Best Healthy Places to Retire: Issaquah, Washington

You can walk to nearly everywhere but Seattle.

Hikers climb a verdant trail on Tiger Mountain, one of many near Issaquah.

Hikers climb a verdant trail on Tiger Mountain, one of many near Issaquah.


It's 8 a.m. Denise Jarvis, 79, downs her coffee, laces up her tennis shoes, and hits the walking trails directly outside her home in Issaquah, Wash.—a year-round, five-day-a-week, 4-mile-a-day habit that helps maintain both her physical and mental well-being. Jarvis, along with husband Reed, 76, is among a growing number of retirees who have chosen to make this gem of a city—tucked into the foothills of the Cascade mountain range and located just 17 miles from downtown Seattle—their permanent home.

Much of the appeal for residents there lies in a 10-year-old community known as the Issaquah Highlands. It's a 2,200-acre multigenerational "urban village" that clusters affordable two-to-three-bedroom townhomes with million-dollar-plus properties, apartments, public parks, hiking trails, shopping, and restaurants (and coming soon, the town's first hospital)—making it one of the most pedestrian-friendly developments in Washington State. (Issaquah is actually known as "Trailhead City.")

But just as compelling as the network of meandering paths and child-safe streets of the Highlands is the beauty of surrounding Tiger, Cougar, and Squak mountains, in which Issaquah is nestled. The elaborate trail system connects to this trio, enabling active residents to walk out their front door and find themselves in a permanently preserved forest in a matter of minutes. (For those seeking fitness indoors, downtown Issaquah offers seniors a community center with workout equipment and a six-lane lap pool for as little as $2 a year.) Nearby Lake Sammamish provides boating, fishing, and kayaking, plus a selection of golf courses in the vicinity. And a 20-minute drive east on I-90 gets you to the Summit at Snoqualmie, one of the state's busiest ski areas.

The mountain views played a role in luring acclaimed Broadway director and lyricist Martin Charnin ("70-something") and his wife, actress Shelly Burch, 49, to settle in Issaquah in 2004, when Charnin was launching the 30th-anniversary tour of Annie in Seattle. "What I do from a work standpoint could, theoretically, be done on a desert island," says Charnin, a New Yorker who's written a number of iconic show tunes, including Annie's "Tomorrow." "But I really love doing it in Issaquah. I'm surrounded by mountains and greenery and's the kind of clean most people only dream about." Charnin, who occasionally directs at Issaquah's Village Theatre (one of the premier musical houses in the Pacific Northwest), continues his New York habit of hoofing it whenever he can. "The Target, the Home Depot, the drugstore, the can literally walk anywhere, all the while picking plums and pears off trees lining the main street."