Finding the Best Places to Retire Since 2006!
Asheville, North Carolina
Tucked Amid Mountains in Scenic Western North Carolina, Trendy, Artsy Asheville Has a Fun Downtown and is Popular with Tourists
Tucked between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Smoky Mountains in scenic western North Carolina, Asheville (population 92,000) is often hailed as a great place to retire and lands on many "best places to live" lists. Indeed, this small city is a mix of old and new with an interesting mix of retirees, artists, farmers, professionals, old hippies, young families, spiritualists, outdoor types and more.
Asheville is artsy, trendy and funky with a Southern sensibility but also has an emerging resort ambiance, sometimes giving the city a slight identity crisis. It has been "discovered" and has grown 11% during the last decade. The median home price is $450,000, reflecing a 20% increase from last year.
The cost of living is 6% above the national average. Forty percent of residents are age 45 or better, and 48% of locals hold at least a four year college degree. Politics lean to the left. The crime rate meets the national average.
Tourists flock here year-round, with many coming to see the French Renaissance-style chateau Biltmore Estate that was built by George Vanderbilt II in the late 19th-century. The largest private residence in the world, it has 250 rooms, 8,000 acres and extensive gardens. Its presence is hard to ignore.
The downtown is nicknamed the "Paris of the South" and abounds with comfy cafes, intimate bistros, old fashioned arcades, art galleries, street buskers, antique stores, gothic spires, Art Deco buildings and breweries. In fact, Asheville has more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. The Grove Arcade is a large, nicely restored marketplace that dates from 1929 and is a great place to buy goods from local merchants.
On the west side of town, the River Arts District is home to artists and musicians (mainly bluegrass), many of whom are renovating old warehouses and giving Asheville much of its creative vibe. Biltmore Village, originally a company town built at the entrance of the Biltmore Estate, is today a charming shopping district.
Asheville Transit provides public transportation, and a couple of services offer van rides for people with disabilities.
Mission Hospital (815 beds) is the state's sixth largest health system and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It is also a Primary Stroke Center, a Level II Adult Trauma Center and has won national awards for excellence in patient safety, pulmonary care and more. In 2020, Business North Carolina ranked it the best hospital in North Carolina. Medicare is accepted.
Asheville's senior services are very good. The University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) has 3,600 students and is home to the award-winning Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UNC, a program that provides an array of opportunities for lifelong learning, civic engagement, research and community service. The OLLI is open to all ages, but most of its members are age 55 or better.
Leadership Asheville Seniors lets retirees meet with community leaders to help shape the retirement scene. Join Other Seniors for Lunch is a group that invites Asheville's mature residents to participate in planned activities and fellowship. Senior Treks is a low impact hiking club. The Buncombe County Council on Aging provides numerous services to the area's seniors, as well.
This beautiful region is rife with outdoor activities, from river rafting and hiking the Appalachian Trail to telemark skiing and driving along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Nearby Shining Rock Wilderness Area and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak (6,684 feet above sea level) east of the Mississippi River, afford a sweeping view of Asheville and the surrounding wilderness. In the autumn, the haze clears and the woods explode with breathtaking colors.
Asheville enjoys a temperate climate, and with an elevation of 2,134 feet above sea level, it is a place where people come to cool off in July and August. Summer temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, and winter temperatures in the 30s and 40s. On average, the area receives 37 inches of rain and 14 inches of snow each year.
For all of its good points, and there are many, Asheville has some drawbacks. Most residents love their town, but many bemoan how their once unpretentious, inexpensive mountain community has changed in the last 20 years. Not everyone is thrilled with all of the newcomers, some of whom do not seem to respect Asheville's long-standing traditions and Southern approach to life.
Many locals are also not thrilled that surrounding hillsides once covered in trees and teeming with wildlife are now dotted with gated communities and expensive homes. Tourists are wall to wall during the summer months, filling trinket shops, crowding restaurants and creating traffic congestion. There are complaints that the city is not particularly clean, and class lines are visible.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Yes | Is North Carolina Tax-Friendly at Retirement? Somewhat
Asheville has a few drawbacks, but its beautiful location, good senior resources, lively downtown, OLLI and good hospital make it worth a look at retirement time.
With its wide range of elevations and its three distinct geographic regions, the Tar Heel State is an inviting place to live or visit.
Its Atlantic Coastal Plain offers two national seashores and more than 300 miles of barrier island beaches. The Chowan, Roanoke, and Neuse rivers find the Atlantic here and provide endless opportunities for sailing, fishing, and kayaking. Seven coastal lighthouses help mark a history of pirates, wild horses, aviators, and Revolutionary War heroes. Downtown Wilmington buzzes with fine dining and nightlife.
North Carolina's Piedmont Region shelters some of the state's biggest cities. Metropolitan Charlotte is packed with galleries, furniture factories, breweries, and gardens. Winston-Salem harbors a a living history museum and sponsors the RiverRun International Film Festival. Barbecue flourishes in Lexington. For those looking to play golf, Pinehurst and the Sandhills beckon. The jewel of the region may be "The Triangle," a triumvirate of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. World-class universities, museums, and college athletics are everyday occurrences.
The state would be nothing without its Mountain Region. Mount Mitchell, the highest point in North America east of the Mississippi is here. Asheville, the foothills, and the Blue Ridge Parkway are here. Biltmore, the nation's largest home, is here. Visitors might boat at Lake Lure or find their way to the top of Chimney Rock and a stunning 75 mile view. Summer in the high country means the Great Smoky Mountains, camping, hiking, biking, and fishing. Winter means skiing at the Appalachian, Beech, or Sugar Mountain ski resorts.
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