This red state is becoming an ‘expat’ community for families fleeing western liberal bastions

'Get me to Idaho': West Coast expats share what drove them out of their home states

This story is the first in a series examining the mass-migration of West Coast residents to Idaho.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Taylor grinned at his parents as he rolled away on his push-bike, gravel crunching under the wheels. The three-and-a-half-year-old was headed to play with friends who live a couple houses down at the end of their quiet North Idaho cul-de-sac.

"He just can take off on his bike and it’s so safe," Ashley Manning, his mother, said. "Everybody just watches out for him."

"It’s been the best experience," she added.

It’s a scenario she can’t imagine playing out in their old neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.

Manning, her husband Nick Kostenborder and a then-9-month-old Taylor packed up and moved east in 2021. That same year, families from Seattle and San Diego also arrived on their road near Sandpoint.

"It’s this kind of weird little expat group that we all found ourselves here," Kostenborder said.

Boy rides push-bike on gravel road

Taylor, 3, rides his push-bike to a friend's house on April 26, 2024, near Sandpoint, Idaho. He and his parents moved to the small Idaho city in 2021, in search of freedoms they felt Portland no longer offered. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)


Gem State growth

Idaho’s population soared more than 12% from 2018 to 2023, making it one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Most of the growth is due to people moving in — local real estate agent Trent Grandstaff estimates 98% of his clients are from outside of Idaho.

While they come from all over the country, and even the world, the West Coast dominates the in-migration.

"California, Washington and Oregon — those are the three primary states from which people come," Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond told Fox News Digital.

In Sandpoint, a small city that saw its population grow nearly 13% from 2020 to 2022, Mayor Jeremy Grimm said many new residents he speaks to are looking for a community and government that’s more "aligned with their political philosophies."

"It's mostly major cities ... or just outside of major cities where they're going, 'I'm not OK with what's going on. I don't want my guns taken away. Get me to Idaho,'" Grandstaff said.

Numbers of movers set over California, Oregon and Washington

Idaho has seen the most incoming moves from California, Washington and Oregon respectively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2022 American Community Survey. (Ramiro Vargas/Fox News Digital)


The rapid growth isn’t without drawbacks. Housing prices have soared, new developments are sprouting in open fields and previously wooded areas, and there are more cars on the roads. 

"Growing up in a wide-open space like this, people get used to having elbow room," Bonner County Commissioner Luke Omodt said. "And we're struggling with the fact that there's other people that want to share the same beauty that we do."

What’s driving people out of their home states

Kostenborder took Oregon’s natural beauty for granted as a kid brought up on the outskirts of Salem.

"It’s one of the best places on Earth," he said, recalling the times he and his friends would jump from low bridges into the Santiam River, or waterski on Detroit Lake.

He grew up conservative, listening to Rush Limbaugh in his dad’s work truck. As an adult, he drifted toward libertarianism, moved to Portland and played drums in a series of bands. He didn’t mind that his political views were considered fringe in the blue stronghold because he felt like he was "participating in the marketplace of ideas."

"Then when the lockdowns happened, the marketplace got closed," he said. "If you wanted to [transition] kids or whatever, then you can say that all you want. But if you question the lockdowns or the mask mandates, then you’re banished."

West Coast Exodus: Why people are fleeing to this red state sanctuaryVideo


With a baby on the way in summer 2020 — coinciding with protests and riots that lasted more than 100 consecutive nights — Kostenborder said his eyes were opened to other problems in the City of Roses.

"If I would have had a kid, I probably would have noticed it a few years earlier," he said. "You’re worried about someone else besides yourself. So you start to notice threats more. Like, it's no longer charming to have the homeless guy asleep in front of the grocery store. Now it's like, all right, this actually might be dangerous."

Portlanders have ranked homelessness and crime as top issues facing the region in numerous surveys. They've also grown increasingly pessimistic about their city's direction, with just 21% saying the city was on the right track in 2023, according to DHM Research, down from more than 70% in the 1990s.

"That's just historically really, really bad," DHM Research Senior Vice President John Horvick said. "Now you walk around town, you go to church, you talk to your friends at the bar and pretty much everybody feels negative about things. It's a whole different world."

Oregon’s strict pandemic restrictions and mask mandates — which would last until spring 2022 — were the final straw for Manning and Kostenborder.

"The number one objective was that [Taylor] have a normal childhood," Kostenborder said. "We want him to go to church. We want him to go to the park and play with friends … we’re not going to have our kid not see any human faces for the first two years of his life. We’re not taking that chance."

So in April 2021, they sold their freshly renovated home in Northeast Portland and moved to Sandpoint.

Kostenborder family photos

Nick Kostenborder and Ashley Manning said they didn't think their son could have a normal childhood in Oregon. They visited North Idaho in fall 2020 and moved to Sandpoint a few months later. (Courtesy Nick Kostenborder)


Bryan Zielinski and his wife considered moving from the Seattle area to Idaho for about six years. He was the general manager of one of the largest independently owned gun stores in western Washington, a place where it’s not easy to be a conservative.

"Everything is political," Zielinski said. "Whether it's the car you drive, where you work. You’re wearing a mask, you're not wearing a mask."

placeholderZielinski said a victim culture was also growing in the Evergreen State.

"So much to the point that you couldn't even have a conversation with anyone without getting the term ‘fascist’ or ‘racist’ or whatever thrown at you by just trying to state your opinion or what you believed as fact," he said.

He had a front row seat as Washington’s restrictions on firearms accelerated. Lawmakers banned the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds in 2022. The next spring, they outlawed the sale or import of "assault weapons" — primarily semiautomatic rifles — and many of the parts used to build them.

Between COVID restrictions, educational policies and the new gun laws, Washington's political climate reached "a crescendo," Zielinski said.

June will mark one year since his family moved to Idaho, and just over four months since he opened North Idaho Arms in Post Falls.

Man holds AR-15 in gun store

Bryan Zielinski grew up in Washington state and previously managed a large gun store in the Seattle area. He and his family left the Evergreen State in 2023 and just opened North Idaho Arms in Post Falls, Idaho. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)


He’s been back to Washington a couple of times since moving.

"Everything is horns honking, people screaming, homeless people, tents everywhere," he said. "It’s horrible."

Migration trend expected to continue

Local real estate agents like Grandstaff and Seth Horst don't see an end to the migration any time soon, despite rising home prices and interest rates.

"We get calls every day from people that are interested in moving here," Horst said. "They’re willing to do anything, it seems like, to get to a place for their kids where they can raise them safely. And I think that's kind of the trend that may continue for a while."

Horst deeply understands that drive — after about 14 years as a California Highway Patrol officer, his family bought a house in Coeur d'Alene sight-unseen in fall 2020, sold their home in Chico and moved by the end of the year. Now he co-owns Your North Idaho Agent, a real estate team comprised of former first responders, and said April was their busiest month yet.

"My wife was really pushing, like, ‘Hey, we need to get out of here because California does not feel safe anymore,'"he recalled. "We felt like we were losing a lot of our freedoms as far as medical freedom and the choice to where our kids went to school, what happened at school, things like that."

Real estate agent Seth Horst

Seth Horst and his family relocated from Chico, California, to Coeur d'Alene Idaho in September 2020. Now he co-owns Your North Idaho Agent and runs a podcast and YouTube channel called Residing in North Idaho. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)

The family briefly considered Bend, Oregon, but when they visited, they immediately noticed the tents and ramshackle RVs.

"The homeless population was looking exactly like California," Horst said. 

"I’m not mean-hearted, but I just don’t want to raise my family around that," he said. A friend suggested the family visit Coeur d’Alene, a city Horst had previously envisioned as "some podunk town." Instead, he discovered a vibrant downtown nestled on the shores of Idaho’s second-largest lake. He remembers walking up to the water’s edge, staring awestruck at the trees and hills.

"I knew right away," he said. "This is where we need to be."

Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.

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