Best Places To Retire These six cities have it all: vitality, great quality of life, affordable housing and plenty to see and do.
(MONEY Magazine) – In Oxford, Miss., the spirit of William Faulkner fills the air. In Eugene, Ore., retirees are on a first-name basis with nature. In Tucson, you can enjoy the calming still of the desert without forsaking museums, concerts and the theater. For the past several weeks, MONEY has been searching for the best places to retire. We've culled U.S. Census data, studied demographic trends and talked to scores of people--from retirees to real estate agents about everything from the quality of life to current home prices--to assemble a stellar collection of communities. Our 2001 choices, six places and three runners-up from across the country, are lively and vibrant, with first-class cultural attractions, access to leading universities and proximity to the best that Mother Nature has to offer. Some are small towns, others picturesque islands, still others livable cities, but all have good home values, relatively low property taxes and access to top medical care. And since we know today's retirees don't just sit back and relax, they are close to major airports.
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NORTHWEST EUGENE Oregon
The Kalapuya Indians cherished the Willamette Valley for its natural gifts--gleaming rivers and a mossy landscape framed by the Cascade and Coast mountain ranges. That splendor continues to lure retirees to Eugene, a gloriously verdant town just two hours from Portland and an hour from the ocean. The surrounding area is a nature lover's paradise the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined: national forests punctuated by volcanic peaks, wilderness inhabited by blacktail deer, elk, redtail hawks, bear and cougar; and 21 state parks, including nine-mile-long Detroit Lake.
The city is as exciting as the vistas. There are cultural amenities galore, among them the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, which houses eight dance and music groups. And the University of Oregon calls this town home, making it ideal for pursuing intellectual endeavors. Retirees can audit classes and attend campus events for just $125 a year. Home prices are another good value: Three-bedroom houses generally begin at under $250,000 and two-bedroom condominiums at less than $200,000.
Eugene gets 49 inches of rain a year, 45% more than the national average, but residents like this town so much they shrug at the weather. "We have an excellent symphony. Great stores. You can walk down by the river," says Aileen Draper, a retired nurse who moved to Eugene in 1991 from Sacramento. "It's an oasis here."
POPULATION:138,000 PRICE OF THREE-BEDROOM HOME: $250,000 PROPERTY TAX: $18 per $1,000 assessed value MAJOR AIRPORT: Portland, 60 miles MAJOR LURES: Willamette River, University of Oregon, Hult Center for Performing Arts
SOUTHWEST TUCSON Arizona
When Tom and Judy Mott traded in frigid Illinois winters for a warmer spot, they retired to Phoenix. But they soon discovered, and fell in love with, Tucson. "We're not big-city people," says Tom, 59. "We liked Tucson's more relaxed attitude."
As the Motts have found, Tucson is an ideal spot for retirees who crave culture and the outdoors. On the one hand, the city is home to the Tucson Symphony, Arizona Opera Company and the Arizona Theater Company; and the Tucson Museum of Art recently reopened its Palice Pavilion, which houses an impressive collection of pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art. On the other, the Sonoran Desert, the Santa Catalina Mountains and Saguaro National Park provide ample recreational opportunities. The Nature Conservancy runs programs for retirees, including hikes to Sabino Canyon in Coronado National Forest, north of the city.
Tucson's willingness to embrace its arid environment distinguishes it from other cities in the state; though three times larger than Scottsdale, where sprinklers keep grass green, it uses half as much water.
Housing here is affordable: A two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,800-square-foot home with a swimming pool runs about $150,000 to $200,000. For the Motts, that makes Tucson a real paradise.
POPULATION: 487,000 PRICE OF THREE-BEDROOM HOME: $200,000 PROPERTY TAX: $14 to $16 per $1,000 assessed value Major airport: Tucson Major lure: Loews Ventana Canyon Resort golf course
WEST ESCONDIDO California
Golden images of Southern California's beaches and Mediterranean comforts have been eclipsed by the reality of traffic snarls, high costs and endless sprawl. But Escondido is a quiet and inexpensive haven that's surrounded by avocado and citrus groves, mountains and desert, yet offers many of the cultural attractions of its big-city brethren--Los Angeles, two hours to the north, and San Diego, half an hour to the south. Call it California lite. At the center of Escondido, the hub of an area known as North County or San Diego North, is the $82 million California Center for the Arts, with a concert hall, theater, fine arts museum and gallery space. "We don't have to travel into San Diego or L.A. for first-class performances," says DeAnna LoCoco, a 61-year-old retired restaurant owner who moved to Escondido from L.A. in the 1980s. "After the show, I'm home in 15 minutes."
Relatively low home prices for Southern California are another lure, with three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot houses available for $350,000 or less. There's plenty to do in the area, including golf at 13 public courses and performances at the 2,200-seat Moonlight Amphitheatre in nearby Vista, not to mention the alluring surf at great state beaches just a few minutes away from the town center. And if you like to shop, browse or just hang out, Escondido is perfect. Its newly revitalized downtown along Grand Avenue is abuzz with art galleries, antique shops and outdoor cafes.
POPULATION: 134,000 PRICE OF THREE-BEDROOM HOME: $300,000 PROPERTY TAX: $10.52 per $1,000 assessed value MAJOR AIRPORT: San Diego, 35 miles MAJOR LURES: California Center for the Performing Arts, Grand Avenue
SOUTHEAST EDISTO AND SEABROOK ISLANDS South Carolina
Everyone fantasizes about retiring to a dreamy island by the sea. If you love the beach but also have a taste for variety, we recommend two islands near Charleston, S.C. Seabrook, 25 miles from the city, is a gated community catering mostly to upscale retirees; it has the feel of a resort, with two private golf courses and a swanky equestrian center. Fifty-five-square-mile Edisto Island is "the beachy, semitropical version of Mayberry," says Melinda Hester of the chamber of commerce. You can still taste Edisto's rustic past. There are no movie theaters or hotels, but you can stock up on local produce at the George and Pink vegetable stand.
On Seabrook, $350,000 buys a three-bedroom home on a wooded lot away from the beach. But on Edisto, it buys a three-bedroom house right on the water; inland, prices begin as low as $275,000.
The islands benefit from their proximity both to Charleston--a lively town with a 2,000-seat performing arts center, numerous colleges and hospitals--and to the 350,000-acre ACE Basin and its 12,000-acre national wildlife refuge. "I look out of my window and I see a marsh, a lighthouse and the Atlantic," says Pete Duncan, 66, who retired to the area from Connecticut. "It feels great to be alive."
POPULATION: 4,500 (Edisto), 1,250 (Seabrook) Price of three-bedroom home: $275,000 to $400,000 PROPERTY TAX: $9 to $13 per $1,000 assessed value MAJOR AIRPORT: Charleston, 34 to 44 miles MAJOR LURE: ACE Basin, Charleston
SOUTH OXFORD Mississippi
Shirley Perry has traveled the globe. The former case manager for the CIA did stints in Vienna and Munich and visited the Middle East. But when she retired two years ago, she settled in Oxford, Miss.
"I wanted a warm climate and a university town with artistic and academic offerings," she says. "It simply fit the bill."
The home of the University of Mississippi--and hometown of William Faulkner--Oxford combines a southern lifestyle with the cosmopolitan flair of a college town. Town seniors can take one free course each semester at Ole Miss. The town itself is a safe, pleasant place to walk, with a picture-postcard downtown full of beautifully restored 19th-century architecture and unique shops. For active retirees there are more than 40 tennis courts, an indoor Olympic-size pool and the Ole Miss golf course. The nearby 147,000-acre Holly Springs National Forest and Lake Sardis bring hiking and fishing to the town's front door.
All this comes at a reasonable price. The state has a favorable tax structure for retirees. While you can pay up to $1.6 million for a home near Oxford Square, you can also buy a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home on a lush lot for under $200,000. Townhouses cost less. Then there's the spirit of Faulkner. "This is an oasis of culture and literature," says Perry.
POPULATION: 12,000 PRICE OF THREE-BEDROOM HOME: $200,000 PROPERTY TAX: $6 to $11 per $1,000 assessed value MAJOR AIRPORT: Memphis, 65 miles MAJOR LURES: University of Mississippi, Oxford Square
NEW ENGLAND HANOVER New Hampshire
Maybe it's a hazard of being a town with a perfectly appointed Ivy League college whose cultural offerings rival those of many metropolises, but Hanover and Dartmouth College are indistinguishable to many people. Take a closer look, though, and you'll find a tight-knit community devoted to maintaining its rural New England character--a place where "retirement" means "activity." For many retirees that involves the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD). Founded in 1990, this volunteer organization offers peer-led noncredit continuing education classes for just $40 a term. Participants--last year there were more than 1,000--can choose from between 20 and 30 study groups each term.
For those who prefer nature to classroom study, the Appalachian Trail meanders through town, offering plenty of territory for hiking. And there's the glorious leaf-turning every fall, which brings many visitors to the area.
All of this has made Hanover such a prime spot that home prices start at about $350,000. Avid fans insist Hanover is a great value. "This is a place for an active retirement," says Joe Medlicott, 75, a former reporter and English teacher who paddled his canoe from Hanover to Old Saybrook, Conn. several summers ago. "I'm outside as much as I can possibly be."
POPULATION: 8,200 PRICE OF THREE-BEDROOM HOME: $375,000 PROPERTY TAX: $21 to $23 per $1,000 assessed value MAJOR AIRPORT: Boston, 110 miles MAJOR LURES: Dartmouth College, White Mountains, Appalachian Trail