Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has changed significantly since its heyday as a summer retreat for wealthy scions named Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. But it is still a serenely beautiful town in the Blue Ridge Mountains with some of the best early 20th-century architecture in the South. It's also a major center for the arts and for outdoor recreation, bolstered by glorious weather for much of the year.
Asheville was named the sixth-best place in the U.S. for business and careers by Forbes magazine a few years back, although more people tend to come here for the cultural offerings: Local artists pack into frequent crafts fairs and display their work in the city's Pack Square gallery district, which includes museums and the 500-seat Diana Wortham Theatre. Live music is on offer in many venues, including the venerable Orange Peel. The city has numerous independent bookstores, including the community epicenter Malaprop's.
The Asheville Symphony performs in the 2,300-seat Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.
Other attractions include the Biltmore Estate, a 19th-century mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt, and the surrounding historic district. Architectural highlights downtown include the tile dome of St. Lawrence Church and the pink-roofed art deco city hall.
Drawbacks? The cost of living here is in the top one-quarter of all metros in the U.S. — fueled in large part by housing prices — while the median household income is in the bottom quarter.
See also: The 10 most affordable cities.
But the share of the population aged 65 and older is high, reflecting an influx of affluent retirees. UNC, Asheville has one of the largest lifelong learning centers in the country, accounting for about half the of the university's 3,400 students.
Take in the oft-sunny weather in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or seek serenity amid the pines of the Pisgah National Forest. The region is crisscrossed with hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. Local streams offer trout fishing and some, like the French Broad River, draw whitewater kayakers.
Asheville boasts several hospitals and ample doctors for a town its size. Mission Hospital has won awards for stroke care and also operates a research center. The area is also a Mecca for massage, acupuncture, herbal medicine and other alternative treatments. But sometimes the best medicine is just taking a long walk in the hills around town.
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