By CATEY HILL
Utah is home to "Sundance" -- the most well-known independent film festival in the country. But one doesn't have to be Robert Redford (the festival's founder) to fall in love with this state.
Retire Here, Not There: State-by-State
Forget your parents' retirement destinations. These less-known gems offer lower prices and peppy economies.
An outdoorsman's paradise, Utah is a Native American word meaning "people of the mountains." The designation is especially apt in the northern part of the state where one finds the Wasatch Mountains and world-class ski resorts like Park City and Deer Valley. For contrast, in the Moab area in the southeastern part of the state the weather is slightly warmer weather, with a landscape filled with burnt-orange and red boulders. Utah is also home to five sprawling national parks (more than any other state except Alaska and California); the Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the western hemisphere and Monument Valley, with its towering sandstone formations. It doesn't take long before one realizes why Utah is like no other place in the country, says Roger McQueen, managing partner for Northwestern Mutual in Salt Lake City, who moved to the area from Wisconsin.
It's also home to some of the priciest areas of the country. Take Park City, which hosts the Sundance festival and the U.S. Ski Team. Avid skiers in the swanky set who rent or own vacation homes in the area often retire there. But the cost of living in this posh resort town is more than 73% higher than the national average and the median home will set retirees back $664,500. Or, far more if they want a ski on, ski off location.
Luckily that's not the Utah most retirees enjoy. Although the state would never be called cheap, one doesn't have to pay anywhere near Park City prices to live well here. The cost of living is just 3.8% higher than the national average and the median home costs a little more than average, at $216,000, according to Sperling's Best Places. What's more, Utah's unemployment rate, 7.6%, is significantly lower than the rest of the nation, so many retirees may have an easier time landing a "retirement job" to offset the costs.
But the state does have its drawbacks. Utah's religious landscape -- roughly 60% of residents are Mormon -- may come as a culture shock to some. (Though, as McQueen points out, non-Mormons enjoy that it's "very easy to do things on Sundays" while much of the state is at church.) Plus, residents tend to be pretty conservative -- great for some, not so great for others -- and temperatures in the northern regions can get quite chilly.
Still, these three places offer access to Utah's greatest asset -- the outdoors -- and enough restaurants, shopping and other amenities to satisfy just about any tastes.
St. George: For the Arizona-style golfer
Nestled in the balmy southwestern section of the state, this was one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. over the past decade. With its 300 days of sunshine per year and a red-rock, cliff-filled landscape, this city has more in common with Arizona than with the northern part of Utah. And like Arizona, it's a magnet for retirees.
By the numbers
- Population: 78,188
- Median home cost: $224,000
- Cost of living: 6.1% higher than average
- Unemployment: 9.8%
- Source: Sperling's Best Places
The hiking here is world-class -- it's located within minutes of Zion National Park, one of the area's top tourist attractions and only a few hours from Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park. "This is an active retirement community," says Marc Mortesen, the assistant to the city manager of St. George. He cites the Huntsman World Senior Games as an example. The annual athletic competition includes race-walking, bowling and mountain biking, and attract more than 10,000 senior participants and spectators.
And then there's the golf. St. George is often referred to as "Utah's golf capital" and anyone who has ever teed off looking out on the brilliant red rocks knows why. Duffers can play year round and there are 10 top-notch, affordable public courses in the area. Golf Digest ranked the 7,200-yard championship Ledges course as one of the best new public golf courses in the nation.
For a small town, St. George also has some noteworthy cultural offerings including the St. George Art Museum for visual arts, and the nearby 1,920-seat Tuacahn Amphitheatre, which often hosts traveling Broadway plays. It's a safe and friendly community, says Mortesen. "People here are very welcoming -- sometimes it surprises people from other places," he says.
Though there is an airport and a few small hospitals in town, many residents say they drive the two hours to Las Vegas for medical care and flights, not to mention restaurants and shopping. And while this town resembles Arizona, it is decidedly Utah in one way: The town is centered around a large, gleaming white Latter Day Saints temple that was built in 1877 -- and there are only two state-run stores that sell alcohol in the entire town.
Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this story misstated the location of St. George. It is in the southwestern, not the southeastern, region of Utah.
Ogden: For the budget-conscious ski bum
Located in the Wasatch Mountains in northern Utah, Ogden is just 20 to 30 miles from some of the region's best skiing, including the well-regarded Snowbasin resort, Power Mountain and Wolf Mountain. (Snowbasin hosted Olympic events in 2002 and is known for its diverse terrain for all level of skiers.) Happily, this proximity to world class skiing doesn't come with posh ski resort prices. The cost of living here is 11% below the national average and the median home price is $132,300.
By the numbers
- Population: 83,855
- Median home cost: $132,300
- Cost of living: 11.1% lower than average
- Unemployment: 11.5%
- Source: Sperling's Best Places
Off season, the ski mountains offer great hiking. Retirees also enjoy biking in the nearby Wasatch-Cache National forest, kayaking and canoeing in the Ogden and Weber Rivers, both of which run through town, and golfing at one of the dozen courses in the area. When the weather gets rough, residents take to the 125,000-square-foot indoor Salomon Recreation Center, which offers climbing walls, dance studios, an indoor river, and a full gym. "There is no shortage of activities within 15 to 20 minutes of your doorstep," says Ogden's Mayor, Mike Caldwell.
Ogden looks like the set of an old western. Once a thriving railroad hub, Ogden fell on hard times early in the 20th century, which left many of the buildings untouched by developers. The current revitalization of the downtown area is helping preserve the community's historic look and feel. Residents enjoy the historic brick buildings -- once filled with brothels and saloons -- that now sport a variety of restaurants and shops.
This city's charm isn't limited to its scenery. There is plenty of culture and community in Ogden. A satellite venue for Sundance, residents are treated to films and music year round as well as local stage productions at Peery's Egyptian Theater. Unlike resorts such as Park City, Ogden is not as much a tourist destination. There's more of a community feeling, residents say. Locals head downtown to the heart of the city to meet friends and new people, says Caldwell. For a big city fix, Salt Lake City is only a 45 minute drive away.
The biggest downside is that the rate for property crimes such as burglaries and auto theft is significantly higher than average for the U.S., according to Sperling's Best Places. Still the many outdoor activities and the charming Old West feel make it well worth considering.
Cedar City: For the outdoor-loving thespian
Often called "Festival City," this town works hard to live up to the nickname. Cedar City hosts the Utah Shakespearean Festival, which has won the Tony Award for outstanding regional theater and attracts roughly 130,000 guests each year. The town is also home to the Neil Simon Festival, the Midsummer Renaissance Fair and even the Sheep & Livestock festival, during which traffic on Main Street gives way to parading sheep. "We have a mix of high-brow events and things for everyone," says Barbara Barrick, the assistant to the town's mayor.
By the numbers
- Population: 29,618
- Median home cost: $212,800
- Cost of living: Average
- Unemployment: 9.3%
- Source: Sperling's Best Places
And, because this is Utah, there's no shortage of outdoor endeavors nearby. Retirees enjoy the hiking, biking and fishing near Markagunt Plateau, a heavily forested highland area (Markagunt means "highland of trees"). Brian Head Ski Resort is just 30 miles away and Zion and Bryce National Parks are both within 65 miles. The wilderness can make residents feel isolated sometimes, as Cedar City is more than three hours away from the nearest big cities, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
On the other hand, that away-from-it-all feeling breeds a strong sense of community, says Barrick. "It's easy to become involved here," she says. "The city is large enough so that everyone doesn't know everyone but small enough to make you feel included." Retirees routinely help plan and volunteer at the many festivals, as well as the many charity fund raisers.