Florida Usgs
Some retirees don't want this life. Image: Dry Tortugas Islands, Florida. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

There's a reason so many retirees flock to Florida to live. When you look at the results of studies about the best states or cities for manageable retirement living -- places that won't break the bank on a fixed income from Social Security, for example -- many of those destinations are in the southern part of the U.S., with Florida a popular favorite. 

These studies often end up pointing retirees to the same places over and over again. But for those who'd prefer a different lifestyle in retirement, the question is how they can retire where they want without giving up their own wants and desires.

What makes a place to retire the "best"?
A recent study from WalletHub provides a great example of this common phenomenon. The study looked at the 150 largest cities in the U.S. and evaluated them on 25 different measures that broke down into five broader categories: affordability, jobs, activities, healthcare availability, and quality of life. WalletHub then took those factors and combined them into an overall ranking.

Looking at the top 10 cities on the list, only one -- Overland Park, Kan. -- was located outside the retirement havens of Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Tampa scored the coveted No. 1 slot on the list, with Orlando, St. Petersburg, Port St. Lucie, and Cape Coral giving the Sunshine State half of the top 10 spots. The Dallas-area suburbs of Grand Prairie and Plano also made an appearance, along with two cities in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area: Scottsdale and Peoria.

Fl Coin

As with most such studies, the key to understanding the results is looking at the underlying methodology. Here, Florida ranks well on the study's affordability index, with four of the five cities appearing in the top 10, and it also ranks highly for available activities. The two Texas Cities rank first and second for healthcare access, respectively, while the Arizona entries on the list get particularly high marks for quality of life.

Other looks at the retirement location question focus on different factors. Another reason why Florida and Texas often rise to the top of such lists is that they don't have any state-level income taxes for their residents. Yet depending on how you expect to live in retirement, you might end up paying more in taxes all told than you would in a state that does have an income tax -- especially given the fact that most people's income drops off substantially when they retire and so income taxes don't have as large an impact as they did during your career.

Looking for alternatives
All that said, studies discussing the best places to retire can still have some useful information for you to consider. For instance, despite its broad-based methodology, the WalletHub study provides line-item detail on very specific attributes of its database of cities. For instance, if fishing is most important to you, then it's hard to beat Florida, whose major cities sport the most fishing facilities per capita in the nation. Yet for recreational and senior centers, areas like Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Baton Rouge rise to the top. And while rock-bottom costs of living tend to be located in the southern half of the country, you don't have to go to crowded coastal locations to benefit from value propositions in Memphis, Nashville, or Tulsa, Okla.

The key, though, is to make sure you at least think about all the factors involved in deciding where to retire. Financial aspects like taxes and cost of living are definitely important, but availability of the specific social and recreational resources you want is also vital. Moreover, you need to think about not only what you need now but what you'll need in the future. For instance, even if you're able to live on your own now, keeping in the back of your mind whether affordable options for senior living facilities are available could help you avoid the need to uproot yourself again later in retirement.

Many retirees fear that if they don't like typical retirement destinations, they're doomed to a tough retirement. But by knowing what's important to you, you can come up with a retirement strategy that will work even if you hate Florida.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.