Find me a place in rural California
October 14, 2020 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Asking on a friend's behalf: "I currently live in a large California city and want to move to somewhere rural in California. It can be right up to state borders, but it must be within the state of California. Please help me figure out where to move to!"

Friend continues:
It doesn't have to meet all these qualifications, just as many as possible:

I want to rent a one-bedroom house or cabin with a garden where I can grow my own vegetables and keep a few chickens.

My per-month rent limit is about $2000, with some upward wiggle room if the area is otherwise perfect.

The area should be rural, though it's fine if a city is nearby. Ideally, it would have forests/woods (first choice) or a body of water (second choice). Also ideally, I should be able to wander around the vicinity of my home and not encounter anyone.

It must have pretty/interesting nature nearby. There's lots of tiny rural towns between Bakersfield and Fresno but flat fields broken up by the occasional cow is not what I'm looking for.

It should not be currently on fire, or so close to anywhere currently on fire that it's unhealthy to go outside, or not on fire this instant but in a place that burns down every year. (I know, this plus "woods nearby" might not be possible.)

It should have a moderate climate, neither Death Valley nor constant rain. Four seasons would be ideal.

It must have reliable internet that's strong enough for me to have video meetings. This is a necessity for my work.

It can't have so much crime that it's unsafe to live or hike alone. ie, it should not have a meth lab behind every other boulder.

Hunting or fishing would be nice but not required.

Rural CA is pretty Trumpy but I would like to minimize that as much as possible. A red district is okay, but it can't be chock-full of aggressive anti-maskers, literal Nazis, etc, to the point that I can't avoid them when making a grocery run.
posted by brainwane to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I spent some time in an area in Northern California called Guerneville. I would describe it as a rural hippie town. I do think lots of people rent cabins in the area so it does have some infrastructure.

Here's a tourism article.
Here's a rental from a quick google.

I stayed with a friend of a friend who had a yoga retreat secluded in the forest there. It was very peaceful and felt very rural without feeling Trumpy at all!
posted by pazazygeek at 12:05 PM on October 14, 2020

I'm most familiar with the Oroville / Chico area, which meets some of these requirements. Most of the surrounding rural communities like Paradise, Magalia, etc. have been hit pretty hard over the years by fires, though.

Still, Magalia was beautiful, and it might be worth looking into the area.
posted by Anonymous Function at 12:09 PM on October 14, 2020

East of the Sierras, maybe the Mammoth Lakes area? It's beautiful and there's skiing. And lakes. Supposedly they have gigabit internet.

Or Lake Tahoe area? Idyllwild? Indio? Healdsburg (probably best for gardening/chickens)?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2020

Up in Northern California, East of the Klamath National Forest, you can rent a 6-bedroom log cabin on 58 acres for just $1450/month. Looks like there's already a chicken coop on the property, too.

I recommend putting your criteria into Zillow and just zooming around the map. Several other cool options in tiny towns east of Sacramento, for example... and the Eureka area looks promising as well.

Good luck!
posted by acridrabbit at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like Bishop and a few other towns near in the Eastern Sierras, the Eureka\Arcata area on the coast and Shasta, a cute little hippy town near Larsen and Mt. Shasta. All have a lot of outdoor recreation, two have very snowy winters. Don't know much about the crime stats.
posted by DixieBaby at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2020

Guerneville is not cheap, but there are places nearby (but out of the immediate vicinity of the heavily-touristed Russian River Valley that qualify). Be warned, that region is thoroughly fire-and-flood ecology--the Armstrong Grove on the edge of town burned this summer, and it flooded massively in the last couple years.

I'd suggest looking around the Eel River Valley. There are several small townships dotting the South Fork of the Eel River, for instance, which also puts you close enough to Eureka for an easy day trip for supplies. Hop off the 101 anywhere north of Benbow and you'll be able to find isolated lots surrounded by a lot of forest and not much else. Fires are inevitable but less common (and with a shorter fire season) than further south/inland. That part of the state is also famously... um, private? People like their solitude and that's where they go to find it. I think it's likely to help you if you find a broker or real estate agency in Eureka that you can describe your needs to and have them populate a list of available properties for you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:15 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Johnny Sanphillipino has a rental in northern CA. It's probably currently occupied, but may be available in the future. I don't know him and am most certainly not giving an actionable referral, but I like his writing and your friend sounds like someone he might rent to if his place were available. In any case, you can read his articles about northern CA and see if it's close to what your friend is looking for - a relatively detailed insiders' view. It might be helpful.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:24 PM on October 14, 2020

The budget isn't really a problem, the further north you get from SF the cheaper it gets past a certain point. Four season is going to push you pretty far inland, though; anywhere within 50 miles of the coast is going to be marine climate, and potentially further than that. Northerly generally means more rain and fewer fires, though there is not a part of California that's immune. Outside Redding could be nice.
posted by wnissen at 1:32 PM on October 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

It should not be currently on fire, or so close to anywhere currently on fire that it's unhealthy to go outside, or not on fire this instant but in a place that burns down every year. (I know, this plus "woods nearby" might not be possible.)

Given that we're already well into contradictory demands, allow me the opportunity to creatively relax the constraint: the part of California you are looking for is called 'Oregon.'

Checklist for Corvallis, OR:

[ ] In california
[X] rural
[X] less trumpy
[X] near forests
[X] doesn't burn down on the regular
[X] gardening and chicken friendly
[X] nearby hiking destinations
[X] It must have reliable internet that's strong enough for me to have video meetings.
[X] no meth labs
[X] fishing: nearby lakes are stocked, and a river is nearby (i assume a river like that is more catch & release territory)
posted by pwnguin at 3:12 PM on October 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Maybe Dunsmuir? It's like, rural though. It's kind of half liberal progressive and artsy, and half random Trump signs. You'll definitely be able to find a place with a nice yard for under $2k, it's on the Sacramento River and the hiking is... boundless.
posted by moons in june at 3:54 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

pwnguin: I checked and "it really does have to be in the state of CA for non-negotiable legal reasons".
posted by brainwane at 4:09 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's a fire map of CA in case anyone was wondering whether the place they were thinking about has been on fire lately.
posted by aniola at 5:13 PM on October 14, 2020

And here's the CA map of Trump country.
posted by aniola at 5:14 PM on October 14, 2020

Since it sounds like there's some wiggle room with fire, Lake Tahoe looks like it doesn't catch fire much.
posted by aniola at 5:25 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Siskiyou and Modoc County way up on the Oregon border might fit most of your criteria.
posted by mdonley at 7:43 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

The fire part is tricky. But if they're willing to risk it, somewhere rural around Sebastopol/Petaluma would be nice and that price range is definitely possible. A friend of mine lives near Cazadero, which is also beautiful (and also risky).
posted by pinochiette at 7:48 PM on October 14, 2020

Tahoe: increasingly expensive as renters are being kicked out so that the landlords can sell to COVID refugees from San Francisco.

Most 4 season places in California are Trump country or expensive. They also pretty much have to be in the eastern part of the state, though you can sometimes get snow in interior areas that are higher up. It also tends to rule out "not on fire now or in a year or two", although now even coastal areas are burning. I would consider looking at places that have recently burned, or very near to a recently burned area for a better chance of not having a catastrophic fire in the near future.

In very rural places, internet is going to be an issue. Here is ATT's map of coverage for a start. You need to be somewhat proximate to a town for internet.

I dunno, I keep referring back to the list and I think it needs to be prioritized to get better answers. Obviously internet is a requirement. That rules out many places immediately. Then maps of elections, or weather patterns, or plant communities, bodies of water, topography (flat places will tend to have crops, but hilly places also can have grapevines for miles on end, so)... and you still might end up next to people cooking meth if your nice neighbors move out and new ones move in.

I say all this as someone pretty familiar with lots of regions of California: you won't really know what it's like until you go there. We live in Oakland but bought an acre of land in Lakeport in June. The internet is good (my husband is on video calls all day when he's working there), it snows a couple inches twice a year, we can't see our neighbors unless we walk up the driveway to put out the garbage cans. It's very cheap in Lakeport because there's not a lot of money in the area in spite of being fairly close to wine country. The town of Clearlake, a few miles away, is pretty methy by all accounts. There is a lake. But it's oak woodland, not forests, and we are actually in city limits and can walk to the Safeway in ten minutes- however, that's also why we have decent internet.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:51 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Humboldt and Shasta counties, spent summers as a teen working in Bridgeport (Mono County) in the Eastern Sierra, have lived as an adult in the Bay Area and SoCal, and have family still in Shasta County and El Dorado County (Sierra foothills, a bit up the road from Placerville).

I’d be happy in any of those places, but the last couple years of fires have really dropped the Sierra foothills down the list. The eastern Sierra, that whole stretch from Bishop to Susanville is incredible but the winters are rough.

The north central counties (Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, Butte) aren’t my favorite (hot in the summer; Trumptown), but have charming spots (like, er, Paradise, which burned recently). In Siskiyou, Weed and Mt Shasta. In Shasta, Shingletown, about halfway to Mt Lassen, or Lakehead north of Redding and Lake Shasta. My brother lived in Red Bluff, in Tehama, but I was never a fan. Chico State, in Butte County, and you get the college town vibe in Chico. Super active alt pop music scene when I was a teen and a little older, and I think it’s still a big part of life there (or was, pre Covid?). That reminds me; maybe in or around Davis, Ca? College town, close to Sacramento for Big Town stuff, basically rural.

Top of my list would be anywhere in Humboldt or Del Norte counties, west of the mountains, in the cold and drizzle. Arcata and its state university would put you well out of Trumptown; Crescent City is probably the most affordable.

Good luck!
posted by notyou at 8:35 PM on October 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

We were happy in Ukiah for a number of years, well, a few miles outside. Internet was a difficulty but that depends on exactly where you live (we got DSL). There are plenty of non-Trumpers, liberals even. I'd happily live there again.
posted by anadem at 9:01 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine with similar priorities recently moved to Crescent City and has been quite happy there.
posted by danceswithlight at 11:07 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Absolutely have to abandon the idea of woods if they don't want fire danger. It is not possible to have both.

Rural California Internet is very, very spotty. I'd start by narrowing down that. The problem is there's no good resources for finding what Internet is really like in a rural area out of town. Many parts of California (including my own) are served by local WISPs offering fixed wireless service. They are remarkably hard to survey. If StarLink succeeds this whole question will be moot, but it's way too early to know.

This is a WAG but I'd look on the Central Coast first or up in the hills near San Luis Obispo.
posted by Nelson at 9:26 AM on October 15, 2020

I have a co-worker who relocated from the Bay Area to Applegate, an unincorporated area near Auburn. He continues to work remotely, and he has satellite internet service.

His work video conferences are usually stable, with the voice over IP having a few lag issues.

Applegate is rural and mountainous, with houses spaced out and leading into forested areas. The American River is close by. It's 10 miles to Auburn and 40 miles to Sacramento.

The area has been in the PG&E Public Safety power outage zone, with a few power outages over the last two years.
posted by JDC8 at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2020

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