October 9, 2018 — This is our 2018 list of the 20 most popular places to retire in the Northeast, the fourth in this year’s “Best Places” series. In case you missed them, here are the links to the first three: “The Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southwest“, 20 Most Popular Places to Retire in the West (California to Colorado and points north), and the Southeast’s very popular top 20.
Resorts and college towns
We weren’t too surprised Pittsburgh ended up #1 on this list, Since the Steel City is frequently named as a great place to retire because of its relatively low costs and livability. But we were surprised by the two tourist-oriented regions that ended up so high on the list: Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains (#2), and NY’s Finger Lakes Region (#6). Evidently there are a lot of baby boomers who are evaluating leisure oriented areas for their retirement. In fact, all twenty towns on this list have at least one of these traits: seacoast location, mountain area, being on a lake, or college town.
The battle of the states
Pennsylvania came out top dog when it comes to retirement in the Northeast, with 7 of the top 20 coming from the Keystone State. The Granite State, New Hampshire, came in second with 4 towns on the list. Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont each had 2, and Massachusetts had 1. Connecticut and Rhode Island struck out on this year’s list.
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. Pittsburgh made the top spot on this list because more people read its review on Topretirements.com during the first nine months of 2018 than any other city/town in the Northeast. We view that count as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Pittsburgh review was viewed over 1,500 times. You can debate whether “most popular” is the same as “best”; another way to say it is that these towns certainly spark the most interest among our retirement oriented audience. Note that by comparison with interest in Southwestern or Southeastern towns for retirement, interest in the Northeast is quite tepid. For example Green Valley (AZ) and Greenville (AZ) had over 10,000 page visits each.
We do not include active adult communities in our compilation, although a few of them, notably Penn National in Chambersburg (PA), would have made the Top 20. 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 Northeast
Based on popularity at Topretirements, here are the 20 best places to retire this year:
Using the Census Bureau’s definition of the northeast, the region includes nine states: they are Maine, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
1. Pittsburgh (PA) 1510 Pittsburgh consistently makes the “Best Places to Live” lists, and attracts a community of retirees who want to reside in a livable city with many colleges and cultural opportunities. It has a beautiful setting where two major rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, combine against a backdrop of steep hills to form the Ohio River. Pittsburgh has a solid economy, low cost of living, and growing educational, cultural and medical infrastructures.
2. Pocono Mountains (PA) 1348 The Pocono Mountains, commonly called “The Poconos”, encompasses a large geographical area in Northeastern Pennsylvania, covering over 2,400 square miles of the natural scenic beauty offered by the mountains, lakes and rivers. The population is growing at a rapid pace as more vacationers and retirees are deciding to live here. There are several small towns in the Poconos, each offering their own history, arts, festivals and all types of outdoor recreation.
3. Portland (ME) 974 Maine’s largest city is an ideal retirement community – in fact it is often mentioned as one of America’s most livable small cities. It combines New England history (founded in 1632) with a vital downtown centered on the Old Port District, pristine beaches, and a friendly, small town feel. Portland has many attractions for active adults, and is bursting with good restaurants and interesting stores.
4. Cape May (NJ) 837 Cape May is a popular retirement community for people who enjoy the beach, fishing, and a Victorian setting. This beach community, (4,000 year round residents, 40,000 seasonal population), at the bottom of New Jersey, has long been famous for its stock of Victorian homes.
Its nickname is “The Nation’s Oldest Seashore Resort”.
5. Lancaster (PA) 663 Lancaster, located in south-central Pennsylvania with a rich history, is also a college town in a pretty part of Pennsylvania Dutch country. The Central Market is the oldest farmers market in the country and a big tourist attraction because of the Amish goods offered for sale. Lancaster is also home to Franklin and Marshall College, several museums, and many cultural institutions.
6. Finger Lakes Region (NY) 584 The Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York, is one of the state’s top tourist destinations with its patchwork of rolling hills, beautiful lakes, and hundreds of vineyards. The area is comprised of eleven freshwater lakes that resemble the fingers of a hand, situated between the cities of Syracuse and Rochester, and offers many recreational opportunities including kayaking, fishing, and hiking. Wine enthusiasts would enjoy retiring here as it is New York State’s top wine producing area with over 100 wineries and vineyards.
7. Ithaca (NY) 558 Ithaca is a town of 30,000 located on the shores of Cayuga Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes. Home of the Ivy League’s Cornell University and Ithaca College, It makes an ideal retirement community for active adults 55 plus who would enjoy living in a bustling and charming college town with walkable neighborhoods, and a great deal going on culturally.
8. Burlington (VT) 506 Burlington is a lovely, small college town on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. It is home to the vibrant University of Vermont, and is very popular with outdoor loving retirees who also want the youth and enthusiasm provided by a major university. The city has a strong arts and cultural component with frequent festivals and shows.
9. State College (PA) 482 State College is located near the center of Pennsylvania in a rural and beautiful area. Home to Penn State University, this lively college town offers plenty of excitement and nice places to live, along with recreational and cultural opportunities. The town itself has about 40,000 residents, with the 55+ population the fastest growing segment.
10. Durham (NH) 426 Durham is a thriving college town in a pretty location situated beside Great Bay at the mouth of the Oyster River, and features waterfront parks, hiking trails and preserves. With a population just over 14,000, it is home to the University of New Hampshire, which adds to the community by offering many cultural and sporting events. Through many successful conservation projects, over 25% of Durham’s land is under some form of permanent conservation.
11. Ocean City (NJ) 416 Ocean City, (population 15,000 in the winter, over 115,000 during the summer months), is a popular retirement community for active adults who enjoy the beach, fishing, and boating. It has long been a popular family resort and attracts a community of retirees who want to live in a small, family-oriented beach town.
12. Exeter (NH) 404 Home to the elite prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy, the town of Exeter in eastern New Hampshire, is a small town New England classic. The presence of the prep school and its interesting faculty makes it a good choice for retirees looking for a strong cultural environment. The town is very old, going back to 1638, and has a population of about 15,000 residents.
13. Boston (MA) 381 Baby Boomers looking for a retirement community in an urban environment should put Boston at the the top of their short lists. Considered by many to be the historic capital of the U.S., Boston has just about anything that anyone could want. Its downtown is walkable, safe, and interesting. There are many parks and every kind of urban amenity-museums, shopping, restaurants, mass transit and theatre.
14. Camden (ME) 353 This little, colonial classic New England seaport is a popular summer town for New Yorkers and Bostonians, and still retains much of its 19th century charm. It’s setting midway along Maine’s coast is postcard perfect. It has a lovely but small downtown, and residential streets with beautiful houses. Boaters find Camden particularly appealing.
15. Middlebury (VT) 347 Located in western Vermont near the New York border, Middlebury is home to one of America’s top liberal arts colleges, Middlebury College. It has to be one of the top settings for a college town anywhere, and has attracted many baby boomers who are making it their retirement community due to its vibrant downtown, its recreational, intellectual and cultural amenities, and its many non-profit volunteer opportunities.
16. Philadelphia (PA) 340 Philadelphia is one of America’s most historic cities as well as the largest city in Pennsylvania, and home to numerous colleges and universities. Living so close to the center of American history has to be a thrill. The urban lifestyle in Philadelphia, where owning a car is not necessary, is quite appealing. There are lots of great restaurants, museums, and shopping, and Philadelphia has some of the top cultural institutions in the world, including art and music.
17. Peterborough (NH) 336 Peterborough is a beautiful and pastoral town set along the hills in the mountains of New Hampshire. It is an interesting retirement community for those who enjoy small town living with a dose of culture and the outdoors. The population is just over 3,000.
18. Bethlehem (PA) 293 Bethlehem is a city of about 75,000 people in eastern Pennsylvania. It is home to Lehigh University, a highly rated school with over 5,000 students, as well as Moravian College and Northhampton Community College. Bethlehem Steel was formerly here, whose departure the city is struggling to overcome. The Sands Casino Resort and The Sands Bethlehem Event Center was built on its site and has revitalized the steel property, which now brings in substantial revenue for the city.
19. Hershey (PA) 270 The popular tourist town of Hershey (Chocolate Town USA), is also a great place to retire. It is located in the center of the state, and for a town of just 13,000 people, it has a lot going for it due to the generous legacies of Milton Hershey, founder of the famous chocolate company headquartered here. It has a big amusement park, Hershey Gardens, and the Penn State Medical School is also located here.
20. Portsmouth (NH) 268 Portsmouth is a small and very old town of just over 20,000 in eastern New Hampshire, right on the Maine border, and has a tremendous amount going for it as a retirement town. There is a charming old downtown with lots of great shops and restaurants, cobblestone streets, and historic seaport. It was named as one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
For Additional reading:
100 Most Popular Places to Retire: 2019
15 Best Active Adult or 55+ Communities in South Carolina
15 Best AAs in North Carolina
15 Most Popular AAs in Florida
Dueling Retirement States Series (Starts with Arizona vs. Florida)
10 Worst States for Retirement – 2018
Dueling Retirement States: North vs. South Carolina
Top 20 Places to Retire in the Southeast – 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 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 and reactions about what makes for a great place to retire in the Comments section below.