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20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the Southeast

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

October 16, 2019 – According to our surveys, the most popular places to retire in America are in the Southeast. In that research 48% of respondents said they would like to retire in the Southeast, twice as many as for the Southwest, the next highest choice. This is our 2019 list of the 20 most popular places to retire in the Southeast, the second in this year’s “Best Places” series. Here are links to other reports: “The Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southwest” and the 20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the West (California to Colorado and points north, which will come out in Nov.).

What States are in our Southeast compilation?
The states we have included in this big region are: Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida (MS did not have any towns in the top 20). In general the region has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers. Areas in its 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 the Appalachian Mountains, Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Changes this year – Ups and downs
The 20 most popular towns in the Southeast are mostly familiar names. 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 7,400 visitors in the first 9 months of 2019, more than three times as many as viewed the #20 selection, Jupiter, FL. One of the hottest towns on this list was St. Petersburg (FL), which rocketed from #18 on last year’s list to the #7 spot. Four very familiar retirement towns dropped off the list in 2019: New Bern (NC), Brevard (SC), Jacksonville (FL), and most surprising of all, Naples (FL). Of the four newcomers to this year’s list, three have been on the list in previous years (Ft. Myers (FL), Charlottesville (VA), and Fairhope (AL). Jupiter (FL), in the #20 spot, was the fourth new town on this year’s list.

The battle of the states
South Carolina edged out all other states (for the first time) with six cities on the #20 best list. Florida, which is normally the most popular state for retirement, was next with six. In a surprising upset, Tennessee had three cities on the list vs. North Carolina’s two, and Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia all had one.

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. Asheville 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 nine months of 2019. We view that count as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Asheville review was viewed over 7,400 times. You can debate whether “most popular” is the same as “best”. 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:

Biltmore Estate

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 7,700 times)

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 5,200 times)
3. 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.

4. 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.


5. 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.
6. 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.

St. Petersburg

7. 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.

8. 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.

Beautiful Charleston

9. 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 surrounding area, including Daniel Island and Kiawah Island, is very popular with tourists and retirees alike.

10. Ft. Myers, FL. Located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on southwest Florida’s coast, its roots go back to 1886. It has the charming Thomas Edison Museum and a beautifully restored downtown along the river. There are dozens and dozens of active adult and 55}
11. 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.

Monticello – the “Nickel” view

12. Charlottesville, VA. The home of Thomas Jefferson (Monticello), Charlottesville was ranked the #1 city by Cities Ranked and Rated. The stately and picturesque University of Virginia, founded by President Jefferson, is here. Its location at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains is one reason why so many 55+ retirees are planning to retire in Charlottesville.
13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

Fairhope is on Mobile Bay

17. Fairhope, AL. This former Utopian community was founded by 28 settlers from Iowa in November, 1894. Their purpose in founding a new colony was to establish and conduct a cooperative model community, free from all forms of private monopoly. Today it is an artist’s community and wonderful place for retirees and people of all ages on Mobile Bay.
18. 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.
19. 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.

Jupiter is a very big geographic area on the East Coast

20. Jupiter, FL. The three Florida villages of Jupiter, Tequesta, and Juno Beach combine rich history, culture, and natural beauty. Retirees who enjoy communities with a small town feel and 100 miles of beaches will find these Northern Palm Beach County villages appealing. 

For Additional reading:

15 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities in South Carolina
15 Best AAs in North Carolina
15 Most Popular AAs in Florida
Dueling Carolinas: Which is the Best State for Retirement?
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2018
Dueling Retirement States: North vs. South Carolina

What do You Think?
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 in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on October 15th, 2019


  1. We currently live in Summerville SC in a 55+ community but are thinking about going back to Greenville SC. Traffic is awful here, many two lane roads (1 in each direction) and area just continues to grow with little though to road improvements. I also hate being out “in the middle of nowhere!” It is much easier to get around in the Greenville area than in Summerville. I guess some like it (if you live small town living) but it is not for us. Restaurants for the most part are “meh” in Summerville. Charleston is a lovely old city, but it can be a hassle driving there and looking for parking (esp. during peak travel season). Just my 2 cents…

    by Fionna — October 16, 2019

  2. Not to be a nitpicker, but FYI the population of Asheville (within city limits) is now 92,000, not 75,000. Buncombe County, of which Asheville is the county seat, now has a population of around 260,000. The five-county MSA has a population of more than 460,000 and should hit half a million by 2025, due to growth in the lower cost surrounding counties of Henderson, Transylvania, Madison and Haywood.

    On the downside, more people mean more traffic. But on the upside, it also means more opportunities, more restaurants and more entertainment. With more than 1 1/2 million acres of National Park, National Forest and NC State Parks and other protected land in Western North Carolina, there’s plenty of wide open spaces!

    Editor Comment: Thanks Lan for the update. Not sure when we updated that population figure, but it sure looks like the area is growing fast. We have updated the page – thanks for keeping us up to date!

    by Lan Sluder — October 16, 2019

  3. Asheville is a beautiful area, but you may have overlooked a gem that’s just a little south: Hendersonville. There’s less traffic, it’s easier to get around, it has great restaurants and entertainment (including the State Theatre of North Carolina and a local symphony), it’s set in the Blue Ridge mountains, and is only 30 minutes from Asheville and Greenville (SC).

    My two cents . . .

    by Patty — October 16, 2019

  4. Why is your article on the 20 most popular places to retire in the Southeast dated October 16th 2018?

    Editor Comment. Yep, time to change the calendar, 10 months into the year. Thanks for the correction Richard!

    by Richard A Ferrazzuolo — October 16, 2019

  5. Missed Huntsville, AL – a.k.a. Rocket City – home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the birthplace of the Apollo program, as well as NASA and Redstone Arsenal. Many rocket scientists and engineers. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian’s, it’s a growing medium-sized city with a lot of cultural activities. The Tennessee River is close by, as well as the Lake Guntersville.

    by Gary — October 16, 2019

  6. Asheville also gets eleven million visitors a year, so it’s pretty crowded. We are currently renting short-term there. We have been pretty disheartened by the quality and cost of the real estate options. Once a place starts showing up on these lists, prices go up. All the nearby smaller towns, including, the previously mentioned, Hendersonville, have also been discovered, so no bargains there either.

    by Lynn — October 17, 2019

  7. I cannot believe that Chattanooga is actually no. 4! Just because “income isn’t taxed” doesn’t mean you don’t pay taxes!! Inside the city limits, real estate taxes are as high as any where else and sales tax is 9.5+% . We lived there for 11 yrs (for work) and could not wait to move back to New England where our auto insurance dropped to HALF, the supermarket produce and meat is cheaper and way better quality, and medical care is superior. If you are creative – it was a frustrating experience and the downtown library THREW AWAY without replacing them, hundreds of books! We found the people in TN to be friendly but didn’t want to be your friend. Almost all the people we got to know well, were also transplants. Two years in Maine feels like we’ve been here forever! Chattanooga is also known for its outdoor sports – which didn’t include us. Think twice before taking the plunge!

    As for Asheville. We owned a place there for several years and we liked it. Our biggest issue was the fact it is very hilly and many of the roads were very steep. Our neighborhood was up the side of a hill and we had to take the car to get our mail or do anything else. Arthritic knees didn’t like to walk those grades. Lots going on though. North Carolina, in general, appears to be a very creative and fun place.

    by Flatearth6 — October 19, 2019

  8. Fionna, I’d love to hear more about Greenville, SC. My husband and I are planning to visit there as a possible retirement location.
    We just visited Beaufort, SC, and we liked it. I’m wondering if anyone else has thoughts on Beaufort, SC.
    We visited Beaufort, NC back in the spring. It was lovely, but not for us. They were still recovering from hurricane Florence some seven months later.

    by Janet — October 19, 2019

  9. I just moved from Beaufort SC. We evacuated twice year before last. Once for Hurricane Matthew and once for Irma.
    There was a lot of damage from Matthew and some places there are still recovering. Beaufort is beautiful and very friendly.

    by Debra — October 20, 2019

  10. Greenville is considerably further inland than Beaufort, and consequently less subject to hurricane damage than Beaufort, which is essentially on the Atlantic coast.

    by Clyde — October 20, 2019

  11. Janet,

    Greenville has a vibrant downtown, the Peace Center for different venues, some decent restaurants, weather not nearly as humid and not hurricane prone as is Summerville (where we live now). Greenville is also around an hour from Asheville and not far from Hendersonville NC which is a nice place to live or visit. It is much easier to get around in Greenville as there are more highways and shopping. The Woodruff road area (where there’s a lot of shops, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Nordstrom Rack, Costco) does get crowded but if you go early in the day it’s not too bad. Of course, it depends on where you live in the Greenville area and how far you are willing to travel to do your shopping. We were in South Greenville (Piedmont) and it took me around 20-25 mins. to get to Woodruff Road. As I mentioned in my post, we are anxious to return to the Greenville area. If I can answer any more ?s (esp. after you visit) please let me know.

    by Fionna — October 20, 2019

  12. We are currently looking in the Asheville/Brevard area. Asheville seems to be a bit crowded and we are looking for more of a country feel. We’ve found an area called Connestee Falls which is outside of Brevard. It appears to have tons of amenities with a golf course, lakes, etc. and also looks to be well maintained. Is anyone familiar with this community and if so we would like to hear what you think?

    by Jane — October 20, 2019

  13. Jane, it’s 11 years, but you might find something of value in the review I wrote after a visit and round of golf with a resident. Good luck in your search.

    by Larry — October 21, 2019

  14. Fiona, Thank you for your thoughts on Greenville, SC. We’re looking forward to visiting.
    Clyde, we’ve done our homework, so I do know where both Greenville and Beaufort are located. We have a home in Oak Island, NC, so I know all about hurricanes first hand. Of course there is a certain amount of stress and risk associated with coastal areas and you have to accept and be prepared for that. That said, some coastal areas such as Beaufort, NC are more vulnerable than others. And if I had to choose, for me personally, I’d take Oak Island/Southport, NC or Beaufort, SC over Beaufort, NC.
    While I love the coast and the beach, I’m open to looking at Greenville for my husband who would also like to look inland.

    by Janet — October 21, 2019

  15. Thanks Larry, I’m taking a trip over there next week just to check things out. The affordability of the golf in that area is what truly peaked our interest when compared to some of the other courses. Most had a $30,000+ initiation fee and are only open seasonally and as you stated Connestee is open year round. They have also done a complete renovation of the clubhouse and from the pictures it looks like they did an excellent job. We shall see.

    by Jane — October 21, 2019

  16. I just left Florida
    The heat has become unbearable and the whole state has potential to get hit by the Dorians of the world . I am so glad to have left and gone to California !

    by kathy d — October 23, 2019

  17. Thanks for letting us know Kathy.I understand it is hot in FL right now.  On the other hand, my daughter in CA had to evacuate her home this week because of a brush fire!  Nowhere is perfect

    by Admin — October 23, 2019

  18. Johnny wrote to compliment us on our Best Places newsletter, and he also asked if we had written anything about The Villages. Yes we have!

    So glad you are enjoying our newsletter. Makes us smile that people find it useful, always hoping to expand that universe.

    You are right, we have written a bunch about the Villages. In our basic review you will find a variety of links to articles we have written in the past about it.

    Good luck!

    by Admin — November 6, 2019

  19. Jane,
    My husband and i have looked at Connestee Falls twice during the past half year. Here’s what i’ve taken away. For one thing, it’s huge! I think our realtor told us there were 80 miles of roads, but that doesn’t seem possible!
    Next, it’s quite hilly. I don’t think i’ll be wanting to drive those roads in 10 years.
    And last, most of it is about 20 minutes away from Brevard. I want to be closer to town.

    by ella — December 26, 2019

  20. Love reading these comments. We were born and raised in Michigan and have lived in Chicago and for the last 17 years live just outside of Chicago. We’re 64 want to retire in a few years and are tired of the cold and snow. Florida has always been on our list but I think it’s too hot and humid most of the time. Looking for something that has more four seasons with mild winters. Visited Asheville a couple times love it however feel that it’s too crowded have looked at outlying areas there which are a possibility. Just read some articles about Greenville South Carolina and was wondering if anybody has more information on that town as a retirement option. We are looking for 55+ communities.
    On the top of our list is healthcare, transportation hopefully with walk ability, Taxes, and mild weather especially in the winter we don’t mind four seasons however would like a mild winter.
    Would appreciate any comments about Greenville and suggestions on a 55+ community. Thank you in advance and again love reading all these posts

    by John M — January 17, 2022

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