Advice about Moving to the Midwest

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  • Places to move to in the Midwest

    (19 replies)

    Hi all,

      We are contemplating a move back to the Midwest to be close to my husband's family (Chicago area). We're looking for a town that has the following:

    good schools

    racial diversity


    lots of outdoor fun opportunities year round

    walkability/walking/biking culture

    kids can bike around without adults

    people who value recycling, composting, environmentalism, anti-capitalism, etc.

    Does this place exist? Any ideas?

    Thank you!!

    I grew up in Evanston, IL and it fits a lot of what you described.  Its a university town, with Northwestern there, and quite diverse and liberal with an easy train or El ride into Chicago.  My knowledge of it is a bit dated, but I loved growing up there.

    You should check out Ann Arbor, Michigan! It meets all of your criteria and has a wonderful community. Good luck! 

    My mom is from Evanston, IL and I grew up visiting during the summers and then also during Thanksgiving and wintertime. I'm not sure about the recycling, etc. part, but this city checks all the other boxes except maybe when it's snowing/too cold to be outside for too long; I don't think their winters are typically as bad as some other Midwest/East Coast cities though. It's a beautiful city and right on Lake Michigan.

    Hi there! I would highly recommend Evanston. It has racial diversity, college town, safe, very good neighborhood vibes, close to public transportation and most schools there are good. It's very liberal. I love all of the northern suburbs along the lake, but you get less diverse as you go up the shore -- Highland Park and Wilmette are awesome, for instance, but 98% white (Evanston is more like 70%). I personally know several families who live in Evanston (and I lived there too!) I also know the mayor of Highland Park really well and she is fighting for more diversity and equality - happy to put you in touch if you are interested. I will note that I am biased as I am a Northwestern grad :). The burbs get a lot more conservative as you head away from the lake. 

    I can't think of any towns that fit all that criteria (esp. "lots of outdoor activities year round"--midwestern winters can be pretty harsh, as you likely know already) but from experience Iowa City, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin might be worth looking into. Madison does have more diversity as it is a city, not a town, but has neighborhoods within it that are more "town" like and self-contained. I can't speak to the school situation there, though. Iowa City is smaller but it and nearby Coralville have a decent range of ethnic restaurants--and the presence of the University of Iowa lends cultural richness, so the city is less white than Iowa as a whole. That said--still pretty white. It's a liberal island in a fairly conservative state. Has the best bookstore in Iowa (Prairie Lights) and good K-12 schools. Cedar Rapids airport is near so flying in and out of Chicago is an easy, short flight. Good luck with your search!

    Sounds like Madison to me!

    But there are other college towns that would fit a lot of those categories - with the racial diversity being the most challenging on your list. Sure, many college towns are moderately diverse, but not compared to here. We are a mixed-race family, which is more rare in parts of the Midwest. I've also lived in Urbana, IL- which is has more of a smaller town feel than Madison, but if your jobs aren't affiliated with the University, there are less opportunities.

    Check out Evanston and maybe Oak Park. Not sure about "outdoor fun year round" -- when its 20 below, that may feel less appealing.  ;-)

    Hey! My husband and I grew up in Evanston, which is just outside of Chicago. It's got pretty much everything you're looking for. I'd check it out. If my husband's job wasn't so completely Bay Area-focused, I'd move back there in a heartbeat. It's a great place to grow up and live! If you want to ask any questions, you can email me at joey.harmon [at]

    Evanston, Oak Park

    Best place to live would be Evanston, Il 

    Hello, I moved here 2 years ago after 12 years in the Chicago area. A few things I think may be helpful:
    ~ By good schools do you mean public? If so, there are great public schools both in the city and burbs HOWEVER:
    ~ If you go public, and want some diversity (it will be less than the Bay Area esp black Americans - Chicago is still very segregated), I'd look at Oak Park, Evanston and Hyde Park. I love all these neighborhoods. Hyde Park is where Obama lived and U of Chicago. Oak Park is famous for Frank Lloyd Wrights home and studio, and pretty "liberal" by Midwest standards. Evanston is on the lake and gorgeous, good public schools and some diversity. A little pricier than Oak Park and Hyde Park. 
    ~ All the above, and city neighborhoods are walkable for the most part, but biking is biggest along the lake (lake trail). 
    ~ Portage Park is up and coming and super cute (so is Logan Square)
    ~ Once you get further out of the city (true suburbs like Naperville, Winnetka, etc) you'll lose the diversity and liberal leanings.
    Hope that helps! Diana 

    Many such places exist! In fact, I'd argue they're easier to find--and much, much more affordable--than in the Bay Area. Except maybe the "outdoor fun year round" part--depends on your hardiness for extreme heat and cold and how attached you are to mountains :D. 

    Basically, look for college towns. Champaign-Urbana, IL; Ann Arbor, MI; Madison, WI; Bloomington, IN; Oberlin, OH (very small). I've never been there, but have heard Lincoln, NE and Iowa City are nice (maybe not that diverse).

    You didn't mention if you're looking for urban, small-town, or suburban environment. If you want a city, Chicago has a lot of what you want--schools can be an issue, but city that size has a lot of different options. Some of its suburbs might be options. Milwaukee--similar, though smaller. Pittsburgh (if you consider that Midwest) has quite a buzz around it in recent years. Cincinnati seems to have a lot going for it (not sure about schools). 

    General advice: don't carry coastal attitudes about "flyover country" in your search. That's just baggage--drop it. The Midwest is rich, diverse (ethnically, racially, politically). A lot of progressive, social-justice, and sustainability ideas and movements have emerged from the Midwest and continue to do so. And I found the places I lived in that region much more community-oriented than the West Coast. You get out what you put in. 

    Check out Evanston and Oak Park Illinois.

    I grew up near Evanston. It might check a lot of the boxes you mentioned. I also have friends who live in Oak Park and it sounds similar to what you’re looking for.

    Good luck with the move!

    Evenston! Hands Down!

    Without a doubt.

    Well this isn't super close to Chicago, but you mentioned the midwest - Cincinnati seems to have an artistic diverse vibe. One area that appears really cute and walkable but may be too urban if you have a family is the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, with tons of cafes and shops that is also walkable to the downtown with its main library and other cultural things. 

    Right across the river (still walking distance or biking) is Bellevue KY. I had never thought of either of these places but a vlog I watch on youtube sometimes about an alternative family ("Fight for together") who live in Bellevue revealed how interesting the area is but not yet cutsified. Look at a few of their youtube videos, they walk to places or jog so you can see how easy it is to live there - both on the KY and Cincinnati side. Not sure on the weather but they pretty much live like that all year so somehow manage it.

    Seems like a lot of arty types around. I also came across this BBC bit on a family living in Cincinnati during covid and it also shows it has an interesting group of people there

    I have also heard good things about Fort Wayne IN - not for alternative or artsy but just affordable and safe. Doesn't sound like the downtown has yet revitalized but is undergoing some.

    It sounds like a college town would be up your alley. If you want to stay close, check out Evanston, IL. It's a suburb, but has a pretty dense walkable downtown that feels like a small city. Other northern suburbs are nice too, but I think Evanston is maybe the most progressive? I lived in Chicago 10-15 yrs ago, and Chicago itself tends to lean very democrat, but it's a different kind of liberal than, say, Berkeley... not really environmentalist or anti-capitalist at all. If you can go a little farther, consider Madison, Ann Arbor, or Minneapolis/St. Paul (not really a college town, but very progressive).

    I have no idea what "people who value anti-capitalism" means, but to your other points, I'd consider Evanston and Oak Park in the Chicago area, which is where I'm from originally.  Elsewhere, consider Madison, Ann Arbor, Iowa City, and the Twin Cities.  I've also heard great things about Columbus, OH.

    We just moved here from St. Paul, MN. It's pretty liberal, quite diverse (my kids went to our neighborhood public school where students of color comprised about 50% of the children), and really green (we lived by Como Park, which has a lake, zoo, conservatory, and a small amusement park).  We loved our neighborhood but I will tell you, once you go outside of the blue bubble of the Twin Cities, not even 10 minutes out you will encounter Trump signs, racist folks (yes, I am a POC and my POC friends/family and I regularly encountered it inside and outside the cities), bigotry and many, many small-minded people who have never been outside of MN.  Just being real. 

    I was thinking Evanston and Madison as I read these responses. Thought this may be of interest:

    Ignore the folks who caution you won’t be outside, simply isn’t true with kids especially. Yes it will be different activities but warm layers have changed greatly and now are so much less bulky—be sure to outfit yourself well too so you can be out with your family. No it won’t be 68 and sunny in January but it was always amazing to me how “warm” 38 and sunny can feel and that fresh air feels amazing! 😊

    You will find like minded folks and though you may not check off all those boxes, maybe you can bring that change to an open and receptive community or those needs/wants may change once you are out of the Bay Area. 

    All the best! 

  • Moving to the midwest

    (8 replies)

    My husband wants to move closer to his aging parents in the midwest. Where should we consider? Where can we move that has diverse schools, people we will like, and very bikeable/walkable? We don't have friends anywhere so we'll basically be starting from scratch and I don't want to move someplace where everyone else grew up there and has no need for new friends. My in-laws live in a mostly white suburb, so I'm not interested in moving to their town. I'd also love to have good access to outdoor adventures like camping and skiing if possible.


    Look at university towns: Ann Arbor or Madison come to mind if diversity is a priority. Maybe Iowa City or Champaign/Urbana.

    Michigan has plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities at low cost so Ann Arbor might be the top contender there.

    If you want to be closer to a big city, maybe Evanston, IL as well. 

    You didn't say what state, but consider the flagship college town of the state your in-laws are in. Examples: Champaign-Urbana, Madison, Ann Arbor. I've lived in a lot of places in the midwest, and these towns are always getting new people and are more diverse than the areas around them. There are great restaurants, good schools, and it's very walkable/bikeable. Madison is better than Champaign for outdoor adventures (in my opinion) awesome hiking trails and there are ski hills an hour away. Plus, housing is affordable!

    If it meets your geographic requirements, Pittsburgh is a great city! I lived there for 4 years and would move back happily if it wasn't for the weather. I think it has a lot of what you're looking for. Feel free to contact me for more details and good luck!

    I think you'll have to give a little more detail about where you want to be close to (or easy access to) than "midwest" - that encompasses a pretty big piece of the country, and road and transit connections vary quite a lot.  

    The Midwest covers a pretty big region but since you don't specify I'll put in a word for the Twin Cities in MN.  It's still majority white--that's going to be true for most midwestern cities--but as these cities go they're pretty diverse, especially St. Paul. There's are Hmong, Somali, Mexican, AA, and NA communities.  Lots of outdoor activities and a strong arts culture.  Nice people too!.  Winter sucks but they have it all worked out.  Good luck.  I'll be interested to see what others recommend.

    Bikeable/walkable will most likely be a seasonal thing - but I know people in Chicago that do it year-round. 

    Your request for camping and skiing made me think of Minnesota and Michigan. I have a cousin who went to school in western Michigan so he'd be able to ski. Minnesota has XC skiing. Both states have lots of open space. You'll probably find more transplants in cities rather than the suburbs. 

    "The Midwest" is pretty darn big, too. If the goal is to be closer to your in-laws, you may want to start your search from there and go out an hour, two hours, three hours drive and see where you might go. 

    -Grew up in Illinois

    Would suggest looking into Minneapolis, Iowa City, or Kansas City.  Possibly Indianapolis too. I have spent time in and like all of those places. I've also heard good things about Madison, WI and Oak Park, IL.

    As others have said, you will need to narrow down your search. The Midwest is vast and diverse--culturally, economically, ethnically, and, yes, even environmentally (it's actually not all flat!). Roughly 1000 miles across, I'd say. And keep in mind that distance has to be measured not just in miles, but in convenient access to hub airports. 

    College towns are a good bet, if you're looking for a small, manageable community, easy to get around, lots of interesting people and things to do (if you have intellectual interests). There are many, many college towns in the Midwest, far more than in the West--most of the liberal arts colleges are out in the countryside. But they are small, with all that that implies.

    The small cities around flagship universities like UW-Madison, UI-Urbana-Champaign, UM-Ann Arbor, maybe include Iowa City, Bloomington, IN, Lincoln, NE. They have more ethnic diversity, more jobs than just university-centered ones, usually better public transportation, and just generally more cosmopolitan, of course--yet still WAY more low-key than the Bay Area (to my mind, an entirely good thing). You'll usually find that community co-ops, activist organizations, etc. thrive in these places, and that there is a very pro-community vibe. Still small, though, compared to what you're used to, and air travel can be a pain in the butt, with limited flights (often delayed) to hub airports. 

    The cities of the Midwest are, not to overstate the obvious, very cosmopolitan. I *adore* Chicago. One of my favorite cities anywhere. Yes, the weather sucks and there are no hills, much less mountains (there's a giant lake, though!), but there is so much going on--in arts, activism, politics, culture. Pick an area of interest and you'll find a committed community around it. I find that Chicagoans are much more invested in their cultural institutions and community organizations that people in the Bay Area--invested with time and $$. It's pretty easy to get around: flat and walk/bikable when the weather is decent (lots of greenbelt bike trails), and a good network of rail (2 systems) and bus.  

    For reference, I lived about 15 years in the Midwest, plus family roots there, covering about 4 states. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, however, and have been back on the West Coast a few years now.