With its Mystical Red Rock Formations and Unusual Light, Seductive Sedona Draws Retirees in Search of Gorgeous Homes, Striking Natural Beauty and Rejuvenation
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
At the entrance of spectacular Oak Creek Canyon in the high desert of north central Arizona, the landscape bedazzles with towering red sandstone formations and open spaces that almost glow when the sunlight hits them just right. It is in this dramatic setting, under a cerulean cathedral sky, that casual, affluent and slightly mystical Sedona (population 11,000) makes its home. When it started out in the late-1800s, its residents were farmers and ranchers. Not much changed until the 1950s when tourists began to arrive. In the 1980s and 1990s, building boomed. Even since the turn of the century, Sedona has grown by 35%. Today it is a tourist Mecca and a popular retirement destination.
In fact, 60% of residents are age 45 or better. Nearly 50% of all locals hold at least a four year college degree. The city has some racial diversity. Politics lean to the right. The crime rate is well below the national average. The cost of living is 45% above the national average.
The median home price is $500,000. Most homes, particularly those in West Sedona, boast views of the red rocks and awe-inducing purple and tangerine sunsets. The most expensive properties are generally located near Uptown (really downtown). The Village of Oak Creek, a separate subdivision south of city limits, also has some beautiful houses. The majority of residences were built in the last 30 to 35 years so historic homes are few and far between. There are three mobile home parks, all of which are rather rustic.
Arizona is mostly friendly when it comes to retirement and taxes. Social Security is not taxed, and up to $2,500 of other retirement income (military, civil service and Arizona government pensions) is exempt. After that, though, IRAs, 401(k)s and private pensions are taxed at between 2.5% and 4.5%, depending on income. When it comes to property taxes, single homeowners age 65 and better who earn less than $36,000 annually and married couples who earn less than $45,000 annually are eligible for a tax credit. Some people, depending on age and income, may also be able to have the valuation of their primary residence frozen at its full cash value. The annual taxes on a $425,000 Sedona residence are roughly $3,500. The state sales tax is 5.6% (but sales taxes are higher in town).
Every year more than four million vacationers come to Sedona for its half dozen golf courses and trendy shopping venues. Uptown is the touristy area and has galleries, upscale boutiques, outdoor gear stores and eateries. West Sedona, on the other hand, has more in the way of banks, drugstores, etc. and is where the locals shop. There is no Wal-Mart, and other large box store retailers are in short supply. Instead shops with fine jewelry, woven textiles and hand-crafted furniture are the norm. Particularly fun is the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a replica of of a small market town outside of Guadalajara, Mexico.
With a reputation as a global spiritual vortex (a place with highly concentrated energy conducive to healing and prayer), Sedona also has a healthy New Age tourism industry. Spas offering relaxation and personal rejuvenation are all over town.
A peaceful place, Sedona is home to artists who revel in its mesmerizing light and spiritual energy. Residents reap the benefits of this by enjoying more than 40 art galleries and studios. The first Friday of every month, numerous galleries host an evening of openings, technique demonstrations and receptions. Music is brought to residents by Chamber Music Sedona's numerous concerts. The Sedona International Film Festival and the Sedona Arts Festival round out the cultural calendar.
Verde Valley Medical Center (VVMC) has a campus here with a 24/7 emergency department and heart and cancer specialists, but there is no hospital. The closest one is the Verde Valley Medical Center main campus in Cottonwood, 17 miles away. It is award-winning for excellence in general surgery and patient safety and is accredited by DNV Healthcare, an accreditation organization that is approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. VVMC accepts Medicare patients. For military retirees, Cottonwood has a VA outpatient clinic. The closest VA hospital is in Prescott, 45 miles away.
The parks and recreation department has a good menu of activities and programs, including low impact water aerobics, painting classes and piano classes. Nearby Coconino National Forest has hiking trails and campgrounds, and it is accessible via trails that run through town.
The Sedona Community Center offers congregate noon meals five days a week for a nominal fee. Telephone assurance calls seven days a week, an exercise program, legal services and a van transportation service are also available. Meals on Wheels operates Monday through Friday.
The Sedona Public Library is privately run and located in a pretty building. It is an Internet wi-fi hotspot and has book discussion groups, an interlibrary loan program, various speakers and is open seven days a week.
Verde Lynx is the public transportation system but is limited to just 10 stops in town before traveling to Cottonwood, where it makes two stops. The cost to ride is $1 in town ($2.25 for para-transit).
Retirees who enjoy volunteering will find plenty of opportunities to lend their services. The parks and recreation department and the library need volunteers, and the city has a Citizen's Academy that educates residents about the city and how it works. Graduates of the Academy are then invited to apply for vacancies on city commissions, boards and committees.
With an elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level, Sedona's climate is a bit cooler than might be expected. Summer temperatures reach into the high-90s, but winter temperatures dip into the 30s. On average, the area receives 18 inches of rain and a dusting of snow each year. The sun shines 295 days of the year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Sedona comes in above the national average.
Sedona, of course, has some drawbacks. Some people think that the city is pretentious and its residents slightly snobby. For people needing employment in retirement, most jobs are tourism-based and low-paying. There is a continuing struggle between environmentalists who want to protect Sedona's fragile beauty and business interests that want to capitalize on it. Tourists come and go throughout the year.
Yet, with its quiet mysticism and inspiring setting, Sedona seduces nearly all who come. It is not a place for an action-packed retirement, but it is a nearly perfect place for a mellow one. Once just a dusty blip in the desert, Sedona is now all grown up and a welcoming retirement spot, indeed.
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