retirement

Williamsburg, Va.: A Great Place to Retire for Your Health

This historic Virginia city is home to William & Mary, where residents 60 and older can audit classes for free.

Mention Williamsburg and most people think of Colonial Williamsburg, where actors in period garb depict life in 18th-century Virginia. But Williamsburg is more than tricorn hats. The city of about 15,000 offers the ease of small-town living and, as home to William & Mary, the cultural activities of a college town. For a quick big-city fix or change of scenery, residents are only about an hour’s drive from Virginia Beach or Richmond, the state capital, and they’re about three hours from North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It’s one of 10 small or midsize cities we found that offer first-class health care.

Williamsburg stats

Population: 15,000

What $300,000 will buy: 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath townhome with landscaped patio

Best place to exercise: Virginia Capital Trail

5-star hospital*: Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center

Ralph and Debbie Abrams (age 68 and 67) searched for years, from South Carolina to Delaware, to find a place to retire. They moved to the Williamsburg area in 2011, where their property taxes are one-third of what they paid when they lived in New Jersey.

The city is dominated by Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary, the nation’s second-oldest university, whose campus features a broad array of towering trees, from oaks and elms to pines and magnolias.

The university offers plenty of entertainment and cultural options. Those age 60 and older can audit classes free. Art lovers can catch an exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum of Art or a performance by the theater and dance department.

You can take in free summer concerts weekly on the lawn outside a Colonial Williamsburg museum, or attend an arts-and-music festival on the second Sunday of most months along Prince George Street downtown. Merchants Square, nestled between the university and Colonial Williamsburg, is ideal for people-watching while you sit at one of the outdoor restaurants or sip wine outside the Williamsburg Winery.

For activities just outside the city, drive the 23-mile tree-lined Colonial Parkway, which connects Williamsburg and the historic cities of Jamestown and Yorktown. For exercise, hike one of the many trails or ride a bike along the scenic Capital Trail, a pedestrian-and-bike trail connecting Jamestown and Richmond.

Many retirees settle in one of three major amenity-filled golf course communities—Ford’s Colony, Governor’s Land or Kingsmill Resort, all in adjacent James City County, says Kimber Smith, president of the Williamsburg Area Association of Realtors. Single-family detached homes start at about $400,000, but some houses on the James River in Kingsmill and Governor’s Land can run $1 million to $3 million or even higher, Smith says. Retirees can also find condos and townhouses—including in the New Town development, just outside the city limits—ranging from about $250,000 to $400,000. Two- and three-bedroom rentals run from $1,200 to $2,500 a month.

Virginia is tax-friendly for retirees. The commonwealth doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, and residents 65 and older can deduct up to $12,000 per person in income.

* Rating developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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