If you’re like many people, you love the beach. We associate beaches with boating and other water sports, with boardwalks and amusement parks, with sunbathing — in short, with relaxing vacations. We also associate beach communities with retirement.
Beaches communities along all coasts of the United States — Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico — are already filled with retirees. Florida has been a mecca for retirees for decades, as has the gulf coast of Texas and the coastal islands of Georgia and the Carolinas. Many of these spots are still worth investigating, depending on the kind of scene you’re looking for — a big city like Miami, a golfing center like Myrtle Beach, a long stretch of unbroken sand like San Padre Island.
Many longstanding retirement spots continue to reinvent themselves and remain as dynamic and interesting now as they were decades ago. However, there are other destinations that are a bit off the beaten track that might attract your interest.
One Florida destination that’s quieter than many is Dunedin, on the gulf coast north of Clearwater and west of Tampa. This town of about 35,000 was settled by Scotsmen in the late 19th century; the absence of commercial signage and franchise restaurants downtown lend the town a charming appeal. A 39-mile-long pedestrian and bicycle trail, the Pinellas Trail, bisects the downtown area; bicyclists and joggers are common in the mornings. Two offshore islands are state parks — Honeymoon Island and Caladesi island — both offering recreational facilities and beautiful beaches. If you appreciate Scottish culture, the city hosts annual Highland Games; if you’re a baseball fan, Dunedin is the springtime home of the Toronto Blue Jays and full-time home of the Florida League’s Dunedin Blue Jays.
Home prices in Dunedin are cheap by any standards; the median sales price for homes in the town is just over $100,000. Florida has no state income tax and the climate is, of course, warm year round.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort, South Carolina, is located on the Atlantic coast between Charleston and Hilton Head Island; this town of 12,000 is 300 years old and maintains its historic character in the preservation of antebellum homes that can be found throughout the town. Downtown Beaufort, about 300 acres, has been designated a National Historic Landmark; the town has also attracted a number of art galleries. Beaufort also has a military connection; the Marine Corp’s Parris Island boot camp is located just south of town.
There are no beaches in the downtown area, which is on the inland waterway; however, there are many beaches and coastal islands within a short drive. Average home sales prices in Beaufort are around $165,000, although the antebellum homes downtown typically sell for two or three times that amount. Taxes in South Carolina are relatively high.
Sequim, Washington (pronounced with one syllable: “squim”) is a small town of about 6,000 on the northeast corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The town is located in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains; because of its peculiar location, it receives less than 15 inches of rainfall a year. (Seattle and other cities on Puget Sound are famous for rain.) There are plenty of beaches around Sequim, including Dungeness Spit — at nearly 6 miles in length, the world’s longest naturally occurring sand spit. The water, however, is chilly year-round. Other water activities including boating, both around Washington’s San Juan Islands and north to Victoria Island in Canada.
Home prices in Sequim are high — average listing prices hover around $300,000. As in Florida, Washington imposes no state income tax, although sales taxes are on the high side.
St. Joseph, Michigan
St. Joseph, Michigan, is not on the ocean — it’s on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan. This town of 9,000 has a small downtown area with boutiques, bakeries, and other local businesses; the downtown area is on a bluff overlooking the lake. Silver Beach is a popular spot; there are plenty of other beaches along this part of Lake Michigan, with giant sand dunes and old lighthouses. Plenty of local wine is made in the area, and art fairs are held annually. Median sales prices for homes in St. Joseph are quite low for a waterfront town, at $135,000.
Lewes, Delaware (pronounced “Lewis”), is the first European settlement in the state of Delaware; the original settlers were Dutch, and the Zwaanendael Museum downtown is modeled on the former city hall in the city of Hoorn, in the Netherlands. This small town of 3,000 is located at the juncture of the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay, and boasts beautiful beaches on both the ocean, at Cape Henlopen State Park, and the bay, within walking distance of downtown. Downtown itself is only a few square blocks, with boutiques, shops, and scores of beautiful historic homes.
Because of its proximity to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, Lewes can get a bit crowded in the summer, although most urban weekenders continue on to nearby Rehoboth Beach, which has a boardwalk and all the amenities of a traditional oceanfront community. And because Delaware has no sales tax, plenty of out-of-staters flock to the outlet malls on the highway linking Lewes with Rehoboth to stock up on inexpensive clothing and other goods. Home prices are expensive, with average listing prices at over $300,000, but plenty of cheaper homes can be found a few miles inland, away from the beaches.
Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn, New York, is not everyone’s idea of a retirement spot — retirees have tended to flee from Brooklyn, on their way to Florida — but if you like cities and can make compromises regarding living space, you might consider Brooklyn. Brighton Beach has attracted a large Russian community, so you won’t lack for good borscht; neighboring Coney Island has lost the glamour it enjoyed in the early part of the 20th century but still draws summer crowds. A long, broad beach fronts both communities. And, with Manhattan just a subway ride away, you’ll never lack for things to do.
You’ll need money to live on Brooklyn’s beaches; 650-square-foot condos with single bath can cost $200,000, and larger apartments can cost half a million and more. Taxes in New York are high, and crime has always been a concern. But if you love New York City, you know all this already. There’s no place like it in the world.
These destinations are just a few suggestions; the United States is surrounded by coastlines on three sides, with plenty of lakeside beaches in the interior, so keep looking and you’ll find your perfect beachside retirement spot.