Can we move to Oregon or Washington? Where?
June 24, 2008 8:04 PM   Subscribe

My family is considering moving to Oregon (or conceivably Washington) in a couple of years, and we are going to visit soon. I'd like to collect suggestions of possible locations so we can try to visit. We would like a cheap, small town with a liberal climate along the Washington/Oregon border or moderately near the coast. Is this possible?

Our main reason for moving is to get out of the city. Our main reason for considering the Pacific Northwest is it is relatively warm, without the social conservatism associated with many other warm parts of the US. For this reason, we're particularly interested in the warmer areas of the states, like the border between Oregon and Washington. The somewhat-close-to-the-coast area could be ok for this too, although we aren't interested in actually being on the coast. Also, We are extremely progressive/radical, and while we like diverse environments, we want somewhere we can feel comfortable being ourselves.

We're not too concerned about city amenities, although being within an hour or so of Portland or another nice city would be a bonus. We would like to be able to get a decent sized piece of land with some sort of house, or alternately with no house and eventually build one ourselves. We will probably have about $100,000. Is this insane? Are there any cheap towns in Oregon or Washington?

Other random considerations are that we don't currently drive, so a place with good transportation infrastructure would be nice, though not required. Also, our jobs are pretty much portable, so employment is not much of an issue.
posted by lgyre to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My first thought is "Port Townsend" - it's nowhere near the border with Oregon, but the border is pretty awful (Portland/Astoria excluded).

What are you moving from and what are you looking to move to?

How far from an urban center is acceptable? Is farther from an urban center better or worse?

Will you need a job? If so, what industry?
posted by poon at 8:14 PM on June 24, 2008

Oops! I didn't read below the fold...

The only places I'd really recommend (given your criteria) are Port Townsend, WA or Ashland, OR (neither are on the border, but Ashland is very close the California border, and closer than PT to the coast). They are both very liberal, warm communities. Ashland is a college town, PT is not.

Ashland has 'real weather', as in snow in the winter and heat in the summer. PT is far more mild (and more enjoyable, IMO). It has some great alternative communities within the already-small community, and would embrace pretty much any kind of radical liberalism.

Also, Vashon Island might be a consideration, but it's become pretty gentrified and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone I like.
posted by poon at 8:21 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might consider Bend, Oregon. It's about 2.5 hours from Portland, but it's (pretty) cheap, warm in summer, cold in winter, relatively liberal, and smack in the middle of lots of outdoorsy stuff like rafting, hiking, skiing, etc. As for Washington, maybe Ellensburg? It's about 2 hours from Seattle, but much cheaper, with a similar climate to Bend. I think that if you're looking for less expensive property, you're not going to find it on or near the coast. Good luck!
posted by ascheele at 8:50 PM on June 24, 2008

Try Columbia County in Oregon. Citys like Scappoose and St. Helens are close to Portland, close to the ocean and right on the Columbia River. Not the most liberal place in world but not bad.
posted by jestonb at 8:54 PM on June 24, 2008

Bend is possibly the most expensive city in Oregon right now, as far as housing goes.
posted by docpops at 9:11 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is where it really matters what you mean by "liberal/radical" and how much you want the people around you to be like you. There are a number of liberal-meaning-hippy/Green Party/Democratic towns in both states (think Eugene, for example), so if you want a place with vegetarian restaurants and lots of people with dreadlocks and so on you are covered.

Broadly speaking, as you head east (and into the coastal range and south west in Oregon, and up into the Skagit and the Olympics in Washington), people will say things get more conservative. Really, it's more complicated than that. Most any small town in both states will turn out a lot of reliably republican-voting people... but very few places have much social conservatism, and almost every small rural town has a deep vein of radical local politics. Remember, the IWW was big out here, and in the '80s and '90s so were those famous "militias" (few of which were anything other than smoke and mirrors, but that's a different issue). So your neighbors might not vote for the Democrats... but they are also going to probably be a lot more radical in some of their politics than you are. It's sort of a weird stew of old-time farmers and ranchers, dope-smoking loggers, disaffected hippies, and all sorts of other things that don't line up neatly on a left/right political map.

And as people from other states and from the larger cities have moved into small towns over the last few decades, you now get hippy restaurants and bicycle craftsmen in the most surprising places, along with fancy wineries, enormous McMansions, and all the tacky second home developments your heart could desire.

Things are changing fast, too -- places (like Bend or Pendleton or John Day or Joseph or Forks) that were always hard-core conservative strongholds aren't so much anymore. The resource extraction economy is mostly gone (especially logging), farming is changing, and huge numbers of people have moved in from other places. Also, a lot of small towns (especially on the east side, but the west side too) are being transformed by very rapid Latino immigration, both direct from Latin America and by people resettling from other places in the US. That also doesn't map neatly onto a conservative/liberal map, but certainly complicates the stereotypes of "how things are" that people will tell you.

Climate-wise, you have a basic choice of wet (west side) or dry (east side), plus a choice of temperature based on altitude -- higher is colder, which should be obvious but people from other places tend to find that surprising. And there are a lot of microclimates, so there are dryer places on the west side and wetter places on the east side; you can get a sense of this by looking at where you find specialty agriculture (eg wine), where you have different kinds of public lands, and so on.

My suggestion is to drive out (or fly out and rent a car) and spend a couple of weeks looping through both states. See what speaks to you, in terms of climate and landscape and social environments, and then focus on those areas. The distances are big, so allow plenty of time for getting from one place to another.
posted by Forktine at 9:17 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not near the border, but Eugene might fit your bill - smallish town, pretty liberal, college town (University of Oregon is based there), and it's small enough that not having a car isn't really a hindrance. It's about a two hour drive from Portland if you're so inclined. Lots of bike trails, as well, if that's how you like to get around. Summers in the Valley are warm, winters...not cold, but not dry either. Anyway. Check Eugene out, it may be what you're looking for.
posted by pdb at 9:19 PM on June 24, 2008

Whevenever I've visited Bellingham, WA, it's seemed like a small, community minded and progressive/liberal town, and it's about an hour drive away from both Seattle and Vancouver. It's also by the water, and near some very lovely countryside. Living in Vancouver, it seems ridiculously cheap to me, also.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:21 PM on June 24, 2008

Eugene works. So does Ashland. Both will be difficult with your budget. Astoria is actually on the coast and surprisingly liberal. You'd have to get used to lots of grey weather, though, as it's at the mouth of the Columbia and the ocean.
posted by Happydaz at 9:22 PM on June 24, 2008

The problem is this; the smaller the town the more conservative it's going to be and the larger the town the more expensive it's going to be. Of course, expensive is relative, especially depending on where you come from. Bend is high-priced for Oregon, but it's not the Bay Area or anything.

I'd recommend Bend or Eugene as places with leftist views and good public transit. Eugene isn't terribly pretty and Bend is sort of out of the way.

Best idea is rent a place as a home base and explore the entire NW for a better feel on where you'd like to be. Housing is cheap and won't go up much if at all in the next year. It's a good time to explore.
posted by b_thinky at 9:26 PM on June 24, 2008

I totally missed your price question. Yes, many, many small towns are very cheap. You can buy serious acreage or a big old place in town on your budget. BUT -- those places tend to be far from the city and not have a robust local economy, lots of jobs, etc. If they had those things, prices would be higher, no? So you may have a bit of a tension between your desire for liberal culture and your budget.

As above, though, the best way to do this is to drive around and see what works for you.
posted by Forktine at 9:47 PM on June 24, 2008

i know you asked for a small town but you might think about olympia or surrounding areas.

its got good mass transit options (i think, i've only visited and will soon be moving there myself)

you've definitely got your radical/liberal stuff covered over there.

the area turns forest/rural pretty quick surrounding olympia, unless you go north toward the sea-tac metro. i don't know what land prices are like, but there are definitely acreages and farms not far from the city itself. even the area around evergreen college, which is technically in the city i guess, feels like its out in the woods somewhere.

its a beautiful area.

downsides are there is an aspect of sprawling suburbia happening around olympia a little, strip malls and stuff, especially when you move toward lacey, or near i-5.

you should drive around the area while you're there.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:50 PM on June 24, 2008

Corvallis, OR. I've lived in various towns in Oregon all 23 years of my life and Corvallis is by far my favorite. It's smaller than Salem or Eugene but has a lot of amenities for it's size. Decent public transit, very liberal, and just generally a really comfortable place to live.
posted by evilbeck at 10:01 PM on June 24, 2008

As a life-long Oregon resident (nearly 40 years), I have to say Forktine does a pretty good job of nailing it. There are plenty of conservative people in Oregon, but mostly there's a strong liberal/progressive bent, and even those who vote Republican often have progressive views on certain issues.

My big question is: what do you mean by warm? How warm? For how long? And how do you feel about damp? Though I usually feel the "Oregon and Washington are wet" thing is overstated, this year is a different story. We finally shook the rain last week after eight months of the stuff. That's even enough to make natives begin to cry.
posted by jdroth at 10:45 PM on June 24, 2008

A few weeks ago a climatologist came out with maps of what the US would look like when global warming is in full swing. Just about everyone in the upper 48 is projected to be warmer... except Oregon's Willamette Valley. We're gonna get colder. I forgot what western Washington looked like, but I imagine it'd be similar.

I'm not sayin'... I'm just sayin'...
posted by Tacodog at 10:57 PM on June 24, 2008

I don't think people are seeing his price guideline. $100,000. For a nice bit of land with a house on it. Near Portland.

Corvallis is very nice. It has a median price of something like $375,000. Olympia is very nice. It also has a median price of about $350,000. Bend is very nice. The median price there is closer to $400,000. Eugene is not quite as nice but still pretty nice. It's median price reflects that and is only a bit over $300,000. Ashland is extremely nice. You can live there for the low, low median price of over $500,000.

I think the point, it is made.

lgyre: a great, great, great many people want to live in a liberal-ish area with a moderate climate, nice greenery and rainfall, not too far from a hip city, with decent schools, a low crime rate, and good public transportation. So many people, in fact, that the prices for living in a place like that are rather a lot higher than $100,000.

For that reason you're going to need to think about your requirements. You almost certainly need to be willing to either spend considerably more more or to live further away from a place like Portland in a smallish, somewhat more conservative town without a robust public transportation infrastructure.

I'm not trying to discourage you; I came >this< close to moving to the exact kind of area you are looking for. I was thinking about Vancouver, WA which is just across the border from Portland. And, in fact, the median price is a bunch lower than some of the other places; it's just UNDER $300,000. So it's quite cheap. So I encourage you to live in this area if that's what you want. I still think about it from time to time. But you probably need to be realistic about your expectations.
posted by Justinian at 11:13 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

apologies, I refered to the OP as "him" when she is clearly a "her".
posted by Justinian at 11:14 PM on June 24, 2008

Seconding Corvallis, OR. It'll have everything you want. Its small enough that you can bike everywhere (or even walk most places), the bus system is surprisingly quite decent, it has a pretty strong liberal bend, and Oregon State University feels more integrated into the city than UO does in Eugene to me. There's decently inexpensive land fairly close to the city, but if you want real acrage, you'll have to go out a ways, probably out HWY 34 (east) or towards Philomath (west), both of which nix public transit (although there's one baker in Philomath that rides a unicycle to work every day from Corvallis [about 1/3 of the way down, heading 'Rising at Sunrise'] ). Though as you move further from the city, your neighbors will tend to be farmers, who tend to be more conservative.

Its about an hour and a half to Portland. Its not on I-5, which is a good thing. Its maybe 45 mins to an hour from the coast, which is an easy drive in the summer and a miserable drive in the winter. Great hiking, alright mountain biking, pretty good road biking. There's a good climbing wall at OSU that's open to the public. OSU library is pretty good and open to residents (incl. borrowing privs). Downtown is small but nice. City empties out in the summer b/c of OSU. We've managed to keep out malls, but not Home Depot & Borders, sadly. Good selection of coffee shops (but not as good as Portland), most people are pretty good about shopping local. Good farmer's market on Sat & during the summer, some other day of the week that I'm forgetting right now (tues or wed, I think). Good parks, including waterfront on the Willamette.

$100k won't buy much of a house in the city, though. Housing prices didn't spike as badly here as they did some places, but they still did. You can look around, but you'll probably be pushed decently far out of town on land w/o a house for that.

Ashland and Bend will be nearly impossible on that budget. Ashland is a fantasy land, and Bend has the fastest growth in the state. Eugene might be doable, and some people love it, but it can be a tough city to live in.

And yes, Oregon is wet. Your first winter here will be miserable, or so I've heard. One tip: if you do come, bring a raincoat & not an umbrella. Umbrellas mark you as a Californian ;)

Feel free to MeFiMail me with more questions.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:23 PM on June 24, 2008

On failed preview, Justinian is very right about prices, though the $375k median for Corvallis is skewed by a few certain areas, IMO.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:25 PM on June 24, 2008

If you want to live on good sized piece of land, and be near a bus line, you won´t have many options. There´s just less public transport in rural areas, since fewer people live there. I suggest you learn to drive if you want to live out on 5+ acres or in a very small town. This will be even more important if you are building your own house and need to buy bulky, heavy materials.

All small towns are different. Some areas will be accepting of some things and very intolerant of other things. In particular, some areas of Oregon are nowhere near as gay-friendly as Oregon has a reputation for being. There are plenty of small towns on the highways connecting I-5 with 101 on the coast. I haven´t been in this area in a while so I don´t have any specific recommendations for you, but if you want to explore this area it will be very difficult to do via Greyhound, so you will need to learn to drive or spend a lot of money on a taxi unless you like to hitchhike.

You have $100,000 to buy land without a house? In one area I checked on last year, there was a buildable 40ac lot with a well and near a powerline for about $50,000. Probably at least 10 miles from a bus line though, maybe more. Prices will vary across the state, but you can probably find something. Not near Portland though, and probably not where you can walk out of your house and get on a bus. Make sure that any land you buy can be built on -- this has been a big political issue in Oregon recently, I´m not up to date on the latest measures passed and legal rulings, but you should talk to someone who is if you buy land.

You don´t say how warm an area you are looking for, but be aware that most of Oregon except for the coast itself has a very good chance of getting at least some snow in the winter.

How small a town are you looking for? Within Oregon, Eugene is usually considered a medium sized city. Cave Junction has always struck me as a liberal small town (at least that´s my impression from stopping at the coffee shop there), but it´s definitly a small town. No public transit as far as I know -- but it´s warm in the winter, and about a hour´s drive from the coast.
posted by yohko at 11:56 PM on June 24, 2008

I spent 5 years living in Corvallis, OR and it was by far the 'easiest' living i've ever done. For a town under 50k it had a lot of amenities, including multiple movie theaters (something you won't find here in europe), restaurants, etc. You can bike everywhere, since the whole thing is like 10x10 miles. Two hours to the coast, two hours into the mountains. Good stuff.
posted by jedrek at 3:04 AM on June 25, 2008

I would second the Bellingham suggestion. It has (some) public transit and is a nice place.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:47 AM on June 25, 2008

Here is a blog about some people building a wee little house out in eastern Washington -- if you want to stay within your budget, I think you'll end up doing something like this, and in a similar sort of place.

we're particularly interested in the warmer areas of the states, like the border between Oregon and Washington.

I think you need to reframe your mental geography of the state. That area is not particularly warm, though it is lovely. Or rather, as you come east of the mountains, that area is definitely particularly warm in the summer... but not more so than any other area east of the mountains at that altitude. It's just that it is low (everything from Portland out to about Pendleton is at what, maybe 1500 feet, if you follow the the interstate) that keeps it warm. If you really want hot, south east Oregon has real desert; the high desert of central Oregon and parts of Washington will be a lot more moderate in the summer but chillier in the winter. West of the mountains, people are frequently surprised at how hot and dry the summers are. Yes, the winters are miserable long rainy affairs, but then in the summer it will hit 105F and all the grass turns brown.
posted by Forktine at 6:02 AM on June 25, 2008

Unless you adore the rain, you might want to be within an hour or so of the Cascades so you can get out occasionally in the winter and see sun and snow. It's cheaper than shock therapy or a psychologist.
posted by docpops at 7:55 AM on June 25, 2008

Thirding Bellingham. It's a great little town with beautiful scenery, on the water, relatively inexpensive, full of colorful characters with a fun weekend market downtown, a cafe where you can sing for your supper and other good locally-owned eateries, an active arts community, all the granola and high-speed internet you could want, small local airport with Delta connections, and charm out the wazoo with a low schmaltz factor. Plus, it's an easy drive to Seattle, Vancouver, Sea-Tac, dog tracks, casinos, and all the trappings of West Coast-style consumerism.
posted by notashroom at 11:13 AM on June 25, 2008

note for OP: Bellingham is relatively affordable, meaning the median price is only a little over $300,000.
posted by Justinian at 12:26 PM on June 25, 2008

n'thing take a trip first to find-out where you'd like to live. I've had a desire to move back to Vancouver for many years, but after a trip a month or two ago to explore the possibility, I've had to reevaluate. You just can't decide where to live unless you've been there.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2008

Justinian makes some really good points about costs, and Forktine covers the weirdness of the political landscape.

You're going to be looking at balancing a LOT of basically opposing factors, so prioritizing will be important.

generally, IME (15 years in WA living in Tacoma & Olympia):

small town = little or no transit, may or may not be good for biking

liberal with amenities = expensive housing

cheap housing on a chunk of land = way out in the middle of f'ing nowhere

warm summer = cold winter = east of the mountains

moderate winter = rain (jdroth is right, every so often we get a winter/spring that wipes out even the natives. It felt like March right up until about 2 weeks ago. the thing about the rain is that it doesn't rain very hard, and it doesn't often rain in the summer, but when it rains, it rains lightly for days/weeks on end. at the high latitude, that can make it DARK come winter.)

Seattle or Portland (or anywhere <1>
personally, I like Olympia a lot. We live in a friendly medium-density old neighborhood; I can bike to work, and I'm close to downtown & public transit. Portland & Seattle are both within reach. Our house is valued at about 170K for 1100-ish square feet with a fairly sizable backyard.

visiting is a great idea, but realize that you'll have a different experience once you live here. I've known several people, including 2 exes, who could not do the winter and have since moved back to So Cal, Texas, etc. but of course YMMV.
posted by epersonae at 1:40 PM on June 26, 2008

shoot. HTML formatting ate a paragraph.

Seattle/Portland, close suburbs = VERY expensive housing
posted by epersonae at 1:42 PM on June 26, 2008

I don't think you'll find what you're looking for in Ashland, Bend, Portland, Eugene, or Corvallis, but you may find what you're looking for outside those areas.

Ashland is great and very liberal. It's cold and snows in the winter but very warm in the summer and doesn't get too much rain. A lot of newcomers from California since the weather is so nice and it's dry.

Bend is nice but getting busy and going through some growing pains. Of all the cities above, it's probably the warmest in the summer (with Ashland a close second...) It's also probably the coldest and snowiest in the winter. It's dry out there in eastern Oregon and the area is conservative but Bend is an island of progress. A LOT of Californians moving there 'cause the weather is so good and it's driving up the prices.

Portland is great, I love Portland but it's a bigger city than you want. I think you could find what you're looking for in Corbett which is about a 25 minute drive East of town on the Columbia. Small town (very small), I get the feeling it's 50% conservative and 50% progressive. Mild weather year round but wet in the winter and spring. Additionally, Saint Helens (no where near the volcano...) is probably an option too. 50% conservative and 50% progressive but land is cheap and it's close-ish to Portland. Mild weather but VERY wet winters.

Eugene is nice, but maybe too big for you. You could find the land just out of town for what you're looking for and I'd suggest staying out of Springfield. Mild weather, snows only ever other year (maybe.)

Corvallis too is nice. It's more liberal than you'd imagine. When the college kids are gone (summer) it's grand. You could definitely find what you're looking for somewhere out of town. The one actual city that is probably what you're looking for (but you might need a car...) is Summit which is about a 45 minute drive into the Coast Range, West of town. It's very wet in the winter and spring as it is in the Coast Range, but the town is TINY and VERY liberal. There's a grange, a post office, a school, a general store, and a bunch of hippies.
posted by pwb503 at 7:48 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Adult grad gift ideas.   |   How to lock a music players playback controls? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.