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San Marcos, Texas
One of Texas’ oldest towns, San Marcos is full of life. For one thing, environmentalists fiercely defend its natural beauty and wildlife. As for nightlife, the town’s bars and live-music scene helped launch the careers of George Strait and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Multimillion-dollar downtown redevelopment echoes the historic character of the town square. Pull on your cowboy boots for a stroll, or lace up your sneakers to explore 1,200 acres of parks. The fares for local buses are half off for older riders.
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The San Marcos Activity Center, which charges seniors $51 for an annual membership, offers group hikes, sack-lunch socials, adult-ed classes and a Golden Sweethearts Ball. The town, 40 percent Hispanic, has stayed true to its Mexican roots, says Rosina Ruiz Valle, 61, president of the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos. Among its classes: traditional dance and healthy cooking. Valle, an adjunct professor at Texas State, says that while she and her husband, David, 64, plan to downsize, they’re eyeing new condos in town. They love the San Mar cos River, which is 72 degrees all year, drawing swimmers and tubers. And since driving to two big cities is easy, San Marcos, they say, is “just the right blend.”
- Median housing price: $197,500
- Vibe: Hill Country’s low-key charmer
- Freebies that count: Concerts take place in the park every Thursday during the summer.
- Best way to spend $10: Enchiladas at Herbert’s Taco Hut
- Urban getaways: Austin, 31 miles; San Antonio, 40 miles
Whether they’re sailing, doing yoga on stand-up paddleboards or catching catfish, residents never tire of life on the mighty Mississippi. It’s truly the soul of Alton, which is located not far from where the Big Muddy joins the Missouri and the Illinois rivers. Here, there is plenty of history, says Charlotte Johnson, 85, an expert on the region’s deep connections to the Underground Railroad. But Johnson, who retired to the area with her late husband in 1991 and has family nearby, explores Alton’s future, too. “I love walking on Main Street, looking in shops and sitting by the river, thinking about how things have changed,” she says. “It’s a nice feeling.” Those changes include the 4,000-seat amphitheater and an influx of antiques stores. Alton’s employment base is shifting from manufacturing to tourism. With lovely rose gardens and venues, it now bills itself as the Wedding Capital of the Midwest. And the town recently won a competition to be included in Hulu’s web-based reality series “Small Business Revolution.”
Trains to St. Louis leave from Alton’s new Amtrak station for just $3 one way. Larry Kulp and his wife, Judy, both 65, favor riverside rides via the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail, with views of bluffs and dense forest. “Birding here is neat—we get pelicans, trumpeter swans, snow geese and bald eagles,” Kulp says.
Senior Services Plus offers age-55-plus memberships at its Wellness Center for $100. Quilting, tap dance and gardening are draws.
- Median housing price: $80,900
- Vibe: Funky small town with big-river life
- Freebies that count: Walk back in time with Abraham Lincoln; free audio tours connect 10 historic sites.
- Best way to spend $10: Grab a beer and a $3.99 Hot Chick on a Stick at legendary Fast Eddie’s Bon Air roadhouse, with live music nightly.
- Urban getaway: St. Louis, 26 miles
This city, encompassing the downtown area, is surrounded by the town of the same name, home to 10,000 people. With 19th-century Queen Anne homes, antiques shops and boutiques, it’s a place with postcard appeal. Shoppers can visit 140 businesses downtown. Tourist attractions and festivals entertain residents and provide seasonal jobs. Pristine Canandaigua Lake draws boaters from the region. The city rates high on clean-air measures.
Because of the Finger Lakes’ robust wine industry, foodies have made this their enclave. Lovers of casual fare flock to Wegman’s; it offers a covered patio, live music, chef-prepared meals and antique car shows.
Residents also appreciate four seasons of play. Hiking trails run past waterfalls. From spring through fall there are regional wine festivals. Winter is busy, with an annual Christkindl Market. Averaging 66 inches of snow a year, the area is a paradise for Alpine and Nordic skiers, as well as snowboarders.
Health care includes the award-winning University of Rochester Thompson Health, with a 113-bed hospital. It’s affiliated with the top-ranked Strong Hospital, 30 minutes away. The YMCA has reduced rates for older adults and activities ranging from aquatics to PiYo.
- Median housing price: $191,600
- Vibe: Four-season fun
- Freebies that count: Check out the pioneer-kitchen exhibit at the Ontario County Historical Museum.
- Best way to spend $10: Sample local vintages at New York Kitchen, the city’s award-winning wine and culinary center.
- Urban getaway: Rochester, 25 miles