till in their mid-50s, Gloria and Kevin Murray of Morgan Hill, California, at the Silicon Valley’s southern tip, are planning well ahead to enjoy their future empty nester status, and ultimately, their retirement years. They recently bought a house 500 miles to the north in Bend, Oregon, where they hope to kayak, ski, bike and golf. “We are outdoor adventurers,’’ says Gloria. The youngest of their three daughters has two years to go in high school, so they won’t be moving until at some point after her graduation, perhaps a few years after. Meanwhile, they’re gradually moving their belongings to Bend. Kevin, a tech company marketing exec, plans to work remotely and the couple figures they’ll turn their Morgan Hill home of 20 years into an investment property, renting it out. “We’ll be ready to do stuff just for us,” says Gloria.
Baby Boomers and Gen Xers with financial means have more options than ever for pursuing their passions in retirement. Remote work makes an early, pre-retirement move possible. And recent housing appreciation, frustrating as it is for Millennials and Gen Zers trying to break into home ownership, gives older generations even more options.
In 2019, retired-for-two-years John and Terry Fish, moved from the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, D.C.—he had been a lobbyist, she a Congressional staffer—and bought a home on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, an upscale suburb on the Atlantic Ocean across the harbor from Charleston. But after four years of enjoying the area’s charms, “we were ready for a new adventure,” John says. So, John, now 57, and Teri, 53, sold their large home and, thanks to its price appreciation, were able this year to buy a slightly smaller one in Bend for cash. (The median home in Bend goes for $724,000, 78% above the national median.) The Fishes had visited Bend over the years, and with no kids, didn’t hesitate to pick up and move with their two English cream golden retrievers.
Terry and Al Hershey took a unique, and more leisurely, approach to finding their retirement bliss. Already retired and living in Bonita Springs, Florida, the now 76-year-old couple (they met in college and have been married 54 years), loaded their goldendoodle and Aussiedoodle into their 34-foot RV in 2020 and drove to Traverse City, Michigan, an idyllic town of 16,000 on a bay opening to Lake Michigan, 250 miles northwest of Detroit and 320 miles northeast of Chicago. They fell in love with and purchased a 132-year-old, two-story 5-bedroom Victorian three blocks from Grand Traverse Bay and lived in their RV during several months of extensive renovations, finally occupying their dream home in 2021.
They now spend six months a year in Michigan, biking, hiking, kayaking and motor boating to their hearts’ content while picking from dozens of yearly live music performances at the nearby Interlochen Center for the Arts and partaking of excellent local restaurants. They’ve also become supporters, personally and through their family foundation, of the 71-year-old Traverse Symphony Orchestra, a professional operation that helps make the area, known agriculturally for its tart cherry cultivation, a cultural mecca, too. “We wanted a summer base,” says Terry, who says they also considered places in the Carolinas.
Traverse City and Bend are both returnees to the Forbes list of the 25 Best Places to Enjoy Your Retirement. Our new 2023 edition, our seventh, contains picks in 17 states and for the first time, with the addition of Honolulu, five time zones. As in previous years, we’re don’t exclude candidates simply because they’re expensive. Instead, we include them because they are great places to pursue one, several, or all of the following seven passions: arts/culture; fine dining; lifelong learning; volunteering; outdoor activities on water; outdoor activities on land, and in its own special category, golf. The full list can be found here.
Most new retirees—roughly 3 million a year, according to federal data —don’t move far, or move to be near family or to cut living costs. Indeed, Forbes’ main Best Places To Retire list aims to identify places that provide a high quality of retirement living at an affordable cost.
But there is a subset of those not yet retired or already retired who move to accommodate their leisure interests. This is entirely reasonable, when you consider that Americans 65 years and older spend an average of about seven hours a day on leisure and sports, compared to five or fewer hours for those of prime working age. It’s also about more than fun, especially if it involves exercise. One study, for instance, showed regular golf significantly reduced the chance of stroke.
All but a few of our places stand for more than one passion. Austin, Texas, and Seattle hit all seven, and Boston has six. Then there’s Flagstaff, Arizona, listed for just one category (outdoor land activities, including skiing and hiking) and Pinehurst, North Carolina, which has made the list all seven years solely for golf.
Traverse City, which has the smallest population of our picks, is down for arts/culture, fine dining, outdoor water activities, and golf. Bend excels for its outdoor water and land activities, also including golf. The Hersheys hasn’t previously visited Traverse City, but heard friends sing its praises. Before heading to town, they found a real estate agent, Ann Porter of Real Estate One, by searching the Internet. Both couples who bought retirement homes in Bend had been there before, and used the same real estate agent—Laura Blossey of Avenir Realty—on the recommendation of friends.
Another way to start your search is with our list. Admittedly, since we don’t exclude places based on high costs and there are some expensive locales on our list. (We include costs in the individual write-ups, so you won’t be surprised.) When it comes to housing, the priciest place on our list is Boulder, Colorado, whose median home price of $991,000 is 142% above the national median. Boston, Seattle, Honolulu and, yes, Bend, cost a pretty penny, too. But Traverse City’s median home price of $418,000 is just 2% above the national median and five of our picks, spread across the U.S., have median house prices below the national median. They are Fayetteville, Arkansas; Iowa City, Iowa; Madison, Wisconsin; Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Tucson, Arizona.
Our choices are listed alphabetically, with the particular passions noted for each place.
Here’s our general methodology. We looked at more than 800 places around the country—including some suggested by Forbes readers—compiling a ton of data we put through our evaluative metrics. We cut places with populations below 10,000 on the theory there would be an inadequate supply of housing if everyone rushed in. For the skinny on specific passions and top places for them, we reviewed scores of published evaluations by experts and enthusiasts.
We also screened picks for other quality-of-retirement-life issues, including primary care physicians per capita in the county of the particular place; air quality; serious crime rates (axing places more than several times the national average). We noted how walkable and bikeable a place is. Then we applied our editorial judgment.
Vulnerability to climate change/natural hazard risk remains a big factor in our selection process. For the last three years, Forbes has weighed such risks in its methodology for picking retirement spots, eliminating places with the very highest perceived risks. This is a big reason why no places from Florida are on the list, as well as the omission of other passion pursuit-filled places like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. We acknowledge factoring this in can be something of a guessing game and can miss any quickly changing situations. Specifically, we use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Risk Index for Natural Hazards. It calculates for every county in the country a relative vulnerability measure for 18 natural hazards, including wildfires, heat, hurricanes, flooding, landslides and earthquakes, and also factors in a community’s ability to deal with those threats. We exclude places that are deemed to have a very high risk.
While not dispositive to our selections, we include a description of state taxation because relocating folks want to know about this and, hey, we’re Forbes. Three places on the list have no general state income tax: Austin, Seattle and Walla Walla. Two, both in Oregon, have no sales tax: Bend and Eugene. We note whether any part of Social Security income is taxed at the state level (we’re looking at you, Santa Fe), general taxation of other retirement income and whether there’s a state estate or inheritance tax (found in Annapolis, Bend, Boston, Eugene, Honolulu, Iowa City, Pittsfield, Seattle and Walla Walla).
Our data is drawn from a number of sources. Median home prices come primarily from the National Association of Realtors and zillow.com. Cost of living information comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and bestplaces.net. Serious crime stats are drawn from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and neighborhoodscout.com. Air quality metrics are collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Assessments of walkability (the ability to stroll easily to basic retail businesses and mass transit for everyday needs) and bikeability (same idea using pedaling) come from walkscore.com and the League of American Bicyclists. The ambience for volunteering comes from barda.org and volunteeringinamerica.gov.