Close your eyes and envision your ideal home in your retirement years. The chances are good that you’ve got a stunning setting in mind as part of that dream.
Beauty certainly means different things to different retirees. You may picture the red rock mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona, or the storm-tossed seas of Portland, Maine, while others imagine living among the Spanish moss and Old-World architecture of Savannah, Georgia.
We’ve chosen a variety of locations, each set in beautiful surroundings where the lifestyle, cultures and recreational possibilities are suited to retirees. There’s no science involved in our choices. They are not the balmy locations that many retirees dream of, although we write about those too.
Our selection process was entirely subjective, just as your quest for a perfect home in retirement will be. But keep reading, and you might get some ideas.
Greenville, South Carolina
In the foothills of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains is a lovely small city with great possibilities for retirees. Greenville, South Carolina, population about 72,000, is midway between Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Temperatures are mild, and the city’s culinary scene is thriving. At Greenville’s heart is a 32-acre park, Falls Park on the Reedy, whose trails and gardens lead to the main business area’s restaurants, bars, shops and pubs.
Greenville has a younger population — the median age is just under 40, the U.S. Census says. But 14% of the roughly 72,000 residents are 65 or older. Moving to Greenville favors retirees financially:
- The average home value in Greenville is $275,000, which is below the national average, according to Zillow.
- South Carolina’s tax policies also beckon to retirees: There’s no estate tax and the state exempts Social Security income from income tax.
- State residents age 60 and older enjoy free access to the classes at the local University of South Carolina.
The downside is crime. Best Places scores violent crime in Greenville at 36.2 on a scale of 1 to 100 compared with 22.7 for the U.S. on average. Property crime, too, is relatively high in Greenville.
Wisconsin is famous for lakes, and Madison has several right in and around the town.
Wisconsin’s capital city is found on several lists of best places to retire, and it topped Money.com’s list in 2020. The city itself — home to around 269,000 people — is flanked by two lakes and contains an arboretum and lakeside nature preserve.
Among other attractions: Residents age 60 and older may audit certain classes for free at the local University of Wisconsin campus, and the big-city life of Chicago is just a couple of hours away by car.
Madison’s housing costs are manageable, as Money.com points out. There is, however, one major downside for warm-weather lovers: snow!
Gatlinburg ticks off all the boxes for retirees. It’s a popular destination for those who want to spend their post-work years amid natural beauty and within easy access to the outdoors.
The town is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “When the city limits end on the south end of the town of Gatlinburg the Smoky National Park begins,” says the Blue Ridge Highlander, which bills itself “The most comprehensive guide to to the Blue Ridge-Smoky Mountains.”
Not only is the Sevier County region where Gatlinburg is located beautiful, it’s affordable. “The county’s median property tax bill is $730 a year,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
And Tennessee has no state income tax.
Moab, once a small village, has become a popular outdoor hub amid the spectacular scenery of Utah’s red rock canyons, says GreatRetirementSpots.com. The town of about 5,500 remains laid back and devoted to outdoors pursuits.
“The La Sal Mountains to the east tower more than 11,000 feet above sea level, and the Colorado River canyons to the north are popular kayaking and rafting destinations,” the site says. There’s biking, hiking, rock climbing, camping and terrain suited to off-road adventuring. The region includes Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point State Park and Arches National Park.
Moab’s weather is “mostly sunny, hot and dry,” according to Utah.com. For relief, the occasional thunderstorm blows through.
BestPlaces.net, using 2021 data, finds Moab slightly more expensive than the national average cost of living, but less costly than the state average.
Little Leavenworth, population 2,395, is a Bavarian-themed town east of Seattle, a popular skiing and tourist attraction located in Washington state’s scenic North Cascades mountain range.
There’s more to life in Leavenworth, though, than dirndl skirts and an ersatz Alps village. The town is situated not far from the stunning Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The region is a wonderland for backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and fishing. Spectacular Lake Chelan — 1,486 feet deep — draws fishers, boaters, sailors, windsurfers, water skiers and vacationers. For hikers, the surrounding area includes some of the finest trails in Washington. If you crave heat, Leavenworth is a relatively short drive — road conditions depending — from dry, sunny eastern Washington.
Zillow puts the average home value here at $642,000.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Eureka Springs, according to the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, was founded in 1879 around medicinal springs from which water was bottled and sold. Early on, the town’s growth was “phenomenal.” In the 1880s and 1890s, Eureka Springs was a “premier resort” of the Victorian era.
After that, the town settled into a quiet phase. There’s been so little change, in fact, that today’s Eureka Springs entire downtown is pretty much an untouched collection of Victorian architecture and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town today has a population of 2,159. For retirees, the attractive surroundings are complemented by some low state taxes. According to SmartAsset, property taxes in Arkansas are low although sales taxes are among the highest in the country. The state doesn’t tax Social Security benefits and exempts up to $6,000 of retirement income from state income tax, says Kiplinger.
Crime, however, may be an issue. According to Best Places, violent crime and property crimes are above national averages in Eureka Springs.
Bend, a city of about 100,000 in the Pacific Northwest, is a magnet for retirees who love an outdoor lifestyle. The town’s location, among the Cascade Mountains and high desert, encourages a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, trail running, snow sports, gravel cycling and river rafting. But the city can be pricey, with a cost of living roughly 30% over the national average.
According to Kiplinger’s report on states’ taxes, Oregon doesn’t tax Social Security benefits and the state has zero sales tax. However, state income tax rates run as high as 9.9%. A retirement-income tax credit is available, with income restrictions. Property taxes are about average for the U.S.
The Animas River flows right through this town of about 56,000, drawing trout fishers, hikers, bikers and kayakers. High mountain peaks surround the city, which is perched in the southwest corner of Colorado. Violent crime is low here, but property crime rates are above the national average.
Kiplinger ranks Colorado among the “most tax-friendly” states. The state’s income tax rate is a flat 4.4%. Residents over age 55 are allowed an exclusion for retirement income that even improves when you reach 65. Sales taxes are high, but on the bright side, Colorado has relatively low property taxes and seniors are able to exempt a portion of their property’s value from taxation.
Should you join the roughly 147,000 residents of Savannah for your retirement? There’s a good case to be made for it.
The city’s famed historic architecture makes a beautiful backdrop for the town’s attractions, including its cuisine, arts, culture, the signature live oaks and evocative Spanish moss.
What’s more, Savannah is more affordable than many retirement meccas. The median home price is about $269,000, according to Zillow.
Here’s a contrarian idea: Retire to Alaska.
Granted, Alaska’s not your typical retirement dream spot. It’s a lot colder than Florida.
And yet, if you’d love spending your time fishing, hiking, sea kayaking, bear watching and making friends in a small, close, arts-minded community surrounded by snow-covered mountains and glacial fjords, Homer (population 5,719) could be perfect.
What about the cold? Well, yes, it’s cold. But Homer gets considerably less snow than some other Alaska regions, according to the City of Homer’s relocation guide.
Eureka (population 26,489) is another slightly unusual retirement suggestion. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, on Highway 101, a road with stunning views along the U.S. West Coast. About midway from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco, Eureka is hundreds of miles from either city with not much else of note in between. For some, that would be exile from civilization. For others, it’s paradise.
With festivals and performances, galleries, restaurants and visitors from around the globe, Eureka has plenty of culture. The small Victorian port city is “the market and cultural center of a beautiful region filled with iconic redwoods — the world’s tallest trees — and stunningly beautiful rugged remote ocean landscapes,” the city’s website says.
“Flag,” as some locals call it, is just south of the Grand Canyon at an altitude of 7,000 feet.
This town of about 77,000, puts the “life” in lifestyle. There’s a thriving restaurant scene and foodie culture, a public university, outdoor recreation and spectacular mountain scenery. Flagstaff is 27 miles north of Sedona, Arizona, and a couple hours’ drive from Phoenix.
Through Northern Arizona University, an innovative initiative called the Senior Companion Program links AmeriCorps volunteers with residents 55 and older who are homebound, providing them with companionship, transportation and help at home with chores.
Portland, Maine, is located at the southern end of one of the nation’s most beautiful states. Portland has about 68,000 residents.
With a working waterfront, 19th-century architecture and more than two dozen microbreweries, Portland is located on a peninsula along Casco Bay, looking north to the fjords and islands of the Maine coast.
If that’s not enough for retirees, you’re just two hours away by car from vibrant Boston, the cultural and economic capital of New England.
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