For most of our lives, where we live is firmly tied to where we work. But once there's no job to commute to, we have the liberating -- and exhilarating -- opportunity to pull up stakes. Your options are limited only by your imagination and your financial wherewithal.
Studies by the Del Webb Co., designer of the original Sun City retirement communities, suggest that baby boomers are more likely than their predecessors to move in retirement. Once boomers start to retire, they will do so at a rate of more than 10,000 a day for the better part of two decades, says E. Thomas Wetzel, president of Retirement Living Information Center, a Web site that helps consumers find their ideal retirement spot.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for this 76-million-strong generation, however. Retirees who relocate generally prefer a safe, uncrowded destination with good medical facilities and a low cost of living. But there is also a nascent trend among retirees to flee the suburbs for downtown to take advantage of all the excitement and conveniences that revitalized cities have to offer.
So if you're thinking about relocating, we've scouted the U.S. for great places to retire. Even if you're years from packing it in, this guided tour of 12 terrific destinations will give you a taste of the wide range of choices for your next phase of life. You'll find some surprises here, including a few places with wintry weather that usually (and unfairly) knocks them off most retirement lists.
The active life
St. George, Utah
With its high-desert climate, mild winters and an average of 300 sunny days a year, St. George, located in the southwestern corner of Utah, is a popular retirement destination, with an emphasis on year-round outdoor activities, including golf, hiking and biking. Set in a valley surrounded by red-rock cliffs, St. George shows off some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Housing prices climbed nearly 14% last year, but a typical single-family house with three bedrooms and two baths still sells for about $200,000.
- Population: 62,000
- Income tax: Maximum 7%; $4,800 retirement-income exclusion for taxpayers under 65; $7,500 for those over 65.
- Property tax: $622 per $100,000
- Sales tax: 6.25%
With Bellingham Bay to its west and snow-capped Mount Baker to the east, Bellingham is a city designed for nature lovers. Hiking and biking trails snake throughout the city, and ski slopes are only an hour away. Housing prices in this city, known for historic Victorian neighborhoods and a thriving arts community, run the gamut, with a typical three-bedroom, two-bath house selling for about $250,000.
- Population: 71,000
- Income tax: None
- Property tax: $1,200 per $100,000 of assessed value
- Sales tax: 8.2%
About 35 miles north of Hilton Head Island, Beaufort is emerging as a new destination for retirees. Its palm-tree-lined historic downtown, filled with funky restaurants, upscale shops and turn-of-the-century houses, offers the charm of Savannah but on a smaller scale. Overlooking Beaufort Bay, this town is a paradise for boaters, kayakers and fishermen, and its mild climate is ideal for year-round golf. A typical three-bedroom, two-bath house sells for about $200,000. Entertainment is plentiful, and includes performances by the Lowcountry Shakespeare Co. and the Beaufort Orchestra.
- Population: 13,000
- Income tax: Top rate of 7%; no tax on social security benefits or on the first $3,000 of retirement income for those under age 65, or on the first $10,000 for those over 65.
- Property tax: $794 per $100,000 of assessed value ($50,000 is exempt for homeowners 65 and older)
- Sales tax: 5% (prescription drugs are exempt)
To some people, the words Florida and retirement are synonymous. Sarasota, on the state's gulf coast, enjoys a year-round mild climate and an active arts community as well. It has its own symphony, ballet, opera company, museums and several professional theaters. The city and surrounding county are home to more than 60 golf courses and 150 parks and recreation sites. It has a minor-league baseball team and is the spring-training headquarters for the Cincinnati Reds. A three-bedroom, two-bath house sells for a median price of $282,000.
- Population: 53,000
- Income Tax: None. "Intangibles" tax of $1 per $1,000 of investments not inside of retirement plans.
- Property tax: $1,767 per $100,000 of assessed value (homestead exemption on first $25,000, and assessment hikes are limited to 3% a year for permanent residents).
- Sales tax: 7% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)