The 8 Most Interesting Places to Retire in the USA

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

December 13, 2017 — How about this for a rhetorical question: would you like to retire in a boring place? Of course not, why would anyone choose an uninteresting place to retire. Unfortunately, many people are lazy about their decision about where to retire. The result: they end up living in a place with a lot less day to day zip than they could have had. This article will give you our ideas on the 8 most interesting places to retire in the USA, by region. We hope you will contribute your suggestions in the Comments section at the end of the article.

What makes an interesting place to retire?
Everyone probably has a different idea about what makes a town or city interesting. While a beautiful town is a great attribute in a place to retire, that is only one thing that might make it interesting. Here are some of our possibilities for what make might make a town an exciting place to retire:
– A college or university that is a big part of the town
– Diverse mix of people in terms of ages, races, cultures, backgrounds, and interests
– Strong cultural institutions that attract locals and visitors
– Compact downtown that is walkable and/or good transportation system
– Involved citizenry
– Beautiful town and buildings (some would say charming)
– Inviting natural environment
– Outstanding recreational and social programs for people of retirement age
– A place where there is an opportunity to do something different or meet an interesting person everyday.


Our top 8 by region
We recognize this is a subjective list – there are hundreds of interesting retirement possibilities in this amazing country. We approached the task with a regional focus – we selected a winner, and some runners-up, in 8 regions of the country. To develop our selections we consulted lists from Countryliving.com, Readers Digest, AARP, and the Culturetrip.com. Although these sources suggested a number of very appealing small towns, many of them popular with tourists, we discarded most of them because we thought they would be too small or too one-dimensional to sustain a retiree’s interest over the long term. Although we included some medium-sized cities, we excluded very large cities, even though they are undoubtedly interesting places to live. We will leave that list to another day. Most of the places to retire we have chosen are on the expensive side, a reflection of their desirability.

New England

Lighthouse guarding Portland

1. Portland, Maine. This small city perched above Maine’s southern coast is the hot place to be. The town is overrun with good restaurants and entertainment. Real estate is not too pricey and the scenery and Maine recreation are outstanding. Runners-up – Portsmouth, NH and Burlington, VT.

Mid-Atlantic

Historic Williamsburg

2. Williamsburg, VA. Colonial Williamsburg is a living representation/restoration of the 18th century colonial capital. If you are a history buff and you love antiques, this is the place for you. Shops and cafes in the downtown area look like museum places but are all functional. Williamsburg has a population of just over 12,000.
Runner-up. Princeton, NJ.

South

Sarasota on Florida’s West Coast

3. Sarasota, FL has one of Florida’s best downtowns along with many interesting neighborhoods. It has an impressive array of cultural facilities. The Ringling Brothers located the winter quarters of their circus in Sarasota, and their philanthropic legacy has made the city a cultural powerhouse. For example, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is one of the most impressive museums in Florida. Runnerups – Greenville, SC and Athens GA

Midwest

Riverside park in Columbus

4. Columbus, Ohio. Home to The Ohio State University, this mid-sized city has multiple interesting neighborhoods, suburbs, and active communities. The downtown is walkable and the riverside parks are beautiful. . Runner ups – Traverse City, MI and Columbus, IN.

Mountain

Southwestern architecture in Santa Fe

5. Santa Fe, New Mexico. This fantastic mountain town at 7000′ with 70,000 residents is renowned for its art (think Georgia O’Keefe). It offers awe-inspiring vistas of mountains, canyons, and gorges. Plus it has a rich Indian and Spanish history – Santa Fe is the oldest European community west of the Mississippi. Runner-up: Boulder, CO

Desert

Tucson

6. Tucson AZ. Home to the University of Arizona, Tucson has hills and nearby mountains, along with a vibrant lifestyle. At 233 performing arts dates per year, it also has one of the nation’s highest numbers of arts performances. Runner up: Sedona, AZ.

Pacific Coast

Ashland, Oregon

7. Port Townsend, WA was wealthy early and then missed the next boom. So it had an incomparable stock of great Victorian buildings and houses that were never “remodeled”. Port Townsend is considered one of the prettiest towns anywhere, and has been named to all of the “best 100 places to retire lists”. Most of the town is preserved as a national historic district. It has an incomparable setting on the water and with views of the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympic Mountains on its west. Runners-up: Ashland, Oregon and Bellingham, WA.

Southwest

Austin, TX

8. Austin, Texas is the exciting home of the University of Texas. It is quite different in most ways from the rest of the Lone Star State. The food, art, and music scene is very much alive. Runners-up: New Braunfels, TX and Tulsa, OK.

Comments? What do you think are the most interesting places to retire, anywhere? Do you have other ideas about what might make a place interesting? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Posted by Admin on December 12th, 2017

29 Comments »

  1. I have been to almost all of these places and I agree that they are great retirement locations. However, some of these are actually large cities, especially when you include the metropolitan statistical areas (MSA). Austin is close to a million, Tucson is over 800,000, Columbus is over 500,000 and even Tulsa is over 400,000. I guess it all depends on how you define “large cities”. Most of the rest of the cities/towns on this list would probably be between 10,000 and 200,000 in population.

    by LS — December 13, 2017

  2. Would be helpful if you could talk about how expensive these places are to live. What do rentals go for? Homes? Is there rent stabilzed housing available, like there are in many places (LA, NYC, DC). Is the town/city friendly to seniors and do they encourage “aging in place” and related senior activities and services?

    Otherwise, your listings don’t seem geared to what retirees are considering. The cities could be good places to raise a family, for singles, etc.

    Donna Batcho

    Note from Admin: Good things to consider for retirement! If you click on the links to the various towns on this list you can find out more about them, although not necessarily everything on your list. The emphasis here was on interesting, but as you point out it is important to consider a host of issues when you pick out your place to retire.

    by Donna Batcho — December 13, 2017

  3. I agree with both LS and Donna, this list is all over the place. I was under the impression that many of us want to get out of rat race central and into a community where we can feel like we have relationships with neighbors and the community. With the possible exception of Portland (but, oh, the winters) these are large, crowded areas where developing that sense of community is nearly impossible for newcomers.

    by Laura C — December 13, 2017

  4. Who counts Virginia as Mid-Atlantic? I have never heard that! Virginia is part of the South. Mid-Atlantic is comprised of new York, PA, NJ, Deleware and maryland.

    by pamela guyon — December 13, 2017

  5. Wow! I grew up in Portsmouth NH, runner up for #1, and lived for 36 years near Portland ME, #1!!! Two very fun and bustling small cities. Many restaurants, very walkable (when there is no ice and snow), and cultural opportunities abound. If you are not afraid of LONG winters and have no financial concerns for expensive real estate, costly utilities and sky high taxes, these are both great places to consider!

    by SandyZ — December 14, 2017

  6. Hi Pamela

    Thanks for contributing to Topretirements. We love hearing from everyone, it is what makes things interesting! We just checked and for the record, this is what Wikipedia says are the Mid-Atlantic states:
    “A United States Geological Survey publication describes the Mid-Atlantic Region as all of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, along with the parts of New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina that drain into the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.”

    So yes, Virginia is also part of the historical south but it is Mid-Atlantic too. Do you have any other suggestions for interesting places to retire? Would love to hear them
    Your Editor

    by Admin — December 14, 2017

  7. I’ve been to all of them. Interesting is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. As for me I hate crowds, especially tourist, so much of your list is not for me. While not perfect, no place is, this is my 7th winter in Sedona. I leave up town to those dang tourist. Likewise avoid driving on 89a for the same reason, taking the back street routes they don’t know about. I can walk to the library, grocery stores and the whole town is surrounded by Coconino NF for hiking. I also leave the tourist mecca hikes like Bell Rock, Cathedral, etc. to them hiking places without those crowds I don’t like.

    by Bob — December 14, 2017

  8. We love New England and when we decided to retire back to that area we fell in love with the Portland Maine area for a lot of reasons. There IS so much to do! We spent 2 years subscribing to the local papers, magazines and real estate alerts. We visited here with purpose and found welcoming people, great medical care, and a terrific Realtor who worked with us long distance.

    I had hoped to be right in the city (to force ourselves to get out more) but real estate prices rose this past summer beyond our budget. When DH came home in August and said, “It is time” we followed our Realtor’s lead and ended up with a cottage downtown but not the city. We are in the center of a small town just outside of Portland and it is perfect! No great hustle and bustle but can walk to just about everything we need! Went from 1-1/2 miles to the neighborhood entrance to a 20 minute round-trip walk for take-out at one of 4 restaurants. There is bus service, should we desire to go into Portland proper plus taxi, Uber or Lyft for a special occasion. Best of both worlds and we’re ready to get involved!

    by Holly — December 15, 2017

  9. Donna, where can I find out about stabilized rents in DC? Thanks!

    by Karen — December 15, 2017

  10. Retiring next year at 58 and very pleased to see that 5 of the cities mentioned are making up most of our short list locations.

    by Greg W — December 15, 2017

  11. Holly ~ I am a committed New Englander … in CT now but thinking of the Portland area which I know reasonably well. Would you mind sharing the name of the town you settled in?

    Thank you.

    by Sheila — December 16, 2017

  12. Bob, could you say something about the real estate market in Sedona? In looking online I see that costs are sky-high compared to where I am in Deep South: property itself plus taxes. Location location location? I hate to downsize my lifestyle but……! Those redrocks are calling, or is it the vortex? What is it like to live there!

    by Ellen — December 17, 2017

  13. Sheila – in the Portland (ME) area, I recommend Brunswick, where I live. It’s the home of Bowdoin College, so there is a lot of vitality. There is an old school downtown with stores, a doughnut shop and a lot of restaurants. We chose Brunswick because we wanted to be on the coast and Portland was too expensive.

    by Norma — December 17, 2017

  14. Hi Sheila, We are in Gorham – just west of Portland and about 10 miles from the ocean. Univ. of Southern Maine is here also and bus service to downtown is available. We’ve only been here about 1-1/2 weeks and are still finding our way around. It appears to be a growing area with lots of potential. There are other towns in the Portland orbit so you have lots of choices. Come up and visit to check them out. e-mail me for a great Realtor and/or Mover referral at Myquest55@aol.com. Norma we need to meet up for coffee soon! Happy Holidays!

    by Holly — December 17, 2017

  15. Hi Pamela,

    We live in the Northern Virginia suburbs of D.C. and definitely consider ourselves as being part of the Mid-Atlantic region. Larry Sabato, the famous political science guy from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville also considers Virginia to be a Mid-Atlantic state but I’m sure you would get many southern and southwestern Virginian’s who consider themselves to be part of the South. Very distinct regions in our state have very different perspectives on that question. That’s also important to know if contemplating Virginia for retirement. Although in the November election some traditionally red districts went blue.

    by readingfam — December 17, 2017

  16. Ellen if those red rocks are calling check out St George Utah, a well kept secret. Red rocks surround the City, Zion is an hour away, Las Vegas 2, a University, and a dynamic art community, and reasonable housing costs are parts of the appeal.

    by Gary — December 17, 2017

  17. We live on central Virginia, between Richmond and Charlottsville, and consider northern Virginia another country!

    by Sandie — December 17, 2017

  18. LOL Sandie, when I lived in Northern Virginia I never considered it part of the south either–anything towards Charlottesville or south of there away from the hustle and bustle of the north near DC seems truly southern to me> I love southern Virginia–it is truly another world and a slower life. The roads are nealy always clear and in great shape thanks to the tax dollars from the north. I hated the personal property tax on my car though–it always seemed to come due at Christmas time. I have lived in DC for twenty years now –not far from the Maryland state line–I go to Virginia often to visit and a drive to the mountains near Middleburg and on to Winchester is a real treat.

    by Jennifer — December 17, 2017

  19. Just to comment….my husband of 42 years and I moved to Lexington, KY for our retirement years, and a very gracious place it is. Having spent 12 years in Port Ludlow, Wa, and the same in Seattle, we were anxious to leave the unfriendly northwest. Port Townsend is nice, but very lacking in medical care, and it’s a long way to Seattle when you are ill. I haven’t posted this, but it’s true…..we lived it!

    We are now wintering in Uruguay. We tend to stay in Montevideo….although occasionally we go to Buenos Aires. We don’t care for Punta del Este, which is snobbish, expensive, and rather false.

    People who speak some Spanish do better here, as in B. A…… many speak English, but you will be taken advantage of if you speak no Spanish. The buildings here are beautiful….colonial……….

    From Joyce

    by Admin — December 17, 2017

  20. Gary, thanks for the tip. I have a friend who retired in St. George, but then bought another home farther north, near SLC to get out of the HOT summers. (She’s from Utah, so familiar with the culture.) BUT, I’m wondering, if you only have ONE home, is Sedona, also, “breathtaking” in summer, as is LA (Lower Alabama)?

    by Ellen — December 18, 2017

  21. Joyce, how is health care in Uruguay? We are considering somewhere in S.A., not sure where yet, but hubby needs to be somewhat close to medical care. Me, let me die . . . I don’t “care,” as long as no pain is involved!

    by Ellen — December 18, 2017

  22. Ellen , it’s hot for sure, but not Az hot. The nights and mornings cool off, good for dog walking. Sedona is indeed beautiful but St. George is as good in my opinion. St George also has an airport with service from United, Delta, and American. And there is plenty of shopping opportunities and a first class Medical Center.

    by Gary — December 18, 2017

  23. Gary, thanks so much for your insights and encouragement about St. George. I’m trying to convince my S.O. to bring our little T@B camper out that way in February and March to have a look around. . . you do make St. George sound VERY appealing . . . and “he” loves the slots so being 2 hours away from the action . . . hmmmmm . . . We’re almost there! LOL
    Ellen

    by Ellen — December 18, 2017

  24. To Norma and Holly … thanks for your information about where you live in Maine. And yes, Norma … I do love Brunswick. (There was more than one Bowdoin boy in my life but I won’t tell you how many years ago that was!!!!) And I handn’t thought about Gorham so I appreciate your offer of help, Holly. Happy holidays to both of you. (And yes, I say Happy Holidays to cover all the bases 🙂 )

    Sheila

    by Sheila — December 19, 2017

  25. Ellen a few final thoughts, don’t miss Snow Canyon State Park in St George, houses are considerably less expensive than Sedona, and if you can time your visit around the Parade of Homes it will give you comprehensive look at homes around the area in all prices ranges.

    by Gary — December 19, 2017

  26. Gary! OMG . . . and . . . WOW!!@! Snow Canyon, magnificent! Perfect! And, hey, it’s gettin’ on over to that Nevada side where there ain’t no income tax! I’m in! We’re there! . . . and GREAT tip re Parade of Homes . . . genius! now, why didn’t I ever think of that? haha Ellen

    by Ellen — December 19, 2017

  27. Ellen: we have Españolas and are well satisfied….mostly. You need to belong to a mutual insurance. The British Hospital won’t take retirees, but you can pay to go there, and if you are a Blue X patient, you can get care for emergencies, but not as a permanent resident…or so I’ve been told. You really need to learn Spanish to live here…..but things are rather streamlined now for immigrants…..you need an enabler, rather than a law office. There’s only one lawyer we’d recommend for this here, and he’s English. Fresh produce is organic for the most part…..fish is cheap, as is meat……..hope this helps

    by Joyce — December 19, 2017

  28. Thanks, Joyce, for Uruguay info. Spanish not a problem for me (hubby still learning English — this is a joke, he blames his 2nd grade teacher!), but medical, I see, definitely requires some research. Sounds like you have found a nice life there! Congratulations! Thanks for taking time to reply.

    by Ellen — December 20, 2017

  29. There seems to be some debate as to whether Virginia is Mid Atlantic. Eastern and Northern Virginia fits culturally into that category. Southern and Western Virginia is culturally southern. With the state turning blue due to the effects of the leftist Northern Virginia growth its future is definitely Mid Atlantic (high taxes, pro union, etc). Many people nearing retirement in Virginia are planning moves to states with no or lower income taxes and more traditionally conservative. People vote with their feet making the tax bite worse for those left behind (see Connecticut) . Give Virginia 10 years and it will become New Jersey.

    by Sal Monella — December 20, 2017

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