The most important component of a happy retirement? It's not financial security (although that's nice to have) or proximity to family and friends. It's good health.
With that in mind, we chose retirement destinations that are havens for healthy living, with lots of opportunities to pursue an active lifestyle and great medical facilities. Using data provided by Trulia (opens in new tab), the online real estate marketplace, we identified neighborhoods that have quiet streets, trails, parks, golf courses and other amenities, and easy access to hospitals and pharmacies.
Our destinations span the country and range from walkable neighborhoods in big cities to small towns with top-ranked hospitals. Most of our neighborhoods are in cities with good air quality (which is why you don't see any Southern California cities on the list) and low crime rates. And with the exception of Omaha and Billings, all are in states that are tax-friendly or tax-neutral for retirees. We've listed them from smallest to largest population. Take a look:
National median cost-of-living index is 100. National median home price is $185,000.
- Population: 21,512Cost of living: N/A (national median: 100)Median home price: $294,000 (national median: $185,000)Healthy highlight: Top grade from the American Lung Association for air quality
The growth in Naples has been fueled by a torrent of retirees attracted by miles of beaches, gracious homes and giant banyan trees. But you don't have to be retired to like living here. The Naples–Marco Island area was ranked number one in the 2014–15 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index, which measures residents' views about health, financial security, community and sense of purpose.
NCH Healthcare System, which operates a hospital downtown and one in north Naples, offers a range of specialties, including rehabilitation and cardiac, cancer and geriatric care. It's a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, which connects its doctors with Mayo Clinic specialists.
Residents pay a premium to live the good life, particularly in Old Naples. Home prices range from about $240,000 for a small condo to more than $5 million for homes on the beach, says Sharon Kaltenborn, a real estate agent for Sotheby's International Realty.
Florida is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees, with no state income tax.
- Population: 79,812Cost of living: 90.3Median home price: $180,450Healthy highlight: More than 18 miles of trails on a 300-acre greenway running through the city
Lynchburg's natural beauty makes it easy for retirees to stay active. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking the James River, the City of Seven Hills has more than 18 miles of urban trails for hiking, running and biking.
In the historic downtown area, 120-year-old warehouses are being renovated into everything from artist studios and lofts to galleries and restaurants. The Lynchburg Community Market is open five days a week and features a bustling farmers market and live music every Saturday morning. Smith Mountain Lake, Wintergreen ski resort and the Appalachian Trail are all within an hour's drive, and Amtrak gets you to Washington, D.C., in 3 1/2 hours.
Health care centers around Centra Health, a nationally recognized health care system. Its flagship hospital specializes in cardiology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, neurology and neurosurgery.
Virginia doesn't tax Social Security benefits, but it does tax residents on their incomes, including federal and military pensions, at rates up to 5.75%. Residents 65 and older can deduct up to $12,000 per person, depending on their income.
- Population: 110,263Cost of living: N/AMedian home price: $208,200Healthy highlight: Swords Park Trail, with spectacular views of the city and Yellowstone Valley
Billings attracts retirees who enjoy the great outdoors but like their urban amenities, too. You can spend the morning hiking or mountain biking on nearby Phipps Park Trail or Swords Park Trail and be back in town by noon for a burger and a beer at Montana Brewing Company. Billings is also in the midst of a decade-long project to connect a series of trails in and around the city.
Isolation is a potential downside to Billings. Flying in and out of Billings Logan International Airport is expensive, and Denver, the closest major metropolitan area, is more than seven hours away by car. You won't have to travel to find good health care, though. St. Vincent Healthcare provides specialty services in heart and vascular disease, oncology, orthopedics, and neurology, among others.
Many single-family homes in the Central-Terry and North Park neighborhoods, which are close to downtown Billings, are available for less than $200,000.
- Population: 197,182Cost of living: 89.3Median home price: $122,000Healthy highlight: State-of-the-art health care through the Augusta University Medical Center
Recognized by AARP as an age-friendly city, Augusta is revitalizing its downtown area to add housing, public transportation and sidewalks, making it more attractive to seniors and empty nesters, says Mayor Hardie Davis. The city is also home to Augusta University Health, a health care network that includes the 478-bed Augusta University Medical Center. The network offers a long list of specialists, including doctors who focus on oncology, geriatrics and senior health.
Retirees looking to buy a home in the area may want to check out Forest Hills, an upscale enclave of historic homes near the Forest Hills Golf Club. Home prices in the area range from about $250,000 to more than $700,000. During the Masters, many locals earn extra income by renting their homes to visitors for $600 to more than $1,000 per night.
Georgia provides generous tax breaks for its older residents. Social Security is exempt from state taxes, along with up to $35,000 of most retirement income for those between the ages of 62 and 64. For residents 65 and older, the exemption jumps to $65,000, or up to $130,000 for a couple.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
- Population: 257,083Cost of living: 91.6Median home price: $140,000Healthy highlight: the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail for walking, jogging, skating and biking
North East Park, Old Northeast and the rest of the inner northeast side of St. Petersburg offer a mix of bungalows, Craftsman-style cottages, large ranchers and enough Spanish-influenced design to suggest you're in Pasadena or Santa Monica instead of Florida. You can easily bike or walk to neighborhood bars and restaurants and to St. Pete's artsy downtown
St. Pete and Tampa—the area's other, higher-rising central city—include an array of theaters, concert halls, stadiums, colleges and hospitals, but without the density and congestion of Miami or the inflated real estate costs of Palm Beach and Boca Raton. Average temperatures in January through March range from the low 60s to the high 60s, but they can also can drop into the 50s or climb into the mid-70s (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit). Generally, the hurricane risk on Florida's west coast is less than on the east coast.
The city of St. Pete extends 10 miles west to the Gulf of Mexico, where you can follow a 20-mile beachfront road north to Clearwater, home of the giant Morton Plant Hospital complex and the area's best-known beaches, most of which are free or nearly free. You can also explore the area via the Pinellas Trail, one of America's best recreational trails. It starts in downtown St. Pete by the Tampa Bay Rays' ballpark and links a variety of commercial and suburban neighborhoods.
- Population: 285,342Cost of living: N/AMedian home price: $121,000Healthy highlight: City Center Park, including the Great Lawn, a natural amphitheater
Deciding whether to retire to the mountains or the beach? Split the difference in Greensboro, N.C., just three hours by car from the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Atlantic beaches. The downtown area offers a wide variety of restaurants, plus brew pubs, bars, coffee shops and theaters on or near Elm or Greene streets.
Fitness and recreation venues include the new City Center Park, which offers a variety of fitness classes; the Greensboro Aquatic Center, within the Greensboro Coliseum Complex; and numerous rec centers with adult programs. After energizing your body, exercise your brain with learning opportunities at the area's colleges and universities or the city's downtown cultural campus, where a performing arts center will debut in 2018.
Just a couple of miles from downtown, the Old Irving Park neighborhood attracts new residents to its high-end, eclectic homes and winding, tree-lined streets. Three-bedroom houses there run about $210,000 to $675,000.
The state imposes a flat income tax of 5.75% but exempts Social Security benefits. Residents of Greensboro pay a sales tax of 6.75% (prescription drugs and medical equipment are exempt).
- Population: 443,885Cost of living: 91.3Median home price: $145,500Healthly highlight: A burgeoning biking community via the city's bike-sharing program
Pedestrian-friendly Aksarben–Elmwood Park, less than 15 minutes from downtown and bordering the University of Nebraska–Omaha, offers retirees the best of both worlds. You'll find quiet, residential neighborhoods featuring Colonial and Tudor Revival homes on the north and east sides. To the west is Aksarben Village, a new entertainment and shopping community with shops, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, bike-friendly paths and space for outdoor music festivals.
Homes in Aksarben–Elmwood Park are affordable, with a median price of $148,000, but it's a highly competitive market; homes are being bought sight unseen and are often sold before they're posted online.
One big bonus to living in Omaha: access to health care, including the medical centers of the University of Nebraska, Creighton University and Think Whole Person Healthcare, a cutting-edge, physician-led practice.
Taxes are a challenge for retirees in the Cornhusker State. The total rate for state and local taxes is 7% (5.5% for state and 1.5% for local). Social Security benefits are taxed, although rules that recently took effect exempt some of that income from state taxes. Still, Nebraska taxes most other retirement income, including retirement-plan withdrawals and public and private pensions.
- Population: 654,610Cost of living: 95Median home price: $187,000Healthy highlight: Sylvan Park farmers market
Millennials are moving to Music City in droves to grab jobs—the economy is as hot as a Merle Travis guitar lick—but retirees are finding a lot to like here, too. Beyond the downtown area, you'll find quiet old Nashville neighborhoods, such as Sylvan Park.
Homes in Sylvan Park include cottages and bungalows built in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as new construction that is replacing small, older homes. Prices of homes sold in the past few months range from $300,000 for a two-bedroom cottage to $829,000 for a newly built five-bedroom house, says real estate agent Kimberly Davis.
Sylvan Park has a handful of restaurants and a public library, but an active cultural scene beckons beyond the neighborhood. Besides a host of honky-tonk bars, the city boasts a blues and jazz scene, an opera, a ballet and a full calendar of musicals and plays. By day, you can enroll in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt University or take classes at nearby Lipscomb University. Just north of Vanderbilt's campus, you'll find its medical complex.
The cost of living is below the national average, and there's no broad-based income tax (but be prepared to fork over hefty sales taxes). Most seniors qualify for property tax relief. And the state no longer imposes an estate tax.
- Population: 684,451Cost of living: 140.3Median home price: $341,000Healthy highlight: Seward Park, a 300-acre park with forest and beach trails
Seattle's urban center is surrounded by parks, nature trails, waterways and the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, making the Emerald City a gem for active urbanites and nature lovers alike.
Many retirees head 10 miles east of downtown, crossing Lake Washington on the world's longest floating bridge, to Bellevue's Crossroads neighborhood. This Seattle suburb has grown steadily in recent years to become its own small city of more than 130,000 people. Here, housing options include a mix of apartments, condos and small single-family homes. However, with few homes on the market sellers have the upper hand. People looking to buy here should budget $500,000 or more.
The Seattle-Bellevue metropolitan area offers excellent health care. Seattle's major hospital is the University of Washington Medical Center; other local hospitals include Overlake Hospital Medical Center and EvergreenHealth.
Although Seattle's cost of living and home prices are higher than the national average, Washington is tax-friendly for retirees. The Evergreen State has no state income tax, so retirees won't pay tax on their pensions, Social Security benefits or other retirement income. But state and local sales tax rates, which can be as much as a combined 9.5%, are among the highest in the nation.
- Population: 850,106Cost of living: 90.5Median home price: $144,900Healthy highlight: Wallace Gardens community garden plots
Although Grandview Heights is just minutes from downtown Columbus, this small city (population 7,300) has a distinctly small-town vibe. Most neighborhoods have sidewalks, and the town's small size—about 1.3 square miles—and mix of commercial and residential buildings throughout the city make it easy to get places without a car.
Homes here are more expensive than they are in other parts of the Columbus area. Condos are available for about $200,000, and prices for historic single-family homes with three or more bedrooms range from $355,000 to more than $500,000.
The Ohio State University Hospital System, less than three miles from Grandview Heights, includes the Wexner Medical Center, a 900-bed hospital that offers specialties in critical care, organ transplant and rehabilitation. The hospital system also includes the James Cancer Hospital, with more than 200 oncologists.
Ohio exempts Social Security benefits from state taxes. Other retirement income is taxable, but retirees can claim a tax credit of up to $200.
- Population: 931,830Cost of living: 96Median home price: $209,000Healthy highlight: A 10-mile hiking and biking trail that encircles Lady Bird Lake
The city where Whole Foods was founded takes its healthy living seriously. Residents of the Zilker neighborhood, for instance, are steps away from Zilker Park, a green space of more than 350 acres. Outdoorsy options include sand volleyball courts, disc golf and Barton Springs Pool. On Lady Bird Lake, you can canoe, kayak or float on stand-up paddleboards.
Zilker's tranquil interior is full of big, old trees, while the business strips of South Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road are lined with shops, restaurants and bars. The peace is disturbed only during concerts or music festivals, such as Austin City Limits and SXSW, when performances take place in nearby parks.
St. David's South Austin Medical Center, a few miles from Zilker, offers specialties including women's health, heart and vascular care, and oncology, and it is home to Austin's only bone-marrow transplant program. Seton Medical Center Austin is the only hospital in central Texas that performs heart transplants.
You'll pay for the proximity to downtown. Single-family homes start at $600,000. Retirees tend to live in townhomes with small yards or condo townhouses, which go for $450,000 or more. Renting a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment can run $2,000 per month. But Texas has no state income tax, nor does it tax any retirement income.
- Population: 1,567,442Cost of living: 119.5Median home price: $180,000Healthy highlight: Philadelphia's annual Broad Street Run is the largest 10-mile race in the country.
For retirees eager to keep their mind and body in motion, Philadelphia offers no shortage of activities. The culturally inclined can take in the art at the city's world-class museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. Or they can attend concerts and lectures at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Health-conscious retirees might spend their mornings shopping at the Ninth Street Italian Market or going for a bike ride on scenic Kelly Drive. What's more, Philly is home to several excellent university health systems, including those at Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Manayunk, just 20 minutes from Center City Philadelphia, offers a blend of urban amenities and small-town charm. The neighborhood scores major walkability points thanks to its mile-long Main Street corridor. Just steps away, active residents can visit the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center or walk along the Manayunk Canal Towpath.
Pennsylvania is tax-friendly for retirees. The Keystone State doesn't tax retirement income for residents age 59½ or older, income from individual or workplace retirement accounts, or Social Security benefits.
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