Where can I live alone for ~$1000/month?
December 22, 2016 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for places in the US where it is fairly easy to find a studio or 1br apartment for ~$1000 or less, including heat/electricity. Needs to be someplace where I'd be reasonably comfortable/safe as a liberal, queer gender-nonconforming woman (I have a crewcut and mostly wear men's clothing but ID as female.) City or smaller town is OK but new-development suburbs don't feel good to me.

-cultural stuff is a big plus--I don't care about bars or clubbing but I like plays/performances/etc, especially queer stuff.
-I like living in neighborhoods that are nice/interesting to walk around in, but it's fine if I need to drive to get to things I *need* like groceries.
-I want to leave the West Coast (I live in the Bay Area now.) The Pacific NW doesn't excite me, SoCal doesn't excite me, and I don't want to just move a few hours from the Bay to somewhere cheaper. It would be nice to live someplace with other cities nearby but this is not a requirement. (I'm from the East Coast and still find it a little weird that I can drive for 4 hours without getting to another big city.)
posted by needs more cowbell to Travel & Transportation (77 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You can in Philadelphia which easily fits your other criteria as well.
posted by bearette at 11:31 AM on December 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

Cincinnati! I'm in a small studio with a "bonus room"/breakfast nook for $475 + heat + gas + electric. It sure isn't the Northeast, but there are enough Northern amenities to make it fun. There are definitely visible queer people here, mostly in the downtown and UC areas, I think, but I am not an expert here.
posted by 8603 at 11:33 AM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Northampton, MA comes to mind. Impressive amount of culture for what is a fairly small college town, and within fairly easy reach of Boston (and even NYC).
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:36 AM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Philadelphia for sure. I'm apartment-hunting right now and you can get a studio or one-bedroom for significantly less than that in most neighborhoods.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:37 AM on December 22, 2016

Have you considered Ithaca, NY? If you can deal with winter, it's pretty lovely. It punches way above its weight on the culture angle and it is famously queer-friendly.

Wikipedia on Ithaca's reputation.

Visit Ithaca.

And Google turns up plenty of specifics, depending on your exact niche interests.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:37 AM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

(Oh, and plenty of rentals in your price range.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:39 AM on December 22, 2016

Madison, WI meets all your criteria. Milwaukee and Chicago are easily accessible by bus. Missoula, MT is very liberal but not close to any big cities (the scenery might make up for that).

Milwaukee, WI isn't, like, a huge mecca for queer culture, but there are pockets of it. I live in a LGBT friendly neighborhood. I pay $575 for a big one bedroom. There's a bus to Madison and a train (or bus) to Chicago.
posted by AFABulous at 11:43 AM on December 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

Came in to suggest Madison, WI, so I agree with AFABulous. I came here from spending a couple decades on the coasts, and I still think it's nice. (No offense to the midwest, but it can be a culture shock.)
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 11:48 AM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Louisville would love to have you. You won't be able to live in the super trendy parts of town, but there are plenty of good places in the non-trendy parts of town that are right in your budget.
posted by deezil at 11:53 AM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Columbus, OH!
posted by ChuraChura at 11:54 AM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Minneapolis meets this criteria. Our winters are no joke, however.
posted by soelo at 11:57 AM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Chicago. I am a non-binary genderqueer person and I have no problem a) finding queer people to hang with b) PDAing my spouse c) enjoying many cultural (and often free/sponsored by city) events catered to nerdy indoor types like me. We have our problems for sure, but it's still a huge (mostly) liberal city with many culinary, artistic and cultural wonders and you'll be surprised how far your money will go. Studios under $1000 in Logan Square, Bucktown, Rogers Park, and other cool neighborhoods. Message me if you want more info.
posted by lieber hair at 12:00 PM on December 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

Albany/Troy/Schenectady NY.
posted by metasarah at 12:01 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ann Arbor!! Ticks all your boxes.....
posted by Ausamor at 12:04 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm in the northern Virginia area, which I realize is a non-starter pricewise (unless you share an apartment), but has easy access to the northeast transportation corridor. I'd suggest a college town on the east coast with good transportation access: Charlottesville for sure; Staunton/Harrisonburg area as a possibility. Charlottesville and Staunton have Amtrak stations.
posted by apartment dweller at 12:10 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agreed on Chicago -- a studio apartment for under $1000 is totally doable. Seconding Logan Square / Avondale on the NW side (where I live), or Rogers Park / Edgewater on the North Side. I don't ever go to Pilsen really but it's at a similar price point/coolness/safety nexus as far as I know.

This is assuming you're okay with Midwestern winters, though. It's a step beyond East Coast in terms of biting cold, except for maybe Boston and points north and west from there....
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:17 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Most larger midwest cities you can probably accomplish this. I'll mention my city (Rockford, IL) but you likely have much better options.

While Rockford's not exactly devoid of culture it's likely going to be too mediocre for someone who emphasizes it as you do and although there here (hi!) you'll probably have trouble meeting them unless you really go looking. I can't speak on the "queer gender-nonconforming woman" aspect very well but a friend is bi, she likes it here more than west Texas and the poetry slam I attend has a good number of LGBT people/people of color show up. You can get a nice place for under $1000 (I have a 2 bedroom/1 bath, central AC/heating, garage, pet, and in unit washer/dryer for about $950 a month; my last place was $600 a month for a 1 bedroom/1 bath, terrible AC, terrible complex wide laundry, no garage; I'm hoping to find a cheaper place this summer that isn't as bad as the $600/month was).
posted by Green With You at 12:24 PM on December 22, 2016

Response by poster: I think determining my tolerance for very cold winters will be a big piece of this. I grew up in Baltimore so I've experienced colder than San Francisco, but nothing like Boston or the Midwest.

I have become aware that being cold when I'm inside (i.e. being fairly still) is a major anxiety trigger for me (and my anxiety can be paralyzing so minimizing it is a priority), so I need to be able to have a warm apartment. I'm not as sure about being outside when it's cold--if I'm walking around outside I don't get anxious, but I'm a little worried about feeling cooped up all winter.

I've been debating taking a trip to colder places during the winter to see what it's like, but I'm also aware that I don't have the same solid, probably pricey winter gear that someone living in the Midwest or New England would have to make being outside tolerable, so that experience might not be a good yardstick.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:25 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm like that too -- well, it's not an anxiety issue for me but I hate being cold indoors, while I've made my peace with outdoors being horrible in winter over the 30 years I've lived in the Midwest.

If you move to Chicago or another older Midwestern city, radiator heat (as opposed to forced-air central heating) is the way to go in my book -- you can adjust the heat in every room to compensate for draftiness, whereas with central heat there are often places in the house that are just always going to be chilly. What floor you're on matters as well -- the higher, the warmer. (But if there's no central air, make sure you're either okay with hot, humid summers, or at least that your space allows for a window AC unit in your bedroom. I wouldn't need this since my body is basically evolved for life in the tropical swamps of Bengal but ymmv....)
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:32 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I get it, because I also live in a crazy rental market (DC), but this is actually very accomplishable almost anywhere other than SF/NYC. In fact, even here in the DC area you can still find studios and 1BRs around $1k, especially if you're willing to venture into the MD suburbs - I think you'd really like Takoma Park in particular, culture-wise. It has a great arts scene, is cheaper than DC proper or the NoVA suburbs, and is very diverse including a lot of queer families.
posted by capricorn at 12:33 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you're willing to consider Texas, Montrose in Houston would be a happy place for you, I think. It's been a while since I lived there, but it was a great place, and relatively inexpensive for a large city. Austin was a bit pretentious for my tastes, but it might suit as well.
posted by backwards compatible at 12:34 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chicago, still. I still own a studio condo there, and if anything it's too damn hot in the winter (hot-water baseboard heat with central boiler). If I were renting the place (I'm gearing up to sell), I'd probably be asking under $1K and it's a block from the lake in a good part of town.

...point being, if you pay attention to heating systems you can totally get what you want in Chicago.
posted by aramaic at 12:37 PM on December 22, 2016

West Philadelphia really seems like a match. You can definitely get a good studio for $1000, weather is no worse than Baltimore, and it's a lively area that has a pretty vibrant queer scene.
posted by Keter at 12:43 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Little Rock, Arkansas. I grew up on farmland nearby, and went to college in the city. Finally left at age 25 to seek a career in science that didn't have to involve animal experimentation. I still miss it and go back as often as I can. It's small as capital cities go (about 200,000), but still the biggest city in the state. It's the state's queer epicenter, and downtown has gone from being deserted to very vibrant over the last 15 years or so. There's an active, if small, queer advocacy and homelessness clique (Lucie's Place is doing Very Good Work, for instance). Hot, humid summers (lots of lakes and swimming nearby), wet but not particularly cold winters. Might snow once or twice per year.

Neighborhoods like South of Main (which they're trying to brand as SoMa), Stifft Station, and even Argenta on the North Little Rock side of the Arkansas river are cheap as hell relative to San Francisco (hi, neighbor). There's a lot of housing around the gigantic medical school (UAMS) that fits your range. A quick glance at Craigslist shows that there's quite a lot of housing under your range (before I left Arkansas, I'd never paid more than $300/month for an apartment--granted, that was 15 years ago and I was happy to live in dingy dungeons if the price was right). Bits and pieces of other relevant info are here and there online.

I still fantasize about moving back, knowing what I know now about life, and it certainly helps that every time I'm back I read the real estate listings. At the end of the day, it's one of the least expensive places I've ever experienced.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:45 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can live comfortably in Columbus for nearly half that.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:45 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about Chapel Hill / Carrboro, NC?

I know, we are in the news for bad political reasons at the moment. But! We're a very dark blue dot, as are the other densely populated areas of the state.

Carrboro especially is very walkable, the bus is free, there are shops and live music and restaurants, etc. It *is* small, but nice.

And you're a quick jaunt to Durham, where it's more expensive to live alone in my limited searching, but it might also be a place to put on your list! There's more cultural stuff, and the wonderful Pinhook, a queer bar/venue that stays fairly active in the QUILTBAG scene.

And then a slightly longer jaunt (~45min-1hr) to Raleigh or (~2.5hours) Charlotte.

Also, you're a couple hours to the beach and a couple hours to the mountains, which makes for nice impromptu mini-cations.

In my hunting, there are studios, mother-in-law apartments in basements/attics of single-family homes, and small standalone cottages in the $700-1100 range. There tends to be more to choose from in the summer; the town revolves around the university schedule. The apartments that are part of a house also frequently come with some utils. included.
posted by sazerac at 12:49 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Raleigh-Durham area is cheap and warm. We do have a few cold spells in the winter but on the whole it's very nice. When it does snow everyone freaks out and stays home from work. And despite the unpleasant actions regularly undertaken by our state government, Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are all pleasingly liberal.
posted by something something at 12:50 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Durham, NC or Carrboro, NC. While the rents are steadily increasing because everyone seems to want to live here now, you can most certainly find something decent in the $700-$1000 / month range. NC overall gets a bad rep for being non-LGBT-friendly (HB2 and other infuriating political things), but the Durham-Chapel Hill region is very, very liberal and accepting. (Not as sure about Raleigh.) Also, our winter weather is way better than most of the places already mentioned.
posted by houseofleaves at 12:53 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I heartily second Ann Arbor. We want you in Michigan!
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:57 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have become aware that being cold when I'm inside (i.e. being fairly still) is a major anxiety trigger for me (and my anxiety can be paralyzing so minimizing it is a priority), so I need to be able to have a warm apartment.

For reference, most of the older apartment buildings (and houses) here in Milwaukee have radiator heat, which is REALLY WARM, to the point that I'm often in t-shirt and shorts inside when it's below zero out. Today it's just above freezing outside, and it's 78 degrees in my apartment. I am guessing the same is true of Madison since the cities were built at roughly the same time. At $1000 you will absolutely be able to afford a well-insulated place.
posted by AFABulous at 1:00 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not everything in my previous comment selling Greensboro, NC applies to you, but it's too much to retype again. :) And I'll second what other folks have said - despite our completely asinine current state government that just double crossed us on HB2, Greensboro is a nice blue bubble in what really is a pretty purple state. My (black) wife IDs as female but wears a buzzcut and men's clothes; my presentation is changeable, but I'm (white woman) a lot more genderfluid (today - hair down, painted nails, men's t-shirt, women's jeans, men's sneakers), and the worst that we get is the occasional dirty look.

You can easily live in your price point here, and while overall, it's a driving city, there are walkable neighhorhoods. Summer is hot and humid; winter can get cold (we'll hit single digits in Jan/Feb), but nothing prolonged like the northeast gets.
posted by joycehealy at 1:05 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah - I was hesitant to recommend NC because of, y'know, but I grew up in Greensboro and went to school in Chapel Hill and both places are awesome. Half the people I know who live in those places have tons of visible tattoos and/or bright neon hair and/or are queer, and it is so not a big deal. My family and I are all very liberal and growing up, so was basically everyone I knew. Chapel Hill/Carrboro and Durham are the hippest (outside of Asheville which is getting super expensive), but Greensboro is also up and coming.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:15 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

New Orleans?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:20 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my experience of living a bunch of places with similar priorities, it depends on your cultural needs. If your thing is snooty high culture, as mine is, there's a fairly sharp drop-off in affordable places other than Chicago. This isn't to say they're not worth exploring--me, I dream of moving back to Austin though the opera, symphony, and theater are (or were when I lived there) on the level of "oh hey that was pretty good!" Chicago is cheap and the culture is world class but yeah, the winters. They're rough.

I feel you on the cold-inside anxiety and wonder if it's high on your list of reasons to leave the Bay Area. It drives me nuts here.

Philadelphia does seem like it would fit a lot of what you're talking about and it's a great town. If they've heard of insulation there, that's my vote.
posted by Smearcase at 1:23 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree Madison. I live in Maine, grew up in New England, but lived 25+ years in the Midwest, and used to sell soap in Madison at the Dane County Farmers Market. That town is cool, and you would love it!

I'd normally pitch for Portland, Maine, but the rents have just jumped astronomically in the past several years, so much so that we've had to move to the countryside, and my own anxiety is kicking up being isolated so much!

The only caveat in Madison is that there are some sections of town that have apartment houses, that is, 3-flats and such, rented by college students, that can house boisterous people. But we just were there this past Spring, visiting a family member, and it's a really nice town, overall. You should at least visit it and explore it.

Go to the Capitol building, and walk down State Street, and explore the various shops and bars. It goes all the way down to the University. Also, they have two lakes there, and beaches in the summer. The gigantic farmers market around the capital building in the summers is amazing, as is the general feel good vibe.

Milwaukee is a cool place to visit, they have an awesome art museum, and in Mad-Town, you are not all that far from Chicago and events there, should you choose to drive on down. I love the Chicago area, lived there for so many years, but for the vibe and price, I would choose Madison. It's a pretty unique town.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:23 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chicago is definitely affordable at that price—and I will second what everyone else has said about finding a place with radiator heat, the one true heating technology—but I think you might be disappointed culturally. Compared to the rest of the midwest, there's a ton to do; compared a major coastal city, eh. Hope you like improv, improv, and more improv.
posted by enn at 1:25 PM on December 22, 2016

I live in the East Bay and frequently visit Sweden. So if you want to go visit various cold places I may have clothes you can borrow to help you experience winter outside of the bay area properly attired. PM me if you're interested.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:29 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You could live like a monarch on that in Pittsburgh, and our winters aren't really any worse than Baltimore. Definitely not Chicago or Boston level weather. We don't get lake effect snow this far south.

Pittsburgh has the cultural institutions of a much larger city because of our history as the home city of robber barons. Museums ( art, natural history, the Andy Warhol Museum, many smaller art museums and galleries), opera, ballet, symphony, theaters, art spaces, two large and several smaller universities and colleges.

Come visit! It's cheap as shit!
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:39 PM on December 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

Let me throw in a vote for my home, Springfield, Illinois. It has a decent amount of culture on its own, is queer-friendly and is nestled between St. Louis (90 minute drive) and Chicago (3.5 hour drive).
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:45 PM on December 22, 2016

I agree that Ann Arbor ticks your boxes, but the winters could be a dealbreaker. It's not just the cold - I moved here from sunny Kansas, and the darkness/cloudiness for months on end can be really depressing. If you have any tendency toward seasonal affective disorder, you might want to look somewhere else.

I loved Lawrence, Kansas, but it's a blue island in a very red state, so there's always a possibility of obnoxious state laws being passed.
posted by FencingGal at 1:52 PM on December 22, 2016

Minneapolis/St. Paul frequently includes heat in apartment rentals. Anecdotally, I've found myself opening windows for a few minutes in the winter, not being cold. As for cold-winter gear, it is plentiful, and fairly easy to find inexpensively. Outlet malls, off-price stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx, even consignment stores (Clothes Mentor) or Goodwill.

Even if you were just visiting, a reasonable coat, a thick sweatshirt, and a $10 hat-and-glove set from Target will keep you plenty warm. I wouldn't go skiing in that gear, but if you're just tooling around town, going from car to building to car...no problem. You would by no means stand out in any way.

My two secret weapons for enjoying a Minnesota winter include: 1) an electric blanket and 2) a fireplace. Electric blankets are super-cheap to operate and will keep you as toasty as you like, and fireplaces are extremely cheery and almost make you WANT it to be dark and cold so you can light a fire.

As for culture, there's been a lot of hype about MN's quality of life, which you've no doubt seen around the Internet. Compared to the Bay Area, no, but it's not a one-stoplight, Olive Garden/McDonalds town either. More importantly, in terms of the cold, we're optimized for doing fun stuff in the winter. Good snow management, lots of winter events, skyways between buildings in both downtowns, and a population that still likes to go out when it's crappy outside. You wouldn't be cooped up.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:59 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ann Arbor, MI fits queer friendly and possibly cultural needs, it's a university town. There's definitely a big college student presence a lot of the year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind when renting or planning activities on Football Saturdays in the fall. You can also take the train or bus to Chicago quite easily (I think it's 4-5 hours?).

Ferndale, MI is known for being LGBT friendly and fairly cheap (my sister and her husband had a decent one bedroom for less than $1000 a couple years ago). She could walk to restaurants and coffee shops easily from her place. I'm not sure if you'd find it culturally stimulating: you're not far from Detroit (museums and theaters) and there's some local/college theaters in Ferndale/Royal Oak etc... But that's not my cup of tea so I can't comment on the quality or variety (I can tell you were to get a good cocktail/beer though). If you're afraid of winter driving then it's a definite no-go, though.

Ferndale feels friendlier to me than Ann Arbor, but my sister lived there and I went to school nearby, so I may have just had better recommendations (I only worked in Ann Arbor). My co-worker in Ann Arbor also felt it was harder to make friends there than when she was in the DC area, but again one data point.

Chicago is probably going to have more culturally. And I have friends who rent a one bedroom for less than that, and one was just complaining about the heat in the apartment being too warm. So I think you'd have affordable warm living options here too (just moved to Chicago, myself).
posted by ghost phoneme at 2:20 PM on December 22, 2016

Denver might work well for you. We pay $1300/month for a one bedroom in one of the more expensive neighborhoods, so I would think you could find a studio for less or go for a less trendy area. The nice thing here is that it gets snowy and cold, but it doesn't last -- the cold snowy days are interspersed with warm, sunny days, so you don't get too sick of the cold like in East Coast cities.

Incidentally, I will say I have NEVER been so cold inside as when I lived in the Bay Area. Because it never gets "too" cold, houses just aren't built with enough insulation. Places with real winter have real insulation and better windows so you tend to be warmer inside -- or at least, that has been my experience.

The downside would be we aren't really driving distance to another city, but otherwise I think it meets your requirements well.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:28 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Madison definitely ticks the boxes you mentioned. There's tons of things to do; the Overture Center, The Chazen, State St, the Arboretum, the farmer's market, the Frequency, the University etc.

I believe there is a good size LGBT community, one of the largest UU churches in the US is in Madison and everything is within a 15 to 20 minute drive.

It can get very cold in the area. For example, it was close to 40F today but hit -10F with an additional windchill last week. Several years ago, the area was -20F consistently for about a three week period in January. The winters seem to run very hot or very cold though as last year was quite mild.

Having just gone through the process of finding an apartment in the area, the cost might also be an issue. $900 - $1000/month will get you a 1 - 2 bedroom in a nice area on the west side with utilities extra. This would be 15 to 20 minutes to downtown, but significantly worse when traffic on 12 is heavy.

You might be able to swing a decent (500 - 600 sq ft) studio downtown, but housing there is extremely expensive and parking is outrageous. In a few years this might crash as apartments are going up all over the area. Quite a bit of the current cost can be attributed due to the influx of money from Epic in Verona.
posted by graxe at 2:31 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd add Providence, RI to your list as well!
posted by kylej at 3:01 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Pittsburgh, for sure. I am not up to date on the rental market but a decade or so ago I had a gorgeous one bedroom, all utilities included, for $300 a month, smack in the middle of a very livable neighborhood. I'm not sure we're THAT cheap anymore, but I bet you can stay in your budget very easily if you avoid the two or three hippest/gentrification-iest neighborhoods.
posted by Stacey at 3:14 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Fourth(?)ing that the Triangle might be a good fit, but I would recommend Carroboro/Chapel Hill/Durham over Raleigh.
posted by clarinet at 3:16 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

A friend of mind just got a studio in near downtown Portland, OR for $900/mo. I don't know their heating or electric costs, but it might be within your budget.
posted by zippy at 3:25 PM on December 22, 2016

As a similar Midwesterner, I'd ideally live in an Illinois suburb of St Louis, MO. Illinois is (and will continue to be, importantly) more gay friendly than Missouri. My girlfriend and I have seriously talked about moving across the border to Illinois because of all the uncertainty in this new government. St Louis is the liberal pocket of Missouri, but it's hamstrung by the state government. Springfield Illinois would also be a good choice for this reason. You could buy a very nice house in Illinois for less than 1000 bucks a month.
posted by possibilityleft at 3:54 PM on December 22, 2016

Minneapolis and Chicago seem like the obvious answers. Minneapolis has a truly disproportionate number of queer people. (That said, it feels a little telling that it couldn't keep the lesbian bar open and I say this as someone with no inclination towards bars, let alone clubs.)

However, I do want to mention that radiator heat is not the cure all people are portraying it to be. In my experience (in a neighborhood in your price range in Minneapolis, though you could afford nicer neighborhoods, and this is partly a function of the age of the building/heat), you have very little control over the temperature (short of opening a window) and it's either really warm (shorts and a T-shirt and the window open when it's below zero) or the heat's just not on, repeat in weekly cycles throughout the winter. "Not on" tended to equal "wear a sweater and sit on the sofa under a blanket" (about as cold as anywhere I lived in the Bay Area ever got indoors). When it's seriously cold outside, the inside temperature drops below what is comfortable. (That polar vortex winter, I was sleeping in a sleeping bag under a quilt.) My current apartment in New York does the same on/off cycle, but not with the same sort of extremes, at least not yet.
posted by hoyland at 4:41 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Salt Lake City or Provo, Utah. It's growing quickly, good art scene, okay music scene, amazing food, and super cheap rent. I pay $650 for a two bedroom Victorian right downtown.
posted by Marinara at 4:44 PM on December 22, 2016

Buffalo, NY. Particularly the Allentown, Hertel, or Elmwood neighborhoods for fun walkability. Queer, cultural, budget-friendly (rent/utilities within your target plus generally low cost of living), ticks all those boxes. Not as cold or snowy as legend (and media) would have you believe. (I have pain issues caused by cold, which in turn cause anxiety for me, but I've found I do better in Buffalo than I did growing up outside of Philadelphia, because there's less temperature fluctuation here than on the coast in the winter, so everything stays fairly steady, temperature-wise, indoors.)
posted by okayokayigive at 4:50 PM on December 22, 2016

St. Louis. In the city. Not the county.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:04 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with Pittsburgh, lots to do, lots of culture, queer friendly, and relatively cheap overall. Traffic is a nightmare though.
posted by Ferreous at 5:08 PM on December 22, 2016

Tucson, Arizona.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:29 PM on December 22, 2016

Cleveland, Chicago, and Ann Arbor all fit your criteria. They're very different in terms of size but all have wonderful cultural opportunities, are (or have areas that are) queer-friendly, and have a variety of cool neighborhoods. I've lived in the first and third and would recommend Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, or Lakewood in Cleveland and Kerrytown in Ann Arbor.
posted by percor at 7:02 PM on December 22, 2016

Columbia, Missouri! Home to the University of Missouri and (formerly) me. Seriously. PM me if you decide to visit and I will hook you up with many old friends.
posted by cyndigo at 7:38 PM on December 22, 2016

I love love Philly and it meets all your criteria. It reminds me of Baltimore in that it's very neighborhood-y, but bigger, more integrated, and with more to do.

There are a number of Midwestern cities that would fit the bill (Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, etc). I don't know how this ranks for you, but I've found the biggest downside once you move into the Midwest is overwhelming whiteness and/or racial disparities. I grew up in the Midwest, then lived in Baltimore/Philly, and whenever I go back I now find it extremely striking. Which isn't to say you won't see it everywhere, but on the coasts it feels like there's a more even mix.
posted by Anonymous at 7:40 PM on December 22, 2016

Milwaukee is a great city and your budget is totally realistic. We've got a great food scene, cultural resources (our art museum is great and most national acts come to town) and Chicago and Madison, which are within an easy drive, bus or train (Chicago only), have a lot to offer as well.

It's also a pretty liberal area with at least one neighborhood that is especially affordable and seems like an area that you'd thrive in. PM me if you have any specific questions.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:41 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Minneapolis - our downtown apartment was within your budget and downright HOT in the winter due to radiator heat. Winter gear can be had for fairly cheap and people are absolutely willing to go out even in subzero temps. If you are comfortable driving in the snow, you'd be golden. (and you sound like you look a lot like my queer non-gender-conforming sister-in-law who hasn't had problems with being hassled or anything, even out in the 'burbs where she lives)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:49 PM on December 22, 2016

I love Minneapolis and think it's great. A heated mattress pad is a good investment if your place gets chilly at night; somehow it feels more all-over warming to me than an electric blanket. You do have to be willing to dress for the weather if you're going to be walking outside much.
posted by beandip at 8:38 PM on December 22, 2016

Came to see if Philadelphia was being recommended, was not disappointed. MeMail me if you need apartment recommendations!
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 8:38 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: FencingGal: I agree that Ann Arbor ticks your boxes, but the winters could be a dealbreaker. It's not just the cold - I moved here from sunny Kansas, and the darkness/cloudiness for months on end can be really depressing.

Can anyone comment on the relative darkness/cloudiness of other spots? I'm not sure what factors into this--it doesn't seem like purely an issue of latitude. Honestly the fog/cloudiness in San Francisco got to me--I was grateful to find Oakland after a few years in the Bay.

And thank you for the great answers so far everyone!
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:11 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Like, San Francisco is fairly high on this ranked list of "% ANNUAL POSSIBLE SUNSHINE" or something from the NOAA so somehow I get the sense that's not quite the right metric. Or somehow San Francisco really is unusually sunny and I'm screwed.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:17 PM on December 22, 2016

I got all fired up seeing Denver suggested since rent there seemed so expensive to me, but I have a 60# dog. That size makes a big difference, hence my relocation to (overall, meh) nearbyish Colorado Springs. Upon a look at Craigslist, though, there are plenty of places in Denver for +/-$800 in pretty decent neighborhoods. Its navigability & queer-friendliness aren't massively overt (like Amsterdam or S.F.-level,) but they're definitely present. They also have generally *really good internet connectivity, and the recycling program is increasingly awesome. It's real sunny, too. Just please research the neighborhoods prior to making your move, should you choose it
posted by JulesER at 9:32 PM on December 22, 2016

So, not to shit on Chicago but you get the whole combo platter there: it's extremely cold and snowy and gets dark very early and is pretty relentlessly grey, and this is often true from November to March or April, whereafter it's just fairly cold for another month or two but not as grey and less snow. The grey got to me a lot when I lived there. I don't know how to compare it to SF because I've only lived in the east bay but I'm thinking it might be a bad match. Someone who's loyal to the place can correct me if I'm exaggerating.
posted by Smearcase at 10:05 PM on December 22, 2016

Saint Louis City, Missouri, meets your description, except for being close to another city. Missouri as a whole is quite conservative, but St. Louis City is a progressive oasis. Lots of queer folks doing interesting theater, art, burlesque, roller derby, arm wrestling,drag, etc. I am Boston raised, and lived in New York and Philly before coming to St. Louis.
posted by hworth at 1:41 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Santa Fe, NM. Very queer friendly, truly lots and lots of unique culture, the weather is quite lovely (winters not very cold but you get snow; summers mild, dry). Rents on Zillow look like they are well under $1000 so with utilities and everything else it should still be very affordable.

I grew up near there and it's really, really awesome.
posted by forza at 2:05 AM on December 23, 2016

Somebody else mentioned Charlottesville and I gotta disagree. I love that town, but the queer scene is REALLY small there and I know no one who is paying less than $1,000 a month to live alone. The exceptions to that are some weird-ish situations involving an apartment attached to a family home.
posted by pinetree at 4:51 AM on December 23, 2016

Pittsburgh gets pretty grey in winter. It's not always (or even usually) snowing, but the sun can get pretty rare.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:24 AM on December 23, 2016

Chicago and MI are gray enough in the winter that moving to Seattle wasn't too much of an adjustment for me (slightly less sun, but not nearly as frigid was a fair trade). I feel like Chicago/MI is less "hazy" (not sure how else to describe it) overall, so I personally feel less closed in here in the Midwest when it is cloudy compared to the PNW.

The days are short during the winter. I found it really bothersome when I worked in a basement office, as I wouldn't see daylight at all some weeks except on the weekend. But as long as I have windows, it's like the cold and I get used to it.

It's not unusual for people to plan a weeklong vacation somewhere warm and sunny in January or February to recharge during the winter. If you like travelling and would have the funds, that could be an option to consider if overall you like everything else.

I personally like seasonal changes though; it's the one thing that I really missed about the Midwest when I was in Seattle. I love the long summer days (to be fair Seattle had this), fall foliage, first days of spring, and even early winter is charming in it's own way. For me the negatives balance out and make the positives seem sweeter by comparison.

If you do want to give a Midwestern winter a try out on a vacation, definitely see if you can borrow winter gear from someone. It makes a huge difference, especially having the right shoes (wet cold feet are the worst).
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:33 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Someone already mentioned Tucson, AZ, but I'll second it. It's warm and sunny, obviously, and don't let the "Arizona" part fool you--it's culturally and politically liberal, in part due to the central presence of the University of Arizona. The university also pulls in culture in the form of theatre, music, etc. that a city like Tucson might not otherwise attract. It's pretty pedestrian/bike friendly if you live near downtown or the university, too.

I rent an admittedly slightly crappy one-bedroom for under $500/mo. Electricity can get a bit expensive in the summer due to cooling costs, but $1000 is still much more than adequate for a 1BR in Tucson.
posted by egregious theorem at 8:57 AM on December 23, 2016

Milwaukee does get cold and grey in the winter, but as someone that hates being cold and loves the sun, it's manageable. You just have to keep yourself active and resist the urge to cocoon in your nice warm apartment.

On the other hand, our summers are fantastic. Lake Michigan keeps things nice and cool and there is a festival of some sort like every weekend. We also have Summerfest, which is a pretty big deal.

Oh yeah, Lake Michigan. Did I mention that we're right on Lake Michigan? After more than two years, I still love to just stare out at it. it's also great if you want to do diving or boating and things of that nature.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:04 AM on December 23, 2016

I've lived in Michigan (Grand Rapids -- which also should be on your list, by the way!), Ontario (Hamilton) and Chicago.

I find Chicago is significantly sunnier during the winter than anywhere east of a Great Lake, because the winds moving over the lake pick up moisture and create -- you guessed it -- a dreary, six-months-long cloud. It also means nice big Little-House-On-The-Prairie-grade snowstorms (yay, if you like Weather) and it means Michigan is a bit more moderate, temperature-wise, than Chicago with our sharp prairie breeze.

But it is nice to see the sun for at least some of the three hours a day it's theoretically visible.
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:07 PM on December 23, 2016

Albuquerque, New Mexico. We live in two bedrooms for only about $1,000. We have four moderate seasons (springs are very windy). We have a fair variety of performances. The city and state tend blue. Fairly friendly to LGBT (I'm lesbian).
posted by maurreen at 9:56 PM on December 23, 2016

It's a latitude thing. I moved north to Portland (Oregon) from the bay area a few years ago. There were less than 9 hours of daylight here today; nearly an hour less than SF is getting right now.

I have to pretty intensively make sure I'm staying on top of self care in the winter this far north, and this isn't even that far north. Latitude is (in my opinion) worth some serious consideration.
posted by aniola at 10:08 PM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I didn't phrase my question about sunniness very well--I get that latitude determines hours of daylight, but there are other weather effects that make some places drearier than others--fog, cloudiness, etc--that seem to be more the result of other things which are hard to determine from lists/numbers/statistics. For example: currently sunset in Ann Arbor (which FencingGal mentions) is only ~10 minutes later than in Kansas.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:02 AM on December 26, 2016

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