TravelDestinationsNorth America

Yes, Real People Live Here

Resort towns no more—move here before the masses do.

The streets aren't crowded and the surf is good. (Photo: Brown Cannon III)

As the world comes to a standstill as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we encourage all of you to hunker down right now, too. In the meantime, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to get back out there.

And you should, too. We serve up the premier small town and big city in every region of the country, with an inside line on jobs, homes, and the greatest places to play. Now get moving.

Santa Cruz, California

Best Towns 2007
En route to Pleasure Point (Left and 41st Avenue, downtown) (right) (Photo: Brown Cannon III)

If Manhattan is the epicenter of urban culture, Santa Cruz is the epitome of the California beach lifestyle. Predawn longboarding, midday burritos, singletrack mountain biking, afternoon kiteboarding, and fine local wines it all goes down in a spectacular natural setting. Santa Cruz hugs the northern shore of Monterey Bay a national marine sanctuary and nothing but open coast runs to the north and south. The 3,000-foot Santa Cruz Mountains buffer this Aquarian paradise from the city streets and very high-paying jobs of urban San Jose. And that has a lot to do with how set apart Santa Cruz can feel: old-time hippie culture, complete with dreadlocked street urchins and lots of wheat grass, blending with the Volvos and BMWs of the high-tech crowd.The marquee local businesses are Santa Cruz Skateboards and O'Neill Wetsuits; independent bookstores like the Literary Guillotine cater to graduate students from the University of California at Santa Cruz; and Neil Young drops down from his mountain home for occasional unannounced concerts. But what really brings this eclectic crowd together are the pleasures of living in a place with 29 miles of beaches, 14 state parks, a surrounding greenbelt of organic farms and 50 wineries, and ridiculously good weather. 

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Dave Wholey, a 47-year-old sales manager for a medical-devices company:
Hit Kelly's French Bakery (831-423-9059), then rent a demo mountain bike at Another Bike Shop and head to Wilder Ranch State Park for some of California's best trail riding. Back in town, munch fish tacos at Olita's on the wharf and check the wind and swell at Cowell's, a good longboarding spot (rent a board and wetsuit at Cowell's Surf Shop). Warm up afterwards in a private hot tub at Well Within, then taste local wines at the Soif Wine Bar and dine on swordfish at Pearl Alley Bistro. The next morning, after French toast at Aldo's on the pier, grab a picnic lunch from the New Leaf Community Market and hike in the redwoods of Henry Cowell State Park. Finish the day at the 100-year-old Santa Cruz Boardwalk, on the Big Dipper roller coaster, before dinner at Gabriella Café and live music at the Catalyst.

Supersize Me: San Francisco, CA, pop. 739,426 (city).
An hour and a half north of Santa Cruz, San Francisco has miles of waves at Ocean Beach and a surf scene that's recently blossomed into a full-blown subculture with art shows and film screenings. Beyond that, 70 acres of asphalt have been removed at Crissy Field, and the 1,300-acre Presidio is being turned into a national park.

Readers' Choice: Stinson Beach, CA. "Phenomenal beach and mountains." —Tory Grady

By the Numbers:

  • Population: *57,553 
  • Average Commute: 35 minutes
  • Median Age: 31 
  • Median Income: $53,998 
  • Median Home Price: $777,500 (Santa Cruz County) 
  • Biggest Employer: S Santa Cruz County (2,669), Dominican Hospital (2,000), UC Santa Cruz (1,500) 
  • Telling Statistic: Santa Cruz has 15 independent custom surfboard shapers 

—Daniel Duane

Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming
In Jackson’s backyard, Grand Teton National Park awaits. (Photo: Purestock)

Where the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge ends, the town of Jackson begins. Set on the banks of the Snake River, just minutes from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Jackson flaunts an impressive backyard. But despite the county's density of five people per square mile, the antler-lined town square, and watering holes like the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, this isn't the Old West anymore. In Jackson, sushi-grade fish gets flown in daily, Wall Street execs turned landscapers ride cruisers to the local brewpub, and U.S. Ski Teamers like 21-year-old Resi Stiegler show up for the Stagecoach's Thursday disco night wearing Rollerblades and a leotard. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is updating its seventies style with a 100-person tramway to Rendezvous Peak, top-ticket acts like folk legend John Prine perform at a new $35 million center for the arts, and six of greater Jackson's restaurants now boast a Wine Spectator award. All this luxury mountain living comes at a price a three-bedroom house downtown runs you more than a million. (Don't panic: There are more affordable options in nearby Victor, Idaho.) Still, the real draw to Jackson is easy access to some of the most rugged terrain south of Alaska. That hasn't changed since the days of $7 lift tickets.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Ethan Valenstein, 29, sales associate at Sotheby's International Realty:
Start with a breakfast burrito at Down on Glen to fuel up for a ride on the Putt-Putt and Hagen trails (rent from Fitzgerald's Bicycles). Then head to the Snake River Brewing Company for a BLT and a pint of their namesake lager. Later, toss a Frisbee in Snow King Park, then dine on three-cheese macaroni at the Rendezvous Bistro before catching a band at Teton Village's Mangy Moose Saloon. Day two starts with breakfast at Pearl Street Bagels (739-1218), followed by a five-mile run up the Death Canyon trail. Next, head to Dornan's, in Moose, and float the Snake River back to Wilson while fishing for cutthroat trout (rent a boat from Snake River Kayak and Canoe). Dinner is a carne asada quesadilla at the new Picas, inside the Stagecoach Bar (733-4407).

Supersize Me: Denver, CO, pop. 557,917 (city).  
Love the mountains but not the ten-to-one guy-to-girl ratio? Denver has all the trappings of a major metropolis a new museum of contemporary art, a dozen major brewpubs, and a winning bid for the 2008 Democratic Convention yet still manages to maintain the sleepy feel of a Rocky Mountain ski town. With more than 60 community gardens, one of the greenest mayors in the country, and easy access to the Front Range's trails and ski resorts, not even the I-70 traffic will give you the blues.

Readers' Choice:

  • Lyons, CO. "Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park." —John E. O'Brien
  • Red Lodge, MT. "Great mountain biking and hiking." —Paul Taylor

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 9,035
  • Average Commute: 15 minutes 
  • Median Age: 32 
  • Median Income: $54,614
  • Median Home Price: $1.7 million (Teton County) 
  • Biggest Employer: S Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (1,185 in winter), Grand Teton Lodge Company (925 in summer), St. John's Medical Center (500) 
  • Telling Statistic: Of all vehicles registered in Teton County, 37 percent are Subarus

—Megan Michelson

Iowa City, Iowa

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Burro Alley, near the plaza (Photo: Kurt Markus)

When the presidential hopefuls flock to Iowa City this fall, they'll find more than political rallies. Surrounded by hills and bisected by the Iowa River, the liberal college town is or has been home to notable writers like 1978 Pulitzer Prize winner James Alan McPherson and the late Kurt Vonnegut, who penned part of the seminal Slaughterhouse-Five here. The University of Iowa's nearly 30,000 students keep this oak-lined Pleasantville real, with six yoga studios, the famed Prairie Lights independent bookstore, and everything from Ethiopian cafés to grilled-cheese stands. Developer Marc Moen is giving the town's squat red-brick buildings an injection of minimalism with his latest creation, Plaza Towers, 14-story glass high-rises occupied by businesses, hotel rooms, and loft condos. The town's buzzword is "alternative energy," and investors are pouring in millions to build ethanol refineries across Iowa in hopes of making the corn-fed Midwest a kind of sustainable Middle East. Athletes pride themselves on their ingenuity: Climbers pilgrimage northwest to Cedar Falls in the winter to ascend ice-covered grain silos, and mountain bikers have built singletrack networks through prairie lands in 200-acre Sugar Bottom Recreation Area.That wins our vote.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Aaron Howard, 31, a security analyst for the University of Iowa:
Start with a trail run through Hickory Hill Park, then chow on sweet-potato cakes at the Hamburg Inn. Grab trail mix at the New Pioneer Co-Op, then drive to Pictured Rocks to climb Bird in Hand, a 5.11b route on a limestone cliff along the sleepy Maquoketa River. Head back to town for tapas and sangria at the eclectic Devotay. Early the next day, have French toast at Lou Henri, then gear up at World of Bikes for an 11-mile mountain-bike ride in the Sugar Bottom Recreation Area. After refueling at Oasis Falafel, take a kayak on Lake MacBride (rent from Lake MacBride Boat Rental), then check out an indie band at the Picador.

Supersize Me: Madison, WI, pop. 221,551.
Want more urbanity? Head across the Mississippi River to Madison. The city has more than 100 miles of on- and off-road bike lanes, vast glacial lakes, and the Midwest's most popular climbing spot, Devil's Lake State Park, just 45 minutes away. Madison's progressive flavor with its thriving farmers' market, Laotian restaurants, and more than a dozen fair-trade-coffee shops is like a small-town Iowa City with a more metro vibe.

Readers' Choice: Decorah, IA. "One of the Midwest's outdoor-sports meccas." —Jason Heaton

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 62,887 
  • Average Commute: 18 minutes
  • Median Age: 25 
  • Median Income: $44,000
  • Median Home Price: $174,000 
  • Biggest Employer: S University of Iowa (17,993), University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (7,683), American College Testing Program (1,426)
  • Telling Statistic: Iowa City's 11-block downtown is home to 28 bars

—Christina Erb

Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon
Mountain bikers overlook a kayaker on the Deschutes River near Bend. (Photo: courtesy, Central Oregon Visitors Association)

Every place has its season when living there makes you feel blessed. In Bend, one of the country's fastest-growing cities, the showcase season happens to be, well, all of them. Take a midsummer night. It's light until nearly 9:30 p.m., plenty of time to lob woolly buggers into crisp holes on the Deschutes River after work or hop on a bike to catch Beck at the amphitheater. You can ski through May (July with skins) and mountain-bike all year. Some 2.5 million acres of wilderness surround the city; 10,000-foot volcanoes dominate the skyline. Bend's heritage as a flannel-and-jeans lumber town is less in evidence these days. The Old Mill District now hosts an REI, and the locals include surf icon Gerry Lopez (who came for the snowboarding) and mountaineer Steve House. Bend even has its own brand of diversity: The town's signature race the Pole Pedal Paddle, held in May requires skiing, biking, running, paddling, and more running for 30-some miles from the top of Mount Bachelor into town, where everyone then drinks beer. And there's a lot of good beer: five breweries for 67,000 people, plus swanky restaurants, art walks, and film festivals. But the town still has its bowling leagues, muddy pickup trucks, and chatty barbers on Bond Street (who also serve you beer during your trim). Best of all, being on the dry side of the Cascades, where the evergreen forest bumps into high-desert sage, Benders have all the fun of the Pacific Northwest without the rain. They bike-commute year-round on 51 miles of urban trails, take weekend trips to surf storm swells banging into the coast, and pick up fresh salmon at the farmers' market. No wonder someone moves here every two hours.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Mary Ramos, 38, who moved to Bend six years ago for the mountain biking and now works for a downtown advertising firm:
Rent a bike at Sunnyside Sports and ride it to the Victorian Cafe early the next morning to beat the crowds who come for the crab Benedict. From there, continue on to the rolling singletrack of Phil's Trail and spin all the way to Mount Bachelor if you like, 2,700 feet up. Kick back on the patio at the Bend Brewing Company for California chicken on focaccia and a Metolius Golden Ale. Take a Turkish-style public bath at McMenamins Old St. Francis School, a Catholic school turned pub, movie theater, and hotel. For dinner, try the local Kumamoto oysters at Merenda. Rent gear from the Patient Angler and spend the next day casting on the Deschutes. Come evening, head to the Bendistillery sampling room for cocktails. Even guys like the lemon-drop martinis.

Supersize Me: Portland, OR, pop. 533,427.
With excellent mass transit, anti-sprawl development, and greenhouse-gas-curbing policies that have been in place for 14 years, Portland has long been hailed as one of the most progressive urban centers in the country. Pair that with year-round skiing on Mount Hood, 239 parks (including 5,000-acre Forest Park, the largest urban park in the U.S.), and more than 400 coffee shops and suddenly the rainy winters don't seem that bad. Traffic is getting worse, but Portlanders put a positive spin on that, too: The city was recently ranked first in the country for friendliest drivers.

Readers' Choice: Ashland, OR. "Great weather, Shakespeare festival." —John H. Bolton

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 67,152
  • Average Commute: 16 minutes
  • Median Age: 35 
  • Median Income: $29,853
  • Median Home Price: $351,978 
  • Biggest Employer: St. Charles Medical Center (2,063), Les Schwab Tire Center (1,500), Sunriver Resort (870 in summer) 
  • Telling Statistic: 49 percent of Bend residents have a dog 

—Tim Neville

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Burro Alley, near the plaza (Photo: Kurt Markus)

In Santa Fe, mud sells. Each year, more than a million tourists come to ogle the signature adobe buildings along with conquistador-era streets, world-class opera, and the 300 galleries that make the city the third-largest art market in the U.S. But the Spanish-colonial ambience of New Mexico's 7,000-foot-high capital isn't the only reason Outside moved here from Chicago in 1994. The 12,500-foot Sangre de Cristo mountains east of town offer year-round adventure, from the powder of Santa Fe Ski Basin to the singletrack of the Winsor Trail, which rises 3,500 feet as it winds through ten miles of pine-and-aspen forests. Add the whitewater of the Rio Grande, and four more ski resorts within two hours, and the 300 sunny days a year aren't enough. Hollywood has also fallen in love; it's hard not to bump into a celebrity amid the tattooed artists, sunburned ranchers, and New Agers downing margaritas at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. The $100 million Railyard project will give downtown a 2,000-seat movie theater, a catchment-irrigated park, and rail service to Albuquerque. And the city is spending $40,000 on the 15-mile La Tierra trail network, which will rival the Dale Ball system for best lunchtime ride.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Trevor Daul, 36, a technology-firm marketer:
Greet the sun with a run on the Dale Ball trails. Recover with breakfast at Tia Sophia's and a gallery walk on Canyon Road. Rent a bike at Mellow Velo and spend the afternoon on the Winsor Trail. Unwind in a hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves spa. After dinner at the Anasazi Restaurant, it's salsa dancing at El Farol. On day two, grab breakfast at Café Pasqual's, then rent gear at High Desert Angler and fish the Pecos River. Finish with dinner at Guadalupe Café and a night at the Santa Fe Opera.

Supersize Me: Tucson, AZ, pop. 515,526. 
Surrounded by three 8,000-foot mountain ranges, Saguaro National Park, cyclist-friendly roads, and hundreds of climbing routes, Tucson would be a great southwestern city even without its funky bohemian district, north-side shops, and historic Old Town buildings. Throw in the energy of the 36,000-student University of Arizona and rich Mexican influences and you'll understand why the city pulled in more than $2 billion from tourism alone last year. Just pack sunscreen. Lots of it.

Readers' Choice:

  • Flagstaff, AZ. "A mountain oasis in the desert." —Anne Pestolesi
  • Prescott, AZ. "The mountain biking rivals any place in the Southwest." —Cris Garrido

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 70,631 
  • Average Commute: 19 minutes
  • Median Age: 41 
  • Median Income: $45,177 
  • Median Home Price: $354,125
  • Biggest Employer: S Los Alamos National Laboratory (9,000), State of New Mexico (7,643), Santa Fe School District (1,850) 
  • Telling Statistic: Ratio of art galleries to residents: 1:235

—Justin Nyberg

Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth comes together at the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace (Photo: courtesy, Visit Duluth/Seaquest Photography)

Bob Dylan may have left town when he was six, but Duluth still has soul. Stretching 37 miles along a cliffy hillside overlooking Lake Superior, the city was once one of the wealthiest in the U.S., thanks to its being the geographical nexis of the shipping, timber, and mining industries. That 19th-century infrastructure still exists massive grain elevators line the harbor, and trainloads of taconite pellets are still hauled in from the Iron Range. But the original Scandinavian settlers also tried to replicate a mini Oslo, building alpine ski jumps, cross-country-skiing and hiking trails, bike paths, and classic stone bridges that make fishing in the city's 12 designated trout streams an aesthetic experience. Those frothy, 40-degree (in August!), ten-foot Lake Superior swells that send diehard surfers and kiteboarders running for their drysuits add a little excitement to the mix. Today the city is all about gentrified Nordic funk: Renovated stone mansions line Lake Superior, and businesses like Midnight Sun Adventure Company a retail-and-guiding center for kayaking, climbing, trail running, and cross-country skiing have sprung up in Canal Park. All this has inspired a new generation of artistes. That recycled-paper house with a Finnish flair is the home of internationally renowned architect David Salmela. The chefs at the New Scenic Café prepare the kind of mind-altering fish dishes you'd expect for a restaurant that overlooks 10 percent of the world's fresh- water. Local steepcreeker and filmmaker Cliff Langley even made a cinematic tribute to Duluth titled Long Cold Winter, Eh? His point: If you can transcend the frigid stereotype and a few frozen digits, even winter in Duluth can be a blast.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Doug Hoffman, 46, a sports-medicine physician who moved to Duluth eight years ago:
Ride 50 miles (rent a bike at Willard Munger Inn) along Lake Superior to Two Harbors, looping back through Lakewood. After a dip in the lake, head to Chester Creek Café for brunch, then to the lakefront for one of many summer festivals. Later, rent a tandem sea kayak at Midnight Sun; guide required) for a twilight lake tour, then make your way to Va Bene Berarducci's Caffe for a pizze margherita, followed by an open-air movie in Leif Erikson Park. The next morning, take the 4.2-mile Lakewalk to Canal Park, where you can watch 1,000-foot-long ore boats go under the Aerial Lift Bridge. Then walk over to Park Point, swim in the waves, and eat a grilled pastrami sandwich at Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe. That evening, drive up the North Shore for seared halibut at the New Scenic Café.

Supersize Me: Minneapolis, MN, pop. 372,811. 
If IKEA designed a city, it would look like Minneapolis. Scandinavian ethos and design permeate everything from the "Minnesota nice" sensibility to the sleek downtown skyline. At the heart of a growing metro area of almost three million people, Minneapolis is surprisingly leafy, with 182 city parks and a chain of five lakes connected by a 13.3-mile biking-and-running path starting just a few blocks west of Uptown. "Culture" can mean anything from viewing the Picasso & American Art exhibition at the new Walker Art Center (designed by Pritzker Prize winning architects Herzog & de Meuron) to downing a tiki drink at Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge.

Readers' Choice: Ely, MN. "Canoe capital of the world." —Sara Dusbabek

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 84,896
  • Average Commute: 20 minutes
  • Median Age: 35
  • Median Income: $46,394 
  • Median Home Price: $148,000 
  • Biggest Employer: S SMDC Health Systems (4,281), St. Luke's Hospital (1,592), University of Minnesota Duluth (1,522)
  • Telling Statistic: At 2,342 miles from the Atlantic via the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, Duluth is the farthest-inland port in the world

—Stephanie Pearson

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina
This North Carolina town's motto is Keep Asheville Weird (Photo: courtesy, NC Division of Tourism)

You can learn a lot about a town from the stickers on locals' cars. One that's always nice to see: KEEP ASHEVILLE WEIRD. An island of liberal alternative culture, the town attracts artists, musicians, and, of course, plenty of outdoor funhogs. Cradled in a lush green bowl anchored by 5,721-foot Mount Pisgah and surrounded on all sides by the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville serves up more than 2,000 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails and some of the nation's finest whitewater creeking. In downtown's compact grid, infused with art deco brick buildings, it's not uncommon to see a "suit" in deep confab with a natty dread about the past evening's mountain-bike ride at Cane Creek. Live-music venues host a regular lineup of top-shelf bands (recently, the Smashing Pumpkins announced an artists-in-residence extended-stay performance at the Orange Peel Social Aid & Pleasure Club), and every July the town hosts Bele Chere, the Southeast's largest free outdoor festival, with some 70 bands. Though the Population: of surrounding Buncombe County has swelled to 222,174, prompting an anti-development backlash, the city retains its small-town vibe. Don't worry: Asheville will still be plenty weird by the time you get there.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Jeff Keener, 34, a 2006 Asheville transplant and owner of a construction-recruitment firm:
Stop in at Gourmet Perks for a ham-egg-and-cheese croissant, then make the 30-minute drive to 5,492-foot Big Bald for a five-mile run along the Appalachian Trail. Back in town, grab a spicy chicken burrito at Mamacita's, then rent a hardtail at Carolina Fatz Cycling Center for a spin on Bent Creek's nearly 50 miles of singletrack. Later, pound a Japanese Kobe-beef burger and a pint of Highland Gaelic at the Bier Garden, then roll over to the Orange Peel for a set with local funk favorite Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band. Start the next morning off with a big ol' cup of Blue Ridge Blend at Picholine, a French café. Then drive about an hour and a half to hike Newfound Gap for 270-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains. After 18 holes of disc golf at Asheville's Richmond Hill Park, hit Jack of the Wood, a quirky Celtic pub, for a pitcher of Green Man Gold Ale. Finish the evening at Shoji Retreat, a Japanese spa.

Supersize Me:
Atlanta, GA
pop. 470,688
Though the ATL is a huge metropolis (with jobs aplenty and a relatively affordable cost of living), there's a surprising variety of outdoor playgrounds in easy striking distance. A 90-minute drive takes you to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains or the vast Lanier Lake wilderness. Thirty minutes west and you're hiking Sweetwater Creek State Park; 20 minutes northwest and you're road-biking the epic 60-mile Silver Comet Trail. Traffic is tough here, so the best places to live for outdoor fun are the north-side suburbs of Roswell and Alpharetta.

Readers' Choice:

  • Boone, NC: "Amazing bouldering and paddling." —Ed Carley
  • Chattanooga, TN: "Water everywhere to swim, fish, or boat." —Sue Lowery

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 72,231
  • Average Commute: 17 minutes
  • Median Age: 40
  • Median Income: $38,837 
  • Median Home Price: $218,000 
  • Biggest Employer: SMission Health and Hospitals (6,000), Buncombe County Public Schools (3,725), Ingles Markets (2,225) 
  • Telling Statistic: You won't find a single Starbucks downtown

—Mark Anders

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine
Find your way at the Portland Head Lighthouse (Photo: courtesy, Maine Tourism)

Downtown Portland, a peninsula swirling counterclockwise into Casco Bay, lies in thick cultural layers. Starting at New England's third-largest fishing port, Portland Harbor, men and women in foul-weather bibs unload lobster traps and tubs of Atlantic cod. Next is the cobblestoned Old Port, with its boutiques, "commitment ring" jewelers, and Irish pubs. A few blocks away sit the studio and arts districts, with tattooed baristas at gritty cafés, agitprop-chic galleries, and, by sundown, live punk behind closed doors. A quarter of Maine's Population: lives in and around Portland, but you'd hardly know it come rush hour. Young professionals wear L.L.Bean fleeces and duck boots for all manner of business, even dates, thanks to the company's headquarters being 20 minutes up the road. With relatively mild winters, it's possible to commute by bike almost year-round, and with thick neoprene you can surf in winter. Twenty-six-square-mile Portland has more than 2,000 public-arts events, including free concerts with the likes of Carbon Leaf and the Rebirth Brass Band, and, rumor has it, more ultimate-Frisbee leagues per capita than anywhere else. Maine's highly educated twenty- and thirty-somethings are thick on the ground, keeping their kayaks and snowshoes handy and talking about how they've got it made.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Heather Ladd, 30, a 12-year resident who runs her own property-management business:
Load your bike (rent from Gorham Bike and Ski, on the ferry for the 45-minute ride to Long Island (pop. 200). Cycle the five-mile perimeter road, stopping for a swim at South Beach and lunch at the Boat House. The 7:40 gets you back for live bluegrass and the Friday-night $5.95 all-you-can-eat fish fry at the Porthole. Eighties dance night at Bubba's Sulky Lounge is free if you dress the part. The next morning, run the three-mile Back Cove Trail before brunch at Uffa!. Then launch a kayak (rent from Maine Kayak, at East End Beach, watching for pilot whales. After yellow curry at Bangkok Thai, stroll the waterside Eastern Promenade.

Supersize Me: Charleston, SC, pop. 106,712. 
For first-rate Atlantic Coast watersports like surfing, sailing, and sea kayaking, you can't beat metro Charleston's 90 miles of coastline. Culture is both old and new in this 337-year-old port city: Look for homegrown products like aged cigars and black tea, plus a burgeoning design scene and the new Art Institute of Charleston. Throw in a subtropical climate and a refreshingly sane cost of living and you've got a full-fledged urban, and ocean, playground.

Readers' Choice: Rockland, ME. "The launching point for gorgeous granite islands." —Mish Morgenstern

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 63,889
  • Average Commute: 19 minutes
  • Median Age: 36 
  • Median Income: $40,797
  • Median Home Price: $225,000 
  • Biggest Employer: L.L.Bean (5,500), Maine Medical Center (5,000), Unum (3,000)
  • Telling Statistic: Legend has it that there are 365 Casco Bay islands (hence, the "Calendar Islands"), and you can kayak to all of them

—Gillian Burnes

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermot
Burlington's Church Street Marketplace (Photo: courtesy, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing)

Take a walk through the brick-paved Church Street Marketplace if you want to understand just how politically correct this lakefront college town has become. Stop for a cup of Fair Trade Ethiopian at Speeder & Earl's, try on a pair of sweatshop-free sneakers ("from the best little union shop in Jakarta, Indonesia") at the Peace & Justice Center, tuck in to a Big Bold Burger (made with local beef and jack cheese) at Smokejacks, and eavesdrop on a group discussing the finer points of harnessing energy from the methane gas in cow manure. The town, set on the eastern shore of 100-mile-long Lake Champlain in the shadow of the hiking-and-ski-trail-veined Green Mountains, is also full of the lean and hearty who take full advantage of the surrounding farm roads to bike, trails to run, bays to paddle, and slopes to ski (including Stowe and Sugarbush, less than an hour away). The Vermont City Marathon attracts some 8,000 runners every May: The race ends in the tastefully developed Waterfront Park, and a troupe of Japanese drummers greets the finishers. All this correctness might be a little too much to take if the town didn't have a darker side; at night, Red Square threatens to blow once DJ A-Dog starts spinning, and Nectar's swells with University of Vermont kids hoping the house band is the next Phish (they got their start here in the eighties). It's heartening to know that, even in this epicenter of righteous living, staying for the band's last set will almost always trump that 6 a.m. century ride.

The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Rachael Miller, 36, a ten-year resident who teaches wind sports:
Grab an egg-and-bacon sandwich at the waterfront Burlington Bay Market & Café (802-864-0110), then rent bikes at Local Motion for a ride on the 12-mile, water-hugging Island Line bike trail. After a long lunch and a Burly Irish Ale on the patio of the Vermont Pub and Brewery, rent a dinghy at the Community Sailing Center and spend the afternoon tacking around Burlington Bay. Post-shower, head for the cozy Trattoria Delia, Burlington's best Italian restaurant (ask for a table near the fireplace), then the dance floor at Plan B. Start the next day with a plate of sourdough French toast at the Penny Cluse Café, then grab picnic fixings at City Market. Drive half an hour to Duxbury to hike to the 4,083-foot summit of Camels Hump; eat your picnic on top while enjoying 360-degree views of Vermont, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains. Back in Burlington, head to the Daily Planet for a Berber chicken sandwich, then catch an indie flick at Merrill's Roxy theater.

Supersize Me: Boston, MA, pop. 559,034. 
Three and a half hours south, Boston is the college town's college town, where every fall 200,000 students in some 35 schools skew the average age down to 33. Relive American History 101 on the Freedom Trail, a three-mile path linking 16 sites, including the grave of Sam Adams (the beer guy), who brings us to our next point. Some of the best Irish pubs this side of Dublin can be found here.

Readers' Choice: Greenfield, MA. "Quick access to the Berkshires." —Garth Shaneyfelt

By the Numbers:

  • Population: 38,531 
  • Average Commute: 17 minutes
  • Median Age: 29 
  • Median Income: $33,070
  • Median Home Price: $240,000
  • Biggest Employer: SIBM (6,000), Fletcher Allen Health Care (4,086), University of Vermont (3,137)
  • Telling Statistic: 23,000 tons of organic waste (including dairy by-products from nearby Ben & Jerry's plants) is processed at the city's Intervale Compost Products annually

—Meg Lukens Noonan

*All population figures are 2005 census estimates.

From Outside Magazine, Aug 2007
Lead Photo: Brown Cannon III
More Travel