Trendy, Outdoorsy and Progressive, Boulder Offers a High Quality of Life in a Truly Beautiful Setting
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Nestled in the shadow of the rugged Rocky Mountain foothills, just 25 minutes northwest of Colorado's capital city of Denver, beautiful Boulder (population 110,000) is home to the University of Colorado's lovely flagship campus (33,000 students). This area was first stumbled upon by gold prospectors in the 1850s but really started to gain traction when state legislators designated it as the site for the new university, which first opened its doors in 1877.
Since that time, Boulder has blossomed into a progressive, trendy, environmentally aware, outdoor-oriented metropolis with an educated, eclectic population (20% of which is age 45 or better). It sits in a gorgeous location and is a stimulating place to live.
It is not, though, inexpensive. The cost of living is 124% above the national average, and the median home price is now $1.1 million. The city is surrounded by open space, mountainous terrain and other towns. Growth management is taken seriously, and a strict anti-growth plan has been in place since the 1970s. As a result, new building is limited. Nothing new goes up unless something old is torn down. Building heights are also regulated so that residents' views of the mountains and the Flatirons, the unique rock formations on the outskirts of town, remain unobstructed (some recent expemptions were enacted as a way to increase affordable housing).
Real estate comes in all sizes and ranges, from ramshackle, rental houses on the edge of the CU campus to large, architecurally stunning homes on The Hill, perhaps the city's most distinctive neighborhood. There are splashy, new multi-million dollar mansions on the city's northern edge, colorful Victorians adjacent to downtown and average ranch ramblers on the southeastern and northeastern sides of town. Historic Mapleton Hill has residences from the early 20th-century, and not far away is the home from the opening credits of the old Mork and Mindy television series.
Apartments are plentiful but most are occupied by students. Actually, students live all over town but primarily on the lower edge of The Hill and on the immediate east and north sides of campus.
Colorado is considered a mostly tax-friendly state for retirees. For people age 55 to 64, $20,000 of retirement income, including Social Security, is exempt from state income tax ($24,000 is exempt for people age 65 and better). Real estate taxes are assessed at 9.3% of a property's fair market value. People age 65 or better may qualify for a 50% homestead tax exemption and may receive a rebate of up to $600 of their property tax bill. The annual taxes on a $750,000 home are approximately $5,420. The state income tax is 4.63%.
And while it is not yet Aspen or Vail, Boulder has a casual, funky affluence, where laid-back intellectualism and social responsibility are nurtured and expected. Used bookstores, outdoor-gear retailers, coffee shops and natural food stores are the norm (although high-end chain stores and restaurants are here, too). It is a liberal oasis, with 73% of voters calling themselves Democrats, and it is sometimes referred to as the "People's Republic of Boulder."
Because growth has been controlled, the quality of life is rich and rewarding. Neighborhoods are well-kept. Streets are quiet and tree-lined. Residents enjoy plenty of parks and open spaces. Schools and neighborhoods are safe.
The downtown Pearl Street Mall is a wonderful pedestrian shopping area with trendy shops, award-winning restaurants, street performers, tourists, political speakers, open-air vendors, sculptures and a vibrant atmosphere. People-watching is great fun since all kinds of interesting folks live in Boulder. Students, "granola" types, professionals, scientists, professors, researchers, preppies, left over Hippies and outdoor aficionados all live here.
The University of Colorado campus is the lifeblood of Boulder and is a scenic, bustling place. All of its buildings are built from red sandstone and have a red tile roof, creating a pretty picture with the blue and gold foothills towering in the background.
This area is a recreation Paradise, with rafting, kayaking, hiking, camping and cross-country skiing literally minutes away. Even Eldora, a small ski resort, is only 45 minutes to the west. The town boasts tennis courts, swimming pools and miles of bicycle and walking trails. This is a health-conscious place, and it is hard not to be motivated to stay in shape.
Boulder is not, however, just about outdoor recreation. Opportunities for intellectual nourishment abound. The University offers a rich assortment of lectures, music recitals, guest speakers and the annual Conference on World Affairs, which brings to town nationally and internationally recognized experts on everything from film direction to stem-cell research. Panel discussions are open to the public.
And, of course, the annual Naked Pumpkin Run (naked people running with a pumpkin on their head) and the Halloween Mall Crawl are always popular.
The historic Chautauqua Auditorium, located at the foot of Bluebell Mountain, hosts summer concerts every year, and the renowned, outdoor Shakespeare Festival brings in theater-goers from Denver and beyond.
For those who like to shop, the closest indoor mall is Flatiron Crossing Shopping Center, about 15 minutes south along Interstate 25.
Boulder Senior Services, run by the City of Boulder, manages two senior centers that offer classes, transportation and travel programs. RSVP Boulder is an organization that give those 55+ the opportunity to volunteer in the senior community and elsewhere, providing Meals on Wheels, offering companionship to homebound people, helping disabled children at the local therapeutic riding center and much more. There are, in fact, 350 agencies in Boulder County that provide senior services of some kind.
Boulder Community Health is the primary medical facility with 110 beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It is a Level III adult trauma center and accepts Medicare patients. Centura Health - Avista Adventist Hospital, also a Level III trauma center, is just eight miles away in Louisville. Half a dozen other full-service hospitals are 30 to 60 minutes away in Denver, and for military retirees, Denver has a VA hospital.
RTD is the local transit system. Buses are plentiful and clean. Senior Ride takes groups of 10 seniors or more to various cultural and entertainment events. There is also a limited light rail system, a call-n-ride program and a bus that runs every hour from Boulder to various points in Denver. The closest international airport is Denver International Airport, 45 minutes away on the high plains east of Denver.
Colorado has a four season climate characterized by cool, sometimes cold, winters and crisp, clear autumns. Summer temperatures are in the 80s and 90s. This is a semi-arid area, so humidity is low. It does snow, but as in much of Colorado, the white stuff usually comes one day and is completely gone the next, leaving behind sparkling blue skies. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Boulder ranks well above the national average. The elevation is 5,400 feet above sea level.
While Boulder offers just about everything a person might want, there are drawbacks to retirement here. Traffic congestion is one. There are too many cars, which seems to contradict the eco-friendly mentality. Traffic gets even worse during football season. And student-heavy neighborhoods can get a little rowdy on weekends.
Despite these negatives, Boulder has a bit of magic. Not many things are better than enjoying a Shakespearian play under the stars at the University's outdoor Mary Rippon Theater or taking a stroll along the Pearl Street Mall on a summer evening while jugglers, high-wire walkers and musicians ply their trade. In Boulder, the setting is inspiring, the people are interesting and the living is good.
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