Where should a Chicago girl move?
August 28, 2012 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Is there a place in this world for a picky Chicagoland girl to move?

My family and I have had a running "joke" for years about moving away from Chicago (this urge hits especially hard in the dead of winter). However, with the economy the way it is and most of us experiencing a case of professional stagnation and/or underemployment at present, the notion of moving is feeling less and less like a joke and more like an inevitability. However, I am a bit of a homebody and I love my city. I am also realistic about the fact that the economy is in rough shape throughout the country, so it almost seems pointless to move unless we leave the country altogether, or move somewhere really small town, which I am unwilling to do. Anyway, there are no immediate plans to make a move at this time, for both emotional and economical reasons, but just for the sake of argument, where could a girl like me be happy moving? My requirements include:

*Significantly better (warm & sunny) weather than Chicago. If the weather is close to the same, or only marginally better, then the move would be unjustified.

*Cosmopolitan. I like cultural diversity, and the quirky shops and tasty food that it brings. I like being in touch with the global community.

*Culture. I like zoos, museums, gardens, parks, and the like. I couldn't care less about the clubs or bar scene, but I am assuming that anywhere that meets the rest of my criteria will also have a hopping nightlife.

*Good food. I think it's going to be hard to beat Chicago for this one (other than Asian food on the west coast). I want an Italian beef, not a Philly cheesesteak, goddamnit! I want a real pizza!

*Concerts & Events. If there is a big concert on tour, I only want to ask WHEN they will be in town, not IF they are going to bother to stop by.

*Progressive/Liberal Vibe. I want to go somewhere with a gay-friendly and conservation-minded attitude. I want to be in a place where religion is just a personal choice that is as well tolerated as being non-religious.

Other points of importance include a close proximity to the airport (I like to travel) and proximity to areas of natural beauty. Pet friendly is also important, but I assume that as long as I am living in a single-family home I can at least have one dog anywhere.

The only places I've found that meet my criteria all seem to be in California, which seems prohibitively expensive. Also Portland, OR is of interest, but I am not sure if that is a place where most concerts and events would pass through. Also not sure if the weather is good enough there to justify the move.

Going to the furthest extreme I would even be willing to consider locations outside the good old USA, if only to enjoy universal healthcare (my husband and I are only in our 20's and in relatively good health, but already most of our savings have been depleted by ridiculous medical bills - I dread to imagine the future of those bills as we continue to age!).

I live in suburban Chicago as it is, so I wouldn't mind:

*Living a bit outside the main city (I might actually prefer it so I can use my car without horrific traffic).
*Some rough driving or traffic, since it's what I have to deal with here anyway.
*Living expense that is a little higher than the national average.
*Somewhere with some less than "safe" neighborhoods.

Basically I would live to find a Chicago with better weather, but since that is a dream, does anyone have suggestions for a place that comes close? Any other Chicagoans that tried/succeeded in moving? What were your experiences? Thanks!
posted by Angel de Lune to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by carmicha at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2012

Austin TX
posted by Fig at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Triangle in North Carolina meets most of your requirements, viz:

*To this New England boy, the weather is fantastic. The summer is long and hot, but not much more so than summer in the North, and the winter is soooooo much easier.

*The population of the Triangle sometimes seems to be dominated by people who moved here from away, including lots of foreigners, drawn by the tech companies and universities.

*The zoo is an hour away, but there are several great museums, lovely arboretums and fantastic State Parks.

*I am consistently impressed with the quality of the food here. I think it stems (again) from having so many "immigrants" from all over the country and world. We live in a small suburb in southern Wake County, and can get real NY style and quality pizza delivered from two different places.

*There is a lot of great music in the Triangle, but some of the bigger megashows do not come any closer than DC or Atlanta. Either of those is reachable by day trip, if you must go to a certain show, however.

*The "liberal vibe" is where we suffer a bit. Don't get me wrong, the Triangle itself is quite liberal, but we are in North Carolina, and state politics are still dominated by conservatives. That's changing, though, and will change faster if folks like you move in!
posted by Rock Steady at 10:11 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Former Napervillian here - I live in and love Austin - but it won't compare to Chicago with zoos and museums, but hits most of your other requirements.
posted by nightwood at 10:11 AM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: San Diego. Phenomenal weather (just try to keep you Chicago relatives away in January).

No real traffic.

The best zoo and wild animal park, lots of theaters, a decent opera, Balboa Park, the beaches.

Good (not great) airport, but you also have TJ airport and LA airport.

Tons of local stuff to do year round since the weather is always perfect.

Lots of farm to market food/restaurants. Great craft beer scene.

If you get bored of the beaches and canyons, you're driving distance to some of the most beautiful places - Yosemite, Big Bear, Santa Barbara, Catalina (ferry), Napa/Sonoma.

Happy people - I've lived all over the place and people are comparatively happy here.
posted by 26.2 at 10:14 AM on August 28, 2012

Portland is a place where most concerts and events pass through (or if they aren't in Portland proper, they're playing the Gorge instead).

On the other hand, you very probably won't like the weather. Very cold and/or snowy days are unusual, but something like Oct to Mar is grey and rainy. Not pouring buckets usually, but a lot of showers and drizzles. A lot of people don't realize how poorly they respond to that kind of weather.

Also, Portland's employment situation is kind of tight. Line up a job before/if you move there.
posted by asciident at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2012

Another vote for Austin, and this from a damn Yankee!
posted by caddis at 10:19 AM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: I recently visited Austin, at the start of summer, and let me tell you: fuck that heat. Seriously. It actually feels like you are being punished in hell, for at least 3 months of the year.

I'd say, given your requirements, check out Oakland / SF bay area. Berkeley maybe? It's pricier than Chicago, but everything is. I live in Chicago and this city is crazy cheap, and I don't think you can find real estate prices like this anywhere else in the US.

re: Portland; the rain isn't as bad as everyone makes it seem.

Vancouver BC is one of my favorite cities in the world.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great food, good museums and arts, lots of parks. Warm is not a problem. Bad traffic.

There are a lot of great places to live, but most of the suggestions are going to be much smaller cities and inevitably won’t have some of the things you’re looking for.
posted by bongo_x at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, Austin for sure. Mind you, if you're used to Chicago, the heat will seem even worse. But otherwise? Bingo.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: Consider St. Louis.

World-class zoo & art museum, both free. Tons of parks including a huge one (where the zoo and art museum are both located). Becoming more and more cosmopolitan, especially the university areas. Weather's probably more sunny and hotter on average, though maybe too marginal. Traffic's not a problem. You can live in the city or a suburb — we've got the full range from downtown loft living to picket-fence suburb. The Ozarks, as well as Southern Illinois, are fantastic (and because they're overlooked, quiet) outdoor areas. Great food, especially if you like Italian.

Airport, plus proximity to Chicago (it's less than an hour flight and on a direct Amtrak line) might be pros too.

Cons: Sometimes national tours don't come through. Weather maybe not different enough.
posted by brentajones at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd vote for Atlanta or Nashville. I grew up in the former and live in the latter now. I find Nashville's weather a wee bit closer to the midwest (you'll see a little more snow here than you will in ATL, but nowhere near what you're used to). Cost of living is generally lower here. Religion is a lot more public here than I noticed in ATL, though. Less traffic for sure, and a lot more house for your dollar. Acreage is still pretty inexpensive compared to anywhere around the Metro-Atlanta area.

ATL has more of what you're looking for in the way of culture and liberal vibe, though.
posted by jquinby at 10:33 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The only places I've found that meet my criteria all seem to be in California, which seems prohibitively expensive.

I don't think L.A. is any more expensive than Chicago. I rent a 1br apartment in a hip, gay-friendly, "hipster" neighborhood for around $1100, and there are better deals than that around. L.A. is really own expensive for buying a house.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:35 AM on August 28, 2012

*only* expensive
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: I am from Chicago and I live in Austin. I would not recommend Austin for you. I mean, I love Chicago, and I love Austin, but it doesn't sound like a great match for you. Austin is nowhere near as cosmopolitan or urban as Chicago. The arts scene is very DIY, not big-name art. It's liberal for Texas, but that's not saying much. We've got (IMO) one great pizzeria in Austin—and it's Brooklyn-style.

We had the hottest summer in US history last year. It was like being snowbound. I know Chicago has been having a hot summer. Believe me, it's not the same. I'm concerned that we're going to be looking at more summers like last summer.
posted by adamrice at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have friends from Chicago that just couldn't take it anymore and one winter just up and quit their jobs and moved to Phoenix on about 5 days notice. That was 20 years ago. They are still in Phoenix.
posted by COD at 10:43 AM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: Washington, DC is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place but it hits all of your requirements. It also consistently has one of the best job markets in the country due to all the federal agencies and contractors.
posted by lunasol at 11:01 AM on August 28, 2012

I grew up in Chicagoland and have traveled and lived all over this fine country, and lemme tell you, you're not gonna get an Italian beef anywhere else so just give up the quest now and start liking cheesesteaks (it worked for me between Portillo's fixes).

As a city, may I recommend Denver? Everyone thinks the winters there are horrible but they are SO WRONG. It'll be cold and snowy one day, but then the next is like 50s and sunny, so the snow melts right away, and the sun shines 300 days a year so there's none of that nasty black Chicago snow or gray skies from November through March. I've worn flip-flops in Feb/March in Denver! And since it's the only decent-sized city between Kansas City & Las Vegas, everybody stops there on tour.
posted by jabes at 11:16 AM on August 28, 2012

Out of left field: have you considered actually moving to Chicago itself? I mean, not the suburbs?
posted by aramaic at 11:31 AM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: Religion is a lot more public here than I noticed in ATL, though.

I've lived in Nashville and Atlanta. In Nashville when you're first introduced, the question they ask is: "What church do you go to?"

I'm living in Atlanta now. Great food city. Exploring the cultures on Buford Highway alone will keep you filled with noms.

Excellent museums, zoos, gardens, etc. Major sports covered, with Major League Baseball downtown and AA Baseball just a few miles north on the freeway. Not to mention the WNBA. (We lost hockey, boo!)

I choose to live ITP (Inside the Perimeter) and our 3/1.5 on a quarter acre sells for around $200,000 these days (we bought for a hair more.)

We have Ikea.

Our job market is decent, pay, not great, but not terrible.

Decent enough public transportation, not great though, but if you need to use it to work downtown, it's serviceable.

Largest airport in the country.

Lot's of cute places to hike and explore. The Smoky Mountains are just 3 hours away.

Atlanta is a pocket of liberal thinking in a very conservative south. Well, there are pockets within the pockets. Decatur is great, Forsythe county, not so much.

We had snowpocalypse a couple of years ago. Snow and ice closed the entire city because THE plow was out of commission. Also, they forgot to order salt.

All things considered, you could go further and fair worse than Atlanta.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:47 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for locations outside the US: I've never been there, but from everything I've heard about Melbourne, it sounds like it hits every one of your points.
posted by theodolite at 12:11 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To aramaic: I lived in Chicago proper, years ago as a kid. But in any case the winters would be as bad there as in Schaumburg. :) Moving around this region is easy; it's other parts of the country and the world I need an insider's perspective on! And I do appreciate all of the suggestions and the justifications for those suggestions that people have posted.
posted by Angel de Lune at 12:11 PM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: I also wanted to chime in for Washington DC.

DC is the home of international diplomats and their families, so the city literally has people from all around the world. Also, DC is home of the Capital Pride festival, which hosts a spectacular LGBT parade every year. Since the city has been in a state of significant growth for the past decade(mostly in the technology and federal sector), there is very large 20s-30s year old population in the area. This is unlike, say, Pittsburgh, which is a very nice city, but is in a state of decline, so there are more older generation folk than younger generation.

DC is very close to several other major cities, most notably Richmond and Baltimore, which is great for day trips. Philadelphia is 3 hours away and NYC is about 5 hours away. Also, West Virginia is very close if you want to get away from the city and enjoy some hiking, skiing, white water rafting, etc.

I would agree with the other poster and say that DC is kind of a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place. The culture here is very...uh...political, which is understandable since it *is* the capital of the United States. It really isn't a bad thing, per se, plus there are so many differing political views supported here that you won't be outcasted for having one particular view, but it will definitely keep you on your toes with regards to political news in general.

That aside, the political atmosphere doesn't mean that everyone in D.C. is boring and pompous. I think that people in D.C. tend to be more politically opinionated than in other areas of the U.S..
posted by nikkorizz at 12:14 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Denver.

Natural beauty: check.
Great weather: check. (For a place with an actual winter, it is surprisingly tolerable. It snows, but the snow melts quickly, because it's almost always sunny. The humidity is very low, and that makes both heat and cold more comfortable.)
Excellent museums, zoos, gardens, etc. Major sports covered, with Major League Baseball downtown: check.
Cosmopolitan: not the most worldly, but more so all the time.
Culture. I like zoos, museums, gardens, parks, and the like: check.
Good food: check.
Concerts & Events: check. Examples: Red Rocks. Pepsi Center.
Progressive/Liberal Vibe: check.

The airport is not "close," but have seen our airport? Taxes are low. Energy is cheap (we consistently have among the lowest gas prices in the country). There is good public transportation.
posted by caryatid at 12:41 PM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: As a Chicagoan living in Los Angeles (after more than a dozen years I still think of myself that way, though I doubt I'll ever move back, because WINTER) I just wanted to share a couple of things...

#1: for years I found Los Angeles to have great food -- in particular, shrimp and other seafood is just so much better here I cannot express to you how bad it is in Chicago -- but boring choices, and only recently (with the help of an LA native) have I discovered how amazingly diverse and delicious options there are here. Still can't get a Chicago-style spring roll, but there's definitely pizza that's better than Chicago (sacrilege!) and a few hot dog places (Vicious Dogs and, ironically, Taste Chicago) that are as good as or better than (although not really like) Chicago dogs (I still miss Superdawg.)

#2: it is really really bright and sunny in these nice-weather places, so plan to adjust your lifestyle to include sunglasses (they're not just for celebrities), a garage space for your car so the interior doesn't warp, and a general sense of wishing there were clouds in the sky once in a while. Oh, and you'll feel like you squint a lot.

#3: without a lot of rain, things get covered in particulate matter. You know that beautiful clean smell after a rain, and how you can leave stuff in the backyard for months and it is still clean because it rained last week/it is still intact because the sky is generally cloudy? Yeah, not here; leave something outside for a week and it will be covered in a film of particles and over a few months dried out/warped if it is made of wood.

This is not me recommending Los Angeles, obviously; rather, this is me suggesting that some of the things you think are unbeatable in Chicago are actually totally beatable (the food in particular) and that some of the benefits of amazing weather actually have significant downsides for a native midwesterner.

Oh, and you'll have the pleasure one day and realizing "you mean I don't have to feel cold and have sinus problems half the year?" -- for me it was during a drive back, where after several hours I pulled over to get gas, got out of the car in a t-shirt to find it freezing and my car covered in ice, and thought "I never want to go back to WINTER ever. Ever."

Good luck!
posted by davejay at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2012

I grew up in New England, then lived in Chicago for 25+ years. Briefly in the N. Woods of Wisconsin (oh hai! -20 with a wind chill of -40! No thank you!).

You might enjoy Portland, MAINE. At least check it out for a visit. Yes, we have winter, but we have friendly people. Amazing summers, with so many beaches and other country outings that I have to decide where do I go this weekend? Sunday it was Reid State Park, just chillin' on a beach with my man.

I don't know what your field is, but there are several university towns here, and Portland definitely has a liberal slant, good food, an art museum, there is a zoo in York County and a rehab wildlife center in Grey. Hiking clubs, a strong feel for gay rights (hopefully we'll get the marriage issue passed soon!). People here know people, they are helpful, there is not the harshness nor the urban sprawl of Chicagoland merging into Rockford, that armpit of the Midwest, where I had the unfortunate experience of living for a few years.

For instance, we had a temporary setback and were struggling to make our car loan. I called the credit union, and it was like, "oh no problem, deeyah! Can you do $60 a week? Fine, you just make up the rest whenevah you can, deeyah."

Or, I went to the Farmer's Market in my town and bought some freshly made yogurt, made from milk from local cows, not on hormones. "Oh, say, head on down to the farm and they're building a brick oven, check it out!" I did, and found several liberal type folks sitting around a tarp of clay, making balls of clay. All of a sudden I found myself taking off my rings and sitting around a circle of lovely, wonderful HUMAN people, making mud balls, joking around. They gave me free lard to make soap with, and I gave them back soap made from their lard. They run a place, like many i Maine, where you just go to a shed or stand, drop in your money on the honor system, and take your fresh eggs or produce.

Yeah, the winters are tough, but we all have generators and the guy down the road will plow us out, and 1/3 of Mainers own Subaru's. We all know who is good and who is a cheapie or a jerk, from Presque Isle to Bangor to Portland, where you can find belly dancing classes given by an all star, free Friday night art walks, film makers doing zombie TV pilots, and the food, oh.. the food. Ask Cortex and Jessamyn about the food in Portland. It boggles the mind. Come to Maine, you can always go back to Chicago for the Beef Villa, but we have it all going on here. Local cheese, veggie stands, and a huge liberal population in Portland. And the ocean. You won't regret it!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:26 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you're basically talking about Berkeley and the parts of northern Oakland (Rockridge, etc.) that border it. San Francisco fits your criteria as well, but Berkeley and Oakland are warmer, sunnier and cheaper than San Francisco while still offering some level of urban living. You're obviously aware of the cost of living issues in those cities, which are getting significantly worse by the year.

It is possible to find affordable housing in Oakland, depending on how dodgy of a neighborhood you're willing to live in. However, be aware that the highest crime parts of Oakland can rival the south side of Chicago, while the best parts are very nice places to live. You'll pay accordingly.

You could look at some places in the north bay that are less expensive, like Novato, Sonoma, Petaluma or Santa Rosa, or in the East Bay, like Walnut Creek. Some of those cities have cute little downtowns, but they're suburbs. You're close to culture, but not in it, and the commute to San Francisco from the north bay is nearing impossible. The BART train goes out to the east bay and it's cheaper than the city, so commuting is better. The east bay is also MUCH warmer and sunnier than the city. But again, realize that you'll be close to the good cultural stuff (30-45 minutes) and not in it.
posted by cnc at 4:47 PM on August 28, 2012

Best answer: I grew up in downtown Chicago and lived in the northern suburbs before moving to Florida a few years ago. I've lived in several places in this state and just love it down here -- I promise it's not all just old folks and tourists.

Check out St. Petersburg or perhaps the Channel district of Tampa. Channelside is a walking community of sorts and there's plenty of culture all over the area. I mean lots. The entire Tampa-St.Pete area is filled with good opera, theatre, symphony, museums, history, and so on. As far as concerts go, if bands don't come here (and they almost always do), they end up in Orlando which is only about 90 minutes from here. There are loads of independent restaurants all over the place and good food is easy to find.

Tampa in general, and St. Pete in particular, is beyond LGBT-friendly. The freak force is wonderfully strong around here. In fact, St. Pete is really very welcoming, and it's not just lip-service. Ybor City, a cool and quirky community, sits right between Tampa and St Pete. Not a place to live, but definitely a LGBT club scene.

Just across the bridge, St. Pete is really a hidden gem. Now, don't get me wrong, there are some really shitty sections, but you say that's not a deal-breaker, so you're good there. There's a bohemian, hippie, eccentric area that's really cool and a great place to just hang out with like-minded folks. The area is quite liberal and the fact that the RNC is here this week has lots of locals about ready to scream. Driving is kind of sucky but if you're used to the Edens, etc, the highways here are a cakewalk.

I could go on and on about this area. I'm absolutely captivated by the local beauty (holy crap, the water, the beaches, the sunsets) and thrilled with pretty much everything about it. I can't say that I don't get homesick for city living every now and then, but I'm so happy here that the angst never lasts long.

I'll stop yammering now before I start to sound like I work for the Chamber of Commerce, but feel free to message me if you want more info.
posted by _Mona_ at 6:14 AM on August 29, 2012

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