How to Affordably Retire on the Pacific Coast

While California beachfront property may be too expensive for your budget, this ocean-side city isn’t.

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To realize the dream of retiring on the Pacific in California, you'll pay multiple millions for a house on the sand. Even a decent place near the beach with an ocean view can cost upwards of $1 million. But there are plenty of more affordable seaside options.

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The Bay of Banderas is one of the world's largest and most beautiful, and the city that hugs its shores is the legendary and romantic resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a favorite spot for weddings and honeymoons and an established tourist destination. But this part of Mexico has much more than romance going for it. The stretch of the Mexican Pacific coast from Puerto Vallarta north to Sayulita, part of the region known collectively as the Riviera Nayarit, is also a retirement haven that could allow you to enjoy a luxury-level beachfront retirement at a surprisingly affordable cost.

In Marina Vallarta, the average condo price is $250,000. And it’s possible to buy a fully furnished one-bedroom condo in a gated community by the golf course for less than $100,000. The area also has plenty of amenities including hotel high-rises, shops, restaurants, golf courses, and a protected 450-slip marina.

More in the center of things and more charming are Old Town (also known as the Romantic Zone) and the historic center. These areas are popular with tourists, meaning property prices are higher. The historic center, often called Centro or Downtown, is the oldest part of the city and its heart. The beachfront area, including the malecón and the street running alongside it, are busy with tourists from mid-morning until late at night. For several blocks back from the beach, the ground floors of buildings house bars, restaurants, galleries, and shops. Centro is a lively, fun area, but it can be downright noisy at times and options for daily grocery shopping are limited. For these reasons, this isn't the top choice for full-time living, though it can be a great area for a rental property investment.

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A better choice for full-time retirement is the upcoming neighborhood just north of Centro, which is just a few minutes' walk from Centro's shops, restaurants, and street action but much more residential. Small condos a few blocks inland are available here starting at about $175,000.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of this region is the seriously developed infrastructure. Other places including Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Panama also offer crashing Pacific surf. But in those countries, Pacific coastal development is mostly in the early days. Developers and planners talk about marinas, golf courses, clubhouses, and paved roads to come. And maybe those amenities will exist, someday.

I visited the Puerto Vallarta region for the first time about 15 years ago. Back then, the developers and the planners were making their infrastructure projections and speaking of their grand visions for this coast. I returned recently to find that these visions have become reality. This Pacific coastal region has grown up. Here, along the southern half of the Riviera Nayarit, all that infrastructure and more (including three marinas and seven golf courses) has been built, meaning retirement life can be comfortable, easy, and full of interesting diversions.

At the same time, this region retains a certain Mexico-ness. In beach towns along the coast north of Puerto Vallarta, for example, you can find all the charm retirees typically look for. Plus, this region is an easy hop to the United States. You can get home as often as you like to visit the kids and the grandkids.

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Puerto Vallarta is neither the cheapest retirement choice in the world nor the cheapest option within Mexico. That said, a couple could live very comfortably here on a budget of $1,500 a month or less if you invest in a condo of your own. If you choose to rent rather than buy, figure about $1,000 a month for a furnished one-bedroom and an overall budget of about $2,500 per month.

Here in Puerto Vallarta, you can retire ocean-side in comfort within minutes of the fairway or the yacht club. And, unlike in southern California, you can also actually afford it.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.