Teach Me How To Duluth
May 8, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to Duluth, MN! I've never stepped foot in Minnesota, let alone Duluth. What advice can you give me?

Most pressing to me right now is information about housing. I'm looking to rent an apartment. Are there neighborhoods you'd recommend? Neighborhoods you'd advise I stay away from? Are there any (very close by) towns I should be look at, rather than Duluth? Are there specific sorts of issues that should concern me, when looking at apartments in Duluth? I'm also interested in more general advice, not just about housing: is there anything else I should be thinking about, in regards to moving to Duluth?

An important fact about me is that I'm from California. I've never lived some place that gets anywhere near as cold as Minnesota. Please keep that in mind when giving me advice: I'm new to the whole "it's so cold you may die" thing. I'm new to the whole "your heating bill might be TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS" thing. I'm new to the whole "your pipes might freeze!" thing. I'm not really sure how much the cold and the snow affects how you live -- please do inform me.

posted by meese to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak much to specific neighborhoods in Duluth, but consider where you're going to be working and the fact that commuting gets more difficult in the winter. Snow, cold, ice, etc. all makes it tougher to get from point A to point B. So you may want to put a larger premium on cutting down your commute or commuting by public transit, if that's feasible.

Beyond that, yeah, it gets cold in Minnesota, especially in Duluth. Invest in good cold weather gear and lots of layers. Fortunately you're going to be landing there in the summer, so you'll have time to ask and look around to see what's what before it gets really cold. Note that some winter-looking coats that look warm may not be -- cheap pea coats and the like tend to fall into this category. Look for down, or outdoor gear brands like Mountain Hardware etc.

You're going to have Lake Superior at your doorstep. It's very beautiful and very cold. You can do all sorts of things like sail and surf, but make sure you have the gear for it.

"Minnesota Nice" is a fairly accurate stereotype. If you need help with something or have questions, ask.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:13 PM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you're gonna need a bigger coat.

Warm clothes do not come cheap. Fortunately this is a great time of year to pick up bargains ... Sierra Trading Company, Timberland etc usually have good Memorial Day sales.

Do not get an apartment with electric baseboard heat. You will freeze and die. And then go bankrupt.

Layers. I came from the tropics and do not still quite understand them myself. But it's a thing.

Brandy in hot chocolate is good. I coped the first couple of winters by going full on winter wonderland with the candles and fairy lights, because otherwise I'd have gone mad.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 1:13 PM on May 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't have specific advice regarding housing in Duluth, but I'm going to offer you some general advice which is to relax, take a deep breath, and realize that you are moving to a city in a lovely area and you will have plenty of time to adapt to the weather.

In the meanwhile, you'll be close to Minnesota's beautiful North Shore (which is a really beautiful region different from anything you will have encountered in California (not necessarily better or worse, but different.)) You will probably be amazed by how far your housing money goes, and crime and other issues which may have affected you (depending on your location in California) will be greatly reduced.

In short: you can do this. You might even find to your surprise that you actually like it. (Or not -- I have found that many California transplants to colder climates never quite get over the weather thing. But honestly it can be dealt with and many people actually find they prefer having four distinct seasons every year.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:17 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Man: Does this bus go to Duluth?
Driver: No, this bus goes beep-beep.

Welcome to the Upper Midwest! Maybe invest in a light therapy box. That's all I've got.
posted by novelgazer at 1:21 PM on May 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I grew up in Duluth. Haven't lived there in a while, but my whole family is still there.

If you like doing outdoorsy stuff - hiking, biking, snowshoeing - you are in for a treat - Duluth is the gateway to a million things to do outside. It's a great town with a lot to offer. The North Shore and the Superior NF/Boundary Waters especially are unlike anything else in the world.

Telly Savalas loved it, too.

If you hate snow and cold, you are moving to the wrong place. They still have snow on the ground there, although this year is worse than normal.

I'd recommend staying away from the Central Hillside. Otherwise, most the neighborhoods are pretty OK. Largely, it depends on what you have for transportation and how confident you are driving on steep hills in wintry weather. If you're moving there to attend/work at the college, then living near there or downtown will be a bit pricier, but reasonably walkable/bussable.

When you are looking at rentals, find out how much the heating costs are. That will give you an idea how drafty the house it. But, honestly, it's heating season 8 months out of the year - I don't recall anyone ever having pipes burst or anything that wasn't related to the furnace quitting entirely. The houses are built for it and I would argue more comfortable in winter than houses where winter isn't as serious.

If you Memail or post back with more specifics, I can offer better help. There are lots of posts already on how to gear up to live in cold climates. You'll be fine.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:21 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

First: Welcome! We are quite friendly and are only too happy to talk about the weather, how it's not as bad as last year, how we heard that the rain this weekend will be something else I tell you what. There are actually quite a few askme threads from future MN transplants asking clothing advice, but I can't seem to hack the search feature today. For now I will just say that scarves are awesome and functional accessories, so learn to appreciate them.

As far as neighborhoods, I'm not an expert, but you will find a big difference between the older neighborhoods that are near the lakes, and the other neighborhoods that are over the hill. If you're youngish and just need an apartment to crash in for a year or so, you could look on craigslist for "UMD" area apartments. Lots of college students, lots of shitty duplexes.

Radiator heat is the standard for apartments and old homes. Clarify with your landlord before you sign the lease to see who is responsible for gas and electric (your heat will be billed by the gas utility). In an older home, for a cold winter, I would anticipate about $250 a month. Spring and summer would drop to $100 or less for two people.

You could also look into living in Superior WI and commuting to Duluth - cheap housing, great bars. But then you're in Wisconsin, so that's kind of shit.
posted by Think_Long at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Consider buying--it's often cheaper than renting because of the transient student renter population. Duluth proper is fine for living, and is practically the same city as Superior, WI, so consider that city too. The area around Chester Bowl is nice, but pricey.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2014

Also, regarding heating costs - you can call the utility company of any property and ask them for the billing history for the past winter months, and they should be able to give that to you over the phone. Something I wish I had known a long time ago.
posted by Think_Long at 1:23 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I asked a very similar question recently, and you may find some helpful information in there. I was asking about Wisconsin rather than Minnesota, but since we still don't know exactly where we're going to end up in Wisconsin, I tried to gear the question towards more general "cold n00b" stuff.
posted by LionIndex at 1:23 PM on May 8, 2014

I've found really incredible used winter gear at thrift shops in the spring/summer. Don't overlook used clothes, especially because if you're coming from a relatively warm place you may not quite know what you want yet, or know what's comfortable or aesthetically up your alley yet.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:24 PM on May 8, 2014

I was born and lived a good chunk of my childhood in Duluth. I still love visiting.

Living there is actually really inexpensive. It really really depends on what you want your lifestyle to look like. Most of my family lives scattered in the surrounding area. Cloquet is woodsy, affordable and beautiful. Wrenshall is the same. My younger cousins tend to live in Downtown, to take advantage of the U of M Duluth nightlife. My older cousins with families tend to live a little further out.

One of my favorite things about Duluth is "the colors." In the fall (think septemberish) the whole damn north woods turns into kaleidoscope colors. Tourists come around from everywhere. It's amazing. It's also a really really popular way to spend the afternoon- to go for a drive up the shore and look at The Colors.

If you're into hiking, Duluth has a ton of offerings. Cooke State Park is amazing. Patterson Park has waterfalls (that's in Foxboro, which is just across Bong Bridge and outside of Superior.) Moose Lake. Chub Lake. Basically all of the lakes and camping you can imagine.

As for the winter part. I am not going to bullshit you. It's serious. Get real gear. Don't worry about fashion when it comes to winter outerwear. It is significantly colder in Duluth than even Minneapolis. Invest in very very comfortable, good winter boots with heavy, thick soles.

You want to have emergency kits for in your car and your house. There is a bunch of other stuff that you'll want to pick up from your neighbors and coworkers.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:41 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heating oil can be crazy expensive. Yes, when looking for a place you should definitely get some numbers on what kind of heating you get, and how much heating costs. On the plus side, it is unlikely that you will ever need A/C!!

How comfortable are you driving in the winter? Duluth has some incredibly steep roads and gets a lot of snow. I hate winter driving in Duluth. Stopping on 45-degree angled streets that are covered with ice and snow (with a giant lake at the bottom) is terrifying to me.

If you're into outdoorsy stuff, definitely head on up the North Shore. I live right on the lake about 30 miles north of Duluth and it's beautiful. The 3 months of spring/summer/fall are especially nice. It's helpful to have a winter outdoor hobby if you're going to live in Duluth (hockey, snowshoeing, skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, etc). Otherwise, winter weather can get kind of dull and repetitive.

Also: Ten Things to Know Before You Move to Duluth
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:43 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Born, raised, and living in Duluth here. You didn't say exactly when you're making the move, but if you're looking for apartments now there should be plenty. This is a college town and today is the last day of finals, so there should be places opening up. It's not a great town for renting in because there's lots of demand and prices are kind of high. Think about parking when you're looking at places, especially in areas of lots of college rentals it can be an issue if you have to find a spot on the street. Also think about the route to wherever you're going to be working -- winter driving is mostly only difficult if you're going uphill or downhill. I don't know if it'll fit your budget or needs, but take a look at bluestoneduluth.com. This is a very new development with furnished apartments. It is nice but it is not cheap.

The next thing you should do, right now, is check out perfectduluthday.com.

I'm posting in kind of a hurry right now, but I'll add on if I think of anything else. Also, feel free to memail me if you like.
posted by LowellLarson at 2:14 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would like to second or third the advice above about considering the steepness of hills when considering apartments and neighborhoods in Duluth. I'm from Minneapolis and I find winter driving in Duluth daunting at times because of those hills.

Also, Elly Vortex is right about finding a winter hobby. Duluth is beautiful and wonderful (few cities its size have so much character), but you will go out of your damn mind if you stay inside November to April (or May). I personally love cross-country skiing, but I reluctantly admit it isn't for everyone.

Get serious boots like Sorels or Kamiks, a parka, at least a few pairs of long winter underwear, a wool winter hat, a pair of gloves, a pair of mittens, and a scarf.

Recognize that getting places takes longer in the winter. Find an empty parking lot after it first snows and just spend some time getting used to driving in snow. Drive slower on the snow and ice. Keep an emergency kit in your car during the winter including at a minimum a shovel (I have a collapsable one), some road salt or kitty litter (in case you need to lay down some traction), some food (I have a box of granola bars), and an extra blanket.
posted by Area Man at 2:17 PM on May 8, 2014

Don't bother buying beer at a gas station or a grocery store, or anywhere on a Sunday. It's all 3.2%. Either go to the liquor store or drive to Superior.
posted by TrialByMedia at 2:29 PM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

As a Minneapolis resident (but frequent Duluth visitor) I can really only tell you about my friends/acquaintances experiences living long term in Duluth. I'll say this much: regardless of where they were from originally (California, Minnesota, Australia, Alaska) the people who seemed to most enjoy living in Duluth were the ones who were extremely outdoorsy. Every weekend they were able to, they were out hiking, camping, canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking and so on. And they RELISHED the winter because that meant cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog sledding and snowmobiling.

I think even if you're not the really super duper outdoorsy Bear Grylls adventure junkie, you could benefit from having a similar outlook: the North Shore is beautiful in every season.
posted by gumtree at 3:09 PM on May 8, 2014

Keep in mind that because heating is so expensive in the winter, you can likely set up a payment system where you pay a set amount each month based on average monthly costs and have it re-evaluated every six months. That makes a big difference. I've paid $300 in some winter months for heating before I was on the payment plan.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:15 PM on May 8, 2014

You may want to factor in the "cooler by the lake" phenomenon. The area near Lake Superior, at the bottom of the hill, is often 10 to 15 degrees colder than uphill and sometimes foggy. This is because all that water changes temperature more slowly than air. Occasionally, if the temperature drops suddenly after a warm spell, it will be warmer by the lake. If you're travelling around the city, it's a good idea to wear layers to cope with such big temp changes.
posted by Comet Bug at 4:17 PM on May 8, 2014

I'm an East Coaster who lived in MSP for three winters. My commute was walking 1.5 miles no matter the weather. You'll get used to it. Wear layers, including flannel or fleece lined pants (LL Bean is your friend), and long underwear. I agree with everyone who said you need to embrace the winter. Snowshoeing on the North Shore is awesome! I now get annoyed with "bad winters" in central New Jersey because it's too icy to hike but not snowy enough to snowshoe regularly.
posted by mollweide at 5:20 PM on May 8, 2014

I'm from California, I've lived in Duluth, and I am deeply, unspeakably jealous. Seriously, you have no idea. It's BEAUTIFUL there.

I don't have any advice for specific neighborhoods, but the main thing I want to say about housing is that if you will be driving, pay close attention to the size of the hills in between your house and work. Duluth is not flat. Depending on what you drive and how quickly you get used to the snow thing it might be kind of hard for you to get home if you live on a big hill.

I would live in Duluth, not in any of the surrounding towns. I mean Duluth is so inexpensive you don't need to, but also, none of them are as nice.
posted by gerstle at 5:49 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thermal or "long" underwear will keep you much warmer in the extreme cold. I moved the opposite direction (cold->warm) and thermal underwear is pretty much unknown in most of California. Get some. No kidding.
posted by telstar at 6:05 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll chime in again to nth finding a way to embrace winter with some sort of winter hobby. It can be skiing, playing chess, reading, drinking alcohol, raising cats, or whatever, but it's too long to just hate on it the whole time. Cross-country skiing is cheap, decent exercise, you can do it on any schedule, and we have lots of beautiful municipal trails including a couple that are lighted at night (not that you need lights, a headlamp and some snow on the ground do just fine) so if you have any interest at all it's a great thing to try. You can rent skis at a ski shop if you want to try it before buying. We also have a pretty decent municipal downhill ski hill. The gear and pass are more expensive than cross-country but still very reasonable, and if you're the tiniest bit coordinated you can teach yourself to downhill ski in a couple of hours or so.

I don't think heating is going to put you in the poor house, but it is something to check on before settling on a place. Heating with natural gas is cheaper than fuel oil. My highest ever gas bill in a 3-bedroom house was $140 for the month, but it's well-insulated, a new furnace, and I don't keep it hot. The rule of thumb is that each degree you turn up the thermostat adds about 4% to your cost, so there's a big difference between keeping it at 65 or 75.

You have a while before you need to worry about winter clothing, but when the time comes the two most important items are boots and gloves. Anything else can be addressed by wearing more than one of them.

Many people around here have a thing in their cars which they call "remote start" and love it. If you get an aftermarket one installed, go to a reputable place such as DADS electronics. If you're going to treat yourself to one winter luxury item, particularly if your parking is outside, that should probably be the one.

Speaking of cars, sometime before winter make sure that you have a good battery. That is the number one thing you can do for making sure your car will start in the cold and is well worth the $100 or so it'll set you back if you have any doubt. Get the biggest one that will fit in your car. Depending on your car snow tires might also be well worth it, or you might be fine with all-season's. Pretty much just have to wait and find out. Remember that not being able to get your car moving is frustrating, but not being able to get it to stop is how you crash. You've got until November or December before it's an issue, but remember to be watching farther in front of you than you normally would when that time comes.

As others have indicated, if you like to play outside you may find that you like it here a lot.
posted by LowellLarson at 6:32 PM on May 8, 2014

I lived (rented) in Duluth for a few years about ten years ago, and my winter heat bills were always really cheap, or included in rent. But that was ten years ago--maybe it's hard to find that kind of deal these days? I'd also recommend buying if you can afford it, it's definitely a landlord's market there and you'll probably see some really crap housing at ridiculous prices.

Nthing layers, lined boots. Be prepared to go without the sun, or at least, the amount of sun you might be used to?

Hope you like it! I'm jealous, I'd love to move back.
posted by pepper bird at 8:02 PM on May 8, 2014

The only thing I know about Duluth is that is has one of the best hawk migration sites in the US. It's on my list of places to visit during the fall migration season.

In my experience, hawkwatchers are nice people, and helpful, so if you want to pick up new hobby and get advice about your new home, you could do worse than hang out at their watch site!
posted by rtha at 8:06 PM on May 8, 2014

Buy some gummy Vitamin D and take it every day, even in the summer. For real.
posted by Malla at 8:14 PM on May 8, 2014

Here's some talk about the various Duluth neighborhoods in response to a similar question on a different site.

Including this map which shows the sterotypical views about the neighborhoods.
posted by agog at 8:18 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a long winter coat. Like down to your ankles.

This sounds trite, but the cold isn't so bad if you're dressed properly. Dress absurdly warmly with no thought as to fashion, and you'll be ok.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:51 AM on May 9, 2014

I grew up in MN and spent a lot of time outdoors in the winter. I love the cold, clear days that MN gets.

People who are worried about the cold sometimes buy the biggest, downiest coat they can, but that's not the only way to keep warm.

Long underwear, as mentioned upthread, is really useful as a base layer. Just don't use cotton for this layer, because it will soak up your sweat and then get really cold. Shell out for good synthetic stuff like Patagonia.

For an middle layer, thrift stores can be a good place to shop for cheap wool sweaters.

A simple windbreaker, or a windbreaker with some insulation, is often sufficient for an outer layer. With a wool hat, wool scarf, mittens, and disposable handwarmers, this system is good down to -22F. I don't have a ton of experience with temperatures below that.

You'll be fine!
posted by Handstand Devil at 6:08 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Savor every summer day. Duluth is tough to beat in August. It's just perfect. Winter is brutal and seemingly unending. Nthing learning to cross-country ski. It might help keep you sane.
Duluth is a great hiking city. Explore not just the Lakewalk but also the trails along Chester, Lester, and Tischer Creeks.
Great city for local beers, too.
Feel free to memail if you want feedback on apartment locations.
posted by starman at 9:16 AM on May 9, 2014

As many are (correctly) mentioning that the hills can be difficult in winter, please note that some (10th Ave E, for example) are better tended to than others when the going is rough. This is the sort of thing that'll be easily learned, as you need only be stuck on a hill once to appreciate the details.

Some say that winter tires make the driving several times easier, but I never tried them personally.
posted by mr. digits at 9:37 AM on May 9, 2014

Also, if I may I'll advocate on behalf of my former landlord, Jean Tingwald (becalm4@hotmail.com). She was always pleasant and helpful and so forth, and at least one of the buildings she owns is the sort of place where you may get a small converted-house apartment (two rooms, 450 square feet?) for $550/month that includes electricity (and therefore heat) three blocks from the lake, lakewalk, and big rose garden.
posted by mr. digits at 9:42 AM on May 9, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This gave me a good idea of what to expect and what sort of spirit I'm going to find in Duluth. I'm especially grateful to those noting the significance of hills. Somehow, I'd gotten it in my head that Duluth was a rather flat area, and I wasn't thinking at all about how topography might affect my life. When apartment-hunting, I'm definitely going to keep that in mind!
posted by meese at 1:01 PM on May 10, 2014

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