Best Cities for Every Age: Your Second Act

Best Cities, States & Places

Best Cities for Every Age:
Your Second Act

As part of our annual Best Cities feature, here's a look at the top five metropolitan areas for your second act.

For those who've hit retirement age, but aren't quite ready to call it quits, living in a city with quality jobs is important. In addition to employment, activities such as golf, dining out and the theater are also vital for this age group, who still feel young at heart.

SEE OUR GUIDE: Best Cities for Every Age

To identify the winners, Kiplinger teamed up with Kevin Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank that studies economic prosperity. All of the cities on our list have reasonable living costs, strong employment growth and a population that scores high on measures of education and tech-savviness. For second acts (established professionals who want a change but aren't ready yet to retire), we also factored in the number of golf courses as well as the number of artists and musicians.

The cost-of-living index measures how expensive it is to live in a city; the national average score is 100. That means cities with a score below 100 have a lower-than-average cost of living. Nationwide, the median household income is $43,024, and median income growth from 2006 to 2011 was 11.1%. The national unemployment rate is 8.2%.


YOUR TAKE: Best Cities for All Stages of Life

Check out our picks, and share your thoughts in our reader comment box below:

1. Portland, Maine

Population (metro area): 514,098


Unemployment rate: 6.4%

Cost-of-living index: 113.1

Median household income: $54,431

Restaurants per 100,000 people: 263


Portland's lively arts scene, highly skilled workforce and inventive cuisine, along with a low crime rate and high-quality medical facilities, are drawing professionals who are making their home base here and telecommuting or flying to their jobs. The cost of living is slightly higher than the national average, but compared with big-city prices, housing is affordable. Newly built two-bedroom condos on the eastern side of downtown sell for $360,000.

Downtown Portland offers boutiques, art galleries and restaurants along cobblestone streets. The arts district includes a symphony, ballet, an opera company, a theater and the Portland Museum of Art. Portland's renowned food scene offers everything from hardwood-cooked game to its famed steamed lobster.

Portland has its challenges. Homelessness is up (a task force is addressing the problem), and winters are long and cold. Locals either wait them out in warmer climates, head north to ski, or pop in to one of the many restaurants for a hot bowl of chowder.

2. Santa Fe, N.M.


Population (metro area): 144,170

Unemployment rate: 4.6%

Cost-of-living index: NA

Median household income: $52,923

Restaurants per 100,000 people: 226

Santa Fe is an oasis in the Southwest desert -- and not just for its climate. As the capital of New Mexico and the closest city to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Santa Fe has long enjoyed low unemployment and an abundance of high-paying, highly skilled jobs. Research and technology employ thousands here, as do the hospitality industry, the regional medical center and the region's thriving arts community.

In fact, with a renowned opera and some 240 galleries, Santa Fe ranks among the largest art markets in the country. The city boasts four art districts, ranging from the high-end jewelry shops around its 400-year-old adobe plaza to the two-mile stretch of Spanish farmhouses, restaurants and galleries on Canyon Road. These amenities don't come cheap, and the median home price is about $210,000 above the national average. Still, the area's strong economy, vibrant art scene and picture-perfect scenery continue to draw tourists and transplants alike.

3. Austin, Tex.

Population (metro area): 1,716,289

Unemployment rate: 5.4%

Cost-of-living index: 90.6

Median household income: $57,109

Restaurants per 100,000 people: 191

Bored with the status quo? Restart your life Austin-style, with tacos at Guero's, haute cuisine at the Driskill Hotel, rockabilly at the Continental Club, symphonies at the Backyard, hiking and biking in the 809-acre Barton Creek Greenbelt and downtown lofts for enjoying the city life.

If you must keep working, you’ll find opportunity in Austin for established professionals. Not only is the city looking to fill mid- to senior-level tech jobs but "we also have lots of start-ups that need 'adult supervision,'" says Melissa Alvarado of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Development. The Austin area added 19,200 jobs over a recent 12-month period; professional and business services saw the most growth.

Austin's popularity has its downside. "Traffic is a nightmare between 4:30 and 6:30," says Melanie Tipps, a freelance photographer, and housing prices are heading up, thanks to strong demand. Still, people flock to this city for at least one good reason, says Tipps. "It never gets boring here."

4. Springfield, Ill.

Population (metro area): 210,170

Unemployment rate: 7.1%

Cost-of-living index: 88.1

Median household income: $51,001

Restaurants per 100,000 people: 234

Illinois's state capital may be known to many as the home of Abraham Lincoln – scores of historic locales and museums pay tribute to America's famed president – but Springfield is gaining greater notoriety, especially among second act-ers, for its lively arts scene, outdoor and recreational activities, and cultural and historic landmarks.

Springfield is an artistic oasis in the Midwest, thanks in part to its museums and art galleries, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Springfield Muni Opera and the newly restored Legacy Theatre, where you can catch an occasional Broadway musical.

Nature lovers can explore the more than 30 public parks and wildlife sanctuaries; among the highlights is eagle watching along the Illinois River. For sailing, fishing or boating, Lake Springfield is ten miles south.

5. Barnstable Town, Mass.

Population (metro area): 215,888

Unemployment rate: 6.0%

Cost-of-living index: NA

Median household income: $60,096

Restaurants per 100,000 people: 388

Craving a quaint New England lifestyle close to a big city? Barnstable Town, 70 miles southeast of Boston on Cape Cod, is both bucolic and bustling. In Hyannis, one of seven villages that comprise Barnstable, you can visit antique shops, stay in historic inns and B&Bs along bayside beaches, and eat at restaurants serving some of New England's finest seafood. Nightclubs feature live music and dancing.

Check out the Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises from May through October. The six-mile Sandy Neck Beach, a favorite location among locals, offers fishing, swimming, camping, biking and hiking, especially along salt marshes, where you can observe endangered species. Or catch a ferry from Barnstable Harbor to Nantucket and enjoy a day at one of the many beaches on the island, or explore Nantucket's famed Brandt Point Lighthouse or Whaling Museum.

Housing is expensive here -- the median price is just below $300,000, compared to the national average of $158,000. A 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Centerville (one of seven villages that comprise Barnstable) costs $535,000.