The Best College Towns for Retirement

With big-city amenities at a small town price, college towns can be the perfect place for active adults.

While it’s true college may have been ages ago, there are more reasons than you might think to retire in or near a college town. Sure, there are boisterous undergrads and absolutely wild college game days, but that’s only for a portion of the year.

Anyone who’s lived in a college town for more than just their college years knows they often have many of the big-city amenities at a small town price. There are also museums, musical performances, guest speakers, and yes, the excitement of collegiate sports. You might even consider enrolling in a class on an audit basis to expand your horizons and explore subjects you may not have had the time to during your own university days

It’s no surprise then that college towns have become something of a “sleeper” favorite for retirees looking for an off-the-beaten-path retirement experience. We’ve rounded up some of the best college towns to retire in to provide you with retirement options that offer so much more than shuffleboard or lounging by a pool.

1. Austin, Texas

The state capital and home of the University of Texas is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, adding almost 200,000 residents over the last decade. Not only is this one of the best college towns to retire in, but it’s also one of the best cities to live in, in general.

The reasons to move here as diverse as the nearly one million people that call this city home: a comparatively mild climate for Central Texas, stunning natural surroundings, and cultural amenities that put this city in a class of its own. Austin welcomes even more visitors during gamedays when 100,000+ diehard fans fill Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to cheer on their beloved Longhorns.

While the city’s offbeat culture and arts scene is fueled by the university, it stands on its own as a cultural destination. Austin is home to Austin City Limits, the famed PBS music program with a uniquely Texan vibe which has now moved to its own venue and draws in world-famous musical acts spanning every genre. There are too many music venues in this city to count, offering fans everything from country and bluegrass to jazz and classical on a near-nightly basis. Also, the town is transformed during festivals like South By Southwest which draws in musicians, filmmakers, and thinkers from around the world.

A burgeoning tech community has lead to an explosion of new restaurants while old favorites like Franklin Barbeque continue to sell out of their famous brisket on a daily basis.

2. Athens, Georgia

A much smaller city at just over 100,000 residents, Athens is a good alternative for those who aren’t looking to move to a major metropolis. The city is home to the University of Georgia, the state’s flagship school, which accounts for some 37,000 of its residents. When not attending Bulldogs games or (gasp!) actually going to class, students form the backbone of the city’s famous music scene which has spawned such artists as R.E.M. and the B-52s.

For more highbrow forms of art, the city is home to the Georgia Museum of Art which houses a collection spanning classics to contemporary. On the university’s campus, you’ll also find the State Botanical Garden of Georgia with sprawling grounds covering 313 acres of Georgia countryside.

Just to the northwest of the city lies Lake Lanier, a very popular Athens-area destination for retirees. New active adult communities are popping up near and along the shores of this recreation destination. If there aren’t enough big-city amenities for you in Athens itself, Atlanta is just 70 miles away, making it easy to plan day trips for shopping, dining, or taking in the vast array of cultural attractions this metropolis has to offer.

3. Knoxville, Tennessee

Tennessee is rapidly becoming a destination state for all, especially Knoxville. While Nashville, its counterpart to the west, takes up its share of space in travel and lifestyle magazines, the Knoxville area offers a slightly more relaxed pace at a lower cost of living.

Founded in 1786, this historic city is home to the University of Tennessee and its rich tradition of academics and athletics. Football often gets top-billing at other universities and the University of Tennessee is no slouch in this department, with the Tennessee Volunteers (Vols, for short) drawing in 102,000 fans per game. However, it’s the Lady Vols women’s basketball team that’s perhaps the most storied, having been led by the legendary Pat Summitt for 38 years and winning 1,098 games during her tenure. The team’s exploits are cataloged at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on the aptly-named Hall Of Fame Drive.

The city, ringed by highways, has an active downtown area filled with boutiques, casual and fine dining, and several theaters including the Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou Theater. Leaving the confines of the urban center, you’ll find some of the most impressive natural scenery this country has to offer. Just a few miles away is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to ancient rolling mountains and dense forests that provide visitors with a lifetime of exploration and discovery.

Nearby, the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are home to just about every tourist attraction one could hope for, with everything from down-home country restaurants to musical theater to Dollywood (the region’s beloved theme park centered around all things Dolly Parton).

4. Tuscon, Arizona

When most retirees think Arizona, they think about the Phoenix area and with good reason; the first active adult community, Sun City, broke ground there almost 60 years ago. However, if it’s a lively culture you’re after, then Tuscon is the place to be. This city of nearly a million residents is also where the University of Arizona first opened its doors in 1885. Though the school and its students enjoy a party reputation, much of the revelry is contained in and around the university, leaving the rest of the historic trading city for its residents to enjoy in peace.

This Sonoran city has its own culture and vibe that makes it unique in the region. Annual festivals cover everything from folk music and art to celebrations of modernist architecture to annual rodeos.

The food, rich in Mexican tradition, is also distinct. If you don’t believe me, try a Sonoran hot dog wrapped in bacon, and served in a bolillo-style roll with pinto beans and, if you dare, jalapenos. The sparse beauty of the region is a major attraction too with nearly a million visitors a year coming to gaze in wonder at dramatic mountain framed by the huge cacti at Saguaro National Park.

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