Where to move, for nice weather and maximal big city feel, yet low rent?
December 2, 2013 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm choosing a place to move to. I'm single and mostly unconstrained, except by my finances, my personal preferences, and the boundaries of the United States. My heart votes San Francisco, but my bank account strenuously disagrees. Also, even though I'm from Iowa and am therefore accustomed to a wide range of temperatures, I happen to be depressed at the moment and so I must have sun and warmth. For the moment I'm stuck in a suburban apartment complex surrounded by highways, in a New England state that is becoming increasingly wintry. This is my nightmare. My finances are somewhat flexible, and I don't know exactly what I can afford, but for the purpose of this question, let's say I'm absolutely unwilling to pay more rent than $700 per month--and on top of that, I require a living space to myself, with no roommates. On the scale between nightmare and downtown San Francisco, how close to the latter can I get?

...I mentioned San Francisco there, but I'm not specifically aiming for that part of the country. SF just seems to be the coolest big city in the US (according to my limited knowledge) that isn't also too cold or cloudy for my current needs. Also I gather that my use of "warmth" in connection with it may jar some readers, but I'm not aiming for year-round shirtless beachgoing here--I mainly just want to get away from what I think of as winter. Iowa is too cold; New England is too cold. St. Louis is iffy. Sun could help make up for cold, but not by very much. Likewise, frequent clouding would be bad--so even if I win the lottery or something, I probably still have to rule out Seattle, unfortunately.

I don't care as much about summer weather; extreme heat bothers me but I think not in the depression-enhancing way of cold. For instance, I don't think weather considerations would drive me to rule out Texas, though other considerations probably would.

Family, friends, and work are not much of a factor here. My personal connections are few and unhealthy right now, and I need to start anew much more than I need to move someplace to be close to somebody. And the job I have right now is entirely done over the Internet. I've got no children, no debt, and not a lot to lose. I think that for various reasons I shouldn't seriously consider leaving the country; but other than that I'm free to go where I like.

And what I'd like is to recreate, in a sense, an experience I had while living in a dormitory in college, on a small, dense campus in an otherwise pretty sleepy little city: being surrounded by people and activities, all of which I can get close to without having to spend much energy, and some of which I can't even avoid. I have difficulty engaging in society, and I need it to be as easy as possible or else I'll barely do it at all. I need to be close to a dense concentration of many kinds of people doing interesting-looking things and I need to be able to expose myself to their activity without having to make much of a "trip" out of it. In a college dorm you can just walk down the hall and pass through a dozen people's personal lives--and even get involved, by stopping at somebody's door and starting a conversation, if you want to--but if you don't get involved then it doesn't cost you anything. You didn't spend ten minutes walking across campus to wander down this particular hall. You spent three seconds standing up and crossing your room. The difference between three seconds and ten minutes may mean the difference between having three friends in that hall and having none.

What I want now is that, but on a much larger scale. I can get to a fairly large city right now, if I spend twenty minutes on the highway first. But I hate driving in traffic and I hate hunting for parking spaces or worrying about whether my car is safe where I've left it--so change that to twenty minutes on mass transit and my chance of making friends, or even doing anything at all social, shoots upward. Change it to TEN minutes on mass transit and my chance shoots upward again. Change it to five minutes on foot and my chance is multiplied yet again. Etc. I know people are social in rural areas too, of course. But I know myself and I know that if I moved to a nice, cheap rural place then I'd just end up appreciating nature alone, and continuing to be dangerously disconnected. I think I belong in a big city anyway. I like color and drama and activity. I don't mind spending twenty minutes, or even forty minutes, driving to some beautiful forested park or whatever, because I'm confident about what I'll do when I get there. But I need the people to be close by, because I'm not confident about dealing with them. So failure must be as cheap as possible.

Sprawl makes travel costly for me (in mental energy) and makes personal connection more costly too (by putting everybody in their car armor most of the time); that may be the thing that rules out Texas for me, though weather did not. And Los Angeles too, even if I win that lottery. I want a dense, lively, "city"-feeling area and I want to be quite close to it (or in it if possible), and I need there not to be frequent unexpected delays in the trips I make in and out of it, whether they come from parking troubles or crappy bus schedules or whatever else. So maybe I should just go back to Iowa and live in Iowa City, and buy a couple of light boxes, and be done with it. That'd improve my situation a lot and still easily meet my rent requirements. But this could be a real adventure if I stretch further than that. Could I afford a studio apartment in one of those cities everybody knows the name of? Maybe someplace not so wealthy, yet still very colorful, like New Orleans? Maybe someplace not so exciting, but still big and dense compared to anyplace I've lived, like... I don't know, some random state capital that I wouldn't even think of on my own? If a wizard were to move NYC to southern California, then I would certainly want to live there, but $700 would probably put me ninety miles away from it instead. Maybe it'd be better to live right next to a dimmer light, than to be so far as that from the brightest one. Either way, I want as much light (so to speak) as I can get for this much money. So how much is that, and where can it be found?
posted by Koray to Travel & Transportation (52 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
SF just seems to be the coolest big city in the US (according to my limited knowledge) that isn't also too cold or cloudy for my current needs.

San Francisco is cloudy and cold. It is not really a very nice place to be in the winter, to be honest. I realize this is somewhat counterintuitive, but the geography of the Bay doesn't make the city very appealing most of the year (however, it is exceedingly appealing in the summer).

Either way, I want as much light (so to speak) as I can get for this much money. So how much is that, and where can it be found?

Serious answer - at a psychiatrist or psychologist. Your restrictions here suggest what I think you already realize - that you are affected by depression and it is constraining your life choices. That is your root problem here, and moving won't help that. I'd especially suggest that moving to a large urban area would not be what you want, as large cities can be exceptionally alienating for people that aren't willing/able to actively seek out engagement with other people.

It is not healthy to expect your environment to change to suit your needs. You need to change your needs so that you can adapt to your environment. In particular, nothing in your post indicates to me that moving will solve any of your problems. In fact, I think they may actually become worse, especially if you try to live in an expensive urban area with a restricted budget.
posted by saeculorum at 9:22 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

This doesn't meet your climate requirements, but what about Jersey City, across the Hudson from NYC? I think a studio for $700 is achievable and if you are near any of the PATH train stations, then getting into Downtown Manhattan might take between 10-30 minutes.

This blog post profiles a few young people living there. If you browse the other postings from The Atlantic Cities you should be able to get other ideas of cities amenable to young people short on funds.
posted by icemill at 9:23 AM on December 2, 2013

How about, instead of moving somewhere right away, why don't you visit these places so that you have a real reason to be excited about moving somewhere besides considerations relative to the clothes you have to put on because of what the sky looks like at a given latitude and longitude.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Downtown Las Vegas could meet the criteria but only for certain values of "many kinds of people doing interesting-looking things."

As you mention Los Angeles could work too but you need to look at it as more a bundle of separate cities near each other than one single sprawl. Just because the sprawl and the cars are there doesn't mean you can't just treat North Hollywood, Silverlake, Santa Monica (likely out of your budget though), or Pasadena as "your" city and just stick to that one place for the experience you want.

The same could go for certain areas of Phoenix/Scottsdale from what I hear but I haven't been there.
posted by wackybrit at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2013

It is not healthy to expect your environment to change to suit your needs. You need to change your needs so that you can adapt to your environment.

I don't know. I moved from a cold and grey climate to a sunny climate a few years ago, almost solely because of weather, and I couldn't be happier with my decision. The effect on my mood and happiness has been massive, and that has not diminished over time. It won't work for everyone, but it sure did great things for me.

San Francisco would not be my choice for that, though. At all.
posted by primethyme at 9:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

I live in Savannah, pay 700 a month for a large (3 bedrooms!) apartment close to downtown. The sun shines here a lot, winters are very mild, summers hot but bearable. It's both a tourist town and a college town, so there's always something going on.
posted by mareli at 9:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

I will also point out, as a big-city resident, that even though we live denser, we often compensate for it by becoming more disconnected. When I walked through my apartment building it was very different than, say, living in a barracks, which is similar to living in a dorm. You don't knock on anyone's doors. If people's drama spills, you avoid it and pretend you're not even there. You don't talk to people easily and are suspicious of someone who talks first - what are they selling?
posted by corb at 9:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

And what I'd like is to recreate, in a sense, an experience I had while living in a dormitory in college, on a small, dense campus in an otherwise pretty sleepy little city . . . I think I belong in a big city anyway. I like color and drama and activity.

A large city is not a dorm room or a college campus but bigger. The resemblance stops at "buildings in which many people live at once." I love big cities because I really don't ever want to talk to anyone ever, and in a big city this is possible (and even sometimes encouraged).

If you actually want to live in a place that is like a college town, then focus your search on actual college-bearing towns in warm areas. (Raleigh-Durham? Baton Rouge?) Others have mentioned Georgia and Arizona, which also seem to be cheap and warm.

However, and I mean this kindly, though it may sound harsh: You really can't recreate the feel of being in college once you are out of college. That place does not exist in the real world. It gets much harder to socialize as you age, for most people, and that is true no matter where you live. The zero-cost 100% available social life you describe can only happen when people have forced close proximity AND shared goals/tasks/demographics.

Changing your city might improve your mood or give you a sense of a clean slate and a new start. But the only thing that can solve your fears of dealing with people is: you.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:36 AM on December 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

You understand some of the tradeoffs: northern cities with decent density are expensive and have long winters; southern cities are sprawlier or costlier or both, and also have everything that comes with being in the south; west-coast cities span both. But corb's right: dorm/barracks life is tied to a specific mode of living that you can't simply replicate by changing your living space. If you moved to a big college town like Knoxville, for instance, you might end up feeling just as isolated because you're surrounded by thousands of students living dorm life.

That said, I'd also agree with primethyme that "change your needs" is not a sufficient answer, and that some places -- whether in terms of density or climate -- can just sap any joy out of your existence, and you can't simply adapt.

Immediately? Get yourself a SAD lamp, take a morning walk to clear the cobwebs. Book yourself a weekend or two away.
posted by holgate at 9:36 AM on December 2, 2013

I'm not 100% sure about the car situation there, but otherwise it seems like the obvious answer is Austin.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:38 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

What Corb said above. I just moved from an environment where everyone around was just a friend you hadn't met yet (RVing); to an apt. in a City where no one makes eye contact and speaking makes you suspect. Huge culture shock. However, some of the cities in the southeast may be less like this ... someone else will have to fill you in on that possibility though. Also, yes, moving from cloudy and drab to sunny much of the time can indeed make a huge difference to emotional wellbeing, mood and outlook.
posted by batikrose at 9:40 AM on December 2, 2013

Answers to this ask.me suggest that 700 in Jersey City is not a reasonable expectation.
posted by bunderful at 9:44 AM on December 2, 2013

Agreed with those who said above that San Francisco in the winter (or summer) is not going to be warm and sunny - it's cloudy, foggy, and chilly in the summer, and cloudy and rainy in the winter. Fall and spring are the warm, sunny seasons.

However, you might be able to swing the Bay Area -- if you go for something on the other side of the bay, the weather improves somewhat, and on the other side of the hills, it improves a ton. Depending where you live, you might be able to do $700 somewhere in Oakland or Walnut Creek? But, you might need to compromise on roomies.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:48 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even if you could afford it, I don't think NYC or SF would be good for you. They are dirty and stressful, the climate in NYC kinda sucks, SF has mostly good weather with mild temperatures but it is cloudy/foggy a lot of the time. (Although people who call San Francisco "cold" do not understand what cold actually means.)

I'd focus on smallish cities with culture and mild-ish climates: Asheville, Boulder, Charleston, maybe Tuscon.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:51 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know you sound iffy on Texas, but I think you'd like Austin. $700 probably won't get you downtown but it should get you an apartment near a bus stop.
If you're willing to budge on the car thing, Fort Worth is really nice too. I just moved from the area and loved it. There is some mass transit and it is slowly increasing all over North Texas.
And speaking of North Texas, check out Denton. Also a college town (university of North Texas). People are super friendly there. This is also figuring you could be more flexible with driving. But it's not as nighmare-ish as a big city.
posted by missriss89 at 9:57 AM on December 2, 2013

In a college dorm you can just walk down the hall and pass through a dozen people's personal lives--and even get involved, by stopping at somebody's door and starting a conversation, if you want to--but if you don't get involved then it doesn't cost you anything. You didn't spend ten minutes walking across campus to wander down this particular hall.

I've spent most of my life living in a big, dense city full of fun things to do and cool people to meet and so on. This is not what life here is like. If ten minutes is a barrier for you to actually do things, you may be severely disappointed with what you think a bustling city has to offer. Unless you move into a commune situation, or a squat or an art residence or something that is explicitly collective, you're just going to be living in an apartment building. That is: rows of closed doors, people that don't want anything to do with you, no one like an RA minding people's behavior. The activities all take place in places. To get to the place you have to a) find the place, b) find out how to get into the activity (sign up in advance, pay a fee, etc.), c) go to the place for the activity. Unless it is somehow in your building, that's not going to be a quick, painless trip. You might not have to make your own fun, but you certainly have to find it and actively get involved.

You might end up in a building full of cool young people, sure, but I've never lived anywhere people just left their door open so others could come in and say hi like in a dorm. No one will be knocking on your door to invite you to go do stuff unless you meet people in your building who like you enough to do that, and that sort of relationship takes time. People don't hang out in hallways because that's incredibly obnoxious because everyone in every apartment can hear every word of a conversation going on in the hallway. In the dorms that's par for the course; in a regular apartment building, that's rude.

Before you put the time and energy and effort into moving your entire life somewhere, do a bit more research as to what city life is like. It's not a college dorm magnified to a million people. It can be more alienating, insular and closed-off than any boring, small town.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on December 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Asheville's a good idea. I think the "interesting things going on" metric might not be met by Chapel Hill or Carrboro. Possibly by Durham, but you would still need a car. Durham's pretty spread out.

Another thought in Colorado-- Ft. Collins is sunny and a college town. It will likely be cheaper than Boulder. You will need a car and/or bike.
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2013

Please don't listen to anyone whose response to your query is "Change your needs". Would they give that response to someone who wanted to travel the world, find a mate, write a novel? Above all, don't change your needs.

I think what you are looking for is more likely found in a micro-environment within a city than in a city itself. The city doesn't have to be large, you just have to find a niche with interesting, exciting people in it. For this reason, you can live in wide swath of cities:

- Cities famous for their arts scene (Santa Fe, NM; Santa Barbara, CA; etc.) This post where I asked for havens for writers and artists might be a good place to start.

- College towns. Look for college towns in warm places and then look for local blogs to see how you like the scene.

- Cheap, artsy parts of expensive cities. You can't get a studio apartment in San Francisco for that price, but you might find something in Oakland. Same for Harlem or Queens around NYC.

- Cities that young people often go to: Portland, Austin, Asheville, etc. Everyone is looking for the same thing you are.

Finally, believe that you will find it. This is totally do-able.
posted by 3491again at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Same for Harlem or Queens around NYC.

There is nowhere in NYC you can get a habitable studio apartment for $700/mo.
posted by griphus at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Same for Harlem or Queens around NYC.

You cannot get your own apartment for $700 in Harlem. You also cannot get your own apartment for $700 in Queens, unless maybe you go out to like Bayside, which is basically Long Island, and are also living in your great aunt's basement apartment.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You really need to sit down and make a list of your needs (internet access, walkability, cheapness, weather) and set a size limit (no cities under 100,000) and then do some research. You have too many variables for random internet people to give you much direction.

The part about meeting people is really not that geography dependent. People are everywhere. If you leave your house and do things (volunteer, classes, clubs) you will meet them. And then they will introduce you to other people. Walkability does not equal friends. Big walkable cities can be incredibly lonely places.

Dorm life is, unless you join the Peace Corps or a commune or something, a part of your past now. Adulthood does not come with built-in peer groups. You have to go out and make your own. It's scary but it's also exciting, and you'll meet people you would never run into in a dorm.
posted by emjaybee at 10:05 AM on December 2, 2013

Any reason Florida would be off the table here?
posted by waylaid at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2013

Asheville's a good idea.

$700 is not going to get you an apartment in the dense/lively parts of Asheville, unless you're exceptionally lucky. It may get you something on a bus route, but the buses are infrequent.
posted by holgate at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think being willing to live with roommates will open up your options considerably. $700 is not going to get you your own apartment living close-in in basically any reasonably large city I can think of. You could live in the sprawl for that much, but even Oakland on $700 a month is probably pretty unlikely. San Francisco and New York on $700 no roomies is definitely not possible. Even here in wee Portland, OR $700 is pretty much not possible for anything reasonably close-in.

But, $700 would get you a great room in a shared house here, with a couple hundred bucks to spare even. Also, if you have few personal connections and you're just moving blindly to a new city (which I think is fine, btw), sharing a house can a have a lot of benefits. It puts you in forced proximity with other people who know the city better, who go and do things, etc., and can help you sort of get connected and out there, at least at first. Otherwise with a net job and some depression, you risk moving to a new, expensive city and never leaving your place and getting into that spiral, which I and many others know all too well.

So my advice is to consider roommates. And then choose Austin or Oakland or Tucson or Asheville.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:13 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before moving, please see a doctor and be evaluated for depression.

I've lived in a lot of places, all over the damn place. Guess what. No matter where you go, there you are.

Yes a college dorm does provide some built in social stuff. But that's why those 4 years are special, you don't really have a chance to recreate that in real life.

I had the very good fortune, when I was in my twenties, to live in a fantastic apartment building in Oakland. I rented a very large studio. I had friends who also lived in the building (I was invited to live there) so we actually did call each other up to say, "Hey! Let's go for a drink at that weird bar on the corner," or "Hey! It's pretty outside, let's barbeque, I'll bring the potato salad!" But I live a charmed life. Also, that studio was $500 in 1984, it ain't that now.

I have found that I've met my friends through three places, Work, School and places of worship. So, you might want to enroll in a program for an advanced degree. I got my MBA on my company's dime and I met some awesome people there. I joined a UU Church and met some cool people there.

You can volunteer, Habitat for Humanity is fun, and you learn a lot.

Another thing is to find a group of people who work from home, who leave their basements once a week to meet up at Starbucks.

It's no mystery that you find yourself working from home, people with social anxiety will find professions or work situations that allow them to hermit away. Just like anorexics become models or actresses, because they gravitate towards work that feeds their illness.

So, for sure, rule out depression or social anxiety first, otherwise, you may be a lonely, hermit in a big city.

Now, I've lived in some pretty great places:

1. San Francisco-Expensive as hell, very large if taken in a chunk, but manageable by neighborhood. Can be insular because folks you know from work, will race to get out of the city, back to someplace in the 50 mile radius where they live. If you don't work in an office, or go to school, you will have a hard time meeting people.

2. Ft. Lauderdale/Miami-Affordable, and pretty easy to drive around. Just be super-defensive because it's much like a third world county like that. I love the number of different cultures, and the warmth, not just physical warmth, but the warmth of the folks that work there. Knowing Spanish is helpful, although you'd have to be pretty far into Miami to be somewhere where they don't speak English. Miami Beach is a good place for young professionals, and you might be able to find a studio for around $700, although I hear rents are getting crazy again. Outside of the cities, it's suburban, and if it ain't your thing, it ain't your thing.

3. Nashville. I had a hard time there. Everyone was superficially friendly, but there was a real, "we made our friends in college" kind of vibe there. Also, no Macy's.

4. Atlanta. I like Atlanta fine. If you have to live in the South, this is the place. Metropolitain in all the right ways, multi-cultural, and pretty warm, all things considered. Decent transportation, and very easy to get around by car outside of rush hours.

5. Phoenix/Las Vegas. Too hot for me! I hated living in Phoenix. The bugs, the heat, the high cost of air conditioning. Also, the water situation. It may not be habitable in the next decade. Yuk.

So there it is. Moving won't solve your problem, changing will.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:16 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

I feel like you've watched too many TV shows about big-city life. Friends, HIMYM, etc. all posit living in NYC as some continuation of college, with more money and nicer stuff.

In reality, as others have mentioned, big cities are generally lonely and isolating places. When you're not with your friends - which is most of the time - people generally don't give a shit about you at all. You are one in a sea of faces occupying space that other people want to be in.

I spent 7 years trying to make DC conform to my idea of friendliness. Finally - about six months ago - I was in the Whole Foods on P Street and said "fuck it, if others aren't even going to acknowledge that I exist" - and anyone who's been to that Whole Foods knows that people will ram you with their cart, block entire aisles and not even move when you say "excuse me", etc. - "then I'm going to do what I want to do, and not worry about anyone else." And it's worked for me, but just know that's the attitude that it takes to live in a decently dense city, and it's not at all like being at college.
posted by downing street memo at 10:20 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, if you're willing and able to consider temporary roommates, you'll have more options. $700 could possibly net you a room in the outer boroughs of NYC. It can get you a pretty nice room in the walkable urban areas of San Diego (neighborhood key words: Golden Hill, North Park, South Park, University Heights, Hillcrest) or even Los Angeles. You might be able to find a room in Oakland near a BART station on that amount. That would put you a short hop away from San Francisco. In other words, there are options if you're willing to have roommates and be a little creative in where you live. I'm going to throw in a plug for San Diego because the urban neighborhood areas I mentioned get year round sunshine and warm weather.

You don't have to have roommates forever, just for long enough for you to find a place you can afford to live alone. I also recommend doing this because you really can't get a feel for which neighborhood you want to live in until you've been there a few months. Find a place with a month-to-month lease and keep an eye on Craigslist postings. One of my favorite roommates did this when he moved from Pennsylvania to San Diego. He lived with me in University Heights paying $635/mo. for a year until he got a better job and his own place to live.
posted by rhythm and booze at 10:32 AM on December 2, 2013

New Orleans sounds like it could be ideal for you.

Warm for most of the year. It freezes only a couple times a year, usually overnight. It snows so rarely I can remember every time I saw so much as a snowflake from birth through age 19. Winters are short and generally sunny. Extreme heat is a factor, but air conditioning is pretty ubiquitous.

Cost of living is dirt cheap. You could have a one bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood for under $1000 a month, and buying something is even more sensible. Everyday necessities are even cheaper, and because it's Louisiana gas prices stay pretty reasonable.

If you lived in the French Quarter, the Marigny, or some parts of the Garden District, Uptown, or Midcity, you'd definitely have the walkable "center of everything" neighborhood effect you're looking for.

You might also want to look at Austin.
posted by Sara C. at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

what about Jersey City, across the Hudson from NYC? I think a studio for $700 is achievable and if you are near any of the PATH train stations, then getting into Downtown Manhattan might take between 10-30 minutes.

In Jersey City, you're going to suffer the exact thing you say you don't want: always being 20 minutes from the action. True, that 20 minutes is more likely to be via commuter rail and not the car, but you will probably need a car, and you're still spending that 20 minutes to slog to where you want to be.

It's also not cheap compared to the rest of the US, and has the same weather you have right now: long, dark, cold, wet winters.
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 AM on December 2, 2013

I agree with others that big city living is not really like a college dorm at all, and you run the risk of continuing to feel isolated and lonely. However, since you work online and seek nicer weather than you have now, then I say why not! Move and improve one part of your life, and concentrate on improving the others. I would imagine that since you work online, this is contributing greatly to your feeling of loneliness, as you have no co-workers for office chat and socialising. If you move, you will have to make the effort to find friends and companionship, it will not magically happen because you live physically closer to your city neighbors.

I think you should consider why you want to live alone. I understand the value of having your own space, but I think you are imagining that you will have your apartment as your own space, and your apartment building as a wider social space, whereas in reality your apartment building is not social, and neither is your apartment. If you flip this and move in with roommates, then you have the potential to get socialisation from roommates, but still have the own space in your room. It also means you can afford to live in a wider range of big cities in sunny areas.

Even if you choose to still look for your own apartment, make an effort to find your social circle. Look into working from a shared workspace; join a hobby group; social lives don't arrive on your doorstep, you have to go out and find them! Good luck :)
posted by Joh at 11:06 AM on December 2, 2013

Another vote for Austin. Or LA. SF is cloudy and foggy and cool for most of the year (also insanely expensive--take it me, I currently live out here and have been trying in vain for four months to find a new apartment). The weather is completely different in LA, and there are several walkable, vibrant neighborhoods (I lived there for years and walked and biked more than I drove--great quality of life). Austin is cheaper than LA, and it reminds me a little of Iowa City, if you like college towns.
posted by three_red_balloons at 11:15 AM on December 2, 2013

FWIW I somewhat disagree with the idea that big city living is not what you want, and everyone is going to be cold and distant and you'll never make any friends.

I do think that can be true for a place like New York, and if anything is even more true for places like Boston and DC.

But going back to New Orleans, as I suggested above, there is definitely a more open and friendly energy. The pace is slower, and people take the time to make conversation and get to know each other.

While there is definitely an insular "What high school did you go to?" vibe that could make it difficult to make friends, the influx of newcomers after Katrina is making it a much more outward-looking city than it once was. A lot of those newcomers are also young and looking for their tribe, so you don't get the same sort of "Seattle Chill" effect where everyone already has enough friends and doesn't want to meet new people.

Even outside of New Orleans specifically, the bottom line is that cities are different outside the Northeast. Not every city in the US has that cold, distant, "WTF WHY ARE YOU MAKING EYE CONTACT IS THIS SOME KIND OF SCAM" vibe.

That said, I do think you are probably limiting yourself to smaller sort of Portland-esque cities like Austin, Asheville, Savannah, etc. and within those cities probably limiting yourself to certain neighborhoods. And you will still have to be very proactive about meeting people and making friends. I worked from home and/or one-on-one with small business owners most of last year, and met basically nobody despite Los Angeles actually being a really warm and welcoming city where people are easy to connect with.

Wherever you move, you should expect to spend at least a year not having a solid friend base, people to spend holidays with, etc. Visualize spending New Years Eve alone because you don't know anyone. In your visualization, are you happy? If yes, I think this change could potentially work for you if you choose a good place. If not, I would look closely at the advice above that you need to look within rather than trying to solve this problem by moving.
posted by Sara C. at 11:20 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that the weather in San Francisco proper is not matched to your ideal, but the Bay Area is famous for its microclimates, and there are other places that have better weather, like Oakland, San Jose or Redwood City that are also cheaper than San Francisco.

Santa Fe is expensive! And it does get cold. Denver has winter but lots of sunny days.

I would take a closer look at New Orleans or Miami, or Research Triangle in NC.
posted by ambrosia at 11:22 AM on December 2, 2013

Oh, and in LA you will definitely need a roommate if you hope to live in a walkable neighborhood for $700/month.

I pay about that, but the tradeoff is a living situation that is exactly what you say you don't want: I sacrificed walkability and proximity to cool stuff and always have a baseline of 20 minutes in the car.

I like my neighborhood, it's a much more vibrant place than East Coast cities, and the weather makes up for a lot. But, yeah, I'm far away from stuff and it can feel very isolating. I have to really motivate myself to get out and meet new people, go to events, etc.

That said, you could have a great place with a roommate in Silverlake or Los Feliz for $700/month.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you considered leaving the country? I've found other parts of the world to be way friendlier and often livelier, and you could definitely live in a smaller city in, say, Mexico for less than $700/month. I'd do it in a heartbeat if I weren't tied to a specific location for a job.
posted by chaiminda at 11:48 AM on December 2, 2013

Best answer: Midtown Sacramento fits your requirements. Walkscore in Midtown is in the 90s out of 100. Streets are tree-lined and beautiful. You can live without a car. Bicycling in the central city is easy and common. Crime is relatively low. You can rent a studio (or a slightly dodgy one bedroom) for less than $700. It's sunny 300 days per year. It will never snow. Great art and theater scene. The bar scene has gotten a LOT more active in the last 10 years.

So, why doesn't everyone move to Sacramento right now? Average high temperature in summer is 95 degrees. Everything outside the central city is boring, car-oriented, suburban sprawl. The city has a reputation for being podunk (which is nonsense). It's overshadowed by San Francisco. Sacramento doesn't get big live music acts because they all go to the Bay Area instead. I wouldn't say people are particularly friendly (or unfriendly). The Midtown crowd is 20-35, hipsterish and can be cliquey.

As far as the hot weather goes, all the trees make a BIG difference, and it cools down to the high 60s or low 70s almost every night in the summer, so it's really only hot between 1PM and 7PM even on really hot days.

Sacramento's central city is better for your requirements than anywhere in the Bay Area that's not Berkeley/Rockridge or San Francisco, and half the price or less.
posted by cnc at 11:51 AM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Have you considered the broader Southwest? People have mentioned Austin, TX, but I'd add Albuquerque, NM and Phoenix, AZ to that general grouping. Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, and has a good-sized student population, so you have a relatively active community. The weather is great, though there are periods of actual cold, compared to coastal California. On the up side, lots of sun, so even when you're bundled up, you're not cowering under cloudy skies.

Albuquerque has more in the way of quaint neighborhoods, too, where I personally find Phoenix to be too damned big. Then again, my wife has some really good friends who love it there. Another downside: really hot in the summer, like "stay inside until 7 or 8 PM, then go out and enjoy the world" hot. Albuquerque, on the other hand, is generally quite nice, except for maybe a few weeks of ~100 degree weather. And the traffic in Albuquerque is predictable and really not that bad, especially compared to true Big City standards. Plan your days right, or live in an area with more grids of roads and less spaghetti tangles of streets, and you won't be stuck in much traffic for long.

And as others have said, college is a magical time when you're surrounded by a very certain group of people - young, active people who generally don't have to work, so their lives are more fluid and there's a better chance to interact with people by ways of clubs and classes. After college, you have to create that yourself, or find a scene and get involved.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2013

Baltimore would have a lot of what you're looking for if you choose your neighborhood wisely. Small enough that you can get to know a good chunk of the locals fairly quickly, but big enough that there's plenty to do. Winters aren't usually too bad, and the living is pretty inexpensive.
posted by jetsetsc at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2013

"It is not healthy to expect your environment to change to suit your needs. You need to change your needs so that you can adapt to your environment. "

I completely disagree with this. I would also feel very bad if I lived in a suburban complex surrounded by highways. The idea that to be healthy we should adapt ourselves to anything just because others seem to and call it "normal" is absurd. I think what is healthy is being in tune with yourself and how you relate to what is around you. Even if it is the recognition that something is not right, THAT is healthy. According to this one should not feel bad if their window's vista is completely obstructed by the building next door, because this is a common situation these days, and to look for windows with natural vistas is too idealistic, or "unhealthy". One should just accept that's part of "modern living". That's bullshit. Further, there are studies already linking things such as window vistas, highway surroundings vs green spaces, walkability, traffic commutes, etc, etc with many aspects of well being. But this is just common sense. Since when can people not recognize that being surrounding by highways is nightmarish, let alone having your home surrounded by highways?

Also, aside from your brief comment that you are depressed nothing about your post smacks of depression. I think you have a lot of good ideas, especially likening your ideal situation to a college environment. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if there are going to be a lot of real choices for you, the US doesn't really do nice cities (maybe aside from San Francisco), and it's hard to avoid both extremes in temperature, and many places have both extreme winters and summers. I think maybe you should think in terms of certain neighborhoods instead of only in terms of cities. There may be some neighborhoods with much more walkability, greenness, neighborliness, diversity, than the wider city might have. Maybe somewhere in Philadelphia? It's cold, but some of your variables are going to have to give.

I think you should work on finding a small city/ neighborhood, that's lively, diverse, friendly, and "walkable", and maybe focus less on the specific weather conditions. I, personally, think proximity to others/avoiding car rides to be profoundly related to quality of life. I spent time in Boston (very compact city) after living in Chicago (very, very dispersed city), and the proximity of everything in Boston felt immediately different for the better. I imagine it must have a real impact on social life (though I've heard people in Boston always stay in their own neighborhood anyway).

As an aside, it's possible to try and maximize the amount of light that reaches your retinas, even in winter. Make sure you're always sitting next to a bright window even when you're inside, and maybe try a light box. Get up early in the morning, with the sun.
posted by Blitz at 1:17 PM on December 2, 2013

You mention in one fragment of a sentence I require a living space to myself, with no roommates and then go on to spend several paragraphs essentially talking about how much you want roommates. It is ok and perfectly possible to be introverted and need your privacy and also have roommates. I'm a lot like you, and I did it all through my 20's. Like you, if people are not built in, I will not seek them out. I am ok alone, but am, in fact, happier if I chit-chat to someone once or twice a day! Roommates are also a nice thing to have because they'll notice if you don't come home, can pick up meds for you when you have the flu, etc. Here's what I did:

Rent a room in a shared house with other professionals and/or graduate students. These people ideally are quiet, busy, and pick up after themselves. They're friendly without being too nosy. Your room is your sanctuary; the kitchen/living room are common areas. Keep in your room: a jug of water, an electric tea kettle, non-messy snacks/tea/coffee, and if you really must a chamber pot (use an opaque water bottle that you can empty and rinse out later - keep the lid off so it air dries). Presto: all set for a hermit day if you need one.

Look into renting something in a co-housing community: they'll often have some regular community dinners and activities and attract people interested in being 'neighbourly' without being a full on 'commune'. Privacy + community. They range from whole neighbourhoods to a single house or two; I've seen them listed on Craigslist in Oakland, but there's a whole database of them here. You could also look into renting in an Ecovillage (Ithaca's a big one and a good example).

I recommend focusing on what you need, rather than what you think embodies that. You don't necessarily need a big city: you need privacy, access to a community, etc... A therapist might help you make a really clear list of what you need, and also make sure your expectations are realistic, and do a quick check on your own behavioural/relationship patterns to make sure you can establish healthy habits in your new place. I think needing to not live in Iowa is %100 valid.

I lived in Berkeley about 10 years ago; SF is foggy and cold. Bekerely and Oakland are a bit cheaper and have MUCH better weather. I paid $500 for a room in house with a professional and a grad student in West Berkeley in a mediocre neighbourhood: it was mostly safe, but I disliked the recovering crack addicts from the halfway house next door coming into our backyard and stealing our apples (they were super nice and friendly about it though!). The $500 included utlities, and I chipped in $100 toward groceries but I can't remember if that was part of the rent or not.

What you need is to join a super-friendly church or something. Yeah - I'm not religious either. Maybe Ashland, OR? Super cute little university town that was a big theatre festival going on MOST of the time that attracts a range of students and professionals - you could work for the festival or volunteer and you'll meet tons of people. Theatre people (in my experience) are a friendly communal bunch. Ashland is small enough that it's really walkable/bike-able, but the theatre festival and university means there's also good grocery stores, good restaurants, etc. I don't know exactly how far $700/m will go in Ashland, but it'll likely go farther than in many of the other cities listed! Ashland has four seasons, but nothing like Iowa and pretty sunny most of the time (even if it's sunny and "cold").
posted by jrobin276 at 2:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was coming in to say what jrobin276 is saying in their first paragraphs. Roommates as adults are different than college roommates, and closer to having-a-single-room-dorm life than anything a city will provide you with. I've lived in a lot of houses with a lot of roommates (get your own bathroom if you can, it's a saviour) and it's really fun and usually pretty social as long as you get a good group of people. People will respect closed doors when you need your own space, but shared quarters is nice for not feeling lonely. it's nice to cook with people, clean with people, have people to bounce ideas off of, etc. Look in any "cool" community. anywhere artsy and hippie-dippy will have that kind of living situation.

I can't recommend a specific city, as someone who lives in the current -22 degrees Celsius of Calgary, Alberta. but I think some sunshine would cheer me up too.

Other than that, people are pretty on-key here.. I moved from a small city (18,000) to a big city (1 mil+) and felt much less of a "community" here. In fact, when I go home now, it's kind of jarring to have strangers smile and say hello to you, make chit-chat in queues and such. Cities can be isolating.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:40 PM on December 2, 2013

Response by poster: ON SKIMMING: Wow, I misled a lot of people really fast with that dormitory analogy. I'd have watched this more carefully if I knew how fast people would answer.

Right, I know I won't live in an apartment that's like a dorm. I don't want to anyway; I've outgrown that. I don't especially want to talk with my neighbors. I said I want the dorm feeling, but on a "larger scale"--meaning simply that the big crowd and the exciting activities would feel a lot CLOSER than they do now. I don't see how this can fail to be the case, in a big city, unless sprawl or fear of crime makes me feel severely separated from what's around me. I lived in a (small) downtown once; it charmed me to hear drunken people wandering under my window at 1 AM. Occasionally I'll visit a big city and feel invigorated by the crowds. It's not much like a college or a dormitory, sure, but it gives me the same feeling: of being somehow fed by an energy that's around me even though I'm not even participating in it. I don't have any fantasy of Ross and Rachel always popping over. I know I'll have to seek out social connection, wherever I go. And I can manage that, if I can spend some time in a comfortable place (no roommate) planning it beforehand, and if I know that any failure won't be followed by a sad half hour of having nothing but it to think about as I drive back--in the snow--at 65 MPH, in the dark, with a tailgater. And not even being able to open a window and smell the air and remember that there's still a nice world out there, because it's too cold.

I know I'm handicapping myself with the $700 no-roommate thing. $700 might be flexible; "no roommates" is not. I won't explain why because I already posted one text wall in this thread and I guess it'd be off-topic anyway. Suffice to say, it just happens to be what I need right now.

As for dealing with depression before or instead of moving: Well I'm not really in a stable situation now, I kind of have to move soon anyway. And I think moving will probably help me some, and getting a year-long lease will let me feel like I can focus on something other than short-term survival... and really, yes, of course it's not good to live in a place you hate if you're depressed, right?
posted by Koray at 3:02 PM on December 2, 2013

I live in Austin, which a few people upthread have suggested. And let me tell you, the city itself is kind of incidental to the sense of camaraderie with neighbors that the OP seeks.

I lived in an apartment building where nobody talked to anybody. I lived on a street, in a house, where I kinda-sorta knew the immediate neighbors, but that was it. And I lived on a street, in a house, where I was friends with almost everyone on my block, and you could barely walk outside without bumping into a few neighbors and having a nice conversation. We had casual parties that drifted from one house to another. It was great, and I miss it. None of those neighbors live on that street anymore (neither do I). It wasn't just a place, it was a time.

Some might argue that Austin is more conducive to that situation, and they might be right, but it's hardly a guarantee. By the same token, I am sure there are dozens of other cities where close relations with neighbors are possible, if you luck into the right situation.
posted by adamrice at 3:13 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I live in central Austin and pay $700 for rent. My apartment is small but nice. I live walking distance to campus so there are a lot of students in my building, but the neighborhood is residential with a variety of people. Downtown is 2 miles. I walk it a lot but I live right next to a bus line as well. So many people bike here. I can easily walk/bike to many restaurants, grocery stores, walgreens, bars, coffee shops, etc. It will take effort to make friends in any city, but I'm often pleasantly surprised at how friendly people are here.
I never thought I'd end up in Texas...until I visited Austin. You should look into it. Also, it was 80 degrees here today.
posted by allnamesaretaken at 5:03 PM on December 2, 2013

Midtown in Atlanta would be pushing it on the $700 thing, but it is a fun place to be with a lot going on and easy access to MARTA to get to even more. It is definitely an area aimed at the 20- and 30-something young professional who enjoys night life and weekend festivals.

But I'm also going to agree with the folks who are suggesting Durham. You could get a nice place in Old West Durham and hang out with grad students on Ninth Street or in Old North Durham or Birch Avenue and hang out with the hippies and yuppies Downtown. There is so much to do, and everything is constantly getting more active and interesting. You would have a blast, and you would meet a lot of people like you.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:16 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is out-of-left-field, but the sort of casual camaraderie you seek can be found, IME, by living in a marina. You don't necessarily have to buy a boat though. There are out-of-state boat owners who need a caretaker to keep an eye on things and do general maintenance in exchange for living aboard. Boats for sale, same thing (but you have to keep it tidy). You are living close to your neighbors, you'll meet them on the dock every day, and you will get to know them fast because you have a ready-made icebreaker: boats. It's very difficult to find this sort of situation without already being in a marina/knowing someone but it is an option. Needless to say, it is more pleasant if the marina is in a warm climate.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:38 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would move into this apartment in Houston. Specifically that tiny neighborhood of Montrose/Avondale. You would walk to the Continental Club for your booze, the Menil for your art, and wander through the house parties of a demographic largely still figuring out life.

And when you're ready, you'll also be able to take the light rail to the medical center to address your mental health issues.
posted by politikitty at 5:59 PM on December 2, 2013

Denver gets cold, obviously....but it's got an international airport with cheap flights out if you need to escape, and 300 days of sunshine per year. Seems counterintuitive given the non-cold clause but you might want to consider it or the nearby areas if you are truly more concerned with the depressive/oppressive cloudiness over a couple of months of cold.
posted by kattyann at 10:50 PM on December 2, 2013

Best answer: I think for affordability, weather and fun factor, you could go further and fair worse than Atlanta.

Midtown, is close to Georgia Tech and Georgia State, so there's always something going on if you're into sports, or want to take a class or two. Atlantic Station is a pedestrian shopping area with typical mall stores, H&M, Pottery Barn, etc. Ikea is down the street. The Provisioning District is beyond with hip restaurants and clubs.

Little Five Points, is FUNKY and fun. Hip and weird with lots of little places to explore.

Poncy-Highland is a changing neghborhood, with lofts and weirdos. Don't just go in the day, go at night to see how it feels to you.

Virginia Highland is one of my favorite places. A really beautiful little area. I don't live there because I have to drive to work and you just can't get there from here.

Decatur is adorable! Very neighborhood oriented, welcoming and full of cute little shops and stores and such. I go for Your DeKalb Farmers Market every other week.

Honestly, if you have to move any way, and you want a walkable neighborhood in a big city, Atlanta may be up your alley.

It does snow here, once in a blue moon. But we shut the city down because we lose our damn minds about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:33 AM on December 3, 2013

I worry about the weather in Atlanta being inappropriate for the OP. Yes, there are hot summers, but there's also a winter, and while it doesn't get super super cold or snowy in the south, it does get consistently cold for several months.
posted by jayder at 8:26 PM on December 4, 2013

If you work remotely and have some flexibility, why not put your stuff in storage and spend a few months living and working in different cities? Look for temporary sublets in different places or use your network to find people in NOLA or Austin or Santa Fe who need a house-sitter. Do your research, get your top 3-5 picks, and then spend a month or so in each.
posted by bunderful at 7:42 AM on December 5, 2013

Response by poster: Follow-up: I considered many places and ended up mainly focusing on Sacramento, Atlanta, and Austin. Sacramento seemed to have the most pros and least cons so I have moved there. It is nice so far. Some of my problems have come with me and some have not. Life continues.
posted by Koray at 12:58 PM on April 10, 2014

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