The West's happiest places to live

Disneyland bills itself as the happiest place on Earth, and that may well be true for some people (particularly those under 12). For the rest of us, however, the happiest place is where we can find the things that matter to us most, where we can live the way we want to live. Depending on what makes you smile, here are the 10 best places to live (and find happiness) in the wondrous amusement park of the American West.


Salt Spring Island, B.C.: Grow your own everything
A is for apples-more than 350 kinds grow within Salt Spring's 74 square miles, including such rarities as Duchess of Oldenburg. B is for bananas-the tropical fruit grows here too. This rugged isle, off Vancouver Island's eastern shore, also has the rest of the alphabet covered (like C for carrots), thanks to a Mediterranean climate that serves as the perfect greenhouse."We can eat out of the garden 12 months a year," says Dan Jason, whose company, Salt Spring Seeds, markets some 600 varieties of seeds.
> Take a trial run: Explore Salt Spring Island


Salt Lake City, UT: Start a business

Tom Stockham knows you're skeptical. "I can't tell you how many people I've recruited who think, 'It seems nice, but I can't quite imagine living here.' Then they move to Salt Lake, and stay for a long time."There's not a giant employer like Ford or Boeing. But we have a lot of people building businesses," adds Stockham, a serial entrepreneur. Larger companies like Goldman Sachs, Adobe, and Specialized Bicycles are drawn to the economy-stoking factors. First there's the cost structure, including low corporate tax rates, utility prices, and rents. Then there's the workforce, which ranks near the top in high-school graduation rates, per capita college degrees, and literacy. Unemployment is below the national average, and 80 miles of commuter rail should be completed soon.
> Take a trial run: Enjoy a night out in downtown SLC


Portland: Ditch your car

About four months ago, the New Seasons natural-foods chain made a quintessentially Portland move: It dedicated more parking to bikes than cars at its newest store. "There's this subculture of people in their 20s and 30s who don't even think about owning cars," says resident Michael Andersen. Bikes aside, Portland excels at alternative options. The TriMet buses link seamlessly with 52 miles of light rail and the nation's first new streetcar line in a half-century. But Portland's commitment to cycling is mind boggling, with upward of 300 miles of bike lanes, bike paths, and specially marked "bike boulevards," where car volume is kept low. There are countless bike shops, bike clubs, bike races, bike blogs, and bike nonprofits, not to mention bike-thru coffee shops and bike-polo matches. One local credit union even offers bicycle loans.
> Take a trial run: Shop, stretch, and pedal around a low-key Portland neighborhood


Sonoma County: Dine 5-star

Though Napa, one valley to the east, may draw more tourists and buzz, it was the Sonoma Valley that in 2009 became the nation's first Cittaslow ("Slow City"), a hard-won designation that Cittaslow International awarded the valley for keeping it sustainable, local, and small-scale. Live in Sonoma County and you may start to take things for granted. You might think rack of lamb is always grilled on an authentic Argentine parrilla, as it is at Francis Ford Coppola's winery in Geyserville. That any class called "The Art of Wood-Fired Cooking" would naturally be taught by Andrea Mugnaini, an authority on Old World open-hearth ovens (her oven company has a Healdsburg cooking school). That every pizza joint offers house-cured lardo as a topping (Diavola Pizzeria in Geyserville). That your Sazerac should be poured by the guy who literally wrote the book on artisanal cocktails (Scott Beattie at Healdsburg's Spoonbar). Which is to say, you just might get a little spoiled.
> Take a trial run: The best places to eat, taste, stay, and play in Sonoma County


Scottsdale: Raise your kids

Sure, it's better known for manicured fairways and sybaritic spas. But Scottsdale is also surprisingly welcoming of families. For one, it's safe, with already-low crime rates dropping substantially in most categories last year. Scottsdale Unified has high graduation rates, and standardized test scores hover well above state and national averages. "We love the lifestyle, and we wanted to put down roots," says Allison Small, founder of the online guide Mom Index. Come playtime, Scottsdale shines. Indian Bend Wash, a 7 1/2-mile greenbelt, links five community parks; McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a 16,000-acre sanctuary, is open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art jump-starts minds with education programs. And those lush hotels with their massive aquatic playgrounds are great summer escapes-with a lower price tag.
> Take a trial run: Discover Scottsdale's amazing outdoors and cowboy roots

SEE MORE OF THE WEST'S HAPPIEST PLACES TO LIVE


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