Virginia Ranked #1 Best State in Which to Retire

If you’ve lived in Virginia a while, you’ve probably known this all along. But for those unfamiliar with or thinking about moving to the Old Dominion, know this: Virginia has been rated the best state in the country for retirees. This retirement index, compiled by the financial firm LPL Research, evaluates a state’s “retirability” based on the following six factors that are weighted differently:

1. Financial (35%): cost of living, median household income, private sector retirement assets, state pension funds relative to pension obligations/tax burden
2. Healthcare (20%): Access to, cost of. Healthcare expenditures and % of 45-64 covered by health insurance
3. Housing (15%): Home ownership rate, median home price list/rent list price, nursing home costs
4. Community Quality of Life (10%): # of heating days, % of home foreclosures, % of people with over 60 minute commutes, % of people living in poverty, violent crimes per 100,000 people
5. Employment and Education (10%): % of 45-64 year olds with college degrees, % of employees with health insurance
6. Wellness (10%): life expectancy, % of adults over 18 who are physically active, who are smokers, who are obese

Virginia was ranked 1st in community quality of life, 5th in financial, 10th in employment and education and 1st overall. So let’s take a look at the things that prospective retirees consider when choosing a place to relocate, and what makes Virginia a good fit.

The New York Times cites a report which estimates that as many as “57% of baby boomers say they plan to move into a new home in retirement” (Hanon ). It makes sense; this is a brand new phase of your life, and the circumstances that made your old home ideal may no longer be in play. The things you wanted in a locale in your 20s and 30s are not the same things you need out of your residence now. Of those 57% surveyed, 39% said they wanted to relocate to a small town or rural community. There are many offerings in Virginia, from the sprawling central Virginia estates in Albemarle or Orange counties, to the small-town feel of homes in Charlottesville.

Weather is among the top considerations for people looking for a suitable retirement destination. This is one of the reasons why older people tend to settle down in the southern and western states. Compared to humid places like Florida, Virginia’s climate is pretty mild. The summers can be hot but they aren’t brutal, and are often interspersed with breezy days. The winters aren’t brutal, colder than some of our neighbors to the south but nowhere near the frigid temperatures of the northern states.

There are also numerous things to do throughout Virginia. Nelson County’s Crabtree Falls, for example boasts the highest vertical drop east of the Mississippi. Its first overlook runs along a low-key paved trail for hikers of varying experience, and there are more challenging hikes as well. From slow, meandering drives amidst the scenic vistas and pastoral landscapes of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the thriving, hollows of the Shenandoah National Park, there are so many ways to enjoy the natural beauty of this state.

The real estate taxes in Virginia vary by county but are comparatively low. The state and local taxes end up being about 5.3%, a little more for the localities that make up Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The cost of living gets higher as you move closer north, but you could do a lot worse than Virginia. The median value for a home is about $230,000.

The unemployment rate is also pretty low in Virginia: 4.8%. At first it may sound counterintuitive to think about working in the place where you’re going to retire. But many retirees, current and future say they plan to work during retirement. Merrill Lynch published a study which states that “47 % of today’s retirees say they either have worked or plan to work during their retirement years. Moreover, the number of retirees who work will escalate in the years ahead, with 72% of pre-retirees age 50+ now saying that their ideal retirement includes work in some capacity” (Merrill Lynch). This doesn’t necessarily mean getting a 9-5 and commuting. Even if the work is unpaid/on a volunteer basis, being employed has been linked with a greater sense of well-being. “Work gives us a sense of purpose, feeling connected and needed. It makes us feel relevant. It’s hard to pin a precise paycheck to that, but it’s real.”

Moreover, it keeps our minds sharper. Researchers from the RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the University of Michigan published a study showing that cognitive performance levels decline faster in countries that have younger retirement ages” (Hanon 2) . You don’t just have to work. You can also learn more. Were you to find a nice small farm in central Virginia, or a home around Charlottesville, you could make use of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Virginia. You could also take advantage of the seasonal job market, getting an easygoing gig during the summer while all the students are out of town. Did we mention Virginia was ranked 10th in LPL’s employment and education category?

So there you have it. The experts agree that for people planning to retire, Virginia is your best bet. Relocating here affords you warm weather, reasonably priced homes, and a bounty of natural splendors. You can foster your continued growth through a variety of channels: working, volunteering or going back to school. The pace of life is very malleable. The pace of life here moves with you. If you want seclusion and privacy, you could get a small farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains; there are several nice offerings available in Nelson, Greene, Madison and Albemarle Counties. If you want a thriving community of various ages and backgrounds, consider a home in Charlottesville, where live music, theatre and sports are close at hand. The only thing you need is an appreciation for natural beauty and a thirst to make the most of out life. After all, Virginia is for lovers.

Biking in Charlottesville

The phrase “it’s like riding a bike,” is surprisingly apt. It’s hard to forget what is for many of us the first foray into freedom, the unbridled pleasure of taking the training wheels off and zooming down a hill with abandon. For a lot of people it’s one of the first truly autonomous actions; something you don’t need mom and dad to do for you once you’ve got it down. For many people (this writer included) it is a fundamental, primary means of transportation that costs much less than an automobile, both from monetary and environmental standards. Since the 19th century, riding bicycles has been a viable option for transportation, recreation and fitness. Charlottesville / Albemarle County was recently recognized as a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists. The LAB is a non-profit organization founded in 1880 to promote cycling (for fun, exercise an transportation) through advocacy and education. It is probably the largest community of cyclists in the country, so you know Charlottesville is up to some good. Land in Albemarle county, the lush sprawl and rolling pastures of the central Virginia countryside, is ideal for mountain biking, but there are many good road trails too. Let’s explore the many ways in which Charlottesville—both the governmental heads and the people themselves—work to build an accessible home for the folks on two wheels.


Charlottesville Community

The city of Charlottesville proper is only 10.4mi2; in other words very accessible to the cycling community as far as transportation goes. There aren’t many places in town that you can’t go, especially once you’ve been biking long enough and get used to some of the hillier parts of the city. The mix of road/city and mountain bike trails has fostered a strong community here, comparable to our neighbors to the east in Richmond. Bicycling truly is a viable option for getting around. All the city buses (both Charlottesville Area Transit and University of Virginia transit systems) come equipped with two bike racks so you can bike to bus stops, take the bus to places that are a little less convenient, and get back on the bike when you get there. Bike Charlottesville is one of many groups that rally the cycling community for events like group bike rides and information about topics relevant to people on two wheels. Cycling is something the local government takes pretty seriously too. Albemarle County and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission take cycling into consideration in many of their planning policies, and there have been a few collaborative efforts to make the town more bike-friendly. Take for example the Cville Bike mApp. The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, Charlottesville City, Albemarle County, and UVa came together to develop a cycle route mapping app. Cyclists from all over the county uploaded their daily routes, mapping their paths with help of the app. Staff took all of this raw data and analyzed it, drawing conclusions as to what parts of town were most and least bike-accessible, the places cyclists couldn’t get to, crowded bicycle corridors etc. UVa has also successfully implemented a BikeShare program, the likes of which you may have seen in many more metropolitan areas like New York City or the District of Columbia. This is a pretty inclusive system that does not require UVa affiliation. Create a membership, register, choose your payment plan and you can pick up/drop off your bike at any of the designated areas around town. It helps to democratize the process of biking. Not everyone can afford a bike, and not everyone needs one all the time either. This way if you wanted to join some friends every now and then on a casual bike ride, you’d be able to. This is good for people who enjoy biking but aren’t sure if regular biking is for them. If the kids have been clamoring on about getting a new mountain bike, you can let them try out the BikeShare program for a month before you decide to take the plunge. It’s also a great way to get to know the surrounding area. Rumor has it that Richmond is working on one as well, trying to get it up and running by the start of the UCI Road World Championships, which begin September 19 of this year and lasts until the 27th.


The Charlottesville Area Mountain Biking Club (CAMBC) is a chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. They strive to promote and publicize the litany of accessible trails in and around Charlottesville while at the same time emphasizing the importance of trail safety and responsible use. They put on events that foster a sense of camaraderie and solidarity among two-wheel enthusiasts. Earlier in the year, they threw a party on the property of the Devil’s Backbone brewery in nearby Nelson County, raising $1350 for the trails while enjoying beer, music, bacon, eggs and some solid biking tips. People celebrated with bonfires and campout. This club is yet another example of the thriving cyclist community in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. It’s also a wealth of information for anyone who wants to know more about the available trails in the area.


If you’re a seasoned biker who is new to town, or a novice biker and native Charlottesville-dweller, there are a few places around town to meet like-minded individuals and administer care to your iron horse. Blue Wheel Bicycles has been servicing a community of Charlottesville cyclists for about 40 years now, first at their location on Elliewood Avenue and then the Ix Building in downtown Cville since 2006. The owners Roger Friend and Scott Paisley are both award-winning cyclists who know just about everything there is to know about the practice and they are open six days a week, until 6pm (except on Saturdays). Community Bikes is a non-profit organization over on Avon Street, near the Belmont neighborhood of Charlottesville. The entire operation is powered through funding from private individuals and organizations and rife with enthusiastic volunteers who just genuinely love bicycles. They work with Virginia Organizing to promote environmentally-sound transportation (foot power!), and recycling bikes. Their community-oriented approach is supplemented by programs that are open to the public. These range from events like bike rodeos for children and bicycle repair and maintenance workshops where you can learn the best way to care for and maintain your wheels. They even offer Open Shop time, in which patrons can come through and use the shop’s resources, including one of three repair stands. All they ask is a small fee, perfectly understandable coming from a non-profit organization with barely any employees and a highly sustainable model.


Charlottesville Bike Trails

The mix of road and mountain trails in Charlottesville attracts a variety of cyclists, both natives and people from other land in central Virginia. Here we’ll take a look at some great places to ride bicycles in the areas around Charlottesville.


Observatory Hill is owned by UVa. It’s off of Alderman Road by the group of residential buildings considered the “new dorms.” This is one of Charlottesville’s most vigorous trails, probably not for the faint of heart. It is a pretty exciting one too; the trails lap each other all over the mountain, intersecting in a such a way as to make it possible for people to ride up and down the mountain several times without repeating the same trails over and over again.


There’s also Preddy Creek, a much newer set of trails, northeast of the City of Charlottesville in Albemarle County. Apparently these trails span 571 acres of wilderness with a little over 8 miles of trails that are utilized for a variety of pursuits including hiking, horseback riding, and of course mountain biking. This set of trails is brand new, so there are still components that are under construction. For now, there is a very good beginner loop that’s pretty accessible to people just starting out. It also has some quick turns between trees and steep descents to make it interesting for the more intermediate among us. Check back up on Preddy Creek though, because new and exciting things are happening over there. People are working on some expert trails with engineered attributes like elevated bridges and rock gardens, courtesy of the kind, community-minded folks at the aforementioned Charlottesville Area Mountain Biking Club!

Walnut Creek is an awesome park that takes advantage of the beauty of property in Albemarle County. It spans 525 acres, 45 of which are water acres. There’s a huge lake for kayaking, swimming and fishing. You can rent canoes or BYOB (bring your own boat, assuming it’s Coast Guard-approved). It also might be the areas only legitimate disc golf operation; 18 holes! The 15 miles of bike trails are fairly challenging for a new cyclist, but will definitely get you in shape and make the hills in town seem like a joke. It’s a narrower singletrack with errant loose rocks and gnarly roots. You can link up several different trails to make your own custom loop or follow the beaten path, but be prepared for a workout! For a park rife with so many resources, Walnut Creek’s admission is relatively cheap: $3 for Albemarle County residents and $4.50 for everyone else. You can also scoop a yearly pass.


Bicycle Route 76, also called the TransAmerica Route is enormous. It spans the state of Virginia from east to west and actually stretches from the Midwest (Missouri) to Yorktown, VA. It connects to the incredibly scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, then to Garth Road, White Hall, Crozet, and then up to Afton Mountain. Serious cyclists could spend a few days on the journey with a tent, sleeping bag and provisions. You get rewarded by 25 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, amidst awe-inspiring visions of the bucolic majesty of central Virginia’s mountain and pasture ranges.


The Rivanna Trail (also known as the RTF) is a sprawling trail that circumnavigates Charlottesville at watershed areas of the Rivanna. Its website offers an interactive map where you can plot your journey and plan it out in style. You can get onto the trail from East Market Street, right onto Riverside Avenue and into the Riverview Park, where the trails are fairly easygoing and non-committal. Great for all ages. This is by Long Street or Richmond Road, where you’d get into Pantops from the city. Here there are trails with hard-surfaces that take you up and around, over to the Free Bridge area. There are several entrances in town, from Park Street to Hydraulic and other places off of Emmet Street, to 5th Street extended, Fontaine, Old Ivy Road. The trail even stretches all the way to the Quarry Park, an impressive ~20 miles! Keep in mind that although parts of RTF are pretty accessible, there are spots that should not be attempted by less-than-experienced cyclists. We’re talking about roots and rocks, exposed rock cliffs and other tricky things. Use discretion when deciding which trails are for you; the RTF has so much to offer. Don’t forget to consult the interactive map or ask an experienced cyclist.


As you can see, Charlottesville is a great place for cyclists of all levels!