So you are retired and not bound by schools, the commute, meeting clients, or being where others want you to be. You are free to live where you want at last. If you’re here, you’ve clearly chosen to live in the States.
The choice is huge when it comes to selecting a specific location. So where are the best places to live in the USA in retirement?
Choose your preferred lifestyle
The USA is a pretty sophisticated country where, as a Brit, you will feel quickly at home. A great bonus is that you can also pretty much choose the climate you want to live in.
If you prefer a tropical climate – try the southern tip of Florida.
Are you in love with skiing and mountaineering? – the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch and Bighorn mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada, and the Cascade Range offer a truly alpine climate.
The Californian coast offers a Mediterranean-like climate, and coastal Oregon and Washington are cool temperate oceanic areas.
The USA coastal locations are very popular among retirees: they offer great weather all year round and a certain degree of sophistication, which helps to make your retirement years comfortable and hassle-free.
When speaking about where the best places to live in the USA are, it is almost always about the two eternal rivals: the west and east coasts. Both are glorious and both have their strong points, so in the end, it always comes down to personal preferences.
If you head to the east coast or the Gulf states, you will arrive at one of the international airports in Florida: Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), Orlando Sanford (SFB), or Tampa (TPA), and the whole journey will take you around nine hours from the UK.
Florida – the Sunshine State
Florida is dazzling. This little peninsula known as the Sunshine State is one of the most fabulous coastal destinations in the world, not only because of its gorgeous beaches but also because of how much goes on in Florida in terms of entertainment and active lifestyle.
Florida constantly dominates Best Places To Retire lists, largely because of its affordable homes, low taxes and high ratings for happiness and desirability.
This panhandle shaped south-eastern tip of the USA, which guards the Gulf of Mexico against the Atlantic, is renowned for miles and miles of splendid beaches along both coasts. In fact, you’ll find about 700 miles of fine sandy beaches of the Florida coastline to explore.
There are plenty of lovely villages, towns and lively cities to choose from: lesser-known places like Okeechobee, Immokalee and Kissimmee side by side with the very familiar names of St. Petersburg, Panama City, Naples and Melbourne.
And then there is Latin flavoured and artistic Miami with the crazy nightlife of its upscale South Beach. Or the ultimate theme park paradise Orlando including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando (beware if your grandkids are Harry Potter fans – that’s where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located).
There is even a Hollywood, and although it is not as glamorous as its Californian namesake, you can still greatly enjoy the place while taking a two and a half-mile long beachside stroll.
Delightfully clean and gentle sands of the award-winning beaches of the Gulf Coast are favourites with retirees. Florida also offers fantastic national parks, exotic wildlife, manicured golf courses and fishing in spots where your catch is guaranteed and can be barbecued for dinner in the evenings.
Charlotte Harbour – Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda
Charlotte Harbour is considered to be one of the best destinations in the world (not just in Florida) for golf, sailing and retiring.
Charlotte Harbour is a charming place, typically American in style and feel, framing the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Dozens of man-made waterways cut deep into the shores of the harbour in very orderly parallel lines, forming streets, lanes and cul de sacs.
The beaches in the harbour and around are white and quiet. They attract a lot of wildlife and are perfect places to watch birds, dolphins and sea turtles.
At the head of Charlotte Bay are two towns, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. They face each other across the Peace River connected by the Gilchrist Bridge.
Punta Gorda has more of a small town feel with little cafes nestled all along its Main Street, Saturday morning farmers markets, there are tons of community events, and walking and bike paths.
Port Charlotte is a larger residential community with more amenities and a big shopping mall.
Both towns have a substantial percentage of retirees and winter residents, and aren't very popular with tourists. They are great locations if you are looking for a quieter lifestyle.
When you see them for the first time, you might like the look and feel of Punta Gorda better.
However, Port Charlotte has everything needed for a convenient life. Punta Gorda residents are constantly travelling into Port Charlotte for one thing or another – doctor appointments, shopping in stores that Punta Gorda does not have, etc.
If you want to have a great night out, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda won't quite provide what you need. You’d better go to Sarasota, Fort Myers or Naples. Tampa, Orlando or Miami will be your closest destinations for big music events.
Georgia – the Peach State
Georgia is a great retirement destination. The weather is fab and the cost of living will pleasantly surprise you. It’s also the second healthiest state according to US News' annual ranking of the country's Healthiest Communities. Now throw in favourable taxation and Georgia might very well go straight to the top of your shortlist.
The negative aspect of Georgia is the summer heat: 37-38℃ and 95% humidity can feel awful. And summer in Georgia goes from February to November.
There are some fantastic communities in Georgia, making it perfect for a comfortable and peaceful retirement.
Sandy Springs is just outside Atlanta. You will have convenient access to everything the city has while living in a quiet and luxurious suburb surrounded by golf courses and beautiful parks, such as the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, that offer endless trails through forests and amazing views.
Augusta is conveniently situated between three major cities: Atlanta, Savannah and Columbia, SC. So a couple of hours in three different directions takes you to three completely different places. The cost of living in Augusta is simply great. You can buy a nice family home in a decent neighbourhood for under $150k or a great house, with a pool and 3 car garage, 3000 sq ft plus for $250k.
Augusta is a weird hybrid of big-city and small-town living. It’s quite a sizable sprawl but has no big city hype. And you will have all the amenities you need for a comfortable retirement.
The downside of Augusta is that it’s not a coastal town. It takes about 3 hours to drive to the coast.
If a coast is very important for you, look at Savannah.
Savannah has a slower pace of life than most of the country. The city is just gorgeous and has a small-town feel. It’s very green, full of parks and picnic areas. In general, the city is very walkable and bikeable, a bit quasi-European in this respect.
It’s very close to pristine beaches and marshland. The cost of living is low for the most part. The weather is fantastic for 9 months out of the year.
Like any place, Savannah is not without problems. There are serious economic and racial segregation issues in the city. The consequences are that some of the city areas are not very safe or pleasant to live in. The residents also complain about traffic.
South Carolina is known for its beautiful coast, that's why so many people choose to retire there.
It offers an abundance of outdoor activities including world-class golf courses and historic sites, various water sports, coastal and mountain hikes and much more. Winters are quite mild, so you can stay active all year round.
The state’s property taxes are lower compared to the rest of the country. Retirees can also benefit from a number of tax deductions there. However, the house prices in the most popular areas are quite high.
Just like in Georgia, summers in South Carolina are hot and humid and there’s no escaping hurricane season.
When buying a property there, make sure your chosen area is not affected by flooding.
Myrtle Beach is becoming quite popular with retirees. It has reasonable house prices and allows its residents to enjoy a seaside lifestyle all year round.
There are great restaurants, numerous golf courses, and tons of leisure activities and events, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever get bored. And the local seafood is amazingly good.
Charleston is another place to consider for your retirement.
This small charming city offers a laid back lifestyle and welcoming local communities. It has miles and miles of stunning beaches and offers all imaginable water activities.
The risk of flooding can be a great downside, so choose your area carefully.
North Carolina also boasts breathtaking mountain views and stunning coastlines.
It’s definitely one of the best places for outdoorsy sorts of people. Hiking trails, lakes, streams and rivers are in abundance, and with winters being mild you can enjoy them all year round. Plus, the cost of living is below the national average, so what’s not to like?
Asheville is one of the most popular locations in North Carolina. It’s both affordable and desirable.
The residents proudly call it the culinary capital of the world. It is, indeed, the place to be if you are a devoted foodie. You will find tasty food, an abundance of craft beer, and a very lively music and art scene.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests are not far away, and you can always entertain yourself going on a breathtaking drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Asheville attracts artists, writers, musicians and other arty people, hence its unique atmosphere and a sense of community.
Because it takes just a bit longer for Britons to fly over to the west coast than to the east, it is not as popular with British retirees as it deserves to be.
In general, travelling to the west coast of the USA will prolong your journey by about 3 hours, and after approximately an 11-hour journey you will reach either the international airport of Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO).
The west coast of the States is as sunny and beautiful as the east. And on the whole, the western states are very popular with visitors and tourists: Hollywood fans are drawn to Tinseltown in their thousands, people want to see San Diego and Yosemite National Park, and rent a car and have a ride along the Pacific Coast Highway.
The best way to get to know the west coast is to rent a car and set off driving.
Driving from California to Las Vegas can be an unforgettable experience if you haven’t seen a desert before. Halfway between Bakersfield and Barstow everything green disappears or becomes so scarce that it doesn’t really count as vegetation, and you'll be looking out at the open desert almost the entire way to Las Vegas.
All in all, providing you do comply with the speed limits, it will take you just over 6 hours to reach the party capital of the Nevada desert itself – a gambling, dancing and never-sleeping Sin City.
The State of California stretches along the Pacific coast for almost 900 miles. It is an amazing place both in terms of nature and history.
Nature has managed to cram in this long stretch of land everything from mountains to deserts to farmlands and beaches, whilst historically the place goes from one boom to another: from multinational European exploration and the Gold Rush to the movie industry upsurge and becoming a tech centre of the world.
California is big and versatile. And it has many brilliant locations on offer for retirees. Because it is a popular destination for wealthy pensioners, there are a lot of retirement communities all over the state, which offer all kinds of help and services for those above 55.
Southern California and Los Angeles
Settling down in Los Angeles might take a bit of time, and the process of adapting to the quirkiness of the LA lifestyle can take you by surprise.
Things might happen to you that can feel weird at first, like getting sunburnt in February, losing your small pet to a coyote, becoming car-bound forever and seeing your local waitress/barista in a commercial on TV.
But LA will make it all up to you. It will open its fabulous beaches and parks to you.
You will discover LA beach culture. When you go to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, or Manhattan Beach, you will see what can only be called an ultimate beach experience.
Or if you suddenly get obsessed with a desire to actually get up and walk, you might visit Runyon Canyon – one of the most popular hiking trails for LA celebs and humble residents.
You will soon get to know the 101, 405, and 10 highways and how they go around the city and the rule “not to drive between 4 pm-7 pm” will be printed firmly in your memory.
You might even let LA suck you gently in its vicious “fast food – exercise” circle and start spending mornings in one of the countless LA gyms before going to “In & Out” for the best burger in town.
You might do whatever you want. Just relax and don’t worry much.
Go out of LA to explore SoCal (Southern California). Long Beach, Laguna Beach in Orange County, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, and San Diego are all near and great places to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Northern California – San Jose
San Jose is also known as the capital of Silicon Valley.
The city is the hub of technology and innovation and has been very attractive to tech companies and professionals. The influx of highly skilled expatriates from all over the world has turned the city into a vibrant and multinational place with a rich cultural environment.
San Jose has a nice temperate climate, relatively low crime rates, high income, all the facilities and amenities necessary for comfortable living, and in general, offers its residents an excellent quality of life.
There are plenty of retirement communities in San Jose and around, such as the little town of Los Gatos, for example.
Los Gatos is a truly charming place with unique architecture, where you can enjoy walking around, having a cup of coffee or lunch on the terrace of a coffee house, or simply having a stroll downtown doing window shopping.
Los Gatos is not just a quiet small place outside of a bustling city, it has been ranked as the 33rd wealthiest city in the United States according to Bloomberg Business Week. It offers really high standards of living to its residents.
San Francisco is beautiful: hilly, and foggy, with a touch of Britishness to it, and a certain pride in its heritage.
San Francisco’s famous row of “Painted Ladies” – Victorian houses facing the Alamo Square Park on Steiner Street – features heavily in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city's downtown area.
This city, sitting on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula that separates San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, is eclectic and nonconformist.
It has seen the rise of the “hippie” counterculture, the Sexual Revolution, the Peace Movement, the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement.
San Francisco is cooler than LA. It is genuinely a chillier place due to the cooling Pacific and constant fogs.
It is also a very expensive city to live in, with probably only Manhattan being a viable competitor.
But if you are into it, and don’t mind the hills, the mist and putting layers on after 5 p.m., then you will be rewarded by a fantastic choice of cultural and entertainment events that go on there almost every day of the year.
The authorities don’t think much of shutting down the streets to allow for impromptu performances, and the transport gets quickly reorganised to help people access whatever event is going on.
One might think that San Francisco is not the best destination to retire, it sounds more like a city for the young. Well, it's not true.
San Francisco is one of the top destinations in the USA to retire rich. It already has quite a substantial retired population, and it offers a very high quality of life, including such factors as scenic beauty, weather, and proximity to world-class cultural, medical and airport facilities.
If you do like Northern California, but the chill of San Francisco is a bit too much for you, go inland – to Sacramento.
Sacramento is a beautiful place to live, especially if you look at the east side of Sacramento where all the nice suburbs are such as Folsom, or go out a bit further to El Dorado Hills, Rocklin or Roseville.
As for the climate, Sacramento is much warmer than San Francisco. Actually, the summers in Sacramento are relentlessly hot, and the lakes in the area are very popular for those who want to cool down during a blazing summer afternoon. A few lakes around the city are just a short drive away.
There are all kinds of activities there from kayaking and camping to hiking and even equestrian trails.
Walnut Creek is a good example of a compromise between San Francisco and Sacramento.
It is only 30 miles east of San Francisco. It is also on the BART line (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which makes the journey from Walnut Creek to San Francisco downtown about 35 minutes.
Walnut Creek enjoys warmer weather than San Francisco, and the summers there are not scorching hot either. The place boasts great shopping and eating out experience, and apparently, it is possible to enjoy walking there as it's pedestrian-friendly.
You can read more about California and its locations in our dedicated Living In California guide.
Best places to live in the USA – final thoughts
There are dozens and dozens of fantastic retirement destinations in the States and choosing the best one is a hard task.
The true answer is that there is no single best location for every person. The answer depends entirely on you – and even then, there’s no single best place that truly “has it all” for most people.
The best way to find the right one for you is to explore the country and try different places yourself before committing to one of them.
You might find useful:
- Living In The USA – The Expats' Guide: a detailed guide on moving to the USA.
- The Expat Guide To UK Pensions Abroad – understand what options you have regarding your UK pensions when you move abroad.