A Retiree's Guide to the Best U.S. Cities to Live

By Jenny Powers

Whether you’re years away from retirement or on the verge of clocking out for the last time and turning on your final “Out of Office” message, determining where you spend your golden years could have a significant impact on your overall quality of life. Here at House Method we’ve done some of the legwork for you and compiled a list of the top 10 U.S. cities to retire. 

We considered a host of variables, ranging from housing costs and tax rates to climate, quality of healthcare, and ways to keep your mind, body, and spirit nourished. We went a step further and spoke to people who live in these cities to get a firsthand take on what the city is like and why they’ve chosen to retire there.

1. Fort Myers, FL

Population: 82,254

Population over 65: 19%

Median home price: $185,100

Median monthly gross rent: $905

Tax status: No state income tax 

Home to the historic winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, the “City of Palms” is situated alongside the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida.

Dotted with miles of clear, blue water and white sand, retirees can swim, fish, boat, and kayak year-round at popular spots like Fort Myers Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and nearby Sanibel and Captiva Islands. For those who prefer to stay active on dry land, there are nearly 50 golf courses, several of which are public.

Seniors can enjoy a charming, small town vibe and a quieter, slow-paced lifestyle or they can attend a spring training game for the Boston Red Sox or Minnesota Twins, watch a show at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, listen to music at the Florida Repertory Theatre, or go wildlife sighting at Manatee Park or Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve.

Another appealing aspect of Fort Myers is the high-performing medical facilities, such as Lee Memorial, Gulf Coast Hospital, and NCH Baker Hospital, which all consistently rank amongst Florida’s best hospitals.

“Fort Myers’ location and year-round temperate weather provides retirees with easy access to boating, fishing, golf, tennis, and plenty of other outdoor forms of recreation. There are also lots of affordably priced places to shop—every national brand is here including big-box stores and outlets, plus there’s a huge variety of restaurants to suit every taste.” Margaret Wilcox, licensed real estate agent and a Sanibel homeowner

2. Sarasota, FL

Population: 426,718

Population over 65: 36.7%

Median home price: $215,300

Median monthly gross rent: $1,116

Tax status: No state income tax

Home to Siesta Key, one of America’s best beaches, Sarasota offers all the fun and sun Florida is known for but with more bang for your buck than other parts of the state.

A variety of attractively priced retirement communities and excellent healthcare options, such as the nationally recognized Sarasota Memorial Hospital, draw older adults to the area.

Plus, there’s plenty to keep retirees busy, from the city’s championship golf courses to historic home tours of Ca’d’ Zan to strolls along Lido Beach. Referred to as the cultural capital of Florida, Sarasota has its very own opera house and orchestra and is home to world-class performances and enriching cultural activities.

“I’d recommend Sarasota as a place to retire for many of the same reasons we chose to move here from Miami in 1980 when we wanted a safer place to raise our young children: The Ringling Museum, Selby Gardens, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, great restaurants, excellent medical community, and of course, the cool, crystal sand beach of Siesta Key. Over the past 40 years we’ve seen the tremendous growth and we still think it’s a wonderful place to call home.” — Cheryl Ann Babcock

3. Lancaster, PA

Population: 543,557

Population over 65: 17.9%

Median home price: $193,200

Median monthly gross rent: $957

Tax status: 3.07% flat state income tax, the lowest of all eight states with a flat tax

One of the only inland towns in the United States, this Pennsylvania city is often associated with its iconic Amish farmland, but there’s so much more to it than just that. One of the city’s draws is its desirable combination of countryside and culture.

You can spend the early morning hours at the Lancaster Central Market, the oldest continuously run farmers’ market in the country, and then head to Gallery Row, a thriving community of galleries and art studios. For seniors interested in making their own art, the Lancaster Rec senior center offers painting, drawing, and an art club, along with more active offerings such as shuffleboard and fitness walks.

This budget-friendly city is filled with a diverse group of residents and is a short drive away from Philadelphia, Manhattan, Washington D.C.,and Baltimore. Unlike the Florida cities on this list, Lancaster is different in that it offers four distinct seasons, attracting those that might not be ready or willing to give up cooler temperatures.

Lancaster is also home to Lancaster General Hospital, which was recently ranked as one of the nation’s best hospitals by U.S. News for 2018–2019.

“We’re two former big city (Philly and NYC) dwellers now happily residing in Elizabethtown in Lancaster County, PA. The cost of living is considerably lower than in either of those places but that’s not the only attraction. We find plenty to do, as there are a number of small colleges in the area that bring another dimension to the predominant PA German/Amish culture that most tourists come here for. There are lots of cultural events in nearby Hershey (Jerry Seinfeld appeared there!) as well as the city of Lancaster itself. We’re big outdoors people and of course there’s no shortage of beautiful rolling countryside to walk or bike and if you *do* get bored? Lancaster (and E-town!) has Amtrak stations, so Philly or NYC is a train ride away! I still go back to NYC to get my hair cut!” — Ingrid Spangler

4. Asheville, NC

Population: 92,452

Population over 65: 17.3%

Median home price: $227,500

Median monthly gross rent: $954

Tax status: 5.49% flat state income tax  

Rooted in the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains and adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains sits Asheville, NC. Boomers flock to “The Land of the Sky” for its picturesque scenery, pleasant climate, and a healthy lifestyle.

Health-conscious people are drawn to Asheville for its array of active outdoor activities including hiking the Appalachian Trail, white water rafting, kayaking on Lake Junaluska, fly fishing, and tubing.

Asheville’s Mission Health was ranked as the #1 best hospital in the state in 2017–2018 by Business North Carolina and was ranked in the top 1% of best hospitals nationally by Healthgrades in 2016. 

In addition to being a leader in advanced medical care, the region has long been known for its integrative holistic practitioners, wellness retreats, and natural therapies such as salt caves and hot springs.

Seniors can work out their brains by taking courses at the internationally acclaimed Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, whose goal is “to enable members to thrive in life’s second half” by offering a comprehensive curriculum. Part of the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the school offers courses in life transition, the reinvention of retirement, civic engagement, and retirement relocation planning.

“The second highest number of breweries per capita of any city in America, the Appalachian Mountains, the Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn, the Blue Ridge Parkway, miles of hiking trails, the French Broad River, a vibrant arts and music scene, dozens of outstanding restaurants…there’s a lot to love about Asheville!” — Colonel Morris D. Davis, Air Force colonel and federal administrative law judge

5. Port St. Lucie, FL

Population: 192,248

Population over 65: 19%

Median home price: $162,700

Median monthly gross rent: $1,620

Tax status: No state income tax

Located on Florida’s Treasure Coast, this quiet, clean city attracts retirees with its high quality of life and low cost of living. Known for being a friendly beach town and a golfer’s paradise, Port St. Lucie is home to the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance and the spring training facilities for The New York Mets.

In addition to a host of physical recreational activities, boomers can spend the day visiting the IRSC Hallstrom Planetarium, Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens, and a museum dedicated to U.S. Navy Seals. 

The city is served by a variety of walk-in clinics and urgent care centers, five hospitals, and Treasure Coast Hospice.

“There are top-rated, 55+ single-family home communities and more complexes are starting. Most of these communities are gated even though the crime rate is low. They give people a sense of security. The lifestyle is more relaxed. No pushing and shoving in the supermarkets. Less congested than areas south of Port St. Lucie county.” —Ellen Waller, real estate agent

6. Jacksonville, FL

Population: 903,889

Population over 65: 12.70%

Median home price: $150,200

Median monthly gross tent: $984

Tax status: No state income tax

Boasting over 840 square miles, Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the continental U.S. and runs along the St. Johns River, the longest river in all of Florida. Whether it’s fishing, kayaking, boating, or simply taking a scenic stroll, the St. Johns Riverfront offers residents lots of ways to keep active.

The city, known as Jax to locals, boasts the largest park system in the country, covering 80,000 acres of park. It includes 400 city parks, seven state parks, and three national parks. Museum-goers and those who prefer indoor activities can enjoy the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA Jacksonville), the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, and the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History (MOSH).

The city maintains 20 senior centers with fun programming, like a Senior Prom and a foster grandparent program.

Regarding health centers, UF Health Jacksonville was named one of America’s best hospitals by Healthgrades. Jacksonville is also home to Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, which recently announced plans to build a comprehensive cancer center slated to open in 2023, making it only the second of its kind in Florida.

“Buyers are drawn to Jacksonville because of the scenic beaches, waterways, and parks. We often work with buyers relocating in search of better healthcare and Jacksonville is an elite healthcare destination and home to one of three Mayo Clinics in the country. Jacksonville was also named #1 City for Expansion and Relocation in America by Expansion Management Magazine and #3 Best City for Veterans by Veterans United.” — Jenna Fisher, real estate agent at Marsh Landing Country Club

7. Winston-Salem, NC

Population: 246,328

Population over 65: 13.7%

Median home price: $142,200

Median monthly gross rent: $765

Tax status: 5.49% flat state income tax

Known as the “Twin City,” Winston-Salem is located in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina—this region is found in the center of the state between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s approximately 150 miles south of Asheville. The city is ideal for retirees seeking a big city lifestyle, a low cost of living, and a high quality of life.

Although the city gives off southern vibes, it’s home to many international residents, which is reflected not only in the variety of festivals hosted throughout the year but in its diverse food options.

Winston, as locals often call it, experiences all four seasons and has activities and venues that span them all, such as the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock state parks, Piedmont Quarry, an active art council, and even it’s own symphony. 

On the medical front, North Carolina is on the front lines of an ambitious initiative to offer payments to doctors based on health outcomes rather than services in an effort to keep people healthy. Ardmore Family Practice in Winston-Salem is one of the institutions pushing for this type of results-oriented healthcare.

“Our high quality of life, coupled with a low cost of living, makes our community the ideal spot for a retiree.” — Mayor Allen Joines via the Winston Salem Journal

8. Nashville, TN

Population: 669,053

Population over 65: 11.2%

Median home price: $191,400

Median monthly gross rent: $970

Tax status: There’s no income tax on wages. However, there’s a Hall income tax, a flat tax on interest and dividends.

The 55+ age group is drawn to Nashville—and it’s not just for the music. The low cost of living paired with no income or estate tax, and the fact that most seniors quality for property tax relief, are all factors that are music to their ears.

The neighborhood of Sylvan Park is especially appealing to retirees because of its southern feel, quiet streets, and proximity to parks, greenways, and McCabe Golf Course. Much of the city itself is walkable, which helps residents stay active outdoors.

There’s no shortage of entertainment from the Nashville Opera, Nashville Ballet, world-class concerts, honkey-tonks, a great culinary scene, unique festivals, and lots of volunteer opportunities like tutoring, mentoring children, and assisting with Meals on Wheels.

Nationally ranked Vanderbilt University Hospital is located in Nashville along with a host of other highly performing hospitals that provide great healthcare to residents. 

“Nashville, Tennessee, known as “Music City USA” and my hometown, offers quite a wide selection to support body, mind, and spirit for retirees. There is beauty in the rolling hills, the warm hospitality, and a wide cultural base. You can enjoy all four seasons and have the advantage of the central location in the southeast, which makes travel easily accessible within the US and internationally.” — Laura Flippen Tenzel, Tennessee resident since 1954

9. Grand Rapids, MI

Population: 200,217

Population over 65: 11.5%

Median home price: $121,800

Median monthly gross rent: $854

Tax status: 4.25% state income tax

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan and is located on the banks of the Grand River, 25 miles east of Lake Michigan.

There’s plenty to do and see in the city, from visiting The Gerald Ford Presidential Museum and Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, going on docent-led tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House, and attending the Grand Rapids Ballet. In the summer, Grand Rapids hosts Artprize, a world-renowned art festival. The city is also known for putting on the country’s largest 25k, called River Bank Run, which has a serious wheelchair race as part of the day’s festivities.

Affordable housing below the national average and access to solid healthcare coupled with Midwestern friendliness make this city a popular destination for people of all ages, but it’s especially enticing to older adults.

“Grand Rapids is a wonderful community for being young and staying young! Rather than the typical gated communities for over a certain age, we flourish by living in good old-fashioned neighborhoods that offer a rich mix of ages and cultures. We love the seasons and savor our cozy time but also love to get out and enjoy life! The summer is filled with festivals, picnics, and outdoor concerts in the park, boating on the lakes and rivers, cycling, and running or walking around the lake or on the many trails. Almost every neighborhood is walkable to nearby shops, fabulous pubs and cafes, libraries, art galleries, and churches. Our medical facilities are cutting-edge and we have several colleges and universities in town which all add to the great vibrant energy. If you’re looking for an elixir to stay young, come check us out! You may never leave!” — Jan Norton Fairchild of Keller Williams Real Estate

10. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

Population: 1,345,047

Population over 65: 9.80%

Median home price: $154,800

Median monthly gross rent: $937

Tax status: No income tax

While celebrity chefs, great shopping, and an impressive art district highlight the more cosmopolitan side of the area, DFW is still home to rodeos, the Fort Worth Stockyards, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and the legendary State Fair of Texas—the longest running fair in the country.

Seniors settle down in Dallas for the affordable housing, walkable suburban neighborhoods, public transportation options, and a variety of ways to keep active. Additionally, the area is home to a few nationally ranked hospitals including UT Southwestern Medical Center and Baylor University Medical Center.

“No income tax and a relatively low cost of living are two of the main reasons to retire in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. DFW offers easy access to an international airport, endless cultural opportunities, temperate climate, and nearby lakes. There’s never a shortage of things to do! Lastly, a multitude of senior living communities and a strong housing market give retirees great options for finding their next home.”Ann Marie Warrick, senior real estate specialist at Warrick Realty Group

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