5 Great 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.

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.

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.

The cost of living here is actually around 7% lower than the national average. Plus, South Carolina does not tax Social Security benefits and offers other state tax deductions to retirees.

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% — according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On the downside, the average home value is roughly double the national average, according to Zillow. But above-average home prices are something that most islands on this list — if not island 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.

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 of around $460,000 is a bargain compared to the state median of around $800,000. 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.

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. What’s more, Mackinac Island home values are about the same as the national average, so you won’t have to pay a premium to own a little piece of this island.

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.

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 a few percentage points above the national average, and the average home value is more than double the national average, according to Zillow.

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.

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 few percentage points lower than the national average, and Florida has no state income taxes.

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