Two top-ranked hospitals (Suburban and Naval, both in Bethesda) help make affluent, educated Montgomery County No. 1 for longevity. Last year, Montgomery's county seat of Rockville unveiled a new pedestrian-friendly town center, bringing together housing, jobs, shopping, and recreation.
The Story begins in the city of Ames, on the campus of Iowa State University. The school's Memorial Union Workspace program offers classes and studio space to the public, including programs in pottery, music, and -- yes -- basket-weaving. Also on campus, the nationally respected Reiman Gardens is open seven days a week and offers a butterfly garden, as well as indoor and outdoor botanical exhibitions.
Carver County is home to over 50 of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, and 70,000 Minnesotans who fish, sail, and otherwise enjoy them. This suburban Minneapolis county has made physical fitness a major goal. At gocarvergo.org, you can figure out where to head for swimming, running, and biking, and even plan out a hike using an extensive interactive map.
Collier County, which includes the city of Naples on the Gulf coast, is the picture of Florida leisure. By land area, Collier is the largest county in the state, and 80 percent of it is devoted to parks and nature preserves. Any kind of water-related recreation or exercise you can think of is readily available.
Corvallis, in Benton County, Ore., offers two annual film festivals, Shakespeare in the park, proximity to one of the world's great wine regions, and free summer classes for seniors (65 and up) at a major university. But it's no metropolis: Oregon State University gives the town of under 50,000 much of its population.
Fairfax is home to excellent hospitals (such as Inova), and the north terminus of Amtrak's Auto Train, which lets you take your car or van on the train to Florida. But Fairfax's most striking amenity has to be Wolf Trap, the nation's only national park for the performing arts. Residents can enjoy year-round pop music, opera, dance, and theater performances, at multiple venues set in a park, without ever leaving the county.
Marin County, at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge across from San Francisco, is known for its liberal politics and its natural beauty: it features both Muir Woods and the Point Reyes seashore. And get yourself indoors, too: Marin is home to the Mill Valley Film Festival and, in San Anselmo, a top destination for antique shopping.
The world-renowned Mayo Clinic is headquartered in Rochester. Of course, you don't want to spend too much time there. So join the neighbors for a jog to help keep the doctor away: Minnesota, despite its frigid winters, has the highest percentage of residents who get regular exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The Iowa Writers' Workshop brings writers from all over the world to Iowa City, making it perhaps the most literary of America's small cities. (It's also one of the most educated.) The program serves the wider community through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, which offers dozens of classes taught by professors and professional writers.
What can we say about Honolulu County (which covers the entire island of Oahu) that isn't obvious? After all, if you love the beach and can afford the housing, you may be thinking of moving there right now. Aside from great high-end restaurants like Roy's and Alan Wong's, Hawaii is known for healthy food (the traditional diet is loaded with omega-3s).