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updated 2/7/2007 2:37:18 PM ET 2007-02-07T19:37:18

You've probably never heard of Gardnerville Ranchos, Nev., but many retirees have.

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This small community is shadowed by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, a few miles southeast of famed Lake Tahoe. Its natural beauty attracts retirees from the San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento areas, all within a four-hour drive.

It's also the hottest retirement destination in America, according to a new Bizjournals study.

Bizjournals compared 938 markets in eight statistical categories looking for places where the number of senior citizens is substantial and increasing rapidly.

Behind Gardnerville Ranchos on the list of America's hottest retirement areas are Punta Gorda, Fla.; Pahrump, Nev.; Crossville, Tenn.; and Homosassa Springs, Fla. Each of these top-five markets is reasonably small, with a total population between 40,000 and 160,000.

Gardnerville Ranchos ranks first because of its striking performances on several indicators:

-- Nineteen percent of its residents are 65 or older. That's a higher concentration than 900 of the nation's other 937 markets have.

-- Its senior population soared by 45 percent between 2000 and 2005. That's nine times the national growth rate of 5 percent for the same age group.

-- Its number of seniors increased 46 percent faster in five years than its number of children did. That's the largest imbalance anywhere in America.

Bizjournals also pinpointed the most popular communities in 10 groups that reflect the varying interests of retirees. These categories focus on markets of similar size, geography or topography.

A broad range of areas offers the quality of life that attracts today's retirees, as the findings makes clear.

Hordes of Eastern and Midwestern retirees are still drawn to Florida and the Southwest, the traditional warm-weather havens. But other locations have been growing in popularity, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Great Lakes region.

Some retirees are more interested in a specific type of community -- by the beach, in a big city or in a small town, for example -- than in its geographical location.

Here's a quick look at the hottest retirement areas for these categories:

Urban markets: Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., tops this list, which is restricted to metropolitan areas with at least half a million people.

Small towns: The Gardnerville Ranchos micropolitan area, with 47,000 residents, is first here, followed by another Nevada town, Pahrump. This category is limited to places with fewer than 50,000 people.

Florida: Punta Gorda tops this grouping, the only one that's confined to a single state. Homosassa Springs and Sebring are the runners-up.

Rest of the Deep South: Del Rio, Texas, is the hottest option for retirees who want a warm-weather alternative to Florida. Markets in South Carolina and Georgia also score well.

Atlantic Coast (Maine to North Carolina): This category encompasses a wide range of climates. Ocean Pines, Md., with its popular beaches, ranks No. 1. But colder places in Massachusetts and Maine also make the top 10.

Great Lakes: Michigan has emerged as a popular retirement option in the past 25 years, a trend reflected in these standings. Three Michigan areas top the list, with Alpena in first place.

Pacific Coast: Don't look for California here. It doesn't have a single entry in the top 10. The leader is Brookings, Ore., followed by Port Angeles, Wash.

Mountains: Both halves of America are represented in this topographical category. No. 1 Gardnerville Ranchos is far west of the Mississippi River, while No. 2 Crossville, Tenn., is well to the east.

Southwest: Pahrump, Nev., is the winner in this group, which takes in the deserts and tablelands of six states. Silver City, N.M., and Lake Havasu City, Ariz., round out the top three.

Great Plains: Flatlanders find Albert Lea, Minn., most appealing. It's one of five Minnesota communities among this category's 10 leaders. Iowa and South Dakota have two entries each.

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