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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Sandra Block, Senior Editor
| August 2015
Courtesy Visit Sarasota County
Maybe you like the idea of retiring to a town where you’ll never wield a snow shovel again. Or trading your pricey home in a high-tax area for a more affordable city. Or ditching the suburban cul-de-sac for an urban neighborhood.
Our dream retirement places run the gamut: big and small, north and south, mountains and seashore, coast to coast. They all rank high on access to health care—a must for a retirement destination. Some are affordable, with a cost of living that’s at or below the national average (shown as 100). Others are more expensive, but with an attractive location and amenities for retirees who have deeper pockets. We also evaluate cities based on climate, walkability, housing costs compared with the national median ($200,000), tax-friendliness, culture and entertainment, and access to outdoor activities.
SOURCES: U.S. Climate Data, Clear Capital, Kiplinger Retiree Tax Map, WalkScore.com, Council for Community and Economic Research.
Kaitlin Pitsker and Miriam Cross contributed to this slide show.
Vadim Dmitriyev/Getty Images
Cost of living (national avg. = 100): 104
Median home price (national median = $200,000): $218,000
Retiree tax picture: Most tax-friendly
Cool feature: The Ringling estate’s museums and 66-acre Bayfront Gardens
Life in this small city moves a bit more slowly than in St. Petersburg and Tampa, but Sarasota offers plenty of amenities. Examples are the many restaurants and 130-plus stores in the island shopping center of St. Armands Circle, as well as access to the Sarasota Memorial Health Care system, which is one of the largest public health systems in Florida.
Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota has miles of white-sand beaches. Homes a few miles inland tend to be newer and more affordable than homes along the waterfront, which start at about $500,000. Nature lovers will find lush landscapes and subtropical wildlife at the local parks, as well as at Celery Fields (an erstwhile celery farm now known for its birds and wetlands) and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Sarasota also has a lively and diverse arts scene, which includes a ballet company, art museums and an 80-member orchestra.
Courtesy Visit Charlotte
Cost of living: 96
Median home price: $193,000
Retiree tax picture: Mixed
Cool feature: Nascar Hall of Fame
The largest city on our list has seen steady population growth in recent years. Charlotte has an affordable cost of living and a mild climate year-round. It is home to Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health, and more than two dozen art museums and galleries. Downtown, amid the banking and financial offices that keep the local economy humming, locals can browse the 7th Street Public Market for produce, meats and other goods, or grab a bite at local favorite Alexander Michael’s Restaurant & Tavern.
While active-adult communities abound in Charlotte’s suburbs, retirees who prefer an urban lifestyle often head to Charlotte’s lively Center City, including the historic South End neighborhood. The bus and light-rail systems make for easy access to everything from shops and restaurants to museums and sports venues. Homes within Center City generally cost between $250,000 and $300,000.
Cost of living: 100
Median home price: $192,000
Cool feature: The Beaux Arts–style Handley Library
This city appeals to retirees who love its small-town Southern charm and big-city amenities. Located 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Winchester experiences all four seasons, but winters aren’t as fierce as they are farther north. Old Town Winchester, the city’s recently renovated pedestrian mall, features more than 30 restaurants and bars, serving up everything from sushi to Jamaican cuisine. On Saturdays from May through October, the Old Town Farmers Market offers produce and baked goods from area farms.
The area surrounding Winchester is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Residents can kayak and fish in the Shenandoah River or hike in Shenandoah National Park. Local farms feature days for you to pick your own produce, including strawberries, apples and pumpkins.
Cost of living: 140 (Boston)
Median home price: $643,000
Retiree tax picture: Not tax-friendly
Cool feature: Harvard Square
One way to remain intellectually agile in retirement is to spend time with really smart people. And it’s hard to find a city that has a higher collective IQ than Cambridge, home to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There’s no excuse for boredom: On any day of the week, you can attend a lecture, a museum exhibit or a concert. If you run out of things to do in Cambridge, you can take the subway (known as the T) to downtown Boston for only $1.05 if you’re 65 or older.
The Cambridge/Boston metropolitan area offers some of the best health care in the country. Massachusetts General, the largest teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, has specialists in more than 60 areas of health care.
Cambridge is one of the country’s most walkable communities, and residents can accomplish most errands on foot. Other than frigid winters, the biggest drawback is the cost of living. The median home price in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area is well above the national median, and within the Cambridge area, many condos are priced at $600,000 or more. On the plus side, the property taxes in Cambridge are among the lowest in Massachusetts.
Adam Proctor via Flickr/Creative Commons
Cost of living: 94
Median home price: $112,000
Cool feature: Art in the Park, held each June
Columbia, Mo., has three institutions of higher learning within its boundaries: the University of Missouri, Columbia College and Stephens College. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Missouri—a university-based, noncredit program for adults 50 and older—offers courses on everything from Missouri’s role in the Civil War to how to use your iPad.
Columbia’s hospitals are top-rated and offer rehab facilities as well as geriatric and other specialty services. The Milken Institute’s 2014 survey of “Best Cities for Successful Aging” ranks Columbia third for small metropolitan areas, largely because of its outstanding health care services and job opportunities for older residents.
With the exception of a few close-in neighborhoods, such as Douglass Park, Columbia isn’t a walkable city. However, active retirees will enjoy the 4.7-mile Nature and Fitness Trail, popular with walkers, bikers and joggers, which cuts through the city and connects to Katy Trail State Park, a rails-to-trails conversion that stretches for 185 miles.
Cost of living: Not available
Median home price: $174,000
Retiree tax picture: Least tax-friendly
Cool feature: Skyways that shield shoppers from the elements
Let’s get this out of the way: Nobody retires to Rochester for the weather. But once you figure out how to bundle up properly during the winter months, Rochester has a lot to offer. The Milken Institute’s survey of best cities for aging ranks Rochester seventh on its list of small metropolitan areas.
Its most recognizable asset is the Mayo Clinic, which attracts thousands of patients every year from around the world. Rochester has the most doctors per capita in the U.S., as well as an abundance of hospital beds. The city’s nursing homes are top-rated, and its hospitals provide specialty care for Alzheimer’s patients.
Rochester has a thriving downtown connected by a series of skyways that shield shoppers from the elements. Every February, the Rochester Downtown Alliance sponsors SocialIce, which features ice-carving demonstrations and seven themed ice bars. During the summer, the alliance sponsors Thursdays on First and Third, a weekly outdoor market with live entertainment and more than 100 food and arts-and-crafts vendors.
Danita Delimont/Getty Images
Median home price: $244,000
Cool feature: Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is a longtime resident.
Santa Fe is ideal for retirees who crave sun, culture and really good food. It has an average of 283 sunny days a year. You can get to the ski slopes in 35 minutes or less, hike or bike for miles in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains (bring sunscreen), or watch the sun set and imagine that you’re in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.
The city has more than 250 art galleries and 12 museums. The Santa Fe Opera, an outdoor amphitheater located seven miles from downtown, provides world-class entertainment. In addition to innovative southwestern fare, local restaurants offer every kind of cuisine, from French to Middle Eastern.
Santa Fe’s major hospital is Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, which has 200 beds and 34 specialties. University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque is about an hour away.
Courtesy Visit Salt Lake
Cost of living: 98
Median home price: $226,000
Cool feature: 12 local breweries in the metro area
Salt Lake City boasts a thriving, walkable downtown that is becoming a haven for retirees. Downtown attractions include a huge library, Broadway shows at the Capitol Theatre, the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall and many restaurants. The city even has a vibrant bar scene that emerged after Utah relaxed its restrictive liquor laws in 2009.
The city’s light-rail system, TRAX, serves downtown Salt Lake City, surrounding areas and Salt Lake City International Airport. During the winter months, the Utah Transit Authority provides bus service to popular ski resorts. Anyone age 65 or older can take the bus for $4.50 round-trip.
Local hospitals include University of Utah Health Care, an academic medical center that offers specialists in geriatrics and Alzheimer’s care, and Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, which also provides specialists in senior health. The city has a large number of home health care providers and offers affordable assisted-living communities and nursing homes, according to the Milken Institute, which ranks Salt Lake City fifth in its best cities for aging survey.
Cost of living: 142
Median home price: $662,000
Cool feature: Batiquitos Lagoon, a coastal salt marsh
Carlsbad, Calif., is a small city 35 miles from San Diego. The city’s Cultural Arts Office organizes a full calendar that includes Foreign Film Fridays, a four-part lecture/performance series on American jazz, and free summer concerts in four local parks. The arts aren’t the only draw. Although Carlsbad isn’t a walkable community, the city has 25 parks, nearly 50 miles of hiking trails and a strong commitment to preserving open space.
Carlsbad offers lots of housing options for retirees, including retirement communities with ocean views. The city’s crime rate is well below the national average. The Tri-City Medical Center in nearby Oceanside is a full-service, acute-care hospital with specialties that include cardiovascular and orthopedic care.
Courtesy Travel Portland
Cost of living: 129
Median home price: $312,000
Cool feature: Powell’s, a huge independent bookstore
The World Health Organization selected Portland as one of its first “age-friendly” cities, and the city is developing policies to make it a comfortable place to grow old. Meanwhile, neighborhoods are increasingly designed to be compact and pedestrian-friendly, with “hubs” that contain grocery stores, cafés and other amenities. Portland also has an excellent public transit system—for which adults 65 or older pay only $1 a ride—as well as more than 300 miles of bikeways. Oregon Health & Science University, the only academic medical center in the state, specializes in heart transplants and complex brain surgeries.
Frequent drizzles don’t keep Portlanders inside for long, thanks to the otherwise moderate weather. Outdoorsy types will love the proximity to Mount Hood and the ocean, but residents can also stay active within the city by strolling in Forest Park or hiking up extinct volcano Mount Tabor.
Portland bursts with theater and music, including the summertime Blues Festival. And the food scene serves up everything from food carts to flashy restaurants, as well as craft beers and locally distilled spirits and wine. People age 62 and older can audit classes free at local colleges.