By Rodney Brooks |

I generally refrain from those lists of the best states to retire in. Frankly, I believe people make decisions about retirement living based on their love for a city, not necessarily a state.

People aren’t going to retire in, say, Alaska or Mississippi, solely because of low taxes. We make decisions on where we want to live in retirement based on how livable a city is or how much we love a neighborhood. Is it near water or in the mountains? How low is the crime rate? How walkable? Are arts and entertainment nearby? How close would it be to airports and health care?

The first retirement column I ever wrote, College towns lure Boomers, was on how people were retiring to their old college towns for many of the reasons I just cited.

With that in mind, listings of the best cities to retire in may be more useful.

In its Best Cities to Retire, ValuePenguin evaluated 200 metropolitan statistical areas across 24 key data points — things like housing and taxes, healthcare and safety, travel and leisure and quality of life.

Not surprisingly, Florida came out on top. “Florida dominated, with seven metro areas in the state cracking our top 20,” says Andrew Pentis, associate editor at ValuePenguin. It was followed by Colorado (3), Washington (3), South Carolina (2) and California (2).

Top spots on the list:

  1. Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla.“The first of seven Florida metro areas to crack ValuePenguin’s top 20, Crestview and company rose to the top, in part, because the title city’s average retirement income, which was the fifth-best in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” Pentis says.
  2. Fort Collins, Colo.“The first of three Colorado metro areas to crack ValuePenguin’s top 20, Fort Collins was boosted by the overall health of all Coloradan seniors,” Pentis says. “According to the United Health Foundation, only New Hampshire’s 65-and-older population reports a higher percentage of very good or excellent health.”
  3. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, Calif.“This Southern California triumvirate rose to the third spot because it achieved strong marks across the board, including top-25 rankings in three of the four data categories we analyzed: Healthcare and Safety (22nd), Travel and Leisure (12th) and Quality of Life (6th).”
  4. Prescott, Ariz. “Of the top five, no city’s seniors get more bang for their buck than those who live than Prescott. It recorded our No. 4 ranking in the Housing and Taxes category, which looks at data points like property and income taxes, condo prices and mortgage costs as well as population types and income variance,” Pentis says.
  5. Jacksonville, Fla.“The second Florida city to join the top five, Jacksonville grabbed this spot thanks to its safety ratings. It had the study’s lowest instance of burglary, a crime often committed against the aged,” Pentis says.

The next five are: Boise City, Idaho; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwarter, Fla.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo.; and Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, Calif.

Some interesting highlights:

  • Washington, D.C. was No. 1 in average retirement income followed by Naples, Fla. Worst for retirement income were South Bend, Ind. and Charleston, W.V.
  • Cities with the lowest instances of burglary were Jacksonville, Fla. and Columbus, Ohio. Worst burglary rates were in Macon, Ga. and Memphis, Tenn.
  • Missouri had three cities in the top five for services  for the elderly and disabled: St. Louis (1), Springfield (2) and Kansas City (3).  “We felt it was important that a city provide multiple options and resources for retirees to spend their free time — from airline flights to favorable outside weather,” says ValuePenguin. Worst cities for services: Myrtle Beach, S.C., Gulfport, Miss., and Cape Coral, Fla.