July 27, 2017 – For the first time since Topretirements began running our annual list of America’s 100 most popular places to retire we have a winner from the west. In fact, we have two. Green Valley, Arizona took over the top spot from last year’s winner, Sarasota, Florida. Hitting #2 on our list is another town from Arizona, the former cowboy town of Prescott, north of Phoenix.
Green Valley is a sprawling area south of Tucson near the border with Mexico. It covers a vast area with all kinds of communities and developments – in fact it has 59 different home owner 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.
In gaining the #1 spot on our list, Green Valley was viewed over 12,000 times in the first six months of 2017 by Topretirements.com visitors. That is 4,000 more than #2 Prescott and almost double what previous winner Asheville, NC (#3) experienced.
Sunbelt and West Rule
The 2017 list is convincing proof that when it comes to where baby boomers are thinking about retirement, the Sunbelt and the West are well, the best places in the sun. Only 3 of 2017’s top 100 towns were outside those two areas of the country. Delaware had two of them – #66 Lewes and #74 Rehoboth – while Pennsylvania claimed the #79 spot with Pittsburgh. Note that our loose definition of Sunbelt includes Virginia and Tennessee. The West definition includes any state west of the Mississippi.
Six states had 66 towns on the list among them. As always, Florida had the most cities on the list with 23, followed by North and South Carolina (13 and 10 respectively). Other states with multiple winners included Arizona (8), Tennessee (6), and Colorado (6).
New Towns Join as Popular Places to Retire
A record 16 new towns moved onto the 2017 list, ten more than in 2016. All of the newcomers were from the Sunbelt or West. Breaking through on the 2017 list were: Palm Springs, CA (#34), Gainesville, FL (#64); Port Isabel, TX ((#70); Ft. Walton Beach (#83); Lakeland, FL (#85); Boulder, CO (#86); Surprise, AZ (#90); Englewood, FL (#91); Meridian, ID; Scottsdale, AZ; Johnson City, TX; Pinehurst Village, NC; Conway, SC; Wilmington, NC; Lake Eufala, OK; and Walla Walla, WA (#92-100).
Moving Up and Down the List
The top 10 towns or cities on the list was relatively stable, with one newcomer. The newbie is Pensacola, Florida, which moved up from 15th place in 2016 to #8 this year. Other big movers were Chattanooga, TN, which rocketed to #19 all the way from 88th place last year. Dunedin, FL climbed to 40th from 76th. Greenville, NC, which held the #81 spot in 2016 ascended to #54 this year. Those losing ground included Myrtle Beach, SC (#28 from #11), Austin, TX (#24 from #18), and Bellingham, WA (falling from #46 to #82).
How we choose the winners
Topretirements.com, “Where Baby Boomers Go to Find Their Best Place to Retire”, has published its 100 most popular list 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 was chosen for the top spot through a simple process. We counted how many times each city’s review was viewed at Topretirements.com during the first six months of 2017. We view that count as a gauge of interest in that destination. For example, the Green Valley review was viewed over 12,000 times,
which was more than 10 times as often as the newcomer in the #100 position, Walla Walla (WA). 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 – if we had, “The Villages” in Florida would have ranked 35th in 2017. 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 – 2014“.
Here are the Top 100 Places to Retire
Based on popularity at Topretirements, here are the 100 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 12,000 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 8,000 times)
3. Asheville, NC. Asheville is a prosperous small city of just over 75,000 in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina. The downtown is filled with cafes, restaurants, and art deco buildings.(viewed 7,000 times)
4. Sarasota, FL. Some consider Sarasota to be the cultural capital of Florida, after Miami. Sarasota has one of Florida’s best downtowns with many interesting neighborhoods. An impressive array of cultural facilities are gathered there, along with high-rise, luxury hotels. Plus the barrier islands have great beaches. (6,000)
5. Venice, FL. Originally developed in 1925 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers as a planned retirement community, Venice is named after the many canals and rivers running through it. (5,000)
6. 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.
7.Beaufort, SC. The Old South lives on in the quaint seaside charm of Beaufort, Known as the “Queen of the Carolina Sea Islands”. Horse-drawn carriages roll along streets in the town’s charming historic district that are overhung with Spanish moss.
8. Pensacola, FL. Pensacola is a popular town for retirement and tourism in the western end of the Florida panhandle. Its location on the Pensacola Bay gives it access to the emerald green waters and sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
9. Charleston, SC. “The Holy City” is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. as well as being one of its top tourist attractions. Located on the coast of South Carolina, until the mid 1800’s it was one of the 10 largest cities in North America.
10. Paris, TN. Paris is a small town of about 10,000 in northwest Tennessee, 15 miles from the vast and popular Land Between the Lakes recreation area.
11. Brevard, NC. The town of Brevard, surrounded by the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, consistently ranks near the top of popular lists of “best retirement communities” and “best places to live, work, and play”.
12. Murphy, NC. Murphy is a great place for retirement particularly if you are interested in a quiet and rural environment. The climate is mild and the scenery is breathtaking with mountains and lakes.
13. New Bern, NC. This city of over 30,000 grew by 30% from 2000 to 2013. It has a 56 square block tree lined historic district and a charming downtown. New Bern was named a “Certified Retirement Community” by the State of North Carolina in 2015.
14. Flagstaff, AZ. Centered amidst some of the most enchanting physical landmarks in the world, Flagstaff is a top rated community for retirement.
15. 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.
16. Savannah, GA. Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in America. It is a popular tourist destination as well as an area popular with retirees. Each year almost 7 million tourists visit here.
17. St. Petersburg, FL. Saint Petersburg has been a classic retirement and tourist destination since the 1920’s because of its winter warmth, great beaches, and ideal location on a peninsula in Tampa Bay.
18. Bluffton, SC. Bluffton, located near Hilton Head Island and the coast, is a charming, walkable, old town on the May River.
19. Chattanooga, TN. Chattanooga is a low-cost, interesting retirement city. It was the site of the famous critical civil war Battle of Chattanooga due to its strategic location on the Tennessee River. Called the “Scenic City”, it is home to the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga.
20. Mesquite, NV. Mesquite is an extremely popular retirement town in southeastern Nevada, almost in Arizona and Utah. Casinos arrived here in the 1970’s. The town markets itself as a low key alternative to Las Vegas. (visited over 3,000 times)
21. St.Simons Island, GA (up from #79 last year). Living in St. Simons Island, the southernmost community in Georgia, could be like going to paradise. There are beautiful sandy beaches, luxurious homes, and summer lasts for 7 months.
22. Myrtle Beach, SC. Myrtle Beach is a favorite beach and golf resort community as it is home to The Grand Strand – one of the world’s longest sections of perfect beach, and boasts over 120 golf courses. It also has a reputation as a hot spot for live family entertainment, music, and celebrity concerts.
23. Naples, FL. Naples represents the gold coast of southwest Florida. Its walkable downtown is as sophisticated as any in the world, but charming too.
24. 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.
25. Ft. Myers, FL. Located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on southwest Florida’s coast, its roots go back to 1886. It has the charming Thomas Edison Museum and a beautifully restored downtown along the river. New developments go off in every direction.
26. Athens, GA. Athens is an immensely successful university town and popular as a retirement community. The University of Georgia has helped to create an unusually liberal community with a thriving artistic, musical, and intellectual scene.
27. Southport, NC. Southport was an active seaport in colonial times and remains one of the few active fishing villages in North Carolina. Its picturesque location features over 28 miles of sandy beaches and a number of lighthouses.
28. Summerville, SC. Summerville, “The Flower Town in the Pines”, has a charming downtown with many restaurants and unusual shops. Tourists flock to the area to see its azaleas in season.
29. Port Charlotte, FL. Port Charlotte is a suburban community to the northeast of busy Fort Myers. Thousands of snow birds and retirees come because it is warm in the winter and home prices and rents are low.
30. St. George, UT. Saint George has spectacular red rock bluffs overlooking the town, a mild climate in winter, and terrific recreational opportunities.
31. Charlottesville, VA. Charlottesville, has been ranked as one of the best 100 places to retire. Home to the University of Virginia, this college town offers a tree-lined dignity and charm that makes it easy to see why so many active adults are planning to retire here.
32. Sequim, WA. Sequim is popular both with retirees and with people looking for second homes. The town has has won numerous awards as a great place to live and retire.
33. Chapel Hill, NC Chapel Hill is a particularly beautiful town in the gentle hills of central North Carolina. The University of North Carolina is the centerpiece of this charming small town with a cosmopolitan flair that makes it appealing as a retirement community.
34. Palm Springs, CA (New, was on the 2015 list). We love this oasis town east of Los Angeles in the Coachella Valley. You can be playing golf in the valley and see snow on nearby mountains.
35. Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas is one of the fastest-growing communities in the U.S. Legalized gambling in this desert resort city has created an enormous economy and attracted many new residents, including retirees in active adult communities. The Las Vegas strip is justly famous for its glitz and many attractions.
36. 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.
37. Colorado Springs, CO. Colorado Springs is an extremely popular retirement community due to spectacular scenery, abundant sunshine, and conservative values. The city also offers bike trails, parks, and cultural activities.
38. Clearwater, FL. Clearwater, part of the Tampa Bay Metro, has a rich cultural infrastructure-due in part because of the The Clearwater Public Art and Design Project. Nearby St. Petersburg and Tampa are also loaded with cultural venues.
39. Bend, OR. Bend offers great scenic beauty, skiing, mountains, golf, fishing, and more. Bend makes just about every list of “best retirement communities”.
40. Dunedin, FL. Dunedin is an old sailing town of about 36,000, with a spectacular setting on the west coast of Florida that boasts at least a mile of unobstructed views of Gulf beaches. Settled by Scots, it retains many interesting Scottish traditions and festivals.
41. 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.
42. Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is a charming and friendly small town of 4,200 by the sea. This old seaport has an interesting history and beautiful housing – many homes sport historic plaques.
43. Maryville, TN. This small college town has all of the things that make Tennessee retirements so appealing – low taxes, low cost of living, and outstanding recreation opportunities in nearby lakes and Great Smoky Mountains.
44. Knoxville, TN. Knoxville is particularly attractive because it is home to the Vols – the University of Tennessee. It is a vibrant college town with big-time sports and many cultural events.
45. Fairhope, AL. Fairhope, Alabama is one of the most unusual (and nicest) retirement communities anywhere. Fairhope has made some movement from utopian experiment to retirement community… artist’s/intellectual’s colony… boutique resort… some local residents refer to Fairhope as “Carmel-by-the-Bay” alluding to California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea on the Monterey Peninsula.
46. Spokane, WA. Spokane is the 2nd largest city in Washington, and one of the largest in the Northwest. It is located on Washington’s eastern border with Idaho, and is the cultural, social, and economic hub of this area.
47. Mt. Airy, NC. Mount Airy has a vital downtown that attracts tourists and retirees. In 2013, it was designated by the State of North Carolina as an official North Carolina Retirement Destination.
48. Gulf Shores, AL. Located on a barrier island in western Alabama, Gulf Shores is an upscale resort and retirement community at the entrance to Mobile Bay. Part of the attraction is the water and coast – many places to explore in your boat, play golf, or enjoy the white sand beaches.
49. Greenville, SC. Greenville has an interesting downtown and several great neighborhoods. It is also home to a number of colleges and is a thriving community for the arts.
50. Fernandina Beach, FL up from #99 Fernandina Beach is old Florida. It has a charming downtown with an artsy feel and many quiet neighborhoods featuring Victorian homes.
51. Williamsburg, Virginia Williamsburg is a very popular retirement community. Colonial Williamsburg is actually a living representation/restoration of the 18th century colonial capital. If you are a history buff and you love antiques, this is the place for you.
52. Tampa, FL. The city has a spectacular location on Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay, which in turn lead to the Gulf of Mexico, and has every type of cultural resource such as theatres, museums of all kinds, and a vibrant city life.
53. Crossville, TN. The number one reason why Crossville, Tennessee is desirable as a retirement community is because it is a relative bargain. Dubbed the “Golf Capital of Tennessee”, as the area has 12 golf courses. There is also great beauty in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
54. Greenville, NC. Greenville was recognized as “Sportstown USA” by Sports Illustrated and the National Parks and Recreation Association. The recognition came for its commitment to providing sporting opportunities for residents.
55. Hayesville, NC Hayesville is a beautiful and friendly, but very small town that combines small-town charm with the beauty of mountains, lakes, rivers and streams. Opportunities for camping, golf, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and water sports are plentiful.
56. Henderson, NV. Henderson, second largest city in Nevada, is also one of America’s fastest-growing communities. the city prides itself on its master-planned residential areas, transportation projects, and outstanding recreational opportunities.
57. Hilton Head, SC. Known for its beautiful beaches and fabulous golf courses, the area tends to be quite exclusive and most of it comprised of planned developments.
58. Aiken, SC. This town of almost 30,000 in western South Carolina is known as the “Winter Colony”, and has always been popular with the horsy set for fox hunting, steeplechase, and polo horses.
59. Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville is the most populated city in Florida with 808,000 inhabitants. It is has a mild winter climate and much to offer in terms of culture and recreation.
60. Durango, CO. Durango is one of the most interesting small towns in Colorado. It is world famous for every kind of outdoor recreation including mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, and golf.
61. Reno, NV.”The Biggest Little City in the World”, is the 4th largest city in Nevada with a population of about 220,000. The nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains and deserts make this a great area for people who like the outdoors. As a college town it has a full supply of cultural and sporting venues.
62. St. Augustine, FL. Saint Augustine is the longest continuously occupied European settlement in the U.S., which makes it a historic community with a lot to do that is connected with the city’s rich heritage.
63. Eugene, OR . Eugene enjoys a national reputation as one of the most livable cities in the country. As a retirement community it offers small town charm combined with big city sparkle. It has a thriving and eclectic arts scene along with unsurpassed natural beauty.
64. Gainesville, FL (New). This college town in north central Florida is home the Gators of the University of Florida. It has a nice downtown and many pleasant places to live.
65. Eureka, CA. A port city on the Humboldt Bay of California’s northern coast, makes Eureka an excellent retirement community. It’s filled with examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture and historic districts, and has been likened to a west coast Williamsburg, Virginia.
66. Lewes, DE. Lewes is a small town on the southern coast. It’s considered an ocean resort and a top tourist area because of its beaches, proximity to Cape Henlopen State Park, and shopping malls.
67. Boise City, ID up from #100 “The city of Trees” is a modern, prosperous, and livable city that offers many recreational activities and a great lifestyle.
68. Leesburg, FL. Leesburg is fast growing town in central Florida, the result of retirees choosing it as their retirement town. The many lakes in and around the town are a primary attraction.
69. Grand Junction, CO. Grand Junction, is a college town perched on the border with Utah. It has a nice downtown, and natural beauty and recreation are abundant.
70. 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.
71. Corpus Christi, TX. Corpus Christi bills itself as “The Sparkling City by the Sea”. There are many local attractions, particularly concerning the waterfront, boating, beaches, and fishing. Golf is also popular here.
72. 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.
73. San Juan Islands, WA. San Juan Islands Located off the coasts of Washington and British Columbia, are both a tourist destination and a retirement community. The setting, the tranquility, and the scenery are world class.
74. Rehoboth Beach, DE. Rehoboth Beach is a beach community located on the pastoral Delmarva Peninsula. This hospitable town, billed as “The Nation’s Summer Capital”, was chosen by the AARP as a “Best Places to Retire”. It is increasingly popular as a retirement community because of its small town character, reasonable prices, and fabulous beaches.
75. Delray Beach, FL. Delray Beach is a very popular and upscale retirement community on the east coast of Florida. A Master Plan developed by the city resulted in an extensive and extremely successful renovation of its charming and walkable downtown area.
76. 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”.
77. Lake Keowee, SC. Lake Keowee is a very large reservoir in north-central South Carolina, just west of Greenville. It is not a town, but a beautiful region which is a relatively unspoiled area with plenty of water and parks for recreation.
78. 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.
79. Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh consistently makes the “Best Places to Live” lists. 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.
80. Clemson, SC. This town of 13,000 is nestled in the extreme Northwestern corner of South Carolina. Clemson University and its 17,000 students have a major impact as the university is the cultural center of the city.
81. Key West, FL. Key West, Florida, is an extremely charming community, the southernmost in the U.S. Many active adults choose this city and island 90 miles north of Cuba because of its sub-tropical warmth, its diversity (home to many gays), and its laid-back charm.
82. Bellingham, WA. If there was ever a town with momentum it is Bellingham Washington. Kiplinger’s called Bellingham one of the top retirement communities in the U.S. It boasts unbelievable natural scenery from Puget Sound on the west and Mount Baker to the east.
83. Ft. Walton Beach, FL. Known as being on “The Emerald Coast”, this a popular beach and fishing community of 20,000 on Florida’s extreme northwest coast, almost in Alabama. The busiest time of the year is summer. The Air Force has two large bases in the area.
84. San Diego, CA. San Diego’s scenery, climate, and lifestyle are second to none and appeal to active adults 55+. Its bustling downtown area has a busy convention area and city parks set alongside hundreds of anchored pleasure boats.
85. Lakeland, FL (New). This was an important town during the Florida land boom. Many of its historic structures date from that period including the Terrace Hotel, New Florida Hotel (Regency Towers), Polk Theatre, Promenade of Lake Mirror, and the former Lakeland Public Library.
86. Boulder, CO (New). Perhaps the most prestigious and expensive city in Colorado, it is home to the University of Colorado.
87. Ft. Collins, CO. Fort Collins was chosen by Money Magazine as the best small city in the U.S. It’s a popular retirement community for its low crime rates, fantastic outdoor life, and small town ambiance.
88. Boynton Beach, FL. Boynton Beach includes sections that are on the barrier island and the connecting mainland to the east. Its many public beaches and parks provide a superb entertainment option.
89. Stuart, FL. Stuart is an extremely charming community with a lovely downtown that offers interesting shops and restaurants with a small town feel. There is a very ample coastline thanks to the bays and ocean that surround the town.
90. Surprise, AZ (New). 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.
91. Englewood, FL (New). A small town on the Gulf of Mexico just below Venice. It has great beaches and several state parks.
92. Vero Beach, FL. Vero Beach is located in the middle of Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The town is in several parts – a ‘beach” area on the barrier island with a resort feel, and a large downtown across the bay on the mainland.
93. Meridian, ID (New). This suburb of Boise is close to Idaho’s mountains with outstanding recreational opportunities. It offers a diversified economic base too.
94. Scottsdale, AZ (New). Perhaps the most famous suburb of Phoenix, this affluent town in the McDowell Mountains is picture perfect.
95. Johnson City, TN (New). Located in extreme northeastern Tennessee. the area is becoming popular for retirement because of its low cost of living and its friendly, welcoming people. It is near Kingsport and Jonesborough, and only about 60 miles north of Asheville.
96. Pinehurst Village, NC (New). This classic village is set in a serene and beautiful forest. The Pinehurst Resort is located within the village. The resort is so low-key and private that you could drive by the entrance to the town and not realize that you were there. The community was founded by James Walker Tufts in 1895 with the goal of being a healthful retreat.
97. Conway, SC (New). Its location about 20 miles from Myrtle Beach is a big plus. The town grew 45% since 2000 thanks to an influx of retirees and active adults. Active adult communities spread out in all directions. City Hall was designed by the same person who did the Washington Monument.
98. Wilmington, NC (New). A fast growing city at the mouth of the Cape Fear River on the Carolina coast. The city has a historic center and a mile long walk along the river. Great Carolina beaches are just minutes away. UNC – Wilmington is a big plus for the town.
99. Lake Eufala, OK (New). The area on a large reservoir in east central Oklahoma is a popular resort and low-key, relaxing retirement spot. Lake Eufaula has approximately 143,000 acres of water and over 600 miles of shoreline.
100. Walla Walla, WA (New). This is one of the most important towns in southeastern Washington. It is home to one of the top small private colleges in the country, Whitman College, as well as a growing number of top vineyards.
Sliding Off the List
As always, some towns lost part of their allure to prospective retirees last year. Those included: Blue Ridge (GA), Charlotte (NC), Portland (OR), Winchester (VA), Port Townsend (WA,) Denver (CO), Punta Gorda (Florida), Cape Coral (FL), Hendersonville (NC), Port St. Lucie (FL), Gulfport (FL), Jupiter (FL), Coeur D’Alene (ID), San Luis Obispo (CA), Seattle (WA), and Palm Coast (FL).
For Additional reference:
2016 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 – 2014
What do You Think?
Having two towns from the western part of country at the top of this list is significant news. Do you think it represents a trend – either that more people are considering a western retirement, or that more boomers in the west are considering moving in retirement. Or does it mean something else? 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.