We’ve been in Charlotte for three years + things I miss about living in Northern California

It’s official, we’ve been in Charlotte for three years! Let’s mark the occasion and talk about what I miss about living in Northern California and make some comparisons between the two places.

On January 6th, 2021, Dave, Brady, Rudy and I arrived at the airport in Charlotte from California, with a few suitcases and the address of a 30-day AirBnB reservation. Looking back now, I’m pretty impressed we had the confidence to make the jump with only 30 days of living arrangements secured, but we did. We were eager for change, and when the opportunity to move to Charlotte came up (Dave got a job offer here), we jumped on it. I had a gut feeling it was right for us, and it turns out, it sure was.

I still field this question — “what do you miss about living in Northern California?” — all the time, and so I thought this topic could make a great post — knowing that I’ve written a lot about our life in Charlotte over the last three years. (Quick point of history: Dave and I met in Orlando, Florida and then moved to San Francisco, California shortly after getting married. We stayed in California for eight years before relocating to North Carolina. Therefore, North Carolina is my third state of residence over the course of my life.)

First of all, let’s get this straight: We have zero regrets about our move to Charlotte. We love living in Charlotte, and we hope to live here a very long time in our same home and same neighborhood. Our life is great now, and it truly seems like we were meant to move here when we did, especially because it all worked out for my mom to move just 10-minutes away from us about a year-and-a-half after we arrived. Charlotte has been good to us, and it’s our favorite place we’ve ever lived together.

Miss about living in Northern California by A Lady Goes West

But, our Northern California life was such a cool thing for us to experience together, and I’m 100 percent glad we did it — it was an adventure. I will always cherish so many of the memories we made during eight years of living in California too. And I will definitely cherish what living in California did for the trajectory of our lives. I showed up in California as a public relations strategist and writer who taught classes on the side, and I left as a full-time group-fitness teaching blogger. I’ve never gone back to visit California (Dave has gone several times for work trips), and I don’t have any plans to do so soon. I feel like that chapter is fully closed, and I haven’t really wanted to revisit it. Today, we’re doing a mini-revisit, and I’m going to talk about some of the things I miss about living in Northern California.

Before we move on, if you’re interested in the topic of moving, I’ve covered a lot of specifics about our move and life transition in the following posts:

Now, let’s get to the things I miss about living in Northern California …

We’ve been in Charlotte for three years + things I miss about living in Northern California

We've been in Charlotte for three years + things I miss about living in Northern California by A Lady Goes West

While you can have a satisfying and fulfilling life in pretty much any city, these are my reflections and thoughts on how it worked out for me in Northern California. We each have different experiences, wants and needs, and therefore — think of this merely as entertainment, not the gospel.

Northern California has more beautiful outdoor spaces and scenery than Charlotte does.

Living in Charlotte is awesome, and we love so much about it. But Charlotte is not naturally very pretty, in my personal opinion. There are some parks and greenways for walking in nature, but they are absolutely nowhere as scenic as even the smallest park in the Bay Area of California where we lived. And after a while of being here, we stopped trying to find really nice outdoor experiences, so we just walk in our neighborhood if we’re in the mood to get outside.

Walking outside by A Lady Goes West

From where we lived in Walnut Creek, in the East Bay of California, we were literally five minutes from gorgeous hilly hikes, we were 45 minutes from the redwoods and we could see mountains in the distance from our backyard. Arguably, where we lived was one of the most scenic places you can live … so I had no doubt we wouldn’t match it. And I would say, I do miss that beauty sometimes. (Yet, what Charlotte has is much nicer neighborhoods, and we do benefit from that majorly. You wouldn’t believe how many nice neighborhoods there are all around Charlotte.)

During our last nine months in California (during the COVID situation when there wasn’t much else to do), we did a lot of family walks in nature and at parks. I liked having that option. Here in Charlotte, it’s far too hot for that type of thing in the summer, and you have to go too far to get to pretty stuff. It would be nice if we had a go-to scenic hiking spot near us. There are a couple places north of us we’ve yet to try, but they aren’t super close. We need to get back to exploring, once the spring hits, because I’m sure there’s a lot we’ve yet to see. I will say that both spring and fall in Charlotte are incredibly pleasant, and I love to be outside then. 

I can’t fail to mention that the air quality in the Bay Area was not doing well when we left though, and even with all that natural beauty, sometimes you couldn’t be outside — oftentimes the air was unsafe from nearby fires and even pollution. That’s a real shame. Air quality is never an issue here. 

Ashley and Brady on the trail by A Lady Goes West

My hair looked better in the dry California climate.

Insignificant? Silly? Superficial? Perhaps, but here we go … Because the air in Northern California was usually dry, that lack of humidity was a good thing for this naturally curly/frizzy-haired gal. For eight years in California, my hair looked fairly smooth and in place. In fact, my hair was in great shape out there (until the very end, when I started shedding a bunch of hair from the stress of COVID, our pending move and the loss of my dad, all at the same time, but that’s not the point today). 

Well, in Charlotte, it’s pretty humid most of the time, and my hair has struggled big time. When I style my hair, no matter the amount of product I use, when I go out and about — the style fades and the frizz comes in, and the hair puffs. It’s so annoying. Because it never stays how I want it, I tug at it, I use more product and more heat, and ultimately I’ve caused some damage.

I also miss my hair stylist in California, who was the best of the best. I’ve tried a lot of stylists here and no one comes close to her. Also, fun fact: Even though almost everything in California costs more than in Charlotte, getting your hair done is the exception. It’s amazing how much stylists are charging here, and they are all booked up too. I guess I just haven’t found the right one for me yet, so I’ll keep looking.

First ladder tennis season by A Lady Goes West

The easy and healthy fast-casual meal options in Northern California far exceed what you can find in Charlotte.

So you thought my hair point was silly? Hear this: One of the other very big things I miss about living in California is the Avocado & Quinoa salad from Mendocino Farms. I dream about that meal. There are no Mendocino Farms locations in Charlotte, and I’m guessing there never will be. It’s a California brand through and through (although upon research, they do have some locations in Texas these days, so that’s promising).

The Lights Cafe brunch by A Lady Goes West

I’ve said over and over again that the food is not as good in Charlotte, and it’s not. We have some go-to decent healthy fast-casual lunch options here (which I wrote about in this post), but nothing is absolutely amazing. I miss having amazing healthy and easy meals at my fingertips. Could I make them at home? Sure. But I like a good fast-casual lunch on the weekends, you know? We make most of our meals at home, but on Saturday, I literally need a take-out lunch, and I’ve just gotten used to eating okay (sometimes good) stuff.

Tender Greens, Urban Plates, Mendocino Farms, Sweetgreen … I dream about those places! Where we live in South Charlotte is growing like crazy, and I keep holding out hope we’d one day get one of these restaurants to enjoy. Food is a big part of my life, and I want to truly love all of my food, like I used to love it. I literally had a disappointing lunch out this past weekend with my mom and Brady and thought … darn, it happened again.

Cava lunch by A Lady Goes West

Other things I miss about living in Northern California

The people and our friends there. Over the course of eight years, we met some really great people in while living in Northern California. Some of them have left California and some of them remain. And there are definitely a few people I really miss (especially one particular couple who we are due to see in person this year, I hope). But, quite honestly, I’ve developed more closer friendships in Charlotte in about a year than I had made over the course of eight years in California — both through my neighborhood and through my work too — and I think that’s the nature of the welcoming/openness of people here. I’m all about the people, and overall, I have more close friends in my life here, and I love it. But I did have some great times with friends in California, and I’m thankful for that.

Sixth birthday family by A Lady Goes West

The ease of public transit there. It was nice to have the option to hop on public transit to get where we wanted to go throughout the Bay Area. Apparently there’s some sort of light-rail in Charlotte, but it’s not at all reliable or convenient like the BART was in Northern California. I know how much Brady would have loved to hop on the BART to get into the City, and we never got to do that with him when we lived there. Of course, this isn’t a huge deal, nor is it part of our daily life, but I think Charlotte really needs to upgrade its public transit options as this region grows. I think that’s something that people who move here from other big cities are shocked to find out — you pretty much have to drive everywhere. Also, when we first arrived in South Charlotte, it was sometimes hard to get an Uber (which was never more than two minutes away in the Bay Area), but that has gotten a little bit better over the course of three years.

Ashley and Brady in matching adidas jackets by Lady Goes West

The fact that there were hardly any bugs there. You know you could sit outside nearly all year long in Northern California and never get a single bug bite. Our backyard area in Walnut Creek, California was uncovered, and it was so nice to spend evenings out there looking at the mountains and stars. I’m afraid to report that Charlotte is a big bug fest, and I’m quite susceptible to bugs. We have a screened-in porch here, and it’s just not as nice to sit out there. I know this is one of the biggest things Dave misses about living in Northern California, because he loves to sit outside for meals at night. I’m going to make an effort to try more of that this summer on our porch here, but I need to upgrade the bug-deterring methods somehow, so wish me luck on that point too.

Thanksgiving 2023 by A Lady Goes West-2

That Rudy wasn’t allergic to living there. I’ve mentioned briefly that our little maltipoo has had some skin issues. Turns out, he’s allergic to Charlotte. And apparently, he’s not the only pet. There are a lot of allergens in Charlotte, and even though Rudy doesn’t spend a ton of time outside, he’s been affected. He never had a single issue during his first five years of life In California. But, just a few months after he arrived here, he was getting very itchy and get red spots all over his skin. We’ve gone through all sorts of allergy medication and are currently on a strict elimination diet with him to help him out, and he’s doing a lot better. Although Rudy is happy, he’s definitely been through a lot here in Charlotte, and that’s not fun for any of us. We found him a pet dermatologist, and we have another appointment coming up soon to check in on him. I’ve been told by out vet that a lot of pets have allergies in this region, so Northern California wins on this point for sure.

Old Dominion concert by A Lady Goes West-2

That we lived so close to wine country. I literally loved going to Napa, Sonoma and wine country in Northern California, and we lived only 45 minutes from it. We actually didn’t go as often as I wish we did (now that we’re gone), and I do miss those adventures. We would always take our visitors there, and we would plan special activities there too. Some of our greatest California times happened in wine country. Could I go back to visit? Yes. Do I want to? Not really. I’m not sure why, but I feel like what’s done is done. There is a wine region just outside Charlotte that we haven’t checked out, but we plan to one day. 

Pumpkin patch by A Lady Goes West

And that’s the list!

Closing thoughts on how we feel about living in Charlotte for three years

I talk all the time about how much we love Charlotte, and we really, really do. We love our house, our neighborhood, our jobs, Brady’s school, the four seasons we get here, the proximity to our long-time east coast friends and family and more. But sometimes I think it’s important to remember that no place is perfect. Now that I’ve lived in Florida, California and North Carolina, I can tell you first-hand that there are ups and downs to all of these locations. 

Stroll Magazine inside by A Lady Goes West

We’ve made the choice to do two big cross-country moves in the last 11 years, and each one has been difficult for different reasons. Our time in San Francisco was a pretty thrilling adventure for Dave and me, and now our time in Charlotte is a pretty comfortable and happy existence for our small family. We never would have become who we are if we hadn’t take two big chances, and I’m really glad we did.

Miss about living in Northern California by A Lady Goes West

Now that I’m 40 and feeling super wise (kidding, but not), I can reflect on each stage of our life so much better. We’ve been smart about the timing of our moves, and we’re right where we need to be. Now if only that Avocado & Quinoa salad would make an appearance on a menu in South Charlotte and the humidity would pull back for my frizzy locks, I’d be golden. 

And that concludes my post on things I miss about living in Northern California! I’ve always been here to share my experiences, and that’s all these reflections are — take them or leave them. Hope you enjoyed, and I hope you have an amazing day too! xoxo

Questions of the day for you

What’s something you love about where you live right now?

Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to live?

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15 Comments

  1. Hi Ashley, your message hit home today as I am moving back to east coast from the west coast next week and feeling anxious about it. It’s interesting as it’s not so much anxiety regarding the stress of the move but more the shift of the mindset of life there.
    We were in Santa Cruz and worked in Palo Alto for 15 years then have been in Pacific Northwest of WA state the past 7 years.
    So, thank you for your article and appreciation of the west coast beauty.
    Best to you!
    Barb

    1. Hi Barb! I wish you luck with your move. It’s a big one for sure! I think it’s important to note (for me at least) that good food, beautiful mountains and being near wine country were amazing — but they weren’t enough to make me think I wanted to live there forever — because ultimately I wanted to be closer to my family. After three years, we’re totally adjusted to the Southern ways, even if we don’t necessarily fit into or buy into all of them (you know, owning guns and whatnot) hehehe. Where are you moving to on the East Coast?

      1. Haha yeah, I get that. I do like the non- judgmental ways out west but hopefully will find my community!
        My mom has Alzheimer’s and lives in Asheville NC so my hubby and I bought a little house in Black Mountain NC.
        Thanks for your input!

  2. My comment. My comment. 😉Hi. I enjoyed your article. I am a San Francisco, San Mateo, native. I believe I was a perpetually thrust years before and not by choice, to strange area of Oroville, the move before Covids, and Northern California fires. I followed my mom who was geographically separating from her husband in my early twenties with her to start a small Lipizzaner horse breeding farm.
    That was way back in 1985. Huge culture shock! Fires in Butte County, and homelessness have plummeted to an all time high now. My town of Paradise burned fully in 2018. I am back in Oroville, sad to say, lots of druggies where County basically due to poor economics and social deprivation run the town.
    Too much to add on that. Realtors are pushing Chicoians to move here. Prices have skyrocketed. I’m in my early sixties and there building lots of low income apartments yet nothing really for Seniors. Lots of political hype and lies going on. I am a full time single Caregiver, of my own two adult disabled children, yet stuck living her because California has best services for us. Thought you like to know these added toppers. My best to you and family. Where I would go if I had the money is up to Oregon, North by the Sea. Air is horrible here and survivors of 3 major Wildfires. Government pretends it’s about forest management. It isn’t. Enjoy your life. Thought you may like to know what some of us in rural areas are going through amidst the utube realtors false hype.
    Every Summer it’s worse.

    1. Hi Christa! Thank you for reading and for sharing your story with me. I’m so sorry to hear about the hardships and struggles you’ve endured and continue to endure. I hope you are able to find some beauty in your California life, amidst the environmental concerns and cost of living too. Sending you some love from Charlotte. Be well!

  3. Hi Ashley, your blog popped up in my newsfeed today, and you took me down memory lane. I too lived in the Bay Area-I was born in San Jose and left in 2020 as well. Your emotions about leaving and what you miss there really resonates with me. The beauty of nature can’t be beat there. I moved to Reno, NV. with dry climate your hair would love! But it isn’t pretty like home is. It was a financial decision for this single girl and off I went with heavy heart. There is a Whole Foods here and a salad place I frequent called The SaladWorks. There is one, according to their website, in Huntersville, N.C. Thanks for sharing, I too haven’t gone home to visit and I don’t want to either. I can live without that pain. Take care!

    1. Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for sharing part of your story with me! It’s hard to leave a beautiful place, but sometimes we can find different types of beauty in our lives elsewhere — especially when it’s more cost effective. I haven’t tried The Saladworks yet, but I’m always looking for new spots, so thanks for the recommendation. I’m glad you have a Whole Foods near you — their hot bar breaks the bank, but it’s delicious. Take care as well!

  4. San Francisco is not northern California. Look at a map of California and find San Francisco. It’s not even close.
    People do this all the time and I wish they would please stop.

    1. Hi, Chris I’m sorry this upsets you. But, if you Google it, you’ll see San Francisco/Bay Area is generally considered part of Northern California when you look at the state as a whole, even if it’s geographically pretty center. That’s because it’s so different from Southern California. Clearly, it’s different from the very northern cities, and the Bay Area is its own smaller region, but NorCal is a common and correct term for living there.

    2. Yes, San Francisco is Northern California….and so is Silicon valley.
      Signed,
      San Francisco Native who now live on the Central Coast

  5. In my opinion, there is a perfect place. I live in Petaluma, a historic town, about 34 miles North of San Francisco. I live on 2.5 acres in a house built in 1900. We have hens, sheep, and pigs. We are 20 minutes from the beach. I was born in this town, but have also lived all over Oregon and in Nashville, TN. I have been to almost every state. I agree that nothing compares to the beauty found here. The weather is also hard to beat. I can garden year round. It’s unfortunate that you lived in this area during the 3 years where we had so many horrendous fires between 2017 and 2020. That is not the norm. The town I live in has 1,000’s of historic homes that are truly stunning. The neighborhoods are amazing and the public schools are top notch. My son went through public school here and then graduated Summe Cumme Laude from UC Santa Cruz and then moved on to get his PhD in Bioengineering from The University of Pennsylvania. He then got a job at a biotech company in San Francisco, beating out over 200 people who applied for his job. He said he was able to do this because our public school system prepared him. He was stunned at how much he watched his peers struggle his first 2 years at UCSC. The town I live in has been named one of the foodie capitals of our nation. There are so many options of farm to table restaurants. The people here are amazing. We voted for Bernie Sanders, so #NotMeUs is a way of living. During the firestorms in 2017 they had to tell people in my town to please stop donating supplies. They had too much and were overwhelmed. People go out of their way to help one another. I could go on and on, but instead I will conclude by saying that in my opinion, there is a perfect place to live, and I am so very fortunate to be here and to have raised my kids here.

    1. Well, Becca, Petaluma sounds totally dreamy. I’m sad I never explored it! Don’t share the love too far and wide or your city will get over-run! 🙂 Take care, and thanks for saying hi!

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