s Karen and David Griffiths neared retirement, they knew one thing for sure. “We were done with Los Angeles,” declares David, now 70, a Brit with dual U.S. citizenship. Sure, they’d lived and worked in the nation’s second largest city for nearly three decades—Karen as a neonatal intensive care nurse and David as an-investment banker-turned-software company CEO-turned-screenwriter and producer. But they were ready to move to a smaller town, provided it could still feed their love of theater and dining out.
Karen, now 69, a native of upstate New York, had been visiting Ashland, Ore., for more than 15 years to enjoy the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival—and to rendezvous with her sister who lived in Portland. David sometimes tagged along and came to appreciate the festival (which now runs nine months a year and includes productions beyond the Bard) as well as the local dining and arts scene.
Ashland, a growing foothills city of 22,000 amid vast national forests in southern Oregon just north of the California border, is one of the picks on the new Forbes list of The 25 Best Places To Enjoy Your Retirement In 2022. Our selections, spread across all four continental times zones and 16 U.S. states, cover seven different retirement passions: (1) arts/culture, (2) fine dining, (3) lifelong learning, (4) volunteering, (5) outdoor activities of water, (6) outdoor activities on land, and (7) golf, a sub-category of land activities.
The full list can be found here. Almost all of the places, which vary greatly in population, excel in more than one area of interest. Austin hits all seven, while Seattle and Boston are good for six. On the other hand, Pinehurst, N.C., is here for one reason only—golf—while newcomer Flagstaff, Ariz., makes the cut only for its extensive outdoor land activities, including skiing and hiking.
Besides arts/culture and fine dining, Ashland also makes the list for outdoor land activities and lifelong learning. Southern Oregon University (which employed the drama professor who founded the Shakespeare festival in 1935) allows senior citizens to audit most classes for free on a space-available basis.
In sorting out where to move for retirement, the Griffiths, now married for 48 years, seriously considered two other places—both, as it happens, also on our list. One was Boulder, Colo, which we cite for arts/culture, fine dining, lifelong learning, outdoor land activities and volunteering. “A little too big,” David says of the 108,000-population city abutting the Rockies. The other was the mountain state capital of Santa Fe, N.M. (population 86,000), with fine dining, outdoor land activities and a big art/culture scene, but, David said, a little light on the theatrical productions he and his wife like. “Santa Fe was a close second,” he says.
The Griffiths gave themselves plenty of time to explore before taking the plunge. In Ashland they found their real estate agent one day simply by walking down E. Main Street, stopping in front of the Ashland Homes Real Estates office to look at the sales flyers plastered on the window, then going inside, where they encountered agent Jesse Donovan. “He titillated us for two years with emails of charming houses,” David says. Finally, they bought a 134-year-old Eastlake Victorian, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and just a short walk from of the Shakespeare Festival’s home. “It was a real fixer-upper,” says David. It was also a stark contrast from their Spanish-style home in LA.
Our annual signature list of the 25 Best Places to Retire—the most recent one was published in May—aims to uncover affordable retirement places with a little something going for them. This list, with its emphasis on pursuing serious hobbies, is different. We don’t take into account such economic factors as median home cost, cost of living and state taxes, although we include this data and more in the individual write-ups. One result is the presence of some pricey places, like San Francisco, Boulder, Boston and Hilton Head, S.C. But with the median home price in the U.S. now up to $404,000, according to the National Association of Realtors, seven places on our list are no more than 15% higher than that or less. Those in this range are Asheville, N.C.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Gainesville, Fla.; Traverse City, Mich.; Walla Walla, Wash.; Tampa, and Pinehurst, N.C. Ashland’s median home price is $599,000, 48% above the national median.
One unusual factor we weigh is vulnerability to climate change/natural hazard risk. Starting several years ago, Forbes was the first media outlet to factor such risks into its methodology for periodically picking retirement places, eliminating places with the very highest risks. Now such concerns have emerged as a mainstream retirement issue. Such risks have axed a number of places listed on our past passions lists, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. But with new third-party assessments, several omitted from lists for that reason are back on this year, including San Francisco, Seattle and Sarasota, Fla.
Our choices are listed alphabetically, with the particular passions noted for each place.
Here’s how we compiled the list. We canvassed more than 500 places around the country, reviewing a lot of data we put through our evaluative metrics. We eliminated places with populations below 10,000 on the theory there would be an inadequate supply of housing if everyone rushed in. For the specific passions and the best places for them, we reviewed scores of published evaluations by experts and enthusiasts.
While economics was not dispositive in this list, other factors played roles. These include doctors per capita, air quality, and how walkable and bikeable a specific place is. One disqualifying factor is an over-the-top serious crime rate, which we define as several times or more the national average. In particular, two places on this list, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have been in the news for public safety issues. But the data suggests serious crime rates considerably below the hype, some of which may have political overtones. Both cities have much to offer in the way of retirement passions.
We include a description of state taxation because relocating folks want to know about this. Seven places on the list have no state income tax: Austin, Gainesville, Naples, Sarasota and Tampa, Fla., and Seattle and Walla Walla. Three have no sales tax: Ashland, Bend and Portland, Ore. We note whether any part of Social Security income is taxed at the state level (it isn’t in most places, but you’re out of luck in Boulder and Santa Fe), and whether there’s a state estate or inheritance tax (found in Ashland, Bend, Boston, Portland, Ore; Seattle and Walla Walla, with Annapolis having both).
Data is compiled from a number of places. Median home prices come primarily from the Realtors and zillow.com. Cost of living information comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and bestplaces.net. Serious crime stats are drawn from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and neighborhoodscout.com. Air quality metrics are collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Assessments of walkability (the ability to stroll easily to basic retail businesses and mass transit for everyday needs) and bikeability (same idea using pedaling) come from walkscore.com and the League of American Bicyclists. The ambience for volunteering comes from barda.org and volunteeringinamerica.gov. Information about state taxes comes primarily from The Tax Foundation.
On the climate change/natural hazard component, FEMA’s National Risk Index for Natural Hazards calculates for every county in the country a relative vulnerability measure for 18 natural hazards, including flooding, hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes. The ratings also take into account a place’s preparation to deal with problems.