Moving to Ithaca

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Moving to Pasadena vs Ithaca - pros and cons?

June 2007

Hi there, We are a young family (one kid, 1 year old) and we have two job offers: one in Ithaca NY, and another one in Pasadena, CA. We are having a terrible time choosing. Both places have their up- and down-sides. Anyone have any opinions or recs based on concrete experience in either of these places? Things we care about are good food (though restaraunts aren't critical), decent living on one income, friendly neighbors and community, playing outside (kids on the street, good playgrounds and access to hikes etc), public schools, not having to drive everywhere, and crafts community (I am an artist; I work mostly with fiber). As a mostly at home mom, will I be able to find my people in either place?? Many thanks. Up in the air; hoping to land soon

I know next to nothing about Pasadena or Ithaca but I have a theory I wanted to pass on to you. I think that the worse the winter is in a place, the higher the quality of life (other than the winter weather, of course.) I think weather extremes bring out the best in people. So, if being near family is not a consideration, I would vote for Ithaca. (I do know one Cal prof. who moved from Berkeley to Cornell and he and his wife are very happy in Ithaca.) Anon

disclaimer - I don't know either. But, in the process of working on a project here in Oakland ( came across lots of great info from this place and its amazing resources. Sounds really neat. best wishes to you and yours wherever you end up. Penny

We lived in Ithaca for one year in 1998-99 (at the time, my kids were 5 and 9), so my info is a little old, but here goes - FOOD - plenty of tasty restaurants (though not Chez Panisse); great coop food store (, open to all, with a relative bounty of bulk and organic foods, including in-house prepared items; terrific (though seasonal) farmers' market.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS - like most in NY State, well funded, relatively small classes, high test scores; less racial diversity than here, but fairly socio-economically diverse; overall decent.

HIKING, PLAYING - absolutely gorgeous hiking in the vicinity (fingerlakes, gorges, state parks, etc); can't remember playgrounds; some very family-friendly neighborhoods in town, with kids outside, but lots of more spread-out housing, too, with less of that; some less pleasant neighborhoods.

DRIVING - If you live right in town, you can walk to some things, but in practical terms, everyone drives everywhere (one reason we came back here).

COST OF LIVING - quite moderate compared to here, but not as cheap as some. Plenty of single-income families.

CRAFTS - Sorry, I can't comment on that,

OTHER - Great kids' museum ( and nature center; airport just 10 minutes from town center (mostly service by US Air); to drive anywhere else, count on it taking an hour, on windy two-lane roads, just to reach the freeway (it's about 4 hours to NY City); ice hockey is very big among the youth; in addition to the obvious winter cold and snow, it is VERY gray most of the year, so consider this if any of your family is sensitive to this (another reason we returned); like all university towns, there is, relatively, a lot going on during the academic year (theater, dance, music, etc.); the mall has all the usual mall stores; downtown had some nice little shops, but I believe it's been experiencing difficulties in recent years.

In general, we found the people very friendly and welcoming, and the nature really beautiful. I've never been to Pasadena, so can't compare. Our overall impression was that Ithaca is ''pretty nice for a town of 30,000 in the middle of nowhere, but it's still a town of 30,000 in the middle of nowhere!'' R.K.

So I guess weather is not a consideration for you at all??? I'd go for the sun

I just came back from a trip to Pasadena-there are some nice areas, but the school system is not good, and you definitely have to drive to go anywhere. People are friendly, but neighborhoods do not feel cohesive-you hardly ever see a pedestrian. I have also spent time in Ithaca-it's beautiful, nice college town with good restaurants (the Moosewood is there), gorgeous scenery. It's got a long winter, and is remote-not near any big city. I personally would pick Ithaca over Pasadena-it feels much more like a community.

My cousin now lives in Minneapolis, but while her husband was in grad school at Cornell they lived in Ithaca. I forwarded your question to her, and here is her response:

Ithaca is an amazing place for families. I love Minneapolis, but if David's job and family weren't here, we'd seriously consider Ithaca. Kids are welcome everywhere. There are tons of kid-oriented activities, from children's theater, to the science museum, to activities in the park in the middle of town every week during the Tuesday farmer's market. There is a commons in the middle of town, with a fountain, surrounded by small shops and restaurants, where people hang out night and day during the warm months. Various festivals, dances, protests and other community activities take place here.

There are many good restaurants, in part because Cornell has a hotel school. I believe I once read that Ithaca has the most restaurants per capita of any town in the US.

Ithaca is EXTREMELY liberal and green. There is a lot of community involvement, so it's not hard to meet people by participating in the many community projects and groups. Home schooling, home birthing, organic food, social justice, communes, trade issues, alternative medicine, breastfeeding advocacy - whatever the cause, Ithaca probably has people who share it.

Whew, I really could gush on and on about how great Ithaca is.

Nicole R.

I have no experience with Pasadena, except for visiting the Rose Bowl, and what I know of So Cal weather. And It has been a long time for me as well, but I think Ithaca is a fabulous place in part because it is ''remote''. During the school year the universities do a lot to bring in ''culture,'' many of which are fun for kids. Mostly, though, the Ithacans, are the main draw...they are a bastion of liberalism in a sea of more conservative views. In addition to the environmental consciousness, (and access to great hikes, etc), my favorite part of Ithaca is the barter system or Ithaca alternative currency based on one hour of labour. I love that they have put it into practice, and are actually using it! When I was there, the mayor was a socialist, and he was great, often visible in local restauraunts or sledding down the hills with locals. The schools are good, and at least the high school I know has some ties to Cornell, for certain programs. I think Ithaca would be a great place to live. Shahana

I've been enjoying life in California for 5 years, but I grew up in the Northeast in the New York metropolitan area and and then attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Ithaca was a change from the NYC area, but I grew to love it. I had a moped and a car and enjoyed driving around to explore the natural beauty of upstate New York. I have never seen as many stars at night as I did then. I still have some of the best memories from those days on my moped, especially in fall. I also heard from various people that it is a great place to raise a family. Now that I have a family, I can understand. I think it would be idyllic. My older cousins raised their children in Ithaca while completing grad school and they were all very happy there. Even though it is isolated, it does have some cosmopolitan touches, which I experienced mostly through the campus--art, music, theater, visiting speakers. I also had a favorite cinema in downtown Ithaca that was like something you'd find in Gree! nwich Village, NYC. (Don't know if it's still there.) I lived off campus in Collegetown, which was changing a lot with many new restaurants and updated stores. I visited it in '98 and it had changed a little, but I imagine that by now there have been even more changes. As for the snow, you just can't be afraid of snow, but if you're coming from California, it's understandable. Just remember humans are very adaptable and you'll get used to it. You will have appropriate clothing and hats and gloves and you will be fine along with everyone else who lives in Ithaca. I love snow and winter and had the best snowball fights under the stars with friends. Would I want to live there now? No, I prefer to live near a big city and near family, but if I HAD to live there, I wouldn't be unhappy. (I don't know if this helps, but when I visited UMichigan Ann Arbor, it felt a lot like Ithaca but without the beautiful hills and gorges.) NY State of Mind

(for more responses to this question, see Pasadena )