Updated January 2020 (originally published 2017) — We often get the question, “Which is the better state for retirement, Florida in the East, or Arizona in the West”. Both states are popular and have many great places to live. Based on the interest we see on Topretirements.com, Florida and Arizona attract more retirement interest than any other states, Florida has a slight edge in popularity. Tennessee, both Carolinas, and Colorado also generate a lot of prospective interest.
Further down in this article we will present various factors for each state so you can draw your own conclusions from the facts. But first, here are our opinions about what makes each of these two states a great, or not so great place to retire. As always, reader input is extremely important. We encourage you to use the Comments section below to tell your stories and express your preferences.
Winners and Losers
Everyone’s situation is different. Depending on what you are looking for in retirement, one or more of these factors might tip the scales for you.
Ocean – Florida wins this one with over 2,200 miles of tidal coastline
Lakes – The Sunshine State again, with hundreds of lakes and bays for fishing, boating, or living on the shore.
Mountains – AZ wins this hands down with beautiful mountains spread throughout the State. As for FL heights, Britton Hill near Clermont tops out at 312 feet.
Deserts – Not much contest here, Arizona has incredible deserts to hike in or just enjoy the amazing views and vegetation.
Warm winters – Southern Florida is warm all winter with few days dipping below the 60s. Most of Arizona is comfortable, but can get chilly by comparison, especially in the north.
Humidity – If low humidity is your preference, go to Arizona. Florida in summer can be pretty rough.
Taxes – Both are among the lowest tax states. If your income is large FL might be a better choice because it has no income tax.
Number of places to retire – Florida has many more possible retirement towns and active/55+ communities. To give you an idea, Topretirements has reviews of 125 Florida towns and over 550 communities on this site, compared to 37 town reviews and almost 250 active adult and 55+ communities for Arizona.
Ethnic Diversity – Both states have it, although you would probably have to give Miami’s vibrant latin community the edge there.
Political environment – Donald Trump narrowly carried Arizona 48% to 45%. Florida’s race was a little closer – 49% to 47%. So both would qualify as (narrowly) Red States. Both have pockets that are deeply conservative (red). The larger cities in Florida run blue, whereas Tucson tends to the only blueish city in Arizona.
Population (Data from the Census Bureau).
Both states are growing in population, and growing older. The Grand Canyon State is smaller and has a younger population than the Sunshine State. There were an estimated 7.2 million people here in 2018, about one third of Florida’s 21.3 million. Arizona is younger: the median age in Arizona was 37.2 vs. Florida’s 41.8. Some 16.2% of the Arizona population is 65 or over compared to 19.4% in Florida. In our experience, most retirees who immigrate to Arizona tend to have lived their pre-retirement west of the Mississippi. Florida immigrants tend to be from the Northeast and Midwest, although there are certainly exceptions to both rules.
Economics and Home Prices.
The 2011-2015 median household income in Arizona was $53,510, a bit higher than Florida’s $50,863. Both markets experienced horrendous real estate crashes starting in 2008, but they each have recovered since. For example, Zillow estimated that Arizona’s median home value was $268,800 in 2019 (vs. $270,000 in mid 2006). The same source put Florida’s mid 2019 median home value at $245,800 (vs. $256,000 in mid 2007). Each state has areas where prices are higher than the national median (Scottsdale and Sedona in AZ and Miami and Naples in FL). They both also have very inexpensive areas with homes for sale well below the NAR 2019 national median sales price of $280,300. Housing prices in Arizona’s two largest cities are near the NAR national median: Phoenix at $289,000 and Tucson at $240,000. Jacksonville (FL) near the national median at $260,000. Both states enjoy relatively good fiscal health: pension and debt obligations are manageable.
In the area of climate there are striking differences between the two states. Most of Arizona has slightly cooler winters than Florida. In the northern parts of AZ around Flagstaff there is not only snowfall but a big ski resort, Snowbowl. A desert state, AZ’s humidity and rainfall are far lower than Florida’s, which normally has very wet summers. Comparing two central cities in each state, the average January low in Phoenix is 48 vs. 50 in Orlando. The average July high in Phoenix is a blistering 104 vs. Orlando’s 92. The wettest month in Phoenix is March (1″), while June is Florida’s wettest (7.3″).
Florida is one of the most tax-friendly states in the U.S. (the Tax Foundation ranked its State and Local Tax Burden the 34th highest in 2012). It has no income tax and a 6% sales tax (which works out to an average 6.8% with local taxes – Source: Tax Foundation). Counties and states can and do charge additional sales taxes. There are no inheritance or estate taxes. Its Save Our Homes initiative prevents property tax assessments from going up higher than the rate of inflation, a major help in keeping property taxes down for seniors. Arizona is also considered a tax-friendly state (ranked 36th highest), although it does have both an income tax (highest marginal rate is 4.54% on joint income of $318,000, with no standard deduction or personal exemption) and a sales tax (5.6% which translates to an average 8.25% at the local level). Retirees are generally not very affected by the AZ income tax, as Social security income is not taxable in Arizona. In-state government and military pensions have a $2500 exemption, out of state pensions are taxable. Property tax protections are a big reason for Arizona’s tax-friendly ranking, the median property tax paid in the state is $1,356. The median paid in Florida is $1,773. AZ does not have an inheritance or estate tax. See our Florida and Arizona Retirement Guides for more on taxes.
Physical Environment and Diversity
Both Florida and Arizona are good sized states with a fair amount of diversity within each state. Arizona would probably win the geographic and physical diversity prize between the two however. The Grand Canyon State has much higher elevations (Flagstaff is just under 7,000′) and a greater range of climates, ranging from temperate Flagstaff to very hot Tucson in the south. Arizona has plenty of mountains, forests, national parks, and deserts. Florida has several geographic features that Arizona does not have, and that is a gigantic coastline (over 2,200 miles of tidal coastline), over 11,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus many large lakes.
Places to Live
Florida has many more cities and towns, so it probably has to win in any “choice” contest. We have reviews of 125 Florida retirement towns and cities on this site, almost 90 more than we have for Arizona. It has towns and cities along the gulf (Pensacola), along the north coast (St. Augustine), in the interior (Ocala), in the southeast (Miami), and the southwest (Fort Myers). Florida has any number of college towns, large and small. It also has many charming smaller towns such as Winter Park, Lake Mary, and Key West. Arizona, by contrast, is mostly concentrated around the Phoenix area, with smaller offshoots to the north (Sedona, Prescott, Flagstaff), and south (Tucson). Most of the towns around the Phoenix area are suburban and often predominated by new growth. Arizona has some nice places to live, but they are fewer in number.
800 Active Adult and 55+ Communities!
At Topretirements we count 250 communities in our Arizona Directory of Active Communities, vs. an amazing 550 in our Florida Directory. Arizona has the original active adult community (Sun City), but Florida probably gets the edge for the diversity of communities available in that state. Our annual lists of 10 Most Popular Places to Retire is dominated by Florida and to a lesser extent, Arizona.
Both states are considered swing states and starting to tilt from Republican to Democrat. Arizona was generally considered a Republican and a conservative state, and has voted that way in Presidential elections since 2000. The governor is a Republican, as is one of its Senator. It has 4 dems and 5 repubs as Representatives in the House. Florida is traditionally more mixed, with certain portions being more conservative (the center and north) while others more progressive. FL has a Republican Governor, two Republican Senators, and its Representatives are 14 (R) and 13 (D).
Aesthetics and Intangibles
Both states have their admirers and each has its detractors. Both have many new communities that lack charm and good transportation, as well as others that are more attractive. Rather than take sides on the issue, we recommend that you visit cities and towns in both states and see if you can’t find the place of your dreams. Certainly both states have some of the most desirable communities in the world, waiting for you to discover them.
For further reading:
State Retirement Guides
Gulf Coast Retirement: Sun, Tax-friendly, and a Lower Coast of Living
Retirement 101 Mid-Atlantic States: MD, DE, VA, NJ
Florida Retirement 101
Dueling Carolinas: NC vs. SC
California Retirement 101
Retirement in the Southwest: AZ, NM, and Utah
The Mountain States: CO, ID, MT, NV, UT, WY
The Pacific Northwest: Oregon vs. Washington
What state do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.