Find myself a city to live in (NYC isn’t doing it for me)
January 14, 2008 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I need some suggestions for a place to live that fits me better than NYC – somewhere liberal, outdoorsy, and friendly. East Coast preferred. Further explanation inside.

I like many things about NY – great food, edgy culture, intelligence, left-wing politics, open day and night, energy, but there are other things I really don’t. In particular, the constant fever pitch, type A pace, the general coldness of people, and the fact that being an outdoor person (whitewater kayaking, hiking, backpacking) is an anomaly. Where are my people?

The criteria that are non-negotiable:
- Access to hiking/backpacking/whitewater kayaking (currently takes me 45 minutes to get to Harriman for decent hiking, 1.5 hrs to the Catskills. 1.5 hrs to the nearest whitewater river. Within 3-4 hours are a bunch more. This is all acceptable – I just need it to be within driving distance.)
- A more outdoor-oriented culture (and active outdoor clubs, since that is my main social outlet). Here, I say to someone that I whitewater kayak and they say, “Oh wow. What’s that like?” I want to be somewhere where they say, “Oh wow. I mountain bike.”
- Friendlier, more open people (I'm a single, 33-yo male, btw)

Other criteria, in vaguely descending order of importance:
- In or near some kind of city. I loved Amherst/Hadley/Northampton (where I went to college). It had all the appeal of a big city (culture, educated population, great food, music) while still having a “town” feel and being easy to get out of.
- East Coast is preferable (My dad still lives in NYC and we’re very close. My business is mostly in NYC and, although it’s 95% online, it would be helpful to be able to get there somewhat easily.) That said, I’m open to any and all ideas.
- Somewhere that having a car isn’t completely insane
- Liberal politics
- Not colder than NYC, not more precipitation/less sun than NYC (probably takes out Portland, OR and Seattle, WA)

After a small amount of research, I’m intrigued by North Carolina (exactly which parts, I’m don't know). I’m still in the brainstorming stage, though, so please toss out any thoughts and suggestions.
posted by SampleSize to Grab Bag (41 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to suggest Western Mass., but it looks like you've been there and done that. I've heard great things on all fronts about Asheville, NC.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2008

Have you looked next door?

I'm not positive about the outdoorsy stuff - I'm pretty sedentary - but I live in Philly, and know quite a few people who do a lot of hiking, biking, etc, both in the area and in the Poconos, which are a short drive up 476. Center City is definitely Cityriffic, but the rest of the city is less so, so you can dial your city-ness up and down as you desire. Nowhere on the East Coast is more City than NYC, but Center City's up pretty damn late and has a good energy-level. NYC access is easy. Politics are... well, I want to say they're more Democratic than actually liberal, but I say that as a lefty myself. Car ownership is definitely viable - if anything, I'm annoyed by my inability to ditch the thing as easily as I'd like.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:18 PM on January 14, 2008

You have just described living in/around San Francisco. Specifically, my parents just moved (back) to Marin County (just over the bridge from the city) and EVERYONE hikes/bikes/kayaks/etc... you name it, people are doing it. Obviously it's very liberal politically, I've found the people to be the kindest most open people I've met in the United States (at least, as far as cities are concerned), and it's gorgeous. The only downside would be cost, but since you're from NYC I don't imagine that will be a problem for you.

In fact, I plan to live there sometime in the near future once I'm done with LA. Which will be soon.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:19 PM on January 14, 2008

Is there some reason Amherst/Noho (where I also went to college) does NOT fit the bill? Or the Western MA area generally?

I'm usually the first person to jump in with "Oh Vermont is perfect for you!" but it closes up tight at 8 unless you live in one of the bigger city areas. Living in the Brattleboro area leaves you close-ish to NY and Boston. However, the Darthmouth/Upper Valley area gives you the educated/intellectual scene which a lot of Vermont isn't really richly steeped in. Or rather, it is, but it takes a while to sort of break in to it and that might not be the best for someone who's recently moved and doesn't know folks. Everyone I know here does outdoorsy stuff and I'm a bit of an aonmaly because I *only* hike and swim indoors for fitness stuff. I've heard good things about the up-and-comingness of Albany but I don't have firsthand experience though it's been great when I've been there and there are a lot of nifty little kayaky things going on there and a lot to explore in the Adirondacks.

Do you have the freedom to go visit some places? It might be worth travelling around the Northeast and doing some outdoors-y stuff once the weather gets nicer and there's more people around to get a feel for what the scenes are like other places. I loved the PacNW to death but I really like being back in New England with the (mostly) sunny winters, even if they are colder.
posted by jessamyn at 3:19 PM on January 14, 2008

Well, if you like Western MA, why not try Easter MA? Cambridge, in particular.
posted by jk252b at 3:21 PM on January 14, 2008

As an NYC expatriate myself, I can say that Chicago was the answer for me. I find that it has all the things I liked about NYC such as music and nightlife, but without the ridiculous prices and stuck up attitudes (not that you can ever fully escape that). The thing I like most about this city is that there are so many neighborhoods that are very distinct from each other, and people here are generally quite friendly and helpful. I know it's not "east coast", but it's close enough. Plus there are plenty of parks and outdoor activities. I like to mountain bike as well and I can tell you that there are plenty of good trails just outside the city, and the city itself has a thriving bike culture. Not sure about the kayaking. Anyhow, that's my suggestion.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 3:25 PM on January 14, 2008

I believe the standard answers to the question about fun cities on the east coast are Asheville, NC and Burlington, VT, with the up-and-comers being Chattanooga, TN, and St. Louis, MO, and with the tri-city area in NC not being bad either.
posted by salvia at 3:31 PM on January 14, 2008

Richmond, Virginia is a lot of what you describe that you're looking for. It's an extremely liberal city, despite being an a conservative state. It's not a huge city, but big enough to have everything you'd want. There's a thriving bike culture here and a lot of my friends don't own cars, you really don't even need one if you live in the city. The Blue Ridge Mountains are an hour west and the beach is a little under 2 hours east. DC is two hours north and NYC is about a seven hour drive. I guess the weather would be similar to NYC but it doesn't get as cold.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:32 PM on January 14, 2008

DC fits most of the bill, though it doesn't have the density of outdoorsy people that other places do. But you can kayak on the Potomac and there are kayaking clubs that run trips out to great rivers nearby (check out the Canoe Cruisers Association). Lots of left wingers here, and maybe more after the coming election. You can take the train to NYC, and there are lots of young people here.
posted by procrastination at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2008

Boulder, and to a slightly lesser extent Denver, sound like they perfectly fit all your criteria except for not being on the East Coast. However, getting to NYC isn't too much of a problem with DIA right there; I certainly don't think it would take much longer to fly than driving to NYC from most places on the East Coast.

And contrary to what many people on the East Coast expect, Colorado is actually warmer on average than NYC (or it certainly feels warmer). Yes, it snows in the winter, but the low low humidity plus the copious amounts of sunshine mean that the winters are far less damp and bone-chilling. And you get to ski or snowboard, which keeps you warm.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2008

Dude, philly is the new new york.
posted by chelseagirl at 3:54 PM on January 14, 2008

Seconding Colorado. Some outdoorsy friends of mine moved to Denver, and they LOVE it there. They're granola-crunchy lesbians, active in social causes, and fit right in, so I would venture that it's a place where liberals can feel at home (unlike some other places in Colorado, alas). As for the outdoor recreation, it's sheer unadulterated heaven. My friends are hardly ever indoors!

The drawbacks to Boulder specifically are: expensive, though not as expensive as NYC. There are a lot of people with advanced degrees underemployed (in Boulder, not Denver) because they love living there; be sure you have a job lined up before you move.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:55 PM on January 14, 2008

One vote against Philly. The food is over-rated, as is the nightlife. And it's dangerous.
posted by wfc123 at 3:57 PM on January 14, 2008

I had a great time living in central PA for a few years in my early 30s. State College is very much a college town (obviously), the surrounding mountains are fantastic for hiking and biking, and it's really easy to meet people through the non-University running clubs, Ultimate leagues, etc. Rafting and kayaking might be a little sparse, without a drive to Ohiopyle or West Virginia. Penn State keeps the culture vibrant and politics liberal, but outside of town things get pretty rural.

Also, seconding what others have said about Richmond and Western Mass. Never lived in either but have always enjoyed visiting.
posted by slogger at 3:59 PM on January 14, 2008

Thirding Asheville.
posted by cdmwebs at 4:07 PM on January 14, 2008

In or near some kind of city. I loved Amherst/Hadley/Northampton (where I went to college). It had all the appeal of a big city (culture, educated population, great food, music) while still having a “town” feel and being easy to get out of.

I see I've been beaten by a bunch of other Phillyites in recommending that you just head a couple hours south. (Where were you people on Friday?)

But hey, don't take our word for it -- shop for a city. Plan some weekend trips on the cheap.
posted by desuetude at 4:15 PM on January 14, 2008

For what it's worth, NYC appears to have about the same amount of yearly average rainfall as Seattle. It just isn't very sunny, but as a result of the cloud cover, it snows maybe twice a year.

SF is better, though.
posted by herbaliser at 4:31 PM on January 14, 2008

I lived in NYC for years, then in Cambridge, MA for 6 years, then in Golden, CO in the Denver-Boulder area for many years, and now in the North Country of New York in the Adirondacks. As far as weather, Colorado is the best. 300+ days of sun. One can go hiking often in January and February even on dry trails and in 50 degree sun. Snow melts quickly and along the Front Range near Denver snow is not as common or deep as the media suggests. DIA to LGA is a 3.5 hour flight. Opportunities for the outdoor life are beyond imagine and compare. Cambridge is great if you are interested in the inner, not the outdoor, life. One has to go quite a ways to run or hike or any of the things you mention. Upstate NY is lovely but not liberal except for great places like Ithaca or Potsdam. Of these places and for your age, Colorado certainly sounds like a place to check out. Great food, great outdoors, great people and the time of your life.
posted by madstop1 at 4:48 PM on January 14, 2008

I’d have to say definitely check us out in Portland, Maine. There is kayaking (ocean right here in Casco Bay, and whitewater if you go inland), hiking, bike paths, walking trails and all the winter sports (tons of cross country trails nearby). There are several colleges and universities, an art museum, and a great downtown with tons of restaurants. Lots of liberal people here too and everyone is pretty friendly. There is also an airport and the flights to NYC are very cheap. It’s a small airport so not a big hassle getting in and out.

Check out the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club, maybe give ‘em a call and ask about the local outdoors action. Indoors, I belong to Planet Fitness for $19.99 a month (two people) and go walking around town and the Back Cove during nice weather. There’s also a rock climbing gym.

In about 1/2 an hour, I can get to Bradbury Mountain, near Freeport, and hike on gentle or steep trails until I get to bald rock with a spectacular view. Then there’s Acadia National Park, a bit of a drive, but well worth it. For sports, we have the Portland Pirates hockey team and Seadogs baseball. It’s okay having a car here, but better to get an apartment with off-street parking so you don’t have to use a parking garage and hoof it when they’re plowing. Good luck in your hunt!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:56 PM on January 14, 2008

Ithaca, NY. Liberal college town (with Cornell and Ithaca College) and great outdoor activities.
posted by peacheater at 5:07 PM on January 14, 2008

New Haven, CT is the bomb. It's everything you describe and close to outdoorsy stuff. Not breathtaking Grand Canyon gorgeous but really nice stuff. There are many groups of people who do outdoorsy stuff together. It's 1.5 hrs. from NYC, 2.5 from Boston and about 1 to NoHo/Amherst. It's neighborhoody, friendly, liberal and there's great restaurants, museums, galleries, locals interested in politics, it's diverse, the whole 9. I've lived in Chicago, DC, New York and I relate 1000% to what you describe about why you love/hate living in NYC. Take the Metro North into New Haven and look around downtown.

Don't let people tell you it's dangerous here, that's bullshit. It's an old rep that won't die.
posted by sneakin at 5:19 PM on January 14, 2008

There is an environmental/crunchy scene in NYC -- you just have to look hard for it. Check out the Long Island City Boathouse for some flatwater kayaking, for instance. Not as fun as whitewater maybe, but better views.
posted by footnote at 5:20 PM on January 14, 2008

Actually moving to Asheville from Brooklyn for very much the same reasons.
posted by rikschell at 5:41 PM on January 14, 2008

About DC, the Great Falls of the Potomac are only a short drive upriver. I'm not sure sure what other big city on the East Coast (or elsewhere) has a big whitewater venue that close to the city.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:45 PM on January 14, 2008

I wanted to say Asheville as well, but its hours from any sizeable city. Unless you count Charlotte, which evacuates to the suburbs around 5pm, as far as I can tell.
But in Asheville outdoor culture dominates, a beautiful ecovillage is in nearly Black Mountain and though its debatable whether this is a good or bad thing, the perfume of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap wafts down the streets. Hey, at least the hippies wash there... ;)
posted by quelindo at 6:15 PM on January 14, 2008

I don't have any specific suggestions for you, but do you know about
posted by daisyace at 6:20 PM on January 14, 2008

Ashville is too small to be really cool. Lots of people in Atlanta are outdoorsy. But the skiiers / boarders don't really get what they need in driving distance (though there are slopes ~ 3 hrs away... near Ashville actually). Whitewater is 2 hrs away. Great bouldering: 30 mins (just inside the city). Real climbing: 2 hrs (in Ala and Tenn). Plenty o' water sporting (if only we'd get some rain -- serious drought is on) on the lakes and rivers, as well as tons of biking opportunities.

Oh and Atlanta is a real city, despite your preconceptions to the contrary.
posted by zpousman at 6:41 PM on January 14, 2008

Thirding foxy_hedgehog and jessamyn -- I lived in Northampton for ten years, and based on your criteria, it's still ideal for you. Except for the part where you don't want to move somewhere colder than NY. Western Mass is definitely colder than NY.

Also seconding foxy_hedgehog, I've heard great things about Asheville, NC.
posted by lassie at 6:46 PM on January 14, 2008

Madison WI would love to have you.
posted by mcbeth at 7:02 PM on January 14, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. Keep 'em coming!

Just want to answer the Amherst/Noho question:
I've thought about moving back there, but it just feels too trying to go back to an earlier time in my life. I feel the need to try something new, although I haven't ruled out western MA 100%.

A lot to think about so far. Guess I have some traveling to do!
posted by SampleSize at 7:20 PM on January 14, 2008

St. Louis, MO

[incredulous] Are you kidding? [/incredulous]

I was born there, raised near there, have family there, and go back a couple of times a year to St. Louis or nearby. I live in New York City now.

St. Louis is not the answer to the original poster's question. No way. It's a recipe for having to move somewhere else, anywhere else, within a year.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:30 PM on January 14, 2008

Seconding Madison. Wheeeee!
posted by Madamina at 8:21 PM on January 14, 2008

One possibility: Norfolk, VA. (God, I love it here.) Though our outdoorsy stuff tends to be more beach-oriented, it does exist. Liberals abound in my neighborhood, and people are generally very friendly and open, especially when compared to other larger cities where I have lived (DC, Seattle).
posted by eileen at 8:38 PM on January 14, 2008

You probably want to think about neighborhoods within cities. Personally i'm a huge fan of Davis Square in Somerville (in boston). Of course the bay area is also a pretty close match (and much more layed back)...check out berkeley, the sunset, and downtown san jose (i'm in downtown hayward, which is much more blue collar but dense for the burbs (and cheaper then the city)). Old town alexandria (DC) was a pretty good walkable area in DC...but be warned, most of DC is burbs. I think there are also areas of seattle that would probably work (university area was pretty nice the one time i've been). Of course, there are areas of brooklyn which i've found really nice and not new york-ish at all.

I'd suggest checking out college towns such as austin and and anne-arbor (which i've heard are nice) if you want cheaper living then NYC. I'd say travel as much as you can before you jump. The more often you move, the easier it gets to do so (at least till you have a family). Have fun with it.
posted by NGnerd at 9:00 PM on January 14, 2008

Yes, it rains a lot in the PNW, but most of it is rain one can deal with: mist, drizzle, sprinkle--unlike NYC where it almost always pisses down.
posted by brujita at 10:32 PM on January 14, 2008

I grew up in Annapolis, MD which is still a very artsy town near DC and Baltimore. Close to skiing and the beach, with ample access to mountains and water for backpacking and watersports. Many people who work in the bigger cities live in Annapolis, so you definitely have big city culture in a smaller town.

I also lived up north for a while, and personally loved Portsmouth NH. NH has the benefit of being state-tax free, and Portsmouth has an awesome, hip atmosphere while still retaining much of what I find charming about northeastern cities.
posted by finitejest at 7:49 AM on January 15, 2008

In terms of the DC area--I currently live in the DC area, and grew up in Colorado, and in terms of your original question, Colorado is just a much better fit. I love DC, but I haven't run into nearly as many outdoorsy-types here, and in general it's much more of a production to live that sort of lifestyle. The housing is expensive, so it's tough to find a good apartment with enough space to store your bike, kayak, skiing equipment, and SCUBA gear (the last one to my great regret); if you live in the city, you'll pay an extra $100 for a parking space, and if you're serious about doing a lot of stuff outdoors, you'll absolutely need a car to get anywhere; and last but certainly not least, the air hurts your lungs. (Okay, that last one might sound stupid, but having come here from Colorado, in the summer I'm hesitant to do a lot of hard physical stuff outdoors because I invariably feel like I've smoked a pack of cigarettes the next day.)

Also, while not difficult to find other people in the area who enjoy doing things like hiking, skiing, kayaking, rock climbing--I mean, in a city this size you can find someone with any interest without too much difficulty--it's not at all like Colorado, where it seems like half the population in their 20s heads up to Rocky Mountain National Park for camping or hiking at least a couple times a year. 'A more outdoor-oriented culture' pretty much sums up Colorado to me. Among the friends I still have there, and among my siblings and their friends (guys in their late 20s, for a point of reference), attitudes towards work are much more relaxed--it's just what you do to make living so you can live your life--and there's a huge focus on being outside and doing stuff outside whenever the weather is nice, which is almost always.

I'm not trying to bag on DC; I'm very much the nerdy-intellectual Type A personality that felt a bit out of place among the extremely athletic population in Denver/Boulder (and still do, when I go home--who suggests GOING SKIING all day as an appropriate birthday activity?!?), and DC fits me very well. But I'd say cultural events to DC are like outdoor activities to Denver--you can get either in both cities, but just like it's hard to go very far without tripping over someone inviting you to some cultural festival in DC, it's hard to go very far in Denver without someone inviting you to come hiking.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:22 AM on January 15, 2008

I'm going to third (fourth?) the Philly suggestion.

I aimed for NY when I graduated but ended up in Philly instead and am SO glad that I did. It's blue. It's intellectual. It's got culture. But it isn't so overcrowded and crazy that you feel overwhelmed by it. Also, the climate is one of the best kept secrets in the country. It is mild all year round except perhaps for three weeks in February and three weeks in August.

Outdoorsy activities abound - whether it is kayaking along the Schyullkill or just jogging/biking/blading down Kelly Drive. There are a number of places to explore for hiking and walking trails in Fairmount Park. Should you desire to go to the beach, the boardwalk or casinos, the Jersey shore isn't that far (and neither is the Delaware/Maryland shore, for that matter). And skiing or more mountainous adventures are only a short trip away to the Poconos.

As for the claim of violence, unless you are planning to move into West Philly, I doubt you have much to worry about.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:38 AM on January 15, 2008

Another vote for New Haven. It's a small city, but it has the resources of a much larger one. It's easy to own a car her, but it's also easy to get around on foot or by bike. It's completely accessible to the outdoors, and there are tons of outdoorsy people here. There are some really lovely neighborhoods to live in. Let me know if you want more info, or if you want to come in for a meetup.
posted by bassjump at 1:22 PM on January 15, 2008

At this rate, Asheville is going to be a completely overrun dump in about 2 more years. What 20-something is NOT thinking about moving there? That's a good environmentalist strategy: take some relatively clean and beautiful small city and overpopulate it with "crunchy" unemployed slackers. until it's totally trashed out. Heck, last I was in Asheville (last spring) it already seemed totally trashed out to me. Just because people consume "eco-friendly" products or like outdoor sports doesn't make them less consumers; just because people like "outdoor" activities doesn't mean they aren't trashing the environment when they snowboard/waterski/whatever, after driving their SUV 40 miles to get to the trailhead.

If you are truly interested in the environment, living in a large city is the best thing you can do for the earth. New Yorkers are MAX environmentalists compared to anyone, anywhere, who has to drive a car to go shopping or to work.

Sorry to be contrarian. By the way, Seattle has glorious, glorious spring/summer weather. They don't tell you that on purpose.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:51 AM on January 17, 2008

Not to derail, but wow, it's an education to read these threads to see the disparity between what a city looks like to a transplant and what it looks like to a native -- I'm incredulous that anyone would enthuse over my hometown of Annapolis, but pleased to see enthusiasm for my former-adopted-home of Norfolk.
posted by desuetude at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2008

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