Richard Shortlidge, 68, is spending his retirement years firing muskets and cannons. He portrays a Spanish soldier in full uniform and performs traditional leatherworking at Fort Mose Historic State Park in St. Augustine, Fla., the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. "I explain what it was like to be a soldier in the middle of the 18th century and a little bit about the craft that I do," he says. Shortlidge, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, also volunteers at Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest 17th century masonry fort in North America. "If you are a lover of history and nature, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place that combines both of these as well as they are combined in St. Augustine," Shortlidge says.
[In Pictures: 10 Places for History Buffs to Retire.]
To find a few historic places to retire, U.S. News used a Best Places to Retire search tool powered by data from Onboard Informatics. We looked for places filled with museums, libraries, and national historic monuments that also offer a good quality of life and plenty of amenities for seniors.
Charleston, S.C., named for King Charles II of England in the 1600s, is a living museum for Civil War buffs. This seaside city has 36 national historic landmarks and 42 museums within 30 miles. "Almost anywhere you go here you are running into something historic," says Scott Wallinger, 71, a retired senior vice president of a packaging company who is now on the board of the Charleston Museum. "Over the years I have visited most of the historic houses. Just walking the streets in Charleston and peeking in the gardens is a great past time."
Several U.S. cities, including Savannah, Ga., have entire districts preserved as national historic landmarks. The oldest state capital in the United States, Santa Fe, N.M., has its unique Spanish-Pueblo architecture codified into law. And the densely populated San Francisco area has 18 national historic landmarks, including the Park Historic District, Alcatraz Island, and working cable cars.
[Use our online tool to Find Your Best Place to Retire.]
After the devastation of hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, La., has been slowly regaining its former population. City-wide celebrations including Mardi Gras and the Jazz and Heritage Festival continue to attract locals and visitors. "There's a beauty and a charm that I frankly was very surprised at," says Lillian Bardwell, 65, a retired executive secretary for a bank who moved from Houston to New Orleans in December 2009. "It has a European flair." Bardwell volunteers at the National World War II Museum, which is just a 10-minute walk from her condo in the business district.
Places where the founding fathers lived and worked make up a fascinating portion of historical sites. You can start a new life in Philadelphia, Pa., as Benjamin Franklin did as a teenager, or visit the birthplaces of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, at Adams National Historical Park in Boston suburb Quincy, Mass. Washington, D.C., of course, is also awash with presidential history, including 74 national landmarks and numerous free and low-cost museums.
Three Presidents of the United States—Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler—attended classes at William and Mary, the second oldest college in the United States. Retirees can study on the same Williamsburg, Va., campus for free. Virginia residents age 60 and older can audit up to three courses each semester at the public college. Jerome Trehy, 77, is one of about two dozen senior citizens currently taking classes using the senior citizen tuition wavier. "I go into the Christopher Wren Building and I feel like I am walking through the halls where Jefferson sat. The whole atmosphere makes you feel you are living in a part of history," says Trehy, who has been auditing classes including anthropology, religion, economics, and history for more than a decade. "Except for the kids walking around with modern clothes, you'd think you were back in a time when horses were coming down the street."
Check out these 10 historic places to retire:
San Francisco, Calif.
Santa Fe, N.M.
St. Augustine, Fla.
New Orleans, La.