Help me think through options of where in the US we should live
August 22, 2019 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Me and my GF (future wife?) have been thinking about our future move back to the US from China (I'm dreading the move, but that's another thread ;). Right now the top city we are considering is Seattle, but we also want to consider smaller cities. Snowflake details within!

First off, assume cost of living isn't an issue. Before now I've lived in some of the most expensive cities on earth...I'm not rich, but I'm a programmer and can generally afford a decent life even in expensive cities, especially since we don't want children. That said, money is absolutely an object and part of my desire to consider smaller cities is for my salary to go further, especially given I will be likely supporting both of us for some time and helping her study etc.

Seattle is a nice compromise of's a "city" (in quotes because after spending time in Asia, US cities feel so sparse and quiet), it has some diversity, it is (a little) cheaper than SF and NYC, nice access to nature, good weather (my GF hates heat, I prefer avoiding the cold, we are both fine with the rain), access to tech jobs, and likely a number of options for my GF. The downside to Seattle is that it's expensive, and I guess dominated by tech. I currently live in a smaller city and enjoy how easy it is to get I guess I'm just wondering if there are places where my money would go farther, where we could afford a nicer place in a better location, than would be the case in Seattle.

Another city that could be good might be Boulder, CO?

Some more specifics on requirements:

- A tech hub is convenient but not necessary. I will likely be trying to work from home anyway, and going to a smaller city would likely be contingent on that
- My GF will be focusing on learning English and trying to study flower arrangement. In the short term she would like to work at a flower shop or something like that. She doesn't need to make a ton of money. So it'd be nice to be somewhere where she could have options for those things. She doesn't need a bunch of language schools or anything, but even just a nearby college where should could find some students to chat with her or something would be fine. For flowers, she doesn't need schools nearby (though it's a plus!), as she will likely go somewhere else to get a certification or something and then try to find a flower store where she can work and keep learning
- Nature is a big plus. Not as much for like, hiking around in, more just for basking in. We love mountains and water but beauty is beauty! I say this because a nearby mountain we can't climb is even more desirable than like, a bunch of hiking trails. Though the two we generally correlated!
- Being able to minimize car use. I know we can't get rid of it, but being able to at least make it so on the day to day we don't have to drive would be a massive plus
- Can't be in a conservative hell hole (rich white "liberals" are also responsible for ruining homeownership in lots of cities but still)
- an airport at a reasonable distance

Aside from that, we just want a place where we can have a simple life. A one or two bedroom apartment (or house a guess???) where I can have some dogs, and we'd absolutely love space or whatnot to grow stuff.

For nice to haves, diversity is top of the list. Markets where we can buy food from China, Asia, and beyond. Good restaurants. Great cafes.

Some thoughts on some cities (I'm happy for you to change me views :)

Asheville -- seems good on paper, but NC seems a bit past my scariness threshold

Austin -- too hot, maybe too big? Seems like Seattle in Texas with more driving and heat. Sad bc my best friend as well as my family is there

Athens, GA -- May be worth considering? Might be a bit hot but I mean my GF can deal with some heat if a place makes sense. GA is conservative but there are heroes like Stacey Abrams fighting the good fight? I dunno.

Minneapolis -- very cold, maybe past my cold theshhold?

I feel like there might be some smaller cities in the Pacific Northwest that could fit the bill? I feel the Pacific Northwest sort of hits the weather and lifestyle aspects we want...Are there any other nice cities in Washington? Oregon has always scared me for some reason, even though lots of techies are migrating to Portland. This is absolutely a bias I can get over if somewhere otherwise hits my requirements.

Or maybe I should just go to Seattle! Or not go back to the US! Argh!
posted by wooh to Work & Money (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Athens, GA -- May be worth considering? Might be a bit hot but I mean my GF can deal with some heat if a place makes sense. GA is conservative but there are heroes like Stacey Abrams fighting the good fight? I dunno.

This oversimplifies and underestimates Athens in particular and Georgia in the macro I fear. Not being mean, and Athens is maybe a bit better since it's a college town, but GA is pretty solidly conservative and even UGA is firmly within the realm of redneck SEC football WOOOO. I say that as someone who went to a similar university in Alabama and isn't far from redneck in many ways myself. And it's going to be hot, hotter than all but the hottest states like Florida or Gulf Coast states. Hotter than your other enumerated choices anyway by a fair margin I feel.

I'm not trying to discourage you from Athens, just re-orient your thoughts about it a bit.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Athens is thoroughly OFF THE LIST!
posted by wooh at 8:21 AM on August 22, 2019

Spokane WA is pretty nice, though it's rapidly gentrifying.

Have you considered Canada? It's much better run than the US.
posted by monotreme at 8:22 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Diversity will be an issue for you in either Seattle or Portland, but Portland does otherwise check a lot of your other boxes. Seattle is a bit bigger and more expensive and feels a lot more urban. If Seattle barely feels like a city to you, then I don’t think you should consider those smaller college towns like Boulder or Athens. And definitely not Asheville.

If you can afford it, I think you’d like San Francisco. Or maybe LA even? Another option might be Vancouver, BC.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:29 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd consider Canada. Don't want to thread sit, just say that I'd def consider it. I don't know what the situation would be with me wanting to work from home and also immigrate, though, which is why I didn't mention it.

Toronto seems too cold, but it seems quite diverse.

Montreal is very cold.

Vancouver seems like Canadian Seattle.

But there are other places in Canada!

I've lived in SF. I liked it a lot at the time, but the money/politics of the city is suuuuper messed up. It seems pretty dystopian these days.

LA Is a place to consider but I'm worried about the weather and the traffic. Maybe somewhere like San Diego? I think the key would be a no car life day to day, otherwise constant traffic will kill me.
posted by wooh at 8:30 AM on August 22, 2019

Toronto is as cold/not cold as Boston, nothing like Minneapolis. Source: I have lived for many years in BOS/YYZ, and visited Minneapolis at all times of year! But Toronto is very, very large. Might take a peek at Halifax?
posted by wellred at 8:41 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

IMO the big limiter on your list is weather and money. SF, LA, and Seattle are expensive partly because the weather is great and everyone wants to live there (although SF and Seattle both get surprisingly cold). Austin is not as expensive because it's balls hot.

One tactic might be to look for other University towns in WA and Oregon. Bellingham, Spokane, or Eugene would all be good picks IMO. But it does snow in Bellingham.
posted by muddgirl at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

20% of Portland, OR households speak a language other than English at home according to a city job posting I read recently. There are four large Asian groceries within two miles of my apartment. It's pretty white here, but some of those "white" folks are Latinx or Russian-speaking, especially once you get out of the expensive central core.

Maybe you could find a more descriptive and less perjorative way of describing places than "hell hole" and "scary." People live in those places. Liberal people even! Some of whom like it!
posted by momus_window at 8:45 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Asheville -- seems good on paper, but NC seems a bit past my scariness threshold

Asheville does not have the diversity you seek. In my experience as a Chinese-American in NC, people in the more western mountainous part of the state are hella white will stare at me because they've never really seen many Asian looking people, but they aren't the mean super racist whites. Those are found the further east you go in the state.

Asheville has great beer and great nature, but you won't find any decent Asian markets or great restaurants.

I'd honestly avoid all of NC. Raleigh-Durham area is less overwhelmingly white (and has lots of tech things) but it's hemmed in and besieged by white supremacists and their ilk. The food here is mediocre at best, and there aren't any good restaurants worth spending any sort of money on.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:52 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I currently live in Seattle, if you can work from home and live in say Madrona, near Volunteer Park, or Queen Anne or Phinney Ridge it's pretty damn sweet. I live on Capitol Hill near Pike and Pine and it's pretty incredible really, though I've been verbally harassed twice now once for being visibly gay, another for being visibly trans and just this morning I was clocked and assumed to be a sex worker on my way to work, so I'd suggest not living around the Pike and Pine corridor with your GF because it just seems like it's getting sketchier by the week. Other than that, Seattle is a beautiful city. Not yet dystopian but definitely built on a history or ecological and colonial disasters that make it hard for me sometimes to feel good about living here. I pay rent each month to real rent duwamish because they are, quite literally, hosting us. They were here first and I think it's important to walk gently on earth.

There's a SHITLOAD of beauty up here, lakes and parks, mountains and ocean, I mean, really it's an incredible area geographically.

There's tons of creative stuff happening here too. I mean overall I love it, I'm glad I moved back, but I think I'm not gonna be here long term. Considering moving to SF and really if I can, leaving the US altogether, but that's seeming increasingly unlikely as the years wear on. Could I live in Seattle for the rest of my life? I don't know? Maybe I could find land up in the San Juans or something and escape away from all this?

I'm just giving you my perspective on Seattle. It's a complicated place politically, I don't know what your structural position to race and power is, but for myself as a white tech worker, I feel like there's a lot of people similar to me or NBPOC tech workers who are totally taking this place for granted and pushing Black and Indigenous people out and that really makes me angry and sad. So I'd say if you end up moving here and you're not a Black or Indigenous person, make sure to walk gently and not move into historically Black or Indigenous neighborhoods.

This is all rambling. I guess pretty much every city in the US has these problems, so no matter where you go, there you are.

I lived in Austin for 17 years. I cannot recommend living there.
posted by nikaspark at 8:54 AM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'd put Pittsburgh on your list - lower cost of living for a tech hub, dense, very livable neighborhoods, and a bus system that's sufficient to get around. Heat and cold are typical of the northeast (and plenty of rain). The landscape around the city is dramatic, with the rivers and Appalachians (though certainly not as tied to nature as west coast cities).
posted by bendybendy at 8:54 AM on August 22, 2019 [12 favorites]

I love Minneapolis, but if you can't stand cold/hot weather, it is not for you. We had a very extreme season this year, but it's still fairly normal for the highs to not budge above -10F for a few weeks in January, then be regularly above 90F (and extremely humid!) for a few weeks in July/August. Minneapolis is on the cusp of a region that has some of the most extreme swings of temperatures on Earth.

Is there a reason why Chicago didn't make the list? It gets as hot as Minneapolis, but not nearly as cold in the winter (usually). And while it's still extremely segregated, there's diversity to be had, and easily navigable without a car if you're not worried about cost of living. Pittsburgh might also have what you're looking for.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:02 AM on August 22, 2019

Consider Atlanta. (I'm not sure I would have mentioned it but the fact that you mentioned Asheville and Athens makes me think there's something about this general area that appeals to you even if you haven't quite articulated it.)

The big problem is weather - you're going to have trouble avoiding heat and cold without being somewhere crazy expensive, and here in late August I just wish it would cool down already. But we have air conditioning. Plenty of tech jobs. If cost of living isn't a huge issue you could probably live in Midtown with one car and not have to use it all the time. Lots of trees and parks, and mountains nearby. Definitely a blue island in a red state. Lots of good food from all over the world. Obviously has an airport.

I'd also look at Philadelphia. Probably not as good on the nature front. Relative to Atlanta, has more winter and less summer. Better politically and for not needing to rely on a car all the time.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:05 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

There are lots of walkable, dense university towns with great Chinese markets, good ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, and very affordable compared to every place you list. Many of them have beautiful forests and rivers and lakes nearby.

They will be smaller, but to me it’s not so much about size as offerings. If I can get great food and drinks and good live music, I don’t care if it’s 200k people or 2 million people.

Something you may have not considered, but you’re kind of asking for round squares here so you’ll have to make some compromises. There’s no secret big city in the USA with great weather and easy access to natural beauty and a highly diverse population and low cost of living etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:07 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

> There are lots of walkable, dense university towns with great Chinese markets, good ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, and very affordable compared to every place you list. Many of them have beautiful forests and rivers and lakes nearby.

Can you name some? Not being sarcastic. I've only lived in big cities. But the sorts of places you're describing are definitely a type of places I'm interested in. The only place that jumps to mind is Ithaca NY? But again I just don't know much about this type of place but would love to know more
posted by wooh at 9:17 AM on August 22, 2019

If your girlfriend is Chinese, you might want to put some thought into whether somewhere with a significant culturally Chinese population would make things a lot better for her.
posted by metasarah at 9:25 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a Seattle native and I don't know of any other American city with equally amazing nature, but perhaps Philadelphia should be on the list as well? That and Chicago are pretty much the only two American cities with reasonable density/transit that also have reasonable COL. But Chicago is cold.
posted by mosst at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2019

I moved to Boulder from a major Asian city and haaaaated the lack of diversity and overall preciousness. Denver OTOH has a decent (around 5%) Asian population and a ton of markets and restaurants.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 9:31 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Think about Victoria, BC? It's smallish and has a Commonwealth/British feel but also a very old (in N. American terms) chinatown. Canadian cities are surprisingly diverse and not smug about it. There are just lots of different kinds of people in Canada, especially in the cities.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 9:32 AM on August 22, 2019

Tacoma, WA is also a really nice, livable place, though it doesn't have much of a Chinese population.
posted by mosst at 9:33 AM on August 22, 2019

Also, admittedly not a city I know super well, but maybe Sacramento?
posted by mosst at 9:37 AM on August 22, 2019

Canada thoughts: Vancouver is gorgeous, tech-y, and has a sizeable Chinese population; it is quite expensive though.
Nearby Victoria, on Vancouver Island, is a small city, but also incredibly beautiful, with great weather, beaches, rainforests, cherry trees everywhere, etc. It’s a few hours by ferry to Vancouver, which is nice when you’re in need of some time in a larger city.
Toronto is not so terribly cold as you may expect, and is relatively diverse; it is less expensive and is fairly close to many other cities, which is nice for providing some variety in what you do and see. It’s in a lovely natural part of the world but how immediate your access to nature is depends on where in the city you live.
The prairie province cities are COLD. Calgary says their chinooks (warm winds) make them warm, but I think their temperature gauge is thrown off by their proximity to Edmonton, which can be imagination-defyingly cold.
I know less about the East Coast of Canada—Halifax is friendly and pretty and very nice to visit, but feels quite small to me.
We’re likely to be headed into a more conservative and inegalitarian political landscape, but still not on the scale of many states in the US.
posted by Edna Million at 9:39 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

As a Philadelphian, I wasn't chiming in because of the weather thing. We get 4 seasons, but it gets hot and cold. Not as frigid as other places, but plenty cold. And we've had basically a month straight of 95 degree humid weather.

But, it obviously has a huge Asian presence, plenty of flower markets around the city, higher but do-able COL, overall excellent public transportation system, and realistically plenty of access to nature. If you keep the car for excursions out of the city, we have an amazing river/park system (Wissahickon) that is easy to drive to. We're within 2 hours of the mountains and the ocean.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:44 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've always lived in university towns and I love them but they are very different than a large city in some ways that might be important to you. They are generally more affordable, but the reason is because they're less dense. You won't have as many options for food or entertainment. There will be quality food and entertainment, but you'll have less choice about what kind. Also, the diversity tends to be tied to the university, and outside that setting they are much more white.

I love Ann Arbor, MI: Beautiful summers and natural surroundings, active downtown, extremely liberal for the US, great craft beer scene, and even a tidy tech industry. But it does get pretty cold - nowhere near as bad as somewhere like Minneapolis, but I know at least one person who is moving because the winters are just too much.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:47 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Paradoxically, it might be easier to find Asian communities in really conservative states. There’s a trend for public universities to recruit students from China because they pay full out-of-state tuition, which can help make up for losses when Republican legislatures cut funding for higher education. Firsthand experience with this at Ohio State, but I don’t think Columbus fits your weather requirements.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:54 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Basically most cities with a flagship R1 university will have a Chinese market, and a decent presence of non-white folks attached to the university, and enough students to support a restaurant/bar/music scene and a density that allows walk/bikability. Then it’s just a matter of looking into their specific offerings, because some are more sleepy/whiter/geographically boring than others. You’d do well to find ones that have some reason for existing outside of the uni, so eg I’d not recommend State College PA, even though the surroundings are gorgeous.

I’m thinking of places like Bloomington IN, maybe South Bend. Champaign IL, Yes Ithaca, also Syracuse NY, maybe Knoxville TN, Chapel Hill NC, most of the public ivies are worth briefly looking at.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:58 AM on August 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Look in the Los Angeles area and the smaller nearby cities with their own airports. How walkable depends on where you live, and there is train based public transit. If you work remotely you shouldn't have to drive, right? Its diverse , good weather, and still affordable and laid back enough for people to do creative things instead of just work for money. Its not cheap but you get more for your money than in SF and NY, and can rent a little house with room for dogs depending on your priorities.

Lo s Angeles get my vote and I wish I could vote 3x.
posted by perdhapley at 10:17 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pittsburgh is both a mid-sized city and a university town (two large R1s, several smaller institutions). Many Chinese markets. You'd probably like living in Squirrell Hill which has its own Chinese market plus restaurants serving Dongbei, Sichuan, Taiwanese and Hong Kong cuisines. That's where the lunar new year parade is every year. One of the nearby foreign language magnet public elementary schools is a Mandarin-focus school (my 2nd grader goes there and takes Mandarin 3-4 days a week).

There are other, larger Chinese/Asian markets in the wholesale district, a 10 minute car/half hour bus ride from Squirrell Hill.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:28 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Throwing out a recommendation for Richmond, VA. Great food scene, art scene, good weather, and a fair amount of diversity, particularly in the West End. It has a reputation for being high-crime, and still nurses a hangover from the civil war, but the crime has gotten dramatically better, and the city itself is a shining blue dot in an increasingly purple state.
posted by Vhanudux at 10:44 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

San Diego is much more conservative than LA, as I understand it. LA weather is kind of perfect? I think you could drive less there if that's your goal; you just have to plan that from the start.

Part of the reason Seattle and Portland are growing is because tech folks in San Francisco are looking for exactly what you are looking for. So you might find that these two cities have more of that culture than you'd like.

I would avoid Washington and Oregon outside of Seattle and Portland because it's super white and more conservative.

Maybe you should consider San Francisco, though. It sounds like it has everything that you want and only a few things that you don't want.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ithaca has Asian markets, don't know how good they are. The university makes the town very diverse. Compared to NYC it's affordable.
posted by mareli at 11:10 AM on August 22, 2019

I live in Eugene OR and I have....thoughts that I am happy to expound on via Memail if you want, but I'll just say Eugene is SO WHITE and is (perhaps therefore?) much less progressive than it thinks/acts like it is?? There are a lot of Chinese university students, so there are restaurants etc., but I feel like that's different from a permanent adult Asian / Asian-American community.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:00 PM on August 22, 2019

good weather (my GF hates heat, I prefer avoiding the cold, we are both fine with the rain)

If this is really important to you, don't bother looking anywhere but the Pacific coast.

Anywhere on the Gulf coast will be way too hot. Anywhere on the east coast will either be too hot, or too hot and too cold. Anywhere in the interior that remotely ticks your other boxes will with certainty be waaaaay too cold *AND* waaaaay too hot.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:03 PM on August 22, 2019

Lots of great post in this thread!

Re: weather: avoiding hot is much more important than avoiding cold. Not getting cold is a plus, but we can forgo it (unless it gets truly Siberian). Not getting super hot is a much more important requirement.

Again, thank you all so much!
posted by wooh at 12:08 PM on August 22, 2019

Probably not "good" weather (at least in summer and winter), but other than that, you might want to consider Philly. I grew up here and then moved back after years of living in China. It's very diverse and there is a large Chinese/Mandarin-speaking population in the city. The fairmount park system is great and there are a number of natural places outside the city as well. Very good public transit/walkable/bikeable- you actually can live without a car. Affordable for a large city. Liberal politics. Lots of great restauants and coffeeshops...
posted by bearette at 12:10 PM on August 22, 2019

Here is a list of American cities, including small ones, with significant Chinese-American populations. If it’s accurate, it might be helpful. (Personally, I would not want to live in a place with too many white people. I am white. Ouch.)

Keep in mind that temperatures are rising, so places that seem okay now may feel too hot in a few years given the weather extremes we have been seeing courtesy of the ongoing climate crisis.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:33 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’d be inclined to cross Asheville off your list. There are a lot of good people and great things about it but it’s not particularly diverse, it gets hot, not really convenient to airports (few airlines fly direct so then you’re looking at Greenville, SC or Charlotte), and there’s still a significant amount of conservative politics and attitudes at play. I think you could find a group of people you dig but the other issues will make your experience less pleasant than it could be.

I recently visited Portland, OR and while I liked it, it didn’t feel especially diverse and it might be more small town than you’re thinking if you’re used to a big city. It’ll definitely scratch your outdoorsy itch, though.

Regarding university towns, I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for if you want a City. Chapel Hill is adorable but it’s NC so it gets crazy hot. Ann Arbor is also very cute but it’s definitely more of a small town than a city.

Just as a data point, almost anywhere you can name that’s east coast/mid-Atlantic will have times when it’s arguably too hot or too cold. It’s just a question of how many days above 90 degrees/below 20 degrees and regarding heat, how humid it gets. I’m from Buffalo, NY which people assume is comparable to Siberia but it gets hot and humid there too.

Honestly, I’m thinking you’re right on with Seattle but maybe Vancouver would be a good option too. Diverse, decent weather and outdoorsy, though expensive. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 1:00 PM on August 22, 2019

Ditto what nakedmolerats says about Eugene. It's a nice size city in that it doesn't have a lot of the big city ills of too many people. Traffic is reasonable and the place is close to a lot of very beautiful outdoors destinations.
Downsides is that it's working on acquiring big city problems with homelessness and traffic. All in all, it's way more fun here now than 15 years ago. Growing technical industry here. Diversity is not a strong suit yet that's changed somewhat as well.
posted by diode at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2019

avoiding hot is much more important than avoiding cold

If you haven't lived east of the Rockies, this won't help much. Here's a map of July average dew points in the US, which will map roughly onto how unpleasantly warm someplace will feel in summer. The red/orange-y zones are Right Out. The yellowy-browny color that includes Chicago also: nope. You want to limit yourself to the bluesy-greensy zones and maybe the plain-yellow. But you should expect that the yellow areas in the interior will routinely have skull-shattering heat+humidity -- it just won't normally last for more than a few days.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:20 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think you might like somewhere in either the San Fernando or San Gabriel (which has a significant Chinese population and culture) Valleys of Los Angeles, probably in return for sacrificing true walkability. Yeah, it's entirely possible to live in a house or apartment that's within 2 miles of a grocery store/shopping center, often with flat (ish - this varies widely because both areas are bumped up against mountains) local streets and usually with sidewalks. You could bike or walk a bit to groceries and probably a drugstore and a couple of restaurants. You would likely need a car to go to the doctor, hardware store, all the other restaurants, etc. In the really neighborhoody areas there's variable bus access, and our light rail systems are really only arterial at this point, not an end-to-end solution for most things.

But. You do have access to everything LA has to offer, you get the weather, you get mountains in your back yard and the beach within a couple of hours (understand that the beach is a couple/several hours to get 20-40 miles).

It's not cheap, but the valleys are cheaper than most of the inside-LA neighborhoods, and they are quieter and there is more personal space. These are medium towns for the most part, they're just a solid carpet of medium towns contained inside the Greater Metropolitan LA Area.

I dunno. I fantasize about moving farther out, or more up into the mountains where it's generally a little cooler, but housing costs are a real issue here, and I also fantasize about *really* moving to a small town where I don't have to spend all my money for a place to live.

I've lived in San Diego as well and it's a fantastic place to live and has a much smaller-town vibe than LA, but it too suffers from the housing cost problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:47 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I lived in Seattle for several years and return often. It is a unique American city and I love it. It is however, essentially as expensive as the Bay Area anymore, and traffic is a nightmare. The city is overcrowded and bursting with money. And homelessness is off the charts.

Lived in Austin for quite a long time and loved it too. It’s gotten so Californicated and expensive that the things that made it great in my time are dying. Musicians have trouble living there, for example, despite the live music capital of the world hype. And heat? Oh hell yes. I mean, if you’re used to Southeast Asia it will seem familiar in July. I myself just can’t take Texas in summer anymore, and I used to sort of love it.

Bloomington, IN is a bad idea given your other specs. It’s a blue-ish island in an ocean at least as red as Georgia, and it feels like a small town and gets brutally hot and cold. Same things people have said here about Asheville and Athens, the scenes are really walled off and the sense of being in a bubble gets old.

I’d seriously look a Canada myself. America is in a spiral dive and if I had the immediate choice I’d be considering other countries too. I certainly wouldn’t want to move here if the world is your oyster. Canada has problems, but it isn’t down the tubes the way the USA is. Toronto is a fantastically diverse and cosmopolitan city, and while Winter is tough, it’s not brutal and the city is built for it. Vancouver is gorgeous and almost feels like an Asian city, including its insane prices, but plus the same terrible homelessness one sees in Seattle and Portland. As with Seattle, even more so for Vancouver, you’re really close to spectacular wilderness, if that moves you as much as it does me. None of the other cities you’re discussing here get anywhere close to comparable proximity to wilderness. In Texas or most of Indiana it can’t be found without at least half a day of driving in any direction. It’s so sad and demoralizing for me after a while. Western North Carolina is better for that, but in every other sense it doesn’t fit.

I am going to plug Anchorage too, if you can live anywhere and want to be in the US. It’s such an interesting and youthful city, really quite diverse but with an open western character and big spaces and aesthetically ugly urban design, which who cares because you can see real wilderness at every turn? Tons of young people. Big Asian communities, and a growing Pacific Islander community, plus Alaska Natives and lots of Latinos for sure. If you do like proximity to wilderness it’s unmatched in the lower 48. And yeah Winter, but with global climate change now in full play in Alaska the last few summers have been glorious or frighteningly hot, depending on what you think about at the moment. Hot meaning 70-80f.

Denver is pretty cool and definitely offers reasonable proximity to wilderness as well as diversity and liberal culture. It’s such a boomtown though. My friends there complain a lot about traffic and construction and prices rising and some are leaving. I’d def look at a Boulder.

I happen to love Albuquerque but I have reasons and it’s hotter than hell in summer. Phoenix is a boomtown too, much more diverse than it used to be and starting to get downright cosmopolitan, hot as hell, of course.

My two cents.
posted by spitbull at 4:33 PM on August 22, 2019

It’s a blue-ish island in an ocean at least as red

Sure; and that’s true of pretty much every single urban center in the USA. Even in strongly blue states like CA, NY, IL, VT, MA, rural counties skew far more conservative than the cities. If you can’t live in a liberal city because it is adjacent to rural conservatives, you can’t live in the (current, existing) USA.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:46 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another limiter is going to be how to keep your gf with you in the US long-term if she's not a US citizen already. Getting a job will be difficult (she'll need an employer sponsor), unless she comes over on a student visa and works part-time. Obviously if you get married before you leave, then there's more options that open up. But my takeaway is that your options depend a lot on what's available for her situation.

If she does have US passport or I missed details in your post regarding this, then feel free to ignore!
posted by lesser weasel at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

> Raleigh-Durham area is less overwhelmingly white (and has lots of tech things) but it's hemmed in and besieged by white supremacists and their ilk. The food here is mediocre at best, and there aren't any good restaurants worth spending any sort of money on.

I'm Korean and live in Durham and the above seems a bit harsh. I've enjoyed living in the area and the local food scene. My husband and I have slowly been eating our way through the NC Barbecue Trail, in addition to restaurants closer to us. The area is not that great for Korean food, for sure, and definitely can't compare with the Washington, D.C. area, where I've also lived, for Asian food overall. I think the selection of Chinese restaurants has been improving in Cary of late. Cary also has a large Chinese supermarket and an H-Mart, and the better bubble tea places in the area, although Chapel Hill has the NC outpost of Meet Fresh, a Taiwanese dessert chain. Morrisville and Cary have large Indian populations, along with many Indian restaurants and groceries.

Aside from the heat, I think the big minus for the Research Triangle area will be the lack of decent public transportation to get around the various points of the Triangle. Living in the area will feel restrictive unless you're willing to drive around.

Another minus is that there are no direct flights to Asia, you'll always have to fly to a larger airport like JFK or IAD or ATL first, which adds to travel time and cost. One thing I miss about living in Ann Arbor, MI, was being able to fly non-stop to ICN from DTW. And when I see the prices of flights between LAX and Asian destinations it makes me weep.
posted by research monkey at 7:16 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Since diversity is on your nice to have list and not a requirement, I think I would pick's relatively easy to get around without a car, easy to get to the airport, wonderful nature nearby (and parks inside), good restaurants, liberal, tech scene, etc. You mentioned wanting to have space for a yard, etc, which I think could definitely happen there. Vancouver (Canada, not Washington!) also sounds like a good fit, but I think it's a lot more expensive. Some people have suggested LA- I lived there and loved it, and lived somewhere where it was completely reasonable to get around without a car, amazingly, but it's definitely hot in the summers. I've visited in July the last few summers and I saw the temperature go above 100 degrees (in the house I was staying) on each trip. It is getting hotter because of climate change, like almost everywhere. That includes Seattle and Portland and SF... It was over 100 in SF in June. It was awful. But I think it's more likely to be hot in LA.
posted by pinochiette at 7:24 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

When you have a short list, you and your girlfriend should visit for a while. Like, a week or longer, if possible.

It really jumped out at me when you said that your girlfriend would at first be studying English, but that diversity was only a nice-to-have.

I strongly suspect your girlfriend, if she's Chinese-born Chinese and has not previously lived in the U.S., is under-estimating or under-communicating the value of a diverse population.

It's hard for someone who's used to being mainstream, literate, and articulate to imagine not being those things any more.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:56 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Bella Donna's wiki link made me realize that no one has suggested that you consider Hawaii, Honolulu specifically. As of the last census, it is 54% (!) Asian. Expensive as hell, but you can't beat the climate, the diversity, nor the access to nature. Maybe worth a look, especially if you truly can work remotely.
posted by minervous at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd say Bellingham. Quietish, easy to get to Seattle or Vancouver to do city stuff or meet clients you're remote working for, not super cheap CoL but if you're earning a city salary you'll be fine, and you're barely any distance from Richmond/Vancouver if you want to get decent Chinese food (which you will not find in Bellingham).

It's a great place, beautiful scenery, friendly, really community spirited.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2019

Some great and thoughtful analysis. Some clarifications.

I mentioned "future wife?" because we do plan to get married, and I don't think she'd be able to live and work in the US otherwise.

Re: diversity, interestingly, it's actually a concession on my part more than hers. I've lived in more cosmopolitan cities than she has, in fact the city we live in now is probably 99.9% Chinese. The "are there Chinese people in this city to give her access to her own culture" is something I definitely think about, though she doesn't seem to think it's a huge issue. I guess it's hard to predict how one will actually feel, but she maintains that she doesn't need a sizeable Chinese population (but a Chinese market would be very welcome!)...I still think it's worth prioritizing having some, though, but many many cities have some. I think access to flights to china also matters for sure, so PNW is still a strong contender.

Also, if she is really lonely and unhappy, we will move. Another reason I want to try and work remote!

We are definitely planning on doing a longer trip to the places that end up finalized on the list. That's the purpose for this thread, really :) I want us to go to Seattle for a week or so, but I am trying to figure out where else we should go.

Thanks again!!
posted by wooh at 2:02 AM on August 23, 2019

You guys want to live in San Diego. Trust me. It's ideal for you.

Seattle has become an absolute hellhole over the past 10 years, trying to get from one side to the other, never mind to nature, will make you want to kill yourself if you've lived anywhere with real public transportation. Also it's pretty unfriendly and provincial still. And it's the worst kind of gentrification. I used to love Seattle 20 years ago, I'd rather live almost anywhere else nowadays.

Of your other options I'd say Minneapolis fits the best, other than the cold. You can live there and have a cabinon a lake to retreat to for the price of an apartment in CA
posted by fshgrl at 12:59 PM on August 23, 2019

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