Tired of it all- leaving the Bay Area...where to go?

Hi BPN community, As much as we love our community here in Berkeley, my husband and I feel the demands of urban life in a high COL area are wearing us down, and we find ourselves talking more and more about leaving.  Mostly it is just that we are constantly living month-to-month on the meager finances we have with both of us working full-time.  (I'm tired of the elitist mentality here too...like everyone in the Bay Area is better than the rest of the world but that is a topic for another post...)  We don't have family here so that's not a factor.  I'm having a hard time articulating what I love and what I hate about the Bay Area, and wonder if there is a place we could live on less, but still have good weather (the WEATHER is one thing I love here!) and slow down a bit to enjoy life more.  We're considering a move to a smaller town, closer to nature, but are overwhelmed with the thought of researching a move to a whole new area.  I've looked at Stockton (yes, Stockton, CA), Truckee/Tahoe area, Reno, and some at Portland OR but feel like I don't know what exactly I'm looking for.  Have you left the Bay Area for greener pastures? Tell me about it...where did you go and why? How has it worked out for your family? I hope lots of people will weigh in on this...we'd prefer to stay in the Western part of the US but I'm open to hearing about any towns!

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A lot of the weather stuff comes down to how you feel about heat. If you just don't like the cold but can deal with extreme heat in the summer, than we have friends who moved to Austin and are very happy. My friends who moved to Portland are depressed by the gloomy skies, but don't have to deal with snow. Fresno or Modesto would be good too if you don't mind hot, hot heat. I am really only happy in between 60-85 degrees, so the Bay is the only place for us. We have a Mediterranean climate here that is practically impossible to find anywhere else in the US. I used to dream of living in Berkeley, but it stresses me out these days and is not at all the same place it was when I was a kid. I would seriously suggest looking into Pinole in West Contra Costa. You could BUY a house for under $600k in a great, family-friendly safe and quiet neighborhood. You can rent a nice three or four bedroom in the best neighborhood for under $3k easily. People are not snobby, it's an area full of hard working, middle class folks and we have amazing access to nature (Briones, the Ridge Trail, Kennedy Grove etc.) The schools in WCCUSD aren't ranked super highly but we've been happy in them after getting over our initial jitters. We often say that Pinole doesn't feel like the Bay Area, which might be exactly what you're looking for.

I've spent a lot of time in Eastern Washington in the past month. The Tri-Cities (that is, Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland) is vibrant and growing area. The weather is more extreme than here but not terrible; Eastern Washington is very dry so you don't usually get a lot of snow even when you get it. Spokane is a bigger city and on the liberal side for Eastern Washington (the whole area runs conservative compared to here, but then almost everywhere does). Walla Walla is a lovely little college town in the southeastern corner of the state. All have a much lower cost of living than here.

I could have written this post verbatim! My husband and I are moving to Sacramento from Berkeley for precisely the reasons you listed. Yes, there are a lot of great things about living here -- diversity, restaurants, cultural offerings, etc. -- but contrary to popular belief, the Bay Area does not have a monopoly on those things. I lived in Sacramento for a few years before moving to the Bay, and I have missed it ever since. It's safe, has great weather (ok, it gets quite hot in July/August but I can live with that), the schools are good, there are tons of biking/hiking trails, and the restaurant scene is great and only getting better. It also has some of the best coffee I've had in my life :-) Most importantly, the people are not nearly as pretentious as those in the Bay Area. As a Chicago native & Cal alum who has lived on both coasts (and many places in between), I can say that the people in Sacramento are among the most down-to-earth that I have met. I also have friends who live in Davis and absolutely love it for many of the same reasons. I highly recommend checking out the Sacramento/Davis area!

Hi,

My family (husband and 1.5 yr old) are planning to move to Richmond, VA. He has fam there, and I’m from MA. We just can’t justify the COL here anymore. Despite having a good income, it’s not enough to comfortably buy a house with good schools and a reasonable commute, plus save for college. It’s really changed out here in the 15 years I’ve lived in the Bay Area. I will miss lots of things, but hope this move brings us an easier, less complicated, life. Weather is hot in the summer. Winter is colder than here, but short. The city is liberal, schools in the county are excellent, and Virginia overall is a reliable blue state now. 

After many years of talking about doing it, my family and I finally moved away from the Bay Area two and a half years ago. We started out like you, wanting decent weather, but ended up moving to Kansas City, Missouri. We pretty much did a nation-wide search (on the Internet) and narrowed it down to Portland, OR and KCMO. We LOVED Portland but in the end we decided to go with the total financial game-changer. (My husband joked that they pretty much give you a house when you get off the plane in KC.)  The cost of living is SO much less. We're starting to get used to it, but we spent the first year or so just laughing at the price of gas (paid $1.95 a gallon for my last fill up). We bought a house in a beautiful neighborhood and our mortgage is significantly less than our Bay Area rent (and our house is twice the size).  We are able to save some money and overall feel financially stable which is not a feeling we ever had in the East Bay. Life is much simpler here. Errands are so easy - you pull up, find a parking spot on your first try, get what you need, wait in line with one or two friendly Midwesterners and then you're out of there. There's next to no traffic. The city has a great art scene and a very strong foodie culture. Many touring concerts and shows stop here and it's easy to go see them or our professional sports teams. (Every time we drive 20 minutes home from a Royals game we laugh about the time it took us nearly 2 hours to get back to Berkeley from a Giants game.) So that's the good news.

The hard part is that we miss the Bay Area weather and really, really miss our friends. That's for sure the hardest part. I built a lovely community over the 28 years that I Iived on the Peninsula and in the East Bay. (My husband grew up in Marin and has never lived outside of California until now.) It's been hard to recreate that community here. If we had moved when our son was younger, it may have been easier, but he started 4th grade a few days after we arrived. People are perfectly friendly, but I think it's just hard to move to a new place. Finally, the weather . . . this is our third winter and it's been the worst winter, weather-wise, that Kansas City has seen in 10 years. Oddly though, it's actually been easier for us than our first two winters here. We think we're starting to get the hang of it it in terms of what to wear and when to venture out. Overall, everything that we drove us nuts about the Bay Area is much better in Kansas City. On the other hand, much of what we did like is missing here.  In the end, we made the right choice for us because of the financial freedom and overall lack of stress. And now we have enough money to come visit every year!  Good luck with your search.

We have lived, what seems to be, your story. We returned to the Bay Area after living in Denver, NYC, Seattle and Portland. Then, we left...

Before you equate us to having some sort of location disorder, we had medical residencies, fellowships and a few opportunities to live closer to family (in Seattle and Portland) before the rain made us go crazy. So we ended up where we went to college, in the Bay Area. We loved aspects but we were worn down as well. We go back and forth because we don’t fully want to leave (for now)...but that’s not going to be sustainable for much longer. 

California (no knocking it, it’s freaking amazing in so many ways) just isn’t our jam (we thought it would be similar to how it was 15 years ago). Much of this has to do with schedules of being doctors, the cost of living (two surgeons aren’t doing so well here financially) and the cost-benefit of sitting in traffic. We checked into San Diego, but we ran into the same issues. Same with LA. Our friends tried to convince us to move to Sacramento, well El Dorado Hills. It was very nice, maybe something to consider. Stockton is blowing up it seems. It depends on what you’re looking for. My husband couldn’t do it (he’s move back to NYC if he could). Our friends love Stockton.

Oregon: Eugene has never been a place we’ve checked out in depth but many friends settled there and love. Bend could go either way. The joke is all of the Californians moved up and Californiafied it...whatever that means. I’ve been going there my whole life. It’s definitely changed but it’s pretty awesome. Portland is my true love but alas, I have too many connections to the public school system and it’s heading in a bad downward spiral. Lake Oswego and Beaverton are something to check into. And Camas in Washington. Growing up, Camas was not the place to be. Many friends have settled there, so we visit often and we are impressed. It’s suburbia - no doubt - but on the Columbia River, a beautiful drive down the Gorge or in the opposite direction, to Portland. Heading up to Washingon, there’s Spokane. Again, we don’t go there often but our friends who live there adore it. It’s better weather and great for outdoors (close to great skiing in Idaho). We have seriously considered moving to Bainbridge Island - just a 1/2 hour ferry ride to Seattle. We go back every year for the summer threatening to stay. It’s  just the damn rain that keeps us away. Mindset, though. Bellingham - my husband got a job offer there and I decided to visit last minute. It’s a hidden treasure and so close to the Canandian border. Other plugs: Boise. It’s not for me but people love it. The cost of living is still affordable (although that’s changing). We have another group of friends who moved to Reno...and love it. Haven’t been in ages but they love the tax benefits and outdoors (that seem to look like Arizona to me in pictures). And lastly, I fall in love with pretty much every part of Arizona when I visit. Boulder is always on my list. I turned down a job there and am kicking and screaming. Part of the problem is there’s so many great places. 

I don't have an answer for you, but I often feel the same way. However, my wife has family here and grew up here so we can't leave. But so many things are grinding me down: the expense, the commutes, the endless homelessness, the endless traffic, the "tech" attitude (and I work in it, have for decades) and sometimes the holier than thou attitude you speak of (and the dogmatic close-minded liberal attitudes of the gray-haired liberals). I dream of moving. That said, I do love many things. The weather! So many outdoor areas so close for hiking and photography. The food. The creativity and smarts and general open-mindedness. 

But I'm not sure anywhere else would be the place I'm looking for. All the good places might already be discovered or crowded or expensive or just have the right ratio of the things I enjoy. So we make do. All that said, I don't think the Bay Area is what it used to be. I'm not sure it would have the same appeal as when I moved here in the late 90s. 

Good luck in your decision. Maybe the place will come to you as if it was meant to be. 

My sister moved to Reno ten years ago after being priced out of the Bay Area and she loves it. We visit several times a year.  Reno is a 3.5 hour drive from the Bay Area with no traffic, all I-80 freeway, and there's a direct flight from Oakland on Southwest that takes 45 minutes, so if you miss the Bay Area you can still visit without much trouble. You can also take the Amtrak from Emeryville direct to Reno; it's a long but beautiful trip through the Sierra Nevadas.

Reno is a small town with something of a cowboy culture, but the university is there - it's big - and they have a Tesla and an Amazon and are actively recruiting more tech companies.  There's a steady stream of Bay Area transplants -  so much so that the politics, food, and culture in Reno are rapidly changing, not to mention housing prices going up, but still half what you'd pay in the Bay Area. We were just there a couple of weeks ago. There are so many new restaurants. We had dinner one night at a charming red brick former train station called the Depot that now is a small-batch distillery, and then we ate a foodie-friendly breakfast the next morning at a hotel downtown, Whitney Peak, that does not have a smoke-filled casino but does have a climbing wall and water bottle fill stations on every floor!  We often go to the jazz brunch on Sundays at the Reno Museum of Art. This is a small but lively museum with imaginative exhibits and a rooftop sculpture garden with a 360 degree view of the skyline.  Sundance Books just down the block is a big white Victorian packed to the gills with books and records, sort of like a cooler version of the old Cody's bookstore in Berkeley.  

Reno is pretty, surrounded by a ring of mountains, snowy in the winter. The Truckee River runs through the middle of town and there is kayaking and river walks. Reno is less than an hour away from Tahoe, and it is on the way to BurningMan too, if that's an interest.  In fact there are a few businesses in Reno that cater specifically to burners, like Junkee, our favorite place to pass an hour in Reno. The weather is snowy in the winter and hot in the summer, but because it is semi-desert and the air is so dry, you don't feel the heat or the cold as much. It is about 5000' elevation though, if that bothers you (it bothers me.) 

My nephew had a good experience in public middle school and high school in Reno, and U. Nevada Reno is tuition free for residents who have a high enough GPA in high school.

You might want to visit one weekend - just don't go on a 3-day weekend right now because you will get stuck in the Tahoe ski traffic on I-80 and it will take 7 hours instead of 3.5!

I wish I could respond to you privately, but just know that we feel the same as you do.  Have felt for 10 years, especially the Bay Area arrogance you mention. I’ve convinced my company to relocate us to the east coast next month, so we’ll have direct experience soon...

We moved from Berkeley to Davis and have been very happy so far. We actually found Davis as an idea on BPN, followed the suggestion in that post to visit on a Saturday farmer's market day or Wednesday picnic in the park and found what we were looking for.  We moved primarily for better schools but what we have found so far is:

1. Better schools. Not as good as east coast schools, but better than Berkeley. There is real school choice - neighborhood school, Spanish immersion, public montessori, project based learning, even a small farm school. Also much more support for individual learning needs. In addition, there are resources available that we didn't have access to in Berkeley, such a a very strong robotics program and free coding classes for girls. 

2. Lower crime

3. High bikeability

4. Numbers 2 and 3 mean that kids can have a lot of independence, which makes them happier.

5. Nice community. Having the university in town brings intellectual vibrancy and we feel the presence of the university in the community more so than we did in Berkeley. 

6. Responsive and quality public officials. We were able to have dialogues with people in the education department prior to moving, compared to the black hole we found at the Dept of Ed in Berkeley. Davis town leaders come to the farmer's market to collect feedback from the public, then will contact you and let you know how they followed up on your suggestion. This blew us away after our experience in Berkeley.

7. Great fresh food from local farms. Lots of greenery and farmland, yet Sacramento and San Francisco are both accessible by train.

8. Warm weather. Perhaps too warm in the summer, but great the rest of the year.

It's not inexpensive, but we paid about 30% less than we would have in Berkeley. Overall, it's been a good move for our family. The only things we miss are the restaurants and the lovely walks, but we can visit for those. 

Like the other person who responded, I was going to suggest a more low-key and low-cost part of the Bay Area like Martinez, which has a laid-back feel, cute and livable downtown and much lower housing prices. 

Outside the Bay Area, consider Davis, Woodland or Sacramento. I wouldn't recommend Stockton unless you've spent time there and have a specific reason for moving there. If you're interested in the Central Valley, Fresno has higher-ranked schools, lower crime, more amenities and better all-around quality of life (I've lived in both). Please PM me if you want to talk about living in the valley.

I've heard great things about Boise, Bend and Eugene. Still in the west, and lower cost but family-friendly, lots of outdoor living and things to do. If you really can't handle living in a cooler climate, then don't force yourself, but there is a lot to be said about experiencing all four seasons. :) Good luck!

You don't mention your profession, just that your salaries are "meager" - but they may be above average for your industry. I would research the work situation very thoroughly before a move out of area. I generally concur with the first poster about looking a little more at the edges of the Bay Area. I work in Martinez, which I think is a nice little town, and we looked seriously at Pleasant Hill when it came time to buy our first house. Benicia, Pinole, Hercules all may be worth a look too. (still get some fog, although all warmer than Berkeley, but not hot like Brentwood) My larger point being, my husband and I have had the same thoughts over the years, but when it comes down to it we really don't think we could replicate the diversity and liberal atmosphere of the Bay Area. You pay for that, of course, but to us it's worth it while raising kids.
 

Humboldt Bay area. Similar though more rain and greener, cheaper, with anything you can find here.

Another vote for Reno. Much more of a car culture so that takes getting used to. But there's a lot to love about it. The hiking is beautiful and you are close to Tahoe and Truckee for even more outdoor adventures. There are some good schools, and the public libraries and playgrounds are great. Weather is more extreme than the bay (hotter summers and colder winters) but the sun shines nearly all the time so that makes winter feel okay. Reno is getting a lot cooler and techier but still feels extremely affordable and unpretentious.

My 2 cents.  I moved to Berkeley to do my PhD and met my husband, who was living and working in SF. We got married, bought a house in Montclair, had kids. We made a community of friends we loved. Then half a year ago, we moved. So many of our close friends kept moving away. It made me sad. Then we decided on a third kid and since my husband works from home, we wanted more space. We also kind of felt that our beloved wood house on the side of the hill would eventually fall down (even though we did a seismic retrofit) or get swept up in a fire. We bought it in 2012 for $520k, put a couple hundred k into it over the years, and sold it in 2018 for $1350. For our new place, we wanted a functional school district and 3500 sq ft. Looking in Albany, Alameda and Lamorinda and just couldn’t find a house we liked enough to justify the prices plus CA taxes. So. We checked out Boulder and I loved the natural beauty in the bag. Surprisingly though, the houses feeding into schools in the catchments with the strongest schools were equal to or more expensive than the Bay equivalents. Same for the Seattle suburbs that we looked at (did two trips with a realtor). Prices there were jumping fast. In the end, we moved to the Mainline suburbs of Philadelphia. People here think we are crazy that we moved to a place without family or friends, since we could have gone anywhere. It takes 20 min to get downtown, less than a half an hour took us to get into downtown San Francisco.  There’s a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s, but God I miss Berkeley bowl. I miss Ethiopian food and Asian vegetables. We have a massive house now (7400sqft. For 1.75m). Ridiculous, actually. But beautiful and a joy to live in. The silly thing is that we ended buying a more expensive house than we set out to and (with a 30k property tax), so our cost of living is probably the same as if we had bought one of those 3500 square-foot houses in Alameda. The school here is supposedly very good, and just two blocks from us. There is a bus that picks up our kindergartner from in front of our house. However, we miss so much. We miss the diversity. They really miss our close circle of friends, smart, funny, down to earth, generous people whose kids and babies were growing up with our kids and babies. It seems harder to make friends here. There are a lot of lawyers and doctors and fewer people in Tech. Maybe we miss the nerdy bay area took types. There is definitely less racial consciousness and activism in these suburbs.  I haven’t seen a single homeless person in the Mainline. I have to drive to downtown Philly to get taken out of the Twilight zone with respect to that.It seems there are fewer people we want to be friends with yet here, but maybe that’s just because it’s a new place. I guess for us, the move was and just moving. It was also changing our lives from living very middle class in the bay area to feeling like we are suddenly raising our kids in a mansion/bubble and trying to prevent them from becoming entitled and out of touch that is surreal and weird.

 We moved out to the mainland suburbs of Philadelphia. I would like to add: something I didn’t expect but should have known was how much I would miss being outside. The weather is obviously a lot harder. But beyond that, people just don’t seem to hang out at the playgrounds. We used to spend our weekends at the farmers market in the playground in our neighborhood, but here, it seems that people have their own place structures in their own yards and that’s where they play. If you have a little kids, that might matter. We found that we played outside in our tiny little plot of land in Oakland much more than we do in our almost speaker yard here, because the weather was just so much more pleasant in Oakland. I miss the long walks outside. People just drive everywhere here.

I know, the cost of living is wearing us down too. We are seriously considering a move to Northern New Jersey, but that's because we have family there and I'm already having nightmares about winter. I'm terrified of how this will affect the kids -- the move, not winter. Anyway, I don't have much useful stuff to add. Just wanted to commiserate. 

One:  I've lived in SoCal in the past, specifically Huntington Beach, and if a mediterranean climate is the most important factor for your next home, you should check out LA, San Diego and the Central Coast.  No it isn't cheap but you can definitely find homes that are much less than Berkeley. 

Two:  I don't know your particular housing situation or desire but several friends determined that buying a condo or a town house was an acceptable compromise to a single family home if it could allow them to stay in the town they loved.  No it's still not cheap (and they don't feel very posh) but it's far more affordable than a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2000 sqft house they were fixated on for many years. 

Three:  If you need some help figuring things out here's a business I stumbled onto.  https://www.leavingthebayarea.com  (I have no affiliation or knowledge of this company.)