States – North Carolina

north carolina

North Carolina offers a lot of what many retirees are looking for: a moderate climate, abundant natural scenery, and reasonable cost of living. The eastern part of the state has two national seashores with hundreds of miles of beach and comfortable seaside villages.

Elsewhere in the state are some vibrant college communities including Raleigh-Durham, home to Duke University, and Chapel Hill, which hosts the University of North Carolina. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill is called the “Research Triangle” because the top-notch universities support a dense cluster of technology companies. Its strong economy helps make it one of the most desirable retirement destinations in the U.S. Charlotte is also a rapidly growing area with a thriving cultural scene.

One downside of living in the Tarheel State is some temperature extremes. In Raleigh, the summers can be hot and humid, with temperatures topping out over 90 degrees in July and dropping to the low 30s in January. Other parts of the state have more moderate weather. Cape Hatteras, on the coast, ranges from the mid 80s in the summer to the 50s in January, with about 60 percent sunshine. The state also has an overall living cost about 3% below the national average.

Here are some retirement locations worth consideration.


The western, mountainous parts of the state are drawing a closer look from retirees. Asheville is attracting the most attention, but 25 minutes south of that is a smaller town (population 13,000) that has some good features.

For one thing, Hendersonville has a 72-instrument symphony orchestra, the smallest town in the country that has one. The official state theater, Flat Rock Playhouse, is also located in town. There are also many very affordable golf courses in the area. Nearby are the 200 waterfalls in western North Carolina and the Pisgah National Forest with walking paths and bike trails, fishing, camping, and picnic sites.

In the area are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1000-acre Chimney Rock Park, and Grandfather Mountain with its mile-high swinging footbridge. You can also visit the historic Biltmore House, built by George Vanderbilt in 1895, and the North Carolina Arboretum, with 434 acres of trails.

The Blue Ridge Parkway also traces a path from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, passing by mountain forests, wildlife and wildflowers, and spectacular mountain views. The area has four seasons but a mild climate overall.

Just 25 miles away is Mission Hospital, one of the top health care facilities in the country, and the big-city amenities of Atlanta and Greensboro are two or three hours away.


Just 25 minutes from Raleigh is the small city of Morrisville (population 20,000). Morrisville is located in the central region of the state, with gently rolling hills. It’s at the elevation fall line between the North American Piedmont and Atlantic Coastal Plain regions, so waterfalls are plentiful in the area. The climate is subtropical, with moderate temperatures in fall, winter, and spring, and hot, humid summers.

The town scores well in crime rate and weather, two areas of importance to retirees. It also has an international airport just five miles away. The cost of living is right at the national average. There are six city parks and a community center in town, with picnic areas, athletic fields, tennis courts, and walking trails.

For shopping, the amenities of Raleigh are a short distance away, including Grace Park and Park West Village, and the Southeast’s largest indoor rock-climbing facility. The annual East Meets West Festival features food and displays from cultures around the world. There are also many local restaurants with a variety of cuisines from Indian to Persian to Southern barbecue.

Mount Holly

Mount Holly is a town of 10,000 in the southwestern part of North Carolina. It’s strategically located in the Charlotte area and benefits from the prosperity of that region. Textiles and manufacturing are especially prominent in the area. The living cost is well below the national average.

Residents can choose from many annual events, including Springfest with live music and vendors; the Mount Holly Arts & Music Festival each fall, with more live music, regional wines, and art exhibits; concerts and movies in a local park each spring and summer, and a Christmas celebration on main street with buggy rides and strolling carolers.

Those interested in learning about the local area can visit the Schiele Museum with a vast collection of fossils and minerals, or the Gaston County Museum of Art & History, which contains the state’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles. There is also Discover YOU!, an interactive health and wellness center designed to educate and inspire visitors to make healthy lifestyle choices.

The area has over 40 senior living communities. Healthcare is available through the CaroMont Regional Medical Center and the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Elizabeth City

Known as the “Harbor of Hospitality”, Elizabeth City is located on the Pasquotank River, which feeds into the Atlantic and has a history as a shipping port. Today it has modern waterfront communities but retains its historic flavor. It has six National Register Historic Districts and six buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It contains the state’s largest concentration of antebellum-style homes and buildings.

Annual events include the North Carolina Potato Festival in May, the Albemarle Craftsman’s Fair featuring traditional crafts by local artists, and Juneteenth Celebration, which now has evolved into a multiethnic event and features vendors, speakers, entertainment, and food.

Elizabeth City has an active arts and live performance community, with Arts of the Albemarle, home to over 250 artists, the Maguire Theatre, a state of the art performance space, and a School of the Arts.

The Dismal Swamp State Park has a boardwalk and 16 miles of trails that take visitors through the lush swamp forest. The Downtown Waterfront Market, held weekly spring through fall, features local foods, crafts, live music and performances, and cooking and arts-and-crafts demonstrations.


A suburb of Raleigh, Apex is a town of 40,000 in the middle of the state, with a low crime rate and moderate climate. Those who like to travel can find the Raleigh-Durham International Airport conveniently located just eight miles away.

The big city amenities of Raleigh are close by, but so is the southern charm of the small town community. This is particularly evident during annual events like the Olde Fashioned 4th of July, Trick or Treat on Salem St., and Christmas on Salem St. The weekly Apex Farmers Market, from April through October, is a good place to pick up local foods, crafts, baked goods, and bath and body products. Those looking for more shopping can visit Beaver Creek Commons/Crossings, a local mall with a cinema, department stores, and restaurants.

For outdoor recreation, there is the American Tobacco Trail and Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, with walking and bike trails, camping, and swimming in the man-made lake.

For more information about retirement in North Carolina:

State overview in facts and figures

State taxes

State services for senior residents

Profiles of major cities

Retirement communities

Best regions for retirement