the right place to retire can be difficult. On the one hand, preparing to live on a fixed income and stretching your hard-won nest egg as far as you can has to be a priority. On the other, your golden years are supposed to be a time to really enjoy yourself.
Major cities have a wide range of amenities, but they’re also pricey. You might be able to spend less in small towns, but they probably won't offer everything you're looking for. College towns are the perfect balance -- they tend to feature a wider variety of cultural attractions, and many are also located in relatively small cities in inexpensive states, which makes them some of the most enjoyable and cheapest places to retire.
Last updated: Aug. 6, 2020
DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images/iStockphoto Ann Arbor, Michigan
University: University of Michigan
Known as an artist's community, Ann Arbor is home to a variety of renowned art galleries and museums, as well as multiple performing arts venues. Outdoor options include exploring scenic trails and kayaking or canoeing on the Huron River. Farmers markets, festivals and one-of-a-kind retailers, including indie bookstores, are other perks Ann Arbor offers. And for retirees who love to learn, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Michigan is a membership-based learning program for seniors that offers lecture series, classes and study groups on a variety of academic topics, as well as historical and cultural day trips.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com Athens, Georgia
University: University of Georgia
Harvard might be the first university founded in the United States, but the University of Georgia is fond of staking claim to the title of the first public university founded on these shores, in 1785. Retirees in the city have plenty to enjoy, like visiting the historic house museums or the Georgia Museum of Art.
dszc / Getty Images Austin, Texas
University: The University of Texas at Austin
With a motto like "Keep Austin Weird," you can't help but find unique local shopping and an overall funky vibe in this capital city of Texas, but there are also plenty of other benefits for the senior citizen set. For example, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department has a robust variety of senior programs and services that include travel, hobbies, socializing, volunteering and physical fitness. And for foodies, Austin boasts plenty of wonderful restaurants, prompting Travel + Leisure to dub the city America's next great food town in 2018. Plus, seniors over 65 can audit classes tuition-free at UT without seeking instructor permission.
©Shutterstock.com Beaufort, South Carolina
University: University of South Carolina, Beaufort
Seniors will delight in what the historic waterfront community of Beaufort has to offer, including art galleries, antique shops and a collection of homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. For an old-fashioned bookstore experience, visit the McIntosh Book Shoppe, featuring historical volumes, rare titles and first editions that will have history buffs browsing for hours. The area is populated with islands and waterways, perfect for boating, fishing and birdwatching -- or a relaxing day at the beach. For South Carolina residents, ages 60 and over, classes at the University of South Carolina in Beaufort are tuition-free.
Check Out: 50 Best (and Worst) Places To Retire If You Have No Savings
Jeremy_Hogan / Getty Images Bloomington, Indiana
University: University of Indiana
Bloomington can be so nice it'll make you wonder what Bobby Knight was so angry about all those years. From visiting the beautiful local lakes for fishing or swimming to taking in a show at any of the city's many theaters and concert halls to just strolling around beautiful downtown Bloomington, you should find plenty of options for enjoying your time off.
Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com Boone, North Carolina
University: Appalachian State University
Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone is a college town with a low crime rate, which provides beautiful scenery without fail -- perfect for hiking, biking or just enjoying the view. Activities abound here for seniors, including driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, fishing, attending a street festival or taking in a local performance at the university's Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts. And as long as you are a North Carolina resident who is at least 65, you can audit college courses at ASU without paying a fee.
aceshot1 / Shutterstock.com Bozeman, Montana
University: Montana State University
Anyone planning on enjoying nature in their retirement likely won't do much better than Bozeman. Reasonably close to both Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, Bozeman is a college town ensconced in natural beauty.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com Columbia, Missouri
University: University of Missouri
Columbia, Missouri, is full of activities for retirees. Tour art galleries and museums -- or visit the city's farmers markets. Opportunities to attend various festivals and live music concerts are also available. Plus, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails, parks and golf courses. And senior citizens, ages 65 and over, can audit University of Missouri classes free of tuition.
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com East Lansing, Michigan
University: Michigan State University
The “ivy-covered halls” referred to in Michigan State’s alma mater “MSU Shadows” are part of what makes the campus so beautiful, but beyond the scenery, East Lansing has a lot to offer. You can attend concerts at the Wharton Center, visit the beautiful Horticultural Gardens or enjoy some ice cream at the MSU Dairy Store.
DenisTangneyJr / iStock.com Fayetteville, Arkansas
University: University of Arkansas
Tucked in the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville offers a wide variety of outdoor activity in the area. But even if hiking and biking aren't your speed, there are plenty of indoor destinations as well, from visiting the Clinton House Museum to checking out local artisans and crafts at Terra Studios to taking in a show at Theatre Squared.
©Shutterstock.com Fort Collins, Colorado
University: Colorado State University
Fort Collins is in close proximity to various state parks, national forests and grasslands, as well as Rocky Mountain National Park. But you don't have to sacrifice the amenities of big-city living if you choose this as your retirement destination. Plenty of unique and mainstream shopping opportunities, as well as an abundance of live theatre, music and art, await. For retirees who consider themselves lifelong learners, Colorado State University offers lifelong learner visitation privileges to its courses for people ages 55 and over at no cost.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com Gainesville, Florida
University: University of Florida
Gainesville is a mecca for seniors. Not only does it offer golf, swimming and tennis, there are also plenty of art and cultural activities to attend as well. Seniors over 60 who are interested in academic enrichment can also audit classes for free at the University of Florida. The city also features several retirement communities, including Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, which provides a variety of on-site physical fitness, social and learning opportunities for residents. The community has its own learning institute and also boasts over 40 clubs to join and a 20,000-square-foot gym.
JamesPatrick.pro / Shutterstock.com Iowa City, Iowa
University: University of Iowa
Not only is the cost of living in Iowa below the national average, but Iowa City — home to the Hawkeyes — has a variety of attractions that can help make for an exciting retirement. You can look at 375 million-year-old fossils at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, visit the Museum of Natural History or even check out the beautiful migrating butterflies at the Monarch Festival.
photo.eccles / Shutterstock.com Kalamazoo, Michigan
University: Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo is located in one of the states with the lowest cost of living in the country, but retiring there isn’t just about saving money. The city is the home to Bell’s Brewery — named the best brewery in America by the American Homebrewer Association — in addition to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, the Gilmore Car Museum and the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.
Ian Ballinger / Wikimedia Commons Lawrence, Kansas
University: University of Kansas
Whether it’s walking in the Prairie Park Nature Center, learning about the history of “Bleeding Kansas” at the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area or even using your newly acquired spare time to learn to play an instrument at the Americana Music Academy, the abundance of activities in Lawrence will certainly keep retirees happy.
alexeys / Getty Images/iStockphoto Lexington, Kentucky
University: University of Kentucky
By retiring in Lexington, you can visit the Kentucky Horse Park or take the Horse Farm Tour to explore the state's rich tradition of raising horses, learn about area history by visiting one of the five Historic Homes — including houses owned by Henry Clay and Mary Todd Lincoln — or even see a restored Shaker community at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
RiverNorthPhotography / Getty Images Lincoln, Nebraska
University: University of Nebraska
The home of the Cornhuskers, Lincoln is also one of the cheapest places to retire in America. But the lack of costs doesn’t mean a lack of things to do. Lincoln has plenty to offer, including the 57-foot-tall, multicolored Ascent Tower from artist Jun Kaneko or golf at the Hidden Valley Golf Club.
csfotoimages / Getty Images Madison, Wisconsin
University: University of Wisconsin
Outdoor life in Madison is lovely, with five lakes covering 15,000 acres and plenty of hiking and biking trails. There are fun events and culture to take in as well, from outdoor concerts like "Opera in the Park" at Garner Park to the Henry Vilas Zoo.
James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com Oxford, Mississippi
University: University of Mississippi
Mississippi has a very low cost of living, making it an ideal spot to consider retiring to. And Oxford could be just the place to take advantage of those low costs, with live music at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the Powerhouse or independent bookstores like Square Books in William Faulkner’s hometown.
Tmariemdith - Own work / Wikimedia Commons Oxford, Ohio
University: Miami University
If you just did a double-take at the presence of a Miami in Ohio, you should be aware that Miami University alumni are fond of pointing out that Miami was a university before Florida was a state. The university's hometown since its founding in 1809 — Oxford — is scenic and beautiful and offers plenty to do for students and area residents alike.
Read: 35 Cities Where You Can Afford To Live on Less Than $50K
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com Pittsburgh
University: University of Pittsburgh
Seniors seeking a big-city retirement with tons of natural spaces might find Pittsburgh the perfect place with over 2,000 acres dedicated to city parks alone, as well as biking and boating opportunities. The city is also home to the iconic Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Museum of Art. And for seniors who have a passion for learning, the University of Pittsburgh's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a membership-based community for adults ages 50 and older with no tests, grades or degree requirements.
Mark Howard / Getty Images/iStockphoto Raleigh, North Carolina
University: North Carolina State University
For North Carolina seniors, ages 65 and over, NCSU offers a tuition-free waiver for college class audits. And for retirees who are into the food scene, Raleigh has much to offer in the way of bakeries, breweries and restaurants. In 2018, area chefs received three different James Beard nominations -- one of the highest honors in the food industry. First-class healthcare is also available here. Nearby Duke University Hospital ranks as one of the top hospitals in America, according to U.S. News & World Report.
4kodiak / Getty Images/iStockphoto Salt Lake City
University: University of Utah
Salt Lake City, with its beautiful mountain scenery and the Great Salt Lake, is truly a four-season community. The area is known for its outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, birdwatching and more. Residents of Utah, who are 62 and older, can audit regular classes at the University of Utah for a small fee of $25 per semester. Plus, the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program in Salt Lake offers seniors 55 and older opportunities such as mentoring and tutoring children, providing transportation to medical appointments to those in need and delivering Meals on Wheels.
Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons San Marcos, Texas
University: Texas State University
San Marcos is home to Texas State University, but there’s a lot more going on than just the university. San Marcos features a variety of attractions, from brewery tours to a classic car museum.
sshepard / Getty Images Tuscaloosa, Alabama
University: University of Alabama
While not as cheap a place to live as neighboring Mississippi, Alabama is nonetheless still very affordable. And choosing to spend your retirement in Tuscaloosa not only means being close to the stomping grounds of the Crimson Tide, but it can also mean anything from strolling down the Riverwalk, shopping at the River Market or even catching a concert at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.
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