How We Pick Great Places to Retire
This marks the fifth consecutive year Kiplinger’s is publishing an August cover story naming great places to retire. Such lists raise a couple of questions: How can there be a new batch of “best” cities every year? And do we really expect you to pull up stakes and move?
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Let me answer the second question first: No, we don’t (although I know of at least one pre-retirement couple who have taken a road trip to scope out some of our top choices). But compiling such lists is an enlightening exercise, both for us and for our readers. They can pique your interest and get you thinking about how, as well as where, you’d like to spend your retirement. In addition, they provide a fascinating travelogue of places that are worth a visit even if you wouldn’t want to move there permanently.
And that’s the answer to the first question. In this vast country (and abroad), we acknowledge that there are far more than a dozen or so great places to retire. So each year we select a theme that lets us narrow down the universe. This year we chose retiree-friendly destinations within an hour or two of major metropolitan areas that might attract your millennial children and your grandchildren.
The results were both surprising and inspiring. “One thing that stood out is that many of these places have undergone revival and renewal,” says senior associate editor Sandy Block, who wrote the story along with associate editor Pat Esswein and staff writer Kaitlin Pitsker. A case in point: Sandy’s nomination of Springfield, Mass., was greeted with skepticism by some staff members, who pictured it as a gritty manufacturing town. Not so, says Sandy. The factories have been converted into condos, and one new attraction is a museum dedicated to the life and work of Springfield native Theodor Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss. Plus, Sandy says, the city is home to reasonably priced Victorian rowhouses that would cost a fortune in Boston. “It’s an island of affordability in the Northeast.”
Affordability is also an issue on the West Coast, where the high cost of living eliminates virtually the entire state of California. But we found an alternative in Ensenada, Mexico, a two-hour drive south of San Diego along the spectacular coast of Baja California and a popular destination for expats. If you don’t mind immersing yourself in another culture, “you can live like a queen,” says Kaitlin. “A three-bedroom, three-bath home with country club amenities rents for $1,300 a month, and I had a phenomenal three-course meal at a top beachfront restaurant for $20.”
Close to home. By sheer chance, several of us have personal connections to some of the places on our list. Sandy recalls that when she was a child, her family visited relatives who had a farm outside Chattanooga. Pat Esswein is a native Minnesotan who still has friends in the state, and she has considered moving back there in retirement—especially after reporting on Northfield, which she had never visited. “You hear so much talk about how small-town America is languishing, but I was struck by the extent to which local people are working really hard to reinvent themselves.”
As for me, I have a particularly soft spot for Ligonier, Pa., in Arnold Palmer country outside Pittsburgh. When I was a kid, I looked forward to visits with my Great-Uncle Andy, who had a house on the creek just outside of town. And my husband and I took our kids there to ski at nearby Laurel Mountain. Now my husband and I have a place of our own in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay near Easton, Md. We don’t plan to pull up stakes and live there in retirement, but it’s a great place to spend weekends with the grandkids.