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Where Should I Retire?: We like warm weather, lots of outdoor activities, not much traffic. We also want a medium-sized city close to the beach. Where should we retire?

Hi MarketWatch,

We are retired and currently live in North Georgia. We are looking to move within about 30 to 40 minutes of the beach, preferably near family in southern Virginia or the Tampa area. 

We like warm weather, not a lot of traffic, and lots of outdoor activities and social groups. We also prefer to live in or near a medium-sized city with plenty to do. We prefer someplace not too conservative and religious. We can tolerate humidity but don’t love it. 

We are debt-free, have a few million, with a housing budget of $850,000 to $1 million. We’re not really looking for just a 55+ community. We don’t have children but don’t want just seniors around. 

Any ideas?

Melinda

Dear Melinda,

How is this for a radical suggestion: spend six months near family in Tampa (pick the least-humid six months and qualify as a state resident, thereby paying no state income tax) and then see the world? Spend a month or more in one spot, live like a local, and then regale your friends with your adventures during your six-month stints in Florida?

Or perhaps use that housing budget to buy two homes, one near each family member so you don’t have to pick favorites? Just be sure to talk to everyone about how often you want to see them (and how often you expect them to drive to you). I’m a fan of the test run, so consider renting near each of them for a few months to determine whether that’s what you really want.

Testing out a community during its least-appealing time, not just visiting as a tourist, is a smart strategy no matter where you are looking.

Read: Before you move to a new town in retirement, check the local Walmart – and 5 other hard-learned lessons

Can I also suggest you spend more time thinking about how important the beach is to you? Are you looking to gaze out on the water or actually feel the sand between your toes? Could a lake work as well?

If you want to go to the beach frequently and dislike traffic, consider getting yourself as close to the water as your housing budget allows.

Whatever you do, congratulations on having a budget that gives you a lot of flexibility. I’ve got three suggestions to get you started. I don’t like to repeat myself, so please check other “Where Should I Retire?” columns here.

Dunedin, Florida
Dunedin is the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Getty Images

This city of 37,000 has waterfront as well as easy access to all the bustle of Clearwater (just to the south), St. Petersburg and Tampa. It likes to boast of its Scottish touches, including its own version of the Highland Games, and often lands a spot on lists of best places to retire.

You can keep yourself busy with art classes at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, watching the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training and exploring sections of the still-expanding 50-mile paved Pinellas Trail that goes through Dunedin to either St. Pete or Tarpon Springs.

Pick your spot carefully if you want to be around people of all ages; the Census Bureau says nearly a third of Dunedin’s residents are 65 or older. If you want someplace younger, try St. Pete, where less than 20% are seniors. Upscale neighborhoods include Snell Isle, Old Northeast and Coquina Key.

Don’t overlook these other caveats. The Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater metro area is home to more than 3 million people, so you can’t escape traffic. And of course there is Florida’s humidity in the summer along with average summer highs in the upper 80s. Make sure you’re good with that before committing.

On the other hand, average winter highs are in the upper 60s.

The median list price for a home in Dunedin was $399,900 in August, according to Realtor.com, which like MarketWatch is owned by News Corp. Here’s what’s on the housing market now. You can filter for properties in your price range and for some features.

Chesterfield County, Virginia
Pocahontas State Park, just 20 miles from downtown Richmond, covers nearly 8,000 acres.

Courtesy Richmond Region Tourism

If you want to be close to the beach and live in Virginia, you really need to look in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater area. Think Williamsburg (avoid the tourist areas) and South Hampton Roads, for example. Just be prepared for traffic, given that nearly 1.8 million people live in this area and then there’s beach traffic all summer long. Once again, if the beach is that important, consider getting as close to it as you can. 

I’ll stick with your idea of Virginia but suggest an option near a lake instead in an area that is smaller than either the Virginia Beach or Tampa metro areas and where traffic is an afterthought. 

Look outside Richmond, the state capital, at the lakefront developments near Chesterfield County’s Swift Creek Reservoir—places like Brandermill and Woodlake (neither is part of a town). If you want really upmarket, look at Lake Chesdin at the southern end of the county. That one might take your entire housing budget, but generally you can live quite well in this metro area of 1.3 million people for much less.

If you want more outdoors, Pocahontas State Park, the largest state park with lakes, hiking options and mountain-bike trails, is between these two areas.

Regardless of which lake you choose, you’d be close to Richmond, where about 230,000 people live, and all its cultural offerings — theater, ballet, symphony, festivals, college sports and more.

If city activities trump water fun, then consider moving into Richmond or neighboring Henrico County. Richmond’s Fan District blends into the Museum District; there you’ll find a combination of college town atmosphere (Virginia Commonwealth University is there), cultural attractions and plenty of restaurants. Church Hill, on the eastern side of town, is a more historical neighborhood and closer to the James River and the Richmond City Canal that runs parallel to it.

Heading east of Richmond is the Virginia Capital Trail, which runs 52 miles to Jamestown.

And when you do want the ocean, Virginia Beach is about two hours away. You can head there just for the day, or you can rent a house for longer.

You’ll get some snow—more than if you were in South Hampton Roads or Williamsburg—but it generally doesn’t last long. Average winter highs are in the upper 40s, rather than in the 50s closer to the beach. Average summer highs are in the upper 80s.

The median list price for homes in Chesterfield County was $360,000 in August, according to Realtor.com, or slightly more than around Tampa. Here’s what’s on the market now.

Morehead City, North Carolina
One of Morehead City’s historic homes

Courtersy Crystal Coast Tourism Authority

At 10,000 residents, Morehead City, the largest of the beach towns on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, also known as the southern Outer Banks, is smaller than what you’ve described. But hear me out. 

Thanks to the beach, you may find more amenities than you expect in a county with just 70,000 people. The population swells with second-home owners and visitors, so you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars (though few box stores) as well as an aquarium and a maritime museum. 

There’s golf and fishing, of course, but also wreck diving that lets you explore boats and submarines submerged in the ocean.

The local hospital is in Morehead City; Carteret Health Care is the first facility in North Carolina to become part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, giving it special access to Mayo Clinic expertise.

No question, the beaches are the reason to consider Carteret County, where about a quarter of the population is 65 or older. If not Morehead City, you could look at Emerald Isle, a beach town with golf carts on the streets, or historical Beaufort (not to be confused with a town in South Carolina with the same name but a different pronunciation—the North Carolina one is Bow-fort).

Wilmington is 2 hours away, and Raleigh is nearly 3 hours. Once the highway is upgraded to an interstate, Raleigh could be reachable in 2 hours.

Winter highs are in the mid-50s, and average summer highs are in the upper 80s.

The median list price for homes in Morehead City is $359,500, and Carteret County boasts that it has the lowest county property tax rate in the state. Here’s what’s on the market now in Morehead City.

Curious about Beaufort, S.C.? Read about it here.

Readers, where should Melinda and her husband retire? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

More retirement ideas

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I’d like to buy a home in a warm spot near the beach for $350,000—where should I retire?

‘Work and a few vacations each year is all we’ve done for the past 34 years’—This couple has $2.6 million and no idea where to retire

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