Due to Popular Demand, Mike Shares His Insights about Green Valley and Other Best Places to Retire in the SouthwestBest Retirement Towns and States
December 16, 2013 — A while back we wrote an article about retirement in the great American Southwest – “Retirement 101: A Guide to Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah“. Recently the comments to this article were rejuvenated when member Mike T volunteered to add comments from his experiences looking for his best place to retire in the region. Ultimately he and his wife settled in Green Valley (AZ), where they have lived for the past 14 years. Mike is a former writer; he not only has a great eye for details but he succeeds in that most difficult of tasks, providing a balanced view. Here we provide a roundup of his recent posts to the original article (we made some minor edits to make it flow into a single article), along with some of the member questions to him from the Comments section of that post. Thanks so much Mike for taking the time to share your thoughts – your insights are incredible!
Mike T: We looked all over Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico in a four year search in most all the areas you list in this article, which I think gives a nice overview and is pretty accurate. We finally settled in Green Valley 14 years ago and obviously are very happy with the choice. We spent a considerable amount of time looking into virtually every 55+ active community around at that time, including all the Del Webb communities, Robson communities, and smaller ones as well. We spent time searching communities, climates, general info and access to cultural recreational, shopping, etc., in St. George, Utah, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Ruidoso, Las Cruces, all over Phoenix, Tucson, Laughlin, Casa Grande, Silver City, Flag, White Mountains, Bisbee, Yuma, Prescott, Payson, and probably some I can’t remember anymore. We know people who retired in many of these areas and have discussed pros and cons with them over the years. Of course, we believe Green Valley is the best bet for us for a number of reasons, but we found things to really attract us in many of these other locations, too. Some of my comments might be a bit dated by now, but I hope they are still helpful.
Question to Mike T: Please tell me about the weather in Green Valley. It is pretty far south and it seems as if it ma be just plain way too hot! But here in the East we always hear about how hot it is in Phoenix. Is this the hottest part of the state? My son and his wife lived in Fountain Hills for a few years and then their professional jobs took them to San Antonio, TX, and now to Charlotte, NC.
I have thought about Sedona area, but it is way expensive. There are some decent places in Cottonwood, Verde Valley area. Just curious? Thanks,Elizabeth in NY~
I first of all do not want to throw around biased reporting of Green Valley just because of I have lived and loved it here for 14 years now. Yes, I think it’s great here, but I will try to give facts with the negatives included as I see them for this area to try to answer that inquiry. Then I will try to give information from my searches elsewhere in the Southwest. I’m just one person, but I was a writer here in Southern Arizona for eight of those 14, so I have interviewed literally hundreds of people, including Native Americans, immigrants and Border Patrol, cowboys, business people, historians, artists and athletes, and so on, you name it, and of course a majority of retirees who live or have rented in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, in my journalistic travels. I will try to draw upon my memories of my conversations with them, too, to try to be more unbiased about my perceptions. I warn those who like blog brevity than I can go on and on, but I guess I have seen a lot since retiring here from Michigan in 99.
What Green Valley is Like
Green Valley is a unique small town logistically in that it does not have a typical urban center. It is instead a series of neighborhoods with three different shopping areas dividing it from north to south… about a 25 minute drive up the freeway to Tucson, which has a major university, lots of live theatre, pretty good restaurants, usual bigger city shopping malls, but some upscale boutique style stuff, a safe downtown with decent entertainment options and festivals, a good airport, plenty of good hospitals, some rundown neighborhoods here and there, some gang activity in certain areas, not really very difficult traffic issues for the most part (in fact you would find pretty friendly drivers compared to most bigger cities), not enough freeway so a lot of driving on surface streets, though it’s easy to find one’s way around. Gas is cheaper than the rest of the country, and enough competition and variety of shopping choices to keep costs pretty low for most things. Both Green Valley and Tucson are surrounded by mountains and as you drive the 30 miles south to Green Valley you will note it seems to get greener… there are pecan groves and lots of palms and mesquite and palo verde trees and saguaro cacti. Yes, it’s desert with cactus and scrub and open sky with no tall buildings, but the thousands of residents and dozens of businesses landscape their places which adds to a less barren look than elsewhere in this area.
You will see that in the east valley of Phoenix as well, but that is an urban look and feel and this is a distinctly rural and small town feel, and since the observatories here want low light, it feels even more non-urban at night. Since it is almost exclusively a retirement town you have to go to Tucson for nightlife unless it’s just a dance or party sort of thing for the most part. You can go to a concert or play or bar, but it’s local and small town feeling and not late for any nightlife. What struck me most when I first looked at it was it’s beautiful open country with majestic mountains, although there is copper mine to the west that can detract from all that. Some might not like that, but I guess I don’t really notice it that much anymore.
Climate and weather
Climate: GV is at 3000 feet so is nearly ten degrees cooler on summer evenings than Tucson. Daytime temps in the summer are still hot about the same as Tucson, 8-10 less than Phoenix, but you generally find it easy to be outside till 11 and after 6 in dead of summer, where Phoenix is freaking hot 108-115 not uncommon for days on end and it does not cool off at night. June is hottest daytime here, 100 or so high each day, but cooler mornings and nights and July then starts to get humid (not Fla humid), but still in the 90s and some 100s with some gully washers through August till it cools fairly well by mid September. Rain storms can get heavy, but usually only about an hour or so, that cools off things. Summers can be tolerated okay, much better than Phoenix or Tucson, if you go to the pool or stay inside in mid day and do other things then. Sunny most all the time and astronomers love it at night. Sunsets can be outstanding. It is dry, so you use lotion and always sunscreen and a hat and sunglasses. Rarely use windshield wipers or coats and no snow except in the mountains.
Winters get a few overnight freezes so plants are covered and sometimes over the holidays it can be 50s daytime for a while, but usually sunny means you can still be out for most activities (you can tell I love talking about this place). Spring can be windy sometimes, but not like the plains, though you can get a dust storm here and there. Oct 1 to Memorial Day seems like best weather I have seen anywhere other than SoCal. Christmas to Jan 20 or so, however, can be very un-Florida like cool and cold at night – down into the 30s generally overnight and what seems cold to me in the daytime – 50s and 60s. Visitors from the north don’t seem to mind so much.
Demographics and lifestyle
Lots of old people, but most are very active. Lots of HOA’s with rules, but that also means no run down neighborhoods in the whole town. Quiet, quiet, quiet. You can shop for most things you need right here. Every economic situation is represented from manufactured home park to condos to townhomes to big homes with big views of the mountains. Most of the neighborhoods are age restricted, so you will not see young people around very much unless you go to sister town Sahuarita, which has two high schools, or into Tucson. You would have to like being around mostly retirees almost all the time. Homes are very nicely priced, and you can get anything you like, but it’s tract housing for the most part, so builders are the usual corner cutters. You can get 2br, 2bath from 1200 to 1600 sq. ft. in older construction in nice quiet neighborhoods from $90 to $160k depending on garage, outdoor space, view, location, etc. Or you can go to luxury, 1800 sq.ft. on up in the usual $200 to 400k range – depending again on property, location, extras, etc. You can rent easily, too. It’s quiet and safe virtually everywhere.
Question to Mike T: Thanks for the helpful info on Green Valley. What about the water situation? Is there going to be water at a decent price 10 or 20 or 30 years on, or will the aquifers all be used up?
Mike T: Going further with Green Valley specifically, interaction with others is important to most in retirement since you will leave old friendships and family. So another unique aspect of living in a retirement “town” like this, as opposed to a retirement community in a big city like Phoenix or Tucson, is the striking difference re backgrounds, education, economic history, etc. Sometimes in a “community” it’s an easily read common theme with that… if you really generalized, which I realize is dangerously open to backlash on what you say, you could say in a “country club” type of atmosphere (I found that kind of feel looking into Robson’s communities… doesn’t mean people weren’t very nice and friendly, etc. and that everybody was welcomed it seemed to me). I think you can expect most to be coming from more “upscale” backgrounds, used to and expecting finer top drawer facilities, and maybe more looking for that lifestyle, but in Green Valley you find quickly that the retired bus driver is often living next door to the retired CEO, depending on the neighborhood, and certainly use of recreational facilities means you might be playing tennis with him or her. I liked the Robson choices (Pebble Creek, Sun Lakes, Quail Creek down here) and they do have great facilities and sometimes a relatively younger demographic, but they did seem to me to be more geared toward folks looking for the CC or “resort” style living, which is fine.
GV, on the other hand, is a town with manufactured home neighborhoods all the way on up to luxury homes. Each home pays a ridiculously low annual fee to use what you want to use (17 tennis, 7 pickleball, 13 pools, 8 gyms, bocce,table tennis, racquetball, woodwork, lapidary, clay, cpu, arts, dance, music, hiking, biking, photo, etc, etc., you get the picture), which are located all over the town. You have to be willing to drive or bike usually a few miles to get to things, unless it’s one of the rec centers in your neighborhood. This is also an issue for shopping. Some neighborhoods are at least 3 or 4 miles to a gas station, store. The freeway runs through the town, and if you locate too close you will hear traffic noise. On the other hand, it makes it often easier to get back and forth to places. Most neighborhoods are close to a gym and pool and tennis court, but if you are into photography, say, you might have to drive four or five miles to the studio to do your thing.
More about the people
It is nice to have a “family town” right next door, so you will see all ages in stores and restaurants, but your neighborhood will likely be just 55+ and you will be surrounded by old folks a lot, which means it could more easily bore you to live here if you are not into the recreation and clubs or crafts and hobbies, etc., but it also means it’s really really peaceful and quiet all the time. The majority are politically conservative, I would say, but there are many more on both sides of the political fence than you would find in places like Sun City, for example. Not much of a minority presence, a little bit, but there is a Latino influence everywhere in this area that is very friendly and seamlessly interactive. There are border issues that people talk about here, but in my opinion they do not have a direct effect on the quality of life here. If you bike in the desert and hike in the mountains, as I do, you will see evidence and Border Patrol presence, but it just has not become a part of daily living in this town. It is a very quiet and peaceful place with most neighborhoods un-gated, but there is no question that there is illegal immigrant traffic that comes through this valley.
Summarizing my pros and cons for Green Valley
Pros: 3k feet elevation means you can live fairly easily year round if you use pools and AC in summer mid day, beautiful open country surrounded by mountains, unparalleled recreation facilities, golf, hiking, biking, walking for low costs in sunny weather almost every day of year, variety of backgrounds of people, very very peaceful small town living with no traffic or other crowd hassles, lots of hobbies, clubs, social activities, pretty inexpensive for most everything, including most housing, most anyone can fit in (although it is mostly white middle class and upper middle class), very close and easy access to a great small city with some night life, cultural activities, good medical, and a major university, close to San Diego and close to great mountain retreats in AZ and NM that are much cooler
Cons: 100-104 temperature average for much of the summer, freeway runs through the center (though it’s not heavy traffic), very little diversity by race, except for Latino, not much nightlife, closer to the border issues, water is not a problem now, but there is discussion about it so it needs to be looked at, might be too casual, laid back, boring, quiet, unstylish, whatever you would call it (it’s a long long way from Scottsdale), the copper mine is an eyesore to the west sometimes, more churches than bars, not really a great restaurant, old people with old thinking sometimes, if you know what I mean, medical care here but hospitals in Tucson only, although a small one is being built now, shopping is pretty much Walmart though stores are coming.
Green Valley: Mike’s bottom line
I hope that provides some insights on those looking into Green Valley. It’s not for everybody, obviously. We settled on it because we wanted small town living close to a city, lots of sunshine for outdoor activities we like, and the low cost of living and lack of hassle and traffic. If we were into more indoor things and wanted good restaurants and nightlife and bookstores, coffee shop around the corner, walk downtown, and shopping and those kinds of things to do, we would not live here. If we were not okay living around older folks, we would not live here. If you can’t stand heat, don’t live here year round, although probably 50 to 60 percent use this as a winter home only, Oct thru April or May, and many of us travel, or go to the mountains or San Diego in the summers.
And now some thoughts about Mesa and other parts
That is one nice thing about where Dave C is going. Mesas is a great jump off point to head to the White Mountains and Rim Country in the summers. You can be up at 20 degrees cooler in less than 2-3 hours depending on where you go. I can speak about those areas, too, as we have a cabin in the Whites.
You did not mention the community, Dave, but I can guess which one, and if so you will like the small but active lifestyle with that one. Sometimes a 55 active like Sun Lakes, for example, which is down in Chandler, not far from you, can be overwhelming. It’s so big. Very nice, but lots of things you might never use, and probably not as laid back as where you are going if I am guessing right. I would like probably the smaller more intimate community as long as there were enough things to keep me occupied. You will be also close to the lakes up in the Tonto area, the Superstitions, Scottsdale for shopping and dining and cultural, nice easy access to the airport, ASU is close by for tons of things to do, and Mesa has a great small airport for some summer getaways to Wyoming, Montana, etc. We liked the east valley for many of those reasons, although we did like Pebble Creek in the west valley very much, too, since it’s closer to California places we like. Hope it provided some insights for those still searching.
Comments: Wow, thanks for the great insights, Mike T. Feel like I’ve lived there myself! What kind of comments do our fellow members have – do you see things the way Mike does, or not? Anyone else care to write about where they live – if so please let us know. We firmly believe there is no substitute for the hands-on experience of someone who has retired to place. Please add your Comments below.
For further reading
Our review of Green Valley
Mini-retirement guide to Arizona
Arizona Retirement 101