Las Vegas vs Phoenix?
March 17, 2017 9:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a change in climate and cost of living and I've somehow gotten Las Vegas and Phoenix in my head. I could use some on-the-ground experience from both cities.

I'm self-employed and I want to spend at least year or two into putting more effort into my business. I'm also just not happy where I am and some of the lifestyle I've settled into. Brainstorming and research have apparently pointed me to the aforementioned cities, neither of which I've ever been to. Before I start booking flights to explore, I just wanted to confirm that I'm not going in a completely wrong direction. Salient details:
  • Climate: I'm from Michigan and have spent the last three years in Seattle. PNW winter is better than in Michigan, but it's still too much for me. I need warm and sunny weather. The dryness will be new, but I have a sense that it might not bother me too much.
  • Cost of living: Seattle is too expensive for me to do what I want to do. Rent is my main expense, and for what I have to pay to live here, it's just not worth it to me.
  • Lifestyle: I'm pretty practical and I walk to my main vendors (gym, grocery, pharmacy) as much as I can. I have no illusions of walkability in these cities, but the less I have to drive to get to those key places, the better.
  • Recreation: I don't have any particular preferences in terms of leisure or culture. Cheap food and drink tend to be what I like the most. Maybe an outdoor pool would be nice.
  • Other locations: Tropical locations could work, but most are out of country or too expensive (e.g. Hawai'i). I also like Europe, and could get a work/residence visa, but I've decided to hold off on expatriating for now.
  • Miscellaneous: I'm single, have no family of my own, nor have any desire to start one any time soon. I try to be a minimalist, so I look for furnished rentals.
Las Vegas and Phoenix aren't set in stone, so if there are other suggestions, I'd take those as well!
posted by bonje to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I kind of can't conceive of how you arrived at LV and Phoenix with any idea of not driving every single time you leave your house.

I think you should be looking into Tucson AZ or Albuquerque NM. Or a smaller city in Texas that's not Austin.
posted by mzurer at 9:32 PM on March 17 [10 favorites]

Everything mzurer said I will second.

There are some similarities between them, you're not off there. I've spent a lot more time in Phoenix than Vegas, visited Vegas several times.

They are both really freaking hot in summer. If you haven't been there you really can't know how you like that environment, it's not a minor aspect of living there. I think it's like winter if you live up north, you can't ignore it. It is nothing like tropical weather.

Phoenix is very business and suburban family oriented, pretty conservative.

Tucson and Albuquerque are very different in comparison and similar to each other. Funkier, artsier, a little trashier, prettier, uglier. I have less experience there, but El Paso and Las Cruces probably belong in that group.
posted by bongo_x at 9:48 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]

Warm and sunny are great, but be cautioned that LV/Phoenix get so mind bendingly hot that you can't expect to actually go outside and enjoy that sunshine, let along walk anywhere even if there was anywhere close to walk to. I spent 9 months there and found the summer more debilitating and depressing than winters in Cleveland, due to how limiting the weather was.

Would seasons be "too much" if they weren't the face-bitingly harsh/cold/windy ones of the midwest or the long/dreary/sunless ones of Seattle? My mind went to Reno/Tahoe for all of your needs except warm year round. They have winter and snowstorms but not the weeks and months on end of gray and definitely not the abusive cold. I just looked it up an 23 is the lowest average low and that's just a couple weeks during a couple months a year. I've worn a light jacket in February in Tahoe and had to take it off because the sun was too warm.

I hope you find what you're looking for.
posted by le_salvo at 9:53 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I've lived in the upper Midwest and I've lived in Las Vegas. By the numbers:

1) Climate: Summers in Las Vegas are nearly as bad as winters in Minneapolis. It hurts to be outside at the peak of those seasons. Its when you work on your indoor hobbies. Yes, it's a dry heat, but even after acclimating, it gets hotter than you want to stand for a few minutes. At least it only snows about once a year. Phoenix is a little hotter and more humid than Vegas.

2) Cost of Living: Vegas is cheap for its size. Nevada doesn't have state income tax. May or may not be cheaper than where you are. Tons of people here from San Francisco and the PNW looking to save money.

3) Lifestyle: The only places anyone walks to and from in Las Vegas is their car. I had never owned a car until I moved here and didn't want one at all. (Still don't) But I bought one. You can live without one, but you can't live comfortably or travel anywhere in a reasonable time without one.

4) Recreation: You didn't give us much to work with here. Anywhere you're likely to end up has affordable food and drink. Las Vegas has a wider array of that than most cities its size, and if you want to stay affordable, stay away from the tourist areas. (It's not hard. Most residents avoid them.) If you search them out, you'll find many places have discounts for locals. Pools are plentiful.

I'm not really sure what to recommend. Based on your parameters I can't see how you ended up wil Las Vegas or Phoenix. How about Denver? Or how about a town under 50,000 people? Doesn't sound like you're really interested in any of the amenities a larger place has to offer, so why pay for them?
posted by Ookseer at 10:20 PM on March 17

I'm still thinking about the driving statement, and combined with the heat, thinking that you don't really seem to have an idea what Vegas and Phoenix are like. I don't mean this to be insulting or snarky at all, but those have to be the hottest, driest, and least walking friendly cities in the country.

You're really going to have to get on a plane and check them out. You may love them, but your picture is very incomplete, and is going to be until you go there. The only comparison I can even think to make is Orange County in California, only much hotter and drier and newer.

The freeways in Phoenix are pretty great though compared to many places.
posted by bongo_x at 11:52 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Would you consider Gainesville, FL? They've got a different vibe than a lot of FL. There's a university and there are very walkable neighborhoods. The cost of living is very reasonable and the artist community is bigger than you'd think because of that. It can get hot, but it's not the kind of blistering heat that Phoenix and Las Vegas get.
posted by quince at 12:02 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

My sister moved from Michigan to Arizona after college solely to get away from MI's climate. She has always found AZ's weather tolerable. But, yeah--every time I visit her I end up driving more in a handful of days than I do in half a year here in the Northeast. You don't go anywhere on foot, really. Even if it weren't too far, the weather would make it prohibitive for several months a year.
posted by praemunire at 12:05 AM on March 18

First thought I had when I saw your question was why not Tucson rather than Phoenix? Close to the same climate but a much funkier city, more fun, more artsy, more beautiful country. Phoenix absolutely has a big-city vibe but without the good things a big city offers, unless you like professional sports teams. Tucson plays Austin* to Phoenix playing Dallas ie both Phoenix and Dallas are plastic people, judgment by your car or shoes or both. (Choosing between Dallas or Phoenix, I'd go Dallas in a heartbeat, because they do have an art scene, and a music scene; Phoenix really offers neither. Plus I love Texas.)

Phoenix and Tucson are hot -- everybody saying that is on target. I had frozen solid two water bottles before a bike ride in Tucson, inside an hour both were not only thawed out but hot water. Something else. The sun is a presence, much moreso than here in Austin, which surely does get warm but it's humid. Almost no humidity to protect you from that presence in southern Arizona, you can be driving, A/C blasting, the inside of the car cool, but if the sun is shining on your leg through the car window it's hot.

An interesting desert city in Texas is Alpine. It's small, it feels like Tucson felt thirty-five years ago. You're a million miles from anywhere else but that's kindof the point. They do have electricity and stuff though. Seen the movie "No Country For Old Men"? That's exactly what it is as far as the look of the country. Huge skies, vast distances laid out. I think it's gorgeous, you might not. A small university; if you saw the movie "Boyhood" and you remember the kid moving to go to college at the last of the movie, the college he attends is in Alpine. It's got an art scene but it's not in your face, you've got to find it. The music scene is the same. I've often thought that it'd be my favorite pick after Austin, should ever I decide to bail out of here for any reason. You will absolutely need a car, or, better, a pickup.
*So what's with all the Austin hate? Yeah, it's more expensive than it was, and there is traffic, blah blah blah. But the reason ppl are moving here are doing so because it's great.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:26 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

It's SXSW-time, and Austin is cray-cray

St Pete? Artsy people go there, non-artsy Floridians complain about it.
posted by holgate at 12:55 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

Don't consider moving before visiting. Other issues need to be considered besides the summer temps. If you're willing to do the driving, you can sample Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson and Albuquerque on one trip. And get in some pretty exceptional scenery.

Go in July or August when it's usually the hottest. (The trade off, obviously, is 70's in February.)

Dry heat: 110F -- a common Phoenix summer afternoon temp -- when the humidity is 5 is one thing, but humidity in the huge urban sprawl that is Phoenix often reaches 30-40, and that makes a noticeable difference.

People often do become acclimated to the summer heat. But peak high temps remain potentially dangerous.

There is this thing called a 200-degree day, wherein the combined high and low temp add up to more than 200. Phoenix sees frequent summer days with the overnight low being in the 90's, due to the heat bubble impact of all the sprawl.

You will drive everywhere. How far you drive on each little errand, of course, depends on your location and your neighborhood.

If you are prone to allergies, be aware that you may run into a new set of pollens, plus some imports.
posted by justcorbly at 5:52 AM on March 18

I lived in Phoenix for six years. Pretty much hated it with the fire-y burning passion of a million suns (which, incidentally, is approximately the average daily temperature from May through October). Then again, that had a lot to do with me and not that much to do with Phoenix itself.

If you visit, I think you should check out the Arts District / Roosevelt Row. I lived in a pretty new apartment building off Portland for 2.5 years and it was almost walkable! I was about 5 min from the light rail, which doesn't go many places, but hey, if you want to go to Tempe or West Mesa, you're set! When I was leaving (2013) there was a lot of new construction and it was getting a bit gentrified, and the new apartment building I had lived in was sold to the crappy management company that managed the place I lived before that, and it was going downhill, but who knows. I drove to the grocery store, but it was definitely in long walking range (about a mile, I think).

One thing I will say is that you aren't going to get both "beautiful desert southwest scenery" and "walkable" most places. Phoenix is a giant sprawling metroplex, and I had about a 45min-1hr drive to somewhere that wasn't "suburbs."
posted by Alterscape at 6:13 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

You might consider Sacramento. It ticks all of your boxes, I think. It gets hot (dry heat) in the summer, but not drop dead hot like Las Vegas or Phoenix.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:14 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

I lived in Phoenix for three years while attending ASU. Well technically I lived in West Mesa, went to school in Tempe and worked summers in downtown Phoenix and Gilbert.

Climate: I LOVED the weather. It took about a year before I adjusted to the heat, but there is something magical about waking up to crystal clear blue skies every day. The heat only becomes truly unbearable about two months a year. Expect to do any outdoor activities in the early early morning during these days. I biked to school every day (a huge amount of the metro area has Bike lanes) and one summer I even biked every day from Mesa to Tempe, showered at my bike lockup and took the light rail in. Biking along Tempe town lake every morning and afternoon was very pleasant and I really treasure that those memories. Beware visiting at peak heat as others have suggested. You won't be used to it and it will seem ten times worse then it is.

Cost of living: cheap as hell

Walkability: you absolutely can find areas of Phoenix where most of your errands and recreation are within an easy walk or bike ride. Once you live there for a while you will start to realize that a surprising number of people only get around via walking, biking, public transit and motorized wheelchairs

Recreation: The Phoenix metro area has the largest park system for a metro area in the US! Tempe town lake and Papago park are within walking of each other (or one light rail stop) and are beautiful. Pools are EVERYWHERE. The Superstition Mountains are awesome and have a wonderful variety of hikes for all levels. Up north there's no shortage of fantastic day and weekend trips (Sedona is my happy place).

There's also SOME decent access to culture. Phoenix art museum is actually top notch IMO, you get some visiting comics and bands from LA because it's a relatively short drive/flight. Food scene is great. Lots of fancy shopping (although you'll have to drive to Scottsdale for it).

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: as much as I loved living in Phoenix the politics there are toxic to say the least. The local population tends to be more liberal and accepting than you'd think but so many racist assholes retire there and then preach hate against the Mexicans/Native Americans, who are actually all native to the area. Repeatedly I had white strangers open conversations with racist statements, assuming I was also racist because I was white. Even though I loved most the weather, the area and MOST of the people, I can't ever see myself moving back there until the area becomes more progressive. I haven't lived there for 5 years now, but I'd imagine it's only getting worse there under Trump (although Sheriff Joe is gone!).
posted by cyphill at 8:24 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

I always plug Tucson because we moved here seeking pretty much exactly what you are seeking. There are downtown apartments to be had for a song compared to Seattle and you can then walk to all the amenities you desire, including yoga studios, Co working spaces, hipster coffee shops and pretty great music venues.

Much of the trendy areas of town are bike friendly with designated bike lanes and paths, and this gets better every year. Lots of artsy young people that live here for the cheap col or stay after college.

The summers blow (monsoon season, so it is muggy as well as hot) but the rent is honestly cheap enough you could probably afford to move to another city for July and August without breaking the bank.

I am currently visiting family on the east coast and can't wait to get back to Tucson
posted by permiechickie at 8:26 AM on March 18

Gotta offer my 2 cents. I live not far from Mesa currently and would give just about anything to get out of here.

Pros to PHX:
-housing is relatively inexpensive
-mountains (I like mountains)

Cons to PHX:
-motherfucking hot for at least 6 months out of the year (today the forecast is 96 degrees F - record breaking March 18th ffs!)
-nastily conservative and christian, proselytizing dickweeds all around, very uncool
-public transportation virtually non-existent, or sucks big time

Not trying to be a total negative Nelly, but like other posters have mentioned Tucson or Albuquerque both have much better vibes and actually have better costs of living, culture, walkability, outdoor stuff, climate, etc, than PHX to be sure.

Can't speak to Las Vegas, never been there.

posted by strelitzia at 9:13 AM on March 18

Pueblo or Greely Colorado, four well defined seasons, nice towns with University on the front range .
posted by hortense at 10:36 AM on March 18

If you're looking for warmth and sunshine, and you don't mind humidity at times both Savannah -where I live now- and St. Petersburg - where I lived before I moved here-might work. Both are affordable, have plenty of arts and music. And walk/bikeable. Both have semi-functional public transportation.
posted by mareli at 1:28 PM on March 18

If you like sunlight more than elevation, you might try Central Florida. St. Pete, Gainesville, Winter Park. There are usually cheap flights to Orlando and you could check out all of these places in a couple of days. You could probably walk or bike to stuff. Cheap food and drink -- check. Outdoor pools are everywhere, lots of lakes too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:27 PM on March 18

I just excluded Austin because I assume (possibly incorrectly) that it's getting expensive compared to other spots in TX. The one time I was there I dug it.
posted by mzurer at 4:31 PM on March 18

Looking back, the framing of my question kinda sucked. But all of the answers have been helpful despite that. To clarify:
  • The walking stuff was just to describe what my primary transport has been. I totally expect to need a car. I'm trying to get a sense if there are places in these cities where you can drive less; e.g. a mile to a grocery store versus five miles.
  • I was seeing comments elsewhere that gave me the sense that summers there can be cabin-fever-like just like winters in the Midwest. The difference is that there is sun and no snow. I get a panicky, fight-or-flight response when I see snow, and would be happy to never be near it again.
  • Warmer, sunnier climate and lower cost of living were (and still are to a point) my main goals. The rest of the stuff I mentioned was just additional context, which I thought might help.

posted by bonje at 4:42 PM on March 18

Sounds like most of the southwest (aside from LA and Austin, where you might run into affordability problems) will suit you nicely then. If your sole preferences are affordability and ease of access to grocery store, etc. then I would actually recommend a smaller city then everyone here is suggesting (there are loads of them to choose from).

If your business needs proximity to a metro area for the purpose of networking, etc. (which I assume to be the case since you're focusing on Vegas and Phoenix) I would add San Antonio to your list. It's affordable, has a fairly high standard of living relative to cost, and if you live in the central city you can actually walk places.

I would also not immediately rule out the Austin metro area as a choice. While Austin proper is not all that affordable, one of the surrounding cities in the Austin metro might be up your alley: Pflugerville and Cedar Park are both fairly cheap, while San Marcos and New Braunfels are also affordable and have the added benefit of being between Austin and San Antonio for ease of visiting both.
posted by Ndwright at 9:39 PM on March 18

Reno (living in midtown) would be better than Vegas. Reno does have snow in the winter, but it's minimal and there aren't many days below freezing. And the heat in the summer is less bad than Vegas or Phoenix.

Midtown Reno has tons of small locally owned shops, craft brewers, restaurants, etc. There is a small coop grocery store that would be walkable or bikeable or you could take a bus to Whole Foods or another chain grocery.
posted by freezer cake at 9:43 AM on March 20

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