1. Pittsburgh, PA
Cost of Living: 4.7% lower than national average
Median Home Cost: $78,200
Top State Income Tax: Flat 3.07% state income tax rate
Not long ago, industrial “Steel City,” as Pittsburgh was nicknamed, would not have made many top retirement lists. Today, after the rise of high-tech and medical industries, the city shines on as one of the nation’s most affordable and interesting places to retire.
Pittsburgh lies at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, with a striking backdrop of looming hills. The town is home to a number of excellent universities and colleges, including Carnegie-Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne and Chatham College.
Pittsburgh’s cultural benefits are plentiful, including world-class offerings like the Andy Warhol Museum, as well as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Opera, the Pittsburgh Dance Council and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. Of course, as home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates, you’ll find plenty of fervent sports fans too.
This formerly industrial town is consistently being spruced up as former warehouse and factory sites are converted into trendy apartments, or shopping and restaurant districts. Additionally, retirees will find more than a dozen hospitals in the area, many of which are world-class.
2. Montpelier, VT
Cost of Living: 4.3% lower than national average
Median Home Cost: $225,000
Top State Income Tax: 8.95%
It may be the smallest state capital by population in the nation, but Montpelier packs a lot of arts, culture, nature, and politics into its confines. This may be a small town, but its population is by no means a set of shrinking violets. Locals here are notoriously active in politics — both on the Republican and Democratic side of the aisle, and tend to be well-versed in the arts and history.
The town is also a haven for artists and writers, who are perhaps inspired by Montpelier’s scenic environs. Music lovers will find themselves in good company. Many small live music venues are scattered throughout Montpelier, and the town hosts a number of music festivals including the Winter Folk Music Festival and a Chamber Music Festival.
While Vermont is a notoriously expensive state in which to live, Montpelier manages to maintain a cost of living that is below the national average. Retirees can also engage with locals at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center.
3. Smyrna, DE
Cost of Living: 8.5% lower than national average
Median Home Cost: $150,300
Top State Income Tax: 6.75%
For retirees priced out of Delaware’s more expensive beach communities, Smyrna may provide an affordable alternative. The town lies a short drive from Delaware’s popular beaches and in proximity to larger cities like Baltimore. Retirees craving the water can visit nearby Lake Como, the Delaware Bay, or Woodland Beach for boating and fishing.
Outdoors lovers, particularly birdwatchers, will feel right at home in tiny Smyrna. The town lies along the “Atlantic Flyway,” a migration route for birds, and is also in proximity to Redden, Blackbird and Taber State Forests, which offer even more chances for wildlife spotting. Just east of town is the nearly 16,000-acre Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Here, retirees will find trails and observation towers overlooking tidal salt marshes, timbered swamps, and freshwater pools.
Nearly 500 buildings in Smyrna are registered on the National Register of Historic Places, and the historic downtown area is a charmer. Retirees can explore the Smyrna Museum, or the Smyrna Opera House, which doubles as a theater and art gallery.
Though Delaware’s top state income tax is relatively high, the state still remains one of the most tax friendly, with no sales tax.
4. Bangor, ME
Cost of Living: On par with national average
Median Home Price: $151,915
Top State Income Tax: 8%
Nestled in the heart of central Maine, Bangor lies alongside the Penobscot River. Outdoors lovers and winter weather fans will be in proximity to excellent snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snow tubing and dog sledding. Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park are both a 90-minute drive away and offer miles of hiking and bicycling trails, as well as bird watching, camping, boating, and fishing.
Still, it tends to be Bangor’s vibrant cultural scene that draws retirees to the town. The historic downtown teems with well-preserved 19th-century architecture, reminiscent of its days as a lumber industry hub. A constantly rotating series of performances enliven the town thanks to the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, Penobscot Theater and University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts. Bangor also plays host to a number of festivals each year, including the three-day American Folk Festival on the waterfront, Bangor Book Festival and KahBang Music & Art Festival.
5. Ithaca, NY
Cost of Living: 12.8% higher than national average
Median Home Cost: $222,000
Top State Income Tax: 8.82%
Ithaca has been garnering much attention lately as one of the best places to live — and retire — in the U.S. This town of just of 30,000 is a cozy, culture-rich enclave, set in the midst of stunning scenery near New York’s Finger Lakes. The town attracts artists and intellectuals, and is home to Cornell University and three other colleges.
Ithaca is located near the tip of Cayuga Lake. Nature lovers can explore the more than 100 natural waterfalls that lie within 10 miles of town, explore scenic Cascadilla Creek Gorge, or stroll the Circle Greenway, a 10-mile pedestrian path. Four 18-hole golf courses are also in the area.
Thanks to the university’s presence, retirees will enjoy lectures, theater, musical performances, readings, art exhibits and workshops. The town is also home to the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, the Ithaca Opera Association, and Cornell Plantations botanic gardens.
Many services are available to retirees in Ithaca. The Tompkins County Agency on Aging offers home services and manages two senior centers, and the Lifelong program promotes wellness for people age 50 and better with activities like coffee hours and poetry writing. Additionally, the Cayuga Nature Center has programs specifically for the 50+ set.