Best Vacation Spots to Retire

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Updated on Monday, July 19, 2021

Retirement should feel a bit like going on vacation forever, right? That’s why some retirees turn vacation homes into full-time dwellings to spend their golden years. Places in the U.S. primed for vacationers typically feature warm weather and leisure activities, but the homes here often run on the expensive side.

MagnifyMoney researchers compiled a list of the largest metros with between 5% and 30% of its housing stock dedicated to secondary homes and ranked them based on seven metrics, including affordability, access to health care and — of course — fun things to do. Here are the best vacation spots to retire.

Key findings

  • The South — unsurprisingly — dominates the list of best vacation spots to retire. Nine of the top 10 metros are in the South, including seven in Florida. Georgetown, S.C., Sebring, Fla., and The Villages, Fla., top the list.
  • What do the top 10 metros have in common? Mainly, a high percentage of residents 65 or older. Among the 107 metros ranked, none in the top 10 ranks outside No. 24 for the percentage of older residents, led by The Villages.
  • Smaller areas tend to be better landing spots for retirees. Riverside, Calif., which has nearly 1.6 million households, finishes last on the list of best vacation spots to retire. In comparison, Georgetown — top on the list — has just about 35,000 households.
  • There’s no perfect metro for everyone. Homosassa Springs, Fla., for example, ranks No. 9 for best vacation spots to retire. The metro is near the top for having the lowest median monthly housing costs, but it ranks near the bottom for its number of health care establishments.

Flying South for the winter — and beyond

Retirement years are meant for relaxation and slowing down. As such, the South attracts many retirees due to its temperate climate, lower cost of living and other benefits. It shouldn’t come as a shock then that nine of the top 10 vacation metros are in the South.

Though Georgetown, S.C., takes the top slot, the state of Florida contributes seven places to the top 10, including No. 2 Sebring and No. 3 The Villages. Beyond sandy beaches and lush golf courses, Florida lures retirees with its lack of inheritance, estate and state income taxes.

While the South may dominate the top of MagnifyMoney’s rankings, Payson, Ariz., at No. 6 makes a great option for folks looking to retire out West.

What makes retirees want to stay in certain vacation spots?

Of course, not everyone is looking for warm weather or beach towns when planning a vacation or a retirement. While the 10 best vacation spots to retire have a warmer average daily temperature than the average across the 107 metros — 69.8 degrees versus 56.9 — the top locales share other notable advantages.

Retirees looking for a community of similarly aged peers are more likely to find that in one of the 10 best places. Among those metros, an average of 33.6% of residents are 65 and older, compared with an average of 21.1% across all ranked sites. In fact, all but one of the top 10 vacation spots — Salisbury, Md. — rank in the top 20 for places with the largest share of residents 65 and older.

Beyond social benefits, finding a place to retire with a similar community might mean a happier retirement. Aspects like accessible public transportation can make life more comfortable and affordable for retirees, MagnifyMoney content director Ismat Mangla says.

“When you retire in an area where there are a lot of other retirees, life can be much easier and more satisfying, often thanks to infrastructure that is in place to support those people with similar lifestyles,” she says.

The top 10 spots also tend to be a little more affordable, with housing costs averaging $835 a month, $138 less than the average across the 107 metros. Though poverty rates among adults 65 and older in all the ranked places remain fairly low at an average of 8.5%, it drops even lower to 7.3% across the 10 best metros.

Median housing costs and poverty rates in the best vacation spots
RankMetroMedian monthly housing costsPercentage of adults 65+ living below poverty line
1Georgetown, SC$8129.2%
2Sebring, FL$6048.8%
3The Villages, FL$6875.2%
4Punta Gorda, FL$8566.7%
5Myrtle Beach, SC$9046.5%
6Payson, AZ$6609.4%
7Sebastian, FL$8886.6%
8Naples, FL$1,2726.4%
9Homosassa Springs, FL$6398.1%
10Salisbury, MD$1,0236.2%

Less populated metros also seem to make better options for retirees. Riverside, at the bottom of the rankings, has nearly 1.6 million households, compared with top-rated Georgetown’s 35,300. Similarly, No. 2 Sebring has just about 55,800 households, compared with Burlington, Vt., which has 97,600 households and finishes second to last on our ranked list.

Paradise — according to your priorities

While the MagnifyMoney index looks for places that perform well across categories, some places may attract retirees looking for one factor in particular.

For example, Show Low, Ariz., features the lowest median monthly housing costs at $546 a month, but a fairly high percentage of older adults in poverty — 13.1% — helps bring the metro’s ranking down to No. 42.

These metros rank best for each category:

  • Density of vacation homes: Boone, N.C. (29.1%)
  • Percentage of residents 65 and older: The Villages, Fla. (56.7%)
  • Density of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments: McAllen, Texas (18.1%)
  • Density of health care establishments: Branson, Mo. (5.5%)

Retirees looking for the warmest weather may consider three different Hawaiian metros — Kapaa, Hilo or Kahului — which all record average temperatures of 78.7 degrees. Or those trying to beat the heat might enjoy retirement in Anchorage, Ala., with temperatures averaging 33.5 degrees.

Planning the vacation of a lifetime? Tips for retiring in style

Relocating for retirement might be a general lifestyle choice or a financially savvy one. Either way, consumers should prepare to settle into a new home while keeping their retirement on track.

  • Plan ahead. Dreaming about retirement for years doesn’t mean planning carefully. Particularly if you’re moving, Mangla cautions retirees to give themselves as much time as possible to make sure everything is in order. “Anything done in a rush typically ends up costing you more money,” she says. Maintaining a solid savings account is still crucial as you enter retirement.
  • Downsize your belongings. Much like a vacation home, your permanent retirement home probably doesn’t have the space to store all the clutter and extraneous items you’ve accumulated over the years. Mangla recommends clearing out these things before you move rather than shelling out to ship them to your new home.
  • Stay on top of your finances. A new home may mean new tax policies, expenses or other changes to your typical budget. Once you’re in a new location, Mangla recommends meeting with a financial advisor to ensure there are no surprises.

Methodology

To rank the best vacation spots to retire, MagnifyMoney researchers analyzed data for seven metrics:

  • Density of vacation homes. Researchers started with a list of the 200 largest metros by the percentage of vacation homes. Researchers then filtered for the metros with between 5% and 30% of its housing stock dedicated to secondary homes, narrowing the final list to 107 metros. Less than 5% suggested there wasn’t much demand. U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (2015-19 five-year estimates).
  • Percentage of residents 65 and older.U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (2015-19 five-year estimates).
  • Median monthly housing costs.U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (2015-19 five-year estimates).
  • Percentage of adults 65 and older living below the poverty line.U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (2015-19 five-year estimates).
  • Density of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments. This is the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments as a percentage of all establishments. U.S. Census Bureau 2019 County Business Patterns data.
  • Density of health care establishments. This is the number of health care establishments as a percentage of all establishments. U.S. Census Bureau 2019 County Business Patterns data.
  • Average daily temperature. This measures the average daily temperature for the five years preceding May 2021. Researchers assumed warmer places were better. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Researchers created an index based on rankings from the seven metrics. The metros were ranked from highest to lowest based on this index score.

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