Arizona has long been a haven for those seeking to escape the winter weather in other parts of the country. Its 286 days of sunshine per year and warm climate also make it a popular retirement destination.
But Arizona has more than the weather going for it: Kiplinger’s rated it as one of the 10 most tax friendly states for retirees. Social Security benefits are not taxed as income, there’s no state property tax or inheritance tax, and the state income tax is one of the lowest in the nation. It also has a cost of living that’s 5% below the national average. Although home prices have begun creeping up after hitting bottom in 2008, the median home price is around $190,000 in 2015, which is 10% below the national median. Forbes rated Phoenix and Tucson among the 25 best cities to retire in, citing low cost of living, good weather, and availability of healthcare.
Around 15% of Arizona residents are age 65 or older, a slightly higher percentage than in the U.S. AARP projects that by 2040 the proportion of residents age 85 or older will have increased by 300%. But the state’s sunny climate lends itself readily to outdoor recreation and physical exercise, and many Arizona seniors are taking full advantage.
Peoria, which was ranked the tenth best place to retire in the U.S. by WalletHub, a financial-planning website, has a major sports complex and 10 miles of paved running and walking trails. Overall, AARP found seniors in Arizona have lower than average rates of high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, and diabetes.
“We know our retirees are younger and healthier than ever before,” according to John Sefton, Peoria’s director of community services. “They’ve got a great quality of life because of our health focus.” Peoria, like a number of other Arizona cities, caters to the needs and desires of retirees with a wide range of activities designed just for them.
Sun City West, a popular retirement community near Peoria, has four recreation centers, seven golf courses, and a 30-lane bowling alley. There are also grocery stores, banks and restaurants throughout the community. The residents are very active in the community and supporting various charities. They have organized more than 100 clubs, including an automotive restoration club, bocce club and a club for line dancing.
The weather in Arizona is also very comfortable. The warm, dry climate makes the temperature seem more moderate. Says Kory Budinger, a Phoenix-based financial planner “a 100 degree day in Arizona can sometimes feel like 85 because it’s so dry here.” There are also fewer than 11 inches of rain per year and temperatures rarely fall below freezing in most areas.
But the weather can cut both ways. The summers can be brutally hot in many parts of the state. The dry climate can be harsh on the skin and eyes, and cause chronic dry throat for people who are susceptible. There are also worries about drought and water shortages are a constant concern. And although prices overall are lower than the national average, some spots in Arizona, like Sedona and Scottsdale, are far more expensive.
Here are three towns that combine affordability with livability and nice amenities.
Set in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by saguaro cactus and five mountain ranges, Tucson is a hiker’s and biker’s paradise, winning a gold medal from the League of American Bicyclists. There are bike paths throughout the city, and the mountains are filled with hiking trails. Tucson’s location just an hour north of the Mexican border shows in its many fine Mexican restaurants.
The town of 520,000 has a collection of well-known museums. Those who are curious about the local environment can visit the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park. The University of Arizona, located in the city, offers classes through its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The university also has a major medical center. There’s also the Old Tucson studio, an active Western film studio that was the setting for over 300 movies and TV series. In town there’s a ballet company, a professional theater, symphony orchestra, and an opera company, along with 35 art galleries in downtown alone.
The Tucson area is home to more than 500 species of birds. During the spring and fall migrations, birdwatchers can spot over 150 species of birds in one day; 20,000 sandhill cranes, as well as hummingbirds, sparrows, and raptors, make the area their home.
Retirees can help out with the many annual events in town. There are several birding festivals throughout the year, including the renowned Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival in August. The Tucson Folk Festival is one of the top folk festivals in the U.S., drawing more than 10,000 folk music lovers with more than 20 hours of free, live bluegrass, Irish, old country and western music.
Those interested in old west history can visit the historic towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, about two hours southeast of Tucson. Tombstone is one of the country’s most famous old west ghost towns, site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Bisbee at one time was the most populous city between St. Louis and San Francisco and was a huge copper mining town in the early 1900s – around 8 billion pounds were mined in the area. Today, Bisbee is an artist colony with over 20 galleries (some housed in former saloons), as well as boutiques, restaurants, and well-preserved Victorian homes.
Tucson’s cost of living is about 10% below the national average, and the median home price is around $150,000.
The capital of Arizona is called the Valley of the Sun, and with 265 days of sunshine per year, it’s easy to understand why. The city hosts four professional sports teams, spring training for 15 baseball teams, and over 200 golf courses. The city of 1.5 million also has artistic and cultural attractions including Taliesen West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former compound, the Heard Museum of Native American art and history, Ballet Arizona, and the Phoenix Symphony. There’s also the Desert Botanical Garden for those interested in desert plants. The city is surrounded by suburbs that triple the population. Although downtown homes can be expensive, prices are lower in some of the suburbs, especially the West Valley, which has many senior communities as well as major sporting venues. The east side of town has Scottsdale, and upscale community, as well as the Mayo Clinic, which offers world-class health care.
Prescott is a small, western town of about 40,000. Originally Arizona’s territorial capital, it later became a mining town and still retains a small-town atmosphere, with a historic town square.
Prescott is a mile above sea level in the central highlands, and its environment is different from Tucson and Phoenix. The climate is more Mediterranean than desert, which means it’s not so hot in the summer. Also, the surrounding mountains are covered with ponderosa pines instead of cactus, and the Prescott National Forest is nearby. Home prices are higher than in Tucson and Phoenix.
The town is also a mix of old and new. It retains a western, cowboy atmosphere and is supposedly home to the world’s oldest rodeo. The town works hard to preserve its western heritage. Over 800 buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Buildings and many of them date back over a century. There are also handsome Victorian homes located in a highly walkable downtown area.
But it also is home to Prescott College, a small, liberal arts college that is active in environmental and social justice issues. Those who are interested in learning can take courses at the college. Visitors and residents can also learn about western art and culture at the Sharlot Hall Museum, The Phippen Museum of Western Art, and the Smoki Museum There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer in town, and many younger retirees even open businesses after moving to Prescott.
The mild climate attracts retirees who love the outdoors. There are five golf courses, some surrounded by towering pine trees and others by rocky terrain. There are also five lakes suitable for canoeing and kayaking. The town has over 450 miles of hiking, biking, and horse riding trails.
For more information about retirement in Arizona: