So Near And Yet So Far

These towns are convenient to big cities, yet set you free from urban cares

HotSpots Bug
It has the charm and salt air of a fishing village, a seaside resort with snug bungalows for the summer folk. But it has grown up into a self-sufficient, year-round community that's ideal if you're looking for a place to retire. Best of all, it's less than an hour by rail to midtown Manhattan. Welcome to Point Lookout, N.Y., a hamlet on the eastern tip of one of the barrier islands off Long Island's South Shore.

Point Lookout offers retirees the rich cultural life, good restaurants, and entertainment options of the big city, without the congestion and crime. In that respect, it shares key attributes with Bradbury, Calif., a tiny village nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. Or with Belvedere and Tiburon, Calif., neighboring enclaves with million-dollar homes and three yacht clubs, including the San Francisco Yacht Club, the oldest on the West Coast. The peninsula has breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the ferry ride downtown takes just 20 minutes.

These places are especially attractive to people who spent their working lives in cities and still have family and friends there. "Three-quarters of all people retire within 50 miles of where they live," says Andrew Schiller, the PhD geographer who runs demographic researcher Location Inc. "They want to be 'going-out-to-dinner' distance away." Schiller has pinpointed the best neighborhoods for seniors within 60 miles of each of the country's biggest cities.

To come up with his picks, he looked for low crime rates, places with a high percentage of seniors and college-educated residents, and neighborhoods with established homes, easy walkability, and an artsy or funky element. Quality health care is a given because of proximity to the cities. He didn't consider affordability: If value is part of your equation, you can do your own search at the company's Web site, neighborhoodscout.com.

The places are among the most expensive and exclusive in their regions. Kensington, Md., for example, with its historic Victorian-era homes in the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, was a planned community developed in the 1890s as a respite from the hot summers in Washington. Schiller pinpointed only this central village, not the sprawl of tract homes surrounding it.

SEA GRASS

O.K., some of the places are a bit of a stretch for dinner and a play in the big city. The desirable lakefront neighborhoods of Michigan City, Ind., have long been popular as a summer retreat for Chicagoans. The city is next door to the 25-mile-long Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with its miles of hiking trails and sand beaches, and a commuter railroad puts Chicago less than two hours away.

Historic Sandwich, Mass., incorporated in 1639, is Cape Cod quaint with sea grass, beaches, and a boardwalk. For seniors, the annual shellfishing permit is $5, less than a bowl of quahog chowder in Boston, 57 miles north. Still, if the city beckons, it's an easy weekend jaunt. You just have to tear yourself away.

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