Travel Picks: Outside magazine's top U.S. towns

NEW YORK, July 6 Fri Jul 6, 2007 7:25am EDT

NEW YORK, July 6 (Reuters Life!) - Ever wanted to live in a place where you can get lost in stunning natural beauty on holidays, party hard on weekends, get paid well at your job and own an affordable house?

The editors of the active lifestyle magazine Outside came up with a list of the best towns in America that live up to this utopia -- progressive towns near wilderness playgrounds that also have realistic housing and job markets.

"We tried to look for a mix of fantasy and reality," said Chris Keyes, Outside's editor in chief. "We wanted towns that had a great outdoor lifestyle but still were realistic places where you can live and work."

The magazine did not specifically rank the best town in the country in its August issue, which hits newsstands on Tuesday, but Keyes thinks the honor belongs to his hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

"We get a lot of complaints that we ruin other people's hometowns with our list, so we thought it was only fair to put our own on it," he said.

Following is Outside magazine's list of best towns with a population under 100,000 in nine regions of the United States:

West Coast: Santa Cruz, California - This oceanside town is close to the high-paying tech jobs of San Jose and enjoys 29 miles of beaches, 14 state parks, 50 wineries and ridiculously good weather.

Northwest: Bend, Oregon - Bikers commute here year-round on 51 miles of urban trails, while 2.5 million acres of wilderness surround the town. Volcanoes towering 10,000 feet high dominate the skyline.

Rocky Mountains: Jackson, Wyoming - Minutes from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, this luxury mountain town has incredible skiing, good pubs and a new $35 million center for the arts.

Southwest: Santa Fe, New Mexico - The Spanish colonial era ambiance, world-class opera and 300 art galleries here lie near the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which bake in 300 days of sun every year.

Midwest: Iowa City, Iowa - This liberal college town is near the 200-acre mountain biking heaven Sugar Bottom Recreation Area.

Great Lakes: Duluth, Minnesota - Stretching 37 miles along a hillside overlooking Lake Superior, Duluth has classic stone bridges that make fishing in the city's 12 trout streams an aesthetic experience.

Southeast: Asheville, North Carolina - Cradled in a lush green bowl and surrounded on all sides by the Appalachian Mountains, this island of alternative culture enjoys more than 2,000 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails and some of the nation's finest whitewaters.

East Coast: Portland, Maine - Portland has more than 2,000 public arts events each year, tons of ultimate frisbee leagues and great spots for kayaking and snowshoeing.

New England: Burlington, Vermont - This lakefront college town is close to numerous hiking, skiing and paddling options.

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