|felt macarons from Little Fluff Stuff|
1. Meetup.com- Meet-up is a good place to start. Smaller areas probably won't have a lot of entries, but a large city should yield up a group for just about anything (Southbay Goth Meet-up, LARPers, Raw food and board games night). Pick your keywords and see what you find. Now, I'm not sure how wide-spread meetup is, and it may be used more by some age groups than others. Or maybe you don't even care about age groups. Check it out.
|Knitted cowl from Nisey Knits|
3. Google Street View: I can never use this feature without thinking HOLY SHIT IT'S THE FUTURE. I've used this to check out my childhood home (they cut down my damn tree!) and find bike-able roads. Now, I can snail my way through entire neighborhoods. Looking at things from above always make them look weird and clinical, but street view is nice. The absence of deciduous trees in California makes me sad, but using this I could see that there are plenty of leaves out there. Through a freak occurrence, J wasn't able to rent a car for his trip, but he could use the street view maps to check out the sidewalks.
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4. City-data.com- Discussions from their forum often come to the top of my searches when thinking about moving/trailing. It's a large enough website that you can almost always find someone moving from/to where you're going. The design leaves much to be desired, but it is chock-full of facts. You won't laugh (you might cry, looking at housing prices) but you'll get some of the big answers. This doesn't particularly give you the feel of a place, but gives more precise information about demographics/employment/industry than any Wikipedia article.
5. WalkScore.com lets you know how much your city respects pedestrians and cyclists, which isn't important to everyone but it is to me. And since it's hooked into Google Maps, you also get a list of cool places, by category, near the address. For me, if all that pops up under coffee is Starbucks, I've hit a dud.
I hope this helps someone. When J applied for jobs in Portland, I had more of an idea of what to expect. I'd been there and its reputation preceded it. This part of California, though, boggled my mind. And when you're feeling boggled, it's easy to focus on the bad stuff.