Top Cities for Retirees in the Southeast

by Kimberly Rotter | Published on Sept. 12, 2021

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Senior couple embracing on the beach.

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Small college towns win the day.

The southeastern U.S. offers retirees a lower cost of living along with a busy social scene and pleasant temperatures. Here are five cities to consider in your home search that can give you the retirement lifestyle you're looking for.

Athens, Georgia

Population: 126,913

Proportion of residents over 50: 21%

Median home value: $242,275 (per Zillow)

We love Athens for its warm climate, small town vibe, and proximity to Atlanta, which means you can probably get just about anything you want or need. The cost of living is lower here than in many other cities, which could help keep some money in your bank account. Plus, the median home value is low enough to be affordable for many families. You might even be able to sell your home in a larger city and buy something here with cash.

Athens is a college town, so it'll probably always have an artistic, experimental vibe. If you enjoy arts and culture, you'll get it here in funky local galleries and at the world-class Georgia Museum of Art.

Asheville, North Carolina

Population: 92,870

Proportion of residents over 50: 35%

Median home value: $364,919 (per Zillow)

If you love being outdoors, Asheville should be on your short list. This idyllic town is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. Birdwatching is popular here, and hundreds of waterfalls are within reach for day trips. There's no shortage of other outdoor activities and experiences, many with breathtaking beauty.

Asheville is also an artist town. You can browse eclectic art galleries and meet the local craftspeople here. If you prefer not to drive, you can grab your culture via public transportation and take advantage of special pricing for seniors, once you're old enough.

You can also take a class or three. The University of North Carolina at Asheville has a special department dedicated to providing continuing education.

Columbia, South Carolina

Population: 131,674

Proportion of residents over 50: 25%

Median home value: $175,598 (per Zillow)

Another college town makes the list. Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina. That's good for retirees. The university allows any South Carolina resident over 60 to take courses tuition free. You can join a class for fun or to meet new friends, or to pick up a second or third career.

Columbia is warm and humid in the summer, and mild in the winter. You may occasionally see snow, but not much. And there's almost never a time when the temperature in Columbia stays below freezing for more than a few hours.

Columbia has been intentionally revitalizing its downtown area for many years, so you can enjoy nice meals out. Columbia has all the cultural amenities of a larger city, including its own symphony and ballet, plus college and minor league sports.

One perk for retirees: South Carolina does not tax Social Security benefits.

Knoxville, Kentucky

Population: 187,603

Proportion of residents over 50: 30%

Median home value: $261,151 (per Zillow)

The first thing we love about Knoxville is its financial friendliness toward retirees. Knoxville's cost of living tends to be below the national average, and there are no state income taxes. You won't pay state income taxes on your pension, Social Security income, or withdrawals from your IRA or 401(k).

The geography in Knoxville is beautiful. The Tennessee River serpentines right through town, and multiple nearby lakes cater to water sport lovers. Knoxville is in the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounded by national forests and parks. If you enjoy watching the leaves change in the fall, this could be the place for you.

Knoxville is big enough to offer theater and dining options, and small enough that you can enjoy plenty of space and much lower population density than a major city.

Yep, Knoxville is also a college town. That means opportunities to take classes, participate in lifelong learning, and meet new people.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Population: 265,351

Proportion of residents over 50: 41%

Median home value: $290,858 (per Zillow)

Florida is the spot for Generation X and younger baby boomers. More than 22% of the people who live here are between 50 and 65.

The state's popularity makes sense. Florida is home to many cities with warm weather, a lower cost of living, and plenty of services for the retired community. It was hard to pick just one.

We landed on St. Petersburg, a place that made it to our list of socially conscious cities in the U.S. St. Petersburg isn't at the top of the list yet, but its scores show that the city is making an effort to be a place where all people feel valued.

St. Petersburg is sunny most days -- and it's home to gorgeous beaches, warm water, a lower cost of living than some of its bigger Florida neighbors, and affordable home prices for many. Public transportation here is decent, so you may not have to drive if you don't want to. Its proximity to Tampa means you won't have to sacrifice any of your big city loves, like major theater productions, professional sports games, or a convenient international airport.

No matter where you choose to spend your retirement, dive in wholeheartedly. Sign up, join, attend. The more quickly you let the city get to know you, the more quickly you can grow to love it.

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