Dateline: Emerald Hills, 4/28/08
For several years I've been wishing to live in a place where I could walk to stores, restaurants, cafes. I love our house. We have amazing views, and it's nice to be able to walk to Edgewood Park. But I've found that I do more walking when the destinations are more practical. For example, there was the day last summer in New York when I walked 6 blocks through a downpour because I wanted a chopped salad for lunch. And I get tired of having to get into the car whenever I want a Starbucks iced latte, which is almost every day.
Thanks to the New York Times Magazine's green issue, I discovered a website that will help us find a walkable place to live, if and when we decide to move to a retirement spot. Given an address, Walk Score calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on the number of nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Our address got a dismal walk score of 12. My brother's address in Manhattan scored an almost-perfect 98. I was surprised it wasn't 100, because I imagine that anything you could possibly want is within walking distance when you live in 10021. For my mother's two addresses, Florida scored 38 and Forest Hills, Queens 86. My cousin Jeffrey's house in Ridgewood, NJ got a 48.
Just for fun (since we're not seriously looking to move right now; we've talked about it a lot over the years but haven't been able to make a decision) I somewhat randomly selected two houses that are currently for sale in each of the 4 California towns that come up most often when we talk about retirement spots, and looked up their Walk Scores:
Pacific Grove: 35 and 52
Half Moon Bay: 60 and 28
Cambria: 9 and 9
Sebastopol: 5 and 2
Apparently we could greatly improve our Walk Score by moving to Pacific Grove or Half Moon Bay. Both of these coastal towns also rate high on the other criteria I use in evaluating possible retirement places:
Yarn and Beads: Both towns have good yarn stores, Monarch Knitting in PG and Fengari in HMB. I don't know about beads in PG, but I know that HMB has at least one gift and jewelry store that also sells some beads.
Coffee: HMB has a Starbucks and recently acquired a Peet's. PG doesn't have chain coffee houses, but it has a very good cafe that custom brews individual cups of drip coffee, and there is a Starbucks in nearby Monterey.
Proximity to a large city (preferably San Francisco): HMB is on the San Mateo coast, and has the advantage that it's only about 15 miles from where we live now. I could easily continue activities such as knitting and beading groups. PG is farther away, but still only an hour and a half drive from where we live now.
I think we could find houses with better Walk Scores in Cambria and Sebastopol, but we would have to look harder. I love Cambria, which is on the coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but I've always felt that it was too isolated to live in. Sebastopol, north of here in Sonoma County, is one of my favorite day trip destinations. It's not quite as attractive to me since Sandi Rosner closed her store, the Knitting Workshop. But it still has lots of nice shops, including Buddies, a unique clothing store with a phoning list instead of a mailing list. Every once in a while I get voicemail telling me that they're having a sale and I should come up to Sebastopol. There's also Hard Core, an outdoor coffee shop that advertises "outrageous organic espresso".
After Jim retires in a few months, we'll start to think more seriously about whether or when we should move. And I'll use Walk Scores to help us find a spot that will satisfy my craving for places to walk to.