Escape from the rustbelt.
April 30, 2010 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Finishing up my degree and looking for a gay-friendly, outdoorsy city with good tech employment prospects.

I'm a currently an undergrad in the city of Pittsburgh and will be finished with my degree after this summer. I'm currently job hunting, and either looking to find a relocation offer or build up some savings here and then leave. In general, I'm looking for a city that has:
  • Enough outdoor activities that I won't get bored on the weekends. Proximity to mountains is good, as I like skiing and snowboarding. Hiking trails through varied terrain is good too. I'd be interested in taking up kayaking, although I haven't started on that yet
  • Good prospects in either systems programming or web development. Most of my degree has centered around doing things like networking, concurrent programming, OSes, and computer architecture, and most of my real world experience has been developing web applications in Python and Ruby. A concentration of companies that use OSS is a definite plus.
  • Culture would be nice. Preferably in the rough order of: Food, literature, film, theater, and live music.
  • Gay friendly and liberal about different lifestyles in general. A large part of the problem I'm having with my current city is there's a lack of gay groups that cater to my interests. Bar concentration is only moderately important, and I definitely prefer gay pub atmospheres to gay club atmospheres.

What I'm don't care so much for:
  • Proximity to the beach.
  • Being a good place to raise kids. Not impossible, but not likely given my orientation and feelings about children.
  • Being a blue island in the middle of an ocean of red. Not so enthused about Austin, despite it's other characteristics.
  • Exceptionally materialistic culture. I avoid shopping whenever possible and I'm not into fashion, although proximity to good grocery stores and farmer's markets is nice.
I'm fine with a higher cost of living but it should be reasonably proportionate to what I'd be earning in that city. The cities I've considered so far include Seattle, New York and Portland. Seattle seems to fit pretty well, but it's a big move, I'm worried about the Seattle Freeze, and I'm wondering who other than Microsoft would fit my skill sets. New York seems good except for the higher cost of living and lack of outdoor activities. I worry about the job market in Portland, but it otherwise seems nice.

So, I'm either looking for commentaries on those cities based on what I've mentioned, or I'm looking for suggestions for cities that are smaller and have thus flown under my radar. Also, if you have a similar lifestyle to what I do and have moved or stayed in Pittsburgh, I'm kind of curious how your mid to late twenties are going here.
posted by ayerarcturus to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There is no finer city in the US than San Francisco.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:04 PM on April 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

San Francisco is basically exactly what you're talking about.
posted by kdar at 12:05 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about Boston? It's a very high-tech city whose companies are starting to hire a ton right now, very fun, in the first state to legalize gay marriage, and most of my friends spend many weekends each year hiking, camping, skiing, and rock climbing up in New Hampshire and Vermont.
posted by olinerd at 12:06 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no question that Portland, Ore. is the city for you. I have no interest in living there now, but it's exactly what you're looking for. If you haven't visited or spent time there, go for a week, in the spring or summer and you'll fall in love.
posted by jardinier at 12:06 PM on April 30, 2010

Do you have to stay in the US? If not I'd suggest Vancouver ... can't speak for the tech job market but its got everything you're looking for in terms of outdoor life, culture and food. And you could even marry for citizenship should you meet that special someone!
posted by mannequito at 12:09 PM on April 30, 2010

Montreal. There's a very big gaming industry there (are you ok with Lua?). It's extremely gay-friendly---you could get married or not, with full civil rights. Montreal is full of clubs. It's in the heart of the ski resorts of Eastern North America. The whitewater is legendary in Quebec and Eastern Ontario. Restaurants are excellent, it's one of the most cuturally active places on the continent.

The winters are cold though.
posted by bonehead at 12:11 PM on April 30, 2010

Seattle is just as good as S.F., but it's about 100 percent less expensive and 1000 percent less smug.

The Seattle Freeze is mostly a myth.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:11 PM on April 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seattle is just as good as S.F., but it's about 100 percent less expensive and 1000 percent less smug.

The thing about Seattle is that I imagine you have to have really good hair to live there, because otherwise most of your life is just a series of bad hair days.

Consider hair, OP.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:14 PM on April 30, 2010 [8 favorites]

DC would fit that list. You'd have to drive 2-3 hours to get to the mountains and skiing though.
posted by anti social order at 12:17 PM on April 30, 2010

San Francisco. Snow is four hours away, but good hiking is 20 minutes north, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Food and literature? Yes and yes. Gay friendly, yes again.
posted by zippy at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2010

Surprised no one has mentioned L.A. yet. It beats every city mentioned (besides New York) culturally, you're within an hour drive of any kind of outdoor stuff imaginable, and there's one of the world's largest and most active gay communities.

I suppose stereotype would call L.A. "materialistic," but it's no more so than New York. And in a city of ten million, no one will put a gun to your head and make you hang out in Beverly Hills.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by evadery at 12:21 PM on April 30, 2010

Also consider Boulder, CO.
posted by flavor at 12:25 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some thoughts: If you live in Seattle, the beautiful outdoors is available to you about 30-60 minutes in all directions. Mt. Rainier to the south, Olympics to the west, Cascades to the east, and Canada to the north. Public transportation is more or less just buses, with a light rail system that doesn't seem to have been much of a priority for the last couple decades, so everyone is reliant on buses, cars and some bicycles to get around the city. Bike paths are a bit spotty — the main drag is the Burke Gilman trail that runs through UW and up the west edge of Lake Washington. Amazon might be worth looking into, but you might ask about the "pager" later in the interview process. Capitol Hill is a gay-friendly neighborhood in Seattle. The city is generally pretty gay friendly, the state less so but warming up. The Seattle Freeze hasn't bummed me out, but I don't socialize much, so this may affect you depending on how independent you are.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:27 PM on April 30, 2010

People's republic of boulder
posted by TheBones at 12:28 PM on April 30, 2010

Seattle seems to fit pretty well, but it's a big move, I'm worried about the Seattle Freeze, and I'm wondering who other than Microsoft would fit my skill sets

Google has offices in the Seattle area. They're smaller here than in Mountain View, but they're apparently expanding. They moved into a larger office complex last year.
posted by mhum at 12:28 PM on April 30, 2010

Well, if I may propose something a little out of the ordinary, may I suggest Duluth MN. Keep an eye on where Google Fiber goes, one of the top contenders was Duluth. If we manage to land that

The downside is that winters are cold and sometimes long, but if you like skiing and snowboarding this may be a big plus. It is fairly gay friendly, there are a number of local organizations that directly support such. Outdoor culture is phenomenal, (hiking, canoeing, kayaking, snow sports, some limited climbing, sailing...) and we have a pretty high level of cultural events, especially for the size of city. Downtown is currently undergoing some significant historic/cultural renovations including a new indie theater, lots of stage theater, lots of music orientated projects, photography and artists abound. The scenery, especially being directly on Lake Superior, is phenomenal. There is ongoing serious negotiations to bring back passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

Potential downsides: sometimes it can be hard breaking into "the scene", there is a large contingency of DIY attitude and if you are moderately antisocial you may have some difficulty, it is a smaller city, Duluth proper is about 85K, Superior WI which is right next door is about 26K and we have ~15-20K more in directly adjacent areas. While unemployment is currently lower than the national average it seems to stay about ~7.5% which in national boom times is pretty high.

If we manage to land the Google Fiber project I suspect there will be significant advantages for someone in a tech field.
posted by edgeways at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2010

Denver, Colorado. Very gay-friendly with a family-friendly pride parade each summer. Everyone has an outdoor hobby like rafting or hiking. Many people ride bicycles to work. A ton of young professionals. Also, generally ranked the healthiest and best-educated state in the nation.

If it's not "blue" enough for you, take a drive up to Boulder.

(...maybe I should move to Denver!)
posted by jander03 at 12:39 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not only did you describe San Francisco, you described the reasoning and overall trajectory of maybe 1/3 of my friends and classmates from college. You'll be in good company here!

Unfortunately, there are few nonstop flights back to Pittsburgh from SF :(
posted by tantivy at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2010

BURBANK!!! We're right at the edge of the Angeles Crest Forest and have Yahoo!, NBC, Disney, Warner Bros and Universal. It has an active cycling culture encouraged by the city as well as the beach and the mountains not 20 minutes away (on a good traffic day). I love Burbank. In terms of gay friendly - it's 10 minutes from Silverlake, 15 from WeHo (if you're into that) we have every queer club permutation you can think of from hiking to motorcycling to softball to making and it's about 90 minutes from Palm Springs.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:53 PM on April 30, 2010

San Francisco, Seattle or Portland all seem like nice fits. The real trick is employment - and that knocks Portland down a few pegs.

Don't kid yourself about getting outdoors on the weekend in New York. It sounds easy isn't really. Portland or Seattle on the other hand? an hour drive from Portland and you can be camping at a pristine mountain lake.

San Francisco is nice, but if you've never been there I highly recommend going there for a week to see if it's really what you want.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:57 PM on April 30, 2010

Seattle also has Google, Amazon, Linden Labs and a ton of small companies, as far as 'not microsoft' work options go. (A lot of them, I believe, have been started by ex-MS people).
posted by jacalata at 1:00 PM on April 30, 2010

In my new role as unofficial volunteer ambassador to the Twin Cities, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest the Twin Cities. There are a few major corporations based here and a lot of healthcare companies where your skills might fit, and it's just really freaking awesome here.

You'll be skiing in river valleys, though. But the cost of living is such that you may well be able to afford a flight to Colorado once in a while, while skiing on weeknights at Buck Hill every day if your heart desires.
posted by padraigin at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2010

posted by R. Mutt at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2010

The "good employment prospects" is basically going to decide this for you, because the situation is dire in virtually every US city. Also, when I looked into it, working in Canada as a US citizen wasn't particularly easy to do.

I spent about 6 months trying to find a job in Portland to no avail, and later moved on to searching in Colorado, Seattle, and Vancouver.

After despairing on this track, I started looking in DC, and was working within 2 months.

The District certainly has its ups and downs that you can read about extensively on Metafilter. We're pretty liberal, very gay-friendly, and have a "flourishing" art scene (read: there wasn't one up until very recently), although outdoor opportunities are sadly lacking. I miss being able to go skiing on a whim.

In short, don't rule DC out -- at least, not until the economy gets better.
posted by schmod at 2:04 PM on April 30, 2010

Cool Papa Bell: "Seattle is just as good as S.F., but it's about 100 percent less expensive and 1000 percent less smug.

The Seattle Freeze is mostly a myth.

This, 1000 times. I moved here from Pittsburgh 15 (!) years ago, and never regretted it. I've worked in tech (in a non-technical capacity) and my husband is very much in tech. In fact, PM me if you want about where you're at school ... I'm thinking we may have quite a bit in common.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:49 PM on April 30, 2010

Sad former resident of the Denver area now exiled to North Carolina here to nth both Denver and Boulder. Both are great and totally meet your criteria.
posted by jeoc at 4:08 PM on April 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far. I'd mark 'em as favorites but I'd be lighting up three fourths of the page. I'll definitely look further into San Fransisco and check out Denver. I see a lot of companies using Python in Vancouver, and I'm not opposed to living in Canada per se, but is it easy for a US citizen to work there? The old MeFi questions seem to think so, but that was before the pesky financial collapse we had. DC is tenable, but I can find employment here in Pittsburgh -- would it be an improvement to move there? Duluth or the Twin Cities might work; do the local universities have good CS grad programs?

If anyone else has any more suggestions, I'd be open to hearing them but I may not get to them until tomorrow. Thanks again!
posted by ayerarcturus at 5:06 PM on April 30, 2010

Google is hiring like crazy and has offices in most of the cities mentioned in this thread. If you're good enough to get the attention of a Google recruiter, tell him or her what you want to work on, and Google will tell you where you ought to live. Hey, worth a shot, right?
posted by little light-giver at 1:24 AM on May 1, 2010

Look into Asheville, NC
posted by Pressed Rat at 3:29 PM on May 1, 2010

More Twin Cities, specifically Minneapolis, praise here. We have an incredible parks system, and you're within easy driving distance of many state parks. The city is very bike-friendly; bike lanes and bike trails are all over the place. Good food of all varieties is easy to find and reasonably priced. We're consistently ranked as one of the most literate cities in America, coming in at #1 on occasion. The visitors bureau loves to point out that we have more theater seats per capita than any US city outside New York. Plenty of great places to see live music, and a great local music scene.

Gay friendly, for sure, to the point where it's a non-issue. You won't be on a blue island, either; of course things get more conservative as you get further out, but Minnesota as a whole is definitely a left-leaning state.

Minneapolis is my specialty; CS is not. That said, take a look at the University of Minnesota's Computer Science & Engineering department. The campus is in a very convenient location just across the river from downtown, less than a mile from 94 and 35W (the two interstates running through Minneapolis), along numerous bus routes, and in a few years, along the Central Corridor light rail line.
posted by punishinglemur at 5:57 AM on May 2, 2010

Austin is exactly what you describe- a the cost of living is very low. I moved here 6 years ago from New York City and Chicago. I am a native Chicago guy- and I loved living up north- but Austin's laid back quality and high standard of living (and no state taxes) has won me over completely. Austin is not be be confused with the rest of the state- it is more Texas adjacent then Texas proper (I do not mean to imply anything negative about Texas- just that Austin is kinda its own liberal quality, ya know?).
posted by flyfsh_peter at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2010

So, more Twin Cities (Minneapolis) love here.

1. Good, liberal, Queer (specifically) and Trans scenes, know less about the G/L scene. I'm not a club kid myself.
2. No skiing, unless you like to ski on lakes and what not.
3. Not much camping, except up in the north woods.
4. Good beer and biking scenes. Great bike commuting (they even plow in the winter!)
5. Cheap (compared to the coasts)
6. Not terribly "city"... feels more like a collection of (good) small towns around a center.
7. Lots of Rails (fewer Django) web dev jobs, both corporate and otherwise.
8. High foodie/locovore concentration. Lots of co-ops, csa's, farmer's markets, chef-driven restaurants.


1. Weather / darkness. It gets COLD. Not so rough as Duluth though :)
2. Tech companies... there are plenty, but not many startups. No branch of Big G here :) Spend most of Minnebar last weekend discussing why Silicon Valley doesn't invest here.
3. We're not SF. If you want SF, you want SF!

NOTE: where you work can be different than where you live! I work remotely (we're hiring python web devs!) for a company based in Hanover, NH. I would love to have another coworker here.

I'd also plug for Boston/NH if you haven't looked at them. GREAT NATURE, but the GLBT and Kink scenes north of Boston seem a little lacking, in my looking.
posted by gregglind at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2010

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