10 Best Places to Retire in the U.S. – Cities & States
Four million Baby Boomers retire each year, and with this retirement comes newfound freedom. No longer tied to a particular place due to work or children, many retirees choose to relocate to an area with lower taxes, better health care, or more cultural opportunities. A strong local economy is also a deciding factor since many people choose to continue working after retirement.
Which place will best suit you and enable you to enjoy a comfortable and happy retirement? Let’s take a look at the top 10 U.S. cities to retire in, and what each one has to offer for this next phase of your life.
Following is a diverse mix of retiree-friendly places — some large cities, some small towns, some with a great arts scene, some that are a nature lover’s paradise. While there’s something for everyone here, keep in mind that no place is perfect. Every city has its benefits and drawbacks; the key is finding a place that best aligns with your goals and needs.
Galveston is a laid-back coastal town located on the Gulf south of Houston. It has a population of close to 50,000.
One of the reasons Galveston attracts retirees is its affordability. It has an abundance of inexpensive Victorian homes and condos for sale, and the regular stream of tourists means part-time jobs are always available. Texas also has no income tax or estate tax.
Galveston offers plenty of cultural opportunities, from a symphony and ballet company to a thriving art scene with plenty of galleries. The city also supports three visual artists each year through the Galveston Artist Residency. Since Galveston is a popular vacation spot, there are always festivals and cultural events, including an art walk held every six weeks throughout the year.
Galveston is home to some of the largest teaching hospitals in the state. The University of Texas Medical Branch has over 600 hospital beds and provides excellent care. If you need specialized care and can’t find it in Galveston, Houston is a 45-minute drive away.
South Texas has very hot, humid summers. Temperatures are often above 90 degrees with high humidity, which makes it feel even hotter. That means higher utility bills since your air conditioning is running at least six months a year.
Galveston is at risk for hurricanes. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused over $27 billion in damage, and the city was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
There’s also a higher risk of crime in Galveston. It receives a “C” rating for crime and safety from Niche.com based on the number of violent and property crimes in the area.
Alternative: Texas is consistently ranked as a great state to retire in, so if you want to avoid some of the heat and hurricane threats, you might consider going inland. Texas Hill Country (located where West, Central, and South Texas meet) has a number of towns, such as Fredericksburg, with a low cost of living, high senior population, and low crime rate.
Lincoln is located in the southeast corner of Nebraska and has a population of over 280,000. Retiring in Nebraska might not seem like an obvious choice, but Lincoln has a lot to offer retirees.
Lincoln is surprisingly diverse. In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of State designated Lincoln as a “Refugee Friendly” city, and since then, scores of immigrants have chosen to call Lincoln home. The city is now the 12th-largest resettlement city in the country. This diversity means the community has plenty of ethnic restaurants and vibrant neighborhoods.
Lincoln’s economy is growing. Several new hospitals have opened, and there are nine colleges and universities located within the city. The largest, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has almost 20,000 undergraduates. Lincoln’s “college town” atmosphere means that there are lots of intellectual and cultural opportunities throughout the year. The city is home to a large number of startups and entrepreneurs, which helps drive job growth.
Lincoln also has a lot to offer nature lovers, with 6,500 acres of parks and more than 130 miles of hiking and biking trails. It gets an “A” from Niche.com for its number of health and fitness opportunities. The city also has several great dog parks.
Nebraska collects income tax, which can be as high as 6.84% if you’re married filing jointly, so you won’t get a financial break by moving here. For many retirees, that might be a dealbreaker.
Another downside is the climate. Although Nebraska is pleasant in the spring, summer, and fall, severe thunderstorms occur regularly and often produce tornadoes. Winters are cold, and Lincoln typically sees around 25 inches of snow per year with a possibility of blizzards.
Alternative: If you want to stay in the heartland but avoid some of the bitter winter weather, Springfield, Missouri might be a good option for you. Springfield’s population is just over 160,000, and the cost of living is 16% below the national average. Home prices in Springfield are very affordable compared to other cities.
Clemson is located in the northwest corner of South Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has a population of 16,000.
Clemson offers a small-town atmosphere and relatively low cost of living. You can find a good three-bedroom ranch home here for $150,000 and up.
Clemson University, which enrolls around 18,000 students, is right in town. If you love watching college football, this is the place for you. There’s an energetic and passionate football culture, and over 80,000 fans crowd Clemson Memorial Stadium during home games to cheer on the Tigers.
The university also ensures that there are ample cultural events and intellectual opportunities throughout the year. Residents are highly educated; almost 40% have a master’s degree or higher, and close to 25% have a bachelor’s degree.
Clemson’s climate is humid subtropical. Summer temperatures typically climb well past 90 degrees with high humidity, and winters are very mild, generally getting no colder than the low 50s.
South Carolina does not tax Social Security income, but it does tax other retirement income, such as IRA distributions and military retirement. However, there is a $15,000 deduction per spouse starting at age 65.
One of the biggest downsides of Clemson for retirees is its lack of a hospital. The Oconee Medical Campus in Seneca is about eight miles away, and about 40 miles away, Greenville has several hospitals. Military veterans will have to drive to Asheville, North Carolina, about 65 miles away, to visit a VA hospital.
Alternative: If the lack of a hospital is a dealbreaker for you, Asheville might be an appealing alternative. The cost of living here is higher than the national average, but the city ranks third in the nation for its number of breweries, and it offers an array of diverse restaurants and shops.
Colorado Springs consistently makes the lists of great places to retire. The city is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. With an elevation just over 6,000 feet, it sits in the shadow of Pikes Peak, one of the country’s most famous mountains. The Rocky Mountains spread out west of the city and provide an incredible backdrop every time you walk out the door. Colorado Springs has over 9,000 acres of parkland and 160 miles of trails, and there are numerous parks just outside the city, including the Garden of the Gods.
Colorado Springs is known as “Olympic City” because of its athlete population and plethora of training grounds. It’s home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Headquarters, over 20 National Olympic Governing Bodies, and the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. The culture of athletic excellence permeates the city and inspires many retirees to keep active. It’s considered by many to be one of the healthiest places to live in the United States.
Colorado Springs has a thriving cultural and arts scene. There are over 50 public art installations around town and numerous galleries and exhibitions throughout the year. The Creative Vitality Index (CVI) for Colorado Springs is almost six times the national average, and it’s on the rise as more artists, galleries, and creative spaces move into the area.
Colorado Springs is also a military town and home to several military bases and the U.S. Air Force Academy. If you’re a military veteran, you’ll find plenty of services and support here.
Colorado’s income tax is 4.63%, and while it does tax retirement income, it offers tax exclusions on retirement income for residents 55 and older.
Colorado Springs’ appeal does come with a cost. Housing prices are continually going up; however, the cost of living in Colorado Springs is significantly less than in Denver, which is just an hour away.
Alternative: If you feel pulled to retire in the West but can’t swing the high cost of living common in most of Colorado’s metro areas, you might want to consider Salt Lake City, Utah. Salt Lake City made Kiplinger’s “10 Great Places to Retire in 2015” due to its stunning beauty, walkable downtown, and top-notch hospitals. Housing prices are on the rise here too, but they’re more affordable than Colorado Springs.
Athens is located in the northeast corner of Georgia about an hour from Atlanta and has a population of 120,000. Almost one-third of its residents are students at the University of Georgia.
The University of Georgia is a significant factor in Athens’ desirability as a retirement choice. It’s Athens’ biggest employer and the reason the city has a low 6.8% unemployment rate.
The college atmosphere is also a source of diversity and creative energy. Public art is everywhere, and there are plenty of galleries and creative spaces displaying original work. The celebrated Classic Center Theatre hosts a wide variety of events, from community forums to world-renowned artists like Tony Bennett. There’s always something to do in Athens, with shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs lining downtown streets. Athens also has one of the best music scenes in the country.
Athens has several large hospitals, including a long-term acute care facility, and you can find any other specialized care you might need in nearby Atlanta.
Georgia is a tax-friendly state for retirees. Social Security is exempt from taxation, and the state exempts up to $35,000 of other types of retirement income for those aged 62 to 64. This exemption rises to $65,000 for those aged 65 and older. There is no estate or inheritance tax, and the cost of living is 8% below the national average.
Athens’ climate is humid subtropical, which means hot summers typically above 90 degrees and high humidity.
Crime, especially theft, is also a problem, and there are fewer doctors per person than in other retirement-friendly cities.
Alternative: If you like the appeal of Athens but feel turned off by the hot climate, you might consider Portland, Oregon. Portland often makes the top lists for cool places to retire and, like Athens, it has a diverse and thriving music and arts scene. The World Health Organization selected Portland as one of its first “age-friendly” cities due to its government policies aimed at making the city friendly to all groups.
Bethlehem is located in Eastern Pennsylvania, 75 miles north of Philadelphia. It has a population of around 75,000.
Bethlehem is another city that might not seem like an obvious choice for retirees, but therein lies part of its charm. This rugged former steel town is experiencing a cultural and economic resurgence, and its low cost of living — 6% below the national average — makes it worth a look.
Downtown Bethlehem has all of the charms of many Northeast and Midwest small towns. It’s highly walkable and has a number of eclectic restaurants and shops to explore. Its many cycling and pedestrian paths make it easy to get around without a car. If you crave the occasional big-city getaway, New York City is just over an hour’s drive away.
Health care is thriving in Bethlehem. St. Luke’s University Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center in nearby Fountain Hill, has been recognized as one of the nation’s best cardiovascular hospitals, and there are a sufficient number of doctors per person for the area.
Another advantage is that Pennsylvania doesn’t tax Social Security income or other retirement income of any kind.
Bethlehem has cold winters; January has an average high of 36 degrees and an average low of 19 degrees. While precipitation falls fairly evenly throughout the year, the city can still be hit by severe blizzards in winter.
Alternative: A warmer option is Winchester, Virginia, just over three hours south of Bethlehem and one and a half hours west of Washington, D.C. Winchester is an appealing alternative due to the highly rated Winchester Medical Center. The city has a charming historic downtown and is steeped in American history (George Washington originally surveyed the area before the city was founded). The climate is more hospitable than Bethlehem; residents get all four seasons, but winters aren’t as severe as they are in Pennsylvania.
Brevard is a small town located in Western North Carolina 35 miles south of Asheville. It has a population of around 8,000.
Like Colorado Springs, Brevard is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s located in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains and is nicknamed “The Land of Waterfalls” for its proximity to 250 of them.
Brevard is on the edge of Pisgah National Forest and DuPont National Forest, both of which offer hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails. Jocassee Gorges, which is 20 miles from Brevard and spans the borders of North and South Carolina, was ranked No. 9 in National Geographic’s “50 of the World’s Last Great Places.”
Brevard’s small downtown is charming, safe, and friendly, and the city hosts several music festivals and three cycling events each year. It’s one of those towns where everyone knows everyone, so you really have a chance to get to know your neighbors.
The cost of living in Brevard is right at the national average, and North Carolina does not tax Social Security income. There is also no inheritance or estate tax.
Brevard College, which has nationally recognized music and environmental programs, is located here, along with Brevard Music Center, a prestigious summer teaching and performance institution. The Music Center hosts over 80 public concerts during the summer months, giving locals plenty of exposure to classical music.
Brevard has an above-average number of doctors per capita, but while the Transylvania Regional Hospital is right in town, it’s a small facility. If you need specialized care, you’ll likely have to drive to Asheville’s Mission Hospital.
If you’re not into the outdoors, and you’re not interested in classical music or opera, you might find yourself struggling to find things to do in Brevard. While there are plenty of volunteer opportunities and a high rate of volunteerism among residents, Brevard’s small-town atmosphere might be a little too small for some people.
Alternative: Another option to consider is Hendersonville, North Carolina, located 20 miles east of Brevard. Hendersonville made USA Today’s “5 Great (and Unknown) Places to Retire” due to its retiree-friendly atmosphere. Hendersonville is a bigger city with more doctors, shops, and retirement communities. It’s also the smallest city in the United States with its own orchestra.
Chattanooga is located in Southeastern Tennessee and has a population of around 173,000.
Chattanooga is a laid-back, midsized city, which means there’s plenty to do without having to deal with the stress, crowds, and hassle of larger cities like Atlanta and Nashville (which are each two hours away, if you’d like to visit).
Chattanooga is often ranked as one of the nation’s best towns — and not just for retirees. Outside Magazine twice named it the “Best Town Ever,” and Frommer’s included Chattanooga’s artist and farmers’ market on its list of “America’s Best Public Markets.”
The city itself is beautiful, with the Tennessee River running right through its heart. There are plenty of music, artistic, and cultural opportunities, and the city hosts several festivals throughout the year. Many retirees choose to live downtown, which is highly walkable and always offers something to do, from record stores to coffee shops to brewpubs.
Another perk of Chattanooga is its incredibly fast Internet, called The Gig. A one-gigabyte per second fiber optic service, it’s 50 times faster than the Internet service in most of the rest of the world. It’s owned by residents and available to everyone at an affordable price. The Gig not only makes movie downloads a breeze, it has also been a huge driver for the economy, luring in lots of new businesses and tech startups.
Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State,” and retirees can easily find plenty of ways to get involved in the community. It’s also a financially friendly state for retirees; there is no income tax or estate tax, and it’s slowly eliminating its tax on dividends. The high sales tax of 9.25% compensates for some of this.
Like any midsized city, Chattanooga struggles with crime. Theft and property crime are particular problems in some areas, so you’ll want to keep this in mind when house shopping.
Alternative: Another option to consider is Columbia, Missouri. Columbia regularly makes the lists of the best places to live in America. There are several colleges located within the city limits, and one of these, Stephen’s College, is the second-oldest women’s college in the United States. There are also plenty of bookstores and galleries and a lower cost of living than in Chattanooga.
Boise is located in Southwestern Idaho and has a population of around 220,000. Boise is similar to Chattanooga in that it’s a midsized, outdoor-oriented town with a lot going for it.
Boise’s downtown is thriving and vibrant, with lots of restaurants, cafes, and brewpubs. Residents are madly in love with their town; visit any online forum for Boise, and you’ll find plenty of people ready and willing to talk about their city and the kindness of their neighbors. People who move here often stay for good.
The city is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. It has over 190 miles of trails, which means there are plenty of opportunities to stay active. Esther Simplot Park, a 55-acre waterfront park, is a beautiful little oasis right in the heart of the city. Although the city itself isn’t considered highly walkable, many of its older neighborhoods are.
The North End is one such neighborhood. Known for its artistic community and home to many of Boise’s historic houses, this diverse and eclectic neighborhood is highly walkable, and its residents get involved in community projects, neighborhood “nights out,” and other community events.
For its size, Boise is a surprisingly safe city. Farmer’s Insurance ranked Boise No. 11 on their list of the most secure places to live in the United States, and Idaho has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
Boise’s cost of living is higher than the national average, and its home prices continue to rise as the city becomes more popular. The winters can be quite cold, with an average snowfall of 31 inches per year.
Alternative: If you love the idea of retiring out West but want a milder climate, you might want to consider Henderson, Nevada. Henderson is 16 miles outside of Las Vegas and boasts a mild climate, low cost of living, and low crime rate. Nevada is also a tax-friendly state for retirees, with no state tax on retirement income.
Iowa City is located in Southeastern Iowa and has a population of around 75,000.
Iowa City scored the top spot on The Milken Institute’s “Best Cities for Successful Aging” based on factors including general livability, health care, wellness, employment, transportation, and education.
Iowa City is also renowned for its writing scene. It’s a UNESCO City of Literature — the only one in North America — in large part because the famed University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop is here. The Workshop has graduated 17 Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and six U.S. poets laureate.
Most authors put Iowa City on their book tour list, and every fall the Iowa City Book Festival celebrates books, writers, and the love of literature. If your goal is to write the next great American novel when you retire, you’ll find plenty of bookstores, writing groups, and independent workshops to guide and inspire you.
The University of Iowa also keeps downtown lively and entertaining. Enrollment hovers around 33,000, and since it’s a Big Ten school, football weekends are always exciting and fun.
Iowa has a steep state income tax. However, there is no tax on Social Security or other retirement benefits.
Iowa City has cold winters. Blizzards can roar through, dropping several inches — or several feet — of snow. Summer thunderstorms are also a threat as they can spawn tornadoes.
Alternative: If you like the idea of retiring in the heartland but are turned off by the bitter winters of the North, consider Overland Park, Kansas. Overland Park made Forbes’ “25 Top Suburbs for Retirement” list in 2015, and the city of 175,000 has a low cost of living, milder climate, four hospitals, and is a short drive to Kansas City.
Deciding where you should retire is an enormous task that requires weighing several important factors, such as tax liability, climate, family connections, health care, and education and employment opportunities.
Whatever your needs and preferences, there’s an option out there for you. If none of the places on this list catch your fancy, there are many other retiree-friendly cities, including Hollywood, Florida; Sedona, Arizona; Reno, Nevada; and Thousand Oaks, California.
If you’re retired, where did you decide to settle down? If you’re about to retire and considering a move, which cities are on your short list?
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they’re often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.
10 Best Places to Retire in the U.S. – Cities & States
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