Where should I live?
June 13, 2016 10:30 AM   Subscribe

What U.S. city should we move too. It needs to be small, near the mountains, and with a moderate climate.

So my wife and I have finally reached a new level of agreement. It is time for us to get our family the hell out of Austin and Texas. But to where?
I love New Mexico and want to live there again, but my wife and son are rather fair-skinned and she thinks the whole damn place is desert, even the alpine areas.

Our requirements:
- Reliable Internet - I can work from home, so I need decent internet. Most large towns and small cities should accommodate.

- Schools & Libraries - Good schools. The kid is a voracious reader and a lover of school. We want to keep him getting a good education.

- Mountains - I need mountains. She likes mountains too. 25 years living in this flat, overpopulated shit hole with limited access to the outdoors has made me bitter. The mountains do not need to be large.

- Moderate Temps - Weather that's not too cold. It can get cold and snowy, but she won't handle long cold winters well. (She lived on the Front Range and that was too cold)

- Liberal - We're pinkos. A liberal (ish?) college town would be ideal.

- Federal land - I hunt and backpack. Proximity to federal lands (not national parks) is essential.

- Community - We want a place where you can go to a street fair or a festival and not bump into 75,000 people. We want a place where things happen; live music, gardening groups, anything! But we want it to be small enough for those to be things we'd want to go see. Here in Austin, just getting out to see a street show has become more hassle than it is worth with parking and aggressive behaviors.

- Affordable - We are leaving Austin, so almost anything will seem affordable. But being able to buy a 1400 sq. ft. house for under $200K would be a dream world. We are down to being a single income family. That is not likely to change.

- Beer - I brew and would love to have brewery supplies nearby, but with the internet, anything is possible. What I would like more is even a handful of local breweries.

- Shade - The problem with NM is the lack of or short stature of trees. She wants someplace shady with trees (in general). The plains and the deserts are a no go.

Places we have discussed:
- The Ozarks - We have been there to visit but have no connections there and no sense of the realities of living there.
- Appalachia (the Southern end of course) - I have family in North Georgia and Asheville. We talked about Asheville, but we have only ever visited family there. Our view of the town is probably skewed. I love Eastern TN, but don't know anything about the towns or cities. We like the entire region but wouldn't know where to move.

What are we missing?
Are there entire regions we are missing?
What towns and cities, in those regions and the regions mentioned above, should we be thinking about?
If you can, why is the place you mentioned a good choice.
posted by Seamus to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Ft. Collins, CO University and technology town, with the

Grand Junction, CO (wine & peach country)

Pueblo, CO Great little town, strong civics from the families and unions working at the (now dead) steel mills)

Montana is pretty civic.

Boulder, CO, but pricey because everybody wants to live there. great schools.
posted by nickggully at 10:35 AM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Provo, UT. Seriously.

Your requirements:
- Reliable Internet - Google Fiber. Fast, free internet.
- Schools & Libraries - Good schools and beautiful libraries.
- Mountains - Mountains everywhere. My house is right under at the foot of mountains and between two canyons.
- Moderate Temps - Not too cold, not too hot. I prefer the summer, but the winter's are far milder then I was lead to believe when I moved here from Seattle.
- Liberal - There is a growing liberal community, it's not all conservative republicans anymore.
- Federal land -The federal government owns much of the land in Utah. Over 70 percent of the land is either BLM land, Utah State Trustland, or U.S. National Forest, U.S. National Park, U.S. National Monument, National Recreation Area or U.S. Wilderness Area.
- Community - This! I never thought I would say that Utah has a good community but I'm doing it. There's a lot going on here. SLC Pride is HUGE but there are many many smaller festivals, celebrations, and events in the area.
- Affordable - Very affordable houses and cost of living. Unfortunately, wages are lower too.
- Beer - Breweries and distilleries are on the rise.
- Shade - This is a requirement for me as well.
posted by Marinara at 10:37 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Missoula fits the bill pretty perfectly. The winters are cold and well... wintery -- but there are a very clear 4 seasons -- it's not 6 months of freezing dreariness, or anything like that.

Mountains, forests, literally millions of acres of public land. It's a red state, but not of the bible-beating-stripe. Missoula proper is a liberal college town, tons of breweries, downtown art scene.
posted by so fucking future at 10:37 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Eugene, Oregon is pretty great! Definitely check it out. Not a super small town, but pretty much everything you mention is there or right nearby.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 10:38 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Asheville and environs would seem to be exactly what you want down to the bullet point, except I'm not sure about the housing prices nowadays. Look at surrounding spots like Boone as well.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:38 AM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You might like Bellingham, WA. Not sure about the housing prices, though.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:40 AM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Based on living there, the Front Range in CO can be quite arid, with strong UV. Don't know if that makes a difference for the fair-skinned ones.
Flagstaff AZ? I visited there, it was lovely, but I have not lived there.
posted by carter at 10:42 AM on June 13, 2016

In summary of my and other answers here: the whole Mountain West region is worth checking out.
posted by so fucking future at 10:42 AM on June 13, 2016

Flagstaff, AZ might be a little above your price range and/or the winters might be a touch too cold, but it certainly merits looking at. I was there yesterday and was reminded what a wonderful place it is, for many of the reasons that are in your requirements.

I also hear good things about Reno, NV, and if you could handle some driving and some redneckery, my hometown of Knoxville, TN has a lot of excellent qualities and has an up-and-coming cool community scene, while still being quite cheap to live in. Plus, such great mountains.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:49 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: You might want to take a look at the I-80 and Highway 50 corridors north and east of Sacramento. After Folsom Lake, you almost immediately hit a huge array of mountainous state and federal parks / forests. Climate varies between hot as hades in the summer with mild winters (Sacramento) to milder in the summer and snowier in the winter (Auburn). I just checked real estate in Placerville and it's a bit high of your price range but not a lot.

This is in California's republican belt, but... they're California republicans.

I hope someone will speak to Flagstaff in more detail; like carter, I have only visited briefly and it seemed great but I don't know enough to recommend living there.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:50 AM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Roanoke, VA.
posted by headnsouth at 10:50 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yep, Asheville or the surrounding areas. How do you think your experience has been skewed by visiting?
posted by greta simone at 10:57 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds almost like where I live: Billings, MT.

Granted, our winters are cold, but with surprisingly frequent rises in temperature. (It seems like there is at least a day or two each month in the winter when golf courses re--open!) We are not as tucked into the mountains as beautiful Missoula is, but there are mountains nearby.

Billings is not particularly liberal. Demographically, it's probably more right-leaning, but not not oppressively so, and in fact people here are pretty tolerant in a "live and let live" sort of way.

Other than that, I'll let you do your own Googling for info that is important to you.
posted by The Deej at 11:01 AM on June 13, 2016

Flagstaff AZ? I visited there, it was lovely, but I have not lived there.

I was coming here to say this too. I have visited friends there multiple times; my impression is it's a wonderful city with pretty much all the things you seek, but I'm not a local.
posted by psoas at 11:02 AM on June 13, 2016

(She lived on the Front Range and that was too cold)

Do you mean the Front Range of Colorado? Or is there another Front Range I'm not aware of.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: I just got back from a trip to Roanoke, VA, and I was going to suggest Roanoke (& environs--Salem, Blacksburg) as well. You'd also be roughly equidistant from Asheville, NC and the DC area (3.5 hours).
posted by apartment dweller at 11:11 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yep, sorry. The Front Range of Colorado.
posted by Seamus at 11:16 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: Check out Grass Valley, CA. It's a neat little progressive town in the foothills (or in the mountains, depending on what you consider mountains).
posted by mudpuppie at 11:19 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: Seconding Eugene, Oregon. Adding Ashland, Oregon.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:22 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: I'm kind of surprised no one's mentioned Charlottesville, Va., yet. I don't live there anymore, but the long term plan is to return eventually.

- Reliable Internet - Fiber is increasingly available, but everywhere in or near town has access to at least Comcast.
- Schools & Libraries - U.Va. is right there; the city and county schools are excellent.
- Mountains - The Blue Ridge (and AT) is a short drive away; there are smaller mountains within biking distance of the Downtown Mall.
- Moderate Temps - Summers can be hot and humid, though the nights cool off quickly; winters are generally mild, with a good snow storm every couple of years.
- Liberal - The 2003 city council elections were between the Democrats and the Democrats for Change.
- Federal land -I don't know much about this explicitly (I'm a city kid who's never fired anything larger than a .22 at a paper target), but I do have several friends still in Virginia who hunt, so there's opportunity there.
- Community - The Downtown Mall is a lovely way to spend an unstructured evening and still run into half your friends.
- Affordable - Housing is affordable-ish. To get a 1400 sq ft house you'll either have to spend more like $300K or live out in the urban ring, but if you live in town you won't necessarily need a car, so you can money that way.
- Beer - There's a home brew store and multiple breweries in town (Champion's my favorite brewery on the East Coast), and lots more in the surrounding counties and in Richmond.
- Shade - Yeah, they got trees.
- Transportation - You didn't mention this, but C'ville is on the Northeast Corridor, with two trains a day going to DC and NYC.
posted by thecaddy at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'll suggest Bellingham WA as well. It's got everything you want. With the very large exception of affordable housing. But mountains (Mt Baker et al), smallish (80,000 or so), liberal (college town), downtown activities, there's also an ocean like right there ("Ski to Sea"), the weather is insanely moderate (we stay cooler than Seattle during the Summer and warmer than them during the Winter), local beer stuff everywhere, pot stores everywhere (if you're into that), coffee everywhere (you didn't mention that either but it's worth noting), easy to get around (I walk everywhere which at worst typically means 3 miles but tons of people bike and the bus system is good for a town this size). We've got islands nearby, lovely British Columbia like 20 miles away, I hear the schools here are good, I have no idea about the music scene but I'm sure there's at least some kind of scene (college town + active downtown area = music?).

I'm less thrilled about the restaurant selection here. I mean we got plenty but coming from Austin (where I also lived) you might find things a bit on the bland side. Scratch that, you will find things on the bland side. But there are many sporting attempts at good food here.
posted by bfootdav at 11:27 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and for some reasons why I suggested Roanoke, VA:
Mountains--You'd be nestled in a lovely valley surrounded by mountains. Lots of National Forest land, trails, recreation, lakes, rivers. No problem finding shade!
Real estate--you can easily find a house in your price range.
Politics--Hmm. Not as blue as NoVa, but Roanoke City went 59.2% for Obama in 2012.
And on preview--yes, Charlottesville is also a good choice (and if you did choose Roanoke, you'd be less than 2 hours from C-ville).
posted by apartment dweller at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: You might want to take a look at Spokane WA. I think it has most of what you want. It's not as liberal as the western part of the state, but it's not as expensive either.
posted by Redstart at 11:42 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: Fayetteville, AR might be worth checking out; it's a blue-ish dot in Arkansas. There are various clubs and groups for various lefty causes. And it's extremely green and tree-covered (I agree with your wife about ABQ--it's cool in a lot of ways, but way too dry).

But the Ozarks are not really mountains in the way that, say, the Sandias are. There's a growing craft beer scene and a recently growing food scene. Don't expect a variety of any particular Asian cuisine, though (as far as I know, there has been no edible Japanese food in the area since Asahi closed a couple decades ago; I think there's one Korean restaurant now, and you might have as many as TWO choices for pho).

There's the state's flagship university, so lots of events, and various music venues plus a couple of music festivals. The city's not that big, so it's generally possible to go to whatever you want. And the Walton Arts Center gets more than its fair share of touring shows/performances.

I have zero idea about federal lands, but hunting and hiking are both very popular pastimes there.

Summers are warm to hot and humid. Winters are mild to cold, with occasional snow, and big snowstorms or icestorms about once every 3-4 years. (Which, somehow, take everyone by surprise. And then dudebros and good ol' boys head out cockily in their giant pickups and SUVs and get into huge accidents.) Sometimes it's 10F on New Year's and sometimes it's 68F. Spring is pretty and fall is beautiful. Damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes, though, are a possibility.

However, it IS in Arkansas, and thus its "blue" nature is influenced by the surrounding red and non/anti-cosmopolitan, non/anti-multicultural milieu. (I'm not picking on the south; it's similar in a lot of ways to inland or rural parts of the Pacific Northwest). Fayetteville was very segregated when I lived there, and that doesn't seem to have changed a whole lot on my return visits. Some people may ask you which church you go to, or be casually homophobic/transphobic/racist/Islamophobic. Then again, I suspect that all of the above tends to go along with anywhere that has a lower cost of living in the US (and is definitely true for some of the other suggestions above).
posted by wintersweet at 11:44 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Note that "warmer than the Front Range during the month of January" basically limits you to the states south and east of Oklahoma, the southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico, most of the state of California, and the coasts of the Pacific Northwest states. (The link above is for January 2001, but you can use the sliders to look and see how the winters compared in other years as well.)

In particular, I would take a close look at the climate data for Provo, Roanoke, and Charlottesville and compare them to the temperatures your wife didn't like in Colorado. The Wikipedia pages for each city usually have a nice table with this information, and sometimes a nice graph as well.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:45 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Perhaps Reno?
posted by Malleable at 12:17 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: My hometown of Bellingham, Washington!

I miss it so much. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 12:27 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chattanooga, TN, seems like it fits most of your criteria.
posted by Liesl at 1:36 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bellingham is pretty lovely. I've lived in both Austin and Seattle and prefer Bellingham, hands-down.

Knoxville, TN - very similar to Charlottesville, for all the reasons listed.

Asheville is really nice, but the job market there is rough.
posted by Thistledown at 2:40 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Another vote for Asheville! It's got everything you are asking for :) Housing is starting to go up there, so also check Chandler - it's about a 10 min drive from Asheville's downtown.
posted by ananci at 3:23 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: My friend moved to Weed, CA (near Mt. Shasta) and loooooves it. However, she has no children and the politics might be conservative (even with a name like Weed).
posted by bluesky78987 at 4:03 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: You need to look into Bend, Oregon.
posted by katie at 4:39 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: I moved to Spokane, WA from Texas 4 years ago because it had all the things you listed. :-) I live in a neighborhood where I can walk to: live music, street festivals a few times a year, the community garden, a brewery, restaurants. There are mountains and soooo many trees. The winters I've been here it snows, sticks around a week or so and then melts. This happens a few times over the winter. So it's not endless months of snow or anything. In the summer it gets hot but not Texas hot. Cheap cost of living.
posted by ilovewinter at 5:06 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: Walla Walla, WA. I think it checks most of your boxes.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:22 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: I have family there and I'm biased, but seriously Roanoke, VA is a secret gem.
posted by thivaia at 7:36 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: Hi. Bellingham, again. Love my town.
posted by Capri at 8:24 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up in Blacksburg, Va. even in the summer it's cool. the national parks, incredible. if i could do my bidding I'd live there. you go down to Charotte's ville it's hot--stay up in the BlueRidge.
If you hike (sounds like it) you'll never find a better path.
Best small town in America.
posted by Twist at 10:20 PM on June 13, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone.
My spreadsheet is overflowing with locations to quantify!
I'll happily take more.
posted by Seamus at 3:04 PM on June 14, 2016

Best answer: If Charlottesville is too big for you (some urban sprawl), consider Staunton on the west side of the blue ridge. It's still close enough to C'ville for fun shopping, but much quieter, better housing prices too.
posted by Namlit at 3:56 AM on June 15, 2016

Best answer: and Staunton has an Amtrak station (3 days a week service, New York - Washington, DC - Cincinnati - Indianapolis - Chicago), and the American Shakespeare Center.
posted by apartment dweller at 4:31 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

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