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AARP list of quirky places where you can retire- an aerial view of Cape Cod, MA

Cape Cod is a 65-mile peninsula that draws tourists from around the world. — Photo by InterNetwork Media/Getty Images

Cape Cod, Mass.

If you think Cape Cod is a packed tourist attraction, consider that the heart of the tourist season runs only from July 4 to Labor Day. The rest of the year, this collection of towns offers quietude, seaside living and locals who appreciate — and welcome — the whimsy of artists.

There’s a long history of resident artists on the 65-mile peninsula. The playwright Eugene O’Neill and the painter Edward Hopper had houses on Cape Cod. The novelist Norman Mailer is buried here. The comedian John Belushi held and attended famously wild parties on the cape. 

Cape Cod includes the Upper Cape (Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee); Mid Cape, which has the biggest towns — Barnstable and Yarmouth; Lower Cape, which includes Harwich, Brewster, Chatham and Orleans; and the Outer Cape (Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown). Much of the Outer Cape comprises Cape Cod National Seashore.

The proportion of workers who are self-employed (think artists and consultants) is very high. A lot of residents are age 65 and older, and not many are under 35. Massachusetts gives retired public servants something extra: Most payments from public pensions are exempt from the state’s notoriously high income taxes.

A lot of Cape Codders have college degrees, and the peninsula has a large, well-funded library system. But there’s only one full-service campus here: Cape Cod Community College (enrollment 4,500). Top mariners are drawn to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay and some of the world’s best marine biologists hang out at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

You can take classes at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, which also accepts volunteers. Cape Cod has myriad small museums and art galleries and year-round theater companies in Woods Hole, Provincetown and Wellfleet. There’s a school for painters in Provincetown and a dance academy in Barnstable.

Outdoor life here is exceptional. Bicyclists can ride the 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail or the 10-mile Shining Sea Bikeway. Kayakers can ply the bays, marshes and sea. Sailors can choose between the relative shelter of Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay or venture out into the open ocean. And there are hundreds of miles of great beaches.

Cape Codders have a long life expectancy and low rates of obesity, cholesterol problems and diabetes. Residents are unlikely to smoke, and most locals eat healthy and get regular exercise. There are also a lot of doctors for such a small, isolated place, but not many hospital beds for 200,000-plus people. 

Cape Cod is buffeted regularly by Nor’easters and feels the occasional hurricane. That’s a good time to close the storm shutters and turn to creative indoor pursuits. 

Next Page: Leafy neighborhoods, outdoor cafes, succulent food and live music. »

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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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