10 Great Walkable Towns for Retirement

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

March 19, 2013 — We were pleasantly surprised by the high ranking our members gave to walkability in our retirement preferences poll of a few weeks ago (See full report in “Our Members Speak“). So that in turn gave us the idea of providing a list of 10 towns where walkability is excellent — but are also swell places to retire.

Our criteria
If you research “most walkable towns and cities” on the Internet you will find a number of results – but almost all of the lists have the same cities on them. Yes, New York (rated #1 most walkable large city by walkscore.com at 85), Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco are great cities for walking. But, because they are expensive and congested, they will only appeal to a small segment of retirees. At the other extreme, most small towns are by definition quite walkable – if they have a viable downtown.

In this list we we confined our search to mid-size cities with populations between 500,000 and 100,000. Besides outstanding walkability, to be selected they had to have at least another feature attractive to retirees, such as: hospitable climate, ample recreation and parks, cultural opportunities, and affordability. For walkability we relied on the scores reported by walkscore.com, a website that provides walkability ratings on just about anywhere, including specific neighborhoods. All of the cities on our list have a Walk Score® rating of at least 60.

Surprise – California has a lot of walkable cities
The most surprising thing we found in our research was just how many medium size cities in California have above average walkability scores. In fact 9 of the 20 or so cities we looked at were from the Golden State – apparently the land of the freeway and drive-thru window also has plenty of well-planned cities (Note: we eliminated some of these CA towns in an attempt to provide some diversity, and because they tend to be expensive and highly taxed, although attractive in other ways).

Another surprising fact – most of the medium sized cities we found on other walkability lists had very low ratings from walkscore.com. Don’t know where their research came from, but some of those towns and their walkability ratings included Savannah, GA (47); Chattanooga, TN (37); and Naperville, IL (45). Note also that some cities have overall lousy scores (such as Austin, TX) but very high scores if you live in their downtown or other close-in neighborhoods.

UC Berkeley campus

1. Berkeley, California. This affluent city situated across the bay from San Francisco garnered the highest scores of the group – 81.6. The city has a main commercial district that stretches from the bay and up the hill to the beautiful UC Berkeley campus, with many shops and restaurants surrounding it. There is also an abundance of great neighborhoods to walk through.

2. Burbank, California. Located northeast of Los Angeles, Burbank is referred to as the media capital of the world because it is headquarters to so many production companies. With a very high Walk Score® rating of 73.6 it has a downtown, the Burbank Village shopping district, the downtown Burbank Mall, and many cultural institutions.

3. Miami, Florida. In another surprise, WalkScore reports Miami with a population of about 400,000, which kept it in our population range. Miami is a city of many neighborhoods, many of them eminently walkable. Certainly those near the beach such as the Art Deco District are, as are many established old neighborhoods. The city was awarded a 72.5 score.

4. Torrance, California. This southern California city is nearer the coast than Burbank, situated as it is between Los Angeles and Long Beach. The city has a score of 69.7. It has 90,000 street trees and 30 city parks. The city consistently ranks among the safest cities in Los Angeles County. The Torrance Cultural Arts Center hosts cultural events year-round.


5. Pasadena, California. This beautiful City of Roses set up against the hills has a score of 67.7. It also has parks, Cal Tech, Norton Simon museum, and the Huntington Library and Gardens.

6. Arlington, Virginia. The government’s strategy of concentrating much of its new development near transit facilities, such as Metrorail stations, has apparently paid off for walkability (67.1). There are also a number of mixed use and pedestrian oriented “urban villages”, such as Crystal City and Rosslyn.

Quiet streets in Alexandria (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

7. Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria (65.4) is a very old city, a fact which is quite obvious when you walk along its many brick buildings. The restored riverfront along the Potomac is one of the nicest walks you could have anywhere. You can walk to loads of great restaurants and shops.

8. Portland, ME. This city in southern Maine made it onto our list because it is such an interesting mid-sized city, and because of its excellent Walk Score® rating of 65. There are coffees shops, restaurants, brew pubs, and shops galore in the food-centric port city. Granted Maine isn’t particularly retirement-friendly and the winter climate is chilly, but it is still a neat place to retire.

9. Pittsburgh, PA. This is one city that’s a frequent best place to retire destination, and its Walk Score® rating of 64.1 is another reason why. It has multiple universities, high-tech businesses, and a compact center city set against the magnificent coming together of 3 rivers.

10. Hialeah, FL. We haven’t reviewed Hialeah (64) before because it hadn’t been our radar. However it is the 6th largest city in Florida. Hialeah is served by the Miami Metrorail at Okeechobee, Hialeah, and Tri-Rail/Metrorail Transfer stations.

Cities we didn’t mention.
A few cities had very high Walk Scores but we didn’t rank them because they are in states not known to be great for retirement. Hartford (72) and New Haven (66.7) are 2 very walkable cities in Connecticut that missed out because of that consideration. Even higher rated is Cambridge, MA, (88.8) which we eliminated because it is retirement-unfriendly Mass. and because it seems more a part of the very large city of Boston. Tempe, Arizona (61.6) was a close contender.

Cities in California that we didn’t have room to include were Long Beach (66.4), East Los Angeles (69), Santa Clara (64), Costa Mesa (70.6), Glendale (68.8), and Garden Grove (63.6). We also note with some amusement how this week’s Huffington Post slideshow on the 10 Worst Places to Retire included Honolulu (63) as the #2 worst spot (yes, it is expensive and far away – but have you noticed the scenery or the weather!).

For further reference
America’s Walkable Cities from PBS (large and mid-size)
Prevention Magazine’s Best Cities for Walkers
Forbes Most Walkable Cities
Florida Cities for Walkability
Consider Walkability in Your Best Place to Retire
How About a New Urban Community for Retirement

Comments Anyone? Would you disagree with any of these choices? What are your favorite retirement cities for walkability – please let us know in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on March 18th, 2013

42 Comments »

  1. I’d add Denver. Walkscore of 60, lots to do, and a healthy environment. Several of the Denver neighborhoods have walkscores of 90 or above. Population 600,000.

    Jan Cullinane, AARP’s The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement

    by Jan Cullinane — March 19, 2013

  2. California may have walkability and great weather, but a storm is building there that will not be good for anyone, least of all retirees. I have heard there is an exodus out of California to the dismay of their less troubled neighbors. Oftentimes people bring their expectations with them.

    by Donald Vail — March 20, 2013

  3. “Affordable” Cities are Walkable Cities.

    by Robert — March 20, 2013

  4. Regarding Hartford and New Haven in the “Cities Not Mentioned”, I have a good friend who lives in CT, has her whole life and works in New Haven area, and said because of the crime, she wouldn’t walk day or night in New Haven and maybe just daytime in Hartford. Just thought important to add that…

    by Doria — March 20, 2013

  5. I would like to see some cities well under 100,000 total population listed for walkability. As an example I live in Winter Haven FL with population around 35,000. It is walkable with a score of 75 and the city continues to improve its walkability. We chose our condominium partly based on walkability especially for grocery shopping, pharmacies, churches and public places like library and city parks. The city includes a rails to trails conversion of about 4 miles all nicely landscaped excellent walkways and as we speak a bridge over a highway is being constructed to make walking on the trail even easier. It is wonderful living in a location where walking is a possibility and a pleasure. People interested in a good retirement place, with reasonable prices for housing and 50 lakes within the city limits might want to explore Winter Haven FL between Orlando and Tampa off I-4 and an hour from beaches on either coast.

    by David M. Lane — March 20, 2013

  6. I think you had it right in the article written earlier that says that walkability is something to be valued but is one of many things to be considered. Looking at some other lists of cities that are considered walkable, they often contain cities that are highly walkable but I sure wouldn’t want to live there no matter what. Also, as mentioned above, cities may have good and bad neighborhoods to walk in.

    by Larry — March 20, 2013

  7. I am not looking for a big or even medium size city. Which small towns are most walkable?

    by George Hatfield — March 20, 2013

  8. I’m amazed that Bellingham, Washington was omitted. It has many walking trails right within the city, and homes for sale are actually given a “walkability score” by the real estate market, depending on their location, to enhance their desirability.

    Editor’s Note: Thanks for the suggestion Jean. We checked at walkscore.com and Bellingham’s Walk Score is 56 (we had a minimum threshold of 60 in our report). It also has a population of 81,000, under the 100,000 cut-off we had. That said, we think it would be a great idea to expand this list to smaller towns, which we will do in the coming weeks.

    by Jean — March 20, 2013

  9. Check out McKinney, Tx. Voted 2nd best place to live by Forbes in 2012.
    Certain areas such as ElDorado have walking trails that interconnect with city paths and you can walk to the down town historic district,

    by Gary Pinkham — March 20, 2013

  10. I lived 15 minutes south of Hartford, CT most of my life. I am amazed that Hartford would be considered a walkable city choice for retires. First, there is no place to walk to after 6 PM when all the business people leave for the day. There is almost nothing to do at night and the city becomes a ghost town. Second, it’s not safe to walk around in the city after dark. When I retired I left CT. Hartford never even entered my mind as a choice.

    by Elizabeth — March 20, 2013

  11. Jean – What is Bellingham (and Blaine) area for biking and walking other than in summer? I am not being facetious. We are seriously considering a move from mid-Atlantic to NW (OR/WA/ID) and your area comes up often. My wife dislikes the large amount of dreary, cloudy (and snowy) days here (seems to have been winter since October and still on-going). However, in the vein of my love for all things British, I don’t mind clouds, fog, drizzle, etc. If the NW is as dreary in the winter as is described, we would probably spend even more time with sons in San Fran & LA. We have travelled most of USA (and Canada) east of Mississippi, and much of Colorado and New Mexico, parts of Arizona, Nevada and California. Whole middle states are out for us. We are thinking of spending our remaining years exploring NW USA, western Canada, Alaska, northern California.

    by Mad Monk — March 21, 2013

  12. I’m with you Elizabeth. I live 20 minutes from Hartford and worked downtown for 12 years. Although some new trendy restaurants have opened in the last few years, appealing to the bar crowd after work, there is no reason to walk around the city after 7 pm. No stores open and, today, in the Hartford Courant, a headline read (I’m paraphrasing) “Discussions open about supermarket downtown…again.” There is no there there.

    by Larry G. — March 21, 2013

  13. the beach communities in delaware. and i agree, california is headed for disaster. if you don’t live there already, there’s no need to even consider it.

    by susan — March 21, 2013

  14. We visited Omaha NE some years ago and loved their downtown area. However, we went without a car and were unable to get around without the hotel bus service due to the unreliable taxi service. We opted not to rent a car since we were there for a college graduation. I would be curious to know the possible walkability index for the city since it was beautiful. I am disabled and unable to walk long distances.

    by Joan — March 21, 2013

  15. Some really interesting comments which might make you ask just how is ‘walkability’ defined. It seems obvious but if you look at the walk score site, which is always improving by the way, it might answer a few things. They do consider the things you would assume like grocery, restaurants, parks, entertainment etc. And high scores for .25 miles or less and no score for over 1 mile. However, it isn’t clear at what ‘point’ those are measured from and also if one thing gets more weighting than another. Also how many ‘numbers’ of those things count. So maybe there is ‘one’ grocery but ten parks. Well, I’m sure they are trying but this scoring is just a solid baseline to begin from.

    They also make it clear they don’t consider safety, pedestrian friendliness, topography etc. At least not yet. So it is a good idea, as with many things, to use these as guidelines and go from there. They are using available source data right now to score which seems reasonable. But you have to do a little digging yourself. Happy walking.

    by Mejask — March 21, 2013

  16. I’m amazed that Arlington, VA made the list. I lived there during my military years and the majority of the year the weather horrible, and the traffic in virtually all parts of that area is seemingly non-stop 24/7.

    by Denny — March 21, 2013

  17. I understand that Boston/Cambridge are expensive but they are fabulous walking cities. I lived near and worked in New Haven until 4 years ago for 15 years. Would not recommend it to anyone, never felt truly safe and I worked on Yale campus. Now live in Boston, walk or bike to Cambridge for work, gave up my car and have no regrets. Public transportation is great. Yes, expensive, no more than New Haven, and yes the weather is tough but to be honest once the snow goes away, it’s a fabulous area to live in.

    by Penny — March 22, 2013

  18. I agree strongly with Elizabeth about Hartford. I still live, hopefully not much longer, app. 15 min. outside of Hartford. It is not a walkable city. I worked for years at one of the two major hospitals in Hartford. Had my car broken into 3 times in the hospital parking garage. We had to have security guards walk us to our cars if we worked a late shift. As to things to do in Hartford. NOT! The place closes down after dark. There are no real department stores for shopping. There is one little park in the center of Hartford with no other real open space. The Ct. River is on it’s doorstep but they have yet to develop it a way such as you find in Boston. Would definitely not include this city under the walkable category or as a place to retire. Consider that there is not one grocery store other than a mom and pop type in the entire city.

    by Anne — March 22, 2013

  19. Mad Monk: I lived for 3 years in Seattle/Tacoma area. Which is south of Bellingham/Blaine area. Blaine is supposedly in an area that is warmer and sunnier (from Wikiepedia): “Blaine lies between the mountains east of Vancouver, the flatlands of Skagit County, Washington, the North Cascades (including Mount Baker), and the south end of Vancouver Island. The coastal climate of the area provides fairly mild weather from the rest of the Pacific Northwest. With annual precipitation of about 1000 mm (40 inches) and its milder location, Blaine enjoys more sunny days and a milder climate than neighboring communities”

    Also, on the Olympic peninsula there is Sequim, which is in the shadow of the Olympics and gets less rain.

    However, I think Sequim might be a little pricey. Don’t know about Blaine. Bellingham gets standard PNW weather, as far as I know, which is pretty much grey from October through April, at least.

    Sounds like you already know a little about Northern California, which is the most awesome place ever for weather (in my opinion), but as mentioned by several folks the economy there is not very inviting for retirees. But what a place to visit!

    by Ginger — March 22, 2013

  20. Does anyone have any opinion about the area in Northern California around Eureka or a “small” town that is supposed to be called Arcadia? Also, I’d like opinions about the Olympia, Washington area, and some small towns not too far from Seattle …. vs. moving from here (Arizona) to the Spartanburg, So. Carolina or Ashevilla, No. Carolina area. I’m a “senior” but a “young” senior. I’d like to be very near good medical care, good shopping, beautiful surrounding areas, not extremely high humidity …. in other words, I’m looking for a small, progressive “paradise” :grin::roll::lol:

    by Ursula — March 23, 2013

  21. If anyone is considering moving to Arizona, I’d recommend Prescott or Flagstaff, rather than Phoenix, unless you like heat so high that you are literally confined to the indoors all summer. Flagstaff would be a better choice than Prescott, in my opinion. Prescott has lots of very rich people who have moved here in the last few years and that has changed the lovely, small town, friendly atmosphere that Prescott used to have. Flagstaff has better medical care, by far, than Prescott….. but one just about has to drive to Phoenix if one needs any sort of special medical care, which is completely lacking in Prescott. The word here in Prescott is that the “local doctors will kill you” :lol: Flagstaff gets more snow than Prescott.

    by Ursula — March 23, 2013

  22. Sequim also called the “blue Hole” for its view from an airplane, is a lovely place ,no much rain ,sunny with Lavender fields and friendly people . Many retirees from California . Medical care is a problem I think ,I will have to go back to see if any improvement

    by lucienne — March 24, 2013

  23. I live about 5 minutes from downtown Hartford, CT. If you work in downtown it is very walkable but no to live there. Not all that safe, not much to do. West Hartford is much better, safer but extremely expensive. I don’t recommend New Haven either.

    I read a article the other day titled, The most Walkable Cities with Good Public Transportation and several cities on the list surprised me; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA and New Orleans, LA. Other cities on the list included; Portland, OR; San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, NY, Does anyone have first hand experience in Charleston or Savannah?

    by Markg — March 24, 2013

  24. I have lived in northern California, and the Seattle area. I love Northern California, but there are serious tax problems there. I think you might mean Arcata, if it is near Eureka. All northern California small towns share certain characteristics (in my opinion)…can be cold and rainy in winter, have lovely summer weather but can be breezy, usually a bit more liberal and laid-back than many other states, and northern california, more than southern, can be a bit grungy and run-down. Or, depending on your perspective, funky. And you are going to run into a lot of pot-smokers (and maybe pot growers). It is California, after all. You also get some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

    Small towns around Seattle….well, that could mean a lot of different things. Olympia is lovely, but very grey and cold, as is Seattle. There are about 3 glorious summer months, and the rest is drizzle. If you go over to Olympic Peninsula the towns can be really charming and cute. If you just go south, the towns can be pretty working class. Just be prepared for a lot of damp, drizzly, chilly weather. People who grow up there love it; it was a little depressing to me. 3 years was enough. I actually still own a condo there, but would never return.

    by Ginger — March 25, 2013

  25. I noticed that someone answered some of my questions, but used my name, Ursula, unless their name is also Ursula (smile) …. but thanks to whoever gave me some answers to my questions. Looks like I should think about not moving to the Seattle/Olympia area because I wouldn’t like a huge amount of rain and dreary days. Here in Arizona we are glad when we do get some rain (smile).

    by Ursula — March 25, 2013

  26. Does anyone know much about Madison, Wisconsin? I have heard that it is very walkable. I wouldn’t mind the winters, I actually like snow.

    by Bonnie — March 27, 2013

  27. What about Greenville, SC and Austen, TX for walkability? Anybody know anything? I’m thinking of these 2 destinations. (G’ville was recently featured in a John Brady report.)

    by Leslie — March 27, 2013

  28. Ursula, I don’t know how that happened. I swear I did NOT type in your name.

    Leslie…I don’t know about Austin’s walkability from the perspective of closeness to things, but if you want to walk in Austin in the summer months (May thru September at least), just think of walking on the sun.

    by Ginger — March 27, 2013

  29. Do not know anything about Greenville, but Austin I do.Ginger is about right, I go there with some student in May and it usually is not terrible…yet (this year we go in early May…the 3rd to be exact); however, that being said, things (UT, stores, restaurants) are close for walking, but walking on the sun is a great to describe it; I would add some humidity to that. People say it is dry; Las Vegas and Phoenix are dry-Austin is not. Of course, it is not like Houston (humidity wise), but it is pretty yucky. If there is a breeze, it is not a cooling breeze, it is a hot breeze.Evenings do not really cool off either, and San Antonio is the same (it is about 50 or so miles to the south).

    by DianaF — March 28, 2013

  30. Leslie,

    Try this excellent site: wwww.walkscore.co . For example, it shows that Greenville has a walkscore of 52, considered “somewhat walkable.” Austin has a walkscore of 47. A totally walkable location would have a walkscore of 100. However, the site also shows neighborhoods within the city and their walkscores, which of course, can be higher (i.e. better).

    Jan Cullinane, author, AARP’s The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (John Wiley & Sons)

    by Jan Cullinane — March 28, 2013

  31. DianaF…good point. Superhot AND sticky!

    by Ginger — March 29, 2013

  32. Seriously wonder how Portland, Me. was listed. Yes, it’s walkable but the time frame where it is walkable is less than half of the year. I love this city but would definitely wonder at it’s fit in this category.

    by traci — April 2, 2013

  33. Has anyone considered walking around Kirkland, WA, just east of Seattle? Not sure what the population is. There are lots of sidewalks along the shores of Lake Washington. The downtown has so many cute shops and excellent places in which to eat and sip lattes. Yes, rainy days do abound, but the temperature is great for walking in all year round. And there is no more gorgeous, sunny, dry spot than the Seattle area from May until October.

    by Doreen — April 13, 2013

  34. I lived in the Seattle area for 3 years, and have visited there a lot as my brother and his family live there. And yes, this is a walkable area…Seattle and all the small towns and suburbs. The caveat of course is that it will be a wet walk most of the year. However, you are going to run into some weather problem pretty much everywhere except San Diego and other parts of California. Where you have a warm dry winter, you generally have a hot summer…too hot to walk. And we can’t all afford to live in California. Some people like walking when it is cold…I do sometimes. The air is very crisp and invigorating sometimes. In general, I would say the Pacific NW is probably a very good walking area.

    by Ginger — April 14, 2013

  35. […] further reading: Best Towns for Walkability How About a New Urban Community for Your […]

    by » 7 Great Places to Retire for Livability Topretirements — February 10, 2014

  36. Bonnie, Madison, Wi is more a bicycle city than a walking city. The downtown area is nice but it has become an area of concern for walking. There are homeless people and addicts on the streets both day and night. I would NEVER walk in Madison in the evening. It is also a very politically divided city . VERY blue and judgmental as opposed to other parts of the state and the divide can cause quite the nastiness as it did last year at the capitol. We live about 25 miles from Madison and go there to shop but will be happy to leave this no tolerance political atmosphere as well as the harsh winters. Hope to head to South Carolina.

    by BJ — February 15, 2014

  37. We lived in the suburbs of Madison, WI and I would say that several of the suburbs are small towns and have a very high walk score. Mt Horeb, WI has a walk score of 85. The temparatures are too cold for me anymore. We live in Florida and I wish I could find an adorable town with quaint downtown with walkable, grocery, library, schools, hardware, rec center, dentist, doctor etc like Mt Horeb. Middleton would be a top pick too.

    If anyone has knowledge of a warm town, please post it here.

    One that comes to mind for me a little is Franklin, TN and Fairhope, AL

    Both adorable small towns that are walkable… ok now someone else post another small walkable town!

    by Diane — April 10, 2014

  38. To Diane We lived in Franklin, TN for 15 yrs and unless you have southern roots you’ll be back in Fl. Town is cute, small (3 blk downtown) and bigger stores just a few miles away but if you need good healthcare this is not the place. One Urologist just about killed my husband and it had been suggested to sue but we’re not the kind to do so but a dr. back in our home state, which we moved back too (snow also) said it would have been the thing to do. So, if you need good healthcare this might not be the place to be.

    by jeb — April 11, 2014

  39. To Diane, Two very nice towns that are walkable in Florida that I think you would love is Mount Dora and Winter Park both in central FL. near Orlando. Worth a visit. I love them both,I may be partial to Mount Dora, it is Quaint, Charming, Adorable, with antique shops, good restaurants, good shopping you would love it. I forgot to mention the wonderful Play House Theater group.

    by Dianne — April 11, 2014

  40. How about Mazatlan, Mexico. The Pacific Ocean should be enuf water for you. And the rents there are not too bad, or so I hear. The old downtown should be walkable enuf. And Chinatown in Honolulu is very walkable, and has just about everything you need.

    by Mark Terry — July 23, 2014

  41. […] For more information: Part 1: Best Places to Retire on a Lake (2011) Great Mountain Towns for Retirement Great College Towns for Retirement Affordable Places to Retire on the Waterfront 5 Big Reasons Why Small Towns Are Great Places to Retire 10 Great Walkable Towns for Retirement […]

    by » At The Lake – Where the (Retirement) Living is Easy Topretirements — July 24, 2014

  42. […] window.adsbygoogle ||[]).push({}); For further reading: 10 Affordable, and Livable Places to Retire 10 Great Walkable Towns for Retirement Top 10 Retirement Towns for Amenities It Takes a (Virtual) Village to Stay in Your […]

    by » Is Your Town Ready for Your Retirement? A Checklist - Topretirements — August 19, 2014

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