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Published: September 2008Best Places to Live: Where to Live and Play Now!
Photo: Pub

Next Great Adventure Towns: West

The next great adventure towns aren't just the best base camps for outdoor pursuits, they're smart investments.

Text by Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville
Photograph by Steve MacAulay
1. Seattle, Washington
The Pacific Northwest Standard
>>Photo Gallery: Top 12 Cities Weekend Scouting Reports >>
Dan Moore, 34, lead guide for outfitter EverGreen Escapes
Why I made the jump: "I moved here from Minnesota in August of 1999. I had just completed a graduate program in environmental education and knew Seattle was the ideal place to be near wilderness and teach people about the outdoors. I can’t think of many other cities that put you this close to such different habitats, climates, and terrains. I’m a guitarist too, and since Seattle also has such a great music scene, it’s everything I was looking for. Even as it’s grown, it’s stayed relatively cheap to live comfortably here."
How I found a job: "I first worked as a naturalist teaching kids, then just this year I met up with Jake Haupert, who runs EverGreen, and began guiding for him."
Favorite trail: "Riding the 63-mile loop around Lake Washington on the Novara Randonee road bike I bought for $400 at REI when I first got here."
Population: 582,454
Median home price: $505,990

2. Coos Bay, Oregon
Weekend Retreat
With Pacific swells that rival San Diego’s, Coos Bay has carved a name for itself as the Northwest’s premier surfing hideout, and this year the gritty port upgraded with a downtown face-lift. The best breaks are off Bastendorff Beach; beginners head to gentler surf at Lighthouse Beach.
Population: 15,999
Median home price: $180,000

3. LLihue, Kauai, Hawaii
Visitors come for Lihue’s heavenly Kalapaki Beach—perpetually ranked as one of the world’s finest stretches of white sand. But residents in this commercial hub (there’s even a Costco) have ample time to explore the 3,000-foot-deep, jungle-fringed Waimea Canyon too.
Population: 5,674
Median home price: $485,000

4. Girdwood, Alaska
Best for: Ski Bums
Alyeska Resort’s ongoing $20 million revamp is putting adjacent Girdwood on the map with the four-star skier set. But savvy adventurers have long prized this bump-in-the-road town for its access to the half-million-acre Chugach State Park—home to countless glaciers, epic rafting, salmon fishing, mountaineering, cross-country skiing, and even windsurfing on Cook Inlet’s narrow Turnagain Arm.
Population: 2,500
Median home price: $435,000

5. Hood River, Oregon
A River Town’s Next Wave
The steady westerlies churning the mighty Columbia nearby have been drawing windsurfers and kiteboarders to Hood River for years. But lately an almost equal number of mountain bikers, powderhounds, and whitewater paddlers have started calling it home as well. Judging by the signs above all the new restaurants, the recent arrivals are partial to sushi joints, wine bars, and bistros with hard-to-pronounce European names. But this recreational boomtown hasn’t abandoned its roots—the focus here is still centered squarely on the action outside. Tucked between the looming basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge, an hour east of Portland, Hood River is cementing its multisport identity with a new riverside park. Plans call for a long public green, a swimming beach, and, naturally, kiteboarding and windsurfing put-ins. Kayakers dip into the placid Klickitat River, where local outfitters hold beginner lessons on the gorge’s Washington side, or navigate the gauntlet of Class IIIs and IVs on the aspen-flanked White Salmon. Landlubbers get their fat-tire fix at Post Canyon, where freeriders have been adding jumps, bridges, and seesaws. And half an hour south of town, the lifts on Mount Hood’s Palmer Glacier stay open straight on through summer, giving snowboarders and skiers access to 1,524 feet of vertical corn nearly year-round.
Population: 6,710
Median home price: $369,300

6. San Francisco, California
The Presidio Revolution
San Franciscans will gladly remind you to bring a sweater on your next visit, but they’ll likely keep mum about trail shoes—and climbing shoes, surfboards, bikes, and kayaks. They want to have the city’s long, dramatic shoreline and redwood forests all to themselves. But their secret is getting harder to keep now that the Presidio, a 1,500-acre former military base, is being turned into a sprawling Bay Area playground. Beaches are being cleaned up, scenic overlooks created. Last year a $15 million plan was launched to restore campsites and connect trails to the surrounding 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is twice the size of San Francisco itself. "My dad was a Marine, so I was always able to enjoy the Presidio," says Tonya Nilsson, project manager for Planet Granite, a 22,000-foot climbing gym that will open there this fall. "So many people here love the outdoors, and now they can share in the beauty of this location too. It’s such a stunning spot." Already, San Franciscans’ list of options is enviably long: Surfers tackle breaks off Ocean Beach, hikers gawk at the towering timbers of Muir Woods, and hang gliders make use of the gusty Fort Funston bluffs. Just remember that sweater, of course.
Population: 744,041
Median home price: $876,500

7. Joshua Tree, California
Best for: Climbers
The wave of Los Angeles expats and chic spa resorts may have brought added New Age hipness, but the real attraction here is still Joshua Tree National Park. This Mojave Desert oasis is the hub of an 8,000-spoke wheel of established rock climbing routes in the 795,000-acre preserve. Spend a star-filled night at Hidden Valley campground, just past the park’s west gate, for access to the single-pitch centerpiece: Sports Challenge Rock, laden with 5.9 and 5.10 classics.
Population: 8,137
Median home price: $180,000

8. Leavenworth, Washington
A burgeoning winery scene has brought a Pinot-and-brie refinement to the brats-and-brews style of this Bavarian-inspired village, just east of the Cascades. Explore 5,500 miles of trails in the newly expanded Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest or choose from a thousand-plus climbing routes on the sheer granite towers of Icicle and Tumwater canyons.
Population: 2,195
Median home price: $350,000

9. Arcata, California
The Green Address
Spend enough time in bike-friendly Arcata, on Cali’s foggy northern coast, and you’ll develop Popeye thighs like the locals in this über-liberal community, where recycling is religion and the Green Party rules. The riding selection is as broad as the virgin trees in nearby Redwood National Park, from the gentle new 5.5-mile Hammond Coast trail to the surprisingly technical dirt in Community Forest, a Central Park–size preserve.
Population: 16,888
Median home price: $400,000

10. Klamath Falls, Oregon
Hot Bargain
Quiet K-Falls has shed its lumber town origins and become a high-desert getaway on Upper Klamath Lake’s bottom lip. Ride or hike the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, a 95-mile protected path (and Oregon’s longest state park) through pine forests, deep valleys, and juniper- and sage-covered ranchlands. Then hit the Upper Klamath for more than 30 Class III and IV rapids over seven miles—the state’s most rollicking whitewater run.
Population: 20,720
Median home price: $156,000

11. Bellingham, Washington
Ignore, if you can, snow-draped Mount Baker, rising above Bellingham—this is a paddling town first. Canoeists and kayakers race across Lake Whatcom every Wednesday evening in summer, and their access to stunning Bellingham Bay is getting easier too as the shoreline morphs from an industrial wasteland into a sprawling green space. Inland, 15 percent of the sea-sprayed college town is set aside for parks, and when winter hits, 10,778-foot Baker is a bankable powder destination; in 1999, it set the standing world record for most snowfall ever in a single season at 1,140 inches.
Population: 75,220
Median home price: $389,000

12. Malibu, California
Malibu may be one of California’s priciest zip codes, but the public now has access to every inch of coveted sand, even in front of the gazillion-dollar seaside mansions—no matter what the signs say. Home to Surf Rider Beach—the mainland’s answer to Maui—Malibu has a laid-back sophistication (think mom-and-pop general stores next to Nobu) that draws beach bums and megawatt stars alike. If you want to take a break from the waves, hit the newly refurbished pier, where plans are under way to build a surf museum. Or trek the rugged Backbone Trail, which extends for more than 68 miles above the crashing Pacific through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Population: 13,176
Median home price: $2.4 million

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  • Lived in Seattle for 2yrs. Tried to find a reasonably priced condo, which is not in a derelict build…
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