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I Would Love to Retire in California, But It’s Too Expensive: Where Else?

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

March 4, 2020 — California has sunny skies, a Mediterranean climate… and super-high housing prices and unending traffic. The Zillow Home Value Index was $561,000 in early 2020. A pleasant victim of its own success, it is a bit like Yogi Berra was alleged to have said, “It’s so crowded, no one goes there anymore”.

For those looking for the California experience, but don’t want to either have to pay for it or fight its crowds, this article will explore some places to retire that might be good alternatives. The good news is, there are plenty of great places that are much more affordable. Most are not near a coast, but many have lakes and/or mountains to enjoy.

Flatiron Mountain: Photo by Molly Brady

Tucson, Arizona. Warm in winter, blessed with sunshine almost 300 days per year, Tucson is surrounded by beautiful desert mountains. At 233 performing arts dates per year, it also has one of the nation’s highest number of arts performances. It retains a distinctive relaxed, western flavor (Tombstone is nearby). The Zillow Home Value Index was $212,648 in 2020.

Las Cruces, New Mexico. The second largest city in New Mexico, Las Cruces is in the southern part of the state. It 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. New Mexico State is here. The Zillow Home Value Index was $173,667 in early 2020.

Ocean Shores, Washington. This small coastal community was built on the site of a former cattle ranch. Popular with tourists and retirees, it includes marinas, shops, hotels and a golf course.  Pat Boone used to host his famous Celebrity Golf Tournaments here. Residents enjoy the beach, bird watch, fish, and attend the many outdoor activities and festivals that Ocean Shores has to offer. The Zillow Home Value Index was $225,420.

Photo of ocotillos and Church courtesy of Ken Bosma 

Green Valley, Arizona. This collection of communities in extreme southern Arizona is a perennially popular place to retire. It has a moderate winter climate, although periods of hard freeze can occur.  Because of its size the range of its activities and the range of people to meet is very extensive.  The non-profit Green Valley Recreation is quite extraordinary, operating 13 different recreation centers with golf courses, swimming pools, fitness centers, etc. It also provides many opportunities for the arts and entertainment. The Zillow Home Value Index was $195,200 in early 2020.

Cody, Wyoming. With a population of just under 10,000, it has a decidedly small-town feel in the scenic northwest corner of the state. It’s a relatively popular tourist area, especially for those passing through to Yellowstone National Park 50 miles away. As far as the residents go, this is the home of ranchers and cowboys. Two celebrities you have heard of, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, have moved here to become the town’s most famous residents of the modern era. Zillow puts the 2020 Home Value Index at $309,000.

Residential area near downtown Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda, Florida. Yes, this town is not anywhere near California. But it is warm and on the coast. Real estate is quite a bargain in this town that is making great strides. The Zillow Home Value Index was $245,133 in early 2020 and Zillow referred to it as a “Hot” market at this time. It is much less crowded than nearby Fort Myers or Naples.

Grand Junction, Colorado. Located in the west central part of the State near Utah, comes up near the top of many people’s “best places to retire”. For one thing, this fast-growing town perched on the border with Utah has a relatively low cost of living. It is also a college town (Colorado Mesa University has over 10,000 students on campus here). Natural beauty and recreation is abundant with the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado National Monument. Home prices are much more reasonable here than in the Denver or Boulder area – Zillow puts the Home Value Index at $265,000. 

Reno, Nevada. This area borders Lake Tahoe and so offers some of the California experience at a much better price. There are 18 ski areas within 2 hours.  Reno is near 3 major bodies of water – Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River, and Pyramid Lake. Nevada has no state income tax. During the third quarter of 2019, the median home sale price was $401,100 according to the NAR.

Near Heber City

Heber City, Utah. Many a Californian has decided to retire to Utah, which offers outstanding mountains and a youthful atmosphere. Heber City is in a fast growing area near Park City, but is a bit more affordable, depending on where you choose to live. You can live in a fancy active development or in the town. Zillow pegs the Home Value Index at $455,000.

For further reading:

Retirement 101: The American Southwest

Posted by Admin on March 2nd, 2020


  1. I’m sorry but now I’m taking a slight offense to the info provided here regarding to CA. Many of you I’m sure have read all my comments regarding to my Southern CA retirement. Once again these articles usually refer to living in the large cities such as LA and San Francisco. There are so many smaller cities to move to from North CA to San Diego . We live in North San Diego county on $2000 per month in a very nice retirement condo community and I know you can live on less than that in Eureka or Redding or the desert towns. I’ve lived in NY, Fla and Oregon and you can’t beat the weather here and appreciate that this state takes care of their own when needed.

    by Mary11 — March 3, 2020

  2. Nice comment Mary11. Generalizing about an area as big a State as California is dangerous. I am sure there are still many affordable places to retire there.

    by Admin — March 3, 2020

  3. “…state takes care of their own…” California euphuism for high taxes.

    by Art Quintna — March 4, 2020

  4. Thanks Mary 11, your information is appreciated and valuable to me.

    by Janet — March 4, 2020

  5. Thanks for your comment, Mary. I am tired of hearing how bad CA is, with the high taxes, and not good for small business, etc. If people don’t like it here, then, move elsewhere. Your comments were specific, not general, and certainly, not “dangerous.” That’s ridiculous. Yes, California can be expensive, but, everything is relative to your income, lifestyle, employment, and age. I am not wealthy financially, but, manage to live here comfortably at a retirement age.

    by Anna Marie — March 4, 2020

  6. Well let’s see ….as of a year ago when we still owned our condo our yearly property tax was $800. The value increased by 500 percent after 20 years and will be able to live off the profit for many years. Where we live we don’t see any illegals, food prices are lower from other states I’ve lived, and don’t experience bad traffic. We are lower income so taxes aren’t really a concern. Believe me there is no perfect place to retire to ….and you will have to make adjustments wherever you decide to settle.

    by Mary11 — March 5, 2020

  7. Mary, at 63, we planned to move back to San Diego
    At retirement. We have lived in 11 states. Problem:
    No state more resources for health and education
    As I Need specific Rheumatologist as it also impacts
    We thought AZ was answer, after complete 3 day meeting
    Dr. Said no! You go live in SD! She was emphatic to hubby.
    Orange County is fine but more congested. SC is 50 yrs ago. We lived near Poway and Rancho Penesquitus ..
    first job from college in NM. Sorry they changed home tax law. Immigrants should not get medical paid by legal
    Citizens. But all states have trade offs I guess. Ty

    by Tory23 — March 5, 2020

  8. I feel the same way about New York. Sure Manhattan is out of our reach but upstate New York is gorgeous and so inexpensive. Low income means low taxes. Low costs of living. Who knew? When it gets cold we snowbird down Florida. Perfect combination. People have to retire as best what works for them. Best of luck to everyone.

    by Cindy — March 6, 2020

  9. Another happy long-time California resident here.

    Like a lot of places where housing is expensive, if you’ve owned a home here for many years it’s not difficult to make lateral housing moves in retirement. Cashing out or downsizing can really plump your savings accounts.

    On the other hand, it’s very hard to move from a lower housing cost area to a higher housing cost area in retirement. Moving from a small house in rural Oklahoma to an equal sized house in San Francisco isn’t going to work.

    I’m ok with our taxes. Percentage wise, Americans pay far less in income and other taxes than our parents did back in the 1950s & 60s, which is how so many highways and schools were built during that era.

    It’s also important to most Californians that people with a little more help take care of those with less.
    I can live with that.

    by JCarol — March 7, 2020

  10. J Carol..
    Well stated. BTW, upstate NY is cheaper to live but I was raised in Buffalo and can’t deal with the snow or being a Snow Bird… Good luck with everyone!!

    by Mary11 — March 7, 2020

  11. Sorry Mary, there’s no way anyone can live in North County San Diego on $2k. In a lot of cases it’s more expensive between major cities. The average median household is over 500k in this area. Even if you did, to save money you would need to rent just a room, walk everywhere and live off soup. This should be known, California is a terrible place to retire for an average middle-class and lower.

    by Michael — October 6, 2020

  12. Mary, can you help us understand how 2 people can live on 2 thousand dollars a month anywhere in the USA? Unless you are getting government subsidies, it is just seems impossible. Food and necessities alone for 2 people where I live is at least 2 hundred a week. Health insurance and prescriptions for me alone is about 600/ month. Add electricity, internet, phones, cable, gas, insurances, property taxes, water bill, condo fees, car expenses, clothing, etc. and it is just not possible. I live in a small New England town, relatively inexpensive and 2 people living on 2 thousand dollars a month would be abject poverty. You do realize that 2k a month for 2 people is below the national poverty level? Do you get tax payer subsidies or food stamps, medicaid, etc? This does not compute.

    by Maimi — October 7, 2020

  13. I agree with JCarol – it IS important to most Californians that people with a little more help take care of those with less. It’s part of our DNA, at least for those of us who have spent our lives here. I’ve discovered that those who feel differently end up moving out of state. As someone with a strong tax background, my training is to reduce taxes as much as legally possible, but I love living in this state (have tried several times to leave, but always come back home) and I look at the taxes I pay here as a surcharge for everything I get by living here, including a system that supports my values. I’m retired and may move out of the country for at least part of my retirement, but I’ll always keep a foothold in this state that has been my home (even if not my place of residence) for all my life.

    by JoannC — October 7, 2020

  14. Maimi, I am not on welfare. I received a letter from SS stating that they would not be deducting the Medicare premiums from my monthly check. I didn’t apply for this. Since I was caregiver for my mother until she passed my SS amount is less than $1000. Please be a little more sympathetic to people who were lifelong taxpayers …..

    Editor’s comment: Although interesting, this is becoming a one on one discussion, so let’s leave it here. Thanks

    by Mary11 — October 8, 2020

  15. Cindy indicated that upstate New York is beautiful country and pretty inexpensive compared to NYC. I agree. There’s a lot of “upstate New York,” but I generally think of it as the area directly north of NYC up to Albany. One thing Cindy didn’t mention is how easy it is to get to NYC Grand Central by train (Metro North Hudson) from this area. And fares are half price for those 65 and over.

    One thing about the real estate market in Punta Gorda, FL. The article said it was currently a “hot” market according to Zillow. That usually means that prices are rising and that sellers have an advantage. Not necessarily good if you’re in the market to buy, but fine if you’re looking to sell.

    by Clyde — October 8, 2020

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