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20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the Southeast: 2018

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

September 10, 2018 – Based on multiple surveys we have conducted, the best places to retire in America are in its Southeast, a region made up of 12 states. In that research 48% of respondents said they would like to retire there, twice as many as in the Southwest, the next highest choice. This is our 2018 list of the 20 most popular places to retire in the Southeast, the third in this year’s “Best Places” series. Here is a link to the first, “The Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southwest“. The second installment has the 20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the West (California to Colorado and points north).

What States are in the Southeast?
The states included in this big region are: West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida. In general the region has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers. Areas in the west and north tend to be cooler as they generally have more elevation or are further north. Hurricanes can reach landfall in the summer and fall months along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The region’s major geographical features include: Appalachian Mountains, Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River.

Surprises ahead
The 20 most popular towns in the Southeast contain mostly familiar names, although they include a few towns that earned surprisingly high ranks. Asheville (NC), which has been top dog on our Top 100 list for the entire U.S. many times, was no surprise to take the #1 spot here. Its review was read by over 9,100 visitors in the first 7 months of 2018, more than four times as many as called up the #20 selection, Naples, FL. As an example of a bit of an upset, the #2 most popular place to retire on our list, Pensacola (FL), edged out many more famous retirement towns and cities. Some less familiar names in the top 20 included Brevard (NC), Murphy (NC), and Maryville (TN). One fairly big surprise was that one of the perennial national favorites, Fort Myers (FL), did not make the top 20 (it was #25 on the 2017 national list, but #22 on this Southeast list).

The battle of the states
South Carolina and Florida tied as the states with the most cities included on our Southeast list (6 each), Tennessee and North Carolina had four, Tennessee three, and Georgia had one. SC’s strong show is interesting, since our surveys typically show more interest in Florida than SC, although the Palmetto State, along with North Carolina, is perennially among the top 3 choices.

How we choose the winners has published lists of the most popular retirement towns annually since 2007. While most “Best Places” lists are either the subjective opinions of the authors or a ranking from various criteria, this list is different. Pensacola made the top spot on this list through a simple process. We counted how many times each city’s review was viewed at during the first seven months of 2018. We view that count as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Asheville review was viewed over 9,100 times. You can debate whether “most popular” is the same as “best”; another way to say it is that these towns certainly spark the most interest among our retirement oriented audience.

Being #1 doesn’t mean that people will actually move to any of these destinations, but it does indicate that folks are interested in learning more about them. Note that popularity is affected by other factors, such as whether or not we featured a town in one of our newsletter or Blog articles. We do not include active adult communities in our compilation. See our various state by state lists of the most popular active communities, starting with “15 Most Popular Active Communities in South Carolina“. To make sure you don’t miss new lists like this, sign up for our free weekly “Best Places to Retire” newsletter. See also “The Worst States for Retirement – 2018“.

Here are the Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southeast
Based on popularity at Topretirements, here are the 20 best places to retire this year:

1. 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. 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. (viewed 9.100 times)

Biltmore Estate

2. Pensacola, FL. Pensacola is a popular town for retirement and tourism in the western end of the Florida panhandle. Many former military personnel retire here because of the active DOD facilities for healthcare etc. Its location on the Pensacola Bay gives it access to the emerald green waters and sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola Beach is a charming subset. (viewed 6,028 times)
3. 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 hotspot for live family entertainment, music, and celebrity concerts. The area with its moderate climate is ideal for year round living, although traffic is intense at times. (visited over 4,700 times)
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. There are dozens of active and 55+ communities to choose from. (viewed 4,500 times)
5. 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. The area around it, including Kiawah Island, is very popular with tourists and retirees alike.


6. 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 available in Sarasota, along with high-rise, luxury hotels. The barrier islands have great beaches and developments where retirees can live.
7. 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.

8. Greenville, SC. Greenville has one of the prettiest downtowns in America. There is a beautiful park along a river and waterfall – then walk up a few steps and you are in the downtown. There are many great neighborhoods – some right downtown and others further out, along with many developments It is also home to a number of colleges and is a thriving community for the arts.
9. 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. Summerville is located northwest of Charleston.

10. 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.
11. Brevard,North Carolina, The town of Brevard is located in southwestern North Carolina on the border with Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina,surrounded by the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. A small town, it consistently ranks near the top of popular lists of “best retirement communities” and “best places to live, work, and play”.

Brevard, North Carolina

12. Bluffton, SC. Bluffton, located near Hilton Head Island and the coast, is a charming, walkable, old town on the May River. In the old town near the river, residents will discover art and antique galleries and the Riverfront Pocket Park and Garden.
13. 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. The area is quite rural and homes are homes tend to sell for less than half the national median.
14. 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. The city has a very pretty and compact downtown with restaurants, a great library, and other municipal resources. You can walk to a gorgeous white sand beach from downtown through lovely neighborhoods.

15. 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. Not to mention a great array of restaurants.

16. 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. Thanks to NC’s strange shape, Murphy is is closer to the capitals of six other states (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia) than it is to Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina. Home prices are well below the national median.

Jacksonville, Florida

17. 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. You have your choice of living near the city center, the eastern beaches, or many planned developments.
18. 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. The area has had a wonderful resurgence in the past 10 years, with the city becoming much more attractive and livable. Prices have gone up but it is still relatively affordable.
19. 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.
20. Naples, FL . Naples represents the gold coast of southwest Florida, as well as about the warmest winters in the continental U.S. Its walkable downtown is as sophisticated as any in the world, but charming too. The beaches are beautiful and long. The area is filled with active adult and 55+ communities. In the peak winter season traffic can be overwhelming.

Naples, Florida

For Additional reading:
100 Most Popular Places to Retire: 2019
15 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities in South Carolina
15 Best AAs in North Carolina
15 Most Popular AAs in Florida
Dueling Retirement States Series (Starts with Arizona vs. Florida)
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2018
Dueling Retirement States: North vs. South Carolina

What do You Think?
How do you like the idea of dividing up our list of the most popular places to retire by region? Are you considering a Southeastern retirement? Where are you thinking about retiring – do you have a preference east or Southeast? Is it a town on this list, or someplace else? Please add your Comments and reactions about what makes for a great place to retire in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on September 9th, 2018


  1. When did Virginia cease to be in the southeast?

    by Sandie — September 10, 2018

  2. Hi Sandie – it is still there and on our list! Unfortunately no town in Virginia made the top 20 list. Charlottesville and Williamsburg would have made the top 25 in the Southeast though.

    by Admin — September 10, 2018

  3. Interesting timing with Hurricane Florence threatening the Carolinas and the red tide in Florida 🙂

    by Jean — September 10, 2018

  4. I think you have to reconsider the Fla Gulf coast towns with the continued mining and pesticides being dumped into the Gulf. People cannot breathe!

    by Diane — September 13, 2018

  5. I agree – considering when the survey information was gathered. I would be curious to see a redo survey after Hurricane Florence and all the red tide and water problems seen recently in Florida.

    by JoannL — September 14, 2018

  6. I could have moved anywhere in the world and after a lot of thought and exploration, I picked a beachfront house in a gated community, down the street from a big luxury resort hotel. With two great golf courses. Only an hour from the theme parks in Orlando for when the grandkids go there and then will probably come here. Where is it?

    Hammock Beach in Palm Coast, FL

    by Dave M. — September 14, 2018

  7. I moved a comment from Dan concerning living in St. Croix in the USVI to a different Blog for a better fit:
    The Best Islands for Retirement

    by Jane at Topretirements — September 15, 2018

  8. Good idea on the redo JoAnn

    by Gary — September 15, 2018

  9. After several visits to Florida, I finally decided Florida is not for me. Due to the red tide, green algae, transient community with snowbirds, barren strip malls, tremendous heat and humidity and hurricanes, I decided Florida is great for vacationing but not the right place for me to live. California is too expensive and has dangerous fires and drought. So I decided to move to North Carolina in a couple of years but now Hurricane Florence has unfortunately done tremendous damage to that beautiful state! So hard to find the perfect retirement spot with global warming affecting the world!

    by Jasmine — September 19, 2018

  10. Have you considered the effects of global warming, and how rising waters may affect waterfront communities in the coastal southeast?

    by June — November 25, 2018

  11. June:
    I certainly have. In Florida where (my aunt is) they have a $10,000 deductible on their insurance and they are nearly five miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Increased insurance costs, are just one reason a waterfront community holds no allure for me.. These costs must be considered along with property and income taxes, not to mention HOA fees. I am now looking to go against the tide of where most seniors retire. I am thinking of going north. I like the change of seasons and mountains as well. I am hoping that I can travel to a warmer climate for two months January and February of each year, and even so, it would not be as far south as Florida.

    by Jennifer — November 26, 2018

  12. See our articles about what to consider if retiring in an area prone to hurricanes:
    and also this one about Climate Change and What Retirees Should Consider

    Both articles have many Member comments

    by Admin — November 26, 2018

  13. This Youtube video shows what is happening in Miami with respect to climate change

    by RjG — November 26, 2018

  14. Brenda sent in this comment:

    We lived in Gulf Breeze, Fl. for a year…rented, thank goodness…we are wanting to find out from anyone about living in the Orange Beach or Gulf Shores, Al. area. Are those pesty gnats/or sand fleas as some call them, a nuisance there as well? Also, in Gulf Breeze there was a lot of back water in areas and snake were a problem. The thing about the east coast is that it’s not as warm as the gulf area in the winter. If I’m wrong, please set me straight. We cannot find an area we are happy in. We don’t mind the humidity. thankyou

    by Jane at Topretirements — February 12, 2019

  15. Jennifer. I share many of your views. My husband & I have been living south of Daytona Beach for 6 yrs. He had a job transfer here. We miss family and the change of seasons. The novelty of Florida wore off after about 2 years. We hope to move North again in a year so we can be near family. We are looking at 3-10 acres in the hills near the VA/WV border. I hope you find your special place.

    by Helen — February 17, 2019

  16. Is there anyone in Charleston, SC that loves it there? Are the winters mild? Don’t mind humidity. We are planning on checking out that area in April. Want to find a rental single family, one story that has pool access. (Community if not in the back yard!) Want to have our own yard. Hard to find especially when we’ve never been there. Not opposed to Savannah, Ga., but feel it might be too old fashioned of a town without much happening (am I wrong?) or north of Charleston as long as we can still get to a beach! Any suggestions or opinions are welcomed!!

    by Brenda — March 18, 2019

  17. Try Summersville, SC as a great place to live that is very nearby Charleston and the beaches.

    by dan — March 19, 2019

  18. Hi Brenda
    If you go to the website you’ll see Search Retirement Towns by State. You can also use the search bar to look for any articles in which your preferred areas are mentioned.
    You may also want to post your question on the Forum under your preferred state. You can find it in the drop down menu.
    Hope this helps!

    by Moderator Flo — March 20, 2019

    by Moderator Flo — March 20, 2019

  19. Brenda, we live about 60 mi north of Charleston in a place called Litchfield and really like it. I don’t know enough about Charleston to recommend a place. We go to Charleston and very much enjoy visiting. Winters in this area are mild and a sweatshirt or light jacket is fine for the daytime but nights can get pretty chilly. Seems like there a quite a few high crime areas whenI watch the Charleston news but this might be a false perception. I think you have to go and explore this section of the coast to see if it’s a good fit.

    by Gerry — March 20, 2019

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