5 Great Cities for Retirees

By Caitlin DeweyStriking a balance between a high quality of life and low cost of living can be a difficult challenge for retirees.

By Caitlin Dewey

Striking a balance between a high quality of life and low cost of living can be a difficult challenge for retirees. With that in mind, we offer five destinations that seniors might find attractive places to live in the second half of their lives.

SLIDE SHOW: See the 5 Great Cities for Retirees, at a Glance

We started our search for top retirement destinations using the criteria we used to select our overall list of Best Cities for the Next Decade. What more are seniors looking for? Retiree-friendly factors such as a high number of doctors and large percentages of populations over 65 helped to drive a unique list of 20 growing cities.

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Then we dug deeper into issues most critical to retirees, including state tax rates and exemptions for various types of retirement income, low crime rates, access to airports, local transportation, and access to leisure activities, from libraries and theaters to hiking and golf. Take a look — and tell us what you think is the best place for you to retire.

Charlottesville, Va.

City Population: 41,225

Metro Population: 196,766

Cost-of-Living Index: 107.5 (national average = 100)

Median Household Income: $56,833

Income-Tax Exemptions: No state tax on Social Security benefits; income deductions of up to $12,000 for residents 65 and older, subject to income-eligibility limits

Proximity to Airport: Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (10 miles from downtown)

Home of Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is a charming Southern city with an impressive array of cultural draws. Several prime art museums and a pedestrian mall can be found in the city’s neo-Classical downtown, while the Monticello Wine Trail and Shenandoah National Park are close by. It's also two hours from Washington, D.C.

PROS: Mild climate, proximity to golf courses, parks and wineries, active art and theater scenes, developed downtown district

CONS: Above-average cost of living and moderate tax breaks, mid-sized public transit system

Dothan, Ala.

City Population: 63,892

Metro Population: 142,693

Cost-of-Living Index: 89.4

Median Household Income: $40,728

Income-Tax Exemptions: No state tax on Social Security benefits and military, civil-service, and state- and local-government pensions

Proximity to Airport: Dothan Regional Airport (11 miles)

This friendly Dixie city — the self-proclaimed Peanut Capital of the South — is an up-and-coming destination for retirees looking for quality health care and mild winters. Its exceptionally low cost of living and real estate taxes and generous retiree exemptions make it much cheaper than many retirement destinations in Florida.

PROS: Proximity to parks and golf courses; two-hour drive from the Florida Gulf Coast, four hours from the Atlantic Coast

CONS: No regularly scheduled public transit, high tornado risk, limited cultural offerings

Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.

City Population: 99,159

Metro Population: 536,357

Cost-of-Living Index: 100

Median Household Income: $49,411

Income-Tax Exemptions: No state income tax

Proximity to Airport: Melbourne International Airport (8 miles)

The Space Coast may lack substantial cultural or artistic attractions, but it more than makes up for them with low taxes and beautiful beaches. Palm Bay is a hotspot for seaside activities such as boating and fishing, as well as the more land-locked hobbies of hiking, tennis and golf.

PROS: Warm climate, proximity to international airport and major cruise port, huge range of outdoor activities

CONS: Small public transportation system, high hurricane risk

Pittsburgh, Pa.

City Population: 295,988

Metro Population: 2,354,957

Cost-of-Living Index: 91.5

Median Household Income: $47,755

Income-Tax Exemptions: No state tax on Social Security benefits, public or private pensions, distributions from 401(k)s, IRAs, deferred-compensation plans or other retirement accounts

Proximity to Airport: Pittsburgh International Airport (20 miles)

Consistently ranked one of the country’s most livable cities, Pittsburgh has traded its Rust Belt past for a thriving arts scene and excellent health care. And of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers play here. It also boasts some of the country’s best art museums and libraries, so there’s plenty to do indoors in winter besides watch football.

PROS: Low cost of living, low housing costs, low taxes for retirees, proximity to international airport, stunning downtown riverfront, strong art and sports scenes, large public transit and library systems

CONS: Snowy winters, less-than-glamorous reputation (which you'll soon forget about)

San Francisco, Calif.

City Population: 798,176

Metro Population: 4,317,853

Cost-of-Living Index: 162.1

Median Household Income: $76,848

Income-Tax Exemptions: No state tax on Social Security benefits

Proximity to Airport: San Francisco International Airport (13 miles)

Yes, the Bay Area can be an expensive place to live. But retirees willing to bear the high cost of living will find pleasant weather year-round and an eclectic, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Noted for its 200-plus stunning parks and beaches, San Fran also has plenty to offer in the way of art, sports, dining and theater. Nearby Oakland and Fremont offer similar vistas and easy city access at half the cost.

PROS: Proximity to international airport, unparalleled leisure and lifestyle, efficient mass transit, huge network of beaches and parks, wide range of leisure activities

CONS: High taxes, high cost of living, high crime rate, a rainy season