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Northern CA vs. Central CA to live

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Could someone give us insight into lifestyle, weather, pros and cons of living in Northern CA vs. living in Central CA?

Alot will be dictated by price, but most likely we will end up with a small townhouse condo when we retire, and have looked at these town/cities as possibilities:

Napa, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Benicia, Marina/Seaside, San Luis Obispo, and PismoBeach/Avila Beach/Grover Beach/Oceano/Arroyo Grande.

We've read alot on the weather, crime rates, housing prices, etc. but would be interested to hear from insiders. We want a place with things to do, relatively safe, with a nice ambience rather than urban sprawl.

We had Paso Robles and Atascadero on our list, but some have told us would be hot, hot, hot in the summer.

We plan on visiting all these areas, but sometimes only people who live there can provide accurate insight that you can't get elsewhere regarding pros and cons. That's what we are looking for.

We are not set on a specific size town/city, but would like a place with a choice of recreational opportunities (parks, golf, etc.), shops, restaurants, nice (moderate)housing and sense of neighborhoods, not too hot in summer (@80) with close proximity to the ocean (30 min or less). If the town is small, proximity to a larger town or city would be desirable, and we want a place with a real "downtown" and sense of community. We would also want a town with or close access to a major hospital. We will be retired, so schools are not important, but a town with vitality and things going on - festivals, farmers markets, volunteer opportunities, perhpas access to a university etc. would appeal to us.

Right now we live East Coast and are seeking to escape the cold and snow. Though we do love to ski, so access to a ski area that we could drive to would be a bonus. We live in a town of 20K on the ocean, but it is very vital, and has alot going on - upscale restaurants and shops, strong sense of community, theatre, parks, boating, fishing, festivals, etc. Again, size is not important as long as the town is vital.

Our budget is 300K-350K, and again we are looking only for a modest (but nice) townhouse condo (no one above or below us) that has some small yard or courtyard, a private entrance and dry storage (attic or basement). Right now we are living in a similar situation, @ 1,100 sq. ft. so that is all we would need.

It's hard to tell if anything like that exists in the places we have picked, if we are way off base, or have missed other possibilites. Our goal is to narrow this list down to a manageable number of towns to visit. Any help/comments much appreciated.

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