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Top 10 beach towns for retirees

Eureka, California's coastline // Shutterstock

Being able to spend your golden years lounging on the beach is a dream shared by millions of Americans.

The siren songs of sandy shores, a slower pace of life, and ocean views pull millions of retirees to beach towns across the country every year.

Florida is the most obvious option, especially for those living in the Northeast, and it's still a good one.

"The cost of living is significantly less expensive for entertainment, transportation, food, drinks, gas, parking, and even in real estate costs," said Jon Ulin, managing principal of Ulin & Co Wealth Management in Boca Raton, Florida. "You can buy a lot more house in Florida for the same cost all the while saving snow removal expenses and snow tire purchases. Also significant consideration -- in Florida, retirees would not be paying city or state taxes which will save a lot of money."

But beach living isn't exclusive to Florida. There are tons of coastal spots in places such as Delaware, Virginia, the Carolinas, Washington, Oregon and even Michigan where beach life is inexpensive. While they may not have the consistent warmth of Florida, places in these states offer small town charm, unparalleled views and plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature.

If you're looking to retire to a beach community, Ellen Breslau, editor-in-chief of, recommends first deciding if you're looking to live by the beach seasonally or year-round, then delving into the details.

"You probably want to put together some kind of checklist and list a bunch of things and see how each place rates up with your checklist," she said.

She recommends looking at taxes, property prices, cost of living (how much is a gallon of milk there compared to where you currently live?), medical facilities, year-round temperature and the local economy in case you want to work through your retirement. And then you should consider what kind of community you want to live in: Do you cherish your privacy in a home or want the socialization opportunities of a 55-plus community?

Ulin also recommends considering some of the potential downsides: Do you have enough equity in your house to move? Also, remember that you're moving farther from children and grandchildren, which can get pricey, and you may have to cough up extra money for additional flood and wind insurance in a hurricane-prone coastal area -- though not all beaches are prone to these disasters.

Taking into account natural scenery, amenities and activities offered, proximity to health care, taxes, home prices, cost of living and population of people older than 55, we picked out 10 of the best places to retire to if living by the beach is your dream.

Port Townsend, Washington


A small town northeast and across Puget Sound from Seattle, Port Townsend is a town lost in time, stocked full of Victorian buildings so well-preserved most of the town is now designated a national historic district. Water and Washington Streets are sprinkled with coffeehouses, restaurants and offices. The city has a busy local arts and crafts population along with popular festivals, such as the Victorian Spring Ball, celebrating the town's early days as a seaport, and gallery walks. On the more practical side, the city has plenty of healthcare facilities.

For retirees who want to spend time in nature, Port Townsend has abundant access. The city offers water views of Port Townsend Bay, the South and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as views of both the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympic Mountains to the west. The Kah Tai Lagoon, Chinese Gardens, and beach-access parks Fort Worden and Chetzemoka also offer opportunities to enjoy nature, along with the nearby Olympic National Park.

Oak Island, North Carolina

Creative Commons / Martylunsford

Oak Island is a popular tourist destination -- the population swells from about 7,000 in the winter to about 40,000 in the summer -- but it remains a relatively quiet, laidback beach town year-round. It has 10 miles of beaches with more than 50 access points to the beach, two public boat launches, a marina, golf course and two fishable piers (one public and one private).

Antique shops, art galleries and restaurants dot the town, mixed with natural attractions such as a heron look-out, two nature centers, and a sea turtle sanctuary. The 4th of July Festival Beach Day celebration and annual U.S. Open King Mackerel Fishing Tournament are big events during the summer.

Georgetown area, South Carolina


While Georgetown, the city proper, is not technically located on a beach, Georgetown County is affectionately known as South Carolina's Hammock Coast. The name is pretty indicative of the laidback lifestyle there. The city has a rich history hidden inside its sleepy, tree-lined streets. And like larger southern coastal cities of Charleston or Savannah, the architecture is charming and colorful without as much bustle.

Nearby towns of Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, Garden City and Andrews offer variety for a retiree with the travel bug who doesn't want to go too far. There are sprawling golf courses, beautiful parks and plenty of fishing, kayaking, hiking and boating available in the area.

Boynton Beach, Florida


Though Boynton Beach is located along one of the busiest strips in Florida's already active eastern shores, between Miami and West Palm Beach, it offers a small-town feel for residents and still includes some of the old Florida architectural charm.

Unlike some of its neighbors, Boynton is a little bit more affordable, but the amenities of these areas are easily accessible, such as Boca Raton's Florida Atlantic University's Lifelong Learning Society and the cultural attractions of the Fort Lauderdale area. The city has plenty of public beaches and parks to enjoy, and lots of 55+ active adult communities for those looking to easily establish a social life in the sunshine state.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

For those that aren't interested in Florida, northern coastal states such as Delaware also offer vibrant retirement options. Located just two hours from Washington, D.C., it is both a year-round haven for vacationers and retirees as well as a weekend getaway spot for those working in the nation's capital.

The city has a beautiful beach, mile-long boardwalk as well as unique, local shops and outlet stores. Festivals, such as the Autumn Rehoboth Jazz Festival, the annual Chocolate Festival, Seawitch Festival and sandcastle contest, offer plenty of entertainment. Residents can walk Dewey Beach, hike the Junction and Breakwater Trail, ride bikes through tree-lined streets and shop and dine along Rehoboth Avenue.

Bandon, Oregon

Creative Commons / Flickr user Scott Catron

Bandon's craggy coast offers a unique retirement option for those living on the West Coast. Located in the southern portion of Oregon along the Coquille River, the city offers four well-known golf courses in Bandon and Pacific Dunes, which run along the coast, and Old MacDonald and Bandon Trails. The giant rock formations along the coast are home to all kinds of wildlife, and storm watching as well as fishing are popular as well.

The downtown offers small-town charm with plenty of shops and restaurants in its Historic Old Town. The city is about four hours from Portland, so it's fairly isolated, but still offers major amenities, such as the Southern Coos Hospital and Health Center.

Traverse City, Michigan

Creative Commons / Flickr user marada

For those that don't want to give up four seasons or their Midwestern roots, Traverse City offers waterfront living for less. Residents can enjoy miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, along with outdoor activities such as hiking, cross-country skiing, cycling and boating for active retirees.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers beautiful views, while the surrounding area offers wineries dotting the green landscape. The small downtown has an active art community and lots of local, unique businesses -- though not enough to support a growing economy, so if you're looking to work into retirement this community may not be the place. It does, however, have a great hospital system.

Fort Myers area, Florida


The Fort Myers area of Florida offers an eclectic experience and any retiree interested in the region is sure to find the right spot for their individual lifestyle. Options range from the quiet, pricey, chain restaurant-free Sanibel Island to the active retirement communities of Fort Myers to the hundreds of miles of canals for boating enthusiasts in Cape Coral. The area has endless opportunities for activities, many beaches and endlessly good Florida weather.

There's boating, golf, paddle boarding and kayaking through the Mangroves, along with the cultural, dining and shopping opportunities in the restored downtown of Fort Myers along the Caloosahatchee River.

Virginia Beach, Virginia


Virginia Beach lives up to its name: The town offers 35 miles of shoreline. The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and First Landing State Park offer a bevy of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking and boating. Plus there's Town Center, a 17-city block area that has restaurants, shopping and entertainment options.

The area is home to half-backs, people from the north who retired to Florida, didn't like it and made it halfway back and landed in Virginia, as well as a number of military retirees from the five military bases.

Eureka, California

Creative Commons / Flickr user Pamla J. Eisenberg

Though Eureka's bays make it a perfect port city, the town of nearly 30,000 also has plenty of beautiful beaches, where the crashing waves attract families, surfers and retirees walking along the shores. The temperature remains pretty consistent year round -- between the 40s and 50s in the winter, when it can get rainy, to the 50s and 60s in the summers when it's dry.

There are 13 distinct districts that are on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring Victorian, Colonial Revival and Greek Revival architecture.

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