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7 Unusual Places to Retire

Emily Brandon
ShantiNiketan When you look around ShantiNiketan, you won’t find the usual retirement community amenities like a pool or tennis courts—and that’s how residents here like it. ShantiNiketan, near Orlando, caters to Indian Americans 55 and over, and its unique features reflect their cultural preferences. “Indians like to sit and chat and watch Indian movies or walk outside,” says Jeffrey Ignatius, who founded the community with his father Iggy in 2010. “They aren’t really into swimming.” The community also has an on-site prayer room and extensive vegetarian cuisine options. Home prices range from $160,000 to $180,000, and monthly fees, which include utilities, property taxes, homeowners’ association dues and an optional meal plan, are less than $1,000 per month. The community thus far has sold out, but Phase 2 with 112 more buildings will open by 2014.

Golf courses and ocean views are no longer the only things that draw people to retirement communities. Niche retirement communities now cater to groups of senior citizens who share interests and cultures, ranging from Harley-Davidson enthusiasts to those who desire to go back to college. "Both current retirees and those just arriving, the baby boomers, are seeking more choices and less of the cookie-cutter options of a community located either on a golf course or in an isolated rural location," says Andrew Carle, founding director of George Mason University's Senior Housing Administration. Check out these innovative retirement communities:

Feng shui. Aegis Gardens is an Asian-inspired retirement community in Fremont, Calif., which caters to people who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. "An interesting trend is for communities catering to growing immigrant populations and cultures," Carle says. Feng shui consultants contributed to the building's design and avoided the use of the number four, which symbolizes death. Signs are printed in Chinese characters as well as English, and popular activities include tai chi, Chinese calligraphy and Mahjong.

[See: The 10 Sunniest Places to Retire.]

Hot rods and Harley-Davidsons. In some retirement communities, a loud motorcycle or RV parked on your lawn might be met with complaints from the neighbors. Lake Weir Living, near The Villages in Florida, encourages baby boomers to bring their campers, boats and classic cars, and will even customize your home to fit them, perhaps to include a three-car garage or an area designed to house an RV. The homes generally range in price from $105,000 to $169,000, but could be more if you add special features. "We specialize in custom homes that feature unique garages," says Adriana Rosas, a spokesperson for Lake Weir Living. "We embrace RVs, motorcycles, boats and ATVs."

Bollywood nights. At ShantiNiketan in Tavares, Fla., Indian-American retirees age 55 and older can immerse themselves in Indian culture. "Translated to 'abode of peace' in Sanskrit, it's a gated condo community for Indian-Americans," says Jan Cullinane, author of "The Single Woman's Guide to Retirement." There's plenty of Indian food on offer, including a number of vegetarian options. There's also a prayer room where bhajans are held each evening and an auditorium that plays Bollywood and other foreign language movies every night after dinner. The first 54 condos, completed in 2011, sold for between $130,000 and $160,000. A second development is under construction with an expected completion date of 2014, and the condos are estimated to sell for between $160,000 and $185,000. "It's a place where one comes for their soul," says Iggy Ignatius, founder of ShantiNiketan. "Pure vegetarian food, yoga and meditation is the lifestyle here."

RV lifestyle. The nonprofit Escapees CARE in Livingston, Texas, allows its 50 to 70 residents to live in their own RVs while receiving significant adult day care services. For $850 per month for a single resident or $1,275 monthly for a couple, residents receive three meals per day, transportation to medical appointments and help with bathing, cleaning and laundry. "We are a very cost-effective solution to aging baby boomers that wish to live independently as long as they can," says Russ Johnson, the facility director for Escapees CARE. "Living in their RV on our campus keeps the costs low and they don't have to give up treasured possessions to fit in a tiny room in a facility, plus they have their own patio to invite friends over for a cookout."

[See: 10 Places to Buy a Retirement Home for Under $100,000.]

Express yourself. Retirees at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony in Burbank, Calif., have access to a performance theater, creative art studios and a Hollywood-theme clubhouse. The community of 141 apartments for people age 55 and older opened in 2005, and rentals start at $1,725 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,314 monthly for two bedrooms. "We believe the Burbank Senior Artists Colony was the first to pair an independent living senior apartment community with arts-focused programming," says Jody Webber, senior business manager for the Burbank Senior Artists Colony. It's "open to professional artists and aspiring artists, retired and employed." The NoHo Senior Artists Colony in North Hollywood, Calif., also has one- and two-bedroom residences above a professional performing arts theater starting at $1,750 monthly for the smallest units. Both communities have lifelong learning programs that specialize in teaching the arts.

Rainbow living. At RainbowVision Santa Fe, same-sex couples are the norm. Many residents identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and there are even a few straight people who appreciate the culture. "You would want to have one for the gay community because they want to feel comfortable and they may not necessarily feel comfortable in another community," says John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute. You won't find a golf course at RainbowVision, but there are many other amenities including a cabaret, fine dining at Garbo's Restaurant, a full bar at the Starlight Lounge and the Edward Scissorhands salon.

[Read: Best Places to Retire for Under $40,000.]

Back on campus. Some retirees are nostalgic for the time when they toted a backpack filled with textbooks around campus and discussed big ideas over coffee. For these retirees, a growing number of colleges and universities have retirement communities on campus, giving seniors access to classes, medical care and other campus amenities, and a chance to interact with younger students. "With the real estate market coming back up, I am seeing an uptick in interest," Carle says. "I think virtually every major academic institution in the United States will have some affiliation in the next 20 years." Stanford, Notre Dame, Cornell, Duke, the University of Arizona and the University of Michigan are among the major institutions with university-affiliated retirement communities on or near campus. At Lasell Village in Newton, Mass., residents are actually required to complete at least 450 hours of learning and fitness activities each year as a condition of residency.

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