. I personally worked on an organic goat milk creamery operating 5 min out of town. There are several high quality organic farms that offer their produce on a subscription basis.


3. San Francisco international is about an hour and a half depending on traffic.

4. "We do NOT enjoy suburbs (at all)" Although the town is relatively close to Santa Rosa (pop 150k), it still maintains its independent nature.

* Friendly artist community
-> The town in absolutely infested with older well-to-do artistic hippies. I once had Tom Waits in my kitchen. I made him tea.

* University/learning center of some kind nearby
-> The Santa Rosa Junior College is widely regarded as the best community college in the state.

* Beach – we aren’t really swimmers but we enjoy walking on/looking at a beach
-> 20 min drive to some of the most beautiful coast line your going to find period.

* Smoke free town/restaurants
-> Its actually illegal to smoke cigarettes in the down town area. There is a marijuana dispensary a quarter mile from the police station.

* Politically progressive
-> see above GIANT HIPPY VILLE

* High-quality alternative healthcare options
-> re hippies.

* Container Store and/or Ikea
-> Anything you want you can get in Santa Rosa for a 1/2 hour drive.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 9:11 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oakland Airport is a hub for Southwest, to the extent that they have hubs. Many more SW flights go through OAK than SFO. The opposite is true for almost every other airline. Also they are more likely to be on time at OAK as fog is not as bad.

Berkeley hits most of your requirements, though I don't know the state of the artist community. You should also check out some Oakland neighborhoods, like Temescal, Grand Lake, etc.

Some walkable beaches are Ocean Beach in SF (NOT recommended for swimming) and Crown Memorial in Alameda (swimming is OK). If you are used to the temperature of Atlantic or Gulf water, the Pacific will seem freezing to you.

San Diego has lots of beaches and is warmer. It's more spread out, but you could look at Hillcrest or neighborhoods like that, they're compact. I don't know about alternative healthcare. The foodie scene is not as pronounced as in the Bay Area, but there's plenty of good stuff available. I would not call San Diego 'progressive,' I'd call it 'not as conservative as Orange County.'

I grew up in San Diego and currently live in the Berkeley area. Email or MeMail if you want more info.
posted by expialidocious at 9:30 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also was going to say Santa Cruz. It hits all your points, except you'd have to drive over to San Jose or Palo Alto for Container Store and Ikea. I grew up there, now live in San Francisco but my family still lives there, so if you have any specific questions feel free to memail me.
posted by grapesaresour at 9:56 PM on February 1, 2012


Also coming to say Santa Cruz. San Jose airport is pretty well-served by Southwest, East Palo Alto has your IKEA, and it hits pretty much every other item on your list. Given that it is a coastal town in California, it's not cheap.

Since you mention SAD, I will caution you that fog can be a real issue, so if you are serious about sunshine, you'll want to factor that in. It would probably rule out more affordable places like Half Moon Bay and Pacifica, but you would have to check that out for yourself.
posted by ambrosia at 11:03 PM on February 1, 2012


Santa Monica/Venice might work in SoCal. Sierra Madre isn't close to the beach (although it is nice; if you're willing to go inland, I'd personally go for South Pasadena over Sierra Madre for what you're in the market for. Note: I lived in Santa Monica for 10 years, and grew up in Pasadena.)

As far as SM/Venice goes:

* Friendly artist community:

Got it.

* University/learning center of some kind nearby

UCLA is right in Westwood.

* Beach – we aren’t really swimmers but we enjoy walking on/looking at a beach

Got it.

* Smoke free town/restaurants

Smoking is illegal in restaurants in LA in general.

* Politically progressive (anywhere will be an improvement on where we are in this department, but we would really like readily available like-minded people as we are both very progressive)

Yes. ESPECIALLY Venice. But Santa Monica is pretty bleeding heart (I say as a bleeding heart.)

* High-quality alternative healthcare options (integrative doctors, acupuncture, etc.)

Coastal California as a whole is big on this. UCLA has a whole Eastern Medicine group.

* Container Store and/or Ikea:

FYI, if you're looking to move to Southern California, you will NEVER get an Ikea near the beach. They're all inland. Container Store you might have more luck. But we all haul ass to Ikea, like everyone else. Rent is too expensive near the beach for a store as sprawling as Ikea; I have to drive to Burbank.

Honestly, coastal California all the way up and down the state sounds IDEAL for you. The weather's nice and mild too. (DON'T move to Pasadena/Sierra Madre if you can't take it over 80. The Valleys get toasty come summer. It IS a dry heat, though) That being said, coming from Mississippi...get ready for some sticker shock. These towns have very high housing prices. But you're looking in the right state.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:32 PM on February 1, 2012


nthing san diego, particularly any of the uptown neighborhoods (where I live). hits every single bullet point. uptown's a great place, urban but not overly so, and ultra-progressive.

also seconding ventura, which is near where I grew up & my parents still live. less urban, so less to offer, but a fantastic little city.
posted by changeling at 11:58 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't ever live in San Diego again because I hate cars, but there is an IKEA in Mission Valley, which is about 15 minutes driving from Ocean Beach.
posted by beerbajay at 12:37 AM on February 2, 2012


If you're not set on going west you might consider Savannah, it's got pretty much everything you list except IKEA.
posted by mareli at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2012


San Francisco. Duh, right? It's got everything except for parking.

(I have to say that to folks like me from metropolis areas on the east coast, most of southern CA feels pretty suburban.)
posted by desuetude at 6:52 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm really surprised no one's mentioned Long Beach yet! I recently started doing some grad work at CSULB and I find Long Beach (at least the handfull of neighborhoods I've seen) to be very pleasant. It meets all of your requirements, and the rent is laughably low (and this is coming from someone who paid $1400/mo for a one bedroom hellhole in Berkeley).

Very artsy, very friendly, some neighborhoods are walkable and/or bike-able communities. At the very least, check it out. A very comfortable spot to live.
posted by Temeraria at 8:46 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Came in to say Santa Cruz, and see it's already been widely recommended. You might also try looking at smaller towns up and down the NorCal coast - Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, Sausalito, Monterey, Mendocino. The only problem with all of these places is that everyone already knows that they have a fantastic quality of life, so cost of living is high. If you can afford to live in these sort of places, they're absolutely wonderful.
posted by Gori Girl at 8:48 AM on February 2, 2012


If it weren't for the cold, I'd recommend the Jersey shore. Ocean Grove has everything you've mentioned, but it does occasionally dip below the 40s (though not nearly as often as you'd imagine, it being right on the water).
posted by artemisia at 9:14 AM on February 2, 2012


Savannah's not very close to a major airport. Charleston's two hours, Jacksonville is 2 and a half, and neither of those are particularly big airports. I don't intend any dig on Savannah, which is a beautiful, lovely city, but it's maybe not ideal given the OP's criteria.
posted by dd42 at 9:38 AM on February 2, 2012


You might seriously look into San Diego, which has a lot of different, distinct, neighborhoods. Many of them don't sound like they would appeal to you, but you might love Ocean Beach (very crunchy, very walkable, crunchy/hippie, on the beach) or North Park (more hipster than hippie; better restaurants; not on the beach). Both have San Diego's excellent weather and are not far from the San Diego airport, which flies a ton of Southwest flights.
posted by willbaude at 6:46 PM on February 2, 2012


Thanks for the excellent suggestions, everyone! Please keep them coming if you have more -- but you've given us lots of great ideas. Merci!
posted by hansbrough at 7:54 PM on February 2, 2012


I should specify which San Diego uptown neighborhoods I'm talking about, since you're unfamiliar with the area -- look into Mission Hills (cute, very historic, a bit pricier), Hillcrest (lively, primarily LGTBQ, all the best restaurants are here) University Heights (where I live, LOVE it; basically a walkable, canyony branch off Hillcrest), North Park (young, lively, hipster) and South Park (adorable, adjacent to Balboa Park). they're all super liberal, historic & artsy, very walkable, with FANTASTIC farmer's markets & tons of alternative health care options. they're also between 15 & 20 minutes from the beach, 5 to 10 minutes from downtown, and 5 to 10 minutes from IKEA & the Container Store (both are in Mission Valley, the valley uptown overlooks). oh, and the airport's about 10 minutes away. other options are Little Italy, which is less grit & more glam, and the aforementioned Ocean Beach, which is more grit and zero glam. Normal Heights is another formerly gritty uptown neighborhood that's undergoing revitalization.

hee, I sound like a San Diego salesperson, but I was trying to move uptown for years, and we finally bought our house here six weeks ago.
posted by changeling at 9:38 AM on February 3, 2012


(all those neighborhoods run up against each other, btw -- so if you live in one, it's easy to access the fun stuff in the others.)
posted by changeling at 9:39 AM on February 3, 2012


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