I know writers who do all their research on the Internet and still end end with very commercial, very successful books. My hat's off to them, but as for me, I can't seem to really get grip on a place I'm writing until I've breathed its air, walked and/or boated and/or flown the territory, and chatted up the locals. I like to gather local newspapers and read the letters to the editor, then pick the brains of long-time residents to get a taste of the decades-long rivalries, grudges, issues, and prejudices that make each community unique. An observant outsider sometimes sees things more clearly, but even the most studious will always get stuff wrong. When it's all said and done, the location I'm writing ends up at the intersection of Reality and Imagination. With Story being the car and Character the driver.
In other words, I do my best with research but have to live with the fact that my fictional world is not the real world, just my best approximation. And with a little skill and inspirations, sometimes these approximations ring truer than the truth.