We chose five great college towns that not only take full advantage of what the local university has to offer, but also stand on their own merits. Each has theaters, galleries and adult-education courses outside the university, not to mention excellent health care, reasonable living costs, pleasant winters and a community of active retirees who refuse to put their lives on cruise control.
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Athens, Ga.: Southern charm
College: University of Georgia
Housing: For $300,000, you can buy a four-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath brick house on a half-acre.
Taxes: Income tax ranges from 1% to 6%, and Social Security income is exempt. People 62 and older can exclude up to $30,000 in pension and investment income. Annual property tax on a $300,000 house: $3,636.
At the corner of Broad Street and College Avenue in Athens, Ga., the Starbucks franchise is an odd duck among the mom-and-pop stores that populate the historic neighborhood. Downtown Athens, which showcases renovated Italianate, art deco and Classical Revival buildings, is a magnet for visitors and residents. Here, the suit-and-tie set mingles with purple-haired music lovers, taking in the live entertainment or just hanging out.
The atmosphere of the downtown hub and the absence of social barriers appealed to Noel Holston, a journalist from Bay Shore, N.Y., who moved here in 2005. For Holston, 59, who grew up in the South, retiring to Athens was like going back home. "I hadn't felt this kind of warmth and courtesy since I was a kid growing up in Mississippi," says Holston. He and his wife, Marty Winkler, 49, are active in the local song-writing community, and their eclectic mix of tunes get airplay on area radio stations.
The University of Georgia adds a progressive overlay to Athens's antebellum past, offering theater and music as well as top-notch basketball, football and gymnastics. Although small venues host bands covering the spectrum of musical genres, the town -- the birthplace of the B-52's, R.E.M. and Widespread Panic -- is best known as a rock mecca in the heart of the Old South.
State residents age 62 and older are eligible for free tuition at the university, space permitting. The university's Learning in Retirement program offers a selection of noncredit classes, from a course titled "Dictatorship and Democracy in China" to Pilates and estate-planning classes. Plus, there are lunch-and-learn lectures and travel-study tours for the 50-and-older crowd. The annual membership fee is $35; classes carry a modest additional charge ranging from $6 to $18.
All in all, says Holston, "This is a place that's big enough to offer a lot of opportunities but small enough to make you feel you have a stake in the community." --Magali Rheault