There's nothing upscale about the blocks around the Bosco Center. But like many urban quarters in America, this one is changing as new immigrants arrive. Down the street are a pair of Vietnamese restaurants and the Thanh Tuna gift shop.
All that is part of the excitement of retiring to Kansas City, says Mary Fern Woods, 75, who moved here from Pratt, a small town in Kansas. "I have friends in Pratt that I do miss," she says, and she drives back occasionally to see them. But Woods likes the free Bosco Center dances, live concerts downtown, discounted group trips arranged at community centers, and the variety of restaurants and shops. "There are," she says, "just a jillion things to do here."
Tucson, Ariz., is a scenic southern landing for birds of all sorts. Northern snowbirds fleeing harsh winters flock here; idle military jets sprawl over a massive aircraft "boneyard" in the city limits; and a breathtaking variety of avian life fills the sky, despite the desert heat.
Kathy Olmstead, a retired teacher and longtime birdwatcher, says Tucson's outdoor offerings make it a great spot to retire cheaply. Olmstead says the first stop for local and visiting birders is the Sweetwater Wetlands, an unlikely oasis formed by a nearby sewage treatment plant. It's a reliable spot for hunting Harris's hawks, red-winged blackbirds, and more elusive species like the emerald-tinged elegant trogon. Beginning birders can take advantage of more than 150 free birding excursions led each year by the Tucson Audubon Society (where Olmstead volunteers). Tucson is a mecca for fans of outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and biking. For seniors, a visit to nearby Saguaro National Park can include what may be one of the best deals for retirees anywhere: If you're 62 or over, a National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass is good in any national park and costs just $10. "You can do a lot of things without spending money outdoors," Olmstead says. "I still feel like I'm on vacation, and I moved here in 1953."
Overtones of Mexican and American Indian culture are a key part of the city's southwestern feel. Most striking are the bleached white parapets of San Xavier del Bac Mission, located just south of the city on the Tohono O'odham tribal reservation. Admission to the mission, which dates to 1783, is free. Other attractions include the "Boneyard" where 4,400 aircraft of all sorts are parked on the sprawling campus of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. Bus tours run regularly from the adjacent Pima Air and Space Museum, and admission to both costs less than $20.
For visitors, seasonal deals abound. Kate Reynolds, who blogs at TucsonOnTheCheap.com, says many resorts offer generous hotel credit that can cut the price of a five-star room in half when meals and spa extras are priced in.
For snowbirds looking for a vacation retreat that won't strain their bank account, Tucson is home to a plethora of over-55 communities where manufactured homes can be had for less than the cost of a luxury car. Most used mobile homes range from $15,000 to $30,000, but fixer-uppers can sell for as little as $6,000, according to Phyllis Denison, who, with her husband, Charlie, not only lives in one but also sells them.
Lastly, no discussion of Tucson is complete without a nod to the city's unavoidable summer heat (the mercury regularly edges into triple-digits.) It's a deal-breaker for some, but Denison puts it this way: "You get used to it."