10 Great Places to Retire in 2015
We came up with 10 great spots from coast to coast so you can choose the one with the features you value most.
Maybe you like the idea of retiring to a town where you'll never wield a snow shovel again. Or trading your pricey home in a high-tax area for a more affordable city. Or ditching the suburban cul-de-sac for an urban neighborhood.
Our dream retirement places run the gamut: big and small, north and south, mountains and seashore, coast to coast. They all rank high on access to health care—a must for a retirement destination. Some are affordable, with a cost of living that’s at or below the national average (shown as 100). Others are more expensive, but with an attractive location and amenities for retirees who have deeper pockets. We also evaluate cities based on climate, walkability, housing costs compared with the national median ($200,000), tax-friendliness, culture and entertainment, and access to outdoor activities. Icons show at a glance whether the city has the features that are important to you.
Population: 53,326Cost of living: 104Median home price: $218,000Retiree Tax Picture: Most tax-friendlyCool feature: The Ringling estate’s museums and 66-acre Bayfront Gardens
Lorraine and Bob Massaro vacationed all over the state of Florida before deciding to retire to Sarasota. Six years after settling into their new home, they are still finding new activities, such as attending a show at the Sarasota Opera and taking an art class at the Ringling College of Art and Design.
Life in this small city moves a bit more slowly than in St. Petersburg and Tampa, both of which are about an hour’s drive away. But Sarasota offers plenty of amenities, such as the many restaurants and 130-plus stores in the island shopping center of St. Armands Circle, as well as access to the Sarasota Memorial Health Care system, which is one of the largest public health systems in Florida.
Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota has miles of white-sand beaches, including Siesta Beach and Lido Beach. Homes a few miles inland tend to be newer and more affordable than homes along the waterfront, which start at about $500,000. Nature lovers will find lush landscapes and subtropical wildlife at the local parks, as well as at Celery Fields (an erstwhile celery farm now known for its birds and wetlands) and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
Sarasota also has a lively and diverse arts scene, which includes a ballet company and an 80-member orchestra. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall hosts Broadway shows, comedy acts and concerts throughout the year. Residents can choose among an array of music offerings, from jazz clubs to bluegrass jams, and browse art galleries as well as the Sarasota Museum of Art and the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy.
Florida is one of the most tax-friendly states in the country for retirees. There’s no state income tax, estate tax or inheritance tax. Permanent residents are entitled to a homestead exemption of up to $50,000. Seniors may qualify for an additional exemption.
Population: 792,862Cost of living: 96Median home price: $193,000Retiree Tax Picture: MixedCool feature: Nascar Hall of Fame
The largest city on our list has seen steady population growth in recent years—and for good reason. Charlotte has an affordable cost of living and a mild climate year-round, with an average of more than 200 days of sunshine a year. It is home to Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health, and more than two dozen art museums and galleries. Downtown, amid the banking and financial offices that keep the local economy humming, locals can browse the 7th Street Public Market for produce, meats and other goods, or grab a bite at local favorite Alexander Michael’s Restaurant & Tavern.
While active-adult communities abound in Charlotte’s suburbs, retirees who prefer an urban lifestyle often head to Charlotte’s lively Center City, including the historic South End neighborhood. The bus and light-rail systems make for easy access to everything from shops and restaurants to museums and sports venues.
Center City has single-family homes, condos and apartments. In the South End alone, more than 2,000 new housing units have recently been completed or are under construction. Homes within Center City generally cost between $250,000 and $300,000.Taxes are another reason the Tar Heel State appeals to retirees. North Carolina exempts Social Security benefits from income taxes, and homeowners 65 and older may qualify for a homestead exemption.
Population: 27,543Cost of living: 100Median home price: $192,000Retiree Tax Picture: MixedCool feature: The Beaux Arts–style Handley Library
This city, founded in 1744 and surveyed by George Washington, appeals to retirees who love its small-town Southern charm and big-city amenities.
Old Town Winchester, the city’s recently renovated pedestrian mall, features more than 30 restaurants and bars, serving up everything from sushi to Jamaican cuisine (try the sweet Negril Sunrise coffee at Lloyd’s). On Saturdays from May through October, the Old Town Farmers Market offers produce and baked goods from area farms. One nearby farm, Holy Cow Delivery, provides home delivery of organic milk and other dairy products year-round.
In 2012, the top-rated Winchester Medical Center completed a $161 million project that expanded emergency services and added beds.
Four new active-adult communities in the Winchester area offer homes and apartments at just under $300,000 to $500,000 or more. Retirees can also find one-level, single-family homes ranging from $150,000 to $250,000. Condominiums start at about $125,000. The city is walkable only for retirees who live near downtown.
Located 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Winchester experiences all four seasons, but winters aren’t as fierce as they are farther north. Every April, residents of all ages turn out for the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, an 88-year-old celebration of the area’s apple-growing heritage.
The area surrounding Winchester is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Residents can kayak and fish in the Shenandoah River or hike in Shenandoah National Park. Local farms feature days for you to pick your own produce, including strawberries, apples and pumpkins.
Virginia doesn’t tax Social Security benefits. It has no estate tax or inheritance tax. Seniors age 65 and older who meet income limits can deduct up to $12,000 each from state income taxes.
Population: 107,289Cost of living: 140 (Boston)Median home price: $643,000Retiree Tax Picture: Not tax-friendlyCool feature: Harvard Square
One way to remain intellectually agile in retirement is to spend time with really smart people. And it’s hard to find a city that has a higher collective IQ than Cambridge, home to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There’s no excuse for boredom: On any day of the week, you can attend a lecture, a museum exhibit or a concert. If you run out of things to do in Cambridge, you can take the subway (known as the T) to downtown Boston for only $1.05 if you’re 65 or older.
The Cambridge/Boston metropolitan area offers some of the best health care in the country. Massachusetts General, the largest teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, has specialists in more than 60 areas of health care.
Cambridge is one of the country’s most walkable communities, and residents can accomplish most errands on foot. The city’s crime rate is below the median for the U.S. and for Massachusetts.
Other than frigid winters, the biggest drawback is the cost of living. Massachusetts doesn’t tax Social Security benefits and most government pensions, but other income is taxed at a flat rate of 5.2%. An influx of downsizing retirees who want to live near their alma maters has pushed up home prices in the Cambridge area, says Sara Rosenfeld, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. The median home price in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area is well above the national median, and within the Cambridge area, many condos are priced at $600,000 or more.
On the plus side, the property taxes in Cambridge are among the lowest in Massachusetts. Tax revenues from MIT, Harvard and other colleges and universities enable the city to offer lower residential rates than surrounding cities.
Population: 115,276Cost of living: 94Median home price: $112,000Retiree Tax Picture: MixedCool feature: Art in the Park, held each June
Columbia, Mo., has three institutions of higher learning within its boundaries: the flagship University of Missouri; Columbia College, a liberal arts and sciences school; and Stephens College, the second-oldest women’s college in the U.S. The upshot: lots of bookstores, restaurants, indie films and other amenities that keep both college students and full-time residents entertained and informed. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Missouri—a university-based, noncredit program for adults 50 and older—offers courses on everything from Missouri’s role in the Civil War to how to use your iPad.
Columbia’s hospitals are top-rated and offer rehab facilities as well as geriatric and other specialty services. The Milken Institute’s 2014 survey of “Best Cities for Successful Aging” ranks Columbia third for small metropolitan areas, largely because of its outstanding health care services and job opportunities for older residents.
With the exception of a few close-in neighborhoods, such as Douglass Park, Columbia isn’t a walkable city. It’s a great place, though, for active retirees, says Megan McConachie, marketing manager for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 4.7-mile Nature and Fitness Trail, popular with walkers, bikers and joggers, cuts through the city and connects to Katy Trail State Park, a rails-to-trails conversion that stretches for 185 miles.
The median home price in Columbia is $112,000, well below the national median. There are more than a dozen retirement communities in the area, with more under construction, says JulieAnne Mattson, a real estate agent with House of Brokers Realty. Other senior-friendly residential options include condos and single-level homes in planned communities.
Most retirees don’t have to pay state taxes on Social Security benefits and can deduct part of their retirement benefits. Missouri has no estate or inheritance tax.
Columbia has a relatively low violent crime rate, and traffic jams are rare. Despite its growth, Mattson says, “we’re not choked and bogged down by city living.”
Population: 110,742Cost of living: Not availableMedian home price: $174,000Retiree Tax Picture: Least tax-friendlyCool feature: Skyways that shield shoppers from the elements
Let’s get this out of the way: Nobody retires to Rochester for the weather. But once you figure out how to bundle up properly during the winter months, Rochester has a lot to offer, says Mayor Ardell Brede. Don’t just take his word for it: The Milken Institute’s survey of best cities for aging ranks Rochester seventh on its list of small metropolitan areas.
Its most recognizable asset is the Mayo Clinic, which attracts thousands of patients every year from around the world. Rochester has the most doctors per capita in the U.S., as well as an abundance of hospital beds. The city’s nursing homes are top-rated, and its hospitals provide specialty care for Alzheimer’s patients.
Rochester has a thriving downtown connected by a series of skyways that shield shoppers from the elements. “You can get virtually anyplace downtown without having to go outside,” Brede says. Every February, the Rochester Downtown Alliance sponsors SocialIce, which features ice-carving demonstrations for the kids and seven themed ice bars—complete with signature drinks and sofas made of ice—for the adults. During the summer months, the alliance sponsors Thursdays on First and Third, a weekly outdoor market on a plaza with live entertainment and more than 100 food and arts-and-crafts vendors.
The median home price in Rochester is well below the national median. The violent crime rate is below average, too. Although Rochester isn’t a walkable city (other than the skyways), it has a large fleet of taxicabs and shuttle buses, which allow retirees who no longer drive to remain active in the community, Brede says.
Brede, 76, a retired Mayo Clinic administrator who is serving his fourth term as mayor, has no intention of moving anywhere else, despite the cold winters. “You just sort of adapt to it,” he says. “Nobody appreciates a fireplace more than we do in Minnesota.”
Santa Fe, N.M.
Population: 69,976Cost of living: Not availableMedian home price: $244,000Retiree Tax Picture: MixedCool feature: Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is a longtime resident.
Santa Fe is ideal for retirees who crave sun, culture and really good food. It has an average of 283 sunny days a year. You can get to the ski slopes in 35 minutes or less, hike or bike for miles in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains (bring sunscreen), or watch the sun set and imagine that you’re in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting (Santa Fe is home to the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to the artist).
The city has more than 250 art galleries and 12 museums. The Santa Fe Opera, an outdoor amphitheater located seven miles from downtown, provides world-class entertainment. In addition to innovative southwestern fare, local restaurants offer every kind of cuisine, from French to Middle Eastern.
Santa Fe’s major hospital is Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, which has 200 beds and 34 specialties. University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque is about an hour away.
The median home price is about $44,000 above the national median, and living in “The City Different” isn’t cheap. Still, “there are plenty of homes here that are affordable for seniors,” says Gary Wallace, of Santa Fe Properties. Prices range from $200,000 for a small town house to $400,000 for a single-family home.
The city’s West Guadalupe Historic District is within walking distance of restaurants, shops and downtown Santa Fe. In most other parts of the city, though, you’ll need a car.
New Mexico is less than tax-friendly; it taxes Social Security benefits. However, seniors 65 and older qualify for an income tax exemption of up to $8,000 in retirement income, including Social Security benefits, if their adjusted gross income is less than $28,500 for individuals or $51,000 for married couples.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Population: 191,180Cost of living: 98Median home price: $226,000Retiree Tax Picture: Not tax-friendlyCool feature: 12 local breweries in the metro area
If you watched the 2002 Winter Olympics, you know that the area surrounding Utah’s capital is stunningly beautiful. What you may not know is that Salt Lake City boasts a thriving, walkable downtown that is becoming a haven for retirees. “Active seniors like myself are all downsizing, and they all want to live downtown,” says Babs De Lay, 61, owner of Urban Utah Homes and Estates, in Salt Lake City. Downtown attractions include a huge library, Broadway shows at the Capitol Theatre, the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall and many restaurants. The city even has a vibrant bar scene that emerged after Utah relaxed its restrictive liquor laws in 2009.
The city’s light-rail system, TRAX, serves downtown Salt Lake City, surrounding areas and Salt Lake City International Airport. During the winter months, the Utah Transit Authority provides bus service to popular ski resorts. Anyone age 65 or older can take the bus for $4.50 round-trip.
The median home price in Salt Lake City is a bit higher than the national average. Prices for condos in the downtown area range from as low as $125,000 for small units to $400,000 and up for newly built, high-end condos, De Lay says.
Local hospitals include University of Utah Health Care, an academic medical center that offers specialists in geriatrics and Alzheimer’s care, and Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, which also provides specialists in senior health. The city has a large number of home health care providers and offers affordable assisted-living communities and nursing homes, according to the Milken Institute, which ranks Salt Lake City fifth in its best cities for aging survey.
Utah is one of a few states that tax Social Security benefits. It imposes a flat income tax rate of 5%.
Population: 110,972Cost of living: 142Median home price: $662,000Retiree Tax Picture: Least tax-friendlyCool feature: Batiquitos Lagoon, a coastal salt marsh
Scott White, 65, a former executive at Boeing, has always loved the arts and has devoted his spare time to volunteering for nonprofit arts groups. So when it came time to retire, he was determined to find an area with a vibrant cultural community. A longtime resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., he also wanted to remain near the ocean.
His research led him to Carlsbad, Calif., a small city 35 miles from San Diego. The city’s Cultural Arts Office organizes a full calendar that includes Foreign Film Fridays, a four-part lecture/performance series on American jazz, and free summer concerts in four local parks. Since moving to Carlsbad five years ago, White has become arts commissioner for the city and chairs the board for the New Village Arts Theatre.
The arts aren’t the only draw. Although Carlsbad isn’t a walkable community, the city has 25 parks, nearly 50 miles of hiking trails and a strong commitment to preserving open space. “We’re an urban community, but you don’t feel like you’re in an urban community,” White says.
Carlsbad offers lots of housing options for retirees, including retirement communities with ocean views. The city’s crime rate is well below the national average. The Tri-City Medical Center in nearby Oceanside is a full-service, acute-care hospital with specialties that include cardiovascular and orthopedic care.
Not surprisingly, all of this comes at a cost. The median home price in Carlsbad is more than three times the national median. California isn’t a tax-friendly state for retirees (or anyone else). Social Security benefits are exempt, but all other income, except interest on California bonds, is taxed. California residents pay the highest income tax rates in the nation, with a top rate of 13.3%.
Population: 609,456Cost of living: 129Median home price: $312,000Retiree Tax Picture: Least tax-friendlyCool feature: Powell’s, a huge independent bookstore
Portland may be the city where young people go to retire—at least, that’s the joke on the TV series Portlandia—but older retirees will find a bright future in Portland, too. The World Health Organization selected Portland as one of its first “age-friendly” cities, and the city is developing policies to make it a comfortable place to grow old.
Meanwhile, neighborhoods are increasingly designed to be compact and pedestrian-friendly, with “hubs” that contain grocery stores, cafés and other amenities. A popular neighborhood for retirees looking to downsize is the Pearl District. One-bedroom condos usually start in the mid $400,000s, says Marissa Sainz, of Pearl District Properties. That’s well above Portland’s median home price, but the area is centrally located and offers ample green space, bustling eateries such as Irving Street Kitchen, and monthly art walks. Portland also has an excellent public transit system—for which adults 65 or older pay only $1 a ride—as well as more than 300 miles of bikeways.
Oregon Health & Science University, the only academic medical center in the state, specializes in heart transplants and complex brain surgeries.
Frequent drizzles don’t keep Portlanders inside for long, thanks to the otherwise moderate weather. “We have a few days of snow a year and a few days of 100-degree temperatures,” says Mark Noonan, of advocacy group Elders in Action. Outdoorsy types will love the proximity to Mount Hood and the ocean, but residents can also stay active within the city by strolling in Forest Park or hiking up extinct volcano Mount Tabor.
Portland bursts with theater and music, including the summertime Blues Festival. And the food scene is “on fire,” says Noonan, serving up everything from food carts to flashy restaurants, as well as craft beers and locally distilled spirits and wine. People age 62 and older can audit classes free at local colleges.
Oregon’s tax picture isn’t so appealing. Social Security isn’t taxed, but most other retirement income is. There is no sales tax.
Kaitlin Pitsker and Miriam Cross contributed to this article.