THE REVIVAL: A shipbuilding center in the 18th century, this Piscataqua River town, just upstream from the coast, lost its best customer (the British) after the War of 1812, and its historic waterfront quickly turned Skid Row. In the '70s, urban planners threatened to raze the place, but preservationists blocked the wrecking ball.
Are cobblestone streets and tchotchkes still de rigueur? Sure, but Portsmouth is now an unexpectedly hip town with a decidedly DIY vibe. "Some things have stayed the same, but plenty has changed," says historian J. Dennis Robinson of the city's old-and-new vibe. These days, this compact, walkable city an hour from both Boston and Portland has become a magnet for emerging musicians and artists with eight indie theaters, including the renovated Music Hall (circa 1878), half a dozen galleries, a film fest, a slow-food movement, and live music seven nights a week at the Press Room and other hole-in-the-wall clubs. (When the alternative newsweekly invited local bands to record albums, it got 165 submissions.) Homegrown creative startups like Hatchling, a boutique animation firm, and the Button Factory, a warren of artists' studios, have taken over downtown's brick warehouses. And, thanks to the Smuttynose and Redhook microbreweries, even the beer is locally crafted.
THE LIFE: In June, New Hampshire became the first state to mark its (admittedly small) portion of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile multi-use trail that runs parallel to the coast from Maine to Florida. For pretty reliable waves, try the sandy beach breaks at Jenness Beach or the Wall, about five miles south of town on Route 1A. For the best fresh seafood, head to Pesce Blue.
THE WORD ON THE STREET: PORTSMOUTH
"We have the best of both worlds, no matter the season. Enjoy the water, or drive an hour to the White Mountains or Boston."