10 great scenic places to retire

By Marlene Y. Satter

| Photographs By Gordon Fahey

Everybody has to live somewhere during retirement, so why not pick someplace beautiful?

That’s the rationale behind Forbes’ list of scenic places to retire.

It reviewed “hundreds of locations in all 50 states” and then made selections based both on objective criteria — a reasonable ratio of physicians per capita, using data from the U.S. Census and the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, for instance, since it is a retirement list — and subjective ones, since of course we know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

But there are plenty of other factors that were considered in the choosing of the final 25.

The report adds that, to make sure these beautiful places’ attractions are more than skin deep, locations with populations below 10,000 were screened out lest they lack a full range of amenities.

To accommodate all the friends and loved ones who will undoubtedly claim places on your couch, your loveseat and your den floor, they also required that winning locations be no more than an hour or so drive from an airport with commercial service.

Excluded were places with very high rates of serious crimes (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) as calculated by the FBI. Other omissions came courtesy of Hurricane Irma, for sites in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, and as a result of the wildfires in California’s wine country.

Weather was a factor more for aesthetics than for comfort, and of course if you’re going to live there you have to be able to afford it. So Forbes also considered economic factors such as median home price, cost of living and state tax policies — although high expenses didn’t disqualify a place, any more than weather did. As the report says, “To be blunt, pretty scenery doesn’t always come cheap.”

Additional criteria include the relative ranking of a city on the 2017 Milken Institute of Best Cities for Successful Aging report, which looks at what makes a city habitable for older people; air-quality data from the Environmental Protection Agency and assessments of walkability and bikeability.

One caveat: Forbes listed its top choices alphabetically, not in order of relative scenic beauty, so we’ve chosen our favorite 10 from their list. You’ll find them below, in no particular order:

10. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

This historic seaport offers architectural wonders and a somewhat walkable place to live. With cold winters and the wind off the Atlantic, its clean air can be bracing, but the city is simply gorgeous to look at.

Median home prices are at $376,000, and the cost of living is 42 percent above the national average, but you’ll find good medical care with the number of doctors far above the national average. Milken’s successful-aging score is high, there’s a low crime rate, and the economy is good.

9. Bozeman, Montana

You can have it all: rivers, mountains and forests. Bozeman, near Yellowstone National Park, offers scenic beauty that will keep you looking everywhere you go. Winters are cold, though, so be warned; you’ll be looking at everything through snow in the winter.

The median home price is $294,000, and the cost of living is 20 percent above the national average. But you’ll find plenty of doctors here, bracingly clean air, walkable streets and a decent economy. And if it already looks familiar, you may have seen it in “A River Runs Through It.”

8. Seattle, Washington

Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Mount Rainier will all be vying for your attention in Seattle, which has a cost of living 77 percent above the national average and a median home price of $690,000.

But with views like these, plenty of doctors, a high Milken successful-aging rating, and a city that’s walkable, bikeable and has good mass transit, it’s very tempting — even though you may not see the sun all that often (there’s light rain 150 days a year, with no sun on 200+ days). But remember too that the climate is surprisingly mild — and the cuisine and cultural advantages will definitely give you something else to think about.

7. Santa Fe, New Mexico

At the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Santa Fe has beguiling architecture and wonderful views. It’s a congenial place to retire, too, with a high proportion of doctors, a high Milken ranking for successful aging and great culture to keep your mind and spirit active.

The median home price is $305,000, and the cost of living is 17 percent above the national average. But it’s somewhat walkable — and it might surprise you to learn it has snowy winters, so don’t ditch that winter coat. The economy is so-so.

6. San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, the lapping waters of the Pacific all combine to persuade you to leave your heart here. And your paycheck, since houses are a median $1.23 million and the cost of living is even worse than in Hawaii, at 173 percent above the national average.

Still, the culture and the food and the hills themselves will entice you, and you can get places on foot, by bike or by mass transit — and who can resist the streetcars and the views of Painted Ladies and steep, steep streets? With a strong economy and no tax on Social Security, you could almost convince yourself that you can afford it.

5. San Diego, California

Beaches, mountains and desert, all in the same package. Air that’s soft on the skin thanks to ocean proximity. And plenty to do, as well as plenty of ways to get there — walkable, bikeable, good mass transit.

While it’s not perfect — median home prices are at $583,000, and the cost of living is 66 percent higher than the national average — the weather is great, the economy is good, the city ranks high on the Milken scale for successful aging and there’s no tax on Social Security. And those are all good things.

4. Portland, Oregon

Mount Hood looms in the distance, while the Willamette and Columbia rivers flow together near this city that offers not just views but sunsets to die for. The median home price here isn’t cheap, at $417,000, but it’s not as bad as some. And the cost of living is 41 percent above the national average.

The climate is temperate, and the city is walkable/bikeable as well as boasting good mass transit. The air’s clean, adding further incentive to get out and get walking. But you might miss the sun, since most days it doesn’t shine here. The economy is strong, though, with plenty of doctors and no state sales tax or tax on Social Security, so that should cheer you up even if the sky is gray.

3. Honolulu, Hawaii

Trade winds, sea air, beaches, an endless sky and tropical flowers wherever you look, Honolulu pretty much has it all. Mountains, too, so you can look down on the pricey buildings in town. Median home prices here are high, at $674,000, and the cost of living? It’s 100 percent higher than the national average, so bear that in mind.

Still, lots of doctors, clean air, low crime rate, walkable, good mass transit — all add to the beautiful surroundings that beckon you to go beyond the reef. Oh, and Honolulu means “sheltered harbor” in Hawaiian.

2. Eugene, Oregon

Mountain and river views dominate the scenery around Eugene, with the Willamette River and its lovely bikepath, and the Pacific Ocean an hour’s drive west. Homes aren’t cheap, but they’re not prohibitive, with a median price of $250,000 and a cost of living that’s 11 percent above the national average.

Low crime, high doctor concentration, clean air and a lively cultural ambiance that will keep you amused. The economy is good, and your Social Security won’t be taxed here — but you will pay a high income tax. It’s bikeable more than it is walkable.

1. Burlington, Vermont

You have both mountain (the Green Mountains, to be precise) and lake (Lake Champlain) views to admire here in New England, not to mention the Lake Champlain Islands. The town itself is historic, with serious preservation measures in place, so you could convince yourself you’re stepping into the past.

Pertinent statistics: The median home price is $273,000, in a place with a cost of living 22 percent above the national average. But you’ll find lots of doctors, a high Milken rating for successful aging, clean air, and a walkable/bikeable city with a strong economy.

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