Things That Surprised Me After Moving to a Small Town From a City
I moved from Orlando, Florida, to Lilburn, Georgia, in July. I had never heard of Lilburn before I moved here.
I was living in Orlando with my partner and her roommates when three of us decided we wanted to move to Atlanta once our leases were up. We made a few trips to the area to scope out neighborhoods and tour houses. As early 20-somethings who were, for the first time, looking for a place to live that wasn’t in a college town, we were naively optimistic that we would get the first house we applied to.
We were very wrong. A few stressful months ensued; it was a constant cycle of getting our hopes up over houses and being disappointed when we were denied or told a previous applicant was accepted first. When we found a new Zillow listing for a rustic house in Lilburn, Georgia, we conceded that living 40 minutes away from Downtown ATL would suffice. With our move-out date looming ever closer, we no longer had the luxury to be picky.
Once we got approved, I realized how small Lilburn is.
After finally getting approved for the house, I began to research what would become our new home for at least the next year. It was a stark difference to our present situation.
Lilburn’s population is about 14,500, according to 2020 census data. Orlando, on the other hand, had a 2020 population of a little over 300,000. The town itself is smaller, too — Lilburn is less than 7 square miles. To compare, Orlando stretches about 113 square miles.
Though technically a small suburb as it sits within the Atlanta Metropolitan area, Lilburn has a small-town charm, and its offical slogan is “Small town. Big Difference.”
I was curious to see what life would be like somewhere with significantly fewer people than I was used to. Since moving in July, I’ve found surprises around nearly every corner.
Encountering wildlife in the neighborhood is par for the course.
In my first month of living in Lilburn, a male white-tailed deer pranced through my front yard as I was sitting on the porch. It was so fleeting but incredibly special; I had never experienced anything like it. I’ve since deer gracefully leaping across the street on two other occasions since then, and it always leaves me awe-struck.
While deer sightings during your morning cup of coffee is nothing short of magical, my roommate spotting a coyote on our street has definitely put me on edge when walking our dog at night. There’s plenty of new creatures to get used to cohabitating with — not to mention all the different birds and bugs — but it makes me feel more connected to nature here, which is a major reason why we moved to Georgia.
There are lots of out queer people and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
As a queer person myself, I had some hesitations about moving to a town in the South, which doesn’t have the best rep for being LGBTQ+ friendly. However, I felt a little more at ease after my first week in my new neighborhood, when I rounded the corner and saw a sign in my neighbor’s yard sign proclaiming “Love is love.”
I’ve seen at least two of these signs in the neighborhood and another house that flies a rainbow flag. A market on Main Street has a corner dedicated to rainbow jewelry and magnets from the Little Gay Gift Shop, and there’s even a Facebook group called Lilburn Pride, which is over 400 members strong. I still tend to err on the side of referring to my partner as “my roommate” to strangers, but these displays of community make me feel more comfortable to be myself.
The area is generally pretty diverse.
In addition to the plethora of rainbows around town, I’ve noticed Lilburn has an otherwise pretty diverse population. I admittedly fell into believing the stereotype that smaller places are overwhelmingly white and Christian, and while this may certainly be true for some, living in Lilburn has reminded me that generalizations don’t always reflect the truth.
One of Lilburn’s most spectacular attractions is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, which is actually the largest Hindu temple in the United States, according to Georgia’s tourism website. The place of worship features more than 30,000 hand-carved pieces of stone.
While Lilburn’s diversity could be, in part, due to its proximity to a major city, it actually has a greater percentage of those who are Latino, Asian, and mixed race than Orlando, according to census data. Over half of all Lilburn residents report speaking a language other than English in their homes, whereas that number was only 38.2% in Orlando. Having grown up in South Florida with a Cuban family, hearing Spanish in the supermarkets or in restaurants is a pleasant reminder of home.
The “downtown” area is both quaint and modern.
Old Town Lilburn is a small hub of eateries and shops along Main Street. It’s built around a railroad that was at the heart of the community when it was founded in the late 1800s.
The center has small-town charm with brick storefronts, eclectic antique shops, and live music every week. It also has some newer food spots, including a fast-casual Mexican place where guests can dine inside of a double-decker bus.
The first time I ventured to the area, I was really surprised to see how many people were out enjoying the day. The main restaurant had an hour-long wait time, and I was told reservations were usually necessary on the weekends.
In fact, the area leading up to Main Street is undergoing rapid development.
Directly across from Main Street is a small group of brand new town homes. The area has been under construction every time I’ve visited, with more houses being added. The roads leading up to the hub are also undergoing rapid development. According to the city’s website, hundreds more new housing units are planned.
Lilburn is situated in Gwinnett County, which has been referred to as one of Atlanta’s fastest-growing counties. It makes sense why development in Lilburn would be booming the way it is, but it’s still surprising to see sparkly new apartments built along the historical center.
Because of this, rent isn’t much cheaper than in other suburbs.
I was a bit shocked to see the prices of some of the new units. Prices start from the mid- $300,000s for townhouses with very little land. Data shows that houses in Lilburn are getting more expensive, too; as of September, they’re selling for a median cost of $335,000, which is about $20,000 more than in Orlando. However, it’s still cheaper than living in Atlanta, where the median house sale price is $358,700.
Away from downtown Lilburn, rent is a bit cheaper. Our three-bedroom house on a 1-acre lot costs about $1,650 a month. Right now, Zillow shows houses of that same size in Orlando would cost double or triple that in monthly rent.
There are plenty of vegan food options.
I’m not a vegan, but I tend to lean toward a more plant-based lifestyle at times, so I’m always interested to see what kind of local vegan eateries there are in a new place. I was so surprised to find that Lilburn was teeming with vegan-friendly options.
Two cafes just outside of my neighborhood feature exclusively vegan menus, from rich pastries to savory mac and cheese. The downtown Mexican restaurant offers vegan chorizo, which is a welcome option if you’re looking for something heartier than just veggies. Vegan food is something I’ve usually associated with bigger cities, and while its presence here may be helped by our proximity to Atlanta, it’s exciting to find so many options on my doorstep.
Still, food options are largely chain restaurants.
Despite a few local gems, the major road which connects Lilburn with Atlanta is inundated with chain restaurants. Driving down this street feels quintessentially American and is far less charming than downtown Lilburn.
Being surrounded by so many fast-food spots can also make it harder to pick healthy choices when you’re on the go. It’s often easier — and cheaper — to pull into a drive-thru in a crunch. The prevalence of corporate food options seems to speak to the growth Lilburn is undergoing as downtown Atlanta spills out into the suburbs.
I love the quiet.
This might have been the fact that surprised me the most about moving. Considering I was originally a bit bummed to be outside of the city, I thought I would miss the bustle of fast-paced life. I was wrong.
Now, I can go a whole day without seeing anyone on the street or even driving by — and I love it. It feels so peaceful to sit on the porch without seeing constant distractions, or to let our dog run around our yard without fearing for her safety.
Even though I wouldn’t have picked this town on my own — or even had known about it — I’m glad I kept an open mind and was flexible with my moving plans. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have found my new home that keeps surprising me every day.