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The 10 Best Cities For An Active Retirement

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In many ways, an ideal place for retirement will have the amenities and benefits of a well-managed city that anyone, and not just retirees, would enjoy. We wanted to find the best cities in the US for active retirement, so in our criteria we put an emphasis on cities tailored to staying active. Many of the categories we analyzed aggregate a wider set of data, giving a more holistic view in that category.

For example, the Health Score looks at access to health care, patient satisfaction, as well as taking into account resident behaviors like smoking. See below for our ranking criteria: 

  • Walk Score – Taking a stroll is a great way to get your heart rate up and to run quick errands. It’s definitely easier in some cities than others. This score gauges how pedestrian-friendly a city is based on distance to nearby places. Data from www.walkscore.com.
  • Bike Score – When the weather permits, bicycling is a great alternative to driving. This score measures the biking infrastructure for a city, including factors such as trails, hills, presence of bike lanes, road connectivity, and distance to nearby locations. Data from www.walkscore.com.
  • Average Temperature – It’s much more appealing to go outside to exercise when the weather is nice, even if you’re just heading to the gym. This ranking favors mild weather over extreme hot and cold temperatures. Data from www.usclimatedata.com.
  • Acres of Parks (per capita) – Having parks nearby provides lots of options to stay active and enjoy the weather. This is calculated per capita, since crowded parks can limit your ability to use them.
  • Environment – Having clean air and water are important factors when choosing a place to live comfortably. This score is also affected by the city’s actions and policies to promote energy efficiency. Data from livabilityindex.aarp.org.
  • Health Score – A city with a higher health score has better prevention, provides better healthcare, and makes getting care more accessible. Data from livabilityindex.aarp.org.

We analyzed 100 of America’s biggest cities and scored them with six different criteria. Those scores were added up and cities were ranked from highest scoring to lowest. Many of these top-ranking cities would likely make a fine place for an active retirement, but we looked a bit deeper in order to rank the top 10 cities on our list:

1. Irvine, CA

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A neighborhood view from one of Irvine’s many lush, green parks. Photo by Maziar Hooshmand.

This city tops our list as the best city for an active retirement in America. Irvine is a master-planned city in Southern California, developed by The Irvine Company, with distinct villages that each have their own services and amenities.

This city ranks 6 for bike score out of the 100 cities we looked at. Irvine has provided an impressive 301 miles of on-street bike lanes, and an additional 54 miles of off-street bike paths for cyclists to enjoy. Needless to say, there are very many active cyclists here. It’s impressive that this city also ranked 13th in park acres, with 19 community parks and over 40 neighborhood parks and facilities.

2. Honolulu, HI

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Rows of colorful surfboards near sunset on Waikiki Beach. Photo by Prayitno.

Hugging Oahu’s South shore, Hawaii’s capital is a very appealing place for retirement. This city has wonderful weather year round, an average temperature of 77.6F and an endless supply of breathtaking sights to enjoy outdoors.

Honolulu definitely earned this number two spot since it ranked very high for almost all categories except bike score. Although not part of our original ranking criteria, a lack of bike infrastructure is easily made up for with its beach access.

3. Oakland, CA

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Wide paths and green views in downtown Oakland. Photo by Patrick Nouhailler.

While it’s often overlooked by its more popular neighbor (which also made the top 10), Oakland ranks number three with the rankings to show for it. If you’re retiring on a fixed income, lower living costs here paired with a 7th ranking for health score is also very appealing.

Oakland ranks 22nd in bike score, and for good reason too. Cyclists have many options for routes here, since the city has it all with flat streets, hills, and a wide variety of scenery in between. And when you want to go for a stroll, Redwood Regional Park’s view and empty paths are unbeatable.

4. Fremont, CA

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The humbling view of Silicon Valley from Mission Peak’s summit is worth the trek! Photo by Travis Wise.

One of Alameda County’s southernmost cities is Fremont, a typical suburban community and one of the best places to retire and stay active. This city ranked 4th in park acres per capita, and it’s easy to stay active outdoors with over 25,000 acres of parks within the city. In fact, 99.5% of people in this city live within half a mile of a park or within 1 mile of a recreational facility. The great view above is a hiker’s and biker’s prize for reaching the top of Mission Peak Regional Preserve, a public park just east of Fremont.

5. New Orleans, LA

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A cyclist enjoying the bike lane on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano.

The magical city of New Orleans lays claim to the number five spot, beating out the vast majority of other cities on our list for environment and park acres ranking. The city’s Parks and Pathways program works to maintain over 2,000 acres of its public green space, including its historic landmark, Jackson Square.

6. St. Petersburg, FL

st-petersburg
Paddlers competing in a dragon boat race in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo by Walter.

This place isn’t called “The Sunshine City” for nothing! St. Petersburg ranked 4th in average temperature and holds the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days of sunshine–768 days! This city used to have a reputation for having a high population of retirees. While its residents are now more diverse in age range, St. Petersburg is still a great city for retirement.

7. San Francisco, CA

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One of the more extreme hills in Russian Hill, San Francisco. Photo by Håkan Dahlström.

The City By The Bay is huge in bike culture, and the fourth Californian city on our list. San Francisco stands out from the crowd by ranking 2nd in walk and bike scores. This city of approximately 47 square miles boasts 263 miles of bike lanes, multi-use paths, and signed bike routes. To top it off, San Francisco took 1st place out of all 100 cities in health score.

8. Seattle, WA

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The Space Needle near sunset in Seattle. Photo by Tiffany Von Arnim.

If you prefer to stay active and boat, hike, or bike by the coast, the Seattle lifestyle will not let you down. Seattle ranked well in every category we analyzed except average temperature and parks. It’s a little colder here throughout the year than others on our top 10 with an average temperature of 52F. However, if you prefer colder weather, you can enjoy the absence of income tax on your paychecks.

9. Madison, WI

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An active community on State Street in Madison, WI. Photo by Richard Hurd.

This college town is often lauded for its accommodation for bicyclists, which falls in line with its 3rd place bike score rank among all 100 cities in the study. Madison has developed a large network of bike paths and lanes within the city in addition to its 200 miles of biking and hiking trails. Madison sports an abundance of health resources including 11 accredited hospitals, and claimed the 9th spot for health score.

10. Plano, TX

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Playing catch at Russell Creek Park in Plano, TX. Photo by Nan Palmero.

With no single rankings that stand out in our study, Plano pulls into the top ten of our list with solid rankings across the board. This city ranks 23 for average temperature with mild winters for those who don’t like it super cold. This city has invested heavily into its parks, has a very low crime rate and has a great vibe that has attracted many empty-nesters.

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