Best Places to Retire
Whether you’re about to retire or still dreaming, here’s our list of some of the best places in the South to set your sights.
Choosing a place to retire isn’t easy. It has to be a place you love, where you’ll learn new things, create new memories and make lasting friendships. The good news? The South has you covered, whether you dream of retiring in a bustling city or a sleepy mountain town, or if your idea of heaven on earth includes golf courses or beach views or charming streets lined with shops. We’ve put together a list of a few of our favorite spots, focusing on towns that have unique amenities, a low cost of living, opportunities for volunteering, part-time work and continued learning. Also important? A stable housing market, access to medical care, and an airport or train station close-by for ease of traveling and the all-important visits from family and grandkids.
These Are The Best Small Towns For Retirement
If you're up for changing your 9-to-6 workdays into leisurely vacations around the region, look no further than these incredible Southern spots. With the natural beauty, the up-and-coming food scenes in more cities that we can list, and the arguably the best golf in the nation, retiring in the South is a no-brainer. You can switch those long days into afternoons on the beach, swap out your morning commute latte for a piña colada, and leave your work woes at the door. These Southern small towns have lots of charm and character, not to mention views of the Smoky Mountains, the Guadelupe River, the Blue Ridge, and Susquehanna. We've included towns like Auburn, Alabama – where the university crowd peacefully co-mingles with retirees, Maryville, Tennessee – where all nature lovers find a peaceful retreat, and Paducah, Kentucky – where bourbon and music are never far out of reach. So, tell us – where do you want to retire in the South?
Fairhope was established by a group of people looking to create a utopia; visiting the city now, you might just say they’ve succeeded. Overlooking Mobile Bay, the city is beautiful and quaint. Gorgeous flowers bloom all over town, and Spanish Moss drapes from trees thanks to the careful hand of the horticulturalist Fairhope keeps on the payroll. Artists are prized in this city by the bay, and celebrations and town events are common: the Arts & Crafts Festival, Fairhope Music Festival and Alabama Coast BirdFest are a few favorites. Finding a place to stroll, bike or enjoy a park is a snap, crime is low, volunteering opportunities are plentiful, and Social Security benefits aren’t taxed here. Add all the amenities (including two airports) of nearby Mobile, and you might call Fairhope the perfect utopia for your retirement years.
If ranches, small town streets, and open spaces are your ideas of paradise, Weatherford might be the place to call home. Horse lovers will be in heaven: Weatherford is famous for raising cutting horses (horses that help herd cattle), and trainers, exhibitions, horseback trails, and ranches abound in the area. The cost of living is low here, and Texas has no income tax, so budgeting for a lot of land, and maybe even a ranch, isn’t out of the question for many. Historic homes are a main draw in Weatherford, and an architectural stroll can be followed up with visits to boutiques and museums in Historic Downtown Weatherford. Spend time outside walking the golf course or picnicking at Lake Weatherford or Clark Gardens Botanical Park. Want a taste of big city life? You’ll find it nearby in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Augusta’s motto, inspired by city native James Brown, is “We feel good” — and when you make yourself at home in The Garden City, you’ll know what they mean. Famously home to the Masters Tournament, Augusta is a town that makes golf-lovers proud; it’s home to some of the best courses in the country. But there’s plenty for everyone to enjoy in Augusta: The Riverwalk provides a beautiful view of the Savannah River, and amenities like museums, galleries, an amphitheater, and businesses, and restaurants galore make it the go-to destination for residents and tourists alike. Augusta is flush with tree-lined streets and gorgeous antebellum mansions, and anyone looking to stay awhile will enjoy the convenience of three local hospitals, a regional airport, and the lack of tax on Social Security benefits.
Nestled in the beautiful Ozark Mountains sits Fayetteville, combining all the bustle and liveliness of a college town with the serene beauty of the mountains and charm of small-town life. Residents can bask in the outstanding outdoor vistas in Ozark National Forest or Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, take classes or participate in cultural events at the University of Arkansas, or take advantage of the healthy economy for working part-time or volunteering. Shopping on Dickson Street, grabbing fresh produce at the regular farmer’s market in the town square, or enjoying a festival like Bikes Blues and Barbeque or a show at Walton Arts Center are favorite local pastimes. A nearby regional airport makes travel and trips from family a snap.
You’ll never lack for something new to do and see in Roanoke, a.k.a. the City of Festivals. Between Roanoke Railfest, the Henry Street Heritage Festival, the Strawberry Festival, Festival in the Park, the Vinton Dogwood Festival and more, this charming town is full of life and opportunity. The weather can’t be beat — summer temperatures often hover in the 70s and winter is chilly but not frigid, holding around the high 30s — and that makes Roanoke’s greenways, trails and bike paths, and their view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, even more inviting. Historical buffs will love Civil War battlefields, and anyone looking for culture will find it at the downtown museums, theater and planetarium. The Roanoke Regional Airport makes getting out of town quick and easy, but the natural beauty and low cost of living may mean you’ll never want to leave.
Bluffton, South Carolina
If living in Lowcountry bliss seems like your idea of a great retirement, Bluffton might be calling for you. This is a town so beautiful it was named for the view: the bluffs look onto the May River near Hilton Head. Bluffton is a walkable city that provides easy access to its historic churches, antebellum houses and the gorgeous scenery of the rivers and wetlands. Wander into galleries and antiques stores on Calhoun Street, stroll along the riverfront, or play a round of golf on one of the gorgeous courses. Social Security benefits aren’t taxed in South Carolina, and Savannah, Hilton Head Island and Charleston are all close, providing culture, amenities and airports that Bluffton residents enjoy.
In a city named for the canals that weave through it, you know two things: that water is central to life in the city, and that romance and culture are prized. Both a true in this gorgeous city; beach homes overlook the Gulf of Mexico, and beautiful beaches are always close at hand. A relaxed downtown boasts a healthy shopping district complete with walkable sidewalks lined with palm trees, and theaters and festivals provide entertainment throughout the year. Outdoor lovers will enjoy golf, tennis, and over 30 parks, and for anyone wishing for more, Sarasota, Tampa and St. Petersburg are all less than an hour away. Florida doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, and seniors get a break on property taxes, too.
If you come to Jackson expecting incredible music and arts at the heart of rhythm and blues, you won’t be disappointed. Gospel music and blues are part of the city’s heritage, and it’s easy to find a live performance almost any night of the week. Known as the “City with Soul,” Jackson boasts historical and arts attractions aplenty, from the Mississippi Blues Trails to the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center to the Eudora Welty House — and even the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Big-city draws include a planetarium, ballet, zoo and opera, and the annual Rhythm and Blues Festival is a favorite. Students from both Jackson State University and Millsaps College are active in town, and seniors are welcome to continue education on campus.
Can’t decide between living near the mountains or the water? Chattanooga won’t make you choose; gorgeous mountains beckon and the Tennessee River flows directly through downtown. The Riverwalk is a favorite place of both locals and tourists; shops and restaurants dot the shores, and a spectacular aquarium and Creative Discovery Museum will be a lure for grandkids. Tennessee has no income tax, and the cost of living is low in Chattanooga. Seniors can ride on electric buses for just 75 cents per trip, so visiting the cultural center, historic battlefields and museums is easy. Railroad buffs will enjoy the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Chattanooga’s airport makes traveling and receiving visitors easy.
With a low cost of living, a walkable downtown and culture galore, Louisville is a beautiful place to retire. The Kentucky Derby is an exciting time for the city every year, and dozens of events around town celebrate the horses and all the highlights of the city of Louisville, including their famous Bourbon distilleries. A walking trail and bike path circles the city and connects lots of communities and parks — Louisville has over 100 parks for residents to enjoy, and the Jefferson Memorial Forest is nearby. If you’re looking for culture, the museums and festivals won’t disappoint, and Kentucky residents 65 and up get free tuition at the University of Louisville.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Morgantown is Appalachia at its best; rivers and streams bend through gorgeous forests and beautiful mountains, and the sun is shining most days of the year. Boating, fishing and hiking fanatics will love it here. Beyond nature is a different kind of wildlife — the local college football team, the West Virginia University Mountaineers, attracts a seriously dedicated following and provides fun for the entire town, and the school’s Osher Lifelong learning Institute offers affordable courses designed for seniors. Morgantown’s low cost of living, healthy economy and robust health care make it a wonderful choice for retirement.
North Carolina’s Triangle Cities (Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill)
When it comes to North Carolina’s Triangle cities, it’s hard to choose just one — Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill have a lot to offer retirees. Each city takes full advantage of the beautiful rolling hills of the Carolinas: Walking trails, bike paths, and hiking opportunities are everywhere.
Nature lovers enjoy living near the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the beach is just a day trip away. The Triangle still offers a low cost of living, its foodie scene is thriving, and the cities are adding new cultural amenities and events every day. Continue your learning with world-class educational opportunities at Duke’s Durham campus or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — sports lovers will revel in their spirited rivalry. You’ll never lack for music, theater and festival choices in the Triangle, and transit is simple, since anyone 65 and older can take a Triangle Transit bus for free. The Raleigh-Durham airport makes travel convenient and quick.
There are lots of reasons Florida is such a popular retirement destination: The beach, the climate, Florida’s lack of tax on Social Security benefits and breaks on property taxes among them. Gainesville has all this, and they also have a fun, quirky culture the makes the city distinctive from the rest of the state. You’ll find all the amenities of a big city, including sports, golf, museums and shopping, but you also get a dose of the charming character of Old Florida, complete with Victorian-style houses, wrought iron fences and cobblestone streets. Seniors can take classes at The University of Florida, and nature lovers will enjoy strolls under Gainesville’s beautiful canopy of trees and trips to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Charleston, South Carolina
Anyone familiar with Charleston knows that the city is picture-perfect. From the gorgeous, brightly colored homes of Rainbow Row to the waterfront to the city’s many churches and historical homes, it’s hard to beat The Holy City for sightseeing. Life in the Lowcountry offers the quintessential Southern experience with days seeped in history, porch sitting, friendly chats with neighbors and incredible Southern food. You’ll find the best of the big city as far as culture, theater and museums go, but the crime rate in Charleston is low, plus South Carolina offers property tax breaks to retirees and has no tax on Social Security benefits.
Looking for a quiet, charming town that’s close enough to the nation’s capital that it’s easy to swing by for business or historical sight-seeing? Leesburg is perfect. Horse farms, rolling hills and stone walls paint a picturesque landscape leading to a tiny downtown lined with charming shops in historic brick buildings. History buffs will love the Marshall House, Morven Park and Ball’s Bluff Battlefield, and nature lovers will adore Catoctin Mountain Park. Throughout the year, residents love acoustic music on First Fridays, farmers’ markets on Saturday mornings, and annual events like the classic car show and the flower and garden festival. Washington, D.C. with all its amenities is just an hour away.