Canoe the Tennessee RiverOn one of their five trips to Chattanooga while scouting the city as a possible place to retire, Doug and Mimi Hedwig attended an opera at the local campus of the University of Tennessee. After the performance, a woman in the row behind them openly admired Ms. Hedwig’s Turkish shawl, and the two women struck up a conversation. The Hedwigs left with an invitation to tea at their new friend’s home.

“New York could seem very closed, very defensive,” says Ms. Hedwig, 65. The couple moved to Chattanooga in 2013 from Patterson, N.Y., about 90 minutes north of New York City by car. “The South, by contrast, has been warm and welcoming. It’s been much easier to become a part of the community.”

A steady stream of retirees are finding their way to the Scenic City, Chattanooga’s official nickname. The scenery is indeed a big part of the lure, but people don’t just look at it. The town sits on the Tennessee River in the southern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, an area that offers plentiful opportunities for boating, hiking and cycling.

Other selling points include mild winters, a solid economy, a low cost of living and an array of cultural offerings. Newcomers also cite the city’s proximity to several interstate highways, which creates easy access for grown children and grandchildren to visit.

The downsides? Summer heat and humidity. High pollen counts, especially in the spring. Seemingly endless construction on those interstates. And many affluent residents, dissatisfied with the quality of public education, send their children to private schools.

Still, the population is growing steadily, and older transplants are playing a part. Realtor Gail Hunter says she is selling an increasing number of homes—from $150,000 one-level bungalows to $500,000 luxury condos—to relocating buyers over 55. Some opt for sprawling houses on the river or Chickamauga Lake; others prefer urban townhomes with views of nearby Lookout and Signal mountains and easy access to farmers markets, cultural events and restaurants.

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Published by the Wall Street Journal on November 29, 2015: Written by Nancy Henderson