Population: 77,550. Median single-family home price: $305,000.
Miles of multiuse trails within city limits: 65
Take a trial run: Fairhaven Village Inn is close to the trails. From $159; fairhavenvillageinn.com
To get a sense of the adrenaline-pumping possibilities around Bellingham, a seaside haven 90 miles north of Seattle, you need look only at the annual Memorial Day weekend Ski to Sea Race. The seven-sport relay draws nearly 500 teams of competitorsâ€”some with Olympic pedigrees, some wearing tutusâ€”for a mettle-tester bookended by cross-country skiing on Mt. Baker and sea kayaking on Bellingham Bay.
â€śGeographically, weâ€™re in the right spot,â€ť says Ted Wang, president of the Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts. Heâ€™s referring to the countyâ€™s 143 miles of Puget Sound shoreline and 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, the San Juan Islands just across the bay, and the North Cascades National Park to the east. â€śThereâ€™s more here than any of us will ever get to in our lifetime.â€ť
Worst-kept secret: It rains. Local consensus: So what?
Runners-up: Bend, OR; Boulder, CO; Lake Tahoe, CA/NV