America's Best Affordable Places to Retire

Soon-to-be retirees are resetting their expectations for their golden years.

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Slide Show: America's Best Places to Retire

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Low housing costs are a big reason to breathe easy. Columbia's median home price is about $147,000, and average property taxes are just over a grand. "The housing is so much more affordable here, after being in Atlanta," says Jewell Hill, who moved back to Columbia with her husband from Georgia's capital when they retired 13 years ago. Columbia's seniors don't live in conclaves, so house hunters can choose Victorian-style homes on historic streets or ultramodern apartments near the city's new riverfront esplanade, in a neighborhood dotted with art galleries.

Fun is cheap, too, as visitors can choose between events at the contemporary green-glass Richland County library, exhibits at the Columbia Museum of Art, and strolls around the historic downtown, past the governor's mansion and university buildings dating to 1805.

The 27,500 University of South Carolina students lend the city a particular vibrancy. In the funky Five Points neighborhood, students and seniors together scout for bottles of sauvignon blanc and sea salt at the Gourmet Shop. "We find now that retirees want the same things that 20-somethings do," says Patrick Mason, 63, publisher of CarolinaLiving.com and an avid yogi and bicyclist who favors a landscaped trail along the riverfront. Columbia's official slogan is "Famously Hot," and that's right on in the middle of July. But residents get all four seasons to enjoy nearby Lake Murray's 78 square miles for boating, fishing, water-skiing, and swimming.

Columbia has the advantages that come with being a capital city and college town, as several hospital systems have facilities in the area. For preventive care, residents ages 50 and older can head to the Capital Senior Center for tai chi, yoga, and Pilates classes, and a good bit of socializing. Member Daisy De Laine Block, 82, started tai chi classes on the advice of her physical therapist. "I thought it was something Bruce Lee did," Block jokes. Now she's a true believer.

Columbus, Ohio

With abundant green spaces, friendly Midwestern neighbors, and enough low-cost activities to keep a full-time scheduler occupied, Columbus, Ohio, is one of the nation's most underrated retirement spots. Situated along the winding shores of the Scioto River, Columbus has made a name for itself as the state's capital, home of the Ohio State University Buckeyes, and the headquarters of major corporations like Nationwide Mutual Insurance and Bob Evans Farms. A rich history and a four-season climate make this college town a delightful place to keep your legs loose and your mind active.

Tucked into an impressive skyline of towering stone buildings and sleek, mirrored windows is the 81-year-old Ohio Theatre—the busiest performing arts venue in the state—where seniors can get reduced-price tickets to see everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Over at the Columbus Museum of Art, $8 allows seniors to check out magnificent works by Picasso, Renoir, and O'Keeffe.

For wildlife of a more active variety—such as an Amur tiger—consider an afternoon at the Columbus Zoo, the nation's top-ranked zoo and a big source of pride for the community (senior admission: $6).

Sports enthusiasts have plenty to cheer about. The 10,000-seat Huntington Park—which opened just this year—provides a stunning setting to watch the Columbus Clippers, the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians (senior tickets: $7 reserved, $3 general admission). And things really heat up in September when Ohio State's football season begins. But even if you aren't one of the 100,000-plus fans squeezed into Ohio Stadium for the games against the University of Southern California, you can still benefit from the city's connection to this first-rate public research university. Through Ohio State's Program 60, seniors can chose from a host of noncredit courses to take free of charge. "It would be difficult, I think, for a city to have much more to offer," says Joan Plankell, an 80-year-old, retired high school teacher who lives in Columbus.