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By the Numbers: The Best U.S. Cities for Retirement

Twelve criteria were scrutinized to identify 24 cities that offer numerous advantages to people who are considering relocation for retirement.

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Fresh powder snow or white sand beaches. Hot jazz clubs or a museum’s cool, quiet displays. Although your preferences might dictate where you retire, experts say it’s most important to consider the cost of living and the price of housing. These and other financial matters of affordability aren’t the sole criteria to consider in choosing a retirement destination. However, we believe that they’re important considerations in preserving your retirement income.

Our list of great retirement destinations are U.S. cities that have populations between 30,000 and 500,000. (Cities that are smaller than 30,000 typically have limited services, and those that are larger than 500,000 exceed national averages in cost-of-living and crime rates.) We applied to each city a formula that balanced affordability (cost of living, median home price, median rental price, combined city and state sales tax and median household income) with low rates of violent crime, availability of colleges (think: the ability to take classes, attend performances), and access to doctors and health care.

Experts with whom we spoke say the median household income of a city is a viable measure of affordability. However, it also can imply a level of poverty, so we factored in other economic indicators. We also considered a city’s walkability, or accessibility for pedestrians. We weighted certain categories more heavily than others.

Click chart above to view full presentation

Click chart above to view full presentation

The resulting scores determined 24 finalists, 12 of which we report about in alphabetical order below. Our formula didn’t reflect subjective factors, such as climate. However, amenities enhance a city’s appeal, and we note recreational opportunities that contribute to a city’s livability. We highlighted cities that rated highest and represent most broadly distinct areas of the country. They are located in eight of the nine areas of the country that make up National Climatic Data Center’s climatically consistent regions. (No cities in the West region made our list.)

Population figures are 2013 Census estimates. Weather data are from National Climatic Data Center. Average 2013 U.S. precipitation was 31.2 inches.


ARTFUL PURSUITS. Culture gets a boost from nationally recognized art and film festivals that are part of the allure of Ann Arbor.

ARTFUL PURSUITS. Culture gets a boost from nationally recognized art and film festivals that are part of the allure of Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

International film festival? Renowned art shows? High-profile university? Ann Arbor has all of those, plus combined state and local sales tax that is among the lowest of cities that made our finalists’ list.

The effect that University of Michigan has on this city is huge. If you’re a follower of collegiate sports, you’ll find them here, but that’s hardly all. The school also is connected to University of Michigan Medical Center, which was listed in 2014 as one of the best U.S. hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. The medical center operates 24 primary- and specialty-care facilities throughout the city.

You can stay immersed in the arts with the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, which are a collective of four art fairs that are held during the third week of July. The fairs feature contemporary works and traditional crafts. Also, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which was established in 1963, is held annually during the third week of March. It’s one of 32 Academy Award-qualifying festivals in the country, according to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Short films that are nominated for Oscars come from these festivals, and Ann Arbor’s participants have included George Lucas, Gus Van Sant and Andy Warhol.

Sixteen brew pubs and wineries are located within 20 miles of Ann Arbor, according to Ann Arbor and Michigan tourism guides.

THE WEATHER: Of course, you’ll find a seasonal variety of weather in Ann Arbor—and a lot of snow. Coldest average high: 23.1 degrees Fahrenheit, January; warmest average high: 70.5 degrees F, July; average annual precipitation: 32.8 inches; average annual snowfall: 42.8 inches.


WELL-ROUNDED. Boise gets high marks for its low cost of living and healthy lifestyles. It also has a wide variety of recreational pursuits.

WELL-ROUNDED. Boise gets high marks for its low cost of living and healthy lifestyles. It also has a wide variety of recreational pursuits.

Idaho Tourism

Nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boise is shielded from severe weather and boasts a variety of recreational activities. You won’t break the bank while enjoying them, because the cost of living in Boise is 93 percent of the national average.

Boise, which is the state capitol, is a healthy choice, too—Idaho is first among our finalists for statewide doctors per capita, according to American Association of Medical Colleges, and fourth in a ranking of the healthiest states by United Health Foundation.

The Boise River is touted by the city as a popular spot for fishing, swimming and rafting. The Boise River Park was remodeled in 2012 to attract kayakers, swimmers and paddleboarders, and an urban trail system runs for 25 miles along the river. Construction of a $10 million, 55-acre park that would include ponds, pathways and picnic shelters, is scheduled to begin in late 2014. For those who enjoy winter recreation, the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area is 16 miles away from downtown Boise.

The Boise Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Idaho are large parts of the city’s arts community. The orchestra has concerts throughout the year, including summer outdoor concerts. Opera Idaho has six productions during the 2014–2015 season. The city also is home to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which had five plays slated for its 2014 season through September.

THE WEATHER: Boise is relatively high (2,700 feet elevation) but also relatively dry. Coldest average high: 30.7 degrees F, December; warmest average high: 75.8 degrees F, July; average annual precipitation: 11.7 inches; average annual snowfall: 14.9 inches.

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