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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Culture lovers also enjoy some of the state's best art and music. Fort Worth is home to two world-class art museums, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which include notable works by Richard Serra and Philip Guston. The zoo and the nearby Fort Worth Botanic Garden deserve an honorable mention, as do several museums devoted to the city's Western-tinged history, including the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. For a supercheap evening at Bass Performance Hall, a downtown landmark flanked by two 48-foot-tall angel sculptures, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra offers discounted tickets to seniors over 65 on Friday and Sunday performances for as little as $8.

Housing costs are generally affordable. Retirees don't tend to cluster in the area, but apartment-style retirement residences have sprung up near the downtown Sundance Square area, home to some of the city's best nightlife. More broadly, Texas was spared much of the worst of the housing slump, and Fort Worth has held up better than many other areas of the state. In 2008, the median home price was $128,500.

Fort Worth is also a city where helping out is a tradition. Retirees say the city offers ample opportunity to get involved in the community, thanks to an engaged local government and active volunteers. Don Smith, director of United Way's Area Agency on Aging of Tarrant County, says that Fort Worth is "one of the most engaged cities I've ever worked in."

Jacksonville, Florida

In Florida, the farther north you go, the more Southern it gets. Jacksonville is a perfect example. Take Hemming Plaza in the downtown area, where, amid chess players on benches, stands an obelisk dedicated to Floridian Confederate Army heroes E. Kirby Smith and J.J. Dickinson. But Jacksonville isn't living in the past. The city, which uniquely blends old influences with the new, offers an eclectic host of affordable activities for retirees looking for something different from the typical tropical getaway.

Although it's the fourth-largest metro area in the state, Jacksonville doesn't feel like a big city. "I grew up in a small South Carolina town where everybody waves. Here, it's the same thing," says Frank Cummings, a retiree from the Navy who was born in Jacksonville and returned in 1999. You'll find that small-town atmosphere in the San Marco neighborhood. There, palm-tree-lined streets and rows of small shops and restaurants resemble a miniature old Florida town—despite its location just a few miles from Jacksonville's skyline. One artifact of the city's past in San Marco is Theatre Jacksonville, a community theater group that has run continuously for 90 seasons, making it the longest-running in the state. Senior tickets for plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest are available for $20. But San Marco also has elements of a big city, including a multitude of affordable restaurants that range from Middle Eastern to Thai.

Jacksonville also offers the expected Floridian pastimes. "I can be from my house to standing with my feet in the sand in 20 minutes," says Jim Dowd, a retiree who is originally from Nashville and lives at Westminster Woods, a retirement community on Julington Creek (a tributary of the St. Johns River, which is popular for fishing and boating). The city's neighborhoods capture both its past and its future growth—Riverside, full of stately homes, is a historic district dating to the 1800s, while in the expanding southeastern part of the city you'll find new carriage homes in the Sweetwater active living community.

It's generally cheap to live in Jacksonville, compared with the rest of the state. The city's median home price is $150,500, versus $275,900 in Fort Lauderdale and $291,550 in Miami. Part of the reason housing is so affordable is that the city has never been a vacation spot like many cities farther south. But residents aren't missing the tourists. Says Dowd: "In the rest of Florida, you think vacations. In Jacksonville, it's more like being at home."