Sure, bustling metropolitan areas can be fun, but for many retirees there’s a lot more to be said for the charms of small town life. Often these tiny gems offer a laid-back lifestyle, stronger sense of community, and freedom from urban nuisances like traffic and smog. Plus there’s usually a discount from big city prices.
For those who like little wonders, here are our picks for the ten best small retirement towns in the U.S. We chose them by starting with quantitative factors — like cost of living and population — and then narrowed down the list by looking at qualitative factors such as access to recreational and cultural activities.
Why: Thanks to its world-renowned golf courses, Pinehurst is a little town with a big reputation. While the famous links justifiably get plenty of attention, there are also many other things love about this village nestled in the North Carolina pine barrens. For example, the planned resort community was originally landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, and retains much of its historic charm.
For retirees, there’s plenty of outdoor, shopping and dining options, plus excellent medical facilities. On top of all that, the cost of living is below the national average. Read more about Pinehurst, NC
Pinehurst by the numbers:
- Population: 14,861
- Cost of living: 92.9 (national average = 100)
2. Paris, TN
By the numbers: Paris, Tennessee, actually topped another list of ours: the best cheap places to retire. Why? It has a cost of living well below the national average and had a median home price of $72,000 in 2012. Also, Tennessee taxes 6% on dividends and interest income only.
Beyond the affordability, petit Paris also has excellent hiking, a well-respected arts center and six golf courses. Need more? There’s even a replica Eiffel Tower in town. Read more about Paris, TN
Paris by the numbers:
- Population: 10,162
- Cost of living: 88.2 (national average = 100)
Traverse City also made our best places to retire cheap list. While its median home price is steadily rising — reaching $200,000 in 2012 — it still has a cost of living below the national average.
However, what really makes Traverse City stand out is the beautiful location on Grand Traverse Bay, a natural harbor that’s part of Lake Michigan. With this prime waterfront access comes plenty of options for nature lovers — including boating in the summer. Plus, wine aficionados will appreciate the many local vineyards, and golfers can get their game on at the famous local courses. Read more about Traverse City, MI
Traverse City by the numbers:
- Population: 14,894
- Cost of living: 85.6 (national average = 100)
Vero Beach is often overshadowed as a retirement destination by its more famous sister towns along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. This is a shame, since little Vero has a lot to offer. There is, of course, the beach — or to be precise the many beaches — plus the warm Sunshine State weather.
Beyond that, for outdoor-loving retirees there’s plenty of options for walkers, runners, golfers and kayakers. Read more about Vero Beach, FL
Vero Beach by the numbers:
- Population: 15,318
- Cost of living: 93.3 (national average = 100)
5. Eureka, CA
Finding a small, relatively affordable retirement town in California can be a tough task. However, there are options for retirees willing to go beyond the major population centers. These include the small city of Eureka, located on the Pacific in Northern California.
The town offers easy access to both the ocean and to beautiful forests surrounding it, including the famous California redwoods. Plus, architecture lovers will appreciate the hundreds of Victorian homes that still dot downtown. Read more about Eureka, CA
Eureka by the numbers:
- Population: 27,217
- Cost of living: 96.4 (national average = 100)
Walla Walla is another West Coast gem. This small city, located in southern Washington, is famous primarily for the numerous excellent vineyards that surround it in the Walla Walla Valley. Beyond the wine and lush landscape, there is also a beautiful pedestrian-friendly downtown. To top it all off, residents are renowned for their friendliness — in fact, in 2011 USA Today named it the friendliest town in America. Read more about Walla Walla, WA
Walla Walla by the numbers:
- Population: 32,148
- Cost of living: 85.8 (national average = 100)
7. Beaufort, SC
Beaufort, SC, is located in the the Lowcountry, on an island halfway between Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Like those big sister cities, it has a genteel historic downtown, with classic antebellum mansions and moss-draped oak trees. There’s also a harbor for boaters and galleries galore for art lovers. Not surprisingly, its won numerous awards, including Happiest Seaside Town from Coastal Living in 2013. Read more about Beaufort, SC
Beaufort by the numbers:
- Population: 12,534
- Cost of living: 88.2 (national average = 100)
8. Prescott, AZ
Do you love the landscape and history of the West? If so, you may want to give Prescott a try. The downtown is well-known for its many Victorian homes and the old Whiskey Row, a Wild West red-light district that’s been restored. Golfers can make the most of the four in-city courses, plus the numerous in surrounding towns. Read more about Prescott, AZ
Prescott by the numbers:
- Population: 39,984
- Cost of living: 94.3 (national average = 100)
9. Bangor, ME
Bangor, ME, is a bit bigger and a bit more expensive than some other spots on this list — but that’s often the case with retiree destinations in the Northeast. Still, this small Maine city has a cost of living just below the national average. It also has a lot going for it, including easy access to the beautiful coastline, Acadia National Park, and the nearby University of Maine. Plus, it’s consistently ranked as one of the safest places in America. Read more about Bangor, ME
Bangor by the numbers:
- Population: 33,011
- Cost of living: 99.3 (national average = 100)
10. Fairhope, AL
Fairhope is a little town with a little bit of everything. It’s got a small town feel, but is close enough to Mobile to easily indulge for a few hours at the casinos. Boaters and nature lovers will love the easy access to the Mobile Bay, Gulf of Mexico, and Weeks Bay Nature Preserve. And those on a budget will appreciate the cost of living below the national average. Read more about Fairhope, AL
Fairhope by the numbers:
- Population: 15,703
- Cost of living: 92 (national average = 100)