10 Best Places to Retire in Florida (Video)
Retiring in Florida is a goal for many baby boomers across the country – and the world, for that matter. Year-round warm weather, sandy beaches, natural beauty, theme parks, and plenty of cultural attractions make the Sunshine State an attractive place to settle down.
In addition to all of that, tax advantages are a major draw. Florida has no state income tax, and that holds true for social security benefits, pension income, and withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s. Florida also has no estate or inheritance tax. Residents who buy a home in Florida and declare that it’s a primary residence receive an exemption of $50,000 for property tax purposes (except for school district taxes where the exemption is $25,000). An added protection on property taxes is the cap on annual assessment increases of three percent or the change in the CPI (Consumer Price Index), whichever is less.
That said, retiring in Florida and taking advantage of its tax benefits requires some planning. Florida must become your permanent domicile (or residence), not just a seasonal or second home. The first step is filing a Declaration of Domicile, an official notarized document that declares Florida as your principal home. Supporting your declaration with certain actions such as obtaining a Florida driver’s license, registering to vote in the state, changing mailing addresses, or purchasing a home will help prove that you are eligible for the state’s tax advantages. Advice from a tax professional is suggested as well.
Florida’s cities vary in terms of lifestyle, cost of living, natural environment, and amenities. Whether you’re seeking a quiet small town or a lively city, a nearby beach or a cultural destination, there’s likely a place to fit your needs. Affordability ranges from modest to quite costly. Proximity to airports, public transportation, and interstate highways might be a consideration for some retirees, too, and healthcare may be a concern as well.
To help you choose the right spot, we’ve done some of the research and found the 10 best places to retire in Florida.
Set on Tampa Bay along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa is a major city with a population of around 393,000. And for retirees who want to be near the beach, water sports, boating, and the attractions of city life, it is a solid choice. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts hosts Broadway shows, music, and rock concerts, and museums include the Tampa Bay History Center, Henry B. Plant Museum, and Florida Museum of Photographic Arts. Meanwhile, sports fans will be able to root for local teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As a comparison, the cost of living in Tampa is about 33 percent lower than New York City. Home prices vary greatly, and are unsurprisingly higher close to the waterfront. Major interstate highways also pass nearby, making road travel within the state convenient. Weather is warm all year round, with humid summers and temperatures reaching 90 degrees. Hurricanes are a potential issue, but the last big one hit the area in 1921. As a major city, Tampa has several hospitals and a trauma center at Tampa General Hospital.
About 60 miles south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, Sarasota is one of Florida’s most popular retirement destinations. With a cost of living higher than average in the state, Sarasota offers an upscale atmosphere and a variety of gated communities, waterfront homes, and a walkable downtown. Shopping and dining in St. Armands Circle, which features sculptures, park benches, and a plenty of stores, exemplifies the luxury feel of the city. Hospitals here include highly rated Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.
A variety of beaches and small islands along the coast provide sandy shores and opportunities for water sports. Plus, museums, art galleries, and cultural events mean there’s always something to do day and night, indoors and outdoors. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a tropical wonderland for nature lovers, and the Ringling Museum features the Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan, Ringling’s winter home, and the Circus Museum with miniature displays of circus life. Ballet, opera, Broadway shows, concerts, and musical events at the Van Wezel fill the winter season.
There’s more to Florida than its coastlines: Gainesville is about 75 miles from each coast, in the north central area, with a population of about 134,000. Home to the University of Florida, the city’s largest employer, Gainesville has a small Southern town feel, unlike the more popular, touristy-heavy coastal cities. It’s not without cultural and entertainment opportunities either — the city offers performing arts, college sports teams to follow, and nearby lakes and forests for outdoor recreation. The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention highlights emerging technologies, educating and entertaining visitors with themes of science, invention, and future vision. The Harn Museum of Art, Florida Museum of Natural History, and A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center are a few examples of local cultural attractions.
The cost of living here is lower than in coastal cities, and homes are available in varied neighborhoods or retirement communities. Lifelong learners will appreciate the chance to take classes at the University of Florida at no cost on a standby basis, and as a college town, Gainesville has excellent public transportation, cafes, restaurants, and shops. The Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean are convenient for beach day trips, but crystal clear springs and Ichetucknee Springs State Park are even closer for swimming and floating. Healthcare is available through two hospitals in Gainesville.
4. Fort Lauderdale
On Florida’s southeast coast, Fort Lauderdale has been a popular vacation and retirement community for many years. Set among waterways and canals, the city is home to many boats, golf courses, white-sand beaches, restaurants, resorts, and entertainment venues. The population is about 183,000, and snowbirds increase that number significantly during the winter. Cost of living is high, but for those with sufficient retirement savings, living here is most pleasant. From high-rise condos to waterfront homes and gated communities, retirees have many options for places to live.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park offers wilderness amidst the urban setting of Fort Lauderdale, with access to the beach, Intracoastal Waterway, and shady trees. For excitement, there’s horse racing at Gulfstream Park and gambling at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District includes museums, restaurants, theaters, and shops, as well as the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Several hospitals, including highly rated Holy Cross Hospital, are located within the city.
5. Fort Myers
Located on the southwest Gulf Coast, Fort Myers is considered an affordable place to retire with a cost of living slightly lower than other Florida cities. For example, rents here are 35 percent lower than in Fort Lauderdale. Popular with tourists for its beaches and water sports, Fort Myers was once the winter home of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and their estates are open for tours. The Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall hosts Broadway musicals, dance performances, classical music concerts, and entertainment year-round, and baseball fans can head to Fort Myers to watch the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins during their spring training camps.
In addition to white-sand beaches, Fort Myers offers the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, over 3,500 acres of wetland ecosystem with otters, alligators, turtles, wading birds, and migrating wildlife. Manatee Park is the place to see Florida’s beloved water creatures, especially during the cooler months. Plus, the highly rated Gulf Coast Medical Center is located in Fort Myers.
If you want to ensure your grandchildren (and other relatives) will visit, a home in Orlando could be the ticket. This city of about 286,000 is expanding with housing of all kinds, increasing along with the population. Disney World, Epcot, Universal Orlando, and at least a dozen more theme parks and water parks make this central Florida city a popular destination. Natural resources also provide entertainment and outdoor activities in Wekiwa Springs State Park, Kelly Park, and Blue Spring State Park, where manatees can be seen during the winter months. Cultural events at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, and nearby art museums also offer enrichment. NBA fans can root for the home team, the Orlando Magic.
Healthcare is available through several area hospitals, including the highly rated AdventHealth Orlando. The cost of living here is lower than in cities lining the coast, and a variety of housing options are available, from apartments to single-family homes and retirement resort communities.
7. Gulf Breeze
Gulf Breeze is set on a peninsula across the Pensacola Bay from the city of Pensacola. Beaches, water sports, snorkeling, hiking, or bird-watching at Gulf Islands National Seashore are favorite activities for residents and visitors. The Gulf Breeze Zoo is home to more than 800 animals, including giraffes, rhinos, gorillas, otters, alligators, and hippos. Residents enjoy small-town life, and Pensacola is a convenient trip over the bridge for restaurants, entertainment, and cultural activities.
Healthcare is readily available in Pensacola, with several hospitals there and in nearby Milton. The Gulf Breeze population is around 6,700, increasing about 16 percent in the last 10 years. Home prices range from several hundred thousand to an expansive waterfront estate currently listed at $12 million.
8. St. Petersburg
When it comes to affordability, St. Petersburg, located about 25 miles from Tampa, is on par with most other Florida cities. Together with Clearwater and Tampa, the area is referred to as Tampa Bay. Sometimes called Sunshine City, St. Petersburg enjoys approximately 361 days of sunshine a year and an average temperature of 74 degrees. Situated among the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, Boca Ciega Bay, and intracoastal waterways, St. Petersburg is a prime spot for boating, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and sunbathing on the beach. Museums include The Dali Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Spain, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, and The Florida Holocaust Museum. In addition, art galleries, restaurants, and shops make strolling through St. Pete’s downtown a pleasure.
A range of hospital facilities in the Tampa Bay area, including the Morton Plant Hospital complex in Clearwater, serve the St. Petersburg residents. Major league baseball fans can look forward to the season when the Tampa Bay Rays play in their downtown Tropicana Field stadium.
With a cost of living index of 73.38 (compared to 100 for the U.S. as a whole), Jacksonville offers affordability along with its location on the Atlantic Ocean and St. Johns River. Its population of around 900,000 makes it one of Florida’s larger cities, and a range of housing options are available. “Jax,” as the locals call it, is also home to miles of beaches, water sports, cultural attractions, and world-class golf at nearby Ponte Vedra Beach’s TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour Players Championship. On the subject of sports, residents can cheer for their NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Downtown Jacksonville boasts an extensive art scene, with galleries, public murals, and an annual visual arts festival. The Museum of Contemporary Art showcases new artists each month in its atrium. Jacksonville’s history is explored in several museums, including the Beaches Museum, Clara White Mission, the Kingsley Plantation, and the Museum of Southern History. Nearby in St. Augustine, the World Golf Hall of Fame is another popular venue in the area. Jacksonville residents are well cared for in several highly rated hospitals that include Baptist Medical Center, Ascension St. Vincent’s Southside, and Mayo Clinic.
10. Key West
Retirees captivated by the idea of a laid-back lifestyle, casual atmosphere, and lively town might want to think about Key West. Restaurants, shops, bars, and cafes line Duval Street in the walkable Old Town, where sunset is an event to celebrate each night. Not the most economical retirement destination, Key West still offers a range of living areas, including private homes, condos, apartments, gated communities, and RV parks. Locals, calling themselves “conches,” ride bikes or walk, not needing a car for days. History fans will enjoy Key West’s past as home to Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John James Audubon, and Harry Truman.
Lower Keys Medical Center is located on Key West for 24-hour emergency access, and the next closest hospital is on Marathon Key, about 50 miles away. The tropical weather is warm year-round and humid in the summer. There’s hurricane potential, and some parts of Key West are still recovering from Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and more recently, Hurricane Irma. However, even with tropical storm season each year, many retirees choose Key West for its atmosphere, history, weather, and community.