9 of the Smartest Retirement Locations in the US

When it comes to retirement destinations, you can find an endless number of lists ranking the best and worst spots to live out your golden years.

My take is it really depends on how you want your retirement to look.

Of course you want to stretch your dollar as far as it will go, but you’re also not going to do it at the expense of losing friends and family.

A survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, found that the top reason people move in retirement is to be closer to family.

So, if your kids and grandkids are living in Michigan and you have your eyes set on sunny Florida, you might not be renting that U-Haul so fast.

That said there are some key factors to consider when choosing where to live in retirement.

Two of the most common factors you should consider are cost of living and quality of life. Other factors to be weighed are:

  • Housing costs
  • Tax rates
  • Health care
  • Climate
  • Overall happiness of residents

As I said, the best place to retire will ultimately depend on the retiree but here are my top 9 destinations in the US.

Most of the cities on this list have a moderate to low cost of living, and all are located in states that exempt all or a portion of retirement income from taxes, with the exception of one.

Bella Vista, AR

Located in the northwest corner of Arkansas, 200 miles south of Kansas City, Bella Vista is a scenic town in the Ozarks.

The median home price is $171,000, 31% below the national median. Cost of living is 4% below the national average.

Pros: Good air quality, warm climate. Many lakes. Low crime rate. Good economy. Adequate doctors per capita. No state income tax on Social Security and up to $6,000 of other retirement income per person. No state estate or inheritance tax.

Cons: Not very walkable.

Delray Beach, FL

Delray Beach is a beach town with a population of 69,000, just north of Fort Lauderdale. Median home price is $205,000, 18% below the national median. Cost of living is 10% above the national average.

Pros: Abundant doctors per capita. Good air quality. Walkable and bikeable for the most part. Good economy. No state income or estate/inheritance tax.

Cons: Serious crime rate above the national average.

Clearwater, FL

Population 116,000 and wedged between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, the sun is always shining in Clearwater. Median home price $211,000, 15% below the national median. Cost of living is 5% above the national average.

Pros: Good air quality. High number of doctors per capita. Highly bikeable, somewhat walkable. Strong economy. No state income tax or estate/inheritance tax.

Cons: Serious crime rate somewhat above the national average.

Pittsburgh, PA

Home of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and Chatham University, Pittsburgh is clustered around three major rivers. The population is 303,000.

Median home price is $151,000, 39% below the national median. Cost of living is 6% below the national average.

Pros: High number of doctors per capita. Great for biking and walking. Strong volunteer community. Good economy. No state income tax on Social Security or most retirement income.

Cons: Cold winters. Poor air quality. Serious crime rate above the national average.

Rochester, NY

Home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic, with a population of 116,000 people, Rochester is about 85 miles southeast of Minneapolis.

Median home price is $221,000, 11% below the national median. Cost of living is 2% below the national average.

Pros: High ratio of doctors per capita. Good air quality. Low serious crime rate. Good economy. Very bikeable.

Cons: Cold winters. Not very walkable. State estate tax. State income tax imposed on all Social Security earnings and pension income.

Lawrence, KS

Lawrence is a college town, home of the University of Kansas and it has a population of 97,000 people. Median home price is $208,000, 17% below the national average. Cost of living is at the national average.

Pros: High rank on Milken Institute list of best cities for successful aging, adequate physicians per capita. Strong economy. Low crime rate. Good air quality. Very bikeable, somewhat walkable.

Cons: Cold winters, state income tax on Social Security earnings.

San Antonio, TX

Located in the south of Texas, San Antonio has a population of 1.5 million. Median home price is $176,000, 29% below the national median. And cost of living is 3% below the national average.

Pros: Good ratio of doctors per capita. Good air quality. Warm climate. Good economy. No state income tax, no state estate/inheritance tax. Somewhat bikeable. Big cultural scene.

Cons: Serious crime rate above the national average. Not easily walkable.

Palm Bay, FL

Population 114,000, Palm Bay is located 75 miles southeast of Orlando. The median home price is $178,000, 29% below the national median. Cost of living is 3% below the national average.

Pros: Sunshine. Good air quality. Ratio of doctors per capita above the national average. Good economy. No state income or state estate/inheritance tax.

Cons: Serious crime rate somewhat above the national average. Not easily walkable.

Savannah, GA

Savannah has a population of 146,000, it’s located 30 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is a beautiful river city. The median home price is $135,000, 46% below the national average. Cost of living is 12% below the national average.

Pros: Mild winters. Good air quality. Enough physicians per capita. Good for walking and biking. Social Security plus up to $65,000 per person of retirement income exempt from state income tax. No state estate/inheritance tax.

Cons: Serious crime rate slightly above the national average. Flat economy.


There is a lot to take into account when you are looking for a place to settle down.

Your family, finances, and personal taste will play a huge role in your decision, but it’s important to know what your options are.

If you are able, visiting some of these locations may be a good excuse for a vacation so you can “test retire” there for a week or two.

There is no “cookie cutter” answer. Just make sure wherever you find yourself, it’s a place you want to see yourself for some time to come.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap

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