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I Am Getting Ready to Retire and I Am Looking for… Great Food and Culture

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

September 2, 2020 — There are are tens of millions of baby boomers, and just about every one of us has a slightly different retirement dream. Some might have one requirement in common, but the two or three other things on their lists make them unique. In this new series we are will explore different retirement quests, along with examples of retirement towns that match. As other articles in the series are written, we will link to them here.

A Topretirements Member asked last week about great places to retire for foodies. Secondarily, she is also looking for good healthcare, nice weather, and middle of the road cost of living. If those preference describe what you are looking for, this article will provide a few places for you to consider.

Knowing what you are looking for – great!

This Member is off to a fantastic start in her quest for retirement. That’s because she has figured out what she is looking for (any road will get you there if you don’t know where you are going!). Haven taken the time to set a goal, she will probably arrive at a happy place. If you are single, the process is relatively easy – you identify on paper the key things you are looking for in a retirement destination. But if you are in a relationship, with two sets of dreams and priorities, it can get more complicated. In that case you need to talk to each other and come up with the best plan that allows two people the most happiness. There is a very large set of factors you might take into consideration for your retirement: winter weather, culture, access to activities, diversity, a small city or small town, 55+ community, close to friends or children, low taxes or cost of living, etc. We recommend you take some time and figure out what your highest retirement priorities are.

Great food… and healthcare and culture to boot

A true foodie is probably looking for a place to retire where there are not only a variety of interesting restaurants to enjoy, but good farmers markets and food shops to boot. The food and culture combination sought by this member is a good mix, as they often come together in the same town. People who go to shows, concerts, of exhibitions often make dining out part of that experience. For this list we searched the Internet for best Foodie towns. Southern Living provided most of our choices in the South. We also picked up some ideas from TheDailyMeal. Because of the warm winter weather preference, we did not consider destinations in the Midwest or Northeast, which have many great foodie towns such as Portland, Maine. The healthcare and culture priorities meant that a host of great little small towns with unusually good restaurants, such as Kinston, NC, did not make it. There are any number of places to retire, particularly in California, that get knocked out of consideration because of the average cost of living limitation. While any large city has a collection of great restaurants, we concentrated more on smaller towns and cities.

St. Augustine, Florida. St. Augustine has a vibrant tourist base and that almost always means a big variety of restaurants to choose from. A few of the restaurants mentioned here include The Ice Plant, Hyppo, Floridian.

Oxford, Mississippi. St. Leo and Snackbar have been mentioned as some of Oxford’s best restaurants. Bustling college towns like this one (Univ. of Mississippi) are almost always full of interesting food experiences.

Mt. Pleasant, SC. Perched just to the east of another great food town, Charleston, Mt. Pleasant is noted for its food scene. Highlighted food experiences to be found in this Low Country town include Grace and Grit and Bon Banh Mi.

Charlottesville, Virginia. A college town (U. of VA) and a popular tourist spot, the area is also being discovered by retirees. MarieBette and Lampo are two restaurants that have achieved some fame. Richmond is another Virginia city attracting notice by food lovers.

Fredericksburg, Texas. A small town north of San Antonio, it has a rich German-American heritage that gives it a big tourist presence. Otto’s and Emma + Ollie are two local restaurants noticed by food critics.

Winter Park, Florida. An old planned community built along a lake, it has many attractions and parks. The prestigious Winter Park Sidewalk Arts Festival attracts 350,000 visitors from around the country.  Some restaurants highlighted here included 4 Rivers Smokehouse, Prato, and Luma on Park. Winter Park has a huge retiree population

Davidson, North Carolina. Another college town (Davidson), this one north of Charlotte has many restaurants and interesting shops. Among the famous eateries here, Kindred, Hello Sailor, and The Pickled Peach are standouts.

Asheville, North Carolina. This mountain town is a popular destination for tourists and retirees. It is just big enough to have a big variety of really interesting restaurants and shops, but not so big to be overwhelming.

Birmingham, AL. As one of the most prominent business centers in the Southeastern United States, there is a big supply of good restaurants like Bottega and Eagles. A cultural powerhouse for the region, it is a college town with opera, a symphony and many museums.

Kansas City, Missouri. For meat and barbeque Kansas City could be the gastronomic gold standard. Some say for the best barbecue in the country try Arthur Bryant’s, Gates and Joe’s Kansas City. 

Bend, Oregon. This town in Oregon has just about everything a retiree could want. Outstanding outdoor recreation, beauty, and food too. Spork Jacksons Corner were mentioned as good restaurants by one source. The area has a variety of active adult communities and neighborhoods to choose from.

Lexington, Kentucky. With horse racing a big part of the scene and many visitors, restaurants have to be good to survive here. The “Top Chef” Season 16 will take place in Kentucky, much of that filmed in Lexington. There are over 120 locally owned restaurants. The University of Kentucky is located here.

Oklahoma City , Oklahoma. When you think of Oklahoma City, great food is not necessarily your first thought. But your editor can confirm there are many wonderful dining experiences to be had in this comfortable city. Try Goro Ramen, Revolución Taqueria & Cantina, Ponyboy, food truck Burger Punk, and Empire Slice House 

Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition to gambling and the outdoors, retirees who move to one of the many communities here can enjoy and endless array or interesting restaurants.

Tucson, Arizona. Rated as one of Arizona’s best food towns, Tucson is a livable town with tons of culture, a reported 233 performing arts dates per year, one of the nation’s highest numbers of arts performances. The climate is sunny, with over 300 days of sunshine per year.

Comments and Suggestions.
Do you have other foodie towns we should have included? And if food is not high on your list of retirement town prerequisites, what is? We would like to cover additional “I am looking for ( ) in a retirement town” in the future, so we look forward to your suggestions. Please write your ideas and thoughts in the Comments section below.


Posted by Admin on September 1st, 2020

20 Comments »

  1. Excellent selection of food towns. I’ve had wonderful meals in a few of them. Birmingham stands out for the Highlands Bar & Grill; I bought a cookbook by its chef/owner Frank Stitt and was fortunate to be in Birmingham years later. I ate at the bar — and years later brought my wife there for dinner — and the food was topnotch both times…I think the article had Mt. Pleasant (SC) and Charleston backwards; Charleston is not an afterthought as it rivals New Orleans and San Francisco for inventiveness and quality. Mt. Pleasant is a suburb and although it hosts some good eateries, it is the minor leagues compared with Charleston, just a few miles over the Ravenel Bridge…I haven’t been to Fredericksburg, but I bet fans of Texas barbecue might take issue (e.g. Austinites who adore the legendary Franklin Barbecue)…As a resident of Connecticut, I’d like to throw New Haven into the mix. The town arguably has the best pizza places in America, outside big cities like NY and Chicago, and also covers virtually every type of cuisine to satisfy a cosmopolitan population stoked by the presence of Yale University and its international faculty and student body.

    by Larry — September 2, 2020

  2. If you consider Richmond for retirement, be aware that it ranks in the Top 10 cities for allergies. The population is still fighting the Civil War in its protesting about the removal of statues of Confederate leaders. Many of the suburbs are heavily prejudiced against Blacks and the comments heard speak toward that racial animosity.
    Professional, compassionate, knowledgeable health care is hard to find. Most doctors act like they are doing the patient a favor by being there.
    You can do better than moving here.

    by BobS — September 2, 2020

  3. Bob, I have been to Richmond probably 10 times and count one of its residents a close friend. I was curious about the reference to allergies but also confused about the reference to doctor quality. As for the inherent racism, I don’t doubt it — confirmed by my friend — but it has never been overt during my stays in and around the city. I asked my friend to address your issues and here is what he wrote:

    “Taking the three points in reverse order:

    Health care options in Richmond are abundant. Categorizing “most doctors” is a reach at best. There’s no way the writer could have an informed perspective. I suspect navigating access to the health care system in Richmond is no better or worse than anywhere else.

    The racial issues in Richmond are long standing, but many fair minded folks are working diligently on remedies. Housing segregation is s substantial issue resulting in large educational inequalities. I lived a long time outside of Atlanta and six years in South Carolina. Virginia’s ugly racist past deliberately sustained by its formal political leadership of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s makes SC and GA appear enlightened. The current population has made reasonable progress.

    The first point about allergies is spot on. Although my wife and I suffer moderately, if at all, folks with significant sensitivity would be wise to choose another location. Local weather reports always include allergy status during relevant times of the year.

    by Larry — September 3, 2020

  4. Allergies along the southern coastal plains and eastern Piedmont are not to be sneezed at (sorry about that). If you are considering relocating here, a long visit (even a month) during your allergy season should be high on your to-do list. May/June for southern grasses (quite severe), September for weeds. This was almost deadly for me in the early 70s — fortunately allergy shots made it manageable though I still have minor bouts some years.

    by RichPB — September 4, 2020

  5. Heh there folks, any more great food towns out there? We would all love to here your suggestions!

    by Admin — September 4, 2020

  6. Spokane WA has some great restaurants with everything from breweries, farm to table, to fine dining. Some favorites are Sage for fine dining, No lLie brewery, and The Jungle Room in the Davenport Hotel for Happy Hour. Prices can be high for this eastern Washington outpost due to the higher minimum wage, but that’s fine with me!!

    by Moderator Flo — September 5, 2020

  7. Well, I know that that weather knocks it out of the running for most retirees…but Cleveland is a great town and region for foodies. There are all the usual chains, plus large numbers of ethnic restaurants (everything from Asian, Eastern European, French, Irish, Mediterranean & more), a Ritz Carlton, winery restaurants, brew restaurants, lakefront romantic dining, etc. As the home town of Michael Symon, there’s a long history of respect for good chefs. Prices are Cleveland-reasonable.

    As I’ve written before, I’m surprised that this area doesn’t get more attention. Heck, if two of my kids weren’t medical professionals who moved here for their careers — I probably wouldn’t have considered it twice myself.

    Between the fantastic & readily available medical care (two great health systems so a hospital & doctors are available everywhere), the Cleveland Clinic is #1 for cardiac care in the country per US News and World Report, relatively low housing prices (although the current Seller’s market has meant that houses can sell in hours), sports (Indians, Cavaliers & Browns), music venues (incl. the Rock N Roll hall of fame and concert venues), lower cost of living, Great Lake parks and activities, Senior centers & activities, art & other museums, zoo, aquarium, multiple colleges with senior classes, amazing libraries, an international airport, churches of every denomination, festivals, nearby amusement parks, etc….I’ve been pleased with my decision since I retired here about 2-1/2 yrs ago to be near family.

    Negatives: Cleveland’s downtown has the usual urban problems including crime and poverty, but it is slowing going through a renaissance. Suburbs avoid that crime, like any other city. And did I mention the weather? Communities are experts on dealing with snow/ice. While we don’t have hurricanes, sinkholes, earthquakes or mudslides — we can get some pretty hefty winds and sometimes tornado warnings from storms across the Great Lakes. I’ve discovered the East side of Cleveland gets 2X the amount of lake effect snow in winter for various meteorological reasons. (An inadvertent win…I moved to a suburb on the West side and really enjoy relaxing in front of a fireplace with an electric blanket & my Kindle anyway).

    So… a pitch for Ohio. It’s proof that your right place might end up surprising you.

    by Kate — September 5, 2020

  8. Kate, you have a real talent for painting portraits of a town, and so many of your comments are spot-on. I still chuckle at your description of the HOA women fighting over flower colors. Would love to hear more of your experiences in the Carolinas and elsewhere.

    by Daryl — September 5, 2020

  9. Our trips around the country have been memorable for some really enjoyable restaurants. St. Augustine, FL, truly stands out. As does Memphis, TN (it’s not all about bbq). Austin, TX (The Texas Chili Parlor!), Kill Devil, NC, Augusta, GA, Burlington, VT, Tacoma, WA, Sedona, AZ and Chapel Hill, NC. Explore and you are likely to be rewarded. Get out of your comfort zone.

    by RichPB — September 5, 2020

  10. Shucks, Daryl — Thanks. Funny you would ask about the Carolinas. My move was from Charlotte, NC (where I spent about 4 years with my company before retirement). One of my kids in OH is now considering a job in Charlotte, and we’ve been joking that I probably should have stayed there awhile longer. Nah…I wouldn’t have traded the time I’ve been able to babysit my first grandbaby in Cleveland for anything.

    Here’s my view of my time in the Carolinas. I worked in Charlotte but lived about 20 miles away in S.C. I spent a lot of time visiting 55+ communities around South Carolina and in the Charlotte area as I researched retirement. Positives: I LOVED Zaxby & Publix groceries. Publix bakeries use real butter instead of lard like other grocery store bakeries. Sometimes I think about taking a trip back just to go to the grocery stores. After the 1st year, I adjusted to 100+ degree summers and brief (approx. 6 week) mild winters. I loved the heat, and just got used to shopping or porch-sitting early in the am or at night. I liked seeing a few geckos, and learned they eat bugs (good for them). I didn’t have red ants and didn’t panic when I saw a black snake slither across my yard one day on its way to nearby woods. I’d taunt my kids “back North” when the crepe myrtles bloomed and SC/NC had beautiful early Springs. I’d also send them pictures of the 1/8″ of snow on the road in the “winter” when SC/NC schools would close. I never got used to yards turning into brown straw in the winter. I obviously liked the lower cost of living. My SC real estate taxes were only $1800 (would have been approx. $4800 in Charlotte for the same house). I would have paid $7.5K in real estate taxes in Pittsburgh and pay $6.2K for equivalent property in Cleveland. Insurance and utilities have been the same in all 3 places, with some minor ups & downs that cancel each other out. Gas prices were low in SC, and many NC people drive over the border to buy gas in SC. I paid a small property tax on my car in SC, but didn’t have any inspection on it (I worry about their brakes when I see SC cars on the highways LOL). I took many weekend trips to take advantage of being 2 hours or so from the ocean or the mountains. It was also a convenient road trip to cruise out of Port Lauderdale. After living in NYC, CT and Pittsburgh — all older cities — I liked living in an area where everything felt so much newer. The Charlotte airport was extremely convenient. I worked near the Panther stadium and got to share the excitement of the fans. Negatives: Taxes were lower, but the trade-off was that I got almost nothing for them (no community center, local library had very limited offerings, parks were limited, no community concerts, community pool, etc. The Sun Cities obviously had amenities, but residents paid high HOA fees to pay for them. I attended a few professional continuing ed classes at Charlotte colleges, and facilities were rougher in comparison with schools I’ve visited in Northern states. There were regional things like being able to buy fresh swordfish in the grocery store meat case, but not always finding kielbasa. Not getting into politics, but I got very tired of Trump’s commercials for Liberty University and conservative radio stations. The Charlotte newspaper was comparatively very weak, and no home delivery in my area. The churches in my area were either Baptist or Evangelical, with a few tv-giants…after all, even with the large numbers of relocated Northerners coming to Charlotte for work or retirement, this is still Billy Graham’s home turf. I loved going to the beach on weekends, but it made no sense to me that the drive was on back roads since there isn’t a state highway between Charlotte & the coast (it’s a fun road-trip game to count the tiny churches every few miles across the state). I did worry about the deep culverts for drainage along the roads in the Carolinas. Few barriers, so if you go off the road, the odds are good that your front end will be deep in a hole. It’s a long story but I learned this the hard way. Ultimately, I loved Charlotte and the people I met there. But I also love Cleveland now, as you can tell.

    Not sure anyone wants to hear about my years in Pittsburgh too, but it had its own highlights. I loved Pittsburgh. It’s had a huge real estate price boom since I moved away about 6-7 years ago. When I retired, I found that I couldn’t afford to move back there even with the real estate tax offset of not having any PA state tax on 401K withdrawals.

    by Kate — September 5, 2020

  11. Great insights again, thanks!

    by Daryl — September 5, 2020

  12. A city that is often mentioned by the administrators of Topretirements.com, but didn’t happen to appear on thIs “foodie” list is Delray Beach, FL. It may just have more restaurants per capita than any other town in Florida. The downtown main street, Atlantic Avenue, which runs a couple of miles from I-95 to the Atlantic Ocean beach, has approximately 50 restaurants from neighborhood-type cafes to high-end upscale dining. Most of the restaurants, though, are reasonably priced with a lean towards a bit higher prices because the food quality and atmosphere is so good. Most of the eating establishments have long had very comfortable, spacious and lively outdoor eating areas which overall can seat hundreds. TripAdvisor lists 319 restaurants in Delray Beach, a relatively small oceanside city of 65,000 between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and every type of food and cuisine can be found at all price ranges. To see examples of the many highly-rated dining opportunities, go to the restaurant section for Delray Beach on TripAdvisor.com. Oh, and parking is free on-premises at most restaurants and the downtown area has a couple of city-run large, convenient and inexpensive parking garages (with elevators) close to the restaurant action, and parking is free before 4 PM – great for breakfast or lunch. To check out the high quality of Delray’s eating establishments, take a look at the many reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Disclaimer: I live in Delray Beach and one of the reasons we picked it for retirement is the availability, quality and price ranges of its restaurants, even though I don’t consider myself a foodie. The western part of the Delray area, where we’ve lived for over six years and is an easy 12-15 minute drive to downtown and the beach, has many nice condos in active adult 55+ communities. Price ranges in many of these communities are from $75,000 to $200,000 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment of about 1000 to 1500 square feet. As is the case in many 55+ communities, most, if not all, include all exterior maintenance and landscaping with an a HOA fee usually between $300 to $500 a month. And when you’re ready to get away for a trip of a week, a month, or even a year, it’s basically just “lock and leave.” Pretty worry-free. Living here has worked out very well for us.

    Admin Comment: Couldn’t agree more Clyde. Love Delray Beach. Thanks for the additional info on the town and food scene.

    by Clyde — September 6, 2020

  13. Kate, enjoyed your take on Cleveland, but am most interested i Pittsburgh. Would love to hear your take. I’d move back in a heartbeat if I could score Steelers season tickets, and it would be nice to have a few more sunny days, but a beautiful city.

    by Kathy — September 7, 2020

  14. Kathy: I lived in Pgh for about 25 years. I was amazed by the strong sense of community, friendly/helpful people and so many things to do! Great zoo, concerts, theatre district, activities on the rivers. (My husband was a boater. Up the river to a lock. Stop. Up the river to a lock. Stop. Down the river to a lock. Stop. Down the river to a lock. Hang out at the Point where the rivers converge for awhile. I finish my book and ask if it’s time to go home LOL.)

    The Convention Center always had great things going on. Tons of colleges and universities (Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris, LaRoche, CCAC, Waynesburg etc.). Close to outlet malls, Strip District for fun grocery shopping, and lovely parks (North Park, South Park). Two casinos in driving distance, and professional sports (Steelers/Penguins/Pirates). It’s the only place I’ve lived where it wasn’t uncommon to encounter players in daily life. The entire city supports the teams – for ex., when grocery shopping on a game day, it seemed like 75%+ of the shoppers wore Steelers gear. Players are active in local charities, and even show up at high school football games. Wide variety of friendly churches, one of the top-ranked daily newspapers in the country (I had home delivery), and groceries had the tastiest ready-made food I’ve encountered anywhere. Very ethnically diverse & welcoming, with neighborhoods that go back to the days of the steel mills. Many festivals, and Pittsburgh’s own Kennywood Amusement Park!

    Great health care system, and it seems like every neighborhood has its own excellent affiliated hospital. Good medical care is readily available. The health care system supports community classes & walking programs for seniors in the indoor malls. The City supports its seniors well, with free or reduced cost public transportation, and many senior programs. It was really easy to find reasonable handymen, landscapers, cleaning people, mechanics, hairdressers etc. – (something I found difficult in Charlotte – perhaps due to the fact that high-paying new construction jobs siphoned off people who might otherwise have their own small businesses). All of these people are also readily found in Cleveland, but I’ve also had several experiences here over the last few years with handymen, mechanics, etc. trying to overcharge me here.

    Negatives: suburban housing costs have really skyrocketed over the last few years. If you find low prices, they’re usually for old homes in less desirable parts of the city. Real estate and school taxes are extremely high in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), and aren’t offset by the fact the state doesn’t tax 401K withdrawals. It can be extremely difficult to find desirable one-level living due to the hilly topography and older age of existing homes. While no personal property tax on cars, there are inspection costs. The roads are often horrible, and the battle with potholes continues. The weather is obviously cold, and it can take awhile to learn how to navigate very hilly parts of the City on snowy or icy days. PA is one of the few states where the law provides that children can be financially responsible for their parents’ nursing home care/Medicaid reimbursement. While that hasn’t been enforced aggressively, there are a few cases in which its been done — but since I haven’t kept up with this, people should check with an elder lawyer themselves if they retire to PA.

    Again — hope this helps. I know Pittsburgh is supposed to have good ethnic restaurants, by the way. Except for Chinese food, I never found any really exceptional food there though…but I was also spoiled by my time living in NYC, where food is an art form.

    by Kathy — September 8, 2020

  15. Whoops. Wrote Kate, not Kathy — as the poster. But I’m sure you figured that out! I also know I write too much, but I figure people who aren’t interested in Pittsburgh will skip this one.

    by Kate — September 8, 2020

  16. My husband and I have traveled a lot while looking for the perfect retirement spot and while visiting children and grandchildren. I was always interested in finding a quaint restaurant while staying at hotels during our travels, but of course when we asked at the desk for recommendations we were directed to franchises. The best way to find a good restaurant is to ask the locals if you can. To me having a choice of fun and good restaurants to choose from, along with lots of cultural opportunities, is important to our retirement happiness. Once we are past the Coronavirus I will be hanging up my apron.

    by Jemmie — September 11, 2020

  17. I’ve never had a bad meal in Houston, TX. Never lived there but visited several times and may consider retiring there or nearby. Being one of the most diverse cities in America with a huge immigrant population, the restaurant options are varied and endless, and the standard of quality seems to be higher than in most places. Try the viet-cajun crawfish. Also, low cost of living and no state income tax. Minuses: the property taxes are high, the traffic is terrible, and hurricanes. Now I’m hungry.

    by Doug — September 11, 2020

  18. Doug: years ago I lived in Houston (inside the Loop). Even then, there was a tremendous selection of great, smaller, independently owned restaurants. I haven’t been back to Houston in years however, I’m sure the restaurant selection is even better (despite the Virus).

    by Steve — September 12, 2020

  19. Viet-Cajun Crawfish! Mmm…!

    by RichPB — September 13, 2020

  20. Hands down…..Charleston, SC

    by Thomas Adams — September 13, 2020

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