Moving to California... But, where?
May 22, 2012 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Moving to California in a few months. Central Coast, maybe? Any ideas, opinions, etc? See explanation...

We're looking at moving to California's Central Coast (SLO area) sometime in the next few months. We're not super-familiar with the area, so definitely looking for advice from those who may have a bit of knowledge. What's nice out there? We initially thought Atascadero, but have heard some incredibly "mixed" reviews.

Here's some info...

Us: Married. Mid-30's. No kids. One cat. One will work from home. The other has a background in HR (among other things) and will need to find a gig.

Where we're from: The "Frigid North" (Think: Just a shade south of Canada)

Activities: Outdoor fun (hiking, geocaching, biking, etc.), driving around, video games, garage/estate sales, etc.

Why the Central Coast?: The weather, relatively low pollution and somewhat lower cost of living, when compared to the rest of California. Also, it's close to San Francisco, LA, lots of State/National Parks and other fun-type stuff.

Looking for any information people might be willing to share regarding their experiences, good or bad. Thanks in advance! If you have additional questions, please let us know.
posted by thewalrusispaul to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's not a lot in the Central Coast. Atascadero is beautiful, but if you're not into agriculture/fishing, not a lot going on there. I like SLO, but other than the University, I don't know of a lot of opportunities for the one who needs a gig. What kind of gig?

Shift a hair north and check out Santa Cruz, that puts you in reach of some Silicon Valley options for work. Plus, Santa Cruz is awesome!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:24 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Santa Cruz is wonderful, but it can be pricy. I'd add the east bay to your list of options. In San Luis Obispo you're 3-4 hours drive away from LA or SF and their major airports, so excursions might be more effort than you imagine.
posted by spanishbombs at 1:30 PM on May 22, 2012

Agreeing with Ruthless Bunny that SLO is terrific, but the only work seems to be the University.

Working up the coast - Carmel, Monterey and Pacific Grove are all lovely, but work can be hard to find (mostly tourist industry). Also, beware that a lot of the Central Coast can be socked in by fog during the summer months, so you might want to ask if the home you are considering is in or above the fog belt, if that is an issue.

Santa Cruz IS awesome, but expensive, and you almost certainly need to commute into Silicon Valley for work (some people don't mind, some do). Farther north, there's Half Moon Bay, which is also pretty great, and closer to lots of work opportunities in San Mateo.

Also, all of the places I have listed have VERY different vibes. Carmel = wealthy golfers, huge art community and patrons. Monterey = lots of art as well, aquarium, huge tourist draw. Pacific Grove = somewhat more tucked away. Santa Cruz = University town, with an edge.

I live in Santa Cruz - feel free to memail me if you'd like more details. I LOVE it, but it's not for everyone.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 1:53 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I suppose "close" is relative, but Atascadero is not really close to anything, IMO. It's pretty darn hot there in the summer, as well. Can you talk specifically about what you're looking for? When I think Central Coast, I think of places where the climate is actually influenced by the coast, and not an inland town like Atascadero. You can be pretty close to hiking, biking, &c pretty much anywhere in California. If you're specifically looking for ocean access, I think you'd want to live in SLO proper if you want to be between SF and LA.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:54 PM on May 22, 2012

my half-sister lives in Atascadero. definitely has a small-town, agricultural feel to it. also, it can get CRAZY hot -- over 110. this may or may not be a problem for you.
along with looking farther north, I'd recommend looking farther south in Ventura. I grew up thereabouts and adore it; perfect weather, lots to do, just beautiful.
posted by changeling at 2:01 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Life-long Central Coast native here, fond of the outdoors, and traveling to LA and SF. I grew up in Santa Barbara, then moved to San Luis Obispo for college in the late 1990s, and I've been in this general area since then.

Santa Barbara is CRAZY expensive, and in comparison, San Luis Obispo seems like a steal. But in the area around SLO, the city of SLO is the priciest (ignoring super-upscale rural developments), and the smaller cities and communities are cheaper.

Housing is also split in the inland vs coastal areas, with coastal being more desirable, and more expensive to buy a home. But even along the coast, there are rural areas and more "urban" areas. Lot sizes range from ranchettes to 25 ft x 70 ft, and in some communities not all the roads are paved. From south to north, along the coast, the communities are: Nipomo, Oceano, Arroyo Grande [city], Grover Beach [city], Pismo Beach [city], Shell Beach, and Avila. These kind of run together, except for Avila, which is a quaint, pricy little community tucked away from the rest.

Then you go inland to SLO, and back out Highway 1 to Los Osos, which is unincorporated, not wholly paved, and is only now getting a community sewer system, though that's still a few years out. Morro Bay is a proper city, but heading north you're into SLO County again, in the beach town of Cayucos, the flyspeck of Harmony (population 18!), and up to the coastal pines of Cambria. Farther north still is the community of San Simeon, but I wouldn't suggest anyone move there unless you work there.

Inland and south: the City of Santa Maria is cheap, but is a rather depressing place to live, from what I've seen of it. Back into SLO County, there is no inland city until north of SLO, then you get Santa Margarita (a tiny, quaint, rural town), Atascadero [city], Templeton (rural, folks don't like "urban improvements" like sidewalks and gutters), Paso Robles [city], and San Miguel (small, pretty rural). Inland, you will need to get used to cold winters and hot summers, and will probably have AC in the summer, unless you're lucky enough to find a hill-top home with some coastal breezes.

Other weather anecdotes: Los Osos is actually COLD in the summer, as it's often foggy. I lived there one summer, and if I didn't leave the house, I often wore a sweater around. The same is true for areas of Nipomo and adjacent coasts, where summer fog can keep the temperatures in the 60s. Drive inland, staying within Nipomo, and the fog burns off, and it's a nice, sunny day.

Saint Paul, Minn has a larger population than the unincorporated County of SLO, and the largest city, population-wise is SLO, with 45k. There are also large populations of college students, both for Cal Poly and the near-by community college, Cuesta, but given the size of the town, it's not a "college town," but it does benefit from the younger population in terms of events. But if bands don't stop in SLO, they might stop in SB, and I realize 4 hours to a major city isn't that bad, especially considering there is one either direction. And the three airports in the area (SLO, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara), you actually have options for air travel.

But if you're not looking for things in the cities, the space between communities is wonderful. Plenty of hiking, the ocean for surfing, boating and kayaking, and even diving (which I would have doubted, until I met an avid diver a few weekends ago). If you want something different, Big Sur isn't too far of a drive, and there's also Pinnacles National Monument, a similar distance north, but inland instead of coastal.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:01 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

the central coast is great for outdoor activities and there are some great wineries but other than that…there's really not a lot happening— nor is it really near much (inland central coast is pretty agricultural and it gets hot in the summer so i'd recommend living at the coast) so depending on your definition of "close," it's at least an hour or two drive to anything more interesting (santa barbara, where i grew up, is about an hour south) town-wise and culture-wise. LA would be a good 3 hour drive and SF even more.
posted by violetk at 2:03 PM on May 22, 2012

Oh, while on the map San Francisco looks close, it's actually kind of a schlep up 101.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:07 PM on May 22, 2012

I'm from there and the trade for people who want to move (back) there is usually to get the job first. That's especially true for people in disciplines (like HR) where jobs tend to be in big institutions. There just aren't many big institutions there, because it's very remote in transportation terms -- a friend of mine used to joke you can get from LA to Tokyo faster and cheaper than you can get from SLO to Chicago. (This is an exageration but less so than you think.)

Atascadero has a rural / Central Valley feeling which means a mix of a pretty conservative agricultural-heritage long-time Anglo (white Ameican) majority and a fast-growing Hispanic minority which can be very rustic and conservative in its own way, too. Housing isn't cheap but it's not expensive.

San Luis Obispo itself has all the features of a non-metro college town, plus a good-weather tourist-and-retiree component, plus a moderately healthy entrepreneurial community (including my brother's company!). Very nice, housing maybe average California costs (in other words, quite expensive). About as cosmopolitan as a city that small can be.
posted by MattD at 2:51 PM on May 22, 2012

I'll add my voice to the chorus. The Central Coast has a lot going for it, but nightlife, jobs, and proximity to SF are not on the list. There aren't many large employers other than the local Polytechnic, and it's about a four-hour drive to the Bay Area. The cost-of-living is only low if you're comparing to LA or SF proper.
posted by lekvar at 2:55 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Los Angeles, white collar jobs are very hard to find. Many of my well-educated, experienced friends have been out of work for significant periods of time (like longer than a year). My work recently posted a $10/hour no-benefits job requiring a HS diploma and got 250 applicants in 48 hours; 200 of them had bachelor's degrees, and 15 had master's degrees. You are considering a place with much fewer people and fewer companies, but public universities and colleges (the major job market in the area you are interested in) are having huge budget cuts and more are on the way. The first place I worked was a public university and my department had 8 full time professional salaried staff when I started in 2006. They now have 1 full timer and 3 temps (no benefits) running it, due to budget cuts. Unless you can live on 1 salary for an extended time in a place with a 20% higher cost of living than the midwest (I am from Michigan), it might be a tough move.
posted by holyrood at 3:27 PM on May 22, 2012

I had to make this same decision myself about 18 months ago. Santa Barbara proved to expensive, and after a quick visit to the SLO-area, I decided it seemed a bit remote for me, even with all of the outdoor activities the region provides. We settled in Ventura, and haven't regretted a moment. The weather's phenomanal, the people are great, it's well situated for lots of outdoor activity. It's cheaper than SB and, obviously, LA, but close enough to each. In short, it's great. (Sorry, I often start to sound like a chamber of commerce ad.)
posted by unclejeffy at 8:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

SLO is not close to either SF or LA, unless a four hour drive is something you consider close. I live in Santa Cruz County and there are lots of great things to do here. The notion that you "need" to drive to Silicon valley to work from here is overstated. Plenty of people do, but there are obviously a whole city's worth of businesses in Santa Cruz as well that have people working at them.

There are lots of things to like about most different parts of the California coast, and you can pick your favorite locations based on this. Santa Cruz is about as far north as you can go and still have "beach weather" for most of the summer (the beaches in San Mateo county and SF and farther north tend to be cold, foggy, and windy most of the summer).

If you go far enough south, you get the sort of beach weather that shows like "Baywatch" made famous, but even SLO isn't really far enough for that, you want to get past point conception. However, eventually you'll get into the endless sprawl that is the L.A. Metro area, which runs nearly to the Mexican border. I don't much care for it, but if you do, then maybe that's where you'd want to aim.

Cost of living is largely correlated to your proximity to places with lots of jobs that pay well, like SF and LA. You can find plenty of nice, relatively inexpensive places if you get out of the way a bit, assuming you'll have work available.

You may find that you like Ventura for the same reasons unclejeffy does, or Santa Cruz for the same reasons Ink-stained Wretch and I do. I really think you should come and visit for a bit before you pick a town to live in.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:27 PM on May 22, 2012

Not a lot of work there, and it's about 6-8 hours from San Francisco. You should really visit there before committing, it's pretty damn remote.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:57 PM on May 22, 2012

TLF, what's 6-8 hours from SF? Ventura is 6+ hours, SLO is 4+ hours, and Atascadero is under 4 hours.

When people talk about "nothing to do," I think it comes from experiences in larger cities. The San Luis Obispo area touts the benefits of "the SLO life," and you can find sings saying "Slo(w) down, this isn't LA!" but that doesn't mean it's a cultural wasteland.

There are a few key venues for live in and around SLO, including a number of bars for more "personal" events, the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center for large, touring shows and performances, the Pozo Saloon for a really weird mix of shows out in the middle of nowhere, a golf course event center with a view of the beach (another weird venue with a random mix of shows). Travel south, and you have the annual Live Oak Music Festival, if like bluegrass, folk, jam bands, zydeco, and other sundry non-mainstream styles. Santa Barbara has more venues, too, bringing in larger names more frequently.

SB has a nice art museum, a decent zoo, and a lovely natural history museum. Up around SLO, there are similar things, but much smaller and scattered about. For me, finding these places is half the fun.

I'll stop shilling for this area, unless you'd like to know more. And if you do, I can go on for quite a while.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 AM on May 23, 2012

Yeah, I probably should clarify that. We do consider 4 hours close, from the perspective of taking day-trips and visiting family in LA & SFO.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 10:28 AM on May 23, 2012

Out of these comments so far, is there anything else you want to know?

Beyond outdoor fun (hiking, geocaching, biking, etc.), driving around, video games, garage/estate sales, etc., what are you looking for in a living place? Those are pretty generic features of much of California, and with family in both SF and LA, SLO is a pretty good fit. Given that you're looking for a job in HR, it might be trickier, but that's the case for many jobs when you want to live in a smaller community. I landed a job in my focused field, but it took a while. HR is less focused, but I imagine you'll be looking for larger companies/corporations, of which there are some around here.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:07 AM on May 24, 2012

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