Who doesn't occasionally fantasize about what life would be like somewhere else?
My family resides in the Northern California Bay Area -- a place we love, a place we've called "home" most of our lives, and a place that people all over the country and even the world dream of living. But, weary of the high cost of living and the frantic pace of life here, we sometimes find ourselves wondering if some other place might hold the secrets to happiness.
My husband, Nick, would like nothing better than to set up shop in downtown Manhattan (cost of living and pace of life arguments notwithstanding). My fantasy place, on the other hand, is the hippest, artiest, most progressive, most affordable, friendliest little college town imaginable (with the best weather, too), which I realize probably doesn't exist. Still, I can't help but wonder if it's out there somewhere.
That's the appeal of Sperling's Best Places. The organization behind the annual "Best Places to Live" rankings (and offshoots like "The Best Places to Raise Kids," "Best Cities for Singles," "Greenest Places," "Healthiest Cities," and on and on) has an online quiz that lets you rank factors like climate, economy, housing, crime, arts and culture, education, population size, and recreation before tabulating your scores and spitting out a custom-tailored list of the best places for you.
Once you punch in your preferences and get your list of suggested cities or towns, you can learn more about their demographics, real estate market, cost of living, schools, political leanings, and economy -- as well as what the locals have to say (good and bad) about their hometown -- with a few clicks of the mouse. The site even has a nifty salary calculator that computes what you'd need to earn in other places to maintain your current standard of living. (Hel-lo St. Louis!)
The results can also be broken down by zip code if you want to zero in on a particular neighborhood. In our area, for instance, three-quarters of our neighbors vote pretty much the way we do (compared to less than half the nation as a whole), which makes us feel right at home in our left-leaning ways. Then again, the cost of living here is nearly double the national average -- so we're really not imagining things when it feels like we're just scraping by.
Still, the irony is not lost on me that the very place I live now consistently turns up as my top result. Perhaps I've already found my fantasy. Maybe there really is no place like home.
What's your Best Place?