Most retirement sites use affordability as a top criteria for choosing best places to retire, as though retirees are spending their last dollar. But recent figures show the over-60 set is among the wealthiest groups in America, with lower levels of poverty than average and greater numbers of millionaires.
Of course, plenty of baby boomers may never want to move, either because they can't afford to, or they want to stay near children and grandchildren. But many retirees are eager to relocate, and don't want to go economy class. They know a high cost of living often indicates that a place is desirable, so people are willing to pay top dollar to live there.
You don't have to be a 1 percenter to consider the following retirement destinations. But they all sport a cost of living above the national average of 100, according to Sperling’s Best Places, so you should have a few extra dollars.
Cape Cod, Mass. Located less than a hundred miles southeast of Boston, this spit of sand where the Pilgrims stopped off before continuing to Plymouth Rock offers many miles of seashore and over a dozen charming New England towns. The Cape enjoys mild winters (for New England), cool summers, and lots of golf, boating, art, history and summer festivals. The town of Chatham, for example, has an upscale main street, picturesque lighthouse and local airport. Cost of living index: 145.
New York. You don't need a car in this mecca for the culturally inclined, and there are plenty of elevators, which makes the city surprisingly accommodating to the disabled. The Upper West Side, between Lincoln Center and Columbia University, offers all the culture you could want, including Tom's Restaurant of Seinfeld fame. Cost of living index: 170
Washington, D.C. Summers are hot and muggy, but that's a small price to pay for the cultural, educational and historic attractions available at no or low cost. The Metro doesn't go everywhere, like the New York subways do, but it provides fast, comfortable transportation. Cathedral Heights and Cleveland Park both offer high-rise apartment buildings on the avenues, and charming old houses on tree-lined streets. Cost of living index: 145.
Hilton Head, S.C. The island, 40 miles from Savannah, Ga., features beautiful wide beaches, lots of golf and a series of upscale retirement communities. Hilton Head is a bit off the beaten track, but there's a branch of the University of South Carolina in nearby Beaufort, and your family will surely beat a track to your door come spring break. Sea Pines Plantation is host to the annual Heritage Classic golf tournament. Cost of living index: 135.
Naples, Fla. Some people tout upscale Sarasota for its cultural attractions, but Naples is even more upscale, with its own botanical gardens, museum of art, philharmonic center and more golf holes per capita than any other town in America. Naples is not as remote as many people think. It’s less than two hours by car to Ft. Lauderdale, and nearby Marco Island offers a high-speed ferry to Key West. Cost of living index: 160.
Austin, Texas. Located on the edge of the beautiful Texas Hill Country, Austin is known for the University of Texas, the state capital, and its world-class music scene. Georgetown, 30 miles north, features Victorian architecture, picturesque walking and biking trails, and the Center for Lifelong Learning at Southwestern University. Cost of living index: 105.
Scottsdale, Ariz. A perfect place if you like a desert climate, Scottsdale has plenty of golf, tennis and hiking. Bonus: it's near Phoenix, but not in Phoenix. Arizona State University is located in Tempe, just south of Scottsdale, offering cultural and educational opportunities as well as Pac-12 athletics. Paradise Valley is home to famous retirees Muhammad Ali and Sandra Day O'Connor, while Anthem to the north is ten degrees cooler than the city. Cost of living index: 120.
San Diego, Calif. The climate offers mild winters, with an average high of 50 degrees, and equally mild summers, with an average high of 76. The downtown Marina district has been revitalized with a new stadium, an art museum, and a lively theater and restaurant scene. La Jolla, Encinitas and Carlsbad are jewels that dot the coast north of the city. Cost of living index: 145.
Bellingham, Wash. This city, 90 miles north of Seattle and 50 miles south of Vancouver, Canada, boasts more sunny days than Portland or Seattle, yet also offers a mild climate that rarely brings a frost. It has fewer doctors per capita than its larger neighbors, but boasts better air quality and less traffic. It's also the home of Western Washington University, and near the beautiful San Juan islands. Cost of living index: 125.
Hawaii. It's a long way from San Jose, but as one person said: “How long does it take to get used to living in Hawaii? About 20 seconds.” Honolulu, with a population of about 380,000, spreads along the coast on Oahu. The island of Maui offers a more laid-back lifestyle. Best place to live? Anywhere near the ocean, again, if you can afford it. Cost of living index: 185.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.