Fort Lauderdale Named One of the 15 Best Places to Retire in Florida

Dated: August 30 2023

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Warm weather, beautiful beaches, and lots of cultural attractions are just a few of the reasons to retire in Florida.

Retiring in Florida is a goal for many 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) plans. 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 up to $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, which amounts to 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. Proximity to airports, public transportation, and interstate highways might be a consideration for some retirees, too, while easy access to health care may also be a concern. To help you choose the right retirement spot, we've done some of the heavy lifting. Whether you're drawn to the historic charm of St. Augustine, the legendary golf courses of Ponte Vedra, or staying active in a more natural setting (here's looking at you, Vero Beach and Ocala), our list of the 15 best places to retire in Florida has something for every lifestyle, interest, and budget.

1. Tampa

Set on Tampa Bay along Florida's Gulf Coast, Tampa is a major city with a population hovering around 400,000. And for retirees who want to be near the beach, water sports, boating, and the attractions of city life, it's a solid choice. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts hosts Broadway shows, music, and rock concerts, while museums include the Tampa Bay History Center, Henry B. Plant Museum, and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts. Meanwhile, sports fans will be able to root for local teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays (baseball), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (football), and the Tampa Bay Lightning (hockey). They can also cheer on the New York Yankees during their annual spring training camps at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

As a comparison, the cost of living in Tampa is about 20 percent lower than New York City. Home prices vary greatly and are, unsurprisingly, higher the closer you are to the waterfront. There's an international airport, and interstate highways make road travel within Florida and the rest of the southeastern U.S. convenient. The weather is warm almost all year long, with humid summers and temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit — occasionally, it does dip down in the winter though, sometimes as low as 32–55 degrees Fahrenheit when cold fronts come through. Hurricanes are a potential issue from June through November, but the last time the area had a direct hit was in 1921. The city has several highly rated hospitals as well as a trauma center at Tampa General Hospital.

2. Sarasota

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 that's higher than average in the state, Sarasota offers an upscale atmosphere with gated communities, waterfront homes, and a walkable downtown. Shopping and dining in St. Armands Circle, which features sculptures, park benches, and plenty of stores, exemplifies the luxury feel of the city. Hospitals here include the highly rated Sarasota Memorial Hospital and HCA Florida Sarasota Doctors Hospital.

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, while The Ringling features the Museum of Art, Ca' d'Zan, which once served as founder John 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.

3. Gainesville

There's more to Florida than its coastlines: Gainesville is about 75 miles from each coast, in the north central region, with a population of about 185,000. Home to the University of Florida, the city's largest employer, Gainesville has a small-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 and 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. Health care is also available through two hospitals in Gainesville.

4. Fort Lauderdale

On Florida's southeast coast, Fort Lauderdale has long been a popular vacation and retirement community. Set among waterways and canals, the city is home to many marinas, golf courses, white-sand beaches, restaurants, resorts, and entertainment venues. The population is about 185,000, and snowbirds increase that number significantly during the winter. The cost of living is high, but for those with sufficient retirement savings, living here is most pleasant. From high-rise condos to waterfront homes to gated communities, retirees have many options for places to live.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park offers wilderness amid 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 Health, are located in the city.

5. Fort Myers

Located on the southwestern Gulf Coast, Fort Myers is considered an affordable place to retire, with a cost of living that's slightly lower than other Florida cities. Popular with tourists for its beaches and water sports, Fort Myers was once the winter home of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford — today, 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. 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, more than 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.

6. Orlando

If you want to ensure your grandchildren (and other relatives) will visit, a home in Orlando could be the ticket. This city of over 320,000 people is expanding with housing of all kinds, increasing along with the population. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and a number of other 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, Orlando Shakes, and nearby art museums also offer enrichment. NBA fans can root for the home team, the Orlando Magic.

Health care is available through several area hospitals, including the highly rated AdventHealth Orlando. The cost of living here is lower than in cities that line the coasts, 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 Pensacola Bay from the city of Pensacola. Beaches, water sports, snorkeling, hiking, and bird-watching at Gulf Islands National Seashore are favorite activities for residents and visitors. The Gulf Breeze Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals, including giraffes, rhinos, gorillas, otters, alligators, and hippos. It's the best of both worlds: Residents can enjoy small-town life, while Pensacola is just over the bridge for restaurants, entertainment, and cultural activities.

Health care is readily available in Pensacola, with several hospitals there as well as in nearby Milton. The Gulf Breeze population is around 6,900, with home prices ranging from several hundred thousand to millions of dollars.

8. St. Petersburg

When it comes to affordability, St. Petersburg, located about 25 miles from Tampa, is on par with most other Florida cities. 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, and Boca Ciega Bay, it's a prime spot for boating, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and sunbathing on the beach. Popular museums include The Dalí Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist's work outside Spain, the Museum of Fine Arts, The Florida Holocaust Museum, and Great Explorations Children's Museum, a fun place to take the grandkids. A multitude of art galleries, restaurants, and shops make strolling through St. Pete's downtown streets a pleasure.

Bayfront Health, St. Anthony's Hospital, and St. Petersburg General Hospital are all located in St. Pete proper, while a range of hospital facilities throughout the Tampa Bay region, including the Morton Plant Hospital complex in Clearwater, also serve St. Pete residents. Major League Baseball fans can look forward to the season, when the Tampa Bay Rays play at Downtown St. Pete's Tropicana Field stadium.

9. Jacksonville

With a cost of living that's five percent lower than the national average, Jacksonville offers affordability along with its location on the Atlantic Ocean and St. Johns River. Its population of around 973,000 makes it one of Florida's largest cities, and a range of housing options are available. "Jax," as the locals call it, is also home to 22 miles of beaches, water sports, cultural attractions, and world-class golf. 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 scene is quite extensive as well — the Museum of Contemporary Art showcases new artists each month in its atrium, while the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) impresses with its interactive displays. Learn more about Jax's local history at the Beaches Museum and the Clara White Mission's Eartha M. M. White Museum. Jacksonville residents are well cared for in several highly rated hospitals, including Baptist Medical Center, Ascension St. Vincent's Southside, and the Mayo Clinic.

10. Key West

Retirees captivated by the idea of a laid-back lifestyle, casual atmosphere, and lively town might want to consider Key West. Restaurants, shops, bars, and cafes line Duval Street in the walkable Old Town, where sunset is an event to celebrate each night in Mallory Square. Not the most economical retirement destination, Key West 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 buffs 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, while the next closest hospital is on Marathon Key, about 50 miles away. The weather is warm and tropical year-round and humid in the summer, while hurricane season is definitely something to keep an eye on from June through November. Even so, many retirees choose to settle down in Key West because of its history, weather, sense of community, and quirky atmosphere.

11. St. Augustine

Located about a 45-minute drive from Jacksonville, St. Augustine is a laid-back city of roughly 15,000 that's home to several art galleries, museums, a 320-year-old fort (Castillo de San Marcos National Monument) and a lighthouse that dates to the early 1870s. Its historic district was settled by Spanish colonists in 1565, making it the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States — Colonial Quarter, a living history museum complete with costumed interpreters, does a good job of telling the story of what it was like to live here during that time. Needless to say, it's a great retirement spot for history buffs who want to stay near the beach.

Retirees can choose from a number of 55+ communities, and the cost of living is only a smidge higher than other Florida cities like Orlando. The closest international airport is about an hour's drive away in Jacksonville, while St. Augustine's proximity to I-95 keeps residents within driving distance of attractions throughout central and northeast Florida. The area is sometimes affected by flooding during passing hurricanes (like Ian in 2022) but tends to bounce back pretty quickly. Several major hospitals are located nearby, including Flagler Hospital and a Mayo Clinic primary care facility specializing in cancer treatments, cardiology, heart surgery, and endocrinology.

12. Ponte Vedra Beach

About a half hour north of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Beach is a happy medium for retirees who love spending their time lounging by the beach and hitting the links. Not only are residents in close proximity to the TPC Sawgrass golf course, home of The Players Championship and the legendary "Island Green" at the 17th hole, they're also 30 minutes from World Golf Village, where you'll find the World Golf Hall of Fame. In addition to a number of golf resorts, including the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, the area also boasts beautiful beaches and parks made for strolls in nature.

When it comes to hospitals, the Mayo Clinic is never too far away, with outposts in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, while HCA Florida Memorial Hospital and several Baptist Medical Centers can be found closer to the beach. Overall, Ponte Vedra Beach is considered to be an upscale area, which makes it a popular spot among celebrity golfers and other wealthy athletes who call the area home. As a result, the cost of living is slightly higher, but if you're an avid golfer or want to become one in retirement, this is the place to be.

13. Vero Beach

With a population of just under 30,000 people, Vero Beach is a great option for retirees who are looking to stay active. Together with the neighboring town of Sebastian, known for its surf scene, you'll find 22 miles of beaches to relax on — once you're done diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, or taking a surfing lesson that is. It's also where you can come to see sea turtles hatch and return to the ocean. Manatee spotting is another popular activity here, as is treasure hunting. Visit Mel Fisher's Treasures Museum or the McLarty Treasure Museum to see what's been recovered from Spanish galleons that shipwrecked off the coast several centuries ago. The Vero Beach Museum of Art is also worth a look, with Chihuly glass and works by artists like Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí on display.

Housing costs in Vero Beach are 14 percent lower than the national average, so you'll be able to find your dream retirement abode for less. Indian River Memorial Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital both serve the area, meaning top-notch health care is never too far away. Neither is a good golf course — Vero Beach itself is home to 23, while an additional 12 courses are located within a 20-mile radius.

14. Ocala

About 45 minutes south of Gainesville in Central Florida, Ocala is a fine choice for anyone looking to get back to nature or indulge their inner equestrian during their retirement years. With more than 400 Thoroughbred horse farms and training facilities, it's no wonder Ocala is officially known as the "Horse Capital of the World." Needless to say, if you want to try your hand at horseback riding or learn more about horses at the World Equestrian Center, you're in the right place. Nature lovers can also hit the hiking trails, go kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, and check out the historic glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs State Park.Ocala is also an affordable place to settle down, with a cost of living that's seven percent under the national average and eight percent below the state average and just over 60,000 residents that call this charming part of the Sunshine State home. The area is well served by a number of hospitals, including HCA Florida Ocala Hospital, Kindred Hospital Ocala, and AdventHealth Ocala.

15. Mount Dora

Mount Dora, located in Central Florida about 30 minutes from Orlando, is known for galleries, antique shops, and a vibrant arts scene that includes frequent festivals and craft fairs. This charming small town of 17,000 was named for its lake (Lake Dora), and is home to the oldest continually operating hotel in Florida, Lakeside Inn, which opened in 1883. Visitors and residents alike are fans of the Mount Dora Marketplace, a food hall serving culinary hits ranging from barbecue street tacos to crepes to craft beer. The Mount Dora Arts Festival, held in early February each year, is another crowd pleaser.

Art-loving retirees are sure to love this town, where the cost of living happens to be two percent below the national average. That said, it's still slightly more expensive to live here than in other Florida locales (but only by four percent). As for health care, UF Health Leesburg Hospital is located nearby in Leesburg, AdventHealth Waterman is just a short drive away in Tavares, and there are several other hospitals within a 45-minute drive.

Doherty, P. (2023, July 8). 15 Best Places to Retire in Florida. Travel + Leisure. https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/senior-travel/best-places-to-retire-in-florida

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