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2012 List of 100 Best Places to Retire – Sunbelt Remains on Top

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

February 21, 2012 – Editor’s Note: See the 2014 edition of “The 100 Best Places to Retire
Once again this year the Sunbelt is the preferred region for baby boomer retirements. has just published its 6th annual list of the 100 most popular places to retire on its site, and the Sunbelt’s retirement popularity continues — 75 of the 100 top positions are held by towns in the Sunbelt. Florida dominates the list of best places to retire, taking 26 of the spots (the same as in 2011), followed by North Carolina (11) and South Carolina and Arizona (7 each). The highest ranking non-Sun Belt city on our list was Bend (OR) at #37. Note: 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 – 2014“.

The Top 10
As has been the case since Topretirements published its first list in 2007, Asheville, NC is the #1 town, receiving more than 25 times as many page visits as Princeton (NJ), which squeezed onto the list in the #100 position. Asheville’s reputation as a great place to retire, its mountains, gentle 4 seasons climate, and recreational/cultural opportunities all make it the standard that all other retirement towns can aspire to. Sarasota (FL) once again occupies the #2 spot, while Austin (TX) and Venice (FL) climbed up within the top 10 list to the #3 and #4 positions. Green Valley (AZ) managed to hang in the top 10 again, although it slipped several spots to #10. There were no additions to or defections from the top 10 this year.

5 New Towns Join as Popular Places to Retire
Five new towns moved onto the 2012 list – two from the Sunbelt and 3 non-Sunbelt towns. Madison (WI) showed the strongest interest to our members and visitors, making its debut on the list at the #77 position. Miami (FL), Seattle (WA), Winchester (VA), held positions in the 90’s, while Princeton (NJ) squeaked in to claim the #100 position.

Biggest Ups
Several towns made big moves up in popularity this year. Notably among them were Charleston (SC) – from 65th to 24th, Denver (CO) – from 51st to 20th, Maryville (TN) – from 67th to 34th, Jacksonville (FL) – from 73rd to 35th, Knoxville (TN) – from 85th to 44th, and Mesa (AZ) – from 97th to 69th. It is hard to explain precisely why a community moves up or down in one year, although it probably has a lot to do with if it was featured in our newsletter or other article.

Sliding Down
As always, some towns lost some of their allure to prospective retirees during 2012. Gainesville (FL) moved down some 32 places to settle at #54, Beaufort (NC) declined to #72 from #41, and The Woodlands (TX) went from 55th to 84th.

Towns Rather Than Active Communities
Continuing with the procedural change we made last year to concentrate on towns/cities rather than active communities, the latter were excluded from the 2012 list. That being said, several active communities were popular enough to have made the list had we included them (The Villages would have been in the top 10, and Sun City would been somewhere in the 80’s. See our 2011 list of “The 100 Most Popular Active Adult Communities” for more).

Our Criteria, “Where Baby Boomers Go to Find Their Best Place to Retire”, has published its 100 most popular list annually since 2007. It is important to note that our list uses criteria that are quite different from most other lists. Our list is essentially a popularity contest; it reflects the towns that visitors to this “find your best place to retire” website are most interested in for retirement. The list was compiled by calculating the 100 towns that receive the most online visits of the 815+ cities reviewed at during the last 6 months of 2011. Some towns probably make the list in a given year because they were featured in one of our weekly newsletter, or their review was was recently added. Others leave the list in the face of stiffened competition.

These are the 100 most popular places to retire for 2012. But we urge you not to stop there – you can explore 715 more towns and 1600+ active adult communities by using the “Find a Community” feature on the top right of all pages at Topretirements.

1. Asheville, NC
2. Sarasota, FL
3. Austin, TX
4. Venice, FL
5. Prescott, AZ
6. Ft. Myers, FL
7. Beaufort, SC
8. Paris, TN
9. San Diego, CA
10. Green Valley, AZ
11. Naples, FL
12. Charlottesville, VA
13. Myrtle Beach, SC
14. Vero Beach, FL
15. Sedona, AZ
16. San Antonio, TX
17. Tucson, AZ
18. Crossville, TN
19. St. Augustine, FL
20. Denver, CO
21. Ft. Collins, CO
22. Colorado Springs, CO
23. Boca Raton, FL
24. Charleston, SC
25. San Luis Obispo, CA
26. Williamsburg, VA
27. Delray Beach, FL
28. Boulder, CO
29. Phoenix, AZ
30. Santa Fe, NM
31. Flagstaff, AZ
32. Ft. Lauderdale, FL
33. Palm Springs, CA
34. Maryville, TN
35. Jacksonville, FL
36. Las Cruces, NM
37. Bend, OR
38. Winston-Salem, NC
39. Athens, GA
40. Mt. Airy, NC
41. Chapel Hill, NC
42. Aiken, SC
43. New Bern, NC
44. Knoxville, TN
45. Key West
46. Albuquerque, NM
47. Bluffton, SC
48. Summerville, SC
49. Rehoboth Beach, DE
50. Stuart, FL
51. Jupiter, FL
52. Chattanooga, TN
53. St. Petersburg, FL
54. Gainesville, FL
55. Lewes, DE
56. Santa Barbara, CA
57. Tampa, FL
58. Orlando, FL
59. Eugene, OR
60. Clearwater, FL
61. Pensacola, FL
62. Cape Coral, FL
63. Cheyenne, WY
64. Portland, OR
65. Brevard, NC
66. Pittsburgh, PA
67. Henderson, NV
68. Murray, KY
69. Mesa, AZ
70. Ocala, FL

71. Port Charlotte, FL
72. Beaufort, NC
73. Napa, CA
74. Chicago, IL
75. Melbourne, FL
76. Southport, NC
77. Madison, WI*
78. Hendersonville, NC
79. Winter Park, FL
80. Clemson, SC
81. Bellingham, WA
82. Bowling Green, KY
83. The Woodlands, TX
84. Eureka, CA
85. Spokane, WA
86. Portland, ME
87. Tallahassee, FL
88. Greenville, NC
89. Fairhope, AL
90. Miami, FL*
91. Seattle, WA*
92. Walla Walla, WA
93. Pinehurst, NC
94. Winchester, VA*
95. Corpus Christi, TX
96. Fayetteville, AR
97. Halifax, CAN
98. Smyrna, DE
99. Hilton Head, SC
100. Princeton, NJ*

*New to the List in 2012

For Additional reference:
The 100 Best Places to Retire
Sunbelt Rules: The 2011 List of 100 Best Places to Retire
100 Best Retirement Towns, 2nd Edition (2010)
100 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities – 2012
My Search for the (almost) perfect Retirement Climate
The Next Best 25: A List of Communities from 2010 that almost made the Top 100
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2014

What do You Think?
Please add your comments and reactions below. See also our related Blog post – we need your input on why the place where you are going to retire is the best place.

Posted by John Brady on February 21st, 2012


  1. Princeton NJ?? Anyone who can afford to retire there doesn’t need to be reading this blog!

    Editor’s note: Very amusing Fionna! Yes, Princeton is extremely expensive, but it is also really nice. We like to think that Topretirements has something for everybody, whether you are very well off or struggling to enjoy your retirement. Hopefully we succeed in having places accessible to everyone.

    by Fionna — February 22, 2012

  2. Besides weather and cost of living, crime is a big concern for most retireees. Every area has it’s safe and not-so-safe aprts. It would be vey helpful if we could start a dialogue about the communities, developments, or zip codes that are considered safe. I’m looking at buying a winter condo on the beach somewhere, while my preference for full-time retirement is still the Phoenix area. What can anyone tell me about the better hi-rise condos in Myrtle Beach. Thanks, Joel

    by DrJCA1 — February 22, 2012

  3. We are looking to move to the sun belt and not really sure where to begin. We have lived in the north for so long and now want sun,affordability,tax friendly to retirees. Also looking for a safe environment/town. We are looking at AL or SC. Any suggestions or hints as we begin our research and new adventure in our lives? Thanks for the help!

    by Mike and Blanche — February 22, 2012

  4. Kathy: We prefer the west – we will either stay in No CO (Greeley or Fort Collins) or possibly move to Scottsdale area – love the AZ winters. But would still spend summers in CO.

    by — February 22, 2012

  5. Don’t miss the dozens of reader comments about “Best Places to Retire” in the related post:

    by Admin — February 22, 2012

  6. Interesting to compare with “20 Most Affordable Retirement Towns” list. One quickly finds that Florida and Texas are the best retirement ‘bargains’.

    by Scott H. — February 22, 2012

  7. What about insurance in Florida? Real estate prices and expenses in Texzx?
    I thought Tenn. or S.C. Would be less expensive over all.

    by Jeff Longstaff — February 23, 2012

  8. We are in the process of moving from Texas to Florida and have been retired 10 years here in Texas. Insurance and property taxes in TX have been traditionally higher than FL until recent years when the various hurricanes hit FL. We have been house hunting in FL and were unpleasantly surprised to find our insurance and property taxes are going to run about the same as TX and we are planning on purchasing a home about $75,000 to $100,000 less than we currently just sold in Texas. But, we are still looking forward to the move!

    by toniolsen — February 24, 2012

  9. What about St. George, UT?? We have travelled there a few times and have been really impressed by the myriad of outdoor activities available (golf, hiking, skiing, etc), the incredible climate, the reasonable cost of living, and not to mention the fact that the Huntsman World Senior Games are held there for those who stay competitive into the Golden years. What do you think??

    by gretch1165 — May 22, 2012

  10. gretch1165: I lived in Salt Lake City in 2010/2011 and have been in St. George many times. St. G. was one of my retirement considerations because of it’s red rock beauty and access to Utah’s spectacular national parks (I’m an amateur photographer). The reasons I did not select St. G. were: state taxes, availability of activities (non-golf, even though I am a golfer), and something I call the “inclusivity factor”. Utah is a wonderful state and if you lose your wallet there, you’ll likely get it back with all the cash and credit cards intact. However, particularly in smaller cities/towns, it can be difficult to feel part of the community if you are not of the dominant religion. I’m not dissing Mormons, as I have many Mormon friends and you will find the majority of them very friendly and very willing to invite you to activities at their homes or church. In discussions with them about various places in Utah, even they said “YOU wouldn’t want to live there!” I considered all those things and agonized over it but ultimately due to lower housing prices, larger metro area, no state income taxes, lower or equal cost of living, access to more health care options, a good airport/great airfares to & from, and entertainment (no, I’m not a gambler), I chose the Las Vegas area. I dearly love Salt Lake City and the Wasatch/Uinta Mountains but I don’t want to do winter there anymore. I’ll be able to drive up to St. G. in an hour and 40 minutes and to the Utah national parks in 2-4 hours. Also proximity to the SoCal beaches (nice place to visit, I grew up in Orange County but wouldn’t live there if you paid me!), Eastern Sierras for photography, and…my friends want to come down and visit me in Vegas once I’m settled! Good luck with your decision!

    by Cindy O' — May 23, 2012

  11. I can’t believe Tulsa, OK was left off the list. I have been to every major city in the US and Canada. If I could I would pick Whitby, Ontario. But Tulsa would hold a close second. The weather is nice, especially for flying helicopters. The people are friendly. It’s a clean city.

    by Duane Thomas — June 28, 2012

  12. Great job! Where does Idaho fall in the picture for retirement? I am drawn to Post Falls because of its proximity to the Lake, and slopes?

    by Ric Stock — November 29, 2012

  13. Has anyone been to Winchester Va? AARP lists it at the top of their list for best place to retire.

    by Barbara Witthoft — November 30, 2012

  14. Barbara: We have not been to Winchester, Va but we too are interested in exploring the state for a possible place to retire. I have been reading all I can find about North Carolina and it seems like a beautiful place for retirees. Virgina is my next to look into. Do you know anything about Virgina or does anyone else out there have any places they know of in Virginia or NC that would be good to consider? Florida use to be number one on our list to retire to but have changed our minds.We have decided it is pretty much out…too many negatives ie severe storms(evacuations),bugs beyond belief,high humidity etc. Would appreciate any input.

    by Linda Christianson — December 1, 2012

  15. Greetings, I have been to Winchester, VA many times and found it to be charming…but I have to recommend where we retired too. Hiawassee GA, located in the Mtn’s of GA. Mild Climate, boating, fishing, golf and lowest tax rate in the state. Also, located in Towns County is Young Harris College. Hayesville, NC is right across the line and also has a very low tax rate and some of the same amenities, but GA is better on your retirment dollars. explore the area

    by barbara thomas — December 1, 2012

  16. Hi Barbara: I am curious–how far are you from a major airport and how is the healthcare where you live?

    I live in Washington, DC proper and have been to Winchester, VA many times, however have not considered it a place to retire–I would choose Staunton or Charlottesville first. Winchester is too close to all the problems that northern Virginia has with its proximity to us here in DC. I can tell uoi the healthcare is not good –I have had many surgical patients who do not trust the doctors in the rural virginia counties. I waa a surgical nurse for over 12 years. It can take two to three hours in traffice to access a doctor in DC or the nearby suburbs from rural Winchester.

    Another annoyance: Virginia charges property taxes on motor vehicles–due always in early December if I recall.

    by Jennifer — December 1, 2012

  17. Does anyone know of a fun
    town with warm weather good
    for retirement.

    by Lynn — December 1, 2012

  18. Jennifer – thanks for the info on Winchester. I love history and want to find a place where I can volunteer or even be a guide. I grew up in Pa so enjoy the history of the east coast. That is what attracted me to Winchester. I will look at the other places you mentioned.

    by Barbara Witthoft — December 2, 2012

  19. Barbara–have you considered Gettysburg? I am a Docent at the Washington National Cathedral and another Docent I know gives tours in the summer at Gettysburg. It requires some training and certification and she LOVES it.

    by Jennifer — December 2, 2012

  20. To Jennifer, et al – Maybe don’t underrate medical care in Winchester. The Winchester Medical Center was rated one of the top regional hospitals for 2012-2013 by US News & World Report. Also, the American Nurses Credentialing Center has recognized it for excellence in patient care. And I read where one of their brain surgeons (a Duke Med School graduate) had successfully performed an unusual surgery to alleviate Parkinsons. It could be that many of today’s highly competent doctors are gravitating to smaller, less hectic environments for quality of life reasons. It just takes some research on the provider.

    by Judy — December 3, 2012

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