10 Great Retirement Towns Where You Don’t Need a Car

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

March 14, 2017 — Think how great it would be if you could retire to a place where you didn’t have to own a car. You wouldn’t have to climb in your vehicle, fight traffic down busy streets, or hunt endlessly for a parking place every time you wanted to go someplace. Here are 10 retirement towns where you can trade your car for a bike, golf cart, public transit, or – best of all – your own two feet.

In this search we are not mentioning the largest American cities, where having a car is more of a burden than a blessing. For example in New York City, where a surprising percentage or residents don’t even have a drivers license, you can easily pay $500/month just to garage your car. In Gotham you can almost always get there faster on a subway, bus, taxi, Uber, or by walking. Instead, we will focus on smaller and mid-sized cities and larger towns. Smaller towns should have an edge in this regard – most should be good “carless” opportunities.

A bit about how we came up with these towns. WalkScore.com, has a proprietary method of rating the walkability of a given town, and which lets you compare other towns. One thing to realize is that even in a city some neighborhoods will be more walkable and/or easier to do without a car than others. Normally that means the downtown area. Our primary requirements for a place to retire where you don’t need a car are: easy access to grocery stores, restaurants, parks, medical offices, recreation, and shops – without needing a car. If you have to drive to do the tasks of daily life, it shouldn’t be on our list. Ideally the town has public transport of some type. If not, there are plenty of bike lanes, golf cart-only lanes, and safe sidewalks and crosswalks. For those occasional times when you do need a car for a big shopping trip or visit out of range, now you can use services like Uber, Lyft, and Zip car instead of the expense and hassle of owning one. Naturally, we hope our members will contribute their “carless” suggestions in the Comments section below.

Here are some of our favorite cities where you can retire and don’t need a car:

St. Petersburg, Florida. The downtown and close in neighborhoods of this old city on a peninsula on Florida’s West Coast have very high scores for walkability and biking. The city has a very active cultural life downtown that is easy to get to. This is a mid-sized city (population 300,000) with the resources of a much large metropolis. Crescent Lake is the second most walkable neighborhood in St. Pete.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California The downtown area is particularly suited for not owning a car (Walk Score™ of 97). There are plenty of neighborhoods radiating off of State Street with its shops and restaurants. The beach is at the end of the road and there are many parks and museums. The city is rated very high for biking suitability. Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) provides local bus service and there is rail service.

Golf cart path at Peachtree City

Peachtree City, Georgia is a planned community about 25 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia. Although it is famous for its golf cart oriented transportation system, it is not a 55+ community – it is for people of all ages – the median age is 37.5. You probably can’t walk to too many places nor take public transportation, but you sure can get about anywhere in your golf cart!

Lincoln, Nebraska. This beautiful mid-western college town was named by Livability.com as having one of the nation’s 10 best downtowns. Outside of downtown it is not that walkable, so that if going without a car is your goal, don’t go to the suburbs. The downtown has a Walk Score of 78. The city has historic buildings, wide streets, and plenty of bars, restaurants and shops. The historic Haymarket near the University of Nebraska is Lincoln’s entertainment district, which is tucked into a cluster of renovated brick warehouses. The University of Nebraska adds plenty of youthful zip.

Three Rivers in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA (livability) is another mid-sized city with many different neighborhoods where it is not necessary to own a car. The downtown (8,000 residents) and areas like affluent Shadyside are extremely walkable. Some raters ding it for not having many bike lanes, and of course there are plenty of hills to climb too. But if you live close to downtown you can walk or take public transport including light rail to get anywhere, including a Steelers or Pirates game on the North Shore. Several universities and colleges are in town, including Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. At the place downtown where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers combine to form the Ohio you will find Point State Park, an expansive 36-acre place to recreate. Home prices are well below the national median.

Somerville, MA. Located between Cambridge and the Mystic River just outside Boston, this town of 75,000 folks has a great Walk Score of 86. The town features several squares which in turn have become mini commercial centers. Residents can use the ample sidewalks and bike paths to access the plentiful restaurants, bars and boutiques in Somerville.

Portland, OR. Walk Score says the Portland, ““The City of Roses”, might be the best bike/walk/public transport city on the west coast. It has almost 270 miles of street lanes and paths, set-off with nonskid paint, plus 227 parks. About 558,000 people live in Portland proper.

Grand Rapids, Michigan. Forbes listed this bustling city as a place where a car is not needed. There is an exceptionally strong cultural presence with museums like the Van Andel Museum Center, along with theatres including the Civic Theatre and the Wealthy Street Theatre. The Heritage Hill residential district is unusually large with over 1000 Victorian homes.

Burlington, Vermont This beautiful college town (University of Vermont) is perched on the shores of Lake Champlain. It has a population 42,000 and is rated one of the best walkable towns anywhere.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We admit we were a little surprised to see this city on the Forbes list. Yet when you realize it has a concentrated downtown, public water taxis, and rail to neighboring towns, it makes sense. Not to mention its fabulous beaches. Many residents use their boats to get around town!

Bottom line: There are many cities and towns where you do not have to be a captive to your car. If that resonates with you, check out some of these possibilities.

Comments? Do you have a suggestion for a city or town where you could live without owning a car? What is your favorite way to get around town? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Livability’s Top 10 Downtowns
Forbes: 25 Great Places to Live Without a Car




Posted by Admin on March 14th, 2017

35 Comments »

  1. New Paltz, NY

    A hidden gem in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, 5 miles from the Hudson River.

    by Bill Mennenga — March 15, 2017

  2. Love the Hudson Valley. Just wish the RE taxes and cost of living in NY was lower.

    by Staci — March 15, 2017

  3. We live in Wilmington, DE which is in the Brandywine Valley area of DE and PA. We can walk to all we need and there is a good city bus for anything a bit further and a train for getting to Philadelphia (40 min), NYC or D.C. (both 2 hours).

    by Sally — March 15, 2017

  4. Sally,

    What do you think are the good neighborhoods in Wilmington. I’ve been looking at DE for a while but think Sussex Co. is kind of isolated. Thanks

    by Shumidog — March 16, 2017

  5. You can walk anywhere you need in Wilmington? That is a wonderful change from when I lived in Newark and worked in Wilmington many years ago. I am glad to hear that. Change for the better is wonderful. There are so many things to see and do in the area and the countryside is beautiful. History is all around you. And the beach is only a couple or 3 hourss away. The train can take you to Philly or to Washington D.C. Not a bad choice. Assume it is still humid in the summer.

    by Carol Dugan — March 16, 2017

  6. I lived in the Mid-Hudson Valley for 38 years. Definitely NOT walkable. I worked in New Paltz for the last few of those years. While the town is walkable, traffic going in and out is always really bad. Also, sorry Bill, New Paltz is NOT in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains! It would be nice, though!

    by ella — March 16, 2017

  7. IMHO New Paltz is close enough to some mountain ranges — the “Gunks”, to be considered the foothills of the Catskills.

    by Staci — March 17, 2017

  8. I’ve lived in NYC and NJ all my life but want to move to a warmer climate with an easier lifestyle yet is interesting and safe. My great aunt warned me years ago “don’t wait too long.” I have! So like a friend, your comments and opinions have painted a picture that eased my choices. Thanks,
    Elena, March 19, 2016

    by Elena Johnson — March 18, 2017

  9. Staci,
    I don’t mean to argue, but the Gunks are not the Catskills or even their little cousins. Very nice hiking and climbing, though (Minnewaska State Park).

    by ella — March 18, 2017

  10. Interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/25/nyregion/after-years-much-of-the-gunks-is-protected.html

    by Louise — March 19, 2017

  11. Most cities in Europe are pleasant and enjoyable to live in and the ability to get around is astounding. It is clear that Europeans had the people in mind when they construct railways to get your most anywhere in Europe you care to go at a reasonable price.

    Even airlines are clustering making it more and more difficult to go from one place to the next without having to stop at least once on the way.
    Our government has been to focused on supporting big business at the cost of its citizens. Every town should have a plan that will lead to easy walking, easy car free travel and trains to easily and efficiently get you from point A to point B.

    by Ron — March 19, 2017

  12. Ron…..
    Our individual States are larger than most of the European countries. Their rail lines have existed for a very long time. It’s a very capricious comparison.

    by Caps — March 19, 2017

  13. I used to love to drive but highway driving now freaks me out. The high speeds people go, the people who insist they have to go in and out of every space they can find and jerk in and out of traffic, trucks bearing down and tail gaters make me terrified. My hub needed surgery last year and located in another city in our state. The traffic was unbearable and I decided when he had the surgery I would hire a limo company to take us to the hospital. I stayed overnight in a hotel, he was released the next day and the limo company picked us up and took us home. I was still very anxious riding in the car. Even the driver admitted that the traffic was horrendous! Public transportation sounds really, really good to me! Anywhere in South Carolina or Georgia with good public transportation? I live in a town with only a bus service and I would have to drive my car to a commuter parking lot to catch the bus. It takes probably an hour and a half to go 20 miles one way. Not very efficient.

    by Louise — March 20, 2017

  14. Here are a few of my favorites:
    Doylestown, Bucks Co. PA
    Pros: Historic Downtown, 3 Museums, parks, in town movie theatre, lots of shops and restaurants, great hospital, train and bus service to Philadelphia and NYC, Low cost local shuttle throughout the town and to several shopping centers on the outskirts of town.
    Cons: In town single family housing is super expensive, but there are some townhome complexes to buy and rental apartments. Some areas can be hilly, but my 60+ body can manage. Grocery type shopping “in town” can be somewhat limited depending on your location, but bus/shuttle service is available.

    St. Michaels, MD, Chesapeake Bay, Eastern Shore
    Pros: Attractive historic town on the water, Great Maritime Museum, parks and walking trails, lots of restaurants and shops, good farmers market, in town grocery stores.
    Cons: Tourist destination, traffic and crowding can be problematic at times, available but limited public transportation. Some pricey real estate.

    by Staci — March 20, 2017

  15. Portland Oregon has the best mass transit system that I have seen. They even have train systems that will take you to the city center from 30 miles out. I lived without a car while living there for 8 yrs…

    by lela1955 — March 20, 2017

  16. Trains are incredibly expensive to build and maintain. Someone has to decide where they will be located, and, no matter what, they will not go everywhere that everyone wants to go. In cities that have spent huge sums of money to build light rail, ridership somehow rarely lives up to expectations.
    Small bus routes are a simpler solution to mass transit, than can easily adapt to changing settlement patterns.
    AMericans like the freedom of driving, they can go wherever, whenever they like. Europeans seem to be more easily regimented.

    by Sandie — March 21, 2017

  17. Many people depend in light rail getting to work everday. I lived in Portland and San Diego and thoroughly enjoyed how relaxing and scenic it was.

    by lela1955 — March 21, 2017

  18. From my observations, if you can live within three blocks or so of a reasonable-sized grocery store with a pharmacy, you may be in pretty good shape for living without a car. Or even if it doesn’t have a pharmacy, these days there’s usually a Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid not far from a supermarket (Chain drug stores seem to go up everywhere.) If you’re a reader, living within walking distance of a library is a boon. Uber and Lyft car services are available in a lot of places and they’re not usually exorbitant. Lots of places (groceries, restaurants, Amazon, etc.) are offering delivery services that are fairly quick and getting less expensive for delivery charges. Amazon now offers same day delivery in some large cities and they’re trying to expand that to more places. So as delivery methods become more efficient and sophisticated, it may become that much easier to live without a car.

    by Clyde — March 21, 2017

  19. Exactly Clyde. I do most of my shopping online through walmart and amazon, and use online grocery shopping through Safeway. I always use their free shipping or delivery. If not, you can always take the bus one way to the store and take a cab home …..

    by lela1955 — March 22, 2017

  20. In Washington, DC we have Peapod which delivers groceries through our local Giant Grocery Store. Safeway in Georgetown delivers –Instacart (available via phone app) goes to Safeway, Costco, MOM’s and other stores for a reasonable fee groceries can be delivered. I like to use these for the heavy items. We have lots of farmer’s markets within walking distance as well as pharmacies nearby for lighter items. A car has become an expensive luxury for me since I can use these other options, plus we have Uber and Lyft, the bus, and cabs. The options for having Costco deliver as well as Amazon are great! The only people who have a problem with these options are elderly people who refuse to learn to use the Internet., or perhaps cannot use it.

    by Jennifer — March 22, 2017

  21. I also use Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Chewy (for my dogs), Jet and recently bought some athletic shoes thru Easy Spirit. I order certain things like my Dogs shampoo and conditioner from Ebay. I have tried to shop local, but what I used to be able to buy local they don’t always carry or have in stock. I get totally annoyed driving from store to store to not find what I want. So, I have resorted to on line shopping. I always try to get free delivery and if I am very close to free delivery but need to spend a few dollars more I have resorted to buying a can or two of tuna fish! I will eat it and it gets me to the dollar amount to get free shipping! I have also shopped with Peapod and they deliver groceries. We need water for our coffeemaker due to our extreme hard water which ruins all appliances that need water. I will order 20 gallons of water at a time thru Peapod and how great to have them lug the water to my house! If you have other resources for ordering, let us know. QVC is a good place to get bargain offers too.

    by Louise — March 22, 2017

  22. Can anyone suggest a place in South Carolina that is a little bit country and a little bit Cultured? I know this may sound dumb, however, the area around Charlotte is much to built up commercial and very if any parks and recreation sites especially for the retired person!
    Greenville is much that same! The boom from the 80’s when the tire companies moved in have created a mess both in traffic and isolated “communities”
    Hilton Head are is nice but just a little to much New York New Jersey atmosphere for me.

    Is there any areas around Columbia, or other more Southern towns in SC that aren’t either too much city or too much country?
    Hope I made my point… Not sure.

    by Ron — March 22, 2017

  23. Sandie!

    We already have miles and miles of train tracks around this country! At one time that was the main way to travel! I am not talking about local commuter trains like you find in cities but real trains that ride on existing tracks that already exist!

    I am afraid the lobbyist for oil companies and car companies have blocked these attempts. Their is a great rail line in Florida that connects Miami with Palm beach and I’ll bet not many people even know it exists.

    Their is train service in America but is it ridiculously unreliable, expensive and slow! Time to join the other world nations and begin to think to the future when we stop burning fossil fuel because that time is coming.

    by Ron — March 22, 2017

  24. CAPS,

    You are correct however that should not be an issue since train travel was here far earlier than automobiles. I believe we have been duped by the big corporations and oil companies. However with dwindling supplies of both oil and gas America should be looking to that day when you can hop a train in New York and arrive in Ft Lauderdale the next morning at a reasonable price. I know I would prefer to travel leisurely than drive.
    We have an existing system of rail lines that crisscross America and hit many smaller towns. Trouble is no one wants to start pushing in this direction due to big corp lobbyist and the lack of government support! The Boomers need to start rising to the position of authority we deserve in this country as we are the majority I’m told.

    by Ron — March 22, 2017

  25. Ron, I agree 100% on the train idea. In my area probably 70 years ago there were trains in my area and a lot of the tracks are gone now. I think those people were ahead of their time! I would love to catch a train from NY to FL any day rather than drive and get killed in the horrific traffic on the highways. However, I do not think we will ever see the revival of train service in our lifetime. People do need to start demanding this type of transportation as most countries have. Not junky clunky slow moving trains we have now. In my town the last train service was in the early 1970’s. We still have a train station that is converted to an art gallery/Better Business Bureau. The tracks are crap and would need replacing before trains could travel them. There is some interest in CT in a revival but doubtful we will ever see it. CT is broke and is ready to close the doors soon! LOL!

    by Louise — March 22, 2017

  26. I read this article with interest but am curious as to how Northern cities listed can really be considered walkable in all seasons? I live in the Greater Boston area where we have amazing public transportation via buses, trains, subways and boats, and my very old city has several New England squares with their own little shopping districts. This winter, I tore the meniscus in my left knee and quickly appreciated just how difficult ( close to impossible) it is for anyone to navigate snowy, icy streets and sidewalks. As such, I will continue to focus on warmer climates for my retirement relocation despite my love of New England.

    by Janna — March 22, 2017

  27. Dear Ron,

    My husband and I visited Aiken, South Carolina which has both culture and the country. It is horse country with beautiful hills and trees and a very attractive town. There are at least two communities just outside of the town.
    Also, I have heard that Greenville, SC is a wonderful city with a beautiful downtown and many restaurants. It would be worth your while to check out both places.

    by Anne-Marie — March 22, 2017

  28. Janna,
    Sorry about your knee issue. Sounds painful, and maybe a little scary. I agree with you. If it weren’t for cold weather issues like yours, i would have no problem with staying in the North; but for now, i think a wamer clime seems more sensible. My best to you!

    by ella — March 23, 2017

  29. Aiken, SC, also has a branch of the University of South Carolina with about 3500 students. Aiken itself has a population of about 30,000 and is in the Augusta, GA, metro area. Augusta is about 20 miles away and has a population of around 200,000.

    by Clyde — March 23, 2017

  30. I am wanting to relocate from the Dallas TX area to the Midwest. I would love to live in Traverse City but the rentals rates are too high for me. I am in my late sixties, single with 2 small dogs. Would love to live in a small town that I could walk or ride a bike to the downtown area. I would be interested in a cottage, cabin, tiny house or small apt.

    Any suggestions? Thank you

    by Susan — March 23, 2017

  31. Susan…..maybe Ludington? It is about a 2 hour drive south of Traverse City, on the Lake Michigan. It is also an hour north of Muskegon, and 1 1/2 hours from Grand Rapids. It is a small town, downtown areas and beach are within easy reach.

    by Paula — March 24, 2017

  32. Susan, a place to consider is Liberty, Missouri. Charming and working downtown, good small college, and not far from Kansas City, with excellent medical care and two big medical schools, UMKC and KU. Small (but not tiny) town living with great accessibility to big city amenities within 30-45 minutes. Certainly a bit warmer than Traverse City, but not on the water.

    by Clyde — March 25, 2017

  33. Interesting Sara! I will look into it.

    by Louise — March 26, 2017

  34. Looking for information regarding Grand Junction, CO. The community has a small college, VA hospital, great outdoor activities and wineries. But, the only active adult community, Redlands Mesa, is expensive and not the type of community that interests my wife or me. The downtown closes every Sunday for activities which suggests close knit and friendly. Any and all comments would be appreciated.

    by Michael — March 26, 2017

  35. Hi Michael,
    The retirement guide for Grand Junction should give you an idea about the area, 55+ communities and readers are able to post comments under specific towns. You can also use the Search feature on the home page to locate articles about Colorado for more information. Resders can also see and post questions on the Forum.
    Hope this helps!!

    by Moderator Flo — March 27, 2017

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