I'm moving. I just don't know where.
January 16, 2011 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Where oh where should I live? Help me find my dream city.

Recommend a city for me to live in.

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest and have lived in Chicago and Cincinnati and liked both, but I want to think about other places, too.

My perfect, ideal city would be:

-a city with a sizable population of young people
-Population 300k-ish and up... I wouldn't mind living in a huge city, but I don't need to live in a huge city.
-preferably somewhere without harsh winters, but that's a more minor concern
-I'd like a city that was more dense and walkable rather than sprawling
-things to do...like a good music scene, interesting restaurants etc
-More left leaning politically. But I'd prefer a place with political diversity
-close to outdoor recreational opportunities and has a lot of parks within the city
-a place where people are more down to earth... as little pretentiousness as possible
-a place that feels older rather than shiny and modern
-sun! I'm not talking about the tropics, it can be sunny with a foot of snow on the ground, but weeks of overcast days at a time make me feel a little crazy

Obviously there probably isn't a place that meets ALL of these qualifications, but does anyone have any suggestions?
posted by geegollygosh to Travel & Transportation (47 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Howsabout Savannah, Georgia?
posted by hansbrough at 3:21 PM on January 16, 2011

Also Austin, Texas.
posted by hansbrough at 3:22 PM on January 16, 2011

Fort Collins is pretty close except for points 2 and 3.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:24 PM on January 16, 2011

Austin, Texas!
posted by jchaw at 3:24 PM on January 16, 2011

I hate to recommend Austin, because I'm scared of the day when literally every single person in the United States decides to up and move to Austin, and the rest of the country becomes barren ghost towns, and Austin becomes a hellhole metropolis, but...

Austin, Texas.

Fits all your criteria except maybe the walkability one (I'd say the downtown area is pretty walkable, though, and they have a reliable bus system — I survived without a car) and also, maybe, the "pretentiousness" one (there are some severely self-righteous hipsters in Austin).

I can't think of anywhere else that comes close to fitting all of your criteria.
posted by good day merlock at 3:27 PM on January 16, 2011

DC meets nearly all of these: lots of young people; winters are real but not gloomy or as intense as places farther north; very walkable; tons to do in terms of art, music, restaurants; leftish overall but has all kinds; near lots of state parks plus there's Rock Creek Park in the city and the Potomac River for kayaking; gorgeous late 19th/early 20th century neighborhoods.

The only one of your criteria it doesn't meet super well is having as little pretentiousness as possible. Sometimes it takes some work to find your crowd of down to earth people in DC, but it absolutely is possible.
posted by zahava at 3:30 PM on January 16, 2011

Charlotte, NC might be a pretty good fit.
posted by JaneL at 3:31 PM on January 16, 2011

I am not American but based on my visits, this sounds lke Madison, WI.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:32 PM on January 16, 2011

I live in Raleigh and it fits your criteria for the most part. The only exception is walkability, which will vary a lot based on where in town you'd live. There's quite a bit of suburban sprawl here, but a lot of people are living in or near downtown these days and public transportation is getting better all the time.

I'm also from the midwest and I love Southern winters, which are cold but not bitter and nasty. Small town North Carolina is conservative, but most of Raleigh is quite liberal. We are the state capital, so there is a lot going on politically, and we also have an active arts scene. There's a huge network of trails all over the city and several large parks within the city limits. I love that we're just a couple of hours from both beach & mountains, and Central North Carolina is truly beautiful - coming from the Missouri farmland, I feel like I live in a huge forest now. I've been here six years and am very happy with our decision to move here.
posted by something something at 3:34 PM on January 16, 2011

Not to be too big a homer, but New Orleans checks every single one of your boxes.
posted by CheeseLouise at 3:39 PM on January 16, 2011

Adelaide fits your criteria perfectly. It's a smallish, leftish, culture-mad State capital surrounded by a park where it's damn sunny. The standard joke of South Australians is Q. Why is the sky blue? A. Because you live in Adelaide.

Putting a bit of moderate sprawl aside, Sydney and Melbourne both come pretty close, too.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:42 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Boston. I grew up here so maybe someone else will have to judge the pretentious issue, I don't know if that is something you can see from within.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2011

Adelaide is fantastic, but, to my woe, South Australia is making it hard to immigrate.

Sacramento, California is seriously underrated. The burbs are sprawling but Midtown is walkable, and the bus system is manageable. It meets pretty much all of your other requirements. It does get slightly hotter than hell in the summer, but it has compensatory rivers and it's only an hour's drive from the mountains and the coast.
posted by gingerest at 3:53 PM on January 16, 2011

Seconding Fort Collins, CO.
posted by lilac girl at 3:57 PM on January 16, 2011

Portland, Ore. ticks all those boxes, if you can give up the need for sunny, clear skies. That we only seem to do well in the summer months.
posted by mumkin at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2011

Sun aside, what about Amsterdam?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:15 PM on January 16, 2011

CheeseLouise - doesn't sound like New Orleans to me...

- OK we do have a lot of "young people" but they're mostly uneducated
- Strong local music scene but we are usually skipped on national tours of major acts.
- The majority of people here are super-right-wing, with a dash of lefties in the actual city.
- There are a lot of historic buildings, but what sticks out most is the ridiculous amount of blight and neglect
- We do have two decent-sized parks but I don't think that they are winning any awards

Sorry to be bitter, I'm just way past my romantic views of this city, and I hate to give anyone who would think about moving here the wrong impression.
posted by radioamy at 4:22 PM on January 16, 2011

Have you checked out www.findyourspot.com yet?
posted by meindee at 4:27 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

This does sound a lot like Madison WI to me
posted by mjcon at 4:35 PM on January 16, 2011

I'd say that Boston is a close fit for your requirements with two exceptions:

- Left leaning, but not especially diverse politically.
- Somewhat pretentious. I work downtown, and there's a dremel shoe polisher in the entrance to the men's room on my floor. (For six months I didn't even know what it was.) There are also doormen by the elevators in the lobby. Outside of downtown it's better, though.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:58 PM on January 16, 2011

Asheville, NC?
posted by The Dutchman at 4:59 PM on January 16, 2011

Portland, OR.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:01 PM on January 16, 2011

It's smaller than your benchmark number, but Chattanooga, TN is a pretty great small southern city. Fastest residential internet in the country, as well (Gigabit fiber to your house!).
posted by griffey at 5:10 PM on January 16, 2011

Seattle or Portland sound much like what you want MINUS SUNSHINE. Other than that can't recommend 'em more

Oh, Charlotte's good too, but definitely more right-wing in general. Weather's mostly fantastic
posted by MangyCarface at 5:18 PM on January 16, 2011

Another vote for Portland and Seattle. If you can make it through the winter without seeing the sun for weeks at a time, the rest of the year is actually pretty decent and our summers are the best in the country. There's also not a lot of political diversity when it comes to the national issues, but tons of it when it comes to local issues like transportation and land use.
posted by neal at 5:28 PM on January 16, 2011

+1 for DC but agreeing about the pretension.
posted by rabidsegue at 5:29 PM on January 16, 2011

New Orleans?
posted by aniola at 5:38 PM on January 16, 2011

Philadelphia fits all of your criteria well! (some think the winters are harsh, but there are places with harsher winters for sure).
posted by bearette at 5:39 PM on January 16, 2011

Can't believe nobody's recommended San Francisco yet! Okay, not so politically diverse, but seems to meet the rest of your criteria.

I think your last bullet point destroys Seattle as an option.
posted by Talisman at 5:39 PM on January 16, 2011

-preferably somewhere without harsh winters, but that's a more minor concern

If this is even on your list at all, NOT BOSTON. I have lived in Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and effin' ICELAND and a Boston winter was worse than any winter I've ever spent in any of those other places. The wind comes in right off the ocean, which makes 30F feel like 10F (and oh, let's not talk about those days that actually ARE 10F and what they feel like). Sidewalks are poorly shoveled. The T becomes the cross between a joke and a nightmare.

Seriously, if you don't want to live through a harsh winter, don't pick Boston.

(As for a follow-up actual recommendation: Providence winters aren't much *better,* but they're slightly more liveable and Providence is several orders of magnitude less pretentious. I pretty much love the hell out of my weird little city. But still, we have the winters.)
posted by sonika at 5:47 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

These are great, thanks everyone!

The sun thing actually is pretty important. I think I would develop manic depression if it was only sunny one month of the year, although I think I would love the pacific northwest otherwise.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:51 PM on January 16, 2011

I've spent most of my life in Madison, WI, and that is not the answer. It has harsh winters, a population of less than 300K, plenty of pretentiousness, and not much political diversity (it's all left-wing). The central downtown/campus area is walkable (particularly State Street, which is a pedestrian heaven), but if you want to talk about Madison the entire city, it's fairly sprawling. There's a strict legal maximum on the height of buildings, which means the city can never be "dense"; there are no Madison skyscrapers. Also, Madison is obsessed with tearing down its old buildings and replacing them with shiny new ones.

Austin is a much better fit.
posted by John Cohen at 5:55 PM on January 16, 2011

We have lived in Louisville, Lexington (KY), Ann Arbor/Detroit, Dublin (Ireland) and have recently moved to Charlotte.

-Charlotte seems very young so far.
-Population for the whole metro area is nearly 2 million. It is very comparable in size to Cincinnati.
-We did just have a kooky ice storm, but locals promise me that some winters pass with no snow at all.
-The downtown (called Uptown) is very walkable. Some of the neighborhoods near Uptown are walkable. Outer Charlotte is quite sprawly.
-things to do...lots to do so far. I have found there to be a good variety of different things, but I am part of the UNCC campus, so that helps.
-I think Charlotte proper is left-leaning. Certainly much more so than Cincinnati. Outer Charlotte and NC in general are more right-leaning, although not as strongly as other places I have been.
-There are parks in Charlotte, but you are close to both some of the best parts of the Appalachians as well as an afternoon's drive to the Atlantic Ocean.
-I think down to earth is one of the better parts about Charlotte. You get a large city mixed with a general Southern tendency to modesty and casualness.
-This would be Charlotte's biggest weakness here and one of the few things I've heard locals complain about - most of the central core has been replaced by Charlotte's transformation into a national financial center. So, the city is pretty shiny. There aren't very many places here that have a historic feel.
-It's been plenty sunny so far.

To contrast with Louisville, which I also quite like : Louisville is smaller; even more down-to-earth (it's a fairly blue-collar city); more right-wing, but less so than Cincy; definitely has that hip older historic vibe; lots of strong theatre and music culture; not as young as Charlotte; can have harsh Winters, decent sunshine. Louisville is very affordable and is generally a hidden gem of American cities. The secret drawback for most people is that the city has one of the worst allergy ratings of any American city, because the Ohio River valley air system can be stagnant. Louisville can be very muggy and stultifying in the Summer.
posted by Slothrop at 6:20 PM on January 16, 2011

Wellington, New Zealand.
posted by dydecker at 6:41 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding Philadelphia -- meets all your criteria.
posted by Miko at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2011

For options outside the US, I like the suggestion of Wellington, NZ. However, the weather there would drive me batty, as it is often wild, wet and windy. In New Zealand, may I suggest Christchurch as a sunnier alternative? I lived there for six months and found it refreshingly quaint-but-modern, with temperate weather and lots of cultural and nightlife activity.

Within the US, I've often considered Honolulu to be my dream city. As a Canadian, it's considerably difficult for me to relocate there, but if I had a US green card/citizenship I'd move there in a heartbeat.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 7:54 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not in the US, but Vancouver sounds like a perfect destination, except for the November-March thing. But hey! Climate change! The last couple of years has been a little strange; lots more interludes of sunshine such that the joke about weather forcasts being wrong all the time... they're wrong even more often when they predict rain/overcast.

Although popularly thought of as being a rainy city, Vancouver has only 166 days per year with measurable precipitation on average, and 289 days with measurable sunshine. Nonetheless, from November until March, it is not uncommon for there to be 20 consecutive days with some amount of rain. [wikipedia]

Vancouver is a "big city" (no, not really) but doesn't feel like a metropolis. Instead of a monolithic "city," it's made up of a lot of neighbourhoods; many of which are totally walkable and most are serviced by a decent public transport system. I'm not really tied into the music scene, but the restaurant scene is great. The provincial (State) government has been right-of-center (although their name is BC Liberals, which has nothing to do with the federal Liberal Party), but most everybody you meet (not necessarily who vote) is politically/socially left/progressive. I accidentally ran into a white supremesist forum where they were discussing Vancouver - their overwhelming conclusion is that Vancouver is an absolutely awful place for the "racially concious." The pretention level depends a lot on the neighbourhood you're in, but even the oft-slandered Snobs of Kitsilano... don't really exist. Well, there are yoga-mat-carrying trophy wives with $500 strollers running around Kits during the day, but there are lots of university students who live there, too. Well, students from monnied families, mostly, but there's also the Mount Pleasant and Commercial neighbourhoods (although the rent/real-estate is going up, and you hear about people bad mouthing those neighbourhoods because of that). South Kits is more middle-class families/middle-class students and 5 minutes walk from "Kits" "Kits." I live in South Kits and it's 15 minutes by bus to the University, 5 walking + 10 by bus downtown, 15 to City Center. I can walk to the West End in 20, 25 minutes and downtown in 30. There are supermarkets and mom&pop produce places within 5, 10 minutes walk. "Specialty" Asian stores in 30 minutes, although the mom&pops carries almost everything that I'd find at the specialties.

The West Side (across the inlet from Kits is great; there's a "gay district" that's really rocking for everybody, not just for LGBT. The walk across the bridge takes about 10 minutes, and there's decent public transit over the Burrard bridge (and the Granville bridge). South Granville is the new(ish) place for students, but there's not a lot of new stuff going on - partially because the transit company eliminated the express bus down Granville in order to artificially inflate useage of the new RAV light rail line on Cambie. Just stay away from Yaletown (and, I guess, Gastown now - Gastown used to be an overlooked cool place to live, but it's been pretty gentrified lately). In most neighbourhoods, there are still houses from when the neighbourhood originally sprang up; lots of interesting architecture that hasn't been torn town to build soulless low-rise apartments. Except for the horrid "Vancouver Specials." A singularly vile, ugly single-family dwelling style.

Calgary is a possible alternative; Winters are uniformly bright blue-sky sunny. But cold. Summers are sunny and dry, spring and autumn also but with frequent brief torrents of rain.
posted by porpoise at 8:03 PM on January 16, 2011

I'm a Madison resident and Madison booster and I'm probably more on John Cohen's side -- it's about 200K and is noticeably not a big city. And obviously the winter's quite harsh -- though someone like you would probably tolerate our bright, bitterly cold days better than the three months of slushy rain you get in Seattle or Vancouver. Interesting music scene? Lots of good bands play here. Very few live here. Yes, there is a sprawly corona of Madison, but I mean, every metro area on earth is sprawly if the downtown core doesn't count. And, contra Jon, there's a lot of 100-year-old infrastructure still standing. Oh yeah, and pretentiousness is not very thick on the ground here.

I think Madison is great, but I think you want Austin more than Madison. Heck, it's possible you want Houston more than Madison.
posted by escabeche at 8:06 PM on January 16, 2011

Does it have to ever get hot? Does housing have to be affordable? If not, go with San Francisco, and for even more sun and less fog, try Oakland. And actually, if you do need real heat, you can get it down by Palo Alto or up by Santa Rosa.
posted by salvia at 8:50 PM on January 16, 2011

And, contra Jon, there's a lot of 100-year-old infrastructure still standing.

And it's probably scheduled to be torn up within the next year.
posted by John Cohen at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2011


15 minutes from downtown LA but removed enough to feel like a smaller town, not part of LA's sprawl. I live between two extremely walkable shopping districts, tons of good restaurants, and because you're so close to LA there's tons of theater and music.

Pasadena is at the base of the Angeles National Forest and as such, there are tons of green spaces and hiking trails about a 10-minute drive from anywhere in the city.

And oh yeah, it's 80 degrees here right now in January. Sun sun sun, as far as the eye can see.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:16 PM on January 16, 2011

Another vote for Madison, WI. Great little city. Winters are cold though.

Portland, OR is fun but a) it rains a lot and b) there are no non-service industry jobs.

Portland, ME maybe?
posted by bardic at 9:19 PM on January 16, 2011

New Orleans. It's sunny most of the time. We very seldom have two days in a row without sun. In this city we have history, charm, music, food, and joie de vivre like no other place. We've a great football team and an excellent basketball team. There are many waterways for boating and fishing. This is a city for leisurely bicycling; it's flat as a pancake. The two large parks are treasures for the live oaks alone. The only other cities in this country I could consider living in are San Francisco, Boston, Santa Fe, New York City or Washington but they are all too cold; they are more expensive, and I think they might trip the pretentiousness button as well.

This state is abysmally backwards. The city itself is left leaning and very diverse although not prosperous. There are drugs and violence as there are in every city. August is unbelievably hot and the hurricane season is a little scary but even that is much less traumatic than ice and snow. The city definitely is not clean and shiny but it is an exciting and endlessly fascinating place to live. The waitresses call you 'baby' and at almost any time you might hear through your window the music of a passing parade.
posted by Anitanola at 10:59 PM on January 16, 2011

Austin is so easy to love and for so many reasons, all of them real good ones. Just don't even consider moving here unless/until you've spent a week here in August, that's all.

Humid. No, really -- humid. It clings to you (me, anyways) like an old wet dishrag the minute you (I) head out the door. The hard humid weather starts in late April usually, goes through into October; I walked out of a job I had on Halloween, walked into the six pm sunshine and like 95 degrees -- brutality.

The spring and fall -- there is no winter, not at all, seems to me that we take a yankee fall and spring and slap them together, cuts the heart out of any cold-weather suffering. So that's the good weather news.

There's so much good here but hard to enjoy it if you are the sort who can't deal with the summers.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:46 PM on January 16, 2011

If you don't mind moving a long way, I think Bristol, UK (where I live at the moment) meets your criteria:
  • We have a sizeable population of young people, likely because there are two big universities in town.
  • Wikipedia says we have 400K people in the city proper.
  • It's definitely dense and walkable, I've been here 8 years and still haven't got a driving license.
  • Bristol definitely has a good music scene, being home of the "Bristol Sound", and all sorts of other stuff besides.
  • The town is fairly lefty; in American terms we are probably stark-raving communists.
  • We have lots of parks, and you can reach all sorts of pleasant countryside pretty easily; again, in American terms, everywhere in the UK is probably in striking distance.
  • Not too sure about the pretention; we have hipsters too, although I do remember reading that Bristol "won" the position of least fashionably dressed place in the UK at some point, so that's something.
  • Bristol definitely has an older feel; for example, the Matthew, on which John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1490-something, sailed from Bristol. Again, most of the UK probably has an older feel.
  • Sun! We've heard of that, yes. Seriously though, it does come out, I can see the sun right now.

posted by larkery at 3:04 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is another vote for Sacramento. Much of the city is sprawling but not the midtown area or close-in neighborhoods such as in Land Park, Curtis Park, or Tahoe Park. It is filled with Victorian through 1920s houses, has lots of restaurants and things to do in walking distance, is very flat so super bikeable, and has decent public transport. The American River Parkway goes right through town, and has a bike trail, river access, and lots of wildlife. Summers are hellaciously hit, but dry, and winters are mild and rainy. Sacramento is very ethnically diverse, and has a large southeast Asian population. This means great restaurants and unusual vegetables in the year-round fabulous farmers market. Rents are still pretty cheap, and there is a vibrant art and foodie scene.

Sacramento gets a bad rap, especially from people from the Bay Area, but it had a lot going for it. I grew up there and lived there until recently. I have lived in Portland, near Pasadena, and am currently in rural Western Massachusetts. Sacto is definitely my favorite place I have lived.
posted by apricot at 9:17 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't believe nobody's mentioned San Diego. There are parts of the city that feel old, there are multiple universities in the metro area so a pretty steady supply of young people, and most importantly to you, the weather is ridiculously wonderful to the point where sometimes I would feel angry and sad that not everyone in the world got to enjoy the same sunny day as me. It has tended to have a reputation for conservatism, but I think that like OC it's getting less so over time.

I think the thing you won't like is that it's laid out very modern - it's a new city, compared to many, and is definitely planned around cars rather than people. That being said, there are definitely little towns in the SD metro area that are walkable and pleasant - Ocean Beach occurs to me immediately - so you've just got to do a little research as to where in SD would be ideal for you. I lived near UCSD's campus while I was there and anywhere outside that area is still a little hazy to me. My husband and I talk about how we can move back to SD all the time.
posted by little light-giver at 11:19 AM on January 17, 2011

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