Many new retirees aim to “withdraw” to a certain extent from a life of fast-paced activity. Such people, especially if they’ve had long and stressful careers, may prefer a quieter life in a beach or mountain community, where they can engage in leisure pursuits and community activities at their choosing. However, many other people thrive in dynamic environments and couldn’t imagine a life of “tranquility.” For these people, remaining in or moving to a large city is the best choice, especially if they plan to continue working in some capacity or to pursue additional education.
What are the best cities in the United States to retire in? Most large cities will have superior medical care, a wide range of housing choices, job opportunities for seniors, and at least a few institutions of higher learning. But some destinations might be better suited than others.
Boston is a city that has just about everything for an active retiree. The city’s population is about 500,000, but the metro area has more than 4 million, and the mass transit system makes it easy to get around. Downtown Boston is interesting and safe for pedestrians, and many of the suburban centers, particularly Cambridge, have just as much to offer. If you like a city that is easy to get around in by foot, Boston has a compact urban core, as well as long pedestrian paths along the Charles River. As one of America’s oldest cities, Boston is filled with historical sites and museums; the city boasts a broad range of architectural styles. And, of course, the Boston area is noted for its universities, of which there are dozens; the universities ensure plenty of opportunities for continuing education, as well as an active cultural scene.
Housing in Boston is expensive: median home prices in the metro area are over $350,000, although some neighborhoods are of course cheaper, and the extensive rapid transit system allows you to live farther out while having easy access to downtown. Taxes and living costs are also relatively high; depending on how you want to live, you’ll need to make sure you can comfortably afford Boston. The city is far north and the winters are cold. And Boston traffic is notorious. However, with so many attractions, Boston should be near the top of any retiree’s list.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S.; in recent years, it has become very popular as a retirement destination. The city is famous for Tejano culture, the downtown River Walk, the Alamo shrine and museum, and theme parks. Many festivals are held here year-round; because of the warm climate, you can enjoy the outdoors all year. Partly because San Antonio has become a popular tourist destination, there’s always something going on. And because of the tourist industry, there’s plenty of part-time and short-term employment for retirees.
San Antonio is inexpensive; the median price of a home is $158,000. The city is beginning to cater to retirees, and there are many retirement communities, particularly north of the downtown area. Many of these communities offer various levels of assisted living. Otherwise, there are more than a dozen major hospitals in San Antonio, including the South Texas Medical Center. On the downside, summers are hot (temperatures averaging in the mid-90s), and, as with any city of over a million people, there is some crime.
Retirees have been flocking to Florida for generations, and the state is flooded with retirement communities, from the Atlantic beaches to the southern Gulf coast to Orlando in the middle of the state. The state’s largest city, however, is Jacksonville, on the northeast Atlantic coast. With more than 800,000 inhabitants, Jacksonville is very much a “working” city, a world apart from the retirement and vacation centers further south. As such, there are plenty of jobs here of all sorts — both paid and volunteer — for retirees who wish to stay busy. And the University of North Florida, along with smaller universities and community colleges, offer continuing education possibilities.
Jacksonville’s climate is a big draw: average July temperatures of 90 degrees, average January temperatures of 65. There are beautiful Atlantic coast beaches just a short drive from downtown. For jazz fans, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, the nation’s second-largest jazz festival, takes place every April. And the city is inexpensive. Housing sales prices have averaged below $150,000; this is a buyer’s market for homes. Real estate prices in the beach communities — Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach, and others — are higher; homes and condominiums closer to the city center are cheaper. And Florida has no state income tax, further driving down the overall cost of living.
On the other side of the country, Portland, Oregon, offers retirees a youthful and energetic environment. The city itself has about 550,000 people (more than 2 million in the metro area), and has been a magnet for young people. There are plenty of opportunities for paid and volunteer work, as well as for continuing education. The city is filled with parks — 227 of them — and is very pedestrian friendly. It’s also a great city for cycling, with nearly 300 miles of designated bike lanes. Urban planning has been extensive, with land-use controls moderating the effects of growth. From many points in the city, there are views of parks, rivers, and even Mount Hood in the Cascade range 50 miles to the east.
Real estate in Portland is reasonably priced; the median sales price for a home in the metro area is about $240,000, down from earlier years. It’s best to rent for a while first, to get a feel for the city’s many diverse neighborhoods. In the suburbs, there are many active adult communities specifically designed for retirees. And there many opportunities for higher education; Portland State University is the city’s largest university, whereas the smaller Reed College is noted for its progressive curriculum and student body. Portland’s major downside is its wetness: it rains 155 days a year.
Pittsburgh doesn’t routinely come up in conversations about retirement destinations, but this city of 310,000 is consistently found on “Best Places to Live” lists. This old industrial steel town has shown great resilience through periods of economic stress; it has lost population over the years, but is now beginning to gain a reputation as a cultural center. And there are many prestigious schools in the city, including the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne, and Carnegie-Mellon. The downtown area is compact but dramatically situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
Home prices are cheap — $127,000 on average in 2010 — although, as always, there are many distinct neighborhoods with varying home prices. The East End, where most of the universities are located, is wealthier than other parts of the city. Many homes in older neighborhoods have undergone careful restoration. On the downside, winters in Pittsburgh are long and dreary, with more rain than snow.
This is just a short list of some of America’s best cities for retirees; there are plenty of other possibilities, from Denver to Omaha to Charlotte to New York. Focus on what kind of retirement you wish to pursue, and you’ll find just the right spot to settle down.