Population: 345,610 (metro area: 953,000)
Median Household Income: $56,939
Median Home Price: $545,700
Unemployment: 5.2 percent
Honolulu might look and act like a city—it’s Hawaii’s most urban area, and cultural crossover makes for a diverse food scene (kimchee Reuben, anyone?). But there aren’t many places on earth where you can paddle into a head-high roller at dawn, ride a beach cruiser to work, and be staring into a 300,000-year-old volcanic crater on the city’s fringes by dusk. Which may explain why the island of Oahu’s biggest city maintains a mellow vibe despite big tourism, transportation, and military-defense industries. “Even our lawyers don’t wear suits,” says Crystal Evans, 42, owner of Hiking Hawaii. “We work just enough.”
Food and Nightlife: The cuisine is a rich and spicy mix of Asian, American, and Pacific. Being in the tropics certainly helps. “This is Hawaii, so we get everything from fresh parrot fish to Chinese turnips,” says Fernando Duldulao, who supervises the 25 farmers’ markets in and around the city that form the People’s Open Market. How fresh is it? Order the fish wrap at Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, and chances are the swordfish was swimming just a few hours ago.
Access: Oahu offers at least 35 hiker-worthy trails that wend through jungles, along the coast, or up volcanic peaks. “In ten minutes you can be in a totally different world,” says Evans. One of her favorite hikes: the 4.3-mile out and back up the three peaks of 1,644-foot Mount Olomana, near Kailua, which includes a Class 4 scramble up a spectacularly exposed shark fin high above the windward coast.
Surfing: The island has no fewer than 125 beaches along 112 miles of shore, including the megabreakers at the famed North Shore, about 45 minutes northwest of Honolulu. In town you’ll find 76-acre Ala Moana Beach Park, a forgiving left that won’t auger you into the bottom. And on down days, notes reader John Lopez, “you can cast for large bonefish or go snorkeling.”