If you’re retired–or have been moving towards retirement–you know how hard you’ve worked to get to this point. It’s in realizing this that the Movoto Real Estate Blog team decided that we had to put in some hard work to create a ranking of the best small cities–the quieter, more cozy places–to spend your retirement. One that goes beyond what’s been heretofore available online. Rather than just look at how many retirement-aged people there are in a city and call it a day, we wanted to put together the most accurate, and ultimately useful, top 10 that we could.
What do a bunch of 30-something bloggers really know about retiring right, though? Well, that’s why in researching this ranking, we turned to the experts: actual retirees. Based on their feedback, we created a set of criteria we believe can accurately determine whether or not a city is a good spot to retire in. We’ll get to all that in a moment. First, we have to declare a winner, and the honor of the Best Small City To Retire To based on our research goes to Florissant, MO.
Of course, there are nine other small cities that share the spotlight–if not top honors–with Florissant. The full top 10 is:
1. Florissant, MO
2. West Des Moines, IA
3. Lakewood, OH (tie)
3. Bradenton, FL (tie)
5. Jupiter, FL
6. Sarasota, FL (tie)
6. San Marcos, TX (tie)
8. Cedar Park, TX
9. Hendersonville, TN
10. Fountain Valley, CA
In addition to a hidden retiree treasure that people outside of Missouri have probably never heard of, there’s something that no one should really find surprising: Three of the top 10 cities are in Florida. How did all of these make the cut, though, and what makes each of them special for retirees? That’s what we’ll cover in the rest of this look at America’s best retiree spots.
How We Made This Ranking
Like with all of the other rankings we do here at Movoto, we had to start the process by determining which criteria we were going to use in order to gauge the cities by. As we mentioned above, in order to make sure that this ranking incorporated factors that actually matter to retirees, we looked at previous studies and–most importantly–consulted several retirement-aged individuals to get their feedback. The result was the following criteria:
- Cost of living
- Crime rate
- Weather (average summer temperature and air quality)
- Ease of travel (distance to nearest international airport)
- Retiree amenities per capita (healthcare, senior centers, adult education, dining, shopping, libraries, arts & entertainment)
As for the actual locations we studied, we looked at the same 140 small cities with populations between 50,000 and 60,000 as our Most Exciting Small Cities In America ranking.
Once we had our criteria and our cities, we used U.S. Census data and business listings (within their city limits only) to rank each place from one to 140 across the five main categories, with one being the best possible score. Then, we averaged these individual rankings into one Big Deal Score for each city; again, the lower the better.
When all was said and done, Florissant came out on top. For more on why it did so well, and the rest of our top 10 earned their places on the list, keep reading.
The retiree community of this St. Louis, MO suburb, our No. 1 place to retire in, can find plenty to do, including dances, a golf league, and more at the The James J. Eagan Center or the John F. Kennedy Center. In terms of retiree amenities per capita, florissant ranks 54th, which might not seem so stellar until you consider that we looked at 140 cities for this ranking.
Florissant’s nearly 53,000 residents, of which almost 16 percent are age 65 or older, enjoy the 21st-best cost of living in our ranking at 85 percent of the national average. The city is ranked 39th overall for crime, 55th for weather, and and is tied for 14th for travel with the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport just eight miles away.
This wealthy suburb of Des Moines, IA was known for its thrilling high-speed auto racing around the turn of the center, but these days its retirement aged population–which make up 11 percent of its nearly 60,000 residents–enjoy a much tamer pace of life. It’s one that includes activities at the West Des Moines Community Center and plenty of retiree amenities; enough that the city ranked 22nd overall in that criterion.
For cost of living, West Des Moines ranked 26th overall, but came in a much-less-impressive 91st for crime–though it’s by no means a highly unsafe place to live. In terms of weather, it’s close to the halfway mark at 58th overall. The city got a boost, though, from its five-mile proximity to Des Moines International Airport, just in case you want to jet off to nicer climes.
3. Lakewood, OH (tie)
Located right next door to Cleveland, OH, Lakewood actually has what it calls a “Division of Aging” with everything from a photography club to video game get-togethers spread across several community centers. This lakeside town of just under 59,000 residents also boasts ample acreage of outdoor space across myriad parks for retirees who’d rather just contemplate–or participate in activities involving–nature.
Lakewood ranked 46th in terms of cost of living and 38th overall for crime. As for retiree amenities, it placed 68th and the city ranked 36th out of 140 where weather’s concerned. It tied for 14th in terms of travel, with Cleveland Hopkins International Airport just eight miles away.
3. Bradenton, FL (tie)
The first of three Florida cities in our top 10, Bradenton offers the third-largest number of retiree amenities of any city we looked at–and also ranked third overall in terms of amenities per capita. It did particularly well when it came to shopping, dining, and healthcare, although arts & entertainment options weren’t too shabby either.
When it came to cost of living, Bradenton ranked 52nd, and dipped to 122nd in terms of crime. On the upside, it placed 11th overall where weather is concerned. With the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport located eight miles from the city’s center, it also tied for 14th in terms of travel.
5. Jupiter, FL
Retirees seeking a small, sunny seaside town will find fulfillment in Jupiter, especially if they happen to like boating. This city’s many waterways bask in a climate that earned Jupiter a 3rd place weather ranking overall. Unlike its fellow Florida locales of Bradenton and Sarasota, however, Jupiter didn’t place in the top 10 overall for amenities; it ranked 26th.
Its crime ranking is better than either city, however, at 35th, although its cost of living is higher at 97th. The fact that residents have to trek 21 miles to Palm Beach International Airport meant that Jupiter scored a 59th place ranking for travel.
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6. Sarasota, FL (tie)
If you’re a retiree looking for an absolutely enormous amount of things to do and services that cater to your needs, Sarasota is your city, placing first overall. This third and final Florida metro in our top 10 is no secret to retirees; a full 22 percent–double most other cities we looked at–of its 52,000 residents are 65 or older.
With so many amenities, why didn’t it rank higher overall? Well, for one, it placed near-last (137th) in terms of crime and 70th for cost of living. Weather’s no issue, though, as the city placed 11th–tying with Bradenton–in that criterion. The two cities also share an airport (Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport) although Sarasota’s closer proximity of five miles earned it a 2nd place finish for travel.
6. San Marcos, TX (tie)
One of two Austin, TX suburbs in our top 10, San Marcos is also the most affordable of our short-list cities in terms of cost of living. It placed 5th overall, with a cost of living 20 points below the national average of 100–meaning it’s a place retirees can really stretch their savings.
Numerous retiree amenities including the Price Senior Center helped San Marcos place 17th overall for that criterion, while it came in 102nd for crime and an impressive 2nd for weather. Not so impressive: Its 95th-place travel ranking due it the city’s location 36 miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Edged out on this ranking by its neighboring San Marcos, our second Austin suburb has been a star on others produced by Movoto including our Best Suburbs and Best Small Cities. As far as this ranking goes, Cedar Park really excelled when it came to crime, placing 8th overall–the best in our top 10.
When it came to cost of living, Cedar Park was edged out by its neighboring San Marcos. Whereas that city ranked 5th, Cedar Park ranked 46th overall. Even then, its cost of living is still nine percent below the national average. The city placed 68th for amenities and 20th for weather. Its travel ranking was slightly better at 86th due to its closer proximity to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The state of Tennessee makes it sole appearance in our top 10 thanks to Hendersonville, which revealed itself to be another hidden retiree gem through our research. Good weather and low crime were its two standout rankings at 5th place and 25th place, respectively.
At eight points below the national average, Hendersonville’s cost of living earned it a 52nd place ranking in that criterion. It ranked lower (83rd) in terms of retiree amenities and 67th for travel, being 22 miles from Nashville International Airport.
With its multitude of retiree services, events, and clubs, this small city in Orange County was the best we looked at in the Golden State. In fact, it placed 18th overall in terms of retiree amenities. Of course, being located in an area serviced by multiple international airports also helped its travel raking, placing it at 8th overall (it’s just seven miles from John Wayne Airport).
Being in California–particularly Orange County–had a clear impact on cost of living in Fountain Valley, with the city placing near-last at 135th overall. Fortunately, it ranked a much better 45th for crime. Not surprising given how many of our recent safest mid-sized cities top 10 went to Southern California locales.
Spending Your Golden Years the Smart Way
Of course, not all cities are ideal for retirees. In our research, we found that the five least ideal retirement cities based on the data we looked at are (in descending order): Lakewood, WA, Delano, CA, Highland, CA, West Haven, CT, Watsonville, CA.
If you’re hoping for a place to spend your golden years in a specific state not in our top 10, the good news is that there are plenty of great retirement spots that didn’t quite make our top ranking. You’ll find the specifics on the top 50 in the chart below.
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