AARP The Magazine Names the 15 Best Places to Reinvent Your Life

What are the 15 top “dream towns” for baby boomers? The May/June issue of AARP The Magazine identifies these lucky cities and sheds some light on boomers’ plans for the future.

“Once again baby boomers are breaking the rules,” said AARP The Magazine Editor in-Chief Director Hugh Delehanty. “This time they have bumped traditional ‘retirement communities,’ and are looking for something different.” We found that the group known for leading the pack feels behind when it comes to leisure and finance. The magazine listened to what they were saying about family, work and life issues and discerned the following trends emerging about the future retirees:

Boomers see their homes as their “legacies.”

Unlike previous generations, boomers tend to get along with their kids and have no plans to get away from them. Fewer than one out of 20 move across county lines each year and even less cross state lines to relocate.

For those who do move, familiarity is key, whether it be to move closer to family or college towns that have a familiar feel as well as a youthful vibe, great medical facilities and sophisticated restaurants.
Boomers are choosing a new locale first — opting for appealing cultural and recreation lifestyles — and then looking for a job or opting to become an entrepreneur.

Boomers are purchasing vacation homes with a view to spending more time there in the future.
“The whole country will become more middle aged in the next few decades — but some places will have more boomers to love than others based on the new boomer criteria,” said Delehanty.

AARP The Magazine compiled its list of highly livable towns according to a range of criteria — from affordability to community life to the quality of public high schools to access to outdoor recreation. These 15 cities were selected “dream towns — the best places to reinvent your life.”

1. Loveland/Fort Collins, Colorado: These neighboring cities are just 45 minutes from Denver, in an area where technology fueled job growth in the 1980s and ’90s. The Rocky Mountain National Park offers skiing, hiking and fishing. Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University; Loveland, the smaller and quieter of the two with an appealing mix of professors, students, artists, and computer jockeys, is considered one of the best art towns in the United States.

2. Bellingham, Washington: Situated on a bay along the Pacific Northwest coast between Seattle and Vancouver, the city offers a seaside marina, Victorian historic districts, lush forests, freshwater lakes and snow-capped Mount Baker. The city has charming, affordable neighborhoods and recreational opportunities including kayaking, sailing and snowboarding.

3. Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Anchored by the high-tech and biotech facilities in Research Triangle Park and by more than 10 higher-education institutions, these cities are situated three hours from the seashore and just as close to the mountains, and are buzzing with a live music and dining scene.

4. Sarasota, Florida: This small, civilized city on Florida’s Gulf Coast has a temperate climate, golf courses and tennis courts aplenty, and good boating in the Gulf and Sarasota Bay. The city offers fine dining and cultural opportunities, including opera, a symphony, a film society, a theater scene, lots of art galleries and The Ringling Museum of Art.

5. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Bright fall foliage, fishing in clear mountain lakes and one of the lowest costs of living in the nation make Fayetteville a gem. Unemployment is a low 2 percent, thanks to an economy driven by retail, government and industry (Wal-Mart’s headquarters, J.B. Hunt transport, and Tyson Foods). Dickson Street near the university is a lively strip of bistros and live-music venues.

6. Charleston, South Carolina: A strong economy, nine colleges and universities and a highly regarded health care community are part of the package. Residents work in industries including shipping, health care and tourism. Opportunities for boating, fishing and golfing abound, but many locals prefer less energetic pursuits, like oyster roasts and fish fries – anything that involves food and alcohol.

7. Asheville, North Carolina: This city makes the list with a lively arts scene, short winters, excellent health care and a dash of bohemian funkiness; the downtown has coffeehouses, antiques shops, bookstores and galleries selling crafts by mountain artists. In a town with deep musical roots, you’ll catch bluegrass one night and contra dancing the next. The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a quick escape to mountain hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting.

8. San Diego, California: The quintessential California town of sandy shorelines — without the slacker-surfer types. Computers, electronics, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals are a few of the industries that push this West Coast paradise into the top 20 cities for five-year job growth. Also putting this city on the list: that famous Zoo, world-class performing arts (ballet, opera, theater, symphony) pro baseball and football and a diverse dining scene.

9. San Antonio, Texas: A blend of terrain and cultures, and a bargain that no other major U.S. city can beat. Low cost of living coupled with a dynamic business environment and excellent medical facilities have created one of the fastest growing cities, which translates into careers from tourism to biomedical research, semiconductor manufacturing to health care. The city offers culture from a rich ethnic feel to great museums, from Tex-Mex to Matisse.

10. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Tucked into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the city is a blend of Anglos, Hispanics, and American Indians, most of whom find work with state government, federal agencies, nonprofits and the tourism industry. Long hailed as a cultural mecca (museums, galleries and opera), the city is also a New Age lodestar filled with spiritual seekers, natural food markets and alternative healers.

11. Gainesville, Florida: This college town offers Florida sun and all there is to do in it: swimming, fishing, canoeing in fresh water springs; factor in affordable housing and some of the best health care in Florida (five stellar university hospitals) and you’ve got a winning combination.

12. Iowa City, Iowa: The joke is that no one comes here for the weather — but thanks to the University of Iowa, three medical centers, and a small-business development center, the job climate is good. The main attraction is a widely held sense of a safe haven, plus small town friendliness, an urbane art, music, and literary scene and a bustling downtown pedestrian mall.

13. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: The historic Market Square boasts lobster restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and used bookstores. It is also a working waterfront where busy tugboats and tankers dock along the Piscataqua River. High tech companies have found a home here, and the city features good restaurants and a hopping cultural scene without big-city hassles.

14. Spokane, Washington: Located where the Columbia River Valley rises to meet the forests of the northern Rockies, Spokane is a darn good buy with low utility costs, no income tax, and housing costs below national prices. The crown jewel is Riverfront Park, which has summer concerts, an ice skating rink and a beautifully restored carousel. The Rockies offer fishing, hiking, boating and skiing, and Spokane was recently named one of the best places in the country to play golf. The college helps support plays, music, restaurants, and clubs, and Spokane boasts its own symphony, opera house and a well-respected jazz orchestra.

15. Ashland, Oregon: Thousands of people descend each year on this liberal enclave tucked in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The town offers four mild seasons, and a dazzling array of theater beyond Shakespeare. Recreational opportunities include walking and biking in Lithia Park, a downtown oasis, and skiing and camping in nearby mountains. People 65 and older can take any class free of charge at Southern Oregon University.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for people 50 and over. We provide information and resources; engage in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assist members in serving their communities; and offer a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members. These include AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; Segunda Juventud, our quarterly newspaper in Spanish; NRTA Live and Learn, our quarterly newsletter for National Retired Teachers Association members; and our Web site, www.aarp.org. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.