Does our dream city exist?
September 10, 2013 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Help us find our dream city! We are looking to relocate, but don't know where to. And we are oh-so-choosy. Wall-of-text of our requirements within.

This is anonymized because we haven't told family our intentions to pull up the stakes yet.

The Mr. and I are looking at moving in the not-so-distant future. Neither of us have traveled much, and we want to find a place that pushes our buttons (in the good way).

We recently had an impromptu trip to Las Vegas, where we dined on amazing food on the cheap, saw a few great shows (which we managed to get in for free!), and all around just had a blast (we only played a few penny slots, gambling isn't our thing). We are generally pretty thrifty people, and currently live in the upper Midwest where the cost of living is low. Coming home to the same-small-town-with-nothing-to-do felt awfully bleak. We've been talking about moving for a while now, but we just don't know where.

Our dream would be:

A suburb or town near a large city, we like single family houses in quiet neighborhoods with big yards. We don't have kids, but that may change in the next 10 years or so. We'll see. We are early to bed, early to rise types. We love video games, music, food, and animals.

The city itself would have:

- Jobs in the tech sector. Mr. is a Network Admin. I do web design, and prefer not to freelance. I am not in love with my field, and wouldn't mind temping or finding a new career path, but he's pretty tied to Tech.
- Amazing eateries. We both love Southwestern and authentic Mexican cuisine, but good food is good food.
- Entertainment! We really enjoyed the shows in Vegas. Our little city has a movie theater, but we are bored with that. I love going to art exhibits, which he (good-naturally) tolerates. Every so often we will travel to Chicago or Milwaukee to catch a band we love, but it's usually a 2-6 hour drive which is really pushing how far we want to travel for entertainment. I loved the bustle of Vegas, the window shopping, and the people watching, but we don't want to live in the middle of that. Just near the bustle.
- All four seasons. We require winter, and wilt in the heat of the desert.
- (near) Beautiful surroundings. Mountains! Streams! Lakes! Rolling hillsides! Fresh water for the puppy to swim in!
- A dog park. We have a big playful dog who requires tons of exercise. Walking doesn't work, he needs to run (or swim).
- Not too expensive. We are penny-pinchers.
- Not in the stone ages. No political-extremists allowed in this uterus.

This last one may just be a pipe dream but:

- Super friendly people. We are both from the sort of towns where strangers walking down the street wave as you drive by them. We grew up never locking our front doors and leaving the car running if we popped into the gas station during winter. I know that friendly =/= crime free.

One thing I noticed about Vegas is a LOT of people (mainly other women) would look me up and down and wrinkle their noses. I've never experienced anything like that here in the Midwest, and it was a shock. (I am a chubster who dresses for comfort.) My sister who lived on the west coast (LA) and reports there is a real pressure to be thin and fashionable. This would make me just miserable and probably decimate my already problematic self-esteem.

We are interested in living somewhere not-here, and Mineappolis and Chicago are a little too close to here. We have visited them each a few times, and haven't ruled them out, but we are just Not In Love. Metafilter, does our dream city exist?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If this weren't anonymous I would just memail you, as I really don't want to be the person who recommends Chicago as a blanket perfect amazing place for every where should I live question, but. Chicago. You have been to Chicago but are not in love with it. I just want to say that if you are used to coming into Chicago for shows and tourist things, you're really not getting the full picture of Chicago. There is SO much city here, even neighborhoods with streets full of houses and yards and friendly neighbors that don't feel anything like a "city" in the stereotypical way we think of cities as being.

Maybe you have experienced this and Chicago still doesn't do it for you. That's cool. But it's always good to know what's out there.
posted by phunniemee at 5:58 PM on September 10, 2013 [13 favorites]

I bet you'd like Denver (or a suburb thereof).
posted by xbonesgt at 5:58 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Gulf coast of Florida seems to be populated by nothing but " Super friendly people". Went there in May (from LA) and was mildly stunned at how clean everything was, how nice people were, and how cheap it was. Can't speak about work, but Sarasota, and environs seemed pretty nice.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:00 PM on September 10, 2013

It's funny that someone said denver, because i was going to say seattle. And lately i've heard and noticed that there's a weird current flowing both directions between the two and have been told repeatedly they're super similar. "Sister cities" if you will.

You could start a huge argument about whether there are super friendly people here, and whether the "seattle freeze" actually exists or not. There's definitely none of that negativity/appearance elitism you mentioned going on in vegas and LA here though.

The housing market here is getting a little screwy, but it's still really cheap for what the city is and is becoming(and WAY cheaper than say, the bay area). Especially when you compare it to other big coastal cities with lots of art/food/tech jobs. If it seems to expensive to you, i'd honestly also say go check out Portland.

There's a huge flow of people between here and there as well, and they often feel very very similar. Although more like two best friends who have their own vibes but definitely get along than siblings.
posted by emptythought at 6:03 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

San Francisco really fits amply all your desires, minus the four seasons and cheapness. However, tech jobs pay pretty handsomely here. My boyfriend was working as a software engineer in Pittsburgh, and literally doubled his salary when he got a job in San Francisco. Tech skills are so in demand that his company also paid for our move. Plus you can get the winter experience by driving 3 hours north to Tahoe for tons of snow/winter sports. So if you are flexible on those two points, I think you both would really like San Francisco.
posted by amileighs at 6:03 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Philadelphia suburbs. There are a lot of suburbs with different standards of living, but you can find plenty that are on the cheaper side.

3 restaurant weeks a year. Local breweries. Several music venues, lots of museums, etc. First Friday is a huge thing.

You won't get super-friendly in the city, but you *will* get it in the 'burbs. I grew up in a place where we never locked our door, knowing all my neighbors, playing in the street with the neighbor kids, and lots of people had dogs. The indoor/outdoor cats in the neighborhood never got hit by cars or eaten by wildlife. Good school districts in the suburbs too (not so much in the city).

And definitely all four seasons. Right on the border of areas that have brutal winters.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm thinking that "lovely liveable area next to a large city with tech jobs" is likely to be incompatible with "inexpensive". With that in mind, Berkeley could be inexpensive from a certain point of view (ie if your basis of comparison is San Francisco next door.) and seems to meet all the other points. Perhaps go more inland than that to get lower prices.

Look into the Greater Seattle Area as well.
posted by anonymisc at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to the job market, and it's a bit hot in the summer, but one of the suburb cities of New Orleans sounds like it would work for you. Tons of stuff to do (we just had the Broadway production of Wicked, universities do great summer Shakespeare series, music all the time etc.), FOOD, we don't have hills but we are near a lot of greenery and water, and the people here are super accepting of many lifestyles and looks. We have an annual Red Dress Run where all participants including males of all shapes and sizes put on a red dress.
posted by Night_owl at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2013

Check out Dallas and the suburbs around it (especially Plano!). There are a lot of tech companies based in the area, many great restaurants, several museums and performance venues, beautiful scenery (and clean streets). Since it's in the plains of Texas, there are lots of wide open fields and dog parks. Incidentally, you'll also get to experience all four seasons because of this. I was surprised by how friendly people were when I visited (I'm from the northeast). I'm not sure about the costs of living in the area, but you'll definitely be able to find a place to live that will suit your needs.
posted by jdgreen at 6:08 PM on September 10, 2013

Another vote for Denver.
posted by scody at 6:09 PM on September 10, 2013

Nthing Denver. One great thing about it is that since it's kind of in the middle of nowhere (relative to other large cities), almost every band/show comes through here on tour. Lots of transplants (many from the midwest) so people tend to be pretty friendly. And the dogs. Oh my God there are so many dogs.
posted by jabes at 6:15 PM on September 10, 2013

Louisville would be my choice. Tech is a little slim there, but not impossible to find. Nashville's sort of the same way, but I'm afraid the political leanings may be a little weird there.
posted by deezil at 6:15 PM on September 10, 2013

Boise! Cheaper than Denver, not as crowded, lots to do if you like nature.

You can do the suburbs or be within walking distance of downtown and still live in a house with a yard for the dog.

Tech jobs are a growing thing.

Southwest food! More and more ethnic restaurants. There's plenty of live shows and theater, the Philharmonic, the Boise Art Museum and lots of small galleries.

It's high plains desert, and we get some hot ones, but there is four seasons with skiing available in Bogus Basin and Sun Valley. A few triple digit days, some snow, some wind, but never enough that you're just miserably sick of it all. (You have to live in Mtn Home for that. :)

A couple of dog parks, and plenty of dog friendly parks. There's the Greenbelt through the center of the city that goes for miles and miles, plus the Foothills hiking paths and the huge Reserve park area.

The negative is that it's a Republican state, but our Democrats are pretty vocal, and I haven't found it to be bonkers crazy, like some places. We have an asshole governor (come help vote him out)

People are very friendly, and I've never felt (very) uncomfortable if I've misguided the dress at a fancy dinner or had women look at me disdainfully. Shall we say I am of sturdy peasant stock?

The beauty of Boise is that it's near to many places of interest: Sun Valley and McCall for recreation. Not to far from Jackpot, NV if you like to gamble. Reasonably close to the Tri-Cities if you want to hop a cheap plane for a 75 minute flight.

Seattle and Portland are great, but you really have to like rain mold and slugs, and they're much more expensive and quite a bit bigger than Boise. To be fair, they'd be my second and third choices--lots to do, weather isn't that bad, but the traffic is a PITA and IMHO, people have more of a big city, big bucks, not as friendly attitude.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:15 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would move to North Carolina in the Raleigh, Chapel Hill area. Research Triangle. Four seasons (although humid in summer) friendly people, lots of culture from the nearby universities, and plenty of small town feel.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:18 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Other than the 4 seasons Atlanta ticks off all the boxes. 90 minutes north to mountains, 5 hours South or east to the beach, major river flowing through the city, cost of living is not that different than the Midwest, all the usual big city activities, and a decent tech job market.
posted by COD at 6:19 PM on September 10, 2013

May I recommend somewhere in the Washington DC suburbs? We live in Springfield, VA - and it basically has everything you're looking for.

Another possibility would be Bozeman, MT. It actually DOES have four seasons. It's a college town, so there's nightlife, art, and great restaurants. You can't beat the view and the outdoor activities. It's also a hotbed of IT jobs given it's proximity to Seattle and SanFran (Microsoft is a notorious poacher of IT grads from MSU...).
posted by matty at 6:20 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're ruling out the entire Greater Minneapolis Metro-Sprawl right off the bat, then I couldn't see Chicago working for you either. Because I was gonna recommend Seward.

What's nice about Denver is that if you don't really care much about the East Coast, Denver is like a short two hour Southwest flight from everywhere.

Vast sprawling suburbs, pretty damn awesome outdoor culture, surprisingly great southwestern culture and food, and when your relatives visit, you can make fun of them when they get altitude sickness.
posted by Sphinx at 6:20 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Boise (very outdoorsy, decent tech market, known for being conservative but I don't think you'll be uncomfortable if you're not)

Boston suburbs (classic seasons, good access to a city that's small but world-class, excellent tech job market) - although Boston does tend to be more... not stylish exactly, but fashion-judgy, if that's a problem for you.

Research Triangle, NC
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 6:27 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would suggest some city on the rocky front range (Denver, Ft Collins,Etc), or maybe check out some smaller towns (still pretty big and very urban though).

Albuquerque-It is a very interesting town with the best Mexican food in the world (USA at least-little joke there). Living is fairly cheap there is a strong tech sector there and it is smack in the middle of New Mexico. Great day or weekend trips to enough amazing things you won't live long enough to explore them all. It is a regional city so lots of major tours stop there. A fantastic art scene locally and even more with Santa Fe and Madrid so close. The hot weather can be a little much for about two months (highs somewhere around 100 usually) but relief can be had in lots of nearby mountains, and 100 their isn't like 100 in the midwest due to the lack of humidity. A very definite winter season and world class ski resorts nearby (if you are interested). I would carefully scope out the job situation before moving their since New Mexico is mostly full of grinding rural poverty except for Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but the best scenery in the world
posted by bartonlong at 6:27 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

CLEVELAND! East side or West side, you will TOTALLY find your people here.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:32 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think Research Triangle/Raleigh/Durham really ticks all your boxes. Even though it's in the south it does experience four seasons (I was there for a snow "storm"). It's inexpensive, quite beautiful, and there is seriously a ton of stuff going on. The locals are so nice - like, so nice that I sometimes looked forward to going to the grocery store just for the friendliness of the staff. People everywhere can be mean to overweight people, but I don't think you would find that to be a general, cultural thing around Raleigh.
posted by imalaowai at 6:52 PM on September 10, 2013

Before I reached the end of your question, I was literally going to say "Minneapolis or Chicago." I will submit that living in either is totally different from visiting, but I get the desire to go faaaaaar away, even if it means eventually resettling closer to home. In fact, I think that's a good thing.

I went to DC for six weeks this summer (the worst time, I hear), and it was amazing. Living in the suburbs there might be cool... words really can't express how much I loved that li'l district.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:55 PM on September 10, 2013

Nashville, TN - I lived there for a few years and it has everything on your list. It's not considered a tech hotbed, but there's tons of work in the medical sector which relies heavy on tech. Plenty of jobs, cheap, gorgeous, lots to do, wonderful people.

Dallas, TX - Everything on your list, but the seasons are extreme. HOT in the summer and there can be icy roads in the winter.

San Diego: Everything on your list, except cheap. Clean, friendly, lots of jobs, tons to do (and a lot of it is free).
posted by 26.2 at 6:57 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gonna put in another vote for Durham, NC. I work at an ad agency here and have lots of friends at tech companies in the area (Nvidia, Red Hat, etc.). The cost of living is good, downtown is bustling, new places open up every month, there are tons of places to hike and swim,we are three hours from the mountains, three hours from the beach, and I like to think we are all pretty damn nice.
posted by missjenny at 7:03 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Two more additions to why Durham is such an awesome place:

Entertainment! In addition to being the home of the Durham Bulls (I could give a crap less about baseball, but I LOVE Bulls games), Durham is also the home of the Durham Performing Arts Center, which has all kinds of great shows all the time.

And food-wise, Southern Living did just dub us "The Tastiest Town in the South."

Okay, I'll stop now :)
posted by missjenny at 7:25 PM on September 10, 2013

I live in Albany, CA, which is a small town wedged up next to Berkeley. It is not cheap, but it's hard to find a suburb with yards and in reasonable commuting distance from tech jobs that is. Your options would be to compromise on cost of living, commute time, yard size, or tech-mecca-tude.

One thing I like about Albany is that I have found the civic institutions - police, school, permit office - to be exceptionally helpful and friendly. Albany puts on a film fest, community bike rides, free music in the park, etc. And all the events in SF, Oakland, and Berkeley are easy to get to.

Also we don't have 4 seasons, more like 2. No wilting heat, but no real winter either.
posted by expialidocious at 7:39 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nashville again. It really does tick all of your boxes.
posted by grounded at 7:55 PM on September 10, 2013

Salt Lake City. Forbes rated fourth best job spot in nation for tech jobs. Four seasons. At the base of incredible mountains. Good cost of living. We get great music here, and have a lot of local culture and art. Dog friendly. Now here's the key: live in Salt Lake City proper. It's a wonderful liberal island in the middle of a sea of conservatism. I have a great liberal life here in a funky affordable neighborhood close to downtown. Restaurants, music, art every weekend. Dog park a mile away. If you're still too scared by the Mormon thing, I agree Denver or Boise are worth a look. Have fun following your dreams!
posted by Jandoe at 8:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been to many of the suggested places above and will give you my feedback on the answers (not to disagree with the commenters since there is a subjective element here and they are valid answers).

I have similar tastes to yours, particularly with food and frugality and four seasons weather.

Cities that are not amenable to frugality: San Francisco, Boston, and possibly Seattle. I would just rule SF out entirely, but Boston and Seattle I think you could consider, because they are both just amazing places to live that I am sure you would love for other reasons, and in my experience, there is a frugal way to do city life and a non-frugal way. You can take the frugal path in even an expensive city, it just requires a little more creativity and planning. If you are used to living in a small town, you might not be familiar with all the ways in which city life can enhance a frugal lifestyle, but mainly it's the specialty consignment or special warehouse/deal kind of places that don't exist elsewhere, and the selection of stuff available on the secondhand market (like Craigslist) is so much better than small town places. Living in a city that has wealthy suburbs also gives you access to secondhand retail markets and for-sale-by-owner markets that have higher quality things on them. I do think Boston would require you to give up the "big yards" item though, unless you were living pretty far outside the city, say 30-40 mins out (with light traffic).

Cities that (in my humble opinion) aren't worth it for foodies: Cleveland, and probably Boise (guess it depends on how much you like steakhouses). I am not saying that there are no good restaurants in those places, just relative to other cities you could consider, these places don't measure up as well.

Relatively less impressive scenery: many places in the country are within at least a half hour drive of some kind of forests or hills, but your question implies you're looking for something a little more dramatic here. Therefore I would say that Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Chicago would not be at the top of my list for scenery. Nashville is pastorally pretty but I would call it 'nice' rather than 'beautiful!'

So after all that, I guess I'd say from the suggestions out there, I think Denver and Portland OR are top picks. Albuquerque is an interesting possibility too. Durham has less of a coolness factor but I think it's a good runner up. And if you're up for an international move (you're probably not willing to go this far but...) New Zealand gets a huge hearty endorsement!

Also, don't believe the rumors. I've been to almost every state and people are very nice everywhere in America.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Melbourne! Sure, it's in a different country but:
- jobs in tech sector
- so much good food. Not so much with Mexican (although it's finally starting to catch on) but Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Indonesian, Tibetan, Nepali, Lebanese, vego, non-vego, pub food, fusion cuisine, you name it. Melbourne is the foodie heaven city. We have a Food & Wine Festival every year.
- entertainment - there is always some kind of festival happening, and if there isn't one that takes your fancy, there's orchestras, operas, theatre, galleries, exhibitions, films, nightlife, stand-up comedy, live music (touring acts and local musicians), EVERYTHING. Oh, and sports too if you like that kind of thing. Heaps of sports.
- weather and seasons. We frequently get all four in the same day! Seriously, though it gets cold in the winter, it's not enough to snow. Summer can be hot, but it's mostly dry heat.
- beautiful surroundings! Lots of parks, from big national parks to little block-sized parks to parks where dogs gallop about and jump in the stream (one of these right down the road from my house).
- cost of living is cheaper the further out from the city centre you are, but public transport is completely a thing here (not on your list, but a worthy consideration)
- I am not sure it is possible to live in/near a city and not get political extremists. Cities by definition have a little of everything, and that includes political extremists, bludgers, sports enthusiasts, cultural mavens, religious fanatics, atheists, etc etc as well as a lot of people who kind of muddle along. FWIW, Melbourne has just re-elected a Greens candidate as our Representative in the Lower House (Adam Bandt) and is generally fairly progressive. But individuals vary greatly.
- friendliness of people - Australians are not quite as gushy as Americans but not as stiff-upper-lippy as Brits (these are deliberately stereotypical descriptions). Australians take the piss out of just about everything, including themselves, so you need to have a good sense of humour/thick hide. I generally find that although in the actual city, people are a bit more guarded, in the suburbs where you have more of a sense of community, people are quite friendly. Then again, a lot of it is familiarity. The place where I get coffee right in the middle of the city is really friendly and they know my coffee when they see me coming. I don't even go there every day. Oh, and there are so many cultures here, though heavily weighted towards southeast Asian - heaps of Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian, etc immigrants but also heaps of Greeks and Italians, Lebanese, Somalians, Ethiopians, Sudanese, I am going to leave someone out so perhaps better just link. And even a few expat USians.

Go on. One of us. One of us.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote here for albuquerque. It meets almost all of your wish list points in some way or another, although it is in the high desert and has some hot months. There are lots of dog parks and suburban neighborhoods, great food and entertainment, nearby mountains and other beautiful landscapes. Plus it's inexpensive and relatively liberal.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:25 PM on September 10, 2013

I would tentatively second Philadelphia. I have no idea what the state of the tech industry is, but the restaurant scene is awesome, yes to four seasons, yes to entertainment, short drive to either beach or mountains for scenery or NYC if you need a mega-city fix. Some really beautiful small-town-turned-suburbs close to the city. But the thing that really made me think of it is that Philly just does not have that slim-and-fashionable pressure, it's a really unpretentious city (almost aggressively so, very tied to some working-class underdog type sentiments in my experience). So if that's really important to you I think you should look into it.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:40 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Denver. Or Boise. Or even Salt Lake. But mostly Denver.
posted by Kibby at 8:45 PM on September 10, 2013

Nothing NC Triangle Area. The politics are a bit wonky right now, but that's a somewhat recent development and I'm confident the situation will right itself again soon.
posted by greta simone at 9:05 PM on September 10, 2013

I'm going to play the role of devil's advocate/debunker/pain in the rear here.

I love San Francisco and Seattle, but neither is inexpensive and neither have four seasons. San Francisco has three (Fog, Sun, Rain) and Seattle has 1 1/2 (Rain and Sun).
SF in particular is hideously expensive. Salaries don't really make up for the extra expense. San Diego is also expensive and has 1 1/2 seasons (Sun and Rain).

I'm not familiar with cost of living on the East Coast, but I'd think most major Midwestern cities that you haven't ruled out would work. Maybe cities in the Northeast as well, though I'd imagine you'd have to live FAR outside the city proper to get space and low prices.

I'm just going to vote Denver here. I think that would get you most of what you want.
posted by cnc at 9:14 PM on September 10, 2013

Seattle fits most of your criteria. It's going to be a lot more expensive than the Midwest, no question, but professional salaries are generally pretty good and the cost of living ratio is quite doable, especially on two incomes. Seattle is ridiculously nature-friendly and dog-friendly; it's basically impossible to be anywhere for an hour and not see at least five dogs on walks, and there are a lot of pet-friendly and dog-specific parks. The visual arts scene is ok, not superlative but not nothing; the music scene has always been bustling; the theatre scene is quite varied and interesting. The tech job market is blowing up, there are so many good job opportunities, especially in infrastructure and front-end design. And the food here is great, except for Indian food (grumble), but a good meal isn't cheap. I have found a lot of very friendly people here, but I know other people's experiences definitely vary. Maybe it's because I'm Indian, but there are four seasons here, it just doesn't snow for as long in one or shine for as long in the other. My only sticking point, based on your requirements, is money; I don't know what your standard is, and I moved here from New Orleans which is like three worlds away in terms of cost of living, so I'm not very good at judging the difference between here and other small to medium cities.
posted by Errant at 9:24 PM on September 10, 2013

Of the stated, my vote: 1) NC Research Triangle; 2) Denver; 3) Seattle. All three have everything you're looking for.

And can you leave the country? If so, consider Montreal or Toronto. Both are cultural capitals of North America, especially Montreal, with access to nature, and four gorgeous seasons. Don't worry about the winters. Anybody who would like four seasons gets used to them pretty quickly in my experience. And dogs love snow. :)
posted by vecchio at 9:26 PM on September 10, 2013

Denver. Seattle is expensive.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:38 PM on September 10, 2013

Athanassiel, I love Melbourne, but going from an upper-midwestern city in the USA to Melbourne is likely to come with considerable sticker-shock: this site suggests the cost of living in Melbourne is 28% higher than Minneapolis, 30% higher than Milwaukee, 24% higher than Chicago and 32% higher than Cleveland (and 15% higher than Seattle, which some are saying is already too expensive).

Apologies if I've misjudged my comparison cities - the map wasn't much help in figuring out what counts as "upper-midwest".
posted by Cheese Monster at 9:49 PM on September 10, 2013

My husband and I were looking for something very similar when we decided to leave Florida, the only additional caveat being that we already have a kid. (Who was part of the impetus to leave FL, actually.)

We ended up in Denver.
posted by ThatSomething at 9:49 PM on September 10, 2013

How about Boulder instead of Denver? I think Portland would be another interesting choice as well.
posted by Dansaman at 10:35 PM on September 10, 2013

Portland, Oregon.

I'm also from the upper Midwest and I find the people here more genuinely friendly. It ticks all your other boxes and is cheaper than Seattle, too.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:35 PM on September 10, 2013

Just a couple things to note:
You found Las Vegas to be fun, different, exciting.... well, it is, for visitors. That cheap food and the amazing shows you saw are there precisely BECAUSE they draw visitors like you into LV, and encourage those visitors to spend their money. On the other hand, the day-to-day reality of LV is completely different: it has homes and suburbs full of families (just like any other city), but it also has a lousy employment situation, which is not something short-term visitors will see. (Example: a cousin of mine, an electrician, moved from LV to the upper midwest last year because of the lack of work.)

*People are the same everywhere you go. You get back what you expect, and going in with expectations of friendly or unfriendly people will produce exactly whichever you expect.
*Almost any big city is going to be more expensive than a small city, and the more desirable a city is (SF, Denver, Seattle, Raleigh), the more expensive it'll be. Salaries will usually be higher in those areas, but so will living costs.
*Are you used to a close network of family/friends/church? Anywhere you move, will you be okay *without* that network nearby? Oh sure, in time you'll build a new network, but it sounds like you want to move somewhere without any family, and wherever you go it'll take time to build a new group of friends.
posted by easily confused at 3:01 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, in that order.

Denver - seasons, liberal, a bit bland but best overall.
Seattle- people are friendly but slightly distant. Seasons not so great - too rainy. Best food scene of the three.
Atlanta - hidden gem of a place. Lot's of opportunity, closer to 'home', seasons are not bad. People are insanely friendly. Cheap city overall.
posted by carlodio at 5:36 AM on September 11, 2013

Other than the 4 seasons Atlanta ticks off all the boxes. 90 minutes north to mountains, 5 hours South or east to the beach, major river flowing through the city, cost of living is not that different than the Midwest, all the usual big city activities, and a decent tech job market.

We do get 4 seasons! Sometimes it even snows in the winter.

We have a huge immigrant population so the Mexican food is pretty great. Also, if you're into Korean food, Gwinnett county has you covered. Hell you practically need a passport to eat your way up and down Buford Highway.

Lots of tech jobs here, and some really adorable neighborhoods that are still in Atlanta proper. And the suburbs of all suburbs that are OTP. (Outside the Perimeter).

We have a bunch of great little theater companies, Alliance, Horizon, New African Grove, and of course there's the Fabulous Fox for the traveling road shows or the Cobb Energy Center for similar.

We're three hours away from the Smoky mountains, a similar distance to the coast, and we have river sports on the Chatahoochee river.

Atlanta is dog-friendly, hell my aparment complex is dog friendly. Lots of dog parks and dog friendly places.

We have one of the best "farmers markets' in the nation. Your Dekalb Farmers Market is a World Market!

We have lots of company headquarters so tech jobs are plentiful, as are jobs of all sorts. Additionally, if you're into finance, 99% of all electronic transactions are cleared through Atlanta, primarily through First Data and Fiserv, so there's that.

Rents are cheap, houses are cheap to buy (but don't buy) and we have great medical care.

Really, Atlanta is a pretty nice place to be, all things considered.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:09 AM on September 11, 2013

I was gonna say Tucson till I noticed you don't care for deserts. So I'll suggest you look into Pittsburgh, which seems to meet just about all your criteria. Inexpensive, nice people, beautiful surroundings, good food, real genuine authentic neighborhoods. Lots of new tech work.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:50 AM on September 11, 2013

St. Louis has a significant and growing tech industry. Good food, shows of both the national touring variety (music and theater) as well as resident companies at all levels, animal friendly, all four seasons (sometimes in the same week!), and all of that comes cheaper than most places.

You can choose to live right in the middle of the area that interests you (we have a few hotspots), a few blocks away to make it quiet but walkable, or in an out-of-the-way neighborhood that's still only 15 minutes or so by car away from any place you'd care to go.

There are small-town-like areas within the city itself (yes, including single-family houses and big yards — I live in one), as well as (literally) hundreds of suburbs to choose from.

I've been here 6 or so years and am a fan. Memail me if you have any specific questions.
posted by brentajones at 8:56 AM on September 11, 2013

If you're actually considering Texas weather, I'd pick Austin suburbs or Fort Worth central or suburbs over Dallas. (Austin proper can be as expensive as Dallas proper. Fort Worth is cheaper than both, and right next to Dallas.)

Nthing Denver--I lived there while in grad school and loved it, and if we get fed up with Texas weather, it's on the list of possibles.
posted by telophase at 9:00 AM on September 11, 2013

When you say "foodies," re Cleveland, it probably depends on what that means. Do you want to be able to sample a lot of different cuisines, delivered in creative ways? That may not happen. Do you want to live in a place with a few serious culinary gems, from hole-in-the-wall pho to high-end beef cheek pierogies? That one we can do for you. The farm-to-table thing is huge here (maybe it is huge everywhere) which leads to some great seasonal dining.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2013

St. Louis, though your kids will hate it when they grow up.

Kansas City.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:40 AM on September 11, 2013

As a Chicagoan with family in Denver I can understand the votes for Denver. However, I don't find it much cheaper than Chicago (especially when it comes to housing). If you're used to prices hours from Milwaukee than be prepared to pay for the privilege of living close to all the good stuff. There's a reason people pay more to live in desirable cities with culture and scenery.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:39 PM on September 11, 2013

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