Great town with a low cost of living?
February 19, 2015 11:00 AM   Subscribe

After years of trying to make my freelance writer's salary stretch to fit my California budget, I'm ready to admit defeat and move somewhere cheaper. Unfortunately, I have no idea where to go. All I want is a high quality of life with a low cost of living. No problem, right?

Here's what I'm hoping to find:

•Excellent health care (and one that accepts whatever ACA coverage is available in the area), as I'm pretty much held together with shoestring and bubble gum.
•Available turnkey houses for <$250k. Small is fine, but I don’t want a condo or anything that comes with monthly HOA fees.
•Generally low cost of living--taxes, food, services, etc.
•Not overly crowded (I get anxious around too many people or if I feel closed in by tall buildings), or a city with smaller neighborhoods that basically act like small towns.
•A nice mix of restaurants, cafes, shops, etc.
•Social activities for a single & childless 40-year-old woman. I have little interest in going to clubs or crowded bars, but I still like going out on occasion. Even just a variety of meetup options would work—book clubs that skew younger, trivia nights, etc.
•A safe, attractive neighborhood. I feel like I lose all kind of cool points for this, but I’m not a fan of gritty—I prefer trees to concrete—and because I live alone, I’d get nervous in a higher crime area.

Would like to have as many of these as possible:
•Either semi-rural within easy driving distance of a town/city or a quiet, green neighborhood within walking distance of amenities. If more rural, I’d want to be able to take long walks near my house. I can do semi-rural or in town, but I can’t imagine living in the suburbs.
•I’m quite liberal, so I’d prefer not to live in a bright crimson state. A progressive area in a reddish state could work, though.
•I much prefer water and mountains to desert or flat areas. When I visited the midwest, it kind of freaked me out that there were no bumps in the landscape.
•I can handle cold and even a fair bit of snow, but my experience with humidity hasn’t been promising. I’ve only experienced it on visits to New Orleans and Florida. I could deal with it in the first city, cause it was New Orleans, but I spent most of my Florida trip whining. Constant excessive heat, like the southwest, would also be hard.
•A few of those painfully middle class things you often find in liberal areas: craft breweries, farmer’s markets, juice bars, etc.
•A decent-sized backyard. I like to garden, and this last year I was adopted by two stray outdoor cats. They’ll go to my mom if necessary, but I’d prefer to keep them with me.

I know it's a tall order, and I'm not sure if any town fully fits the bill, but I'd like to get as close as I can to this ideal, mythical place. All ideas are appreciated.
posted by mjm101 to Home & Garden (56 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Rochester, Minnesota or Madison, Wisconsin would both seem to fit the bill for the most part, except the mountains. How crucial are mountains? Lakes are abundant.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:08 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

St. Louis? Our house is well under $250K, as are many I've seen listed. We are in a cute little neighborhood with a nice backyard and plenty of walkable things nearby, but we're not downtown by any means. The downside is that whole midwest thing, but it's not as flat as other parts.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 11:10 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you'd fit right in in one of the quieter parts of Atlanta, assuming you don't mind living in a blue area of a red state.
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 11:10 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Atlanta ticks off most of these and is noticably cheaper than coastal places. I moved here from NYC in 2012 and love it. Downside is that its not really near water, but you are ~4 hours from savannah/charleston, which are on the coast. Plus near to Memphis, Nashville, lots of interesting places. It's also the gayest city in the south by population. We could use more progressives here in Georgia, but ATL isn't crazy red (though we are still in the south so theres some problematic areas)

OnPreview: Jinx.
posted by softlord at 11:10 AM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Somewhere in the Seattle/Tacoma exurbs?
posted by Wretch729 at 11:10 AM on February 19, 2015

Here are at least 21 excellent comments regarding what's great about the Twin Cities.

It might be flat here, but the rivers and lakes and forests more than make up for it, imho.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

If you're willing to move to a smaller city/town that'll open up your options to some really great places to live up and down the west coast that would fit this bill. Off the top of my head, Ashland, Eugene and Astoria first most of your top criteria, and tick off a couple of the boxes on your lower list. Up in Washington, Olympia and Bellingham come to mind.

Being on the coast in Oregon or Washington puts you close to the coast ranges and the olympics, which are pretty great; they're not as epic as the cascades, but they're great for hiking and camping.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:12 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Fort Collins Colorado
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:17 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bellingham, Washington
Mount Vernon, Washington
Eugene, Oregon
Medford, Oregon
Columbus, Ohio
posted by brookeb at 11:20 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ithaca NY and Burlington VT both have mountains+water and exactly that kind of atmosphere. Really, most college towns in the NE would be worth a look.

Larger possibilities: Nashville, Portland ME, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Buffalo, Baltimore if a bit of humidity is ok, maybe Asheville (not sure how cheap the last one is these days).
posted by susanvance at 11:21 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you tried "Find Your Spot"?
It asks you questions, you answer them and it starts spitting out places that it would recommend you check out.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 11:22 AM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Columbia, Missouri
posted by cyndigo at 11:22 AM on February 19, 2015

Chapel Hill or Carrboro, North Carolina hits all your requirements except lack of humidity. We do have a real winter, unlike Florida (shudder). You could opt for cooler weather in Boone or Asheville, but the housing will be more expensive.
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:26 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Bloomington IN ticks every box except mountains. If you'd told me ten years ago that I'd be living in the Midwest I think I would've flipped. But here I am, living in a not-too-small, friendly town, with a lot of interesting things to do and see and some of which I, a shy person, have actually done because it all feels manageable. The only downside is that sometimes your favorite academic friends go on sabbatical or get new jobs.
posted by firstdrop at 11:27 AM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Santa Fe, NM. It's in the southwest, but in the high desert mountains with low humidity and the summer temperatures are not that bad. There is water in the form of streams and lakes. The cost of living tends to skew towards the higher side, but you can find a home for less than $250,000. Property taxes are really low. I'm not sure about healthcare aspects. There are cafes, brewpubs, juicebars, arty things to do, trivia nights... It's less than an hour to the big city of Albuquerque with even more stuff to do.
posted by backwords at 11:29 AM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seconding Columbus, OH. It hits most of your points, and one of the inner suburbs (Bexley, Grandview Heights) or Clintonville would do nicely-- you'd be able to have a house, with a yard, and be in walking distance from a variety of shops, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Other midsize cities in the midwest would hit your points.

And, speaking as somebody who grew up on the east coast, and was also initially freaked out by the lack of mountains, you do get used to it, and start to appreciate the nice rolling hills around the rivers, and it's not that far of a drive to West Virginia if you want to see some landscape again.
posted by damayanti at 11:29 AM on February 19, 2015

In Peoria I'm 3 (walkable, sidewalked) miles from downtown, have a 300 square foot vegetable garden and 600 square feet of restored prairie in my backyard, and paid $120k for my 3-bedroom, good-condition house in a safe, middle-class neighborhood. I can be in farmland in about 15 minutes by car in any direction. Lots of excellent parks and nature preserves. Buffalo. Eagles. There's a robust local shopping/dining scene because it's a regional center, not a suburb. World-class hospital system and a med school (biggest hospital between Chicago and St. Louis; serves the whole middle of the state). Blue state. It's a manageable size city; when I watch the local news, I know approximately 50% of the people reporting, commenting, or getting arrested.

Many other established "rust belt" midwestern cities would be similar, especially when they're regional cities that serve a surrounding rural area, anchored by either a Fortune 500 company or a university. (My tax RATE is actually comparatively high but the cost of living (and property) is so low that I don't feel like I pay "too much" in property and sales taxes.)

It is pretty flat here, though. And it is humid for part of the summer, but not like Florida humid.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:30 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I swear I don't work for the chamber of commerce, since it seems like I'm selling this area a lot on the green, but we check all of your boxes in Greensboro, NC except for the humidity and the flat (we're not midwest flat, but we're not mountainous, either.)

Houses are cheap here; 250k can buy you a frigging palace. Check out this lovely or this or this...

We have a great local beer scene in NC and a couple of amazing craft beer stores here in town. There's meetups and a great local music scene (you could keep yourself busy going to free music events at my place of work pretty much every night of the school year) and a great local dance scene (salsa? contra? square? we've got it) and continuing ed classes at the community colleges and book clubs and and... plenty of ways to keep yourself busy. The local restaurant scene is up and coming (not as much farm to table as, say, Asheville, but lots of good stuff). Plenty of nice, safe, cozy places to live in, and your choice of walkable areas or semi-rural, while still being 10 to 20 minutes from town. And if you get tired of here and need to get out of town, we're three hours to Asheville, an hour and a half to Charlotte, 3 to 4 hours to the coast, Winston has good food and good beer, Chapel Hill is an hour down the road...

Health care is a lot of what we do around here, though I can't speak to ACA coverage specifically.

I have to zoom to a meeting, but if you'd like to know more or specific, memail me...
posted by joycehealy at 11:31 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm in Atlanta, and the first thought I had was Decatur, GA. Which ticks all your boxes. It's a little town in the Atlanta metro area. It's near Emory University, so good hospital (they cured Ebola there.) Walkable little town, FANTASTIC Farmers Market (go on a weekday, you'd be a puddle of nerves on the weekend.)

So check that out. I think you might like it here.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Obviously you should move to Portland, ME.
posted by caoimhe at 11:36 AM on February 19, 2015

Red Wing, Minnesota. Close to the twin cities, hasn't been scraped flat by the glacier, so it's got some nice bluffs. 40 minutes from the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The mighty Mississippi runs through it. Farmers market, local brewery, very active art community. Cost of living is lower than the metro area, without being too far from it (about 40 minutes in the other direction).
posted by asranixon at 11:38 AM on February 19, 2015

Hillsboro, Oregon might work if you buy something near the downtown core, which is walkable to restaurants, farmers markets, light rail, etc. There are cute houses available for ~$250K in that area, like this or this. Oregon has no sales tax and cost of living is not that high, car registration and property taxes are pretty cheap for example. Summers are gorgeous, and winters are not that cold, though they are rainy. An hour to the beach and there are mountains very close by.

Forest Grove is a few miles to the west and might be another good option, I'm less familiar with it but I know people who live there and like living in "The Grove".
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Obviously they're both lacking the "mountains" requirement, but Des Moines (my hometown) and Omaha (my collegiate and shortly post-collegiate town) check almost all the other boxes. Des Moines, in particular, appears to be experiencing something of a renaissance in terms of art/food/booze/culture. It's a very different city from when I grew up there and it's a lot more fun.
posted by protocoach at 11:44 AM on February 19, 2015

Well, my first thought was Missoula, Montana although I don't know about the health care situation there. It's definitely progressive and it's right in the mountains.
posted by desjardins at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland: Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, Rocky River. Inexpensive early-20th-century homes on small lots. Medium walkability, plenty of craft breweries, CSAs, farmer's markets. Fairly humid, though.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:52 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lot of New England is like that, outside the cities. Although the summers can be humid.
posted by phoenixy at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Anyone suggesting Atlanta didn't read the whole question:
•I can handle cold and even a fair bit of snow, but my experience with humidity hasn’t been promising. I’ve only experienced it on visits to New Orleans and Florida. I could deal with it in the first city, cause it was New Orleans, but I spent most of my Florida trip whining. Constant excessive heat, like the southwest, would also be hard.
Atlanta is terrible in the summer, which lasts approximately April-October.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm also chiming in to suggest Atlanta. Decatur is my favorite suburb, though it may be out of your price range.

Note that you must have a car to get around the Atlanta area, unless you're willing to limit yourself to amenities within walking distance or comfortable using the very limited and frustrating public transit trains and buses (MARTA).
posted by nicebookrack at 12:12 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Cleveland, and adding that there's great healthcare and an amazing parks system. It's also super, super cheap to live there--even things like theater and sporting events are a fraction of what I've paid in other cities.
posted by MeghanC at 12:13 PM on February 19, 2015

I was also coming in to say that if humidity is a problem you should stay far, far away from Atlanta.
posted by lydhre at 12:15 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Asheville, NC?
posted by egeanin at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2015

I'm unconvinced a town that fits your criteria in the USA exists, without deliberately ignoring a subset of said criteria.

I live in one. I think? I mean my idea of a good selection of restaurants is that there are four or five places to eat dinner (and a few fast food options) within walking distance and you can drive 15-20 minutes to get to dozens more. I'm a 40's childless woman and I stay busy both with civic stuff and the local trivia night and hanging out with friends and the occasional travel. I live across the street from the hospital which runs in the black every year. The town has a movie theater and a music hall and a bunch of the great outdoors to go walking and hanging out in. No tall buildings. Very little public transportation but you can walk to the train station and be in NYC in about 6-7 hours. People are either liberal-ish or they're conservative but not rabid and no one spends a lot of time getting on people for their politics. It's a very live and let live environment.

You can get a big house for 250K but it will be expensive to heat and taxes are not cheap (because our schools are pretty good). We have real winter but not very humid summers because we're a little bit elevated and in the woods. There are a bunch of CSAs locally as well as a nearby brewery and a few places that sell craft beers (and a homebrewing club). Now I grew up in a smallish town and this is also a smallish town (4500 people) but I think in a lot of Vermont you can find places like this (there's also Montpelier, Hardwick, Brattleboro, White River Junction, a bunch of others). You might have a hard time getting a 250K house in Burlington but I bet you could get close to that. If you want to pick my brain about Vermont options, please do look me up.
posted by jessamyn at 12:31 PM on February 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

In questions like this I always want to preach the gospel of Iowa. So: Hi. Have you heard the good news about Iowa? It's cheap, safe, and the quality of life is high (plus it has towns/cities surrounded by green rural areas, checking your "semi-rural" box). Personally, I used to live in the Twin Cities, and while I liked it, Des Moines is better in some ways: It's a lot like Minneapolis, but way cheaper, less crowded (I share your anxiety associated with crowds and tall buildings), and there are parking spaces. As protocoach says, DSM is having a renaissance right now, so it's an increasingly cool place to be (downside: it's getting more expensive as people discover it). It has a surprisingly big local beer scene too.

But actually, in your case, I recommend Iowa City over Des Moines. While Des Moines is flat, Iowa City (like all of eastern Iowa) is more hilly. (I know, hills aren't mountains, but…) It's a college town (University of Iowa) and is SUPER liberal, and it has a farmer's market, craft breweries, etc. It's also full of writers, as the home of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, so you'll meet a lot of people who share your interests. It's true that a lot of the social life skews young, because of the undergrad crowd, but you can find your people by joining a writers' group, going to the more grown-up bars (memail me if you want, I know some), and so on.

I guess what I'm saying is, you really ought to give Iowa a try.
posted by honey wheat at 12:37 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think Pittsburgh may fit almost all of your points if you find the right neighborhood. I live in a $150k 3-bedroom house 15-20 minutes driving from the city (it's an easy drive too), and I'm basically in white-picket-fence 2.5-kids suburbia. Pittsburgh's kind of weird because all the neighborhoods are like their own little towns, but overall it's a really neat city that's getting younger and more liberal every year as the tech industry booms. Includes excellent craft beer, farmers markets, and a fair variety of ethnic restaurants.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:39 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Easthampton, MA is right next to a mountain and has a lot of the stuff you want. Surrounding towns might work for you, too.
posted by chaiminda at 12:40 PM on February 19, 2015

rabbitrabbit: "Hillsboro, Oregon might work if you buy something near the downtown core"

I'd add that essentially most Portland suburbs would fit the criteria. Really depends on the "type" you'd prefer though all will pretty much feature the typical Oregon stuff: A local craft brewpub, a local coffee shop, a fancy restaurant that is not too expensive.
Plus Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) is in nearby Portland.

Troutdale is on the Columbia River and has a small-town NW vibe.
Beaverton is a bedroom community with houses that run the gamut of McMansions to post-war boxes.
Estacada is a small-small woodsy town on edge of a large creek. Very cheap living, but it's the only settlement within 30 minutes.

Coastal Oregon too might work, but don't expect great healthcare / hospitals, though, some have OHSU extension clinics.
posted by wcfields at 12:45 PM on February 19, 2015

I agree Pittsburgh is great and much-overlooked. But Asheville fits every one of your criteria except for its somewhat humid summers, and they're not bad at all after living in Florida.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:53 PM on February 19, 2015

Wow. Sounds like where I live! Billings, Montana.

A link.

Another link.

Here's a link.


One more.
posted by The Deej at 12:53 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yup, Pittsburgh if but only if you pick your neighborhood well.
posted by Stacey at 1:23 PM on February 19, 2015

I actually was coming in to suggest Billings, MT or Tacoma, WA. I don't really get why more people don't dig Tacoma. It has everything you asked for, including water and mountains in excess, plus a thriving art scene that skews older than hipstery Seattle. There are a ton of charming homes in your price range, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm unconvinced a town that fits your criteria in the USA exists, without deliberately ignoring a subset of said criteria.

Huh. I was going to say that the problem here is too much choice, except that of course she'll have to weigh what the landscape is like, what the area's amenities are like, and what the cost of living is herself.

I mean, Buffalo meets everything except it's flat. Burlington VT adds mountains but is way more expensive. Asheville or Boone in NC are probably cheaper than Burlington but NC state politics have gone all crazypants, and the same is probably true for Fayetteville AR. Pittsburgh gots the hills and is more vibrant than Buffalo, but also seems to be more expensive and the statewide politics in PA aren't as good as NY. RTP in NC is nice, but hot humid summers and statewide politics blow. Charlottesville VA hits most of them but finding a place under $250K seems like it would be hard, but Waynesboro or Harrisonburg are nearby and cheaper.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:33 PM on February 19, 2015

I thing Greenville SC fits most of your criteria, except for perhaps the ACA coverage. It may be a bit conservative but there are more liberal pockets since it is a college town. It's close to Asheville and similar but cheaper and more jobs from what I hear.

Nashville or Pittsburgh could also work as others have mentioned.

Do you have any type of preference regarding climate? Temperatures in the South vs New England vary a lot. If you are used to warmer CA temps, then vermont may be a bit of a challenge at first.
posted by seesom at 1:36 PM on February 19, 2015

I mean, Buffalo meets everything except it's flat.

Rochester, NY. The east-side suburbs, or the edge of the suburbs where you can get land at that price-range with a not-flat vista, excellent health care from URMC, and you're on the fringes of the Finger Lakes with wineries, state parks/hiking trails/waterfalls/gorges, microbreweries, and lake fun and skiing.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:51 PM on February 19, 2015

How about the Pioneer Valley in MA? Towns that fit the bill would be Northampton, Easthampton, Amherst, and there are nice smaller towns very nearby, too (Williamsburg, Haydenville, Montague, Hadley, Goshen). Fills all your requirements, except summers can get fairly humid (nothing to Florida) and winters can be harsh (this winter is particularly bad). It's a very feminist+LGBT friendly area with lots of opportunities for non-bar and non-club socializing. Definitely college towns, but there's a big community outside the colleges, too. I'm a freelancer here with excellent state-funded health coverage (free). You can find a small house near to town for 250k certainly, and something larger if you're willing to drive ~20-30 minutes to get to a downtown area. Florence, a village within Northampton, is still fairly reasonable. If you want to live right in downtown Northampton, though, you may be priced out unless you consider condos/renting. The 5 College consortium in the area brings in a lot of opportunities that most cities of a similar size wouldn't get. Amazing farmers markets (there's big support for local farms around here), cafes, theaters, tons of microbreweries, music venues, museums, galleries, lectures, readings, etc. There's a ok-to-middling bus system, too, and a good bike path, if you're into that. As for outdoors, there's plenty of hiking and you're near to the Connecticut River and Quabbin Reservoir.
posted by sonmi at 1:52 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Finger Lakes. It's a pocket of blue in a sea of red (though many "reds" in that area are libertarians rather than republicans). You might like Ithaca or (more affordably) Trumansburg. Winters are, well, wintery. But not as bad as Buffalo or other points north. Summers are absolutely splendid. Plus Wine! Beer! Farmers Markets! Hippies! and most importantly WEGMANS!
posted by melissasaurus at 1:52 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Denver real estate scene has heated up, but there are still a few pockets in the metro area that might fit your qualifications and budget (well, depending on your definition of 'turnkey'), and moreover, given your okayness with semi-rural options, I'd encourage you to look at other, smaller towns here on the Front Range. Also maybe Durango, CO? I haven't been out there yet, but I have a family member that relocated there from Asheville and seems to be enjoying the scene for a lot of the criteria you describe.

Another small college town with low housing costs that votes purple: Kalamazoo, MI.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:17 PM on February 19, 2015

This is going to raise your eyebrows, but: Salt Lake City.

I know. But the breweries (yes) and farmers markets and fresh-air sportiness is there. Utah has a great health care exchange, great health care facilities, and surprising pockets of progressivness. Housing prices are briskly swinging up, but still well within your range - and that's in town, you could probably head out into the smaller surrounding towns and do really well.

And it's a pretty, pretty place.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:05 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ft. Collins, Colorado meets most of your criteria.
posted by Librarypt at 3:16 PM on February 19, 2015

Oops, I see that was already suggested. Definitely worth looking into.
posted by Librarypt at 3:18 PM on February 19, 2015

Alabamian here - Take a look around suburban Birmingham, AL and, as been mentioned by others, ATL area, including the extended 'burbs and areas that are a bit too far out to be called suburban ATL. For instance, I happened to be in Rome, GA on business this week and found it to be really charming. Wasn't in town long enough to really be a tourist, but headed downtown for a brew and saw some really interesting places. I wouldn't say it was Austin, but at least worth a look.

Birmingham has the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) medical system, which is really first rate. They patched my sorry ass back together after a very bad accident. ATL of course has Emory and lots of other medical resources. You'd have to research the ACA stuff, but I think the red states are getting a bit of a bad/exaggerated rap - we're not dismantling our healthcare systems in protest, and I think eventually we'll come along for whatever happens. Alabama did refuse the Medicaid expansion funding for now - not sure where that's heading, nor how that affects you. But Alabama generally demagogues on an issue for a while and then gets in line once everyone's tired of the subject. The rank and file citizens in the bigger cities (nor the smaller towns, for that matter) of the SE are not all Rush Limbaugh clones, despite our image.

Humidity - central/north AL & GA are NOT quite in the same league as LA and FL, but I'm not going to lie - it gets pretty bad June through August, and during those months it's always going to be hot and usually going to be humid unless it rains, no exceptions. May and September are the bumper months, where it can go either way. But in compensation - October - March are really nice compared to other parts of the world. It can get up to 70 degrees even in the winter. We rarely need more than a light jacket. Lots of people don't even own parkas and top coats and the like. There is a chance for a hard freeze or an ice storm in January and February - even then it's a minor event that the rest of the country laughs at the fact that we're closing schools over (we do this not because we're stupid and don't know how to drive, but because we don't invest in salting/sanding/deicing equipment for roads that we'd only use once every year or two).

Which means the gardening season is LONG. You may have to get out in the yard at 7 a.m. to beat the heat, but it's a long season.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:49 PM on February 19, 2015

Another vote for Pittsburgh! There's so much fun stuff to do here. You can easily find a nice house in a good neighborhood for that money (I'm house-hunting right now and sound pretty similar to you, so I'd recommend Squirrel Hill, Regent Square, and Edgewood.) Let me know if you'd like more info; I'm really into Pittsburgh.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:28 PM on February 19, 2015

So you're very nearly describing Corvallis.

Must haves:
•Medical: no clue here really. There's a lot of students, but they typically don't use medical services much.
• houses for $250k or less. There are some, but they will be small. This is the chief category where I say almost, but it does technically fit the bill. The nearby town of Albany is a common bedroom community for more the more price conscious.
• cost of living--high income tax, no sales tax. I don't know too many high income freelance writers, so this might be a workable setup.
•Not overly crowded (I get anxious around too many people or if I feel closed in by tall buildings), or a city with smaller neighborhoods that basically act like small towns.
•A nice mix of restaurants, cafes, shops, etc, especially concentrated in the historic downtown district.
•Social activities include several fairly active meetup groups in the area, and a university, Oregon State University, which has many events on any given night. We just hosted a TEDx last week, for example. Also a short drive to the other Oregon flagship, University of Oregon.
• lots of trees, little concrete. I live adjacent to a forested hill that I've never gotten around to walking around.
• Crime: meh. Mostly drunk college kids. You may wish to know that smaller Oregon towns have a reputation of being a refuge for meth addicts after the logging booms died in the housing crash.

Would like to have as many of these as possible:
•semi-rural is an accurate description. One of the communing paths to my job borders along some research crop fields, and anything too hilly to be farmed is trees. There's several trails in town, and near town.
•Corvallis isn't the most liberal city in Oregon, but Eugene sets the hurdle very, very high. Recent city legislative accomplishments include banning plastic bags, seemingly explicitly designed to tick off Wal-Mart. The state as a whole is fairly liberal, having legalized marijuana and nearly mandating that food sold in oregon containing GM be required labelled.
•Corvallis has water in the form of the Willemmette River and mountains in the form of the Cascades and Oregon Costal Range. When I visited Corvallis in February for the first time, coming from it kind of freaked me out that the OSU landscape was so green. I figured they were venal enough to water their grass in the winter. I now realize the sky is an unrelenting source of water in the winter.
•Corvallis will have humidity, but of a different kind. It will be cold and humid. When it warms up in the summer, it tends to stop raining and dry out in general.
•Corvallis is painfully painfully strewn with craft breweries, the downtown farmer’s market, food coops, gluten free menus, and hand crafted gift stores, etc.
•Seems like everyone here, by nature of the weather, likes to garden. My apartment complex actually sets aside fenced plots (keeps the deer out) to renters every year. It is also haunted by a large set of cats whom I assume are owned by someone.
posted by pwnguin at 8:01 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a reason many Californians move to Oregon. As others have mentioned, you could look at Ashland, Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland ("city of neighborhoods").
posted by bluedaisy at 8:57 PM on February 19, 2015

I moved to the Hudson Valley area of New York State on the advice of metafilter several years ago. My husband and I just signed the contract on a 2300-square foot turnkey house for $210,000 in New Paltz which ticks every single one of your boxes. Property taxes are high but you could look in Kingston, Beacon, or other nearby towns and find something much cheaper. There are tons of book clubs, mountains to hike, craft breweries (and several whiskey distilleries!) , CSAs, hippies, and backyard gardens even in more suburban areas. Generally, though, we're more of a mix of semi-rural and small town charm. I think you'd love it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:59 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Fayetteville, Arkansas. Trust me.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:29 PM on February 19, 2015

Manitou Springs, CO.

Government page

Real estate
posted by faineant at 10:37 AM on February 20, 2015

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