Denver vs Sacramento
September 18, 2019 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I have the option of relocating to either Denver or Sacramento, but I have only briefly visited either location. Tell me what's awful / great about both places?

I know there have been other questions before, but most of them are at least 4 yrs old...

Important factors are:
* culture - we love live theatre, live jazz, arts and history
* kink/poly/queer friendly

Things we don't have to worry about:
* kids / school districts
* jobs - my partner and I are both federales
posted by The Blue Olly to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I spent most of my childhood / teen years in Sacramento. It's definitely changed a lot in the last 30 years, mostly for the better. It's got a fairly decent culture scene these days compared to before, gets a fair amount of music / theatre coming through. For the bigger names that only stop in the Bay Area, it's not a terrible drive if you're into that. It's got more than a little California / western US art and history going on (i.e. The Crocker), but same thing applies here, you'll find even more of that in the Bay Area.

I think the best thing about Sacramento is it's central location between the mountains, the wine country, and the ocean. It's a lower cost of living than other parts of the state and if you don't mind being in the car for an hour or two you can end up in all kinds of wonderful places. Whereas Denver has basically the mountains, so if that's your thing, well, bigger mountains and better snow. You should know that Sacramento, along with most of the rest of the central valley, can get really freaking hot in the summertime. It's a dry heat, almost never any humidity, so it's tolerable, but it is a thing.

I can't speak to Denver, but my general impression of the kink/poly/queer scene in Sacramento is that it's pretty limited. I'm comparing that with San Francisco where I live now, of course, but it just never feels like I see much going on in Sacramento for that community like I do here.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:38 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Never been to Sacramento, but depending on what kind of federal jobs you've got, the housing situation in the Denver metro may suck. Lakewood, where Denver Federal Center is located, passed an ordinance this year that limits housing construction, including along the light rail that goes directly to Federal Center. (more on that)

Try WalkScore for finding areas to live that have reasonable walk/bike/transit distances to your workplace, grocery stores, etc. You can plug in multiple addresses to cover more than one possible commute or other trip. The actual housing listed there is all rental, but even if you're planning to buy, it'll give you some sense what neighborhoods and areas might work for you.

Anyway, other than the whole thing where wealthy homeowners are gonna wealthy homeowner, it's a great place to live, with some of pretty much anything you might like to do. I'm more into local opera (Central City Opera is the best thing ever and the highlight of summer for me) than theater in general, but there's a lot of both to attend, and a good local jazz night a couple blocks' walk from home every week. (There's more elsewhere, but if I can get my jazz fix this close I'm too lazy to go farther afield.)

We've got some good art museums with recent enormous renovations or relocations (the Denver Art Museum renovation's ongoing) and Meow Wolf is opening a stupidly-large exhibition center in a year and a half. Crush Walls was a couple of weeks ago, in case you want your art large and outdoors.

I don't know much about the kink/poly/queer scene, but there are other local mefites who could tell you more.
posted by asperity at 9:00 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Denver is a regional hub city, that brings to it all the regional city centric things. Sacramento is not the regional hub city in Northern California. So lots of the things you might travel from Sacramento to San Francisco to find will gravitate to Denver on their own.
posted by u2604ab at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sacramento has improved a lot in terms of culture in even the last 5 years--I live in the SF Bay Area and am having to visit more and more friends up there as they move up to buy homes. Midtown in particular is now much more interesting and has better restaurants/bars/etc than it used to--plenty of night life although I feel it skews a little young.

My gay friends seem to have found it friendly enough; there is a local chapter of the Rainbow Chamber that has a lot of available info. Certainly not as much going on as SF, but more friendly than I had assumed.

Can't emphasize enough that it really does get reallyfuckinghot in the summer--like, well above 100 degrees most days, was still 87 there yesterday at 4pm.
posted by assenav at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2019

I visited both Sacramento a few years ago for a long weekend (hopped on Amtrak to get there/back from a different part of California, stayed in boutique hotel downtown) and Denver for a few days for work (plane trip, stayed in a major business hotel downtown). So maybe this is all stuff you already know, as I didn't spend enough time in either place to get a strong feel for either of your two most important factors, but here were some initial impressions:

- Arts & Culture: It's pretty easy to check out specifically Californian history in Sacramento (though the Railroad Museum covers the rest of the U.S. as well), which was a delight for me as a native Californian, but I'm not too sure how interesting it'd be to people from out of state? But there's certainly a lot of history you can check out. In Sacramento, I visited the State Capitol Museum and its rose garden, took a tour of the State Capitol, hit up the Crocker Art Museum, the Railroad Museum, the very small blocks comprising their purported Chinatown (I'm originally from a much bigger Chinatown, lol), and Old Town by the water. You're not too far from San Francisco (approx. a 2-3 hour drive/train ride) if you want access to the much bigger cultural scene there, but I similarly share allkindsoftime's view that the kink/poly/queer scene in Sacramento is pretty limited, compared to SF. Supposedly it still has one of the highest LGBT+ populations per capita, though? Also, you wouldn't be too far from SF and you could visit for SF Pride, which LGBT friends I have out of state make a point of flying back to check out.

- Racial diversity: Denver's more white. I'm Asian American from an area with one of the highest East Asian populations in the U.S., so I notice immediately if I'm somewhere where I'm one of very few other Asian people or POC in the area. Everyone I met in Denver was nice to me, and I got the impression the city overall is more liberal than not, but apart from a few POC colleagues at the conference I was attending, everyone I met and saw in Denver was white. From googling, it appears Denver is approximately 69% white, while Sacramento is 45% white (as of 2010), and I'm guessing Denver's population will shift towards more diversity in the years to come, but it was a bit of a culture shock.

- Food diversity: I get the impression that Sacramento has more of a burgeoning foodie scene, and you would be within very easy access (via train or car) to any number of other Californian cities with diverse cuisines, plus you'd already be in a state known for producing a lot of the nation's food supply, so you'd be able to access some really awesome farmer's markets and local restaurants in addition to checking out wine country. If you like coffee at all, both cities are great for that.

- Surrounding landscape: I'm more used to being around hilly neighborhoods and cities, so the landscape around Denver felt somewhat alien to me - Denver is surrounded by a lot of very flat stretches of land. You can see mountains in the distance on your way to Denver from the Denver airport, but the immediate landscape feels like it has a lot less variety than Sacramento & NorCal in general, where the terrain has a lot more hills and trees and bodies of water nearby instead of seemingly only very far away. Both cities are on the flat side and are fairly easy to walk around, I thought.

- Size: Downtown Denver feels smaller, even though Sacramento also feels like a relatively small city if you're used to being in bigger cities (e.g. SF). Each has their own slightly hipper area (Larimer Square in Denver, Midtown in Sac) with assorted boutiques and restaurants and coffee shops. The Denver financial district felt cleaner and more modern and had some very tall (700'+) buildings, whereas the Sacramento financial district felt somewhat grungier and shorter (tallest buildings are around 400', which I'm guessing is due to earthquake regulations). I'm surprised to find out that Denver's population is supposedly larger than Sacramento's, because the density of people in Sacramento felt so much more active and present than Denver's.

- Weather: Yeah, Sacramento and the central part of California get seriously hot during the summers. Denver gets up to the 80s at most from what I've heard. Depending on your tolerance for hot summers (both cities seem to have mild winters, lows in the 40s?), you might like everything else about Sacramento except for actually physically being in the city when it's hot, and that could be enough to rule it out as a place to live.

Both cities have enjoyable qualities, so I think it would boil down to what factors you'd consider make or break when considering where to move for work. What are your hard no's? I'd be reluctant to live somewhere where I was just 3% of the population, but I've avoided living in places that get as hot as Sacramento in the summer because I would be miserable. Would you and your partner have the chance to visit both cities again before making your decision?
posted by rather be jorting at 10:20 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

All you people talking about how hot it gets can save your breath. I live in VA, where last week it was 94 °F with 93%

Anything that either city has to offer will feel mild, in comparison.
posted by The Blue Olly at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have visited Sacramento and the area around it several times, and it seems like a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. The weather is great, very pleasant, except for summer when it's miserable (if dry). It's close enough to the Bay Area that it's a very popular spot for people to move to, so you might seem more younger people there. And the food/cocktail scene really benefits from the proximity. You are also a relatively short drive from the glories of the Sierra and Tahoe. The people I know in Sacramento don't make the drive into the Bay Area very often, though, because of the traffic. There are a bunch of people commuting from Sacramento to the fringes of the Bay Area, and then a bunch of people commuting from there into the city, and it's excruiating. The town of Davis is just down I-80 from Sacramento, very walkable/bikeable, obviously a big influence from the university, that might be more queer-friendly (I am not queer). Sacramento County did (like most counties in California) vote to ban gay marriage in 2008. Though even San Francisco itself was 23% in favor of the ban, so take that for what it's worth. Davis also has the Mondavi Center, which hosts a number of regional and sometimes national acts.
posted by wnissen at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I know Reddit can be a cesspool but I strongly recommend visiting the respective local subreddits for each of those cities. I frequent the Sac one and a variation of this question gets asked at least once a week so there’s a wealth of info on the pros and cons of living here.

(Can’t speak to Denver as I’ve only been there a few times, but I generally love living in Sac—always say it’s a great place to live but probably lame to visit so keep that in mind as opinions come in. People have pretty well covered the good stuff above; as far as the bad, the hot summers don’t faze me—high 90s are common but 100+ are not the norm, BTW—but because of all of our lovely trees, if you don’t have some form of seasonal allergies now, you’ll probably develop them. And the homeless sitch is pretty dire but welcome to California and/or any urban area with decent weather).
posted by lovableiago at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2019

I grew up in Denver and I visit relatives at least once a year. It's changed a lot, but I still find it to be a very livable city. Unfortunately, they don't have a lot of interest in public transit, so unless you're on the very few light rail lines, you have to be prepared to drive everywhere.

There's a lot going on culturally, a pretty impressive music scene, lots of terrific restaurants, and some impressive theatre as well. A very active art museum. Denver has elected a Black African American man as mayor, Colorado has a gay governor, and neither of these were treated as a particularly big deal, which shows *amazing* progress in terms of the political climate I knew. Also, the Broncos football team is a HUGE DEAL there! The Rockies are nearby, so terrific skiing is available for a few hours drive in the winter. There are several universities and a large medical school that's affiliated with Colorado University. Also, Boulder is about an hour away in the foothills, which is where the main CU campus is.

Climate is interesting. Typically, it'll snow for a day or two in the winter, then the sun will come out and it all melts away. You're in Virginia, so you may not be used to snow, but It can be really lovely (as long as you don't have to drive across town).

Certainly you should visit - I'm sure you could get lots of recommendations for things to do and see.
posted by jasper411 at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2019

All you people talking about how hot it gets can save your breath. I live in VA, where last week it was 94 °F with 93% humidity.
Sacramento is famous for its trees, but even so: it likely has many more hours of bright sun and much less shade from vegetation than where you are now. This is a major quality of life issue for many people.
posted by caek at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

All you people talking about how hot it gets can save your breath. I live in VA, where last week it was 94 °F with 93% humidity.

I grew up in MD/VA/DC and live in the Bay Area now. Do not discount the temperature possibilities. Despite the folk saying, dry heat is not always better. Sacramento can get to 107-110F in the summertime, and that is MISERABLE.

OTOH, Sacramento has oxygen, something Denver has... less of. If you're physically active, it's something your body can become accustomed to, but it will have an affect.
posted by hanov3r at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2019

Denver's climate is pretty pleasant; dry days with highs in the 80s to low 90s for the most part in the summer, with cooler evenings. In the winter it'll get snow, but it's rare for snow to stick around for a long time.

Someone above mentioned that it's a regional hub city; that has a big impact on the art and music scenes, since most touring groups or shows that are doing either regional or coast-to-coast tours will stop.

The most complained-about things are products of it being a popular place to move to lately; more traffic, higher housing costs, particularly near downtown. Those bleed into some of the access to the outdoors too; popular trailheads can get busy, and ski traffic to and from the ski resorts in the winter can be a nightmare. What's usually a one-hour drive to Dillon can take four plus.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:09 PM on September 18, 2019

Re: altitude & humidity: idk if it's something you'd mind after more than a few days in Denver, but Denver's a mile above sea level (over 5000 feet!) and Sacramento's approx. 30 feet above sea level. The altitude took me about a day to get used to, and my lips felt like they dried out a lot more easily in Denver than back near the Pacific, even though it was raining in Denver half the time I was there. Humidity in Sacramento at the moment is around 50%, but in Denver it's 20%.
posted by rather be jorting at 2:12 PM on September 18, 2019

Sacramento's downtown is barely existent. I know since last time I was there they had moved the NBA team's arena and were trying to build up downtown, but my experience was that the ratio of homeless or crazy people walking around during the day vs. office workers was like 6 to 1. Many shops were boarded up, or just in shambles. You had to live in the suburbs, basically, and Sacramento has this weird patchwork layout where you'll find a small cluster of a housing development and a strip mall, and then nothing for a while until you drive to the next cluster. I hated it, because I hated having to sit in my car for a while to get anymore, and you could never go to one spot and feel like you were at the center of everything. I also thought the food scene sucked, even though people there seemed to be convinced it was good, and there wasn't much to do. In the summer, Sacramento feels like an oven and it gets insanely hot.

My first hint that Sacramento sucked is that when I interviewed for a job there, the biggest selling point given to me was that San Francisco and Lake Tahoe were close drives away. If the best selling point is the ability to leave the city, it ain't great.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's not actually the ability to leave Sacramento. Yes, Sacramento is nowhere, but since it's between the Sierra and the Bay Area, it's closer and more convenient to those places. Do pay careful attention to what wnissen said about traffic.

well above 100 degrees most days, was still 87 there yesterday at 4pm

Oh, not most days. Above 100 several days, sure, and some all in row; but most days I find the temperature quite agreeable here. Very much so compared to DC. Note that it does get to freezing and below many days, as well. Snow is unlikely at our low altitude but I had to scrape frost off my windshield a few days last winter.
posted by Rash at 3:09 PM on September 18, 2019

I grew up in the Central Valley near Sacramento and couldn't take the summers, but the problem wasn't the heat per se; it was the monotony. There's virtually no rain from May to October, and even cloudy days or days that it stays around 80 are rare. You don't get thunderstorms to break the heat like you do in much of North America -- it's just 150 similar days in a row. Of course, some people like this about the place.

Summer nights (and early mornings) in the valley are actually quite pleasant, but that wasn't enough for me.

Sacramento's downtown is barely existent. I know since last time I was there they had moved the NBA team's arena and were trying to build up downtown, but my experience was that the ratio of homeless or crazy people walking around during the day vs. office workers was like 6 to 1. Many shops were boarded up, or just in shambles. You had to live in the suburbs,

I disagree with this. The area around the arena is still pretty derelict, but Midtown (a little further east) is a lot nicer and more vibrant.
posted by aws17576 at 4:17 PM on September 18, 2019

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