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10 Places to Retire That Offer Great Downtown Living

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

November 5, 2017 — There is a certain kind of person for whom a great place to retire means being right in the thick of it. Not stuck out of town in an active community, where every trip to anything beyond the clubhouse or golf course means climbing in your car. Nor the suburbs or a distant lake, which have the same transportation problems. For the kind of person we are thinking of, the perfect place to retire is one where your home is a comfortable walk, bike, or transit away from a vital downtown teeming with restaurants, shops, and cultural opportunities. We’ve reported on the best walkable places to retire before (see Further Reading below); here are ten more excellent places to consider.

Just about any big city has some wonderful neighborhoods where you can enjoy the urban experience. The same goes for very small towns. In this selection of 10 towns with great downtowns we concentrate on finding smaller cities for retirement, usually somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 people. We’ve chosen places with interesting downtowns where there is a lot to do, and that feature nice neighborhoods with easy access to all these cities have. Since all ten cities have their unique charms, our list is in no particular order.

Roanoke, VA

Roanoke, Virginia. Roanoke has a very aggressive urban renewal focus that has brought renewed life to the traditional downtown. There are many cultural events, museums and festivals that bring people to the center of town, including the Center in the Square. In 2013 The Huffington Post listed Roanoke as the #2 Most Affordable City to retire.
Population: 97,000
Walk Score® rating: 86 (Downtown)
Zillow Home Value Index: $147,600

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, California has a carefully restored historic district centered around the 18th century Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (Mission Plaza). The mission is one of the best preserved examples of Spanish Mission architecture as well as being one of the oldest buildings in California. Many interesting shops and boutiques make the downtown a popular destination.
Population: 46,000
Walk Score® rating: 51 (overall)
Zillow Home Value Index: $662,200

Downtown San Marcos

San Marcos, Texas. Located between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos is both a vibrant college town (Texas State University) and a pretty riverfront town. It is home to several historical sites, and the country’s largest outlet shopping center. The San Marcos River and the Blanco River provide recreation, parks, and nature trails.
Population: 61,000
Walk Score® rating: 57 (Heritage neighborhood)
Zillow median listing price: $258,000.

Downtown St. George

St. George, Utah has an interesting and vital downtown with pleasant streets, plentiful restaurants, and many beautiful homes. A low crime rate and bustling new airport are more reasons why retirees are moving here in big numbers. Out of town there are many active communities with golf courses plus proximity to Zion National Park.
Population: 80,200
Walk Score® rating: 70 (Downtown)
Zillow Home Value Index: $235,000

Downtown plaza in Greenville

Greenville, SC. Downtown Greenville is unique in that it is located where a scenic waterfall flows into a beautiful park and trail system. Home to many restaurants, boutiques, and weekly festivals, the downtown is busy even on Sunday mornings. The downtown has been the subject of intense and successful redevelopment efforts. It was a winner in the Great American Main Street awards. See our article, “The Perfect Small City for Retirement“.
Population: 60,000
Walk Score® rating: 83 (Downtown)
Zillow Home Value Index: $160,000, NAR median sale: $197,400

Downtown Traverse City

Traverse City, Michigan has an extensive and walkable historic downtown with great shops, restaurants, parks, and offices. New building construction downtown has been active resulting in River’s Edge, Harbor View Centre, and Radio Centre.
Population: 80,200
Walk Score® rating: 83 (Downtown)
Zillow Home Value Index: $221,500

Biking in Rochester

Rochester, MN is known today as home of the world renowned Mayo Clinic, one of the largest and most respected medical facilities in the world. named it as a #1 most livable city in part for its healthcare but also for its biking, walkability, and extensive park system. It has also won numerous awards as a “Best Place to Retire”.
Population: 114,000
Walk Score® rating: 80 (Kutsky Park)
Zillow Home Value Index: $198,600

Capital Theater in Olympica, Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and Joe Mabel

Olympia, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula was ranked #4 for livability. The capital of Washington, it serves as a regional shopping, cultural, and entertainment center. There are many nice neighborhoods to live in. Boating and other outdoor activities are tops.
Population: 46,000
Walk Score® rating: 75 (Downtown)
Zillow Home Value Index: $271,700

Downtown St. Pete

St. Petersburg, Florida is having an amazing revival. This beautiful old city on Florida’s Gulf Coast has a compact but vital downtown with major cultural resources and something going on all the time. It is surrounded by old neighborhoods that are increasingly attractive to live in. Great beaches and fishing are just moments away.
Population: 80,200
Walk Score® rating: 91 (Downtown)
Zillow Home Value Index: $185,800, NAR median sale: $220,200

Linsay House in Iowa City

Iowa City, Iowa. Home to the University of Iowa, this small but growing city has a wonderful history of culture, particularly when it comes to the craft of writing. Downtown there is the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk with bronze plaques in the sidewalks that are dedicated to 49 literary lions that have ties to Iowa. It is considered bike friendly and very livable.
Population: 74,398
Walk Score® rating: 73 (Longfellow)
Zillow Home Value Index: $196,300

More about our selection criteria
Besides outstanding walkability, to be selected for this list these cities 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, a website that provides walkability ratings on just about anywhere, including specific neighborhoods (we used those when available)

For further reading
10 Walkable Towns for Retirement
11 Great Small Cities for Retirement
Your Best Place to Retire Might Be a City

Comments? Do you know of some walkable towns that would make great places to retire? We would love to hear about them along with your comments on these selections. Please use the comments section below.

Posted by Admin on November 5th, 2017


  1. Unfortunately, I think walkable greatly increases the COL of an area. Walkability is an immensely desired feature that also implies temperate enough climate to make walking/biking feasible year-round. Here’s a few affordable areas with Transit service. Norwood, Ohio, Lancaster, PA, and Gretna, LA, also walkable.

    by William DeyErmand — November 6, 2017

  2. Boca Raton, FL has a great downtown walking area

    by Ron — November 7, 2017

  3. Consider adding Carlsbad, CA to this list. It has the added benefit of convenient rail service and great weather.

    by Ann — November 8, 2017

  4. I live in Northern Michigan and love to visit Traverse City. I doubt if you can find a nice home or condo within a mile or two of downtown priced under $400K.

    by Troutbum — November 15, 2017

  5. Two others that are good (but not inexpensive): Annapolis, Maryland and Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

    You can also consider a “city” built right into the community: new urbanism communities. A few examples: Celebration, Florida; NorthWest Crossing in Bend, Oregon; Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina; and the under-construction Latitude Margaritaville (see write-up about it at

    by Jan Cullinane — November 16, 2017

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