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Best Places to Retire 2012

Great Quirky Places to Retire

10 funky and artsy cities that free spirits will love

AARP list of quirky places where you can retire- a rural landscape in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe holds firm to its southwestern roots, but is also home to innovative restaurants, offbeat boutiques and dozens of art galleries. — Photo by Michael Donnor/Aurora

Santa Fe, N.M.

For anyone who says Santa Fe’s quirkiest days are behind it, we offer Zozobra. The 50-foot-high marionette of gloom, constructed anew annually and adorned with residents’ written details of their worries, goes up in flames at the yearly Fiesta de Santa Fe, signifying the literal and figurative incineration of all that weighs on the locals.

Then again, it is unclear precisely what concerns one would have in this paradise in the foothills of the southern Rocky Mountains. Santa Fe is home to innovative restaurants, offbeat boutiques, dozens of galleries (art and otherwise), spectacular scenery and dry, sunny weather.

Santa Fe (population 67,947) is 55 miles northeast of Albuquerque. Half of the metro area's population is Hispanic, some from families that have lived here 10 generations or more.

The city is an epicenter for painting and sculpture. There's also a local symphony, community orchestra, several chorales, the Santa Fe Opera, and annual festivals for chamber music, folk and bluegrass, alternative theater and more. Santa Fe is also a big foodie scene: Trattoria Nostrani has won numerous awards, and other restaurants, including El Farol, employ innovative chefs. You'll find them browsing the Tuesday and Saturday farmer's market for native chilies, mountain apricots, biscochitos (New Mexico's traditional cookie) and more.

On Sundays, walk the craft stalls in front of the city's old plaza, next to the oldest public building in the United States, the Palace of the Governors, built in the early 17th century. Or wander into the myriad shops, galleries, cafes and bars, or the 96,000-square-foot New Mexico History Museum. Gallery Row along Canyon Road was named one of America’s Great Streets by the American Planning Association.

In the Sangre De Cristo Mountains surrounding the city, you can walk or mountain bike for days. Need a hiking partner? Call the Trails of Santa Fe Stewardship Coalition. For skiing, hit Ski Santa Fe, just 16 miles from town, or drive 2 1/2 hours to the world-class steeps of Taos Ski Valley.

The local economy is mixed — low unemployment, but a growing population and high housing prices that have driven up the cost of living.

Santa Fe made AARP The Magazine’s list of the 10 healthiest places in the United States in 2008 due to residents' high life expectancy. But the metro area is near the bottom of the United States in the number of hospital beds per capita, so people often seek major treatments in Albuquerque. Santa Fe does have an ample supply of doctors, so basic medical attention is readily available, as are all manner of alternative healing and holistic medicine practices. Viva quirky!

Next Page: A small town with a big sense of adventure. »

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