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Best Places to Retire 2012

10 Great Sunny Places to Retire

If bright skies and warm temperatures are on your must-have list, these cities fit the bill

great sunny places to retire- a museum courtyard in sarasota, florida

Sarasota isn't only about beaches: Here, sun warms a museum courtyard in the waterfront Florida city. — (c) John Coletti

Sarasota, Florida

If you've ever dreamed of retiring on the best beach in the U.S., now might be your chance: Siesta Beach, of the dozens of waterfront strands in and around Sarasota, earned the top beach in the U.S. honors from Dr. Beach for the white sands, crystal water and wide area for sunbathing, playing or people watching.

Sarasota, which sits south of Tampa on Florida's Gulf Coast, is beach-centric but there's more to this city of 52,025 people than simply embedding toes in sand.

See also: Ten best states for retirement.

Start with the arts scene, which includes a renowned Rubens collection at the Ringling Museum of Art, which is adjacent to John Ringling's Ca D'Zan Mansion, an impressive, if somewhat gaudy, homage to Venetian Gothic architecture. Sarasota also has its own opera house, ballet company, symphony orchestra and multiple theaters, all in a modern downtown surrounded by water.

The city's historic neighborhoods include Towles Court art district, which harbors colorful wooden homes, galleries, shops and restaurants. Main Street is ideal for walking — and popping in and out of quaint boutiques and restaurants, along with lively bars. Towles Court hosts regular art walks, featuring works of local artists.

For non-beach natural diversions, forge into Myakka River State Park, which offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, cabin rentals and airboat tours. Wildlife here includes red-tailed hawks, otters, foxes and alligators. And for man-made diversions? Golf and tennis are big in Sarasota, with dozens of public and private courses and hundreds of tennis courts. For baseball fans, Ed Smith Stadium is the spring training headquarters of the Baltimore Orioles and home to a minor league franchise.

Sarasota was hit hard during the housing crash and is still recovering. Foreclosures are a big issue here, but that also means you might pick up a house at a steep discount. Unemployment is above the national average and most jobs are in retail, tourism and hospitality, and thus don't pay well. But prices of most goods and services are in line with incomes, thus the cost of living index is average.

Crime is above average here but most residents say they are happy living here, and most are fairly healthy: The obesity rate is below the national average (although the diabetes rate is slightly above average). While there's no science to prove it, good health and happiness may be linked to hanging around some of the world's best beaches every day.

Next Page: Outdoor recreation options contribute to low rates of diabetes, hypertension and cancer. »

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