retirement

St. Petersburg, Fla.: A Great Midsize City for Retiring in Good Health

With theaters, concert halls and stadiums -- there's something for everyone in St. Petersburg.

Population: 257,083

Cost of living: 91.6 (national median: 100)

Median home price: $140,000 (national median: $185,000)

Healthy highlight: the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail for walking, jogging, skating and biking.

North East Park, Old Northeast and the rest of the inner northeast side of St. Petersburg offer a mix of bungalows, Craftsman-style cottages, large ranchers and enough Spanish-influenced design to suggest you’re in Pasadena or Santa Monica instead of Florida. You can easily bike or walk to neighborhood bars and restaurants and to St. Pete’s artsy downtown, anchored by the marvelous Dali Museum and the antique district on Central Avenue.

St. Pete and Tampa—the area's other, higher-rising central city—include an array of theaters, concert halls, stadiums, colleges (the University of South Florida has campuses in both cities) and hospitals, but without the density and congestion of Miami or the inflated real estate costs of Palm Beach and Boca Raton. Average temperatures in January through March range from the low 60s to the high 60s, but they can also can drop into the 50s or climb into the mid-70s (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit). Generally, the hurricane risk on Florida's west coast is less than on the east coast.

The city of St. Pete extends 10 miles west to the Gulf of Mexico, where you can follow a 20-mile beachfront road north to Clearwater, home of the giant Morton Plant Hospital complex and the area’s best-known beaches, most of which are free or nearly free. You can also explore the area via the Pinellas Trail, one of America’s best recreational trails. It starts in downtown St. Pete by the Tampa Bay Rays' ballpark and links a variety of commercial and suburban neighborhoods. The jewels are the string of beachside towns north of Clearwater, starting with Dunedin, whose compact center has some of the area’s best restaurants. Top refreshments: Strachan's ice cream and Dunedin Brewery's microbrews.

Keep following the Pinellas through quiet and quaint areas such as Ozona, Crystal Beach, Palm Harbor and finally Tarpon Springs, a town founded by Greeks and famous for Greek restaurants and bakeries and a landmark Orthodox cathedral. Many residents of the trailside towns tear down clapped-out small houses and build anew. And a bonus for the grandkids: It's just 90 minutes up I-4 to Disney World.

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