A college town for retirees: Ithaca, N.Y.
College towns like Ithaca can be an ideal place to retire. For a median home price of just $176,500, retirees can take classes at Cornell University or Ithaca College and attend speeches, concerts, and sporting events. They can also spend their days hiking to the more than 100 waterfalls and gorges within 10 miles of downtown or sampling the wares of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. Don Wilson, 65, a retired cardiologist from Rockford, Ill., bicycles throughout the Finger Lakes region three times a week. "The rural roads in the Finger Lakes region have so little traffic that you can ride three or four abreast on a bicycle in continuous conversation, learning from each other," he says. Wilson has also developed an interest in paleontology, and is taking a course on the subject at Cornell University and conducting research on fossils at the Museum of the Earth. "I think that university towns tend to attract interesting organizations, like the Museum of the Earth, and interesting people who may or may not be connected with the college."
Place to launch a second career: Lincoln, Neb.
Clague Hodgson, 65, retired early from a faculty position at the Creighton University School of Medicine and founded his own biotech company, Nature Technology Corporation, in 1998. His Lincoln-based business now employs eight people who investigate the use of DNA as a medicine. Hodgson says the city's low unemployment rate and proximity to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln make it an excellent place to launch a second career. "The University of Nebraska Technology Park really takes a lot of the weight off your shoulders," he says. "For an entrepreneur, remaining affiliated with the university is a good source of information, the library is very helpful, and occasionally we collaborate with researchers there." Nebraska's state capitol had an unemployment rate of just 3.5 percent in 2010, among the lowest in the country. According to Onboard Informatics data, the city has added more than 15,000 jobs since 2000, many of which are in fields known to hire older workers, including government, higher education, and healthcare.
Best mix of affordability and amenities: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Pittsburgh has a low cost of living coupled with a wide variety of amenities that retirees will need as they age. The median home sale price was $97,900 in 2010, which is unusual for a city with a large university and top-notch hospitals. Senior citizens age 65 and older with proper identification are entitled to ride Port Authority buses and trains for free. You'll just have to decide whether you want season tickets to the ballet, symphony, or Steelers games, assuming all three won't fit into your retirement budget.
Best place for affordable housing: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Port Charlotte home prices were battered by the housing bust, which could mean bargains for retirees new to the area. The median home sale price was a shockingly low $59,950 in 2010. And many of these homes are located along canals and waterways. "There are a tremendous number of houses on the water, and everybody's got their boats in their backyard," says retiree Chris Zwirner, 78. "All the people who live on water essentially have access to the Gulf of Mexico, and from there you can go around the world." The Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park spans 42,000 acres, including 70 miles of shoreline along the Charlotte Harbor. An added bonus: Florida has no state income tax.