There's something about small towns that inspires nostalgia and the feeling that traditions of the past still exist on their quaint main streets. Many retirees look for that atmosphere, whether it recalls their own history or a long-imagined ideal place to settle down. There are also practical reasons to move to a small town upon retirement, including affordability, safety, wellness, culture, and comfort. Although not every town offers the ideal combination of these factors, there are many that meet the needs of retirees seeking a simpler life.
Definitions of small towns in terms of population vary from under 10,000 to several times that. Sometimes, towns are considered "small" based on their appearance, lifestyle, or sense of community. In creating this list of small towns, we looked at a variety of qualities (including cost of living, crime data, healthcare availability, senior housing, activities, transportation, and attractions and activities in the area) with the understanding that "best" is ultimately a matter of taste.
Here are some of America's best small towns to consider for retirement or perhaps even for a weekend visit.
Greer, South Carolina
Located in upstate South Carolina with a population of about 33,000 as of 2019, the city has maintained a small town atmosphere, with a revitalized downtown, easy pedestrian access, and attractive twinkling lights. Restaurants, weekly farmers' market, parks, and Thursday night food trucks create a community atmosphere. On the city's website, Greer is described as charming, with festivals, concerts, holiday gatherings, and a variety of recreational activities. Served by the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport as well as Amtrak, the city is accessible and convenient to additional amenities in nearby Greenville. Two hospitals and a cancer center are located within the city, and BMW's manufacturing center is nearby.
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This south central Arizona town has a 2019 population of 12,685 residents. Set in the northern area of the Sonoran Desert, Coolidge is about 60 miles from Phoenix. Retirees who enjoy desert living for health reasons or personal preference know that summers are quite warm, with July being the hottest month, averaging 106 degrees. Winter is moderate, and snowfall is rare. The cost of living in Coolidge is lower than the national and Arizona average. Natural beauty and a quiet lifestyle are also attractions. The nation's first archaeological reserve, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, is located in Coolidge. Central Arizona College offers personal enrichment classes, continuing education, and workshops for the community. The town is home to a variety of adult and assisted living housing.
Dillsboro, North Carolina
This small town is located on the banks of the Tuckaseigee River near the south entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With a population of fewer than 300 residents, Dillsboro maintains its 19th century railroad town charm. Its walkable downtown consists of century-old stores, restaurants, gift shops, and galleries focused on local artisans who have moved to the town. Annual events are centered around arts and crafts. The cost of living in Dillsboro is comparable to the national average, and crime rates are low. Retirees seeking true small town life, a historic setting, and year-round outdoor activities might enjoy Dillsboro, and for a change of pace, Asheville is less than an hour away.
Located in Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by German immigrants, and that heritage infuses the town's food, architecture, and culture. Wine lovers will enjoy living in the midst of more than 100 wineries in the area, and stargazers will appreciate the city's efforts to become a Dark Sky Community, with measures to minimize light pollution. Seasonal changes are significant, with dry, warm summers and cold weather in winter. The area is safe, and crime rates are low. Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg includes an acute care facility and a Wellness Center. As a tourist destination with a number of historical landmarks, the city offers a variety of restaurants, hotels, museums, and entertainment. San Antonio and Austin are the closest major cities, both within 70 miles of Fredericksburg.
Cedar Key, Florida
The Sunshine State is home to many charming small towns, and Cedar Key is one of the smallest and most charming. Retirees in Florida enjoy the financial benefits of having no state income tax, and Cedar Key's cost of living is low to moderate. Set on the Gulf coast with fewer than 10,000 residents, the town is considered safe, quiet, and relaxed. Nature lovers will appreciate the proximity of Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, nature trails, and unspoiled environment. A tourist destination, especially in winter, the town features excellent seafood, with farm-raised clams and Florida oysters available all year. About an hour's drive southwest of Gainesville, the island's cottages, homes, and aquaculture are accessible by Highway 24, the only road entering the town. Residents and visitors enjoy the friendly, low-key atmosphere and a variety of events throughout the year.
Paso Robles, California
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Located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles is a city of around 30,000 residents. A walkable downtown features restaurants ranging from casual coffee shops to upscale dining, shops, galleries, breweries, wine tasting rooms, and entertainment. Nearby, wineries are set among picturesque rolling hills, many with outdoor areas for picnics. A weekly farmers' market brings the local agricultural products including olive oil, seasonal produce, cheeses, herbs, and flowers. Summers are warm, and the coast is just a half hour away with several beaches and seaside towns. Active retirees will enjoy nearby camping, golf, biking, and outdoor activities along the shore or at nearby lakes. Several active adult communities are located in Paso Robles, and a range of health care providers are available.
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Located in northeastern Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, Stroudsburg has a 2020 population of 5,598. Its walkable downtown combines historical architecture and modern amenities including restaurants, wine bars, museums, galleries, shops, antique stores, and hotels. For more than 40 years, the Monroe Farmers' market has been a seasonal fixture in Stroudsburg, with locally grown produce, honey, baked goods, coffee, and more. The annual arts and crafts festival takes place each August at the town's Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm, a living history museum set on 114 acres, featuring a variety of tours, educational workshops, and events throughout the year. As a tourist destination, Stroudsburg offers family activities — for grandchildren's visits — and many places to stay. A variety of senior living accommodations are available as well as hospitals and home healthcare services.
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With a population of 24,422 in 2021, Mequon is about 15 miles north of Milwaukee on the western coast of Lake Michigan. Open space, farms, and single family residences are spread over the area, and 25 parks and five golf courses offer ways to enjoy the outdoors. Within Mequon, the urban residential center is the Village of Thiensville, located along the Milwaukee River, with a population of around 3,000. Restaurants, shops, and family-friendly events like the Memorial Day parade, Independence Day celebration, Christmas Tree lighting, and farmers' market add to the small town community atmosphere. Annual events include a softball tournament, bingo, carnival rides, car show, and chicken dinner sponsored by the local Lions Club. A variety of senior living facilities and health care programs are located in Mequon.
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A quintessential New England small town, Bristol will appeal to retirees who appreciate its quaint atmosphere and scenery, as long as they're ready for cold, but picturesque winters. Located in the foothills of the Green Mountains, Bristol's population is under 2,000 residents. Its old-style walkable downtown — a National Historic District — features restaurants, coffee shops, and stores offering gifts, local arts and crafts, clothing, and more. A summer music festival, street fairs, Harvest Festival in fall, and the Independence Day Outhouse Race are a few of the community events. For a truly vintage touch, recycling is picked up by horse and wagon. Summer band concerts in the village green have been a tradition since the Civil War. Bristol is considered a safe, friendly, and charming place to live, and senior living as well as health care facilities are conveniently located in town.
Retirees who enjoy being outdoors, independent, and active would enjoy life in Hamilton where gorgeous scenery is a constant backdrop. Wide open spaces and a rural small-town feel with a strong community atmosphere describe Hamilton, but the convenience and amenities of a bigger city are available in Missoula, about an hour's drive away. Fewer than 4,000 people live in Hamilton, surrounded by small farms, ranches, and orchards. The historic town boasts the Ravalli County Museum, set in the original 1900 county courthouse, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Bitterroot College University of Montana is located in town, and the public library was built by Andrew Carnegie. Several retirement homes are available in town, and there's a local hospital and a variety of healthcare providers.