The inspiration for our now nomadic lifestyle came about as we were evaluating our living situation in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. The high cost of renting, and even higher cost of home ownership, led us to the conclusion that if we wanted to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor, we would need to branch out geographically to do so. Since August 2017, we have been traveling around North America, while working remotely, to explore, broaden our horizons, and search for our new home! So far, we have explored most of the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and are now making our way through parts of the South. This is our second installment of the “Let’s Move There Series!”, the first highlighted the PacNorth region. Having completed our Southwest tour, now is a good time to pause, reflect, and write our “Let’s Move There!”- Southwest edition. For the purposes of our assessment, we have categorized the “Southwest” to include the states of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and the southern portions of California.
How these pieces work is that we will independently write a short blurb about which city we would move to, if we had to make a decision today, based on the highlighted region. Once we have finished writing our pieces, we will share them with each other (and you) to see how, or if, our choices align.
Without further ado…
We covered a lot of ground from October to December throughout Utah, southern Nevada, southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Targeting metro areas (due to its proximity to international airports and amenities) often means that we have to sacrifice seeing more remote places we would like to visit. As always, the list of places we wanted to see far exceeded the time we had to cover everything. Weighing factors of climate, geography, cost-of-living, proximity to an international airport, and nearby amenities, below are a few cities that stood out for me amongst our Southwest travels.
Park City, Utah. Having spent some time in Park City as a child, and was excited to share it with Cay. More than just great skiing and the home of the Sundance Film Festival, I love this small, vibrant, town for its natural beauty, urban flair, and relative progressiveness. Park City has a bustling downtown area that has preserved the historic look of a prosperous mining town. Park City places key emphasis on appreciating its natural resources. I really appreciate the thought and urban planning that went into shaping Park City, with a heavy emphasis on outdoor recreation space that includes the rehabilitation of an abandoned railway into a cycling/ jogging trail. Another drawing point is its close proximity to Salt Lake City, the state’s capital, and home to an international airport. Some of the key drawbacks for Park City would be its very high cost of housing, due largely to being exceedingly popular as a resort town for its skiing, the Sundance Film Festival, and hosting the Winter Olympics. Another deterring factor is that it gets extreme winters, which is something I am personally trying to avoid, having spent so many years living in Illinois with all the “lake effect” fun.
Cottonwood, Arizona was another spot that stood-out in our travels. Though it is smaller and more remote than most of the places we are “shopping”, I was enthralled with how fun and laidback this little community felt. Nestled in the high desert area amongst the towns of Jerome, Sedona, and Prescott, which attract more urban amenities and tourists, Cottonwood is a hidden gem amongst these more trafficked towns. Development plans have focused on revitalizing the existing downtown area and attracting new small businesses to increase growth. With numerous eateries, a local brewery, shops, and a dozen or so wine tasting venues (AZ has a wine country!), Cottonwood offers a vibrant social scene without the higher price tag associated with some of its neighbors. Situated in the high desert, it gets moderate seasons with the added benefit of trees and greenery, and it is only a 30-minute drive from the famed red rock country of Sedona. One of the big drawing points to this area is affordable housing. With its close proximity to so many sought-out destinations, I predict it is only a matter of time before Cottonwood becomes as popular a place to live as Prescott. The drawbacks to Cottonwood, are its remoteness in terms of access to a major city (Phoenix), airports, public transit, and shopping conveniences.
La Mesa, California would probably be my “Let’s Move There!” choice for the Southwest region, and an unexpected one at that! Having never heard of La Mesa before, I came across a mention of it while researching the greater San Diego area. Situated only about 30-minutes from San Diego, La Mesa offers the charm of a smaller town with the conveniences of a major metropolitan area. Having explored many of the surrounding San Diego suburbs, what stood out most in La Mesa was its charming downtown district with non-chain establishments. The downtown felt bustling with an attractive assortment of cafes, restaurants, businesses, and venues for going out, and the climate in the San Diego area is great for year-round enjoyment. Another big draw for La Mesa was that it has a trolley line stop, providing public transit options to San Diego, the airport, and surrounding areas. The greater San Diego area is appealing as well for its natural geography, providing close access to the ocean, mountains, and no shortage of nearby excursions and activities. The biggest deterrent to La Mesa, and California, in general, would be overcrowding/ congestion and the high cost of housing. Though not yet as bad as the Bay Area, SoCal’s housing costs far exceed what you would have to pay in most of the country. Having to fork over a lot more for a lot less, and having to compete in bidding wars, will be points of serious, serious, consideration if we decided to move back to California, but I sure do love the weather, diversity, and natural landscape!
As winter approached we headed towards warmer climates, and we got to explore the Southwest of the country. Red Rock, deserts, palm trees, and sun, so different from our time spent in the PacNorth. I’m not gonna lie, you are going to miss the green forests, the vegetated mountains, the rocky coast, and the clam chowder… but, not all hope is lost, the Southwest has so many treats and treasures to discover.
Personally, sunny days are something I cannot get bored of- days start with so much more energy and optimism when the sun is looking right at you. That’s probably the main reason why the South will always tip the balance for me. We’ve enjoyed so many different places in the Southwest that choosing a favorite place is such a hard task.
Park City or St.George, Utah. Starting in third place, and not far in distance from my second place pick, is Utah. Such a beautiful state North to South and vice-versa. With so much diversity and natural wonders, it’s really difficult not to fall in love with this place. While Park City is a more expensive choice, it’s a really attractive one because of how fun and outdoorsy this town is, and how different the mentality is there compared to the majority of the state. St. George, on the other hand, loses the snow activities but gives easy access to the “Big 5” parks and other areas we’ve really enjoyed in Northern Arizona.
Basic deal breakers for me here are: not being that close to an airport with international flights (for St. George) and being so far away from the ocean. I also have the feeling that the general politics and regulations that govern this state won’t sit well with us. So probably, we should stick to visiting Utah at any opportunity, enjoying everything it has to offer (which is a lot), while avoiding the summer crowds. But then again, this state is so beautiful…
North of Arizona: the Prescott / Cottonwood area. We had a great time here while we were making time to meet family during the Christmas holiday. Living in this area is not such a crazy idea: little fun towns to discover, perfect for different weekend trips, and most of all, not a crazy real estate situation, at least, not yet. Loving the outdoors as we do, breathtaking places like the Grand Canyon and the Sedona area are around the corner, with so many trails to get lost on, nature to enjoy in the different seasons, and endless sunrises and sunsets to view. And, in case we run out of ideas, easy access to other fun excursions out of state, like Las Vegas, Southern California, and the many natural beauties of Utah, are a BIG plus.
While all of that sounds great, the basic deal breakers mentioned above for Utah also apply here as well, but who knows, maybe we would be able to make it work?
Southern California: San Diego area / La Mesa. And finally, in first place, would be the San Diego/ La Mesa area. I know, such a surprise. It seems like since we left the state almost 6 months ago, we haven’t stopped thinking about coming back. We got the opportunity to do it after spending some time in Vegas, and got to explore the surrounding areas in San Diego, and even spend Thanksgiving in Palms Springs, such a treat! I mean, sun, palm trees, sunsets, ocean, California burritos, tacos… can it get any better? While Palm Springs and Indio were such a nice time, with little excursions to Joshua Tree, and everything we could ask for in terms of entertainment, it always felt more like a place one would pick to retire, filled with housing communities hidden behind their privacy walls. I guess the younger crowds arrive in summer for festival season. We were able to find reasonable housing in the Palm Springs area, but … I don’t think it’s for us, at least right now.
On the other hand, the San Diego area is somewhere I could really see us living. Many towns around the main city offer more reasonable prices in terms of housing, downtowns with many options to choose from and great little food spots. Truth is that traffic is horrible, probably not as bad as you would experience in LA, but close. La Mesa was, without a doubt, the suburb we enjoyed the most. Something we didn’t expect to discover was that La Mesa has good public transit that gets you to the Gaslamp Quarter in less than an hour. San Diego is a thriving city, with a growing tech community, an international airport minutes from downtown that can put you easily in LA, SF, or even Hawaii (!!!), and is surrounded by beautiful areas, like Coronado and La Jolla.
As with everything in life, you are gonna have trade-offs and I definitely would run out of fingers to count the things we would miss from northern California and the rest of the PacNorth. But, I think it was definitely worth spending some time living in areas of California and the Southwest that we hadn’t experienced before. Places where we could enjoy most of the things we’ve known and loved for the past few years, but without the constant idea in our head that buying a house is a “mission impossible” unless you win the lottery, strike it rich in tech, or enjoy a very long commute every, single, day.
It’s laughable and feels staged, but it looks like we were pretty much in total agreement with our Southwest choices. Since we didn’t share our thoughts with each other until after we had written our pieces, we were pleasantly shocked to see how similar our assessments were, especially given the fact that we each independently highlighted the same three areas! With more cities to add to our “re-visit list”, the search continues for our new home! Now, onto the South…