Tempted by The Villages: Here Are Some of the Best Retirement Alternatives

Category: Active adult communities

March 20, 2012 — The question we just received from Jim is similar to many we get on a regular basis: “Where in North or South Carolina is there a retirement community that has similar amenities as The Villages in Florida? I am not looking for size, I’m looking for the same quality of life that I have enjoyed for the last 5 years here in the Villages”. We have answered this question in the past, but since it keeps coming up, here is a fresh look, with a concentration on the Eastern U.S. (we reported on the Western U.S. last year, see “Does The Villages Have Any Alternatives“).

A Refresher, What is The Villages
For those not familiar with it, The Villages, located south of Ocala in Central Florida, is one of the largest active communities in the world with an estimated 75,000 residents. The Villages has 2 town squares (Spanish Springs and Lake Sumter Landing) that provide shopping, restaurants, and open-air plazas featuring free nightly entertainment. There are 33 golf courses, 8 country clubs where residents automatically become members, along with a large number of separate family and adult recreational areas. The Polo Center and its Pavilion host international polo matches and events like BBQ competitions. There is virtually every kind of activity and athletic resource: archery, one finger painting, pickle ball, quilting, scrap booking, synchronized swimming, taichi, yoga, etc. There are hundreds of clubs for every interest, including one for just about every state in the country. The community is large enough that singles can feel at home here, since there are clubs and activities just for them. Although there are plenty of people who hate the idea of a community this large, there are many more who are attracted to the idea. See our recent article, “Why the Villages is the Best Place for Len and Ann” for more about living there.

Lifestyle More Important than Sheer Size
Jim’s question puts a finger on the important issue when looking for alternatives to The Villages – if you want to have a lot of choices, opting for lifestyle opportunities is far more important than size. Otherwise, there just aren’t that many communities with more than 10,000 residents. In fact, the Topretirements database only has 10 communities that big (11 counting Peachtree City, which is more of a town than an active community).  When you drop to the next level, however, there are many more communities to choose from. Using our Advanced Search tool we found 226 communities in the Topretirements database with more than 1000 homes.  Practically all of these communities offer a version of the varied active lifestyle found at The Villages. Maybe they don’t have as many golf courses, swimming pools, or clubs – but they still have a lot to offer! In our experience, few people in the largest communities tend to use or appreciate all of the opportunities in them anyway – instead they tend to socialize with their nearby neighbors and stick to the closest or their favorite recreational facilities.

Comparable Lifestyle
The experience of a very large community like The Villages is unique, and very different from smaller communities with only a few activities and amenities.  We define this large active community lifestyle to mean an active community that has most, if not all of these attributes:
– Wide choice of sports suitable for all ages of retirees (golf, tennis, swimming, fitness, pickleball, bocci, etc.)
– Active social program with planned events on regular schedule
– Wide array of clubs to match many different interest levels
– Large number of activities to take part in along with the resources to do them
– Opportunities for life-long learning
– Clubhouses and/or community centers that bring people together
– A strong sense of community
– Although not essential, a community that has restaurants, stores, and permits golf carts on internal roads.

The Good News – There Are Many Choices for You
If you are not too hung up about size, there are dozens if not hundreds of communities in the eastern U.S. that can offer an alternative active adult experience similar to The Villages. The key to finding them is to have an open mind, and to look for the common experience of a place that offers a stimulating mix of activities combined with a strong sense of community. The best way to find them is to look in our State Directories of Active Adult Communities and click on listings that look like they might be interesting. You can discover and read about ones that interest you with those tools.  Then you can visit their websites, call for more information, and visit in person to do get a hands on feel for the possibilities.

A Few of the More Promising Possibilities
We want to stress that this is just a small sampling of some of the more obvious alternatives. There are many more to be found if you keep your mind open and so some basic searching:

Ocala/Orlando areaOn Top of the World. Not that far from The Villages, OTOW, has thousands of enthused residents (but less than 10,000 homes), plus some smaller communities that border on it. The list of amenities and clubs is just about endless, including a multi-acre airport for model airplanes.  See “What Sandy Learned” for more.  We are proud to have it as one of our Showcase communities.  Another community in nearby Kissimee that might appeal to younger retirees is Solivita, which bills itself as “The Younger Next”.  Here you can drive your golf cart to one of the championship golf courses, or burn off some of the calories from the community’s 3 restaurants at the 32,000 sq.ft. Riviera spa and fitness center.

Tampa areaSun City Center, located in Ruskin, is one of the handful of communities that have more than 10,000 homes. The amenities are extensive (8 golf course, over 250 clubs), and it is inexpensive.  The rap on this Sun City is that, since it has been around a long time, the average age of its residents and its facilities is getting up there. So it might not appeal to some young retirees. Also in the Tampa area is Valencia Lakes,  a newer community from GL Homes with plenty of active amenities, minus golf.

Tellico Village.  Near Loudon, Tennessee, this master-planned community on  giant Tellico Lake has 6,750 enthusiastic residents, championship golf courses, and a yacht club. It is open to people of all ages.

Century Village (Southern Florida). There are actually 4 Century Villages in Southern Florida; in Palm Beach, Deerfield Beach, Pembroke Pines, and Boca Raton (all east coast). In some ways CV has superior locations to TV, as they are much closer to beaches and bigger towns. They are also really big –  over 500 clubs, 100,000 sq.ft. clubhouses, and every form of recreation you can think of.  On the other hand we have heard complaints that the residents have a higher average age than most of the newer communities.

Peachtree City.  This master-planned community is 25 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia and is open to people of all ages (average age is 37.5, population over 35,000). It has achieved some level of fame for its extremely high golf cart population – like The Villages, customized golf carts seem to be the preferred method of transportation. There are swimming pools, athletic fields, 2,000 seat amphitheater, etc.

Chapel Hill/Durham area. Depending on what you are looking for, you might enjoy either Fearrington Village or the Governor’s Club, among others.  The former does not offer golf or quite as extensive recreational amenities some other large active communities do, but it does have a village center with a book store and 5 star restaurant, huge gym and pool, and extensive social schedule. Governor’s Club does have a great golf course, 10 neighborhoods. Like Fearrington, it attracts an upscale community of residents.

Del Webb Carolina Preserve.  Located in Cary, Carolina Preserve is typical of this national brand of active adult communities (also under Pulte and Sun City).  These communities typically have full-time social directors and extensive amenities and clubs.  They range in size from hundreds of units to thousands of units.

St. James Plantation (Southport, NC).  Here is another upscale community with very high end amenities and 4 country clubs to serve its 6,000 residents. The coastal experience here will be different from The Villages, but the feeling of living in a large community will be the same. There is a beach club, amphitheater, and marketplace.

South Carolina. In the Hilton Head, Beaufort, Charleston, and Bluffton areas there is a wide selection of large, amenity-rich active adult communities. There is at least one Sun City, plus an amazing array of established communities, many of them located along the IntraCoastal, that offer tons of amenities including access to the water.  Use this link to get to their listings.

Williamsburg, Virginia. In several places in Virginia, but particularly near Williamsburg and Charlottesville, you will find many large communities with extensive amenities and strong community structure.  Kingsmill on the James is one, Colonial Heritage is another.

Strong Caveat!
The communities listed above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding places that can offer a Villages type experience – albeit on a smaller scale.  Our apologies to the many fine communities we don’t have room to mention. Don’t be a lemming: we urge you to use the resources on this site to find communities more that might match your needs – then go out and explore them online and in person.

We reported on communities in the Western U.S. that are comparable to The Villages last year, see “Does The Villages Have Any Alternatives-Part I (West)”).

Comments. We and the rest of your fellow members look forward to your comments and suggestions. What are some of the best active adult communities you have come across in your travels? What makes for an exciting, interesting community in your mind and experience? Please let us know in the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on March 20th, 2012


  1. Almost perfect.. Wish you had included lifelong learning opportunities instead of just clubs.


    by Elizabeth — March 21, 2012

  2. […] further Reference: Part 1: Competitors to The Villages The Villages – Facts and Opinions Posted by John Brady on February 11th, 2011 Comments (7) […]

    by » Does The Villages Have Any Large Competitors-You Bet. Topretirements — March 21, 2012

  3. I like the idea of all of the activities but we don’t care for the humidity….Any recommendations for retirement communities in ‘low-humidity’ areas in the west / southwest?

    Thank you!

    by JCF — March 21, 2012

  4. Caution: Living in an active adult community can become dicey and pricey, especially if the HOA board becomes unwieldy and conforming to the will of the insider’s club or clique.

    by Denny — March 22, 2012

  5. I have a visited a many of the locations mentioned in this article. One of the attractions for me at the Villages was the ability to do about everything in a golf cart. In my last visit to Myrtle Beach I noted more golf carts being used. Can someone give me the names of active, adult communities where residents can move freely ‘off-campus’ in their golf carts for restaurants,etc?

    by Ray — March 22, 2012

  6. My husband and I moved this past June to Century Village Boca Raton. You are correct. The age is higher than average. We have had 6 deaths in our building since we moved here. However, the benefits outweigh the age differences since we love the amenities available that include buses to anywhere that we need to go for shopping or leisure within Palm Beach county included in a low maintenance and the only community in the area that has heated indoor (12 months) and outdoor pools (winter month). This is especially wonderful for my arthritis and exercise program. Everyone is very friendly and I have no problem with making friends with individuals who are older than myself. Additionally, the local university has adult enrichment which is certainly a possibility as well as community offerings in Boca Raton. You don’t need to stay inside a place and become insular.

    by Joan — March 22, 2012

  7. Would really like to find a community that includes fishing, boating, and possibly even hunting.

    by belleboy — March 25, 2012

  8. As Ray stated earlier about the Villages the ability to travel in a golf cart. This can eliminate the need for a second car and most of the time are a fraction of the cost of a car. Not to mention that if you go with an electict cart you will eliminate the need to pay the prices at the gas pump.

    Dustin –

    by Dustin — June 27, 2012

  9. Dustin – ah, sounds ideal, doesn’t it. That’s when I start to ask questions. Is there an ENFORCED speed limit for these things? I see pics of modified carts; do the drivers handle them just like the 57 Chevies and Mustangs they make them look like. I could envision scores of aged men (and women) “racing” around the trails. Also, I’ve heard that visitors/prospective buyers are allowed to use carts, but their speed is governed. Residents’ carts are not, and they get “upset” by these “slow” carts. Are they also upset by people walking and biking on those trails … is it even allowed? I rememebr something on this site about another large retirement community south of Atlanta. They also have extensive trails for carts. Their site did show walkers on that trail. However, some online stated that they were annoyed that youngsters used the carts to race to school (think it was a mixed age community). If one is considering The Villages (or any such location), they should do an extended visit, and check out these trails (traffic – in variious seasons, ability to do other than use carts on them, width for passing on-ciming and same-direction traffic, etc.). As a lover of biking, I also worry about the growing market for eletcric bicycles … I was nearly run off a trail (into a canal) by teens riding in a large group on a trail while ignoring oncoming traffic … I can envision some teens having electrics that could go 20 – 40 mph on these trails … such fun! Finally, I am an advocate of electric vehicles; however, I do recognize that there is a lively debate re: the cost-benefit to the environment. A good site to see is green.autoblog.com .

    by Mad Monk — June 30, 2012

  10. Belleboy,
    Look on Google for HOA-Free Community Florida…

    There you’ll find a community that embraces ‘big toys’ like RVs, boats, and ATVs, and it’s only 4 miles from the Ocala National Forest. The Forest is the oldest forest south of the Mississippi, with over 400,000 acres of camping, swimming, boating and fishing! The Ocala National Forest has the most concentration of natural artisan springs in the Country!

    It’s worth checking out!
    In my opinion. – Neil

    by Neil S. Schuster — July 1, 2012

  11. Are there any adult communities that you can drive a golf cart to at least a grocery store (not a 7-11 type) and some dining and shopping. Prefer warmer states.

    by Kate — May 15, 2013

  12. Above remarks, of course means, besides the Villages.

    by Kate — May 15, 2013

  13. Kate,

    One example would be Solivita: http://www.vitaliahomes.com/communities/solivita

    Jan Cullinane, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement

    by Jan Cullinane — May 16, 2013

  14. This question came in from Jan, and we thought it would be good to post it here so others could be reminded of this article:

    Are there any other large communities , as Top of the World or The Villages in NC or SC?

    by Admin — November 6, 2014

  15. There are several quite large communities in the Carolinas, although maybe not as large as the 2 you mention. Look in the NC and SC Directories – e.g; http://www.topretirements.com/active_adult_communities/North%20Carolina.html to find them. In NC Look for the Del Webb’s, Fearrington Village is another that is quite different. In SC look for The Ponds, among others.

    You can use Advanced Search to look for communities by state – such as more than 1,000 homes, 10,000+

    by Editor — November 11, 2014

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