Better weather, affordable housing, and plenty of interesting things to do are just a few reasons people move to a new place when they retire. Whether you want to spend your golden years watching the sun set over the water or taking on a second career, we've identified an ideal place. Using data from Onboard Informatics, U.S. News selected 10 key attributes that many people look for in a retirement spot, along with a city that excels in meeting each need. Here are 10 excellent places to retire in 2012.
Pleasant year-round weather: Flagstaff, Ariz.
[Also see: Destinations to Watch in 2012]
Affordable mountain town: Boone, N.C.
Pricey Aspen and Vail may be beyond your budget, but that doesn't mean you can't spend your retirement years appreciating spectacular mountain views or making runs on the slopes. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone boasts three nearby ski resorts as well as trails for cross country skiing, winter hiking, and snowshoeing. Residents of this small town of 14,000 also have access to one of the country's most scenic roads, the Blue Ridge Parkway. A bonus: Boone provides residents with a free local bus service, AppalCART, and access to many of the amenities at Appalachian State University. In 2010, the median home sale price was $215,250.
Water views on a budget: Traverse City, Mich.
Greenest place to retire: Walnut Creek, Calif.
Retirees make up more than a quarter of the population of Walnut Creek, which combines the amenities of a city with abundant access to the wilderness. Downtown is filled with high-end shops, fine dining, and organic eateries, as well as the Lesher Center for the Arts. The city also has 22 city parks and 2,704 acres of open space. "There's a great amount of open space available," says Joe Stadum, a resident of Walnut Creek's large 55-and-older gated community, Rossmoor. He enjoys hiking with the Rossmoor Trails Club, which counts more than 200 members. "You can drive or ride your bicycle or run and hike. It's a great asset." Residents may choose to drive up to the summit of 3,849-foot Mount Diablo or travel to nearby San Francisco. But life in the Bay Area doesn't come cheap. The median home price is $411,000.
A college town for retirees: Ithaca, N.Y.
Place to launch a second career: Lincoln, Neb.
Best mix of affordability and amenities: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Best place for affordable housing: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Port Charlotte home prices were battered by the housing bust, which could mean bargains for retirees new to the area. The median home sale price was a shockingly low $59,950 in 2010. And many of these homes are located along canals and waterways. "There are a tremendous number of houses on the water, and everybody's got their boats in their backyard," says retiree Chris Zwirner, 78. "All the people who live on water essentially have access to the Gulf of Mexico, and from there you can go around the world." The Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park spans 42,000 acres, including 70 miles of shoreline along the Charlotte Harbor. An added bonus: Florida has no state income tax.
[Also see: Inside the 5 Most Luxurious Ski Homes]
Best place for single retirees: Pittsfield, Mass.
Dating is increasingly becoming a part of the retirement years. And Pittsfield is the only metro area where the majority of the 55-and-older population (52 percent) is single, according to Census Bureau data. Carol Scott, 60, an event planner who has been widowed for three years, likes to connect with new people online and has arranged five in-person dates so far this year. "I usually like to meet for a coffee or a drink," she says. "If we find we enjoy each other's company, perhaps it runs over into dinner." But even if you move to Pittsfield, we can't guarantee that dating will be easy. There are nearly twice as many single women (14,237) age 55 and older as single men (7,869). "A lot of my women friends are single," says Scott. "And while I have met some very nice people, I have not met someone I am interested in pursuing."
Best place for recreation and culture: Santa Fe, N.M.