Retirees Enjoy Rich Southwestern Heritage, Plenty of Sunshine and a Low Key Lifestyle in Artsy, Understated Tubac, Arizona
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
The sleepy Village of Tubac is about 50 miles south of Tucson in southern Arizona and was founded as a presidio (fort) by the Spanish in 1752. It was the first European settlement in Arizona, and for years, it was the farthest outpost on the Spanish frontier. In the early days, Apache raids were a fact of life for Tubac's residents, and the town was abandoned and left to ruin eight times.
Then in the late 1940s, painter and illustrator Dale Nichols opened a studio here. Within a few years, artists from around the country were coming to study with him, igniting a Tubac renaissance. In 2002, the Tubac Golf Resort, a former hacienda and cattle ranch, underwent a $40 million renovation, attracting even more people.
Today, Tubac is a peaceful, thriving artists' colony and home to more than 80 galleries, boutiques, art studios and gift shops, all within walking distance of each other. The population is 1,300, with about 250 people in town and the rest taking up residence in the surrounding high desert. Of these folks, 75% are age 45 or better. Some are second home owners. Fifty-five percent of residents have at least a four year college degree. Politics lean to the left. The crime rate is below the national average. The town is racially diverse, and the cost of living is 15% above the national average.
Because Tubac's population has increased by a third within the last decade, weathered old homes mingle now with stylish new ones, and the median home price is $500,000, reflecting a 2% increase since a year ago. In keeping with the town's architectural integrity, every home is built in the traditional Southwestern adobe, Spanish Colonial or Territorial style. Outside of Old Tubac, there are a number of lovely gated communities and subdivisions, including the Tubac Golf Resort. Tubac apartments are few.
Arizona is a moderately tax-friendly state for retirement. Social Security is not taxed, and up to $2,500 of other public pension income (military, civil service and Arizona government pensions) is exempt, too. IRAs, 401(k)s, private pensions and out of state pensions are, however, taxed at the ordiinary income tax rate which ranges from 2.5% to 4.5%. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Tubac is .77%. The annual taxes on a $500,000 home are approximately $3,300. The combined sales tax is 6.6%.
Tubac is a little rustic and a little dusty but also understatedly chic. It is a slice of the civilized world in a stark natural landscape, a place where the quiet life is savored. The Village is situated in the Santa Cruz Valley, surrounded by the Tumacacori Mountains, with chaparral and large stands of cottonwood, mesquite and acacia trees dotting the landscape. Centuries-old adobe buildings, most of which are now studios or shops, line the town's main streets.
There is no official city government, but there is a fire department, Chamber of Commerce and the Tubac Historical Society. If local legal disputes occur, they are settled at the county level. There are also two churches, two parks and the Tubac Market, which serves fresh food and receives rave reviews. Tourists come to stroll a few cobbled sidewalks, dine in some very good restaurants and shop in tasteful, minimalist art galleries.
Speaking of art, it is everywhere. The Tubac Center of the Arts exhibits the works of local artists, including silk screeners, jewelers, bronze sculptors and potters, and it offers classes and workshops for the public. February's juried Tubac Festival of the Arts, a wonderful showcase of talented artists from around the country, may be the best event of the year.
But Tubac's history is never far from view. Four nations, Spain, Mexico, the Confederate States of America and the United States, have laid claim to this town over the years, and vestiges of their rule are showcased at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, located in Tubac's "Old Town." Here, at the original foundation of the 1752 presidio, re-enactments and an old underground museum with well-worn steps, remind all of Tubac's past.
Residents have plenty of outdoor places to play as well. Tumacacori National Historic Park is a great location for backpacking, mountain biking and lots of bird watching. Madera Canyon is wonderful for hiking, and the Anza Trail that runs along the cottonwood forests from Tumacacori National Historic Park to Green Valley provides even more chances to hike and bike. Pena Blanca Lake and Sycamore Canyon are within 30 minutes and are prime spots for fishing and more bird watching.
Exploring nearby wineries and historic Spanish missions, including the San Xavier de Bac Mission (built in 1797) and the Tumacacori Mission (built in 1687), give residents even more to do.
Golfers love this area as 10 courses are within 30 minutes. Tubac Golf Resort provides challenging play in a spectacular setting along the Santa Cruz River. The Rio Rico Resort features one of Arizona's top rated courses, the Robert Trent Jones Championship Course, and it has attracted golfers to the area for 40 years.
Shopping venues for items other than pieces of art are not plentiful, but the handful of markets provide the basics. Most residents make monthly shopping trips to Tucson for their supplies. Restaurants are numerous, and many chefs consider their dishes works of art. There are also a few taverns. The farmers' market is popular spot.
Tubac does not have a public transportation system, but it is a walkable community. No one is in much of a hurry to get anywhere, anyway. The Tubac Community Center serves hot meals to seniors, and the Santa Cruz County Council on Aging provides a number of services, including recreation classes, legal and tax assistance and food assistance.
The Community Center is also the location of the Tubac Community Library, which is part of the Nogales library system. The Tubac branch is small but is open five hours a day Monday through Friday.
The Soulistic Medical Institute practices holistic medicine, and there are a few doctors in town, but there is no hospital. The closest one is Green Valley Hospital, 18 miles away. It accepts Medicare patients and is accredited by DNV-GL, a relatively new accreditation organization. Nogales also has an accredited hospital, Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital. Tucson has several accredited hosptials as well. For military retirees, Tucson has a VA hospital.
With an elevation of 3,250 feet above sea level, Tubac stays cooler in the summers than nearby Tucson. Still, July and August temperatures are usually in the high-90s, with some day having temperatures in the low-100s. Winter low temperatures are in the 30s and 40s, with highs in the 50s and 60s. Rainfall averages 13 inches per year and comes during the summer monsoon season. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Tubac is well above the national average.
For all of its artsy charm and rustic sophistication, Tubac has its drawbacks. Santa Cruz County, in which it is located, is small, rural and poor, all of which is evident just beyond Tubac's edges. Tourists descend from October to May.
Yet the retirees who live here seem quite content spending their days far from the hassles of modern life, chatting with artists, strolling through quaint galleries, enjoying excellent dining and basking in the desert sun. For many people, Tubac may just be the perfect retirement spot.
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