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Where Should I Retire?: ‘I’m looking for a good vibe, laid-back and quaint’ — so where should I retire?

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Dear MarketWatch,

I am a 63-year-old single woman, a sapiosexual, very active and very young at heart. I am a certified yoga teacher and a holistic health practitioner and I’m very much into spiritual pursuits. I also love anything to do with nature. I’ve had a very active kind of gypsy-like past, and I want to find a tribe that connects with my vibe. 

I am looking for a place where I can be among nature but also have a little town where I can walk to a small coffee shop or bistro and in the evening to a bar to listen to music. As I have lived in the D.C. area for so long, I do not like towns without a soul, and I do not like pretentiousness. I’m looking for a good vibe, laid-back and quaint. 

I want somewhere which is about a day’s drive back to Louisiana where my family is. I have thought about the Gulf Coast area, but I also love the West and being among the mountains. 

My income in retirement will be similar to my current income of $53,000. At 70 1/2, I also will start taking money out of my thrift savings account, which is my 401(K) with the federal government. 

Peace,

Pam

Dear Pam,

You can find your spot — but let’s unpack “quaint.” Is it a Victorian downtown, like Eureka Springs, Ark., or Cape May, N.J.? Or one that plays to its Alpine roots, like New Glarus, Wis.? Or are you looking for one that feels a bit hippie? Outdoorsy? Or just a small but lively town? And when does small become too big? 

Then there’s the flip side: what’s too small? Will you miss some of the big-city amenities you’ve been enjoying? I admit I’m concerned that you may have a harder time finding enough of your tribe among a relatively small group of people.

Would you go a bit larger and look at a city’s downtown or its edges? College towns are another option; Bloomington, Ind. (suggested here), for example, is home to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and monastery, which could feed your spiritual side. How about the literary vibe of Iowa City (suggested here)? Out west, what about Missoula, Mt. (suggested here)? Corvallis, Ore. (suggested here)?

Regardless, be clear about your budget and just how much you have to spend each month on housing. Neither popular quaint towns nor mountain spots come cheap. Run the numbers with MarketWatch’s new retirement calculator or talk to a financial planner. But based on what you’ve told me, a lively town high in the Rockies is out of reach.

A quick pointer on your thrift savings plan: like a 401(k), the new age at which you must begin taking out money is the year you turn 72, not 70½. And remember that it will be taxed as regular income. If you’re looking to tap it to buy a place to live, you may want to consider a mortgage and paying it off over several years just to keep your income in a lower bracket.

Finally, consider renting for a year to be certain you’ve found your spot. Plus it’s no secret that the housing market is crazy right now, not just in mountain towns but even in places where you might not expect it. So why not skip the bidding wars for now? 

Since you’ve already thought about the Gulf Coast area and your talk of out west suggests you’re not wedded to the one-day drive, I’m looking farther afield. Here are three suggestions to get you started.

Brevard, North Carolina
A trio of Brevard Music Center participants by one of the area’s 250 waterfalls.

Courtesy Brevard Music Center

Asheville might seem like an obvious choice, but with 93,000 people plus hordes of visitors, it may be too big for you. And expensive!

So consider Brevard, a town of just 8,000 people in the Blue Ridge Mountains 45 minutes to the south. More than 30% of them are 65 and older. (Across all of Transylvania County, which has about 35,000 people, the percentage is slightly higher.) 

You’ll find nature aplenty — 250 waterfalls in the county plus mountains to hike through — as well as many art galleries and the chance to meet people who make traditional crafts. Music abounds in breweries and other venues. Be sure to check what’s on at Brevard College’s Porter Center of the Performing Arts as well as the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and Festival.

And of course you’ll find yoga — waterfall yoga and hiking yoga happen here — and holistic health providers. Do check out the Brevard Blue Zones project, which aims to improve community well-being, as another way to find your tribe.

But it is a long day’s drive to Louisiana. You can get a connecting flight via either Asheville Regional Airport a half-hour away or Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport 90 minutes away, or you may prefer using the larger Charlotte Douglas International Airport two hours away.

Like Asheville, Brevard has a moderate four-season climate. You’ll get some snow, but average winter highs are in the upper 40s or lower 50s. Average summer highs are in the mid-80s. 

Finding affordable housing, especially rentals, is a challenge in Brevard. However it’s far cheaper than Asheville; the median list price in April was $279,000, according to Realtor.com, which like MarketWatch is owned by News Corp. Here’s what’s on the market now.

If Brevard isn’t quite right, look at Hendersonville just 30 minutes away (suggested here). And there’s always Asheville.

Athens, Ohio
The Ohio University campus.

Getty Images

This college town in southeastern Ohio came up on the MarketWatch “Where Should I Retire” tool (you may get different results depending on the criteria you select). It’s home to nearly 25,000 people plus close to 20,000 students at Ohio University, a public institution. About 65,000 people live in Athens County.

I’m a big fan of college towns because they tend to have amenities that similarly sized communities lack. Many let seniors take classes for free; at OU, you qualify at 60.

The Hocking River runs through town; walk, jog or bike alongside it on the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, a 20-mile paved trail. When you want to get into the woods, start with Wayne National Forest in the Appalachian foothills and Strouds Run State Park, both just east of town. Head west and you can quickly choose among a couple of state forests and Lake Hope State Park.

Yoga and holistic health offerings abound. You’ll of course find live music close to campus, but there’s also the Nelsonville Music Festival, considered one of the best music festivals in the Midwest, and many concerts at Stuart’s Opera House both about 13 miles from Athens (and reachable on that bike trail) in Nelsonville. This town of just under 5,000 people might be an option if you deem Athens too big. 

You will get snow here, an average of about 20 inches a year. Winter highs average in the low 40s, though it’s below freezing at night. Summer highs average in the mid-80s.

As for getting to Louisiana …. It’s a two-day drive. If you fly, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is an hour away in West Virginia. The larger John Glenn Columbus International Airport is about a 90-minute drive.

This is an affordable option; the median listing price for a home in Athens was $168,800 in April, according to Realtor.com. Here’s what your money can buy.

If you’d prefer a more mountainous East Coast alternative, consider Rutland, Vt., suggested here.

Saranac Lake, New York

Getty Images

Western mountain towns may be out of reach, but I want to leave you with one snowy small-town option.

This village of 5,200 people is less than 10 miles from better-known Lake Placid and less than 90 minutes from Canadian border. It has a busy downtown and the live music you crave, the mountains you mention (the Adirondacks), the yoga studios, year-round professional theater, lots of art galleries…and yes, the weekenders and vacationers. 

The share of the population that is 65 and older is slightly above the national average.

I know it, too, isn’t within a day’s drive of Louisiana — you’d need to take connecting flights starting from Adirondack Regional Airport in Saranac Lake or head to Plattsburgh International Airport an hour away. Larger options — either Burlington International Airport or Albany International Airport — are more than two hours away

You will have plenty of nature to enjoy: The Adirondacks are the largest protected natural area in the Lower 48. It’s not a national park but a mix of public and private lands that together comprise more than 6 million acres, bigger than the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier national parks combined.

You better love snow if you live here — Saranac Lake gets more than 100 inches a year. Average winter highs are below freezing. Of course, you could always take a break from it by visiting family in Louisiana.

The median list price for a home in April was $279,500, according to Realtor.com. Here’s what your money can buy right now.

Still want to look out west? Start with Grand Junction, Colo., (suggested here), St. George, Utah, (suggested here) and Santa Fe (suggested here).

Readers, where do you think Pam should retire? Leave your suggestions in the comments section so she (and others) can see them.

More from MarketWatch’s ‘Where Should I Retire’ column

We want to retire in ‘an area like the Berkshires, but warmer’ — where should we go?

I want to retire in ‘a liberal-thinking area’ on $3,000 a month, including rent — where should I go?

I’ll retire with a military pension and want to move to a bicycle-friendly, beer-loving place — so where should I go?

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