11 of the Best Places To Retire on an Island

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Hilton Head Island
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Spending time on the beach is not just for vacations.

If access to blue waters and sandy beaches are on your must-have list, take a look at the following island destinations when planning your retirement.

Here are a few reasons to consider some of the best island-based towns in the United States.

Galveston, Texas

Galveston Texas historical homes
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Location: The city of Galveston is on a barrier island of the same name, located in Galveston Bay, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico.

Population: 53,000 as of 2022

With the subtropical feel of a resort town and the charm of historic Victorian homes amidst more modern ones, Galveston is already known as a popular destination for snowbirds. But there’s plenty to recommend “The Republic of Galveston Island” year-round, says Galveston.com, because the city “is so unlike the rest of Texas.”

For starters, there’s The Moody Gardens, with pyramids full of rainforest creatures, aquatic life ranging from penguins to sharks, a water park, a golf course, a paddle wheel boat modeled after those of the 1800s, and a year-round calendar of educational and entertaining events.

If you prefer to get away from the hustle and bustle, there’s also more than 2,000 acres of beaches, wetlands, hiking paths and more in Galveston Island State Park.

Either way, you’ll avoid state income taxes on your retirement income, as Texas is among the few states that don’t have an income tax.

Kodiak, Alaska

Kodiak, Alaska
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Location: The city of Kodiak is located on an island of the same name — which happens to be the second-largest island in the U.S. — in the Pacific Ocean’s Gulf of Alaska.

Population: 5,400 as of 2022

Let’s get it out of the way: Kodiak can get very cold, as low as 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in the winter. But it’s not the inhospitable Arctic place you might be thinking of. The average January low is about 26 degrees — warmer than the national average. And summers are mild with an average July high around 60 degrees.

It’s a quiet place for those who enjoy nature, including hiking, kayaking, fishing, birding, camping and hunting. Much of the island Kodiak sits on is a national wildlife refuge for 3,500 brown bears. “Here, Kodiak brown bears gorge on salmon and mountains rise 4,000 feet from craggy coastlines, misty fiords, and deep glacial valleys,” says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Plus, Alaska is among the states that don’t levy state income taxes. Retirees here also get an income boost from the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend program, which distributed a total of $3,284 per resident in 2022.

Fernandina Beach, Florida

Vintage cars at a classic car show in Fernandina Beach, Florida
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Location: The city of Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island, a barrier island off the Atlantic coast of northern Florida.

Population: 13,000 as of 2022

For low-key living without the risk of snow, consider this city outside of Jacksonville. It’s known for an annual shrimp festival and an antique car show, as well as one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the U.S.

More than one-third of Fernandina Beach’s population is age 65 or older — nearly double the national rate of about 17%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Florida does not have a state income tax, but that doesn’t mean Fernandina Beach is a cheap place to live. Perhaps the city’s biggest downside is a cost of living that’s about 10% higher than the national average.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Coastline of Frederiksted, Saint Croix or St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
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Location: St. Croix is the largest of the islands comprising the U.S. Virgin Islands territory in the Caribbean Sea.

Population: 41,000 as of 2020

If you’re tired of the cold, shorter days of winter, consider the consistency of St. Croix. There’s only about an hour’s worth of difference in the number of hours of daylight per day during the summer and the winter. Temperatures hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and stay between the low 70s and high 80s year-round.

If that’s not convincing enough in itself, you have full access (all the beaches are public) to the beaches and water activities that people come from around the world to enjoy. It’s a scuba-diving and snorkeling paradise, among many other things.

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Dauphin Island, Alabama
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Location: The town of Dauphin Island is on a Gulf Coast island of the same name, near Mobile, Alabama.

Population: 1,800 as of 2020

The self-proclaimed “Sunset Capital of Alabama” boasts small-town Southern charm, “miles of uncrowded, pristine beaches, excellent fishing and a historic, storied past.” It’s also home to Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary.

Dauphin Island, and Alabama in general, also offer retirees a low cost of living — about 16% less than the national average. The median home cost in Dauphin Island is significantly higher than that of the state as a whole — a common downside of island living — but Alabama has one of the lowest effective real-estate property tax rates in the country.

Bainbridge Island, Washington

Bainbridge Island, Washington with Seattle in the background
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Location: The city of Bainbridge Island is on an island of the same name in Puget Sound — and in view of Seattle — off the Pacific Ocean.

Population: 24,000 as of 2022

Accessible by bridge and ferry, Bainbridge Island is a quiet refuge from fast-paced and densely populated Seattle. Instead, it has densely forested hills with “a wonderful combination of farms, wineries, hiking trails, scenic vistas, and local arts.” It has 53 miles of shoreline and manages to squeeze in quite a few parks, museums and gardens into its 27 square miles.

The climate is similar to San Francisco’s, with summer temperatures in the mid-60s and winter temps in the 40s. More than one-quarter of its residents are age 65 or older, significantly higher than relatively youthful Seattle’s rate (about 12%) and the national rate (about 17%).

Washington is also among the handful of states that don’t have an income tax.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island South Carolina homes
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Location: The town of Hilton Head Island is on a barrier island of the same name, between mainland South Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean.

Population: 38,000 as of 2022

Hilton Head Island, also known as simply Hilton Head, boasts more than 12 miles of beaches, golf courses galore and outdoor water activities like dolphin tours. An added bonus is the possibility of a great social life, with about 38% of the population age 65 or older — more than double the national average of about 17%.

Plus, South Carolina does not tax Social Security benefits and offers other state tax deductions to retirees.

On the downside, the median home cost is roughly double the national average. But again, above-average home prices are something that most islands on this list — if not islands in general — have in common.

Hilo, Hawaii

Hilo, Hawaii
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Location: Hilo, which is technically classified as a census-designated place rather than a town or city, is located on the “Big Island” of Hawaii, the largest island in the Pacific Ocean chain.

Population: 44,000 as of 2020

If you’re looking to retire on an island where you can hike through a rainforest, walk on volcanoes or surf the ocean, look no further than Hilo. You can expect to meet other active retirees while out and about, too, as about 21% of Hilo’s residents are age 65 or older, compared with the national rate of about 17%.

Although the cost of living in Hilo is higher than the national average, Hilo is still cheaper than many other places in the state. The median home cost is a bargain compared with the state median. And more music to the ears of anyone looking to buy a home in Hilo: Hawaii boasts the lowest effective real-estate property tax rate in the nation.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island -- Not spelling Mackinaw
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Island location: The city of Mackinac Island is on an island of the same name in Lake Huron.

Population: 11,000 as of 2022 (includes all of Mackinac County)

If retiring to a laidback resort-like island (minus the tropical climate) sounds attractive to you, consider the city of Mackinac Island. Travel & Leisure magazine named the island itself the best island in the continental U.S. in 2022.

You’ll find plenty of outdoor activities, as Mackinac Island State Park comprises more than 80% of the island, and an 8-mile bicycle trail traces the entire shoreline. What you won’t find are cars: They aren’t allowed. Horse-drawn carriage rides and bicycles are an option, though.

If you make Mackinac Island your retirement home year-round, you’ll become part of a small community, as only about 500 people live here year-round.

Another consideration for retirees is Michigan’s favorable tax treatment of retirement income. There is no state tax on Social Security income and only partial taxation of other forms of retirement income.

Friday Harbor, Washington

Friday Harbor, Washington, on San Juan Island
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Location: The town of Friday Harbor is on San Juan Island, in Puget Sound, which leads to the Pacific Ocean.

Population: 19,000 as of 2022 (includes all of San Juan County)

For those who don’t mind cooler weather, Friday Harbor or another town in the San Juan Islands chain might be worth considering as a retirement destination.

Living anywhere in the archipelago means your retirement income will not be subject to any state income taxes, as Washington is one of the few states with no income tax.

Friday Harbor, located on the second-largest of the 172 islands in the chain, boasts walkability. Cars are allowed but unnecessary, according to the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau: “Everything is within walking distance of the ferry landing, and it is easy to get around, including shuttle buses and a trolley to take you around the island, as well as bike, three-wheeled Scootcoupe, and moped rentals.”

Some of the activities you will find include kayaking, whale watching and multiple museums. From Friday Harbor you can also catch an inter-island ferry to Lopez, Orcas and Shaw Islands.

On the downside, the cost of living in Friday Harbor is considerably higher than the national average.

Sanibel, Florida

Sanibel Island in Florida
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Location: The city of Sanibel is on a barrier island of the same name, between mainland Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Population: 6,500 as of 2022

With its own national wildlife refuge and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Sanibel Island is a favorite place for retirees. A majority of the population — about 60% — is age 65 or older.

There are plenty of biking and hiking trails, not to mention white sandy beaches to enjoy The cost of living is a bit higher than the national average, but Florida has no state income taxes.

Housing can be prohibitively expensive in this island paradise, however: The average home value is around $1 million. And of course, the hurricane risk will deter some retirees from settling here.

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