1. Boston, Massachusetts
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Just a few years ago, Bostonians were knee-deep in the $15 billion construction chaos that was the Big Dig. But these days, the new Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has made the inner-city waterfront more accessible (and appealing) than ever, with a 15-acre strip of parks designed for everything from yoga to concerts. "All people think of is Boston Common," says Andrew Prescott, a former accountant who turned his bike-commuting habit into a business by founding Urban AdvenTours. "But now we have all this great new public space, and more people are getting outside—even when there’s two feet of snow." More than 15,000 acres of parks and 25 miles of beaches are now within 15 minutes of downtown. And forget upper-crust yacht clubs. Beantown may be New England’s economic capital, but it’s not overpriced. Annual membership at Community Boating, Inc., where you’ll find kayaking, windsurfing, and sailing, is just $229. And last year the Environmental Protection Agency gave the Charles River a B++, good enough to do the once unthinkable: backstroke alongside the scullers.
Median home price: $355,000
2. Charleston, South CarolinaThink of Charleston as the jock in the Southern belle set. With new offshore ecotours and surfing at nearby Folly Beach, the pretty city’s outdoor action now matches its good looks. Locals kayak the Ashley River, horseback ride from the historic Inn at Middleton Place, or hike among cypresses.
Median home price: $252,000
3. Charlottesville, Virginia"Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation." So said resident Thomas Jefferson, and no wonder—he had the Blue Ridge Mountains out back. Today, University of Virginia grads follow his advice in the lush hills of Shenandoah, while city planners protect urban forest and build new trails.
Median home price: $279,500
4. Plymouth, New HampshireLife in Plymouth is like a master class in recreation. Wedged between Mount Washington Valley and the Granite State’s glittering lakes region, this college-meets-covered-bridge depot is home to the new White Mountain Exploration center, with instruction in ski touring, ice climbing, mountain biking, and rock climbing all run by Eastern Mountain Sports. When classes aren’t in session, recess means kayaking the Pemigewasset River and exploring the 798,562-acre White Mountain National Forest. And if working at Plymouth State University or the local hospital doesn’t entice you, high-tech and political posts are just 45 minutes south in Concord.
Median home price: $215,000
5. State College, PennsylvaniaAh, to be young and live in a rugged corner of the Alleghenies. Eighteen- to-24-year-olds make up nearly two-thirds of this Penn State playground’s population—the rest just act that age. Grads land gigs at the gear shops and outfitters among the tap rooms and taverns here. On their days off, they ride singletrack on Mount Nittany, fly-cast in one of 19 trout streams, or race the Tussey Mountainback, a 50-mile ultramarathon in October.
Median home price: $223,325
6. Blue Hill, MaineThis preppy coastal town’s new focus is on the outdoors: The Blue Hill Heritage Trust has conserved 4,750 acres of wilderness, ensuring that kayakers spend more time on the placid bays, not stuck in tourist-trap traffic. Pack your easel, your garden hoe, or your 401(k); this is a haven for photogs and painters.
Median home price: $182,000
7. Lenoir, North Carolina
Hot BargainLeave it to Google to find this hidden gem: Its new hub is here in the forested Blue Ridge foothills. Downtown revitalizations are under way, and weekly farmers markets with live bluegrass will make the newbies feel at home. Even without a dot-com salary, you can land a four-bedroom on three acres with mountain views for $299,000—for now.
Median home price: $115,000
8. Avalon, New JerseyWhile boardwalks, amusement parks, and McMansions engulf the rest of the Jersey Shore, Avalon has stayed relatively sprawl free. Its newly protected beaches—habitats for both surfers and terrapin turtles—have some of the last high dunes in the area. The price tag here is high, but new affordable housing is cropping up in Middle Township, three miles away.
Median home price: $1,237,500
9. Salisbury, Maryland
The Green AddressBiking a century, catching a minor-league baseball game, picking apart a plate of blue crabs—it’s all in an afternoon’s work. Set on Maryland’s eastern shore, Salisbury is home to DLITE, an alliance that protects the peninsula for hiking, cycling, and crabbing and provides green-collar jobs.
Median home price: $192,400
10. Islamorada, FloridaStrung across six islands in the lower Florida Keys, the village of Islamorada is set between a Gulf Stream–warmed Atlantic Ocean—home to sailfish, wahoo, dolphin, tuna, sharks, and North America’s only living coral reef—and the Florida Bay, rife with bonefish, snook, and snapper. "There’s so much wildlife here, it really feels like the sportfishing capital of the world," says captain Eric Bass (yep, his real name). But while Bass’s boat is one of a hundred-plus angling for tourists, competition gives way to camaraderie in the tight-knit community. Back on dry land, neighbors congregate at 40-acre Founders Park, a former resort that now hosts kayak socials and float-in movies. The latest object of locals’ devotion is kiteboarding, made friendlier by offshore sandbars, grass flats, and 15- to 25-knot winds. "Islamorada is where it’s at for kiting," says Seven Sports owner Brad Lange. "Even the police officers and firefighters are learning how."
Median home price: $750,000
11. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Southern ExclusiveCathi Cannon, 33, multisport endurance athlete and graphic designer
Why I made the jump: "As an off-road racer, I found it hard to live in a city as big as Atlanta—I was driving to the mountains all the time. So I made the move to Chattanooga in 2006. In 15 minutes I can be on a mountain with hundreds of miles of singletrack. A ton of like-minded people are drawn here, thanks to the advocacy group Outdoor Chattanooga, and the town is thriving, with a new emphasis on the outdoors. I joined a women’s cycling team, two adventure racing clubs, and am on the board of the Wilderness Trail Running Association; we call ourselves the Boonies, since we like to play in the middle of nowhere."
How I found a job: "I made some connections for freelance work before I moved. Other people here work in health care, at the university, as lawyers—or at a bike shop."
Favorite trail: "Raccoon Mountain has great singletrack."
Median home price: $125,200
12. Saranac Lake, New York
Weekend RetreatTemps can hit -35ºF here, but that’s about the only time Saranac Lake makes headlines. This Adirondacks retreat is a low-key alternative to the tourist hubs nearby. Canoe-camp the Saranac River and hike in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park, where biking activists have forged trails through once off-limits spots. A new path to Lake Placid, ten miles east, is in the works.
Median home price: $249,000
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