How To Find The Best Place To Enjoy Your Retirement

Last year, Brad and Penny Bibey realized they could make a killing selling their Camarillo, Calif. house, 60 miles west of Los Angeles and just five minutes from the beach in the booming real estate market of Ventura County. They’d lived in the house for 23 years, and in the city for 35, but were ready to escape California’s high living costs and taxes and to find a place to indulge their shared passion for golf—Brad’s handicap is 10; Penny’s is 4. So last August, they moved to Pinehurst, N.C., the center of nearly 40 golf courses, including nine that are part of the famous Pinehurst Resort. The four-bedroom, four-bath home they bought is maybe 700 yards from the first tee of Pinehurst #2, the best-known course. “We’re big golfers,” Brad says, “but it got boring (in California) playing the same course.” Brad, 68, and Penny, 64, are still working remotely—he owns a commercial printing business, she brokers refined fuels. But at least one of them is on the links most days of the week.

Pinehurst, a booming hamlet of 17,000 between Charlotte and Raleigh, is one of the picks on Forbes’ new list of The 25 Best Places To Enjoy Your Retirement In 2021. Our roster contains places in 18 states and all four continental time zones that we judge are the best across seven broad areas of retirement interests. The pursuits: (1) arts/culture, (2) fine dining, (3) lifelong learning, (4) volunteering, (5) outdoor activities of water, (6) outdoor activities on land, and (7) golf, a sub-category of land activities. The full list can be found here.

Most of the places on the list are good for several passions. Austin, Tex., stands out for access to all seven, and Boston, Mass., for six. But golf is the only top-of-class passion we cite in Pinehurst. That turned out to be enough for the Bibeys, who long had had their eyes on Pinehurst, first visiting 16 years ago. Among other factors, they were taken by the relatively mild weather, which, of course, allows for year-round golf.

The Bibeys were open to other locations in the Southeast. but kept coming back to Pinehurst. As it became clear their California house would sell quickly for a good price, they stepped up their hunting around Pinehurst—all online—for both possible investment properties and a place to live. Brad cold-called real estate agents and found Mark Gentry of RE/MAX Prime Properties. They ended up trusting him enough that they bought the house near Pinehurst #2 without first visiting it and are very satisfied. “We have no plans to move again,’’ declares Brad. 

The Bibeys aren’t alone. Despite Covid-19, Americans of retirement age are getting on with their lives and taking advantage of low mortgage rates and the ease of online real estate shopping to downsize, move to cheaper housing markets or move to their dream locales. The work-from-home boom spawned by the pandemic has allowed some of those nearing retirement to move before they actually retire. But others have responded to Covid-19 by speeding up their retirement—according to the Pew Research Center, more than three million Baby Boomers retired in 2020, double the number the year before.

Gallery: The 25 Best Places To Enjoy Your Retirement

26 images

View gallery

Jim Wheeler, an architect, and Nancy Scheinman, a painter and commercial artist, are among those who moved up their retirement plans—although their move last year to the mountain hamlet of Santa Fe., N.M. was long in the making.

As residents of Towson, Md., Jim, now 66, and Nancy, 63, first visited the state capital of New Mexico in 2000 when she had an art show there. “We visited regularly and fell in love with the place,” she says. By 2004 it dawned on them that Santa Fe might be their retirement destination. Jim says they considered other places, including Sarasota, Fla., Tucson, Ariz. and Rehoboth Beach, Del., but their thinking kept returning to Santa Fe. The city is on our list for its arts/culture and fine dining scenes, and a plethora of outdoor land activities, including skiing and hiking, both of which they enjoy.

In 2011, taking advantage of real estate prices still depressed in the wake of the Great Recession, they finally bought a home in Santa Fe. But they used it only for visits, getting to know neighbors and other locals. “The plan was to evolve into Santa Fe slowly,” Nancy says. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted their relocation in March 2020. “It speeded things up,” she says.

Besides the emphasis on retirement hobbies, the Passions retirement list differs from our annual and widely noted Best Places To Retire list—the latest of which was published in May—in one other significant way. We don’t take economic factors, such as median home cost, cost of living and state taxation, quite as much into account, although we note this data in the individual write-ups. So there are some pricey places on this list, including Bend, Ore., Boston, Boulder, Colo., and Scottsdale, Ariz. But at the same time homes in more than half the places are near or below the national median home price of $360,000, as calculated by the National Association of Realtors. They include Athens, Ga.; Boone, N.C.; Dallas, Fayetteville, Ark.; Gainesville, Fla.; Iowa City, Pittsfield, Mass.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Walla Walla, Wash. Pinehurst’s median home price is $357,000, 1% below the national median.

But as in our general list in May, one thing we do pay a lot of attention to is vulnerability to climate change/natural hazard risk. As a result, a number of big cities on past lists of best places for retirement leisure pursuits are off, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., as is the beach town of Sarasota.

Our choices are listed alphabetically, with the particular leisure passions a place caters to, noted for each.

To compile the list, we looked at more than 500 places around the country, reviewing a lot of data we put through our evaluative metrics. We eliminated places with populations below 10,000 on the theory there would be an inadequate supply of housing. For the skinny on specific passions and the best places for them, we reviewed scores of published evaluations by experts and enthusiasts.

While economic factors were not dispositive in this list, other factors are more so. We weigh many of the same quality of life factors used for the Best Places To Retire list: doctors per capita, serious crime, air quality, and how walkable and bikeable a specific place is.

We include a description of state taxation because relocating folks want to know about this. Four places on the list have no state income taxes: Austin, Clearwater, Fla.; Gainesville, Fla.; and Walla Walla. One has no sales tax: Bend. We note whether Social Security benefits are subject to income tax at the state level (they aren’t in most places, but you’re out of luck in Salt Lake City and Santa Fe), whether pension income gets a state income break (yes, in 11 places), and whether there’s a state estate or inheritance tax (present in Annapolis, Md.; Bend, Boston, Iowa City, Pittsfield, Mass.; Portland, Me.; and Walla Walla). 

Our hard data come from a number of sources. Median home prices are provided in most instances by the Realtors and zillow.com. Cost of living data is courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and bestplaces.net. Serious crime stats are drawn from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and neighborhoodscout.com. Air quality metrics are collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Assessments of walkability (the ability to stroll easily to basic retail businesses and mass transit for everyday needs) and bikeability (same idea using pedaling) come from walkscore.com and the League of American Bicyclists. The ambience for volunteering comes from barda.org and volunteeringinamerica.gov.

On the climate change/natural hazard component, FEMA’s new National Risk Index for Natural Hazards calculates for every county in the country a relative vulnerability measure for 18 natural hazards, including flooding, hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes. We also use the University of Notre Dame Urban Adaption Assessment, which is less inclusive geographically but focuses more on climate change issues such as rising sea levels and heat.   

Comments are closed.