Erie, Pa.: Great Lakes Getaway
Median home price: $106,600
Median mortgage payment: $407
Median property tax: $1,899
State tax on Social Security: No
State tax on pensions: No
Great eating: Don't pass on the pierogi at Dabrowski's Family Restaurant & Deli, where there are seven varieties of the quarter-pounders.
Catch a game: The Erie Otters, a major junior ice hockey team, is one of just three U.S. teams on the Ontario Hockey League circuit for players 16 to 20. Advance tickets for those 65 and older are $12 to $14.
Best freebie: The 75-foot observation deck at Presque Isle State Park
While Erie may conjure up images of industry and manufacturing, most visitors are gob-smacked by its real treasure: Presque Isle State Park, a seven-mile peninsula of stunning beaches on Lake Erie. It's a substantial city, with plenty of neighborhoods and entertainment options. And it all comes with small-town price tags: Lakeview homes routinely sell for less than $200,000.
Located about 100 miles from Buffalo, N.Y., and Cleveland, the city is also rich in history. (It's where Commodore Perry trounced the British Royal Navy in the War of 1812.) Sports fans love its Class AA Minor League Baseball team, the SeaWolves, NBA Development League basketball team, the Bayhawks, and minor league hockey, the Otters, and fishermen are crazy about the lake's near-legendary steelhead trout. But there are arts, too, including its own public TV station, WQLN, and the Erie Philharmonic, celebrating its centennial this year.
"Erie is a big little town," says Patty Hall, who lives here with her husband Mike, also 62, both retired teachers. "If you're bored, you're just not trying. Watching the sun set over the lake, the gardens down at the Erie Zoo (those over 62 pay $5), swimming or boating, the foliage in the fall. It's got big-city options, but at a small-town pace."
Louisville, Ky.: A Southern Original
Median home price: $128,200
Median mortgage payment: $489
Median annual property tax: $1,116
State tax on Social Security: No
State tax on pensions: Partial
Great eating: Swing by Muth's Candies to savor the bourbon balls and famous Modjeskas, a marshmallow-caramel treat named after an 1880s Polish actress.
Catch a game: It's no surprise that the hometown of the Louisville Slugger (which has a terrific museum here) has great baseball: the Louisville Bats, a Triple Class AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The team offers a $1 discount on all tickets for those 65 and over.
Best freebie: Yoga classes offered in Cherokee, Shelby and Rubel parks
Louisville earns high scores for arts and culture. It calls itself the "City of Parks" (and has 18 designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park), and it's also home to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs racetrack, and the Urban Bourbon Trail. But Louisville is also one of the most affordable big cities in the nation.
Peggy Owens, 62, a newly minted retiree, pays $650 a month for her one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Old Louisville. Her utility expenses range from $60 to $120 per month, depending on the season. Because she is disabled, she is covered by Medicare. She spends an average of $300 a month on food. She no longer keeps a car, and can walk to the Kling Center, which offers a variety of services to senior citizens, where she volunteers five days a week as a receptionist.
"I had lived here before I had children, and always wanted to move back, because it's so beautiful," Owens says. "It's just such a pleasure to stroll through the streets at dusk, looking at the old Victorians. And our parks are beautiful — whether it's when the pears are blossoming or the dogwoods are blooming, or even if it's snowing."
It is also a town with plenty of heart, adds Betty Meneese, 76, who retired 15 years ago from Kentucky Fried Chicken's corporate employee cafeteria. "I got bored six months after retiring, and started finding ways to work with other people." Since then, she's been logging an average of four hours a day, serving lunches and working with other volunteers at a local senior center.