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AARP list of quirky places where you can retire- the Waterfire festival in Providence, Rhode Island happens every year

Although Providence continues to recover from the recession, many of the towns and neighborhoods have not lost annual festivals and celebrations. — Photo by David H. Wells/Aurora

Providence, R.I.

The salt air may not cure all but it gives people who are prone to whimsy — like retirees! — an excellent excuse to throw caution to the wind. In Providence, that may mean hoisting a mainsail and clipping out to sea, strolling a beach or dropping into any number of seafood restaurants.

This metro area of 1.6 million takes in the state of Rhode Island as well as Bristol County in southern Massachusetts. Providence (population 178,042) sits at the head of Narragansett Bay.

Rhode Island’s economy was hit hard by the recession and remains stalled. The state’s unemployment rate — 11 percent in February 2012 — is above the national average and job growth is stagnant. 

But many towns and neighborhoods are holding up fine. Downtown Providence has done a great job of saving and restoring its historic buildings. You can walk out of a loft carved out of an old warehouse to stroll amid the Victorian buildings and carousels of Roger Williams Park, or hit Brown University (enrollment 13,294) for an independent film or a play. The city has become famous for WaterFire, a celebration where 100 bonfires are set afloat on the three rivers that meander through downtown.

Providence’s cultural scene is small but energetic and includes the Rhode Island School of Design, where David Byrne and two alumni formed the Talking Heads, and Johnson and Wales University, a world-renowned culinary school. The Design School has a big museum of contemporary art, and nearby are several major venues for classical music and theater, led by the Providence Performing Arts Center.

There are large community colleges in Warwick and Fall River, the University of Rhode Island in Kingston (enrollment 13,200), and a branch of the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth (enrollment 9,432). Roger Williams University (enrollment 4,680) is in the well-preserved waterfront town of Bristol. Newport has Salve Regina University (enrollment 2,584), with its lifelong learning program, and the International Yacht Restoration School.

Crime is low in the Providence area. The availability of doctors and hospitals is adequate, and Rhode Islanders' health is near national averages in most respects.

Still, a high proportion of locals also report that they don't get the emotional support they need. And given the economic problems many face, it's not surprising that they also report being dissatisfied with life. Chances are, if you gave the average local resident enough money to spend a weekend at the nearby beach, he’d buy a week’s worth of groceries instead. 

Next Page: A paradise of innovative restaurants, offbeat boutiques, spectacular scenery and dry, sunny weather. »

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