This hip college town, about 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis, is cultured, outdoorsy and — thanks largely to the 38,600 students at Indiana University (IU) — progressive.
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While rural Indiana is a stronghold of fundamentalist Christianity, Bloomington residents are likely to say that they're not religious in any way. The popular gay publication, The Advocate, named Bloomington the fourth gayest city in America. Bloomington votes overwhelmingly Democrat in what is otherwise a swing state. And while much of Indiana is rolling farms and subdivisions, Bloomington has a charming downtown lined with mature trees, adjacent IU's expansive campus.
If you're hoping to work in your retirement, the jobs created by the university, General Electric, Otis Elevator, Baxter and others prompted Forbes magazine in 2008 to name Bloomington the third-best small city in the U.S. for business and careers. IU is a major research university with a large continuing education division.
Culturally, Bloomington is stacked. IU's Jacobs School of Music has a daily recital or performance when it is in session, and many are free. The Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center at IU stages productions from Shakespeare to Rodgers and Hammerstein, while top musical acts and blockbuster musicals pack the bill at the magnificent IU Auditorium. The Buskirk-Chumley Theater, a renovated 616-seat vaudeville and movie house built in 1922, offers a steady lineup of music, dance, movies and theatrical productions. The I.M. Pei-designed Indiana University Art Museum contains over 30,000 works, including paintings by Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and Jackson Pollack. There's also an active folk and punk music scene.
Cycling and walking — already popular here — got a boost in 2009 when Bloomington/Monroe County adopted Indiana's first Complete Streets policy, mandating that all projects receiving federal funds account for pedestrians and bicyclists. The university's annual Little 500 bicycle race has been a major annual event since 1951, and was the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning 1979 film Breaking Away.
Outdoors lovers can find hiking, mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, camping and more in Monroe Lake State Park and 202,000-acre Hoosier National Forest, both just southeast of town. The area also has numerous golf courses.
Bloomington has one of the nation's lowest levels of atmospheric ozone, one reason Bloomingtonians are fairly healthy. The city has a low number of doctors for a town its size; locals often make the one-hour drive to Indianapolis for more complicated treatments. Violent and property crime are both rare.