Where are the best places to retire in the U.S.? According to John Brady, founder of TopRetirements.com, the absolute best cities and towns for older Americans have good weather, access to health care, low property taxes, and a certain “wow” factor. Throw in access to adult education, cultural activities, job opportunities for older Americans, low housing costs and income-tax rates, low crime rate, and good walkability and livability — and you get a list of both well-known and lesser-known cities and towns that retirees might fancy. Take a look at 10 remarkable retirement spots.
1. Sarasota, Fla.
Sarasota is the best place to retire in the U.S., according to an analysis by John Brady of TopRetirements.com. This town of 52,000 on Florida’s Gulf Coast — home to the Ringling Museum of Art and boasting many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places — is said to be the cultural capital of the Sunshine State. Plus, the economics of living here are attractive. Median home prices, at $130,000, are well below the national average, and property taxes — about $1,800 for the average home — are reasonable. Plus, there’s no income tax in Florida. And it’s hard to beat the location. Sarasota, surrounded on most sides by water, is tropical and offers warm winters. On the downside, the crime rate in Sarasota is higher than the national average; there are a lot of tourists and traffic in the winter; the summers are hot; and the unemployment rate is 9.8%, versus 8.3% for the U.S. Pictured at left: Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art is housed in a Venetian Gothic mansion bequeathed to the people of Florida by John Ringling, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
2. San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas — improbable as it might seem — tied Sarasota for being the best place to live. But John Brady of TopRetirements.com broke the tie based on Sarasota’s overall popularity among retirees. Still, San Antonio, a city of 1.3 million people near the center of Texas, has plenty to offer, including a warm climate. Home prices, at $156,000, are below the national average, as is the cost of living. There’s no state income tax; the unemployment rate, at 6.8%, is lower than the national average; and there’s plenty to do, including Paseo del Rio (the River Walk), SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme parks, and of course the Alamo. Plus, San Antonio — home to Fort Sam Houston, Lackland Air Force Base, Randolph Air Force Base and Brooks City-Base — is a great place for military retirees, Brady said. Among the negatives: The crime rate is higher than the national average, summers are hot, and the city can get crowded. Some 20 million tourists visit San Antonio each year. Plus, its “walkability” average is not as high as some communities on this list, Brady said. Pictured at left: San Antonio’s River Walk entertainment district.
3. Naples, Fla.
Naples has plenty to offer retirees, especially the more well-to-do. This city of just 21,000 is a place for people who want to live in a more affluent and sophisticated community. “There is a wealthy aura to it, with a downtown featuring high-end shops, luxury hotels, great restaurants and a vibrant arts scene,” Brady said. Among the positives: It’s an extremely walkable place to live; you can easily walk from downtown to the beach through lovely neighborhoods. Plus, the crime rate is well below the national average. And Naples claims it has more golf holes per capita than any other town in the country. Plus, there’s access to world-class health-care facilities. On the downside, home prices, at about $250,000, are higher than the national average, though, as Brady noted, that’s half what homes cost in Naples five years ago. Also, there’s no college nearby, and those who lean left politically might be in the minority. Lastly, summers here are oppressively hot and humid, traffic is intense and only going to get worse, and everyone seems rich (the median income is $65,010, which is $20,274 more than the median for Florida). Pictured at left: Colorful apartments and shops in downtown Naples.
4. Tucson, Ariz.
The University of Arizona has a big presence in Tucson, making this city of more than 500,000 people a great college town, Brady said. Plus, there is the beautiful desert for outdoor recreation and scenery, along with the warmest winters in Arizona (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit on average in January). And home prices, at a median $131,000, are well below the national average. The cost of living in Tucson is 5% less than the national average, according to AreaVibes. And last but not least, there are ample and very sophisticated health-care choices, said Brady. In fact, Austin, Texas, Fort Myers, Fla., and Tucson are the best places for retirees based solely on access to high-quality health care, he said. What’s not so good about Tucson? The crime rate, walkability, and income taxes for seniors are worse than average. Pictured at left: Downtown Tucson.
5. Asheville, N.C.
If “best places to retire” were judged solely by reputation, Asheville would win every time. “Asheville has the best reputation as a retirement destination,” Brady said. And with good reason. This city of 84,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina has perfect year-round weather and the best climate of the top 10 places to retire; the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement (housed at the University of North Carolina at Asheville); an interesting downtown that includes the world-famous Biltmore Estate; and a large number of retirement-focused communities and neighborhoods. “It’s retirement-centric without being old,” said Brady. But Asheville loses ground when other factors are included in the equation. Yes, it’s still a great place to retire, but North Carolina is not as friendly a tax state for retirees. And housing is a tad more expensive than other towns and cities on this best-places list; the median price of a home is $180,000. Plus, the violent crime rate in Asheville is 14% greater than the North Carolina average and 79% greater than the national average, according to AreaVibes. Pictured at left: Autumn in Asheville.
6. Beaufort, S.C.
Beaufort, a city of just 12,000, is described by Brady as a “big retirement destination,” especially for those who like charm, history and golf (you won’t be far from Hilton Head). According to Brady, 304 acres of this charming town in South Carolina’s Low Country have been designated a National Historic Landmark. Plus, Beaufort has a diverse economy — the University of South Carolina has a branch here. Another advantage: South Carolina is an income-tax-friendly state for retirees. Of course, there are some blemishes: Overall, the crime index for Beaufort is 37% greater than the South Carolina average, according to AreaVibes. And if you fancy living in a big city, this might not be the place for you; it is a small town. (It was once named the “Best Small Southern Town” by Southern Living magazine.) “People looking for urban excitement might find this golf- and boating-oriented area boring after a while,” Brady said. Plus, the median home sells for $185,000, higher than the national median of $166,200 in 2011, according to National Association of Realtors data. And for health care, you might have to travel to Savannah or Charleston, Brady said. Pictured at left: A mansion in the historic district of Beaufort, S.C.
7. St. Augustine, Fla.
St. Augustine, a city of 13,000 in the northeast section of Florida, has a history dating back to the 1560s and plenty to offer retirees, according to Brady. It has beaches, museums, Flagler College, proximity to Jacksonville for health care and culture, and inexpensive housing at a median cost of $120,000. Plus, Florida doesn’t tax income, and the cost of living here is 10% less than the national average, according to AreaVibes. But, and there’s always that but, it’s a relatively small town with few retirement-job or adult-education opportunities, he said. And there is that occasional tropical storm and hurricane. St. Augustine gets brushed every 2.15 years by a tropical storm, and hit directly by a hurricane once every 13 years or so. Pictured at left: Built in 1888 as the Ponce de Leon luxury hotel, this building complex is now Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla.
8. Fort Myers, Fla.
Fort Myers, a city of 63,000 located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on southwest Florida’s coast, just might be the place for you if you like golfing, boating, fishing — and watching the Boston Red Sox during spring training. The area has barrier islands like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, and Captiva for great beaching, said Brady. And the cost of living in Fort Myers is 5% less than the national average, according to AreaVibes. Housing is inexpensive with a median home price of $108,000. Property taxes are low — under $2,000 for the average home. Plus, Florida doesn’t tax income. There’s also plenty of culture with theaters downtown and the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. And every medical specialty is well represented, Brady said. Negatives? Suburban sprawl, traffic and crime. Pictured at left: Fort Myers Beach, Fla., an island of white-sand beaches that offers fishing, sailing and other recreational pursuits, is not far from Fort Myers.
9. Venice, Fla.
Venice, Fla., was one of the first planned retirement communities, built in 1925 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, according to Brady. There’s much to like about this city of 21,000 people located south of Sarasota on the Gulf of Mexico. The downtown is charming, complete with a library and parks. There are plenty of active adult communities, many of which are built around golf courses. The median home price is about $135,000. Taxes are low, and so is the crime rate. It’s similar to Naples, Fla., but less crowded and expensive, according Brady. Drawbacks are walkability, if you don’t live downtown, and the fact that the older population might be off-putting to younger retirees. (The average age is 68.8.) And there’s a lack of diversity. This is not a college town, unlike some others on our list. Plus, hurricanes are always a negative for those who live in Florida. Pictured at left: Aerial view of the Venice Jetties.
10. Prescott, Ariz.
Prescott, a city of 40,000 people located in the mountains of north central Arizona, is an old western town that has managed to propel itself into a top retirement destination, Brady said. Prescott boasts an interesting downtown, plus there are a couple of small colleges and adult-education opportunities. Negatives include above-average housing prices (the median is $200,000); a state income and sales tax — though property taxes are lower than in other states; limited health-care choices and limited employment opportunities compared to the larger cities on the list. Pictured at left: Granite Dells, near Prescott, Ariz.
To develop this list of 10 best places to retire, Brady started with the top 20 towns from TopRetirements.com’s 100 best retirement towns list. Then he analyzed and compared those towns and cities using 12 different retirement criteria, applying one point if the city/town was above average for that characteristic, and deducting one point or more if it was below average. For example, housing prices in San Diego and Sedona are more than twice as expensive as the national average, so Brady penalized those towns two points. These are the criteria used: “wow” factor, college town, large number of active adult communities, adult education/cultural opportunities, retiree income-tax rate, property tax, climate, cost of housing, crime, health-care options and walkability/attractiveness of downtown.