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10 Best of the Best Places to Retire for 2021

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

January 26, 2021 — Every year we have fun rendering our opinion on the very “Best Places to Retire“. This list is meant to highlight retirement towns that represent exceptionally great places to retire. But it is important to remember, any place where you can be happy in retirement, that is the best place – for you!

To develop this list we consulted our previous reports of the 20 Best Retirement Towns in three of the major U.S. retirement regions. But the primary consideration was visitor and Member interest at Topretirements.com – the cities that generated the most interest from January to December on this site were the winners. The big news is that several of the towns generating top places on this list had never placed so high. Arizona garnered the top two places on this list, joining Florida and New Mexico who also had two winners. Congratulations to all!

10 Best of the Best Places to Retire

Popularity on this site, as measured by online visits by our Members,was the most important criteria. On that basis, here are the best of the best places to retire in all of the U.S.

1. Flagstaff, Arizona. This town in northern AZ has seen a lot of new retirement interest lately, and its review on Topretirements was the most visited in 2020. The San Francisco Peaks and cooler summers are just two of the nicer things about this town on Route 66, which almost became what Hollywood is today in the film world. This is Flagstaff’s first time on our Top 10 list.

Prescott’s cowboy heritage

2. Prescott, AZ. Located at an elevation of 5400 feet in the mountains of north central Arizona, the City of Prescott (population just under 43,000 in 2020), was the original territorial capital of the Arizona Territory. It still celebrates its cowboy heritage. Prescott consistently gets some of the highest online views at Topretirements. The Zillow Home Value Index was $383,805 in 2020.

3. Pensacola, FL. This newcomer to the 10 Best of the Best list is more affordable than most of the bigger towns in South Florida. There is water to be enjoyed just about everywhere, and many active communities to choose from. It is very popular with military retirees because of the many bases here.

Beaufort

4. 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. It is not far from the coast, Hilton Head, and Charleston. There are dozens and dozens of active and 55+ communities to choose from. The Zillow Home Value Index was $221,415 in early 2020.

Chattanooga

5. Chattanooga, TN . Chattanooga is a low-cost, interesting retirement city in a state considered very tax-friendly (earned income is not taxed). 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. Zillow Home Value Index in 2020 is a relative bargain at $168,000.

Downtown Asheville is cool

6. Asheville, NC Asheville is a prosperous small city of just over 92,000 in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina. The downtown is filled with cafes, restaurants, and art deco buildings. Because it is in the mountainous part of the state it tends to have 4 seasons. The surrounding area has other towns popular with retirees, along with a huge number of 55+ and active adult communities. The Zillow Home Value Index was $303,814 in early 2020.

Las Cruces

7. Las Cruces, NM. Located in the southern part of the state at 4,000 ft., Las Cruces has often been listed as a “Best Place to Retire”. With a history going back 8,000 years to the Anasazi people, today it offers low cost of living, active cultural life with New Mexico State University, and an unusually beautiful location.

Adobe style home in Santa Fe

8. Santa Fe, NM. Located at 7000 feet in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe offers a unique climate – high enough to be near some good skiing, yet southern enough to have a year-round livable climate. It offers awe-inspiring vistas of mountains, canyons, and gorges. Plus it has a world renowned art scene.

9. Sarasota, FL. A perennial best of the best places to retire winner, Sarasota has one of Florida’s best walkable downtowns. It has an impressive array of cultural facilities along with restaurants and high-rise, luxury hotels and apartments. The philanthropic legacy of the Ringling Brothers, who used Sarasota as the winter quarters of their circus, helped to make Sarasota a cultural powerhouse. 

10. Charlottesville, VA.  Home to the stately and picturesque University of Virginia, founded by President Jefferson, this college town offers a tree-lined dignity and charm. Its location at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it easy to see why so many 55+ retirees are planning to retire in Charlottesville.

Bottom line. All 10 of these towns make for great places to retire, each for different reasons. Can you add more detail about them? Are there other towns you think should have made the list? We would love to hear your opinions in the Comments section below.

For further reading:

Posted by Admin on January 26th, 2021

23 Comments »

  1. I would like to hear more about Charlottesville, VA, if anyone lives there. I actually live in one of these top 10 but it doesn’t meet my needs.

    by Judy — January 27, 2021

  2. I live in the number 2 town, Prescott, AZ. It has 4 mild seasons a year and if not for the pandemic a very, nice, active and fun town throughout the year. We do get snow and just finished a 1 1/2 feet storm, which is a bit unusual. The number one town on this list, Flagstaff (80 miles north) is a very nice too, however at 7,000 ft. elevation it gets alot more snow every year than here. People think that Arizona is one big desert, however this state is full of contrasts with deserts, mountains, forests and stunning scenery. The heat and the snow of this state is all dependent upon the elevation

    by David — January 27, 2021

  3. We are looking to retire in the next year or two to a 55+ community . Currently looking at Peachtree City, GA and Fairfield Glade, TN. Any information or opinions would be appreciated.
    Thank you.

    by Colette — January 27, 2021

  4. My husband and I retired to Flagstaff in 2017. It’s nice but getting crowded as everyone wants to live here. You need some money as there’s a high cost of living . Housing is expensive. Also, I hope you like snow. Elevation 7000 ft and very dry.

    by Viv — January 27, 2021

  5. I’m surprised by the first two. Flagstaff is having issue with water and affordable housing. Traffic is abhorrent. And while Prescott is a beautiful area, you had better be a leaning right Republican if you choose this county.

    by Callie — February 3, 2021

  6. The towns of Florida are better credited to cheap housing, low taxes, and high satisfaction and desirability scores.

    by Nicki Halmas — February 5, 2021

  7. Colette – I would avoid 55+ neighborhoods. Surrounding oneself with just ”Old People” makes one age quicker. I live in a mix-age group neighborhood. I go biking around the area with people 10-15 years younger than me. Then we reward ourselves with a beer. Also, 55+ neighborhoods are a nightmare for your kids or next of kin to sell after you move on. Rent first. If you like it, then buy. If you buy first and don’t like it, then try to sell it. Just look at The Villages in Florida. There are currently 400+ homes for sale.

    by Roland — February 7, 2021

  8. I totally agree that a community of mixed ages is far better than just one 55 and over. Younger people will keep older ones interested in life instead of aches and pains (which not all elderly have). I could never isolate myself with just an elderly population. I am 66 and looking ahead.

    by Jennifer — February 8, 2021

  9. I would like to add a comment about “55” plus communities. First – this is my perspective based upon my experience. Everyone is different and you are all entitled to your own opinions and life choices. OK – that said. We live in a “55” plus community – and we are happy we do! Prior to relocating (prior to my 55th birthday), we lived in a big beautiful house in an upscale “mixed” age neighborhood. However, the children (the “little angels”) on our street loved our large wrap front around driveway. They loved skate boarding down our driveway. When I politely asked them to stop, they disregarded my request. When I saw my neighbors on the street, I politely asked them to tell their little darlings not to use my driveway. Their general response – “kids will be kids,” “they aren’t hurting anything,” “you should have known when you bought the house that the driveway would attract the neighborhood children,” etc. And then the kicker — “If one of the kids should fall and get hurt, you’ll be liable.” That was the wrong thing to tell me (I am a lawyer and I don’t like threats of legal action). Further, it was common to find empty beer cans and beer bottles along the street after a Friday or Saturday night teenage party. Also, in the mornings, on my way to my lawfirm, it was very common to find soccer balls in the front garden beds, bikes left in the driveway, broken sprinkler heads, etc. The list goes on. The young parents didn’t seem to care. Their children were golden. Their children were special and I was the one who was being “picky.” But they all welcomed the free legal advice I gave to them – because they were my neighbors.

    Now – we don’t have these issues. All of my neighbors (and us also) have raised their families. We respect each other. We’re cordial. There is a strong HOA that protects all of the residents and governs behavior (i.e. barking dogs all night long; you can’t paint your house purple). Nothing is perfect – but for some of us – an age restricted neighborhood is the better option. To each his own.

    by Steve — February 8, 2021

  10. I agree completely with Steve. No more children means no mess, no noise. Even no fireworks scaring my dog. And I still have younger friends due to activities and places I choose to go. But I have peace at home. Almost perfect for last 4 years. No regrets.

    by Pat R — February 8, 2021

  11. 55+ community with “a strong HOA that protects all of the residents and governs behavior.” Sounds more like a strict nursing home that drugs their residents into conforming behavior. “To each his own.”

    by Claire — February 8, 2021

  12. There wouldn’t be thousands and thousands of 55+ and active adult communities in such a thriving industry if it didn’t work for the people who live there. It isn’t fair to knock something unless you have experienced it. Some people love 55+ communities, but they are obviously not for everyone. To each is own.

    by Rick — February 8, 2021

  13. After reading the pro 55+ community posts, confirms why my neighbors in a mixed-aged community with an HOA decided never to live in a 55+ community. It would be like living in “Pleasantville”. It’s a 1998 film that is still circulating on cable. It’s pretty good. Who knows, you might even see yourself in one of the characters on either side of the “Color” spectrum (you have to see the movie to understand what that meant). To each his own and there is a place for everyone to shelter. Thank goodness for choices.

    Also, another thought: Some people don’t choose the community where to live, the community chooses them.

    by Roland — February 9, 2021

  14. Steve,

    I agree with you completely about the noise and “it’s all about me” inconsiderate neighbors. We’re in a 55 plus community right now and it is quiet at night (thankfully), but not enough to keep us here. Too much conformity and pressure to “join in,” a well as being out “in the middle of nowhere.” We are too independent for this type of community and I am looking at different locations and homes as I type this.
    Sometimes I do feel like this is more of a nursing home atmosphere with homes on top of one another (instead of individual rooms) with management putting on different activities to keep the residents entertained. Ugh… Just not for us!

    by Fionna — February 9, 2021

  15. It’s sad to hear those opposed to 55 communities comments reinforcing the Pro 55+ communities! Being independent also lends itself to discourteous, obnoxious, self serving activities without regard to the neighbors! Uncontrolled children, loud noisy activities, disrespect for others seems to be growing in America! This is very disturbing! This also adds to the appeal if 55+ neighborhoods!

    by Ron — February 9, 2021

  16. Now my Kid’s & GKid’s wave Goodbye to me. Hmmm; they must be Happy to see me leave!!
    Yipeee!!

    PS Made a promise myself to never become a Fossil!!

    by BillyB — February 9, 2021

  17. I’m with Steve. Lived in my neighborhood over 40 years and watched it evolve from respectful children and responsible parents into the current frat party it is now with no real adults in charge. I longed for the safety of adults-only community until I read about children visiting grandparents in these communities and running roughshod with the golf carts and the community pools. It’s the people who make or break a neighborhood. I assumed the more upscale the neighborhood, the more mannerly the neighbors, but that doesn’t seem to be true. I especially worry about living in a community allowing short-term rentals, and heard from former neighbors who moved to an Oceanside retirement community having that problem.

    by Daryl — February 9, 2021

  18. Oh Wow!! I must have been very lucky or just plain deaf and blind in my 50 years of living in various communities and working around the country. I only recall living next to one obnoxious military officer. He was so bad that even the military kicked him out. The rest of the family was very pleasant. Go figure.

    I guess with all the transfers over the years, I did not get to experience any negative changes in the communities that may have occurred later. Now that I am retired and settled into a mixed-age community with a reasonable HOA, I will see how it evolves over the next several years. So far, it’s been great as we all help each other during these difficult times.

    For those of you that are looking for that place, it’s out there to be found. It won’t be 100%, but if you can get 85%, you won part of the lottery.

    by Roland — February 9, 2021

  19. It’s all about respect and consideration for others. Sounds like you have a great community.

    by Daryl — February 9, 2021

  20. We moved to SW Florida but find it too hot and humid for us. We have family in The DC area and in New Jersey close to Philadelphia. We are thinking of checking out Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
    Does anyone have recommendations regarding which state is the best place to retire. I know from your site that Delaware is tax friendly. We are still working. Originally from Massachusetts but we have lived in California and Arizona as well. Thanks.

    by RosemaryB — February 25, 2021

  21. Hi Rosemary B,
    I’m still looking for that best place to retire lol, but
    This might be helpful-
    If you go to the Topretirements.com at the bottom of this page, you’ll see the drop down menu. There you’ll find the State Guides and Retirement Ranger listed there. The state guides give you general information and access to 55+ communities. With the Retirement Ranger, you will be able you to put in most things you’re looking for in a retirement location. Then you’ll get an email with links to suggested locations. It’s really helpful and once you’re logged in you can change your search criteria to generate more specific responses that relate to what’s important to you.
    There are also articles comparing different Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. Use the search bar to enter the states you’re interested in.
    Good Luck!!
    Moderator Flo

    by Moderator Flo — February 26, 2021

  22. We are ready to be snowbirds and are torn between Sarasota and the Charleston, South Carolina area. Not having been to either place, all I know so far is that it’s warmer in Florida. We vacationed for years when our sons were young in Myrtle Beach and loved it. But that’s too touristy and we don’t want that.
    We want to move somewhere that has something for us and for my sons who are in their early 20s. Because of their jobs, they will be staying in New York and will come down whenever they can. And I’d like to leave the house to them as a vacation home to use when they have their own families. I also like the idea of being able to drive to South Carolina from NY but don’t know if that should affect my decision. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
    As an aside, this forum is very informative. Very good input from everyone.

    by Francesca — February 26, 2021

  23. I think that being able to drive somewhere rather than having to fly would be a major consideration.

    by Staci — February 27, 2021

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