The South, like any region, has its pros and cons as a retirement destination. Many empty-nesters are attracted to the area for its warm climate (say goodbye to brutal winters), affordability, delicious seafood, and the disarming friendliness of local residents. It's helpful to familiarize yourself with common Southern expressions such as 'bless your heart' and 'y'all,' and to embrace the local custom of waving or smiling when passing someone across the road. If you're considering settling down in the South or are already there and looking for the best spots, explore the 10 top small towns in the Southern United States for retirees.
Beaufort, North Carolina
Beaufort, known for accolades like “America’s Best Town for the Holidays,” “America’s Coolest Small Town,” and “America’s Favorite Town,” is the third-oldest town in North Carolina and has garnered much attention. The town is named after the 2nd Duke of Beaufort, an ally of the British during the colonial era. Retirees here can engage in activities such as learning to construct paddleboards at the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, while enjoying stunning waterfront views. According to Southern Living, 60% of the residents live within a 10-minute walk of the park, a testament to the town’s healthy lifestyle. Impressively, those aged 55 and above make up about 47% of Beaufort’s population, making it a premier destination for retirees. Additionally, Beaufort boasts numerous medical facilities and fantastic shopping options, including the popular Olde Beaufort Farmers' Market.
While many history enthusiasts often focus on Concord and Lexington, Abingdon also played a significant role in the Revolutionary War, particularly in the 1780 Kings Mountain Battle, a turning point in the conflict. This battle, where British Major Patrick Ferguson was fatally shot, is often considered a pivotal moment in America's fight for independence. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, beginning in Abingdon, traces the route patriots took to confront the loyalist militia. The Martha Washington Inn and Spa captures the town’s historic charm, while the Abingdon Muster Grounds reveal the area's underappreciated history. With a median age of 45, seniors in Abingdon enjoy interacting with friendly and kind residents, living in safe and closely-knit neighborhoods, and benefit from access to a hospital that is highly-rated in four adult procedures.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Mississippi, often referred to as the Magnolia State, is known for its low cost of living, which ranks among the lowest in the United States. This aspect can be particularly appealing to retirees. For perspective, the cost of living in Mississippi is about 15% lower than the national average. Ocean Springs, located on the picturesque shore of Biloxi Bay in Coastal Mississippi, is noted for its favorable economic conditions. According to Investopedia, the town has an income-to-home-value ratio of 34, which is a substantial six percentage points higher than the national average. Although Mississippi has a flat 5% income tax rate, it does not apply to pension benefits or distributions. Additionally, those aged 55 and older make up about 34% of Ocean Springs’ population, suggesting strong support networks, while the median age is 41.8. Moreover, the strong sense of community in Ocean Springs may offer a unique and engaging experience for new residents.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
For those who wish to retire amidst breathtaking mountain views, Blowing Rock may be exactly what you're looking for. This town, often referred to as the 'Crown of the Blue Ridge Mountains,' is sure to inspire awe. Retirement here includes exploring scenic wineries (like Grandfather Vineyard & Winery) and enjoying delicious Sunday brunches at Bistro Roca, a local culinary favorite. The town boasts a well-educated population, with 27% of residents holding a master’s degree or higher, and a significant portion of the population being seniors. Its close access to the picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway is another feature that makes Blowing Rock one of the South’s best retirement towns. Additionally, the Tri-Cities Airport is conveniently located just about an hour and a half's drive away.
St. Augustine, Florida
Known as the nation's oldest continuously occupied European and African-American settlement, St. Augustine is steeped in nearly half a millennium of history. The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., offers stunning views of one of the continent’s oldest cities. The city's rich history may draw you in, but its pristine white-sand beaches will convince you to stay. Activities range from interacting with dolphins to searching for fossilized shark teeth or paddleboarding on its shimmering waters. Among the area’s numerous medical facilities is Flagler Health+, recently merged with University of Florida Health. Furthermore, St. Augustine boasts a vibrant social scene, with an impressive 42% of the population aged 55 and above. Moreover, as a college town, retiring in St. Augustine offers the chance to engage with a younger crowd and stay young at heart.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
With no stoplights, arguably the best access to nature, more than 100 restaurants, and well over 60 accessible springs, Eureka Springs is a hidden gem in northwestern Arkansas' scenic Ozark Mountains, a region renowned for its natural beauty. The tranquil lifestyle and natural surroundings here may contribute to a sense of youthful vitality. While Eureka Springs is famous for its stylish Victorian residences, it remains surprisingly affordable, with a median home price of $236,000, according to Redfin. Plus, the cost of living is about 19% lower than the national average. Residents also enjoy easy access to big-city amenities and adventures in Fayetteville, just an hour’s drive away. For outdoor enthusiasts, the 1,610-acre Lake Leatherwood City Park is just one of many adventure options in the area. And if you're concerned about finding peers, those aged 45 and above constitute 45% of the town's population.
With a population of about 19,000, Naples is home to some of the finest white-sand beaches in the United States. This underrated gem in Florida is located on the aptly named Paradise Coast in the southwest part of the peninsula. Less than an hour away, the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge offers a myriad of outdoor adventures. Besides its numerous outdoor activities, Naples has a median age of around 65.4 years, offering a sense of community among peers. The city also boasts approximately 10 retirement communities per 1,000 residents, high-end restaurants (like Del Mar Naples, known for its delicious Mediterranean dishes), and is conveniently located about 43 miles from Fort Myers.
Cumming, a town of about 7,700, is home to the Sawnee Mountain Preserve and can be an excellent choice for those seeking suburban or rural living. The town is known for its safe and quiet neighborhoods, friendly neighbors, numerous hospitals and parks, and easy access to highways — features that would be highly valued by any senior. With a remarkable ratio of 32.93 medical centers per 1,000 residents, healthcare access is a significant advantage. Furthermore, with Atlanta (nicknamed 'The Big Peach') just 39 miles away, residents can easily indulge in a wide range of big-city adventures and amenities. Moreover, with a median age of 40, Cumming offers the opportunity to socialize with similarly-aged peers and to enjoy the energy of younger generations.
Tarpon Springs, Florida
With over 50 miles of waterfront, Tarpon Springs is a picturesque town in Florida, known for having one of the highest percentages of Greek Americans in the nation. Often called the “Sponge Capital of the World” due to the natural sea sponges once found in the Anclote River, the town features narrow streets, rich Greek culture and traditions, and a laid-back beach town atmosphere. Life here often feels like a continuous vacation. Craig Park offers a front-row seat to a live nature show, complete with scampering squirrels and gliding manatees. In addition to its local amenities, Tarpon Springs is just a quick 27 miles from Tampa, Florida’s third-largest city. According to Niche, those aged 55 and above make up an impressive 47% of the town’s population, ensuring a strong community support network, even in your later years.
Hendersonville, North Carolina
Home to about 15,100 residents, Hendersonville is known for its lush apple orchards and excellent wineries, making it one of the best towns to retire in the South. Though the town is charmingly small and slow-paced, often closing early, its proximity to Asheville, Western North Carolina’s largest city, just 26 miles away, makes its location ideal. Minutes from town, Pisgah National Forest offers a vast expanse of cascading waterfalls and breathtaking peaks. Pardee Hospital, recognized with America's 100 Best Hospitals Award and America's 250 Best Hospitals Award, among others, is a key feature of the town and the second-largest employer in the county. Additionally, for access to world-renowned specialists, Duke University Hospital is only about three hours away. For those seeking community, about 46% of the town’s population, according to Niche, are seniors aged 55 years or higher.
With access to miles of white-sand beaches, particularly along the Gulf Coast, friendly and hospitable residents, and exceptionally delicious seafood, from lobsters to clams, the South is an excellent choice for retirement. Adding to this allure are the area’s fascinating history and rich culture, exemplified in places like St. Augustine, Florida — the first city founded by European settlers on the continent. Top retirement destinations in the South include Beaufort, North Carolina; Abingdon, Virginia; Ocean Springs, Mississippi; and St. Augustine, Florida.