Charleston, South Carolina

Southern Belle, Big-City Charm

Charleston fly-fishing

Charleston fly-fishing     Photo: Joshua Drake

POPULATION: 120,083
MEDIAN AGE: 32
MEDIAN ANUAL SALARY: $47,942
MEDIAN HOME VALUE: $477,700
VOTES: 2,251 (10.2%)

Yes, Charleston is the Old South. There are horse-drawn carriages, cobbled streets, and the historic City Market, which now sells knickknacks to Yankee tourists. But there's also more than 90 miles of pristine coastline to surf, kiteboard, sportfish, and sail alongside the likes of local triathlete Tom Mather. The food and history are serious—you can see Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie from Charleston's downtown shoreline (known as the Battery), and three consecutive James Beard Foundation Best Chef Awards were bestowed upon the chefs operating restaurants within the city. Locals are active and fit: the Cooper River Bridge Run is one of the most popular 10K races in the country, with 42,000 participants, and bikers and runners swarm the U.S.'s second-longest cable-stay bridge year-round.

Staying Power: Businesses are increasingly owned by guys like Mike Ray, the proprietor of Normandy Farms Bakery, who won a buckle biking the Leadville 100, swam around Key West, and completed the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Ironman this June. Thanks to the College of Charleston, as well as local blue chips Boeing and Bosch—not to mention a healthy tourism industry—Charleston's economy will keep humming along.

Playgrounds: Folly Beach is known for football-playing frat boys, but you're just as likely to see wind-surfing hippies. Biking through the French Quarter and the Battery under massive live oaks is a popular pastime, but kayaking through the marshes to Bowens Island is gaining steam. Otherwise, join the Citadel boys, who run around 60-acre Hampton Park. Just don't talk smack about the South.

The Voters Speak: "Ninety miles of coastline, barrier islands begging for exploration, and tidal creeks perfect for a sunrise paddle." "The ladies!" "Annual events like Charleston Fashion Week, Charleston Wine and Food Festival, and Spoleto add to the progressive culture." "Full of sweet tea and good manners."

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