Las Cruces, New Mexico
With the motto "Stay Sunny" — and an average of 350 days a year of sunshine — Las Cruces beckons sun worshippers seeking a retirement locale.
Las Cruces has a small town feel. The four-month Full-Tilt Fiesta Season starts around Labor Day and has several peaks, including construction of the World's Largest Enchilada and the Day of the Dead on November 1.
AARP The Magazine named Las Cruces a "retirement dream town" several years back because of its affordability, weather and recreational resources. It has also been singled out by Hispanic magazine as a livable city for Hispanics.
Las Cruces (population 90,000) is 45 miles north of the Mexican border. Historic Mesilla (2,200), a former stagecoach junction where Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang, is five miles west of Las Cruces.
Unemployment is low — 6.3 percent in October 2011 — but many jobs pay poorly and more than one-fifth of residents live below the poverty line.
See also: The best places to live the simple life.
A big chunk of downtown Las Cruces was demolished in the 1960s — blame "urban renewal" — so the closest thing the town has to a center are the commercial strips along Telshor Boulevard and Lohman Avenue.
But there is hope: The city is home to New Mexico State University's main campus (NMSU, enrollment 16,200), which supports a fertile arts and music scene. COAS Books, which stocks half a million titles, holds frequent readings and book signings. The Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra, comprised mostly of NMSU students and faculty, performs at Music Center Recital Hall. In Mesilla, restaurants, shops and galleries line the Plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark, and the Fountain Theatre, the oldest theater in New Mexico, screens foreign and alternative films.
Locals also flock to the Wednesday and Saturday farmers' and crafts market, which dates to 1857, and on the last Sunday of each month, cyclists, walkers, joggers, dancers and even weight lifters pack Young Park to burn calories in a ciclovía.
Outside of town huge swaths of public land await: Las Cruces is at the junction of the Chihuahua and Sonora deserts, and the Rockies and Sierra Madre Mountains. The local office of the Bureau of Land Management maintains 45,000 miles of roads and trails that extend all the way to the Arizona border.
The number of doctors and hospital beds per resident is much lower than average but life expectancy is high. Something, no doubt, about all that sunshine.