If not Washington, then where?
September 15, 2020 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I recently posted an ask mefi question about moving to Washington State. After reading through all the responses, and breaking out in a nervous sweat, I'm back with a second question: Any recommendations for locations that are not Washington?

My husband and I would like to move from our relatively plain and boring midwest area to a relatively not-plain and not-boring, not-midwest area. We thought we'd hit the jackpot with the greater Seattle area. But after considering the above mentioned thread, it's looking like maaaybe not. (For one thing, we both have asthma and I don't know if we'd make it through wildfire season every year.)

We are fortunate enough to have jobs that would allow us to transfer almost anywhere in the country. The catch is that the area where we'd move has to be relatively metropolitan enough to have at least 2 locations of the grocery store where we are both employed (I won't tell you the name but it rhymes with Trader Joe's.)

What we are really looking for is an area with lots of natural beauty (for activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking,) within a reasonable driving distance (for us, this is 1 to 2 hours.) We'd also really like to have all four seasons (I love autumn and winter!)

We've been doing tons of research, and we thought we'd settled on Washington, but now it looks like it might be back to the drawing board. I would really welcome some fresh input and perspectives! Thank you again so much!
posted by quiet_musings to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could try Denver or Salt Lake City. I lived in Fort Collins, CO (1 hr north of Denver) for 9 years after college. You have 4 seasons for sure and lots of natural beauty.
posted by elmay at 6:23 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, Salt Lake City is going to be worse for asthma sufferers. The valleys of the Wasatch Front (where Utah's cities are) suffer from a unique atmospheric inversion that gives poor air quality all year long. 9% of the state's population have asthma. Utah has a state Asthma Program you can check for statistics to see if you really want to chance it, but I have lived in both places, and I think Utah is much worse for air quality.

Here in Washington state, we have had bad fire seasons two years in a row, and right now I am not leaving the house unless I absolutely have to, and I am not doing any outside chores besides watering the fruit trees. And I am so so grateful to have a mini split HVAC unit that filters the air inside our house. Having said all that, the six years before that were pretty nice summers without air quality issues, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I still think Washington state has a lot of good things going for it-- no income tax, legal cannabis, tolerance, progressive social systems and natural beauty. And my region produces food. Every type of food you can imagine (except citrus) is produced within 100 miles of where I live. That may be important if national logistics systems continue to suffer interruptions. But I understand if the current fire season has scared you off-- it is pretty scary to me right now, honestly.

For the same feeling as Denver or Salt Lake City, you might try Boise, Idaho. No legal cannabis, but you do have the world's only source of Basque food outside of Europe, and for me that makes up for a lot. Missoula Montana is similarly great, but no Trader Joes in the whole state, sorry.

I love New Mexico, especially the higher elevation cities where you don't feel the heat so much.

I know you are tired of the midwest, but you might consider just moving a bit north to Minnesota or Wisconsin, both states have a lot to recommend them.

A glance to the east has me personally interested in cities like Buffalo or Pittsburgh, with vibrant local character and cheap housing prices.

Coming back to the Northwest, the Spokane metropolitan area has a lot of great features-- big city, natural beauty, again no income tax, as do the twin college towns of Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho.

Good luck with your search! We did something like this a decade ago, and wound up in Central Washington state. It works for us, and we are glad we are here, even when the sky is apocalyptic red at four in the afternoon and the air smells like smoke. I hope you find your spot that makes you equally happy.
posted by seasparrow at 6:52 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]

SLC is the best place I’ve ever lived, with the most amazing outdoor access but the winter air quality can be very bad for weeks, due to inversion. If you are really concerned about earthquakes, the Wasatch Fault and the predicted liquefaction of an entire valley may not ease your mind. Every house in SLC proper is unreinforced masonry.

I have also lived in Fort Collins. It is very busy at the local trailheads - it is not uncommon to be turned away by rangers on a Saturday morning. It is 3 hours to good skiing if the traffic is bad (it is always bad). Also, tornados and prairie winters. And the fires and river floods. I’ve been stuck on the wrong side of the Poudre River for multiple days.

FWIW, I also grew up in Seattle. And lived in LA. Every single cool place has issues. My steel frame house in LA swayed during earthquakes. I watched Mt St Helens erupt as a kid. The mountain town I live in now had the number one priority fire in the country for a while last year. I just can’t think of anyplace that doesn’t have risk that also has the great outdoors- particularly as climate change wreaks havoc on the old models. Live somewhere you love, listen to the authorities when they tell you to pack and go or stay in place.
posted by chuke at 6:56 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

What about Boston?

Lots of TJ's in the Boston metro area. Easy access to hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, etc. New England can be a little stingy on spring, but otherwise you'll usually get all four seasons.
posted by oiseau at 6:57 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Three options come immediately to mind:
1) Boise, Idaho: lots of natural beauty, including hiking, biking, kayaking, 4 seasons, two TJ's in the area.
2) Portland, Oregon: ditto, but more like 3 seasons. Lots of TJ's. Although things here are a little dicey with the protests/riots (currently on hiatus with the "Hazardous" air quality). I know realtors who are actively encouraging people to NOT buy houses here. Income tax, but no sales tax, fwiw.
3) Spokane, Washington: lots of natural beauty, including hiking, biking, kayaking, 4 seasons, 2 TJ's in the area.

(My first thought was Bend, Oregon, but I think there is only 1 TJ there.)

(Also, know that Portland and Seattle don't have true autumns/winters -- yes, it's cooler than the rest of the year, but it's overcast and rainy, and rare to see fall colors on the trees for longer than a day because the wind and rain blow the leaves off. Still, snow is rare, so if you want that you can drive an hour or so to get to it.)

WRT wildfires in the PNW: what you're seeing in the news are truly historic once-in-a-hundred-years wildfires (a literal perfect storm with the abnormally dry summer, crazy wind storms, and no rain in sight).

I've lived in the Midwest (tornadoes), Wyoming (snowstorms), Japan (earthquakes, monsoons, Sarin attacks), and the PNW (earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires). No matter where you go, there is risk.

Like chuke says, anywhere you go, there is risk. Welcome to Life.

Good luck with your search!
posted by sazanka at 7:10 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

Where in the Midwest are you? For what it's worth, Minneapolis reminds me a lot of Portland, Oregon. You might like it as an alternative to the Pacific Northwest...You also might like Portland, Maine.
posted by pinochiette at 7:18 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

NC Triangle? Between Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Cary there are three TJ's, and you could find somewhere in the middle to live. Lots of outdoor opportunities but not the most beautiful place ever, pretty flat, but lots of trails and some bodies of water around. If you also have allergies though, beware, there is a fifth season. It's called pollen season and it can be brutal.
posted by greta simone at 8:39 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Consider Pittsburgh, PA. Has 4 seasons, cosmopolitan, outdoorsy, a college town, certainly not boring depending on your hobbies. Lots of great Mefites for meetups. There are 3 TJs in the greater metropolitan area depending on your tolerance for a commute.
posted by muddgirl at 8:42 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

If Seattle smoke has you scared, Spokane shouldn't be on your list either. Or Pullman or Moscow. I have decades of experience in all of these places and Seattle is way better for smoke than Eastern Washington or Idaho. WAY. The fires this year are a freak event for Seattle but there is almost no summer in the other towns that doesn't have serious wildfire smoke. The "hazardous" levels of this year were also achieved in 2015, and the years in between all had plenty of fires.
posted by HotToddy at 8:43 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Also agree that SLC has dreadful air pollution.
posted by HotToddy at 8:45 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

The Albuquerque area has a lot of outdoor beauty and recreation. We also have four fairly moderate seasons, and are relatively safe from disasters.

We do have two Trader Joe's, a moderate cost of living, and more of various cultural aspects than you might expect.

On the other hand, New Mexico is a poor state, Albuquerque has high crime, and many people here never had allergy trouble until they moved here.
posted by NotLost at 9:00 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

You want the Northeast! See my previous Ask about places that meaningfully experience all four seasons. A lot of answers clustered around upstate NY which is short on Trader Joe’s so I’d be eyeing the Boston area. Boston itself has a very high cost of living (if my own Chicago —> DC move is any indication, expect to triple your rent if you move to Boston proper), but there are several towns with very reasonable housing costs on the T. And the accessibility of nature and outdoor activities is a world away from the Midwest. An hour’s drive will get you across multiple states.
posted by capricorn at 6:07 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

Putting in a note for not-Denver. I just moved away from there because of the air pollution (mostly Ozone but also wildfire smoke) & elevation meant I couldn't breathe well in their summers. (I also have asthma).
posted by travertina at 8:39 AM on September 16

WRT wildfires in the PNW: what you're seeing in the news are truly historic once-in-a-hundred-years wildfires (a literal perfect storm with the abnormally dry summer, crazy wind storms, and no rain in sight).

I hope this is true but there are some suggestions our once-in-a-century climate disasters are going to be a lot more regular now. So look into this more if you're still curious about the US Northwest.

So you're asking about access to the outdoors and also clean air for your asthma, but you also need a big enough city to have two TJs. You didn't ask about climate change directly, but this might article in the NY Times about climate refugees might have some good ideas for you.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:09 AM on September 16

I see no mentions of Alaska. I lived there for a year and it has all of the benefits of the PNW with fewer of the issues. It's further away, of course, so the rest of the country is known as the "Lower 48." But the natural benefits are all there from Ketchikan to Unalaska. And the major cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks are comparable to of Salt Lake and Portland.
posted by CollectiveMind at 11:53 AM on September 16

I'll throw my hat in the ring with Annapolis, MD and adjacent areas.
posted by grateful at 12:52 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

With regards to climate change, the New York Times has a new article out called Every Place Has Its Own Climate Risk. What Is It Where You Live?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:39 AM on September 18

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