Best places to live in PNW with these stipulations?
January 2, 2020 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Hello! We are seriously considering moving to the PNW. We would love to live in a town that is very bike friendly, has decent schools, has housing within our budget (400-475k), and is roughly within 3-4 hours of Seattle in any direction (by train or car). We are US citizens.

Important caveat: Imagine jobs are irrelevant. Seriously. Husband has a very good remote job (he just got a stellar review), so he's planning to be at that company for a while.

Ideally, this place would have houses a small amount of land, enough that it would support a garage or workshop. Doesn't have to be huge rural lots. Decent food and independent businesses would be good, too. Living within a 20-30 min bike ride to a downtown area would be great, if it's good/safe biking! And LIBERAL. That's probably obvious but we just CANNOT with conservative areas. This is all probably not hard to find in the PNW but we just don't know the area well beyond Seattle/Portland.

Where would you live, given all these things?
posted by ancient star to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Eugene, OR. Its politics are mixed, though.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:28 AM on January 2, 2020

Your stipulation of liberal means you will need to look west of the Cascades, not east, and even there it's not like every place is super liberal.

Bellingham is a place you should look at; ditto Eugene though that might be just a bit further from Seattle than you are wanting. If you are open to smaller places then the San Juan islands and some of the towns across the sound (eg Port Townsend) might be worth a look. Vancouver, WA, would put you close to Portland and also within easy travel to Seattle.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 AM on January 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

Eugene is probably too far from Seattle for you, and Vancouver, Wash. — effectively a Portland suburb — has more of a conservative reputation than Portland, though that’s relative. Bellingham might tick your boxes, and also check out Olympia.
posted by lisa g at 6:53 AM on January 2, 2020 [5 favorites]

Vashon Island.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:07 AM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Vashon Island and Port Townsend are very desirable, especially as retirement home locations, so housing prices are close to Seattle levels which is about 2X OP’s budget.
posted by matildaben at 7:39 AM on January 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

It’s really hard to tell from the criteria you provided, but it sounds like Olympia might work for you.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:41 AM on January 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine from This Website asked a question a couple years ago and ended up in Astoria. It’s gorgeous, has good restaurants and cultural activities, and is pretty affordable. I can’t speak to the politics but I imagine it has a solid liberal core.
posted by matildaben at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that almost all small liberal communities outside major metro areas are dollops of blue in some pretty deep red territory. Our cities keep things feeling blue, but you don’t have to go very far to pierce that bubble, which is doubly true for smaller towns. Eugene and Bellingham are great, but you drive 15m in any direction and you’re in some of the more red parts of each state.

Your housing criteria needs more detail. That price range is doable in Portland but you’re talking the difference between a two bedroom house out a bit, or a condo closer in.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:20 AM on January 2, 2020 [12 favorites]

Nthing Matildaben, you might consider the Oregon coast (not just Astoria, but down to Seaside/Cannon Beach as well). While there are a handful of conservative folks, it's liberal/progressive overall, on the west side of the mountains (both sets of mountains!). You could easily get suitable property on that budget, but the towns will be small and restaurants will be limited (more available in Astoria). There are lots of local businesses on the coast, far more than large chains. You'd be about an hour from Portland and 3.5 to Seattle. Almost all houses will have garages, because rain.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 9:17 AM on January 2, 2020

eg Port Townsend


(But they're right) It's pretty remote though. And when you say "downtown", how much downtown are you looking for? My parents spend a lot of time going out of town for medical care. If that's Seattle, it means overnight for them. Things like Home Depot and Target are at least 2 hours roundtrip.

You can easily find a house and a bit of space for a shop within your budget. The estimate above, is not the experience I have living here for 25 years.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:19 AM on January 2, 2020

I work remotely, and someone suggested Sequim for this.

I'm less keen on Friday Harbor than I was; a rant/rave FH Facebook group makes it appear a lot redder than I thought.

Vashon is a great idea.
posted by jgirl at 10:08 AM on January 2, 2020

Nthing folks who suggested Olympia. It's got an amazing DIY arts scene, the vibe is very blue, and compared to Seattle it's quite cheap.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:16 AM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I may be bananas... But.... Tacoma?!

I hear it's getting rad. I only know it as where grandma and grandpa lived + Tacoma Aroma - but I think that's changed... ?
posted by PistachioRoux at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Portland west side suburbs have most of these things. Hillsboro and Beaverton have dense downtown cores that you can bike to. Forest Grove too, though that's further out and you'd be in the car more to get anywhere. Scappoose is very affordable and surprisingly blue for how rural it is. If I could choose between any of them and Olympia, though, I'd definitely go with Olympia. Oly's awesome.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:44 AM on January 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you’re looking at small towns, check out the available Internet very thoroughly - no matter what you pay for, telecommuting speeds can be unavailable or really really unreliable. Or there’s fat down and skinny up. This works for one of my rural neighbors, but only because she writes very tight code and didn’t want to skype into meetings anyway.
posted by clew at 10:44 AM on January 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

I type this reluctantly because I don't want too many new people changing it, but metafilter has helped me so many times, I feel an obligation. Bellingham is what you're looking for. I've lived here so long I've seen a lovely little fading industrial & logging town turn into exactly what you're looking for. (Sigh)

It is still a working town, but Western Washington University and a growing! number of people who work primarily online or have online businesses have changed the vibe considerably (just enough old-time hippies left to still be a "vibe"). The paper mill has closed and is now being developed into a park and small business site. The deep water port now only sees the Alaska Ferries - but lots of sail boats. And a brand new "Fish Festival"! We're still pretty corny, when it comes down to it.

Biking? There's a constant hum of "A new bike lane on which street?" We aren't Eugene, so that's followed by equal exclamations of "Great!" and an equal number of "When will this ever stop?" A 30 minute bike ride from downtown puts you in downtown Lynden.

Driving it's 1-1/2 hours to Seattle or Vancouver BC (plus border delays). There are also trains (a few a day) and Bolt Buses. It's a a 3 hour drive to the Pacific Coast. Lots of mountain biking, and an hour drive to skiing on Mt. Baker.

MeMail me with more questions if you start to think seriously about Bellingham.

Good luck on your move!
posted by kestralwing at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2020 [10 favorites]

I’m from Seattle (caveat: haven’t lived there for awhile) and your requirements definitely sound like Bellingham to me.
posted by Concordia at 11:44 AM on January 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tacoma is pretty great but housing prices are on an up-trend since people can't afford to live in Seattle anymore.
posted by matildaben at 11:51 AM on January 2, 2020

I completely agree with all who have suggested you avoid Eastern WA — especially including the horrible Wenatchee Valley, the Tri-Cities, Yakima, Ellensburg, and Spokane. Yucky, the whole lot of them, plus they increasingly have smoke from forest fires many summers and falls since 2012, and truly terrible schools.

The San Juans are too expensive and remote, and parts of the Olympic Peninsula are probably too far afield and not well-resourced educationally, too.

I’m feeling the love for Bellingham, Tacoma, and Olympia for you. Good luck!
posted by edithkeeler at 12:00 PM on January 2, 2020

Okay, so what makes a place liberal? Either it's a big city or ... it's a college town. Maybe a resort town (I'm thinking of Bend). The good news is that these places tend to be more bike-able areas with good downtowns too (a college town can be small and still have a robust population center near the school). But of course housing near the town center can be pricier, too, as you are competing with profs and students.

When you're saying this shouldn't be hard to find in the PNW: we have the same development patterns here as elsewhere. City dwellers tend to be more liberal, suburbs are a bit less liberal, and it tends to get more conservative the further you go from the city. College towns and resort towns are exceptions, as I mentioned above, but it's not like the US is dotted with small, liberal towns. And smaller liberal towns, like college towns, tend to have more of those conservative forces right on the outskirts. And they can be pricey.

Also, that downtown and those bike lanes? That comes with density. That doesn't preclude a garage, but it might mean a snugger lot if you want to be close to town.

As for schools: Oregon doesn't do a great job of funding public education at any level, and our schools are not known for excellence outside of a few very wealthy areas. College towns often have "good" schools because professors' kids attend them. But if excellent public schools are super important, you might want to avoid Oregon. You also might think about what "good" schools mean. It's a complicated issue often very interrelated with demographics and test scores and not necessarily quality of teaching.

So it might be good to prioritize. Look at a few of the college towns mentioned above, and if they don't have what you want, it might be because you're looking for a unicorn: liberal, good infrastructure, good schools, great downtown (those things come with a highly educated population that's willing to pay high taxes) plus ... a house with some land that's relatively affordable.

If you're going to look a bit further afield, maybe Corvallis or Eugene or Astoria or Bend... and maybe there are pockets of Portland that would work for you? Or maybe Hood River?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:08 PM on January 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hi, I'm matildaben's friend who lives in Astoria! It is 2 hours to Portland and actually I don't know how far it is to Seattle. 4 hours I think? It is a great town to raise kids. I wish I had moved here when mine were younger. It's like going back in time - there are free range kids everywhere, the schools are good (so I hear) and there just seems to be a super supportive community for parents and kids. It's breathtakingly beautiful; the arts scene is very lively; downtown is fun; there's a lot to do and the beach is 20 minutes away. For your budget you can get an awesome house almost anywhere in the county with enough room for a shop, garden, etc. but I would suggest moving near downtown Astoria. Seaside is poor and super beach-towny; Cannon Beach is rich, expensive and remote. Astoria is however quite a vertical city, so biking requires serious lungs.

I have been here a little over a year and mostly love it, but. It is more of a blue bubble in a big red swathe than I was anticipating when I moved here. It is extremely rural - the entirety of Clatsop county only has 40,000 people and Astoria is slightly less than 10,000 people. So it is actually quite a small town and that means some things are just not as easy to access as you would think - like a dermatologist (there's only one) or an emergency vet (there isn't one.) The county by and large is very poor, with all the problems massed rural poverty brings. There's a lot of homelessness - the highest rate, actually, in Oregon. So it is not perfect. But I really do like it a lot and you may too!
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:21 PM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh let me add that I came here from Asheville NC and the food was a shock - I have adjusted, but if you're coming from a serious foodie culture than prepare to be sadly underwhelmed by the restaurant offerings of the North Coast. At first we were like, is it possible that these people have never actually had or seen a pizza? Because this is not one. Nor is this an eggroll. I don't know what it is, but it's not good and it's not an eggroll.

We did eventually find the good pizza (Sahara) and discovered that you have to drive an hour to Longview for decent Chinese.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:25 PM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I went to college in Olympia. It has a lot of what you're looking for. Olympia is very liberal, though as furnace.heart wrote, it's a blue college town amidst more conservative rural areas. Downtown Oly has good food, independent businesses and an artesian well. I can't speak to the quality of cycling because I didn't cycle anywhere but I know lots of other students who did. You can get to Seattle by driving to Lakewood which is about 24 miles away and catching a train. From Lakewood, you can get a train all the way to Seattle but only during weekday morning and afternoon peak hours. I can't remember how long this train ride took but it was definitely less than 3 hours.

Alternatively, I am originally from Kent, WA. It's moderately liberal (69.8 percent voted Democrat in the last presidential election according to my quick Google search). The downtown area has expended massively since I left a few years ago. Some housing may be within the range you specified, but this will probably change quickly since more people are moving from Seattle to its suburbs. You can get a train from downtown Kent to Seattle in about 30 minutes. Depending on where in Kent you live, it can also be really diverse. There are several schools but I don't know what your criteria is for a good school so YMMV. I'm not sure how bikeable it is, and depending on where in Kent you end up, the route downtown is up/down an incredibly steep hill.
posted by quadrant seasons at 3:31 PM on January 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by Beardman at 5:34 PM on January 2, 2020

If I wasn't tied to Seattle for school atm, I'd definitely move to Port Townsend or Bellingham.
posted by mollywas at 11:31 PM on January 2, 2020

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