9 of the Best Places to Retire on a River

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Couple paddleboarding on the river in Bend, Oregon
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Drift tranquilly down a lazy river, shoot the rapids or just go with the flow: Retiring to a river city lets you pick your perfect balance of relaxation and adventure right outside your door.

Many U.S. cities that sprang up as vital ports and industrial centers showcase revitalized historic districts and waterfront landmarks, so you can connect with scenic beauty and local culture on and off the water.

Living in one of the hundreds of communities located along America’s 3.5 million miles of rivers and tributaries could be good for your mental health, scientists say, as reported on the “Today” show and elsewhere. You boost your sense of awe as you experience the sounds, smells and sights of a river, they say.

Experience four distinct seasons or elect year-round fun in the sun. Here are several great places where you can flow with the best current for your retirement.

Richmond, Virginia

Downtown Richmond, Virginia
Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

Located on: James River

Estimated population: 229,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 14%

Blend history, outdoor recreation, endless entertainment and modern convenience in Virginia’s capital.

Virginia won’t tax your Social Security benefits, but it will tax income from most pensions and traditional retirement accounts. Many Virginia cities and counties offer property tax breaks for seniors.

Hike or bike on the James River Park System, a 600-acre oasis of pristine wilderness in the heart of Richmond. Paddleboard, kayak, raft and float along the river. Stroll, or glide in a boat, along the riverfront canal walk featuring art, restaurants and four centuries of history depicted through medallions, statues and exhibits. Visit Historic St. John’s Church, where in 1775 the patriot Patrick Henry declared, “Give me liberty … or give me death!”

Tour the Thomas Jefferson-designed Virginia State Capitol; check out art, history and culture at local museums; let a bounty of blooms bewilder you at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden; watch NASCAR and other events at Richmond Raceway; root for pro baseball and soccer teams; tee up at more than 40 area golf courses; take the grandkids to nearby Kings Dominion amusement park.

Richmond has five high-performing hospitals including Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. There’s also a VA hospital. Take tuition-waived classes at VCU and cheer its Ram athletes.

Washington, D.C., is about two hours north; Virginia Beach is a little closer to the southeast, depending on traffic.

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Savannah River

Estimated population: 148,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 15%

Cross into retirement in style in the city that inspired Savannah-born songwriter Johnny Mercer’s lyrics for “Moon River,” famously sung by Audrey Hepburn in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

You might even feel like you found the rainbow’s end since Georgia has a lower-than-average cost of living and offers seniors income and property tax breaks.

You’ll share strolls through the Historic District’s stunning cobblestone squares with about 15 million tourists a year. Explore the 19th-century neo-gothic Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist. Find the Mercer statue in Ellis Square. Along River Street, watch ships come and go as you dine and peruse boutiques in former cotton warehouses. Relax by the 30-foot fountain in Forsyth Park, the city’s central park. Hunt ghosts at Bonaventure Cemetery or learn about once-forbidden spirits at the Prohibition Museum. Celebrate your luck with the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Board a paddlewheeler or cruiser for waterway adventures. Tee up at more than 30 area golf courses. Go biking, walking, fishing, birding, kayaking or swimming at nearby at state parks and national wildlife refuges.

The area is home to two high-performing hospitals and other medical centers.

The coastal Moon River District, named for the song, is nearby. If you need to beat summer heat and humidity, Tybee Island’s beaches are a short drive.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Matanzas River

Estimated population: 15,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 26%

Enjoy your new retirement in the nation’s oldest city. St. Augustine is full of timeless treasures in a state with no personal income tax.

The city marina, next to the Bridge of Lions, can be your gateway to the Atlantic Ocean’s open water or the tranquil Intracoastal Waterway, a scenic cruise and even a pirate ship adventure. Set off from nearby coves for paddleboarding, kayaking and cruising past herons and ancient oaks and even dolphins. Take a seat on a floating tiki bar to view the city’s night lights.

Chase birdies at a dozen area golf courses or play legal games of poker for money in a cardroom. Step back in time at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the nation’s oldest masonry fort, the Colonial Quarter, Pirate Museum, cultural museums and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. See birds, alligators and otters at St. Augustine Wild Reserve, Matanzas Wildlife Management Area and Anastasia State Park. Play at many of the 42 miles of nearby ocean beaches.

Keep learning through courses, seminars, travel experiences and special events at the Flagler College Lifelong Learning Institute.

UF Health St. Johns (formerly Flagler) is a high-performing area hospital.

Peoria, Illinois

Peoria, Illinois
David JE Sinn / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Illinois River

Estimated population: 111,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 17%

Your retirement will play in Peoria.

Illinois won’t tax your Social Security benefits or other qualified retirement plan distributions. Senior homeowners may qualify for real estate tax relief.

Walk through the Peoria RiverFront district, one of the state’s oldest urban areas, featuring restaurants, live entertainment, park play, the Peoria Riverfront Museum and unusual Caterpillar Visitors Center.

Enjoy panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley from what President Theodore Roosevelt called “world’s most beautiful drive.”

Compete in e-sports tournaments or take real life swings at about two dozen area golf courses. Learn to sail. Enjoy performances by the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Peoria Ballet and Peoria Municipal Band. View tigers at the zoo. Cheer the Peoria Rivermen hockey team and Peoria Chiefs, a minor league baseball affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

See what’s blooming at the Luthy Botanical Garden. Spot bison, badgers, bears, bobcats and more at nearby Wildlife Prairie Park, where you can also go fishing and kayaking.

Play slots-style games on video terminals in stores and bars around the city, or try your luck on slots and table games aboard the nearby Par-A-Dice riverboat casino, docked across the river in East Peoria.

Peoria is home to top-rated OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

Keep learning through educational travel, classes study groups at Bradley University and Illinois Central College.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
travelview / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Mississippi River

Estimated population: 221,000 as of 2022

Share of the population age 65 and older: 14%

You could swamp yourself with activities in Louisiana’s capital, which translates from the French as “Red Stick.”

Louisiana offers seniors tax breaks on retirement income and property assessments.

Learn about swamp flora and fauna at Bluebonnet Nature Center. Stroll the riverfront plaza or enjoy activities from paddle boarding to horseback riding or volunteering at 175 area parks. Tour nearby swamps by boat. Walk the decks of history aboard World War II destroyer USS Kidd, and discover state history at the Old State Capitol. Outdoor adventures include kayaking, fishing and hiking.

View the river, peruse art or listen to concerts at Shaw Center for the Arts. Golf at 16 area courses; enjoy a variety of live music, including symphony and ballet, or get scared at a haunted house. Play slots and table games at the Belle, L’Auberge or Queen riverside casinos.

Continue learning at Louisiana State University (LSU) and cheer the Tiger teams.

Baton Rouge has 55-plus communities and high performing hospitals. New Orleans is about an hour south.

For another Mississippi River city, check out Memphis in our article on “8 of the Best Places to Retire in Tennessee.”

Council Bluffs, Iowa

The Lewis and Clark Monument Scenic Overlook in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Missouri River

Estimated population: 62,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 17%

Blaze your own retirement trail in this pioneer gateway where the footsteps of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark still echo.

Iowa does not tax Social Security benefits or other retirement plan income and has a below-average cost of living.

Learn about pioneer history, stretch your legs on riverside prairie paths and even enjoy live music at the Western Historic Trails Center. Get a scenic view from the monument that marks where Lewis and Clark met with Otoe and Missouri tribal leaders on the “council-bluff.” Other nods to history include the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Squirrel Cage Jail and General Dodge House.

Cross state lines by walking or cycling over the river to Omaha, Nebraska, via the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, which connects to 40 miles of recreational trails.

Tee up at 45 area courses. Test your luck and skill at three casinos featuring slots and table games. Go swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing and hiking at Lake Manawa State Park.

Council Bluffs has two high-performing hospitals.

Another Missouri River city, Pierre, South Dakota’s capital, is featured in “6 of the Best Places to Retire in South Dakota.”

New Braunfels, Texas

Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, Texas
JaDipity / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Comal and Guadalupe Rivers

Estimated population: 105,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 14%

Two-step into a German gem in Texas Hill Country.

Texas has no state income tax and senior homeowners get property tax breaks. The Lone Star State cost of living is below average.

Walk, bike or ride a miniature train through Landa Park, home of the Comal Springs, best viewed by paddleboat. Go tubing, kayaking, rafting, boating, fishing or exploring trails along the rivers, Landa Park Lake and Fischer Park. The Schlitterbahn water park has rides, slides and a wave pool. Be a water daredevil or enjoy dinner theater at the Texas Ski Ranch. Golf at more than a dozen area courses.

Listen to live music at Texas’ oldest dance hall in the Gruene Historic District, where you can also float on the Guadalupe River, shop and capture a snapshot of Texas culture. Celebrate German culture and sausage during the annual Wurstfest.

Get hospital care at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital.

Canyon Lake, with more than 80 miles of shoreline, is minutes away.

New Braunfels is located between San Antonio and Austin, both featured in “12 of the Best Places To Retire in Texas.”

Bend, Oregon

Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon
Ahturner / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Deschutes River

Estimated population: 103,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 17%

Relish adventure, tranquility and natural beauty year-round in this Central Oregon jewel nestled between the majestic Cascade Mountains and the high desert.

Oregon has no state sales tax. Its state income tax exempts Social Security retirement benefits.

Go fishing, whitewater paddleboarding and kayaking on the river in town and beyond. Walk or cycle along the 12-mile Deschutes River Trail that meanders through the heart of Bend as well as nearby pristine forests. Explore parks, trails and shops in the Old Mill District, once home to two large lumber mills. Learn area history at the Deschutes Historical Museum and encounter wildlife while exploring nearby High Desert Museum. Drink in the craft beer scene.

Golf at two dozen area courses. Ski at Mount Bachelor, about 30 minutes away. Bend is also your gateway to the Deschutes National Forest, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Newberry National Volcanic Monument lava lands and Crater Lake.

Slots-style video lottery games are available at local retailers and bars, and Indian Head casino is about an hour north.

Get health care at high-performing rated St. Charles Bend hospital.

Sacramento, California

Bridge in Sacramento, California
Adonis Villanueva / Shutterstock.com

Located on: Sacramento and American Rivers

Estimated population: 528,000 as of 2022

Share of population age 65 and older: 14%

Strike retirement gold in California’s capital, where the rush of city life meets the richness of history.

California doesn’t tax Social Security benefits and offers a few property tax breaks and deferrals for seniors and all homeowners.

Recall the Gold Rush days in Old Town Sacramento’s waterfront where you can walk along wooden sidewalks and ride horse-drawn carriages, a Ferris wheel and a carousel. View historic sights such as the Delta King paddlewheeler and Tower Bridge by boat. Ride historic rails at the California State Railroad Museum. Learn Golden State history by touring the State Capitol.

Enjoy hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, rafting and kayaking along the rivers or at nearby Folsom Lake. Golf at over two dozen area courses. Cheer at a Kings basketball game, River Cats minor league baseball game or Sacramento Republic soccer match. Play slots and card games at nearby tribal casinos. Participate in lifelong learning opportunities at California State University Sacramento.

Sacramento is home to several high-performing hospitals.

Gold Country is close by. Depending on traffic, Lake Tahoe is about two hours east; San Francisco, two hours west.

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