To Hang My Hat

With a multitude of climates, paces, landscapes, and activities to choose from, deciding where in the country to hang your (or my) hat is not an easy feat.

With a multitude of climates, paces, landscapes, and activities to choose from, deciding where in the country to hang your (or my) hat is not an easy feat. Economic and cultural factors also come into play, as we each try to balance cost of living with standard of living. Having set myself down in numerous zip codes and time zones, I’ve compiled my picks for the best places to live in the U.S.

San Francisco Bay Area – As evidenced in home and rental prices, residences in this region are some of the most sought-after in the nation. From San Raphael in the north to Palo Alto in the south and Berkeley in the east, the whole San Francisco Bay Area is prized terrain. As one of the most livable cities in the country, San Francisco is always one step ahead whether in public policy or social trends. It’s no wonder that a number of the world’s leading-edge companies call the Bay Area home. (Think Apple, Google, Cisco, Genentech, LucasFilm, Electronic Arts, The Gap, etc.) World-class museums, dance troupes, restaurants, concert venues, and other attractions round out the myriad reasons why so many people leave their hearts in San Francisco.

Boulder/Denver – Enjoying more than 300 days of sunshine a year, the mile-high area of Colorado anchored by Boulder and Denver is an outdoorsman’s paradise. Hiking, biking, sailing, fishing, rafting, golf, skiing, and more can all be enjoyed at some point during the year. And that’s not all eco lovers will find here. Boulder is positioning itself, rather successfully, as a hub for clean energy technology development, while Denver was among the first U.S. cities to institute a bicycle-sharing program. The arts are also a key component in the area, with Denver hosting a thriving theatre scene and Boulder being a certain center for music of all genres.

Seattle/Tacoma – Situated on the Puget Sound, the Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area is visually stunning and culturally vibrant. Head out on a sailboat to spy orcas by day and hit a fine restaurant or live performance by night. That’s the best of both worlds right there. In addition to the island explorations off the coast, Vancouver, Spokane, and Portland are all within a day’s drive for a quick weekend get-away. Industry is also strong in the greater Seattle region, with Microsoft at the heart of things. Yes, it’s overcast and rainy quite a bit of the time, but that serves as a nice filter to keep out the riffraff.

Western Massachusetts – In the various hilltowns of the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, charm is the name of the game, but credibility is never forsaken for that goal. Around Northampton and Amherst, five top-tier colleges provide an intellectualism and cultural relevance that is sometimes lacking in other small towns. They also shore up the area’s economy like few other industries could. Further west, the Berkshires hold court with Great Barrington, Lenox, and Stockbridge representing their heart-warming brand of Americana which was quaint enough to make even Norman Rockwell take notice. (A similar case could be made for the lovely townships along New York’s Hudson River, from Rhinebeck down to Tarrytown.)

College Towns (Ann Arbor, MI; Eugene, OR; Madison, WI; Austin, TX) – In terms of economic stability, college towns are always a great bet. The educational centers double as employment centers, ensuring jobs that can’t be outsourced. Also, the revenues generated by a university’s programs and population through tuition, sports, arts, and the various overflow into the community help to buffer other financial factors such as home values, local businesses, and the like. On top of all that, they also provide a fantastic source of affordable (or even free) social activities with concerts, lectures, performances, games, and more.

Arts Communities (Ashland, OR; Woodstock, NY; Asheville, NC; Sebastopol, CA; Taos, NM; Brattleboro, VT) – Bursting with writers, artists, thinkers, philosophers, artisans, chefs, activists, and such, arts communities are almost always on the leading edge of our culture. They are also real communities in that they generally come together for both celebrations and solutions. Think globally, act locally is more than just a mantra here; it’s a way of life. Whether it’s Ashland’s Shakespeare Festival or Asheville’s music scene, each town has a claim to some sort of fame, and an allure to call its own.