It has been several months since we have written a “Let’s Move There!” piece, and by now, we have wrapped up our explorations of the Southeast and Gulf states. Having spent the last 23 months living on the road and weaving our way around the US, we have been documenting our travels and noting our favorite spots all to help to pick our potential (future) home. We have explored the West Coast up through British Columbia, the Southwest, some of the Midwest, all of the New England territory, the mid-Atlantic region, and have now completed the remaining Southeast and Gulf states.
This is our fifth installment of the “Let’s Move There!” series, the first highlighted the PacNorth region, the second covered the Southwest, the third touched on Part 1 of our Southern tour, and the fourth summarized the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. It is time to write this fifth installment while it is still relatively fresh in our brains, which will cover North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Taking time to pause, reflect, and write, here is our “Let’s Move There!- the Southeast & South Part 2” edition.
How these pieces work is that we will independently write a short blurb about which city (or cities) 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…
By now, I have completely lost count of all the places we have visited and seen, and truthfully, some of them are starting to blend together, making it hard to always remember each spot as an individual. While our exposure to new areas has broadened along with our appreciation for these different regions and experiences, my values in evaluating a city as a future home have largely remained the same. Areas that strike a good balance of urban & suburban still appeal to me more than large skyscraper jungles or “kiss cell phone service goodbye” remote vastness. Access to amenities, culture, dining diversity and educational institutions are very important to me. Close proximity to an international airport for ease of mobility is still a high priority. Housing affordability in the single-family home market is crucial. We want to carve out our own space, free of shared walls or neighbors, and are ready to graduate from communal dwelling spaces.
Impeccable timing as ever, we began exploring North Carolina just after it got slammed by Hurricane Florence and was about to welcome the aftermaths of Hurricane Michael. While dodging storms modified some of our travel, we were largely able to reach all the areas we had planned to cover. North and South Carolina are strikingly beautiful states offering both mountain and coastal cities. Asheville was everything we had heard, and delving into the street art, craft breweries, and natural scenery there was so much fun. However, it is situated far from any major airport, and I am slightly turned off by all the hype it is getting and prefer to settle somewhere that doesn’t feel like all the cool kids are flocking too.
While sadly devoid of mountains and ocean, but situated within driving distance of both, the city of Durham, NC struck me as a potential area of interest to explore further. One of the main prongs in NC’s “research triangle”, Durham is a small urban oasis with all the amenities of a small city, and home to Duke University, with all that, comes with a major university town. Composed of various neighborhoods building up around the University and downtown, Durham still offers reasonably priced single-family homes in close proximity to a growing downtown scene and is situated between the coast and the mountains to offer easy weekend retreats into nature. Repurposed buildings, such as old garages turned music venues and old tobacco factories turned into shops and eateries, has helped to promote a growing downtown scene without losing character and historic architecture.
Being in close proximity to Raleigh and Chapel Hill expands the offerings of the region and situates it near an international airport. Being near so many universities is also a great draw for cultural events, jobs, and innovation. And while it is not in the mountains or on the coast, its location in the middle of the state helps to insulate it a little from coastal hurricanes and mountain storms. Our time in Durham was short but lasting, and it is my 3rd place choice to revisit as a possible home for this region.
Tied as my first/ second place choice, I am torn between St. Augustine, FL and Savannah, GA. Both cities offer similar climates and are dripping in character and charm. The oceanside city of St. Augustine, FL is one of the very few cities in the US that feels distinctly European. The central hub is a historic downtown corridor bustling with shops and eateries lined along narrow, European-style roads. Horse-drawn carriages circle the city and promenade along the waterfront with ease along these narrow streets. Stately homes built to replicate Moroccan riads and Moorish flairs adorn downtown municipal buildings and Flagler College, bringing a colorful and unique style to this small American city. Spanish explorers laid the groundwork for the city, and their signature is on display everywhere you see coquina stone- most prominently in the city’s crown jewel, the Castillo de San Marcos. St. Augustine is even home to a fabled “fountain of youth”.
The older residential neighborhoods are lined in gnarly live oaks, casting shade and intrigue. The city itself has such beauty and charm that it feels like an escape into another world. Located not too far from Jacksonville, FL, access to more urban amenities, like an international airport and major shopping is not too far away. Home prices are mixed, with affordable options still in the area. With a more limited job market directly in the area, that would be one of the prime considerations to weigh if moving to St. Augustine.
Tied with St. Augustine is the larger city of Savannah, GA. I am captivated by the dramatic live oak trees covered in Spanish moss, and there is no shortage of this in Savannah. One of America’s older cities, the preserved architecture and layout gives the city its unique charm. Designed like a European grid, the old town region of the city contains a park/square every couple of blocks, infusing green space into the urban setting. Each park we visited contained monuments and fountains, and many of the old roadways are still lined in cobblestones. There is a fun waterfront district of old warehouses turned shops and eateries.
Savannah occupies prime real-estate along Georgia’s very small coastal region and offers up all the amenities of a big city coupled with small-town charm. Being a larger urban center than St. Augustine, there is more in the way of jobs, but also lacks infrastructure for major public transit in the region. While the iconic townhomes in the historic district of Savannah are way out of our budget, most of the surrounding neighborhoods away from this historic district offer a decent listing of affordable homes. The Savannah/ Hilton Airport advertises itself as an “international airport”, but I imagine most major flights abroad will need to connect out of Atlanta or other larger airports, nearby. Lack of major transit for commuting and air travel options would be something to consider if moving to Savannah, and for both Savannah and St. Augustine, we would want to experience the heat of summer there, before making any final decisions.
It is time to take a look back and remember all those places we visited in the second half of 2018. Our southeast leg was fun, filled with adventures, breakdowns, unexpected new places… Coming up with the top 3 of favorite places is not an easy task, so I had to take a look at pictures, notes, and bookmarks we made during that time to refresh my memory.
At number 3 comes St. Petersburg, FL, one unexpected location that we enjoyed exploring during our time in the West Coast of Florida. Not too far from Tampa (extra points for having an international airport) and from other locations we enjoyed, like Homosassa and Crystal River to the North (Manatees!) and beautiful Naples and the Everglades area going South.
We first entered this town driving through one of the Tampa Bay bridges during sunset, which made for one spectacular welcome. The town itself has a young “vibe”, with lots of art, a fun downtown and activities happening. We were lucky to visit the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection, two must-do activities if you have the opportunity, with a really informative and fun glass blowing demonstration.
One of the drawbacks would be the weather during the Summer in Florida and the lack of mountains and trees, but something that could be probably forgotten with the amazing coastline and the reasonable housing market.
Savannah, GA, is amazing. There is no question about it. We were lucky enough to spend a week getting lost in the cobblestoned streets, surrounded with oak trees covered in Spanish moss. The Spanish influence is everywhere (extra points for that!), you can see it in the architecture, the city squares… And while this is a touristy spot as one would expect, with horse carriages and trolley tours, you can still see a lively local community, with a central point in Forsyth Park. Watching the big ships make their way to the sea through the river that separates the city from South Carolina was a little treat, as was walking through the old town area.
A big drawback would be again the lack of mountains and the distance to the closest international airport (Charleston, Jacksonville… Atlanta…) A plus would be that the housing opportunities are still affordable and charming, although more expensive as we get closer to the old town area, as expected.
After hearing so many good things about it, Asheville was on our list of cities that we wanted to try, and it didn’t disappoint. While the previous two towns are places I wouldn’t mind living in with a remote job, or when living my days of retirement… reality says that tech areas should be the focus of my attention. Asheville is a perfect compromise of outdoors, adventure, corkiness, and tech opportunities, but it’s probably a train that has already departed.
The housing market may be a challenge, a lot of people have already discovered the marvels of this area, and it shows. But if that wasn’t a problem, this would be an amazing place to live. Great downtown, breweries, eateries, lots of activities and events going on, open-minded population, access to lots of nature (Frugal Backpacker would have us covered!), and proximity to other tech/university areas like Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, etc… These would be good “plan B” options, with an honorable mention for Durham, a university kind of town that we really enjoyed and would be a good investment.
That’s it! Again, there was a lot of cross-over in areas highlighted with some unexpected divergences. While all these options would be fantastic places to live, we are finding that our hearts and wheels are bringing us back towards the West. Nonetheless, we feel really lucky to have been able to experience these areas almost like a local would do, albeit, briefly. This is exactly what makes our experience over the past two years so worth it.