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10 funky and artsy cities that free spirits will love

AARP list of quirky places where you can retire- a music festival in Austin, Texas

Austin has a rich music and arts scene. — Photo by J. Dennis Thomas/Corbis

Austin, Texas

The question that free thinkers have about Austin, long a traditional oasis of liberal edginess, is whether or not its soul has grown staid. We think not. Originality remains a badge of pride here, as do progressive political stances (gay rights, for example), green living, large and convenient parks, and artsy festivals.

This metro area of 1.7 million, on the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, sprawls along Interstate 35, about 200 miles south of Dallas.  One reason Forbes magazine called Austin “recession proof” in 2008 is the job market at the University of Texas (enrollment 50,995), which attracts top talent in fields like medicine, computer science and engineering. UT joins Austin Community College (45,000 students) and Texas State’s campus in San Marcos (30,803) to anchor a young metro area that ranks among the most literate U.S. cities.

Austin’s urban design follows Complete Streets, a national network advocating shared roads usage. It is bicycle-friendly and has a high ratio of total parkland per 1,000 residents. One standout is Barton Springs, where the limestone bed of Barton Creek has been quarried to make a large natural swimming pool.  It’s an essential stop in Austin’s scorching summer.

Austin boasts excellent ballet and dance companies, the Austin Museum of Art, and UT’s Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, the largest university art museum in the United States. But the real musical action is at Austin’s honky-tonks. Texas dance halls and bars like the Broken Spoke, Continental Club and Antone’s showcase iconic Texas musicians, including Joe Ely and Asleep at the Wheel, plus up-and-coming acts. 

Big annual events include the South by Southwest festival in spring and the Texas Book Festival in late fall, featuring hundreds of authors and panel discussions.

Crime is much lower in Austin than it is in most other Texas cities. Traffic congestion is an issue and feeds the high use of mass transit and foot and bike commuting.

The availability of doctors is below average here, and there are not many hospital beds per capita. But Austinites have low mortality from heart disease and cancer, and low rates of obesity, cholesterol problems and hypertension. Maybe abiding by the unofficial motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” also keeps the locals young.

Next Page: A dreamy locale with quirky street cred. »

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$100 A Day: It's not only the inexpensive living. These lovely places have culture, greenery, and friendly, welcoming communitites for retirees on a budget.

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