South's Best Retirement Towns 2019
Ready to trade rush hour and conference calls for a golf cart and the local coffee house? Whether retirement is just around the corner or somewhere down the line, check out these Southern towns. They’re perfect for it.
Check Out These Communities Perfect for Settling Down
Lucky you, with the Barter Theatre's professional plays, plenty of bluegrass and other local music, and the Virginia Creeper Trail for pedaling. Take the Creeper Trail Bike Rental's shuttle to the peak of Whitetop Mountain, and cruise down through gorgeous scenery. You can also walk or jog this former railroad lumber route. The College for Older Adults brings residents Shakespeare, tai chi, sculpting, and more. Your visitors can soak up the history at The Martha Washington Inn & Spa.
Rekindle your love for rock "n" roll in this town known for its music scene. Sign up for classes at the University of Georgia's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (no tests, no grades). Don't miss 5 & 10 and The National, two restaurants by James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson. Mama's Boy is known for breakfast, while Weaver D's is a soul food must (especially if the words "Automatic for the People" mean anything to you). Also on the Athens menu: golfing, biking, and Georgia Bulldog everything.
Football rules this rural Alabama town, where the Auburn University students mingle happily with locals—including the retirees who love all the golf, arts, and culture available on "The Plains" and enjoy the excitement and energy of those Tigers. It's easily worth the move here for Acre's pimiento cheese and burgers alone. Nearby Chewacla State Park has a nice lake for water recreation, six renovated stone cabins that were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and sites for RV and tent camping. The state capital, Montgomery, is about an hour away, which makes urban amenities—and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival—easily accessible.
In this cosmopolitan town with its own symphony, ballet, and choral society, you will find hints of the regional heritage too. See a collection of Western and Native American art at the Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve. The city's events include an Oklahoma Indian Summer Festival. Besides a park-and-trail system, Bartlesville can offer you a state with over 200 lakes, the Ouachita and Wichita Mountains, and lots of sun (they promise 234 days). Bonus: Bartlesville is home to the OKM Music Festival and Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper, and the Pioneer Woman Mercantile is about 30 minutes away.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Enjoy mountain living your way. Watch hikers start (or finish) the Appalachian Trail at its southernmost point nearby; ramble through neighboring wineries and orchards; or tube down the Toccoa River. Volunteer to build sets for the Blue Ridge Community Theater, or take a job as a host on a train car on the railroad. East Main Street downtown is loaded with locally owned shops and restaurants. The dining scene is something special, thanks in part to husband-and-wife team chef Danny Mellman and writer Michelle Moran, who have opened six restaurants in the area. Don't miss inventive farm-to-table cuisine at their Harvest on Main, along with Blue Ridge landmark Chester Brunnenmeyer's Bar & Grill and other downtown eateries.
Brevard, North Carolina
Brevard is a gathering kind of place. Locals congregate in restaurants, bakeries, breweries, even the grocery store—and talk to one another. With fewer than 8,000 people, it's also home to the renowned Brevard Music Center and its Summer Institute & Festival that brings around 80 performances to town each June. (The artistic director is native son and Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart.) Surrounding Transylvania County has over 250 waterfalls, with much of the land near Brevard protected as parks. You can take a hike, ride a bike, and paddle the historic French Broad River and enjoy an impressive arts scene— all of which are just a stone's throw from happening Asheville.
TOURISTS LOVE TO VISIT this spot, but you can call it home. Tampa's smaller neighbor (population just over 36,000) can claim some of the South's prettiest beaches. Dunedin is just a causeway drive from Honeymoon Island State Park, a nature lover's paradise. From the park, hop on a ferry to a rarity in Florida—an all-natural beach—at Caladesi Island State Park. Dunedin also has a quaint downtown with great local boutiques and eateries, and it hosts all kinds of festivals each year. As a local, you'll frequent the Fenway Hotel. Opened in 1927, it's an icon of the Jazz Age with Spanish Colonial architecture and a rooftop bar. For romantic dinners, you'll turn to The Black Pearl, and for the beer scene, try Woodwright Brewing (part brewery, part woodshop), Dunedin Brewery (Florida's oldest microbrewery), and 7venth Sun Brewery (dog friendly and small batch). Big-city entertainment is less than 25 miles away in Tampa.
The Chesapeake Bay Light Tower provides a striking landmark for this Talbot County jewel on Maryland's Eastern Shore, with its historic Avalon Theatre and easy access to two major cities. However, you can pick and choose your time in the hustle and bustle because the population of Easton is just over 16,000. Find plenty of shops and restaurants in the pedestrian-friendly downtown, known for its beautiful Colonial and Victorian architecture. Bike trails slow you to a see-everything pace—and might even include a ferry ride. And there's a thriving arts community here (not to mention pub crawls and golf). Sure, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore are near, but your heart will be pure Eastern Shore.
When the heritage is German, the landscape is rolling Texas Hill Country, vineyards are flush with grapes for wines, bluebonnets carpet the area in spring, plump peaches ripen by summer, and the atmosphere is Southwestern friendly, congratulations—you've just found a town that has it all. There's a museum dedicated to World War II's Pacific theater and more than 100 restaurants, from German to Tex-Mex. Visit Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for hiking, rock climbing, birding, or stargazing. And everybody loves Wildseed Farms, featuring fields of flowers with more brilliant colors than a rainbow.
Maybe it's the unbeatable turkey sandwich at Pearl Street Station. Or perhaps it's Granbury Chamber of Commerce ambassador Faye Landham, who invites the newcomers to Music, Massage & Merlot parties at D'Vine Wine Granbury on the historic square. For one reason or another, you'll feel at home here. There's a great biergarten run by German transplants. Lakefront lots offer plenty of homes with views, while wineries, local shops, and Eighteen Ninety Grille and Lounge (known for shrimp and grits) set you mingling with neighbors. A trolley whisks you around town. In a state known for all things big, Granbury likes it small, cozy, and friendly.
Havre de Grace, Maryland
Pronounced "HAV-er-dee-grace," it sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay and offers maritime, decoy, and history museums. (Marquis de Lafayette visited and is said to have inspired the name.) Retirees come here for waterfront views, local festivals, and the Bulle Rock Golf Course, which was designed by Pete Dye—not to mention all the fresh seafood you'd expect from a town perched on the Chesapeake Bay.
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Roughly twice the size of Manhattan, Hot Springs Village was built with retirees in mind: nine golf courses (from beginner to scratch), 11 recreational lakes (filled with crappie and bass, along with people canoeing and kayaking), 14 pickleball courts, 13 tennis courts, a plethora of pools, saunas, massage therapy opportunities, and a variety of classes. Social clubs (it has about 200 in all) offer like-minded residents bridge, classic cars, quilting, birding, Master Gardening, and plenty more. Enjoy miles of hiking and biking trails. Frequent Hot Springs (about 20 minutes away) for its live horse racing in the spring, historic bathhouses, and casino resort. We hear that Al Capone used to hang out in these parts, but that's history. Besides, your new community is gated.
You're a little over an hour from New Orleans—and in a completely different world. Retire to the beat of Cajun music—the Jolly Inn's dance hall will get you started—and the taste of beignets, spicy gumbo, and crawfish boudin. The annual Rougarou Fest sums up the local culture in a weekend—so does the resplendent family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration. In the impressive Chauvin Sculpture Garden, you can mosey from art to swamp tours in an instant. Drive the coastal wetlands; go birding on nature trails; and fish, fish, fish in this town listed as a Louisiana Certified Retirement Community.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Does the local barista know your regular order? Lewisburg is everybody-knows-everybody friendly. With its own Carnegie Hall, professional theater, and plenty of good shopping and dining, this town balances its charming Allegheny Mountain culture with the sophistication of The Greenbrier resort just down the road. Lewisburg is over 200 years old, with impressive architecture, including the 236-acre historic district. The Greenbrier River and the Greenbrier River Trail offer outdoor getaways, whether you're paddling, walking, or running.
This one's for you, outdoorsy boys and girls. The Great Smoky Mountains embrace you in this cozy little town that's surrounded by the rich culture of Appalachia. If your retirement includes a motorcycle, The Dragon and Foothills Parkways await. On the flip side, Maryville offers a drive-in movie, live theater, ballet, and artists inspired by the mountains. When you're ready for urban amenities, Knoxville's airport, restaurants, medical facilities, shopping, and beloved Tennessee Vols are about 30 minutes away. Who knows? Orange just might be your new color.
If "NACK-a-tish" looks familiar, you must be a fan of Steel Magnolias, which was filmed in town. You can even book a room at the Steel Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast. Enjoy the Cajun influences here and the cultural offerings that come from being a college town—it's home to Northwestern State University. Natchitoches has a beautiful National Historic District, plus Natchitoches Alligator Park and the famed annual Christmas Festival. Can't you just hear Truvy offering Shelby some iced tea?
New Bern, North Carolina
Set on the Trent and Neuse Rivers, this coastal Carolina charmer offers Georgian and Federal-style architecture and an interesting history, along with abundant outdoor recreation—from biking and hiking to golfing and kayaking. They have all this plus music and theater. Just don't ask for a Coke; Pepsi was born here. If you enjoy an active lifestyle and love a waterfront environment, put New Bern on your list of towns to check out.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
With over 300 local artists and some 200 independent shops, galleries, nightspots, and restaurants, you will stay busy here. A gorgeous waterfront town with Gulf breezes, cottagey storefronts, and legendary eats from The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint, Ocean Springs is home to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival, and the Anderson family's Shearwater Pottery. Find an array of great local boutiques and restaurants dotting Washington Avenue and Government Street (don't miss Hillyer House gallery or Miner's Doll & Toy Store). Local chef Alex Perry of Vestige restaurant is a 2019 James Beard Award Best Chef South semifinalist. You can walk off all of that gourmet fare on the pedestrian bridge over the bay and enjoy some exciting casino entertainment in Biloxi, Ocean Springs' neighbor to the west.
A popular harbor for boats traveling the Chesapeake Bay, this town of just over 1,200 was founded in 1680. You'll love all the beautiful Victorian mansions as well as the quaint, locally owned shops and scenic creeks—all of which create a perfect spot for relaxation. Locals set sail or take to paddleboards and other watercraft here. Dining options include seafood from Mallards at the Wharf, breakfast at Janet's General Store Cafe, and doughnuts at the Corner Bakery. You can also visit an old-time movie theater, take in the arts scene, and even kayak to a winery.
Ormond Beach, Florida
John D. Rockefeller loved it here around 100 years ago. You'll be equally enchanted with the beach, the historic downtown, and Rockefeller's former winter home—The Casements—which is now the city's Cultural Center. You can almost hear the roar from neighboring Daytona Beach, the birthplace of NASCAR. There's no roar at all in blissfully serene Ormond Beach. And beautiful St. Augustine, with its restaurants and tourist attractions, is about an hour to the north.
As one of a handful of UNESCO Creative Cities in the U.S. (180 worldwide), Paducah feeds your soul with gallery openings, art films, concerts, theater—and quilting, the city's pride. (The National Quilt Museum is here, as are the Paducah School of Art and Design and the spring QuiltWeek every April.) Paducah's creative community also includes the Yeiser Art Center, Market House Theatre, Clemens Fine Arts Center, and Paducah Symphony Orchestra. The LowerTown Arts District has a great variety of art galleries. Add bird-watching, fishing, hiking, and boating to the offerings, plus a thriving downtown with 19th-century buildings that house everything from dining to nightlife, and you have one fantastic retirement location.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
This nearly 4-mile-long barrier island is ideal for lazy days spent crabbing and reading Pat Conroy novels. Hang out in a locally made hammock, or tee off on one of the Grand Strand's fabled golf courses—just a putt or two away. Buzzing Myrtle Beach, home of the SkyWheel and the shag, is less than an hour from Pawleys Island, while Murrells Inlet dining options and beautiful Brookgreen Gardens are even closer. Set on 9,127 acres, Brookgreen artfully marries a sculpture garden with a botanical one, creating an awe-inspiring landscape that captures the wonderful spirit of South Carolina.
Located between Bentonville and Fayetteville is Rogers, the mellowest of the three. And no wonder, with all the natural beauty in this area. Hiking, biking, and water recreation abound—the town is less than 20 miles from Beaver Lake on the White River and about 70 miles from the Buffalo National River. Historic storefronts give Rogers a wonderfully retro Main Street. With the University of Arkansas in one direction and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the other, there's no shortage of cultural offerings nearby.
San Marcos, Texas
Here's another college town (Texas State University) to keep you young. The nearby San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers await; glass-bottomed boat rides are available, along with fishing, tubing, paddling, and other water recreation. Enjoy local eateries and shops on the downtown square. The Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos is an iconic music venue that helped launch the likes of George Strait and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's enough to make you trade your golf cap for a cowboy hat.
Summerville, South Carolina
Settle in, and sip on some tea. Summerville claims to be the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea" (hence the annual Sweet Tea Festival; the Sweet Tea Trail that leads throughout the historic town; and Mason, a giant Mason jar near City Hall, listed on the Guinness World Records site as the "largest iced tea" at over 2,000 gallons). Summerville is pure Lowcountry, like "elder sister" Charleston 25 miles to the southeast. The 12-acre Azalea Park and walkable historic district exude dignified charm, and a new bandstand in the renovated downtown square promises visitors a great time. Middleton Place, just a 20-minute drive from town, features the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States.