10 College Towns That Retirees Love, Too
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

10 College Towns That Retirees Love, Too

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10 College Towns That Retirees Love, Too
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Back to School?

Just because you haven't set foot on campus in decades doesn't mean you should strike college towns from your list of places to visit or retire to. Many of the same amenities that appeal to university students — relatively low cost of living, ample activities indoors and out, plus proximity to large urban areas — lure older adults as well. Not sure where to begin? Experts say these 10 towns are a good start exploring.

Related: 49 Fulfilling, Productive Things to Do in Retirement

Gainesville, Florida
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Gainesville, Florida

There are a few reasons why Florida is so popular with older adults. For one, there's no state income tax or taxes on retirement pension income or Social Security. Gainesville housing is moderate, especially when compared with the state's coastal communities; the median home price is $229,000, according to Zillow. With a population of about 135,000, Gainesville is home to the University of Florida, an athletic and academic powerhouse where you'll also find the UF Health Shands Hospital, a nationally ranked medical center. Seniors can audit classes at UF for free, as well. And if you love to boat, float, or swim, the Gainesville area is blessed with one of the finest networks of spring-fed pools and rivers in the country.

Blacksburg and Roanoke, Virginia
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Blacksburg and Roanoke, Virginia

Blacksburg is a college town of about 45,000 nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home to Virginia Tech University, it's less than an hour's drive from Roanoke, one of Southern Living's best places to retire in the south. The region touts itself as the mountain biking capital of the eastern U.S., and Roanoke boasts a growing network of walkable urban greenbelts. The Virginia Tech Hokies are football and basketball powerhouses; Roanoke boasts a symphony, opera, and cool museums; and the region is teeming with microbreweries, wineries, and distilleries. Virginia doesn't tax Social Security benefits and state property and sales taxes are relatively moderate, according to Kiplinger. The median rent is $1,460 and median home price is at $315,000 in Blacksburg. Homebuyers will find better deals in Roanoke, where the median price is about $100,000 less.

Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Ann Arbor, Michigan

With its charming, bustling downtown; the flagship University of Michigan campus next door; and Detroit about a half hour away, this city of 120,000 is a perennial on best-of lists for older visitors and retirees — despite the sometimes-brutal winters. The university has a robust lifelong-learning program, while its hospital and specialized medicine centers are consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News. You'll find world-class entertainment and major league sports in Detroit, and (if you partake) recreational marijuana is legal. The biggest drawback is the cost of living, according to Kiplinger and AARP; the median home price has skyrocketed in recent years and is now estimated at $425,0000.

Norman, Oklahoma
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Norman, Oklahoma

Home to the University of Oklahoma, Norman is a fast-growing town of about 120,000. Sports fans have the OU Sooners in their backyard, plus the NBA and minor-league baseball about 25 miles north in Oklahoma City. If OKC isn't big enough, Dallas and Fort Worth are three hours to the south. Outdoors enthusiasts converge on Lake Thunderbird State Park, which offers boating and swimming in the 6,000-acre reservoir, plus hiking, camping, and hunting. And there's legal casino gambling throughout the state. Oklahoma does not tax Social Security income, but sales tax rates are on the higher side, according to an analysis by Kiplinger. As in a lot of college towns, real estate in Norman has taken off in recent years; Zillow estimates the median home price in 2019 at $235,000 and median rent at $1,080. (That's still a relative bargain compared to other highly rated communities like Ann Arbor.)

Fort Collins, Colorado
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Fort Collins, Colorado

If you crave sunshine without the heat and humidity of Florida, look to the cities along Colorado's Front Range. Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University, averages about as many sunny days per year as Tampa or San Diego. And unlike those Sun Belt cities, Fort Collins enjoys four distinct seasons. People move here for mountain sports, hiking and biking, hunting and fishing, as well as the small-town feel. At about 168,000 people, it's got a vibe that Denver used to have, some locals say, though like the Mile High City the median home price ($428,000) is out of reach for many buyers. Unlike some states popular with older Americans, Colorado does have a state income tax but it grants some notable exclusions on retirement income. Colorado is a mecca for craft brewing and is a pioneer in legal medicinal and recreational marijuana and CBD as well.

San Marcos, Texas
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San Marcos, Texas

Usually, it's the state capital of Austin that makes experts' lists of best places to retire. But San Marcos, just 31 miles to the south, has a thriving state university, too, as well as easy access to the same lakes and rivers of the Hill Country. (Don't forget endless options for barbecue and Tex-Mex!) Texas State University allows seniors 65 and older to audit courses for free on a space-available basis, and sports fans can cheer the Wildcats on in football, baseball, basketball, and more. There's no state income tax in Texas, but property taxes are higher than average. With just about 63,000 people, San Marcos may feel like a small town, but it's smack dab between Austin and San Antonio, which both have more than a million residents. Plus, the median home price of $284,000 is about $100,000 less than red-hot Austin's market.

Asheville, North Carolina
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Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is a college town of about 92,000 tucked into the Great Smoky Mountains. For more than a century, the city has been a haven for artists, wealthy eccentrics, outdoors enthusiasts, and quirky characters. It's home to a small branch of the University of North Carolina system, yet there's a surprisingly robust scene downtown, with brewpubs, restaurants, galleries, and some of the coolest bookstores in the nation (new, used, and collectible). And don't forget the great outdoors: hiking, biking, canoeing, birdwatching, or daytripping it. Asheville was once home to the Vanderbilts, and it's still one of the pricier college towns that older adults also love. The median home price is almost $360,000, and while Social Security benefits aren't taxed, retirement income is.

Lexington, Kentucky
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Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington is home to the University of Kentucky, though some people may associate the city with thoroughbred horses rather than Wildcat basketball or football. Like other major universities, KU opens its doors to adults over 65, allowing them to audit classes in person and online free of charge. It's a great place for active seniors, with ample city parks (about 100) and a handful of public golf courses. Those looking to retire or buy a second home will find a median home price of $259,000 and median rent of $1,250. Social Security and other retirement income are exempt from state income taxes, and homeowners qualify for generous homestead exemptions in many cases.

Murfreesboro, TN
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Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Just 45 minutes southeast of Nashville, Murfreesboro is home to Middle Tennessee State University. This booming town of more than 140,000 has been named one of the best small towns to retire by GoBankingRates, in part because it's cheaper than the booming real estate market in Nashville, but still close to everything the metro area has to offer. Sports fans have major-league football and hockey in Nashville and Conference USA athletics at Middle Tennessee State. The region is one of the best in the U.S. for golf, according to Golf Digest, and boating, swimming, and fishing at J. Percy Priest Lake are also popular. Sales taxes in Tennessee are among the highest in the nation, but there's no state income tax and investment income will be tax-free as of 2022. Seniors on a fixed income may also be eligible for property tax relief as well.

Boise, Idaho
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Boise, Idaho

Idaho's capital city attracts the same kind of people that flock to crowded Colorado: those hungry for outdoor fun no matter what season it is. You'll get sun and snow, with easy access to mountain sports, hiking, and biking. (Check out the 25-mile Boise River greenbelt!) Boise State University is the big employment draw outside of state government in this city of nearly 230,000, but Boise's got a small, growing tech scene as well. St. Luke's Regional Medical Center is noted for its geriatrics program in U.S. News rankings. The state does have an income tax, but Social Security and some public pensions are exempt, which helps offset a red-hot real estate market where the median selling price is about $350,000, according to Zillow.