Tallahassee, Florida, Is the Ultimate Sunshine State Retirement Spot

Retirees in this sunny city play a vital community role.

If you think only of beaches when you dream of Florida, think again. There's a lot happening inland that deserves your attention. The Sunshine State's capital city is one of those spots that deserves a second look. Despite having a population nearing 200,000, Tallahassee still has a small-town feel. That's thanks to its location along the Big Bend where the state's panhandle meets the peninsula. This places it away from the sprawl of Central and South Florida, and the climate is mild year-round. Plus, the Gulf's white-sand beaches are just 40 minutes to the south, and golfers can always find a tee time.

Tallahassee is home to a large community college and two major universities—Florida State and Florida A&M, the latter of which is one of the leading public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Along with lots of high-level sports from Tallahassee's big colleges, locals enjoy something extra from Florida A&M—performances by the Marching 100, one of the world's most innovative and influential marching bands.

State Capitol on Florida in Tallahassee
Chris Boswell/Getty Images

Retire to Tallahassee and you'll find that the universities and community colleges offer classes, events, and other opportunities for enrichment to those with free time and a desire to grow and learn. And the learning goes both ways. The AARP recently partnered with a shared workspace named Domi to create an innovation incubator program called Third Act, which taps into the expertise of people 50 and older.

Railroad Square Craft House in Tallahassee, FL
Railroad Square Craft House is part grub pub, part entertainment venue. Lydia Belle

There's also a bunch of great outdoor attractions in and around Tallahassee. At Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, you'll find 1,176 acres to explore. The property is both a botanical garden and historic site with nature trails, biking trails, and shared-use trails along with stunning gardens. (Peak bloom usually falls in mid-to-late March.) The Tallahassee Museum also has outdoor trails along with indoor exhibits on the history and ecology of the area.

Tallahassee, Florida
Sean Pavone Photo/Getty Images

Don't miss Cascades Park, a city greenspace that stretches 24 acres along the St. Augustine Branch stream. Another must-visit spot is Mission San Luis, a Spanish Franciscan mission built in 1656 that is now a living history museum. Visitors can see reconstructions of Apalachee and Spanish structures and learn about the history and archaeology of the site.

Leon County Canopy Roads in Florida
Leon County, home to Tallahassee, has a number of “canopy roads” that are now protected by law. Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg/Alamy

The city also has lots to recommend it in the way of arts and culture. There's always something happening at the Railroad Square Art District, where galleries, shops, and monthly festivals celebrate the visual arts as well as live music. (It's also a destination for antiques and cafes!)

Given these and other selling points (including the fact that Florida has no state income tax), Tallahassee has always been a popular place to retire, but the city and its civic leaders are pouring energy into attracting retirees. "We have one of the nation's best parks-and-recreation departments," says Gregg Patterson, who's executive director of Choose Tallahassee, a nonprofit organization promoting the city as a relocation destination. "You can play pickleball and also take free lifelong-learning classes."

You're more likely to find Patterson taking a stroll than playing pickleball. He and his wife have walked across Spain, Portugal, and Scotland, and he also leads Move Tallahassee, a thriving local walking group. He says he's nearing retirement himself and is happy he won't have to move. "I came here to go to Florida State in the 1970s and never left. After four children and four grand-children, I'm here for good," he says. Visit Tallahassee, and you just might be tempted to say the same.

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