When it comes time to settle down for the latter part of life, it can be tricky to determine if one's long-standing home should remain the permanent choice. Perhaps a change of scenery is in store. There are also health and age-related factors to consider, both now and in the future. For many people, finances will dictate the viability of one area over another.
Pennsylvania has a lovely, four-season backyard, quaint communities within reach of bigger cities, and a light-touch approach to taxation. The Keystone State is one of the only places that does not take a cut of your pension, 401(k), individual retirement account, or social security benefits. The sales tax is also only 6%, so your life savings will stretch a bit further in this state. If this sounds like the right kind of deal for you, then peruse the following small towns (or moderately-sized cities) for your next dream home.
Retiring to life on the lake is one of the ultimate fantasies used to keep spirits up during those tiresome mid-life work weeks. Erie, while not exactly a small town, does have a population under 100,000 people, and more importantly, is one of the few places in the state that isn't landlocked. Sitting on the Southern shore of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, in Erie County, this place is a little slice of paradise in the summer. The most frequented state park in Pennsylvania, Presque Isle State Park, reaches out across from the city's core, offering stellar beaches from which to enjoy the relatively shallow and warm waters. In late August every 3 years, the Tall Ships festival sets sail (the next one is set to take place in 2025). During the harsher, "lake effect" winters, snowbirds can jet off from Erie International Airport, which is just minutes from downtown.
Reading is another example of a city in Pennsylvania that even though it is no one-horse-town, has a sub-100,000 population and a relaxed feel that is further enhanced by its green mountainous surroundings. You can spend pleasant days strolling the banks of the Schuylkill River on the west side of town or visit the 665-acre Antietam Lake Park to spend time contemplating life by the beautiful reservoir. Retirees can stay engaged with the culture and community by stopping by the public museum, catching a minor league baseball game, or pulling over at the 7-story Japanese-style pagoda (built in 1908) that overlooks the city from the slopes of Mount Penn. The numbers also support a healthy retirement in Reading. 10.3% of residents are over the age of 65, and there are 13 hospitals within 25 miles of the city.
Hershey is a small town of around 15,000, perfect for those yearning for a change of scenery and a renewed zest for life. Why not go to a small town as sweet as the chocolate it famously produces? The median home value for this tourist destination is a little higher than some other budget-friendly places on this list (although rent is slightly lower than the national average), but for those with a good nest egg, there is no shortage of ways to stay young at heart. Hershey is in Dauphin County, just east of the Susquehanna River and the state capital of Harrisburg. When the grandkids visit, take them to Herhey's Chocolate World and Hersheypark (the largest theme park in Pennsylvania), and when it's time to gear down, head over to the 23-acre botanical garden, do a walking tour of the town's 20+ inspired street art murals. Get in touch with the town's history at The Hershey Story Museum, or stop by the State Capitol Building for a free tour and to get a feel of the current political pulse.
You will be in good company in Johnstown. Over 20% of the 18,411 residents are over the age of 65. Seniors are drawn to this cute Cambria County town because of the accessible housing market, and the fact that there are six hospitals within a 25-mile radius. The Conemaugh River runs North-South along the West side of town, while the Little Conemaugh branches off to the East, marking the Northern boundary. Here, the longest set of rapids in the Eastern United States sets the stage for fun rafting tours (if you're feeling adventurous!). Within this waterside plot, Johnstown has a historic main street, a nice mix of dining, winery, and brewery options, and a passionate little arts scene.
About 20 miles west of Philadelphia, in the Delaware Valley of Delaware County, the borough of Media shines as a retirement hub. Over 20% of its 5,858 residents are over 65, so the streets are sure to be uncrowded and balanced across demographics. One of the standouts draws to Media is the fact that there are 21 medical centers per 1,000 residents, and a good number of retirement communities to choose from. The State Street District sports a satisfying blend of restaurants, one-of-a-kind artisanal shops, essential amenities, and a rotating schedule of events. Every Wednesday from May through September, patios expand into the street for the celebrated "Dining Under the Stars," and bands regularly crop up for the jazz, Americana, and blues festivals that roll through town.
Franklin thrives where the Allegheny River and French Creek converge. This small city in Venango County has a population of only 6,031, 21% of whom are seniors. Life is therefore pretty chill in this fulfilling settlement. The bicycle-friendly community has a lovely spread of Victorian architecture, a three-day autumn festival (known as Applefest), which is always a big hit, and the downtown strip (Liberty Street) was deemed one of the ten "Great Streets of America" by the American Planning Association. Franklin has a regional airport, for ease of transportation. Otherwise, Pittsburgh is only 85 miles to the south, the shores of Lake Erie are even closer to the north, and the great green expanse of Allegheny National Forest sprawls generously to the east.
Also just north of Pittsburgh, on the western edge of the state, New Castle offers an excellent outlet for a new life. This moderately-populated city (21,745 as of 2021) in Lawrence County, has a pretty, all-American aesthetic to it. Highlights include the Scottish Rite Cathedral, which made the cut for the National Register of Historic Places, the local and aptly named Cascade Park, and the interactive Living Treasures Wild Animal Park. Walking trails pepper Neshannock Creek and the Shenango River (which meet at the south end of town) and McConnell Mills is a mere 10 miles east of the city. Over 17% of residents are seniors, there are 10 hospitals within striking distance, and violent crime is low.
The armchair journey ends over on the east-central side of the state, in Schuylkill County. Pottsville has a tight-knit population of around 13,342, 17% of which is in the over-65 demographic. Home values are a bit higher, and the number of hospitals drops to five within a 25-mile radius, but violent crime also drops remarkably low, as does the annual number of property crimes. This historic town also has some boomer-specific appeals. A tour of Jerry's Classic Cars & Collectibles and Museum will never get old for old car geeks, and local wineries and breweries along Center and Market Street give as good of an excuse as any to get out and mingle with the rest of the leisure-loving community.
You are entering an exciting period of your life, and Pennsylvania is ready to accommodate your plans. Housing is affordable, taxes are minimal, nature shows her every color, and the many small towns each shine a bit of their own character. When you choose to settle down in a community, rather than a big city, there is an opportunity to influence and be influenced by the palpable human connections.