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Great Places to Retire for Sports Fans

10 cities retired sports fanatics can enjoy

Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

You won't see a team from Raleigh-Durham in the Super Bowl, the World Series or the NBA Finals. But in any given year you could easily catch a local squad — the Duke Blue Devils, the North Carolina Tar Heels or the North Carolina State Wolfpack — in the NCAA Final Four. The energy from those teams' fans alone ranks Raleigh as a frenzied sports town.

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And that's just the beginning of the allure for retirees. Raleigh was named the number one place in the U.S. for business and careers by Forbes magazine in March 2009 thanks largely to the scientific research and related business that spawned the area's other name: Research Triangle. Firms such as IBM, NetApp and Cisco Systems stand adjacent to life-sciences companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and BASF.

Raleigh, the state capital, is a job magnet with a diverse economy. Durham is smaller and more organized around universities and hospitals. Cary, the third point in the triangle, was named the 16th-best small city in the United States by Money magazine in 2008, based on its economy and quality of life.

A lot of people here have a college degree. The job market has drawn young adults, who dominate the metro area. It has also attracted immigrants, whose influx has made this a culturally diverse place: about 60 percent of the population is white, 20 percent is black, 8 percent is Hispanic and 4 percent is Asian.

Raleigh isn't the Old South, but vestiges of that era persist. With its Doric columns and large pediment — a style favored here in decades past — the 1932 Raleigh Memorial Auditorium (also known as the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts) looks like a Greek temple. The old building was integrated into the performing-arts center in 1990, and the complex now hosts a symphony, theatrical productions and a large central plaza.

A fair amount of outdoor play space exists in and around Raleigh-Durham, including the 5,579-acre William B. Umstead State Park and the American Tobacco Trail, which stretches 22 miles from Durham to Lake Jordan.

The number of doctors is adequate, but Raleigh is short on hospital beds for a city its size. Durham, however, is a big regional medical center. Most folks here say they exercise regularly and eat healthfully; our stress index for Raleigh is very low.


Winning may not be everything, but it can take the sting out of disappointments in other arenas of life. And Boston sports teams do their fair share of winning: Since 2002 the area's four major pro sports teams have combined for seven championships: three by the NFL Patriots, two by the MLB Red Sox and one each by the NBA Celtics and NHL Bruins.

Boston can also credibly claim to be America's intellectual and historic capital. But what distinguishes the city today is its culture, parks and quality of life.

Metro Boston includes the city itself (population 617,594) and more than 50 surrounding cities and towns. The second-biggest city in the metro area is Brockton (93,810). Smaller places range from 17th-century villages (Plymouth) to some of the oldest suburbs in America (Brookline and Braintree). Many area towns date from the 18th century and are built around central squares ringed by locally owned businesses. 

Boston's cultural preeminence includes 35 degree-granting colleges and all the lectures, performances and symposia they spawn; one of the best music scenes in the U.S.; and a packed schedule at the Citi Performing Arts Center.

Boston's parks are big and exceptionally good. Frederick Law Olmsted designed several of them; the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard is world-class, and the Boston Nature Center includes trails and educational programs. The metro area comprises nearly 120 miles of Atlantic coastline and lots of dedicated bike paths.

Adding to the attraction for retirees, most payments from public pensions in Massachusetts are exempt from state taxes. And metro Boston is a major center of medical talent, with a high concentration of physicians, hospital beds per capita and teaching hospitals. Rates of smoking and obesity are low, as are rates of hypertension and mortality from heart disease.

Large districts of Boston still struggle with poverty and high rates of violent crime, but there's another side to that story. In the 1980s, for example, residents of Dudley Street in the Roxbury/North Dorchester district of South Boston formed their own community land trust. Today Roxbury offers a large stock of guaranteed affordable housing, dramatically lower crime rates and thriving neighborhood centers.

Traffic congestion is a serious, even legendary problem. Parking downtown can cost $30 a day, so many commuters use the region's excellent train system. Also, many residents walk or bicycle to work. The weather here can be severe — a good excuse to huddle inside a cozy arena for a game

Minneapolis-St. Paul

It's not that Minnesota sports teams have a culture of triumph: The NFL Vikings and MLB Twins are only average, the NBA Timberwolves and NHL Wild subpar. So when a winning streak comes to town, the fans go bananas. Even when their hometown teams are flat, people here report higher-than-average happiness. Provided you can handle the tough winters, the Twin Cities shine as one of America's healthiest and most sophisticated places.

Minneapolis (population 382,578) and St. Paul (285,000) occupy opposite sides of the Mississippi River, just north of where it joins the Minnesota River. The metro area includes Bloomington (81,000) and nearly 100 other towns.

Accolades for Minneapolis-St. Paul bracket the cultural spectrum, from consistently ranking among the top five Most Literate Cities in America to its recent recognition as the number-one city for per-capita consumption of Cool Whip. Go figure.

The Minnesota Orchestra is routinely mentioned as one of the best symphonies in the world. The Guthrie Theater‘s blue building on the riverfront heads up a list of impressive theater companies and art museums. And the proportion of gay households (about 1 percent) is roughly double the national average.

The University of Minnesota (enrollment 49,000) dominates higher education in the region, but the area is in fact home to three dozen degree-granting institutions.

 The Twin Cities has one of the country's lowest rates of deaths from heart disease; a large percentage of residents report they exercise regularly, and similarly high numbers say they don't smoke. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently ranked Minnesota first in the U.S. for the overall quality of its health care.

The concentration of hospitals, physicians and specialists is adequate. The well-organized health system includes a large medical college and proximity to the renowned Mayo Clinic, 80 miles southeast in Rochester.

Studded with 180 parks all told, Minneapolis boasts more parkland per 1,000 residents than any other large city in the country. There's also the Grand Rounds — a 50-mile loop of trails, paths and roadways girding the city — and (as you might expect in the Land of 10,000 Lakes) a connected chain of lakes.

If you hanker to eat something more exotic than Cool Whip, St. Paul has a burgeoning restaurant scene, anchored by a handful of excellent ethnic restaurants.

Unemployment (5.5 percent in December 2011) is below the national average, and foreclosures are low. But then there's the flesh-freezing cold: The average high temperature stays below zero for about three months of the year. Could this human refrigeration explain why people enjoy longer-than-average life spans here?


It would be hard to find a fan base as, er, vocally expressive about its teams as the fine folks of Philly. Wherever you're watching the MLB Phillies, NHL Flyers, NBA 76ers or NFL Eagles, you always know where Philadelphians stand — and you'll find that same candor in interactions with locals.

This oldest metropolitan area in the U.S. is the nation's fifth biggest, with a population of 4 million. Philadelphia (population 1.5 million) was settled by William Penn in 1682 where the Schuylkill River enters the Delaware River.

From South Philly and Society Hill to Fishtown, Germantown and Manayunk, Philadelphians are proud of their neighborhoods — and their local institutions too. At the Reading Terminal Market in Center City, locals have jostled since 1893 for fresh meats, vegetables and fancy foods sold by Amish farmers and chocolatiers.

Philadelphia's outdoor spaces include Fairmount Park, a 9,200-acre system of green space; the Schuylkill River Trail, which extends almost 25 miles from Center City; Scott Arboretum, on the campus of Swarthmore College; and Longwood Gardens, a former DuPont estate that sprawls over more than 1,000 acres in Kennett Square. Yes, winters can be nasty here — and get nastier if the Eagles, Flyers or 76ers are losing — but spring and fall are sublime. And the fine beaches of the Jersey Shore are little more than an hour's drive away.

Philadelphia has a high concentration of doctors, specialists and teaching hospitals. The locals are of average health overall, but they have an unusually high death rate from cancer — possibly connected to the metro area's horrendous air pollution. Philadelphia is also a challenging venue for allergy sufferers, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

The violent crime rate is very high but tends to be concentrated in known bad areas, and property crime here is just above the national average. But there's been real progress: The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is fueling Philadelphia Green, which turns vacant lots into green spaces. The group worked with locals on the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, transforming blight into the Las Parcelas garden and community kitchen.

Philly has come a long way since the days that prompted the W. C. Fields quote, "Philadelphia — I spent a week there one night." Though the city retains its authentic edge, today it has morphed into a hip, diverse region with more than enough good stuff to get locals — and retirees — talking about something besides sports.


Cities built in deserts tend to be (prepare for a shock) hot, dry and dusty. And because they lack natural boundaries such as oceans or mountains, they encourage unchecked sprawl. Guilty as charged of all of the above is Phoenix. But it's also a lively, diverse city with an extensive sports menu.

The metro area is home to all six of Arizona's pro sports franchises: the NFL Arizona Cardinals, NBA Phoenix Suns, MLB Arizona Diamondbacks, NHL Phoenix Coyotes, WNBA Phoenix Mercury and AFL Arizona Rattlers. Throw in the big-time baseball, football and basketball teams fielded by Arizona State University (ASU), the eight MLB teams that play Cactus League spring training games in and around Phoenix, and the Phoenix International Raceway for NASCAR events, and this city can feed voracious sports fans year-round.

Phoenix anchors the Valley of the Sun, which covers nearly four times the area of greater Los Angeles and is still growing, with a population of just over 4 million. Greater Phoenix includes eight cities that have more than 100,000 residents, including Phoenix (population 1.5 million), Mesa (453,000), Chandler (246,000), Scottsdale (236,000), Gilbert (208,000), and Tempe (174,000).

The metro area is also home to another 18 places with 10,000 or more people. One of these is Sun City (population 36,000), the age-segregated community founded in the 1960s that helped pioneer the notion of "active retirement." Many communities in the valley are bicycle-friendly, and Phoenix has one of the country's highest ratios of parkland per 1,000 residents. In 2008, city voters extended a tax that should bring in an additional $900 million for parks over the next three decades. That same year — but following decades of debate — Phoenix opened a 20-mile commuter rail system.

Entertainment seekers have a full slate of options, including the Phoenix Symphony (founded in 1948), Ballet Arizona, Phoenix Theater and one of the country's more serious Cinco de Mayo festivals. The area's golf courses are legendary; if you don't relish the tee-and-green scene, parks in and around the city boast top-tier hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and camping.  

Phoenix residents have low mortality from cancer and heart disease and low rates of obesity. Several teaching hospitals are here. A high proportion of residents say they are satisfied with life.

Yes, temperatures routinely exceed 110 degrees in the summer, and air pollution — another side effect of building a city in a desert, and known by locals as "the Brown Cloud" — is a serious problem.


Pittsburgh grew up on a combination of gears (heavy industry), gumption and gobs of wealth: The families that helped shape the city included the Carnegies, Fricks, Mellons and Heinz. The result? A city anchored by its strong working-class core and graced with abundant highbrow culture.

Pittsburghers have long been united by their sports franchises, especially the NFL Steelers. When the Steelers win, all is well in Steel Town. When they lose, a collective groan echoes up and down the Allegheny Valley. There are other games in town: The NHL Penguins have won three Stanley Cups since 1991, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers are a basketball powerhouse and the MLB Pirates provide, well, let's call it summertime comic relief. Locals tend to be hearty and athletic, resulting in a city that loves to watch, talk and play sports.   

These days in Pittsburgh, you can enjoy a fine meal of locally sourced ingredients at Douglass Dick's Bona Terra restaurant, drink award-winning craft beer at the Church Brew Works and take in the ballet at the Benedum Center or an art-house movie at the Harris Theater. Or you could have a Primanti Brothers sandwich topped with fries before hitting Jack's Bar on the Southside for $1.25 beer specials — and possible off-the-ice sightings of Penguins hockey players.

Pittsburgh's economy has successfully diversified to include biotechnology, health care and software. The new Pittsburgh is smarter and cleaner. Indeed, you can once again catch fish in the Monongahela River.

Unemployment is much lower than the national average; likewise, the foreclosure rate is among the lowest in the country. Pennsylvania is also a prime place to live on a pension: All money withdrawn from pensions is exempt from state taxes.

An extremely high share of the population is age 65 or older. Whereas much of Pittsburgh's ethnic diversity stems from its contributing European cultures — Italian, Polish, German, Irish — it has not seen much immigration from Latin America or Asia.

Several large research universities have helped drive Pittsburgh forward. Chief among these are Carnegie Mellon (enrollment 9,700) and Duquesne (9,700), which — along with the University of Pittsburgh's main campus (27,000) — have spun off businesses from their research contracts.

Pittsburgh also claims a rich tradition of philanthropy: Andrew Carnegie lived (and gave) here, and today the Heinz family maintains a $1.7 billion foundation focused exclusively on southwest Pennsylvania. Allegheny County's libraries function as crucial community centers. Those libraries, represented by the Allegheny County Library Association, recently joined with AARP and the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield PALS (People Able to Lend Support) Program to organize walking groups for adults age 50-plus.

The region has above-average outdoor recreation — mountains, rivers and trails abound — and below-average rates of cancer, heart disease and other chronic health problems. Those numbers are subject to change, of course, if the Steelers suffer a losing streak.

Washington, D.C

Among D.C.'s pro sports franchises, the NFL Redskins and NBA Wizards have had a tough run. The more promising NHL Capitals have disappointed in recent seasons, and the MLB Nationals are still trying to come into their own.

But with the exception of the Redskins, whose stadium is in suburban Landover, Md., the aforementioned teams play in or near downtown D.C. — a convenience fans did not enjoy until the late 1990s. And with numerous NCAA Division I teams, including the Georgetown University Hoyas and University of Maryland Terrapins, the Washington area can field a contender in some sport in any given year.

And let's not forget how sports benefit from politics: Because D.C. is such a power city, fans often have schedule conflicts that free up tickets to games.

Not all Washingtonians work for the federal government, of course. This metropolitan area of 4.2 million stretches from the Chesapeake Bay in the east to the border of West Virginia and supports high-tech companies, media giants, nonprofit organizations and others. Yes, many rely on the government for business (defense contractors come to mind), but the amalgam of so many varied professions makes for a diverse city.

The District of Columbia (population 588,000) embraces more than 100 neighborhoods. Adjoining Prince George's County, Md., is bigger still, with 829,000 residents (and distinction as one of the nation's wealthiest predominately African American counties). The northern Virginia suburbs are also bustling.

The District itself has an easy charm. Skyscrapers are banned to preserve views of federal buildings, and rowing and kayaking on the Potomac River (which divides D.C. from Virginia) are almost as popular as jogging and bicycling on the dedicated trails alongside it. The National Zoo (free admission) is impressive, and the burgeoning restaurant scene has turned once-dreary neighborhoods into hot spots.

Flanking the National Mall (not the shopping variety but a 14-block, tree-lined grassy expanse) is the Smithsonian Institution, one of the world's finest concentrations of free museums. An excellent light rail system — the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro — serves a wide region and spells blessed relief from the district's horrendous traffic.

Unemployment is low, educational attainment high and entertainment offerings bounteous. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other venues stage a wide range of music and theater, and the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival (free) is among the many major events that pass through town.

The metropolitan area has a good supply of physicians and specialists, but a low number of hospital beds per capita. Rates are low for obesity but high for cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. A high share of residents say they eat healthfully and get regular exercise. Surprisingly, the metro area's ranking on our stress index is low. Apparently the power set knows how to let off steam too.

Silicon Valley, Calif.

We know what you're thinking: Sports? In Silicon Valley?

Well, yes, but first things first: The valley is the ultimate incubator for technology businesses, with a median household income among the highest in the United States. High-tech titans such as Adobe, Cisco and eBay are headquartered here, alongside hundreds of smaller companies, innumerable start-ups, and several major universities. If you're an investor, an inventor or a connoisseur of the cutting edge, this is your briar patch.

The metropolitan area defined by Santa Clara and San Benito Counties includes 1.8 million people at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. Its major city, San Jose, is larger than San Francisco; in fact, it's the 10th-largest city in the United States, with 940,000 people. San Jose is one of the original mission towns along Spain's Camino Real; before the tech boom it was a major center for shipping, farming and suburban sprawl.

Silicon Valley is among the most highly educated regions in the country. Stanford University, the jewel in this pedagogic crown, is pricey and exclusive, but San Jose State University (enrollment 32,000) and a large community-college system ensure that everyone who wants to learn can find what he or she needs.

The valley also gets very high scores for arts, leisure and recreation. The Shoreline Amphitheater is among multiple concert venues; San Jose is hemmed by mountainous state and county parks to the east, west and south; theater, dance, comedy and music all thrive in numerous outlets; and the legendary beach town of Santa Cruz is a 45-minute drive away.

The Tech Museum of Innovation devotes large galleries to invention, the Internet, the human body and exploration.

The environmental ethic thrives here. Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Mountain View have all been singled out as bicycle-friendly communities, and the Department of Energy picked San Jose as a fast-track site for the development of solar power.

Traffic congestion is a problem. Still, Silicon Valley gets high marks for the good health of its residents. Stanford's Medical School, affiliated with numerous local hospitals, fuels an A-list array of medical specialists and facilities. Housing foreclosures are high, but the job market is stronger here than in other California metros.

Oh, and those sports? The NHL San Jose Sharks are fixtures in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The other major fan draws are the Stanford Cardinal football and basketball teams, whose on-field stars just might be using their spare time to become the tech-company luminaries of the 2020s.

Ann Arbor, Mich.

Physical exercise in Ann Arbor extends far beyond the top-tier sports squads at the University of Michigan: Ann Arbor was named one of the healthiest cities in America by AARP The Magazine in 2008 because so many of its residents exercise regularly, its health care resources are exceptional and it overflows with large, well-tended public parks.

The city's shady streets rise from the winding Huron River valley to thread their way through gently rolling hills. The university (enrollment 39,000) is the game in town, and the 12-block downtown bustles with collegiate energy, along with vibrant restaurants, bars and shops.

Ann Arbor's cultural calendar is brimful, thanks to campus-based performing arts groups and theaters, as well as the city's museums of art and natural history. The town also supports a symphony, opera, ballet and theater companies.

The University of Michigan Wolverines play in the country's largest college football stadium (capacity: 108,000). When Ohio State, Michigan State or Notre Dame come to town, don't plan on driving anywhere. The UM men's ice hockey team has won nine national championships, and the men's basketball team has made four trips to the NCAA Final Four.

A lot of adults here are under age 35, and not many are over 65. When the Ann Arbor News announced plans to scale back its print edition to twice a week, locals seemed unfazed.

Michigan's unemployment rate — 9.3 percent in December 2011 — is among the 10 highest in the country, and the state's economy likely will take a while to recover. But unemployment in Ann Arbor is only 5.5 percent, thanks (again!) to the university and the jobs it fuels. Among other things, the school is a major center for federally sponsored research and development.

Michigan also is attractive if you live on a pension: Most withdrawals from private pensions are exempt from state income tax, as are all public pensions.

An exerciser's paradise, Ann Arbor is one of the top areas in the U.S. for commuting by foot or bicycle. The city maintains two municipal golf courses, four pools (three outdoor, one indoor) and two ice rinks (one indoor, one outdoor). The programs at its marquee YMCA serve more than 24,000 people, with several swimming pools and weight rooms, an indoor track and a dizzying variety of sports leagues and classes.

Crime is below the national average, and locals enjoy a long life expectancy. The metro area ranks third in the country in the number of doctors per resident, and the huge University of Michigan Medical Center is top-ranked. Ann Arborites have low rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and are unlikely to smoke.


Milwaukee is less a cohesive city and more a collection of villages. The trendy shops and cafés on Brady Street sit a few miles south of Harambee (Swahili for "Let's all pull together"), an up-and-coming African American neighborhood, while the shopping malls in the northern suburb of River Hills seem a world away from the beer halls and polka palaces of the South Side.

This metro area of 1.5 million covers four counties in southeastern Wisconsin. The center of Milwaukee (population 602,000) hugs Lake Michigan about 80 miles north of Chicago. As the local economy has been forced to relinquish its reliance on manufacturing, most job growth now occurs in services and health care.

Thanks to its excellent public schools and unusually large number of higher educational institutions, Milwaukee enjoys a well-educated labor force. The largest schools are the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM, enrollment 25,000) and Marquette (11,000). The city also has a large and well-funded public library system.

Milwaukee County's Grand Necklace of Parks, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, has grown to encompass 15,000 acres, linked in a chain by the 108-mile Oak Leaf Trail.

The extensive local and regional transit systems offer connections to Chicago and Minneapolis. The 192 miles of Lake Michigan coastline provide oodles of recreation opportunities.

Milwaukee's German heritage helps explain its tradition of supporting classical music. A Beethoven Society was founded even before the city was incorporated, and the local symphony maintains an active schedule. The city has a large theater district and multiple museums, including a striking wing-shaped art museum designed by Santiago Calatrava and the Harley-Davidson Museum.

As that last attraction suggests, Milwaukee may be at its best when it ditches high culture. The MLB Brewers may have vacated County Stadium — one observer called it "an insane asylum with bases" — but the fun carries on at Miller Park. Other teams in town include the NBA Bucks, a hockey squad known as the Admirals, and several flavors of football including indoor, women's and Australian rules. Marquette and UWM both field competitive NCAA hoops teams.

 Although the local economy no longer hinges on making beer — Miller seems to be the last large brewer standing — the area's love affair with suds continues to bubble along. The Beerline B neighborhood, once home to Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz breweries, is now an upscale condo district, but you can still grab a cold one at the Lakefront Brewery.

The concentration of physicians and specialists is high. Rates of obesity and hypertension are above average. The rate of violent crime is very high in Milwaukee, most of it confined to struggling neighborhoods.