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20 Most Popular Places to Retire: Arizona Rules the Southwest

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

August 14, 2018 – Although a lot of Americans contemplating retirement might not know their best town for retirement, they probably do have a pretty good idea of the region where that place might be. So this year our 2018 list of America’s best places to retire will take a different tack – we will provide a list of the 20 towns in each of the 5 major U.S. regions that attract the most attention from our Members and visitors. This is the first installment, focusing on the American Southwest, a very popular place to retire, particularly among folks who live close to or west of the Mississippi. The second installment lists the 20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the West (California to Colorado and points north).

The 20 most popular towns in the Southwest are almost all recognizable. Three of them: Green Valley, Prescott, and Flagstaff – all of them in Arizona – are among the top 10 towns on our U.S. list. And Green Valley, a sprawling area south of Tucson near the border with Mexico, is the #1 most population retirement destination at Topretirements, both in the Southwest and the U.S. Green Valley covers a vast area with all kinds of communities and developments – in fact it has 59 different homeowner associations. Retirees like its relatively low cost of living, warm winter climate, the nearby Santa Rita Mountains, and the extensive non-profit Green Valley recreation complex.

Mountains near Green Valley

In gaining the #1 spot on our list, Green Valley was viewed over 10,000 times in the first seven months of 2018 by Topretirements.com visitors. That is over 3,000 more visits than #2 Prescott, and almost double the number of times #3 Flagstaff’s review was viewed.

Arizona Rules the Southwest
For the record, the huge area of the Southwest comprises the smallest number of states of any U.S. region: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. This semi-arid Steppe region is dry with hot summers, and contains portions of the Rockies, big deserts, and parts of the Colorado and the Rio Grande River complexes. Most of the region has low humidity.

Arizona is the overwhelming favorite state in the Southwest that Topretirements visitors want to explore: it has 14 of the top 20 positions. New Mexico has 3 (Las Cruces, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque) as does Texas (San Antonio, Austin, and Port Isabel). When we asked Topretirements Members what region of the country they are considering for retirement earlier this summer, the Southwest was the #2 choice after the Southeast.

A few surprises on the Southwest list of popular places to retire
Most of the towns making the Top Twenty list are probably familiar names. Some that are probably new to many baby boomers include: Peoria, AZ (northeast Phoenix and home to many developments), Lake Havasu, AZ (western AZ on Colorado River), Port Isabel, TX (on the Gulf of Mexico way down south), Bisbee, AZ (a funky old mining town near Mexican border), Payson, AZ (halfway between and to the East of Phoenix and Flagstaff), and Kingman, AZ (in the more undeveloped northwest corner of the State).

How we choose the winners
Topretirements.com 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. Green Valley made the top spot on this list through a simple process. We counted how many times each city’s review was viewed at Topretirements.com during the first seven months of 2018. We view that count as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Green Valley review was viewed over 10,000 times.

That was more than 10 times as often as Kingman, AZ in the #20 position. It 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. Note that we do not include active adult communities in our compilation. See our “2016 Most Popular Active Adult/55+ Communities” for that list. 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 Southwest
Based on popularity at Topretirements, here are the 20 best places to retire this year:

1. Green Valley, AZ. Near near the hiking and birding areas of the Santa Rita Mountains in extreme southern Arizona, Green Valley is an unincorporated retirement community composed of 59 Homeowner Associations. (visited over 10,000 times)
2. Prescott, AZ. Located at an elevation of 5400 feet in the mountains of north central Arizona, the City of Prescott (population just under 40,000 in 2011), was the original territorial capital of the Arizona Territory. It still celebrates its cowboy heritage. (viewed 7,000 times)
3. Flagstaff, AZ. Centered amidst some of the most enchanting physical landmarks in the world, the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is a top rated community for retirement.


4. Las Cruces, NM. Las Cruces has been listed as a “Best Place to Retire” by several organizations for many reasons: low cost of living, active cultural life with its major university, and unusually beautiful location. Frankly, we were a little surprised that this town, which doesn’t usually have that much word of mouth, was viewed this frequently.
5. Tucson, AZ. The area is warm in winter, blessed with sunshine almost 300 days per year, and has beautiful surroundings. At 233 performing arts dates per year, it also has one of the nation’s highest numbers of arts performances. To see 70 and more reader comments and an inside look on Tucson retirement, see “Why I Retired to Tucson“.

Sunny Tucson

6. Santa Fe, NM. Santa Fe is one of the top cultural destinations in the world. Known for its art and music, the city was selected by Money Magazine as one of the “Best Places to Live”.
7. Sedona, AZ. The Red Rocks of Sedona are world famous for colors displayed by sunrises and sunsets on the red sandstone rocks. That beauty, combined with the mountains, climate, hiking and the arts have made Sedona a popular retirement community.

8. Albuquerque, NM. Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, is set in a unique place near the mountains, and is a vibrant college town, home to the University of New Mexico.
9. San Antonio, TX. San Antonio It is famous for its Paseo del Rio (River Walk), Tejano culture, and as home to SeaWorld and Six Flags theme parks. The Alamo (Battle of 1836) is a shrine and museum located in the heart of downtown.
10. Peoria, AZ. Peoria is a suburban town northeast of Phoenix and Glendale in Arizona. The population grew over 30% in just a few years, currently about 159,000 call Peoria home. It is one of the furthest out communities from Phoenix and is home to many active adult communities because of the availability of land. The Salt River flows through the area.
11. Lake Havasu, Arizona. Lake Havasu City is an isolated desert town in western Arizona, located on the eastern shore of the Colorado River. It is home to the historic London Bridge, which is the state’s second largest tourist attraction, after the Grand Canyon. As history has it, Lake Havasu was formed with the construction of the Parker Dam on the Colorado River in 1938.
12. Phoenix, AZ. The city of Phoenix has long been a popular retirement community for active adults 55+. Retirees come in droves because of its warm winters, ample housing opportunities, and the Arizona lifestyle.
13. Austin, TX. Austin is becoming a very popular retirement community. The University of Texas and its array of cultural and other activities is perhaps the biggest draw for Austin, along with its cosmopolitan and high-tech quirky soul.
14. Port Isabel, TX (New). This beach resort and retirement town of about 5,300 is on a barrier island in extreme southern Texas. Surrounding towns include South Padre Island, Harlingen, and Laguna Vista. Fishing is popular.
15. Bisbee, Arizona. Bisbee is an historic mining town of 6,000 people in south central Arizona, almost at the Mexican border. If you are looking for an interesting, off-beat place to retire, Bisbee might be the place. An associate of ours recently visited Bisbee and reported back that he thought the town was a “sleeper”, an up and comer that could be the next hot retirement destination. Time will tell. The town is at 5,500 ft., an elevation that gives it milder temperatures than most places in Arizona.
16. Mesa, Arizona. Mesa is a fast growing southern suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Originally founded by the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), about 10% of the population is Mormon today. This college town (the Polytechnic campus of Arizona State University, East and Mesa Community College) of 450,000 is located near the amazing Superstition Mountains.
17. Payson, AZ. As a mountain town, Payson embraces its rural Old West heritage as it was home to many cowboys and rodeos. Author Zane Grey visited the area often and wrote numerous books about it. Payson is still host to oldest continuous rodeo in the world, which started in 1884, but also offers art galleries, antique stores, resturants, outdoor attractions, and a casino nearby.
18. Surprise, AZ. This suburb of Phoenix is home to many large active communities, including Sun City Grand. Two major league teams have spring training here: the Royals and the Rangers.

Arizona desert near Surprise

19. Scottsdale, AZ. Perhaps the most famous suburb of Phoenix, this affluent town in the McDowell Mountains is picture perfect.
20. Kingman, AZ. Kingman, however, is located in the northwestern part of the state, close to California. This town near I 40 and Route 66 of 28,000 grew 37% between 2000 and 2008. There is a community college in town, Mohave Community College. Outdoor sports like hiking are very popular in the nearby mountains. Nearby towns lake Bullhead City, Lake Havasu, Butler, Golden Valley, and Boulder City are other alternatives.

For Additional reading:
2019 Best Places to Retire
2015 Best Places to Retire List
100 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities – 2016
Dueling Retirement States Series (Starts with Arizona vs. Florida)
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2018

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 western retirement? Where are you thinking about retiring – do you have a preference east or west? 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 August 13th, 2018

10 Comments »

  1. I currently live in NY renting all my life. I will definitely retire to AZ in 2 years. I am sooo ready for the next phase of my life. I visited AZ twice and Sun City AZ (which is not on the list) has all what I need and want. Can’t wait to leave the cold, high cost of living, hustle and bustle of NY. AZ has the great dry weather which is great for my arthritis and other ailments.
    Definitely looking forward to this move.

    by Chris B — August 15, 2018

  2. Just moved into Saddlebrooke, AZ. Part of the larger Tucson area.
    Higher elevation means bit cooler than Tucson and much cooler thean Phx valley.
    Great amenties. Multiple golf courses with low fees.
    Performing arts center, multiple gyms, multiple clubhouses and wide range of age groups.
    Fees better than most the others we checked. Did stay and play at several.
    Big plus is the terrain and views. There are views, more views, with ridges and elevation changes. Right on the north end of the Catalina mountains.
    Think we made it !

    by Bisby — August 15, 2018

  3. The greater Tucson area has wonderful active adult communities with a full array of amenities. Look northeast of Tucson at Saddlebrooke, Saddlebrooke Ranch and Sun City Oro Valley. Northwest check out The Highlands at Dove Mountain (I’ve lived here 20 years) and Del Webb at Dove Mountain. South of Tucson is Green Valley with Quail Creek and lots of very affordable options. There is no doubt that summers are hot here! We get out early and get business done…I golf at 7am and I’ve survived 20 summers, afternoons are a good time to be inside. Our desert is highly vegetated and beautiful with unique wildlife. We also have areas to drive to and get away and enjoy cooler air like the White Mountains, Flagstaff/Canyon and Santa Fe/Taos – it helps break up the summers. Compared to the misery of midwest cold winters, snow, grey skies and ice…I’ll take the summer heat and incredible winters!

    by ljtucson — August 16, 2018

  4. Comment from Paul:
    I haven’t seen much about Las Vegas in the forums. I have a good friend there and he’s not pleased with the changes in the past 8 years: traffic is terrible, and the summers keep getting hotter. Also water is becoming a big problem. They have ‘water police’ that issue tickets if you water the lawn on the wrong day, or use too much water and it runs in the gutters. Lake Mead keeps dropping every year, and that will affect the entire southwest.

    by Admin — August 20, 2018

  5. My husband and I have been in Las Crus since Sat checking everything out. We are absolutely in love with this beautiful place. Great food and friendly people so far. We met with a realto Billie Haynes that represents The Willows at Picacho Mountain. She showed us all the age restricted(99% retired people). Love The Willows. Tomorrow going to Los Lunas to check out Jubilee. Then to Albuquerque to visit the DelWebb communities.

    by Tomi — August 20, 2018

  6. From Brigitta (Great comment – something we will work on. In the meantime, maybe some of our Southwest retirees can tell us more!)

    I’ve been receiving your newsletter for a couple of years. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article about the differences in building practices in different areas of the country. By that, I mean as someone who has lived my entire life on the east coast, I am quite familiar with how homes are/were built going back to the 1700s when my area was settled. I’m also familiar with the types of “pests” and environmental issues, i.e., radon, asbestos, buried oil tanks (for heating) that that NJ homeowners look for.

    Now, I am interested in purchasing a home in AZ and I realize I don’t know ANYTHING about typical building practices- pro/con, types of homes that one might want to stay away from or might WANT to consider, pests typical to the area, environmental issues, etc as I do about the east coast!

    Thus, I’m wondering if you have ever addressed this issue in a series of articles on your site. Yes, I have learned quite a bit from the comment section of various articles. However, I would enjoy reading about things to take into account when purchasing and settling in the southwest. I could see this morphing/expanding into a series of articles on different parts of the US, especially in the most popular areas for folks who are considering retiring there. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would benefit from a series of articles such as this.

    Thanks for taking this idea into account when looking for ideas for future articles.

    by Admin — September 9, 2018

  7. I definitely agree with this since I will be retiring to AZ from NY in abt 1 1/2 yrs

    by chrisb — September 10, 2018

  8. Great idea! I’m curious about how local governments are adapting their building codes to accomodate climate change. Builders say they build what people want to buy but the trouble is that people aren’t good at predicting what they *should* want (looking into the future). Its easy to want what everyone else has (or wants) but really hard to go out on a limb and choose something different. I’d like to know if there are any localities (anywhere in the country) that are looking to what their local climate may be like and encouraging building that matches it. As for the southwest, heat and drought and consequent fires are the obvious issues but I imagine there might also be invasions by pests that are now only rare or occasional. And who knows what else? It might be up to us seniors to lead the fight to bring about change that will protect our investment in where we live. After all, we have lived long enough to know the value of money.

    by Laney Humphrey — September 10, 2018

  9. These comments concerning retirement in Texas were moved here from a different Blog article:

    After much searching I landed in the hill country of central Texas. Cost of living is about half of what we spent in NY. Health care is great, a University right in town, an active play house great restaurants, wineries and so much more.
    My advice for those still searching, keep an open mind. Never had Texas on my radar but now I hope to stay for a long while!

    by Pat — October 13, 2018

    Where are you located Pat ??by Billy-October 14,2018
    Pat, which town??by Pamee — October 15, 2018
    Pat answered:
    Georgetown Texas. 20 miles north of Austin.
    by Pat — October 16, 2018

    Question for Pat regarding Texas. I’ve been considering Texas and just looking online so far (never been there aside from flying through Dallas airport). Hope to visit Austin and check it out. So far my research indicates that healthcare ranks very low in Texas. Not sure what that means? Is there a lack of doctors? Also the real estate taxes are very high – super high. I know they don’t have income tax. But on a fixed income I couldn’t afford a $12,000 yearly real estate tax. Do they have any breaks for seniors? The heat is something else I’ve read about. Is it humid or dry. Dry heat is so much easier to take.?Appreciated your comments about Georgetown and would love to hear any other observations you have learned about your new home.
    by Cindy — January 20, 2019

    Cindy:?Texas is a huge state. Things will vary greatly depending in which part of the state you are considering. I’ve been in the DFW area for 20 years. Like many places, there is a shortage of family practice doctors as that specialty doesn’t pay as well as some other medical specialties. Texas is addressing this problem by opening new medical schools at the University of Houston and at TCU/University of North Texas.
    Real estate taxes are high, as is the sales tax. As you mentioned, there is no state income tax so the money has to come from somewhere else. There are breaks for seniors on real estate taxes offered by local counties, cities and school districts but they differ between jurisdictions. The state legislators are going to address increasing property taxes during the current session. Most of the property tax goes to local school districts because Texas does not adequately fund education. They have a crazy system in Texas where the state takes away money from local property-rich school districts and redistributes it to poorer school districts. This system is unofficially known as Robin Hood. They can’t agree on a better system.
    Except for west Texas and the panhandle, it is hot and humid here. Winters in most of the state are mild. In the DFW area, it gets below freezing only a few times but it is windy and overcast a lot. There is little or no snow most winters. Climate change is affecting us as summers appear to be getting more hot and humid recently. We have been under restrictions for watering lawns for many years but the last several years, rainfall has greatly increased and filled the lakes. However, because of all the people moving into Texas for jobs, those restrictions will likely remain in place.
    Hope this helps.
    by LS — January 21, 2019

    by Jane at Topretirements — January 21, 2019

  10. Thank you so much LS for all this good information for me to study. Very helpful!

    by Cindy — January 22, 2019

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