By Sara Ventiera
Ah, Florida: warm weather, beaches, and no state income tax. No wonder it’s a favored destination for older Americans eyeing the golden expanse of work-free years ahead of them. And now that the coronavirus pandemic makes it unwise to socialize except at a distance, it’s more important than ever to be able to settle into a forever home where you’re free to enjoy the fresh air, long walks on the beach, and the soothing sound of crashing waves.
There are currently more than 74 million boomers—of which 10,000 per day are hitting age 65, according to the Pew Research Center. And as they shift into retirement mode, many are migrating toward the beach. According to United Van Lines National Movers Study, in 2018, 39% of the retirees they moved had their GPS systems locked on to Florida. Shocker, right?
In fact, the Sunshine State’s shorelines aren’t the only coastal ZIP Codes attracting boomers—plenty of folks don’t want to live in what feels like a steam room six months out of the year, or they may want to be closer to friends and family elsewhere in the country. Instead, the 55-plus crowd has been seeking out budget-conscious, beach alternatives with plenty of outdoor activities and (often) a temperate climate in which to settle down for good.
“Retirees are undoubtedly drawn to these areas by the active, beach lifestyle,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com®. “And the relative affordability of homes in these towns means more of a fixed income is left over for fun, which probably makes the case for sticking around.”
From the peaceful dunes of Cape Cod and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the wild cliffs of the Pacific Northwest, these are the top 10 affordable beach towns and cities across the United States where retirees can kick back. And it turns out, they share some common features that are particularly attractive for folks who are no longer congregating by the water cooler.
“Retirees look for affordable communities where they can fill their time with purposeful activities and social connections, keys to a long, healthy life,” says Hale.
To come up with this list, our data experts looked at more than 1,300 towns on the water, pulled off the places that are located on lakes or rivers—this list is all about tasting the salt in the ocean breeze—and cut the selections to one place per state, for a wider variety of options. The ranking was based on the population of residents aged 55 and over per capita (the higher the better, we say), affordability based on median list price, access to hospitals and other health care facilities, the number of amenities like golf courses (for low-impact exercise) and country clubs (for the social scene), as well as marinas and water-recreation businesses like boating and fishing, for that all-around beach town experience.
Ready to take a long stroll down the list together? Let’s hit the beach.
1. Murrells Inlet, S.C.
Median list price: $329,950
Just 15 minutes south of the bustling tourist shops, boardwalks, and mini-golf courses of Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet offers retirees a quiet respite from that popular vacation town. The former fishing village is bordered by a beautiful marsh shoreline and dotted with wooded areas. It also boasts a strong health care system, numerous golf courses, and a stunning sculpture park and wildlife preserve, Brookgreen Gardens, hailed as one of the Top 10 Gardens in the United States by TripAdvisor.
The mild weather, coastal scenery, good airport, and myriad amenities have made Murrells Inlet a desirable retirement destination for Northeasterners seeking a break from high tax rates and harsh winters.
Retirees can get into affordable homes starting at just under $200,000, including this $196,919 two-bedroom in a 55-plus community or this three-bedroom with a whirlpool hot tub—and no age restrictions—for $249,900.
“You kind of have the best of both worlds [in Murrells Inlet] if you’re looking for a nice, affordable area to retire to,” says Jeremy Jenks, vice president of sales at Keller Williams The Trembley Group. “It takes 15 minutes to get to everything Myrtle Beach has to offer without having to worry about traffic and stuff.”
2. Venice, Fla.
Median list price: $299,950
Venice’s shoreline is located halfway between Sarasota and Port Charlotte, on the eastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The powdery white-sand beaches are a paradise for sunbathers—or those who seek shade under an umbrella—and shell seekers. The city hails itself as “The Shark Tooth Capital of the World” due to the thick fossil beds that lie right under its gently lapping shores. The shallow and sedimentary conditions of the beach expose thousands of ancient shark teeth every day.
If hunting for shark teeth won’t keep the grandkids occupied, chances are nothing will—but you could always try taking them to the arboretum or Historic Venice Train Depot, or take them for a boat ride. Buyers can get into the market at a wide price range, from a three-bedroom manufactured home for $159,900 to this three-bedroom with water views and a private pool for $350,000.
3. Morehead City, N.C.
Median list price: $339,050
Morehead City has enough nautical attractions to make die-hard boaters keel over. The port town offers great boating, fishing, and nearly every type of water sport imaginable in both the sound and the Atlantic. Homes start in the $200,000 range, and it’s possible to snap up a townhome with an onsite dock such as this sprawling three-bedroom for $274,000 or this $350,000 three-bedroom with water views.
Though Morehead City is on the mainland, protected from storms by a barrier island, the city proper isn’t known for its beaches. To hit the soft sand of beautiful Atlantic Beach, locals have to drive about seven minutes across the bridge.
4. Lewes, Del.
Median list price: $399,050
Lewes and nearby Rehoboth Beach have become one of the hottest LGBTQ retirement destinations on the East Coast. The welcoming area boasts many gay bars and restaurants, a thriving Pride parade (in years past), and an LGBTQ center—all on the shores of tax-friendly Delaware.