Boulder’s quirky street cred suffers a little more every year thanks to the classic pattern: Dreamy locale draws lots of people, housing prices skyrocket, eccentric folks are squeezed from the core of town. But in Boulder, quirky and financially successful are not mutually exclusive. The offbeat crowd mixes well with the town’s many college kids, and they all enjoy abundant sunshine and proximity to a vast mountain playground.
The pride in originality starts at the top — Boulder’s government has partnerships with seven sister cities, including Lhasa, Tibet; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; and Jalapa, Nicaragua. From there it extends through the ranks of University of Colorado students and professors, local merchants and small-business owners — and a community of elite athletes, who live here so they can train at 5,430 feet above sea level.
The heart of town is Pearl Street, a four-block pedestrian mall lined with cafes, bars, boutiques and more. Take in a show at the Boulder Theater or tap the university's performing arts slate; in town are several art galleries and a large, well-funded public library system.
The city has used tax revenue since the late 1960s to buy land for parks. The result is the Greenbelt, a 45,000-acre oasis cocooning Boulder from Denver's sprawl. The local parks are heavily used, but there is ample room to move — and to find your slice of solitude. Even walking the leafy neighborhoods of Victorian homes and bungalows can provide a quick-fix nature lift.
Boulder County (population 294,567) includes Boulder (97,385), Longmont (86,270) and Lafayette (24,453), plus several small hamlets tucked into the mountains. The economy is diverse and strong: Unemployment is only 6.2 percent (February 2012), and the workforce includes a lot of self-employed professionals.
The University of Colorado at Boulder (enrollment 29,884) and Front Range Community College (20,000) welcome students of all ages. Boulder is one of the top-ranked metro areas in the country for the proportion of adults with a four-year college degree, and is also a nexus for alternatives in spirituality, education and medicine. Among other alternative institutes of learning, you can get degrees at Naropa University (Buddhist Studies), the Boulder College of Massage Therapy or the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies.
Boulder boasts bike lanes and paths, and mass transit is great. The county has several municipal public recreation centers with pools, basketball courts, extensive weight rooms and more. Locals, unsurprisingly, are extremely fit and healthy overall. If there's a drawback for retirees it might be that relatively few residents are 65 or older, although more move in every year.