Published March 2011; SELF.com (supplement to my piece in the March issue of SELF magazine)
From sun to food to cycling, check out these joy-filled locations that specialize in your favorite hobbies.
Madison, Wisconsin: Major cycling city
This hip town boasts the country’s highest number of exercisers and bike commuters—and 212 miles of trails make it easy to pedal like a local. In the summer, enjoy the free Concerts on the Square, then cut the rug at nearby Dane Dances, where you’ll get a rooftop view of sparkling Lake Monona.
Burlington, Vermont: A feast of farmers’ markets
Fuel up on local fare at the year-round market in City Hall Park, then hike one of the 40 nearby peaks; cool off afterward with a dip in Lake Champlain. Reward yourself with the upscale shopping along Church Street Marketplace. Evenings, catch live music at local clubs Nectar’s and Metronome.
Provo-Orem, Utah: The most cheerful residents
This area’s population rates as the nation’s happiest, and no wonder: You can fly-fish in the Provo River’s famously salmon-laden waters, take in culture and local color on the Downtown Provo Gallery Stroll or nab tickets to the improv sensation the Thrillionaires, who mock pop culture favorites like Twilight.
Honolulu, Hawaii: Perennially sunny skies
Take advantage of 271 annual days of sun by wandering the Waikiki Historic Trail, frolicking at pristine Waikiki Beach or heading to the island’s North Shore to witness world-class surfers hang ten.
Asheville, North Carolina: Foodie heaven
Pack a lunch of organic goodies at French Broad Food Co-op’s tailgate market (the city has the nation’s largest number of food co-ops), then hike and picnic along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Afterward, meander through galleries and meet artists in the River Arts District, then hear live music at an intimate venue such as The Orange Peel.
Rockingham and Strafford Counties, New Hampshire: A save haven
A rock-bottom crime rate makes these quaint communities great places for meandering strolls, whether in the capacious Rockingham County Botanical Garden, along the coast at Odiorne Point State Park (the state’s first settlement) in Rye or around Robert Frost’s former farm in Derry. Reward yourself with local eats at one of the area’s many farmers’ markets or co-ops.
Portland, Maine: A lively community
This seaside city embodies the state’s slogan: “The way life should be,” with one of the nation’s best open-air farmer’s markets, an extensive series of urban trails or the First Friday Art Walk. No trip is complete without a visit to Portland Head Light, arguably the most photographed lighthouse in New England. And of course, there’s the lobster. It’s Maine, after all.
Billings, Montana: Copious food co-ops
Billed as “Montana’s Trailhead,” it comes as no surprise that much of this city’s appeal involves Mother Nature—and healthy lifestyles. Stock up on organic produce at the Good Earth Market co-op, then take the fruits of your labor out into the wilderness: raft down the Stillwater River, try your hand as an amateur angler or hike in one of the seven mountain ranges that surround this very human-sized city.
Santa Barbara, California: Balmy beaches
This bright spot stays sunny 300-plus days a year, which means you’ll be tempted to get up early and hit East Beach, the area’s most popular spit of sand, for lounging and pickup games of volleyball and soccer. Saturdays, check out the waterfront drumming circles and on Sundays, enjoy the much-beloved seaside Arts and Crafts Show.
Santa Rosa-Petaluma, California: Freshest fare
Gourmands will delight, as this Pacific Coast hotspot specializes in farm-to-table dining and vineyards aplenty. Sample the area’s finest cuisine at the Wednesday Night Market (May through August), then sip la crème de la crème of local wines at Cellars of Sonoma in Old Railroad Square. Get a taste for the landscape by riding the Russian River atop an inner tube or by floating above it all on one of many popular hot air balloon tours.