Five Big Reasons Why Small Towns Are Great Places to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

November 5, 2013 — Moving to a small town for retirement is a frequent dream for many baby boomers. After battling urban traffic and/or the hassles of suburban living during your working days, the thought of living in a Norman Rockwell-like community might seem like a relaxing alternative. In this article we will give you 5 good reasons why a small town retirement is a good idea, with an example for each. And for good measure we’ve included 5 more picks for great small towns at the end of this article. Obviously there are a lot more, so please use the Comments section at the end of the article to give us the towns you would have included.

1. I’ll Walk, Thank You
One of the top reasons people like small town living is the ability to walk downtown for the necessities of life, without having to get in the car. The charming colonial town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut is a great example of a walkable downtown. Here it’s easy to find a home or condo that’s just a short walk to the many downtown restaurants and shops. In many neighborhoods it’s just a short walk to where the Connecticut River meets the Long Island Sound.

This charming old town of just over 10,000 (founded in 1635 ) was one of the original 3 English colonies in Connecticut. Strategically important, it has the ruins of a fort built during the French and Indian War. Yale University was established here before moving to New Haven a few years back (in 1716). Old Saybrook’s most celebrated resident was Katherine Hepburn, who lived in a private community on the point called Fenwick.

2. Social Network
The ease of making social connections is another key attraction of small town life. Located on the other coast, Port Townsend, Washington offers a strong sense of community. Its citizens, many of them artists, share a well-deserved pride in their beautiful Victorian setting.

Port Townsend beauty

Port Townsend is located on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, just across Puget Sound from Seattle. Port Townsend was a thriving port settlement – unfortunately the Union Pacific Railroad bypassed it. This event left Port Townsend with an incomparable stock of great Victorian buildings and houses that were never “remodeled”. Most of the town is preserved as a national historic district. It has an incomparable setting on the water and with views of the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympic Mountains on its west.

3. So Pretty It Hurts
Some small towns are just downright beautiful, which is why many people think smaller when it comes to retirement. For a charming environment it is hard to beat Beaufort, SC, the “Queen of the Carolina Sea Islands” near Hilton Head. Tourists enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides through the extensive historic district canopied with Spanish Moss.
Beaufort (pronounced b’yoofurt) was discovered by the Spanish in 1514 and lies in the Sea Islands or “Low Country” area of South Carolina. It has a population of 11,000.

4. The Recreation is Easy
Easy access to recreation is another factor that retirees consider when looking for a place to retire. While not every town can afford to offer recreational options like those of their larger brethren, Evergreen, Colorado, was a popular summer vacation spot for both President Roosevelts, along with other celebrities. Today it is an affluent suburb 15 miles west of Denver. Residents here enjoy the Evergreen Lake and Evergreen Lake House, as well as use of thousands of acres of surrounding parks, so it is a good example of a small town with plenty of nearby recreation. Downtown Evergreen includes a mix of historic buildings and local businesses.


5. Get Cultured
While you might not think of culture as a typical small town draw, many do offer the rich cultural life desired by retiring baby boomers. Mount Dora, Florida is a place with multiple cultural venues. There are 2 theaters including the Mount Dora Center for the Arts, plus many festivals and events on the Town Square.

Mount Dora exudes a comfortable “Southern” charm and hospitality. This central Florida lakefront community is nestled in gentle hills, orange groves, and Live Oak trees. With an elevation of 184 feet, it’s Florida’s equivalent of a mountain top town! Laid out around a large square, the downtown has shopping, excellent antiquing, and a rich cultural life with many festivals.

Five More Great Small Towns for Retirement
Quasi-College Town – Exeter, New Hampshire. This small town of is home to one of America’s most prestigious prep schools, which gives Exeter the feel of a college town. The downtown is beautiful and bustling. Exeter is a beautiful New England town, founded in 1638! It’s only downside is that all that charm comes at a price, the median home sold for between $250,000 and $300,000 in 2013.

The Library in Independence, Kansas

Inexpensive and a Great Library – Independence, Kansas. This town in southeastern Kansas of just over 9,200 boasts home prices that far less than half the national average. It also has a library that was named the “Best Small” library in the country by Library Journal. Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up near here and wrote her famous “Life on the Prairie” novel based on her experiences.

Charlevoix the Beautiful. Located on one of Lake Michigan’s best natural harbors,this town has considerable recreational boat traffic passing through here. Its population swells from about 3,000 people to 30,000 in the summer, when there are many festivals. One of the top recreational attractions for bicyclists and cross country skiers are the rail trails along Lake Michigan between Charlevoix and Petoskey.

On Top of Old Smoky – Signal Mountain, Tennesee. As the name implies this town on top of a hill was a signal outpost during the Civil War. Then people came here for their health. Today this small town atop the Tennessee River is home to 7,400 mostly affluent residents who come for the views and outstanding community resources. The Signal Mountain Playhouse presents 2 plays per year including an outdoor musical every summer in the natural amphitheatre. The Mountain Arts Community Center offers classes in music, dance, and visual arts from its historic building.

Cowboy Town – Cody, Wyoming. For the adventurous looking for a small town in the wide-open spaces you might consider Cody, a town of 10,000 in the northwest corner of the state. It was named after William Frederick Cody, who you probably know as Buffalo Bill. Cody is home to one of the biggest rodeos in the country. Tourists access the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park from here.

Comments: Small towns can make for great places to retire for many baby boomers. The trick is to find the one that offers the combination of ingredients that can provide you with the lifestyle of your dreams. Some, but not all, of the nicest tend to be pricey, following the laws of supply and demand. Please add your favorites in the Comments section below. And, if you live in or have checked out some small towns for your retirement, please share your experiences with your fellow members.

For further reading:
Best Small Towns for Retirement
Best College Towns

Posted by Admin on November 5th, 2013

24 Comments »

  1. Good article. Don’t forget to check http://www.walkscore.com to check on a community’s “walkability.” And, new urbanism communities have sprung up to mirror the small-town feel. A few examples: NorthWest Crossing (Bend, Oregon); Daniel Island (near Charleston, SC); Celebration, Florida (near Orlando).

    St. Marys, Georgia is another small town I’ve visited and liked.

    One caution: be sure there is adequate care for your health needs.

    Jan Cullinane, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement

    by Jan Cullinane — November 6, 2013

  2. We are having a house/condo built in Grand Haven, MI. Talk about walkability, biking, water sports and snow shoeing and cross country skiing!
    Grand Haven is less expensive to live in than Columbia County, GA where our jobs were for the past 7 years. We are former New Englander’s who wanted the 4 seasons but not the high taxes of New England.

    by Gail and Gary Provencher — November 6, 2013

  3. Spot on piece. I would especially look at small towns that are within a short distance of larger metro areas for more access to entertainment, culture, dining, social contacts, medical care, etc. For example, there are a number of charming, walkable and affordable small towns in the mountains of Western North Carolina — Brevard, Black Mountain, Waynesville, Bryson City, Hendersonville, Mars Hill and others — yet they are just a short drive from all that Asheville (metro area around 430,000) famously offers.

    –Lan Sluder, author of Amazing Asheville, Guide to Asheville and the Beautiful North Carolina Mountains and Easy Belize, How to Live, Retire, Work and Buy Property in Belize, the English-Speaking Frost-Free Paradise on the Caribbean Coast

    by Lan Sluder — November 6, 2013

  4. There are lots of small towns in Eastern TN that we like: all the way from Sweetwater to the NC border. Nashville is to the south and hour, Knoxville to the North, and many of them have health facilities of some kind. Taxes are low there as well.

    by Cheryl Coverly — November 6, 2013

  5. Charlevoix Michigan is a quaint small town on the edge of Lake Michigan. I would NOT consider this a great place to retire. The biggest negative is a drawbridge that opens every 30 minutes in the summer allowing the large yachts to traverse from Lake Michigan to Round Lake to dock at the city marina. This drawbridge stops all traffic into/out of Charlevoix. It is the only road to get to/from Charlevoix. Traffic backs up 2-3 miles making a frustrating trip just to get there. Winters are harsh with 120″ of snow. It’s a cute town, but I avoid it at all costs!

    by Carol — November 6, 2013

  6. Wonderful article! So many of the reasons we selected Dunedin Florida are detailed: walkable, social, friendly, quaint, hospital, neighborhoods, parks, dog-friendly, close to an airport, beaches, … .

    by Tom — November 6, 2013

  7. We have a cottage on Torch Lake in northern Michigan, where we expect to retire in a few years. Beautiful, turquoise waters, a view you never tire of. It’s also 40 minutes to Traverse City (an artsy and foodie community), which we love, and about 25 to Charlevoix, plus five miles to Bellaire, a small tourist town with restaurants and other services. Just as many of us have chosen commutes rather than city life during our working years, I’m not sure that you have to live in a city proper. But you certainly need to be near one that feels like home, where you feel comfortable and welcome, rather than enduring a constant drumbeat of rudeness, or manic drivers, or an environment that just doesn’t feel right. Thanks for this fine article — choosing a retirement place requires lots of thought, planning and soul-searching.

    by Ed LaFreniere — November 7, 2013

  8. I have visited the Traverse City area many times, and would really like to move there upon retirement – but only from April through September….There is no way I would stay up there during winter at my age….If only I can afford a second place in the South for Oct. – March ?????

    by Louisville DrBill — November 7, 2013

  9. Surprise! Who would have ever thought the midwest should be on your retirement radar? For a great small town, look at Decorah Iowa. This small college town has world class health care [local clinic is owned/operated by Mayo Clinic] and has some of the best music and arts events anywhere [much thanks to Luther College]. Most of the concerts and recitals are free to attend as are the athletic events. Decorah has a top notch school system for those looking to move whole families. The area is known for its hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing and trout fishing [see articles in WSJ, Forbes, Canoeing magazine, and National Geographic]. The restaurants draw customers from the tri-state area. Decorah is a hidden gem and is only an hour from metro areas of Rochester MN, LaCrosse WI, and Waterloo/Cedar Falls IA. We travel during January and February to avoid snow, but many stay just to enjoy cross-country skiing, etc. Check Decorah out if you are looking for a low-cost, high quality small town location!

    by Rich — November 9, 2013

  10. I agree with Jan Cullinane, that one must make sure that the small town one considers moving to has good medical care. I live in Prescott, AZ (am thinking of moving as soon as I’m able …. had a couple of operations recently), but don’t know where to move. Our medical care in Prescott is not good and many of us go to Phoenix, especially if we need surgery, and that is about 2-1/2 hours away. I, for one, don’t care to have to drive that distance just to get good medical care. I’ve considered maybe moving to Asheville, N.C., but was told “the mosquitoes there will eat you alive and the humidity is unbearable” 😀 so now I’m considering Eugene, Oregon or possibly somewhere in Washington. I’m open to suggestions …. uschie@cableone.net

    by Ursula — November 11, 2013

  11. A negative about a small town is the lack of a good hospital. As we get older our health is not that great and having a hospital that specializes in cancer, heart, pulmonary problems close by is probably number one on our must haves. The other ten mentioned are niceties.

    by Chuck Bradbury — November 14, 2013

  12. Absolutely right. Just got a pacemaker/defib implant and that’s the overriding concern. May even get me to locate in Nashville where my MD daughter lives as she can “hook me up” with the best docs.

    by Dan Lenzi — November 15, 2013

  13. Yes, that top notch medical has to be high priority as we age.

    by Bubbajog — November 15, 2013

  14. Ursula,
    I have a daughter in the Ashville,NC area. We have been going there for 18 years and never had a problem with mosquitos or humidity. The cool mountain air is wonderful and clean. Also, there are many smaller towns nearby that are good choices. The hospital in Asheville is extremely high rated. It would be worth your time to check it out. Call or go online to The Asheville Chamber for more information. North Carolina, although no place is perfect, is a great state with much to offer. Good luck!

    by Linda — November 16, 2013

  15. Charlevoix and Traverse City are great Michigan small towns, but if you’re looking for a very similar experience that is more laid back, less expensive,a slower paced small town on the water with great beaches, water sports, fishing, lighthouses, walking paths, art fairs–an almost “Leave it to Beaver” kind of feel to it, take a look at Ludington, about an hour north of Grand Rapids right on Lake Michigan. They do have a community college, small hospital, the usual WalMart, Home Depot, etc., but I think you will find its miles of sand dunes and open beaches with almost nobody on them pretty satisfying for a summer retirement option. Beautiful weather till the snow flies, but if you do like the winter, it turns into a really quiet little place in the off season. We spent ten summer there in the 90s and I hear it is still much more uncrowded than Traverse City and Charlevoix.

    by mike t — December 1, 2013

  16. […] for Retirement Great College Towns for Retirement Affordable Places to Retire on the Waterfront 5 Big Reasons Why Small Towns Are Great Places to Retire 10 Great Walkable Towns for […]

    by » At The Lake – Where the (Retirement) Living is Easy Topretirements — July 24, 2014

  17. thankyou so much for all the good info everyone. im from la, in ohio years after the storms rthere, looking for my place in this world in my older age. snowy and icey here in ohio. thanks again

    by charlene — November 29, 2014

  18. An absolutely perfect small, college town is Dahlonega, GA. It is located in North Georgia near the Army Ranger School and Lake Lanier. A well kept secret for retirees is a small, lakefront community on Lake Lanier, called Chestatee North. This community is not only convenient to Dahlonega, but also Gainesville, GA, where there is an excellent hospital and other medical facilities.

    by Jim G. — August 17, 2016

  19. Georgia is a tax friendly state for retirees as well.

    by Jennifer — August 18, 2016

  20. Jennifer. Can you please clarify your posting. Georgia presently has a State tax of 6% plus $230.00 on income over $7,001. Also the local sales taxes are between 7% to 8%.

    http://www.tax-brackets.org/georgiataxtable

    https://dor.georgia.gov/sites/dor.georgia.gov/files/related_files/document/LGS/Distributions/LGS_2016_Jul_Rate_Chart.pdf

    by Bob R — August 19, 2016

  21. Georgia is tax friendly to retirees and those over 65. Sales tax is better than is Tennessee and if you are over 65 much more income is differed from any state tax.
    Real estate tax is highly reduced once you qualify as a resident and are over 65.

    by Ron — August 19, 2016

  22. Jim G, thanks for the mention of Dahlonega, GA. Although I may be destined to retire in Michigan due to relatives, I am continuing my search for a less expensive southern location. I looked at a lot info on the internet and it met most of the criteria I was looking for. I particularly liked the elevation and climate stats; looks like it would be a bit cooler in the summer and I don’t mind a little snow. Do you have any comments on the summer heat or humidity? Also about nearby Gainesville. Georgia, a significantly larger city? Any details about the area would be appreciated.

    by BeckyN — August 20, 2016

  23. I recently visited Sheridan, Wyoming pop. 18,000. What a wonderful small town. What made it so wonderful was the people. The friendliest people I have ever met. All restaurant staff couldn’t be more friendly. Hotel staff suggested many things to see and visit. We attended church services and the priest introduced my brother and I to the parishioners. Main Street was pretty and attractive. Plan to go back real soon. I would like to see the place on the list of best Towns to Live in. Darlene

    by Darlene Monroe — August 22, 2016

  24. Not mentioned for criticism, but for amusement. A long ways back, my companion and I stopped in Grey Bull, Wyoming. A very small cow town. We stopped in the local western wear shop to purchase some denim jackets. We were assisted by a weather-beaten yet charming woman of advanced years who smiled and said: We like to see ya come, but we also like to see ya go!. Guess she was trying to keep the riff-raff out??!!!

    by doc stickel — August 23, 2016

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