20 Great Places to Retire
When the time comes, you'll know it. But you may not know where to spend it. Here are some suggestions.
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It's all Going On: West Hartford
What ever happened to Hartford's downtown? Well, young postgrads are said to be settling there, but for retirement-age people it seems to have moved five miles west, to the center of West Hartford. Here, where Main Street and Farmington Avenue meet, this exemplary inner-ring suburb has reinvented itself in recent years with a colorful array of shops, restaurants, amusements and even a brand-new, 20-acre multipurpose commercial/residential development called Blue Back Square. The result is a destination for retirees who want to feel like they're in the middle of things, with lots going on right outside their door and more, such as theater, concerts and sports events, taking place next door in Hartford. West Hartford Center has long been a shopping destination, but now, with 140 shops and restaurants, it's one of the most vibrant in the state. Blue Back Square alone includes a Crate & Barrel, Ann Taylor, REI, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble and Criterion Cinemas. The housing in this part of town is varied and interesting too, with classic apartment buildings mixing with some newer condos. The prices probably aren't high enough to send you into shock, either. If you've been searching for an active retirement with an urban feel in a very walkable milieu, this may be the place.
Life in the Village: Stonington
If you are one of those who feels the pull of the sea, you may also respond to the magnetic charms of Stonington Village. Here, in the extreme southeastern corner of Connecticut, on a mile-long point of land extending south from Stonington proper, you can smell the salt water wherever you go and see it just about wherever you look. It's a place where Connecticut's maritime history lives on and where the sense of being near open water informs the local commerce, the architecture and the way of life. There is also an intense feeling of community in Stonington Village (read In the Village by Anthony Bailey for background), with friendly greetings the norm as residents stroll up and down the narrow lanes to shops and restaurants. There aren't many homes for sale at any given time in this confined space (although a handful of water-view condos hit the market recently), but the rest of Stonington has much to offer, too, not only along the shore in Mystic, Lord's Point and Pawcatuck, but also behind stone walls in the rolling backcountry. At certain times and in certain places, Stonington can feel quite a bit like Martha's Vineyard-without the ferry ride.
Deep Country: Woodstock
Here's the Connecticut not many of us are familiar with, way up in the northeast corner-the Quiet Corner-bordering Massachusetts and only a few miles from Rhode Island. The pleasures of life in Woodstock are pretty much what you make them, but in one way or another they're bound to be played out against a backdrop of fields and working farms. Woodstock's 60.5 square miles (it's the second largest town in Connecticut after New Milford) are home to 45 farms, including 12 family-owned dairy farms, the most of any town in the state. The "Woodstock Grown" section of the town's Web site shows that local farmers also produce hay, honey, Christmas trees, maple syrup, wine and many varieties of fruits and vegetables. Housing prices in Woodstock also reflect the rural nature of the place. There are condos for sale (45 sold over the last two years), but rarely do they go for more than $200,000 (a fixer-upper end unit right by Roseland Park's nine-hole golf course was recently on the market for $109,000). Or maybe it's a cottage or smallish house you'd prefer on or near one of Woodstock's many lakes. A new two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,500-square-foot Cape with rights to Lake Bungee goes for $225,000, while something right on the lake goes for a little more. The crickets come at no extra charge.
Just About Perfect: Ridgefield
There is no town in Connecticut that's completely free of crime, of course, but Ridgefield comes amazingly close. According to statistics kept by State Police, over the past three years Ridgefield's crime rate has been 0.55 major crimes per 1,000 residents, the only rate below 1.0 in Connecticut. For amusement's sake you may wish to compare Ridgefield's crime rate with that of Fairfield County roommates Westport (4.05), Redding (6.49) or Bridgeport (28.60). In fact, Ridgefield's real major crime is that more people can't afford to live here. The town's virtues go well beyond public safety, too. There's a vibrant, walkable downtown, notable museums and an active theater and concert scene, mostly at the Ridgefield Playhouse for Movies and the Performing Arts. There are restaurants of all sorts, a 300-acre state park and a good public golf course. There's rail service to New York via the Danbury spur and even a reasonably active, if expensive, market in condominiums, with 52 sold in 2007 at a median price of $628,000. But who are we to put a price on living in Connecticut's storybook suburban town?
Ocean Breezes: East Lyme
Want to head to a milder climate for your retirement? Try the Connecticut coast. The average high and low temperatures in January are 33 and 14 in Torrington, up in Litchfield County, but 38 and 24 in East Lyme; in October, it's 60 and 37 in Torrington, and 63 and 48 in East Lyme. In addition, it snows on average about 50 inches in the Northwest Hills and only 30 inches in East Lyme. But let's not talk about snow! Let's talk summer instead, when the cool salt air wafts in from the Sound, or fall, when strolls along the town's mile-long boardwalk or the beach at Rocky Neck State Park are local pastimes. The center of things in East Lyme is Niantic, located on the bay and in many respects still charming as an old maritime village. You can shop and dine in Niantic, and live here, too, most notably in a new development called 38 Hope Street, where 150 one- and two-bedroom apartments and townhouses will take shape this summer within easy walking distance of town and the waterfront. Overall, East Lyme is one of those Connecticut shore towns that seems particularly welcoming to the active-adult crowd; in the last two years, 182 condominiums have sold at a median price of about $238,000.