Progressive rural or small town communities in northern CA?
August 14, 2017 12:12 AM   Subscribe

In looking for a place to move, how can you get a sense of what the community there is like? Where (ideally in California) might one find a rural / agricultural / DIY thing going on and a sense of community with liberal / progressive values?

I'm hoping to find somewhere that has a slower pace of life and more of a rural or small town thing going on overall, but also a sense of community (not just isolated parcels among a highway) and at least some liberal / progressive values.

I live in the Bay Area now. I know these places exist, but as an outsider, sometimes it's hard to pick up on the sense of community or really get what a place is like. From past experience, I know some places have well-developed social networks with a lot of positive stuff happening, while others are kind of depressing (either just boring or with a lot of meth / opioid use going on). How do you find the good places? Is there anywhere that really stands out to you, especially in northern CA?
posted by slidell to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by delight at 12:27 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I'm thinking about moving somewhere, I start following a bunch of the local Facebook pages. Newspapers, yard sale pages, the nearest local Indivisible group, etc. Even things you maybe wouldn't normally be interested in, like maybe the local Girl Scouts page, because you can see how the various member interact with each other.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:36 AM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Petaluma, in the north bay, has a nice small town personality, particularly on the west side where I live, and it has some rural parts. But prices are typically bay area steep.

Outside the bay area, I like Chico...about 90 miles north of Sacramento...shady streets, and it's a college town (like Davis) so you can naturally find prog/lib minded folks.
Farther north, I love the little town of Dunsmuir.

You might also consider the Sonoma coast, like Bodega Bay or Dillon Beach.

You might check out areavibes to get an idea of the 'livability' of a town.
posted by artdrectr at 12:58 AM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm sure you're aware, there is so much marijuana culture behind the Redwood Curtain, especially in the affordable parts of Northern CA. I'm sure a lot of this will change in ways I cannot imagine as the systems of legalization take hold, but for now one of the hazards of places that operate outside the law is that, lacking explicit intention otherwise, they tend to replicate the worst aspects of the dominant power structure. What this often means is that small towns in marijuana country are swamped by gun-toting white guys in big pickup trucks who run huge grow-ops and are amped up on testosterone or whatever it is that makes people awful. And they run the local underground economy, which is often larger than the aboveground one. I have a few friends and acquaintances who've settled in Mendo and Arcata specifically, and they're deeply uncomfortable with how difficult it is to make friends (much less date), how sketchy young stoner bros run amok, how little intellectualism there is. Which I suppose is to say, make sure that you avoid the places steeped in weed culture if you can, unless you're explicitly seeking something like that out (and I'm 99% sure you aren't; weed is everywhere in Northern California already).
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:55 AM on August 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

Ask your question on City Data Forum for CA. Scroll down that page to the community part of the forum where you can pose your question..
posted by Elsie at 2:10 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Davis. Seriously, sounds right up your alley. It's not uh...a meth capital or anything if that is what you are worrying about. There's activities going on since it's a college town.

The one caveat about moving there is (a) still not cheap even if you are used to Bay Area pricing, and (b) if you want to own a house, move to Woodland. The rental market is incredibly tight and locals who rent usually have to commit to a place for a year in oh, February, and almost all leases run on a September 1-August 31 schedule.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:48 AM on August 14, 2017

Check out Grass Valley. I was very impressed with it when we were town shopping last year.

For assessing values, I would look at how the town/county/neighborhood voted last year. Facebook pages tend to draw out a lot of drama in small towns so I wouldn't rely on them.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:46 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, read a few copies of the local newspaper, including the editorials and letters.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:47 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sebastopol fits your bill perfectly.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:25 AM on August 14, 2017

The college towns of Arcata, Chico, and Davis and their surrounding communities would probably be your best bet.

My favorite by far is Arcata. Check out some local news sources (Lost Coast Outpost, The Arcata Eye, etc.) for a sense of the culture, and Craigslist to see housing prices. Arcata has a vibrant arts and music scene, outdoor recreation opportunities, a foodie/locavore culture, lots of farms and ranches, and the ocean.
posted by scrubjay at 9:35 AM on August 14, 2017

Thanks. I'm really appreciating this mix of "how to figure it out" and "here is a specific place to check out." I love hearing these descriptions of various places (both positive and negative). Sounds like a few themes are emerging.

I did recently ask about cool places near Sacramento, in case the answers there spark more ideas. But don't feel too constrained by that question. Both of us work mostly remotely and may be doing so even more in the future.

Budget, well... Davis feels a bit out of reach, though maybe if we got a fixer we might be able to make it work? Petaluma seems to start in the $600s and go rapidly up from there, and that's right out. I don't want to constrain the answers here too much because it's nice to know that XYZ place is nice even if we can't afford to live right in town. But suggestions on the more affordable end are definitely most useful.

Anyone know what it's like in the Capay Valley? Penryn? Jackson? ... I could go on. I've been looking at place names and Google street view quite a bit, trying to figure out which places might have a good community for raising a family. Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2017

Mt Shasta is beautiful if you are thinking of raising a family. It is a tiny pocket of progressivism (with a whole lotta woo) deep in Trump country though. Same with Dunsmuir, which someone mentioned above. Loootta MAGA signs in Dunsmuir.
posted by moons in june at 9:54 AM on August 14, 2017

I'm a New Yorker, so adjust your grain of salt accordingly, but a college town is usually a safer bet even if the surrounding area skews to the right.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:00 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nevada City?
posted by latkes at 10:22 AM on August 14, 2017

Davis isn't nearly as liberal as one would think. Yes, the college is, but the people that live here full time are most definitely not, in general.
posted by sacrifix at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

A couple more for you to check out: Shingle Springs and on to Placerville area. There is a real mix of rural to mcmansions, blue to red. Lot's of transitioning and building going on.

Capay Valley? Penryn? Jackson? Maybe for lunch.
posted by artdrectr at 11:47 AM on August 14, 2017

I used to live in Dillon Beach and you might be surprised to find that those cute, bucolic cows you see on the way into the little town are owned by quite serious Trump supporters. A tiny bit of red coloring in mostly blue NorCal. But it's there, it's real and you should know. Also? If you're thinking Petaluma is too expensive, you can't afford Dillon Beach or Bodega Bay. Too bad, because they are lovely. Also, you should take into account how dang long it takes to get anywhere. Dillon Beach, for example? Figure 20-30 minutes just to get to town (Petaluma) and then add on another hour to SF or Oakland.
posted by Lynsey at 9:14 PM on August 14, 2017

I moved to Durham, just outside of Chico, last January from the North Bay. Durham is an agricultural area growing almonds, walnuts and peaches. I am retired but this is a quite nice community for young families as well. Supposed to have good schools. Yes, it is Trump country but the people we have met people are friendly, helpful and kind. I am especially heartened that so many from the Bay area are moving up here and moving things to a bit more progressive bent.

Best of luck in your search!
posted by goodsearch at 10:36 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I only spent a long conference weekend in Chico but it was surprisingly charming; not economically, just in making public goods out of public what-they-have. (Frisbee golf is genius.)
posted by clew at 10:39 PM on August 14, 2017

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