En español | Time to go back to school? Increasing numbers of people 50 and older are learning that college communities offer year-round cultural and recreational opportunities, as well as amenities such as high-quality health care or a low cost of living. Whether for an enjoyable weekend or a fantastic roost for retirement, consider these appealing choices.
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PHOTO BY: P.Spiro / Alamy Stock Photo
Founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia’s spectacular campus, parts of which are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes a rotunda modeled on Rome’s Pantheon and a grand lawn flanked by columned, covered walkways. Students, residents and visitors stroll the Downtown Mall — a pedestrian zone populated with watering holes, upscale shops and cool restaurants. For a speakeasy vibe, slip past an unmarked door at the Alley Light to savor a craft cocktail, along with French-flavored eats. Don’t leave without visiting Jefferson’s home, Monticello, or wineries proliferating in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. High-ranked UVA medical facilities and myriad cultural opportunities attract retirees, as does Virginia’s generous tax deductions for those 65 and older. The state also doesn’t tax Social Security benefits.
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PHOTO BY: Steve Proehl
It would seem impossible to run out of things to do in this beautiful town. You can gaze at snow-covered peaks from your room at the century-old Victorian-style Boulderado Hotel, located a few miles from the University of Colorado, and sip from a collection of more than three-dozen whiskeys in the hotel’s License No. 1 Liquor Bar. Stroll pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, which is loaded with sidewalk cafés, shops and an eclectic menu of restaurants. Nearby, book a belt-busting brunch at Lucille’s Creole Café, in a funky yellow clapboard house. Some visitors and residents get their Rocky Mountain highs in legal marijuana dispensaries and lounges, while others get theirs on a network of nearby hiking trails, including those in Rocky Mountain National Park (a little over an hour’s drive away). Boulder's only about 40 miles from the huge Denver airport, and residents receive exemptions on state taxes for pensions, annuities and Social Security income.
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PHOTO BY: Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
The home of the Ohio State University has loads for visitors to explore, including German Village, founded in the 19th century by immigrants who recreated a little piece of Europe. Don’t miss the sauerkraut-bratwurst balls at Schmidt’s, established in 1886. Quaff craft beer in the Brewery District, now a hip place to live, as well as visit the Columbus Museum of Art (free on Sundays), the 13-acre Park of Roses, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Catch a play, classic movie or concert at the 93-year-old Ohio Theatre, with Spanish baroque décor and a 21-foot-tall chandelier. The university is huge, with more than 60,000 students, so there’s no shortage of cool coffee shops, bars and restaurants in that area of town. Older residents appreciate tax credits, including no levy on Social Security benefits, as well as Ohio State’s highly respected Wexner Medical Center.
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PHOTO BY: Visit Oxford MS
University of Mississippi grads, including author John Grisham, are famously loyal to this small Southern city with a big literary pedigree. They return to tailgate lavishly before Ole Miss football games in the tree-lined Grove, greeting each other with “Hotty Toddy” — similar to a secret handshake and the second line of a raucous school cheer. Some never leave Oxford, about 75 miles southeast of Memphis, and growing numbers retire here. Grad or not, you could spend days and nights exploring the courthouse square, lined with boutiques, bars and acclaimed restaurants, including City Grocery, which serves innovative Southern dishes (think Nashville hot chicken panzanella) and has an upstairs porch where you can watch the bustling scene in the square below. Tour Rowan Oak, the antebellum home where William Faulkner once wrote. Retirees can take the Oxford Park Commission’s free exercise classes and join Oxford Newcomers and Friends for book clubs, wine tasting and outings in the state with the lowest cost of living.
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PHOTO BY: Dawna Moore / Alamy Stock Photo
St. Augustine, Florida
Florida is famed for retirement communities, but the oldest city in the nation — dating to 1565 — has history and charm that’s hard to match. Flagler College, built as the lavish Ponce de Leon Hotel in the late 1800s, looks like it stepped off a postcard, with turreted stucco buildings flanked by palm trees. A tour includes the soaring entry rotunda with octagonal dome and Italian tile floors. Visitors to this north Florida destination can admire Spanish colonial buildings and cobbled streets in the historic district and explore the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, an imposing 17th-century fort. A classic car museum, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and miles of beaches also are draws. Those who stay appreciate no state income or estate taxes and can take inexpensive Lifelong Learning classes at Flagler. The curriculum includes, for example, six guitar or Spanish lessons for $49.
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PHOTO BY: dszc/Getty Images
The state’s capital — and home of the University of Texas — is serious about maintaining its fun and flavor amid ever-growing popularity and is also determined to, as its unofficial slogan declares, "Keep Austin Weird." Famous for its live music scene, the city gets swamped every March during the South by Southwest (SXS) music festival. But there are quieter pleasures for those more in tune with nature, such as admiring live oak trees and koi ponds at the 26-acre Zilker Botanical Garden, renting a swan boat to glide on Lady Bird Lake or hiking one of the many nature trails in the area. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department has free classes for those 50 and older, from pickleball to seated yoga. The dining scene is diverse, from taco trucks and barbecue joints to modern Mexican cuisine at ATX Cocina. Though not the cheapest place to live in Texas, there is no income state tax and there are multiple active-adult communities. Another bonus: Residents 65 and over can sit in on UT classes tuition-free.
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PHOTO BY: Loop Images
“Middlebury looks like what everyone thinks an American campus should be but seldom is,” noted the late architect Robert Venturi. Indeed, Middlebury College’s early-19th-century gray-stone buildings and pillared, white-marble chapel on a hill look like they could be a stage set. Nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts flock to this town — about 35 miles south of Burlington (another fantastic college town) and is surrounded by Champlain Valley farmland. The college even has its own Snow Bowl ski area. Visitors can stay at the historic red-brick Middlebury Inn and join locals on a deck overlooking Otter Creek at Mister Up’s Restaurant & Pub. On the menu: Club Midd sandwiches and locally made craft beer. “Midd Kids” alumni are notably devoted, with some retiring here, where they can attend on-campus concerts and lectures open to the public. Vermont doesn’t tax Social Security benefits unless income is high.
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PHOTO BY: Kruck20/Getty Images
Greensboro, North Carolina
On Feb. 1, 1960, four freshmen from local North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter to challenge segregation. Now the building is home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, attracting tourists from around the world. Other visitor magnets in this friendly city of about 300,000, a 90-minute-drive northeast from Charlotte, include the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (no admission fee), botanical gardens and a full calendar of cultural events. Fill up at more than 500 restaurants, including Hops Burger Bar and M’Coul’s Public House, which serves corned beef “Irish spring rolls” and pints of Guinness. Retirees are attracted by good health care, tax-free Social Security benefits and reasonable (compared with many areas of the country) housing costs — with a median listing price of $227,000 in late August, according to Realtor.com.
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PHOTO BY: Melanie Griffin / Eugene, Cascades & Coast
The University of Oregon’s home base, located 110 miles south of Portland, is known as TrackTown USA because of its (track) record for producing elite runners. But it also has miles of hiking and biking trails for ordinary folks to stay active. You may recognize the university’s quad, with its X- and O-shaped pathways at the center, from the iconic campus comedy Animal House, which was filmed here. Visitors can also scope out 100 murals on downtown buildings and sample local craft beer and exceptional pinot noir from the surrounding Willamette Valley. Retirees appreciate relatively mild winters (though it can be rainy here), accessible paved trails and a vibrant arts scene, including the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Oregon doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, gives rebates to seniors with low incomes and has no state sales tax.
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Kitty Bean Yancey, a former USA Today deputy managing editor, is a travel writer and the winner of multiple Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers.
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