The 25 Best Places To Enjoy Your Retirement In 2021

Forbes compared more than 500 locations in America on everything from air quality to availability of doctors. But unlike other retirement lists, this one places greater emphasis on access to leisure pursuits —from the arts, learning and fine dining to hiking, skiing, sailing and golf. 


Last year, Penny and Brad Bibey sold their Camarillo, Calif., home of 23 years and moved cross-country to new digs 700 yards from the first tee of the famed Pinehurst #2 course at the golf mecca of Pinehurst, N.C. Bibey reports that even though he and his wife are still working remotely (she’s a refined fuels broker, he owns a commercial printing business) at least one of them now hits the links most days.

Another couple, painter Nancy Scheinman and retired architect Jim Wheeler, also moved cross-country last year, but in the opposite direction. They headed from the Baltimore suburb of Towson, Md., to Santa Fe, N.M., known for its art galleries, restaurants and hiking and ski trails. The Wheelers were on a long city hike around Santa Fe when we reached them on a cell phone. 

There are lots of reasons those nearing or in retirement make long distance moves—to be closer to family, to cut living costs, for a warmer climate. But pursuing recreational bliss is also a priority for many Baby Boomers.

Both these affluent 60-something couples, for instance, wanted to live somewhere suited to their leisure interests. And both ended up at destinations on Forbes’ new list of The 25 Best Places To Enjoy Your Retirement In 2021. The list represents our picks for top places to pursue seven retirement passions: arts/culture, fine dining, lifelong learning, volunteering, outdoor activities on water, outdoor activities on land, and a subset, golf. Our choices are spread over 18 states and all four continental time zones. Most are good for multiple passions, and one—Austin, Tex.—hits all seven.

While our flagship retirement places list, The Best Places To Retire in 2021, features only locations that offer good retirement value for the buck, high living costs and taxes alone don’t disqualify a city from being considered for this passions list. But we do take more than leisure into account. We also apply such crucial quality-of-life metrics as the availability of doctors, the serious crime rate, air quality—and importantly, susceptibility to natural disasters and climate change. This last concern axed a number of big cities that made earlier leisure pursuit lists, produced before we applied a climate screen, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as well as beach towns such as Sarasota, Fla.       

Our picks are listed in alphabetical order.  Read more about our data sources and selection methodology and how the Bibeys and Wheelers made their choices here.

2021 categories

Arts/culture 🎨 | Fine dining 🍴 | Lifelong learning 🎓 | Volunteering ❤️ | Outdoor water activities ⛵ | Outdoor land activities 🍁 | Golf ⛳

Annapolis, Maryland ⛵❤️

PASSIONS: Great for outdoor water activities and volunteering

POPULATION: 39,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $513,000, 43% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 26% Above National Average

With water on three sides, including the Chesapeake Bay, this charming state capital city 30 miles east of Washington, D.C., is a big draw for those who fancy boating, fishing and kayaking. There are even a dozen or so boating schools. Plus, there’s a strong volunteering culture. At an elevation of 40 feet, Annapolis is also a very walkable and bikeable town with good air quality, and a relatively low risk from natural hazards, according to FEMA.  One downside: a serious crime rate above the national average. Another is that Maryland has both a state estate and an inheritance tax. It does, however, exempt Social Security benefits and a certain amount of  private pension income and withdrawals from 401(k) accounts (but not IRAs) from the state income tax.


Ann Arbor, Michigan 🎨 🍴 🎓 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining, lifelong learning, golf

POPULATION: 121,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $431,000, 20% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 18% Above National Average

The opportunity for lifelong learning at top-tier University of Michigan is only one of the many draws of this buzzy college town 30 miles west of Detroit. There’s also a robust arts/culture and dining scene and upwards of 70 golf courses within 20 miles. The city has a high ratio of physicians per capita, good air quality and is very walkable and bikeable. Serious crime is low and so is the risk for natural hazards and climate change according to studies by FEMA and the University of Notre Dame. Elevation is 850 feet. There is no state income tax on Social Security income, and there’s a partial break on other retirement income. One downside: cold winters.


Asheville, North Carolina ⛵ 🍁 ❤️

PASSIONS: Great for outdoor water and land activities, and volunteering

POPULATION: 92,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $365,000, 1% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 6% Above National Average

Outdoor experiences—forests, parks, whitewater and hiking terrain—abound around this scenic city in the Blue Ridge Mountains region of western North Carolina. Research group Barda.org rates Asheville high in volunteering. Doctors are abundant, air quality is good. City is very bikeable. Elevation of 2,100 feet makes most summers non-sweltering. There is no state income tax on Social Security benefits and no state estate tax. Asheville is at moderate risk for natural hazards, according to FEMA. One downside: serious crime rate is above national average.


Athens, Georgia 🎨 🎓 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, lifelong learning and outdoor land activities

POPULATION: 129,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $242,000, 33% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 13% Below National Average

Some 70 miles east of Atlanta, this college town has a vibrant arts/culture and dining scene. The University of Georgia hosts an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, plus offers seniors free admission to regular classes. Nearby terrain offers hiking and mountain biking. Doctors are plentiful, and there is good air quality. Elevation is 600 feet. Georgia doesn’t tax estates or Social Security benefits and offers a generous break for other retirement income. FEMA rates Athens as having a relatively moderate risk for natural hazards. Serious crime is a little above the national average, and the city, while somewhat bikeable, isn’t all that walkable.


Austin, Texas 🎨 🍴 🎓 ⛵ 🍁 ⛳ ❤️

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining, lifelong learning, outdoor water and land activities, golf and volunteering

POPULATION: 1.01 MILLION

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $580,000, 61% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 19% Above National Average

Big music and dining scene anchors an arts/culture experience in the capital of Texas that also features free senior citizen tuition for six credits a semester at the University of Texas at Austin. There’s a plethora of outdoor water and land activities, including dozens of golf courses. The city boasts a high number of physicians per capita, good air quality and high marks for volunteering. Austin is very bikeable and somewhat walkable. Climate is warm but pleasant. Elevation is 300 feet. There is no state income or estate tax. Climate change risk is favorably rated by the University of Notre Dame and FEMA as moderate or very low. But serious crime rate is slightly above the national average. 


Bend, Oregon ⛵ 🍁 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for outdoor water and land activities and golf

POPULATION: 100,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $667,000, 85% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 24% Above National Average

Outdoor activities are the big draw of this scenic playground 160 miles southeast of Portland. Pursuits at an elevation of 3,600 feet around the north-flowing Deschutes River include downhill and cross-country skiing, fishing, tubing, hiking, rock climbing, bicycling, paragliding and, except in winter, golf. Other pluses include good air quality, a low serious crime rate and a high number of doctors per capita. There is no state sales tax, and no state income tax on Social Security benefits, but there is a state estate tax. FEMA ranks Bend relatively low in natural hazard risk. The town itself is not very walkable. 


Boone, North Carolina 🎓 ⛵ 🍁 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for lifelong learning, outdoor water and land activities and golf

POPULATION: 20,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $364,000, At National Median

COST OF LIVING: 5% Below National Average

Outdoor enthusiasts find lots to do in and around this affordably priced mountain town 120 miles northwest of Charlotte, including hiking, caving, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, skiing, snowboarding and visiting 17 golf courses in the area. Inside, retirees can audit courses for free at Appalachian State University. Elevation is 3,333 feet. Pluses include good air quality, adequate number of doctors per capita and a low serious crime rate. Boone is somewhat walkable and very bikeable. Climate change/hazard risk is rated as relatively low by FEMA. There is no state income tax on Social Security and no state estate tax.


Boston, Massachusetts 🎨 🍴 🎓 ❤️ ⛵ 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining, lifelong learning, volunteering and outdoor water and land activities

POPULATION: 695,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $693,000, 93% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 62% Above National Average

Indoors and outdoors, this thriving historic coastal state capital city of 685,000 offers a wealth of passions to pursue, particularly lifelong learning, given its more than 50 area colleges. Arts/culture and fine dining are considered tops, while there are ample opportunities for outdoor water and land activities. Boston has good air quality and abundant doctors per capita. Elevation is 140 feet. The city is both highly walkable and bikeable. Research group Barda.org rates Boston high in volunteering. FEMA rates the natural hazards risk as moderate. There’s no state income tax on Social Security benefits, but there is a state estate tax. Another downside: a higher than average serious crime rate.


Boulder, Colorado 🎨 🍴 🎓 🍁 ❤️

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining, lifelong learning, outdoor land activities and volunteering

POPULATION: 105,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $945,000, 163% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 67% Above National Average

Some 30 miles northwest of Denver, Boulder sits at the center of a huge recreational open space abutting the Rockies at an elevation of 5,400 feet. Outdoor activities are extensive, including hiking, climbing, biking and fishing. Boulder is also the home the University of Colorado, which nurtures a big arts/culture and fine dining scene and allows seniors to audit courses for a minimal cost. Boulder itself is very walkable and bikeable with a low serious crime rate, good air quality and abundant doctors. Volunteering is a way of life. There is no state estate tax, but the state does tax Social Security benefits. Boulder has a favorable rating on the FEMA National Risk Index evaluating relative natural hazards including flooding, earthquake, heat wave, cold wave and drought.


Charleston, South Carolina 🎨 🍴 ⛵ ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for arts, fine dining, outdoor water activities and golf

POPULATION: 140,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $412,000, 14% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 12% Above National Average

This charming and historic coastal city offers legendary fine dining, a big arts scene, outdoor water activities and golf (with 39 courses in the area). At an elevation of 20 feet, it is moderately walkable and very bikeable. The city enjoys a high number of doctors per capita and good air quality. Charleston gets favorable ratings of low to moderate risk on climate change/natural hazard ratings by FEMA and the University of Notre Dame. The state doesn’t tax estates or Social Security benefits and also provides a state income tax break on other pension income.


Clearwater, Florida ⛵ ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for outdoor water activities and golf

POPULATION: 118,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $282,000, 22% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 2% Below National Average

Located between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, usually sunny Clearwater is awash in outdoor water activities, most notably boating, swimming, diving and fishing. There are also 71 golf courses in the area. Clearwater has a high number of doctors per capita, good air quality and is highly bikeable and somewhat walkable. Elevation is 30 feet. Florida has no state income or estate tax. Clearwater has a relatively moderate risk for natural hazards according to FEMA—it’s at lower risk than many other popular Florida locales partly because hurricanes tend to skip that part of the Gulf Coast. Serious crime rate is above the national average.


Coeur d’Alene, Idaho ⛵ 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for outdoor water and land activities

POPULATION: 55,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $495,000, 38% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 6% Above National Average

Scenic mountains and waterways, including 25-mile-long Lake Coeur d’Alene, give this city 300 miles east of Seattle its outdoors props for fishing, boating, swimming and hiking. Coeur d’Alene has an adequate number of physicians, good air quality, and a low serious crime rate. The city is very bikeable, although not very walkable. Elevation is 2,200 feet. There is no state tax on Social Security benefits or on estates. FEMA rates Coeur d’Alene at a very low risk for natural hazards.  


Dallas, Texas 🎨 🍴 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining and golf

POPULATION: 1.34 million

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $271,000, 25% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 2% Above National Average

Nearly 80 golf courses in the area plus a robust arts/culture and fine dining scene distinguish the Big D. The city has an adequate number of physicians per capita and is somewhat walkable and very bikeable. Air quality is good. There is no state taxation of income or estates. Elevation is 430 feet. Dallas gets a favorable rating on the University of Notre Dame climate change risk metric, but not so favorable on the FEMA National Risk Index. Serious crime rate is above the national average.


Fayetteville, Arkansas 🎓 ⛵ 🍁 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for lifelong learning, outdoor water and land activities and golf 

POPULATION: 90,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $276,000, 23% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 7% Below National Average

In one of the best deals around, the University of Arkansas offers free tuition and fee waivers to senior citizens at its flagship campus in this Ozarks city 200 miles northwest of Little Rock. That complements extensive parks and waterways in the scenic area conducive to hiking, fishing and boating, plus 21 golf courses. Elevation is 1,400 feet. There are adequate physicians per capita and good air quality. There is no state estate tax, and no state income tax on Social Security benefits or a portion of pension income. Fayetteville has a favorable moderate rating on the FEMA National Risk Index evaluating relative natural hazards. Downside: the serious crime rate is above the national average.


Gainesville, Florida 🎓 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for lifelong learning and outdoor land activities 

POPULATION: 134,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $237,000, 34% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 10% Below National Average

The University of Florida provides a number of lifelong learning opportunities in this leafy college town 115 miles northwest of Orlando. Numerous parks and outdoor areas offer hundreds of miles of trails for hiking and biking. A city with a large infrastructure for retirees, Gainesville has abundant doctors and good air quality. It is very bikeable, although not as walkable. Elevation is 150 feet. Florida has no state income or estate tax. Thanks partly to its inland location, both the University of Notre Dame and FEMA give Gainesville favorable climate change/natural hazard risk ratings. Serious crime rate, however, is above the national average.  


Iowa City, Iowa 🎓

PASSIONS: Great for lifelong learning

POPULATION: 74,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $237,000, 34% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 5% Below National Average

University of Iowa provides numerous lifelong learning opportunities in this classic college town, 115 miles east of Des Moines, that is also honored as a UNESCO City of Literature. It has a high ratio of doctors per capita, good air quality and low serious crime rate. The city is very bikeable and somewhat walkable. Elevation is 700 feet. There is no state income tax on Social Security benefits, and a partial tax break for pension income, but there is a state estate tax. FEMA gives Iowa City a favorable relatively low risk ranking on its National Risk Index evaluating natural hazards.


Pinehurst, North Carolina

PASSIONS: Great for golf

POPULATION: 17,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $357,000, 1% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 3% Above National Average

Nearly 40 golf courses, led by famous century-old Pinehurst Resort, plus golf schools dot this idyllic village with a pleasant climate 90 miles east of Charlotte. The ratio of doctors per capita is high, the air quality is good, and the serious crime rate is very low. There is no state income tax on Social Security benefits, and no state taxes on estates. Pinehurst has a moderate rating on the FEMA National Risk Index evaluating relative natural hazards including flooding, earthquake, heat wave, cold wave and drought.


Pittsfield, Massachusetts 🎨 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture and outdoor land activities

POPULATION: 45,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $228,000, 37% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 12% Below National Average

Aging manufacturing city 135 miles west of Boston and 40 miles southeast of Albany, N.Y., has been reborn in recent decades as a center of world-class arts/culture scene. The nearby state parks and wildlife areas in scenic but not-so-towering Berkshire Mountains add outdoor land attractions. The ratio of doctors per capita is high, and there is good air quality. FEMA ranks the city on its National Risk Index as having a very low risk for natural hazard events. There is no state income tax on Social Security income, but there is a state estate tax. Serious crime rate is above the national average.


Portland, Maine 🍴 ⛵ 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for fine dining and outdoor water and land activities

POPULATION: 66,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $449,000, 25% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 8% Above National Average

This coastal city 100 miles north of Boston has a wide variety of water and land recreation, including boating, kayaking, rafting, cross-country snow skiing, hiking and bicycling. The restaurant scene is robust. It offers a low serious crime rate, a high ratio of doctors per capita and good air quality. The city is very walkable and bikeable. Elevation is 60 feet. There is no state income tax on Social Security benefits, but there is a state estate tax. Portland enjoys a favorable rating in the University of Notre Dame climate change risk study and FEMA’s National Risk Index of exposure to natural hazards.


Salt Lake City, Utah 🎓 ❤️ ⛵ 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for lifelong learning, volunteering and outdoor water and land activities

POPULATION: 201,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $539,300, 50% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 19% Above National Average

Nestled between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Range, this city offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including skiing, bird watching, hiking and fishing. Indoors, the University of Utah offers a wide range of courses for seniors in concert with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The city has a high rate of volunteering as measured by Barda.org. The city is very walkable and bikeable. Elevation is 4,300 feet. The state income tax hits Social Security benefits, although there is no state estate tax. Salt Lake City has favorable climate change/natural hazard risk ratings from the University of Notre Dame and FEMA. On the downside, the serious crime rate is above the national average, and there often are air quality issues.


Santa Fe, New Mexico 🎨 🍴 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining and outdoor land activities

POPULATION: 86,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $478,000, 33% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 15% Above National Average

This scenic state capital mountain town 60 miles north of Albuquerque offers dozens of art galleries, fine restaurants and museums, plus world-class skiing and other outdoor land activities. Santa Fe has a high number of doctors per capita, good air quality and a low serious crime rate. At an elevation of 7,200 feet, the city is very bikeable and somewhat walkable. While there is no state estate tax, the state income tax does hit Social Security benefits. Santa Fe has a favorable rating of moderate on the FEMA National Risk Index evaluating relative natural hazards including flooding, earthquake, heat wave, cold wave and drought.


Scottsdale, Arizona 🍴 🍁 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for fine dining, outdoor land activities and golf

POPULATION: 265,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $702,000, 95% Above National Median

COST OF LIVING: 33% Above National Average

This Phoenix suburb offers more than 100 nearby golf courses—55 in Scottsdale alone—other outdoor activities like hiking and horseback riding in the desert, and a big restaurant scene. There are adequate doctors per capita and a low serious crime rate. The city is very bikeable, though not as walkable. Elevation is 1,250 feet. There is no state tax on Social Security benefits or estates. On the down side, FEMA’s National Risk Index puts Scottsdale in the second highest of its five natural hazard tiers. Air quality continues to be a problem. 


Traverse City, Michigan 🎨 🍴 ⛵ ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, fine dining, outdoor water activities and golf

POPULATION: 16,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $336,000, 7% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 2% Below National Average

Some 250 miles northwest of Detroit, this center of tart cherry production boasts the famed Interlochen Center for the Arts nearby with its hundreds of yearly concerts, frontage on Lake Michigan and a reputation as a top dining town. There’s above-average doctors per capita and good air quality, and the city is very walkable and bikeable. Elevation is 600 feet. The state doesn’t tax estates or Social Security benefits and grants additional income tax breaks for pension income. Traverse City gets a favorable rating on FEMA’a National Risk Index.  Downside: The serious crime rate is above the national average.


Tucson, Arizona 🎨 🎓 🍁 ⛳

PASSIONS: Great for arts/culture, lifelong learning, outdoor land activities and golf

POPULATION: 555,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $278,000, 23% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 17% Below National Average

More than 40 golf courses are in or near this city just 70 miles from Mexico. The University of Arizona provides a number of lifelong learning opportunities while anchoring a robust arts/culture scene. The surrounding Sonoran Desert and mountains offer hiking and other outdoor land activities. There are abundant doctors and good air quality. At an elevation of 2,600 feet, Tucson is very bikeable and somewhat walkable. There is no state taxation of Social Security benefits or estates. The University of Notre Dame ranks the climate-change risk as low, although FEMA finds a relatively high natural hazard risk due to such factors as heat, drought, possible river flooding and lightning. The serious crime rate is above the national average.


Walla Walla, Washington 🍴 🍁

PASSIONS: Great for fine dining and outdoor land activities

POPULATION: 34,000

MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $327,000, 9% Below National Median

COST OF LIVING: 7% Below National Average

The presence nearby of 120 wineries has helped spawn a vigorous fine dining scene in this quaint rural town 260 miles southeast of Seattle, and surrounding terrain is quite conducive for hiking and biking. There is a high ratio of doctors per capita, good air quality and a low serious crime rate. The city is very bikeable and somewhat walkable. Elevation is 950 feet. There is no state income tax, but Washington state does levy an estate tax. FEMA rates the natural hazard risk in Walla Walla as low. 

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