An out-of-date split-level becomes a brighter, whiter, den of high style.

YOU MAY KNOW PACIFIC PALISADES as the salacious setting of Aaron Spelling’s 1997 TV series of the same name—a lust- and greed-ridden black hole of suburban Los Angeles philistinism. It made for great entertainment (for some viewers, at least). But to Kelly Zahoudanis and her husband, Alexis, Pacific Palisades was a real place. It was their home, where they spent the last 3 years of a 12-year stint in Los Angeles.

“And then we were just done,” says Kelly, with a matter-of-fact flick of her wrist. A ginger-haired former real estate agent, Kelly, 34, shows me around her family’s new Southwest Portland split-level. She’s barefoot and dressed in sweats, the uniform of her new job as a stay-at-home mom. “We wanted a change of lifestyle,” she says, “a place with values and ideals in line with ours.”

Nowhere is less La-La Land than Portland, of course—a city that inspires not prime-time soaps and sitcoms, but treatises on civitas. So last February, Kelly and Alexis, a commercial-property developer, flew north. Over five cold, rainy days, they explored the Portland heartland, spending the majority of their time in those neighborhoods near downtown that proffer coffee shops on every corner and bike lanes on every street, hoping to claim their own little piece of wholesome Cascadian nirvana.