Westward, ho! But where?
January 18, 2010 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Another where should I move question (West of the Mississippi edition), but with a special snowflake twist.

The now:

- I'm 28 years old.
- Originally from TX. Currently in MD. Eventually want to settle in VT. Have also lived in NYC.
- I'll be here for the next year or so while I get my certification to teach high school social studies and/or theatre. After I'm done with that (in May of 2011), I want to move westward for 1-5 years before returning to New England.
- I've been to Park City, UT and liked the area a lot, but think it might be too expensive and getting too sprawly for my tastes.

What I want in a place to live:

- I'd like to find a small town (say. 5-10k people) about an hour to two hours from a decent sized city. The VT equivalent to this would be the Waterbury / Stowe area.
- I like nature. Mountains, water, trees are all pluses.
- Dog friendly.
- Cheap cost of living.
- Decent job market for teachers.
- Farmers' markets or CSAs or farms where I can get a workshare.
- Seasons. I would move back to TX, but I *hate* the summer heat and the lack of a real winter.
- Snow > rain.
- Liberal or at least libertarian politics. I identify as a libertarian socialist and an agnostic Jew.
- Minimal strip malls, megachurches, McDonald's.
- Maximum coffeeshops, bookstores, brewpubs.

- So...where should I go? At this point, I'm more interested in regions to investigate than particular towns.
posted by youcancallmeal to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea what the visa requirements are, but have you considered Alberta or British Columbia? Both seem like they would fit the bill.
posted by fso at 1:13 PM on January 18, 2010

I don't think Canada would work too easily for a prospective teacher -- it's been asked before.
posted by the dief at 1:20 PM on January 18, 2010

I posted this in an earlier where-should-i-move thread, but it applies to every one of your points, though I am not sure about the teacher thing.

"I'm in Fort Collins, Colorado. It hits most of your recommendations - stunning nature access, 300+ days of sunshine, small-town but liberal, community-oriented vibe. Great farmer's markets and CSAs; very bike friendly. Thriving craft brew culture, if you're into that. The winters are milder than you would think - it gets fairly cold, but the state's got its act together pretty well about keeping things accessible even in biggish snow (and the snow is nothing like what you'd get in upstate New York or even out on the plains). I think you can still buy some pretty big parcels of land, too, for not-outrageous sums. Denver and Boulder are about an hour away.

It's a nice little town, full of aging hippies and first wave feminists and young families and college professors. Downsides: It's full of college kids. It's a little liberal enclave in the middle of conservative ranch and farm land. There are a lot of restaurants in the cute little old town area, but there are very few good ones. The growing season is fairly short, and you need to water a LOT because it's so dry. And you have to drive a long, long time to get anywhere else - I'm from DC, and the lack of light rail connecting the Front Range towns with Denver is completely baffling and infuriating to me. We've been talking about moving to Denver when our lease is up next year - but it might be just your speed. Come and visit!"

I would add here that the big box part of town (between Fort Collins and Loveland) is growing at an alarming rate, though it's pretty easy to avoid completely if you stay north (we haven't set foot there in months).
posted by peachfuzz at 1:22 PM on January 18, 2010

You might be interested in Taos. I'm not sure what the cost of living is there but I think it fits the bill in other respects. It's at a high enough elevation where you'll get all four seasons without a particularly brutal summer or winter. A bit touristy in the ski season. Here's the Wikipedia page.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:24 PM on January 18, 2010

What about the Midwest? We've got several impressive large cities within several hours of most of the region (St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha), have lots of different nature-y environments (Need sprawling acres of corn fields? Iowa. Need hills that border on mountainous? Wisconsin. Want more lakes than you could ever handle? Minnesota. Want epic areas of mountains? South Dakota.) We've got the snow you want, as well as well-defined seasons. A great number of the smaller areas have very, very reasonable costs of living. Iowa and Minnesota are both very well known for having high quality educational systems and high test scores.

I live in the large town/small city of Iowa City, IA, which is larger than what you're looking for at about 70k people. I love it here and will never leave for plenty of the reasons above, in addition to this being a college town with all of the diversity, in terms of people and resources, that comes with that. We've got lots of coffeeshops, pubs, ethnic food restaurants, and social outlets. Plus, Iowa allows gay marriage! We've also got tons of CSAs to choose from in the area.
posted by scarykarrey at 1:24 PM on January 18, 2010

You should check out this website: Find Your Spot.
posted by wwartorff at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2010

Oh, and seconding Iowa City. I pretty much grew up there, and it rocks. Education in Iowa is fantastic, at all levels. However, from your post it seems like skiing and/or mountains would be important, and the landscape in Iowa does leave something to be desired in that area.
posted by wwartorff at 1:31 PM on January 18, 2010

If it helps make things clearer, Santa Cruz, CA would be pretty much ideal except for the high cost of living and scary CA budget woes.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:37 PM on January 18, 2010

A friend of mine just moved to the "Magic Valley" of Twin Falls, ID and really enjoys it. It is in the mountains/high desert of southern Idaho. Easy access to Boise and Sun Valley. It is a college town (College of Southern Idaho). I don't know about the politics or strip malls, but it seems to meet most of your criteria. You can spend your summers digging for potatoes and sugar beets.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 1:39 PM on January 18, 2010

Flagstaff AZ fits many of your requirements except it is bigger than you want.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:46 PM on January 18, 2010

You might investigate the Missoula, MT area.
posted by cloudburst at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2010

I'll second peachfuzz's recommendation and say Northern Colorado is pretty awesome. Fort Collins is not a small town (Wikipedia says 136,000 people), but you might want to look into Windsor, Wellington, Loveland, or Estes Park. A warning, though: Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University, which pumps out a lot of teachers every year. I'm student teaching in social studies now and I'm a little worried about finding something when I finish up this semester.
posted by lilac girl at 2:00 PM on January 18, 2010

You describe your current needs, but I think you should also consider what you might want in 10 years. The towns that will stand out the most may also have higher real estate costs. Look at some big cities in the west, draw a circle around them, and investigate those areas.
posted by theora55 at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2010

Find Your Spot is ridiculous. It told me to move to Sheboygan, WI. I've been there, and it ain't at the top of my list.
posted by look busy at 3:19 PM on January 18, 2010

@theora55: From the original post: "I'll be here for the next year or so while I get my certification to teach high school social studies and/or theatre. After I'm done with that (in May of 2011), I want to move westward for 1-5 years before returning to New England. "

And yeah, Find Your Spot is a) ridiculous an b) too specific.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:10 PM on January 18, 2010

You might want to check out Ogden, Utah or the Ogden Valley. It's about 45 minutes North of Salt Lake City, and it has a lot of what you're looking for. SLC is close, and Ogden is a college town, so it has all the coffee shops and bookstores. Snowbasin is close, and Ogden is much more liberal than the Provo Mormon Scene. Cost of living is relativly low, and it is sooooo much less than Park City. There is a Farmers Market from July to October, and there are lots of little farms for CSA opportunities.

I live in Ogden, and I would love to own land in the Odgen Valley, Huntsville or Eden would be ideal (those are the towns that have the smaller populations). We are 15 minutes from Pineview Reservoir and about 45 minutes from Causey Reservoir. The Ogden River Parkway is awesome for you and your dog, and there are tons of opportunities for outdoor sports.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:28 PM on January 18, 2010

You're looking for a small, cheap town with all the amenities of a big city and a good job market to boot. That's a tall order.

College towns with small colleges, except for the cheap part, might fit the bill.

If you had to choose just two or three characteristics, what's most important?
posted by bluedaisy at 6:31 PM on January 18, 2010

I don't think a bookstore, coffeeshop and brewpub are too much to ask, really. Waterbury, VT is pretty much perfect in this regard... I just want to go west first before settling down. There's got to be a similar town out there that's just right.

So far, the Fort Collins, CO and Ogden, UT areas seem interesting. Are there any small towns around there that haven't been consumed by the suburbs, though? I would like something with an actual downtown, but not as big as Ogden or Fort Collins themselves.
posted by youcancallmeal at 6:59 PM on January 18, 2010

I love Ogden, but if California (ever) recovers you might think about Sebastapol or Chico.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:13 PM on January 18, 2010

I think I'm getting caught up in your request for a town of 5000-10000. That's tiny. And it'd be a lot for that size community to support all the amenities you want. The examples you've been given have 80,000+ people.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:54 PM on January 18, 2010

Also meant to say you might want to take a look at Sisters, Oregon, population 2000.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:57 PM on January 18, 2010

Like Lilac Girl said, there are some pretty cute little towns in Northern Colorado that have so far avoided the sub/ex/burb sprawl. Berthoud is pretty great - teeny little downtown, cheap, serious about preserving the whole small town thing. Niwot is a little more touristy and nestled between the Broomfield/Boulder behemoth, but it's small, liberal, and very very livable with good little coffee shops and restaurants. There are plenty of small (<>Leadville or Georgetown, say). They tend to get touristy in the summer. At any rate, any town in the front range or the hills will have reasonable access to real farms that provide CSAs with work share, be super dog-friendly, and have pretty amazing nature access. The only big downside I see is that Colorado has real budget woes right now, too, so finding a teaching job may be dicey.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:43 AM on January 19, 2010

Augh! Bad formatting ate half my comment. That should read...

There are plenty of small (less than 3000 pop.) mountain towns with similar feels, albeit with politics that lean more libertarian than liberal or progressive, some of which are old mining towns with bona fide history and amazing Victorian architecture (Leadville or Georgetown, say). They tend to get touristy in the summer. At any rate, any town in the front range or the hills will have reasonable access to real farms that provide CSAs with work share, be super dog-friendly, and have pretty amazing nature access. The only big downside I see is that Colorado has real budget woes right now, too, so finding a teaching job may be dicey.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:45 AM on January 19, 2010

Fayetteville, Arkansas has a GREAT used bookstore, a pretty darn good brewpub, and several locally owned coffee shops. Yeah, it's Arkansas, but it's the most easy going part of the state other than Eureka Springs, which is a short drive away.

Cost of living is reasonable. We have a modest and university based, but reasonable public transportation system. They're putting in new bike trails all the time.

We have seasons. Sometimes, Arkansas weather can be like a roller coaster. Last year, we had the big ice storm and already this year, we had sub-zero windchills. But then, it changes. If you want exciting, changing weather, we've got it.

It's very easy to drive out of town to go camping. We have mountains, streams, rivers... All within an hour at the most.

You could still travel easily if you still have any Texas relatives.

Yeah, I'm biased. I live here, and would love another MeFite in the area. Also, Youcancallmeal, I'd LOVE it if you were teaching here. I have kids in school. MeMail me if you feel like it.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:37 AM on January 20, 2010

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