Help me pick a state in which to live.
October 24, 2006 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Suppose your partner is given choice of (U.S.) states to move in order to continue working for their employer. Which state do you choose, and why? The (only) choices are: Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, Wisconsin, California, South Carolina, Nevada, Alabama, and North Carolina.

I have no details about WHERE inside the state we would be, but please be specific when you discuss pros/cons of the state.

Personal history: I grew up in rural Iowa and am in no hurry to return to the midwest. We both lived in the mid-Atlantic states (MD and NJ) for a number of years, and are now desert rats in Tucson, Arizona.

Our general preferences: He likes the best of both worlds -- lively, kinetic metropolitan places with wilderness and solitude nearby. I like the progressive attitude of a college-type town. I work in a professional niche (program assessment/ evaluation) and would need an area where I can market my (usually government funded) expertise.
posted by parilous to Work & Money (38 answers total)
Your "general preferences" sound like they were written with Austin (Texas) in mind.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:20 PM on October 24, 2006

the Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) of North Carolina is incredible. It's an amazing mix of culture, charm, and easily-accessible wilderness AND the cost of living isn't going to kill you. Chapel Hill, specificially, is a lively college town bordered by farmland and nature, easily accesible urban areas (Raleigh and Charlotte), and gorgeous natural resources (the mountains and the sea are both an easy single-day drive).
posted by casconed at 3:21 PM on October 24, 2006

This is unanswerable without cities.

I mean, Texas includes some reasonably decent places to live like Austin or maybe San Antonio. It also includes big, faceless nothings of cities like D/FW, and complete shitholes like Lubbock or Midland/Odessa.

So would you like Texas? That depends entirely on whether you'd be living in Austin or Dallas or Midland or, God help you, some execrable one-horse town in the llano estacado.

About the only thing you can compare statewide are tax levels and government services. Someplace like TX, you won't pay state income tax, but you'll pay relatively high property taxes and get in return schools that are, at best, distinctly subpar. CT or WI, probably more the reverse. This information is easily googlable, though, so there's no reason to rely on the say-so of random yahoos like us when hard data are available.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:22 PM on October 24, 2006

California, definitely.

Though I may be a bit biased, seeing as I have lived here for the past 20 years, I love California for the very reasons you mentioned as criteria. I live in West LA and have my fill of metropolitan life, however a short drive will land me right in prime hiking/biking/camping territory. There is a seemingly endless number of things to do if you're willing to spend an hour or two in the car (depending on what you want), even if you end up in the middle of nowhere.

If you are looking for college towns, I would recommend Westwood if you are going to live in LA, Fullerton if you are going to live in Orange County, and I absolutely love Davis if you are going to live in NorCal.

One caveat, though: price. Living costs are understandibly higher in California than in most of the alternative places you mentioned.
posted by ThFullEffect at 3:24 PM on October 24, 2006

"Where" is very important for most states. I would not want to live in Dallas but am enjoying the San Antonio/Austin area. I agree with Doofus (heh) that Austin, TX would fit your preferences.

In California, you might enjoy San Francisco, but the cost of living is outrageous. On the other hand, many people hate living in LA.
posted by muddgirl at 3:27 PM on October 24, 2006

For what it's worth, neither Texas nor Nevada has a state income tax. Of those two, Nevada has the lower maximum sales tax rate.
posted by forrest at 3:27 PM on October 24, 2006

Without having a choice of cities, I'd say that CA would be your best bet - it seems like there are less bad places in CA then there are in the other states. I would take CT as second choice, since you'll probably be close to NYC no matter where in the state you end up.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:29 PM on October 24, 2006

As far as Illinois goes, Chicago is one of the most delightful cities ever (extraordinarily great and diverse neighborhoods, culture, activities, food, architecture, etc.), if you can stand the extremes in weather through whole chunks of the year (I couldn't). There is no amount of money that could persuade me to live anywhere else in Illinois, though.

California has a greater range of options -- both L.A. and San Francisco are terrific cities, of course, with their own distinct attributes (and drawbacks too, of course; I love living in L.A., but it took a long time for me to finally feel truly at home here; Chicago, by contrast, felt like a home town within about 6 months), but plenty of smaller cities/large towns in California have plenty going for them, too. Plus you have an incredible range of outdoor scenery and activities, from the ocean to the desert to the mountains. (Also: it's 75 degrees here in L.A. right now.)

So unless you know for sure that Illinois = Chicago in your situation, I'd set my sights on California.
posted by scody at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2006

If you are considering Austin, and you have children, think several times and do research. I find it simply astounding how much better our school system in Oregon (not one of your choices, admittedly) is than the garbage we had to deal with in Austin.

It was simply terrible in Austin, and has been just great in Portland, in roughly equivalent neighborhoods. I am sure that you could find a good school in Austin, but you'd definitely need to do your research.
posted by Invoke at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2006

California, California, California, California.

The weather can't be beat, the economy is strong, and there are plenty of areas that will fit both of your criteria perfectly. Also, if you are in Southern California it is a very easy drive out to Tucson if you feel the need to get out to the desert (approx. 5 hours from San Diego).
posted by sbrollins at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2006

Here are some quick thoughts. I can immediately think of good scenarios for all but three of the states you mention (SC, NV, AL).

CT has a number of nice medium New England college towns, but it also has snobby expensive NYC suburbs and a few towns that are just devastated like Bridgeport.

WI has Madison, which is great, and a couple of smaller college towns.

NC has several good college areas: the Triangle area and Asheville come to mind.

CA has huge variety, major cities ranging from suburban car-based shallowness (LA) to cosmopolitan pedestrian-friendly SF. Great Mexican food, active cultural life in most places, scenic wonders nearby.

TX has Austin and a few other big cities where you could probably find some of what you like. Also has vast wastes.

IL I don't know much about. Chicago would definitely work, and there are other college towns in the state, but a lot of it is industrial wasteland.

SC I'm told has some okay college areas but is more insular than NC.

In AL and NV I don't know of towns that I would be happy living in.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:42 PM on October 24, 2006

Since you are living in Arizona currently, how much of a factor is weather? In my experience, even if one has grown up in a four-season climate with a real winter, once one gets acclimated to mild to no winters, it can be tough to go back to a place with serious winters.

That might at least help you knock a few states out of the running. Personally, I'd choose California, but then I live here, and yes it is expensive, but I wouldn't leave California without a reason so bizarrely compelling that I can't even imagine what it would be.

And don't write off L.A. Some people love to hate it, but lots of people love it crazy.
posted by ambrosia at 3:44 PM on October 24, 2006

major cities ranging from suburban car-based shallowness (LA)

Ah, it's not quite so bad. We have world-class museums, great music (there's nothing like a concert at the Hollywood Bowl on a summer night!), and, what with so many underemployed actors and screenwriters who need to keep busy, more inexpensive and accessible theatre than you can shake a stick at. (Seriously, I see more plays in L.A. than I ever did in Chicago or New York.) It's not quite a city made entirely of Paris Hilton clones just yet.
posted by scody at 3:50 PM on October 24, 2006

I disagree with ThFullEffect--Westwood is an awful place to live, there are 4 starbucks in a 4 square block area, the people are hurf-durf fratboys, and the only thing it's notable for are the movie theaters--but you can see movies anywhere.

I lived in Wisconsin throughout middle school and high school (outside of Milwaukee, specifically) and my experiences are pretty mixed. On the one hand, the people are liberal and conscientious without being stuck up, and there are some very decent, if somewhat pricey by Midwest standards, places to live in downtown (i.e. the East Side of Milwaukee). On the other hand, coming back to visit from NYC is a very depressing experience: there are a couple hip coffee shops, a nice museum, a good theater scene and two decent colleges, but very little else. Plus, Milwaukee carries the baggage of being one of the most segregated cities in the US("Killwaukee")--if you live on the East Side, the area between 1st street and 60th street (the beginning of the 'burbs) is more or less off limits to the middle class. You could probably find a job in your field fairly easily, since Milwaukee has a strong Socialist legacy (my mom's fiance is a civil engineer, and he found a well-paying job in city administration with no problem). I would actually recommend checking it out; wilderness in WI is everywhere, and Chicago is only an hour and a half away from Milwaukee. The weather is not a problem unless you hate shoveling snow, but global warming will take care of that pretty soon. The schools in the suburbs (Wauwatosa, where I lived) are excellent, with very good theater, band, journalism and art programs.
posted by nasreddin at 3:56 PM on October 24, 2006

You'd be surprised how far you can be from NYC in Connecticut. Hartford is an armpit of a town, and the suburbs are either farm towns, snobby as all hell, or run down ghettos.

I'll third San Antonio or Austin, TX. I moved here from Oregon and I actually *really* enjoy Texas.
posted by SpecialK at 3:57 PM on October 24, 2006

This may be a stupid question, but can't you Google your employer and see where their particular locations are in a given state? Even for something as plentiful as say, gas stations, that would help you narrow down which city they'd send you to.
posted by symphonik at 3:59 PM on October 24, 2006

If you could live in Madison, WI, I think you would like it. It's basically two things: a progressive college town, which you expressed interest in, and the capital, which could work well for your job. Of course, it is not really metropolitan, which you also expressed interest in, but is pretty close to enough to Milwaukee and Chicago for a day trip, and close enough to Minneapolis for a long day-trip or and overnight. I happen to live in Minneapolis. And there is plenty of wilderness nearby. Between Madison and other nearby cities, I think you would be very satisfied.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:14 PM on October 24, 2006

I mean to say, I happen to live in Minneapolis, and I think it is just great.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:16 PM on October 24, 2006

I'd say California (and if I didn't have to commute far, and parking was included, Westwood would be more than agreeable, to me), but I'd never commit to CA based on state alone 'cause you might get stuck in Palmdale, Barstow or somewhere like that. 'Course being desert rats, those places might suit you just fine.

Texas, Nevada, SC or 'Bama, never -- NFW. Conn, Wisc, Ill and NC would be tolerable, interesting for a while (as long as the town wasn't too small), but I'd be yearning for the coast of the Golden West for the duration.
(And yes, I've been to all these places.)
posted by Rash at 4:22 PM on October 24, 2006

What symphinik said. You really need to compare specific locations. Say it's California... There's a huge difference between, let's say, El Cajon and El Centro, San Francisco and San Bernadino, etc, etc.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:22 PM on October 24, 2006

oops, I mean symphonik. Just as I start using this spell checking browser for the first time, I do this...
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:24 PM on October 24, 2006

I relocated to San Francisco a year ago, from Boston, and love it.

That said, one thing jumps out at me about your list of choices: if you want to buy a house, absolutely any state other than California, in your list, would be a helluva lot better.
posted by autojack at 4:32 PM on October 24, 2006

As previously noted, it is impossible to do this without cities/general regions in each of the states.

I'd likely still choose California, though. I'm happy someone mentioned Davis, as it is truly a wonderful place to live. Northern and Southern California each have their redeeming qualities, so depending on the location of this opportunity, the draws are going to be a little different.

Disclosure: I live in Sacramento, CA and work in Davis (about 15 mins away).

That being said, I've had opportunities to leave for employment, and even the most ridiculous of these offers was not enough to draw me away from California.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 4:39 PM on October 24, 2006

Impossible to answer without cities. California and Texas are both huge and have a massive variety of urban and rural cities.

But honestly, that's a great list of places to live. I'd live in any of them, except for Alabama. I understand the aversion to the midwest but if you get near Chicago, you'd have lots to do.
posted by chairface at 4:58 PM on October 24, 2006

Not Alabama.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:16 PM on October 24, 2006

Also, if you are in Southern California it is a very easy drive out to Tucson if you feel the need to get out to the desert (approx. 5 hours from San Diego).

Pfft. You only need to go 5 hours if you want to drive 3.5 hours into the desert from San Diego. Anza-Borrego State Park is only about 90 minutes east of downtown. So unless you wanted to visit "home"... But why go to Tucson when, come August, all of Tucson comes to visit you?

It's odd to me that the majority of people in this thread are recommending CA, but completely overlooking San Diego, or even smaller communities like Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo (both college towns). Even if you don't know exactly where you'll end up in the state, it's hard to go wrong unless you're in one of the lesser Central Valley cities or El Centro. Practically anyplace you go, you're within easy driving distance to some kind of outdoor experience. The only real "metropolitan" kind of areas are really around the Bay Area, or small pockets that other people have mentioned in other cities. LA and SD have their moments, but they're mostly just sprawl.
posted by LionIndex at 5:32 PM on October 24, 2006

Even tho I wouldn't pick Conn as far as New England is considered (wwe barely count it as one most of the time - sorry Conn folks) it's sooo close to so much you like. You can live over the line from Mass or RI and be close to zillions (ok, practically) of college towns, Providence, RI or Boston and be within an hour of beaches, mountains, cheap airports etc.

Within 30 min to 3 hours -
Newport, RI
Mystic, Conn
Boston (some on, Boston?!)
Providence, RI (foodie, fun town with Brown and more)
Brattleboro, VT
Cape Cod
Portland, Maine
Portsmouth, NH
Northampton & Amherst, MA (five college area)
Green Mountains
White Mountains
4 great airports (Manchester, Logan, Prov and Bradley)

We have diners, drive-ins, museums.
And if you like the progressive attitude of a college town- it's New England- we are all about that wicked smaht crap.
posted by beccaj at 6:48 PM on October 24, 2006

North Carolina is nice. Northeastern North Carolina has... beaches and farms and not much else. If you're into lively metro areas, the Raleigh/Durham region is more your speed. There are no big cities in northeastern NC, unless you count Norfolk across the border in VA. Do make sure you know which part of the state (any state) your employer is moving you to before making the decision.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:10 PM on October 24, 2006

I live in California and if my employer wanted to move me, I'd bail this place in a heartbeat.

I'd choose Wisconsin. I think the place is beautiful! The people were nice, the cheese is good, I love the flatlands, reasonable gun laws which California doesn't have, cheaper gas, and much better fresh produce.

Oh, and I don't mind the snow. :-)

Otherwise, most of Nevada is nice.
posted by drstein at 8:19 PM on October 24, 2006

I'd say California, North Carolina, and (if you can tolerate the east coast) maybe Connecticut.

Those states, there's almost nowhere that isn't within driving distance of a nice city or hip small town. Plus, they have a good diversity of both landscapes and cultures. Eg, in Nevada, you could end up really far from a decent city. In California, you're going to be fairly close to either hip mountain towns or an urbane metropolis, or both. You'll have mountains and ocean in <6 hour drive. Ditto North Carolina (though no deserts or snow-capped peaks there). I'd be thinking "what's the longest I'd have to drive to get to places I really liked?"
posted by salvia at 9:42 PM on October 24, 2006

It sounds like you want Milwaukee, WI. :)

I'm really biased, as I used to live there (on the east side) and loved every minute of it.

  • Chicago (hour-and-a-half car or Amtrak Hiawatha train ride to the south) provides a lot of the "big city" mess if you're in to that
  • Madison (hour to the west) is a hotbed of progressive social experimentation and academia.
  • The entire state is filled with hard-working, hard-playing germanic descendents
  • It's cold and snowy! (Can be good or bad)
  • Only senator to vote against the original USAPATRIOT: Russ Feingold (of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform).
  • UW-Milwaukee, the only other doctoral campus in the UW System, besides the Madison flagship campus.
  • Carlos Santiago's Brise Soleil
Probably just read the wikipedia article.
posted by chota at 9:44 PM on October 24, 2006

LOL, nobody wants to live in Alabama. It honestly depends on the job and/or area you may have to move to. Birmingham would fit your criteria, with the plus of having quite similiar weather to what you're used to in AZ. If they offer you any other city in the state, for the love of all that's good DON'T GO. B'ham is the cream of the crop, but it's a pretty pathetic crop nonetheless...
posted by somethingotherthan at 12:17 AM on October 25, 2006

Even the most cosmopolitan cities in Alabama (Huntsville, Birmingham, perhaps Mobile) will feel like cultural strangulation compared to the upper end of the east coast. And they'll rate even more poorly when compared to a progressive college town. In Alabama, even the college towns are conservative. Montgomery has several universities, but intellectual life here is almost non-existent. Likewise Birmingham. Hunstville, they say, is a little better, but not by much. And the best thing about Mobile is probably the strip clubs. Lord knows it's not the smell. Really, I can only recomend Alabama if you or your partner are (a) huge college football fans (b) fond of hunting (c) desperate for cheap housing. (You'd probably pay less for housing here than most other places in the country. But then again, wages are much lower as well).

Now Texas... it will really depend on the city. I spent some time in San Antonio and it felt, to me, like a far more open minded, interesting, and tolerant place than any city in Alabama. (Which is not to say it's Berkley or anything; it's pretty mainstrea/middle-of-the-road, really). And I'd also gladly live in DFW or Houston. But if I had to take up residence in Beaumont or some other podunk town... no thanks. And of course I'd kill to live in Austin. You mentioned progressive college towns; well Austin is the living embodiment of the concept. Not sure I could handle the border region (anything within an hour or two of Mexico, excepting Houston). It's an interesting place to visit, but it's bleak beyond description. I expect that would get to me before long. Everything from Del Rio to El Paso; the Texans can keep it. I'm told that Northwest Texas, not to be outdone by the border region, is pretty much an just attempt on the part of some supernatural being to destroy the souls of all who have the misfortune to go there.
posted by Clay201 at 12:19 AM on October 25, 2006

The Carolina coasts aren't terrible places to live, in that they combine lots of things to do (if touristy things to do) with a smaller-town feel (you can't go out without bumping into someone you know, and the locals know each other and everyone else's business). Overall--coastal or inland--I didn't love living anywhere in the Carolinas. I'm on the hippie-liberal side, and had to bite my tongue a great deal to get along or do my job. My ex, a devout atheist, is still living in central SC and has trouble at his job in the public school system because he doesn't like that the mission statement for the public school district includes a profession of faith and because his co-workers actively try to convert him.

I loved living in the Los Angeles area--it has something for almost everyone. California and Texas are huge places, though, so I'd agree you need specifics to make any judgments on those.

For all your requirements, I'd say beccaj has it, unless you can specify cities.
posted by Cricket at 12:35 AM on October 25, 2006

Definitely California.
posted by number9dream at 12:46 AM on October 25, 2006

North Carolina is inexpensive, great diversity in available wilderness, and has a number of different down to earth cities. I went to school in Greensboro and it was possibly the most comfortable place I have been. NC has great beaches, great mountains, and great forests, and it wont break the bank.
posted by BobbyDigital at 6:36 AM on October 25, 2006

Nthing Madison. I made road trips to the other big 10 towns while I was at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and that was my favorite: college town, state capital, art house movies shown off campus, wonderful used bookstores and not too far from Chicago if you're craving a city.
posted by brujita at 8:31 AM on October 25, 2006

ROU_Xenophobe, symphonik and others -- thanks for the suggestion to google locations, but his but.employer owns many smaller companies, and there's essentially an office in every major city in every state mentioned. Therefore, it's just as likely that we'd be in San Francisco as Chicago at this point... and equally likely that we'd be in Sacremento or Springfield, too.

We have to say "yes" to the state, and we won't know the city until the transfer is pending. I believe there will be an option to change our minds once the city has been assigned, but there will be no guarantees that he will be transferred there. (Think of this process as picking his "first choice".)
posted by parilous at 11:16 AM on October 25, 2006

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