Best Places To Retire Affordable living, good health care, plenty of outdoor activities and the chance to keep learning make these five cities our favorites.
(MONEY Magazine) – Picking a place to retire sounds easy enough: Just grab a map, find a town with clear skies and balmy weather, buy some sunblock, move, relax.
Of course, it's not so simple. The hot spots of the Arizona sunbelt and Florida's Atlantic coast aren't for everyone--and a cross-country move away from family and friends is often an untenable scenario. Retirement, after all, isn't a one-size-fits-all lifestyle change. But for hundreds of thousands of us every year, retirement is, in effect, a new destination, and where we go says a lot about who we are and who we want to be.
Over the past few months, MONEY's editors have looked for the best places in America to retire. With the help of Fast Forward, a demographics consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., we identified a select group of communities that are today's most popular choices for migrating retirees. (To read about Henderson, Nev., the most popular retirement town on that list, see page 108.) Our next goal was to home in on the ones that best reflect the interests of MONEY's readers--cities under 250,000 where a vigorous retirement is the norm and where education opportunities, outdoor activities, cultural amenities and good medical care are near at hand. Moreover, since today's retirees are often on the go, we looked for towns with good transportation options. And, of course, we cast a keen eye on home prices, taxes and cost-of-living indexes. In the end, we settled on five outstanding places and five runners-up. Not only do our picks present a range of distinct geographic regions, they embody a range of sensibilities as well.
And what if your criteria and ours happen to differ? Please visit our Best Places to Retire site at www.money.com. By plugging the qualities you're looking for into a database of 474 cities and towns, you can find the retirement spot that's right for you.
NORTHWEST BEND, OREGON
Heading west across Oregon in the mid-1800s, the pioneers arriving at the Deschutes River would cross at a point near the center of the state that soon came to be known as Farewell Bend. In time, a community developed around the shimmy in the river; with the arrival of the railroad and the lumber industry, the small settlement grew to become a thriving town. Today, Bend is a booming retirement center, and the fact that it takes its name from a natural phenomenon is perfectly apt. That's because if retiring to the great outdoors is your dream, this is the place to go. Shielded by the Cascade Mountain range to the west, the city enjoys a high-desert climate and mild weather that permits just about every outdoor activity imaginable: golf at one of 24 nearby golf courses; fly-fishing and white-water rafting in its nearby streams and rivers; and hiking, camping, biking and horseback riding in the mountains and lava fields of the surrounding countryside.
Dave and Pat Quenzer, both 56 and avid skiers, moved here to retire in 1998. Their typical winter day means hitting the slopes on nearby Mount Bachelor from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. And they're the norm. "It's amazing how many people in their eighties you see skiing or hiking the mountains," Dave says. "They're amazingly fit."
Maybe that's why Don and Helen Compton have adjusted so well. The couple, both 66 years old, retired to Bend in 1994 from Wyoming, Ohio. These days, the Comptons grow hay for pasturing on their 20-acre farm, where a typical day starts at seven in the morning. After breakfast they bike 6 1/2 miles to town to shop and then bike back. "We used to come here on vacation to ski, and our kids live out west," says Don. "So relocating was a logical choice."
Is Bend solely for outdoorsy folk? There are several museums, theaters, and for music lovers, the Cascade Music Festival. There's even a nearby casino for high rollers. But you'd better love fresh air if you're moving here. For one thing, Bend is a three-hour drive from Portland. For another, its Central Oregon Community College has limited academic options for seniors. Still, one of the state's best medical facilities, St. Charles Medical Center, is located here, and a small airport has daily flights to Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. And there's virtually no crime.
Perhaps Bend's biggest liability is its popularity. When the Comptons began vacationing here in 1991, the population was about 19,000. Now the metro area is 50,000--and showing no signs of slowing down. The cost of living here remains reasonable, but Dave Quenzer notes that overcrowding could lead to the locals' greatest fear. Traffic? Nope. He's talking about lines at the ski lifts. --N.P.
Stats IN A NUTSHELL: THE ULTIMATE RETIREMENT DESTINATION FOR NATURE LOVERS POPULATION: 30,148 MEDIAN SINGLE-FAMILY HOME PRICE: $167,000 NEAREST BIG CITY: PORTLAND, THREE HOURS BY CAR ANNUAL SUNNY DAYS: 194 AVERAGE LOW TEMPERATURE IN JANUARY: 27[degrees]F
NEW ENGLAND BRUNSWICK, MAINE
Bill Smith has become an expert in modern Irish literature. He can also give you a quick lesson in geology. He's not a know-it-all, nor does he have a doctorate in literature or science. Instead, he learned it all after retiring to Brunswick.
When Bill, 76, and his wife Gloria, 72, decided to sell their home five years ago, they knew they wanted to be closer to their daughter in Belfast, Maine. But how to find something more than just nice ocean views and good lobster? Enter Brunswick, a small, smart, culturally vibrant New England town with one of the best liberal arts schools in the country, Bowdoin College. "That's one of the reasons we settled here," says Bill, who--like all Brunswick residents--can audit classes at Bowdoin for free. Moreover, the Smiths can attend Bowdoin Business Breakfasts, where successful business professionals speak, as well as the hugely popular Bowdoin Summer Music Festival. Those attractions brought Walt and Christine Rosen, both 70, here from Delaware in early 1999. "We've been here just a year," Walt says, "and we've already been going to classes, lectures and music."
But there's more to Brunswick than homework. The nearby Maine Maritime Museum boasts exhibits on the history of sailing and offers seniors discounted seminars on how to build boats; the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum holds memorabilia from Admiral Peary's many voyages; and Portland's museums, theaters and restaurants are just a 30- minute drive. Should you crave an even bigger town, Boston is two hours away.
Brunswick is not without its downside. If you're thinking of moving here, state and local income taxes, based on a $50,000 annual salary, are 8.5% and the state sales tax is 6%. Although prices for single-family homes are reasonable--the Smiths paid $135,000 for theirs--property taxes can be high. And it's no Florida weather. While summer temperatures hover around 79[degrees]F, January temperatures dip into the single digits.
Still, there's an extraordinarily well-rounded aspect to Brunswick that convinced us it deserved a spot on our best places list. Medical care is improving: In addition to nearby Portland's Maine Medical Center, a new facility, Mid Coast Hospital, is now being built in Brunswick. The town boasts low crime as well as clean air and water. Besides sailing and fishing, there's skiing and golf--and the Freeport shopping outlets are just 15 minutes away.
As for the Smiths, what they like best is the intergenerational aspect of living there. And talk about the myth of a generation gap. "We invite students we meet in classes over for dinner," says Gloria, who's now making her way through intermediate Italian. "It's very refreshing to hear their points of view." --N.P.
IN A NUTSHELL: A SMALL, CULTURALLY VIBRANT, NEW ENGLAND COLLEGE TOWN POPULATION: 14,586 MEDIAN SINGLE-FAMILY HOME PRICE: $153,640 NEAREST BIG CITY: PORTLAND, 30 MINUTES BY CAR ANNUAL SUNNY DAYS: 203 AVERAGE LOW TEMPERATURE IN JANUARY: 11.7[degrees]F
ROCKY MOUNTAINS FORT COLLINS, COLO.
Don and Ruth Miller may hold the relocation record. During Don's former career as a computer programmer, they lived almost everywhere, including California, Minnesota and Switzerland. They even tried retiring to Bentonville, Ark. once, but the heat drove them away. Last September, their search finally ended after 19 moves. That's when they arrived in Fort Collins.
Fort Collins is a great place to live, but it's also a great place to retire--a town that's both cultured and outdoorsy at the same time. Situated in the eastern foothills of the Rockies' Front Range, it's just an hour north of Denver. Because of its location, the town's residents can find good skiing just an hour and a half away; if they're willing to drive a little farther, they can hit the slopes at Vail, Breckenridge and Beaver Creek. Each resort offers some discount for seniors--and anyone over 70 skis free. For the warmer months, there are 13 golf courses in town. Those wanting to get closer to nature can visit Cache La Poudre canyon nearby, a great place to hike, kayak or go rafting. "We were amazed," says Don, 64. "People live outdoors here."
How does Fort Collins measure up in other categories? The town has a low crime rate, tidy streets and lots of night life, and it's close to both good hospitals and Denver International Airport. Those are some of the reasons why Cynthia and Frank Leibrock, 52 and 58, respectively, have stayed in Fort Collins. Originally, the couple moved here in 1987 to continue their studies at Colorado State University. Then they fell in love with the town. Today they live just outside town on a 40-acre ranch; Frank works as an administrator at Colorado State University, while Cynthia designs housing for the aging and disabled.
As someone who works closely with seniors, Cynthia believes that retirees have got it good here. "There's a good family atmosphere," she notes, adding that she and her husband plan to retire in Fort Collins. She also counts off a raft of indoor activities: If you're interested in continuing education, she says, CSU offers discounts on certain classes to anyone over 60. For entertainment, there's the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Collins opera company and more than 45 movie screens in town. And Denver's museums, restaurants, performing arts and professional sports teams are only an hour away. There's so much to do, says Don Miller, that "we haven't had the time to go to all the different events."
Of course, Fort Collins is not perfect. With a median single-family home costing $203,890, housing can get expensive. And with a population of roughly 110,000 and growing, the city lacks the small-town feel that some retirees seek. Still, after a lifetime of moving from town to town, the Millers are hard-pressed to find any fault with their new city. This time, they're staying. They have finally found a home. --N.P.
IN A NUTSHELL: A MID-SIZE CITY FOR BOTH THE VIGOROUS AND THE CULTURED POPULATION: 110,423 MEDIAN SINGLE-FAMILY HOME PRICE: $203,890 NEAREST BIG CITY: DENVER, ONE HOUR BY CAR ANNUAL SUNNY DAYS: 246 AVERAGE LOW TEMPERATURE IN JANUARY: 16.2[degrees]F
GULF COAST BRADENTON, FLA.
Pop quiz: What state has snarly traffic, endless miles of beachfront high-rises and throngs of college students arriving every year during spring break? Did you say Florida? Is that your final answer?
Then maybe you should check out Bradenton, a first-class beach town that could never be confused with timeworn Florida retirement destinations like Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach. Nestled on the west coast of Florida at the southern edge of Tampa Bay, Bradenton has 27 miles of spectacular white sand beaches, including those on nearby Anna Maria Island. There's access to river, bay and gulf fishing, and the Gulf of Mexico ensures plenty of wind if sailing's your thing. And there are no hulking condos. Bradenton boasts scores of well-maintained retirement communities, but many seniors here live instead in single-family homes on canals and bays.
Clearly, if you like sun and surf, this is the place. And if you're a sports fan, look no further. Tampa--where you can catch the Lightning, the Buccaneers or the Devil Rays--is less than an hour's drive. Eight professional baseball teams come to the area for spring training, including the Pittsburgh Pirates (who train in Bradenton proper), the Cincinnati Reds (in nearby Sarasota) and the New York Yankees (in Tampa). Bradenton also has 24 golf courses, a host of theaters and a number of art galleries.
George and Joan Morse, 59 and 58, respectively, spend summers back in New Hampshire to avoid the scorching Florida heat. But they can't imagine staying in New England year round. They love the beaches, sailing and fishing here. And George gets to see his beloved Red Sox during spring training. The only drawback? "Our granddaughter lives in Massachusetts and we miss her," he says. The upside is that she likes to visit, especially since Disney World is only an hour and a half away.
Like the Morses, Hugh and Patricia Joyner, 58 and 55, retired to Bradenton in 1999 from New England--in their case, Westport, Conn. They came for the balmy weather and the sailing but felt reassured by several first-rate hospitals nearby. The Joyners' theater subscriptions, museum visits and volunteer work tutoring underprivileged schoolkids leaves them little time to sit still--or to sail. It's not exactly a conventional retirement of rest and relaxation, but that's okay. Says Hugh: "I'm as busy as I ever was." He'll slow down when he's good and ready. --N.P.
IN A NUTSHELL: A PERFECT FLORIDA BEACH TOWN FOR SUN AND SAILING POPULATION: 49,193 MEDIAN SINGLE-FAMILY HOME PRICE: $91,610 NEAREST BIG CITY: TAMPA, 30 MINUTES BY CAR ANNUAL SUNNY DAYS: 238 AVERAGE LOW TEMPERATURE IN JANUARY: 50.1[degrees]F
SOUTHEAST ASHEVILLE, N.C.
It's no accident that the University of North Carolina's Center for Creative Retirement (NCCCR) is located in Asheville. Its home is here because thousands of retirees--drawn by a reasonable cost of living, breathtaking scenery, four mild seasons and educational opportunities--have chosen to call Asheville home. Currently, the NCCCR oversees age-integrated classes, as well as a variety of community-service programs and leadership training seminars. But, as director Ronald Manheimer puts it, "the center is particularly responsive to the new definition of retirement--the taking on of a second career, the opportunity to act on values that have long been held but have not necessarily been put into practice."
Talk to a few Asheville retirees and you'll see that philosophy in action. Michael and Sharon Patterson, both 61-year-old former insurance executives, moved here from San Antonio six years ago. "We were too young to lie down," says Michael. After the move, Sharon joined Big Sisters and began running a charitable food organization, while Michael started publishing a monthly 24-page nonprofit newspaper. "This community has an influx of outsiders, who bring in different cultural values," he explains. "There are also a lot of people who work at home. The paper is a way to give a sense of community."
Not that there isn't a developed sense of community already. The city's historic district is filled with restaurants and a number of galleries, thanks to a burgeoning local art scene. For music lovers, Asheville boasts a symphony and some of the best bluegrass music around. There's lots to do outdoors as well--golf, skiing and hiking along miles and miles of trails. And health care is outstanding. Asheville's Mission St. Joseph's hospital system--which includes the Owen Heart Center--ranked ninth out of 532 community hospitals in a recent independent nationwide study.
Life in Asheville may get even better. In the fall, NCCCR plans to start a Center for Unretirement for the wave of boomers who will mix retirement with a second or continuing career. If they come here seeking a mecca for the mentally curious and the physically active--in short, a city where retirement is a new beginning, not an end--we think they could do no better. --J.C.
IN A NUTSHELL: A CHARMING UNIVERSITY TOWN FOR "UNRETIRED" RETIREES POPULATION: 63,246 MEDIAN SINGLE-FAMILY HOME PRICE: $148,730 NEAREST BIG CITY: CHARLOTTE, TWO HOURS BY CAR ANNUAL SUNNY DAYS: 209 AVERAGE LOW TEMPERATURE IN JANUARY: 27.3[degrees]F