Is there life outside of California?
May 5, 2006 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by the AskMe below: I'm interested in comparing life in Denver, CO to the California Bay Area.

The S.O. and I were planning on moving from the hinterlands of the Bay Area to Berkeley this summer, but the Hayward Fault has us a bit concerned*. So we're looking to Denver but we know little about it.

Any thoughts on how these two cities compare?

*This is not a thread for assuaging my fear of earthquakes.
posted by lekvar to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean Boulder or Denver?

I've only spent two separate weeks in Denver but I live in the Bay Area. Key differences I can think of: Climate. Humidity. Ocean access. Ski slope access. Housing prices (?). Racial / ethnic diversity (?). (Don't know much about quality of public schools or public transit in Colorado, either.)
posted by salvia at 7:54 PM on May 5, 2006

I've got some family in Boulder, its cheaper than the Bay Area. For a reason.

Oh, and I live in the Bay Area. The one thing I'd change is the temperature of the water (and the ridiculous housing prices, of course).

And I know you didn't want your fear sausaged but being afraid of earthquakes is kind of like being worried about a meteor hitting the planet. Its bound to happen sometime and there's not a thing you can do to stop it.

I much, much, much prefer earthquake country to hurricane country. By a long shot, about 3500 miles.
posted by fenriq at 8:31 PM on May 5, 2006

I grew up in northern Colorado/southern Wyoming -- moved to Denver when I was about 14. It's changed a lot since then (I haven't lived there since I went to college in the late '80s; folks moved to Santa Fe in the early '90s), but there are still some basics I think are relevant:

- Weather: very dry (even with the snowfall in the winter), which makes the hot summers much more palatable than humid parts of the country. Winters aren't nearly as cold as cities like Chicago or Mpls -- again, lots of snow (it can come as early as October, and make a last appearance as late as April or May), but almost never a prolonged bone-shattering subzero deep freeze.

- Natural disasters: well, you can get smallish tornadoes once in awhile. I don't remember them ever doing more than minor property damage, though.

- Pretty friendly and unpretentious. Politically, Boulder will be more comparable to the Bay Area than Denver. There's been a huge influx of people in the past 10-15 years, though, so it's way more sprawling and populated than when I lived there. I don't know the current ethnic makeup, but when I lived there, there was a large Latino minority and a smaller African American one. Again, don't know how that's changed.

- Generally a sporty, outdoorsy sort of place (for obvious reasons), but also has a decent symphony/art museum/theatre scene, plus one of the greatest bookstores on the planet (Tattered Cover) and a revitalized downtown. So even if you're not into skiing and hiking, there's stuff to do.

- I have no idea what housing prices are like these days, but obviously they're going to be much, much lower than the Bay Area, even with the increase in population/development over the past decade.

- As far as schools go, the public high school I went to (which was actually in the Littleton Public School district) was considered one of the best public schools in the country when I graduated in '87. Public education in general always seemed to be very high in quality when I was growing up, but again, that could have changed for the worse in the intervening years.
posted by scody at 9:00 PM on May 5, 2006

I've been to both Denver and California (LA, San Diego; I'm not sure what's referred to as the Bay Area) and I liked both places.

Cali strikes me as being more busy - people are constantly on the move, it's very bustling, it's a bit noisier and traffic jams are everywhere. Denver is a lot more laid-back and relaxed; they take things easy.

The people in Denver seemed a lot friendlier too. In LA I sometimes got surly looks/responses (San Diego was tons nicer) but in Denver everyone is so polite and friendly. It was such a relaxing relief.

You'll be fine in Denver. It's a brilliant place. I've been there twice and I want to return. What will you be doing there?
posted by divabat at 9:20 PM on May 5, 2006

I've lived in the Metro Denver area for 28 years, and think it's the bees knees. But I've never even been to California, so I can't give you a comparison.

Denver weather is much better than most people realize -- we'll have an order of magnitude more sunny days than the Bay area, I suspect. Dry air. Hot summers, but way better than Phoenix or Atlanta. Cool winters, but not cold except for the odd weak or two. We get the occasional blizzard, but the snow does not stick around long, even in Jan/Feb. Tornados are possible, but rare, in Denver/Boulder; they generally need to move onto the plains to build up steam. Torrential (but very brief) rain and hail is common in the summer. Lighting is common.

Roads are reasonable -- getting crowded in some places, but nothing like L.A. Schools are generally good -- especially the white bread suburbs (which is a shame, because pour urban kids deserve an education, too, but such is life). We have a small theater scene (4 or 5 theaters and a concert hall all crammed into one complex downtown). Red Rocks is a great concert venue. Great sports, if you like that stuff (we have pretty much all the bases covered).

Public transport kind of sucks. Certain things are easy (like stuff into and out of Downtown), but crosstown is a drag. Our bus system is workable, but far from really convenient for many routes. Very bicycle friendly (especially Boulder). We have good quality water.

Ample access to outdoor activities. Rising, but not exorbitant, housing prices. If you want to commute 45 minutes to an hour and a half, housing can be dirt cheap. If you want to live the quasi-urban life, right downtown is a bit pricey, but nothing like the coasts.

Very significant Latino/Chicana population (I live in a predominantly hispanic part of town with my Chicana wife). Smaller, but still significant, African-American community. Small Thai, Vietnamese enclaves on Federal. Small jewish community near Sloans Lake.

Water sports is generally pathetic in Colorado, comparatively (boating, sailing, water-skiing, etc.).

Inept Republican leadership has plagued the state, but that seems to be shifting a bit.

Not many historic houses or neighborhoods -- a few, but a lot of the development is newer, and of the cookie-cutter suburban variety. Metro is a great, and unheralded, open-enrollement urban college in downtown Denver (sharing a campus with UCD and CCD), and Boulder has CU.

This is all just random stuff off of the top of my head.
posted by teece at 9:22 PM on May 5, 2006

I grew up in Denver and now live in Berkeley. I love living here, and don't foresee ever moving back to Denver, but I'm perfectly happy to go visit my family.

Unlike the Bay Area, Denver metro had the open space to get spread-out and sprawl-y (more like the greater LA area.) The suburban housing developments run on endlessly. Land is cheaper, and so housing is cheaper, but housing is also prone to boom-and-bust cycles, unlike the Bay Area, where the housing market doesn't really go bust, it just goes a little flat for a while before picking up again. Depending on when you are buying/selling, this can be great, or it can be terrible. It also means that much of metro Denver lacks the density needed for efficient mass transit.

If you want a four-season climate, Denver's is great. The dryness means that the cold is not as bone-chilling, and the heat is not as stultifying. Summers are hot but not humid or buggy. Denver gets an extraordinary amount of sunshine, so even if it is 5 degrees outside, it may well be a bright sunny day. When I moved to the east coast to go to college, the endless gray winter days were a rough thing to adjust to. Also, snow generally melts fairly quickly, so you don't have snow accumulating all winter: it snows, it melts, you have some pleasant sunshine, it snows again, it melts.

I attended Denver Public Schools but graduated in 1986 (*waves at Scody*) and I hear that my high school has suffered a serious downturn in the last twenty years, but things are likely not as bleak in the 'burbs.

There's been a huge influx in population since I left, but when I lived there, Denver/Boulder were essentially blue towns in a red state. Boulder remains fervently blue, but I'm not as certain about Denver. Berkeley, needless to say, will always be more blue than Denver.

One of the things I took for granted growing up in Denver was being close to the mountains. Not only for all the things to do there, but as a basic reference point. I grew up automatically looking for the mountains to orient myself- now, when I find myself in a place where there are mountains to the *east*, I get seriously mixed up. But having those mountains visible, to see the sun setting behind them, or the way a winter sunrise makes the snow-covered mountains just pop out of the sky, is a really cool thing. In Berkeley, you have the sun setting over the Bay. In fact, it's the proximity to natural beauty where I would say that Denver and Berkeley are tied: each place has a natural feature that shapes it and is so beautiful as to take your breath away on a daily basis, and that beauty is close and accessible, which is an extraordinary thing.
posted by ambrosia at 11:16 PM on May 5, 2006

Thanks everybody. Consider yourselves all flagged as "Excellent."
posted by lekvar at 5:52 PM on May 6, 2006

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