Our 2011 Best Places to Retire List: The Sunbelt Rules

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

Note: This was our 2011 List. Here is the link to our 2014 List of 100 Best Places to Retire

February 22, 2011 – The Sunbelt continues to dominate when it comes to the places that baby boomers are considering for retirement. Topretirements.com has just published its 5th annual list of the 100 most popular places to retire on its site, and this year the trend toward the Sunbelt continues even stronger — 77 of the 100 top positions were held by towns in the Sunbelt. Florida dominated the list, taking 26 of the spots (it held 23 in 2010), followed by North Carolina (11) and South Carolina and Arizona (7 each). Note: We will be updating this article for 2012 in late January, 2012. To make sure you don’t miss our new list, sign up for our free weekly “Best Places to Retire” newsletter. See also “The Worst States for Retirement – 2012“.

The Top 10
As has been the case since Topretirements published its first list in 2007, Asheville, NC was the #1 town on the list, receiving almost 20 times as many page visits as Cuenca (Ecuador), which squeezed onto the list in the #100 position (and is one of 2 non USA towns on the list). Asheville’s mountains, gentle 4 seasons climate, and recreational/cultural opportunities provide the standard that all other retirement towns can aspire to. Sarasota (FL) Prescott (AZ) continued as the # 2 and #3 most popular towns. Fort Myers (FL) moved up to 4th position, and Venice (FL) cracked the top 10 list in 2010. Austin (TX) moved up from the 9th position on our previous list to the #5 spot.

Sunbelt Gains
Ten new towns moved onto the 2010 list – all of them from the Sunbelt and 6 of them from Florida. Two of the towns were from outside the U.S. – Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Cuenca, Ecuador. Several of the new towns making the list were only recently added to the Topretirements database of of over 625 retirement towns and 1300 active adult and 55+ communities. Many Florida towns made big improvements on the list; for example Fort Myers went from #10 to #4 , Vero Beach climbed from #46 to #16, and Bluffton (SC) shot from #83 to #28. Five of the 2010 towns not making the 2011 list were from non-sunbelt states, and those included Ithaca (NY), Madison (CT), Manahawkin (NJ), and Princeton (NJ). In one procedural change from earlier years, in an effort to concentrate on towns/cities rather than active communities, we excluded the latter from the 2011 list. That being said, know that that several of them were popular enough to have made the list had we included them (The Villages would have been #10, Tellico Village #67, Sun City #65, Hot Springs Village #63).

Our Criteria
Topretirements.com, “Where Baby Boomers Go to Find Their Best Place to Retire”, has published its 100 most popular list annually since 2007. It is important to note that our list uses criteria that are quite different from most other lists. Our list is essentially a popularity contest; it reflects the towns that visitors to this “find your best place to retire” website are most interested in for retirement. The list is compiled by calculating the 100 towns that receive the most online visits of the 725+ cities reviewed at Topretirements.com.

Here are the 100 most popular places to retire for 2011. But we urge you not to stop there – you can find the reviews for more than 725 towns and 1400 active adult communities by using the “Find a Community” feature on the top right of all pages at Topretirements. Detailed reviews and facts about each of the 100 most popular towns are also included website’s handbook, “100 Best Retirement Towns, 2nd Edition”.

1. Asheville, NC
2. Sarasota, FL
3. Prescott, AZ
4. Ft. Myers, FL
5. Austin, TX
6. Paris, TN
7. Green Valley, AZ
8. Beaufort, SC
9. Venice, FL
10. San Diego, CA
11. Naples, FL
12. Winston-Salem, NC
13. Williamsburg, VA
14. Sedona, AZ
15. San Antonio, TX
16. Vero Beach, FL
17. Tucson, AZ
18. Crossville, TN
19. Charlottesville, VA
20. Phoenix, AZ
21. San Luis Obispo, CA
22. Gainesville, FL
23. Delray Beach, FL
24. Mt. Airy, NC
25. Myrtle Beach, SC
26. Las Cruces, NM
27. Athens, GA
28. Bluffton, SC
29. St. Augustine, FL
30. Chapel Hill, NC
31. Palm Springs, CA
32. Summerville, SC
33. Flagstaff, AZ
34. Santa Fe, NM
35. Boca Raton, FL
36. New Bern, NC
37. Rehoboth Beach, DE
38. Bend, OR
39. Boulder, CO
40. Eugene, OR
41. Beaufort, NC
42. Brevard, NC
43. Ft. Lauderdale, FL
44. Colorado Springs, CO
45. Albuquerque, NM
46. Aiken, SC
47. Winter Park, FL*
48. Stuart, FL
49. Key West*
50. Santa Barbara, CA
51. Denver, CO
52. Henderson, NV
53. Cheyenne, WY
54. Southport, NC
55. The Woodlands, TX
56. Murray, KY
57. Orlando, FL
58. Chattanooga, TN
59. Tampa, FL
60. Pittsburgh, PA
61. Napa, CA
62. St. Petersburg, FL*
63. Cape Coral, FL
64. Clemson, SC
65. Charleston, SC
66. Hendersonville, NC

67. Maryville, TN*
68. Ft. Collins, CO
69. Port Charlotte, FL
70. La Jolla, CA
71. Tallahassee, FL
72. Portland, OR
73. Jacksonville, FL
74. Hilton Head, SC
75. Ocala, FL
76. Jupiter, FL
77. Bellingham, WA
78. Eureka, CA
80. Greenville, NC
81. Chicago, IL
82. Old Saybrook,CT
83. Halifax, CAN
84. Fairhope, AL
85. Knoxville, TN*
86. Eufaula, AL
87. Spokane, WA
88. Pensacola, FL*
89. New Smyrna Beach, FL
90. Clearwater, FL*
91. Bowling Green, KY
92. Fayetteville, AR
93. Portland, ME
94. Corpus Christi, TX*
95. Melbourne, FL*
96. Walla Walla, WA
97. Mesa, AZ*
98. Pinehurst, NC
99. Smyrna, DE
100. Cuenca, Ecuador*
*New to the List in 2011 <strong

What do You Think? Please add your comments below
For Additional reference:
“Sun Shines on the Sunbelt: The 2010 List of 100 Best Places to Retire”
100 Best Retirement Towns, 2nd Edition (2010)
100 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities – 2011
My Search for the (almost) perfect Retirement Climate
The Next Best 25: A List of Communities from 2010 that almost made the Top 100
Worst Places to Retire for Weather

Posted by John Brady on February 22nd, 2011
Comments (40)
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)

Elizabeth Westmark says

I am so pleased to see Pensacola on the list for the first time. When I first moved to Pensacola more than 30 years ago, I told my husband-to-be, “What on earth will I (a star:roll:) do in this “dinky little town?”

Beautiful beaches, charming historical district, incredible seafood from Joe Patti’s Seafood to take home or the many waterfront restaurants, excellent medical and education community aside, our “dinky little town” is undergoing a Renaissance. People of all ages are moving downtown into lofts, and low-rise townhomes so they can participate in the vibrant arts, theater and dining scene downtown. Running and walking clubs (and strollers) enjoy the sidewalks, and most Saturday mornings bring a farmer’s/crafts/bakers market to a spot near the waterfront downtown. We even have a brand new restaurant (Elise Coastal Dining) that was just named as one of the country’s 33 best new restaurants by the James Beard Foundation. We’re going to try it for lunch tomorrow!

There is a new high-tech industrial park in the heart of downtown, plus the new Vince Whibbs Community Maritime Park (with recreation, retail, concerts, etc.) is being built on the bayfront downtown (see http://www.maritimepark.us/).

My husband and I took a drive to SW Florida two weeks ago to see if we were missing something in the Naples/Ft. Myers area, or in Central Florida (i.e. The Villages). Those areas have a lot to offer and are very nice in many ways, but much more crowded than we are accustomed to. We came back early, and have made our decision to sell our “big house” and build a smaller, lower maintenance home right here in Pensacola.

I would be happy to answer any questions about our “dinky little town.”

February 22nd, 2011 | #

Tim Mahoney says

Come on! No Branson, Missouri on the list? Eight million tourists come here annually, temperate climate 10 months of the year, low cost of living and crime, phenomenal recreation and entertainment, ample part-time employment available, great health care, 9 championship golf courses, most heavily visited amusement park in the state, bass fishing capital of the country, situated within 750 miles of 1/2 of the population of the United States, and, discount carriers flying directly into the new Branson Airport! What does it take to get noticed?

Editor’s note:Sorry Tim, maybe next year. As we try to make very clear, this list is a popularity contest. The cities/towns that get the most page views make the list, period. I am sure yours is a fine town, in fact we’ve written a pretty nice review of Branson

February 23rd, 2011 | #

Jeff Hollansworth says

Hot Springs Village Arkansas, according to the editors, would have been #63 on the Top 100 List. Because it’s governed by a Property Owner’s Association, it was left off the list. Nonetheless, with a population of 14,000 and a land mass of 26,000 acres, it holds the designation as “The Largest Gated Community” in the United States and one of the most popular.

February 23rd, 2011 | #

thekurps says

I’ve traveled thru much of Arizona in the past, really liked many areas, and have been seriously considering a retirement move there. But I have concerns regarding future water conditions and the immigration & drug traffic problems that seem to be plaguing the state, especially in the southern part. Are these items given consideration when selecting a list of the best retirement towns?
Can anyone already living in Arizona provide some additional insight, beyond what is reported in the media, that would help in the decision process.

February 23rd, 2011 | #

William Nut says

Glad to see a handful of North Carolina cities on the list, albeit some somewhat surprising ones. NC Retirement Communities are fully heeding the evolving needs of retirees with the aging of baby boomers, much more so than communities in other popular destinations, especially Florida. They do an excellent job of fully utilizing the State’s geographical amenities, from the Atlantic to the Appalachians—hence the number of coastal cities toward the top of the list, and Asheville (a mountain town) at the top spot!

February 24th, 2011 | #

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February 24th, 2011 | #

Sally Bentley says

Being an Interior Design firm besed in NC we’re glad to see the rest of the country has now seen what we’ve known for ages..NC is the most beautiful state,not only for the mountains and the oceans,but also for our people! We have many clients all over the state but you’re right…Asheville’s at the top of our list too. Thanks for all the wonderful reviews..we agree!!

March 16th, 2011 | #

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March 19th, 2011 | #

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March 21st, 2011 | #

Dan says

I cannot believe that Paris, TN made your top 100 list, let alone at #6! City-data.com reports its crime index for 2008 at 411.8, which is almost 100 points above the national average of 319.2. Who in their right mind would retire to a place where crime is higher than the national average?? If anything, I would limit my choices to places that are below the national average. TN is a great place to retire and there are many other places there that are much more desirable than Paris. Basing any top 100 list on a popularity contest that tracks how many hits a website gets is a ridiculous and laughable way to promulgate said list, especially a list of places to retire.

March 25th, 2011 | #

John says

Dan, thanks for sharing your opinion. And those “many other places that are more desirable than Paris” … care to share those?

March 25th, 2011 | #

Dan says

Sure….Franklin, Bristol, Johnson City, Maryville, Hendersonville, Fairfield Glade…..

March 26th, 2011 | #


I was going to suggest a couple of better places but They are popular enough already! Ditch the list and do your own research!

March 29th, 2011 | #

susan says

Questioning whether the ratings even take into consideration the cost of living as Sedona, where the average home price is $1million is ranked no. 14. The locals who “work” in Sedona drive up to 30 miles for affordable housing.

March 30th, 2011 | #

Dan says

Moved to your number one spot 4 years ago. (Asheville) But we are currently looking to relocate. Love the mountains and outdoor activities, but Negatives: – ,high cost of living, No jobs, No lakes, increase of crime, increase of free loaders, Anti military friendly , corrupt city politics and way to much of the Art scene.. It does have a great micro beer community. It is a great place if you into strange people full of Trust fund kids.

April 24th, 2011 | #

Tim says

How can you have too much of the Art scene? Seriously.

May 14th, 2011 | #

Anne MacKinney says

Re: Thekurps – Arizona
In Spring 2008 we moved from NJ to Vail, AZ (Tucson area) and bought a house ona acre,with a pool approx 2300 sq ft. for $450K. One year later we sold it for $325K. Housiing prices are still dropping. We lived approx 20 miles from a supermarket and 35 miles from the center of Tucson. If you like to drive and spend the entire day running errands this distance will suit you. We didn’t know until we had lived in Vail for a few months that Mexicans hid in the desert across the street from our subdivision. When the monsoons came in the summer, backpacks, clothes,etc. would reamin behind in the washes once the massive rush of water had subsided. Google Monsoons, rain like you’ve never seen before. It was very scary the first time one of these storms blew in.
The economy was so bad that at least 1/3 of our neighborhood was either under foreclosure or the new construction homes had never sold 3 years later. The weather was so hot that people didn’t come outside during the day and at night in the real desert there weren’t any street lights so when it got dark you didn’t venture out. You wouldn’t believe what was outside once the sun went down. There’s a reason why people have concrete walls aroud their yards, creatures of the desert.
On the plus side: property taxes very reasonable. The views we had from our yard were to die for. The mountains are gorgeous and right in your back yard. The stars at night are so bright because the air is so clean.
The heat just finally got to us. Yes, it’s a dry heat but hot is hot.
But, take this as one families opinion and I’m sure that you will find others that love Arizona.

May 15th, 2011 | #

karen leroy says

Tucson and Phoenix are fine in the winter but unbearable in the summer due to the heat. Flagstaff and Prescott and parts of the Verde Valley,including Sedona are much more moderate.Property taxes are very low in AZ and New Mexico,figure that into your calculation.Moving from the northeast,it’s a huge difference. The home prices everywhere in AZ have been coming down due to foreclosures and short sales,It’s a great time to buy. Northern AZ never had the huge overbuilding that PHX and Tucson experienced,but there are alot more great deals right now. I just showed a home in Flag that was listed at $335,000 last fall,now relisted at $275,000.The altitude difference means you can go from snow and cold in Flagstaff in the winter to sun and 60-75 degrees in 2 hours to PHX. Great advantage to that!

May 15th, 2011 | #

Jack Tezak says

A great place to retire.
Lake of the Ozarks Conveniently located in the heart of Missouri, The Lake of the Ozarks is the Midwest’s lake resort destination, offering world-class boating, golfing, shopping and fishing, and a wide variety of lodging, restaurants, state parks, and other recreational activities to suit any budget and taste. Very affordable condos and lake homes, low tax rates. Great hospitals and doctors. To myself and many of my friends think this is the greatest place to be. Prices for lake front condo’s start $80,000,with RE tax of $250.00 lake front homes $170,000 RE tax under $800.00

May 31st, 2011 | #

Frank says

Ecuador ? Seriously ? Do they have any hospitals , doctors , supermarkets ,
you know , stuff like that ?

July 27th, 2011 | #

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August 1st, 2011 | #

Todd M says

NC – taxes are too high. Fort Lauderdale, Boca, Del Ray Beach – if you like paying lots of taxes. AZ? Maybe in the North of AZ but bring your check book. Ditto Boulder, CO.

October 18th, 2011 | #

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November 2nd, 2011 | #

Peggy says

Everyone needs to do research and go to these places and spend a few days. With today’s economy, real estate prices, and the need for good medical it pays to do your own research. We, personally, do not wish to live in a retirement “community” per say. We have been traveling Tennessee to see which area would meet our criteria – and we are glad we did. Some retirement books listed several cities which have lost industry and are on the down and out. TN is tax friendly, clean and very friendly. There are many areas to choose from, although several need to work on “sprucing” up their downtown areas.

November 3rd, 2011 | #

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December 26th, 2011 | #

Gary says

Great list and always good information on this website! I knew North Carolina was a big destination and to see Asheville at the top of the list is no surprise.

December 28th, 2011 | #

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January 11th, 2012 | #

scott says

Sold a summer home (we had for eight years) in Hemlock Farms over a year ago and bought a bigger house on one of the lakes there where we plan to retire. Got a good price and fixed it up where needed. We live in Long Island NY now but taxes are too high. Hemlock Farms is 11 miles west of Milford, Pa. Nice and quiet and it is a gated community. Taxes are low and only 2.5 hours from NY. You can even fly out of the Scranton airport or Newburgh airport of White Plains to get places. No jobs so you must be fully retired or you will commute to Northern NJ or NY for work. Weather is cold in the winter but this will be good for at least ten years if not more. Can’t take the heat much anyway and if I have to see a dermatologist again to cut off skin cancer I will start going out in a head to toe coverall. Kids are all over the country so they might move again anyway.

January 11th, 2012 | #

M Steele says

A friend of ours has been telling us how good a place like Cebu City in the Philipines is. North is beter than South locations. Good medical and one can afford a maid. Even can receive social security payments there. Reasonably safe. Have done some checking but will continue to do so. We would like to visit first before making a decision. What information do you have?

January 11th, 2012 | #

Gadget Master says

Yes Florida is the Best but South Florida that is South of I-4 That is the Dividing line between North and South Florida If you watch the Weather Maps you can see it where the whether stops. There is an angled divider between Tampa and Daytona … I-4 Interstate

January 12th, 2012 | #

thornton says

I lived in Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado for close to 27 years and since 1988 I now live in Arizona.

I have lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona at one time for 10 years and the climate is ideal! It’s allot cooler than Phoenix and Tucson I can tell you that much from my experience working there! (There was place no one wants to live and that is Huachuca City, Arizona–well known as junk city.)

The prices of homes on the market have been coming down from $200,000 range to more reasonable prices!

The gated community Winterheaven offers allot for active retire people!

Sierra vista, Arizona is located such 45 minutes from towns such as Bisbee and Tombstone!

Since the federal government as taken a more active interest in our borders next to Mexico, there has steady been a decrease on illegal activity on the borders!

January 19th, 2012 | #

Nanook says

What about Alaska? I live in Juneau, the state capitol. Crime is low, costs are moderate, no state income tax, and you get a dividend from the state for $1,500 a year as a resident. The recession never hit here–too far away. Fishing, hiking, whale watching, clean air, fresh water. Don’t need to go to the gym, just get out and shovel some snow. And we can see Russia from here. :smile:

January 30th, 2012 | #

Nanook says

What about Alaska? I live in Juneau, the state capitol. Crime is low, costs are moderate, no state income tax, and you get a dividend from the state for $1,500 a year as a resident. The recession never hit here–too far away. Fishing, hiking, whale watching, clean air, fresh water. Don’t need to go to the gym, just get out and shovel some snow. And we can see Russia from here. :smile:

January 30th, 2012 | #

Martin says

I have been to Juneau many years ago. It is kind of a dead city many times of the year. If I remember, you cannot drive to Anchorage from Juneau. You can only ride a boat or fly out to get out. The next time I go to Alaska, I will try out the northern section of Alaska, like Anchorage and possibly all the way to Fairbanks. I also heard that most if not all of the law makers do not even live in Juneau, but mostly in Anchorage. Juneau is a great town if you want to be fairly isolated from the outside world.

January 31st, 2012 | #

Kevin says

Born and raised in Alaska. Can’t wait to get out at retirement in 4-9 years. I live in Fairbanks. Cold and dark 8 months of the year. It’s currently -31 outside and three days ago was -57. Summers are good, if it’s not smoky from forest fires or a bad mosquito or yellow-jacket year. Other areas have their own problems. SE is stunningly beautiful on a sunny day. It’s sunny 4 times a year. Anchorage better than Fairbanks, but still cold and dark a majority of the year. No state income tax and $700-2000 a year depending on how the oil money investments do aren’t worth the above, in my opinion. But maybe I’ve just been here too long.

February 1st, 2012 | #

Gretchen says

I’ve lived in Juneau for ~32 years. Quite a few retirees “snowbird” to AZ or So. CA for the winter months and love living here March-October. As the state capital, there’s quite abit of political action for entertainment. There’s an active arts community year round, and annual folk & jazz festivals in the spring.

Juneau appeals to active, outdoors people. We’re in our 60s and still head off for 2-3 week wilderness kayaking trips each summer in this astounding SE Alaska wildlife playground.

Winter average temperature is 34 degrees. Great skiing in the mtns and can be bare pavement driving at sea level. Housing is expensive, but tax burden is very low.

My “complaints” that have me looking elsewhere in Pacific NW are the seasonal darkness, desire for city fix occasionally, and would look a longer growing season with abit more sunshine.

February 6th, 2012 | #

Mague says

Corpus Christi?!?! Srsly?! Did the people who put this list together even go there? I lived in CC for 5 yrs. I am within 10 yrs of retirement and still own a house there (which we can’t sell because the economy there is awful, the taxes are high, insurance outrageous, and there are no jobs). WOULD NOT EVEN CONSIDER LIVING THERE FOR THE REMAINDER OF MY LIFE. Were I forced to, I would buy a gun and shoot myself. Horrible place. Go to Rockport it’s SOOO much better!!

February 8th, 2012 | #

Shirley says

On this page:

The following link does not work:
2012 List of 100 Best Places to Retire

Please email me the link when it’s corrected. Thanks.

Editor’s note: Thanks for alerting us to this problem. It is now corrected.

March 29th, 2012 | #

Bill says

Corpus? In 2002 as a Coast Guard officer, I had a 3 year tour in Corpus and bought a house. I thought the city was on the verge of greatness, especially with 2 miles of ocean front. In 2005 the city had a new redevelopment plan and it looked great and I figured I’d retire there. In 2011 I retired moved back to Corpus and found NOTHING was done. Oh, earlier in the decade, they got a new ballpark and arena but neither were in the downtown and the ballpark was on port authority land. So within 4 months I left Corpus an I moved to Greenville, SC, which has an awesome downtown!! See ya Corpus!!

April 30th, 2012 | #

Lee Celski says

Check out the Tri-Cities area of Washington. Will nicely meet all of your requirements. We moved here from Minnesota over 30 years ago and still love it. 4 seasons, tons of wineries, close enough to Seattle, ocean and mountains with cheap housing.

August 20th, 2012 | #

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