What's Burlington like for a visit? How about to move to?
October 17, 2019 6:25 PM   Subscribe

We (spouse, 8-mo-old beeb, and I) are visiting Burlington, VT for a long weekend, Nov 8-11. We're staying pretty central, I think-- near the waterfront right by the Church Street marketplace. What should we check out for fun while we're there (details below the fold)? More importantly but less immediately, what should we see and do to evaluate it for permanently relocating to next year?

Vacation details:
  • We're staying at the Hilton on Battery between Cherry and College (thanks, credit card points)
  • What's great to see and do with an infant in tow? We're up for walking, and will also have a car. History, nature, seasonal, shopping, hiking all possibilities. Ability to accommodate a 3-hour wake window between naps a near necessity (though short stroller refresh naps are possible).
  • Food! Only what is doable with an infant, naturally, so lunches and early, casual dinners are going to be our go-to. But yeah, a range of good food tends to be what we base our vacations around.
  • Any further details on what tends to be open/closed, possible/impossible in early-mid November would be appreciated. How much outdoor stuff tends to be open? Nearby parks accessible? That sort of thing.
Relocation details:
  • We've lived in Philly for a long time; spouse lifelong, me since moving here for college, and permanently after graduating 12+ years ago. We are specifically looking for something smaller and quieter, recognizing that it's coming with tradeoffs.
  • I work remotely and could relocate with almost zero friction. (The relocation grant is why we started looking in the first place, with full awareness that it's not guaranteed for the future.) Spouse is currently not working, but has experience in academic research (developmental psychology) and at some point (not immediately) would likely look for something similar or administrative at the university. Alternatively, she may start a small business; is the area good to small businesses or no?
  • We own our house here, have equity, and will probably benefit a bit from increased market value. We plan to try to buy immediately (likely mostly-remotely) when we move. Is this a bad idea? i.e., does the area take some "settling in" before having a good sense of where we'd get the right neighborhood fit? (I'd say this about Philly, e.g.)
  • On that note, we are interested in checking out neighborhoods where we'll be able to have a yard, a good public school district, and ideally some walkability/bikeability for under ~400k. We'd love a "downtown" area within a couple walkable/bikeable miles. I'd personally like to avoid tons of driving on a day-to-day basis, i.e. mandatory car trip whenever we leave the house.
  • other towns: would it be worthwhile to visit South Burlington while we're in town? Or even further afield?
  • What’s the variability like for public schools? Are most schools in Burlington fine/good? There’s a lot of catchment-to-catchment variability in Philly, so we’re not sure how it works there.
  • We don't currently have a dog (RIP) but getting one is high on the after-we-move list. Walkability to dog-friendly parks etc is on the radar.
  • Sort of generally: how easy is it to make friends in Burlington as a mid-30s adult without having local coworkers? Initial thoughts: I grew up UU and would likely check out the local fellowship. I have a coworking space membership here in Philly and might start going to a coworking space instead of working solely from home.
  • is there anything else we should know about living in Burlington or Vermont in general? Especially coming from a larger mid-Atlantic city like Philly.
tl;dr: over the course of a long weekend in Burlington, VT, what should we (a) do that's fun, and (b) keep an eye out for to see if the area is right for us?
posted by supercres to Travel & Transportation around Burlington, VT (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps this is to simplistic of an observation, but Do you LOVE winter? Because you'll have a lot of that. Vermonters know how to handle winter well but your thoughts about walk/bike may be compromised by the weather half the year....
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:48 PM on October 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Eh, we like it more than the swampy Philly summers, which is definitely something we hope to escape from. From what I understand of the climate, it's totally doable: willing to get AWD, temps are within tolerability, and I definitely should have couched my walking/biking comments in "weather permitting". That said, I have always wanted to take up fatbiking :)

Exactly the sort of thing I am hoping folks point out though-- thank you!
posted by supercres at 6:54 PM on October 17, 2019

Best answer: My husband and I moved here from Atlanta in January this year. Our kids are grown and out of the house, so I'm not a lot of help with schools, etc.

Do you like breweries? They're pretty much a family affair here. Check out Zero Gravity in the south end of Burlington, Foam Brewers just a couple of blocks from where you're staying, and Simple Roots brewing in the New North End (which happens to be a nice little residential area too).

Do you like vegetarian or vegan food? Try Revolution Kitchen or Zabby & Elf's Stone Soup in downtown Burlington, or Pingala Cafe in Winooski.

Like meat? Leunig's Bistro on Church Street.

Brunch? Skinny Pancake just off the waterfront (likely to be a wait), Monarch & the Milkweed close to Church Street, or Rustic Roots in Shelburne.

This is a very dog-friendly town. All the brewpubs and many of the restaurants welcome dogs, especially in outdoor seating areas.

You'll just miss the last outdoor Burlington Farmers Market, which is a shame - Link. There is an indoor version you might try out (I haven't, yet).

You could spend a full day walking Shelburne Museum. There are several walking trails and parks, including Waterfront and Battery parks right by the water, or walk the short Five Tree Hills trail in Williston.

No matter how cold it is, you will see people out walking, running, etc. In Burlington and surrounding towns, streets are kept very well plowed, and in Burlington they even have sidewalk plows.

House-shopping - prices are surprisingly high, especially in Burlington proper, and taxes are also very high, about double what we were used to down south. In town, a lot of the housing stock has been bought up and carved up for student housing and rentals, and rent on those is not cheap. A lot of people commute in from Williston, New North End area of Burlington, Colchester, or South Burlington. The roads are kept clear - you'd be fine on snow tires.

In the country (which is not far away from Burlington downtown, at all), it's still not uncommon to see houses that only have DSL internet, so keep an eye out for that. A lot of propane- and oil-heated homes that aren't on or near a natural gas line. Many homes do not have AC. We didn't miss it this summer, only a couple of days at or above 90, and much lower humidity than you're probably used to. It might be worthwhile to hook up with a realtor for a half a day for a couple of showings, or go see a couple of open houses.

One final note of warning: this is a small city - 40k permanent residents in Burlington, plus another 20k college students through the school year. In the winter, there is very little housing stock on the market, and the houses that are on the market are often - not always! - distressed. Much more on the market in spring and summer. Homes around ~400k can be in hot contention / high demand.
posted by webwench at 7:33 PM on October 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

One more thing - there are small music venues and plenty of local acts playing in bars, etc., but music genres are a bit limited, and no big acts really come through. If you're a big concert or club person, you'll have to go to Montreal or further afield.
posted by webwench at 7:37 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In terms of relocation, if you check out neighborhoodscout, it'll give you a sense of prices as well some characteristics of each zone.

The first thing you should take away from this map is that UVM is literally in the middle of the red zone. The second thing you should take away is that the downtown area is about a 10-15 walk from UVM.

Put those two things together and as webwench mentioned, it accounts for the price of housing, as well as the deceptive nature of "neighborhoods" in the downtown area. Many homes that appear to be single-family houses are, in fact, glorified student housing.

Some places in that 400k range might be in what's called the "New North End" or Starr Farm Beach. I wouldn't necessarily call them walkable to downtown, but definitely bikeable- abut 15-30 minutes.
posted by jeremias at 8:16 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you or spouse or bebe like to ski/snowboard?
posted by vrakatar at 8:33 PM on October 17, 2019

Response by poster: Not currently! Right now we all (I think) have the same level of experience with snow sports. (The adults are better at standing, though.) Not at all opposed to the idea though.
posted by supercres at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2019

Best answer: Mount Philo, about 20 minutes south, is kind of a baby mountain—there’s a hiking trail, but you can also just drive or bike to the top on a paved road. The view is terrific. Nice for an easy hike with baby in a carrier. If you’re more adventurous, there’s Camel’s Hump about 30 minutes east, although I don’t know how its upper reaches are in November.

The church at the head of Church St is, in fact, a UU church. Maybe check it out, see if you like the vibe. As for meeting people in general, I find the folks in Burlington unusually open and easy to talk to; ymmv.

Things to think about:
- Vermont is suuuuuupppeerrrrr white, Burlington a smidge less so, but still.
- There’s a not-insignificant amount of poverty in Burlington, especially concentrated in the Old North End, which is also where the artists live, as well as many students.
- I would investigate the job market carefully before moving. It’s a small place. There aren’t necessarily many opportunities for every type of job.

If I were moving to Burlington today (with circumstances and desires somewhat similar to yours), I would aim for the South End or the less-seedy parts of the Old North End. My spouse disagrees; he is rather enchanted with Shelburne.
posted by the_blizz at 10:31 PM on October 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Found this relocation advice before my last move. Am glad I did:

Start with a list of the characteristics of the town where you now live that you would miss greatly if the next town didn't have them. Add to it characteristics that would be deal breakers if any town did have them. The hard part is the third list. These are characteristics that, without you knowing, are such an expected part of life you wouldn't verify they're available elsewhere.
posted by Homer42 at 4:25 AM on October 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding mt philo, it’s super easy and will be beautiful this time of year.

Burlington is a wonderful city. From what you’ve written it will really match your interests. I think it will be more expensive and less walkable then you are looking for - ie parts ofthe old north end are too far to walk from a grocery store with a family’s worth of groceries but there are small corner markets and lovely little parks and cafes.

Its fucking cold and snowy and windy. That said I had a roommate who biked from our apt on St. Louis st near the intervale to her job at UVM most days in the winter and she survived.

If you can afford it and find a job I think it’s a lovely place to raise a family. I grew up in a more rural part of the state and am now gone but my friends who are from Burlington have left because there are no jobs and we can’t afford to be there.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:18 AM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Also something about Vermont in general - it’s hard to describe this but there is a high degree of I guess what you would call civic engagement. People are generally community oriented. This manifests in town meeting day of course but in non political ways too. Like during hunting season our middle school morning announcements would include which kids got deer. “Ray Liberty shot a six point buck this weekend, congratulations Ray!” Real small town shit. As I grow older and I’m more aware of different places in the country I think of this more and more. It’s really great for kids.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:35 AM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all really great points and tips and thoughts, thank you all. Mt Philo sounds great on our visit, as does checking out the local UUs.

From what y'all have written about the job market, the state program for attracting remote workers really makes sense-- increase the tax base even with a dearth of local jobs. Definitely something we will keep in mind for +1 and contingencies.

All good to know about walkability in/from different neighborhoods. I think this is something we will get more of a sense for in person. We are somewhat enamored of the idea of a family bakfiets or longtail cargo bike for just-out-of-walking-range trips but it's something that's just a shade too hairy for us on Philadelphia streets. Sounds like it might be reasonable (weather permitting) there though.

There's a lot that sounds like where I grew up, a smallish college town in the deep south (Auburn). Even with the different culture (and funds-starvation from the state) it was a good place to live; a lot of this came from having a close-knit like-minded church community. Hard to imagine that Auburn is 50% larger than Burlington, though!
posted by supercres at 7:56 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Whoops, nm on Mt Philo, looks like we're going to miss the season.
posted by supercres at 8:00 AM on October 18, 2019

Best answer: how easy is it to make friends in Burlington as a mid-30s adult without having local coworkers? Initial thoughts: I grew up UU and would likely check out the local fellowship. I have a coworking space membership here in Philly and might start going to a coworking space instead of working solely from home.

Welcome! I live in rural Vermont about an hour south of Burlington. For a lot of us outside of Chittenden County, there is Chittenden County and then the rest of Vermont and they're different. The biggest way is cost. As otehrs have said, your price range means you'll be a little outside of downtown (and yes, South Burlington is nice, I have some good family friends who live there). However, in a smaller town, you could buy a mansion (there is literally a 14 room mansion in my town for sale for about that) so just make sure you want to be in Chittenden County.

I find people here really agreeable generally. As pintapicasso said, there's a lot of civic engagement and so a lot of opportunities to not only meet people but get involved with your community. When I've spent time in the Burlington co-working spaces, I've found them to be a little tech bro-ish. Friendly people but not places where I, a middle-aged lady, would choose to work. And yes the diversity issue is real. Chittenden County is a lot more diverse than the rest of the state (a lot of new Americans settling in the area which is terrific) but the state tends towards white and Christian or Christian-adjacent. Lots of UUs and Congregationalist communities and if you're used to being in a progressive church commnity, you'll have a lot of options. There's also pockets of really terrific food and then a lot of good-but-basically-farm-to-table food which if that's your thing, great. If you want a specific food from a non-US country that isn't pizza or Chinese, you'll have your work cut out for you anywhere outside of Chittenden County or Montpelier.

Also, you'll be close to Montreal! Which is a big deal because it's a great cosmopolitan city.

I have a really good friend who raised his family in South Burlington and has been on local bike/ped coalitions forever. There is a strong biking community in the Burlington area and I don't know anything about it. I'll PM you his detailsand feel free to email and pick his brain.
posted by jessamyn at 9:33 AM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In November lots of things will be closed -- Shelburne Museum, ferry to Port Kent, sailing and cruises (naturally). There's an ice skating arena nearby. Yeah, learn to ski, because Stowe and Smuggler's Notch are an hour away and that'll give you a reason to survive the winters there. Maybe take a drive out there and stop in Waterbury so you can get a feel for just how rural and rugged it is. (You can't even drive between the two resorts in winter)

I'd find a house near the Greenway, the best bike path. Maybe south of downtown. Note that as you go north towards Colchester most houses are on leased land, which carries a bunch of additional risk.

I hope it's nice and sunny for your trip -- but I also hope it's cold, windy, rainy, slushy, and muddy so you can get a feel for the place. Most people I talked to were not nostalgic about winter by the time April rolled around. But summer is pretty awesome (spring = mud season)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:48 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mid-November is what is affectionately called 'stick season' here, as the leaves are gone and the snow isn't deep enough yet for sports. So, you'll be seeing a quieter town than other times of year. Unfortunately, timing won't work out or I'd offer to meet up with you during your visit. Likewise, many summer tourism options will be closed after Halloween.

The recommendations on food are good. I'd suggest you definitely check out South Burlington and the New North End for housing that has a bit more in terms of structure and yard for the price, and the Old North End and South End for housing in your price range that better meets the urban living goals. While there are some rough-looking people and distressed buildings around, there is nothing that I would consider an unlivable neighborhood. It's pretty what you see is what you get, so you'll know your own comfort quickly.

Consider a side trip to Middlebury, Waterbury, Montpelier and/or to a lesser degree Stowe while you are up here - if your little one does okay with car rides. These are other communities with their own charm which may also attract you. And PM if you do your trip and decide you want to dig deeper.
posted by meinvt at 11:48 AM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I lived in vermont for three years, and attempted to live in burlington for about 4-5 months but lost one job for health reasons. Then it was too small a place to find a new job in my profession. So: it’s small. The market for jobs may not be what you expect.

It also felt very isolated to me. In some place like Philly, you can get on the train or in the car and suddenly you’re on DC! Or NY! In Burlington, your next nearest interesting thing is a LONG drive or a flight. So getting away to see family or friends outside Vermont was tough.
posted by slateyness at 3:47 PM on October 18, 2019

Best answer: Burlington *is* small, but Montreal is a little under two hours away and I know lots of people who go there regularly for shows and stuff.

Ethan Allen Park is a pleasant place for a stroller-friendly walk, and there's a tower that has amazing views of the lake and city (but the path to the tower itself isn't stroller friendly). Simple Roots brewery is nearby, too, and they have good beer.

You might also check out r/burlington on Reddit (I know, I know). Search the archives for questions like yours -- there are a lot of them, and the responses are pretty accurate in my opinion.

I hope you enjoy your visit!
posted by plantbot at 5:08 PM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We moved to Vermont from Washington, DC and avoiding swampy summers was a (small) part of that decision. We weren't sure how we would deal with winters, but 14 years later we are still very happy with our decision. I am happy to field any specific questions via MeMail/email if you like.

If you end up planning a visit to Montpelier during the up-coming trip, let's have a meetup.
posted by terrapin at 8:22 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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