NEW YORK -- Retirement restricted to Arizona or Florida was just fine for the Greatest Generation, but their kids want more.
The World War II generation grew up in cities during the Depression, headed to the suburbs after the war and retired in the sunshine -- so the American fable goes. Ensuing generations raised their kids in the suburbs, sent them off to college and suddenly found themselves with two incomes and no kids. Warm coastal life is still alluring, but dinners out, wine tastings, movies under the stars and full-service buildings with elevators, free gyms, window washers, delis and convenience stores downstairs and the occasional free meal in the lobby have just as much appeal.
For a generation that wants to set the Wayback Machine to 30 or 40 years ago, just about any affordable location that isn't in a remote suburb or Good School District, USA, will do. We consulted with the American Association of Retired People, the Census Bureau and the National Association of Realtors and found 10 cities that may not fit the golf-carts-and-community-game-nights stereotype, but reward retirees who aspire to more than socks, sandals and a sensible early bird special:
The 10 Best Retirement Cities in America
Median home price: $145,000
Nestled between the Rockies and the Cascades and the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis, Spokane is perhaps the best place for a working retiree to take advantage of Washington's lack of income tax. Its lovely riverfront park, dam, historic downtown and tree-lined streets are lovely, but the AARP loves the $5 admission fee at its Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. It's near great skiing in the Cascades and Rockies and 76 lakes and rivers for whitewater rafting and fishing. It also has a great health care infrastructure with six major hospitals, just in case the whitewater rafting doesn't go too well.
Remember when we discussed the wants of the urban retiree? Yeah, Bend cashed in on all of that before it was cool to do so. As much as Bend is beloved for its hiking, biking trails through the Deschutes National Forest and kayaking on the Cascade Lakes and Deschutes River, the AARP says it's become similarly attractive for its concert venues, movie theaters, festivals and 10 craft breweries. The best part? You can get a growler of Chainbreaker Ale as part of a fire sale. Bend got a little too much hype in the mid-2000s, and the housing crisis knocked prices down 55% since their peak.
The first major league city on our list, the home of the NBA's Spurs only gets cheaper after the Spurs' tops-in-Texas $58.45 average ticket price. Season passes to Six Flags (SIX) are less than $60, the weekend price of a round of golf at top clubs is $40 and San Antonio's bike share program gives residents a bike for $10 a day. With five times as many low-to-no cost museums and libraries as Austin, the biggest Mexican marketplace outside Mexico in Old Market Square, the San Antonio River Walk's views and outdoor dining and more than 260 days of sunshine, those bike rentals can come in handy.
After decades of declining population and diminishing jobs, Pittsburgh has turned the tide with help from the University of Pittsburgh's vast health care network, a slew of start-ups and tech companies and people willing to pay its low buy-in price for high returns on dining, entertainment and overall character. Its affordable arts offerings include one of the nation's great symphony orchestras and the Andy Warhol Museum, while its dining ranges from steak-and-french-fry-stuffed Primanti Brothers sandwiches and Iron City beer to scores of diverse eateries in the Strip District and traditional German-style brews from local brewers such as Penn Brewery. With not one but three beautiful, bridge-spanned rivers to boat on, the Steel City has a lock on great reasons to live there. In the warmer months, you can take the incline railroad to for great views, go lawn bowling on the green or catch the Pirates at the most beautiful baseball stadium in America at PNC (PNC) Field. Ticket demand has been dampened by years of futility, but an average ticket price of $16.11 isn't bad for views of the bridges over Pittsburgh's three rivers or even a late-season look at this year's playoff contenders.
Want to go whitewater rafting and biking? Asheville and its surrounding rivers and mountains are willing to oblige. Want to go hear some music? The city's teeming with buskers, venues and festivals. Want a beer? Take your pick from a growing number of local brewers that will soon include Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues. Looking for architecture that will take your breath away and health care that will give it back? The Art Deco buildings downtown, Victorian architecture in Montford and the Gilded Age homes of the Vanderbilts will keep you busy as the sprawling Mission Health System keeps you safe. That's a lot of amenities for a such a small cost of living.
You don't need the biggest city in the world to get a taste of big-city living. Charleston has about 123,000 residents but is flush with farmers' markets, bars serving vodka-laced sweet tea and restaurants stuffed with low-country fare. Natural attractions include sandy beaches, palm trees and temperate weather, give or take the occasional hurricane. The cost of living is fairly low, but the AARP was most impressed with the low cost of continuing education at the College of Charleston, where folks 60 and over can take most classes tuition-free for a $25 fee. Baby boomers have taken the bait, as the Charleston metro had seventh-biggest increase in the number of residents over age 45 in the country in the past decade. That demographic is now 35% of the total population.
Warren Buffett isn't the only well-heeled benefactor dumping money into Omaha. During the past few years, an influx of wealth has helped fund projects such as the Mutual of Omaha-financed Midtown Crossing redevelopment of its former industrial area. As a result, retirees now have access to flats near the Old Market area, where bars offer live jazz with no cover charge. Many of the low-cost amenities in Omaha aren't all that young at heart -- including the $12.50 senior price at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium or the $8.50 Grandmere Scramble or Dusseldorf Casserole at Wheatfields -- but its theaters, symphony and museums and various minor league sports teams can keep you busy until the jazz clubs open.
The economy's thriving here, the taxes are minimal, hospitals abound and the state bank draws raves. If that's your idea of a good time, that's fantastic, because it gets a little slow here otherwise. There are movies and theater, sure, and some minor league and college sports and roller derby. There are even a number of golf courses in town to chip away at. Some of those courses turn into cross-country ski trails in the winter, but that's to be expected. For what you save in money and peace of mind, you'll also get an average of a foot of snow in December and January and average high temperatures that flirt with 20 degrees during that time. Low temperatures hit freezing in September and don't climb too much above that until April. The average low temperature in January is 0.1 degrees. If you love your money and the cold, this is heaven.
We couldn't leave Florida out of the picture altogether, especially with that lack of income tax and all. But Gainesville is no ordinary Florida town. As with most college towns, Gainesville has great perks, including abundant health care, cheap eats, increased biking infrastructure, museums, theaters and even free access to the University of Florida's Griffin Stadium for running and training. Bands are everywhere and art festivals abound, but even those looking for a slower pace can stroll by the Victorian homes and wrought-iron gates, watch the butterflies at the Florida Museum of Natural History or take a hike by Newnans Lake or through The Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park.
You can get yourself a lakehouse just about anywhere, but will it be in a town with its own film festival, historic theaters, scores of wineries or streets lined with restaurants and flowing with craft beer? Traverse City is parked along 180 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 149 large lakes, many of which have a restaurant dining deck aimed right at them. You could just climb the beaches and lay on the sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or take a ferry out to the Manitou Islands. But that wouldn't get you to the more than two dozen wineries encircling the town, a ticket to the Traverse City Film festival in the summer or to any of the local slopes during the winter.