June, 2016 – Move over Asheville, there is a newcomer perched atop the Topretirements annual list of most popular places to retire. For the first time since we started publishing this list in 2007, Asheville, NC is not #1 – that honor goes to the vibrant city of Sarasota on Florida’s West Coast. It edged out Asheville and Green Valley (AZ) in a close contest for the top spot.
Many people view Sarasota as one of the two cultural capitals of Florida (the other would be Miami). Built through the philanthropy of the Ringling Brothers Circus and other generous souls, Sarasota’s rich cultural institutions make it a vital and interesting city in which to live. There is also the beautiful Sarasota Bay, lovely beaches and barrier islands, and fascinating urban and low key neighborhoods. Sarasota was chosen for the top spot through a simple process. We count how many times each city’s review has been viewed at Topretirements.com, which we view as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Sarasota review was viewed over 10,000 times,
which was 10 times as often as the newcomer in the #100 position, Palm Coast (FL). It doesn’t mean that people will actually move to any of these destinations, but it does indicate interest and popularity.
A Place in the Sun
When it comes to places that Americans might consider for retirement, towns in the Sunbelt and the West are definitely the places to be. Eighty of the cities and towns on our 2016 list of the best places to retire were in the Sunbelt. As always, Florida had the most cities on the list with 24, followed by North and South Carolina. The American northwest and mountain states are also popular for retirement – 17 destinations made the list from California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Idaho. Just as in 2015, only 3 states in the Northeast made the cut: Virginia (Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and Winchester), Delaware (Lewes and Rehoboth Beach), and Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh). The highest ranking non-Sun Belt city on our list was Grand Junction (CO) at #23. The Midwest had no entries on the list.
New Towns Join as Popular Places to Retire
Six new towns moved onto the 2016 list, four less than in 2015. Five of the newcomers were from the Sunbelt: 3 from Florida (Punta Gorda, Jupiter, and Palm Coast); and one each from North Carolina (Hayesville) and South Carolina (Lake Keowee). Idaho’s Coeur D’Alene) was the lone non-Sunbelt newcomer joining the list this year.
Movement on the List
Tucson was able break into the top 10 this year, moving up from the #28 spot to #9, and edging out Myrtle Beach (SC) in the process. St. Simon’s Island (GA) was another retirement town that came into popular favor, climbing to the #35 spot from the #79 position last year. Las Vegas made a big move out in the desert, climbing to #50 from the 84th spot.
Towns Rather Than Active Communities
As always, this list concentrate on towns/cities rather than on active communities, which we excluded because we have a separate annual list for them. If we had included them, several active communities were popular enough to have made the list (The Villages and Fearrington Village would have been in the top 10, and Tellico Village would been somewhere in the middle. See our 2015 list of “The 100 Most Popular Active Adult Communities” for more.
How we came up with this list
Topretirements.com, “Where Baby Boomers Go to Find Their Best Place to Retire”, has published its 100 most popular list annually since 2007. While most of the “Best Places” lists are either the subjective opinions of the authors or a ranking from various criteria, this list is different. Ours is essentially a popularity contest that reflects the interests of the visitors and members who come to Topretirements to find out information about where to retire. We compile it by calculating the 100 towns that received the most online visits from the 1000+ cities reviewed at Topretirements.com during the last 6 months of 2015. Some probably made the list this year because they were featured in one of our weekly newsletters. Note that our definition of Sunbelt includes the states south of (and including) North Carolina and Tennessee, plus the Southwest. Under that definition Virginia (with 3 towns on this list) and Kentucky are not considered Sunbelt states.
These are the 100 most popular places to retire for 2016. But we urge you not to stop there – you can explore the more than 1000 towns and 3100 active adult communities by using the “Find a Community” feature on the top right of all pages at Topretirements. And of course, we look forward to your Comments – last year’s list generated 169 interesting opinions!
(Note: We recently published a very helpful article that compares cost of homes vs. cost of rentals in the Top 10 places to retire on this list).
1. Sarasota, FL. Some consider Sarasota to be the cultural capital of Florida, after Miami. Sarasota has one of Florida’s best downtowns with many interesting neighborhoods. An impressive array of cultural facilities are gathered there, along with high-rise, luxury hotels.
2. Asheville, NC. Asheville is a prosperous small city of just over 75,000 in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina. The downtown is filled with cafes, restaurants, and art deco buildings.
3. Green Valley, AZ. Near near the hiking and birding areas of the Santa Rita Mountains in extreme southern Arizona, Green Valley is an unincorporated retirement community composed of 59 Homeowner Associations.
4. Prescott, AZ. Located at an elevation of 5400 feet in the mountains of north central Arizona, the City of Prescott (population just under 40,000 in 2011), was the original territorial capital of the Arizona Territory.
5. Venice, FL. Originally developed in 1925 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers as a planned retirement community, Venice is named after the many canals and rivers running through it
6.Beaufort, SC. The Old South lives on in the quaint seaside charm of Beaufort, Known as the “Queen of the Carolina Sea Islands”. Horse-drawn carriages roll along streets in the town’s charming historic district that are overhung with Spanish moss.
7. Charleston, SC. “The Holy City” is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. as well as being one of its top tourist attractions. Located on the coast of South Carolina, until the mid 1800’s it was one of the 10 largest cities in North America.
8. Ft. Myers, FL. Located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on southwest Florida’s coast, its roots go back to 1886. It has the charming Thomas Edison Museum and a beautifully restored downtown along the river. New developments go off in every direction.
9. Tucson, AZ. The area is warm in winter, blessed with sunshine almost 300 days per year, and has beautiful surroundings. At 233 performing arts dates per year, it also has one of the nation’s highest numbers of arts performances.
10. Paris, TN. Paris is a small town of about 10,000 in northwest Tennessee, 15 miles from the vast and popular Land Between the Lakes recreation area.
11. Myrtle Beach, SC. Myrtle Beach is a favorite beach and golf resort community as it is home to The Grand Strand – one of the world’s longest sections of perfect beach, and boasts over 120 golf courses. It also has a reputation as a hot spot for live family entertainment, music, and celebrity concerts.
12. Las Cruces, NM. Las Cruces has been listed as a “Best Place to Retire” by several organizations for many reasons: low cost of living, active cultural life with its major university, and unusually beautiful location.
13. St. Petersburg, FL. Saint Petersburg has been a classic retirement and tourist destination since the 1920’s because of its winter warmth, great beaches, and ideal location on a peninsula in Tampa Bay.
14. New Bern, NC. This city of over 30,000 grew by 30% from 2000 to 2013. It has a 56 square block tree lined historic district and a charming downtown. New Bern was named a “Certified Retirement Community” by the State of North Carolina in 2015.
15. Pensacola, FL. Pensacola is a popular town for retirement and tourism in the western end of the Florida panhandle. Its location on the Pensacola Bay gives it access to the emerald green waters and sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
16. Austin, TX. Austin is becoming a very popular retirement community. The University of Texas and its array of cultural and other activities is perhaps the biggest draw for Austin, along with its cosmopolitan and high-tech quirky soul.
17. Naples, FL. Naples represents the gold coast of southwest Florida. Its walkable downtown is as sophisticated as any in the world, but charming too.
18. Brevard, NC. The town of Brevard, surrounded by the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, consistently ranks near the top of popular lists of “best retirement communities” and “best places to live, work, and play”.
19. Charlottesville, VA. Charlottesville, has been ranked as one of the best 100 places to retire. Home to the University of Virginia, this college town offers a tree-lined dignity and charm that makes it easy to see why so many active adults are planning to retire here.
20. Clearwater, FL. Clearwater, part of the Tampa Bay Metro, has a rich cultural infrastructure-due in part because of the The Clearwater Public Art and Design Project. Nearby St. Petersburg and Tampa are also loaded with cultural venues.
21. Chattanooga, TN. Chattanooga is a low-cost, interesting retirement city. It was the site of the famous critical civil war Battle of Chattanooga due to its strategic location on the Tennessee River. Called the “Scenic City”, it is home to the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga.
22. Bluffton, SC. Bluffton, located near Hilton Head Island and the coast, is a charming, walkable, old town on the May River.
23. Grand Junction, CO. Grand Junction, is a college town perched on the border with Utah. It has a nice downtown, and natural beauty and recreation are abundant.
24. Flagstaff, AZ. Centered amidst some of the most enchanting physical landmarks in the world, Flagstaff is a top rated community for retirement.
25. Murphy, NC. Murphy is a great place for retirement particularly if you are interested in a quiet and rural environment. The climate is mild and the scenery is breathtaking with mountains and lakes.
26. Summerville, SC. Summerville, “The Flower Town in the Pines”, has a charming downtown with many restaurants and unusual shops. Tourists flock to the area to see its azaleas in season.
27. St. George, UT. Saint George has spectacular red rock bluffs overlooking the town, a mild climate in winter, and terrific recreational opportunities.
28. Chapel Hill, NC. Chapel Hill is a particularly beautiful college town in the gentle hills of central North Carolina. The University of North Carolina is the centerpiece of this charming small town with a cosmopolitan flair that makes it appealing as a retirement community.
29. Savannah, GA. Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in America. It is a popular tourist destination as well as an area popular with retirees. Each year almost 7 million tourists visit here.
30. Athens, GA. Athens is an immensely successful university town and popular as a retirement community. The University of Georgia has helped to create an unusually liberal community with a thriving artistic, musical, and intellectual scene.
31. Blue Ridge, GA. Blue Ridge is a very small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. Lake Blue Ridge, the Toccoa River, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Appalachian Trail all draw tourists from all over the United States and abroad.
32. San Diego, CA. San Diego’s scenery, climate, and lifestyle are second to none and appeal to active adults 55+. Its bustling downtown area has a busy convention area and city parks set alongside hundreds of anchored pleasure boats.
33. Sequim, WA. Sequim is popular both with retirees and with people looking for second homes. The town has has won numerous awards as a great place to live and retire.
34. San Antonio, TX. San Antonio It is famous for its Paseo del Rio (River Walk), Tejano culture, and as home to SeaWorld and Six Flags theme parks. The Alamo (Battle of 1836) is a shrine and museum located in the heart of downtown.
35. St. Simons Island, GA (up from #79 last year). Living in St. Simons Island, the southernmost community in Georgia, could be like going to paradise. There are beautiful sandy beaches, luxurious homes, and summer lasts for 7 months.
36. Knoxville, TN. Knoxville is particularly attractive because it is home to the Vols – the University of Tennessee. It is a vibrant college town with big-time sports and many cultural events.
37. Charlotte, NC. Charlotte is a prosperous, very fast growing city. It is so big and diverse that there is probably some part of Charlotte that could appeal to about anyone.
38. Williamsburg, VA. Williamsburg is a very popular retirement community. Colonial Williamsburg is actually a living representation/restoration of the 18th century colonial capital. If you are a history buff and you love antiques, this is the place for you.
39. Maryville, TN. This small college town has all of the things that make Tennessee retirements so appealing – low taxes, low cost of living, and outstanding recreation opportunities in nearby lakes and Great Smoky Mountains.
40. Eugene, OR . Eugene enjoys a national reputation as one of the most livable cities in the country. As a retirement community it offers small town charm combined with big city sparkle. It has a thriving and eclectic arts scene along with unsurpassed natural beauty
41. San Juan Islands, WA. San Juan Islands Located off the coasts of Washington and British Columbia, are both a tourist destination and a retirement community. The setting, the tranquility, and the scenery are world class.
42. St. Augustine, FL. Saint Augustine is the longest continuously occupied European settlement in the U.S., which makes it a historic community with a lot to do that is connected with the city’s rich heritage.
43. Rehoboth Beach, DE. Rehoboth Beach is a beach community located on the pastoral Delmarva Peninsula. This hospitable town, billed as “The Nation’s Summer Capital”, was chosen by the AARP as a “Best Places to Retire”. It is increasingly popular as a retirement community because of its small town character, reasonable prices, and fabulous beaches.
44. Port Charlotte, FL. Port Charlotte is a suburban community to the northeast of busy Fort Myers. Thousands of snow birds and retirees come because it is warm in the winter and home prices and rents are low.
45. Portland, OR. Known as “The City of Roses”, Portland attracts active adults who are looking for a bustling and diverse community. Great skiing, hiking, and other outdoor activities are all at your doorstep, as are many cultural programs.
46. Bellingham, WA. If there was ever a town with momentum it is Bellingham Washington. Kiplinger’s called Bellingham one of the top retirement communities in the U.S. It boasts unbelievable natural scenery from Puget Sound on the west and Mount Baker to the east.
47. Colorado Springs, CO. Colorado Springs is an extremely popular retirement community due to spectacular scenery, abundant sunshine, and conservative values. The city also offers bike trails, parks, and cultural activities.
48. Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is a charming and friendly small town of 4,200 by the sea. This old seaport has an interesting history and beautiful housing – many homes sport historic plaques.
49. Aiken, SC. This town of almost 30,000 in western South Carolina is known as the “Winter Colony”, and has always been popular with the horsy set for fox hunting, steeplechase, and polo horses.
50. Las Vegas, NV (up from #84) Las Vegas is one of the fastest-growing communities in the U.S. Legalized gambling in this desert resort city has created an enormous economy and attracted many new residents, including retirees in active adult communities. The Las Vegas strip is justly famous for its glitz and many attractions.
51. Bend, OR. Bend offers great scenic beauty, skiing, mountains, golf, fishing, and more. Bend makes just about every list of “best retirement communities”.
52. Southport, NC. Southport was an active seaport in colonial times and remains one of the few active fishing villages in North Carolina. Its picturesque location features over 28 miles of sandy beaches and a number of lighthouses.
53. Crossville, TN. The number one reason why Crossville, Tennessee is desirable as a retirement community is because it is a relative bargain. Dubbed the “Golf Capital of Tennessee”, as the area has 12 golf courses. There is also great beauty in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
54. Clemson, SC. This town of 13,000 is nestled in the extreme Northwestern corner of South Carolina. Clemson University and its 17,000 students have a major impact as the university is the cultural center of the city.
55. Ft. Collins, CO. Fort Collins was chosen by Money Magazine as the best small city in the U.S. It’s a popular retirement community for its low crime rates, fantastic outdoor life, and small town ambiance.
56. Tampa, FL. The city has a spectacular location on Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay, which in turn lead to the Gulf of Mexico, and has every type of cultural resource such as theatres, museums of all kinds, and a vibrant city life.
57. Lewes, DE. Lewes is a small town on the southern coast. It’s considered an ocean resort and a top tourist area because of its beaches, proximity to Cape Henlopen State Park, and shopping malls.
58. Winchester, VA. Winchester is in extreme northern Virginia, not that far from Washington D.C. The nearby mountains and Shenandoah National Park are quite beautiful. The town was listed as one of the most affordable cities by AARP.
59. Sedona, AZ. The Red Rocks of Sedona are world famous for colors displayed by sunrises and sunsets on the red sandstone rocks. That beauty, combined with the mountains, climate, hiking and the arts have made Sedona a popular retirement community.
60. Greenville, SC. Greenville has an interesting downtown and several great neighborhoods. It is also home to a number of colleges and is a thriving community for the arts.
61. Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville is the most populated city in Florida with 808,000 inhabitants. It is has a mild winter climate and much to offer in terms of culture and recreation.
62. Fairhope, AL. Fairhope, Alabama is one of the most unusual (and nicest) retirement communities anywhere. Fairhope has made some movement from utopian experiment to retirement community… artist’s/intellectual’s colony… boutique resort… some local residents refer to Fairhope as “Carmel-by-the-Bay” alluding to California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea on the Monterey Peninsula.
63. Durango, CO. Durango is one of the most interesting small towns in Colorado. It is world famous for every kind of outdoor recreation including mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, and golf.
64. Stuart, FL. Stuart is an extremely charming community with a lovely downtown that offers interesting shops and restaurants with a small town feel. There is a very ample coastline thanks to the bays and ocean that surround the town.
65. Port Townsend, WA. Considered one of the prettiest towns anywhere, this town keeps getting named to all of the “best 100 places to retire lists”. Most of it is preserved as a national historic district, and it has an incomparable setting on the water with views of the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympic Mountains on its west.
66. Eureka, CA. A port city on the Humboldt Bay of California’s northern coast, makes Eureka an excellent retirement community. It’s filled with examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture and historic districts, and has been likened to a west coast Williamsburg, Virginia.
67. Henderson, NV. Henderson, second largest city in Nevada, is also one of America’s fastest-growing communities. the city prides itself on its master-planned residential areas, transportation projects, and outstanding recreational opportunities.
68. Albuquerque, NM. Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, is set in a unique place near the mountains, and is a vibrant college town, home to the University of New Mexico.
69. Hilton Head, SC. Known for its beautiful beaches and fabulous golf courses, the area tends to be quite exclusive and most of it comprised of planned developments.
70. Fernandina Beach, FL up from #99 Fernandina Beach is old Florida. It has a charming downtown with an artsy feel and many quiet neighborhoods featuring Victorian homes.
71. Reno, NV.”The Biggest Little City in the World”, is the 4th largest city in Nevada with a population of about 220,000. The nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains and deserts make this a great area for people who like the outdoors. As a college town it has a full supply of cultural and sporting venues.
72.Boise City, ID up from #100 “The city of Trees” is a modern, prosperous, and livable city that offers many recreational activities and a great lifestyle.
73. Mt. Airy, NC. Mount Airy has a vital downtown that attracts tourists and retirees. In 2013, it was designated by the State of North Carolina as an official North Carolina Retirement Destination.
74. Delray Beach, FL. Delray Beach is a very popular and upscale retirement community on the east coast of Florida. A Master Plan developed by the city resulted in an extensive and extremely successful renovation of its charming and walkable downtown area.
75. Santa Fe, NM. Santa Fe is one of the top cultural destinations in the world. Known for its art and music, the city was selected by Money Magazine as one of the “Best Places to Live”.
76. Dunedin, FL. Dunedin is an old sailing town of about 36,000, with a spectacular setting on the west coast of Florida that boasts at least a mile of unobstructed views of Gulf beaches. Settled by Scots, it retains many interesting Scottish traditions and festivals.
77. Spokane, WA. Spokane is the 2nd largest city in Washington, and one of the largest in the Northwest. It is located on Washington’s eastern border with Idaho, and is the cultural, social, and economic hub of this area.
78. Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh consistently makes the “Best Places to Live” lists. It has a beautiful setting where two major rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, combine against a backdrop of steep hills to form the Ohio River. Pittsburgh has a solid economy, low cost of living, and growing educational, cultural and medical infrastructures.
79. Gulf Shores, AL. Located on a barrier island in western Alabama, Gulf Shores is an upscale resort and retirement community at the entrance to Mobile Bay. Part of the attraction is the water and coast – many places to explore in your boat, play golf, or enjoy the white sand beaches.
80. Hayesville, NC * Hayesville is a beautiful and friendly, but very small town that combines small-town charm with the beauty of mountains, lakes, rivers and streams. Opportunities for camping, golf, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and water sports are plentiful.
81. Greenville, NC. Greenville was recognized as “Sportstown USA” by Sports Illustrated and the National Parks and Recreation Association. The recognition came for its commitment to providing sporting opportunities for residents.
82. Denver, CO. Denver, the “Mile High City”, boasts an unusually beautiful setting with the Rocky Mountains towering overhead. Outdoor recreation is superb, and there are many cultural things to do.
83. Punta Gorda, FL * Punta Gorda, Florida, is a small community of 17,000 on the Gulf Coast of Florida, between Sarasota and Fort Myers. Many active adults choose this city as their retirement community because of its sub-tropical warmth and its small town feel.
84. Cape Coral, FL. Cape Coral is one the nicer communities for retirement in south Florida. It is surrounded by water on 2 sides and has more than 400 miles of canals.
85. Hendersonville, NC. This southern town is located in what is called the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area of western North Carolina, and has an exceptionally beautifully and revitalized downtown area.
86. Boynton Beach, FL. Boynton Beach includes sections that are on the barrier island and the connecting mainland to the east. Its many public beaches and parks provide a superb entertainment option.
87. Vero Beach, FL. Vero Beach is located in the middle of Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The town is in several parts – a ‘beach” area on the barrier island with a resort feel, and a large downtown across the bay on the mainland.
88. Mesquite, NV. Mesquite is an extremely popular retirement town in southeastern Nevada, almost in Arizona and Utah. Casinos arrived here in the 1970’s. The town markets itself as a low key alternative to Las Vegas.
89. Leesburg, FL. Leesburg is fast growing town in central Florida, the result of retirees choosing it as their retirement town. The many lakes in and around the town are a primary attraction.
90. Port St. Lucie, FL . Port St. Lucie, located on the East Coast of Florida, is one of the fastest growing communities in the U.S. according to the 2005 Census Bureau.There are many miles of unspoiled beaches along the ocean, plus many waterways connected to the intercoastal.
91. Key West, FL. Key West, Florida, is an extremely charming community, the southernmost in the U.S. Many active adults choose this city and island 90 miles north of Cuba because of its sub-tropical warmth, its diversity (home to many gays), and its laid-back charm.
92. Gulfport, FL. Located on the southwestern side of St. Petersburg is the small town of Gulfport, home to The Gulfport Casino Ballroom, one of the busiest dance halls in Florida. While it has none of the urban attractions of downtown St. Pete, it does offer a slower pace and less costly alternative that offers easy access to the city.
93. Jupiter, FL * The three Florida villages of Jupiter, Tequesta, and Juno Beach combine rich history, culture, and natural beauty to provide a retirement community with an unsurpassed quality of life. There are more than 100 miles of unspoiled beaches along the ocean, rivers, and the intracoastal waterway.
94. Corpus Christi, TX. Corpus Christi bills itself as “The Sparkling City by the Sea”. There are many local attractions, particularly concerning the waterfront, boating, beaches, and fishing. Golf is also popular here.
95. Coeur D’Alene, ID. Coeur d’Alene is a fast growing town in northern Idaho’s panhandle. This town of 46,000 on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, attracts retirees and tourists because of its outstanding beauty and outdoor recreation.
96. Lake Keowee, SC. *Lake Keowee is a very large reservoir in north-central South Carolina, just west of Greenville. It is not a town, but a beautiful region which is a relatively unspoiled area with plenty of water and parks for recreation.
97. San Luis Obispo, CA. San Luis Obispo has much to like as a retirement community. From the spicy Pinot Noir wines made here, to the brown hills and long beaches, this town is the educational, cultural, and commercial center of the region. It has a history and a vital and prosperous downtown.
98. Phoenix, AZ. The city of Phoenix has long been a popular retirement community for active adults 55+. Retirees come in droves because of its warm winters, ample housing opportunities, and the Arizona lifestyle.
99. Seattle, WA. Choosing Seattle as your retirement community has many advantages-you get a walkable downtown with great public transportation, boating, skiing, hiking are all at your doorstep, as are many cultural programs.
100. Palm Coast, FL * Palm Coast is an enormous planned community of more than 77,000. The City grew 136% from 2000 to 2012, and strives to offer exceptional quality of life, diversified housing, and valued natural, recreational, and cultural resources
*New to the List in 2016
Sliding Off the List
As always, some towns lost part of their allure to prospective retirees last year. Six cities dropped off the list from the previous year, and those include Orlando (FL), Winter Park (FL), Santa Barbara (CA), Palm Springs (CA), Gainesville (FL), and Whitefish (MT).
For Additional reference:
2015 Best Places to Retire List
2014 List of Best Places to Retire
Sunbelt Rules: The 2013 List of 100 Best Places to Retire
100 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities – 2015
Dueling Retirement States Series (Starts with Arizona vs. Florida)
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2014
What do You Think?
Please add your Comments and reactions below. We look forward your thoughts about where you are considering for retirement, as well as what towns you thought should have made this list (or not made it!)